Reports on the Harlem Hellfighters part 2

The following is pulled from the late great jazz historian Floyd Levin’s book, “Classic Jazz A Personal View of the Music and the Musicians,” published with University of California Press, 2000. Mr. Levin is an award-winning jazz writer and has personally known many of the jazz greats who contributed to the music’s colorful history. Mr. Levin passed away January 29, 2007. 

Europe was already a well-established musician by the time World War I made him famous. In 1910 he had organized the Clef Club, a musical society for black artists in New York City. Two years later his 150-piece Clef Club Orchestra became one of the first jazz bands to perform in staid Carnegie Hall. For the first time, the Carnegie suspended its rules regarding segregated seating, and the bastion of high art reverberated with the sounds of “Down Home Rag” and “That Teasin’ Rag.” The concert’s success added prestige and altered the musical life of New York City. The club, which functioned as both a booking agency and trade union for black performers, soon secured many prominent engagements and opened a world of new opportunities for its members. Bud Scott told me that, within twenty-four hours after the Carnegie event, he received an offer to record several Joplin rags with a white banjo band.

The following year Europe formed his Society Orchesrta, which began entertaining wealthy New Yorkers at posh venues such as Delmonico’s and the Hotel Astor. (Noble Sissle, who with his songwriting partner Eubie Blake would later achieve worldwide fame, was a member of the Society Orchestra.) The orchestra’s initial jazz recordings, the first by a black band, appeared on the Victor label in 1913, four years ahead of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band’s initial releases and eight years before Kid Ory’s historic Spike’s Seven Pods of Pepper Orchestra California recording session. These early Victor records helped sustain the ragtime era.

The innovative Europe liked to experiment with syncopation, creating reed voicings, and muted brass. His use of saxophones brought a new measure of respectability to that instrument, until then regarded as a novelty device. His compositions, arrangements and orchestral direction reflected the ragtime style popular at the time and fostered the dance frenzy nurtured by the Jazz Age. In 1913 he became musical director for the successful dance team of Vernon and Irene Castle. His “Castle Walk” helped them introduce the fox-trot and establish the style of ballroom dancing that has continued for generations.

When the United States entered World War I, Sissle and Europe enlisted in the army together and organized a regimental band. The group accompanied the acclaimed [the 15th New York Infantry which would later become the] 369th Infantry Regiment, the first American unit to arrive in France. The brave black unit, including the band, earned the nickname “Hellfighters” for its participation in several vital military campaigns.

By the end of the war, the 369th Infantry Jazz Band ranked among the greatest bands in the world. Its personnel, as identified by Brian Rust’s Jazz Records 1887 – 1942, included Noble Sissle on violin, Herb Flemming on trombone and Russell Smith on trumpet. Flemming, only nineteen at the time, went on to have a long distinguished career, performing with Earl HinesFats Waller, Benny Carter, Duke EllingtonLouis Armstrong and Tommy Dorsey. Russell Smith became one of the outstanding lead trumpet players in the big-band era two decades later.

After the war, Europe proudly led his Hellfighters band in the nation’s first parade of returning World War heroes. More than a million fans, watching the victorious march up New York’s Fifth Avenue in mid-February 1919, gathered along the parade route to salute the heroes of the famed 369th Infantry as they strutted from Madison Square to Harlem.

Europe and Sissle had written “On Patrol In No Man’s Land.” during their tenure overseas, and it quickly became a favorite among U.S.veterans. Pathé leaped at the opportunity to capitalize on its popularity as the doughboys returned to the United States. It was easily the most successful of the eleven recordings the 369th Infantry Jazz Band made for Pathé in March 1919. Based on the success of “On Patrol In No Man’s Land” James Europe’s band scheduled an extensive tour of the country. Advertisements proclaimed” “65 BATTLING MUSICIANS DIRECT FROM THE FIGHTING FRONTS IN FRANCE – THE BAND THAT SET ALL FRANCE JAZZ MAD!”

Ironically, after surviving the deadliest war in world history to that point, Europe failed to live through the Hellfighter’s national tour. A member of the drum section, irate at Europe for what he considered poor treatment, murdered him on May 10, 1919. The funeral march took place in New York, the first public memorial service held for a black person in the city’s history. The somber procession followed part of the same route the 369th had marched in its victory parade just three months earlier. Lieutenant Europe was buried with full military honors at Arlington Cemetery in Washington D.C.

At the time of his death, James Reese Europe was only thirty-nine years old and at the forefront of the emerging jazz movement. We can only speculate about what further contributions he might have made had he lived another few decades. He was on the threshold of a brilliant career and might have become one of the most important figures in the world of popular music. His death came less than two months after the Hellfighter’s historic recordings for Pathé. In its promotional catalog, the record company proclaimed that Europe was “the world’s greatest exponent of syncopation. You hear every moan of the trombones, and every roar of the saxophones, every shrill note of the clarinets. The swing, the rhythm and the fascination of the Jazzing makes you want to dance! You can’t sit still!”

Jim Europe–along with Sissle Nobel, make a lengthy appearance in THE LAST HELLFIGHTER as a hero/father figure of sorts for young Ben Harker who follows the jazz legend by joining the 15th New York Infantry. Many of Europe’s exploits are mentioned or written about in the book including the very famous ragtime hit, “On Patrol in No Mans Land.” 

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The Characters of THE LAST HELLFIGHTER

I’m not sure where this need comes from, maybe something that bubbles up from back when I used to sit on the carpet in my room and play with my He-Man action figures, Skeletor and his forces of evil against the might of Eternia clashing in some equip battle created solely from my overactive twelve year old imagination. Back then it was about the toys, nowadays those same battles continue but almost exclusively in my mind. Nowadays, I love to imagine who would play the characters from my books, seeing as I had before with He-man and Orko and Beast Man and Battle Cat, a live action version of what I’m putting down on paper.

I especially had fun doing this while I was writing THE LAST HELLFIGHTER. With that in mind, I wanted to share with you some of the character profiles and my imaginings of what or how they look without getting all spoilerific. First on the list, we’ll start with the most obvious, the main protagonist of the book. And then we’ll go from there.

Benjamin Harker:

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Ben (as most people call him) is a native born resident of Harlem, New York City. His father and older brother, James, are hard laborers working for the city port, enduring long hours without much reward except for steady pay. The Harlem of 1917 is a different place than it is now, but in some regards the spirit has never changed. Ben is unafraid of putting in his time and working hard, but he has dreams of a different life, a life just as idiosyncratic as the jazz music that thrived on the streets of his home-city. As the GREAT WAR beckons and President Woodrow Wilson calls America to take a stand, Ben enlists into the newly formed 15th New York Infantry. His life will never be the same. AS for the actor to play him from the theater of my own imagination, I would have to go with Daniel Kaluuya. I first saw Daniel’s acting chops in the acclaimed horror hit GET OUT. His range of talent would be a perfect fit (I think) to play the leading hero in THE LAST HELLFIGHTER. The age range for Ben runs between 17 and 144, but with today’s practical effects, I think Kaluuya could pull it off.

Dwight Renfield:

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Best friend to our protagonist Ben Harker, Renfield (as everyone calls him) is a street smart kid who plays the part of a smooth debonair, especially with the ladies, but deep down there are a lot of insecurities. He has a similar love for jazz as his friend, Ben, does, but his passions are more or less attached to those he tethers himself to. When Ben enlists in the Army, Renfield follows. Leaving behind the woman he believes he loves, Mina Chandler. As for the actor, after watching Marvel’s The Black Panther, the part of Renfield was a no brainier. Michael B. Jordan as the physique and the acting ability to take on friend or foe.

Clyde Bruner:

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In many ways, Clyde is a mirror imagine of Ben Harker. A young resourceful man willing to do whatever necessary to defeat his enemies. As THE LAST HELLFIGHTER opens, Clyde is part of the near-future story that interweaves between past and present. As a mysterious sickness sweeps the nation, turning otherwise normal Americans into bloodsucking monsters, Clyde seeks a way of fighting back. When he was a boy, his grandfather would tell him bedtime stories of a man who fought vampires and saved lives. Tales of a legendary hero the world desperately needs to return. According to Clyde, Ben Harker (the knowledge he has) may be humanities only hope of survival. My pick for actors was AHS alumni Evan Peters, a younger actor with a lot of dramatic range. Evan’s can play the hero with a mix of innocence and vindication and passion necessary to pull off the perfect Clyde Bruner.

Mina:

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I’d be amiss not to include love interest Mina Chandler. A fellow native of Harlem, Mina soon attracts the attention of Renfield, but is Renfield whom her heart yearns for? Working in restaurants and clubs across New York, like Ben, Mina dreams of a different life far from the hustle and bustle of New York City. As for her live action counterpart, I had to go with Amandla Stenberg. Grown up from being little Rue in the Hunger Games, Stenberg portrays the perfect mixture of innocence and strength.

Professor Georg Von Helwing:

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In the iteration of the timeless Dracula story, there has always been a central leader, a source of knowledge and hope. In Bram Stoker’s original tale he had created Van Helsing. In my version, I didn’t want the same old same old, so I went back to the original source material and started shaping a new character from there. Professor Georg Von Helwing is based, more or less, on the historic person Georg Andreas Helwing, a Botanist and occult researcher of the 1700s. In the story, Professor Helwing appears to be a bit eccentric. Why would anyone, especially an old man, purposefully find themselves in the middle of a battleground on the Western Front of the Great War? But there is a curious strength and wisdom to Helwing that Ben admires.  As for actors, I envisioned the very eccentric German born actor Christoph Waltz who has played villain and a hero of congenial menace perfectly.

Countess:

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For every protagonist there must be an equally strong antagonist. Though not her original or her full name (that much is revealed throughout the story), the Countess is a powerful force that Ben encounters throughout THE LAST HELLFIGHTER. Her history and her intention are equally mysterious, but the outcome is nevertheless the same. Wherever the Countess walks, death is sure to follow. In Stoker’s tale he had Count Dracula, in mine I wanted a Countess — a female villain — that was more of a source of horror than the other conjured so-called gentlemen Dracs.  In my mind, I did not want aristocracy, I wanted a persona of power and corruption, something any sane person would flee from in terror. I did not want beauty in the traditional sense. As a fan of Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot and of Tobe Hooper’s TV movie adaptation, I wanted something married of the two, a Nosferatu that was not mute but authoritative. One day I came across photographer Rick Jones’ work on a female Count Orlak (see for yourself). It was as if he had plucked the imagine right out of my mind. But who would I cast…? Sara Cridland is the actress in Rick’s photoshoot, but seeing how we’re going Hollywood here, my pick would have to be another AHS alumni, the wickedly talented Sarah Paulson. She would certainly have the necessary look and acting range for our leading villain.

As for the main cast, there we have it. There are a lot of other minor characters, such as Ben’s brother James, and hunting companion Father Bishop, and there are a lot of historical figures who make an appearance too. I’d love to cast them all, but we’d be here for hours. And I’m sure you have other places to go and books to read.

Speaking of books to read (nice segue, right?), THE LAST HELLFIGHTER is currently available for preorder. AND all preorders have been marked down to just $0.99!!!

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Reports on the Harlem Hellfighters 1

While on patrol in a French forest in 1918, the then-private single-handedly fended off an attack from two dozen German soldiers, defending himself and his wounded fellow sentry with his gun, then a club, then nothing but a bolo knife and his bare hands. Johnson’s grit saved him and his partner from being taken prisoner and prevented the Germans from breaking the French line.

Briefly, he was showered with glory. The French gave him the Cross de Guerre avec Palme, their highest award for valor. President Theodore Roosevelt called him one of “the five bravest Americans” to serve in World War I. The U.S. Army even used his image to sell victory stamps (“Henry Johnson licked a dozen Germans. How many stamps have you licked?” the advertisements asked). His admirers called him “black death” and filled the streets to cheer his regiment on their return.

Though hailed as a hero during the war, Sergeant Henry Johnson was almost completely disabled from his wounds. Subject to the racially discriminatory administration of veterans’ benefits, he and many other black veterans were denied medical care and other assistance. After he publicly objected to the mistreatment of black veterans, Sergeant Johnson was discharged with no disability pay and left to poverty and alcoholism. Henry Johnson, patriot and war hero, died penniless and alone in 1929 at just 32 years old.

Henry Johnson makes an appearance in my new book, THE LAST HELLFIGHTER, and there is a scene with Ben Harker mourning his passing.

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Book Insider: THE LAST HELLFIGHTER

Living with the mistakes of our past. Learning from them. Using our struggles and our pain to solve the problems of tomorrow are a few of the underlining themes in my latest novel, THE LAST HELLFIGHTER. Revenge as well. But also vampires. And about 100 years of jazz music…so there’s that too. Besides zombies, vampires are my second favorite traditional monster. Strangely though, i’ve only written one short story with bloodsuckers. Its not for a lack of love that kept me from tackling the sub-genre, perhaps more due to the over-saturation in the marketplace, similar to zombies. Why add to the already overcrowded closet?

Why not?

If there is a story to share–share it!

Besides, vampires are badass. So long as they don’t sparkle in the sun. So long as they are portrayed as monsters in the sense that your characters and readers don’t want to become one. Vampires aren’t glamorous. They are what they are, predators that feed on humanity. And so, when i crafted my first vampire story, i drew from my own personal favorite vampire reads. I love the supernatural vibe from Stephen King’s Salem’s Lot that became intermixed with human struggles as well as Brian Lumley’s Necroscope series. Along with more modern takes, such as del Toro’s The Strain and Steve Niles and Ben Templesmith’s epic graphic novel 30 Days of Night. And as a lifelong fan of the Universal Monster classics, I wanted some flair of Dracula without the aristocracy. I learned as much as i could from those who came before me with the hopes of coming out the other side with something respectful of the past while also being unique and something my own.

But its not just about the monsters. You gotta have a story too, right? THE LAST HELLFIGHTER took me about a year to write. Yup. You heard me. From conception to research. And more research. And mooorreee research, to pen to MS Word doc, to editor, to final draft. Why so long? I wanted the history to be as real as possible so that I could take readers to a real place and time that happened 100 years ago. A different generation with lessons that are still very much relevant today. Readers will travel to 1918 Harlem New York and journey to the Great War along with the famous 15th New York Infantry Rattlers, better known as the Harlem Hellfighters. The story also later jumps to the 1930s Dust Bowl. Vietnam War (1968). And finally with the Iraq War (2006). Threaded together in the not too distant future, 2044, where the last surviving Harlem Hellfighter has managed to survive.

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I’ve included some of the classic and not so classic vampire lore characters re-imagined. You’ll see Mina and Reinfeld from Bram Stoker’s tale, Dracula, including also Professor Helwing (the original concept of Helsing). Throughout the story you may recognize a few other names as well. Maybe even a few Buffy characters. Easter eggs, so to speak, for fans of the sub-genre.

And its not just about the story, there are inspirations and help along the way. Huge help came from Stephen L. Harris epic history book Harlem’s Hell Fighters: The African-American 369th Infantry in World War I. Also Timothy Egan‘s The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. PBS’s Great War documentary, and the very excellent and hard to find Men of Bronze, which included first person testimony from veterans of the Harlem Hellfighters. And a big thanks to photographer Rick Jones and his creation of a female Nosferatu, the inspiration for my protagonist. I’d be amiss also not to give a shout of to Michael Bray for his awesome book cover design. He took my ramblings and made something truly unique to the story. And a nod to my editor, Jeff O’Brien for piecing all of my incoherent thoughts together.

THE LAST HELLFIGHTER is scheduled to release through Darker Worlds Publishing next month, Aug 10, 2018.

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In the year 2044, reporters from the Public Relations Ministry gather at the home of Benjamin Harker, the last surviving member of the Harlem Hellfighters. At the age of 144, he is the oldest recorded man alive. Hidden among them, Clyde Bruner is looking for a different kind of story. Across the United States, despite the Great Walls and patrol drones built to keep America secure, something has found its way in. And now towns are vanishing during the night. Entire populations, gone. Only to return after the sun sets, changed, unholy, and lethal. And whatever this evil is, its spreading west. According to a bedtime story Bruner’s grandfather told him when he was a boy, Benjamin Harker has seen this before. He’s faced this scourge. Fought this evil. Survived them. Killed them. From the trenches of the Great War to the jungles of Vietnam to the sands of Iraq, Harker will search his past to save our future. But as each city light extinguishes across the country, is there no time left to stop what’s coming?

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The Last House on the Left (1972): MOVIE REVIEW

If a friend asked me, “Hey, Tommy, can you recommend a good slasher movie?” Off the cuff, I’d typically guide said friend to one of the many wondrous titles under the Friday the 13thfranchise or Nightmare on Elm Street. If they wanted obscure but tasteful, I’d most likely say The Prowler or The Burning. Those looking for something for date night, I’d recommend Scream or perhaps Silence of the Lambs. If I wanted to sound like an intellectual or one of those real classic film guys, I’d suggest Psycho. But if I were really brave…if i wanted to take the risk, if not in losing a friend and all credibility in recommending slasher movies, but also risk being looked at (at worse) like some weirdo pervert, well…if i didn’t care about that, then I would totally recommend THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (1972).

This isn’t to say that THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT (TLHOTL) is a horrid movie. Its not. Its actually quite amazing. Raw. Brutal. Shocking. And truth be told, not entirely that fun of a film. Just how slasher flicks really ought to aspire. TLHOTL doesn’t wear a mask to scare you, it removes the mask, and in so doing is utterly terrifying. There is no pleasure in the depravity, except for perhaps towards the end when the protagonists’ parents exact revenge (more on that later). In Friday the 13th or Nightmare on Elm Street or even Halloween, we’re (mostly) rooting for the killer, “Yeah! Murder those dumb stupid teenagers!” But in TLHOTL, those very scenes are sickening and uncomfortable to watch. 

Before we continue, here’s a taste from IMDb:

“Two teenage girls head to a rock concert for one’s birthday. While trying to score marijuana in the city, they are kidnapped and brutalized by a gang of psychotic convicts.”

And in a nutshell, that’s pretty much it. Mari Collingwood and her friend Phyllis are as her parents tease at the beginning “part of the love generation.” Mama Collingwood also goes on to remark how she doesn’t understand why said “love generation” has become so violent. Its an off the cuff remark Mari simply giggles at, “Oh, ma.” And its also a remark the director (Wes Craven), in his first of many great films, plays throughout the movie. As the girls leave and vacate the isolated rural town for the city, on the way to a concert they look into scoring some marijuana (spelling out makes me sound old) for the show. Thinking they’ve found a dealer, they’re led to the safe house housing three escaped convicts. Things take a quick turn for the dark as we’re introduced to the villains of our tale: Sadie (a chick oddly enough), Fred ‘Weasel’ Podowski, and KRUG (all caps for dramatic effect).

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What’s interesting and slightly heartwrenching about these beginning horror scenes is how Craven juxtaposed the sinister kidnapping, torture, and rape against the more happier scenes of Mari’s parents getting the house ready for a surprise birthday party for Mari’s return from the concert in the city. As for the torture, don’t expect SAW level gore, this isn’t the Second Era of Savage Cinema of the 2000s. As per usual Craven style, less is more. Same goes for the rape scenes, though the usual slimy uncomfortable feeling is there, even with less is more…because there are some scenes you just can’t get away from.

After a night of unpleasantness, KRUG and company decide to make a run for Canada. They toss the girls in the trunk and begin the journey north. Along the way, the getaway car breaks down. And as fate would have it, they break down not far from Mari’s house. In the confusion and wanderings through the woods and more torture and sexual implications, Mari’s friend Phyllis tries to make a run for it, leaving Mari behind with KRUG’s doped up son, Junior. Unfortunately, Phyllis doesn’t make it very far and ends up (SPOILERS) getting stabbed and disemboweled by KRUG & Company. Shortly thereafter, the killers decide to cut loose Mira, but before they do they have a little fun with her, and when I say “fun” I’m feeling all sorts of dirty on the inside. There is another what we call “thought provoking” moment at the end of this yet another horrid rape scene. Finished, the three killer stand in a semi circle giving strange glances at each other, picking grass off their bloodied hands, looking almost…regretful, as if maybe they’ve gone too far? It’s an odd scene and wonderfully placed.

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Before being shot, Mira staggers to a pond. Falling in, she floats to the banks near her parent’s house. The gang plus Junior change clothes and take refuge in…you guessed it, The Last House on the Left. The Collingwood’s take them in, believing they are traveling sales people, but after Mama Collingwood see’s Mira’s peace symbol necklace on Junior, and both Ma and Pa overhear the killers talk about their heinous crimes, Mira’s folks soon discover her body just before she dies. Distraught. Shocked. Full of malcontent, the parents decide to take revenge upon KRUG and his not-so-merry band of thugs.

Throughout the entire movie, the local Sheriff is made to look like a bumbling fool. Thinking Mari’s disappearance to be nothing more than teenage shenanigans. And not thinking twice about the strange car parked on the side of the road near the Collingwood’s house, or at least not thinking about it until it was too late. That last scene shows deputy and sheriff barging into the house, and it is mesmerizing. The scene the lawman sees before him and the expression on his face is one of those chilling cinematic moments I will not soon forget. It begs the question, about the purpose or usefulness of violence. We saw it on the face of KRUG, Sadie, and Weasel. We saw it on the face of Ma and Pa Collingwood. Insatiable despair.

My rating: 4/5 stars 

Now on Audible!

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My First Date with SPAWN

Not to be too weird about it, but imagine yourself for just a moment that you’re a twelve-year-old boy. You’re walking through the store and like any boy of pre-teen age back in the early 90s you decide to go check out whatever comics are offered at this very obviously not comic book store in the magazine section while your mom shops for food and other boring stuff like that. As you peruse the offered wares you come across a comic the likes you have never seen before. Its gritty. Slightly graphic. Super dark. And dare we say, demonic.

This was me. Back in 1990-something, 1994 or 1993, I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is how when I first laid eyes on Spawn, I ran and somehow convinced my mom to buy it for me and I took it home and was hooked ever since. Spawn was…different. It wasn’t Marvel or the X-Men, which is what most of my friends were reading at the time. It wasn’t DC, an entirely different circle of friends. In fact, I can’t recall Spawn being popular at all with any of my buddies…I’m sure they read it and maybe even liked it on some level…just not on the same level as me. Spawn spoke to a darker inkling to which I typically wandered. And because it spoke to that dark side, it helped galvanize some of my own creative thoughts and ideas of what could be possible within the realm of storytelling.

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The badass covers helped. Those issues, man, from the very beginning are some of the best horror comic art I’ve seen. Todd McFarlane was known even before Spawn as leaning towards the more explicit in his artwork. If I’m remembering this right, there was a certain Spider-Man comic involving Wolverine piercing some bad guys eye with his adamantium claw. Or something like that. Recalling still, McFarlane didn’t care to much for censorship and ran with his own brand to Image Comics, creating Spawn…

…an Marine ex-CIA assassin who gets murdered by his best friend, Chapel, and sent to h-e-double hockey sticks and there recruited by a high-level demon named Malebolgia to join his army in a war against Heaven on the promise of getting to see his wife, Wanda, again. Agreeing to these shady terms, but truthfully…not sure who would turn down getting to leave hell, the demon sends him back to earth…five years later with the worse case of scatter brain and wearing a head to toe superhero costume. And the scars, did I mention the scars? Yup. Spawn aka Al Simmons was burned alive in life and as a kinda really fucked up signing bonus is now horribly disfigured.

The fact that this comic spoke to me at such a young age is disturbing…

Moving on!

In the first issue of Spawn, Al is trying to figure things out. He gets “flashes” of old memory. And as another high five from Malebolgia, another demon is sent to “guide” Spawn in this new role he’s supposed to play on Earth. The guide is none other than The Violator who takes the form (most of the time) as a short, fat, hellish looking clown. When he’s not Chuckles, he’s this really freaking looking monster with large bulbous eyes and long needle like teeth.

Through these first few comics, its really about Spawn remembering who he was and coming to terms that in five years’ time, everyone thinking he’s dead (because he was), including his wife, life goes on. Wanda ended up marrying Al’s other best friend, Terry, and they end up having a daughter together. And soon after, Spawn also begins to realize that he wasn’t just dropped on Earth looking like a walking piece of human toast, he’s got power, real devastating shatter this world kinda power. And that suit of his isn’t some mom’n’pops Halloween get up, it’s a living symbiotic entity with its own set of abilities. But there’s a catch…those powers of his are not limitless. There’s a clock, so to speak. Once he drains all his green glowing goo…boom, back to hell.

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This kind of story wasn’t something I was used to reading. As a comic marketed to young adolescent boys, there were layered intricacies. Spawn wasn’t just some Hellspawn with a host of awesome powers, he was also Al, a dead Marine ex-CIA assassin who lost his way but wanted to do the right thing. He loved his wife. He loved his country. But still, he wasn’t your typically “good guy.” Nowadays, the anti-hero is an overhanded trope. Back in the early 1990s, for me at least, it was not. Spawn showed me that characters didn’t have to be 100% good, that not everyone was 100% bad. That there were grey areas amongst the pure goods and evils in the world. Case in point, the story of Billy Kincaid.

As for kid’s comics, this was a dark story…but I wonderfully done one! Billy Kincaid was the son of some senator, an ice-cream truck driver, and a child murderer. His famous line being, “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream.” Pretty creepy, right? Anyways, in issue #5, Spawn pays ole Billy and visit and gives him a taste of his own medicine, hanging him in Detectives Sam and Twitch’s office with popsicles stabbed into his corpse and a note, “BOYS SCREAMED AND GIRLS SCREAMED SO I MADE HIM SCREAM…AND SCREAM…AND SCREAM.”

Yes, this was a kid’s comic, mind you.

And so wonderfully not appropriate. Like any parent back in the 80s and 90s is really going to thumb through the begged comic before buying. My folks were none caring when it came to violent content, it was the graphic sexual content they did not approve. Very puritan, I know. And I’m sure this is how an entire generation had been raised to think subconsciously, that violence is okay, but sex is bad. I’m rambling now, please forgive me. The point being, Spawn did something good by taking out this really horrible person, but he did so in a way that was utterly grotesque. Most hero characters would have simply captured Kinkaid and gift wrapped him perhaps beaten but still breathing for the police to find. Spawn on the other hand…well, he at least gift wrapped Kinkaid, right?

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As far as Spawn comics go, its hard for me to pick just one that was the best. There were so many back then. Billy Kinkaid was probably the more darker ones, especially so early in the series. With storytelling like that, its no wonder how popular Spawn became. As you no doubt have heard or seen, there was that 1997 movie adaptation of the comic, written and directed by its creator…which goes to show that just because you can make a really badass comic, doesn’t mean you know shit about directing. Sorry. This was a really amazing movie for the first screening on that summer day in 1997, but every day thereafter…ugh.

In that same year, though, there was some grace to be found for Spawn. The HBO animated series took off with a bang, keeping more or less to the original comic story. If you haven’t seen these, you need to. Some are free on YouTube. Every bit like the comic is terms of dark, gritty, and bloody violent with that grey matter intrigue that makes you question what it really means to be good or bad. Which in a nutshell is the entire attraction to the Spawn as a story. Not everyday do you read something about a demon who questions his morality. That in his best moments tries to do some good, but usually makes a mess of things. And in his worst, is usually lethargic, and if not…well…think Billy Kincaid. And the best part? Here I am some twenty-three years later, still gushing over a comic book character.

That’s love, baby.

 

 

Reflections of an indie writer on 2017

It is customary at the close of a year to look back and reflect on ones accomplishments and ones failures. As writers, we think on the things that made us rise to an occasion and what we utterly fell flat on. What worked and what didn’t, so to speak, in our ongoing quest to put imagination to word and word to pen and pen to MS Word and MS Word to our hopeful next bestseller. Despite the fact that I’ve only been publishing since late 2014, I feel as if I have grown in leaps and bounds as a writer. No, not that I’m some huge bestseller. I’m talking real growth, the kind that counts (for me anyway).

In some ways, there has been some real growth for me as a writer. While dealing with personal issues, such as having my day job taken away due to a plant closure and struggling with almost constant depression and stress and doubt, I was still able to produce 4 novels, 1 collection, 4 audiobooks, and participated in 3 anthologies. And lined up projects for early 2018. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here, but when you’ve done something you ought to be proud of, there should be no problem looking back every now and then and giving yourself a little high five. We writers do this so seldom (well, most of us).

I’ve also learned more this year than any other that no writer is an island. The moment we think we’re alone is the moment we begin to question ourselves over every little choice and decision. This is very critical in the indie world as every independent writer naturally goes it alone. I think maybe because of this natural habit we have to be secluded is what drives a good many batshit crazy, making them feel like they can’t write simply because they can’t sell. More on this in a moment. The point of this paragraph is that even in the indie world, survivability typically follows ones ability to do two things: evolve and humility. Evolution, being able to keep a curious eye on how readers are reading and the technology that follows. Humility, being able to ask for help.

While being able to evolve with technology and market trends is helpful, being humble is way more important. Being able to reach out to a trusted circle of friends and fellow writers, bouncing ideas, and/or just plain ole venting has been super critical in my own survival as a writer. This year has been super hard for me (and a great many other writers). Both in my personal life as well as in my book sales. I don’t think there’s enough data to explain why book sales were rough for many indies this year. Much like the sea, everything is in a state of flux. Could be due to political reasons. Could be the weather. Could be a great many things. The problem I’m seeing, myself included, is that some of us indies got a little taste of success as writers and when that slipped away we started to doubt everything we were doing or why we were even writing in the first place.

Be it traditional or indie, being a writer must fundamentally come from the same place, this incarnate need to tell stories, to be that old man or old woman by the camp fire who gets tickled at the prospect of spinning a tale. Admittedly, this year I spent too much time looking at my own book sales and trends and allowing those to govern my belief over if I was a good writer or not. And what a horrible way to cultivate soil that ultimately should be enriched in imagination, hope, and joy. This year alone, I witnessed some of my best sales and some of my worst. If I was to base my success as a writer on sales alone, could you imagine how that effected my work? Or my ego? Or my pride?

Looking forward, there are some things that I want to improve upon in 2018. I want to continue reaching out and depending and likewise helping my circle of trusted friends…to remember that I am not alone. And I would also like to STOP looking at book sales, or at least limit how often I am. Once a week sounds a lot better than several times a day, right? And lastly, I want to write, and not just on what I think will sell, but on what I want. Zombies overdone? Who cares, I think it’s neat to imagine worlds with the undead. Vampires are an old hat… Whatever, I think vampires are cool. What the hell is a rainbow blob monster? Does it matter, as long as it was super exciting to write?

This coming year, above all, I want to have fun again.