‘The Rattler’ strikes again at Image Comics

Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle’s crowdfunded graphic novel finds a new home.

Following a successful Kickstarter in 2014, Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle’s The Rattler has slithered over to Image Comics for a “mass market” release.

Inspired by true events from McNamara’s own life, the horror graphic novel is about a guy whose fiancée vanished without a trace and, 10 years later, he starts hearing her voice.

“The story was inspired by true events that happened to me on a road trip years ago,” McNamara told me last year. “I’ve written an afterword to the graphic novel that gets more into it, but basically a female friend and I were on a road trip and had a breakdown in a rural area of California. A seemingly helpful motorist stopped and offered to tow our car. Instead, he took off with my friend and left me behind. Luckily, in the true events she was able to get away, and we were able to get help. But I always wondered: What if she didn’t get away? What if I had to live with that? That was the inspiration for The Rattler.”

The Image Comics release will have a new cover and one new page, and is due out in March. If successful, McNamara hinted to the project’s Kickstarter backers that a sequel could follow. Check out the cover for the new release below:

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Chris Schweizer’s Paper Nativity Informational Notes: Part 6

Over the next month, Chris Schweizer will be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model (a large papercraft crèche) mentioned a week or so ago that you can find and download here:

https://gumroad.com/l/ThkR

Rather than run it everyday Chris has given us permission to run it every few days.

Advent Calendar Day 21: The Innkeepers

innnYou’ve probably seen a Christmas pageant or cartoon or book or something where Joseph, leading Mary atop a donkey, knocks on the door of the inn (Bethlehem’s population was small enough that just one inn is probable) and is told by the innkeeper (sometimes sternly, sometimes regretfully) that there’s no room.

The Gospel of Luke states that there was “no room in the inn,” and from this line we’ve extrapolated an innkeeper to convey that bit of exposition.

I don’t know when the innkeeper first appeared, but I’d expect it was in the middle ages, once crèche scenes led to dramatizations. Sometimes the innkeeper is depicted as a married pair, with the wife a hard-hearted harpy impatient at yet another traveler, or even a cutthroat capitalist granting the limited rooms at a premium beyond the financial means of the Holy Family, with the husband secretly offering them room in the stable out of pity over the notion of a pregnant woman without a roof. There’s a definite message in this, the old “if you let your wife have the power in your marriage then you’ll be dragged along in decisions to which you have a moral objection and become complicit” warning, which is why I suspect we don’t see a gender reversal of this interpretation; there isn’t really a cautionary narrative tradition associated with the husband taking the reins with business decisions.
It’s not unusual for characters to spring up to fill in the missing pieces in stories about important moments in religious stories (as we’ve seen with previous entries), but what’s unusual about the innkeeper(s) is that, despite being textually absent from the gospels, they’re yoked with mainstream theological interpretation, which is surprising to me.

The standard reflection on them is this: the innkeepers, who are either awash in the prosperity of their business or so frazzled by the bustle as to be indifferent DO permit the Holy Family lodging (this operates on an assumption, likely born of that first narrative inclusion, that the innkeeper has proprietorship of the stable), but in the little space that is left, not that which would inconvenience them. This is used as a metaphor for religious folks who profess sincerity of faith but who only give their time/attention to God when all other earthly matters have been attended. God, in this metaphor, is relegated to the stable of the person’s life.

dguyThere’s a current school of thought that the “inn” isn’t an inn at all, but a mistranslation of guest room, suggesting that it was Joseph’s relatives that turned them away, itself an interpretation rife with meaning (Joseph’s relatives, judging Mary to be an unwed mother, refused her entry, can be easily read as a refutation of those whom would deem to judge others based on their own assumptions of legality or morality). I think this is unlikely, though, as there’s no context in the verse to suggest anything other than that which is stated: there was no room. The relative idea puts a lot of emphasis on “for them”, and in doing so likely misses the point.

If the guest room translation is valid, it probably refers to one that functioned much as an inn would have: a community guest room in lieu of an inn, in which case the innkeepers remain its administrators even if their title is no longer the same.

I don’t like any of these interpretations, partially because I like to think the best of people, and partially because of personal experience. When Liz and I were first married, we managed a hotel in Mississippi, on the river across from Louisiana. When Katrina hit, we were, thankfully, spared all but the most minor cosmetic damage, but (as many of you will remember) our neighbors across the river weren’t so lucky. With more people needing a place to stay than there were places for them, we ended up housing much more than our commercial capacity, with guests bringing families and extended families, packing into every corner of the building

Liz did her best to accommodate as many as we could, and I like to think that the innkeepers in the story (which I’ve depicted as a married pair, absent those aforementioned associations with which the wife is sometimes saddled) made no less of an effort, and that the stable was a creative way to extend their hospitality well beyond their means.

Advent Calendar Day 22: The Tempter

putxThe Eastern Orthodox Church has its own nativity traditions, and one of them is depicting an old shepherd dressed in animal skins. Byzantine art pretty much always shows sad-sack Joseph sitting despondent and pouty off in a corner (just google search “Byzantine Nativity Art” and take in dozens of Josephs who make Keanu Reeves look positively jubilant by contrast). Nature, and with it any semblance of Joseph’s paternal/husbandly authority, has been vanquished by a sexless conception, and Joseph, his world upended, doesn’t take it well.

Though there are shepherds, including old hide-wearing ones, in early nativity icons, one in particular becomes a narrative figure by the early 1300s: The Tempter, who stands next to Joseph, stoking Joseph’s doubt about Mary’s virginity. This is either a man doing the devil’s work (though some early versions treat him instead as a man doing the Lord’s work, reminding Joseph of ancient words of Isaiah that Christians would take as prophecy regarding a virgin birth) or the devil himself in disguise.

By the mid-1300s, you see James, Joseph’s son, interceding, attempting to ward this tempter (this is also, I believe, the first usage of James in Nativity art) to save his father from doubt, or maybe to just give the really, really sad guy a little space.

Advent Calendar Day 23: Roman Soldier

There are plenty of traditional nativity characters whose inclusion is meant to foreshadow something in either Jesus’s adult life, including having a burial shroud as his swaddling and an encounter with the thieves with whom he’ll later be crucified. To my knowledge, though, there isn’t a traditional Roman soldier character (though they do often turn up in more sprawling nativity sets with other Bethlehem denizens and are a staple of church walk-through-Bethlehem setups).

The soldier here isn’t, like you see in the walk-throughs, a fancy Roman in the lorica segmentata armor of popular imagination. He’s a rural reserve, stuck in Bethlehem, a deputy constable in a podunk hamlet. So his armor is the minimum a provincial soldier might be issued while still being identifiable as a Roman soldier.

Advent Calendar Day 24: La Befana

lfLa Befana is the Italian gift-giver, just like we get Santa Claus, the Spanish get the Three Kings, and the Austrians get Baby Jesus (he doesn’t come down the chimney; I checked). Her original story is heartbreakingly sad, and its traditional alternative is kind of lackluster, so I’m offering a variation that marries the two.

The Three Kings, on their way to see baby Jesus, ask for shelter for the night at a rural house. In it, La Befana (whose name derives from a mispronunciation of “Epiphany” and who probably has OCD) is busy cleaning, as she always does. Learning that they’re taking gifts to a baby, she volunteers to go, too; her kids are grown and she’s itching to get rid of their old toys. Following the kings, she gives Jesus the toys, delighting him, and in thanks he bestows upon her immortality and a magic hamper perpetually full of toys so that she can bring other children as much joy as she did him. She also uses her broom to tidy up the manger for Mary. You could eat off that floor.

La Befana now rides her broom from house to house, leaving toys for youngsters and flying up the chimney.

Advent Calendar Day 25: Baby Jesus
Merry Christmas, friends!
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Tom Palmer in Splendid Black and White

What good is running a website if you cannot feature majestic Tom Palmer uncolored art?

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Avengers #287 cover. Marvel Comics, 1987. Pencils by John Buscema. Inks by Tom Palmer

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Comic Book Artist #13 cover. TwoMorrows Publishing, 2001. Pencils by Gene Colan. Inks by Tom Palmer.

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Captain Britain #28 page 5. Marvel UK, 1977. Pencils by John Buscema. Inks by Tom Palmer.

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 Star Wars #76 cover. Marvel Comics, 1983. Pencils and inks by Tom Palmer.

https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10154368750481258&set=pb.605636257.-2207520000.1451035416.&type=3&theaterseaa

 

Star Wars #86, page 3. Marvel Comics, 1983. Pencils by Bob McLeod. Finishes by Tom Palmer.

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Punisher #2, page 8. Marvel Comics, 2004. Pencils by Lewis LaRosa. Inks by Tom Palmer.
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X-Men: The Hidden Years #1, pages 2-3. Marvel Comics, 1999. Pencils by John Byrne. Inks by Tom Palmer.

 

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Avengers poster. Marvel Comics, 1989. Pencils by Paul Ryan. Inks and painting by Tom Palmer.
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Star Wars #62, page 22. Marvel Comics, 1982. Layouts by Walt Simonson. Finishes on duo-shade board by Tom Palmer.

 

Help Don Perlin

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Chris Schweizer’s Paper Nativity Informational Notes: Part 5

Over the next month, Chris Schweizer will be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model (a large papercraft crèche) mentioned last week that you can find and download here:

https://gumroad.com/l/ThkR

Rather than run it everyday Chris has given us permission to run it every few days.

Advent Calendar Day 16: Jeanette, Isabella

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“Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella” is a lovely five hundred year-old French carol in which we see two villagers hurrying to pay their respects to the newborn Christ child.
Aside from shepherds and magi, the canonical gospels (and, really, the majority of the apocryphal ones, too) are absent visitors and homage-givers. Yet in some cultures, especially France, there is a tradition of villagers and laborers spreading the news of the holy birth and flocking to participate.I haven’t had any luck finding the root of this, but it goes back at least as far as the late middle ages, and I suspect that it developed by the late 13th century. Beginning in 1315, Europe suffered a series of crises –the Great Famine, the Black Death, the Little Ice Age, populist revolts, and dynastic wars – that slashed the population by at least half.Before this, though, Europe’s population had drastically increased, health and mortality had seen marked improvement, and a long period of warmth and increased growing seasons coupled with better farming technology and a lack of external raids meant that enough food could be produced to support and encourage this growth. By 1300, Europe was more full of people than it had ever held, and this, I believe, would have put a strain on Nativity organizers.There would not have been many religious ceremonies in which peasants and laypeople could have been officially involved, but a living Nativity would have been such an avenue. If you have a handful of folks eager to participate, then you have your kings, shepherds, and possibly angels. If the greater part of a large high medieval population boom congregation wishes to involve themselves, you have to get creative.It’s also important to note that the Feast of Fools (ostensibly started as a liturgical observance meant to remind clergy of scripturally prescribed humility, but more likely it was an internally hilarious moose-lodge type of endcap to the Christmas season by the subdeacons from whose feast it likely evolved) had cemented itself in France as a public festival in which the lower stations were permitted unprecedented social rights during the feast day. Just as they would with Christmas in the mid-19th century and Halloween in the 21st, the ruling and upper classes took umbrage with these short designated periods of social revolution, and began to try to implement rules curtailing those rights, and over the 13th century you see increased resistance to the Feast of Fools from the Church. Though the feast isn’t officially outlawed until 1431, there’s definitely a movement to see its raucous side diminished if not extinguished, and I believe that the villagers-in-Nativities movement is an attempt on the part of religious and community leaders to shift their population’s energies from the Feast of Fools to Christmas (either that, or the communities themselves shifting their energies from one celebration to the other in order to retain as much of their practices as they were able). There are two points that I think support this assumption:1. Many of the social switcheroos (mayor is beggar/beggar is mayor) that form the heart of the Feast of Fools become standard European and, later, American Christmas traditions (though we don’t have them anymore, with their last remaining vestige a carol about demanding figgie pudding under threat of perpetual occupation).2. The tradition associated with the villagers evokes the Feast of Fools itself. There is a makeshift parade (the carols associated with the villagers nearly always focus on the journey to the manger) to the home of the highest in the region. Only in the nativity, the social subversion of the Feast is itself subverted, and the peasants are willfully going to the highest (who is, by virtue of his humble birth, also the lowest) not to demand food and presents but to instead offer them.That the villagers don’t bother to try and Bible it up so far as dress or naming conventions go gives further credence to the likelihood that the one tradition evolved from the other. The villagers of the French tradition are French villagers, provincials, not ancient Hebrews. Even today, French nativity crèches boast santons, which are depictions of near-modern provincial characters. And Jeanette and Isabella, with their decidedly medieval European names, bolster that tradition.I didn’t want the anachronism of putting turn-of-the-14th-century French girls in this nativity set, so I took their names and matched them to the regions from which those names later sprung – France and Italy, or, at the time of the first Christmas, Gaul and Rome (and dressed them accordingly). Daughters of citizens of Rome in Jerusalem, Jeanette and Isabella are in Bethlehem to get some country air, accompanying their dads who are occupied administering the census. They’re best friends and I reckon that this is one chapter in a childhood filled with many.
Advent Calendar Day 17: Amahl

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When I was a kid, my dad ran an opera company, and every Christmas (at least most of the ones that I remember) he put on a one-act Christmas opera by Gian Carlo Menotti: Amahl and the Night Visitors.

I know this opera backwards and forwards, having watched it who knows how many times, sat in on many of the rehearsals leading to those performances, and even being in it, one season as Amahl (I think it was only once, but it may have been twice) and another, later, as a camel driver.

Amahl is the story of a crippled boy whose livelihood (goats and shepherding) has been slowly whittled away by economic hardship until his only avenue is begging, which he intends to undertake the next day (though he is an unrepentant liar, so he’s probably just going to lounge on a rock or something).

The Three Kings stop at his house on their way to Bethlehem and seek lodgings. The impudent Amahl pesters them with a series of comic interactions, and the poor mother, with no other means by which to support her sickly child, makes to steal a little of the treasure being taken to some baby who won’t even appreciate it. She’s caught, and the kings forgive her in Christ’s name. Amahl, moved by this show of mercy, decides to give Jesus a present, too: the only thing he has: his crutch. When he reaches out to pass it to the kings, he stumbles, and catches himself on his previously lame leg. Miraculously healed, he dances around and leaves with the kings for Bethlehem.

Oh! And there’s one of those villager parades mentioned in the last essay.

The opera was the first ever commissioned for television, and, airing on Christmas Eve in 1951, had the largest audience ever for a televised opera. It was a yearly tradition on NBC until 1966, when disagreements between the network and composer led him to take the broadcast rights away.

Beverly Easterling Erin Denison Namie Cleamon R. Down

Advent Calendar Day 18: The Cherry Tree

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The cherry tree has come to be associated with Christmas through the Cherry Tree carol, a six hundred year-old ballad set during Mary and Joseph’s journey to Bethlehem. In it, Mary, passing under a cherry tree, gets a pregnancy craving for one, and asks Joseph to reach up and grab her one. Joseph, either doubting her tale of divine conception or not yet having been told of it (both versions exist), tells her that if she wants a cherry so bad then she ought to have the baby daddy get one for her. At this the cherry tree bends down to allow Mary to pluck a cherry from its branch. Joseph either then repents of his momentary doubt and spitefulness, or an angel appears and tells Joseph of Mary’s miraculous, dadless pregnancy.

This story stems from yet another apocryphal infancy gospel, but doesn’t have a Christmas or pre-Christmas setting. It’s set later, during the flight to Egypt. Mary’s craving isn’t a natal whim, but a nutritional necessity, and Joseph is upset over his inability to provide the family with food or drink in the desert, their supplies of both exhausted. The tree, not cherry but date, is called upon by little Jesus to bend down and give them fruit. Also its roots break the surface and provide plenty of water.

This is one of the many lil’ Jesus miracles.

The drawing here is, like in the carol, a cherry tree intended for a Christmas setting. I like the idea that the tree, its sentience activated, wished to continue it is worship, and followed them, providing food and shade and standing really still when anyone else was looking.

Advent Calendar Day 19: Little Drummer Boy
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The message of the carol “The Little Drummer Boy” is a good one: let each person make gifts of his or her means or talent, however meager.
Its single accolade upheld, I can now dwell on how much I dislike this song. For me, it’s likely a mix of irritation as a listener (it’s SO boring and repetitive and dirgey) and frustration as a singer (as a bass, any choir I was in that performed it saw those of us on the low register relegated to the endless and identical onomatopoeia). In either instance, my time would have been better served doing literally anything else on the planet. Come on, choir, get a drummer. Heck, even beat-box if you really, really need vocal percussion. That pa-rum-pum-pum-pum needn’t double the song’s length.I’m not alone in my contempt for this song. I’ve many a friendship whose bond has strengthened in our mutual dislike. David Bowie’s “Peace on Earth” was written for his duet with Bing Crosby because he famously refused to sing such obnoxious drivel. So why is this song so terrible?Well, it’s NOT terrible when it’s used for its intended purpose: children’s amateur choral performances. It’s a deliberately simple and repetitive song crafted specifically by its composer, the great and prolific music educator Katherine K. Davis, for youngsters whose musical and cognitive abilities don’t yet permit greater strain. And, so far as an elementary-age choir piece goes, it’s fine. But it shouldn’t be sung by adults without drastic alteration to the arrangement (which the song rarely, if ever, sees). It’s the Christmas equivalent of “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.”So despite how much I dislike the song, it’s not the song itself that I dislike, but the purpose to which it’s been turned.A similar song, but far more interesting in its complexity, is “Patapan”, a 300 year-old French carol which also has vocal instrumentation AND the central character of a little drummer boy (his name is Willie).

Listen here: https://youtu.be/s5Tk1n0VbeQ

SO! You’ve been tricked. The little drummer boy in the Nativity set is actually Willie of “Patapan” fame. Bwahahaha! I guess he could still be the kid from the other song, too. Santa has eight gazillion songs about him, drummer Willie can certainly have two.

Advent Calendar Day 20: The Caganer

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The caganer is a staple of Catalonian Nativity scenes, which, traditionally, have a lot of specific characters, including a weaver spinning thread and a woman washing clothes. The caganer, however, isn’t undertaking a professional task like the others; he’s hidden off to the side, pooping.

The figure, which likely began appearing in Nativity scenes in the late 1600s, seems to me a commentary on the pastoral motif that had become very popular during the baroque period. City folks, artists, and the nobility were enamored with the idea of a simple country life, but their romantic depictions rarely reflected its struggling, dirty reality. The caganer could easily be seen as a representation of the “real” within the idealized, tethering the first Christmas to reality in a way that the contrived and emotionally manipulative Nativity arrangements were failing to do.

There is a wonderful modern narrative that not only sweetens (Christmasises?) the idea of the caganer but which ties him to another poop-centric Catalonian Christmas tradition, the Tio’ de Nadal, a smiling log that poops candy on Christmas morning. As there is no earthly way to improve upon this juxtaposition of these two regionally and thematically linked characters, I’ll simply link to it. It’s a short, brilliant read:

http://comicsalliance.com/benito-cereno-and-anthony-clark-bring-you-a-true-christmas-story/

Smash Pages Q&A: Beukes and Halvorsen on Vertigo’s ‘Survivors’ Club’

In Survivors’ Club, writers Lauren Beukes and Dale Halvorsen and artist Ryan Kelly set up a very modern story about the child protagonists of 1980s horror movies. It begins with a meeting of six people, each of whom had a horrific experience in 1987. Chenzira, who called the group together, played a video game that created a catastrophe and is finding evidence that the game is making a comeback. This is the first clue that the dark forces of the past are returning to the present, and the six main characters of this book, the only survivors of the horrors of 1987, are being drawn together not just to solve the mysteries of their past but also to face a new threat in the present day.

strBrigid Alverson: You have described Survivors’ Club as sort of a “what happened next” to the protagonists of the great horror films of the 1980s. How did you decide which tropes and characters to use, and how did you refine them to make them work together into a unified story?

Halvorsen: We wanted each character to be representative of a genre of horror: slasher, J-horror, haunted house, creepy neighbor, cursed artefact, gates of hell. You don’t often get to see these interacting, like, Freddy vs Exorcist, for example. That’s what interested us, how we could play around with this.

Beukes: I think we’re both big fans of the mash-up and I’m known for genre-blending in my novels. It makes things fresh and interesting and subversive. We looked at what films we loved and how we could match up those different genres with our characters; what would suit them, what would be hideously uncomfortable for them.

Given that horror films are your biggest influence here, what parts of the story are pure Lauren and Dale—what makes it unique to you as a creative team?

Halvorsen: We both share a love of horror films. Lauren is more of a horror connoisseur, but I’ll watch anything. Part of what I bring to the storytelling is my encyclopedic bad film appreciation, throwing in suggestions from Basket Case or EvilSpeak.

Beukes: I don’t think you can separate us out. Our brains have commingled into one evil story-telling sentience. We riff off each other, the collaboration becomes play. We act out dialogue or stage block action. Dale says I’m the dialogue queen, but I can tell you that the wittiest and punniest lines are all him. I sometimes have to rein him in.

I’ve really been enjoying the collaboration and the way our minds work together. We’re always leveling up. It’s very different to the loneliness of solo novel writing.

Being from South Africa (although I know you have traveled to the U.S.), how did you perceive these films at the time you were first watching them, and how do you see them now? Did you think of them as foreign films or just part of the mass culture? How do you think the fact that you are viewing them in South Africa changes your point of view—are there particular things that resonate with your own world view?

Beukes: In pop-culture, we all grow up American. (Especially if you’ve been deprived of British television as a kid because of the UK’s sanctions against the apartheid government). We both have a very low tolerance for torture porn because the reality of violence in South Africa is so horrific, especially against women, those films demean what real people go through.

Halvorsen: Horror films are our generation’s fairytales. We all grew up with them, we all know those monsters. The good horror films are social commentary, like George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead.

Beukes: Oh yes! A lot of good horror is really about the monster within.

Why is Vertigo the right home for this comic? How do you think it fits with their line?

Beukes: [Vertigo editor in chief] Shelly Bond is a genius. She’s an amazing editor who has pushed for me to develop my own original title at Vertigo for years. But she also sees to the heart of the work, she knows how to push the story further and deeper, in the writing and the art. Vertigo has published some of my favorite adult comics and many of my favorite creators including Ed Brubaker, Paul Pope, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Mike Carey, G Willow Wilson, David Lapham, Pia Guerra, Tara McPherson, came up through Vertigo.

Halvorsen: We’re like the vampires who needed to be invited in by the publisher who saw the potential in our story. Hopefully they Let The Right One In.

Once you pitched the concept to Vertigo, how did Shelly Bond (or any other editor) help you refine it? Did you just go ahead on your own, or did they have any suggestions or guidance for you?

Beukes: Oh, Shelly had suggestions. So did our associate editor, Rowena Yow. 96% of the time, they’re absolutely right. The other 4% it’s because we haven’t explained our long game properly and they come round to why we’re doing a particular thing this way. We regularly have hour long Skype chats and they both push the story. We’re relative rookies (I’ve written one six issue comic arc before, Fairest: The Hidden Kingdom with Inaki Miranda) so their experience in the best ways how to tell the story are invaluable.

Halvorsen: They’re our first readers and they have a lot of questions that we take seriously.

Your writing process is very collaborative. What unique attributes do each of you bring to the team—does one of you sort of specialize in humor, action, snappy comebacks, creepy details?

Beukes: We’re both witty but Dale dials it up to eleven. Sometimes I have to reach in and dial him right back. The creep factor comes from both of us. What’s exciting is when we elaborate on each other’s ideas. “Yes! That’s so horrible and awful and twisted and what if we also did this?” Dale’s more visual so he thinks about what the panel looks like to better brief Ryan Kelly, our amazing artist, so we don’t drive him to distraction with conflicting actions or impossible camera angles. Dale does a crazy amount of research and brings all these weird articles or true crime podcasts to the table that we can feed into the story. He’s also a horror trope master. He’ll say things like “We need to bring in the prophet of doom”. Not forgetting that he’s the one who came up with the concept in the first place.

Halvorsen: We’re good at all of those things, dark humor, creepy details, snappy comebacks. I’m good at plotting. Lauren is the alien queen of dialogue and is an actual award-winning novelist, which means that words are her power. I’m learning a lot working with her.

Review: The Bozz Chronicles

Bozz Chronicles coverThe Bozz Chronicles
By David Michelinie, Bret Blevins, and John Ridgway
Foreword by Brandon Graham

The Bozz Chronicles, which writer David Michelinie described to CBR as “sort of like Sherlock Holmes meets The X-Files,” is a double period piece: It’s set in Victorian London, so there’s that, but it’s also very noticeably a comic from the 1980s, in both style and sensibility.

In fact, you can’t get much more 1980s than this: Michelinie says, in the introduction to the Dover edition, that his initial inspiration for the comic was the movie ET. That was just the initial spark, though. Michelinie’s Bozz is a space alien who crashed to earth and can never return to his home, but that’s where the resemblance ends.

For one thing, Bozz (that’s a human approximation of his unpronounceable alien name) is suicidal. He’s a highly evolved being trapped in a world filled with inferior beings, and he’s never going back. When we first meet him, the noose is already around his neck, but he is rescued by working girl Amanda Flynn. Amanda is bringing a reluctant customer up to what she thinks is an abandoned loft when she finds Bozz; the john flees in terror, but Amanda, displaying that heart of gold that prostitutes are famous for, takes charge of Bozz and saves his life.

Bozz - Amanda and Bozz 2

Somehow (details are kept to a minimum), Amanda and Bozz set up a detective agency which serves the dual purpose of making money (thus relieving Amanda of her former obligations) and keeping Bozz supplied with mysteries to solve. Boredom is deadly to him, and Amanda worries when the work runs dry, not because of the cash flow (well, maybe a little because of that) but because Bozz becomes despondent and suicidal without the distraction of solving mysteries.

Don’t bother thinking you can sleuth along with Bozz, though. These are not “fair play” mysteries where the reader knows as much as the detective; they all involve supernatural elements, often caused by humans meddling with the occult, and Bozz uses his rather eclectic powers (talking to animals, dowsing for electricity) to solve them.

Bozz - Amanda and Bozz

Bozz is an almost perfect personification of depression. He’s huge, dominating the space around him, yet smooth and passive. He looks at the world through half-lidded eyes, only coming to life when presented with a puzzle to solve or a desperate situation to get out of. The other characters, by contrast, crackle with energy, and they are as over-the-top as Bozz is subdued. Amanda, whose spaghetti straps and low-cut dresses are not really true to the period, is the one who pushes the story along, getting the jobs, making the arrangements, and doing most of the talking (although her lower-class accent would be a much bigger impediment in the real Victorian London than it is in these stories). The third member of the team is Salem Hawkshaw, a consonant-droppin’, chili-cookin’ American who supplies the brawn, if very little brains. There’s also a sort of adjunct member, Inspector Colin Fitzroy, a wealthy member of the gentry who went to work at Scotland Yard, to his family’s dismay, so he could make a difference in the world.

Bozz - SalemIndeed, the idle and evil rich vs. the industrious and more-or-less virtuous poor is a theme that pops up in various ways in these stories, which fits in with their Dickensian setting; Michelinie even throws in some orphans for good measure. And there are plenty of surprises, including (not to spoil things too much) a Jimmy Hoffa reference and a 19th-century hippie commune.

Artists Bret Blevins (who drew five of the six stories) and John Ridgway (who illustrated the fourth story) do a splendid job of bringing the characters to life, including the supernatural aspects. Nonetheless, as I mentioned at the beginning of this review, this comic has a very 1980s look and feel, in the character designs, the paneling, and the coloring. That doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of reading it, but it does look very different from a modern graphic novel.

The Bozz Chronicles was intended to be an ongoing series, with each issue a complete story. It came out bimonthly, but there were only six issues (one year’s worth) before the project came to an untimely end. This collection throws in a few extras, including a foreword by Brandon Graham, new introductions by Michelinie and Blevins, an afterword by Ridgway, and some bonus cover art. With this collected edition, Dover has done a great job of making these stories accessible to a new audience, as well as longtime fans.

Forbidden Planet has some background and a preview here.

Bozz - Vortex

The Moment: Huck

huckIn this week’s edition of The Moment, I detail how in some ways Huck reminds me of Mark Millar’s 1998 Superman Adventures run.

Superman Adventures remains the high point so far 0f Millar’s work, serving return to that form dating as far back as 1998. Huck is an incredibly likeable character in the way he is characterized in these first two issues there’s an unseen optimism to him I don’t know if it will last but all I know is it’s really a refreshing change from a lot of comics currently on the market. The moment that hooked me was from issue 2 when he could have quit but he chose to presevere and help people as he always does.

Rafael Albuquerque on art is merely icing on the cake.

Chris Schweizer’s Paper Nativity Informational Notes: Part 4

Over the next month, Chris Schweizer will be offering thoughts on the Nativity set model (a large papercraft crèche) mentioned last week that you can find and download here:

https://gumroad.com/l/ThkR

Rather than run it everyday Chris has given us permission to run it every few days.

Advent Calendar Day 13: The Midwife

gav 13

The midwife appears in the apocryphal mid-2nd century Gospel of James, as well as a variety of other non-canonical books that likely used James as one of their sources for nativity stories.

In the story, Mary goes into labor and Joseph leaves her with his sons (plural, which I missed earlier; I ought to have included at least one more in the set. Whoops!) in the cave to find a Hebrew midwife. He comes across one walking (the first woman he sees, luckily), and they race to the cave. Joseph is pretty darn open about the whole conceived-by-the-Holy-Spirit thing, laying all his business out without much prodding, and the midwife seems dubious until they get to the cave and Mary’s nethers are all aglow, lighting up the cave.

The midwife is understandably awed by glowbaby Jesus and the story told by Joseph, and runs to spread the news to some close friends.

When I was in early college I stumbled across the Gospel of James and was floored by it, mostly because, so far as Jesus fan-fiction goes, it’s pretty solid, filling in a lot of the gaps in the canonical gospels, satisfying genre conventions (annunciation of pregnancy to an old but pious couple, etc), and, most of all, adding elements that gave it an earthy and ancient realness (the stable being a cave, for instance, and the logistical necessity of a midwife). I copied it longhand in order to help with memorization. For some reason, who knows what, I thought it would be a worthwhile thing to be able to recall.

Advent Calendar Day 14: Salome

sall

Though the apocryphal Gospel of James doesn’t dwell on the medical details save for the description of a bright light accompanying the delivery, future books do, and Jesus goes from being “born” in the traditional sense to either phasing through Mary or beaming out of her, Star Trek-style, depending on the source.

The midwife, having witnessed temporarily intangible nightlight Jesus appear in this manner, runs out of the cave and encounters Salome, whose relationship with the midwife isn’t fully articulated. Is she a friend? An acquaintance? A relative, maybe? I kind of like the idea that she’s a nosy neighbor frenemy.

Anyway, the midwife tells Salome about Jesus’s miraculous conception, and Salome ain’t buying. So we get a scene that’s basically narrative apologetics for the Virgin Birth: The midwife, alerting Mary to the fact that she’s a subject of “great controversy” (highlighting the symbolic nature of this tableau; two people who’ve been talking about something for forty seconds do not a great controversy make), asks Mary to “show herself,” and Salome checks for a hymen.

Salome’s hand then withers up and seems likely to fall off, which I consider pretty darn fair payout for anybody keen on subjecting someone to the humiliation and discomfort of a physical virginity test, though contextually it’s Salome’s doubt, not the act, that causes it. Salome, freaked out and in pain, cries up to God to forgive her for doubting, and reminds him of how good a person she is. An angel appears and tells her to hold baby Jesus, which she does, and is cured.

Salome served a very important narrative role for early church followers, which was to give a scene in which the met-with-skepticism-Virgin-Birth is directly addressed not by pronouncements but by hard proof (albeit internal anecdotal proof).

I considered drawing her screaming at her dying mummy hand, but I thought it might pull too much from the hopeful solemnity of the crèche scene. Also, because the notion of a hymen being evidence of virginity is, biologically, an errant one (and one that I think has a negative social impact for both genders), I didn’t want any parents to have to explain it to their youngsters, probably necessary given its centrality to this particular story.

Unrelated, today is my thirty-fifth birthday.

Advent Calendar Day 15: The Druggist

duhh

In one of the apocryphal infancy gospels, the 8th or 9th century Arabic First Gospel of the Infancy of Jesus Christ, there’s a lot of crazy stuff that bolsters then-current theological traditions (infant Jesus gives a speech about his own divinity, chases off a robber band, brings to life toy animals, thwarts a vampire, and turns his hide-and-seek playmates into goats), especially the burgeoning emphasis on relics as a standard part of altar construction/veneration in the church. Some folks want to date the Infancy Gospel a couple of centuries earlier, but aside from the statistical unlikelihood of pre-Islamic written texts that could have been translated by westerners in the 17th century (which is when this one found its way to Europe), the motive of any scripture is always colored by the situation of its author(s), and the Infancy Gospel practically reads like a J. Peterman catalog of potential relics, explaining how they would have come to be preserved. This, I think, is the most striking indicator of a post-second-council-of-Nicaea (787 CE) date of authorship, when relics became official church policy rather than merely accepted church policy.

In this book, Jesus’s circumcision is given a specific location: the cave of his birth. The midwife takes the foreskin (yep!) and/or his umbilical cord, and puts it in an alabaster box full of oil-of-spikenard (muskroot). She then gives this to her druggist son and tells him to never sell it. The verse that immediately follows tells us that Mary of Bethany procured the box and used the oil on Jesus when she washed his feet and head, so apparently the druggist didn’t listen to his ma.

Basically, this is the origin story of the Holy Prepuce, which is what the church called Jesus’s foreskin, a relic of which there were, as might be expected, many (after all, what church wouldn’t want a divine weiner flap on the communion table, legit or not?). There’s a lovely article by oft-mentioned Christmas expert Benito Cereno about controversy surrounding these, and you really should read it, but this story is the evidence of its preservation, the eBay certificate of authenticity of the 8th century:

http://benito-cereno.tumblr.com/post/76697555260/your-post-about-st-valentine-got-me-thinking


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