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Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola (Part Two)

In Part One of our interview with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, we discussed the recent original graphic novel, The Midnight Circus, and his narrative influences. In Part Two of our spirited conversation, we explore the forthcoming Hellboy in Hell storyline, the changing status quo of his universe—where Mike gently corrects my understanding about a particular character—and our favorite new vampire film. 

Alex Carr: While young Hellboy begins his adventures in The Midnight Circus, his career, as we know it, ends in Hellboy in Hell. What awaits him in Hell?

Mike Mignola: A lot of family stuff; I’ll say some old “friends” with quotations marks around it; a lot—a lot of stuff [laughs]. The first volume of Hellboy in Hell is really settling him into Hell. We get a tour of that world—not the complete world, but Hellboy gets shown around a bit. We get to see a little bit of how my version of Hell works. And most important, we see that by Hellboy appearing in Hell, major changes have happened with the guys who have been running Hell. Hellboy gets in there and throws a pretty big rock in that pond.

There are some major changes that happen, and really, after that first volume I want to focus on doing smaller stories for a while and go back to my spin on fairy and folk tales. My long-term goal with Hell—we’ll see the Greek underworld, we’ll see the sort-of Asian underworld of Hell so I can do Asian-related fairy tales and folklore and use the creatures from those mythologies.

AC: There’s an apocalyptic theme running through your entire universe at the moment. We’ve got Hellboy in Hell, and in B.P.R.D. there’s a multi-year arc called Hell on Earth. Why so grim?

MM: You know, things do look pretty grim, but I think there are more laughs in Hellboy in Hell than there are in B.P.R.D.: Hell on Earth. I think Hell is getting nicer and Earth is getting worse [laughs]. Once we figured out what we were doing, the whole point of the Hellboy/B.P.R.D. stuff has always been evolution. The kind of evolution we’re seeing on Earth is nasty evolution—part of this kind of evolution is that you have to wipe out what was there before you can replace it.

In B.P.R.D., a lot of the old ways of doing things are being replaced, and people are going to struggle against things like, you know, giant monsters coming down to re-pave the planet. Human beings are going to try to stop that. Can they do it? I don’t know. Everything is changing, and there’s a lot of destruction that goes along with it.

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola (Part Two)" »

Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola (Part One)

Before we finish the leftovers from Thanksgiving and head into December, let’s revisit one of the Best of the Month picks for November in Comics and Graphic Novels: Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola and Duncan Fegredo. Demons and dark prophecies await young Hellboy as he sneaks away to find the circus, making for a classic Hellboy tale, but the way in which Mignola weaves familiar narratives into the compact story elevates it to must-read canon. In part one of our interview with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, we discuss his narrative influences in The Midnight Cirucs, the art process, and why he dislikes the circus.

Alex Carr: The Midnight Circus stars a young Hellboy, whom we recently saw in B.P.R.D.: 1948. Was it a conscious decision to release these two stories so closely together—and why the sudden focus on Hellboy at an early age?

Mike Mignola: You know, I think that was one of those happy accidents. Since we started using young Hellboy in the B.P.R.D. stories, 1946 and 1947, it just made sense to continue in 1948, but I wasn’t thinking about that at all when I started The Midnight Circus. When I started thinking about The Midnight Circus, I was looking for something to do with [artist] Duncan Fegredo that was different than what we’d done before [in The Wild Hunt and The Storm and the Fury]. Since Duncan killed off Hellboy, I thought, “Well, let’s go to the other end of the spectrum.”

It’s set in the 1940s, so I was thinking Ray Bradbury—what does a young kid in the 1940s do? He sneaks off and goes to the circus. Obviously, I was thinking about Something Wicked This Way Comes, that coming-of-age type of thing, where you’re not a little kid anymore, but you’re not quite an adult. And of course Hellboy grows up to be a guy who’s always smoking a cigarette, so I thought about making that a moment. Is this somehow his rite of passage, you know, stealing a cigarette? So, Hellboy sneaks off and has a smoke.

And I’m a big fan of Pinocchio, the original book, and I’d always seen these funny parallels between that character and Hellboy—with the whole real-boy thing. It was an excuse to do the circus, and once I got into the circus, I didn’t really know what the hell to do because I don’t really care about the circus. But I thought it would be a chance to do my spin on Pinocchio.

AC: Well, you’ve pretty much touched upon every question I had for you about the book [laughs]. You dedicate The Midnight Circus to Ray Bradbury: “Who confirmed my worst fears about the circus.” When did you first encounter his classic, Something Wicked This Way Comes?

MM: Probably college. It remains my favorite Bradbury novel. I love that thing.

AC: I have to believe there is some sort of story behind your “worst fears about the circus.”

Continue reading "Graphic Novel Friday: Interview with Mike Mignola (Part One)" »

Happy Halloween Comics!

Happy Halloween! This special collector’s edition of Graphic Novel Friday arrives on a Thursday—just in time for the greatest holiday of them all. With no familial baggage or end of year expectations, Halloween’s all party. In keeping with that sentiment, our Top 10 Halloween comics of the fall are less about the fright and more about the groovy monster mashed-ness of the evening. Raise a dark chocolate and let’s get spooky.Witchinghour_1_

10. Marvel Zombies: The Complete Collection, Vol. 1 by Robert Kirkman, Mark Millar, Sean Philips, and more.

9. The Walking Dead, Vol. 19: March to War by Robert Kirkman and Charlie Adlard. 

8. The Witching Hour #1 by Various.COFFIN_Cv1__

7. Creepy Presents: Steve Ditko by Steve Ditko and Archie Goodwin.

6. Creepy Archives Vol. 17 by Various.

5. Revival: Deluxe Collection, Vol. 1 by Tim Seeley and Mike Norton

4. Hellboy: The Midnight Circus by Mike Mignola, Duncan Fegredo.

3. Coffin Hill #1 by Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda. 

2. The Halloween Legion: The Great Goblin Invasion by Martin Powell, Thomas Boatwright, and Diana Leto.

1. Colder by Paul Tobin and Juan Ferreyra. 

By now it’s almost sunset, Omni readers. Take a peek outside the window. Do the pumpkins look mischievous tonight? Are their grins a little grim? Maybe save a piece of candy in case the doorway darkens once more.


YA Wednesday: Cory Doctorow and Terry Pratchett: Authority and Underdogs

CarpetPeopleBest-selling author Terry Pratchett wrote The Carpet People at the tender age of 17.  Now, many years later, Pratchett has re-written the story and it's being published in its new version on November 5th.  In the author's note for The Carpet People, Pratchett refers to the novel as a joint effort between his 17-year-old self and his 43-year-old self. I couldn't help but picture a sci-fi moment after reading that...

When Pratchett sat down for a chat with one of our other favorite authors, Cory Doctorow, the result is as funny and interesting as you might expect from these two, as they discuss The Carpet People, authority, and the underdog:

CoryDoctorowCory Doctorow: The Carpet People was your first novel, and now the fortieth book in your Discworld series is about to be published. Do you think you could have kept us in the Carpet for anything like forty books?

PratchettTerry Pratchett: I was about to say, “No,” but right now I wonder. . . . If the idea had taken, I don’t know. I really don’t. But how would it be? People in the Carpet are more or less tribal. What would happen if I . . . You’ve got me thinking!

CD: You took a bunch of runs at building a world where a million stories could unfold—The Carpet People, Truckers, and, finally, Discworld. Is Discworld’s near-total untethering from our world the secret of its staying power?

TP: It isn’t our world, but on the other hand it is very much like our world. Discworld takes something from this world all the time, shows you bits of the familiar world in new light by putting them into Discworld.

CD: You write a lot of feudal scenarios, but you also seem like a fellow with a lot of sympathy for (and suspicion of!) majority rule. The Carpet People is shot through with themes of who should rule and why. Where does legitimate authority spring from?

TP: The people! The only trouble is the people can be a bit stupid--I know that; I’m one of the people, and I’m quite stupid.

CD: What should the writer’s relationship with authority be?

TP: My personal view is that you look askance at authority. Authority must be challenged at every step. You challenge authority to keep it on its toes.

CD: The Carpet People concerns itself with many questions of infrastructure and public works. Now that we’ve arrived at a time of deep austerity, what do you think the future of infrastructure is?

TP: To crack and fall away, I sometimes think. From what I see around me, it’s people doing it for themselves. We know the government is there, but we know they have no real power to do anything but mess things up, so you do workarounds.

CD: Ultimately, it comes down to the builders, the wreckers, and the free spirits.

TP: Sometimes things need tearing down—and that might be, as it were, the gates of the city. But if we talk without metaphors, I would say that building is best. Because it is inherently useful. My dad was a mechanic; maybe it starts there.

CD: One thing I’ve always enjoyed about your books with feudal settings is that it seems you get something like the correct ratio of vassals to lords. So much of fantasy seems very top-heavy. Do you consciously think about political and economic considerations when you’re devising a world?

TP: I’ve never been at home with lords and ladies, kings, and rubbish like that, because it’s not so much fun. Take a protagonist from the bottom of the heap and they’ve got it all to play for. Whereas people in high places, all they can do is, well . . . I don’t know, actually: I’ve never been that high. If you have the underdog in front of you, that means you’re going to have fun, because what the underdog is going to want to do is be the upper dog or be no dog at all.

CD: Damon Knight once told me that he thought that no matter how good a writer you are, you probably won’t have anything much to say until you’re about twenty-six (I was twenty at the time). You’ve written about collaborating with your younger self on the revised text of The Carpet People. Do you feel like seventeen-year-old Terry had much to say?

TP: That’s the best question you’ve asked all day! I think that he had a go at it, and it wasn’t bad, but that when I was younger I didn’t have the anger. It gives an outlook. And a place from which to stand. When you get out of the teens, well out of the teens, you begin to have some kind of understanding: you’ve met so many people, heard so many things, all the bits that growing up means. And out of that lot comes wisdom—it might not be very good wisdom to start with, but it will be a certain kind of wisdom. It leads to better books.

Graphic Novel Friday: Sabertooth Swordsman!

Normally, I try to feature a book close to its publication date, but in the case of Dark Horse’s Sabertooth Swordsman by Damon Gentry and Aaron Conley (out in late November) I need to talk to someone, anyone about it—-anywhere.

I’ll start with the subtitle: “And the Mayhem of the Malevolent Mastodon Mathematician.” Love. It. And it’s this spirit of self-aware humor that progresses throughout the compact hardcover, where a young farmer loses his wife to a roving band of marauders and swears revenge. It’s at this point where the farmer meets a benevolent cloud, and this cloud grants him the power and body of—yes, a Sabertooth Swordsman. From there the adventure begins, with plenty of slicing, dicing, gore, and cleaved appendages.

Over at Comics Alliance, Chris Sims likens it to “some half-remembered NES game that you would’ve gotten at a video store in 1988 because it kind of looked like a Mario game.” Exactly, only with a heavy dose of hallucinogens because the Sabertooth Swordsman traverses the surreal and mystical as often as he cuts a gushingly bloody swath. At the end of significant “boss battles,” the swordsman is awarded various upgrades (“Juice box,” chicken leg,” “laser eyes,” etc.), and yet he is constantly dismissed by locals and villains.

Damon Gentry’s script is full of quick puns (“Tiny kitten, feel my math!”), but he leaves plenty of room for Aaron Conley’s art to shred and shine. No stone is left un-pencilled in Conley’s meticulously detailed, hyper-frenetic artwork. It’s fantastic to behold and daunting to process. Due to the black, white, and  Swordsman03grey rendering, depth is occasionally lost, so images can blend within panels. This does not, however, take away from the gorgeous visuals. The reader simply has to spend a little more time with them, as there are finer points in the corners of everything. The art is so layered that it recalls Brandon Graham, so it’s no surprise that the fellow indie artist provides a pinup and blurb (“Sabertooth Swordsman is fantastic comics. It’s the kind of work I hope to find when I go into a comic shop.”), along with Mike Allred (whose pinup is great!), Johnny Ryan, John Arcudi, and more.

My enthusiasm got the best of me—I cannot wait to talk about Sabertooth Swordsman. It's one for wishlists and the comics fan in your life who loves the weird and beautiful. I recommend being an early adopter here, ahead of the (scimitar's) curve. This one’s all animal.


Rick Riordan on Percabeth and "The House of Hades"

HouseOfHades300Today is the day Rick Riordan fans have been waiting for--the release of Book 4 in the Heroes of Olympus series, The House of Hades.   This book lives up to the promise of the last three (after an early read we chose it as a Best Book of the Month for October) and jumps in right where The Mark of Athena left off, with Percy and Annabeth plunging toward to their death in Tartarus while the rest of the demigods try to find their way to the House of Hades and the mortal side of the Doors of Death.

Riordan introduces some great new characters: twin dwarves who like to steal shiny objects; Hecate, the goddess of magic and the crossroads; and brings back characters from earlier books--you may remember a certain vampire cheerleader and an Einstein-haired Titan named Bob?  The same trademark puns and humor that I've loved in all of the Percy Jackson books are still going strong, and The House of Hades is packed with new adventures and twists, including a showdown with Cupid that reveals Nico's dark secret, and Frank Zhang's true test of leadership.  And the end?  Well, let's just say that there is more to be done and another amazing book to look forward to...

In the interview below, I talked with Rick Riordan (one of the nicest authors ever) about The House of Hades, Percabeth (think Brangelina), how his life has changed--or not--since he wrote The Lightning Thief, and the next Riordan to become an author. 


YA Wednesday: Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner

Steelheart200 EyeOfMinds200Brandon Sanderson and James Dashner are no strangers to best seller lists, and both have big things happening right now, including the release of their fantastic new books.  We loved them both-- Sanderson's Steelheart  was a September Best of the Month pick and Dashner's The Eye of Minds is on the list for October

Both novels are the first in a new series, and Sanderson's, first foray into writing young adult novels.  Steelheart is an amazing, futuristic, action packed story with comic book style heroes and villains, though it isn't a comic or graphic novel.  I wasn't sure this was a book for me, but I was totally wrong, and loved it.  I'm already a huge fan of Dashner's Maze Runner series so was super excited to read The Eye of Minds, the first book of his new Mortality Doctrine series.  Once again Dashner has created a world that you can't help but get immersed in--this time the hyper-techno world of a virtual reality game that has a very real killer.   

YA authors tend to be a close knit bunch, so it did not surprise me to learn that Sanderson and Dashner are not only colleagues but friends.  The photo here is a shot of them at this year's Comic-con where they sat down for us to have a chat about their new books:

Sanderson_Dashner_ComiconJames Dashner: Brandon, you’re perhaps best known for your adult books—Mistborn, The Way of Kings, and particularly for finishing Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time series. However, recently you’ve undertaken several projects for younger readers. Why is that? How does it feel to be entering into the world of YA fiction? How does it differ from writing for an adult audience? How do you possibly think you can compete with your friend, James Dashner?

Brandon Sanderson: I've known this guy James Dashner for so long, and he was such an inspiration to me, and I thought, if this joker can do it, then I can too! The sci-fi/fantasy genre is what made a reader out of me, and it has a long history of crossing the line between YA and adult fiction. For example, you mentioned The Wheel of Time. In the early books, the main protagonists are all teenagers. Are these books YA? The publishers don't classify them that way. They’re shelved with the adult fantasy books. Books like that have influenced me in that some of the stories I tell fit into the mold that society says will package well as YA books. Other stories I tell—that are a thousand pages long—don’t seem to fit that mold. But I don’t sit down and say, “I’m writing for a teen audience now. I need to change my entire style.” Instead, I say, “This project and the way I’m writing it feels like it would work well for a teen audience.”

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Graphic Novel Friday: LGBT in Comics

Since 1997 (although their efforts date back to the late 1980s), the Lambda Literary Foundation “nurtures, celebrates, and preserves LGBT literature through programs that honor excellence, promote visibility and encourage development of emerging writers.” Their scope expanded last week with the following good news for comics fans:

"For the first time ever, the Lambda Literary Awards will honor LGBT Graphic Novels in their own category in keeping with the explosion of titles, and talent, that have enriched LGBT literature for years. The new LGBT Graphic Novels category is defined as “any work –fiction or nonfiction– that uses a combination of words and sequential art to convey a narrative and is published in book form (as distinguished from periodical comic books). Open to any genre or topic this category includes graphic novels, graphic memoirs and comic anthologies.”

While we wait for the award winners to be announced in spring of 2014, here is a list of our favorite graphic novels that have LGBT themes and/or characters. It’s by no means comprehensive, and we’re hoping Omni readers will add their favorites to the comments!

  • Love and Rockets by Los Bros Hernandez (Fantagraphics): Ongoing for over 30 years, the rich world created by an artistic band of brothers is still ahead of its time, involving LGBT characters and issues without pandering or overt “special messages.” These are life stories, told as life unfolds—with humor, heartbreak, and perseverance.  (See also the recent and very cool Covers collection and our reading guide to the series.)
  • Dykes to Watch Out for by Alison Bechdel (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Here is another long-running literary comics staple, this time focusing on a predominantly lesbian cast that ages and grows as the stories publish.
  • Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III (DC Comics): DC certainly made headlines when it announced the first openly lesbian character in the Bat-family, but Rucka and Williams transformed her into more than a costumed hero; she’s imbued with true character, full of pride, mistakes, and—yes—heroics.
  • Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse (Vertigo): Set in the early 1960s and in the American South, protagonist Toland Polk maneuvers his sexuality in a tumultuous time period, set against civil rights, racism, activism, and coming-out culture.
  • Wandering Son by Shimura Takako and Matt Thorn (Fantagraphics): This beautiful literary manga follows the lives of two fifth graders, Shuichi Nitori Yoshino Takatsuki, as they both question their gender identities in the wide-eyed and often cruel period of adolescence.

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YA Wednesday: Nancy Farmer on "The Lord of Opium"

LordOfOpiumIt's been 11 years since Nancy Farmer's The House of the Scorpion was released, a book so well loved and admired that it won the National Book Award for Young People's Literature and was both a Printz Honor and Newbery Honor title.  After all this time, I was amazed when I heard that this year she would publish the sequel and I crossed my fingers that it would live up to the high bar of the first book. The Lord of Opium was worth the wait, and this Best Teen & YA book of September delivers a gripping read with contemporary themes, twists, and fully realized characters.  I think now I'm going to go back to The House of the Scorpion, just to do it all over again.  

I was reading some of Nancy Farmer's blog posts about The Lord of Opium and one thing that struck me was that this was not the original title, and in fact the title she wanted got shot down.  I think it's always fascinating to hear the backstory when the final title is not what the author originally intended, so we asked Farmer to tell us a little more about the evolution of this one.  Coincidentally, there is a connection to the Burning Man festival, which happened just a couple weeks ago.

One of the first things authors do when writing a book is to name it. This is called “the working title,” and it often doesn’t survive to publication. The House of the Scorpion was originally called Mi Vida, the Life of a Clone. My editor, Richard Jackson, sent it to Ursula K. Le Guin, and the first thing she said was, “That’s an AWFUL title. Get rid of it.” So I did. I think she was right. I believe she has been credited with the new name, but, in fact, I came up with it.

The working title for The Lord of Opium was God’s Ashtray. I was writing about ecological disaster, and the image of a giant ashtray with a monster cigarette butt sticking out of it appealed to me. It was as though God had finally gotten tired of His troublesome people and was in the process of stubbing them out. Alas, Richard Jackson didn’t like the name. He thought it was too provocative, and he suggested The Lord of Opium.  I said that was a wimpy idea.

I put the title up on my blog, and an argument erupted. Some readers said their parents would never let them have a book called God’s Ashtray. Others swore they would read the novel because it would annoy their parents.

Now, God’s Ashtray is a real place. It is the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. Once a year, about seventy thousand artists, hippies, and marijuana smokers descend upon it and create the Burning Man festival. They build art objects, blast the peaceful desert air with loud speakers, and run around naked. I have never been to it because I don’t like living with naked people who haven’t bathed for a week. At the end of the festival, most of the art objects are burned down. The organizers of the event pick up every bit of trash and restore Black Rock to its original state.

The Black Rock Desert is called God’s Ashtray because nothing grows there. It’s completely barren. When it rains, nothing sprouts and the whole place turns into a giant pot of glue. I find this desolation attractive. Unfortunately, the editor and the publisher agreed that religious people would object to the idea of God smoking a giant cigarette and stubbed out my brilliant title. Or perhaps they looked up the original place called God’s Ashtray and discovered what went on there. --Nancy Farmer

YA Wednesday: Holly Black Resurrects Vampires

ColdestGirlSo, we've all heard for the last couple of years that vampires are dead in YA (no pun intended), but Holly Black's new novel, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown puts a twist on the genre that is as relevant and refreshing as the cover image. This book made me love vampires again and easily earned a spot as one of the Best Teen & Young Adult Books of September

A vampire plague results in the creation of Coldtowns, where the monsters are quarantined along with those who join them in hopes of becoming one of the undead themselves or who just want to escape their lives for a community where anything goes.  Black's novel is a clever combination of horror--I'm telling you, you will experience blood with a multitude of senses--and urban fantasy with a YA heroine who kicks ass but also has more typical teenage girl vulnerabilities and desires.

I recently sat down with Holly (who is, by the way, a blue-haired bombshell) in our Seattle offices, and we talked about The Coldest Girl in Coldtown.  My first question was the one I'd been asking myself since I heard about the new book (you can read the rest after the jump):

Why write vampires now?

The answer was not so simple, but I think Black hit the nail on the head when she said, "...there’s never been a time in the marketplace when vampires were either so big you would have to be nuts to write a vampire book because there are so many out there and they are so great that how could you ever possibly write one to compete or they’re so over that you would have to be crazy to write a vampire book because no one could ever possibly reinvent the genre again.  And I have seen vampires go from one to the other, to the other, to the other, to the other, and I realized there was never going to be a good time to write a vampire book so I might as well just write one." 

In her acknowledgements, Black calls The Coldest Girl in Coldtown "a love letter" to all the vampire novels she read growing up.  If you're like me, you want to know more about that.  When I asked the question I never thought part of the story would involve vampire Barbies. But it does.

"Well, when I was really little my mom told me that Dracula was the most frightening book that she had ever read and she described the Count outside the castle climbing on the wall and how weird and unnatural it was and I was too young to have read the book, but it lodged in my mind and terrified me.

I was a very easily terrified kid, so I actually I had these Barbies and I turned a bunch of them into vampires so they would be good vampires and they would protect me from the bad vampires that were clearly out there ready to get me and from there I had sort of a fascination because I grew to really like my little vampire stories with my vampire Barbies and then I wound up reading Dracula which turned out not to be as frightening as my mom had built it up to be because I had made it in my mind, you know, the scariest thing possible..."

Continue reading "YA Wednesday: Holly Black Resurrects Vampires" »

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