Today, I want to share with you an interview I did with Kansas Public Radio. We discuss George Clayton Johnson’s unique role in science fiction and pop culture in my new book , George’s Run, published by Rutgers University Press. The show is Conversations, hosted by Dan Skinner. Listen to it here.
As I proceed down this path of being interviewed and explaining my process to different people on various formats, I find I keep connecting new dots. One recent eureka moment for me was simply contemplating the fact that The Twilight Zone has long since established itself in the canon of pop culture, and given the fact that George Clayton Johnson wrote some of the most iconic episodes of the show, that alone secures his legacy. In George’s unique case, he also happened to have been involved in other huge pop culture phenomena, including Ocean’s Eleven, Star Trek, and Logan’s Run.
George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through The Twilight Zone is published by Rutgers University Press and is available now.
The first issue of a comic book, especially from an independent publisher, can be a very exciting thing and Maximus Blade does not disappoint. The writing is crisp and crackling with urgency and humor. The art is spot on, transporting the reader through time and space with a cast of engaging unlikely heroes up against a truly motley crew of villainous baddies.
Maximus Blade, a sentinel on a mission.
Our story takes places way into the future, 2480, enough to make my head spin. But that’s part of the fun, of course. Time enough for all sorts of mayhem to have happened leaving good ole planet Earth a mere shell of its former self. Time enough for the upper class to have gone even higher, all the way to an outpost on Earth’s moon. Everyone else stays behind back on Earth which has devolved into a Mad Max wasteland.
“When” the hell am I?
Despite all the dystopia, there is hope, or at least it seems that way. There’s no shortage of possibilities to this comic. Meet Steve, a guy from our own present who had it all, only to be swept up by a time portal. Meet Penelope, a member of the super elite who lives on the moon but not anymore. And meet Maximus Blade, the result of some heavy genetic mutations and not much for words. Between the three of them, you’ve got everything you need to keep the adventures rolling along quite nicely.
Maximus Blade and Steve.
My favorite scene in this issue is probably the first scene between Maximus Blade and Steve, who is no slouch back where he comes from but is totally out of his depth in the distant future he’s been teleported into. Maximus, in the few words he grunts, makes it pretty clear he needs a tech guy and fast. Steve hesitates, but not for long. Just as Maximus is walking away for good, abandoning the “stupid kid” to certain death, Steve chimes in to say he’s actually the best tech guy ever. It’s a funny moment and pivotal to what happens next. I’m not sure why Maximus was so easily convinced but maybe we’ll find out in the next issue. For now, Max, Steve and Penelope are up to their eyeballs in death-defying adventure. This comic does a fine job with balancing action and humor leaving the reader wanting more. Not bad at all for a first issue.
That’s the magic and power of graphic storytelling.
Yes, the gang, or The Group, is all here!
I was just minding my own business when I stumbled upon a delightful review on Amazon of my new book, George’s Run. This was from I Forgive Heathcliff (depending upon your browser, you may need to do a separate search) and it gets to the heart of what my graphic novel is all about. All I can say to any fellow creative, no one will love and understand your work as much as you do until, all of a sudden, it does click and people do get it! This review made me think and gave me pause. It helped me to better appreciate my own efforts. One of the goals of my graphic novel is to connect the dots and make the subject at hand accessible. That is what graphic novels do best. Here’s an excerpt from I Forgive Heathcliff’s review:
The best thing about this graphic novel, spurred on by the brief, blossoming friendship between George Clayton Johnson and Henry Chamberlain which describes George’s life and adventures as a writer, is the sweet and straightforward artwork combined with a sort of stream of consciousness storytelling that picks you up and floats you along, moving forward through years, events, and situations. I particularly loved the author’s humorous, respectful nod toward the entire group of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror writers by depicting them as shambling zombies.
So, yeah, this review got me to thinking. I did hit the nail on the head. I have George as our guide, our main character, who connects us with a significant movement in contemporary writing. It doesn’t get much better than that, folks. You’ve got one of the most colorful and engaging of individuals, George Clayton Johnson, who acts as a main character in a novel about his own life and times while also taking on the role of tour guide into the inner workings of much of what we take for granted today in entertainment, both high and low culture. The members of what came to be known as The Group were fully aware of what they were doing: along with a wide variety of offshoots and variants, they were primarily engaged with reshaping genre writing for a contemporary audience.
Well, what can I say? I can and will keep saying more and more! For now, if you’re looking for one of those kind of books that helps make sense of it all while also being a fun read, then George’s Run is the book for you. You can buy it directly from the publisher, Rutgers University Press, or any number of other platforms and outlets, including Amazon.
COVID COP. Art & script by Dean Haspiel. Dean Haspiel Deep Cuts. 28 pp. $15.
Dean Haspiel is in fine form with this short work in comics that transforms the Covid pandemic into a surreal parody of a sci-fi/horror story. In this scenario, the virus has completely taken over to the point that the government has clamped down hard on anyone disobeying protocol. It’s a take-no-prisoners battle plan and one police officer, Lincoln Bio, is doing his best to follow orders. If you’re a fan of Dean Haspiel, then you can expect that kooky sense of humor, bathed in pathos, made famous in the Billy Dogma comics series.
Our anti-hero Lincoln Bio is aware that he’s living in very strange times making very strange demands on him. How he comes to terms with his marching orders and how he confronts an insurgent group out to kill everyone makes up a good part of this dark comedy. Drawn in the mock heroic style that Haspiel is known for, this comic book will deliver a weird and entertaining jolt right to the jugular and then some. You probably won’t have nightmares from reading this but I can’t guarantee it. And, if there’s a sequel, all bets are off. This comic, by the way, is the first in the developing line of indie comics, Dean Haspiel Deep Cuts.
This comic will defy your expectations, especially if you don’t really know what to expect, and offers up the most recent example of a cartoonist at the top of his game. The winner of a recent Kickstarter campaign, this comic book is making its way to its backers and will make its way to you. Keep up with Dean Haspiel for more details.
It’s the end of the world. Money is meaningless. But the billionaires have got a plan. Sort of like Noah’s Arc, the elite have a space vessel, the Arca, that will take them to a better world, Eden. All they have to do is make sure to keep their slaves, or “settlers,” in line. Effie is one of the teen servants on this vessel. As far as she knows, she should be grateful to have been spared from the billions of people who perished when Earth died. But things aren’t always as they seem. That is the premise of Van Jensen‘s latest graphic novel, ARCA, published by IDW Productions. It is my pleasure to present to you this interview with one of the great writing talents working today in comics.
As I say in my review, this is a story about a reluctant hero who must rise above her quiet demeanor and confront the powers that be. Persephone, or “Effie,” is in the long tradition of reluctant heroes in fiction and particularly in science fiction: the person who emerges as a leader despite their hesitation. As you will come to see for yourself, Effie is a lot like you and me.
In the course of this brief interview, I asked Van if he’d share a little something about the creative process and he provided a gem that I will long cherish and that I’m sure you’ll enjoy too. It involves a tea kettle. Imagine that you’re moving into your new home and you’ve got a thousand things to figure out. Try boiling it down to a tea kettle. If you can pin down your tea kettle, then everything else will fall into place. It’s a wonderful writing exercise: your “tea kettle” can be a brief description of your main character, or a snatch of dialogue or the first couple of sentences in that first chapter. Whatever helps to kick things off. So, I hope you enjoy this interview, stick around for the writer tips, and seek out this remarkable graphic novel.
ARCA comes out July 11, 2023 and is available for pre-order on many platforms including Penguin Random House right here.
The time has come to start spreading the news. My graphic novel, George’s Run, will be out soon. It is in the March edition of Previews, and you can find it here. The book will become available as of May 12, 2023, published by Rutgers University Press–and I could not be more thrilled. If you’ve ever set foot in a comics shop for any significant amount of time, then you’re aware of the monthly Diamond Comic Distributor Previews catalog. Each catalog provides previews of comics and graphic novels that will be available in the next couple of months. The issue for March, which comes out on February 22, features items scheduled to ship in May 2023 and will have my book in it. This is a big step towards getting the book out into the world! And, for a comics fan, it’s a huge big deal.
This is the book for any fan of comics, pop culture, and great stories!
George’s Run has been years in the making. If you’re one of my loyal followers, then you already know that this book is about the power of storytelling, a special blend of it going back to pulp fiction, especially science fiction. I’ll keep you posted every step of the way. For now, if you happen to visit your local comic shops, ask them to check out my book in the March Previews catalog and seriously consider ordering some copies of George’s Run. Your support means everything to me!
Here I am debuting a mini-comic version of George’s Run at Short Run!
An early color version of a page from the book.
I love the promotional material put together by Rutgers. It sums it all up quite nicely:
George Clayton Johnson was an up-and-coming short story writer who broke into Hollywood in a big way when he co-wrote the screenplay for Ocean’s Eleven. More legendary works followed, including Logan’s Run and classic scripts for shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek. In the meantime, he forged friendships with some of the era’s most visionary science fiction writers, including Ray Bradbury, Theodore Sturgeon, Richard Matheson, and Rod Serling.
Later in life, Johnson befriended comics journalist and artist Henry Chamberlain, and the two had long chats about his amazing life and career. Now Chamberlain pays tribute to his late friend in the graphic novel George’s Run, which brings Johnson’s creative milieu to life in vividly illustrated color panels. The result feels less like reading a conventional biography and more like sitting in on an intimate conversation between friends as they recollect key moments in pop culture history, as well as the colorful band of writers described by Chamberlain as the “Rat Pack of Science Fiction.”
Here is more marketing material:
New Graphic Novel Traces the Origins of Pop Culture Through the Life of Eccentric Storyteller George Clayton Johnson
“George Clayton Johnson was one of the most brilliant and important writers of the 20th Century, creating classic episodes of The Twilight Zone and Star Trek, as well as co-authoring Logan’s Run and Ocean’s Eleven. George’s Run spectacularly and charmingly invites you on the amazing journey of his life and legacy, from 1929 through the Fifties and Sixties to 2015 and beyond. It’s a trip down Memory Lane via time machine and rocket ship—and it will definitely blow your mind!”
—Marc Scott Zicree, author of The Twilight Zone Companion
George Clayton Johnson
George’s Run: A Writer’s Journey Through the Twilight Zone (Rutgers University Press; May 12, 2023, 978-1-9788-3420-0; $24.95) is a mashup of gonzo journalism and whimsical storytelling with the overarching theme of how a group of writers influenced each other to create some of the greatest pop culture of all time. This is an exploration of self and creativity.
The reader follows cartoonist-journalist Henry Chamberlain as he seeks to reveal secrets and insights from a unicorn from a golden era. George Clayton Johnson was one of the greatest television writers of the 1960s. George showed up, as if out of nowhere, to command a significant place at the writer’s table for the original Twilight Zone and Star Trek. Co-writing the cult classic novel, Logan’s Run, was to be the cherry on top of a career that began, believe it or not, with George co-writing the story that was to become the original Rat Pack classic, Ocean’s Eleven.
Henry Chamberlain is a cartoonist, artist and writer living in Virginia Beach, originally from Seattle. Henry regularly writes about comics and pop culture on his blog, Comics Grinder. He writes for other venues, including The Comics Journal.
ARCA. IDW Publishing. w. Van Jensen. a. Jesse Lonergan. 176 pp. $16.99
Welcome to your next favorite dystopian graphic novel. This is a devilishly good take on the one-percenters behaving badly trope. The focus is on Effie, short for Persephone. She is one of “the settlers,” the youth who are in servitude to “the citizens.” When settlers turn eighteen, they are promoted to something better, although it is unclear what that is. Earth, they’re told, had to be abandoned because of all the usual reasons and so everyone is on this spaceship heading towards “Eden.” But Effie isn’t buying it and it’s up to her to figure out what is really happening.
Things are not what they seem; they never are. The more twisted the reality, the more profound the journey to find out the truth. This is what makes Effie’s journey so dangerous–and compelling for the reader. From the very beginning, I was intrigued by all the heaviness hanging over Effie. Heck, the first page has Effie flying in a plane full of skeletons. She goes for the emergency exit, yanks open the door, and gasps for air when she’s flung out into outer space. It’s a nightmare but, her wide-awake world isn’t much better. Effie is constantly being monitored. People are disappearing. She risks her life every day for the chance to read a book. She’s not even supposed to know how to read.
Van Jensen (Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern) knows how to write a slow burn story with a propulsive bite. Jesse Lonergan (Hedra, Planet Paradise) has a loose and lively drawing style. Together, they bring to life a quirky and moody sci-fi thriller. Everything about this story gives off a disturbing and muted vibe, like you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, finding out secrets you shouldn’t know. In this low-key and understated world, Effie is queen. She is a very reserved person forced to push back, and bit by bit, in a quiet and determined way, she gets closer to her would-be killers. Like any good work of science fiction, you get hooked in by the weird kid in the corner who nobody notices, until they need a hero.
A few notes on the art. I’m really pleased to see Lonergan having fun and experimenting. He spills over all the action, including the atmosphere, into various panels in unexpected and creative ways. There’s a moment when a glass full of eyeballs (don’t ask) is knocked over flinging eyeballs that bounce from panel to panel. This approach is part of Lonergan’s signature style and he does it very well with bookshelves, crowd scenes and things that go boom. The color is also applied in a dreamy and spacey way (soft watercolors that glide and pop) that compliments this more loose and fluid way of drawing. Nathan Widick brings home lettering and design that is spot on. The final results are fantastic and a joy to take in. I’d love to have him help me with my next comics project.
Science fiction means a lot of things. Often, we’re working with a vocabulary, both written and visual, going back to classic 1950s pulp-style science fiction. This book is in that spirit and turns it on its head. Effie is a classic sci-fi hero, unlikely and unassuming. But she’s not a shrinking violet. She’s more of a lone wolf. Leave her alone unless you need her. The best science fiction is not just about the future, robots and time travel. No, the best science fiction is about people. Readers want that; they hunger for it. This is a clever dystopian graphic novel following the rhythms of a bookish lone wolf. And remember, she’s not even supposed to know how to read. The elites don’t have a clue who they’re messing with. But now you do.
ARCA is available on July 11, 2023. You can pre-order it here.
We Are Not Alone, a new Roku Original, debuts on January 27 on The Roku Channel and it is a promising sitcom: not one moment is wasted; solid casting; creative production value for a low budget sitcom; engaging story; solid humor; characters jump right in. In my previous post, I discussed what content like this can mean for Roku’s future. In this follow-up post, I share a few observations from viewing an advanced release. From what I can tell, this is a feature-length pilot for a sitcom.
Maybe, like me, you are a Roku person. And maybe you noticed this new offering, a sci-fi comedy, We Are Not Alone. I’m intrigued. I’m intrigued on two main tracks: first, I genuinely think I’ll like watching this; next, I have a feeling this could be one of those turning points which adds to Roku’s profile as an original content provider, as it moves beyond its original purpose of just making streaming devices. Last year’s Weird: The Al Yankovic Story was a significant step forward for Roku as a serious original content provider.
The Last Mechanical Monster, published by Abrams (available as of October 18, 2022), is a wonderful book for the whole family and we’ve got Brian Fies, the creator, here to chat about it. Just go over to the link and enjoy the video. First, you should know that Brian Fies is an amazing cartoonist and he has quite a gem here, a full-length story that uses a classic animated short as its jumping off point. It’s a genius move, I can tell you. The basis for this graphic novel goes back to a 1941 Fleischer Studios Superman cartoon entitled, The Mechanical Monsters. Fies builds a story around this with the premise being that the bad guy gets out of prison many years later–and the first thing he does is plot a scheme to get his revenge. Here’s where I should share an exclusive with you. The villain goes unnamed in the original animation and Fies follows suit, however, he did have a name in one version and that was Stanis Smith. Yes, you’re reading that here and Brian says he’s never mentioned it in an interview before. The joke was that the evil mad genius inventor was basically a “tinsmith.”
Let me back up a bit. Fies created a webcomic of his story, The Last Mechanical Monster, long before the release of a print version. In fact, Brian Fies is a webcomic trailblazer. He led the way in webcomics as the winner of the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic in 2005 for Mom’s Cancer, the year that category was introduced. During our chat, he shares how the narrative for The Last Mechanical Monster took shape–and it wasn’t easy. He freely admits that the first hundred pages of completed comics pages ended up being a false start and had to be scrapped. “When I was asked about the story I was working on, I’d tell people what the story was about, only to realize that this really wasn’t the story I was creating.” That’s a lot of completed pages but, in the long run, a necessary part of the creative process.
I’m just going to go ahead and include here a panel excerpt that features the Ballistic Arc equation. It will make total sense if you click onto the video interview podcast. That said, I’ll tell you here that this is a fine example of the Brian Fies secret sauce. It’s basically just a way to add some fun weird science kind of stuff.
As you’ll appreciate during our conversation, The Last Mechanical Monster is very much a character driven story featuring a misguided old guy who is tough, sometimes a little scary, but perhaps a Grinch just waiting for a reason for redemption.
The Last Mechanical Monster is a delight that, dare I say, would make a great animated feature in its own right. Who knows, there’s really no reason that it couldn’t be. Brian confided in me that he was more than content to have had his creation remain a webcomic. Of couse, he is overjoyed that it is now a book. And I believe you will get a kick out of it too. I’ll just emphasize here that this is one of the most enjoyable interviews I’ve done. I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of it. We really had fun doing this interview and that sense of fun, I’m confident, will pass on to you.