Saturday, December 29, 2012

Derrick Ferguson Visits The Era of PROHIBITION

Paperback: 188 pages
Publisher: Airship 27 (December 15, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0615743889
ISBN-13: 978-0615743882

I’m going to get to talking about PROHIBITION in a bit, I promise. But first, I gotta relate a little story that will assist me in making my opening point. Okay? Thank you for your patience and sit back. Here it goes:

Couple of weeks ago I’m having a Skype conversation with a gentleman who is incensed that I don’t like “Hobo With A Shotgun.” It’s a perfect modern grindhouse movie he insists. No, I politely disagree. “Planet Terror” is a a perfect modern grindhouse movie. The gentleman spends the next two minutes expressing his opinion that whatever it is I allegedly use for thinking must be composed of excrement and another minute telling me that “Planet Terror” is garbage and why on Earth do I think it’s the better movie.

“Because,” says I, “Robert Rodriguez knows what grindhouse is. The guys who made ‘Hobo With A Shotgun’ just think they know what grindhouse is.”

Which finally brings me to PROHIBITION by Terrence McCauley. We’ve got a lot of New Pulp writers who think they know what a 1930’s gangster story is. But Terrence McCauley knows what a 1930’s gangster story. Man, does he ever.

We’re in New York, 1930. The town is run by Archie Doyle, the city’s most powerful gangster who is more like the monarch of an unruly kingdom. And there’s somebody out there looking to take his crown. Archie’s got an ambitious plan in mind that will give him more power than he’s ever dreamed of before. But he’s got to stay alive long enough to see that plan through. That’s where his chief enforcer Terry Quinn comes in. Terry’s an ex-boxer and the toughest mug on two legs. But finding out who’s trying to start a bloody gang war between Archie Doyle and his main rival, Howard Rothman is going to take more than just being tough. Quinn is going to have to rely on his street smarts and think his way through this. Of course, shooting and slugging his way to the guilty party helps an awful lot, too.

PROHIBITION has a lot going for it, mainly that McCauley isn’t afraid to write characters who aren’t likeable at all. But that’s okay with me. As long as I know why the characters are doing what they’re doing and understand their motivations, I’m cool. McCauley is writing about people who have chosen a dark, dangerous and violent life and he stays true to that. That’s not to say he doesn’t find the humanity in them. He does. It’s just a humanity that manifests itself within the terms and parameters of the concrete jungle his characters have chosen to inhabit for whatever reasons people have to live a life of crime. This wasn’t an easy period in American history to live in and people had to make hard choices. The characters in PROHIBITION have to make the hardest choices of all since the wrong one can get them killed.

A lot of New Pulp writers figure that to write a 1930’s gangster story you just have to have pseudo-tough talking wanna-be’s sounding more like Slip Mahoney than real gangsters run around shooting Tommy guns. McCauley understands that the most successful gangsters of that era ran their organizations like businesses. The business just happens to be crime is all. Violence wasn’t their first resort to solve every problem. It was just as useful and as profitable to know when not to use violence as it was to know when to use it.

I appreciated the smartness of these characters. The way they talk to each other, maneuvering to gain an edge through words makes for some really solid dialog. The relationship between Archie Doyle and Terry Quinn reminds me a lot of the relationship between the Albert Finney/Gabriel Byrne characters from “Miller’s Crossing.” Imagine if Gabriel Byrne’s character was an authentic badass who knew how to fight instead of getting his ass kicked all the time and you’ll get what I mean. Terry Quinn is a guy who knows how to work the angles and his navigation through this gleefully violent story is an enjoyable one to read.

And like any good gangster story, McCauley doesn’t skimp on the sex and violence. If you want cute gangsters who pal around and crack jokes then go watch “Johnny Dangerously” because you’re not going to find that in PROHIBITION. I appreciated the tough, hard story McCauley is telling and the even tougher, harder characters who speak and talk pretty much the way I expect gangsters of that era to behave.

I’m sure that there are some who are going to be uncomfortable or even turned off by the language and that there isn’t really an ‘heroic’ character to root for. Terry Quinn is a killer and extraordinarily violent man who doesn’t make apologies for how he lives his life. Most readers like to have a lead character to root for and while Terry’s misplaced sense of honor and loyalty lifts him a notch above most of the other characters in the book that doesn’t mean he’s anywhere near being on the side of the angels. But it’s precisely because of that misplaced honor and loyalty that makes him such an enjoyable protagonist to read about.
And I can’t wrap up this review without mentioning the wonderful illustrations by Rob Moran which do an excellent job of capturing the mood and feel of the story. I’m willing to bet next month’s rent that Rob Moran has seen a lot of those great classic Warner Brothers black-and-white gangster epics of the 30’s and 40’s as that’s the feeling I got from his illustrations.

So should you read PROHIBITION? Absolutely. It’s not only a terrific way to spend a couple of quality reading hours, it’s also an important book in the evolution of New Pulp. It’s exciting to see books like this that adds another genre to expand what New Pulp is and can be. The bread-and-butter of New Pulp are the masked avengers, the jungle lords and the scientific adventurers, sure. But there’s plenty of room for sports stories, romance, westerns and private eyes. And in the last couple of years we’ve seen those. Hard-boiled crime stories are just as much a Classic Pulp tradition and I’m delighted to see it being continued and represented in New Pulp. Most definitely put PROHIBITION on your Must Read List.  

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With: LUCAS GARRETT Part Two

Derrick Ferguson: Do you ever feel uncomfortable with the rampant racism, sexism and stereotypes in Classic Pulp? Do you ever get questioned by your friends and acquaintances on your choice of reading material?

Lucas Garrett: To be honest, I would rather read fiction of that period because it was so honest in their sentiments about race, sex, and class. There was no “political correctness,” and there was nowhere to run and hide. Granted, I don’t care for the blatant racism in books such as Tarzan, Tom Swift, Hugo Drummond, and Fu Manchu. Moreover, the Spicy Pulps of that period were generally horrible towards women. However, the stories were part of that time period. Right or wrong. And those times were very harsh. That’s why characters such as Dillon, Fortune McCall, Mongrel, Diamondback, Damballa, Changa, and Imaro are very important for New Pulp. I feel that one of the greatest literary tragedies of the 1890’s, all the way into the 1940’s, is that black communities throughout the United States did not have their own dime novel and pulp writers to give opposing viewpoints to what was being published at that time. Try to search “black pulp writers” or “African-American pulp writers” in Google and see what you get. Nothing. Nothing at all. And that is a shame.

And the best time for it to have happened would have been the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s. That’s why having writers such as Charles Saunders, Milton Davis, and you, Derrick, is very important. We are playing catch up for over a century of racial bigotry and prejudice. Better late, than never. As far as anyone knowing about my interest for pulp literature, they equate it with early adventure/action fiction. It’s nice, but it’s not interesting enough to due proper research. If my father were alive, he would understand the history of pulp literature. Moreover, I think he would realize that I was adding my perspective to that genre, and “redeeming” it to some extent. If that’s possible.

DF: Do you feel New Pulp is addressing and correcting the racism, sexism and stereotypes of Classic Pulp?

LG: Yes. I do. In my opinion, New Pulp represents a multicultural melting pot of characters, and civilizations, that approach perils and situations on a realistic and non-biased perspective. Furthermore, New Pulp use issues such as racism, sexism, and other bigotries and prejudices to reveal layered reasons behind them better than Classic Pulp did during the 1920’s. 1930’s, and 1940’s.

DF: In what way does Classic Pulp speak to you?
LG: Classic pulp shows me the mindset of the men and women in the racial majority, and in places of power and prestige, during that time. For a young Caucasian male or female between the ages of say, 10 to 45, the South American, African, Near East, Far East, Arctic and Antarctic continents would appear “alien.” The predominant racial worldview was different back then. Political correctness had not yet set in on a global scale. Therefore, people, who were not Caucasian, were considered subservient, or savages to be subdued. 

Initially, early pulp literature (an outgrowth of the dime novel industry of the Gilded/Victorian period of the 19th century) capitalized on this shared racial worldview. In addition, you had the Physical Culture movements at the turn of the last century in countries such as England, Germany, and the United States that mixed religion with physical fitness, racial hygiene, and perhaps eugenics. Then we have the wartime trauma of the First World War, and the period of Prohibition, and the need for “superhuman” vigilantes and heroes to permeate the public’s consciousness.

When I look at pulp literature during that time, I also look at the period in which the stories are published. And they are very telling when it concerns race, politics, economics, and the infrastructure of societies throughout the world, whether the information in the stories are factual or assumed. Classic Pulp literature, whether it is adventure, action, spy, detective, femme fatale, space opera-based is the mythology based on the racial, sexual, and classist worldview of the early to mid-20th century. Classic pulp literature consciously, and unconsciously, taught the societal mores and ethical systems to generations of children who came of age before, during, and after the two World Wars.

By the 1950’s, the era of Classic Pulp began to wane and was overtaken by other forms of literature and other media. However, the serialized and standalone story structure, and pacing, informed the serials, television series, and films that came after. Therefore, to a certain extent, Classic pulp never went away. When you watch films such as the Usual Suspects, Sin City, LA Confidential, Last Man Standing, The Quick and The Dead, The Rundown, Star Wars, Star Trek, and Serenity, you are watching Classic Pulp. 

When you watch television series such as Mission: Impossible, Alias, Lost, Nikita, 24, Bones, The Finder, Dollhouse, Fringe, Eureka, Warehouse 13, Sanctuary, Heroes, and The Event, you are watching Classic Pulp. Classic Pulp is the truest form of American Mythology because it continues to permeate all forms of media, and evolve with the times. Therefore, Classic Pulp has become New Pulp for a new era.

DF: What do you think of New Pulp?

LG: New Pulp is the literary equivalent of the best action, adventure, detective, and espionage films and television series being viewed, or in syndication. It allows the reader to imagine interesting people, cultures, civilizations, and other worlds in their own minds that are as immersive, and engaging, as going to see a film in 3-D. And since I’m an immersive reader and thinker, using all of my senses, I can enjoy novels like Dillon and the Voice of Odin, Dillon and the Legend of the Golden Bell, and Philip Jose’ Farmer’s Wold Newton-centric novels such as Time’s Last Gift and The Other Log of Phileas Fogg. I am present in those stories, viewing every detail written by the author.

What people get out of virtual reality, video games, television, and film, literature can do as well. And with New Pulp, reader get more for their dollar, because it is time they are taking away from watching a television program, or film, playing a video game, or any other activity. Therefore, the stories had better be worth the time. New Pulp is not an easy literary industry to be in because of the competition coming from other forms of literature such as comic books, graphic novels, and other visual media. However, the material being produced is worth the struggle, in my opinion. That’s why I read New Pulp.

DF: I’ve been separating the eras of Pulp into Classic and New but do you think the two should be spoken of and evaluated as two separate eras?

LG: In terms of Classic Pulp and New Pulp, I see it as being one continuous link that has times of prosperity, and times of extreme setback. Call it Classic Pulp or New Pulp, it’s still Pulp. Pulp literature has evolved to survive, and thrive, through the times. We happen to be living in a time when it is a thriving literary industry. The reason I make this statement is that Pulp literature made a noteworthy comeback in the 1960’s and 1970’s in literature and comics. Then it somewhat fizzled out in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Furthermore, during times of economic downturn, Pulp literature seems to come back, and do well. Usually, because of the rise in criminal activity that accompanies economic downturns in those societies affected.

The thing is, because of how Pulp has evolved throughout the 20th and 21st centuries, I would say that it will survive regardless of such activity. Because it has become the unseen force behind the media mythology of America and the rest of the known world. The entertainment industries that exist today owe a huge debt to Pulp literature. Instead of declining, it has grown in various forms of entertainment. In Internet terms: Pulp has gone viral. We couldn’t get rid of it if we wanted to. It’s completely engrained in our popular culture.

DF: You’re a fan of the Wold Newton Universe. Can you tell us what it’s all about and how you discovered it?

LG: My love of classic/new pulp comes from my love of the Wold Newton Family and Wold Newton Universe, which I discovered online between 1999 and 2000. I am a fan of Timely Comics’ (Marvel Comics’ predecessor) The Invaders, a superhero team that fought in the Second World War, which included Captain America, Bucky, the Human Torch, Toro, Sub-Mariner, Spitfire, Union Jack, Miss America, and the Whizzer. Therefore, I went online to see if there were any articles about them, and I found an article written by Victorian and Pulp literature historian, Jess Nevins. The article was entitled “The All-Aces Squad,” and the premise of the article was that The Invaders, and its predecessor team, the All-Winner’s Squad, were based on “real” individuals that Stan Lee, Timely Comics’ Editor-in-Chief, had heard about while he was a playwright for the U.S. Army. In the article, Nevins identified the “real” members behind the All-Winner’s Squad/Invaders myth, and kept referring to the Wold Newton Family.

Curiosity got the better of me, I typed ‘Wold Newton Family’ into the AOL search engine, and I saw numerous websites that talked about the Wold Newton meteor event of December 13, 1795. The foremost website being Win Scott Eckert’s Wold Newton Universe website, a website dedicated to  expanding the Wold Newton Family concept developed by a writer by the name of Philip Jose’ Farmer, who wrote about it in two fictional biographies: Tarzan Alive: A Definitive Biography of Lord Greystoke (1972), and Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life (1973).

The premise of the Wold Newton Family is that on December 13, 1795, a meteor fell in the in a wheat field in the town of Wold Newton, East Riding, Yorkshire, England, and that within a ten-foot radius of the impact zone, there were two coaches carrying a total of fourteen passengers, and four coachmen. This party had several individuals who were written about in the popular literature at that time such as Percy Blakeney, also known as the Scarlett Pimpernel, Fitzwilliam Darcy and his wife, the former Elizabeth Bennett, and the ancestors of the literary figures in popular fiction at the turn of the last century such as Sherlock Holmes, Arsene Lupin, Fu Manchu, Hugo Drummond, Sexton Blake, George Challenger, The Time Traveler, Tarzan, Doc Savage, etc.

The thing is, these eighteen individuals were exposed to the “ionizing” radiation that emitted from the meteor. I put the nature of the radiation in quotation because I believe that there is more to the meteor than meets the eye. Furthermore, I do not believe that what the meteor emitted cannot be considered radiological, and definitely not “ionizing”. I am one a very few who share this belief. One of whom is Dr. Arthur “Art” Sippo, M.D. Nevertheless, the meteor affected the genetic structures of those exposed, and due to intermarriages with the group, as well as other relationships, descendants were born who were slightly more than human.

DF: What is the fascination that the Wold Newton Universe has for you?

LG: The biggest attraction I have to the Wold Newton Family/Universe concept is the conceit that most literary figures are based on actual people who lived, or are alive in our “real” world. Therefore, using this concept, Doc Savage is based on Dr. James Clarke Wildman, Jr., who is the son of Dr. James Clark Wildman, Sr. who was fictionalized as a young man in the character of “James Wilder” in the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Priory School,” and as an older man, as the character “Daniel Hardin,” in Philip Wylie’s proto-Superman pulp novel, “Gladiator.” It also made the “real” world appear more fascinating than it actually is. Ironically, the Wold Newton concept has inadvertently caused me to delve into other literature, which has broadened my literary horizons. Because without it, I never would have read a novel by Jane Austen. It wasn’t going to happen. Philip Jose’ Farmer changed my mindset. And, for that alone, I am indebted to him.

DF: Do you subscribe to the Tommy Westphall Theory?

LG: No. I look at Pulp literature, Classic Pulp in particular, as being stories based on something that may have happened, or could have happened, if the conditions were right for it during the periods in time in which the stories are published, or set. The Tommy Westphall Universe Hypothesis is both a genius concept, as well as a cop out, in my opinion. Because it shattered the Fourth Wall of storytelling, and caused the viewer to feel that they shouldn’t have invested their time and thoughts in the lives of the characters from St. Elsewhere. 

Personally, I think that the writers just ran out of steam. It was similar to what happened in the television series, Dallas, when Pamela Ewing woke up to find Bobby Ewing alive; after all season seeing her, and the rest of Ewing family, deal with Bobby’s death. You can’t mess with fans like that, and think there won’t be consequences. If you are dealing with exposing the viewer, or the reader, to the fact that the world you are immersed in is not “real”, then it needs to be explained at the beginning of the story, or people will not understand. That’s what made the Matrix film trilogy successful. The first Matrix film established that everything we see is an illusion. Therefore, when things started to look a little bizarre in the “real” world of the Matrix, such as towards the end of Matrix Reloaded, the viewers have that concept to anchor them.

DF: Do you have any ambitions of being a writer? If so, are you working on anything right now?

LG: Yes, I do aspire to become a published writer. I’m working on an outline project for a book about Steampunk-era werewolves set in turn of the 20th century Atlanta, Georgia. The plot revolves around a family of southern Black werewolves who are bred by a certain well-known Victorian literary mad scientist to be ferocious slave catchers before the Civil War. However, this family used their abilities to liberate plantations throughout Georgia and to form “Free Towns” that are patrolled night and day by them. The story starts with the grandchildren of the patriarch who was given the serum by the doctor while in utero in the 1830’s. In fact, the patriarch of the family was born on November 11, 1831, the day Nat Turner is executed in Virginia for his attempted slave uprising earlier that year. I take elements from Philip Wylie’s novel, “Gladiator,” and postulate that there may have been induced superhuman programs, independently funded, and conducted, for nearly a century prior to the First World War.

DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of Lucas Garrett like?

LG: Working mostly. I work an eight-hour shift from 2:00 PM to 10:00 PM for five days, and the two days I am off, I read for research purposes to help me craft my outlines. I take short breaks, play with my dog, exercise, and I get on Facebook to see what is going on in the Forum groups I’m involved in. And from time to time, I go on dates. Nothing serious. That’s it.

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we need to know about Lucas Garrett?

Lucas Garrett: Not at this time. Thank you very much for allowing me the opportunity to share my interest in Pulp literature

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With: LUCAS GARRETT Part One

Derrick Ferguson: Who is Lucas Garrett?

Lucas Garrett: I am a thirty-three year old African American, a former United States Marine, and a concierge security officer with over fourteen years of experience in the security industry. I am the second oldest of seven children (five sons and two daughters). In addition, I write unpublished fan fiction, and I am a fan of various forms of literature, television, films, and video games. In particular, those forms of media that focus on crossovers.

DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?

LG: For a year and a half, I have lived in a suburban subdivision in Lawrenceville, Georgia. I work for Allied Barton Security Services as a concierge security officer at a high-rise office complex near the CNN Center, in downtown Atlanta, Georgia.

DF: You are a major Science Fiction/Comic Book/Movie/Classic Pulp/New Pulp/Wold Newton Universe fan. Where did all this begin for you?

LG: That’s a loaded question. My love for science fiction, comic books, movies, classic pulp, new pulp, and the Wold Newton Family/Universe comes from my Dad. He was a voracious reader, mostly of classic literature, history, anthropology, archaeology and linguistic studies. It is because of him that I have a strong love for reading.

When he was younger, my Dad was a fan of the short-lived television series, “The Green Hornet”, starring Van Williams and Bruce Lee. In fact, one of the first comic books my father bought for me, when I was a kid, was Now Comics’ The Green Hornet #2, written by Ron Fortier. The Green Hornet, and later The Phantom, were characters who intrigued me because the mantle of The Green Hornet and The Phantom were passed down from generation to generation. In the case of The Green Hornet, the mantle is transferred from uncle to nephew, whereas for The Phantom, the mantle is transferred from father to son. I loved the family dynamic. And even though The Green Hornet and The Phantom were not Pulp heroes per se (The Green Hornet originated from Old Time Radio, and The Phantom began as a comic strip character), I see Pulp literary elements in the characters and their world.

DF: What are some of your favorite Science Fiction TV shows and Movies?

LG: Science fiction is the final frontier of the mind for me. Therefore, I gravitated to it very early on with movies such as the original Star Wars trilogy, the Star Trek films, Enemy Mine, The Brother From Another Planet, The Final Countdown, The Philadelphia Experiment, Tron, the Terminator films, and the Predator films. Action adventure films such as the Raiders of the Lost Ark trilogy, the James Bond films starring Sean Connery, the John Carpenter films (Escape From New York, The Thing, and Big Trouble in Little China, in particular), Highlander, The Rocketeer, The Shadow, and The Phantom prepared me for my early foray into pulp literature. And, of course, when I was younger, television shows like Star Trek: The Original Series and Star Trek: The Next Generation were big in my home. Although, of the various Star Trek series, including Star Trek: Voyager, I gravitated more towards Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Captain Benjamin Sisko, portrayed by Avery Brooks, is my favorite character from the series.

In fact, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and J. Michael Straczynski’s Babylon 5 were the two television science fiction series I routinely watched in the 1990’s. Moreover, I am a fan of old television series like Automan, Voyagers!, Misfits of Science, the A-Team, Magnum P.I., Simon & Simon, Miami Vice, MacGyver, Mission: Impossible, Airwolf, M.A.N.T.I.S., Kindred: The Embrace, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., Jack of All Trades, Hercules, Xena: The Warrior Princess, Angel, etc. Currently, on the SyFy Channel, I watch Eureka, Warehouse 13, Sanctuary, Lost Girl, and Alphas. On CBS, I watch NCIS and NCIS: Los Angeles. On Cinemax, I watch Strike Back. Furthermore, I am a big fan of Doctor Who, and J.J. Abrams’ Alias, and I watch them on DVD whenever I get the chance.

DF: Do you think Science Fiction in print has lost some of the fun and sense of wonder that it used to be known for? And if so, why?

LG: I think it has since we live in a technologically-advanced period in human history. We are literally one-step away from Star Trek. All we need now are faster-than-light space vessels, and teleportation. We pretty much have everything else that Gene Roddenberry envisioned. Those who read science fiction, in the past, were trying to make it possible in real-life. I don’t see much of that drive these days. Scientists and engineers have become so successful in giving the public new technological tools and toys, that we have become complacent. Despite the recent launching of the Mars Rover, Curiosity, being a success for the scientific and academic world, very few outside those circles cared. Furthermore, literary works of fantasy, such as the Harry Potter and Twilight series, are usurping literary works based on hardcore science fiction, or science fiction based on scientific fact and logical speculation. The primary reason why books like Harry Potter and Twilight are doing so well is that there is little explanation needed to understand them, if and when, they become feature films.

The K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid) approach is being used to make money off literary science fiction and fantasy properties; because the aim of the publishers is to get enough buzz about a book series, so that it is optioned as a series of feature length films. That’s my take on it. Comic books are in the same boat too. Literary works are now source material for big or small screen adaptations. The literary property is a vehicle to launch a multimedia enterprise that not only markets the books, but also other connected merchandising properties. Very few people write books for the sake of having books published. The Internet and other multimedia enterprises have changed the nature of the game forever.

DF: Who are your favorite Science Fiction writers?

LG: Philip Jose’ Farmer, Win Scott Eckert, Christopher Paul Carey, Rick Lai, Arthur “Art” Sippo, Ron Fortier, Derrick Ferguson, Howard Hopkins, Charles Saunders, Milton Davis, Barry Reese, Jason Jack Miller, Heidi Ruby Miller, William Patrick Maynard, Will Murray, Lester Dent, Walter Gibson, Norvell Page, Philip Wylie, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Frank Herbert, Michael Crichton, Howard V. Hendrix, Caleb Carr, Leslie Silbert, and J. Gregory Keyes. A lot, I know.

DF: What were the last five movies you saw and how’d you like ‘em?

LG: THE AVENGERS, CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER, THOR, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, and BATTLE: LOS ANGELES. I loved them. In particular, BATTLE: LOS ANGELES, since I’m a former U.S. Marine, and I enjoyed seeing what type of battle plan the Marine Corps would have in the advent of an extraterrestrial incursion into our known space and planet Earth. Aaron Eckert was superb in his role as a Staff Sergeant, who had planned on leaving the Corps, but due to circumstances beyond his control, winds up leading a platoon of Marines, and other service members, in launching a counterattack against the alien invaders. I went away thinking that this would be a great prequel to Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers novel. That’s how my mind works. I see crossover potential in almost any media.

THE AVENGERS was fantastic. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE FIRST AVENGER was outstanding. Initially, I wasn’t a fan of Chris Evans taking on the role of Steve Rogers. Specifically, because Evans had played Johnny Storm in The Fantastic Four films. However, and surprisingly, Evans won me over. Any actor willing to put in the time, and energy, to play an iconic character on film, as Evans did, deserves my respect. And director, Joe Johnston, masterfully told a great story about the first true Avenger in Marvel Comics history, and the world in which he fought. I couldn’t have asked for anything else.

THOR was also very good. Better than I expected, actually. I especially, loved the way the writers showed that advanced technology and science would be perceived by lesser civilizations as being magical in nature.

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS was perhaps the best X-Men film I have seen since X2: X-MEN UNITED. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender were outstanding as the younger versions of Charles Francis Xavier (Professor X) and Erik Lehnsherr (Magneto.)  And the actor to watch, in my opinion, is Fassbender. If a Hollywood studio ever decides to make a feature film about the pulp vigilante, The Spider, then Fassbender is the man you need to play the title role. I can see Fassbender portraying Richard Wentworth, alongside Lena Headey, as Nita Van Sloan. Of course, what won me over about Fassbender was his range in the film, as well as the intentional references to the Sean Connery James Bond films. Fassbender looks like he could be Connery’s son, or grandson. Overall, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS shines because of how logical the evolution of the X-Men, from a top-secret CIA assault team during the Cuban Missile Crisis, to the personal strike team of the Xavier School for the Gifted seemed. It makes complete sense that the X-Men would cut their teeth during one of the most tumultuous times in human history. The Children of the Atom would save the world from nuclear holocaust. It was pure genius, on the part of the scriptwriters, to bring that remarkable idea to the silver screen.

DF: What three Classic Pulp characters would you like to see adapted to movies?

LG: The Spider, Operator #5, and The Avenger.

DF: How long have you been reading comic books and what are your favorites?

LG: I rarely read comics anymore. The last comics I read were Moonstone’s The Spider #1, The Spider #2, and The Spider vs. The Werewolf. The last comic book series I read was Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary series. That was two years ago. Since then, I haven’t read any other comics. When I was ten years old, my Dad bought me Classic X-Men #44, Batman #441, and Now Comics’ Green Hornet #2. Therefore, from September 1990 until March 2010, I collected and read comics books of various genres. Mostly superhero comics. Now, unless it comes from Moonstone, or Airship 27, I don’t even bother. Even Alan Moore has disappointed me with his last series about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

DF: What's the biggest difference you've seen in comic books between when you first started reading them and now?

LG: How complicated they have become. There is too much serialization and tie-ins needed to understand most of the comics out today. There are very few standalone stories in superhero comics being printed these days. And, of course, way too much political pandering, and agendas, in today’s comics that I don’t particularly think need to be in a comic book geared toward preteens and adolescents. When I was coming up, the comics I read the most were Uncanny X-Men and X-Men. Now, there are numerous X-Men, or X-related, titles to look at, and they’re all interconnected. If I had been a ten-year old coming up today, I doubt very highly that my Dad would purchase these comics.

First of all the prices for comics have gone way up. When I was younger, comics ranged from $0.50 to $1.25. Now you have comics that cost four to five dollars, at the minimum. Secondly, in order to follow the story arc for most Marvel and DC comics, you have to purchase tie-in comics. Thirdly, there are too many monumental events happening every three, or four, years. And finally, the characters are not allowed to grow up, grow old, get married, have children, and have a life. It’s idiotic, in my opinion, to have the original X-Men not age, and have lives, and families of their own. Cyclops should not look like a thirty-five year old man. A superhero can be all he or she can be, and still be a normal human being. The problem that I see from the two “big houses” is that they have run out of ideas. It’s easier to invest your attentions in an established character, or world, as opposed to expanding it through time, or creating a brand new one of your own. When I realized that unfortunate fact, I lost all interest in superhero comics.

DF: We're seeing an awful lot of Classic Pulp heroes being adapted into comics these days. What are your thoughts on that?

LG: I am happy if it is done right. When it is not done right, it affects the properties greatly. A great example of it not being done properly is the recent fiasco infamously known as “DC: First Wave.” The writers cannot take characters like Doc Savage and his Amazing Five, The Avenger, and his team, Justice, Inc., and expect them to function properly in a modern day setting.

These characters were tailor-made for the world in which they operated: The Depression era. It was easier in those days to yearn for the ‘Superman.’ Now such a person would be ostracized, and viewed with suspicion, by many people. Because that person would be perceived as being a threat to societal mores, and the wellbeing of the public, and could potentially, inadvertently, or intentionally, change the cultural and political climate of society. Back then, people were on the lookout for the “Great Man” who would save them, and take care of their problems. It was in the cultural psyche. And the pulps gave the readers what they wanted. To modern readers, they would seem antiquated. Obsolete. But they are not. Pulp heroes and villains who are set in their natural settings can still be used to tell great stories. But you cannot change the nature of the character, and their world, and expect longtime fans of these characters to come along. It’s not going to happen.

Derrick Ferguson: When did you first discover Classic Pulp?

Lucas Garrett: It happened around the fall of 1999. At around this time, I was reading Warren Ellis and John Cassaday’s Planetary comic book series for WildStorm Productions, the now defunct imprint of DC Comics. Issues #’s 1 and 5 drew me to the Pulp Hero archetypes that were clear homages to characters such as Doc Savage, The Shadow, The Spider, Tarzan, G-8, Operator #5, Tom Swift, Shiwan Khan, and Fu Manchu. I had remembered The Shadow from the 1994 film starring Alec Baldwin. It was a decent film. The main intrigue for me was The Shadow himself. How could he affect people’s minds? Furthermore, around this time, I became aware of the pulp historian and annotation expert, Jess Nevins, through his Wold Newton website, and his annotation works on The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One. It was the perfect situation for me because I had had enough of superhero comics. I wanted to read something rooted in reality. The introduction of Planetary, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Wold Newton Family, and Universe, and the classic pulps, helped to direct my reading habits as I began to wean myself away from superhero comics. I would occasionally read Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s The Ultimates, Grant Morrison’s run on New X-Men, and Chris Claremont’s run on X-Treme X-Men. But that was about it. It was primarily Planetary and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volumes 1 and 2. 

Stay tuned for Part Two as I continue to Kick The Willy Bobo with Lucas Garrett and we talk about Classic Pulp, New Pulp and The Wold Newton Universe

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With: BALOGUN OJETADE

Derrick Ferguson: Who is Balogun Ojetade?
Balogun Ojetade: Balogun Ojetade is a cool dude.
He is an author; a father of eight children; a husband; a Steamfunk / Steampunk; a filmmaker; a screenwriter; an actor (sometimes); a master instructor of indigenous African martial arts; a creator of role-playing games and a traditional African priest.

DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
BO: I live in Atlanta, Georgia.
I am owner and technical director of the Afrikan Martial Arts Institute, which has representatives in Atlanta, Macon, Ga and London, England.
To keep the bill collectors away, I avoid answering the phone, I run very quickly and I stay in the good graces of my beautiful and loving wife, who is the hardest working photographer in the business.

DF: When did your love of science fiction, heroic fantasy and speculative fiction begin?
BO: My love for science fiction, fantasy and horror began when I was two years old, when my sisters decided to conduct an experiment and see if they could teach their two year old brother to read by getting him hooked on comic books, starting with Thor, Superman, Beetle Bailey, Archie and the Fantastic Four. Their experiment worked and I have been in love with speculative and imaginative fiction ever since.

DF: You’re an instructor of African Martial Arts. When and where did you begin training?
BO: I began training in April, 1972 in Chicago, Illinois, under the tutelage of my father, who spent over a decade living and training in West Africa, when he was employed as security for the U.S. Embassy in Dakkar, Senegal. I have been training daily ever since. I began formally teaching my own students in 1992.

DF: You’re also heavily involved in film as a writer, director and fight/stunt coordinator. Tell us about your film projects.
BO: I majored in film, with a concentration in screenwriting, in college. I have always loved films and filmmaking, but for years, I did not have the time or resources to create my own, so I concentrated on other endeavors. In 2001, I was asked to develop a one act play based on a popular poem I wrote entitled The Good Ship Jesus. I developed the play and performed it myself as part of the National Black Arts Festival. The play – and I – received rave reviews, so I decided to pursue acting. I won roles in a few martial arts films and a few plays, always observing the techniques of the directors, actors and fight / stunt coordinators.

In 2001, I was given the opportunity to produce a martial arts thriller screenplay I wrote entitled Reynolds’ War. I jumped at the chance and the film has gone on to become an underground hit in the U.S. and in West Africa. After that experience, I formed my own production company, Roaring Lions Productions, and recruited some of the best talents in film to work with me to create quality works of Black science fiction, fantasy and horror for film. We have created two films – A Single Link, a martial arts thriller about a woman who is raped and discovers her rapist has gone on to become a mixed martial arts champion. For closure and empowerment, she decides she wants to fight him and she goes on to become the first woman to fight professionally in co-ed mixed martial arts and a symbol for victimized women worldwide; and Rite of Passage: Initiation, an excerpt from a Steamfunk television series I – and Milton Davis are developing.

DF: Before I get into “Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman” I think we ought to talk a bit about Steamfunk. What is Steamfunk, where did it come from and where is it going?
BO: In order for people to understand Steamfunk, we must first give a brief definition of Steampunk. Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction or fantasy, characterized by a setting – in the past, present or future – in which steam power predominates as the energy source for high, industrial technologies. Think the television show Wild, Wild West, the graphic novel / comic book series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or the movie The Golden Compass.

Steamfunk is a philosophy or style of writing that combines the African and / or African American culture and approach to life with that of the Steampunk philosophy and / or Steampunk fiction.

DF: “Moses: The Chronicle of Harriet Tubman” is a wonderful reimagining of a genuine historical icon as an action/adventure hero in a story that moves like an out of control freight train going downhill. Where did this concept come from and can we look forward to more?
BO: I have always been a fan of Harriet Tubman and knew that the first novel I ever wrote would have “General Moses” as the hero. In researching her life for a poem I wrote a few years ago, I came to realize what an amazing woman she really was and that she seemed to possess uncanny abilities, such as psychic visions, nigh superhuman strength and the ability to change her appearance where no two people gave the same description of her. Even to this day, there are only five photos of Harriet Tubman known to exist and many we that were once believed to be her have been proven to be someone else.

Finding out these things incredible about Harriet sparked my already wild-as-hell imagination and the concept for Moses: The Chronicles of Harriet Tubman (Books 1 & 2) was born. I am writing books 3 & 4 at present and Harriet will make a cameo in my story, Rite of Passage: Blood & Iron, which appears in the upcoming Steamfunk! Anthology.

DF: Tell us about Sword and Soul and “Once Upon A Time In Afrika”
BO: For a definition of Sword and Soul, I will quote the subgenre’s founder, the incomparable author, friend and mentor, Charles R. Saunders: “Sword-and-soul is the name I’ve given to the type of fiction I’ve been writing for nearly 40 years.  The best definition I can think of for the term is ‘African-inspired heroic fantasy’.  Its roots are in sword-and-sorcery, but its scope is likely to expand as time passes.”

Once Upon A Time in Afrika is my Sword and Soul novel. Desperate to marry off his beautiful but "tomboyish" daughter, Esuseeke, the Emperor of the powerful empire of Oyo consults the Oracle, which tells him that Esuseeke must marry the greatest warrior in all Onile (Afrika). To determine who is the greatest warrior, the Emperor hosts a grand martial arts tournament, inviting warriors from all over the continent. Just a few of the warriors chosen are her lover, Akin, who enters the tournament in disguise, a wizard seeking to avenge the death of a loved one and a vicious dwarf with shark-like, iron teeth. Unknown to the warriors and spectators of the tournament, a powerful evil is headed their way and they will be forced to decide if they will band together against the evil, flee, or confront the evil as individuals.

DF: Tell us about your science fiction gangster epic “Redeemer”
BO: Redeemer releases in November, 2012. It is about an assassin who decides to leave his life of crime – and his crime family – behind and build a family. His boss, a ruthless gangster and technophile, uses the assassin as a test subject in the first attempt at time travel. He is sent thirty years into the past. Distraught at first, he accepts his dilemma and decides to save his teenaged self from a life of crime by preventing the events that led him to choose that life. His attempts, however, bring him into direct conflict with a younger version of his former boss and the brilliant and brutal man who trained him in the arts of death.

DF: And if all this wasn’t enough, you’ve also co-created a Sword and Soul Role Playing Game called Ki-Khanga. Give us the background on that.
BO: I have been a player and Gamemaster of pen-and-paper role-playing games for over thirty years, starting with Dungeons & Dragons and then adding Traveller, Champions, Marvel Superheroes and a host of others to my collection. All of these games were very Eurocentric, however and I was always asked by my friends to create scenarios set in Africa. In 1987, issue # 122 of Dragon Magazine featured an article by Charles Saunders entitled “Out of Africa”. The article was about the deadly and mysterious creatures of Africa. This article planted the seed in my head to create a role-playing game set in Africa. Not a supplement set in Africa, but a stand-alone role-playing game – something very different from the games that were already on the market.
Chasing women, partying and (occasionally) school led to me abandoning the project for several years. 

By the time I decided to return to the development of the game, I found myself married and raising a family. In 2006, the idea for the game would not leave me and I began its development. In 2011, I told author and publisher Milton Davis about the game and he asked me to send him the system I created. He –and his son Brandon, an experienced gamer, liked my concept but felt the system, which had no random generator, needed one. Not wanting to use dice, like most other games, I decided to use playing cards as the random generator. I revamped the system, which Milton liked and we began building the world of Ki-Khanga and writing stories to familiarize people with that world. The system is fully developed and is in the play-testing phase now. After several play-tests, which have gone well, we are now working with illustrators to create visual representations of the nations, people, creatures and technology of Ki-Khanga.

DF: A common complaint of writers is that they have difficulty writing action/fight scenes. As a martial artist what advice can you give for writers in writing authentic and exciting fight scenes?
BO: I wrote an entry on my blog on this very subject awhile ago. You can find it on my website at I think the most important thing to remember is to remember that a good fight scene is about momentum and rhythm.
I provided executive protection for the actor Jackie Chan many years ago and he gave me some advice on choreographing a fight scene that I use in my writing. “The rhythm of a fight scene sells it. I use African and Japanese drum rhythms for my fights. Those rhythms draw the audience in and make them love the fight.”

Each move should flow from where the last one ended. If your hero throws a spinning back kick, where is her weight when she lands? Is he standing straight or bent at the waist? In what direction is his body leaning? The next blow he delivers should follow the same line of momentum. If he kicked in a clockwise motion, his next kick will also probably be clockwise.
Try to act out fight sequences in order to figure out momentum and balance, which creates rhythm. Throw a side kick and observe how your weight shifts, or what area of your body is exposed.
I often act out entire fight scenes with my wife. We are both career martial artists, so she humors me. However, if you do not happen to have a spouse that is a martial arts expert handy, watch movies for ideas.
DF: Do you think it’s desirable for writers to chase “mainstream” audiences or is that just a dream always out of reach?
BO: Many writers have successfully gone “mainstream” and are happy. I have no desire to go the mainstream route of major publishing and acquiring an agent, as I desire to maintain creative control of my work. As an author of Black speculative fiction, I know of writers who have been told by major publishers that if they changed the hero of their story from a Black person into a white one, they will publish the book. I have heard many other such horror stories and I refuse to allow myself to become a victim of that madness. The route I have chosen may take more work for me to reach the masses, however, the rewards are much greater in the long run.

DF: What is A Day In The Life of Balogun Ojetade like?
BO: I awaken at 4:30 am and exercise for an hour, then I shower and meditate / pray. I start writing at 6:00 am and write for about three hours before I take a break to chat with Milton Davis on Facebook or his Wagadu ning site. At 11:00, I hang out with my three-year old daughter and we have lunch at noon. My daughter and I watch movies together until she takes her nap at 2:00pm and then it’s more writing and social networking for me until my wife and my other children return home from school and work. At 6:30pm, I head out to my martial arts school and I teach from 7:00pm until 9:00pm. I return home around 10:00pm, eat, talk with the wife and then go to sleep. This is my normal routine, with slight variations if special events or family outings are forthcoming.

Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know about you?
Balogun Ojetade: I am a hard-working, creative guy who is very approachable and enjoys intelligent discourse. I am easy-going unless I encounter sexism or racism and then the…other side surfaces. So if you see me giving someone a verbal or written beatdown on some social network or at some panel discussion, know that otherwise, I’m a pretty cool dude.

Kickin' The Willy Bobo With...BERTRAM GIBBS

DF: Who is Bertram Gibbs? Bertram Gibbs: Husband, father, film, comic book, television, Broadway collector and enthusiast. Researcher of ...