Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bicentennial Comics

Every once in a while I like to look forward by looking back.

I was seven years old in July 1976, when the entire country colorfully celebrated the American Bicentennial. I remember school art projects, fireworks, parties, parades, all kinds of pins and other mementos, TV specials, and magazine covers.

Oh yeah, and comic books.

I honestly can't recall ever reading a Captain America comic book before Jack Kirby's Captain America's Bicentennial Battles, but that massive ("treasury"-sized) book quickly burned its way into my brain. I became a life-long fan of Steve Rogers, Jack Kirby, and, of course, history.

I still have my battered copy of Bicentennial Battles. I re-read it every few years. Of course in many ways it doesn't hold up, but in others it remains a high point of comics from that era.

But Bicentennial Battles is very lonely in my collection. Even though I fondly remember two other Bicentennial-themed comics from that year, they have long since left my possession. I want them back, and I want the rest.

Over the past few years, I have trimmed and slashed my comic-book collection over and over again. Now it's time to build it back up again, only in a more focused way. I'm going to pick a few kinds of comics that I want to collect and slowly seek them out.

Bicentennial comics shall come first.

It shouldn't be too hard. I've done some research. From what I can tell, there weren't all that many Bicentennial comics. Some of their connections to 1776/1976 were pretty tenuous. Quite a few were kids' comics. But I'm still going to try to track them down.

Here are the covers for the titles that I have identified so far. Some of them should be easy to find. Others may take a while. No worries, I'm not in a rush. I'll just try to finish my collection before the tricentennial.

Not exactly patriotic, but I think my collection would be lacking if I didn't include this.

A restaurant freebie? I'm not sure if this will be worth tracking down, but I'll give it a shot.

Who knew Dennis the Menace was so patriotic?

I had this one as a kid. Memories of it are what sent me down this trail.

Okay, so it's a calendar, not a comic book. Close enough.

A book, but it's about comics, so it counts. 

I don't think the date on this one is quite correct, but it seems close.

You can't tell from the cover, but apparently there's a Bicentennial story inside.

Another restaurant freebie. Hmm.

I had this one, too. Hmm. Maybe giant-sized "treasuries" should be the next category that I collect!

 Did I miss any? Let me know. I'll add 'em to the list! (Update: I've already added a few -- thanks to everyone's contributions!)

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014: My year in books

I have a room in my house devoted to books and comic books. Boxes and boxes of the damn things. They've been sitting there for a few months, ever since we moved from Maine to Oregon. Some day soon I'll start to buy some new bookcases, un-box the books and spread them around the house, but for now they'll just have to sit there where the movers dumped them this past August.

Hopefully it won't take too long to dig into those boxes, because I own hundreds (if not thousands) of books and comics that I haven't had a chance to read yet. I read an average of a book or two a week, but there's never enough time to truly catch up, is there? This year's move -- not to mention my excessive work schedule and the terrible health problems that plagued my family -- also served to slow down my reading.

I know you're waiting for the total, so here it is: I read 100 books this year. That's a lot, but it's quite a bit below the 119 books that I read in 2013 and the 115 that I read in 2012. It's also a much lower number of pages: I read more short books (primarily graphic novels) than anything else this year. That's an adaptation that I needed to make. With everything going on this past year, I just didn't have the luxury of focusing on longer, more involved novels as much as I wanted to.

I did read some damned good books, though. Top of the list, "Cabinet of Curiosities" by Guillermo del Toro. If you want to read something that will inspire you and kickstart your creativity, pick this one up.

Worst book? Well, I think the most disappointing one was "To Hell You Ride," a graphic novel by actor Lance Henriksen, whose extreme right-wing politics and conspiracy theories destroy a story that had a lot of potential.

Now, looking at books alone hardly captures the true depth of my reading in 2014. I read a LOT of articles, short stories, individual comic books and essays that could never be tallied in a way like this.

Looking ahead, I'm going to work hard to get back to reading novels this year. I have a few boxes of them ready and waiting for me, after all.

2014 in Articles

New Year's Day is good for three things: sleeping in, looking back and looking ahead.

I already slept in. I'll look ahead later today. For now I'm looking back.

This was a busy, busy year. In addition to moving all the way across the country -- no small endeavor, let me tell you -- I worked my tail off. Well, more specifically my fingers. I published 286 articles last year, ranging from short news posts to massive magazine features. That averages to about one article per work day, although some of the articles took months of work to pull together.

This is actually the lowest number of articles I have published in years (I published 392 in 2013 and more than 400 in 2012), but I concentrated on more involved work that had a greater impact. I also dramatically increased my per-article fee as a result (something freelancers always need to focus on achieving).

My favorite article of the year wasn't really an article -- it was an essay celebrating 10 years of my Extinction Countdown blog/column over at Scientific American. It's one of the most emotional things that I have ever written.

I have a lot of other favorites from this past year -- they're all my babies -- but I think for the purposes of this post I'll narrow it down to two, one more for SA and another for TakePart:

Found: A Snake Species No One Believed Existed

Cheetahs are Being Wiped Out, and Selfies are to Blame

You can find links to the other 283 articles from 2014 here.

With that out of the way, let's go ahead and look ahead: I look forward to filling 2015 with more amazing articles. Thank you for reading. I couldn't do this without you.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Hot Stuff, Stumbo the Giant and the worst comic-book villain of all time

Lately I find myself absolutely obsessed with old "Hot Stuff" comic books. Yes, the little red devil in a diaper, the guy you see on all kinds of bad tattoos and almost nowhere else these days. I know it seems silly, but the Hot Stuff stories (usually written and drawn by the late Howie Post) are full of great wordplay and absolutely amazing cartooning. I can't get enough of them.

But "Hot Stuff" wasn't just about Hot Stuff. Each issue also features a truly charming "Stumbo the Giant" story by another late cartoonist, Warren Kremer. I love the "Stumbo" stories and they deserve a massive, comprehensive book collection. Kremer's artwork is a wonder to behold. His lines are full of life and style and Stumbo, who's all heart, is one of the all-time great comic-book characters. 

Once in a while, Stumbo faced off against the guy you see above, Dr. Cesspool, probably the ugliest and worst-named villain to ever appear in a kid's comic. Luckily the dude was a pretty incompetent mad scientist. In one particular episode (from an issue of "Devil Kids" that I picked up at last week's Rose City Comic Con), he gave first Stumbo and then a volcano a fake case of the measles (yes, you read that right). Obviously, things did not work out the way he had planned.

Dr. Cesspool may be a silly and kinda stupid mad scientist, but the story was drawn with style and genius. I plan on tracking down more "Hot Stuff" issues in the future.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Back from the Borderlands

Well this is exciting. The long-out-of-print anthology BORDERLANDS 5, containing my short story "All Hands," is finally available again, this time in a handy-dandy Kindle edition. It's hard to believe that it's been 11 years since this book first came out, initially in a limited-edition hardcover and then as a mass-market paperback (called "From the Borderlands").

Unfortunately, the e-book edition doesn't include a handful of the original stories, most notably the exemplary "Stationary Bike" by Stephen King, but the majority of the tales are still there and they're all fantastic.

This is probably the best (and weirdest) short story I ever wrote. I hope you'll give it a look.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2013 in books

I had an unstated goal this year: to read 120 books. That might seem like a lot, but I managed to read 115 books in 2012, so I figured I could beat that, right?

Well, I did beat the 115 but I didn't quite make it to 120. According to my tally on Goodreads, I read a grand total of 119 books in 2013, and that's still a number I can live with. It's a lot more than I have read in many years past and more than most people get to in a single year.

How the hell did I manage to consume so many books? Well for one thing, I read a lot of fairly short books. A good number of the titles on my list were novellas and graphic novels -- they don't take a heck of a long time to read. For another, I tend to read a lot of fast-paced crime novels -- they're often impossible to put down. For a third, we live in the middle of nowhere and my partner Colleen has spent the past dealing with some particularly troubling health issues (I won't go into details), so we don't go out very often. That leaves a lot of time for reading.

Now the reading, as much as I completed, didn't go entirely as planned. I originally set out to make this the year that I made my way through the novels of Joe R. Lansdale, who has long been one of my favorite writers. I read several of his books this year, but at some point I transitioned to reading more novels by Max Allan Collins and Lawrence Block, two of my other favorites. I don't expect I'll ever be able to get my way through all of Block's backlist (he's written a heck of a lot of novels, and I've barely made a dent in his bibliography), but I think I could get most of the way through the Lansdale and Collins lists in 2014 if I really push it. We'll see -- they both keep putting out a lot of new novels, and there are so many other authors also worth reading.

So what were the best books that I read in 2013? Well, I'll start with Block. I read most of his series about Keller, the stamp-collecting hit man, this year. The first one, "Hit Man," is especially good, but the next three are also excellent. Another Block work that simply stunned me was the novella "A Candle for the Bag Lady."

I read two Ray Bradbury collections this year: "A Medicine for Melancholy" (short stories) and "Bradbury Speaks" (essays). Both filled me with magic and joy. My Bradbury reading in the past was more the occasional short story than complete books; I'll remedy that error in the future.

Terry Moore's series "Rachel Rising" continues his trend of putting out the best comic books on the market. The first three graphic novel collections of this series were stunning.

Lansdale's "Lost Echoes," "The Boar" and "A Fine, Dark Line" did not disappoint. "The Boar," especially, impressed and stuck with me.

Almost every Collins book I read was excellent. I love his series about Nathan Heller, the fictional PI who "solves" real-world historical cases. "Blood and Thunder" and "Damned in Paradise" stand out in my mind.

Also notable: "March: Book One," the graphic novel by Congressman John Lewis and his collaborators. I can't wait for book two.

The worst book I read this year? The graphic novel "The Milkman Murders." I normally like the creators, but this one fell completely flat for me.

The most disappointing book? Well, I read several novellas in the "Dead Man" series created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin -- they're normally fun, pulpy, horror-tinged stories, and a few of them were truly excellent (Harry Shannon's "Kill Them All" and Aric Davis's "The Black Death" come to mind), but book 15, "The Killing Floor" by David Tully, contained such a badly stereotyped Native American character that it was borderline racist. It soured me on the whole series.

Anyway, that's the scoop on my 119 books for 2013. What will 2014 hold? Who knows -- but I'm already halfway through the first book of the year (which would have been #120 for 2013 if I had finished it), so I'd say I'm off to a good start.

Here's to good books in your future, as well.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Who? What? Where?

Earlier today I found myself suddenly (and really inexplicably) nostalgic for the old Doctor Who Magazine. I subscribed for several years back when I was in high school, the same years when I would spend every Saturday night watching the show on New Jersey Network (I didn't date much). I remember how each issue would come in a brown air mail envelope from the UK. I'd tear open each envelope and tear through each issue, sucking down every bit of information that I read.

Of course, I barely remember any of it now. Strange bits and pieces flash into my memory now and then, especially when watching the new episodes, but most of what I read is gone to the sands of time. I do remember a few covers, and I think the one shown here was from the first issue that I read back in the day. This cover gallery has inspired a few more memory flashes. I wish that I remembered more.

I also used to subscribe to some sort of Doctor Who fan club newsletter. I can't find anything that looks familiar online, so I'm pretty confused as to what that might have been. Oh, time, you're a harsh mistress.

Magazines like this didn't last through the 57 moves I have made over the years. That's probably a good thing, or I'd be re-reading them all right now, along with issues of Dynamite, Bananas, Dragon, and whatever other geeky stuff I used to have piled around my teenaged self's room. But all the same, it's nice looking back and remembering what was, and who I used to be.