“I started writing when I was eleven. I didn’t start writing at age eleven because I thought I was going to become a movie director. I did it because I enjoyed it. I fed off the movies I was watching and the comic books I was reading.”
–Spencer F. Lee, writer/director of FROM THE BRIDGE
FROM THE BRIDGE is a documentary that looks at the career of Kerry O’Quinn, one of the leading figures in fandom, and explores in depth the rich and exciting world of science fiction, comic books, and horror–and the fans who love it. At this point, those fans include a vast number. But it wasn’t always that evident. With this new documentary, due out in 2017, writer/director Spencer F. Lee shares with you his childhood passion that has blossomed into a deep understanding of some of today’s leading forms of entertainment.
FROM THE BRIDGE, directed and written by Spencer F. Lee, executive producers George Noe and Spencer F. Lee, produced by Philip Nelson, and hosted on-screen by George Takei, is a feature film documentary that tells the story of how fans worldwide have “come out of geekdom’s closet” in the last 40 years, largely nurtured and encouraged by Kerry O’Quinn. Having the opportunity to interview both Spencer F. Lee as well as Kerry O’Quinn, I’ve come away with a great appreciation for what this film will mean to an audience. The film features interviews with Stan Lee, Bryan Singer, Gene Simmons, Joe Dante, Nichelle Nichols, Tom DeSanto, Bryan Fuller, Rod Roddenberry, Howard Roffman and many more.
The full podcast interview with Spencer F. Lee is right below. Just click the link:
Up next is my interview with Kerry O’Quinn, co-founder of such landmark magazines as Starlog and Fangoria.
The manipulating of elements in a story is always crucial, especially in a work invested in raising a level of suspense. Thomas Ligotti knows this like the back of his hand. Ligotti, as horror stylist of the first rank, knows what to deliver to a contemporary audience. We think, at times, that we can easily step in and write horror stories ourselves. Ligotti invites you to try. Like Lovecraft, and others, he provides notes on the art of horror. In the end, you settle in and read a Ligotti story, then another, and you come to realize that the man is devilishly good at what might, at first, seem like such familiar ground.
Take, for instance, “The Frolic,” the first story in this Ligotti collection by Penguin Random House. “Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe” came out last year and brings together some of Ligotti’s best work. The publication coincided nicely with HBO’s Ligotti-tinged first season of “True Detective.” Now, in “The Frolic,” we have a neatly-pressed family who have just moved into the neighborhood. The father is a well-regarded psychologist who has taken a position at the nearby prison. He is married to a charming woman and they have an equally charming young daughter. The only problem seems to be that one of the convicts that our main character treats is highly psychotic and is fixated on him. There is every reason to believe that this fiend is safely locked away but there is also reason to believe he is capable of anything. Everything pivots upon the introduction into the family’s home of an intricately sculpted bust of a boy’s head.
Time and again, Ligotti lures us in. Consider “Dr. Locrian’s Asylum.” In this story, we deal with the penultimate horror trope: the haunted house on the hill. But the devil is in the details. These are not mere ghosts, if that is what they are, and these entities aren’t satisfied with just a perch from where to sit and observe. Ligotti keeps the reader off balance by supplying bread crumbs of information until we’re so deep in we cannot turn away. Consider “The Last Feast of Harlequin” about Mirocaw, a little town meant to go unnoticed. However, its winter festival is so unusual that it catches the attention of a persistent academic. Mirocaw has no choice but to gradually reveal itself.
Ligotti’s distinctive use of language is a mixture of ornate/contemporary. This highly theatrical style would fall apart with a lesser talent. But just the right curious turn of phrase and enigmatic description can engage the reader. You can pause, at random, and find a compelling passage spiked with the Ligotti sytle:
“The tone of voice in which he posed this question was both sardonic and morose, carrying undesirable connotations that echoed in all the remote places where truth had been shut up and abandoned like a howling imbecile. Nonetheless, I held to the lie.”
There’s been a march away from the sort of traditional gothic horror of H.P. Lovecraft for many decades now. But, in the right hands, the sinister and the macabre can indeed thrive amid the foggy moors in the spirit of Poe. Dark fantasy is at the mercy of Ligotti as he can satirize it and embrace it at will.
“Songs of a Dead Dreamer and Grimscribe” is a 464-page paperback published by Penguin Random House. Find more details right here.
Fred Van Lente and Guiu Vilanova unleash some good ole Cthulhu creepiness with their new original comic series, “Weird Detective,” published by Dark Horse Comics. If you caught HBO’s first glorious season of “True Detective,” starring Matthew McConaughey as the other-worldly detective Rust Cohle, then this comic is sure to please. Much in the same spirit as that show, Van Lente’s script taps into a whole mess of weirdness going back to H.P. Lovecraft, but also including Arthur Machen, Edgar Allan Poe, and all the way up to contemporary dark fantasy writers such as Thomas Ligotti. So, I’m sure, the “weird” nod in this title goes far and wide.
I will make a few comparisons between detective Rust Cohle from the HBO show and the main character in this comic, detective Sebastian Greene. Just, keep in mind, I’m not at all implying that Van Lente is lifting from the HBO show. No, it’s more a sharing of a certain vibe. And that is done quite well here. Okay, both of these characters are outsiders big time and seem to barely function in social circles while thriving on getting their jobs done. Leave them alone to work on a case, and they’re golden. It begs the question, Why do we invest so much time socializing and not quite as much time getting stuff done? Also, if you saw the show, you’ll enjoy how Sebastian deals with being set up with a partner! No more lone wolf work at the NYPD, per new union contract. His new partner, Sana Fayez, quickly picks up that Sebastian is like from some other world. The recurring excuse is that he’s Canadian.
Where the script splits free from my comparisons is the fact that Sebastian really is from another world. If he stares at his partner to the point of making her uneasy, it’s because he’s just carefully taking notes on the humans. As far as Sana knows, the dude is creepy. Sebastian haltingly attempts to reassure her. No, it’s just that he’s Canadian, he keeps pleading. The real reason that he’s so freaky will just have to wait since the fate of humanity hangs in the balance.
Complimenting Van Lente’s script to the hilt is the artwork of Guiu Vilanova. The opening scenes, for example, draw you in right away as we follow a voice-over narrative of Sebastian trying to explain to anyone who is willing to listen that he just happens to know a lot more than any human can fully comprehend. Sorry, no offense intended, Sebastian says, but humans only have three senses, not five; while his kind have a multitude of finely tuned senses. No contest, any way you look at it. That said, when New York City falls prey to the strangest acts of violence and murder, it’s only Sebastian Greene who is capable of solving these crimes. Or the entity in possession of the former Sebastian Greene. Fact is, the former Sebastian Greene was less than remarkable. How come he’s so good at his job lately? It’s a mystery that his partner has been secretly tasked with solving. But she may end up getting too close for her own good.
Truly a great new comic by two of the best talents in the business!
“Weird Detective #1” goes on sale on June 15th. Final order cutoff for retailers is May 23rd. For more details, visit Dark Horse Comics right here.
Great fiction comes from all over: horror, dark fantasy, mystery, and so on. William F. Nolan writes in various genres. You may know him from his work with Dan Curtis, such as the classic horror film, “Burnt Offerings.” Or perhaps you know him from co-writing, with George Clayton Johnson, the classic dystopian novel, “Logan’s Run.” Mr. Nolan has gained great recognition and won numerous awards and honors. Just last year he was named the Grand Master at the World Horror Convention in Atlanta. In this interview, we spend a good time chatting about horror as well as fiction in general. And we definitely visit the subject of the Southern California Sorcerers, otherwise known simply as The Group.
“Burnt Offerings” from 1976
During our conversation, Bill shared a very special moment regarding his friend and fellow writer, George Clayton Johnson, who passed away this last Christmas. He offers up for us a picture of a fresh-faced, and beaming, young George bursting upon the scene, circa 1957. He has shown up at a meeting of The Group and asks if he may join in with the illustrious and ambitious writers. Someone asks George what he has to show for himself. And, George, just having received his box of author copies, proudly shows the men what he’s been up to. “Hey guys,” George says, “I co-wrote this really cool thing called, ‘Ocean’s Eleven!'” And the rest is history!
This interview was conducted Monday, February 22nd. William F. Nolan is going strong, just shy of his 88th birthday on March 6th. If you love a good story, or if you are an aspiring writer yourself, or if you’d like to know something about the Sixties zeitgeist, then this interview is for you. In the span of about twenty minutes we cover a lifetime of observations and insight.
Henry Chamberlain: Thank you for getting together with me, Bill. I wanted to cover the writer’s life with you in this interview. First off, a good horror story has been compared to placing a frog in gradually boiling water. What can you tell us about the boiled frog method of storytelling?
William F. Nolan: Allow me to veer off a bit from the boiled frog to tell you how I approach telling a story. Really, how I tell a story is like the other night when I was in bed, half asleep and half awake, a state where I get all of my ideas. I was thinking of these deadly flowers. They had the power to stop the human heart. They were alive and, if you didn’t treat them right, they could turn against and stop your heart. There’s this couple who decide to rent this place on the beach. It looks like a great place. The owner lets them know that they have to take care of these special flowers but the couple ignore him, they don’t do it. And they end up being killed by the flowers. Their dead bodies are found on the beach. That’s how I form an idea for a story. I get an opening in my head for the concept and then I get the ending. Finally, I fill in the middle. That’s how I write a horror story, or any other kind of story.
Discoveries Best of Horror and Dark Fantasy edited by James R. Beach and Jason V Brock
HC: There’s a story of yours, “Stabbed by Rob,” in the recently published collection of dark fantasy from Dark Discoveries, edited by James R Beach and Jason V Brock. That story is a perfect example of that boiled frog method. There are a number of touches of humor, including your mentioning a glow-in-the-dark statue of Jesus. And the story keeps turning up the heat to the very last sentence.
WFN: Well, I believe you really can’t get away without some humor in a horror story. Horror is too stark, raw, and unflinching. You need to be able to live in it. You’ve got to lighten it with some humor. All my horror stories have elements of humor. You need to let the reader breathe. You can’t go from the first page to the last and do straight horror. That’s the problem with H. P. Lovecraft for me. Lovecraft has no sense of humor. He was a brilliant writer. He was a brilliant innovator. But no sense of humor. By the time you finish “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” you’re exhausted. I want my readers to relax a little, to breathe, and have a good chuckle while they’re being frightened. That’s my method of writing horror.
HC: I’m glad that you mention Lovecraft because I’ve had difficulty with him too. Your adaptation with Dan Curtis of Robert Marasco’s 1973 novel, “Burnt Offerings,” has just the right touches of humor at the start, and they give way to a more sinister mood. There’s a balance.
WFN: Yes, that was adapted from the Marasco novel which had no humor whatsoever. I told Dan Curtis, who directed, and produced the film with me, that we were going to need to lighten up the material because it was too stark. I’m glad that you appreciate the humorous elements in the film. As I say, I just don’t think you can do horror without lightening it up a little bit.
HC: Then there’s Ray Russell’s work. Perhaps more of a touch of elegance than humor. I love the way Ray Russell masterfully brings up a lot of pretty grim stuff in his work. He knows what to leave in and what to mostly imply. I’m thinking of “Sardonicus,” “Sagittarius,” and “Sanguinarius.”
WFN: Ray Russell was one of my closest friends for years. We would talk about how to write in terms of horror. And we both agreed on the same thing that you’ve got to put some humor into it in order to lighten the whole thing. I love Ray’s work. He passed on some years back. He would be happy to hear that you enjoy his work.
Just Part of The Group: Charles Fritch, Chad Oliver, Charles Beaumont, Richard Matheson, and William F. Nolan, circa 1954.
HC: There were all of these amazing writers that you got to be close with in social settings and in work sessions. All of you together were the Southern California Writer’s Group.
WFN: There were eleven of us. We didn’t think of ourselves as anything special. We were all trying to make a living, pay the rent, pay the mortgage, stay afloat. We wrote science fiction and fantasy in a modern vein. We took it away from the Lovecraftian type of fiction and wrote a modern type. It was sort of pioneered by Richard Matheson and Ray Bradbury who were part of our group. We all worked from the same principle: you can do modern horror but it has got to be something that people can believe in. It has to be realistic. It should happen today, in somebody’s kitchen. It could happen in a kitchen. You don’t have to go to a haunted castle, back in Transylvania, to have horror. Horror can happen on your doorstep. Horror can be a terrorist with a submachine gun that sprays lead over you while you’re eating in a restaurant. That’s horror. Horror takes many forms. We all tried to work within that scope.
Yeah, eleven of us. Matheson, Bradbury, myself…Charles Beaumont was sort of the hub of the thing. We had Jerry Sohl. We had Robert Bloch, known for “Psycho.” We’d all gather together at each other’s houses, at all-night coffeeshops and talk shop, editors, and markets. We were quite a group. All these years later, people look back on us as pioneers in the field. And that’s nice but, at the time, we were just trying to make a buck, just trying to make a living.
HC: Well, sure, you guys were so close to it all. You would need to stand back to see it clearly. What you guys did was take gothic literature and give it a modern cool. That’s essentially it.
I AM LEGEND by Richard Matheson
WFN: Yeah. I still think that you can credit Richard Matheson for a lot of that. Stephen King said that he was influenced more by Richard Matheson, than any other author, because he took horror out of the castle and brought it into the kitchen. And I agree with him. We all tried to do that. We all felt that was the way to go. We weren’t interested in something ancient. We wanted something real, something of today.
HC: You list eleven members of The Group. Was there any time that all eleven of you met under one roof?
WFN: Three or four of us were into auto racing. Richard Matheson, Jerry Sohl, and Robert Bloch didn’t care at all about that. But Charles Beaumont, John Tomerlin, and myself were heavily into Grand Prix sports car racing both here and in Europe. We actually flew to Monte Carlo one year for the Grand Prix. And we went to Sebring Raceway in Florida for the races there. The Beaumont kitchen in North Hollywood, his upstairs kitchen, is where most of us would meet. George Clayton Johnson was part of that group too. We would meet there. But there was never a meeting of all eleven of us at one time. It was three or four of us at at time at different places. We’d go to movies together. We’d meet in coffeeshops.
Musso and Frank Grill
HC: I imagine that you guys enjoyed Musso and Frank Grill.
WFN: We loved Musso and Frank Grill. It has all that history: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and William Faulkner. The murals never changed. The seats are the same. When you’re sitting there, it’s like you’ve gone back in a time machine. We loved it. I still love it. I love to go whenever I’m in L.A.
HC: You touched upon George. I have to say that I can imagine that he loved the fact that he got to pass away on Christmas Day. Such a magical thing. Such an act of will.
WFN: That was no accident. He was ill. He was in hospice care for about a week before that happened.
HC: Oh, yeah.
WFN: The doctors were saying that he could go at any minute but George, subconsciously, since he couldn’t verbalize it at that stage, was saying that the doctors couldn’t tell him when he was going to die. He was always an independent guy. He was saying: “I want to die on Christmas Day since that was the birthday of Rod Serling, who made me famous for my writing for The Twilight Zone.” He was able to die three days past when he was expected to die. He was able to fool all the doctors. That was no accident.
George Clayton Johnson and William F. Nolan, circa 1957, illustration by Henry Chamberlain
HC: Yes, that’s what I meant. I was honored to interview George a number of times and got to meet him in person. Would you share with us a little more of the flavor of the era and a picture of George at one of these bull sessions at The Group that may come to mind?
WFN: Four or five of us were sitting in the living room of the upstairs apartment of Charles Beaumont one night. There was a knock at the door. This is around 1957. The Group was around from the ’50s to ’60s. So, there’s a knock at the door. We open the door and there’s George Clayton Johnson with a package under his arm. He said, “I’m George Clayton Johnson. I want to join you guys. I want to be with you. I’ve heard about you and I want to join you.” Someone asked, “Are you a writer?” He said, “Yes, I am,” and he held up the package, “It’s called, ‘Ocean’s Eleven’ and I just sold it to Frank Sinatra!” That’s what got him started with The Group.
HC: That’s beautiful. I wanted to ask you about the literary tradition that The Group worked from. I’m sure that Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mary Shelly, all the gothic writers, were subjects of conversations for all of you.
WFN: You can’t write out of a vacuum. We’re all influenced by other people. Ray Bradbury was influenced by Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, and George Bernard Shaw. We were influenced more by such horror writers as Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood. I started out reading H.G. Wells’s “The Time Machine” and “War of the Worlds” when I was a boy growing up in Kansas City, Missouri. And then I discovered Bradbury and Weird Tales. Ray Bradbury and I became close friends and that lasted 50 years. We’re all standing on the shoulders of other people. We all read Hawthorne and Robert Louis Stevenson. We were influenced by them but we wanted to take our fiction into a modern setting and move it forward and I believe we succeeded.
Photo by Ralph Morris, Hollywood Blvd. 1960
HC: I wanted to close out by asking if you could give us a little more of a flavor of Los Angeles in the ’50s and ’60s. I can just imagine: you had the ghost of Raymond Chandler; old Hollywood giving way to new Hollywood; Forey Ackerman and the rise of geek culture. L.A. in the Sixties, it doesn’t get much better than that.
WFN: I read Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, the hard-boiled school, James M. Cain. I’ve read books on Chandler and Hammett. I’m a big hard-boiled fan. Los Angeles was a hard-boiled city in those days. Dashiell Hammett glorified San Francisco. But Los Angeles was also part of that era where corruption ruled in high places. It was a violent and colorful era captured beautifully by Raymond Chandler. If you read the work of Raymond Chandler, you’re learning a lot about Los Angeles as he experienced it.
I can tell you that there was a lot of smog. I used to live in Burbank, right against the mountains. The smog was terrible. I did move around different parts of Los Angeles. It changed quite a lot during the many years I was there. It’s not the same city that it used to be.
HC: I love Los Angeles and love looking for signs of yesteryear. They’re around if you know where to look for them.
WFN: If you go to Pasadena, there’s the old bridge that Raymond Chandler wrote about in one of his novels. The bridge that Philip Marlowe drove over at night. It’s still standing there. I wrote a piece entitled, “Marlowe in Los Angeles.” I toured all the places he used to go to, including Musso and Frank Grill. Chandler was an insatiable researcher, always moving around, and usually within the greater Los Angeles area. He grew to know it beautifully. Hammett made San Francisco famous with “The Maltese Falcon.” Chandler did the same for Los Angeles with “The Big Sleep.”
HC: I wish you a great year ahead, Bill. Any projects we can look forward to soon?
WFN: I had a collection of my poetry come out last year. This year we’ll have a new collection of my essays. I’m working on a new collection of short stories. I just wrote three new stories this month. So, even though I’ll be turning 88, I feel like I’m still 28.
HC: I can feel the energy. Thanks again, Bill.
WFN: I really enjoyed this. Thank you.
You can listen to the podcast interview by just clicking the link below:
Keep up with William F. Nolan at his website right here.
Much in the spirit of Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen,” the action-and-character-packed “Herald: Lovecraft and Tesla” manages to deliver on its ambitious promise. You certainly have a sense of urgency going on as we see Amelia Earhart running smack into her ill-fated destiny with key figures, Nikola Tesla, H.P. Lovecraft, and even Albert Einstein, determined to save her. Of course, Amelia would say that a woman doesn’t need any saving! All this glorious activity, written by John Reilly, is brought into a crisp clarity by the pencils of Tom Rogers. And then that is given a warm glow and finish by Dexter Weeks in charge of inks, coloring, and lettering. The new trade paperback collects the first three issues to this six-issue series, published by Action Lab Entertainment.
This is exactly what you would hope it would be: a faithfully realized adventure mashup with a steampunk energy running throughout. You don’t just get all the famous players lined up or lounging about. They’re really walking and talking characters and substantial references are made to who they are and what might motivate them to travel in similar circles. Well, in this case, truth can be stranger than fiction. For instance, the real Nikola Tesla actually did hang out with Mark Twain. Thankfully, the narrative picks up on some essential truths, like the fact that Nikola Tesla, despite his brilliance, was taken to the cleaners by Thomas Edison. Or the fact that the athletic Harry Houdini was actually friends with the intellectual Lovecraft. These choice bits of factoids are treated lightly and smoothly.
We also don’t waste any time in getting to a free-wheeling fantasy, particularly the romantic pairing of Tesla with Earhart. You have to have these two together for the rest of the story to work. It’s Earhart who somehow gets caught up in swiping one of Tesla’s experiments. And this leads to the big chase that slides into confrontations with ancient gods, secret societies, strange technologies, and even occultist Aleister Crowley.
Hats off to Tom Rogers for his spirited depictions of everyone involved and his dynamic handling of settings. He has quite an energetic style that mingles a tight adherence to details with a lively effortless quality. He really enjoys bringing in an intense angular look to his people and places. What Rogers makes look bold and smooth, might turn out stilted in a lesser talent. So, there, you’ve got a very solid creative team all working together on something special, something that I can actually get excited about.
If you happen to be Beaverton, Oregon, this Wednesday, July 1st, stop by the Things From Another World comics shop to see Tom Rogers in person as he’ll be there signing from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. To RSVP and check out more details on that event, go right here.
And visit our friends at Action Lab Entertainment right here.
“Dark Engine” is a pretty crazy amazing comic. It’s also a quiet comic. While nearly everything imaginable is bubbling and exploding, there is also a steady hum of waiting for what lies ahead. To add to the tension, we’re given a myriad of clues and hints of what’s coming, and even more clues and hints would come if they did not spill off the page.
Meet Mr. Rhee! The cryptic and tortured main character of TALES OF MR. RHEE, is now a prestige hardcover collection published by Devil’s Due. This is a story that unfolds in a collection of thirteen chilling horror-infused short stories. You can now read the collected Cthulhu-mythos-based comic book series from writer Dirk Manning.
This book was a successfully funded campaign on Kickstarter.
Here is Dark Horse Comics company news that is good news for us:
JULY 26, MILWAUKIE, OR—Dark Horse Comics is pleased to announce the promotion of former assistant editor Daniel Chabon to associate editor!
Chabon, who celebrated his third year with the company this June, will now take on the full-time responsibility of maintaining a balance between the needs of creators, copyright holders, and the publishing company. His new position as associate editor entails project management, facilitation, and problem solving.
“It’s fitting that I first met Dan at Portland’s H. P. Lovecraft Film Fest, a few years ago. Since then, he’s become an invaluable part of the Mignola team, and more recently he’s been incredible at bringing in great artists, and running some really difficult projects on his own. We’re glad we’re not losing him off Mike’s books, and I’m excited by what he has happening on his own,” said Dark Horse’s editor in chief, Scott Allie.
As an associate editor, Daniel will continue to assist on and coedit several titles, while taking a larger role on many of them—including Hellboy, B.P.R.D., Criminal Macabre, and The Occultist.
“Dark Horse could use more good (meaning smart) young men like Daniel Chabon. I don’t know that there are any more like him so I’m very glad at least they have the one—and have the good sense to promote him. He certainly deserves it and I look forward to continuing to work with him for a very long time,” Mike Mignola noted.
Chabon will also be editing more of his own titles, including Kiss Me, Satan!, Alabaster, Axe Cop, The Creep, Colder, and more to come!
“From the beginning, Daniel Chabon has been great to work with. I kept thinking, ‘This guy’s too good to be a comics editor. I wonder how long he’ll last.’ And then they go and promote him, so I’m thinking he’ll be sticking around a while—which is great news for everybody who loves the Hellboy universe,” stated John Arcudi (The Creep, B.P.R.D.).
Alterna Comics presents for your consideration, the mini-series, “Huck Finn’s Adventures in Underland.” It is written by Nikola Jajic, with art by Gabriel Peralta and Felipe Gaona, lettering by Peter Simeti, covers by Brian Level. It is 22 pages, full color, for all ages, issues are priced at $1.99. It is an excellent idea for a literary mashup. There is no need for prior reading of Mark Twain or Lewis Carroll or H.P. Lovecraft to enjoy this comic. For some readers, that may come as a disappoint but, for others, they will find this to meet expectations: you have here some weird and strange adventure.
This won’t blow your socks off if you were looking for stimulating literary comparisons. But maybe that’s not the point, really. It is meant for an all ages audience and, in that respect, it does well. And the comic is substantial enough where you can read into it whatever you like. For instance, you can say that Huck attracts the most foul and violent elements in an alternate world.
The inks and pencils by Gabriel Peralta are lively and keep things loose and moving right along. The colors by Felipe Gaona are nice and moody in places and more vibrant in others.
All things considered, this is fine little work and something you can enjoy as a mild amusement or share with the kids. When you think about it, this is a fine gateway to going on and reading works in literature. You can check it out at ComiXology here.