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Saturday, January 31, 2009

Unnamed Superhero Story

I have been writing comics for several years but have never actually published a superhero story-- not in comics, anyway. Several years ago I published two novels for Marvel-- an X-Men/Spider-Man team-up book and an Incredible Hulk novel called Abominations. But no comics. The comics I've written have been "plain clothes" and largely independent, such as Sword of Dracula, Soulcatcher and Sylvia Faust, and one Marvel comic, Strange Magic, about a witch. (All have female main characters, whatever that means.) I've also done hero-like manga in Psy-Comm. But never a hero comic.

So this was a big week-- a story idea I pitched had been setting at Marvel for about three months, not moving. Then suddenlyon Friday the story was rejected with a "try something else, but fast." This was hilarious because the editor was basically saying: "Get me an [Unnamed Superhero] story-- STAT!" There's always a caveat in there that the story must not suck.

Here's how the process went:

Friday: Editor says, "get me a new idea. This is an 8-page, self-contained story in [Unnamed] continuity."

An hour later: I send two ideas that I think I can fit into an 8-pager.
Monday: Editor says-- this is the actual email--

"Ok, let’s go with [Title of Pitch].

I’d say you might want to set up something in the very beginning, something brief that hints at [Hero’]s motivation to see [Character.] Perhaps a scene with other [redacted] or a flashback. Nothing too obvious but something that seeds the punch line.

Also, maybe we shouldn’t set this up as something that happens all the time, just this once. Otherwise you wonder why they keep letting him do this or why they haven’t caught on. I like that they threaten him with hurting/killing the others.

I think we can just go to script from here. I’m hoping you can find that subtle widget that can tie the beginning and end together and enhance the poignancy of the story.

When do you think you’d have the first draft ready?

I said, "I can get you a draft by Wednesday." It's an 8-pager. Of course I can, if I know what it's about. The toughest part would be that last request from the editor-- "some subtle widget," something nice that would make the story be memorable, touching, something special. What would it be? Who knows?

Wednesday: I turn in a draft of the 8-pager. In case you're wondering, here is what my format looks like:
I script in Final Draft and output pdfs. The numbers indicate panel numbers, but actually they're just guides-- the artist can split up the panels however makes sense.

The final story turns out to be a little different from the pitch. The main character's motivation got simpler but also more complicated. Also, I think I found a Subtle Widget.

An hour later, Editor sends back some notes. Change this pose I describe because he likes something else better. Add in this detail at the beginning because, unknown to the writer, this story will be in an anthology where we haven't presented this world very much, and it needs more setup.

I turn around the draft during a lunch break from my games work. Edit, pdf, attach, mail.

An hour after that, changes accepted and that's that.

So, from no superhero comics to one coming out in a few months.


Thursday, January 29, 2009

Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires

Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires is one of the movies that strongly influenced SWORD OF DRACULA, not because SOD is all filled with kung fu, but because this movie really started to test the concept of Van Helsing as globe-trotting vampire hunter.

This movie came out in 1974 as part of the "Great Opening" between China and the West-- it may even have been the first Chinese-Western modern film. Hammer hoped it would be the first of a series of traveling Van Helsing movies. I can't help but think what a wacky movie this must have seemed to audiences who had never seen Chinese horror.

Dracula, according to this movie, went to China to found a vampire cult of seven hopping vampires who wear golden masks. Van Helsing is lecturing in the east and is recruited by kung fu star David Chiang to help him and his six siblings to go take back the night. Cushing is great, as always, but who needs him in this movie? The real stars are David Chiang and his six brothers and one sister, each of who specialize in a different martial arts weapon. Sister is my favorite, playing knick-knack on fast-moving kung-fu zombies with her sparkling silver sai. Second favorite is the brother with the silver battle-axes.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Esperanto Captain Kirko: "Incubus"

If you haven't seen the horror movie Incubus-- the only movie shot entirely in Esperanto-- I recommend throwing a party for it. We called ours "Esperanto Captain Kirko."

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Dracula on the Moon at Marvel

So, no blogging for a couple of days around the Inauguration-- though I wish I could find a story where Dracula becomes President-- but this did appear at Newsarama and is worth passing along.

Dracula and Doctor Doom on the Moon-- this is the most recent return of the Marvel Dracula, in the pages of Captain Britain.

The king of the vampires is back. As if the hoards of demons that Pete Wisdom let out in order to defeat the Skrulls in England weren’t enough, now DRACULA has entered the scene. What does he want with Spitfire? And how will an election help his cause? You better hope that Captain Britain and the rest of MI13 have a way to defeat him!

I'm always interested in what other creators are doing with Dracula and the rest of the monster pantheon, so while Greg, Ed and I are finishing The Dracula War, I suppose we'll have to go hang out with Doom.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

El Vampiro

From Bollywood to Mexico.

I love Mexican vampire movies of the Gothic era. Why?
  • Almost all of these movies are in black and white, which has an ability to make sets that would appear slightly slapdash in color instead appear sumptuous. And some of the sets really are sumptuous, especially in El Vampiro (which you can get on DVD), starring German Robles as the vampire Duval.
  • In El Vampiro, young Marta makes a trip back to the family ranch (called "the Sycamores") for the reading of the will. But the great ranch is under the sway of a curse that has sickened the generations, and the neighbor, Count Lavud, may have something to do with it. The movie is stylish and creepy.
  • Mexican vampire movies are very, very Catholic in a way that American vampire movies never could be. The sense of horror at the power of Satan and awe of the healing power of the cross are stronger here than in Hollywood, London, or strangely even Italy. If you want Rome, watch an Italian movie-- but if you want Catholic, you want Mexico, or maybe Spain. Don't ask me why.
  • When I was a kid, these movies were available on TV in packages that played on early Saturdays on local UHF stations and cable networks like USA. Many of them were badly dubbed, but the effect was a strange one for a child-- the non-matching voices, the black and white film, and the alien sets and customs, all combined to create an amazing dream world of women in gossamer and vampires in courtyards
  • I would love to see a moody, creepy remake of El Vampiro, but it would be like trying to remake Horror of Dracula. Why bother? They're right there.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bollywood Vampires!

I've seen a lot of vampire movies. I've seen Mexican vampire movies, Chinese vampire movies, Malaysian vampire movies. Filipino vampires? Sure.

But until this weekend I had never seen an Indian vampire movie. But here one is, and I'll let you know if I discover more.

Bandh Darwaza was made in 1990, and is a true Bollywood picture in every sense of the word. The story is pure folklore-- Neola (a very Western-looking vampire) grants a woman her wish to have children, but demands that if the baby is a girl, that it be turned over to him. Mom flakes on this bargain, and when the child has grown into a singing, dancing, Bollywood starlet, the demon returns to make her his Bride.

There are dance numbers.

These are indeed two great tastes that taste great together.

So, is this a good film? What on earth could that mean? I mean, Don't Look Now is a good film. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a good film. Bandh Darwaza (and yes, it's on DVD) is a trip. Sometimes all I want is a trip.

Here's the trailer...

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Best. Hammer. Ever.

Hammer movies are my favorite horrors, and yet every one is flawed-- either something went wrong with the script, or the cast, or the budget, or the schedule, or the final release edit-- but in my mind there is a perfect Hammer, with its lurid yet elegant colors and strange Euro-brit geography and customs.

BRIDES OF DRACULA comes closest to capturing the Hammer of Forms-- it is my favorite vampire movie, although its focus is Peter Cushing as the amazing Hammer version of Van Helsing, a sort of action hero with a heart of gold. This was Cushing's second time playing the part. BRIDES OF DRACULA contains a bunch of amazing sequences, but Cushing has two of the best, including leaping onto a windmill's arm to form the giant shadow of a cross against the rising sun.

I won't lift that sequence here because you should see it on DVD. (There's a collection that includes Kiss of the Vampire, a movie I'll blog about later.)

But here's the trailer to give you an idea why BRIDES OF DRACULA is my favorite.

Want a poster? They have them here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Streaming still hit and miss for TV and movies

Someday we won't own movies-- in the "stack next the the TV" sense-- anymore than we did before my family got its first VCR in 1983. We'll watch them on TV, like we did back then, except that we'll do it on demand, which was impossible then.

But we're not there yet. Oh, we talk like we are-- you can watch movies and TV series through Hulu, Joost, and Netflix, all over the net. But there are two major issues.

One of them is the subject of an excellent note at Ars Technica-- namely, that currently, in 2009, content tends to sputter in and out like an old broadcast signal. One week you can watch Grease 2, and the next week, it's gone. This is absurd. There are a million reasons, but none of them in the end make sense to you or me when we just want to watch Michelle Pfeiffer dance on a ladder. Why would it be here, then gone? Who didn't get paid?

The second, bigger, issue is selection. Isn't that counter-intuitive? DVDs, as the Negropontes will tell you, are made of bits, which are expensive. It costs money to produce a DVD of the 1979 Dracula, and it costs less to distribute a digital copy. Admittedly it's not free-- you have to license the movie and you'll also have network costs around the actual digital distribution. But all of that should be cheaper than printing and trucking DVDs.

And yet there's way, way less available for streaming and download than or DVD. I can get a DVD of Werewolf of London, but I can't stream it.

Why is this? I suspect it has to do with the fact that DVDs can be rented as long as they're not broken, so even after I lose my license to make the DVD, I can sell the ones I made. Not so online-- for me to distribute a copy of Horror of Dracula, I need a license that's valid as long as you keep downloading or streaming it from me.

So today, at Netflix, you can watch Bram Stoker's Dracula, but not anything that you'd have a hard time finding in other, theoretically more expensive ways, like Ataud del Vampiro.

It's all backwards-- the net should be the place we go for the billions of bytes we want, not the place to find only the most popular DVD offerings. But look for all of this to change.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

J-Men Forever

J-Men Forever, seen here and also available on DVD, was a standby on the cult TV programming block Night Flight back in the early 80s. The series tells the story of the J-Men, government agents, against the sinister Lightning Bug, who aims to take over the world with evil rock and roll. But get this-- it's almost all stitched together from old Republic Serials, then dubbed.

Night Flight was the kind of thing that made cult movie fans, and we may see more on it soon. But J-Men Forever was the first piece I ever saw that indicated a creative side to fannish devotion-- the desire to absorb the work that has gone before and create something new.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Video Friday: Christopher Lee as Dracula

Below is a thoroughly cool video retrospective of Christopher Lee as Dracula-- I have a special fondness for Lee's portrayal because aside from the long white hair, our "Sword of Dracula" Dracula was inspired by Lee's Dracula-- tall, cruel, a predator more than a lover. Lee is magnificent in the classic sense of the word. The first pitch described him as an ultimate Christopher Lee.

Here's what amazes me about Lee's Dracula-- just imagine the fact that in 1958, the only Dracula you would have really known would be Lugosi (with a few exceptions, but if you closed your eyes and thought "Dracula," you wouldn't think John Carradine.)

Lee's Dracula came around in 1958 and suddenly Lugosi had a real rival. Not a single performance has taken that stage in the public mind since, to join Lugosi and Lee. Oldman did a fine job, but his performance has now fallen to the same plane as Langella's 1979 turn.

Who will be the next iconic count? Is there room for one?

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Mummy and Creature are Working it Out

I wonder about what Mummy and Creature talk about.

I think Mummy probably needs the apartment to stay very, very dry. And the creature, he hates that Mummy keeps trying to turn the bathtub into a planter.

I think their pets probably have some conflicts, too.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Horror Fandom has changed since 1983...

-- and it's changed for the better. I was thinking of what it was like to be a horror fan in 1983. When I was a kid, it was very hard to see a movie like Plan 9 from Outer Space. I knew about it because it was written about in Michael Medved's Golden Turkey Awards, a snarky book from before the Internet invented snark. Maybe the movie would show up on TV around Halloween, and if so, you might see it, if you were lucky. We got our first VCR in 1983, but generally watched rented movies on it.

But Plan 9, awful as it is, was famous in a way. All fans knew about it because we'd all read the same books. Books was all there was. And think about this-- the books were the only way to know about or even come close to some of these movies. It's not like Werewolf of London came on TV all the time.

Today I can go to the Internet and watch a 1928 silent film version of House of Usher. The very idea is inconceivable to a horror fan in 1983. Danny Peary's Cult Movies was a great boon because it described movies like Black Sunday in depth, but where on earth were you going to see these things? In a sense, in 1983, all old movies were practically lost, or like astronomical phenomena, barely observable directly.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The Dracula Scrapbook

Today's blog is on a book I turned up recently, the Dracula Scrapbook, edited by Peter Haining.

The book is out of print-- apparently it was re-printed in the 80s and 90s, but the version I have is the 1976 original. It has an introduction by Christopher Lee, and Lee is writing at a time when he's vowing he'll never play Dracula again (he didn't) unless someone gets it really just absolutely right this time. He mentions doing Jess Franco's version, Count Dracula, in Spain, as a movie that dragged him from retirement of the cape by having Dracula age backwards, "but there were many other elements which were not used," which is a kind way of saying Franco's movie is kind of a mess. (Mind you I enjoy watching El Conde Dracula, but it's full of strange choices and budgetary shortcuts.)

Haining's Dracula Scrapbook absolutely should be updated and re-released, because there's so much here.

This isn't an anthology or a traditional nonfiction study-- instead, Haining collects Victorian news clippings, feature articles, interviews, reviews, excerpts of fiction (such as Varney the Vampire) and more to create a sort of potpourri for the Dracula fan. Pick the book up anywhere and you'll find something fun to read-- this is the first book where I discovered the Malaysian Pananggalan and other non-familiar vampires.

I recommend seeking it out-- I found my copy on eBay for about $10, and as I scan ebay I see several available.

Note the '76 dust jacket-- clearly this painting is intended to be Vincent Price as Dracula, which is a novel idea, but other than a TV appearance in a pro-literacy special, I'm sure that never happened. (Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong!)

This one's a real treasure (well, not as much as the Lost 1939 Treatment I blogged about last week, but a treasure nonetheless.)

Monday, January 5, 2009

Mummy and Creature Have their Disagreements

Mummy and Creature. They live in a little house with a dog and a cat. Mummy has the cat.

We'll visit them about once per week.

Best Hoax of 2008: The Great Non-Finding of the Holy Grail of Horror

If you didn't follow the strange kerfluffle that arose this Summer over the Holy Grail of Horror, the lost Lon Chaney film London after Midnight, it's even better six months later.

A concise write-up of the hoax, though there are many, appears here. What happened was this: In late July 0f 2008, a writer using the handle Sid Terror posted a lengthy claim that some time in the late 80's, Sid had come across a copy of London After Midnight mis-filed in a film vault under a misleading label.

If ever there were a case of Pics or it Didn't Happen, this was it.

The story he told of the discovery essentially made sense, but none of the rest of the narrative did. Why did Sid wait twenty years to tell anyone, and why get all riled up about it now? Understand, finding London After Midnight would be huge, so even breathing of an existing copy sends people scrambling. Where was the proof, any proof? People who had met Sid spoke up on his behalf saying "we know this guy and don't think he would lie," but only Sid's site rushed to his defense, banning posters who doubted Sid's story.

Eventually, nothing happened. We can only assume it was a hoax, but one that captured the imagination of nearly every horror site around the net. There has not been a follow-up, no confessional I've found.

I think the most ironic part of this is that "LAM" is only important to Horror Fans because we've decided it is-- it's that one asterix we've all been reading about since we were kids. And the awful apparent truth (the last copy was lost in a fire in the late 60s) seems too senseless to be true, as though we can believe the senseless deaths of humans but can't imagine the senseless disappearance of art.

BTW, I'll blog soon about how fandom was crafted by books in the pre-net age.

Some fun links:

  • London After Midnight Myths, which covers every LAM misunderstanding except the recent one
  • In 2002, Turner Classic Movies released a restoration that comes as close as possible to giving us LAM-- it's a slideshow of production stills, complete with music. You can find it in the Lon Chaney collection on DVD here

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Denholm Elliot was Dracula

Something new to share today-- or something old.

For years I've wanted to see what is truly an odd site-- a young, shades-wearing Denholm Elliot as Dracula in the UK series "Mystery and Imagination," in 1968.

You can't watch the whole thing, but it turns out the opening can be found on Youtube here:

The play itself appears to be extremely Hamilton Deane play that led to the Broadway production of Dracula and the subsequent Universal movies.

There were several TV Draculas around this period-- this is just five years before Palance took the role on US TV, and the Count would return to UK television again in 1977 under the guise of Louis Jourdan. More on those later.

So what kind of count is Denholm Elliot? On first glance he reminds me of Austin horror host Professor Griffin, but it's a unique take-- smooth and sanctimonious, and as far from Marcus Brody as any role could be.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Welcome to Shock Theater- A Tour

By day-- by morning-- in North Texas there was a show called Slam Bang Theater when I was a kid. I remember it to be a block of programming specializing in various shorts-- Felix the Cat, the unique, cheaper 1960s variants of Popeye, and the Three Stooges. By this time the show had no host-- but just a few years before that, the show had a live host, Bill Camfield, who wore silly hats.

This same man, Bill Camfield (the picture here is from comic artist Kerry Gammill's site), had a night job-- and think of this, what a swell job this must have been-- when From 1957 to 1964, he was the host of the local weekly horror movie, Nightmare Theater. (This was itself a syndicated package also called Shock Theater-- basically, Screen Gems sent the movies around, and the local station was advised to provide a host.)

Why do I bring this up? Because I stumbled across a wonderful bit of business from Camfield, known in his host role as The Gorgon. This video captures the opening of the show, with Camfields six-minute, seemingly ad-libbed riffing on the ghoulish props in his laboratory. It doesn't get more delightfully 50s than this. Just wonderful stuff. Camfield is about 29 here. What a great job.