Barbados comic creator Rivenis is making waves around the world with his dark fantasy comic, Diskordia. In the book, Rivenis channels Lovecraft and Leary to conjure a surreal world painted in electric Kool-Aid. The cast of characters is colorful as a social misfit named Jackal Black is lead through a dreamscape by his personal guide and bodyguard, Squidgirl. Diskordia is wonderfully literary while still bringing plenty of action and humor as Jackal navigates Dreamtime and the dark manifestations lurking there in.
Rivenis steadily supplies his growing fan base with fourteen issues and more to come. While working on issue fifteen, he’s finishing a Kickstarter campaign for a printed collection. The GR1ND caught up with him to talk about his work.
What’s your origin story? How long have you been reading comics and what made you make the jump into creating comics?
I’ve been reading comics since my dad bequeathed his enormous collection of classics to me in the 90’s. My inheritance so to speak. I had been drawing comics as a hobby pretty much all my life. I didn’t think of it as an actual career path until much later however, when I realized that it was the medium that suited me best as an artist and writer.
Are there any particular comics or creators that you enjoy or have inspired your work?
I love very offbeat and experimental work. Some examples that directly inspired me are The Sandman, Tank Girl, The Maxx, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, Lucifer, Transmetropolitan and Groo
What’s Barbados like for comic creators? Is there an active scene?
Comics have been a thing in Barbados for as long as I’ve lived here however it has been very much an underground pursuit. Now keep in mind I’m only referring to being a fan of comics. The creating of comics as a serious commercial pursuit is quite new. Besides myself there is a comic collective known as Beyond Publishing which is making headway with Caribbean themed works. I feel quite positive that the industry will grow very rapidly here as creators like myself are beginning to prove its viability.
What’s the backstory for Diskordia? It reads as pretty stream of conscious. Do you have a long term plan or are you just letting inspiration lead you? Somewhere in between?
I’d say it’s somewhere in between. I take alot of inspiration from surrealist film makers like David Lynch. However there is a definite method to this madness. My goal with Diskordia is to perfectly straddle the line between surreality and narrative. There’s a strong, coherent story running through the book but it requires a little bit of extra effort and hindsight to follow.
In an early issue of Diskordia you mix in some extended prose. As a storyteller, is there a reason for this?
The prose was very much experimental on my part, and only happens in the second issue. With the first section I was going for the air of a magazine interview though I’m not sure it worked. The second section is story book prose which I think works much better and may use again in the future.
With fourteen issues of Diskordia out already (even before a print edition) how do you manage to stay motivated as a one-man-show with writing and illustrating?
Mainly because I feel compelled to tell this story. I’ve been crafting worlds for as long as I can remember and watching it come together is immensely satisfying for me. Positive feedback also helps to pick up the slack whenever I get disheartened. Ultimately though it’s a self fueling system: the more issues I put out the more I feel motivated to continue.
You also wrote a novel called the Dreamless. As a writer, is penning a graphic novel different than a prose novel?
Creatively it’s two paths to the same goal; to tell an engrossing story. Writing a novel is more efficient as creating artwork is a very lengthy process. My main reason for doing comics instead is a selfish one. I wanted to exercise both of my passions at once.
Your Kickstarter for the first print collection has easily surpassed the original goal and is now tearing into stretch goals. Has the enthusiastic response been a surprise?
Actually, yes. Diskordia is a very niche work. I created it as artistic expression, rather than with commercial appeal in mind. The fact that so many people identify with my weird little story is very gratifying. Also as an independent creative I tend to be a little pessimistic. This whole campaign has caused me to re-evaluate that stance.
Which character is more similar to you, Jackal or Squidgirl?
It’s hard to choose between them as they both embody alot of elements of my personality. Whether it be Jackal’s calm cynical nihilism of Squidgirl’s Manic psychopathy. I’d say it’s an even split hah!
Where can I get an octopus hat? Shit’s dope.
Squidgirl knows, but she ain’t telling.
You can get in on the madness by reading Diskordia on Comixology or directly from the creator. Speaking of Rivenis, be sure to follow the “lord of Diskord” on Twitter. With only eight days to go on the Kickstarter campaign, be sure to preorder the printed edition while you can.
Corey Fryia is a Canadian-born comic book writer who now lives in the southern United States. He’s a community minded creator with past works helping non-profit organizations. He edited Out of the Blue, which gave back to child-literacy organization The Comic Book Project. At the SoKomics Expo he sold prints of his canine comic strip Good Boy to benefit a local Humane Society.
He is now looking for a little help of his own to produce an oversized first issue of his new pulp comic hero Doctor Crowe with a Kickstarter campaign.
So Corey, how did you come to comics?
I have always shared a connection to comic books in some form or fashion throughout my life. As a young kid I was glued to the TV watching Batman the Animated Series, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or those amazing Spider-Man and X-Men cartoons from the early 90’s. While I ended up honing my skills writing in my later years in life, these cartoons actually inspired me to want to be an artist when I grew up. I used to staple paper together and make my own comics when I was a kid. I still have original comic books that I drew from when I was seven or so years old. I wrote and drew a Star Wars book, Spider-Man, Star Trek, James Bond and even Xena Warrior Princess. I also used to draw these wild recreations of my favorite panels from X-Men and Spider-Man comics. Technically, those were my first attempts at a foray into the world of comic books. However, It wasn’t until much later in life (my early twenties) when I actually started entertaining the idea of creating comics as an actual profession.
You acted as co-editor on 2014’s Out of the Blue: A Collection of Strange Stories and the upcoming sequel A Collection on Campfire Tales. What’s your involvement in those and what can readers expect from the sequel?
Along with Marta Tanrikulu, I served as a co-editor on both Out of the Blue anthologies. Now before I even begin to talk about my involvement in those books I have to mention that Marta is one of the hardest working and most determined editors that I’ve ever had the opportunity to work with. She truly is the lifeforce behind these the books. I feel as if I act as the Robin to her Batman on our little editorial dynamic duo.
If you enjoyed the first Out of the Blue book, then you’re going to love the Out of the Blue: A Collection of Campfire Tales. While the first Out of the Blue was more slanted towards strange stories, this second volume is more focused on chilling or scary sort of stories. We have some first volume creators returning as well, but they’re also sharing the spotlight with some new creators that pump a lot of fresh life into the pages of the second volume.
I think I can speak for Marta when I say that we are really excited for everybody to get their hands on this book. Everybody who has worked on this thing has really brought their A game and you will not be disappointed.
You’ve got a current Kickstarter campaign to fund Doctor Crowe, could you tell us a little bit about it?
Doctor Crowe #1 is first issue of a 4-issue mini series. The mini-series follows the story of Dr. Victor Crowe, an infamous adventuring scientist; expert on the occult and an all-around pulp hero who uses advanced technologies to battle gruesome, supernatural terrors across the globe. Issue #1 features is 28 pages long and features four separate, serial anthology-style adventures that pits Dr. Crowe and his allies against unique, otherworldly threats that must be eliminated at all costs.
Who did you work with to bring Doctor Crowe to the comic page?
I have been fortunate enough to assemble some of my talented artist, colorist and letterer friends to help bring Doctor Crowe to life. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of folks to work with. Artists Tony Gregori, Karim Whalen and Matt Horak really put their unique spin on the character and their hard work is definitely evident on every page. Their pencils and inks are complimented by a solid group of colorists as well. Doug Garbark, Josh Jensen and Laura Lee are all amazing at what they do. And to cap it all off — Taylor Esposito, Nic Shaw and Micah Myers are some of the finest letterers that comics has to offer. I honestly believe that.
Are there any specific influences on Doctor Crowe?
As far as other comic books that have influenced Doctor Crowe, then I have to mention Frank Barbieri and Chris Mooneyham’s Five Ghosts. As far as present day pulp adventure books go there is no series that does it as well as Five Ghosts. It’s just good action and adventure for the sake of entertainment. That’s something that we’ve brought over to Doctor Crowe. I’d like the reader to be able to pick up the book, dive into the adventure and just forget about the real world if even for a split second or two.
Does living in the south shape your creative works in any way?
Kentucky is certainly a big part of my life. I identify with the kinds of people who live here and I try to let that show in my writing. If you pay attention to anything that I write, there’s usually some character that’s dialogue is written with a southern twang. In the case of Doctor Crowe, that character is Nora, Dr. Crowe’s tomboyish sidekick.
One of your previous works was a comic strip about your faithful dog; does Dr. Crow contain any animal friends?
Of course he does! In fact, I’ve made a pledge to myself to write a canine companion for any lead character that I write going forward. And, no, I’m not joking! Doctor Crowe’s dog is named Ajax. He’s a loyal Weimaraner who’s actually based off of my own Weimaraner named Harvey. Ajax appears in two of the four adventures in the first issue. I supplied Tony Gregori and Karim Whalen with an unhealthy amount of reference photos of Harvey in order to capture his likeness haha.
I’m a big dog guy. Take one look at my Instagram or Facebook and you’ll easily find that out. I have two amazing dogs, Sonny and Harvey, and they are literally my best friends in the entire world. I couldn’t imagine life without them and the bond that I share between my dogs and myself is something that I’d like to continue to explore through my writing. Also, dog sidekicks make everything instantly cooler. I think that’s a proven fact.
Check out Corey Fryia’s new pulp-hero Doctor Crowe on Kickstarter. It hit 100% funding in one day, but there’s still plenty of time to get your copy. You can also connect with the creator on Twitter @CoreyFryia
Southwest Florida’s Lee Milewski is heating up indie comics with a slew of successful comic book projects. While the genres are diverse, the stories deal with themes of personal introspection and world exploration. The comics are brought to vivid life with a unique brush art style.
He’s recently released a fantasy graphic novel Hunter’s Lore through Stache Publishing. Now he’s ready to blast off into the stars with Focus Shift. A current Kickstarter campaign is underway to fund production of the sci-fi graphic novella.
In this interview, we get the inside scoop on the artist and his work.
So Lee, how did you get started making comics?
Honestly, I never read many comics as a kid – even now, I don’t read a TON of books frequently, but the first one would probably be a Batman comic at some point growing up. I still dig those. Right around the time I dropped out of film school, due to me wanting to be creatively driven but not having the money or resources to attend. Comics are perfect for the budget-minded creator. I just always knew I wanted to have a creative job but never knew how to approach one. When I sorta “found’ comics in my early twenties, it took off.
You’ve recently published Hunter’s Lore, a fantasy graphic through Stache. What can you say about that release?
Essentially it’s a story of personal redemption. A knight named Rowan Black is destined to a life of solitude within impenetrable walls. Once he realizes his cause is unworthy and forfeiting of its purposes, he ventures out into the world to take on a quest. Hunter’s Lore is different than a lot of fantasy comics due to it being a smaller scale story – it’s not necessarily “save the world and achieve great things”, but rather a slow trudge through Rowan’s necessity to reclaim his life and pride.
Stache seemed like a great place to get ideas out into the world, especially on a broader spectrum than I could personally accomplish. I’ve debated with publishing Hunter’s Lore with a traditional publisher and Stache and the team won me over.
With Tangled Weeds you took on horror, Hunter’s Lore delved into high-fantasy, now Focus Shift peers through the lens of sci-fi. Do you prefer any particular genre or do you like to work on different ones?
Personally I don’t have a preference with genres so long as there’s an interesting story and character at the heart of things. I like to mess around in genres mainly because they’re so recognized among most readers and it’s easier to create something cool and unique in a recognized framework. From the preview, Focus Shift evokes a similar sense of world exploration as Hunter’s Lore. Would you agree with that?
For sure. Our main character, K, is much less sure of herself than any past characters from my books, and that unsureness is probably what will make her actions stand out. She’s specifically NOT a hero.
On the Focus Shift campaign page you mention that you are influenced by Hayao Miyazaki’s works. What most resonates about his films and do you have a favorite?
I had actually been introduced to Miyazaki films in my early twenties by my wife, Kathleen. She swore by a few of them and now that I’ve seen them, I do to. I think this studios use of small touches is what makes them so unique- a character will trip as they walk up the stairs, get hair blown in their face, etc. It’s stuff that you don’t typically see with animation and these guys have been doing it for years. Nausicca is my favorite!
One of the things that is appealing about your artwork, is your choice of color pallets. Is this something you purposefully consider when approaching a story?
Yeah and more often than not its just a guessing game until I find what works. I am using a more cut style with the characters and the same painterly style as I used in Hunter’s Lore. Hopefully it works out!
You’ve funded production of several comic projects through Kickstarter. What does crowdfunding mean for you as independent creator?
Kickstarter is a job within itself! I wouldn’t wish it on anyone – it’s stressful, extremely time consuming, and I love it. Basically, I see it as the new way of putting out comics, at least for smaller independents like me. Running the Kickstarter is extremely stressful but ultimately super satisfying to see your idea become something out of nothing. I hope [readers] love it and tell their friends, but I also hope that it gives them a reason to pursue their own stories and comics. Independent creators are truly the blood within the comics industry. When newer and upcoming creators receive support, they’re more inclined to stick around and make awesome art and create awesome stories. This is true for ANY independent creator, not just me.
Lee Milewski’s new fantasy graphic novel Hunter’s Lore is available directly from Stache Publishing or through online sellers like Amazon. To check out and support his current project, visit the Focus Shiftcampaign page.
Giant monsters! Super-sized beasts! Mysterious creatures! Jake LaGory is a North Carolina artist with a passion for (super)nature’s big, bad, and beautiful. His illustrations celebrate the famous monsters from fiction and folklore that inspired him as a child. Now he inspires the next generation of artists as a teacher in the Asheville public school district. GR1ND caught up with Jake to talk about his Cryptozoology Coloring Book and his new digital painting series, The Aphotic Zone.
How long have you been making art?
I’ve been drawing for as long as I can remember. As a child, I used it as a tool to explore my interests, specifically in monsters and dinosaurs. I remember taking every opportunity to draw, grabbing a sheet of printer paper and whatever tools were available. As I grew into adolescence it waned a bit more like a doodle in class here or there. It wasn’t until late high school and college that I began to re explore and expand my skills toward attaining a career in the arts. Now I teach art in the Asheville public schools and do my illustration the side.
You are previously from Chicago, what brought you to North Carolina?
Chicago is a wonderful city with great culture, but its very large and sprawling. I grew up hiking, canoeing, and camping and felt the need to live in a smaller more natural environment. My wife (then girlfriend) and I moved down shortly after getting our degrees (about 4 years ago).
How did the change of scenery affect your art?
Being in Asheville is a constant source of inspiration, from both the community and the mountainous environment. Within 2 months of moving here, I found out about ZaPow, a new pop-culture gallery that was about to open in downtown Asheville. It was a perfect fit and I was stunned to have such a great opportunity to share my work with the community so quickly after relocating. Having a venue to show my work keeps me motivated to make more work and constantly improve. I still show my work there now. As a public school art teacher, the community support is very strong. There are so many opportunities to share my students’ work with the community. It’s a great resource.
Many of your art pieces feature giant animals, what interests you in super-sized creatures?
I guess this goes back to my childhood fascination with dinosaurs and monsters. As a kid, I also loved watching the stop-motion animation work of Ray Harryhausen, which often featured giant sized creatures. Ultimately, it comes back to exploring the natural world and wondering “what if?”, and the fact that the more I explore them as a subject in my work, the more ideas pop into my head. Giant monsters are pretty much a part of my artistic DNA at this point.
Do you have a favorite monster?
I’m most interested in aquatic monsters, whether real life or imaginary. When it comes to the psuedoscience of cryptozoology, it’s easy to maintain an open imagination about the types of creatures that could live undiscovered in the ocean. There’s just more potential for imagination when it comes to ocean creatures. They also seem more threatening- since the deep sea remains so unexplored and mysterious, you never know what could emerge and start causing havoc. These kinds of things are fun to imagine. Just look at the types of creatures that inhabit the darkest depths of the ocean. Things like the anglerfish. Very freaky looking.
You have published a coloring book of cryptids from around the world. How did that concept come about?
The idea came to me several years back, when ZaPow hosted a Cryptozoology-themed group show for all its member artists. I thought it would be cool to submit a short coloring book that put a natural spin on some famous cryptids. The project grew from there. I missed the deadline for that show by far, but ended up with book of 22 original illustrations. To talk a bit more about the guiding principle for how I designed each creature, I’ll use the example of mermaids or merfolk. Within cryptozoology, mermaid specimens are often depicted as having human (mammal) and fish parts in one organism. This doesn’t really make sense, as no other animals exist that are a combination of two such vastly different types of organisms. You’re either a mammal or a fish. One creature can’t be both. This kind of creature would need to have a magical explanation, which didn’t fit with the theme or style of my book. Therefore, the “mermaids” in my coloring book are pretty much a primate that has evolved over time to swim in the ocean- basically an ape with a body that resembles a seal. It’s still highly unlikely that such a creature would remain undiscovered in our time, but I had a lot of fun creating a book by putting famous legendary creatures through this thought process.
As an outdoorsman have have you ever had any close encounters with any dangerous wild animals?
Black Bears are pretty common here in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’ve had to bang on the windows to scare a bear away from my outdoor garbage can, but that was within the safety of my home. Animals like to keep away from us.The only truly frightening experiences I’ve had out in nature have been weather related. I’ve been camping with tornadoes blowing nearby and canoeing on rivers that flooded overnight.
What are you currently working on?
I’m about a third of the way through a series of 9 or so digital paintings that depict imaginary deep sea life, named “The Aphotic Zone” after the portion of ocean that’s always in darkness. The purpose is to explore and accentuate the different ways animals adapt to lightless environments. Each creature is based on an actual ocean animal, but its light tricks are a bit more elaborate and fantastic than what is usually seen in nature. Still, the series is very grounded in science. Sort of a similar design process as I used on my book of cryptids. It’s also fun to create an illustration where the light source is the creature itself- not the usual sun, lamp, or open window.
Be sure to follow Jake LaGory’s work by checking out his website (www.jakelagory.com) or blog (jakelagory.tumblr.com). The first three species in The Aphotic Zone series can be viewed there. His Cryptozoology Coloring Book and various prints are available for purchase online and in person at ZaPow.
Clad in black leather and wearing a cowboy hat emblazoned with a shiny skull, Ken Gerhard looks a bit like a rock-and-roll Indiana Jones. The Texan’s passion is cryptozoology, or the search for rumored animals not yet discovered by mainstream science, called cryptids.
Since childhood, the famed monster hunter has traveled the world searching for mysterious creatures of legend and lore. Along the trek, he’s authored several books and his adventures have appeared on many cable television specials, as well as the popular Coast to Coast AM radio show. The GR1ND caught up with Gerhard at Troy Taylor’s Haunted America conference, where he lectured on the subject of thunderbirds before jetting off for another expedition.
How did you get into cryptozoology?
When I was eight years old I saw a TV special about Bigfoot and I was completely captivated. I thought it was the coolest thing ever. It was fascinating to imagine an eight-foot-tall man-like creature running around the woods of North America. So I went out to the library, read every book I could find on the subject, and immersed myself in it.
My mother was very adventurous and a travel agent, so she took me all over the world, to places like the Amazon jungle, Australia, and Africa. Wherever we went I would investigate the legendary creatures. That was my upbringing. When I was fifteen we vacationed at Loch Ness in Scotland and I attempted my first field research. I had a little 8mm movie camera and I walked around the lake talking to the locals.
I never attempted to make this a career choice. It didn’t seem viable. But later I began going out in the field with Bigfoot researchers in the United States and experienced things I couldn’t explain. It took hold of me and I wrote my first book. Around that time I was discovered by a producer from the Travel channel. He put me on a show and it snowballed from there. I’m one of the luckiest people in the world, I get to travel around and hunt for monsters for a living. It’s pretty unbelievable.
Bigfoot first got you interested in cryptozoology. How likely do you think it is that such a creature exists?
I think Bigfoot will be proven some day. There is so much evidence mounting now. For the most part, it’s circumstantial. There are thousands of eyewitness sightings, tracks that have been cast, the Patterson film, the hair samples — all of that together builds a pretty convincing case that there’s something out there.
The 1967 Patterson film has been considered as both evidence by believers and a hoax by skeptics. What convinces you of its authenticity?
The very first time I ever watched the Patterson film, it struck me as very natural looking. In the hundreds of times I’ve watched it since, my opinion has never changed. The subject displays an inhuman gait that primate biomechanics experts have concluded would be extremely difficult for a human to pull off. In addition, you can actually see its muscles flexing as it moves. Costumes don’t do that … and especially back in 1967 when ape costumes were dreadful.
‘Patty’ also displays pendulous breasts. Why would someone try to fake something like that? There were a number of tracks left behind that were subsequently cast with plaster and they display the diversity of an actual foot, as opposed to a fake, as well as fitting within the paradigm of the Sasquatch foot… different morphologically from a human’s. Finally, I’ve spoken to Bob Gilmlin, who was there with Patterson at the time. He comes off as extremely sincere and credible.
Out of all the legendary creatures out there, which do you think has the most credibility overall?
The most likely one in my mind has kind of been forgotten about over the centuries. That’s the sea serpent. When you think about the oceans and how vast and unexplored they are. The ocean covers 71% of the Earth’s surface, has an average depth of 12,000 feet, with some parts going down 30,000 feet or more. There could be anything down there that we’ve never seen before. There are huge new species being discovered in the ocean all the time.
The description of the sea serpents date back centuries and are very consistent. It’s described as a long thirty foot to sixty foot serpentine animal with a vertical undulating motion. It’s the consistency of the reports and the fact that the ocean provides a lot of area to hide that indicates that they could live in very deep parts of the ocean and we don’t see them that often because they don’t come to the surface.
While you’ve investigated a large variety of cryptids, in your writing you’ve focused quite a bit on exceptionally large birds and other mysterious flying creatures. Is there a reason for this?
When I got into the field I realized that there were excellent Bigfoot and lake monster researchers, but no one was really investigating the Thunderbird reports. This was despite the fact that there were a lot of accounts and corroborating evidence, in terms of anedecdoatal things. Living in South Texas we have a lot of sightings and it was in my back yard, so to speak. And because I’m associated with this particular phenomenon I get the majority of the reports and sightings people have.
Can you share one of the more compelling Thunderbird encounters you’ve come across in your research?
The Illinois’ Lawndale incident where ten year old Marlon Lowe was carried some distance by an enormous bird during July 25th, 1977. There were four adult eyewitnesses to the event. In my large database of Thunderbird accounts, the descriptions are relatively consistent – dark-colored raptors – black, gray or brown with a wingspan from 15′ to 20′ (the best that anyone can estimate). Many of the witnesses are experienced wildlife observers. The areas where the things are seen the most include – Illinois, Pennsylvania, Texas and Alaska. Birds with 18′ wingspans did exist in North America until 10,000 years ago – the Teratornis.
One of those experienced wildlife observers was John James Audubon, who reported witnessing an enormous eagle. What do you know about that?
John James Audubon was a great a naturalist in the early history of this country. He named hundreds of bird species, studied, and painted them. To this day they’re all accepted as real, valid species, except for the Washington’s Eagle. Because they haven’t found one since he painted the it, Ornithologists say he must have made a mistake since they haven’t seen another one. But maybe they went extinct, or maybe they aren’t out there in large numbers. But Audubon was a brilliant naturalist who knew his field.
With the fossil record proving the existence of dinosaurs and other large animals, what’s the reluctance of the scientific community to accept the possibility of modern-day super-sized creatures?
It’s politics. Scientists are brought up in a traditional structure and educated a certain way. Their career is based on reputation and credibility. Say you work for a major university and you start looking for Bigfoot, you could be fired, ostracized, and or ridiculed by peers.
That being said, we’ve come to a point where there are scientists willing to stick their neck out. I work with a guy from England who is a PhD in comparative physiology from the University of Birmingham, his name is Dr. Karl Shuker. He’s been writing books about cryptozoology for years and he’s very brilliant. Dr. Jeff Meldrum is a primate locomotion specialist from Idaho State University. He’s in all the Bigfoot shows, now. The University is actually backing him on his Bigfoot research. Dr. Grover Krantz is another hero of mine is a physical anthropologist from Washington State. There are some pioneers in traditional science that are willing to open their minds and step outside the box to consider the evidence and possibility. The Chinese and Russian governments have actually sponsored Bigfoot research. Both have been funding expeditions for years.
Have you personally had any close encounters with legendary animals?
I have never seen anything with my own eyes, but I believe that I have been within 40 yards of a Bigfoot. In 2003, I was at a place in North Texas called Little Cottonwood Lake investigating Bigfoot sightings. It was very remote and took us forever to get into this little backwoods area. Just after the sun went down we were hiking around the lake and we suddenly heard something grunting at us from deep in the brush. We couldn’t see it because it was heavily obscured. It sounded like a primate, an ape, or howler monkey. We all looked at each other and said, “Holy shit was is that?”
Your hunt has taken you all over the globe, is there anywhere you’d like to explore?
New Zealand is pretty high on my bucket list. It’s obviously a very beautiful country, but there are really interesting creatures there. There are these giant flightless birds called the moas that were thought to have been extict since the 1600’s, but there are still a lot of sightings. There is a Bigfoot type creature called the Moehau Man. There are living fossils like the tuatara which is a weird reptile that has three eyes and hasn’t change in 60 million years. It’s a weird place zooligically speaking and has lots of interesting creatures there.
What can your readers expect next from you?
My next book is called A Menagerie of Mysterious Beasts. It will contain a chapter on Bigfoot, big birds, werewolves, giant spiders, giant frogs, all kind of mysterious creatures.
For more information on Ken Gerhard visit his website www.kengerhard.com. He regularly writes for the popular cryptozoology website www.cryptomundo.com. His books can be purchased online at Amazon, and other sellers.
In round one of our “must drinks” adventure, we traversed roughly half of the World Showcase at Disney’s Epcot theme park. From tequila to beer to wine, the best of the booze was highlighted for each stop along the route. Now it’s time to batten down the hatches and finish the schnockered circle around the world.
While real-life America has much to offer food and drink lovers, it’s all burgers and Bud Light in Disney’s simulacrum. This is shame because the USA has much to offer in terms of craft bourbons and beers. Alas, the only whiskey to be found is mixed into a frozen lemonade. For craft beer lovers, there is the token Sam Adams tap. Here, just split a Bud Light with a friend, tick it off the list, and move on — quickly.
The best drinking spot is nestled in a back of the Mitsukoshi Department Store. The small tasting corner bar provides a sampling of Japanese sake. Here, service is elevated to an art form, with everything from paying to pouring to presenting — even carding — given with a flourish. The sake on menu change often, but cover the major variations with aged, dry, sweet, and unfiltered versions. For those unfamiliar with the rice wine, a dry or sweet is the way to go. But with it’s hard not to recommend a flight of three. They go down smooth and will help one forget about the insipid rice-infused Bud Light just downed next-door. The tasty bar is also conveniently located by to the Japanese snack section. Salty dried squid snacks offers a unique experience for those more accustomed to bar nuts or pretzels.
The next stop is another lackluster choice. Unlike the USA, it’s hard to blame Disney’s presentation when Morocco doesn’t have a huge drinking culture due to its religious influences. Options at Epcot have improved in recent years with the introduction of the Spiced Road Table, which features full bar service. The import Moroccan beer option is Casa, a standard pale lager reminiscent of Budweiser. On the other hand, Wine production in Morocco has been steadily improving since the 1990’s, which some becoming known outside the country. The must drink here is a Spice Road Signature Sangria, a sweet blend of organic red wine and fresh fruit. It’s available by the glass, for the thirsty, or pitcher, for the thirstier.
It would be easy to keep things traditional with the same old wine or champagne enjoyed by the French children. But “drinking around the world” is an adult’s game and the Wine and Champagne kiosk serves up a delicious slush. Easy junior, this icy-treat is a blurring blend of Grey Goose Citron and a shot of Gran Marnier orange liquor. It comes supersized and is perfect for kicking back and gazing at the pint-sized Eiffel tower, especially on a sunny day.
The UK pavilion offers one of the best drinking spots in Epcot at the venerable Rose & Crown. Fashioned after a traditional pub, the service is impeccable, the entertainment jolly, and the booze in abundance. As the night winds down the tables and bar fills up so stake out a place early, especially to catch a raucous piano performance by the Hat Lady. As a full service bar, there is something for everyone. But it’s hard to be at a pub and not have a pint to swing around while singing a traditional Irish bar song. There are several draft beer blends from the familiar “Black & Tan” to the less familiar “Golden” (Half Stella Artois, half Bass Ale). The Rose & Crown must drink is Boddingtons, a classic nitro pub ale. It’s smooth and creamy, as pleasant on the tongue is it is in the belly.
Thechoices at the last stop in the tour will make one want to quickly back-track to the UK Rose & Crown or loop around to start over at Mexico’s La Cava del Tequila. But for “drinking around the world” completionists a Canadian beer can be grabbed at an outdoor kiosk. Molson or Labatt? Either will serve the purpose at the end of the drunken expedition, so flip-a-coin. That’s your must drink, winner!
If you survived without passing out and waking up in Disney jail — congratulations you successfully drank yourself around the world! With beer, wine, and cocktail options ever exploding in the theme park, there is much that didn’t get a mention. If you have a favorite “must drink” not on the list, please share it in the comments.
Previously on MOUSEKECHEERS we introduced the sloshed sport of Drinking around the World Showcase at Disney’s Epcot theme park. Today we’ll cover the “must drinks” at each stop on the tipsy tour, starting at the Mexico pavilion and moving counter-clockwise. In this first part we’ll travel from Mexico to Italy, before coming back to finish the trek in the second installment.
If there is one spirit that Mexico is known for it’s tequila. At La Cava del Tequila, the agave distilled liquor flows daily. The “Cave” is nestled off the outskirts of a replica Mexican plaza, set under a perpetually starry sky. It creates the perfect imbibing ambience just as scheduled performances by a mariachi band adds a festive soundtrack. It’s a tough call whether to order a shot of tequila or one of the tasty specialty margaritas. But an epic event like “drinking around the world” deserves a proper kick-off, so the must drink recommendation is the tequila flight. It serves a shot of each tequila style with a Blanco, a Reposado, and an Añejo. Because what’s better than uno tequila, but tres tequilas!
The Kringla Bakeri Og Kafe offers a sweet selection of Norway’s national favorites. (School bread!) It also doubles as a watering hole, because what’s a bakery without booze? There are some regional wines and brews on menu, but the Linie Aquavit Glacier Shot is the must drink. Despite the chill name it’s liquid fire. With a licorice taste, some hate it, some love it, but it’s unique and worth a try. And at 80-proof it carries over the Mexico momentum.
While China has much to offer as far as shopping and child labor acrobats, it falls short on the booze end. Still when drinking around the world, no bottle is left unturned. Here the must drink is the plum wine. A little light and sweet, consider it break after the Mexico-Norway jumpstart.
It’s all about beer in Germany. And what better place to enjoy a cold, frothy one than at Epcot’s Biergarden restaurant? It’s Oktoberfest year-round at communal tables where the ale flows under the aplomb of an Oompah band. There are lots of good brews to be had along with a buffet spread of German cuisine. It’s tempting to pair a beer sampler with the sausage fest, but the must drink suggestion is to go big with a 1/2 liter of Altenmünster Oktoberfest. It’s easy drinking and perfect to wash down the schnitzel.
The Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar is the next stop on the thirsty tour. Per the namesake, wine is the focus in the small intimate space fashioned after an old Italian wine cellar. Grab a table or spot at the bar and peruse the extensive wine list featuring 200 bottles and select pours. With a selection this large, wine drinkers are bound to find something to indulge in, even better when paired with a snack of Italian meets and cheeses. But go for the gusto with a wine flight. The must drink is the classic sampler of three wines, Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, and Primitivo, better known to Americans as Zinfandel. For the more adventurous there is a super-sized “Grand Tour”, featuring six pours from sparkling Prosecco to super-sweet Moscato.
This brings us near the half-way point in the drinking quest around Epcot World Showcase. Next time, we’ll pick up in America and travel to Canada, was delicious stops in between. Have a favorite “must drink” not on this list? Please share it in the comments. Mousekecheers!
In the first part of the interview with Julian Darius we talked about his background with Sequart, his comic criticism, and his new work Martian Comics. In this second part we dig deeper into the unexpected influences on the new sci-fi comic.
Issue #1 of Martian Comics worked Jesus into a background story. Could you describe the genesis of that idea?
That’s a good question, and I’m surprised people haven’t talked more about it.
As part of planning Martian Lit some years ago, I had the idea of giving the business its own backstory. So the “About Us” page would really believe that it was written by Martians. So the publisher itself was kind of a work of fiction. That felt aggressive and bizarre and right to me. So I kind of wrote up this backstory, and it included the idea that Martians were trying to enlighten us by possessing us. I thought it was fun to point out that this program obviously hasn’t been entirely successful. Later in the same document, I made a parenthetical reference, after citing an A.D. date, to how this was only one system of dating based on a Martian emissary who humans had murdered. You could say it was a little joke, but I also thought it was a sly and interesting idea, to put this in a parenthetical, because it suggested the Martians don’t see Jesus or how he’s been interpreted the same way we do.
Time passed, and my friend Kevin Thurman had the idea of merging his idea for a comic about an alienated college student who’s dealing with the widespread disaffection of youth with my Martian backstory. So suddenly, I started thinking about this Martian backstory again. And in my mind, that parenthetical Jesus reference was canonical, so to speak. It was part of this Martian mythology.
I was struggling with what became chapter three of “The Girl from Mars,” which is in issue #1 and is basically a single conversation with all of these turns in it. It was very hard for me to write, because I hate how “by the way, I’m an alien / have super-powers” conversations are handled in most genre fiction. These conversations sometimes occur under duress, like during a fight. A lot of times, a character who’s supposed to be incredulous sees a display of power and instantly buys the whole story, but that really makes no sense. In the same way that a miracle wouldn’t prove someone is an angel, or the Son of God, or anything but that they seemed to perform a miracle, firing a blast from your hand doesn’t prove you’re an alien sent to stop bad guys who are out to destroy the world. So I did a lot of thinking about this, and I really wanted this dialogue-heavy chapter to be incredibly crisp and witty and like nothing else you’ve ever read — certainly not like any other version of the “I’m an alien” conversation you’ve ever seen.
That was the genesis of the “you dye your hair” line, as the more immediate response to Izzy claiming she’s an alien. Here’s her sister, who knows her, and she interprets this as an ethnic otherness. It felt right. It felt familiar. And it plays on the multiple meanings of the word “alien,” which has come to mean an extraterrestrial but was earlier and is also employed to mean a foreigner, the way some say “illegal alien.”
In the same way, I thought the difference between this Martian’s and this human’s perspectives was perfectly illustrated by Izzy saying that Jesus was a Martian emissary. It’s a one-liner, in the same way that the parenthetical on the Martian Lit “About Us” page was a one-liner. But the idea is that Izzy, as a Martian, is trying to explain how this works, and she knows that one of these emissaries her sister knows is Jesus, so Izzy states this matter-of-factly. Of course, while totally sane from a Martian perspective, this sounds completely insane from a human perspective, because it sounds like Izzy is comparing herself to Jesus, which is this total red flag, messiah-complex thing. So I thought mentioning that in the comic worked, and was a great beat in the conversation that served multiple purposes: maybe blowing readers’ minds, letting us understand this Martian enlightenment program in a concise way, illustrating the difference between Martian and human perspectives, and also providing this pivot point in two sisters’ difficulty communicating at this key moment in the narrative.
All of this was totally organic. There was no agenda to be “this is the Jesus was a Martian” comic. This isn’t Battle Pope. I dig that kind of stuff, but it’s not what I’m doing.
I was probably only done with the first or maybe the second chapter of “The Girl from Mars” when I wrote “The Galilean,” the first back-up, which ran in issue #1. That’s the Jesus story. It’s just five pages, and it basically is just an elaboration on this idea. I actually reread the Gospels to write it, even though it’s just five pages. It starts with Jesus going through the same process of being possessed, which we’ve seen in the main story. We see his family rejecting him and trying to take him back, which is Biblical, only here that takes on a different meaning. We kind of jump through his ministry, in a kind of Grant Morrison rapid-fire, no-segue-between-panels way. Then there’s the twist ending in which we jump to Mars and hear that this isn’t the first time this particular Martian has been executed. It’s a pretty simply story.
Also in issue #2, you dove further into the Bible with a re-imagining of the resurrection of Lazarus. What inspired you to continue with that story?
“Lazarus,” which ran in issue #2, was the next back-up I wrote, and I think I wrote it before chapter three of “The Girl from Mars.” It’s 13 pages. At its heart, it’s basically a story about what happened after his resurrection. Because that’s not clear in the Bible. His function is basically to get resurrected, as a further proof of Jesus’s power. That’s where his feelings come from, in the story, about how he’s kind of a prop. Everyone sees him as a form of living proof, but he’s a human being, and no one follows up with him to see how he’s doing. Of course, that’s not surprising. I was just talking with a nurse tonight about how people are there when someone’s dying, but mourning is often worse a month later, after people don’t have to be strong to get through anymore, and the real weight of things hits them. It’s kind of human nature not to follow up. Plus, it’s not like there was psychotherapy in first-century Palestine.
Beyond this, there’s that weird aspect of the Biblical story, about how Jesus doesn’t show up while Lazarus is sick, and only shows up when it’s too late, which is why Lazarus needs to be resurrected. That’s Biblical. I didn’t invent it. And it’s really odd, because you’d think that if you were making up this story to make Jesus look good, you wouldn’t make him be a dick and not show up for three days, during which Lazarus dies. But however you understand this, the emphasis is on Jesus doing this great thing, which is obviously the point of the passage, and no one ever apologizes or explains this delay. Which to me further suggests no one’s going to follow up with Lazarus.
Besides, in my story, Lazarus isn’t totally healed. He’s alive, but injuries he had at the time of death don’t heal. He looks like a corpse. So he’s not going to find employment. People aren’t going to accept him. He’s basically a leper. In a time when disease wasn’t understood, physical ailments were seen as demonic, or a curse from the gods for bad behavior, and it was often unsafe to be around the sick or the physically different. So Lazarus is alive, but he has no function, no place.
I just thought all of this was a great story. I loved the idea of the resurrected Lazarus, struggling to figure out his place.
Looking at the Bible through a sci-fi lens is unique in comics. Do you see it as a long jump from the source material?
Technically, you could argue that Jesus raising Lazarus is a sci-fi element. But that really comes in when Lazarus, unable to commit suicide, goes to Jesus for answers. And Jesus doesn’t have them. He couldn’t be a nicer guy about it, and he says as much as he knows, albeit filtered in a way that Lazarus might understand. Which again gets at this difficulty in communicating, across this vast gulf of experience. How would you explain to someone, in first-century Palestine, that there are other planets up there, and some are inhabited, and that no, this isn’t something supernatural, it’s just science that could only be interpreted in this supernatural or mystical way.
To me, when Jesus points to the stars in that story, it’s a very Star Trek moment. It’s a first-century Palestine equivalent of the famous Next Generation scenes in which Picard has someone on the Enterprise and shows them the Earth, or another planet, from space. Those are moving scenes, and they’re rooted in someone not being able to understand, or to fully fathom, something majestic and beautiful and far beyond what they know. There’s also a joy, as a reader or a viewer, in knowing what a character does not, and witnessing this helps us to see the majesty of what that character can’t understand.
With the new issue #3, you’re carrying this even further with the introduction of the Apostle Paul to the Martian Comics world. What interested you toward using him as a character?
The story of St. Paul in Athens is interesting, because it’s really Paul that invents Christianity. Jesus didn’t want to start a new religion, and he’s not concerned with gentiles. It’s Paul who declares he’s had a vision and is opening this Jewish sect that believes Jesus was the messiah for gentile membership. And we know that Paul was recalled by Jesus’s followers, who weren’t happy with what Paul was saying. Paul didn’t know Jesus. He never met Jesus. As a Christian, one could say that Paul didn’t so much invent Christianity as follow divine inspiration; that’s certainly what Paul said he was doing. But it’s Paul that did it. And there’s no doubt, whether by divine inspiration or cynical decision, that Paul changed this Jewish sect to appeal to a gentile audience. The most obvious example is to not require circumcision, which wasn’t going to go over with men in the wider Greco-Roman world.
Lazarus, who in my story has survived, had to witness the birth and spread of Christianity. To not depict that would have been a cop-out. Of course, this presented a great storytelling possibility: someone who knew Jesus, but who no one knows is present or is immortal, seeing someone else preach about Jesus in a way that, inevitably, wouldn’t be exactly the man this someone remembers. There’s a sense of alienation there, of being told your memories aren’t valid, that has a very sci-fi feel to it. It reminds me of how we alter and misremember history even within our own time. Certainly, people who lived long enough in earlier eras lived long enough to watch advocates of one party or another twist history, or to see events twisted to mean a certain thing that they didn’t necessarily mean to those who were there. Obviously, this is based on history, and it’s neither religious propaganda nor anti-religious propaganda. But I should point out that Jesus’s disciples didn’t understand him well (they’re almost comic relief in a lot of the Gospels), and they certainly would be astounded had they heard Paul’s sermons.
What does the setting of ancient Athens bring to the story?
The choice of Athens is fascinating to me. Partly, that’s the “sermon” (it’s more a defense before a semi-formal court) on the Areopagus, in which Paul cites the Unknown God. I find the idea of the Unknown God fascinating. There’s dispute about whether the Athenians actually had an Unknown God, but the dominant theory is that they did, much as Paul’s speech describes. But of course, it’s a sign of humility. The point is “we don’t know all the gods, and if we left a god out, we apologize.” The Unknown God is an acknowledgement of our limits to know the divine. One thing that was always fascinating to me about this story is that Paul saying he’s going to tell Athens about the Unknown God is fitting his God into a polytheistic framework. Of course, it’s a rhetorical tactic on Paul’s part, but the whole point of the Unknown God is that these other gods exist. You can’t say “I know the Unknown God” and also that all those other gods don’t exist. It’s a concept that only makes sense in a polytheistic context.
But Athens is also interesting, because historians largely see it as a failure for Paul. I think we sometimes picture Paul delivering these great sermons across the Roman world, and we imagine that he’s winning converts everywhere. But even in the account in Acts, it’s clear that Paul’s not very successful in Athens. There’s an attempt to say that Paul succeeded and won some converts, but it’s clear that Paul’s a fish out of water there. Athens is the seat of philosophy, and they’ve heard it all before. They’ve heard of a single Creator God who unites all the other gods; Greeks actually came up with that on their own. These are sophisticated people. And most of what Paul does is rant at them about how they’re ignorant. But he doesn’t mean they’re ignorant of a philosophical point. Paul’s not making a philosophical point. His whole point is that he’s right, and therefore others are ignorant. It’s actually a style of argument that we’re familiar with today. It’s basically “I’m right, and you’re ignorant because you disagree.” And that might work in other places, but it’s certainly not going to work in Athens. Athens was the place you went to, to prove your intellectual mettle. Paul seems to think he’s ready, presumably because he really believes in his message. But he doesn’t impress, and he was basically put on trial, and then he quickly leaves the city. And I don’t think he, and by extension Christianity, ever got over this wound. It’s there in St. Augustine especially, and it’s he who asked “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”
So do you see Athens as a sort of battleground between the old-guard of the Greek philosophy and this new form of Jewish faith?
Athens stands for philosophy, for education, for reason. Jerusalem stands for faith. Augustine’s whole argument is that reason has nothing to do with faith. Ironically, Augustine was brilliant, and he teases ideas out with a perverse kind of reason, but he starts from a place of faith. And ultimately, neither he nor early Christianity generally had much tolerance for philosophy or reason. There’s a hostility there, a suspicion. There are thousands of quotes that illustrate this point. Much later, the Scholastics come along, but they met with a lot of hostility in their time. And even today, there’s a lot of suspicion of the academy (a term that goes back to Plato) and of science especially. And it all goes back to Paul at Athens. I think, had Paul been accepted as a great philosopher in Athens, Christianity might have had a very different attitude. Maybe this tension, between faith and reason, was intrinsic to Christianity, but Paul in Athens certainly represented this moment in which that tension didn’t seem so obvious — after all, Paul probably wouldn’t have gone to Athens if he didn’t think there was some chance of success. After Athens, there could be no denying this tension. And it wasn’t forgotten. Eventually, Christianity won power, and it closed Plato’s Academy, which was still running, and it did its best to burn all those great Greek and Roman books.
I’m not picking on Christianity here. Paganism certainly had its problems with reason too. For example, a lot of scientific inquiry was stalled because of religious taboos — like about dissection of corpses — that paganism and Christianity had in common. So it’s not like paganism was this philosophically utopian system. Greek paganism is filled with inanities. But in Athens, the philosophers were pretty irreligious, and Greco-Roman paganism did have the benefit of being pretty religiously tolerant. That’s kind of the point of the Unknown God. It’s an acceptance that religious belief is going to evolve, and other gods can be added, and at least in theory it’s all good.
Anyway, I find all of this fascinating, and Paul’s time in Athens was this kind of a historical pivot point. For the purposes of the story, we get to witness this through the eyes of Lazarus, which lets us see how much Lazarus has changed since last we saw him. He had never left Palestine. Now, he’s in Athens, and he’s seen more of the world. It’s changed him.
So the story is part Biblical exegesis, part historical analysis, partly about how Lazarus has changed, and partly about the surreal experience of hearing someone talk about a person or historical events you witnessed but not recognizing their version or their interpretation. It’s got all of these layers, and hopefully they work together to tell a single, fascinating story in which you couldn’t remove any of these strands without the whole collapsing.
I’ve enjoyed your critique of Miracleman, another book that meshes religious and philosophical themes with speculative fiction. Does that series influence your work?
This is another excellent question that no one has asked me.
I never actually considered the religious themes of Miracleman as an influence on Martian Comics, although you’re right to point that out.
Miracleman is a huge influence on Martian Comics.
One of the clearest influences, to me, is the way that the Other, who is the big villain of “The Girl from Mars,” functions within that story. If you remember early Miracleman, very soon after Miracleman returns, Kid Miracleman summons him. It’s a direct consequence of Miracleman’s return; this other superhuman is out there, and he’s evil, and he’s been there a while without much serious opposition, and he’s this kind of corporate figure. In “The Girl from Mars,” the Other functions in much this same way. Of course, the situation and the powers involved are very different; a charisma field is a lot less melodramatic than all of Miracleman’s powers. But the Other is superficially similar. I even call him the Devil, poetically, the same way he’s called that early in Miracleman. There’s also a death, to demonstrate this villain’s power, in both stories.
A lot of what I’m doing, in “The Girl from Mars,” is kind of improving on things I’ve realized could be improved in Miracleman. An easy example is that the victim, killed as a demonstration, isn’t quite as much of a throwaway character in “The Girl from Mars.” But I also realize, reading Miracleman, Book One, that Kid Miracleman is kind of the star. He’s a great villain, but he’s basically gone within 50 pages. Of course, comics have become more decompressed, but it seems such a shame that Kid Miracleman is introduced and gone so quickly. I think we forget that because the sequence is so effective, but it’s really short. In “The Girl from Mars,” we’re able to explore the Other in a lot more detail than the format of Warrior magazine allowed.
Also, his status as a kind of corporate villain is far, far more important. In Miracleman, that’s almost a throwaway thing. Basically, as soon as he’s introduced as a rich businessman, he’s outed as Kid Miracleman and defeated. We never really get to see him in much of a corporate context. In “The Girl from Mars,” that corporate context is kind of the entire point. We’ve been through Enron, we’ve been through Occupy, we’ve been through countless corporate oil spills, and we’ve been through KBR and other contractors basically running a lot of services in Iraq. If you imagine Kid Miracleman as Dick Cheney, that’s kind of what the Other is. He’s the ultimate evil I can imagine in 2015.
I suppose I also really love the side stories in Alan Moore’s Miracleman (which in my mind include the Warpsmith stories and also that Grant Morrison short that wasn’t published until recently). And I love Neil Gaiman’s Miracleman, especially how he was able to weave these sophisticated stories around all these minor characters and throwaway points from Alan Moore’s run. I suspect something of this has seeped into Martian Comics. In many ways, as a writer, I’m more concerned with these minor characters and the implication of certain situations than I am with the big fights.
Earlier you mentioned your love for shared comic universes. Can you see Martian Comics expanding along those lines?
That’s another thing about Miracleman that’s influenced me — and I don’t think this is totally clear yet, in Martian Comics — is the original idea of Warrior having a shared universe. The idea was that Warpsmith was going to have his own, fuller set of stories. Other characters were going to be integrated. Even V for Vendetta was integrated as a parallel timeline. I think when I started Martian Comics, I was maybe more inspired, in terms of how different stories or characters in Martian Comics interacted, by 2000AD. There are a lot of characters in 2000AD who technically exist within the same world. In terms of the historical and literary scope of these stories, I’d cite both Sandman and Planetary as influences. But the more time goes by, the more I’ve been haunted by that original idea of Warrior, of kind of building this shared universe that’s really, really artistic and good. That didn’t really come together in Warrior, but I still sort of see Miracleman as really part of a universe alongside Warpsmith and maybe Miraclewoman. I still know how to do a full Warpsmith arc and make it finally take its rightful place, alongside the main Miracleman story. And I feel like that’s kind of this part of Miracleman that never got completed. (Call me, Marvel!) As I continue Martian Comics, we’ll see these other characters, like Lazarus, get their own arcs, and I think this is influenced by that Warrior idea of a really artsy shared universe, or a shared universe done right, which I think is even more relevant today, when “shared universe” is such a buzzword after the success of the Marvel movies.
Anything else that readers of Martian Comics expect down the road?
Assuming issue #3 gets funded, we’re going to move right on to issue #4. It’s tentatively planned to run 38 pages of story, which is kind of halfway between a standard issue and this 52-page third issue.
Basically, “The Girl from Mars” is going to continue, alongside more of these side stories. In “The Girl from Mars,” issue #4 begins a subsection of the story in which we’re exploring the secret history of the 20th century. It’s a deep dive into recent history, all from the perspective of this Martian hiding in our midst and manipulating things.
There’s still a ways to go for “The Girl from Mars.” All during this, we’re going to keep publishing these side stories. There will even be some side issues, continuing this historical set of stories. I plan on them continuing, after “The Girl from Mars” is complete. Basically, “The Girl from Mars” is the first volume, and these short stories are eventually going to be the second volume. (Kind of like how Sandman would alternate between present-day arcs and historical shorts.)
There are other stories too, including more Lazarus stories, as well as a few other characters I haven’t introduced yet. We’ll see how far we get. There’s an absurdly long-term plan here, but it scares the hell out of me because it’ll take so long and so much money.
At the time of this article, Martian Comics #3 is a few hundred dollars away and hours from making its crowdfunding goal. To contribute and pick up a copy, visit the Kickstarter campaign. Julian Darius can be connected with on Twitter @JulianDarius. For more information on his body of work, visit Sequart and Martian Lit.
Julian Darius is the author of the literary novel, Nira/Sussa, a meta-retelling of Nabokov’s classic Lolita. In the world of comics, he’s perhaps best known as a founder of Sequart. There he writes intelligent, yet accessible, critiques of classics like Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing and Miracleman. Recently with Martian Comics, Darius has launched into creating his own sequential masterpiece. With a new Kickstarter wrapping up to continue the new science-fiction comic, I had the opportunity to speak with him about the craft of comics, the influence of the Moore’s Miracleman on his work , and where Martian Comics is heading.
As a literary novelist, what made you want to start writing comics?
I was into comics before I was into literary fiction. I grew up on comics and sci-fi novels / TV / movies. It was this love that propelled me into studying literature in college. I always wrote comics, from when I was a teen to today; it’s just that I never had an artist or had the money to put a comic together. So I feel like I’m finally making comics, which I wanted to do since I was a teenager.
You are also involved with Sequart, which describes itself as “advancing the art of comics”. For those who aren’t familiar, could you explain more about the organization?
When I was an undergrad, comics weren’t respected as a medium. I loved my professors, but they didn’t understand that comics should be studied like literature or movies were. Sequart was an attempt to rectify this.
In doing so, it’s always aimed to be accessible, because I don’t think academia should own analysis; intellectualism should be open to all. At the same time, it’s important to discuss and study comics seriously, the way we do literature and movies, and to bring to that discussion some awareness of the history of literature, not just the history of super-hero comics, and how we talk about literature.
As a writer with a literature background, what is your take on the modern American comic scene?
Superficially, it would seem like comics finally have respect. I run into strangers who can talk about them with me. It happened just the other day at a store, and it’s great. Hollywood loves comics as source material. Comics are covered in major outlets. But I’ve realized that there still isn’t a body of criticism, the way literature and movies have. So you still see people angry that someone’s written a negative but thoughtful review — which wouldn’t happen in literature or serious discussion of movies. And you see a level of harassment of women, especially for paying attention to gender issues or representations, that is just unacceptable. These are things we have to move beyond, if we’re really going to be a literary art.
The comics themselves today are a mixed bag. A lot of people say we have more good comics today than ever, but I don’t feel that way. Almost certainly, there are more comics being produced in America today than ever before. But I don’t always see the level of craft that I feel should be there, this many decades into a medium.
Could you give an example of a critically-acclaimed work that perhaps fall-short in terms of craft?
I can think of one comic that’s been on lots of “best of” lists. In the first issue, the first page gives way to a double splash page, which is supposed to establish this wild setting for the series. Double splashes are overdone, to me, but the real problem was that I could not figure out what was being depicted. I could kind of guess, read forward, and come back to see if this information helped me visually decipher the image. But this is not good, and obviously confusion is not the desired result of a double-page splash reveal. In the past, perhaps there would have been a caption explaining all of this. We’ve moved away from captions generally, and moved towards letting the visuals carry the story. But if the visual isn’t working, you have to step in as a writer and add a short caption to make it clear to the reader what’s important in the image, or even what the image is depicting. This is pretty basic stuff. A writer can’t turn in his or her script and then assume it all works out. And if he or she does, it’s the editor’s job to notice these problems and get them fixed. But this simply isn’t happening. And this example is one made by indisputably talented and experienced people. I’m kind of at a loss to explain this sort of thing.
I see this kind of thing all the time. On a purely technical level, comics have a lot of problems. What’s interesting is that they generally look beautiful. They’re not written better than ever, but they’re prettier. Computer coloring has come such a long way. There’s also a real sense of design work on some titles, which got going in the 1980s and has kept growing. American comics have gotten more decompressed, more art-focused, and you certainly don’t feel like most comics today are cramped or caption-heavy.
Super-hero comics are filled with elaborate fight scenes and high stakes. No one fight Stilt-Man for an issue anymore; it’s all falling floating cities and the like. There’s an obvious Hollywood influence. And I’m glad comics look good. I’m glad when they’re concerned with visual storytelling, as opposed to just visuals. But I worry that too many are chasing cool visuals and not focused on the nuts and bolts of plot and character. Certainly, I don’t see a whole lot of comics aspiring to be literary, the way comics did when they were trying to get respect.
But maybe I’m wrong. There are certainly a lot of really good comics today. They’re predominantly from Image, but also from IDW, Dark Horse, and other independent publishers. There are some Kickstarter comics that are just ingenious.
In the late 1980’s it seemed that comics championed intelligent writing, with creators like Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman starting to get new respect for the medium. Do you think the momentum has carried forward?
Maybe I’m just a guy who was trained in literature, at a time when comics aspired to be literature, and so I feel like something’s missing that no one else feels. Combine this with the current attention to cool veneer, and it’s easy to feel cynical, even amidst a wide variety of comics, many of them good.
Back when Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was coming out, it seemed like it was taking a decade of comics aiming at being more literary. Alan Moore’s work was literary; he was celebrated very much for that reason. Grant Morrison pushed comics into tackling some strange ideas, but they were put together in this very literary way that seemed to celebrate intelligence. Hell, the metafiction at the end of Grant’s Animal Man was a literary device; it was brilliantly done, but it was the importation into comics of this literary device.
Some people may associate “literary” with being inaccessible and highbrow. Do you see it that way?
Being literary doesn’t have to mean being snooty. Jamie Delano was bringing literary horror to Hellblazer. Even mainstream super-heroes were getting more literary. Frank Miller’s Daredevil and Elektra work was definitely a step in this direction. Gaiman’s Sandman seemed like it was pushing this forward and applying it to fantasy comics, and it really pushed the genre forward. At the time, we thought this would continue, that we’d keep elevating things as we matured as a medium. And we have in some ways, but I can’t help but feel like we’ve retreated a bit from these high-art aspirations. That was never the majority of comics published, but it seems like these aspirations have been replaced by a veneer of cool that doesn’t satisfy the same things.
But again, maybe I’m wrong. And I’m glad anytime anyone likes a comic, even if it’s not for me. I sometimes think that, because I have high expectations, people think I’m snooty or hate that they enjoy comics or movies that I don’t think are very well put-together. Nothing could be further from the truth. I think it’s great that some people dug Age of Ultron, even though I think it’s objectively a mess of a story, filled with things that don’t make sense and kind of ruin the story for me. But look, I grew up on a lot of fun but kind of trashy stuff, and I still love a lot of fun but kind of trashy stuff, and it’s all good. I just think there ought to be more of an alternative. Harry Potter’s fine, campy sci-fi novels are fine, but let’s carve out a space for some other stuff.
I reserve the right to feel differently tomorrow.
What would you consider a step toward a better future for the American comic industry?
I definitely think the shared universes are mismanaged, to one degree or another. I have studied shared universes my whole life, and I have a great fondness for them.
Personally, I’d just like to see a focus on quality, on getting things right. I firmly believe most people do their best, under the constraints they have. But we’re living in an era in which comics live forever, not only in collections but in digital sales. Everything’s permanent. I’m sure most companies are still focused on monthly sales, but I’d rather see titles run late, or see fewer titles, and have them be as good as possible, so they’ll stand up to future scrutiny and study.
I don’t like all the reboots, and I don’t like variant covers. I know these are part of the business model now. But it’s foreign to me. The way my brain works, the question is always “How will this stand up 20 years from now?” If you’re building a character, or a series, or a company, that’s the most important question. Everything else is just what you need to do to survive in order to build this amazing thing. An amazing thing people should want to read and study forever. But I’m obviously in the minority.
I’m sure a lot of creators would like to see big changes, in terms of the actual structure of the business. Page rates haven’t changed much in decades. Artists often aren’t given equal credit as co-creators. Editors seem to be dictating to writers and artists, which works against the sort of singular vision that we prize so highly in art and literature. I think there are ways to take a softer editorial hand, in order to manage a shared universe, while also giving creators more freedom.
Any particular works that you feel represent the high-mark of the comic craft?
Historically, I’d probably list a lot of the same comics as others. Will Eisner’s graphic novels. Watchmen. I’d put Miracleman in there. Sandman. We3. The final issue of The Invisibles. Planetary. Understanding Comics.
I think the French series The Obscure Cities is right up there; I’ve written about that. I think Metabarons belongs there, despite the legitimate criticism of Jodorowsky, especially in recent years.
These are just off the top of my head. I love Joe Kubert, Denny O’Neil / Neil Adams Batman stuff, and a lot of what others would list. Some Jack Cole Plastic Man, some of the Spirit.
In terms of indies, I’m more of a Chris Ware or an Adrian Tomine kind of guy than some of the others. I like that kind of artistic precision. I’m a big admirer of Jason Aaron. Southern Bastards may be my favorite comic being published today.
There’s a lot more that isn’t coming to mind at the moment, and I’m sure I’m leaving out stuff by people I know and respect. But I think we ought to be able to separate what’s cool and enjoyable from what’s arguably a high water mark of the craft. I like a lot of stuff, in comics and out, that’s fun and cool. I’m glad for it, and you can do fun artistically and in ways that are well-crafted. But I feel like the task of advancing comics isn’t done, and that part of this is generating works that can arguably fit among these earlier works and stand alongside great novels and great movies. Not every comic has to do that, but there should be a place for it, and it’s a noble thing to attempt.
Let’s talk about Martian Lit and your move into becoming an indie comic-creator. What particularly attracted to you to sci-fi as a genre?
I’ve always loved sci-fi. I think sci-fi is uniquely able to interrogate complex and meaningful issues.
If you look at classic Star Trek, it was often about present-day issues like racism. But on a deeper level, there are issues there about colonialism. What is the Prime Directive but an anti-colonial reaction? Maybe it’s an overreaction, and maybe it’s too utopian. We can debate this, and in the process we question whether humans are innately aggressive, innately prone to exploitation, even when we consciously think it’s liberating or helping people. These are big issues, and you can weave complex and beautiful stories around them.
I also think sci-fi is often able to get us to think outside of ourselves and our own cultural viewpoint. To some extent, this is what we get out of fiction anyway. We read about experiences other than our own, and we experience them vicariously through fiction. But there are ways we can’t get outside of ourselves and our own viewpoint. We’re human. We’re gendered. We’re locked in our own historical and ethnic experiences, for better and for worse. Sci-fi sometimes lets us see humanity from outside, or as outside as we’re capable of projecting. It lets us see ourselves, and think in different ways.
What does your writing method for comics look like?
A lot of times, the way I write is to sort of pin down key scenes, or sequences, or moments, or visuals, or lines of dialogue. Basically, I want everything to work — every page, every panel, every line. I don’t write from start to finish. I often write scenes, or moments, that I know work, and I write them out of sequence. Eventually, I figure out what the soul of a story is, and I’ll have a motif and a theme and linked events that work as a whole. But in the meantime, I kind of feel like I’m nowhere, or I’m uncertain about exactly how to proceed. And these little visuals, or lines of dialogue that are really working, act almost like parts of a structure, supporting beams, which get cemented in my mind. As I think of the story over and over, I’ll see how other parts of the story can interact with these cemented elements, and I think this makes the story richer, because I’ve been able to see the implications of these elements, and make sure everything in the story works as a whole, rather than writing from point A to B and only later realizing that stuff along the way doesn’t really thematically work or belong or need to be in this particular story.
I know this all sounds weird. But it’s my writing method.
With issues #1 and #2 already out, what has the reception been to Martian Comics?
I feel like I’ve made a pretty great product, and I’m very happy with it, and people who have read it say they like it and want more. But it’s bankrupted me financially, and I’m borrowing to keep it going, and that’ll still be the case after this Kickstarter. I’ve basically wagered my future on this comic, and I’m willing to do that. I believe in it, passionately, and I’m a stubborn guy. But it’s scary, to be honest. I’m just hoping that it grows and finds its audience over time.
Sometimes, I joke that I feel like only 100 people have read this comic, but 99 of them loved it. Maybe it’ll be something that finds its audience in ten years. I just don’t want it to die before it can be completed, so that people can see the big picture and see what I’ve got planned.
But enough of my frustrations and fear.
Every time someone pledges to a Kickstarter campaign, the Kickstarter website sends the email associated with that campaign an email. It’s a notification, and you can turn it off.
Every single time I’ve gotten one of those emails, it’s like a breath of fresh air. It’s like a vote for me not giving up. It may be a friend, who supports me, or it may be a reader, who supports the comic. It may also be someone who just saw the video and thought the new issue was worth five bucks, sight unseen. But each one of those notifications means the world to me. Of course, it’s great to get a big pledge that gets us closer to our goal. But every single backer is a boost of confidence. It’s a voice that says yes, this should exist. Make this exist.
And I’m so thankful for every single one of those voices.
Come back for the second part of the interview where we discuss the historical, religious, and other unexpected influences on Martian Comics.
At the time of this article, Martian Comics #3 is a few hundred dollars away and hours from making its crowdfunding goal. To contribute and pick up a copy, visit the Kickstarter campaign. Julian Darius can be connected with on Twitter @JulianDarius. For more information on his body of work, visit Sequart and Martian Lit.
When people think of a trip to Walt Disney World in Florida, they may picture scenes of happy families touring the Magic Kingdom. Junior is carried on Dad’s shoulders, both wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Sis and Cinderella embrace in matching dresses, while Mom snaps a proud picture. Or at least that is what the marketing department would have one believe.
A different scene unfolds daily at next-door Epcot. Instead of skipping from ride-to-ride, guests stagger from drink-to-drink. The past time is unofficially referred to as “drinking around the world” and it involves the liver-killing challenge of downing an alcoholic beverage from each pavilion along the World Showcase. Themed after different places around the globe, each stop offers a taste of the national booze of choice — from beer to wine to sake to tequila and beyond.
What started out as an underground challenge for alcoholic, Disney-fanatics has caught on in popularity. For some it’s a group effort, complete with official team t-shirts. The logistics are dizzying. There are eleven stops on the tour. The booze starts flowing at noon and ends at park closing at 9 p.m. That’s just over a drink an hour, which leaves little time for sobering up, or even stopping to rest.
For the uninitiated and un-inebriated, here are some tips for accomplishing the challenge. Next week, I’ll be back with a list of top picks at each stop.
TOP 10 TIPS FOR DRINKING AROUND THE WORLD
1. Epcot is divided into two distinct areas. Future World opens in the morning, allowing guests the opportunity to check out themed-pavilions with attractions that mix education with some light thrills. Notorious is Mission Space, a simulator that places guests in a NASA style centrifuge to simulate space travel g-forces. It’s reputation for turning even the most hardened stomachs lead to a toned-down version. Experience it before drinking — if nothing else but to grab one of the complimentary barf bags for later use on the tipsy tour.
2. The World Showcase portion of Epcot opens at 11:00 a.m., with the restaurants and refreshment kiosks starting service at noon. It’s best to get an early start to stay ahead of the crowds and maximize drinking time. The Showcase makes a giant loop around a large central lagoon. There are two options for touring, either starting at Mexico and traveling clockwise, or Canada, and working counter-clockwise.
3. Start in Mexico. The La Cava del Tequila is a dimly-lit, watering-hole located within a replica of an Aztec temple. Upon opening, the lines quickly build to Space Mountain proportions. Thirsty guests wait for a chance to sample the long tequila list or drink one of the creative margaritas. If you’re going to shoot tequila, it’s a bit easier at the start of nine hour drinking-spree, then at the tail end.
4. Know where the restrooms are. Generally there are large restrooms that are easy to find at every other pavilion in order to drain a busting bladder or sloshed stomach. In an emergency though, the counter-service eateries will usually have a smaller restroom available tucked away inside.
5. If you missed grabbing a souvenir barf bag from Mission Space, consider a viking helmet from Norway. It’s true they are inauthentic as a talking mouse, but they’re fun and can hold a belly-full if you can’t make it to a restroom. For drinkers who can hold their booze and want something to take home, there are plenty of choices. Beer steins can be found in Germany, wine glasses in Italy, and pint glasses in the UK, among other choices.
6. Know your limits. This isn’t amateur hour. If you’re a New Year’s Eve only drinker, consider a modified tour that won’t leave you puking in a fountain and being escorted to Disney jail. There are pavilions that are easily missed. Morocco doesn’t have a huge drinking culture, and the options aren’t that great. If you aren’t a wine drinker, consider skipping either Italy or France. Dedicated beer drinkers may find little exciting about the offerings at the American and Canadian pavilions. Even Disney magic can’t make a Bud Light or a Molson drinkable.
7. Speaking of skippable, the Outpost doesn’t count. Disney’s original concept for the World Showcase included a pavilion themed after Equatorial Africa. While the plans were shelved, there is a small nod to Africa located between Germany and China called the Refreshment Outpost. It’s not an official pavilion, and while it does include alcoholic beverages, they are a only a random mix of Bud Light, Yuengling, and a house brew called Safari Amber.
8. End at the Rose & Crown Pub in England. On a clockwise loop, Canada is the actual last stop, but the evening entertainment at the Rose & Crown is not to be beat. On most nights, the Hat Lady hammers on an old bar piano cranking out rollicking traditional pub tunes and the occasional drunken-version of Do-Re-Mi. After nine-hours of drinking it’s the perfect atmosphere. Grab a pint of Boddington’s Pub Ale and sing (or slur) along.
9. Travel off-season. The challenge is easier to accomplish when temperatures and crowds are lower. The fall leading up to Thanksgiving, and between New Year’s and Spring Break, are excellent touring times. During the summer, the beaming Florida sun can be brutal on a beer-filled stomach. Off-season also offers some rate reductions on the Disney resort hotels.
10. Stay on-site at Disney. Epcot is sprawling, and even without drinking, it earns its reputation as standing for Every Person Comes Out Tired. Drinking around the World, can render the most bar-hardened, shaky in the legs. A drunk driving accident doesn’t make for a magical vacation. For resort guests, Disney reports provides free transportation to and from Epcot. Plus, departing on a gentle boat ride or an expedient monorail is a lot more fun than a dingy taxi from your local dive bar.
HARDCORE MODE! If you’re booze-hardened barfly that easily drinks around the world without so much as a belch, there is a pro-track. The fall brings the Epcot Food & Wine festival and the drinking options quadruple. Small kiosks and beer tents featuring regional foods and beverages from a multitude of other nations are temporarily erected around World Showcase lagoon. Hitting them all is a Mount Everest effort, which few have the guts (and tolerance) for.
Have a tip of your own? Share it in the comments. Tune in next time as we go in depth, highlighting the “must drinks” at each stop on the tipsy tour. Mousekecheers!