Interview with MICHAEL ALAN NELSON

NelsonMA-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Michael Alan Nelson?

I grew up in a small farming community in northern Indiana. Lots of corn and woods and swamp, but not much else. However, we lived about ninety minutes from downtown Chicago, so my parents would make sure to get me into the city now and again to remind me there was a larger world out beyond the seemingly endless cornfields. It was actually a nice place to be. I got to experience that stereotypical “small town” life (for all its good and ills) and yet still be exposed to a large, diverse world beyond my back yard. I would spend a Saturday helping my dad cut down trees and split wood (we heated our home with a wood burning stove) and then head into the city on Sunday to visit Adler Planetarium or the Field Museum–though, to be honest, I much preferred the museums to splitting wood.

I was also a bit of a kid-of-all-cliques when I was growing up. I was always shy so people never paid much attention to me. That allowed me to occupy this odd space that floated between several different social strata. I was in theater, competed on the speech team, but I was also a varsity wrestler. Of course, sometimes I would skip practice to play Dungeons&Dragons. When I was supposed to be working on takedowns, I’d be in the bed of a pick-up truck parked in some random cornfield rolling for initiative. Needless to say, I didn’t have a very promising wrestling career. Continue reading

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Interview with MARK SMYLIE

SmylieM-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Mark Smylie?

Let’s see. I was born in Florida; my mother was Japanese, she had come to the States to study piano at Julliard, and my father is a Presbyterian minister who worked for the Church’s national body as their liaison to the United Nations (now long retired). I grew up in New Jersey and have lived there on and off for most of my adult life (with stints in New York and California). I’ve worked mostly in comics publishing, both as a writer/artist and as a publisher (I founded a company called Archaia that is now an imprint at BOOM! Studios).

Your debut novel, The Barrow, was published by Pyr Books last month in the US and this week in the UK. How would you introduce the novel to a new reader? Is it the first in a series?

The novel was written as a stand-alone but Pyr has agreed to publish two sequels so, yes, for better or for worse I’m afraid it’s yet another fantasy trilogy. The novel is part epic fantasy, part horror story, and I guess what could be termed part undercover detective story. At first glance it’s about a group of criminals and adventurers of few if any scruples that are following a map to find a fabled lost sword, but nothing is quite as it seems.

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The novel is, I believe, adapted from a comic series. What inspired you to write the novel, and what was it like adapting the world for fiction?

It might be more accurate to say that the novel is spun off from a comics series I (used to) write and draw, an epic military fantasy story called Artesia, but it’s actually an adaptation (and expansion) of a screenplay begun back in 2004 or so. I wrote the initial screenplay with my brother, John Smylie, and a friend of ours, Hidetoshi Oneda, who was a commercial director that worked mostly in Japan. We were working on the idea of creating a low-budget prequel to the comics series (which given its military content is something that would be very costly to try filming as is). The story was initially intended as a kind of metaphor for the search for weapons of mass destruction, as we were starting to get deep into the messy aftermath of the invasion of Iraq at the time. My brother and I had always talked about the idea of turning it into a novel at some point. In many ways the novel as a medium is much better suited for fantasy writing; you get more of a chance to fill in background and flesh out a world, I think, than you do in comics, where the format of panels and word balloons is much more restrictive.

Where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

LockStock&2SmokingBarrelsAll over the place. The setting is inspired by Greek, Roman, and Celtic mythology, late medieval and early Renaissance Europe, Marija Gimbutas’ writings on proto-European Goddess culture, Carlo Ginzurg’s work on shamanism and medieval witchcraft; there are bits and pieces of the poststructuralist analysis of mythology from writers like Vernant and Detienne, classic Joseph Campbell monomyth hero quests, years of roleplaying games and other fantasy novels. The underground scene of the main city in the story is modeled after some years spent living in New York City in the late ’80s and early ’90s when the city still felt a little dangerous, so there’s a kind of postpunk, transgender vibe going on as well which might seem odd for a fantasy setting to some readers (and the film script was originally conceived as Dungeons & Dragons meets Lock Stock & Two Smoking Barrels or The Usual Suspects). Horror films, military history, costume, cooking and cuisine; it all kind of gets thrown in a blender.

How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?

My father used to read my brother and I stories when we were little kids; he read us the Chronicles of Narnia, and he was reading us Tolkien when my father realized we were finishing the pages faster than he was reading them aloud. So my brother and I went on to finish the Lord of the Rings on our own. I’ll read other genres and general fiction, but fantasy literature is where I come back again and again.

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How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry?

I feel very, very lucky. I mean, it’s a difficult industry to work in with the rewards few and far between, but I’ve been very fortunate to do something that I love and to publish the works of a lot of writers and artists that I admire.

Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

I’ve got a pretty large research library, it’s a reasonably specialized one built over 20+ years of book collecting, so a lot of the time I sort of wander over to my bookshelves with an idea in the back of my head – a remembered illustration, or a chart, or a line of text – and start flipping through pages. I’ll make notes to myself about something that I want to include in the story – a myth, a kind of pastry, a piece of costume – and use those notes to build the details of the world. I think a fantasy setting needs to feel real, like you can smell it, taste it. Though nowadays a lot of readers don’t seem to have much time for exposition; they just want to read dialogue, as though we’re now a nation of script readers. I try to have an outline that I’m constantly reworking as I write, so that I know how what I’m writing is going to tie into where I want to wind up. And then I reread and rewrite.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

I don’t think I ever made a conscious decision to be an author. I took art classes in high school, drew comics, played a lot of roleplaying games; I took a creative writing class in college and found it kind of tough going, in part because I was always a genre guy and back then genre wasn’t something you were supposed to aspire to. I tried my first “official” comic book soon after college but couldn’t find a publisher for it; it wouldn’t be until my comic book Artesia came out, when I was thirty, that I would have my first published work as a writer/artist.

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What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

We’re definitely living in a kind of geek Golden Age – whether it’s television, comics, film, novels, there’s an enormous variety in terms of the kind of material that’s out there and so much of it is being produced at a very high level of quality. I think that also makes it very competitive for those of us that are tying to get our work out in this kind of marketplace right now, which can be kind of tough. I’m not sure where my own work falls into it all; Artesia was sort of a pagan Joan of Arc military fantasy story, but The Barrow is more horror-oriented, very much grimdark, I suppose, though I didn’t discover that term until a few months ago.

What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?

Well, in terms of my personal work I’m currently working on the sequel to The Barrow, called Black Heart, along with a board game set in the world of the book and the comics, with an eye towards doing a second edition of an Artesia roleplaying game that I put out back in 2005. I’m still at Archaia as my day job, transitioning over to hopefully starting a games line for the company soon.

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

SmylieM-ReadingFiction

For fiction I’m juggling Steven Erikson’s Gardens of the Moon (I’d never read Erikson before but several reviewers have compared my work to his so I figured I’d better get familiar with it), Scott Lynch’s Republic of Thieves, and Kate Elliott’s Cold Magic. For non-fiction research I’ve been glancing through City of Sin, a history of the underbelly of London by Catharine Arnold, and Israel’s Beneficent Dead: Ancestor Cult and Necromancy in Ancient Israelite Religion and Tradition by Brian Schmidt.

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What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

Given the sex and violence in the book I suspect some readers might be surprised to learn that I have a daily yoga practice (hatha raja vinyasa mixed with ashtanga). Or that I have a lot of cats (not on purpose).

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

World peace and a cure for cancer?

Suicide Risk, Vol.1 (Boom Studios/Titan Comics)

SuicideRisk-Vol.1-ArtWriter: Mike Carey | Artist: Elena Casagrande

Even when there are only villains, being a hero makes you a…

Super-powered people are inexplicably rising from the streets and there’s a big problem: Too many supervillains, not enough superheroes. Heroes are dying, and cops are dying twofold. Humanity is underpowered in the face of their onslaught, and people are suffering untold casualties trying to stem the flow.

After barely surviving a super-powered bank heist gone horribly wrong, beat cop Leo Winters vowed to try and find a way to stop them. Following a lead, he discovered two lowlifes who seemed to be able to grant a person powers… for the right price. Thing is: you don’t get to choose which power. It’s seemingly random, a crap-shoot, a risk. Will Leo decide to take that risk? And why is it that even the heroes in this world eventually break?

Collects: Suicide Risk #1-4

I have long been a fan of Mike Carey’s work – his comic-series The Unwritten and Lucifer (Vertigo) are easily among my top five favourites; and his most recent novel, The Girl With All the Gifts (Orbit) is one of my favourite reads this year. Carey’s new original ongoing series is a great one. Anyone interested in superheroes should check this out. Continue reading

Loki is Everywhere…

Loki seems to be popping up in ever-more places. This is no doubt thanks, in part, to the huge success of Marvel’s Avengers and two Thor movies, and the popularity of Tom Hiddleston’s excellent portrayal of the Norse trickster god. (And Hiddleston did a fantastic job.)

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Cover by Jenny Frison

Marvel is capitalising on the character’s popularity by releasing a new comic series with the character at centre-stage: LOKI: AGENT OF ASGARD. The series will be written by Al Ewing, with art duties handled by Lee Garbett. Here’s what Marvel has said (thus far) about the series:

“LOKI is back and craftier than ever as the All-Mother’s secret weapon against Asgardia’s strangest threats. With his serpent’s tongue, debonair charm, and taste for the uncanny, there’s no assignment Loki won’t take — including the untimely stabbing of THOR! The surprises only start here for the Prince of Lies, as the most conniving corners of the Marvel Universe are blown open…”

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Variant Cover by Frank Cho; Animal Variant by Mike Del Mundo

Meanwhile, Boom Studios has recently announced LOKI: RAGNAROK AND ROLL, their own comic book starring the trickster deity. According to the press release, the series is “a heavy metal twist on Norse mythology” and shows “what happens when you take the classic Norse god Loki and throw him into a rock and roll band in the underground goth clubs of Los Angeles”. This, to me, sounds pretty fun… The series is written by Eric Esquivel and art will be provided by Jerry Gaylord (who has also worked on the rather fun Fanboys vs. Zombies). Here are the two covers for Loki: Ragnarok and Roll #1:

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Loki: Ragnarok and Roll #1 Alexis Ziritt and Jerry Gaylord Variants

Here’s a little more information about the series:

Loki steps out of the shadow cast by his thunderous brother as Norse mythology crosses over with the only thing on Earth as wild and crazy — rock and roll!

What happens when Odin banishes Loki to Earth? He finds a world of outcasts that appreciate his style! While his kin sharpen their weapons, he picks up an electric guitar.

Keeping with the Norse mythology theme, Esquivel also penned Thor: The Unkillable Thunder Christ, which I may now have to hunt down…

And, last but by no means least, we have the highly-anticipated THE GOSPEL OF LOKI novel written by Joanne M. Harris. True, this novel is removed from the Marvel Comics universe, but Gollancz/Orion still couldn’t resist adding the following text to the book’s page on their website:

“For fans of THE AVENGERS, this is the first adult epic fantasy novel from the multi-million-copy bestselling author of CHOCOLAT, Joanne Harris.”

Hmm… A little shameless, methinks. Here is the novel’s synopsis:

With his notorious reputation for trickery and deception, and an ability to cause as many problems as he solves, Loki is a Norse god like no other. Demon-born, he is viewed with deepest suspicion by his fellow gods who will never accept him as one of their own and for this he vows to take his revenge.

But while Loki is planning the downfall of Asgard and the humiliation of his tormentors, greater powers are conspiring against the gods and a battle is brewing that will change the fate of the Worlds.

From his recruitment by Odin from the realm of Chaos, through his years as the go-to man of Asgard, to his fall from grace in the build-up to Ragnarok, this is the unofficial history of the world’s ultimate trickster.

And here’s that beautiful cover again…

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President Obama in Comics: An Interesting and Peculiar Selection from the Sub-Sub-Genre…

President Obama has already featured in a number of comic books: be they comic/graphic adaptations of his life story, campaign-biography style one-shots, or cameos in established series comic series (such as Marc Guggenheim’s Avenging Spider-Man, below). Few presidents have excited the imaginations of such a broad segment of the American public and creative industries as has the 44th president. As someone who is interested in the cross-over areas of politics, media and pop culture, these past five years have been a fertile time for alternative presidential coverage.

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Boom Studios’ Barack Obama 2012 Election Issue

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Barack Obama: The Comic Book Biography (IDW, 2012); Marvel’s Amazing Spider-Man: Election Day Cover, 2008 (above) and interior pages (below)

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Most recently, IDW Comics published The Other Dead (currently at issue #4), which is elevator-pitched as “Zombie Animals Devour the World”. The longer-form description sounds like a familiar, fauna-twist on The Walking Dead:

“As a weary community braces for the onslaught of an incoming superstorm, an even more insidious force grows right under their noses! When a sudden outbreak turns every animal in sight into raging, flesh-craving monsters, a colorful cast of characters will have no choice but to contend with THE OTHER DEAD!”

But, as the series unfolds, and the infection spreads across America, a diverse cast of characters – “ranging from a demon-obsessed death metal band to a paranoid survivalist to the President of the United States himself” – will try to contend with and combat “the most unpredictable zombie outbreak in history.” I don’t have any interior page previews featuring the president, but of the 11 cover variants that have thus-far been revealed for the first four issues, there are two (#1 and #4) that feature President Obama prominently, toting some serious firepower:

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The Other Dead issues #1-4 are out now, published by IDW Comics. The series is written by Joshua Ortega and Digger T. Mesch, cover artwork is by Kevin Eastman, interior artwork is by Qing Ping Mui, and colouring by Blond.