Hasslein Blog


Hasslein Blog

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The British Star Trek Newspaper Strips—Fully Reprinted At Last

By Rich Handley

There's satisfying feedback, and then there's satisfying feedback.

As some of you know, I've been working with IDW for the past few years to reprint all of the old Star Trek comic strips from 1969 to 1973 and 1979 to 1983. One of the talented artists on those strips was a man named Mike Noble. A mutual friend, Lee Sullivan, helped me arrange for Mike to receive copies of these books, which reprint his 40-plus-year-old work.

An example of Mike Noble's wonderful artwork from 
the 13th U.K. storyline, "Mutiny on the Dorado."

Lee told me today that Mike is very happy with how the books came out—and specifically with the introductory materials I wrote. That alone justifies all the work that went into writing them. I'm a great fan of Mike Noble's beautiful artwork, so knowing that he thinks we did justice to his legacy is something I'm very proud of.

As it happens, I received a PDF of the fifth and final volume (two volumes reprint the U.S. strips, three for the U.K. strips) just last night, to review prior to printing, and it looks fantastic. The third British volume collects strips that, back in the 1960s, were printed in such a way that they came out a bit muddy and dulled, so I was worried that this volume might not look as impressive as the others. Silly me. I needn't have worried, as IDW's Library of American Comics (LOAC) imprint cleaned them up extremely well, just as they did for the previous volumes—they look far better than I could have hoped.

Volume 1 reprints storylines #1-7 (Joe 90: Top Secret issues #1-34), storylines #8-13 
(TV21 & Joe 90 issues #1-38), storylines #14-17 (TV21 issues #39-64), and the 
Joe 90 Top Secret 1969 annual, with an introduction by yours truly.

The book is now off to the proofreader and then the printer, which means my role in this five-year project has come to a close—which both excites and saddens me, as this was something I've actually been trying to make happen for about 15 years or so. My thanks to IDW's Chris Ryall for giving me the greenlight back in 2012, and to LOAC's Dean Mullaney for doing such an amazing job of restoring these strips. The work Dean and I have done on these books has been a truly enjoyable collaboration that has culminated in friendship, and I'm going to miss it (though not for long, as I'm now working with Dean on another project—reprinting the old Star Wars comic strips from the L.A. Times Syndicate).

Volume 2 collects storylines #18-24 (TV21 issues #65-105), storylines #25-30 
(Valiant issues #1-42), and the TV21 1971 annual, with more supplementary 
materials by some hack named Rich Handley.

For many years, I'd never met a single Star Trek fan besides me who owned a complete run of these old newspaper and magazine strips. Now, thanks to the efforts of Chris and Dean, thousands of fans have the strips on their shelves, and I can actually discuss them with other comics enthusiasts, which is much better than being the only guy on the block. It was my honor to be involved in making it so.

Finally, the upcoming third volume reprints storylines #31-37 (Valiant issues #43-118),
 the TV21 1972 and 1973 annuals, the Mighty TV Comic 1978 and 1979 annuals, 
the 1972 Valiant Summer Special, a Radio Times issue, and additional strips from 
Larami's Star Trek Space Viewer, the Kenner/Chad Valley Give-a-Show Projector, and more, 
with a Star Trek cover gallery and more supplementary materials from that Handley fellow.

Eaglamoss will soon reprint a portion of the UK strips as part of its Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection, and I've been privileged to be a part of that project as well (as discussed here). Eaglemoss has been doing a phenomenal job of repackaging these and many other Star Trek comics from throughout the past five decades, and I'm thrilled to see the U.K. strips being included in that set of hardcover books. Since Eaglemoss is a British publisher, it's only fitting that the strips would end up back in print in the land that first spawned them.
Eaglemoss is reprinting part of the U.K. strips from IDW's U.S. reprints 
for Eaglemoss's U.K. audience. It's Trekception at its finest.

After remaining Star Trek's most obscure comics series for decades, the British strips are finally getting their time in the spotlight. It's much deserved, and IDW, The Library of American Comics, and Eaglemoss have done fans a great service in making them widely available at last.

Gaze upon how cool that looks.
Go ahead... gaze upon it.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Vampirella #38

By Matthew Stephen Sunrich

By the time I started collecting comics, Vampirella had been absent from the racks for about six years.

The original series ended with issue #112 in 1983; its companion magazines Creepy and Eerie held on for another couple years or so before James Warren, owing to health problems and other concerns, decided to close up shop. The property was subsequently acquired by Harris, which handled a variety of periodicals such as Guitar World, when it was auctioned off, but the company didn't begin publishing new Vampirella material until 1991.

Fan reaction to the stories, which were published in color comics rather than black-and-white magazines, was mixed, but the books sold fairly well. Drakulon's favorite daughter reached the peak of her popularity in the late 1990s when "bad girl" comics, oddly, became a thing, and many prominent writers, including Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek, contributed to her adventures. Harris held onto her until 2010, when it surrendered the lovely vampiress to Dynamite.

Admittedly, I had never found the character particularly worth looking into. For one thing, unlike the throngs of quasi-pretentious geeks/community-theater actors who played White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade roleplaying game around that time, I had never thought much of undead blood-suckers. In Bernie Wrightson: A Look Back, I found that the famed horror artist's opinion mirrored my own. "They tend to be snotty," he remarked, "and like being vampires." Other than Marvel's Morbius (who became a vampire as a result of a failed experiment), it didn't seem that vampires were ever looking for a cure. As Wrightson expressed, they didn't appear to have a problem with their condition, and they even possessed a certain "coolness" factor that reminded me of the popular crowd in high school. Remember that Ray-Ban commercial where the vampires are immune to sunlight because they're wearing designer shades? Ugh. (Trivia: The concept of vampires' being killed by the sun originated in F. R. Murnau's 1922 film Nosferatu, not in Dracula, the novel of which it was an unauthorized adaptation. While Dracula was weakened by daylight, it was not fatal to him.)

I knew virtually nothing about Vampirella; my opinion was based on the images I had seen in various magazines such as Wizard and Previews, which, like a lot of the art in 1990s horror comics, tended to be kind of gross (one cover has her lasciviously bathing in a fountain of blood) and over the top. I assumed she was a "standard" vampire, who just happened to be scantily clad and sexy, rather than an altruistic, non-undead superhero devoted to ridding Earth of evil monsters, who came from a planet where blood was akin to water (this version of her origin was later retconned, but the principle's the same). Interestingly enough, Trina Robbins, who designed Vampirella's costume, told Comic Book Artist in 1999 that a teacher with whom she once coffee had grown up enjoying the original magazine but had been "horrified and repulsed" by what she had seen in recent publications.

What I perceived as Harris' mishandling of the character kept me away for a long time, but I became curious when Dynamite released a paperback compilation of her original stories in 2013 (over 500 pages, culled from the first 37 issues, for a very-reasonable $25). Being a fan of Bronze-Age horror magazines, I felt that I needed to at least give the gal a chance. And, man, am I glad I did! I discovered a treasure-trove of fantastic material and became a fan immediately. I picked up the new series by Nancy Collins and Patrick Berkenkotter that started a few months later and found it to be likewise excellent, though in entirely different ways.

Since then, Vampirella has become one of my favorite characters, and I have collected most of the magazines (either in their original form or in reprint compilations such as the excellent Vampirella Archives) and all of the comics Dynamite has released.

For those of you who don't know, Vampirella was originally conceived as nothing more than a horror hostess. During the early 1950s, EC Comics found success with Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear, hosted, respectively, by the Crypt-Keeper, the Vault-Keeper, and the Old Witch. When Warren started its line of horror magazines, it borrowed this idea, giving readers Uncle Creepy, Cousin Eerie, and Vampirella (if you find it unfair that the women are outnumbered, you might want to check out DC's oft-overlooked Bronze-Age gem The Witching Hour, in which all of the stories are hosted by females). After a handful of issues, the editor decided that Vampirella was falling short of her potential by merely bookending stories and deserved a feature of her own.

Warren's magazines were anthologies, featuring several stories by several creative teams per issue. By the time Vampirella established itself, every issue included a tale starring the vampiress along with several others, some of which were parts of series but most of which were standalone stories. The themes in Vampirella's stories varied. Sometimes she'd fight monsters. Other times she'd face evil wizards or alien invaders. Her adventures were an interesting mixture of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, which reflected the genres that Warren's magazines made extensive use of (while it's usually associated with horror, many stories were sword & sorcery, science fiction, or weird western). The artwork was consistently spectacular, executed by such greats as Jose "Pepe" Gonzalez, Gonzalo Mayo, Esteban Maroto, Jose Ortiz, Alfredo Alcala, Luis Bermejo, and Rafael Aura Leon (Auraleon).

I selected #38 (November 1974) to discuss both because it's the earliest full issue in my collection and because it contains a mummy story, which is of particular interest to me. The issue comprises six tales, and, like most of Warren's magazines of the period, it's a great-looking package. The cover, by Manuel Sanjulian, is a real beaut; it possesses many of the attributes that made classic horror so compelling, juxtaposed with Vampi's stunning figure. (I was born too late to enjoy Warren's mags during their original run, and I envy readers who were able to get this much awesomeness for a mere dollar at the local newsstand month after month. Granted, a dollar was a lot more money back then, but comics are four bucks these days, and they arguably aren't as good.) There was a major Universal Monsters revival going on at the time, coupled with the fact that the Comics Code Authority had finally relaxed its standards, leading to a resurgence in monster comics (it should be noted that magazines were not forced to adhere to the Code, which is how Warren and its ilk were able to flourish). It's hard to deny that, for a horror magazine, Vampirella had a touch of class.

Vampirella starts things off with "The Mummy's Revenge," by Flaxman Loew and Gonzalez. Vampirella's most prolific illustrator, Gonzalez uses many different techniques in his storytelling. Here, he juxtaposes light and dark (not unlike the Renaissance artist Caravaggio) to create a feeling of endless dread within eerie catacombs. You can almost smell the dust and decay as the undead emerge from their niches. (Am I the only one who likes the smell of old comics?)

Touring Italy's Museum of Antiquities, Vampirella encounters a young antiquarian named Bruno Verdi. She accepts his invitation to dinner, and after the meal he takes her on a tour of the catacombs beneath the city, where untold thousands of souls were lain to rest. The vampiress soon realizes, however, that Verdi has left her to be torn apart by the undead, including the mummy of Ptolemy, who, strangely enough, is a vampire. With the help of Amun-Ra, Vampirella escapes and heads to Verdi's apartment, where she gets her revenge by feeding on his blood. He and the mummy, which is still back in the tomb, simultaneously crumble to dust, and Vampirella, when questioned about her evening, humorously remarks that her date "went all to pieces." (This may seem corny, but horror and humor have gone hand in hand for decades. The EC stories almost always ended with the host's dropping a pun or two, a tradition which has been picked up by the new quarterly Warren pastiche The Creeps, which I will no doubt write about eventually.)

Mummies have been popular fixtures in horror fiction since the 1800s. The discovery of the strangely intact tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter in 1922 brought immense public attention to the discipline of Egyptology, and the mystique of perfectly-preserved corpses from millennia ago compelled even more writers to pen horrific tales of the risen dead. (H. P. Lovecraft even ghost-wrote a story for Harry Houdini called "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs," which is definitely worth checking out.) The new medium of film made the prospect of such tales even more promising. Universal and Hammer each produced their own versions of the mummy story, and there have been numerous others since then. Marvel published The Living Mummy in the pages of Supernatural Thrillers in the early 1970s, and all of the horror magazines featured bandaged abominations at one time or another. For Vampirella, mummies are just another kind of monster, nothing to write home about, although the revelation that she was, in fact, Cleopatra in a previous life adds more weight to the story. Exactly how she was supposed to have been born on alien planet and also undergone reincarnations on Earth is a question better left unasked.

Five more excellent tales follow.

Gerry Boudreau, Carl Wessler, and Maroto give us "Gypsy Curse," in which a rich count marries a gypsy maiden but succumbs to a terrible curse when he chooses to mistreat her. Maroto is another of Warren's most skilled artists. His airy ink work, combined with his phantasmagoric layouts, imbues his stories with an almost dreamlike aspect. It is interesting that the "gypsy" is a stock character in fiction (as a fortune teller and/or dabbler in magic of questionable ethics), but to the Romani, to whom the term refers, it is often considered a slur. Because of this, it is used far less frequently these days, but it's hard to deny the appeal of the image of an old, cloaked woman residing in a tenebrous wagon parked in the forest, ominously prognosticating with her tarot deck.

"Lucky Stiff," by Boudreau, Wessler, and Ramon Torrents, is the curious story of a mild-mannered office worker who becomes bewitched by the gorgeous new file clerk. Readers are given a glimpse into the possible, horrific outcome of their rendezvous, but he never reaches her house because fate has other plans. The archetype of the "crazy cat lady," which has become so popular these days, is flipped on its head in this yarn, and we are given just a hint of the twisted world of the girl in the office who seizes the attention of every man who crosses her path. Not unlike the hapless sailors enchanted by the sirens' song, they are bound to be undone by their own appetites.

Next, John Jacobson and Felix Mas offer up "Out of the Nameless City." Fans of H. P. Lovecraft will immediately recognize his fingerprints in this tale, and there are several things taken directly from his work. Set in 1926, the year Lovecraft's groundbreaking "The Call of Cthulhu" was written, this story concerns an actor believed to be the key to the resurrection of ancient gods and the man who tries to stop it from happening. This story's execution, viewed both as a pastiche and a story unto itself, is practically flawless.

"On Little Cat Feet," by Jacobson and Auraleon, is a tale of bizarre witchcraft. When an elderly landlady kicks a witch out of her boarding house, the sorceress, having transformed herself into a cat, returns to seek revenge. But she finds that her former roommate, a sculptor, has a bizarre way of creating her statues. There is quite a bit of humor in this story, but there are also moments that are bound to make readers chuckle in "self-defense" because it's hard to know what to make of them. Warren's magazines often feature particularly weird stories, and this is definitely one. It makes you wonder how on earth the writer came up with it.

The issue concludes with "Trick of the Tide," Jack Butterworth and Isidro Mones' short-but-sweet yarn of a treacherous man named Gabriel Greaves who earns money fishing corpses out of the Thames and the waterlogged corpse of a woman he murders for her husband's money. Not surprisingly, things do not turn out terribly well for him. Let's just say that he learns the hard way that being an opportunist can have dire consequences.

Matt Sunrich, a great fan of the Bronze Age of comic books, maintains two blogs: The Other Other Castle, about Bronze-Age sword and sorcery, and Forging the Dark Knight, concerning Bronze-Age Batman.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Introducing My Star Trek Introductions

By Rich Handley

I've mentioned here before that I've been writing introductions to several volumes of Eaglemoss's Star Trek: The Graphic Novel Collection hardcover set. I've contributed to about eight volumes of the first 20 or so, and the ones I've been chosen for have amused me.
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Monday, March 6, 2017

Alternatives to Traditional Roleplaying

By Matthew Stephen Sunrich

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), the world’s first roleplaying game (RPG), was introduced in 1974. The original version of the game was, in essence, an expansion for Gary Gygax’s tabletop miniatures game Chainmail and, thus, did not have its own unique combat system. You had to have a copy of the miniatures game in order to play it. It was also, for some, difficult to understand. While these and other issues led some players to the conclusion that the rules needed clarifications and/or further development, there was no doubt that the fledgling company Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) had a hit on its hands.

Within a short time, similar games were coming out of the woodwork. It seemed as though the gaming community had been waiting for the fantasy RPG to be created and just didn’t know it. The first of these was Flying Buffalo’s Tunnels & Trolls (T&T), which debuted about a year after D&D. While its predecessor was a fairly serious game, T&T was designed in a more lighthearted vein. It was also less complex and was the first game system to offer single-player options. One of the biggest challenges intrinsic to RPGs is getting a group together (and, having done so, preventing that group from imploding). By design, RPGs require at least two players, preferably more. Someone has to run the game in which the players take part (a Game Master (GM) in general terms or a Dungeon Master (DM) in D&D). But what do you do when you crave a fantasy adventure but don’t have anyone to play with?  

To solve this problem, T&T introduced solo adventures. These took the form of short books in which players make choices at certain points and turn to the corresponding section. For example, the text might say something like, “You enter a dimly-lit room. There are doors to the north and west. A small chest stands in one corner. To go north, turn to 25. To go west, turn to 78. To open the chest, turn to 44.” If this sounds familiar, it was later used by the creators of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series, although the T&T books differed in that players use a character sheet and roll dice to determine outcomes, just like in a traditional session. Basically, the book was the GM.

Games Workshop (the British company known these days for the miniatures game Warhammer) founders Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone introduced Fighting Fantasy in 1982. Unlike the T&T solo adventures, these books were self-contained; they did not require players to use the rules of the “parent” game, as there wasn’t one. With titles such as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Deathtrap Dungeon, Temple of Terror, and House of Hell, this high-quality series proved very popular and remained in publication until 1995, totaling 59 books.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Plea for Policy Change to Amazon's Jeff Bezos

Dear readers,

Please excuse my indulgence in this post, but I sent the following letter today to Amazon's founder, chairman, and CEO, Jeff Bezos, and wanted to also post it here since it discusses an absurd and counterproductive Amazon policy that affects every single writer who uses Amazon Author Pages to promote their work, and because it partly involves Hasslein Books' titles. I tend to doubt my letter will change anything, but I firmly believe that it's always worth trying. If you're an author, I recommend you let Amazon know how you feel about their policy as well.

—Rich Handley


Dear Mr. Bezos,

I write to you today to express concern about a pair of emails I received regarding my Amazon Author Page. Recently, I've been adding books to my page for which I've contributed substantial amounts of writing, in an effort to make it easier for readers to find my work. Today, I added Planet of the Apes Archive Vol. 1: Terror on the Planet of the Apes to my page, for which I penned both the foreword and the afterword. After doing so, I received an email informing me that although the book would be added, Amazon has a policy of not listing books on Author Pages for those who have written foreword, introductions or afterwords, and that herein, no further such books would be listed on my page.

I politely protested this policy, but received another email repeating the rule. With all due respect, your company's reasoning on this matter is flawed. Here's why:

For every book on my Amazon Author Page for which I'm listed as an editor, I'm also one of the writers. I don't list any books on my page for which I am only the editor and not one of the authors, such as those put out by my independent publishing company, Hasslein Books. For example, I'm the editor of Total Immersion: The Comprehensive Unauthorized Red Dwarf Encyclopedia, but not the author. Hence, although I have an editor credit on the book's landing page, it's not included on my Amazon Author Page since I don't take credit for others' work. On the other hand, I'm both an editor and an author of The Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planetof the Apes. Hence, it's listed on my Amazon Author Page, as it should be.

So far, your staff have been quite helpful and friendly, and have added all of the books I've asked them to add. But given today's emails, that's apparently no longer going to be the case. That's a problem for me, as there are several unannounced books for which I've been both an editor and an author as well, but which I won't be able to include on my Author Page now, once the publishers announce them. This is going to majorly dampen my enthusiasm when those volumes come out. In fact, it applies to a majority of the books to which I've contributed.

For Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone, for example, my co-editor and I conceived of the project, brought it to Titan Books and 20th Century Fox, hired all of the authors, and then each wrote more than 40 pages (a short story and an introduction). I'm one of the book's seventeen authors. But because I'm listed on Amazon as the editor and my co-editor is listed as an author due to how the publisher set up the landing page, your policy would dictate that I wouldn't be allowed to have it on my Author Page, yet he would. How is that a working system? How does that make sense? 

The same problem applies to all of my Planet of the Apes and Star Wars books from Sequart—I co-edited each of them, but I am also one of the authors for every volume. Each of these books is a team collaboration, and I wrote lengthy essays that ran with my byline alongside the work of the other essayists. We're all equal contributors. But if Sequart decides to list me as the editor while setting up the book's listing on Amazon, suddenly I'm not allowed to have any of them on my Amazon Author Page? Again, that makes no sense to me.

As for forewords, introductions and afterwords to other books, those involve a good deal of writing and research on my part. In fact, for the books from IDW and BOOM! Studios for which I've written a foreword, an introduction and/or an afterword, I'm the only person who wrote anything new for those books—they're all reprints of classic comic strips (Star Trek, Star Wars and Planet of the Apes), and I was invited to compose all supplementary text created for each book, in essence having me present the strips to the fans. And in the case of IDW's five Star Trek hardcovers on my Author Page, they're actually reprinting my personal comics collection, and I'm the one who conceived of the project in the first place. So how sensible is your policy if I'll no longer be able to list such books on my page?

The thing is, I'm not trying to be argumentative, arrogant, difficult or rude—honestly, I'm not. Your staff are all just doing their jobs, and I appreciate how helpful and expedient each has been every time I've asked to have a book added. They're not the enemy and neither are you, and I mean no disrespect to anyone involved whatsoever. But the bottom line is this: Amazon's policy is just too rigid. It screws over authors like me, whose contributions aren't so clear-cut and black-and-white. For the Titan and Sequart books, for example, my name is on the front cover of each volume, and I'm one of each book's authors, yet I wouldn't be able to have any of them on my Author Page, simply due to an arbitrary "no editors" rule. It's a policy that is dismissive of what editors do, and it's as unrealistic as it is admittedly offensive. I urge you to reconsider.

I use my Amazon Author Page to promote my work, in the hope that others will buy it after finding it all listed together. If I can't list half my books from now on due to some ill-conceived policy about what constitutes an author, then of what use to me—or to any writer, for that matter—is the Author Page? If a writer has helped to spearhead a project from start to finish and has contributed many pages to a book, as I have with my books from Titan and Sequart, how is that writer not an author? If a writer pens supplementary materials for a book, such as an afterword, an introduction, a foreword, a lexicon, or whatever else, as I have with the books from IDW and BOOM! Studios, how is that writer not an author?

More importantly, why would Amazon want to reduce its revenue opportunities? From a promotions and marketing standpoint, that seems nonsensical. What could you possibly gain from making it so that I can't promote all of my books at Amazon from a single landing page? Wouldn't you want fans of my work to be able to easily find and buy all of it? How could you possibly be better off as a seller of books if half of the titles containing my writing aren't listed when people look me up? Honestly, I'm baffled by this. Please help me understand.

Better yet, please consider making your policy much simpler and author-friendly. I respectfully recommend that if an author wishes to list a book to which he or she has contributed as a writer on his or her Amazon Author Page, then let him or her do so, provided that there's proof of that individual's involvement. How would such a policy in any way constitute a problem for Amazon? It would mean more potential book sales. You'd win, I'd win, your customers would win—everyone would win. The current policy, on the other hand, hurts all of us.

In short, I see no downside to letting authors include foreword, introduction and afterword contributions on our Author Pages. Where's the business logic in limiting my ability to promote my books that you sell? Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience.

Rich Handley

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Friday, February 3, 2017

The Awakening

By Matthew Stephen Sunrich

In 1899, Kate Chopin published a short novel called The Awakening. Considered controversial at the time for its feminist themes and the candid way in which it deals with female sexuality, it has gone on to become a major headache for unsuspecting high-school and college literature students everywhere.

Thankfully, this essay has nothing to do with it.

The "awakening" I'm referring to was—for lack of a better term—an event that took place during my freshman year of high school, though it was not related to school itself. In June of 1988, I celebrated my fourteenth birthday. One of the gifts I received was a Nintendo game called The Legend of Zelda. Since then, it has spawned numerous sequels across numerous systems, has been featured in cartoons and comic books, and has appeared on T-shirts, tote bags, and even cereal boxes, but at the time it was a brand-new thing.

I had gotten a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) the previous Christmas, and, having grown weary of Super Mario Bros., the game that came with it and of which I had at one time been a rabid fan, and Elevator Action, the second title I had picked up, I was eager to get into something else. I had no idea what Zelda was all about. At that time, the Internet as we know it today didn't exist, of course, so you could only get information about NES games from Nintendo Fun Club News (the precursor to Nintendo Power), to which I did not have a subscription, or from word of mouth. I didn't know anyone who had played the game, but I had seen a lot of commercials for it, so I decided to give it a shot. After all, Nintendo had cultivated a reputation for quality, so the odds of its being a letdown were slim.

I imagine that for many players Zelda was a revolutionary game, as it was for me. Up to that point, most console games lacked an adventure component. The aforementioned Super Mario Bros., for example, only allowed you to go in a predetermined direction, and backtracking was not permitted. If you missed something, you had no choice but to suck it up and keep going. Zelda was different. Its world was open and, for the time, vast. You could revisit areas again and again. In fact, one of the chief elements of the game was exploration. You were not told what to do or how to do it. You had to figure everything out through trial and error, to traverse deadly forests and spooky graveyards to find the entrances to the game's various levels. You had to determine how weapons and items worked and when they should be used. A map and instruction manual were included, but they only told you so much. Every now and then a wise old man in a cave would give you a clue, but it was often cryptic. For the most part, you were on your own.

Computer-game players were already familiar with this kind of thing. Games like Ultima, Wizardry, and Bard's Tale worked this way. The difference was that while these games required exploration and puzzle solving, they lacked action. The outcomes of battles were resolved by the computer, in a fashion similar to tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs). In a sense, the computer rolled the dice for you during an encounter and told you the outcome. In many of these games, the player controlled an entire party of characters rather than just one. The reason for this is that tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) are designed to be played by a group rather than an individual, with each player having a specific function within the party (a fighter for combat, a wizard for magic, a cleric for healing, et cetera).

Zelda, by contrast, was an action game through and through. It required fast reflexes and could be terribly frustrating at times, particularly if you wandered into an area filled with monsters you were not prepared to fight. Like computer adventure games, it had an overhead view rather than a side-scrolling one. Its closest antecedent was the Atari 2600's Adventure, but while this game required exploration and experimentation and featured rudimentary action sequences (mostly running from dragons or trying to stab them), it was much smaller in scope, did not allow you to carry more than one item at a time, and had primitive graphics due to the system's limitations. No one had seen anything like Zelda before.

As I recall, it took me about a month to conquer it. For those four weeks, it was pretty much all I thought about. I even took the map with me when we went on vacation. It was the most immersive game I had ever encountered. But the experience of playing the game, while rewarding, was not the most important thing. I got something much greater out of it. It was my introduction to fantasy.

As an avid collector of Masters of the Universe (MoTU) action figures and a devoted fan of the tie-in cartoon during my younger years, I had been exposed to the concept of fantasy, but I had never really thought of it as a genre. I didn't even know what "genre" meant. I just found it cool that the warriors fought with swords and axes and that there were magic and monsters involved. D&D had become huge by the early 1980s, and many toy lines reflected its influence. I was a fan of many of the MoTU knockoffs, as well, including Thundercats, Blackstar, and The Other World, the first two of which also had their own cartoons. There was even a toy line actually based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which was the preeminent version of the game at the time.

The most memorable figure was probably Warduke, who was later made into a miniature as part of the D&D Miniatures set "War Drums." Of course, there was also the D&D cartoon (the "Advanced" was likely removed to prevent confusion, although that didn't stop DC Comics from using it in the title of its early-'90s comic book series), which was fairly controversial due to the absurd allegations that the game was linked to suicide, antisocial behavior, and devil worship. I can remember watching it standing up so I could keep an eye on the door of my parents' bedroom. Not even kidding.

By the time Zelda came along I hadn't given fantasy much thought in several years, having become instead interested in Garbage Pail Kids, Madballs, and horror films like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Soon after I began playing it, I became intrigued by Zelda's fantasy setting, and when I had finished the game I began looking for others in a similar vein. When school started, I met a guy named John (with whom I remain friends to this day), who was a computer- and console-game enthusiast, an RPG player, and a fan of speculative fiction. He was the first full-on nerd I had ever met, and I mean that as an enormous compliment. He introduced me to D&D, Commodore 64 adventure games (with their cloth maps and copy-protection wheels), and Dragonlance novels. (I subsequently turned him onto Forgotten Realms novels, thus returning the favor.) It didn't take long to realize that I was onto something big.

At the start of 1989, I began collecting comic books. I had grown up enjoying Superfriends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and The Incredible Hulk on Saturday mornings, but I was a reluctant reader, so I had never bought many comics. Even though most comic books are not fantasy in the strictest sense, they feature speculative tales of a similar nature and borrow elements from fantasy, so there are, therefore, a lot of crossover fans. There's a reason that many comic-book shops also carry RPG books and accessories.

The "awakening" was, hence, my discovery of fantasy fandom. In the span of just a few months, I had found my niche, and I have remained there ever since. Today, I have a comic-book and magazine collection that would have made fourteen-year-old me lose control of his bodily functions. I have well over 700 miniatures, a plethora of dice (especially d20s, my favorites), and a number of publications related to fantasy games going back to the 1970s, which are just engaging to read. I have used my writing ability as a means of sharing my passion, contributing to the hobby, and "giving back" to the community. I have found incalculable joy in the books and games I have picked up during the last 28 years.

I cannot imagine what my life would have been like if I had never slid The Legend of Zelda into my Nintendo Entertainment System in the summer of 1988. Traversing the environs of the fictional world of Hyrule helped me discover myself.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Star Trek Comics Get Graphic

By Rich Handley

I recently posted a piece about the new Star Trek: The Graphic Novel Collection from British publisher Eaglemoss, which is reprinting numerous Star Trek comics published during the past 50 years. The books, available by mail-order subscription, feature a painting of the various spaceships of the Star Trek franchise adorning each volume's spine, forming a single image that grows as a collector acquires new editions. Shortly after I posted that article, I received the first shipment in the mail and was very pleased at what it contained: the first three volumes of the series, each reprinting a popular IDW miniseries.

Volume 1 repackages Star Trek: Countdown (story by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, written by Tim Jones and Mike Johnson, and illustrated by David Messina), which revealed the background of Nero, the Romulan renegade from 2009's Star Trek film. The second volume collects Harlan Ellison's Original The City on the Edge of Forever Teleplay (written by Scott and David Tipton and illustrated by J.K. Woodward), which breathed life into the oft-discussed early version of the episode's script that Ellison originally submitted before several plot and character changes were mandated. And reprinted in volume 3 is Star Trek: The Next Generation—Hive (written by Brannon Braga and Terry Matalas, with art by Joe Corroney), a 25th-anniversary celebration offered up by one of that show's key creative forces.

Having previously read these series as each one hit stores, I already knew that they all contained great stories accompanied by beautiful illustrations. As such, the question remained as to whether or not it would be worth collecting and re-reading books I already owned. After looking through these first three volumes, I no longer have any such reservations.

The presentation in these books is fantastic and makes the re-reading experience unique and so much more than merely a rehash of what has come before. The colors are crisper, the lines stronger, and after only three volumes, I can already tell that I'm going to love how this will all look on the shelves once I have the complete collection. How maddening that it'll take time for them all to arrive, and that I have to wait for the fourth volume, Spock—Reflections (by the Tiptons and Messina). Like Willy Wonka's Veruca Salt, I want it now!

There's very little negative one can say about this series. The covers are beautiful, the reprinted miniseries well-chosen. Plus, the lapel pin that comes with the first shipment is a nice little bonus for those who collect such things. Admittedly, I'm normally not such a person, but I have to say that I like how it looks on my shelving unit next to the books. Eaglemoss has done a wonderful job with this series, and I look forward to what's to come.

Sadly, due to a problem involving the Post Office (for which Eaglemoss is clearly not to blame), my shipment arrived in a damaged box. As a result, the collector's magazine packaged with volume 1 was nowhere to be found. Amazingly, despite the crumpled state of the carton, none of the three graphic novels were damaged in the slightest, and the lapel pin was actually present. How that little Starfleet symbol managed to survive the journey through the mail in a broken box, I don't know, but it's a testament to Eaglemoss that the books themselves were entirely unaffected, thanks to plastic wrapping around each volume. Even better, Eaglemoss is sending me another copy of the missing magazine, which is a very good indicator of the level of customer service the company provides.

My verdict: This is a stellar series, well worth purchasing. Some fans may balk at having to cough up money to buy stories they already own, but consider this: comic books, by their very nature, are flimsy and easily destroyed. These hardcover books, on the other hand, are sturdy and built to last. If they could arrive at my doorstep without any damage whatsoever, despite the box in which they were shipped looking like a pack of alien gorillas had decided to use it as a soccer ball,* then that means I can count on them not to fall apart or degrade. And that means I can pick up these volumes whenever I want to enjoy my favorite Trek comics, without worrying about potentially damaging my ever-increasingly old collection of individual issues. What's more, it's going to look so good once the painting along the spines is complete.

Keep 'em coming, folks. Keep 'em coming.

* It remains to be seen whether or not Eaglemoss plans to reprint the 1969 British comic strip storyline originally published in Joe 90: Top Secret issues 11-14, in which the Enterprise crew actually teach alien gorillas how to play soccer.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

On Nostalgia

By Matthew Stephen Sunrich

I was in ninth grade, in 1989, when I experienced nostalgia for the first time.
I had recently begun collecting comics, and while flipping through an issue of The Incredible Hulk from early in the decade, which I had gotten from a friend along with a stack of others, I ran across an advertisement for a book of puzzles and games featuring characters from classic video games (Pac-Man, Q*Bert, et al). You might recall how they merchandized the crap out of these characters during the so-called Golden Age of Arcade Games. I remember stuffed animals, PVC figurines, t-shirts, candy, and jewelry, amongst tons of other junk.

I had, of course, been a video-game enthusiast since 1980, when I played Pac-Man in the local Kroger for the first time (I had no idea what I was doing, but I was hooked). I spent a lot of time in arcades, which in those days were everywhere. I grew up in a pretty small town, and we had at least five or six of them. I didn't get an Atari 2600 until the price went down to twenty-five bucks (despite numerous attempts, I could never get my dad to shell out the bread for one before this development, even though he bought a Commodore Vic-20, which I really only used as a video-game console), but my cousin had one, and we spent an insane amount of time playing it. My uncle even subscribed to some sort of "cartridge of the month" club that mailed new games to you every few weeks. We were, perhaps not surprisingly, completely oblivious to the fact that the market crashed in 1983; all we knew was that you could suddenly get Atari games for pennies on the dollar.

Since then, I had graduated to the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), which I still consider the greatest console ever made. Even though it had only been seven or eight years since the Atari heyday, video games, both home and arcade versions, had changed immensely in that time. Even though we played a lot of Atari, we often complained about the poor quality of the graphics and gameplay. The home ports didn't come anywhere close to stacking up to their arcade counterparts (the worst example of this was, of course, the Atari port of Pac-Man, which was infamously thrown together quickly so it could reach stores by the Christmas season and was a major contributor to the aforementioned crash). We always hoped for something better. When the NES hit, it felt like we had entered a completely different world.

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Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Eaglemoss Boldly Unveils Star Trek: The Graphic Novel Collection

By Rich Handley

Star Trek fans are pretty damn lucky when it comes to comic books. Although the various TV series and films frequently go on hiatus for years at a time with no new episodes, the comics have remained in near-constant production for the past fifty years from numerous publishers, including Gold Key/Western, City Magazines/IPC, Power Records, the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, Marvel Comics, DC Comics, Malibu Publishing, Paramount Comics, WildStorm Comics, TokyoPop, and IDW Publishing (the current publisher).

Click on the above image to view a larger version.

There have been a few gaps here and there throughout the years, but other than in 1999 and again from 2002 to 2005, new Star Trek comic books and/or strips have been published every single year since 1967. With more than 1,100 issues to date, attempting to find them all can be a pretty daunting task, unless one is willing to forego the physical issues and read them digitally. For many fans, half the fun is being able to look at one's collection on a shelf or in boxes.

Thankfully, a British publisher called Eaglemoss has made this easier, by launching a new series of hardcover graphic novels that will eventually collect every Trek comic to date, and look damn cool on shelves, to boot. Star Trek: The Graphic Novel Collection, debuting today in the United Kingdom and sometime next month in the United States, is not merely an archival reprinting—it's a thing of beauty (check out this video). A painting of the various spaceships of Star Trek adorns each volume's spine, forming a single image that grows as a collector acquires new volumes. It's a gorgeous presentation, and it would look fantastic sitting on any fan's shelves.

Once again, click to view a larger version.

As the company explains at its website: "For the first time ever, a new hardback book collection celebrating the 50 years of Star Trek in a single series. This extraordinary new collection spans decades and contains all the key moments of Star Trek comic history; everything is here, from Gold Key’s first Star Trek comic published in 1967 to the latest adventures. Beautifully presented in brand new hardback editions with brand new introductions, this series is a must for any fan. With this collection, you can revisit all the classic characters and incredible art from the Star Trek comic archives. Every edition has a specially commissioned introduction to provide context to the story. Every book contains a number of collected comics and a bonus reprint of one of the comic archive’s classic stories."

Full disclosure: I wrote one of those introductions and hope to contribute more. But I'd be discussing this series even if that weren't the case, because Star Trek comic books are a passion for me (otherwise, why the heck would I maintain this?), and this series is a passionate fan's dream.

And again, click to enlarge.

The books are available from Eaglemoss on a subscription basis, and those who sign up will receive a number of cool bonuses: a specially commissioned metal lapel pin featuring the iconic Starfleet symbol, an original set of high-quality movie posters from the Star Trek films that can be stored in a unique collector's tin, two embossed tin signs that reproduce classic covers from the comic archives, and a pair of steel bookends featuring Klingon and Starfleet symbols.


How cool is that? Answer: very.

Those who go in for a premium membership will also receive a set of hardback photonovels reprinting John Byrne's wonderful comics from IDW, inspired by the Bantam Fotonovels published in the 1970s. For my money, Byrne has written some of the best Star Trek comics ever produced, so even if you don't end up buying The Graphic Novel Collection, I highly recommend tracking them down in some other format.

You get how this works by now, right? Click.

For more information about Star Trek: The Graphic Novel Collection, check out The Trek Collective's write-up. And here's a solid piece looking back at the history of Star Trek comic books, courtesy of The Comics Alliance.

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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Rest in Peace, Carrie Fisher

You will be missed more than fans could ever express.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

The Red Dwarf FAQ

by Paul Giachetti

The new series of Red Dwarf has brought many fans, old and new, to online gathering holes such as the Official Website Forum, Ganymede and Titan and Facebook Groups such as The Red Dwarf Posse and A Real Red Dwarf Fan Club. These fans join groups such as these to learn about their favorite show, and oftentimes have similar questions to each other. To aid in their pursuit of knowledge, I have compiled a list of several Frequently Asked Questions about the show by fans. This is my own list and separate from the Official Website's own FAQ, although there are a few overlapping questions. These are mostly about technical aspects of the show, and do not include opinion questions such as "what's your favorite episode?" This list will be updated regularly; if there are any questions you have that do not appear on this list (and are not toast-related), feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Alien/Predator Comic Strips, Part Three

(For part one of this article series, click here. For part two, click here.)

By Jean-François Boivin

Diamond Comic Distributors is now the main provider for comic shops all around the world. But when the company started in 1982, there was a lot of competition. The company grew and absorbed other distributors, and in 1990 they started publishing a catalog for pre-orders titled Previews (much like their main competitor Capital City Distribution did the year before with their Advance Comics) that was sold to the public through local shops. The magazine includes advance solicitations with description of upcoming releases (in order of publishing company) and an order form that could be filled out by comic shop owners to order for their customers.

Most issues included preview pages of comics and promotional cards and posters. In its third year, Previews started including exclusive comic strips with the January 1993 issue (Vol. III, No. 1). That very first storyline was provided by Dark Horse Comics, and was laid out over 13 two-page installments. The selection was a biggie: John Byrne was given full freedom to write and illustrate his own story set in the Aliens universe, titled "Aliens: Earth Angel." Byrne had a bit of past history with the Alien franchise: in his end notes for the Dark Horse re-publication in July 1992 of one of his early stories, Critical Error[1], Byrne says that he was inspired by a photograph of the movie Alien that he saw in the pages of Heavy Metal. Now he had the chance to write an actual Alien story, and he chose to set it on Earth, in a small American town in the 1950s, and make it play out like an old school sci-fi movie. It'’s got a crashed alien ship, a motorcycle gang, and a town doctor who becomes a hero.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Trek Against Trump: Because the Future Deserves Better

By Rich Handley

I'm not a top-tier Star Trek writer. I've not written any TV episodes or novels (YET), but I have contributed to the official magazines and website, worked on comics projects for IDW and contributed to other branches of the franchise. Therefore, I am throwing my hat into the ring, along with other Star Trek writers, in support of the "Trek Against Trump" movement.

DonaldTrump's white-supremacist views and connections, his profound lack of knowledge, his history of bankruptcies, his tradition of scamming small businesses and not paying those who work for him, his misogynistic and cruel statements about women, his hypocrisy, his bad temper, his hate-mongering, his inability to control himself when speaking in public, his bizarre lack of self-awareness, his unceasing dishonesty, the rumors of his having raped a young girl and mistreated women, his unprepared performance at the first debate, the hordes of violent bigots who flock to his rallies, his rampant tax evasion and bragging about same, and the ignorant bigotry he espouses make him a danger to this country. His practices and views are the very antithesis of what the United States stands for.

He is, at heart, un-American.

I may not be pro-Clinton, but I am definitely anti-Trump, and I stand with my Star Trek colleagues in this matter. Were he elected President, Trump would embarrass America in the eyes of the world's nations, most of which are already laughing at us for even nominating him in the first place. He would badly damage our credibility, provide white supremacists a puppet in the Oval Office, and give exactly zero shits about anyone who doesn't have white skin, a billion dollars in the bank and Trump as a surname. He is the most non-Presidential candidate this country has had in my lifetime.

Star Trek, going back to its infancy, has always taken a strong stance against bigotry, intolerance, bullying, fascism, greed, inequality and power lust, and Trump embodies all of those traits. Hillary Clinton may not be an ideal candidate and may share some of Trump's faults, but he represents a very real danger to our society that goes FAR beyond anything that could be said about her. He is deplorable.

As a Trek fan and franchise contributor, I feel that condemning Trump is the only logical choice.

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