So the other night a bunch of writers sat down together in a room to story edit each other's short stories. We're putting together an e-zine of speculative fiction and this was just part of the process. Before sitting down to write, I knew my fellow writers. I know, more or less, what kind of nerds they are and I expected a lot of fantasy pieces. I was right. I expected a lot of high fantasy pieces. I was also right. I decided to do a low fantasy piece, just to be different. I thought people might get a kick out of it.
Damn, I was WROOOOONG.
First, defining a few terms. I know that these are sorta in flux, but back when I paid attention to labels, High and Low Fantasy were polar opposite pieces of work. On the High end, you had your Tolkien. Good guys are good, bad guys are bad, elves aren't (apparently) magnificent bastards, dwarves like axes, etc. On the Low end you had your Howards and your Leibers. So on one hand, you had Gandalf and Hobbits. On the other, you had Conan or Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser.
I don't know when it was that I discovered the Low end of the fantasy pool, but it wouldn't surprise me if it was VERY near when I discovered Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammet. Tolkien is to Agatha Christie and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle what Howard is to Chandler and Hammet. The bad guys were willfully terrible human beings, the good guys were, at best, noble savages, the plot was where to steal the next thing or who to kill next, and emotional arcs sounded like a spell one of the invariably evil sorcerers would throw at Conan. It was gritty, it was often harsh, it was violent, and it was pure adventure.
Now, don't get me wrong; I love some Tolkien. Aggressively pro-Jesus, pro-Catholic, pro-Mythology, and anti-Industrialization when none of that was going to bring him widespread acclaim. I appreciate everything he did for fantasy in general and for representative storytelling in particular. And you can imagine how much I want to emulate his ability to filter everything through a mythological lens so that it feels authentic even if I'm making it up. That's strong stuff.
But until those movies came out, it never occured to me that anybody in Lord of the Rings ever got dirty. Or sweaty. Just like it never occurs to me that Achilles or Beowulf get dirty or sweaty. They just aren't that kind of story.
But Conan started his life as a backward savage, so he was never anything other than dirty and sweaty. Solomon Kane put sword to a continent of godless heathens, so I bet he sweated a lot. All of Lankmar was a cesspit figuratively and much of it literally. If Tolkien was mythology, then this is what "real life" would feel like if I were hanging out in the seedier ends of the Hyborian age. The themes and ways of Low Fantasy storytelling may not have resonated with my soul in the same way grandiose manufactured mythologies did, but they got me somewhere in the guts and balls and spoke to the same bits of me that liked tough talking but tarnished detectives and dangerous, long-legged dames.
So I decided to write one. I'd never tried short stories (as previously mentioned) nor a low fantasy, but I dove in. I let Aaron take a look at it and he gutted it like a pike. Some of my issues were short story driven and he also gave some really great suggestions that added depth and personality to the piece. But he eviscerated my Third Person Narrator. He asked me to tone down the purposefully stilted, somewhat poetic verbiage. He insisted there were too many point-of-view characters and that I was "cheating." The flowing introduction to the city that would be the home of my story (and probably others after it) was cut entirely. But I dutifully modernized my story and hoped that the reprehensible main characters doing distasteful things for profitable reasons would carry the intent through. I actually got to where I thought it was pretty good after a few dozen rewrites.
Then I brought it to the group and there was some actual hate. I come pretty close to a quote when I tell you that Thomas (in the most loving way possible) said, "If that's what you meant to do, you did it...but I HATE it."
This combined with Aaron insisting that I couldn't "write to Howard's audience" brought something home to me. If I wanted to write to Tolkien's audience, that was fair game. But the insinuation was that low fantasy lacked depth, lacked emotional resonance, and, most important in some ways, lacked an audience. I was flabbergasted. Was there truly not place in modern fantasy for prosaic adventure stories for whom the whole point was the adventure? Was there no interest in jeweled thrones being trod 'neath sandaled feet or dark gods being stabbed to death unless we knew about the protagonist's issues with his mother? Or was it merely the style that had to go? Howard and his contemporaries wrote on the cusp of when what we consider the modern novel was formalized. Could he himself, or those influenced by him, have had more influence on that if he'd stuck around? Does it even matter anymore?
In short, what would the fantasy shelves of your local bookstore look like if Two Gun Bob hadn't eaten a bullet?
I don't have an answer, but I don't believe that low fantasy, sword and sandal stuff, doesn't have an audience. I can't believe that I'm the only one exhausted by squeaky clean heroes of myth living between the ten thousand pages of the latest multi-volume, door-stopping epic. Or, worse, the jaded and "mature" reworkings of Tolkien's original pristine purpose as we grasp at the wonder he gave us while trying to also have our "adult themes." I've got one magic bullet to spend on finding out for sure.
Look out. Here comes The Saga of the Myth Reaver.
So you've heard the excuses and seen the dearth of posts, but now it's finally time to explain just what the high falootin' hell I've been doing with myself for the last couple weeks. Well, here it is in no particular order...
- A Consortium of Worlds, the speculative fiction magazine The Consortium is putting together, will be in the world by the end of September. I'm the associate editor and have a story in it. This is the first time I've ever done a magazine. It's the first time any of us have ever done a magazine. It's the first time a lot of us have ever done short stories. But day-um this thing is going to be sweet! High fantasy, low fantasy, angsty science fiction, and even some steampunk that doesn't make me want to tear my own eyes out. This is totally going to be worth the thin greenback you have to spend on it.
- The Kindle All Stars Project got my attention even before Harlan Ellison blessed it. Yeah, that's right, Harlan Effing Ellison. Bernard J. Schaffer, author of the current number one Sherlock Holmes book on Amazon, is the ramrod behind it and I'm really excited to be a part of it. I have no idea how many stories will be in it, but it'll also be a single greenback and all profits will go to The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
- The story for Kindle All Stars will star Hob Lesatz who you met in a sneak peek last week. The story I gave you a look at, Lesatz for Hire, should be available by September 13. That's another 15k word story full of brutal criminals doing terrible things to one another, all for just another thin dollar bill.
- I'm going on vacation at the end of next week and plan to write an entire novel while on the road. The novel in question, The Big Sleep Mode, A Copper Lincoln, Robot Detective Mystery, will combine with all the Hob stories to guarantee I don't want to write anything noir fora good long while.
- Courtney Cantrell and Aaron Pogue both keep giving books that are about to be published so they can get my feedback on them. And so I can write the back cover copy for them. Oh, go ahead and add back cover copy (or a letter from the editors) to everything I mentioned above. Except for the Kindle All Stars. I just have a bio to do on that one.
- They're mostly backburnered at the moment, but Hell Bent for Leather will be going to copy edit at any moment and On Leather Wings will be coming back from story edit probably at EXACTLY THE SAME TIME. Because Aaron hates me.
- In real life news, I'm like two weeks away from being a foster parent. I don't know how that goes in other states, but in Oklahoma it is HELLA HARD. Not hard like difficult, hard like complicated. And LONG. So many classes...so much training.
I think that wraps up the bigger stuff. Imagine that in between each of those bullets there are a lot of smaller bullets with either other projects or links in the chain to make those projects happen. If it seems like I'm complaining, then I'm doing it wrong, though. I LOVE THIS. I can't believe I'm writing this much or that so much of it will be in front of the public eye so soon. And that I'm helping other writers get their stuff ready to sell in the meantime. It's very exciting and I pretty much can't wait to do my bits of it every day.
Come back Wednesday, though, and I'll talk about how I was surprised to find that Robert E. Howard probably couldn't find a market in fantasy today. It blew my MIND. See you then!
As previously mentioned, I have a short story coming out soon. It has been story edited but not copy edited so I'm going to brave the possibility of grammatical errors and typos and give everyone a sneak peek at the first chapter (roughly 1/6 of the story by chapter count). I don't want to tell you too much other than it's going under the heading of Arcanoir which basically means "the hardboiled 1930s but with magic and fantasy elements for no reason other than I want to." Without further adieu, here's the first chapter of Lesatz for Hire. By all means, rip it to shreds in the comments.
Sure, I’m Hob Lesatz. For hire. That’s what it says on the door, anyway. But good etching won’t get you a thing down on the waterfront in San Francisco. Not when you can get it just as nice on a tombstone. But if you’re going to make a living, it helps if people can find you without a locator spell. I do whatever I can to shake a couple nickels together and hope they mate, especially if it takes a strong back and a stronger stomach. But some days it doesn’t matter how much money you have because no doctor can vaccinate you and no mage can ward you against trouble. Especially when a dame straight out of your past comes sashaying in with a double helping of it. That’s what happened to me the other day when a slip of memory came into my office. A slip of memory I thought of as Roxanne Slatterly when I bothered to think of her at all. But she insisted on calling herself Roxy...Roxy Starlight.
“Are you just going to keep giving me the hairy eyeball, Hob, or are you going to ask a lady to sit down?” Roxy asked in that voice like a purring engine, all warmth and speed. I recognized the voice but the face it came out of was barely familiar. It looked like Roxy’s older sister, if she’d had one, and if big sis had been a Hollywood starlet. Part of that was because I hadn’t seen her in years and part of it was the glamour. She was painted bright with both cosmetics and a little magical help that made her look like the girl I used to love as seen through the smoked glasses of love and romance I’d worn as a kid. Only even better. That’s what a good glamour will do for you. No matter what my eyes told me, that voice shook me just like it had when we were kids. But I wasn’t that kid anymore, hadn’t been since I came off the Rock. And she needed to know that right from the start.
“Well?” She said, arching one of her downy eyebrows at me.
“My mistake, I wasn’t entirely sure that’s what I was seeing. A lady, an apparition from the past, or just another doxy looking to make a buck. I’ve got space for exactly one of those. If you’re the right one, have a seat.” I gestured toward one of the two ragged chairs that sat in front of my equally battered desk.
She didn’t like the insinuation at all and I watched those green eyes go flinty as she stepped around and took a seat. She removed her gloves in a tidy manner and then tidily place them in her handbag. Then she sat the tiny bag down in the chair next to her just as tidily. She met eyes with me again and gave me one of those smiles. I should have felt the smile in my hip pocket but the cold stare just above it was like a bucket of ice in my pants. I didn’t smile back, but she needn’t have been offended. I never smiled at anybody.
Once the production was over, I settled back in my chair, which gave a shrill squeak of protest at the weight. “So, what can I do for you Roxanne?”
“Can’t a girl come by and visit an old flame without there being something he can do for her?” Her tone was coquettish. It made me a little angry. I let her hear it in my answer.
“A girl can. But if you were that girl, I think I would have seen you a little before this. No, I think you’re no happier to be here than I am to have you. Which means you’re desperate and that there is something I can do for you. Something you can’t do for yourself. So shake it up and pour it.”
Her smile turned into a frozen, ugly thing for just a second before she caught herself and switched to a look of wounded innocence. It was nice to know I was throwing her off her game as far as she was throwing me off mine.
“If that’s the way you’re going to be, then perhaps I should leave...” She started to tug her left glove back on, but it was an unhurried gesture that radiated the hope I’d stop her. I had to admit I was pretty curious what would cause Roxanne to darken my door, so I gave her what she wanted. More fool me.
“Sit still, Rox, but let’s beg off the performance. Tell me what you need while I get us a drink.” I reached into the bottom drawer and brought out the office bottle and two pony glasses.
“It’s the Starlight, the--” she paused, unsure for a moment how to continue. I saved her.
“The nightclub and brothel you run.”
“Yes,” she said, and for just a moment she looked like the good Catholic girl I used to know, ashamed of how we spent our time together. “I’m being muscled out.”
I laughed at her as I poured the whiskey. “Then why are you coming to me? If you were going to anybody from the old neighborhood, I’d expect you to see Owen. Isn’t protecting you from this kind of thing what you pay him for?”
Her eyes narrowed and she looked around the room furtively just like she used to do years ago when she told me a secret. “I don’t pay Owen McCrutcheon a thin dime. Nobody owns a piece of the Starlight but me.”
I sipped at the whiskey and rolled it around my tongue just like I rolled that statement around my brain. They both tasted bitter.
“That seems pretty damned unlikely, Rox, but let’s pretend it’s true for a minute. Why not call him in now?”
She shook her head, exasperation and fear warring on her face. “I built the Starlight up from nothing, Hob, and I did it without Owen McCrutcheon’s help or protection. I pay him a tax, but that’s it. He hasn’t forced the issue, probably out of respect for...what we all were to one another. If I ask him to come in and protect the place, the Starlight will be his no matter whose name is on the door. I’m desperate to keep it my own, Hob. Surely you of all people can understand that.”
She had me there and she knew it, but it didn’t answer all the questions.
“You’ve got a friend in that dowager madam, don’t you? Flowers?”
Roxanne shook her head and pursed her lips. “Francine is a friend and a mentor, but that’s it. She’s been free with advice and sent a few clients to me in the early days when I was just getting started. But she doesn’t have any pull in Sunset. She’s always relied on police protection anyway, and we both know that was never going to fly with Owen’s outfit. Not after...what they did to you two.”
She had me again, but only on points. “Fair enough. But I don’t think that’s any reason for us to get into bed together again.”
I chose my words specifically to hurt her and I must have hit the mark because her face got a little hard again. “It says ‘for hire’ on the door. So I’ll hire you to get into bed with me.” Her voice was brittle, like shards in my heart. Then she ruined the spell. “I’ll give you a thousand dollars.”
I was surprised enough it showed on my face. Nobody sitting in that seat counted my pay in thousands. They barely counted it at all. “Try the other one, Roxanne Slatterly, it has church bells on it. Anybody who comes in this office talking that kind of dough is either stupid, on the make, or both. Which is it with you?”
“What about a thousand dollars and a favor for the girl you used to love?” she asked, her eyes glistening.
I felt my eyes narrow. She flinched a little so God only knows what else was going on in with my face. I shook my head twice and pointed toward the door.
Then I saw what I’d never expected to see. I saw the bulwark she’d created as Roxy Starlight fleck away like cheap paint and leave only frightened, miserable Roxanne Slatterly. The tears started flowing and they seemed to startle her. She quickly reached for her purse, nearly knocked it to the ground, but caught it at the last second. She pulled out a silk handkerchief, dabbing it at her eyes to try and stop the flow, but it was too late for that. She stood up sharply, turned on her heel, her back ramrod straight, and stormed the few steps out of the office. She slammed my door so hard all the cardboard thin walls of my office shook.
Now it was my turn to be surprised. I didn’t think any of that was an act, it all had the air of something painfully genuine. I wondered what could possibly get past the Starlight armor and pierce the heart of young Ms. Slatterly. I didn’t wonder long, though. Before I could decide whether to go after her or not, she came storming back in. There was another woman beside her.
This woman was in an overcoat a size or two too big for her but still buttoned up close to her throat. It hung nearly to her ankles and made her a solid wall of brown except for the cream scarf she had tied around her head and face. Combined with the overlarge, owlish smoked glasses she wore, it left her totally hidden.
“If you won’t do it for me, Harold Lesatz, then maybe you’ll do it so nothing like this happens to another one of my girls.” Roxy turned her harsh stare toward the woman next to her and it melted.
Roxy put one hand on the woman’s shoulder and nodded at her. The woman’s hand came haltingly to her face, then stopped. I saw a dampness spread across the part of the scarf that crossed her face beneath the glasses. More tears, but silent ones. In my experience, a woman’s tears without any of the theatrics are almost always true. Roxy waited three heartbeats, but when it became clear the woman wasn’t going to remove the coverings, Roxy reached up gently and removed the glasses and scarf for her.
What I saw could barely be described as a face. But this wasn’t the ruin of birth defect, curse, or magefire. This was a physical thing, made by hands that knew their work. I felt my face and heart harden and I knew I was taking the case. I also knew I was going to regret it, but in that moment my white hot rage burned away all other concerns.
“Just tell me who did it, Rox. They’ll think the Golden Gate dropped on them.”
Posts have been sporadic. Sorry about that. I'm trying to get a handle on the sched around here, but most of the time it's all "hold'er, Newt, she's a'rarin'!" The majority of the problem is that we're having some personal issues at For Radical that I'm not at liberty to discuss due to state law (trust me, it's all wonderful news that we're really excited about). But that puts a squeeze on the work. And especially now, when Aaron and I have decided to not only start the aforementioned short fiction magazine for The Consortium but also to put together a few short stories or novellas as mini-fundraisers for the Next Big Thing.
I want to tell you a little about the fund raiser projects before the reason for raising funds. I mean, the reason is exciting and any of you that have any interest in the Consortium will want to know, but I'd rather you be excited about reading our stuff first. Then, if you're happy you spent the money for the reading pleasure and because it supported our next endeavor, we win twice.
Aaron will be putting out a really fun little tale of dragons and dwarves (get your dice!) called From Embers. From Embers ties into Aaron's bestselling fantasy debut novel Taming Fire. Oh, it's set a few thousand years before The Dragonswarm Trilogy but it gives you another piece of the big puzzle of just what the hell is going on with all these swarms of dragons! I've read both the short and the novel and if you're a fan of wizards and dragons and swords, do yourself a favor and pick them both up.
For myself, I'm going to repurpose a comic book plot that never got put into play. The novella is set in the San Francisco of the 1930s but with the added twist of unexplained magic and fantastical beings mixed in with the mobsters, corrupt cops, and tough talking detectives you'd expect to see. The working title is Lesatz for Hire and will introduce you to Hob Lesatz, a guy who hopes he's just a little bit tougher, a little bit meaner, and a little bit smarter than most of the hoods trying to scrape out a living on the San Francisco waterfront. An old flame, the old flame really, comes back out of the past needing help and Hob has to make some tough choices about how best to help Roxy without getting tangled up in business he left behind a lifetime ago.
I'm putting it under the umbrella of Arcanoir and may return to the setting and Hob again in the future. Okay, for those of you that know me, you know I'll be back to this well. For those of you that don't...listen, the excuse to write hardboiled dialogue in a San Fran or an LA where any skel might be packing a wand as well as a .45 and any mob boss might call out his ogre goons is a very alluring siren song for me. Check the archives and all will become apparent.
So now on to the Next Big Thing! It has come to our attention that it would be very inexpensive to print and distribute gift cards with a code to download an e-book. Now, on the surface, that may not sound that interesting. But these cards let us do two major things. First, they let us sell e-books in actual, physical bookstores (or other retail locations). Man, you have to see how huge that is. That's the thing that closes the circle and makes e-books profitable for places that aren't Amazon or Smashwords. (As an aside, it's also given me some big thoughts about digital comics, but that's another post.)
The second thing those cards give us an amazing promotional tool. Roughly credit card sized with full color representations of the book cover on the front and back cover copy on the back, these cards are going to be really, really sharp to look at. They won't hardly cost us a thing if we print in large enough numbers, so giving them away will be nearly painless. Imagine that we're at a genre specific con, let's just say a sci fi/fantasy convention, and we're selling a few of our multi-volume fantasy epics. Imagine we give a few of the first novels away on the gift cards on the first night of the con. Do you think we'll sell anymore by the end? Or just imagine we make a personal connection with somebody, say at a cocktail party or fundraiser, and they're very interested in the type of fiction we write. We can put one of these in their hands for next to nothing and the odds are good we'll sell them a few more books after they get done with that one. Then they'll either tell their friends or pass the card on to them, download it, read it, and probably go on to buy other books of ours. Lather, rinse, repeat.
That barely scratches the surface of what these gift cards could be for us as both revenue stream and promotional item. But they do require a little capitol to fund them, which is where From Embers and Arcanoir come in. So watch this space and consider throwing us a few bucks on those once they're out in the world to help get us on track for the Next Big Thing.
And I promise to be back on track with a post on Wednesday! Honestly, I have no idea right now what it'll be about, but I'll do my best to make it stunning! See you then!
This blog post is going up a little late. The biggest reason for this is I was visiting my parents this weekend. My sister and nephews were also there. As usual, the thing that most strikes me about every visit to my parents' place, and this is only exacerbated by my sister when she's around, is the sheer omnipresence of television. Don't get me wrong, we watch some TV here at my place. Since my father-in-law came to live with us, we even have cable for the first time in five or six years. But most of the TV the wife, kiddo, and I watch is on Netflix or DVD. There are no commercials and we are only watching what we want when we want.
That's the big deal right there. Commercials are obnoxious and we aren't bombarded with random programming just because we feel the need to have the TV on. This leads to, generally, a much quieter existence at my house. Going from my place to theirs is always a jarring experience and, despite our best efforts, the wife and I can't help but ask to turn things down, or off, or just wander around looking for a room that isn't filled with television noise. Pretty much from the moment we walk through the door, we feel like this:
Another aspect of this is I forget the sheer volume of dreck that's on television when you don't filter anything. I mentioned this in a somewhat confrontational way and my sister accused me of elitism in my choices of entertainment. Oh, she didn't put it that way, but that's what she was getting at. She accused me of thinking that whatever I was watching or reading was the best thing ever and everyone should be watching or reading it.
She accused me of entertainment elitism.
The guy who can tell you what time Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered. The guy who spends way too much time reading crime and detective novels. The guy who gets most excited about e-publishing because it allows something like the old pulp magazines to happen again. The guy who argues constantly that genre fiction can still be art. I'm the guy who is elitist in my entertainment. I was flabbergasted.
But then I realized what the difference is. When it comes down to it, it isn't what you read or watch, it's how you read and watch it. If I read Dickens but shut my brain off, then I might as well be reading People magazine for all the good it's doing me. If I'm reading superhero comics and looking deep for mythic themes and the interplay of cultures and ideas in an overtly symbolic way, then I'm obviously getting a good mental workout from it.
Now, that's not to say Dickens and superhero comics are a straight apples to apples comparison. There are certainly a handful of superhero books I'd elevate to the level of literature, but they are definitely not the majority. But let's take another one of my personal loves, the cop/crime drama. HBO's The Wire is smart, complex, nuanced, and deeply introspective of the American urban mindset and landscape. It doesn't shy away from the desolation any more than it does from the glimmers of hope. In this way, The Wire is decidedly Dickensian and I'm not the only one who thinks so.
Now I have friends that have and are watching The Wire and recognize it as a high quality show but they are never, ever, ever going to make a Dickens connection there. And I have friends who have read the handful of superhero comics I'd call literature and dismissed them as just another superhero story. This isn't because they're dumb necessarily, it's because they aren't reading/watching these works in as critical (meant in the sense of being discerning) a manner as I do.
This comes to a head in the conversation with my sister because she accused me of specifically giving her a hard time about watching soap operas. Don't get me wrong, I think soap operas are generally pretty slap-dash affairs as far as writing, production, characterization, acting, and everything else goes. But what she completely refused to recall was that I'd often compared superhero comics to them. In fact, with two shifts, they're basically the same bits of fiction (including, sadly, the slap-dash feel of them). All you have to do is switch out money for super powers and sex for fights. BAM, X-Men = Guiding Light.
I could be standing inside a gold mine and, if I don't at least have a shovel with me, I'm not going to get any of its riches. That's the person who refuses to engage a fiction no matter how well crafted. I don't expect to find gold everywhere, but if I bring the right tools for the job and a little bit of brain work, I might find something redeeming buried in my own backyard. That's what happens when I bring my A game to typically-dismissed genre fiction. Most of it isn't very good, but every now and then I find absolute gems. In the meantime, I find a lot of arrowheads and buried pennies. I may be wasting most of my time panning for gold in low art but those other folks waste all of theirs if they never even try.
I maintain you can find something valuable in almost every piece of art, high or low...except, that is, for the thing that started this conversation with my sister in the first place. Pay attention to my warning, people! Reality television is a blight on the mental landscape and is actively working to make you stupider! There is nothing redeeming to be found in watching idiots go through their lives with a camera following them around so that they can become even more famous for being famous. I'm honestly not very uppity when it comes to my media consumption, but if you find yourself watching more than ten minutes of reality TV then follow these emergency steps.
- Turn off the TV immediately!
- Look yourself in the mirror and insist to yourself, "I am better than reality TV! I am smarter than reality TV! I don't need famous assholes to be entertained!"
- Repeat step 2 until you really believe it.
- Read a book. Honestly, any book will do, but for the love of all intelligence, READ!
Just those four easy steps should keep you from becoming something like this:
Due to the comments on my previous post, we now have a name for my super category of super categories. I also have another example that may dwarf even Heroes for Hire.
There's only one way that such an equation can have an answer; the answer must be = AWESOME.
For those of you who don't know about Kanye West, he's simultaneously one of the most interesting and most embarrassing voices to come out of rap music in the last ten years. But all his ridiculous antics can't ultimately take away from how talented he really is as both producer and rapper. Chris Haley of Let's Be Friends Again is a fan of both comics and Kanye and, thanks to his tumblr, he discovered he wasn't alone. I even threw my hat into the ring with the help of my good friend, Brett Grimes.
Here's a sneak peek of what Brett and I put together. We hope to see it grace K+C very soon! Enjoy*!
*Those of you without enough comic nerd knowledge to get the joke say so in the comments. I can explain there.
Over at Aaron Pogue's blog, he suggested that "fantasy superhero" fiction could be the next new hawtness. But then Courntey Cantrell responded with "Wait, aren't superheroes already fantasy?" And since I hadn't arrived yet, I was thus saved from my head exploding.
Upon hearing this, my first response was a spluttering "What? No! Wait, what? Hell no!" But upon reflection, Courtney and Aaron both are people deeply ignorant of comics, let alone a specific slice like superhero books, but who have proven willing to listen to me explain why comics aren't what they think they are. So once my humorous spit-take was over, I started to explain why superhero books aren't science fiction, or fantasy, or coming of age, or exploration, or any other particular category yet incorporate all those and more. Not only do they incorporate them, they tend to bunch them one on top of the next until they become a super-category that can contain any and all, often at the same time.
So Superman comes from a hyper-advanced civilization on another planet. So he's obviously science fiction. A lot of his villains are technology based or aliens and fit his supposed category. But some of them, like Silver Banshee, are magic based. She has a family curse that gives her mystical powers. So is Superman a fantasy story now? What about when he goes into the Bottle City of Kandor and has to solve a locked-door mystery? Is it a detective story or mystery now?
Spider-Man is obviously a coming-of-age story. But it's a story that involves going to other planets, hanging out with Norse gods, and a persecuted minority (mutants). So is it also sci-fi? Fantasy? Racial allegory? All of the above? None of the above?
You can do this all day. Batman is the World's Greatest Detective but hangs out on the moon with the King of Atlantis, an Amazon Princess, and two last survivors of different alien races. Nobody blinks when he's solving a murder in Gotham one issue and in the next uncovering an assassination plot in Gorilla City.
The Fantastic Four is like a family soap opera where they go to space and otherworldly dimensions all the time.
The X-Men, ostensibly the most straightforward allegory since Narnia, spent years in space having Star Wars style adventures.
All that's before you have time travel stories where our favorite heroes get transported back to the Old West, World War II, or King Arthur's Court. Do they suddenly become Westerns, war stories, or folklore?
You have at least as many superheroes with mystical origins as science fiction ones, which means that their tales get flavored with whatever their origins are. But it doesn't stop them from hanging out with one another and cross-pollinating villains, ideas, and complications. Possibly the best example of this is Heroes for Hire. This title grew out of two characters who were each created because of a particular craze in the 1970s. On the surface, these crazes could not have less to do with one another. But Marvel smashed them together anyway, and now you have one of the most enduring bromances in all of fiction. Pretty forward thinking too since they're mixed race and from totally different economic classes.
Power Man is Luke Cage, a young black man sent to prison for a crime he didn't commit. In an effort to get early parole, he subjected himself to scientific experiments that gave him super strength and steel-hard skin. He used them to break out of prison and return to his old neighborhood to solve crimes and protect the community. He's Shaft with super powers.
The man who would one day be his partner is Iron Fist. Iron Fist's real name is Danny Rand, a millionaire raised to be an immortal weapon for the celestial city of K'un L'un. He's a master of esoteric martial arts who fought and bested Shou-Lao The Undying, a dragon, in order to become a master of the dragon's chi. This chi allows him to heal, to move at superhuman speeds, and to make his fist like unto a thing of iron. He's every badly dubbed, cheesey kung fu movie you ever saw only starring a white guy.
For no apparent reason, these two guys become partners in Heroes for Hire. And, after all this time together, neither works entirely without the other one. They even made a joke once where Iron Fist's response to an unasked question was "Yes I'm the real Iron Fist, no I don't know where Power Man is right now. We're partners, not a couple."
They are a mishmash of genres the likes of which you wouldn't see until the Daughters of the Dragon were added to their cast. Yes, the Daughters of the Dragon. Misty Knight, a jive talking ex-cop with a cybernetic arm, and her master of samurai swords partner Coleen Wing. All four of them work together often, and it is glorious.
So is it a blaxploitation story? A kung fu story? Mystery? Thriller? What about when they visit K'un L'un and the other immortal weapons show up? Is it wuxia? Cybernetic arms sorta sound like science fiction, right? What about when Luke and Danny join the Avengers complete with WWII super soldier, mutant sorceress, and Norse god?
When it comes to genre and category, superhero comics have thrown so many concepts together for so long that they're essentially the literary version of a Meatloaf song; everything's louder than everything else. They are officially a super-category that can take bits from any and all other categories and mix'n'match with any other bits to make whatever they need at that moment.
That's actually one of my favorite things about comics. I'm glad Courtney gave me a reason to put a name to it. But what about you, intrepid readers? What are your favorite genre and category mash-ups? Does anything come close to the hodge podge that superhero comics are and yet still work? Tell me so I can read it!
I reviewed the graphic adaptation of Richard Stark's The Hunter. Yeah, yeah, make the jokes. "It was pretty graphic to start with." No, I mean graphic as in Darwyn Cooke, the genius behind Selina's Big Score and DC: New Frontier, drew it. And it's pretty great. Go check out the longer review at the Consortium site.