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Friday with the Indie Superheroes

It’s not what you think.

I mean a completely different kind of “indie.” Which is to say, not comics at all.

Writing last week’s Superman-in-prose column reminded me that there’s a whole list of superheroes who’ve ONLY ever appeared in prose; though many of them had comics creators working on them. This week, just for the hell of it, I thought we’d look at a few of those.

You’ve probably heard of at least some of them if you’re enough of a comics/superhero fan to be hanging out at a website like this one, but I’m betting we might turn up a couple you missed.

For example, most of you are probably familiar with Larry Niven’s hilarious essay, “Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex.” (If not, you’ll find it here.) But I wonder how many of you saw this collection that it appeared in?

An amazing book, damnably hard to find and highly prized by collectors. But worth it.

Superheroes was an anthology edited by Michel Parry for Britain’s Sphere Books in 1978. In addition to the Niven essay, there was also Robert Bloch’s delightful “Stupourman,” John Keel’s “Satyr-Man,” Stephen Hitchcock’s “Captain Amazing,” and a bunch of other entries from notable SF writers like Norman Spinrad, George Alec Effinger, and Don Glut. The stories range from hilarious to deeply disturbing, though a satirical tone predominates.

Another anthology by the same name from John Varley came out stateside almost twenty years later, in 1995.

Classier than the Sphere effort, not as funny, but well worth having.

In his introduction, Varley claims that this is a book of superheroes that are unlike the heroes in the comics because these characters, unlike their four-color brethren, “are the superheroes that take Marvel Comics one step further. They’re not just more human. Most of them are too human.”

The introduction sounds like the book is just Watchmen Lite, but it really is a worthy effort. There’s all sorts of stories in here– hard-SF extrapolations, edgy parodies, and even a couple of nasty little horror pieces. I particularly enjoyed Michael Stackpole’s “Peer Review,” a roman a clef of sorts about a kind of JLA, and “Reflected Glory,” a wicked little story from Paul Kupperberg about a superhero’s PR man. And Varley’s own “Truth, Justice, and the Politically Correct Socialist Path” is a fun Superman riff that happens to pre-date DC’s own Red Son by a decade or so.

There are two superhero-satire novels that are my all-time favorites, though. First among equals would have to be Robert Mayer’s brilliant Superfolks.

my pick for best non-comics superhero novel ever anywhere by anybody.

Like pretty much everything I’ve ever read that hit me that hard, I remember exactly where it was that I found this book. I picked it up on a whim when it first came out, on a college trip to Berkeley when I was eighteen. We’d stopped in the campus bookstore for something or other on our way back to the hotel. The cover caught my eye, and I decided to spend my eight dollars on the book instead of dinner. I opened it up when we got back and read it all at once, in a sitting, finally finishing about one in the morning. This was probably a contributing factor to my team’s poor showing in the academic competition the next day, and for once I wasn’t even hung over. I’d just simply been unable to put the book down.

For those that don’t know, Superfolks is basically the first-ever full-on deconstructionist superhero story. Before Alan Moore and Miracleman, before Astro City, before any of that stuff. Robert Mayer got there ahead of all of them. Not only did he tackle all the weird psycho-sexual underpinnings of the superhero mythology and ruthlessly extrapolate them to their logical ends, but he also told a very human story of a man in a midlife crisis.

And he did all this while being really goddamn funny, too. Seriously, I can’t say enough good things about this book. I’m delighted that it’s back in print again…

Nice to see this back.

…and with a nice new cover by Mike Allred and an intro from Grant Morrison, even.

Once upon a time, when DC comics actually printed letters in them, one of the regularly-appearing letter-writers was a fan named Robert Rodi. Little did I know that he would grow up to become one of the most outspoken gay novelists out there, with an oeuvre that includes novels like Fag Hag, Drag Queen, Bitch Goddess, Closet Case, and Kept Boy. But my favorite Rob Rodi take on gender politics also happens to be all about comics.

You KNOW Dan Didio secretly is longing to do the same revamp with Wonder Woman.

What They Did To Princess Paragon is a hilarious story of a superhero revamp that spins completely out of control. Brian Parrish, a 38-year-old gay cartoonist, is hired to revive the fading Princess Paragon. He decides that it’s the 90′s, everything in comics is going darker and more adult… what if the Princess was a lesbian? And hilarity ensues.

Never mind the gender-politics stuff… this book is terrific simply because it takes every fan’s dark suspicions of what editors are really thinking when they do dunderheaded revamps and turns that paranoia up to eleven– while at the same time, it plays on every editor’s nightmare of what hardcore fans are capable of, and puts those two forces on a collision course. It’s the kind of thing that anyone can enjoy, but if you’ve ever actually been to a convention there are places in the book where you’ll gasp in horrified laughter and say, “Oh my God, I KNOW guys like that.” It’s just fall-down funny, and something that it took a real fan to write convincingly.

Rodi’s written quite a few comics as well — you might have seen the Rogue mini-series he did for Marvel, or some of his Vertigo work — but for me, nothing tops Princess Paragon. It’s awesome.

But what about just plain superhero adventure? The real stuff? Not parody or satire or anything? Just super people fighting evil and breaking stuff?

We can find you quite a few of those that premiered in prose, as well. For example, there’s Peter David’s Psi-Man.

I found these one insomniac night at Tower Books, back when they were open till midnight.

This was a series of paperback originals that originally appeared in the early 90′s under the pen name “David Peters.” The hero is Chuck Simon, an incredibly powerful telepath and psychokinetic who’s on the run from government agents who want to turn him into a weapon.

I’ll grant you the setup sounds tired and familiar, but what makes the series work is the milieu — it’s set in a sort of dystopian near-future, a platform for satire that makes good use of David’s trademark humor. There’s also lots of humor to be found in the characters themselves, particularly in Chuck’s telepathic exchanges with his genetically enhanced German Shepherd, Rommel. There were six of them in all– Mind-Force Warrior , Deathscape , Main Street D.O.A., The Chaos Kid , Stalker, and Haven.

Nice to see these back too.

They were recently re-issued from Ace Books under David’s real name and I think they’re worth checking out.

Of course, easily the most successful original-to-prose superhero series ever would have to be George R. R. Martin’s Wild Cards.

This redesign's okay, but of all the Wild Card editions I liked Tim Truman's covers best.

Reams of praise have been written about these Hugo and Nebula Award-nominated books and I won’t waste space reiterating it all here, but I will say that I was on board with these from the beginning too, and it’s great to see this series back in print again as well. Eighteen books in the series so far with the newest entry, Inside Straight, appearing last January and two more new books in the pipeline.

I never get tired of these books and I hope the series goes forever.

Wild Cards was one of those rare cases where the superhero leaped from prose to comics. There was a four-part miniseries from Marvel a few years ago and a new comics version from the Dabel Brothers recently showed up in stores, and apparently there’s a possible movie deal in the offing too. For those interested in more news I can’t do better than to direct you to the official website. Overall, I think I still like the initial three books best in the series; but I enjoyed the newer hardcover collection Deuces Down a great deal, too. The beauty of the Wild Cards books is that there’s enough of them out there that you really can find something for everyone.

Of course, long-time readers of this column will know that my favorite prose superpeople mostly came from the late Byron Preiss’ wonderful anthology series Weird Heroes.

My first prose-original superhero book, and probably still my favorite. I miss Byron Preiss.

What you may not know is how many of those characters spun off into their own separate books, without any appearance of the Weird Heroes brand.

Philip Jose Farmer’s Greatheart Silver started as a Weird Hero…

No new material here, but I almost want it just for the Chaykin cover.

…and so did Doc Phoenix, the star of Marv Wolfman’s The Oz Encounter.

We fell for this in San Diego.

You’d never know it from the cover but this beautiful new hardcover edition from Hungry Tiger Press started as a paperback original, Weird Heroes Volume 5. We fell for this in San Diego a couple of years back — originally, I’d wanted Marv to sign my original when we visited the Hungry Tiger booth, but he was so charming and so nice to my wife Julie, that I felt like we should buy something. And it’s a gorgeous book. It not only has all the original Stephen Fabian illustrations, but it also has a clever typographical riff — the sequences set in the comatose girl’s Oz dreamworld are actually typeset in the same font and page layout as the original Baum hardcovers. A nice touch, that.

Michael Reaves’ Darkworld Detective was originally a Weird Hero as well.This was probably my favorite of the Weird Heroes spin-offs. Think Philip Marlowe in the Hyborian Age and you’d almost have it, but Reaves put a special spin on it all his own.

My favorite Weird Hero.

The star of that book, Kamus of Kadizhar, even got a sequel– not by Reaves but by John Shirley.

A worthy effort, but suffers in comparison to the original.

That’s a fun book too, though not nearly as cool as Reaves’ original.

But the guy that did the best out of Weird Heroes was, I think, Ben Bova. His time-traveling superman, Orion, ended up starring in five novels all his own.

Great book. Almost as great a book.

Again, I tend to favor the earlier ones, but it’s Ben Bova, they’re all going to be at least good.

A pretty good book. This one's okay.

Finally, I’ll leave you with a weird little one from Martin Caidin.

You may know of Caidin’s series of Cyborg books, the ones that eventually morphed into the Six Million Dollar Man TV show. (If not, you can get caught up here, he said self-referentially.) But that wasn’t the only book Caidin did about a man science turned into a superhero.

not as cool as Steve Austin... but pretty cool.

ManFac was the story of Lance Parker, an engineer and athlete who was trapped underground in a nuclear reactor meltdown. When they pulled him from the wreckage, he was broken, crippled, half-dead of radiation poisoning. Whereupon his fiancee, Lee, another brilliant and beautiful engineer, sets about building him a sort of android bodysuit, a way for Lance to move around inside a new, artificial human body… the Man Facsimile.

Or, as Lance and his lady friend soon abbreviate it, “ManFac.” Visually it’s indistinguishable from a normal body but super-strong, with enhanced vision and athletic capabilities, etc., etc. Soon Lance and Lee hit on the idea of designing multiple bodies with different looks and characteristics built into each — say, an Asian bodybuilder, for example. By the end of the book they are fronting an anti-terrorist agency consisting of Lee, the real-life Lance who is still crippled and bent from the accident, and their “staff”– all of whom are Lance himself inside a variety of superpowered ManFac suits.

It’s nutty but Caidin makes it work. It’s the kind of technophile stuff that drives the best Iron Man stories, plus a lot of the recovery-and-redemption riffs that made the original Steve Austin novels so compelling. And because it’s Caidin, you can bet he’s going to get the military and science stuff right. (There’s also a couple of Easter eggs in the book for us old-time bionic fans, of such a rude nature that I have a hunch Martin Caidin was never on Kenneth Johnson’s Christmas card list.)

Anyway, there you go. That’s a start. There’s others I didn’t get to — I’m sure someone in the comments will bring up Blake Petit’s books, stuff like that– but hell, I can’t think of everything. We have to leave something for those folks playing at home. At any rate, I hope the above’s given you something to look for on your next trip to the bookstore.

See you next week.

38 Comments

A very nice and informative piece, Mr. Hatcher.

As far as “playing at home” goes, I would be remiss in my duties as a reader/writer in good standing of the USENET newsgroup rec.arts.comics.creative if I didn’t mention the literally thousands of pages of absolutely free fiction, much of it superhero related, with something for everyone. There’s the (generally) more comedic /farcical LNH– the longest-running USENET-based shared universe, now well into its sixteenth year. More serious stories await in the now-defunct OMEGA universe; Dave Van Domelen’s ASH universe has a geopolitical sci-fi twist. Modesty prevents me from hyping up my own 8FOLD universe too much, but it– and flagship series JOLT CITY– is there as well if anyone’s looking for bright shiny superheroics with the occasional bits of weirdness (talking snails, sentient buildings, and the mighty hordes of Apelantis).

There’s a lot there, along with a (more-or-less) complete archive at http://archives.eyrie.org/racc/ .

Nice article.

Not much more to add. I’m a big Wild Cards fan and can’t recommend the books enough. And I would consider Wild Cards as deconstruction too, since the whole point of it is to show “superpowers in the real world”, stripping away almost all of the more outlandish trappings.

Of the other novels mentioned, the only one I’ve read is Varley’s Superheroes. The stories that stuck to my mind are the tragic ones (I’m not much for satire). The one about Captain Cosmos is my favorite, and I don’t think the concept was ever explored in comics, that of an alien superhero that looks as human-like as Superman, and that everyone assumes is a all-american hero, but actually he is truly ALIEN, with all the creepiness and strangeness that that entails, as a poor human girl hitting on him soon discovers.

I didn’t read the others novels mentioned, but I mean to.

But I get the impression that Weird Heroes isn’t really superheroes. It’s more PULP heroes like the Shadow? Proto-superheroes, to be exact.

What about the Temps books, edited by Neil Gaiman ( Temps and Eurotemps )? they were pretty fantastic, with stories that ranged from knockabout comedy to some really serious stuff. I loved them, and wish I could find them again…

But I get the impression that Weird Heroes isn’t really superheroes. It’s more PULP heroes like the Shadow? Proto-superheroes, to be exact.

You can argue either side of it, for sure. But Orion, Kamus and Gypsy had powers, Stalker and Nightshade were practically Batman without the costume, Viva was a jungle queen, and many of them were written (and most of them were illustrated) by people working in and around comics. Preiss was thinking it was a pulp revival but I think there’s enough comics/superhero overlap to make the series worth including.

Since you’re not only listing books featuring superheroes but books influenced by the superhero mythos, I’m really very surprised you didn’t list Joseph Torchia’s incredible (and sadly out-of-print) The Kryptonite Kid which I read as a teenager and had a profound effect on me.

Ostensibly a young adult book, it’s the story of a kid named Jerry Chariot who is growing up in 1960 America and believes that Superman is real. The story is told in the form of a series of letters to Superman that Jerry sends and it’s about the tragic collision between Jerry’s imagination and faith in Superman and the cold hard reality of growing up Catholic at the end of the Eisenhower era. The real tragedy is that the more Jerry is disciplined and beaten the more he believes Superman is real, wondering out loud (with disastrous results) that people believe in God and the Virgin Mary and can’t see them, why isn’t Superman real?

It’s the most heartbreaking novel I’ve ever read.

It’s also a novel that you can read as a teenager and read as an adult and get totally different readings, both brilliant. Torchia was gay and you can also see that Jerry’s sense of difference and his love for Superman has a profound gay subtext and is as much a metaphor (and a reality) of being a gay child in that era (there’s also lots of gay references sprinkled in). But it’s also all the things I saw and identified with as a teenager when I read it: the story of a beautiful childlike imagination that is stifled and crushed and battered by the culture around it.

It’s sadly quite forgotten now. Torchia only published one more novel (a grown-up novel about gay men; it’s very good and you can see how he is drawing from the well that Armistead Maupin would make popular a few years later). The fact that he was a young gay man in San Francisco in the late ’70s / early ’80s leads me to presume he was among the first or second wave of AIDS deaths (certainly from what I’ve been able to glean he is dead). Sadly I doubt DC would allow its publication now, with its direct references to actual Superman comics of the era, characters and indeed ‘Kryptonite’ in the title, but for a long while in the ’80s, there were critics who pointed to The Kryptonite Kid as one of the best stories featuring Superman. I’m inclined to agree.

Tom Fitzpatrick

August 30, 2008 at 6:19 am

With all these books to read, how can you ever have any time to read comics?

With all these books to read, how can you ever have any time to read comics?

Well, I’ve had forty years to read all this stuff, it’s kind of spread out. I didn’t read the whole pile last week. Although I do acquire books like lint, there’s always a pile of anywhere from four to twelve waiting in the to-be-read pile. Hell, now I have to go find The Kryptonite Kid. I wish I’d known about that one for the Superman column last week.

But I haven’t actually been reading that many new comics, to be honest. Maybe that’s NEXT week’s column.

I have never been that much into novels; I did read a few back in the 80′s, until my local bookstore closed. There’s a new one now (a Borders) but I don’t have the same interest in them that I did back then. So, I missed most of these novels. I think I DO remember having read the second Superheroes anthology, though. I also plain saw Wild Cards but never got into it. But that’s probably because superhero deconstruction has never appealed to me. Not that stories about superhumans in non-traditional settings style are not interesting -I like the TV show HEROES, for example- it’s just that if you have traditional superheroes (with costumes, idealism, etc.) but only to tear them apart, it feels like shattering conventions for its own sake. Like having a horror movie where nobody dies. What’s the point?

I have to second “Temps” – a great take on superheroes, albeit with a slightly more UK-centric slant…
I adored Wild Cards. I read the first four or five books before falling so far behind that I gave up (which I still regret). I own the Marvel (actually printed under Epic) miniseries – rather a good superhero murder mystery. I also love the fact that possibly the greatest hero in the Wild Cards universe was Jetboy, who had no powers at all!

@ Sijo, Wild Cards is very much like Heroes.. Not many costumes in sight, rather a story about what happens to the world following an event that kills millions of people, but grants a fraction of people extraordinary powers (the Aces) and changes others horrifically (the Jokers). It follows a cross-section of society and tells their stories as they learn to cope with their blessings and curses…

Wasn’t Martin Caidin also the author of “Anton York, Immortal,” briefly adapted (none too faithfully) as a TV series (“The Immortal”)? It’s been 30-plus years since I read it but my memory suggests York could also be considered a super-hero of sorts.

I’m a huge fan of superhero prose, and have enjoyed many of the books mentioned above. (And will hunt down the others! Well, some, anyway.)

Others that demand mention:

Flyboy Action Figure Comes With Gasmask (Jim Munroe)
From the Notebook of Dr. Brain (Minister Faust)
Devil’s Cape – Rob Rogers

Plus I once wrote a superhero novel in blog form at slicedbread2.blogspot.com. It’s a bit of a pain to navigate but people seemed to like it.

See also this site: http://superprose.blogspot.com/
He’s trying to catalogue every superhero novel ever. He casts his net a lot more widely than I would, but it’s his site, and it’s better to have too many things listed than not enough.

Kurt, the Anton York book wasn’t Martin Caidin; it was Eando Binder. You can see the book here. Never made the connection to the TV show… actually, I never saw the TV show. One of the few 60′s adventure shows that slid right by me.

I would second Devil’s Cape (Rob Rogers) – great read, and the best of the recent spate of superhero novels. Also worth mentioning: Superpowers (David J. Schwartz), Hero (Perry Moore), Soon I Will Be Invincible (Austin Grossman), and Who Can Save Us Now?, an anthology of super-shorts edited by John McNally and Owen King.

For some free online superhero fiction, Star Harbor Nights has just restarted (www.starharbornights.net), as well as Metahuman Press (www.metahumanpress.com). And, of course, casting modesty to the wind, A Thousand Faces, the Quarterly Journal of Superhuman Fiction (www.thousand-faces.com).

It’s not a novel, but one of my favorite prose super-hero stories is The Velvet Marauder. It was a super-hero blog, told in first person by the Velvet Marauder himself. This was written by Dave Campbell, who is probably better known to comics fans for the (sadly) now-defunct Dave’s Longbox comics blog.

Putting links in the comments around here just seems to make the comment disappear, so instead of a direct link, here’s how to find the VM:

velvetmarauder dot blogspot dot com

After I posted, I realized I confused Binder with Caidin because I read “York” and “Marooned” at the same time. Worse, it turns out the TV series was based on the book “The Immortals” by James Gunn. Y’know, I just don’t think I’m a morning person anymore…

Thanks for the wite-ups suggesting so many great books/stories, Greg. One I haven’t seen mentioned yet is James Maxey’s Nobody Gets the Girl. It’s bad pun (read the book), but a pretty good story about superhero-powered people and world politics.

Sijo, what Blackjack said.

Wild Cards is a lot like Heroes, including a bunch of sympathetic everymen having to cope with powers and one or two twisted psychopaths in the bunch to make trouble for the heroes. The Turtle is very much like Hiro Nakamura.

I consider it deconstruction in the sense that it examines superpowers minus the baggage of costumes, quests, lost worlds, and stuff like that. It’s not something that exists to criticize superheroes or something, like Garth Ennis’s The Boys.

I second Rene on that.

It certainly seems like someone who is involved in the production of the HEROES tv-series has done his homework on the Wild Cards books.

Although if you do compare the two, the apparition of the Wild Cards virus has had a profond and worldwide effect on every culture, especially because of the so-called Jokers, whereas HEROES is filled only with Aces and Deuces.

And only a minority characters of the tv series have a psychological crutch that come with their powers.

I want to put out that superhero themes are cropping up a lot in women’s prose novels now. There are some superhero-themed romance novels cropping up, usually a powered heroine trying to make things work out with either a handsome hero or a cute Steve Trevor-type. It’s also showing up in your more woman-oriented mystery books, too. Titles are escaping my sad brain right now but I clearly remember a friend who is mostly into movies excitedly looking over a particular series she’d read good reviews of when we were at a bookstore together once.

Nora Roberts has done one of those. Also, Jennifer Estep has recently had at least two novels that are kind of chicklit/superhero fusion: _Karma Girl_ and _Hot Mama_. I read _Hot Mama_; it was kinda okay.

I’ve been enjoying the audio version of Mur Lafferty’s “Playing for Keeps” at podiobooks.com for the past three months or so. It’s the story of a group of folks with D-list superpowers (a waitress who can sober anyone up with a touch; a man who can become incredibly strong for a few seconds at a time) trying to find their place in a world where the lines between super-heroes and villains seem to blur. The book was just picked up by Swarm Press, and the print version came out on Aug. 25.

And while I’m touting audio prose, several of the “Union Dues” short stories at the “Escape Pod” podcast have been pretty good, offering glimpses into a super-hero world from a variety of perspectives. I’m looking forward to hearing the new one posted this week — it’s at http://www.escapepod.org.

It’s not a novel, but one of my favorite prose super-hero stories is The Velvet Marauder. It was a super-hero blog, told in first person by the Velvet Marauder himself. This was written by Dave Campbell, who is probably better known to comics fans for the (sadly) now-defunct Dave’s Longbox comics blog.

Other than the one I already mentioned that I wrote, and the Velvet Marauder, there was a third superhero novel blog that I’ve lost the link to, but I’m sure it’s searchable: Doc Tesseract. I liked it.

I enjoyed Jonathan Lethem’s “The Fortress of Solitude” not because it’s about people with superpowers (the powers are few and far between, and don’t make a whole lot of sense) but because it’s about two kids who grow up reading Marvel comics back in the sixties, and it describes what a mind-blowing experience that was for them, and how the ideas they got from those comics changed the rest of their lives.

@ Rene: See, that’s what I mean. Something like Heroes feels like its own,sincere story; while The Boys is more like its author screaming I HATE SUPERHEROES!! (again.) I’m going to have to check out Wild Cards one of these days…

@ Lynxara: Seriously? Well, technically speaking the idea of superhuman abilities and their effect on people’s lives is as old as mythology… why not romance novels? (Wasn’t there a Soap Opera that crossed over with Marvel Comics, too?) Again, something to research. Thanks for the fact.

Kind of surprised you didn’t mention COUNT GEIGER’S BLUES by Michael Bishop (Tor Books, 1993 or 1994 IIRC). Greg. Media and Culture Critic Xavier Thaxton abhors comics and other pop culture, but after exposure to a radioactive waste dump, he gains superpowers and an addiction to everything pop culture and has to go out and act out being a superhero, while dying from radiation poisoning.

I remember Bishop telling me that there were talks of possibly adapting it to a comics miniseries with DC / Vertigo some time ago (and when I mean some time ago, I mean around 1997-1999), but obviously nothing ever came of it.

Robert Reed’s done some nice short superhero fiction here and there. “We Are All Superheroes” (SCIENCE FICTION AGE magazine, March 1995) is about a superhero couple who has retired from adventuring and how normals in their hometown view them now – from the perspective of another paranormal observing the treatment they get, who hasn’t decided whether to be a hero or criminal yet.

***********

QUESTION FOR THE GROUP: If you had five previously professionally published (meaning works you received payment for) short fictions of this genre that practically nobody’s read because the works were published online only, and nobody’s seen them in over a decade, would you consider collecting them for rerelease? Why or why not?

Bright-Raven: Absolutely! What have you got to lose?

Bright-Raven –

Definitely – there’s more of a market for original superhero fiction now than there was ten years ago, I think. (Also, selfishly, A Thousand Faces is always willing to consider quality reprints for publication.)

And I would second Rob’s recommendation of “Fortress of Solitude”. Tremendous book.

I’ve recently read “Superpowers” by David J. Schwartz.

It’s 5 college kids gaining powers unexplainedly and deciding to become superheroes, in a world that is basically our own. I thought it started good, dragged a bit at the middle (the writer has a “cute” sense of humor that isn’t to my liking), but picked up again by the end (cute sense of humor is good to lull you into thinking the book isn’t serious, and then the last 150 pages are punch-to-the-stomach drama).

Great article! I’ve read most of the books you covered; Weird Heroes and Wildcards definitely top the list! I recently found a new book featuring prose stories starring new superheroes/pulp heroes called Darker Mask, edited by Gary Phillps and Christoper Chambers. I’m about halfway through it. Pretty good stuff!

I absolutely hated Who Can Save Us Now? for various reasons, many of which I outlined in my review of it at the Green Man Review.

I’m loving Darker Mask so far.
Hero, by Perry Moore is another good YA superhero book, and one that’s gotten a lot of good press lately.
Karma Girl and Hot Mama are both good superhero romantic comedies.
The Zodiac series by Vicky Pettersson are really good urban fantasies that borrow a lot from comic book/superhero sensibilities.

Those are just a few off the top of my head.

Blackjak and Frank:

Thanks for the positive feedback.

“Why not?”, Blackjak? Like any author, looking back at something I did a decade ago makes me cringe with how “bad” it is comparative to my current work. Yes, it was published, but I’m sure we all can think of stories in any medium that were professionally produced and paid for that weren’t particularly good. (At the same token, the author is usually too close to the material even after time away to be a completely unbiased reviewer of their own work.)

Another reason is time and money. Two resources we never seem to have enough of, eh? Do I want to use up favors with notable talents who are casual friends to get ad copy or an introduction for this work, or should I wait for something current? How many galley copies should I print up and who should I send them to? What order should I put these stories in? Should I write some new material for the collection? Should I write prefaces / afterwards for each tale? Do I do interior art for each story? If so, which style of art do I go with, pencils only or pen & ink? Should I go ahead and do my own art for the cover or should I call in a favor and get a more well known penciler to do it and ink them, or hire a more high profile artist / art team to handle it entirely for the market push?

And how much money is all this going to cost me?

Before I make your head explode, Blackjak, take a deep breath. And another. Head clear? Good.

Now here’s the *fun* part: I’ve got ten other projects in various stages of development all vying for their spot in my schedule. And each of them have their own bevvy of similar production / marketing / scheduling questions. Then there’s my freelance editing for others, doing freelance art for others, ghost writing for others… whatever work I can manage to keep money flowing in. And the more of that work I have, the less time I have for my own stuff. Money now = good. No work published that I own = bad. Projects that I do not own that I do the work for and ultimately don’t get paid for = the worst. (Sadly, the comics industry has proven to excel in that last category.)

I’ll skip the rant on that last part and just say it’s a good thing I don’t drink alcohol. I’d probably grow gills so as to swim in vodka.

**********

Frank:

I admit I hadn’t seen your site before. I’ll get myself acquainted with it hopefully some time later this week. As with collecting the material, I’d be pretty serious about looking at my old stuff before I’d send it in to you. Maybe have a couple of editor friends review them and give them a thumbs up first. And of course, I can always write something new.

Bright-Raven: Ouch! You’ve pretty much hit all the nails on the head as to why I haven’t done a similar thing… I have three or four unfinished projects that have never seen the light of day… A novelthat I completed the first 120 pages of, a comic that I decided was too similar to others out there, a book of poetry and a 3D animated TV series. The novel got the furthest, but I have never been able to find the time and energy to go back, edit and finish it…

Similar story – Freelance work, another unrelated full-rime job to pay the vast majority of bills, and now two kids who I adore, but take up even more of my time… I am trying to set aside an hour a night, after the kids and my wife have gone to bed, to focus on firstly improving my job prospects by teaching myself some new skills, and secondly, to re-read those old pages and re-write my book. UNfortunately the ancient Word file has vanished into the ethre, but I do have a few hardcoppies that I printed all those years ago, and I’m trying to read through and make notes of things that need changing and/or fixing…

I quit drinking twelve years ago. It was all too easy to look for answers there, but I never remembered them when I’d sobered up… Or if I did I could see the flaws in them much clearer in the light of day…

The one thing I hate about my current job (and it’s pre-cursors over the last ten years or so) is that the company I work for own all Intellectual Property rights for everything I prodcue for them… One or two of them to the extent that I can’t even use the material for self-promotional purposes… That is one of the things I am aiming to change in the New Year.

Set yourself a target. Sit down in the evening (or morning if you work nights like I used to) have acup of tea/coffee/cocoa and re-read your stuff. Make notes if you feel the need, but try to think of the stories as someone else’s work from all that time ago.. A different person from the one that you are now. Ask yourself if it still works, then go forward from there… Do it in small chunks. Before you know it, you’ll be on your way…

I don’t know the equivalent in the States but there is a book in the UK, published once a year, called the Writers and Artists Yearbook, which has a list of publishing houses, editors, agents, etc. Have a look around, they can help.

Best wishes!

No love for Philip Wylie’s Gladiator?

No love for Philip Wylie’s Gladiator?

I have lots of love for it, as evidenced here. But I was trying not to go over the same ground TOO much.

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Heh, fair enough. I couldn’t remember if you had covered Gladiator previously or not (and I had just returned from DragonCon shortly before posting that, so my brain was even more addled than normal).

The fact that (Joseph Torchia) was a young gay man in San Francisco in the late ’70s / early ’80s leads me to presume he was among the first or second wave of AIDS deaths (certainly from what I’ve been able to glean he is dead).

Actually, I just discovered he died in 1996 of liver cancer. Thought I’d follow up on that for the sake of accuracy

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