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Interview: Justin Giddings and Ryan Welsh of OUTPOST (an Epic Sci-Fi Adventure).

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Thunderclap

 

Hey, Guys!

This week I was given the opportunity to gather some intel from Justin Giddings and Ryan Welsh, the co-writers and co-directors of OUTPOST, a new Sci-Fi film that is in the process of being made right at this very moment (literally, as you’re reading this). These fellows have promised space, love, and — get this – an outpost! Going with the futuristic trend, Justin and Ryan are taking the very modern approach to producing their film by raising the funds through a crowd-funding project set up on IndieGoGo, where they managed to raise ten-thousand dollars in a mere three days. I believe that is internet for “a lot of people believe in these dream and you should, too.”

In fact, to encourage you to donate, these guys have come up with some seriously fancy perks ranging from DVDs, top-secret internet parties, to a coffee and pie date (with both of them, I might add). Really, even if you don’t like Sci-Fi movies, you should donate just to get one of their ridiculously awesome perks.

For more details on OUTPOST and the fundraiser, or to donate: click here.

 

Now, here’s what these charming lads had to say about their super interesting film-in-progress:

 

1) If we could, I would like to start with any details that you would like to share with our audience, and an elaboration on the source of all of the passion that you guys are feeling for this project. Is this just a love of SciFi in general, or is this project in particular special to you?

Great question, Daliya! It’s a combination of both, we’d say. For us, science fiction provides a way to step back from anything we currently know and allow our imaginations to set the scene for our characters. It allows us to make our own playground where we can have as many swings and slides as we want. Even the very laws of physics as we currently understand them are able to be set aside in order to tell a story about the human condition. So sci-fi itself definitely gets the creativity pumping, and that’s awesome.
But the passion runs deeper for a few reasons. First off, we’re really passionate about the story. When we set out to write this, we were determined to try to write a story that wasn’t based on a cool concept or the VFX, but was built around the intensity of the characters. Gordon and ARIA have such a deep love for each other, but it seems destined to fail and so they desperately try to ignore it – until something dangerous and otherworldly threatens them and they’re forced to face their fears. (Plus, the end is killer. I mean, we literally get misty-eyed when we read through it and we WROTE the darn thing.)
Another reason for the passion is very practical; despite having successful careers as actors, it’s a job where 10 people have to say yes before you get to work as a creative artist. Making our own work gives us creative control and to work on such a scale is such a blessing. Add to that being supported by our friends and family and it feels like we are not alone but part of an artistic movement together as we strive to share our creative voice and vision.
2) Your idea seems very unique and I’m not really mentally connecting it to anything else (maybe Mass Effect, but that’s a stretch), and I noticed that you two mentioned a lot of other SciFi films in your indiegogo video, so I was wondering if you had any specific film or book inspirations for this film’s story?
While the idea came to us pretty well-formed, films like Moon and The Abyss were a huge part of the stylistic inspiration. The idea of isolation, loneliness, and the danger being off-screen spoke to us because then the story remains a human story. Even with our “Beings” as we’re calling them, the focus has been on what they represent rather than their look or design. At one point, we had a pretty elaborate fight scene, but we soon realized there’s no way we could afford it and, when forced to consider a different path, we eventually landed on something we like more because the conflict doesn’t become about fighting off a big bad alien, but the threat they represent to Citizen Gordon and ARIA’s relationship. Moon is a movie set on the Moon, but it’s not about the moon. The Abyss is a constant looming threat/curiosity, but we watch the people dealing with it, not a bunch of CGI sequences. Another film we love is Danny Boyle’s Sunshine. That movie has beautiful imagery with a planet-ending threat looming over them, but the story is really about whether or not the crew will be able to stick together long enough to save humanity.
3) It seems that the relationship in this story is one of the main focal points. Should the audience expect a typical style of romance, or do you guys feel like you might be creating a new, original romantic image for your audience?
We don’t know that we’re creating a wholly new type of love story, just taking a slightly different perspective. Love is a courageous thing to do, especially when it’s not in a conventional way, or in a socially acceptable way – that’s something we wanted to explore with both these characters. The idea of a boy and his robot is a standard sci-fi trope, but it’s always felt like the differences were highlighted. We want to highlight the similarities. We’re also touching on a deeper question of what it means to be alive – the character of ARIA has only recently become fully sentient so her journey is particularly unique.
4) As stated in your video, you have a lot of big names working on your project. What brought your team together? 
Passion. From day one we have been passionate about this project and so we’ve attracted other passionate people who turn around and constantly inspire and surprise us. For example, in picking our cinematographer Idan Menin, we have a perfect story to illustrate what we’re talking about. Idan had found our project early on and had begun messaging us early in the process expressing his interest. We liked his reel, but we were months away from any sort of application process. As we got closer to the Indiegogo campaign, we knew we wanted an actual DP to shoot our pitch video, so I reached out to him with the script and a request for help. We set a date for a coffee meeting and when we show up to casually chat about an Indiegogo movie, he pulls out a digital look book and begins to paint an incredible vision of the film as he saw it. He was right on with the images in our heads and incredibly enthusiastic, so when we left, I (Justin) called Ryan and said, “Can we just hire him?” And we did!
5) Previously you said that it takes a good amount of people to get something like this off the ground and running. Do you feel like your entire team shares the same vision, or are you all bringing a collection of different ideas and perspectives together?
It’s shared. If we could magically wave a wand and create the exact movie we have in our heads, it would never be as good as a movie born of the creative collaboration of many talented artists. Every department head and the crew they bring with them are carefully chosen because we know they will have a signature on this film, too. If we had to brag, it would probably be that we are good at finding good people.
6) You said that you want to primarily focus on humanity and human emotions in a new setting. What, in your words, would you like the audience to take away from your film?
We’d love for our audience to leave really contemplating on Gordon’s dilemma – to fight for all of mankind, a mankind that is recognizably flawed and distant, or to fight for the singular thing that makes him a man – love of an individual. Moreover, it’s an individual he’s not supposed to love! Also, there’s some big Easter eggs in the short that hint at a much more complicated and layered story we hope to present in the feature and we’d love those questions to be burning in the audience as well.
7) You guys managed to get a great deal of funding in a short amount of time, which seems to show that plenty of people believe in this production. How does that make you guys feel? Did you expect a turnout like that?
The turnout so far has been incredibly encouraging. Despite months of preparation getting to our launch date, you never really know how the public is going to respond so it’s incredibly humbling to see people responding the way they are. We have a quote that has been our mantra of sorts: be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid. We know that $60,000 is a lot to raise, but we also know that passion is contagious. So much of what we see in the entertainment industry now is about the bottom line and I think people long for stories that are about more than that. We are boldly placing our film in the hands of the audience instead of the studios and trusting that they will carry us through. When they do, our obligation is then to entertain and inspire THEM instead of meet a bottom line.
8) Individually, what was the first SciFi film, show, or book that really started your passion for this genre?
Justin: This one is easy: Ender’s Game. I remember being a kid and reading that book and being in awe of the deftness with which that story was told. It manages to achieve exactly what I want to achieve in storytelling. The story of Ender’s Game isn’t about space or aliens or cool technology – it’s about Ender. How does a boy become a man? How do you deal with pressure when you simply have to and there’s no escaping it? What is it like for people to depend on you but they keep you isolated? See, these are all very human and universal problems. It just so happens to be set in space from the perspective of a young boy. In terms of film, Star Wars. I got started in acting doing voice overs as a kid and I would get these checks that no 11 year old should be receiving and I would go blow it all buying Star Wars toys and card games that I would leave in their packages so they would grow in value. I’m a nut.
Ryan: There have been many films over the years that have deeply impacted me and shaped my perception of the genre (The Abyss, Alien, Event Horizon, to name a few) but I think it was watching anime on Saturday mornings as a kid. The Sci-Fi Channel used to air an anime film everySaturday morning at 11AM - I was consistently awed by the worlds created in those films, whether sci-fi or fantasy. Those films did more to inspire imagination and creativity in me than probably anything else to date. Funny thing is, I hardly ever watched anime s I got older, but it created a foundation of appreciation for Science Fiction.
9) Obviously crowd-funding is a unique approach for film-making. Do you feel like you can produce something more specific to your image since you are in complete control of the production?
There are certainly pros and cons to the process. As you mentioned, creative control is a HUGE plus, but there is also a lot of uncertainty in the process that can be challenging. Even with Outpost, there are a number of things as it relates to producing the film that we simply cannot move forward on until we know what our working budget is – so that can be a challenge, the unknown as it were.  Honestly though, we think it’s a big win for everybody in the end; there just isn’t another way of making films right now that involves and connects you to your audience like crowd funding.
10) Given that you are in complete control of the production, do you guys feel that you might be able to make a SciFi film that caters more to the average person by bypassing the demands and limitations placed upon major film productions?
Yes – kind of. Ha! We had an investor who had seen our first film and offered to bank roll our second film. He eventually needed to step out for personal reasons, but during the process it was very educational to see that the moment you bring in a money person, certain expectations have to be met. With that element gone, we are able to be true to our vision. We want to tell a story that means something to us – we can only hope that if we tell it true, in a voice that’s true, that it will mean something to our audience. It is true that it allows us to tell the story without worrying about whether we’re blowing up enough stuff or how long since we’ve had a spot of nudity or a sex scene. Good news is, we still blow up some stuff in Outpost so I think it’ll satisfy that taste, too!
11) What are you guys the most excited about for this film?
Blowing stuff up, haha! We’re kidding, of course! What excites us beyond the story aspect is the scope and style of the film that we’re going to be able to achieve on a very small budget. We think people will look at this and be blown away by the visuals and style and be even more blown away when we tell them we got away with it for $60k. We’re so excited about how this film is going to look, we’ve started story boarding and working with our DP and VFX Supervisor and believe this film is going to be stunning. The best part is that it’s still in service of the heart of the film, the story of Gordon and Aria. And blowing stuff up…:)
12) If you could say one thing to a potential viewer to convince them to see your film, what would you say?
Outpost will satisfy on every level, it will stay with you. Plus, it’s frickin’ badass! Space! Love! Robots! Aliens! Explosions! A little something for everyone.
13) What do you want everyone to know about this film?
We can’t make it without you, the reader! When you help us out with a donation or a social media share, you are, in a very real way, becoming a part of this process. That’s not lip-service, that’s a simple statement of fact. So, when you sit back and watch this film, on some level you’ll know it’s there because you willed it so! You can point at a 60 foot screen, turn to your friend and say, “I made that.”
14) Give us your favorite nerdy saying or quote.
Ryan: ["You cannot pass," he said. The orcs stood still, and a dead silence fell. "I am a servant of the Secret Fire, wielder of the flame of Anor. You cannot pass. The dark fire will not avail you, flame of Udûn. Go back to the Shadow! You cannot pass.”] Seriously, one of the most badass things ever said.
Justin: I’ve got two choices: “Do or do not, there is no try.” and my second one is similar to Ryan’s: “Sir Ian Sir Ian Sir Ian ACTION Wizard You shall not pass CUT Sir Ian Sir Ian Sir Ian.

Aaaand, that’s a wrap.

If you’re not sold on Ryan and Justin’s new film by this point, you might actually have the heart of a Death Eater.
Assuming you’re not pure evil with a side of too-much-hair-product, you can donate and learn more about this project here.
Thanks again to Justin and Ryan for this wonderful interview. I hope you achieve your own version of cinematic perfection!
Daliya Risik
@TasteTheChaos
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Book Review/Interview: A Taste of Blood Wine

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Book Review / Interview: A Taste of Blood Wine by Freda Warrington

Review / Interview by Prof. Jenn

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There are so very many vampires running around in pop culture these days. Between True Blood and the Vampire Diaries, and the continued popularity of Twilight (and does anybody still read Anne Rice?) we are inundated with the sexy undead these days. So why would Titan Press want to republish a vampire book, into the midst of the maelstrom? What does A Taste of Blood Wine have that makes it a worthwhile reading endeavor?

One word: character. This is not a romantic and mystical Dracula knockoff falling in love with an ingenue with no personality. This is a realistically-drawn female nerd who still has a healthy dose of fear for the main vampire character even after she sleeps with him. The vampire himself is downloadscience-minded (I mean, doesn’t it totally make sense that an immortal undead bloodsucker would try and use science to figure out how the heck this is happening to him?) and not at all whiny and apologetic about being what he is. He’s no brooding Edward or whining Louis, but a real person, still grieving for his family in completely realistic ways, and yes okay he happens to be beautiful, but isn’t it wonderful that he falls for the nerd, not her social butterfly sister?

The setting, too, is something unusual–we don’t get typical Victorian or contemporary society, but England in the 1920s. What a compelling scene, to see our friendly neighborhood vampire strolling across the WWI battlefield, finishing off some wounded for his existential crisis lunch. The Crystal Ring, which connects vampires to their geography in this universe, is also a compelling concept, as is the use and flouting of traditional vampire tropes.

The vampires of Blood Wine can exist in sunlight, though they don’t sparkle. They cannot be killed but fire or stakes in the heart, but can be crippled and rendered useless by extreme cold (and indeed killed by some forms of extreme cold, as we see. No spoilers here!). It’s fascinating to see how the various vampires have dealt with their “condition” in a realistic way: from Karl’s pragmatism in the face of grief, to Kristian’s insane self-worship and cult following, to Ilona’s pure rage, and then of course our hero Charlotte’s love-fueled choice, it’s all compelling.

Bottom Line: A Taste of Blood Wine is a great read. Highly recommended.

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Now, please to enjoy the below interview with author Freda Warrington.

5 Questions: Freda Warrington

Interview by Prof. Jenn

1)      With all the vampire craziness happening these days (between the popular TV shows and Twilight), what made you desire to add your own take to the lore?

Actually my Blood Wine series was originally written and published in the early 1990s, long before the explosion of Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and other more recent vampire fiction! In fact I began the first, A Taste of Blood Wine, way back in the 1980s as escapism from a difficult period of my life. So my influences were old school: the Hammer Horror films with a brooding Christopher Lee, the original Dracula novel, and Carmilla (by JS LeFanu) along with a selection of classic stories and the first couple of Anne Rice novels. Why did I want to add my own take to the genre?

             Well, I’d long been fascinated by the vampire as a lonely, mysterious, dangerous yet intelligent and strangely attractive figure… However, I was frustrated that he or she was always a monster to be hunted down and staked. Ms Rice brought new life to the lore by showing vampires as thinking, feeling beings with their own story to tell. Part of their tragedy was that any kind of relationship with humans – other than predator and prey – became impossible. But I wondered, what would it be like if you could break through that barrier, despite the difficulties, and come to know this mysterious stranger as an equal?

             So I did what I always do when I can’t find the story I want to read. I wrote it myself!

             Obviously, human-vampire relationships and romances are commonplace now, but when I first started A Taste of Blood Wine, it was something quite fresh and unusual. My shy heroine Charlotte meets the devastatingly gorgeous, enigmatic Karl. At first he terrifies her, then gradually he begins to fascinate her…

             The three books – A Taste of Blood Wine, A Dance in Blood Velvet, and The Dark Blood of Poppies – were first published in the UK by Pan Macmillan. They went out of print for a number of years, despite many plaintive emails from readers who wanted them and couldn’t find them. In fact I was just on the point of reissuing the series myself, when Titan Books stepped in and republished them in gorgeous new covers. I’m also writing a brand new fourth one, The Dark Arts of Blood. If you look at my website, www.fredawarrington.com, you’ll find all the details.

2)      The early ‘20s is an unusual time period to experience as a vampire novel setting. What made you choose this era?

When I wrote the earliest version of A Taste of Blood Wine I actually set it in the 18th century! Later, when I came to rewrite it, I found that time period too Georgette Heyer-ish. I wanted something more modern – so my characters could zoom around in cars if need be! – but not too modern. I settled on the 1920s as a period that had not been overused, a decade with a perfect blend of old and new. You’ve got the Edwardian world morphing into the modern world, scientific advances being made, women starting to achieve emancipation. It’s a period of glamour, but also of horror, because the shadow of the First World War still hangs over everything. The social changes of the ‘20s mirror the internal journey that Charlotte makes as she develops from being a shy, suppressed individual into becoming her true self.

3)      What lies in store for us in the sequels to A Taste of Blood Wine?

Ooh, without giving too much away… For a start, I couldn’t drag out the “will-she, won’t-she” tension of whether Charlotte will become a vampire over three or four books. In fact it never occurred to me to do so, because I wrote the first book as a one-off. So A Dance in Blood Velvet begins to explore the complications and difficulties of actually being a vampire. Not least the pain of leaving her family behind – every choice my characters make carries a price, and I’d also like to point out that these are vampires who are NOT AFRAID TO BE VAMPIRES! No abstinence or living on animal blood for them!

             So just to give a flavour – an old flame of Karl’s intrudes unexpectedly into their new life, in such a wretched state that Karl can’t abandon her. Feeling insecure and rejected, Charlotte becomes fascinated and then disastrously obsessed by a prima ballerina, Violette Lenoir. However, Violette has secrets of her own, not least a mystical connection with the dark goddess Lilith. There’s also a pair of rival occultists in the mix – very much in keeping with trends of the 1920s! – who really stir things up for Karl and Charlotte.

             As for book three, The Dark Blood of Poppies, that will be issued in May 2014 in the UK and October 2014 in the USA. You can see the cover on my website, it’s stunning – all blood-red and “Black Swan” style gothic gorgeousness! Anyway – it continues the story of Karl, Charlotte and Violette, and also introduces a different flavour of vampire-human romance in the form of the bitter, twisted vampire Sebastian, and the warm, passionate, but equally-screwed-up-in-a-different-way American beauty Robyn. If you want power struggles, tragic romance, painful voyages of self-discovery, sex, death and general mayhem, look no further!

             I don’t want to say too much about the new one, The Dark Arts of Blood, as it’s still a work in progress, but I’ll try… Just as Karl and Charlotte think they’ve reached a state of equilibrium, a new menace arises that may be connected to a guilty secret in Karl’s past. Meanwhile, Violette tries to hold her ballet company together when her principal male dancer, the splendid, egotistical and irreplaceable Emil, goes off the rails in spectacular fashion and disappears… This one is set in 1927 and has silent films, the rise of fascism (but not where you might expect it) and yet more fraught relationships, murder, madness and mystery. In fact I think this one will turn out to be more of a mystery story than the first three… wait and see!

4)      It’s a brilliant stroke to have our main vampire protagonist exploring the science behind his condition—trying to find a solution or an explanation. Do you have a scientific explanation set in your head for your universe, or are you discovering along with Karl?

You could say I’m discovering along with Karl and Charlotte! I have an explanation that’s more metaphysical than scientific, although it could turn out to be scientific on a quantum level. See my answer to the next question…

5)      Discuss the fascinating concept of the Crystal Ring a little more for our readers.

The Crystal Ring is a parallel dimension of reality that my vampires can enter. This enables them to vanish, to escape danger, and to travel rapidly to distant places (so they’re not arousing suspicion by feeding in the same area all the time). More than that, it’s deeply entwined with whatever strange force makes my vampires, vampires. I can’t exactly remember where my idea for the Crystal Ring came from but I think it was partly inspired by the paintings of John Martin, and just from looking at the sky – you know when clouds form amazing shapes that resemble mountains you could actually walk on? Oh – and also a documentary about certain sea creatures (sharks or rays, I think) being able to perceive the Earth’s magnetic field and use it to navigate. I thought, what if my vampires could do that?

   The Crystal Ring, also known as Raqia, is an unearthly place like a stunningly beautiful sky-scape, but semi-liquid, so they can more or less float or fly through it. Basically it occupies the same space as the sky. It’s not somewhere the vampires actually live. In fact it can be dangerous, because if they stay too long they become torpid and unable to escape back to Earth. The very highest level, called the “Weisskalt”, is so icy cold that a vampire could be frozen there forever – a fact that plays a big part in the plot, naturally.

             The nature of this mysterious realm defies science, so Karl struggles to find an answer. Each character has his or her own theory. For example, the megalomaniac Kristian in the first book, a religious zealot who believes vampires to be “instruments of God”, insists that the Crystal Ring is the actual mind of God. Others, with more of a guilty conscience, might think it’s a layer of Hell. Charlotte comes up with a more plausible theory – as rational as something so weird can be – but I’m afraid you’ll have to read the books to find out!

Book Review: The Ninja Mind

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This review/interview has appeared on Bonzuko (aka Daily Cross-Swords)

I recently was given the honor of reviewing former colleague Kevin Casey’s new book The Ninja Mind. Enjoy the review below and the interview with Mr. Casey following.   ~Prof. Jenn

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Book Review: The Ninja Mind by Kevin Casey

Martial arts centered books tend to slant in one of two directions: either the spiritual side of things (which makes many of them read like self-help books), or the physical side (which turns them into a how-to manual for instructional use). Casey manages to combine both sides in The Ninja Mind, along with a generous throughline of personal narrative. It’s difficult to define this book therefore: it’s part instruction, as he describes various exercises one can try on one’s own; part memoir, as he recounts memories of his earliest forays into the exploration of the kuji studies in his martial art; part ode to his instructor, which to be honest turns into a bit of a Stephen K. Hayes worship-fest; and part storytelling, with the ninjamindaddition of the Hanzo tale at the end of the book.

This makes for an interesting mix, for sure, and each chapter is in bite-sized chunks, so anyone who is interested in the work can digest and manage each bit thoroughly before moving on to the next. It’s also a good move on Casey’s part to focus so much on his personal journey, as especially since he’s writing about a mental, spiritual practice (not mere physical technique), it perforce can’t really be explained other than on the individual level. His personal narration puts us there with him as he describes various fears, obstacles, and the overcoming of such.

The main problem with The Ninja Mind is the near-fawning over (albeit excellent martial arts teacher) Stephen K. Hayes. It of course makes sense that one would admire one’s teacher and, in the style of memoir, describe one’s impressions of him/experiences in learning, etc. But it goes just that much too far into putting Hayes on the demigod-guru-worship-pedestal, which tends to be off-putting in the midst of such sincere recounting of personal growth.

Bottom Line: If you can get past the teacher-worship and enjoy the personal narrative, The Ninja Mind is a detailed foray into one practitioner’s journey through the depth of martial arts spirituality in practice.

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MinInterview: Kevin Casey

1) what made you choose To-Shin Do in the first place? What makes you stay with it as an art?

Unlike many of my friends that had followed ninja legends since youth, I seemed to stumble across this lineage as a series of random events. However, within just a couple of months, as a brand-new white belt in 1998, I realized that there were some larger forces at work that brought me to To-Shin Do. I had been looking for a very authentic and embodied spiritual path since early childhood. By the end of college, I had explored many different spiritual traditions and found them all to be either institutionally fossilized or irresponsibly unhinged. In frustration, I gave up on being part of a community of seekers and became determined to forge my own path to inner and outer spiritual truth. Just at that moment, I found To-Shin Do, and I was amazed to see that it already embodied so much of what I was trying to define for myself.

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Kevin and Jenn, To Shin Do graduation, 2009.

Now I’ve moved past the validation stage of trying to determine whether the lineage is legitimate and I am worthy. I’ve had a chance to get oriented within the landscape of To-Shin Do and the massive backstory of the ninja tradition. With that framework in place, I can really explore and develop myself as an artist and a seeker. The advanced stages of ninja training are a conversation between teachers and students, helping the students evoke their own potential in the most authentic way. My teachers provide the support, experiences and wisdom to help me realize the inner vision that was a whisper in my heart from my earliest memories.

2) why did you include the Hattori Hanzo anecdote at the end of the book?

The fiction piece at the end of the story seems to polarize readers – they either immediately resonate with it, or find it strange and out of place.

I see three major ways of relating to spiritual reality. One way I call the mythical way, where we gather stories that give the emotion and energy of the spiritual lessons. The stories are usually fantastical, over-the-top, and bring the lessons vividly to life. They are usually understood not to be literally true or historical. The Hanzo fiction is an example of this.

The second way I call the rational way. This is where we study and explain spiritual experience. This is exemplified by psychological and social analysis of how spiritual experiences work and what benefits they give us. It’s very detailed and intellectual.

The third way I call the mystical way. The mystical way is an integration and transcendence of the mythical way and the rational way. It brings the observational precision and intelligence of the rational way, but it infuses our literal, living histories with spiritual significance and emotion like the mythical way. We are the heroes of our stories. This is ultimately what I would like to offer to my readers.

The difficulty is, the mystical way is hard to transmit.  Some will need a lot of explanation and data because they are rationally inclined. Others will need a lot of stories and emotion because they are mythically inclined. The Hanzo fiction is there to address that latter group.

I’ll teasingly half-share one more secret… the fiction is not entirely fiction. Fiction can be a place to record stories that are so outrageous that no one would believe they were true.

3) will there be more books addressing the other 8 kuji?

Indeed there will be. I have outlines developed for each of the other eight Kuji books, with lists of stories and examples from my life and others’. As my personal journey continues, I acquire more stories to fill in. An-Shu Hayes and I are having exciting discussions about Kuji book 2, and I have a first draft developed. I hope to submit something to my publisher next spring.

At this point, I feel I have something significant, clear and implementable to share about the first four Kuji powers (Strength, Energy, Dragon-Riding, and Healing). For Kuji five and six (Danger Sensing and Telepathy), I have great and clear stories, but not yet an organized platform for others to try it out.  For Kuji seven and beyond, I have amazing stories, but I need a great deal more research to understand them. Luckily, each book takes almost two years, so expect the Ninja Mind of Invisibility around 2029. I should have a little more information by then.

4) have you ever studied other martial arts? Spiritual arts? If so, how do they compare/contrast with To Shin Do? 

I have never been a committed long-term student of any other martial or spiritual systems.  I have done workshop

Kevin and Jenn in To Shin Do seminar, 2008.

Kevin and Jenn in To Shin Do seminar, 2008.

training in boxing, fencing, judo, karate, tae kwon do, muay thai, kyudo, and kung fu. I’ve stopped in at Zen centers, Shambhala training, Catholic monasteries, shamanic drumming circles, Wiccan study groups and Jewish temples. I’ve also spent a bit of time here and there with my “cousins” in other branches of the ninja tradition and in Japanese Tendai and Tibetan Buddhist lineages, without formally being a student in those organizations.

I enjoyed all of those explorations, and I found I was never tempted to leave my home in To-Shin Do. There were attributes I admired in other approaches, and because To-Shin Do is intentionally a living framework that evolves with the individual and the culture, I could incorporate those attributes into how I train and how I teach.

To-Shin Do, and its root art of ninjutsu, emphasizes adaptability. This seems to be in contrast to most tradition-oriented systems. Yes, of course, we want to leverage the wisdom and past experiences of our lineage, so in that sense there is a tradition of passed-down methods, but the real heart of the ninja tradition is an unrelenting focus on what works and a commitment to discovering that in changing conditions. As such, we study principles and concepts from history, and then seek to manifest those ideals in the most tangible, meaningful and effective way.

The result of that, when done well, is a profound sanity and capability. To-Shin Do is not immune to the organizational neuroses of every human endeavor, but our values eventually navigate us out of it, or navigate the neurotic out of To-Shin Do.

5) to the extent that you feel comfortable, express how your recent life upheavals have informed your practice as it is laid out in your book. 

This year was brutal. It was without a doubt the toughest year of my life so far, and I won’t be surprised if it stands as the toughest year of this lifetime.  I’ll tell some of my stories in Book 2.

These experiences forced me to look in the mirror long and hard. Are these practices real? Do they hold up under major crisis?

Although the practices are magical, they do not magically solve your problems. Although they increase confidence, focus, and personal power, they do not remove all suffering from life. In truth, you mostly still have to solve all your problems in fairly ordinary ways.

The difference is, with these practices, you’ll actually get around to it. A lot of the solutions in our life are obvious but difficult. Consider improving fitness, getting a better job, improving finances, or developing better relationships with loved ones. These are critical and life-impacting, and you can Google all kinds of valid advice for free. We struggle not to understand but to implement.

Sometimes we internalize that failure to implement as evidence of character flaw. We get depressed and seek escape. The truth is, though, the failure to implement is a failure of spirit, and spirit has to be developed and maintained through spiritual practice. However gnarly and unfair life can be – and I’ve recently been put in touch with a pretty intense level of it – the only solution is to pick yourself up one more time and do what is needed. You can’t do that just through hollow internal cheerleading. You need a real cultivated perspective of personal power through a set of exercises and practices.

At my worst moments this year, giving up and dying felt like a real option. My spiritual practice reminded me of why I might get up one more time. I made a real choice to survive, and that alone is empowering. I don’t have to be here, enduring this travesty. I am choosing to be here, because there is something greater that’s worth fighting for.

The fact that the ninja tradition acknowledges this dynamic – as opposed to engaging in the fantasy of an untouchable invulnerable super-being who never suffers – gives mere mortals like ourselves a real shot at heroism. When we struggle, endure, adapt, outlast and overcome, we are ninja.

Book Review and Interview: Deep Six

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I had the pleasure of reviewing yet another book by an old friend, Ian Healy, again in his Just Cause superhero-laden universe. I also had the chance to interview him using my patented (okay, not really) 5-question format. Below find the review of his latest Just Cause book, Deep Six, and the interview, both of which also have appeared on bonzuko.com.   ~ Prof. Jenn

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Book Review: Deep Six by Ian Healy

What struck me about the first and second books I read in the Just Cause universe was how like Contemporary Realism they are–the only thing that makes the novels at all fantastical is the superpowers. They take place in the real, contemporary world, with such realistic history and backstory of the parahumans that one begins unable to differentiate between the real quotes from historical figures and those invented, from all the epigrams at the beginnings of chapters. These epigrams are well thought out as far as story structure–they function much like the loading screen of a video game: giving an extra framework to the story at hand.

Deep Six does something that no other super-hero story does: it focuses not on the heroes (or indeed on the villains) but places normal folks at the head of the story as our protagonists. Our main characters are wardens and workers in the prison built for parahumans gone bad, called Deep Six. They all have a touch of the parahuman about them, but none of them have any powers that are spectacular, or, well, powerful at all. Pitting these regular joes against the incrediblyDeepSixcoverB scary and powerful villain Misrule puts us readers on the edge of our seats.

When the almighty Misrule turns himself in to Deep Six, ultimate precautions are taken. The advanced technologies that Deep Six boasts, to keep the myriad villains under lock and key, are in place, superhero posse Just Cause is standing by, and the veteran wardens (plus our newbie protagonist) are ready to take him in. he says he’s terminally ill, and wants to do the right thing.

What could possibly go wrong?

The tension of the action is just as compelling as the realistically-drawn relationships, with only the barest touch of repetetiveneness towards the climax. I highly recommend Deep Six–and don’t worry, it stands alone just fine if you haven’t read any other Just Cause books. But of course, after reading this one, you will want to.

MinInterview: Ian Thomas Healy

1)   What are some particular challenges in writing about superheroes? What tropes do you embrace, and which do you eschew?
The biggest challenges for writing superheroes are the same challenges as writing in any other genre: the characters have to stand true as believable and three-dimensional, not just cliché cutouts. One of the biggest problems I’ve seen from other writers who write about superheroes is that they focus on the powers first and the characters second. Superpowers should only ever be an aspect of superheroes’ characters, not the defining characteristic. I like to think that my JCU tales would be almost as good without the powers (although most of the plots require them to move forward).

As far as tropes go, I embrace the colorful costumes and nicknames that have been in comic books since Day One, but I also try to make costumes a little more realistic with powers. In Just Cause, for example, I went into a little more detail on Sally’s costume, because I didn’t feel it was enough for her just to throw on a pair of red and yellow tights. Her boots, for example, were designed by a team of an Italian footwear designer and a JPL engineer to make them both comfortable, friction resistant, and to provide traction even when she’s running at five hundred miles per hour.

One thing I’ve rejected overall are the so-called “cosmic-level” powers. Most of the characters in the JCU are fairly down-to-earth as far as their abilities go. Other superhero universes have characters who can toss around planets, or are the offspring of gods, or can accomplish anything through the judicious application of will. There’s nobody in the JCU like that. Mustang Sally is actually one of the most powerful characters on the planet, given her ability to break the speed of sound on foot. She’s an elite-level hero, and doesn’t even really give any thought to that because her day-to-day life and problems are largely the same as anyone else’s.

2)   You have strong female characters in all your Just Cause Universe novels. Who are your influences in that area?
Naturally, it has to start with my mom, a strong woman who has overcome a tremendous amount of adversity in her life. I’ve always had a lot of female friends in my life, more so than male for the most part. Pretty much across the board, they are or have grown to become strong, forceful women who I’m proud to know. Some of them are mothers. Others are engineers, scientists, politicians, authors, actresses, and warriors. It’s pretty awesome company to keep, let me tell you. I write for them as much as I do for myself.

3)    What can we expect next from the Just Cause universe?
Next spring will see the release of another expansion novel of the JCU, calledJackrabbit. It’s about a character only AuthorPiccircuitously connected to the primary team, but who manages to pretty much single-handedly save the entire world from an interstellar menace. Also, he can jump real high. It’s a much more lighthearted approach to superheroing compared to some of the more gritty stuff I’ve done recently, like Day of the Destroyer and Deep Six. Next fall will be the next Mustang Sally book, called Champion. I’m planning to release some additional short stories over the next year and to collect them into an anthology. I’m starting to make plans for the next couple of JCU books to work on after wrapping up my current project load.

4)      Are you marketing these books for YA audiences, or adults, or are they pretty universal?
Given the youth of most of the narrative characters in the JCU, I think that they’re pretty universal in appeal. In Just Cause, Mustang Sally has just turned 18. The characters in Day of the Destroyer are all in their 20s. I don’t explicitly state Katie Malone’s age in Deep Six, but she’s roughly 30. I’m marketing stuff to whomever I can, though, because the more people who read JCU books, the more they’ll tell their friends about them.

5)      Leap up on your soapbox again for us about self-/online-publishing and traditional publishing.
I think anyone who says they are exclusively for traditional or exclusively for self-publishing is self-deluded. There are things that traditional publishing can accomplish that a self-publisher cannot without expending a tremendous amount of effort. And most self-publishers, like me, don’t have the luxury of time and capital to invest in the marketing and distribution reach that traditional publishers can do. On the other hand, I can bring a completed book to publication in only a couple of months (or less if I’m not going with print). I can make changes after publication if needed. I can respond to the vagaries of the industry faster than a traditional publisher. Also, I get paid faster than do authors through traditional publishers, although they receive advances (or should!) and my income trickles in via royalties. I’m not going to say one is better than the other, because there are positives and negatives to each side. I have a literary agent who is working on selling some of my work, and I hope she is very successful with it, because I’d really like to be working both sides of the publishing fence.
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Ian can be found on Twitter (http://twitter.com/ianthealy), Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/authorianthomashealy), Scenic www.ianthealy.com, and on Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/author/ianhealy).

Deep Six releases worldwide in print and ebook formats on November 29, 2013. Preorders are available athttp://localheropress.ianthealy.com/pre-order-deep-six-today/. Check out the book trailer athttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKchUGjSN2c.

The Big Huge Guy Adams Sherlockian Review and Interview

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All Things Guy Adams Sherlock Holmes, all the time
by Prof. Jenn

Well nearly all. Thanks to Titan Press for this opportunity to review Guy Adams’ Sherlockian goodness, and for the interview “in.” Also, this appeared first over at my blog.

First of all, can I just express my extreme nerdy jealousy that Mr. Guy Adams gets to write all these? I mean, how do you get that gig?
Well, I got a chance to ask the man himself. Before we get to that, though, take a gander at my reviews of his many Sherlockian books.

Sherlock Holmes: the Breath of God
What happens when Holmes is faced with the supernatural? Not the faux supernatural, like in The Hound of the Baskervilles, but the actually unexplainable?
Or is it?
The Breath of God is a novel that fits right in with the Doyle canon and the best of the non-Doyle canon (I’m thinking Nicholas Meyer in particular). What it does well is maintain that Watson-centered narrative which is so essential to a powerful Holmesian story, in my professional opinion. The thing is, Holmes is such an extraordinary creature, that to be inside his head diminishes the astonishingness of him. Having the story told from outside him gives us the opportunity to marvel at his prowess and be mystified by his flaws. Knowing his flaws personally would be too wearing for a story, though it could make for a fascinating character sketch. But I digress…
The great thing about the plot of Breath of God is that you really don’t know what to think of the magical things that go on, just like Watson. Even up till the end there are certain threads that don’t end up tied up neatly. That’s not to say Holmes doesn’t figure it all out in the end, but… Man, I’m about to spoil things. Okay, I’ll stop. I’ll just say this: it’s mysterious, exciting, slightly meta (love the moment when Holmes says he needs to pull a Hound of Baskerville move), and the end is quite dramatic. Plus there’s philosophical dilemmas and some mashups of historical and fictional characters from that time period, which you all know I love when done well.
Bottom line: Sherlock Holmes: the Breath of God is a rollicking good time, and a book I’m happy to shelve next to the canon.

Sherlock Holmes: the Army of Dr. Moreau
I actually reviewed this one in depth before, it’s what made me want to do a big ol’ review on all of them once I realized Adams wrote the Sherlock Case Book too. Here it is on my site, and on Nerds in Babeland.
As you can see, I kinda liked The Breath of God better.

Sherlock: the Case Book
As a giant fan of the BBC series Sherlock, I had to add this companion book into my collection. It covers anything and everything about the first two seasons of Sherlock. It includes story synopses from the point of view of John Watson’s scrapbook, complete with his notes, photos and police reports, even phone call logs. But the highlight of the synopses is the post-it note conversation between Sherlock and John, plastered all over the scrapbook pages. Oh, and Mycroft makes a brief post-it note appearance as well. At its best, the conversation is charmingly contentious, as one would imagine it would be between those two. It does, though, get a bit old. Sherlock may be impatient with an intellect lesser than his (as anyone’s is), but he isn’t incessantly whiny and bitchy. The bitchiness factor tends to take away from his massive intellect as a character, and is just wearing after a while.
The documentary type bits are great (although I did find a couple inaccuracies), like a nicely done DVD extra. And of course one of my favorite parts is the By the Book sections. I’m wondering why there isn’t a By the Book section for each episode, but I guess I’ll just let my More You Holmes blog posts supplement them. (Wow, did I just shamelessly plug myself? :sigh: Sorry Mr. Adams, I couldn’t resist. And thank you for the compliment and bookmark. Squee!)
Bottom line: if you’re Sher-locked, you absolutely need this book.

And now… (drum roll…) here it is: the MinInterview with Guy Adams himself.
5 questions: Guy Adams
interviewed by: Prof. Jenn
1) What choices do you make in your novels re: references/adherence to Doyle and your own original departures, and why? Have you created a backstory for Holmes that helps you in writing him through novel length stories?
A lot of it is instinctive to be honest. Everyone views stories and characters differently as they can’t help but bring their subjective viewpoint into things. I have therefore written what I think is a completely accurate version of Holmes and Watson. Other people will disagree as MY Holmes and Watson won’t be the same as THEIR Holmes and Watson.

I suppose I bring a little more humour into their relationship but that seems natural to me between two men who have been so close for that long. They’re a marriage.

I’ve also chosen to let Watson grieve over a dead wife. Doyle was — rightly — too busy building stories to dwell on  the emotions of his characters but I wanted Watson to have that. We’ve all loved and the idea of losing someone precious would cling to you, it plays a fair part in the action of The Breath of God.

The backstory is all Doyle though, I’ve read the stories many times over the years and that’s always the history I bring with me.

I have included favourite characters from other Holmes stories, such as Mycroft, Shinwell Johnson and Langdale Pike. Purely because those characters seemed helpful to the stories I wanted to tell.

As both novels blend Holmes with other fictional characters there is a natural inclination to bring the flavour of those works in too.

2) We share an acting background, so I have to ask–how does your acting training inform your writing, and vice versa?
It informs me hugely when it comes to character and dialogue. I played Holmes a couple of times too so that has hung over the whole process as I already feel close to the character.

Hopefully, having been an actor I can feel my way through stories. I can think in terms of the characters, bring them to life a little more.

3) What’s your favorite Sherlock Holmes story? What’s your favorite media adaptation? 
I’m terrible at picking favourites because mood always gets in the way. Probably The Adventure of the Red-Headed League.

Media adaptation is even more difficult somehow because there’s such a wide variation, all of which bring something interesting.

I adore Jeremy Brett in the role (especially with Edward Harwicke, a gentle, wise Watson).

The relationship between Downey Jr. and Jude Law is lovely too though, whatever you may think of the action movie bells and whistles the two of them spark beautifully off one another.

But how can we ignore SHERLOCK? We simply can’t… it’s glorious and a flawless version of Holmes and Watson.

Sigh… who knows which of them I like the most?

I’m not a great fan of Rathbone. No… let me be clearer, I love the films but he and Bruce are not MY Holmes and Watson, they are some other pair entirely who I enjoy spending time with but don’t recognise as the same people.

4) Tell us the story of how you got the Sherlock Casebook gig. How closely did you consult with Moffat and Gatiss, or did they set you free? Did you interview the actors, creators, etc. yourself for those non-fic bits?
I’ve worked with BBC Books on a number of projects and, knowing that I was a fan of Holmes, I think I was just the safe choice for them. It wasn’t something I had to pitch or fight for. They just dropped me a line explaining that they’d got the rights and would I like to do the book.

Hartswood were heavily involved. Steven, Mark and Sue Vertue all chipped in on the material as I was writing it, correcting things and ensuring I didn’t contradict anything they might want to do in the future.

I attended the commentary recordings for the DVD and Blu-ray and did some interviews then. That was excruciating actually as my dictaphone packed up. Benedict was loveliness itself, working his way through a cup of soup while I got more and more stressed trying to get the thing to record. “We really are going to have to get on,” he said softly as I began to consider just crawling under one of the microphone stands and dying of embarrassment.

I had an absolutely wonderful chat with Andrew Scott on the phone. We gassed on for over an hour with me deciding I’d like to be his best friend. No doubt he has already been in touch with his lawyers to discuss restraining orders. A lovely, clever, brilliant actor.

Everyone was a joy, it was great fun to do.

5) Any more Holmesian projects on the horizon?
I hope to write more Holmes novels but that’s up in the air at the moment depending on Titan’s future plans. I have a lot of other novels I’m working on at the moment but I’d always go back, I could happily write Holmes stories forever!

5a) How do you get to write using these already-created characters? Is there some kind of copyright process you have to go through? (I’m asking for a friend…:) )
This is a tricky one!  Strictly speaking, Holmes is out of copyright so you can do what you like with him (as is the case with all the other characters I used). That hasn’t stopped a few attempts on the part of the Doyle Estate to insist otherwise.

Copyright law is different all over the world so your friend would have to check the specific terms for where they wish to publish. It all comes down to either how long ago the original author died or how long since first publication of the original work.

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Thanks again for your time and input, Mr. Adams!   ~Prof. Jenn

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Guy Adams’ website

5 Questions: Maxwell Alexander Drake

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This interview appeared originally at bonzuko.com. Specifically, here: http://bonzuko.com/?p=5661   ~Prof. Jenn

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The good folks over at Imagined Interprises connected with me recently, and I had the opportunity to interview one of their authors, Maxwell Alexander Drake. He’s another author that specializes in action scenes and instructing others in the composition thereof. Please to enjoy this interview, and stay tuned on facebook for a promo of his work! ~Jenn

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5 Questions: Maxwell Alexander Drake

by: Jenn Zuko Boughn

1) What’s the one essential factor for writers to keep in mind when writing action sequences?

The number one thing a writer needs to keep in mind when writing action is that, well… it is ACTION. So, the words the writer chooses to use, the sentence structure, etc. all plays into how the scene will read. There is more detail in my Anatomy of a Fight Scene handout on my website, but here are the big issues to keep in mind.

1-Use strong verbs. Sally’s fist struck John in the face vs. Sally’s fist smashed John in the face. Smashed is a much stronger verb than struck.

2-Write in an action, reaction manner.

3-Do not write with passive voice.

4-Short sentences read faster, therefore feel faster.

2) What got you into Western Martial Arts? Why WMA and not Asian martial arts?

I like both Western and Asian martial art styles. However, for me I have always been more attracted to the western style of fighting than the Asian. Not because of the actual fighting style, but the culture that each of these has created. What can I say, I like Castles and Knights. There is just something more visceral with the western style. More primal. I am not saying the Asian fighting style is all prim and proper. When two people face off to kill each other, rarely do they do it with kindness. Perhaps it is also that my ancestry is Western Europe. Though I think it has more to do with Dungeons & Dragons than anything else.

3) What’s your favorite weapon / style in WMA?

I like the long sword; a blade that is versatile on the attack in both thrust and swing, and is good on defense. Plus, with the heavier blade, you can really put some weight behind it and cleave off extremities. A great way to end a fight.

4) Cthulhu, Zombies, Western? Wow. Please explain that combination! :)

Dead Ned is a story that is a long time in the making. It saw many different variations and themes before it became what it is today. Basically, it started out as a challenge. Someone asked me if I could write a story where the protagonist (the hero) was evil. And not in a Despicable Me kind of way that is actually loveable, but a truly vile person. After giving it some thought, I found that the only way to accomplish this would be to make the antagonist an even bigger threat. Then, it was figure out why an evil protagonist would take up the cause to kill the even more evil antagonist, throw in a few gods from other planes of existence, the occasional undead for good measure, and you have a story.

Unfortunately, due to health reasons with the artist, this project is on temporary hold. We are planning on getting back into it by year’s end and hopefully having the first graphic novel out by Comic-con 2013.

5) What action scenes in literature are the best/most inspiring to you? Is there anyone you still try to emulate in your own work?

I am a fan. The quintessential “fan boy” as it were. I love this industry with the unabashed wonder of a three-year-old child. So, basically, everything inspires me. I will walk away with ideas from even the most horrible of movies/books/comics. There is so much to see and experience, it is almost overwhelming.

As to emulating, I am not sure I have ever “tried” to emulate anyone. I do, there is no doubt about that. But it is purely subconscious. Robert Jordan was one of my favorite authors growing up. And my narrative voice is similar to his. Though, while he was heavy on description, I write mostly action and dialogue. It is also why so many equate me to Brandon Sanderson. I had never read Brandon until I was published, so he had no influence on me. However, Jordan was an influence on him, so we have walked similar paths.

However, I think my violence is unlike most. Some say it is closer to George R.R. Martin, though I disagree. I think my violence is a bit more visceral than his. More brutal. More emotional.

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A Short bio of Maxwell Alexander Drake

Maxwell Alexander Drake, or Drake as he prefers to be called, is an award-winning Science Fiction/Fantasy author and Graphic Novelist. Drake teaches creative writing around the country as well as for the library district in Las Vegas, NV. Find out more about him at his website, www.maxwellalexanderdrake.com

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VICTOR-#2-PG-15-LA

5 Questions: Mike Oeming

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5 Questions: Mike Oeming
by Prof. Jenn

It was my great pleasure to have the opportunity to interview Mike Oeming, of multiple comics fame. His latest new project is called Victories (one issue of which I reviewed here). Below is the interview. Enjoy!  ~Prof. Jenn
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1) One of the most striking things about your bio is the fact that your first job in comics happened when you were only 14 years old. How on earth did that happen? I mean, you’re obviously a very talented artist, and no doubt were even then, but…14?? Please explain.

As soon as I started reading comics and was drawing, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I had started out with a lot of tracing, and when I learned about inking, it felt like a great way to learn to draw, inking over my favorite artists using a vellum overlay. I was sending out my work to editors, mostly looking for feedback when an indie publisher wanted me to work for them. It was Innovation comics. I probably could have continued inking for them, but it didn’t occur to me to ask for more work because I was so young and inexperienced. But that’s a good thing, I needed to learn lots more about inking and drawing before working. But it was super cool.

2) How do you see the world of comics having changed since you started, and what do you foresee in the medium’s future?

Wow, it’s crazy how much things have changed. Back then, in order to get work, you would have to make photocopies and mail out your work to editors and assistant editors, mostly blindly. Then you’d wait weeks for some response in the mail with the SASE you sent with your work unless you were lucky enough to actually get a call. From what I understand, you can’t even mail your work in now, there are standing policies to not even look at it. Everything is web based or meetings at shows.

Back in early 90s there were almost no web comics, and what was there was certainly not much of a scene. Then, if you wanted to be an indie creator, you had to solicit your work to be published, having no idea if you would even have enough orders to go ahead and publish. Now, with web comics and the internet, not only can you put your work out without any printing costs/risks, there was multiple ways of creating income from your creations. Back then it was all about orders to cover your printing costs.

Also back then, comics were labeled as a “dying Market” and that was 20 years ago.

3) Tell us nerds a little bit about working with Valve. How is your process different when working for a large company than when doing an independent project such as Powers?

It’s been completely different on every level. I had never worked in an office before, I’ve never worked in a studio setting even other then sharing some space with other artists like Adam Hughes or my wife, Taki Soma. This was not only a proper office setting, but a business, and a very unique one at that. They are like a giant creator owned company. They own all of their work work and control their own distribution. Working in the offices was lots of fun, it was the only time I made comics with the writers and colorists all working together, basically shoulder to shoulder, reworking the story and art as we went along. We do that on Powers, but there is usually a few weeks before any changes- at Valve we could make changes and adjustments as we were making it. Often a project, a joke or story would change dramatically from where it started into something completely different.

Oh, and there is free candy and soda at the office, so there’s that.

4) I too am a mythology geek, so I commiserate with you on being influenced by Old Story whenever I write. Are there particular pantheon/s that influenced Victories? Would you ever consider making a comic just of “straight” mythology, and if so, where would you start?

In the Victories, I haven’t purposefully dipped into Mythology, but I’m sure that theme will come up if we continue to do other stories. I definitely have more plans to do lots more work with mythology, and yes, I do have one that is a return to pretty hardcore Norse Mythology.

5) You are a writer just as much as an artist. Which role do you enjoy more? Which did you come to first as a creator, and how does your writing process influence your art (and vice versa)?

I can’t say which I enjoy more because 90% of my work is creator owned, so I’m always involved in either writing or co writing the work I do. I love coming up with ideas, and breaking down the story. Dialogue is something I struggle with more, sometimes I think it’s because it takes the longest. Writing the Victories has been great in getting me back into writing full scripts, which I haven’t done in a long time. I write with Brian on Powers, but it’s mostly in outline form broken down from the stories we come up with together. Also, in the Victories, I had to write full proper scripts for my editor Scott Allie to read, it couldn’t be done in a shorthand kind of script I usually do for myself.

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5 Questions: Adam Warren

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Oh. My. Garsh. How awesome were Adam Warren’s responses to my 5 question interview? Answer: Quite. Quite a bit, in fact.

First, please to look here and remind yourself what my review of Empowered: Vol. 7 was like. Then…just revel in the awesomeness.   ~Prof. Jenn

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5 Questions: Adam Warren

interview by Jenn Zuko Boughn

1.) Rich Johnston once said of Empowered: “It’s so tongue in cheek that the tongue pokes through and blows a raspberry.”  How important is snark and self-awareness to your characters, and what made you infuse them with this vibe in the first place?

I probably wouldn’t use the term “snark” in regard to the characters in Empowered, because I tend to characterize most so-called “snark” as a cheap, dismissive, insincere, kneejerk travesty passing itself off as humor. I’d like to think that most of “the funneh” in Empowered is less obnoxious and more warm and inclusive, but (as they say online) Your Mileage May Vary on this point.

Many the characters do, however, possess some degree of self-awareness, though the series’ often-deluded villains rarely can boast such reflectiveness. Of course, in the periodic “metatextual” interludes before and after chapters, the lead characters briefly wax supremely self-aware as they break the fourth wall and address the reader; this just struck me as a fun way to point out “meta” aspects of the stories without directly disrupting the stories themselves.

2.) What artists / writers inspire you? Is there any work that directly influenced Empowered, and is there anyone that you still try and emulate in your own work? Also: why manga?

I have to say that, in particular, the example of one slightly obscure mangaka, Takeshi Okazaki, inspires me greatly. Okazaki debuted with the manga Explorer Woman Ray back when I was still in art school; in the years since, he’s repeatedly reinvented himself as an artist, changing up his art style and narrative approach on numerous occasions. I find that flexibility keenly inspirational—and “aspirational”, to use a current buzzword—given that most comic artists and mangaka tend to eventually plateau, become numbingly repetitive, or even regress in their approaches to art and storytelling.

I’m not sure I can say that any work specifically influenced the creation of Empowered, as the series came about in large part because I wasn’t seeing any comics—or stories in other media—quite like it at that time. After the early stories that would become Empowered were already well underway, though, I did stumble across two superhero-related classics that were not entirely unlike what I was working on: The Venture Brothers and The Incredibles, both of which briefly threw me for a loop. (“Oh, man, I’m doing something vaguely similar… Bogus, yo.”) I soon calmed down, thankfully, once I realized that Empowered was headed off in a very different direction than either of those fine creations.

I also can’t say that I try to emulate any given writer or artist in my work, as I pretty much gave up any interest in directly imitating other creators quite some time ago—as in, decades ago. On the other hand, I constantly pick up wee, discrete elements of artistic riffs and storytelling techniques and fresh approaches from looking at other folks’ excellent work.

Why manga? How about, because it can sometimes be frickin’ awesome?

3.) What other media do you enjoy in your (no doubt copious) spare time? Is there any medium of art you haven’t worked in yet that you’d like to?

Books, books, and more books, with bonus helpings of books, and books as a garnish. I tend to read a great deal more nonfiction than fiction, as my standards for prose quality have become very lofty indeed after a lifetime of reading. Both when working and not, I listen to endless hours of podcasts and sports talk, not to mention podcasts of sports talk (and even occasional podcasts analyzing sports talk, which gets even more recursive). I do happen to own many, many box sets of TV on DVD, but rarely get a chance to watch any of them, thanks to my perpetually overbearing schedule; instead, the DVDs end up getting passed around to friends and relatives—so at least someone is getting entertainment value out of my purchases.

As for art media, I’d love to revisit a few media that I actually have (briefly) worked in, though with little success. My short-lived forays into videogame character work were quite fun, and I’d love to give that field another try. A decade ago, I had a similarly fleeting flirtation with the animation field during a tragically failed pitch to a TV network; I definitely wouldn’t mind giving that collaborative medium another stab, though I must admit that I have my doubts about how effectively I could play with others, given my solitary history as a freelancer.

4.) How has the comics world changed since your career began? What predictions do you have for the future of comics, and your work in that world?

I first began working in the comics field back in the, ahem, “adolescence” of the direct market, which was still some years away from its 1992-ish sales peak. Since then, well, many things have changed in the wider world of North American comics. The market peaked, then collapsed, then kept on collapsing. (Actual quote from an editor, circa 1994: “I can’t imagine sales getting much worse than they are right now!” He was, we soon discovered, a tad mistaken in that assumption.) Manga went from an obscurity to a ubiquity, then began to decline along with the rest of publishing in general. Webcomics sprang into being, and then print comics began a transition into digital formats, and blah blah blah *snore*

Whoops, just bored myself to sleep with the previous paragraph! Sorry, but I prefer to leave the wry analysis and historical recaps and windy pontificating to others with more insight—and more time on their hands—than this chronically overcommitted, comics-creating doofus. (Unless, that is, you catch me at the bar after convention hours are over, at which time I am most certainly prone to the very windiest of pontificating.)

As for predicting the future of comics, I can only quote the ever-quotable Mr. T’s classic line from Rocky III: “My prediction? Pain.

5.) Animated Empowered? Or even what they’re doing over at Geek and Sundry with other Dark Horse titles? Hm? :)

No one’s approached me about an animated version of Empowered, sad to say. I do find the Geek and Sundry motion-comic YouTubery to be quite intriguing, though; I doubt that Empowered would be at the top of Dark Horse’s list for such consideration, but a creator can always dream, can’t he?

Interview with Ethan Nicholle

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MinInterview: Ethan Nicholle
Interviewer: Jenn Zuko Boughn

Recently I had the very great pleasure of using my 5-question “Mininterview” format to ask Ethan Nicholle about upcoming Axe Cop vol. 3, and the future of the series. ~Prof. Jenn
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1) How has Axe Cop evolved as Malachai has gotten older? How do you see him evolving as Malachai continues to get older? What’s coming up in Axe Cop’s future that we can get excited about?

Malachai’s tastes and interests are changing pretty rapidly, so Axe Cop’s attention span is at about the same rate.  Whatever is going on in Malachai’s life makes it into the story, for instance the family just got a new dog, so he called me to tell me there is a new dog character in the Axe Cop universe.  I’m as interested as anyone to see how Axe Cop changes as Malachai grows up.  I’m open to whatever works.  The most exciting thing in Axe Cop’s future, next to Volume 3 coming out on March 28th, is the new print-exclusive miniseries titled Axe Cop: President of the World which launches in July.

2) Axe Cop’s fan base exploded pretty quickly. How did this fandom affect how you composed Axe Cop? Did it affect how Malachai composed it? How about the feedback you both have been getting at conventions?

It just sort of rocketed us into making more Axe Cop and really fast.  When I first made Axe Cop I assumed it would be a fun thing to do with Malachai whenever I visit (which is about 3 times a year).  When it blew up, I decided we should strike while the iron is hot and start making more of these things.  It became a lot of fun and quite an interesting project.  Especially working on the more long form stories with him and spending entire months with him.  We get awesome feedback from fans, the support for Axe Cop is huge and people who love it REALLY love it.  I think there are people out there who love it more than Malachai and I combined.  I think that Axe Cop popped up right when people were getting tired of the more negative, gritty and edgy style that was the “thing” for a while, and Axe Cop is such a breath of fresh air in that world.  It is totally sincere and innocent and it inadvertently parodies comics that take themselves too seriously.

3) I noticed in Volume 3, there are many “Ask Axe Cop” episodes as well as a lengthy guest appearance (on the website, there have been several more guest appearances recently as well). What are your thoughts/feelings about the collaboration? Do the guests appeal to Malachai, and does he springboard off of those?

Malachai has gotten ideas from the guest episodes.  He really liked the one where Axe Cop has little axes on his arm hairs.  He pretty much stole that concept for himself and made Axe Cop have sword arm hair.  The guest episodes are a lot of fun, especially the ones where people follow the model and team up with their own kids/nieces/nephews to make an Axe Cop story.

4) How do Axe Cop, Bad Guy Earth, and Bearmageddon inform each other? Do you have a particular favorite issue?

Well Bad Guy Earth is just more Axe Cop, but it is written in a longer format.  It’s more of our attempt at “feature length” Axe Cop story telling.  Bearomageddon I wouldn’t say is informed by Axe Cop much mainly because I created it before I created Axe Cop, I only finally started to release it after.  I think Bad Guy Earth is my favorite thing I have done so far just because it is so out of the box and such a fun/crazy experiment in creativity.  A lot went into making it.

5) Who are some of your artistic inspirations? Is there anyone you even now try to emulate in your work? What is one of your artistic dreams? (e.g. have you always wanted to draw a certain superhero/create a world that you haven’t yet?)

My biggest influences growing up were Bill Watterson, Gary Larson and the many artists who drew the Ninja Turtles.  Later I got into indie comics and became a big fan of artists like Jhonen Vasquez, Evan Dorkin, Ethan Van Sciver (who was indie back then) and Sam Keith.  I have a lot of respect for Doug TenNapel because I like that he emphasizes storytelling and he really pushes creativity and wonder in his work.  I think I try to emulate that.  I have never really dreamed of drawing other people’s characters, I have always wanted to make my own stuff.  So I don’t know what my dream project would be.  I think right now Axe and Bearmageddon are dream projects, and I’ll have other ones down the road.

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Interview: Steve Niles and Menton3

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As many of you know, a new project between comics writer Steve Niles and breakout artist Menton3 was recently announced and has stirred up quite a bit of excitement. Personally, I’m jumping up and down, squeeing like a child going to Disney for the first time. Steve Niles is an amazing story teller, specifically in the realm of horror. Menton3 creates some of the most intense and beautifully crafted art landscapes the comic industry has ever seen. These two together? Explosions will surely happen. Not only are these guys both incredible creators, they are also super nice, down to earth dudes and they were awesome enough to let me nail them down for an afternoon chat about Nosferatu Wars. The conversation veered into so many directions; Steve and Menton were candidly honest about who they are and why they love being part of the comics industry. I found the whole thing thought provoking, intriguing and just lots of fun. I hope you do too.

Steve Niles/ Menton3 interview:

Lissa: Ok, guys, thanks for taking the time to talk to me, I know you both have tons of projects going on right now.

Steve: Of course.

Menton:  It’s a nice break for me, to stop and do this, I’m about to kill myself on Monocyte 3.

L: I’ve covered few things for the two of you separately recently, including a review of the Saltillo (pronounced SAL-tillo) Monocyte album for you, Menton, and the Criminal Macabre Omnibus #2 review for you, Steve. It’s so much fun to have a joint project now with both you to talk about and anticipate.

S: Actually, Monica (Steve Niles’ fiancée, Monica Richards) and I are sitting here waiting for the pallet of cd’s and books to arrive for the album we did which Menton did some artwork for. It’s Monica Richards’ new cd with fully illustrated book!

L: I’m just going to start signing my paychecks over to you guys. Ok, so a little question I’d like to ask that is sort of fun, ‘can you summarize Nosferatu Wars in one sentence?’

S: No, and that’s the beauty of it! I’m not worried about being able to pitch it to a movie studio; this is just a fun comic book for me and Menton to do. I’ve had people ask me ‘what’s the pitch?’ and I tell them it’s a three part trilogy. It’s a huge story and what I love about it is that we can’t tell it in one sentence. I spent the last 11 years writing stories that I could tell in one sentence, it’s really nice to have one that’s impossible to.

M: I’m the worst person at that, I’m the most long winded son of a bitch, so for me to say what I want for dinner in one sentence is saying a lot. I’m a complete geek, I’ve only been doing comics for, like, 2 years and I’m a huge fan of Steve. To be able to do a vampire book with him has been a dream of mine for a really long time, then to be able to do it at Dark Horse, it just gets better and better. But, I don’t really know how to summarize it in one sentence besides ‘holy shit, I’m excited!’.

L: I think that’s perfectly acceptable.

S: This thing is happening in comics more and has completely taken over movies. I literally won’t watch trailers anymore because now we live in this world where people want to know the entire plot of everything before they’ll go pay money for it, and I hate that. We have one big part of this, of Nosferatu Wars, that we’re keeping hidden because it’s just going to be more fun to read it than if I say it all in an interview or a plug. For me it’s fairly traditional vampires, during the black plague, in love, having the time of their lives. Something separates them for 500 years and that launches us into the middle story and then the last element of this being the lovers’ return, looking for each other in modern day. One of the really fun parts of this is we get to spend a whole lot of time playing in the Dark Ages, during the ‘Black Death’.

L: Oh, god, throwing vampires together in a story with the black plague is such a cool idea; it creates a whole new twist and concepts to work with in the classic vampire story.

S: Here’s the thing: during the black plague it was the commoners dying in the streets, out in the countryside were all the rich, holed up in their homes, and that’s where the vampires are hunting. So they get fresh, clean, rich meat. The vampires are going from castle to castle, dining on the best quality blood they can. Nobody’s looking for them anymore, every death they cause is blamed on the black plague.

L: How did you guys end up getting together for this project?

S: You want us to tell the fictional, exciting version or the boring one? We shook hands, met, began talking and fell in love. I can tell that in one line!

L: That was pretty simple. So, what’s the fictional version?

M: Steve’s really a vampire. I’m his chosen one to carry the torch after he’s goes into hiding. I don’t fucking know, I’m talking out of my ass now. (Laughs) Well, we met at SDCC, but starting talking before that.

S: Honestly, we just hit it off right away. At the time, we were at the IDW booth and I remember just immediately getting along and jamming out ideas. Normally at conventions, you meet each other, shake hands, it’s whatever; Menton and I just knew immediately that we were going to be working together.

M: I think me and Steve were kind of cut from the same cloth a little bit, I don’t mean that pretentiously but we both have musical backgrounds, we both grew up in subcultures that were similar and I think we just had a lot in common. So we were on that IDW panel and we were just like two kids in church, giggling, taking pictures of each other and posting them on Facebook.

S: It’s true, though; we found out that we had connections from years back because Menton knows Monica, my fiancée, from the music scene. I think that’s a major element of why we work together so easily is because of our roots in music. The music industry is where you learn how to cooperate; you don’t get anything done without cooperation. More of that kind of community in comics would be great. But we come out of that; me and Menton are able to apply that to our comics work.

(more…)

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