Monday, March 30, 2009

Going Under, a Little

I'm barely hanging on by my fingernails to the one-week buffer I had remaining on Hero Go Home. I should be able to hang on for another two weeks or so, but any disruption of my schedule will put me on hiatus. So I'm debating whether to go ahead and schedule a small break when my guys finally get to the hotel and start the next phase of the story.

Back when I first decided to launch the strip, Sandra Tayler, wife of Schlock Mercenary's Howard Tayler, advised me that consistency was the number one thing I could do to make the strip a success. "Don't miss updates" was the gist.

But I need to get some strips worked out ahead again. SO I have a few choices: struggle along as is and hope nothing unexpected ever happens, change the update frequency, change the artwork, or take a break and work ahead again. I'm already pushing the low-output limit with only three strips (not pages) a week. I could switch to black-and-white and save a ton of the time I spend on coloring, but that might be too drastic a change (plus my pen rendering isn't great--at least with color, I get a chance to cover some of my weaknesses).

So in a couple of weeks, I may be announcing a hiatus on the strip of at least one week, maybe more. The only upside to this is that, given the disruption in my schedule and my anticipating that this might happen, I haven't really made any efforts to publicize the strip, so there aren't a lot of readers to lose. If I take the break now, I'll have a stronger product when I do decide to advertise.

At least, that's where I'm leaning right now.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Out of the Vault - Revenge of the Prowler

Revenge of the Prowker #1Not much to say this week. I promised Revenge of the Prowler last week without reading it, and upon reading it, found that there wasn't much to say. But since I promised and put in the time to read the comics, I'll go ahead and write a quick entry. Or maybe not so quick, I dunno; it's the last weekend in March, and we're in the middle of a heavier snowstorm than I think we saw all winter, so my head's kind of in a mess right now trying to process that. I figure Al Gore must be holding some big global warming conference in Tulsa this weekend, since the blizzards seem to follow him wherever he goes.

Scott is very sadRevenge of the Prowler picks up where the previous miniseries left off, with art student Scott Kida dealing with the emotional aftermath of the vampire slaughter in Prowler #4. He's obsessively painting gruesome images of slaughter while letting his personal life and relationships go to hell. He finally decides to tell Leo Kragg that he's done with the entire Prowler misadventure, but while he's talking to Leo, two of Leo's old acquaintances turn up, former U.S. Marines nicknamed the Devil Dogs (crossover characters from Strike!, another Eclipse series).

One of the Devil Dogs' granddaughters has run away, only to turn up in an underground kiddie porn magazine. So Leo and Scott go off with the two old Marines to rescue her from a heavily armed compound in northern Mexico, where heavy gunplay ensues. Kragg rides in on a vintage WWII bomber, dons a helicopter backpack to catch a speeding truck, then rides to the rescue on a motorcycle with guns blazing in each hand, just like John Wayne in True Grit, only with handlebars instead of reins in his teeth.
Fill yore hand, you son-of-a-bitch!

Meanwhile, in the back-up feature, we see an example of the Prowler newspaper strip, ostensibly from the 40's, as well as Kragg's continuing run-ins with vampires and zombies, with the trail leading once again to Murder Legendre.

As I was reading, I discovered that I had only three of four issues. As far as I know, there were only eight issues published of the Prowler's adventures. I quit before the final one came out. Unlike Dynamo Joe, though, I don't regret quitting. Revenge of the Prowler gets continuously seedier and more depressing, and we don't get to know the characters well enough to share any of their deep angst. And John K. Snyder's blobby artwork just adds to the seediness and emotional distance. I quit buying the book because it was obvious that it would never live up to the promise I saw in the premise.

And just to show you how little I cared about this book, issue 2 of Revenge of the Prowler came with a Flexidisc included. For those too young to remember, occasionally magazines or comics would include a little record of flexible plastic that you could play on your record player.

The first one I ever saw was a recording of whale songs in an issue of National Geographic. I had a couple of comics that included them, too. The original, magazine-sized Nexus included one in issue #3, and Tim Truman included a flexidisc of the blues songs (which he composed and recorded) played within the storyline of Scout #19.

Mint condition, sadlyI have both of those issues, and have pulled out and listened to both flexidiscs. It probably killed the collector's value of those issues, but I've never really cared about collector's value. I buy comics to read and enjoy, and liked both Scout and Nexus enough to be curious about the expanded experience the flexidiscs offered.

The flexidisc in Revenge of the Prowler #2 is still intact and unlistened to.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Don't Get Me Wrong

I like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles. And I love Lost. And I'm still hanging in there with Heroes.

But it just sort of came home to me that three of the series I watch on a weekly basis are dealing with time travel this season. And it's getting a little exhausting.

Still, just finished watching last night's Lost and I've got to say, "Holy crap, what a twist at the end." I love this show.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar

A mystery this week, one of my favorite storylines from my favorite radio mystery series. Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar features the adventures of "the man with the action-packed expense account."

Yeah, as a catch phrase, it sucks, but as a hook to draw you into the mysteries, it isn't bad. Basically, every episode is narrated by insurance investigator Dollar as he accounts the expenses he rang up while investigating that week's mystery. The show started out as a series of self-contained episodes, with the title role played by various actors.

In 1955, the show became serialized--each week's story was split into five fifteen-minute chapters that would run Monday through Friday-- and Bob Bailey took over the title role, giving Dollar a heart and a personality that the previous actors couldn't match. The mysteries, written by Jack Johnstone, were engrossing, and the production values, including the lush score, were top-notch.

Here are the five chapters from the week of June 4, 1956, "The Indestructible Mike Matter." Although there are none of the usual hooks for this blog--no superheroes, no sci-fi, no fantasy--Mike does seem to have at least one superpower. And there are a couple of other tie-ins, as well. Guest-starring in this week's shows is Howard McNear (I believe he's playing Mike) who was the star of last week's "Speed Gibson" shows. Another player is Herb Vigran, a longtime character actor who made six appearances on the George Reeves Adventures of Superman TV series.

So click the widget, sit back and enjoy the adventures of Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar as he tries to save the life of a lovable lush (drunk people are funny) in "The Indestructible Mike Matter."

Monday, March 23, 2009


My five-week buffer on Hero Go Home has shrunk to one. I have produced one finished page of artwork in five weeks, and have another inked and ready to scan. If I can get it lettered and colored this week, my head stays barely above water. The next page I need to draw should provide a small jolt of excitement to the strip, and in a couple more weeks, we get into the story proper.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

Out of the Vault - Prowler

Prowler #1Timothy Truman first made a splash as the artist on First's Grimjack, with writer John Ostrander. His next hit was Scout, from Eclipse, which he wrote as well as drew. And then, in 1987, he debuted a new character, this time as a writer only.

Prowler was a four-issue miniseries reminiscent of Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with a retired man of mystery coming out of retirement to take on a new protege. In Truman's story, old man Leo Kragg takes an intense interest in young college student Scott Kida, whom he first sees practicing martial arts in the park, learning from a book.

Kragg apparently sees a kindred spirit in the boy's isolation and intensity, so he fakes a mugging to see if the kid has got the stuff. Scott proves worthy, and Kragg takes him under his wing, to train him in the skills necessary to fight for good.

Prowler was an odd series that never quite gelled. I loved the pulpy, Saturday-afternoon-serial feel of that first cover (a sensation heightened in the series itself by the idea that Kragg had produced a serial in the 30's based on his own adventures). The concept of the old mentor taking on a new apprentice was good; look how far Batman Beyond was able to take that idea. But Kragg was a really creepy character, and his relationship with Scott was sometimes painfully icky.

Scary Stalker Man
Plus, there was a haphazard, kitchen-sink feel to the whole thing. Kragg was once rich, but now has trouble paying his bills; however, that doesn't really come into play in the miniseries. Likewise with Scott's supporting cast of college friends; they appear and then disappear and play absolutely no meaningful role in the story. In issue two, we learn of the return of the Blood Cult, a vampire street gang, so Kragg recruits his old friend Van Helsing. In issue three, we learn that the leader of the cult is another public domain character, Murder Legendre (the zombie maker played by Bela Lugosi in the cult classic, "White Zombie").

The art was by John K. Snyder III. Unlike Truman's detailed, finicky renderings, Snyder's art was loose and sketchy. A little too sketchy for my tastes.

Prowler also carried a back-up feature, a recounting of the Prowler's origin, written by Michael H. Price (a film critic who has collaborated with my friend John Wooley on a few books).

Blazing 45'sThe art for the back-up was by Graham Nolan, whose clean lines really helped sell the 30's timeframe. The story itself was goofy, with Leo Kragg as a young stockbroker who loses his parents' life savings in the crash of '29. Ashamed that his greed has hurt his family, Kragg decides to become a secret agent for his best friend, a union organizer. Adopting a mask to protect his identity, Kragg stumbles across a company importing zombie scabs from Haiti to break a strike, thus beginning the Prowler's feud with Murder Legendre.

The feud ended in the main feature with Prowler shooting Legendre and knocking him off the end of a dock. Kragg walks away, realizing that he never heard Legendre's body hit the water below.

It's not over.

Next week: Revenge of the Prowler.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Big Audio Thursday - Speed Gibson

This one's pitched at younger audiences, but it's a darned addictive show.

Speed Gibson of the International Secret Police debuted in January 1937, and concerned the adventures of Clint Barlow, top "operator" for the International Secret Police, and his 15-year-old nephew, Speed Gibson. Barlow and Gibson, along with Barlow's partner, Barney Dunlap, go on global adventures in pursuit of the crime lord, The Octopus. Clint Barlow was played by Howard McNear (Doc on radio's Gunsmoke, and later Floyd the Barber on the Andy Griffith Show).

Speed's adventures are fast-moving cliffhangers, full of travel and international intrigue. In the first long storyline, Speed is inducted into the Secret Police, then the trio go on a trip to China to battle the Octopus's trade in slaves and drugs. Part action story, part travelogue, Speed Gibson took listeners to the far corners of the world and plunged them into exciting adventures.

These shows are fascinating to listen to. The early episodes involve a trip on the China Clipper across the Pacific, to places like Guam and Midway and Wake Island, before they were indelibly associated with the major battles of WWII. It's impossible to listen to later episodes without feeling a twinge at the outrageous Chinese accents the actors use, and much later episodes set in Africa have all kinds of problems, but Speed Gibson tried hard to avoid stereotypes and devoted a lot of time to conveying the wonders of other cultures.

I'm including the first five episodes here. They're only fifteen minutes apiece, so they move pretty quickly. So travel back to a time when one could refer to heroes as being members of the International Secret Police without irony and enjoy the adventures of Speed Gibson (click the widget to listen).

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Brief Note

Big Audio Wednesday will be Big Audio Thursday this week. Driving my daughter to OKC for a little spring break getaway.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Into the Vault

"Out of the Vault" is going on a one-week hiatus due to an intensely busy personal life. I have the comic picked out. I just haven't got the time to scan it and write the entry today.


Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - Quiet, Please

Today's program is an episode of Quiet, Please from January, 1949.

I mentioned Quiet, Please in the Feb. 18th entry of Big Audio Wednesday. It was a series of horror and fantasy tales from writer Wyllis Cooper, who was also the originator of Lights Out.

Quiet, Please was a generally good, occasionally excellent series written by Cooper and presented by Ernest Chappell. Chappell served as star, narrator and announcer. Other actors occasionally provided voices, but the tales mostly hinged on Chappell and his deadpan narration building a slow sense of dread until the final twist, followed by the mournful sounds of a piano picking out the show's theme.

Quiet, Please
had its weaknesses, of course. Chappell was a very versatile performer, but the simple fact of having a male main character in every episode limited the number of stories that could be told. Also, Cooper tended to rely on the same tricks week after week. Characters that break the fourth wall were common, as were characters who spent the entire episode telling you their story, only to reveal at the end that they were actually dead the entire time, or doomed to die at the moment of the story's conclusion. There were also occasional science-fiction episodes, usually preachy anti-nuke sermons.

This episode, "Northern Lights," is not the best of the series--that would have to be "The Thing on the Fourbleboard"--but it's pretty good. So turn out your lights and listen in the dark to this cold tale of a creepy caterpillar. CLick on hte widget to listen.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Out of the Vault - Phantom Stranger #26

Phantom Stranger #26The Phantom Stranger was always one of the cooler cats in the DC Universe. With his dark suit and long dark cape, with the white gloves and the hat that always left his eyes in shadow, he cut an imposing figure. And he seemed to have supernatural powers: he always turned up at exactly the right place and time, with exactly the right information, to put the physical heroes like Superman on the right path to defeat supernatural menaces.

He was like DC's Gandalf, basically, smart and mysterious with hints of vast, yet undefined, power. You never knew if he was coming to the Justice League because he needed their help or because he just didn't want to be bothered with the small stuff. He might stain his suit, after all.

In his own book, though, he was more human, more vulnerable, which may be why the book never turned into a top-seller. The Stranger worked better as a stranger; the awe wore off the more you got to know him.

In 1971, a story appearing in House of Secrets #92 introduced the character of Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing proved so popular that he was brought back the next year in his own title, but updated and acting more as a hero than a monster, in the tradition of Godzilla in his 70's films.

DC, never reluctant to jump onto a popular bandwagon, decided to try out another monster hero in 1973, The Spawn of Frankenstein, as a back-up feature in Phantom Stranger #23. Three issues later, #26, the back-up and lead features combined into one full-issue crossover story.

Together we'll break these chains of loveWritten by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman and drawn by Jim Aparo, with a gorgeous Mike Kaluta cover, "From Dust Thou Art..." told of the battle between the Frankenstein Monster and two demonic entities named Flagermot and Pornipus (you have my permission to snicker). The Phantom Stranger gets involved in the battle after the monster kidnaps Marie Thirteen, wife of Phantom Stranger ally/enemy Doctor Thirteen.

The story is decent enough DC mystery hero fare, elevated by Aparo's art. Aparo was at the height of his powers here, crafting art that was by turns detailed and dynamic, yet also moody and mysterious.

Still, the parallels between Swamp Thing (also written by Wein in his original incarnation) and the Spawn of Frankenstein couldn't be more obvious. Both are dead men resurrected by science, wandering alone and hated as monsters while they seek justice for those who did them wrong.

And then there's this:

Swamp Thing in a wig
Spawn of Frankenstein after he decided to start shaving his head in the late 90's

Compare the faces: the green skin tone, the prominent brow, the shadow under the nose extending into wrinkles down to the mouth. The Spawn was basically Swamp Thing with hair.

And pants.

You can't see it in this panel, but the entire Justice League is lined up behind him, waiting their turnThe best panel in the issue, at least for those who find the Phantom Stranger's whole "I am a Stranger; you know not whence I came" schtick annoying (which I don't entirely, but I understand the sentiment), was this moment from page 4. I'll bet every hero in the DC Universe has wanted to do this at least once, while saying something just like this.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Big Audio Wednesday - The Blue Beetle

I previously presented probably the wackiest episode of The Blue Beetle in my salute to Frank Lovejoy. Here's the first episode of the series, also starring Lovejoy.

The Blue Beetle is a weird character in these early episodes. In his secret identity as "rookie patrolman Dan Garrett," he seems pretty well known to everybody. How many famous rookies are there on the police force?

And of course, his powers are constantly fluctuating. He has a "magic ray" that he uses as a signal to alert crooks to his presence, but is also able to burn through solid objects. He has taken a secret formula developed by Dr. Franz that heightens his strength and vitality, but the criminals are still able to take him by surprise and knock him out pretty easily at least once an episode. And in several episodes, Dr. Franz just happens to come up with a new invention that turns out to be exactly what the Beetle needs for that particular case.

Anyway, enjoy this first episode of The Blue Beetle as patrolman Dan Garrett, "loved by everyone but suspected by none of being the Blue Beetle," receives his first dose of secret formula 2X from Dr. Franz and goes on to smash a dope ring and save the police commissioner's beautiful daughter (click the widget to listen).

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Diminishing Returns

A turbulent and busy personal life has taken its toll on the webcomic experiment. In the last two and a half weeks, I've barely managed to pencil and ink one page and have yet to letter or color. That means my almost six-week bumper has fallen to less than three. When I was completely unemployed, I was able to spend hours noodling with the colors, but it looks as if that's going to have to change now. In a few weeks, expect the coloring to simplify a little bit.

You may not even notice the change, given the way the strip's look has evolved continuously since launch.Anyway, I'm hoping to finish up the page I'm currently working on this week and get back on proper schedule next week.