Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

FEMME NOIR VOL. 1: Order Now!


Writer: Christopher Mills
Artist: Joe Staton

(w/Alfredo Lopez, Horacio Ottolini, Mark Stegbauer, Melissa Kaercher, Matt Webb & Michael Watkins)

On the mean streets of Port Nocturne, justice is blonde! This volume collects all 4 issues of the critically acclaimed crime fiction mini-series about a mysterious, gun-toting dame fighting for justice in a dark city drowning in violence and corruption. This volume also includes 2 complete bonus stories, conceptual artwork by Eisner Award-winning artist Joe Staton, and an introduction by the Shamus Award-winning author of
Road To Perdition, Max Allan Collins. 148 pages, Full Color, $19.95


trade paperback collection is solicited in the March issue of Diamond Comics' PREVIEWS (Available February 25th).

The Diamond Item Code is MAR094063.

With Diamond's new minimum order policies, it's more vital than ever that if you want a copy of this hefty paperback collection, you must pre-order it through your local comic shop owner. If people don't, then Diamond may not carry it at all and it will be unavailable in any comic shops. So, if you "waited for the trade," please make a point of personally visiting your local dealer in early March, and make sure that he orders your copy. If you can persuade him to order a few more for his shelves, so much the better.


Friday, February 20, 2009

Inglourious Posters

I'm a big fan of the Enzo G. Castellari original – Fred Williamson friggin' owns that movie – and while I know that Tarantino's written his own script and this one has a different story, I'm hoping that it captures the over-the-top, bugnuts fun of its 1978 (properly spelled) predecessor. We''ll see. Hopefully it'll at least be better than Death Proof.

Yet Another Sword & Sorcery Sequel

Now, this is getting creepy.

In addition to the much delayed and eagerly anticipated (by me, anyway) sequel to 1982's The Sword And the Sorcerer, Tales of An Ancient Empire, now, apparently, there is also a sequel in the works to the 1980 late-night cable staple, Hawk The Slayer, called Hawk the Hunter!

Hawk The Slayer was an entertainingly cheesy, low-budget British fantasy film starring John Terry (Jack's dad on Lost) and the always awesome Jack Palance. It was very much in the Dungeons & Dragons mode (minus anything as costly as actual dragons, mind you), so of course, I love it – especially the disco-tinged musical score!

But never, in my wildest dreams, would I imagine that anyone would actually produce a sequel, especially at this late date. They have an official website, and everything.

What's next? Deathstalker: A New Beginning?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Rockford VERSUS Magnum

The most popular television private eyes of the Seventies and the Eighties clash in a battle for investigative supremacy. In this corner, we have James Rockford (portrayed by the sublime James Garner) – Korean War vet, ex-con (he was innocent), con man, and loving son, while in this corner, we've got mustachioed Thomas Sullivan Magnum (the charismatic Tom Selleck), a Vietnam vet, former Naval Intelligence officer, and fashion disaster.

Now, Rockford's – arguably – more mature, and his prison experiences give him an "in" with the criminal element, as well as a number of contacts and informers that he can turn to while investigating his cases. Magnum, on the other hand, has a circle of war buddies and a wealthy –if unseen – patron, in the form of mysterious pulp novelist Robin Masters, whose resources he can exploit in pursuing his investigations. Rockford drives a gold Firebird, while Magnum drives a red Ferarri (although, it should be pointed out that at least Rockford owns his own car).

Both P.I.s struggle with their finances and take on far too many non-paying cases. Both also have maintained semi-romantic relationships with cute female lawyers. Rockford owns his own home – a beat-up mobile home in a restaurant parking lot in Malibu – while Magnum lives in the guest house of Masters' vast, Hawaiian estate, ostensibly in return for being the on-site security. This tends to mean that Rockford's domicile is much more frequently invaded by angry, sap-and-revolver-wielding thugs and desperate lowlife clients. I'm guessing that Magnum sleeps much more soundly.

Professionally, they both seem to be more-than-competent detectives, although (especially in early episodes) Rockford will sometimes quit a job when it looks to be getting too dangerous. On the other hand, one can't help wonder just what Magnum's success rate would be if he didn't have Rick and T.C. to lean on. Magnum is definitely more willing to use deadly force if it seems necessary, carrying his service .45 as a matter of course. Jim's gun is usually home in his cookie jar when he most needs it.

So, if you needed a private eye – excuse me, Magnum – private investigator, which would you turn to? Wry, solid – but sometimes less than tenacious Jim Rockford? Or the occasionally goofball, Hawaiian shirt-and-shorts-wearing Thomas Magnum?

Wednesday Cover: Planet Stories

I just like it. Especially the girl's little life preserver.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Tuesday Morning Blues

It's been a rough couple of weeks. I don't want to go into details, but last week was a really horrible one for both Brandi and I, and money (or rather, the lack of it) is – as it is for most of us these days, I presume – at the root of our troubles. It was so bad that I spent the long weekend gorging on forbidden carbohydrates and vegging in front of the television, watching DVDs of old television shows – even more than usual, I mean.

Sunday was the only good day of the batch – though I still consumed junk food in grotesque quantities – as Brandi and I joined some friends in Bangor for an afternoon and evening of old school (2nd Edition) Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. It was fun, and I found that role playing my character – a no-nonsense hardboiled thief – to be rather cathartic, especially when I threatened to slit the throat of one of my own party for acting like an idiot. My wife was actually worried that I wasn't acting! I contend that I was.

As of today, I'm dieting again, will be making uncomfortable phone calls to try and wrest some control back from our financial demons, and endeavoring to buckle down and write. I have a lot of stuff I've committed to do; the problem is motivating myself to do it. None of it actually pays anything, and I'm finding that fact to be discouraging and disruptive to my powers of concentration. I keep taking non-paying work with the theory that the more stuff I have published, the more editors and publishers will want to offer me writing assignments that pay. So far, though, all it's done is attract editors & publishers that want me to write for free.

I know that there are hordes of unpublished, aspiring writers who'd kill for some of these opportunities. And I am grateful that people like my work and actually publish it. But I'm getting older – my hair is silvering rapidly – and working for free isn't so attractive anymore.

I've been contemplating getting a new "real job," but...there's this recession thing, maybe you've heard of it? My training and experience is in publishing – and the publishing industry's on life-support as it is; nobody's hiring. My health issues make the prospect of retail or manual labor gigs pretty much untenable. Freelance writing and/or editing are my only real options, and I've been spectacularly unsuccessful at making those pay.

That frustration vented, I'll be getting back to work today, and will fulfill these obligations, and will probably take on more. I may not be a particularly good, productive, or reliable writer... but it's all I got going.

I will persevere.

Or not.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wednesday Cover(s): U.N.C.L.E.

Back in the early 90's Millennium Comics landed the license for The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and published a two-issue miniseries. The story wasn't bad, and neither was the art, but the best thing about the books were these gorgeous painted covers by Joe Phillips. The guy knew how to work that photo-reference and make something special with it.

The management would like to thank the United Network Command for Law and Enforcement, without whose cooperation, this Wednesday Cover(s) would not have been possible.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

DVD PReview: U.N.C.L.E.

My first experience with secret agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin came in the form of several The Man From U.N.C.L.E. paperback novels that I acquired from used book stores as a teenager, shortly after discovering the world of spy fiction courtesy of Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm and Ian Fleming's James Bond novels. The U.N.C.L.E. books – especially those by author David McDaniels – were among my favorites, even if they lacked the steamy sexual content of those Nick Carter Killmaster paperbacks that so appealed to my adolescent prurient interests. Obviously, from those tie-in paperbacks, I knew that The Man From U.N.C.L.E. had been a television series back when I was an infant, but it didn't air in syndication in our market, so I never got to see an episode until years later.

In fact, my first viewing of the characters on television was in the 1983 television reunion film, The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. – the Fifteen Years Later Affair, which will be released on DVD by CBS/Paramount Home Video next month. Not knowing any better, I enjoyed the telefilm – I liked pretty much any spy-fi as a teenager (still do) – but it was the chemistry and camaraderie between stars Robert Vaughn and David McCallum that really appealed to me. When I finally got to see some original episodes on early morning cable airings as a twenty-something, I discovered that they were much better than that TV movie.

Many years ago, the TV movie was released on VHS tape, and I bought a used copy of it. The picture and sound quality were awful – soft and fuzzy – but I held on to it up until a few months ago, when I transfered it to DVD-R. Of course, only a few weeks later, CBS/Paramount announced the new DVD.

Now, I haven't been able to afford The Man from U.N.CL.E. complete series DVD set from Warners, but thanks to CBS/Paramount, I've now got the reunion movie on legit disc, and it looks much better. Since it was an early 80's TV movie, it's presented full-frame, but the picture quality is pretty decent. Still a little soft, but vastly superior to the old tape.

As to the story, writer/producer Michael Sloan decided to attempt a James Bond-scale plot on a TV budget, and failed pretty miserably. The basic plot rips off Thunderball and has plot elements that, oddly, foreshadow the much-later Bond flick Goldeneye. The story also makes the mistake of spending the first half of the movie getting Solo and Kuriyakin back into their old jobs, then splits them up and sends them off on separate missions.

The cool interior sets of U.N.C.L.E. HQ are long gone, replaced by what looks like cheap rental space that completely lacks the retro-futuristic coolness of the original show, while the over-familiar backlot exteriors of the 60's are replaced with a lot more actual location shooting, mostly in Las Vegas and New York. The direction is plodding and pedestrian, and the music score is horrendous.

On the plus side, the cast is full of familiar faces. Ex-Avengers star Patrick Macnee shows up as the new head of U.N.C.L.E. replacing the late Leo G. Carroll, and his presence is a welcome one, while Anthony Zerbe (Licence To Kill) and Geoffrey Lewis make decent enough villains. James Bond even makes an unauthorized appearance – in the form of On Her Majesty's Secret Service star George Lazenby!

The only extra on the new DVD is a so-called "trailer," which looks like it may have been made for that earlier VHS release. It's a shame, because a commentary track by Vaughn and/or McCallum would have probably been more interesting than the movie. The original TV promos would have been cool to see, too.

It's not a great example of the U.N.C.L.E. franchise, and not even a particularly great reunion flick, since it keeps the main characters un-reunited for most of its running time. Still, I have a fondness for it as it was my first taste of the series, and I'm excited to have a high-quality copy of it in my library.

The Return of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. streets on March 3rd. You can pre-order it from Amazon here.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Another Monday, More Miscellany

• I want to express my gratitude to those who posted encouraging comments to my last post. It is greatly appreciated. Like I said, if I can actually make myself sit down and write it, Ravenwulf will be mostly an exercise in long-form prose. Posting it online is simply a motivational stratagem, something I've seen numerous other writers do of late. If it turns out halfway decent, that'll be an improbable bonus.

• Watched The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian over the weekend. Personally, I liked it vastly more than the first film in the series. It was darker, more violent, and more dramatically satisfying. It was considerably less "cute" than the first, as well, with the young protagonists actually getting their hands – and swords – dirty. The sword fighting was very well staged, and the CGI effect were much more consistent and well-designed than in the previous installment. (Probably the best centaurs I've seen realized for a fantasy film yet.)

I'm not a fan of the Narnia books (of course, I haven't read them since I was in grade school), and found the first film tepid, but this one was an entertaining couple of hours. Good, if not great, stuff.

• My Femme Noir publishers, Ape Entertainment, sent me a few of their other titles this week, maybe as a consolation prize since I wasn't able to attend the big New York Comic Con. I was able to finally read the complete White Picket Fences miniseries (& one-shot Special), and catch up with The Black Coat Special, too. WPF tells of three young boys living in the small-town world of 1950's sci-fi films, with Martian invasions, giant insects, and mad scientists, while The Black Coat chronicles the adventures of a masked crusader operating in pre-Revolutionary America. Fun stuff, very well executed. Gabriel Hardman's art on The Black Coat one-shot is especially awesome.

You really should buy some of this stuff.

• If anyone reading this blog is a fan of vintage horror and genre films, has either an extensive DVD collection or mastery of their Netflix queue, and is looking for a good excuse to spin some classic discs once a week... drop me a line. Especially if you're frustrated that you can't find anyone to hang out and watch them with you. I've got something brewing that you might be interested in....

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Coming Soon (maybe)

You'll remember that a week or two back, I was talking about my stillborn sword & sorcery comic, Ravenwulf, Swordsman of Tanar'r, and how I was considering turning it into a novel? Well, I'm still considering it, and further, I'm thinking about serializing it online as I write it.

Not on this site, though. The resounding silence last time I ran fiction on this blog has made it clear to me that this is not the proper venue for such literary indulgences. If I do follow through with this plan, I'll create a blog/site specifically for the purpose.

I hope to start writing this novel in March or April, and I see it very much as a "practice novel." I've never written anything in prose much over 10,000 words, and I see this as my first attempt at long form fiction. Of course, it won't be all that long, probably. I'll be deliberately trying to keep it at the length of a Sixties or Seventies' fantasy PBO. I don't even really plan on submitting it for publication – at least not to any mainstream publishers – after all, there's not much market for old school barbarian pulp outside of Robert E. Howard reprints. If it turns out well, maybe I'll submit to a small press, but that's still a long shot.

Anyway, I'm mentioning it here, publicly, in an attempt to light a fire under my own butt, and force myself – through threat of public humiliation – to actually follow through on this project and get it done. We'll see how that works.

Before I can get to it though, I have two short stories that I've promised to write (a pulp adventure and a ghost story) and several comic scripts. When and if I start posting chapters of Ravenwulf, Swordsman of Tanar'r online, I'll let you know.

Wish me luck.

Love, Exciting and New

I would absolutely watch this.

Thanks to Michael May for finding this.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

New DVD Late Show Posted

I forgot to mention it yesterday, but my third DVD Late Show column for Forces of Geek has been posted.

This is the Midwinter's Nightmares edition, with looks at a handful of new and recent horror releases to chill the blood, just in case this winter's temperatures haven't done well enough for you.

I've got reviews of the 80's gem, Dead & Buried (now on Blu-Ray), the Dan Curtis/Richard Matheson 70's teleflick, Dead of Night, the new deluxe editions of the first three Friday The 13th films, the Ft13 documentary, His Name Was Jason, the chilling Norweigian slasher flick, Cold Prey (Fritt Vilt), and Anchor Bay's new DVD of Clive Barker's Hellbound: Hellraiser 2.

Here's a direct link. Enjoy!

Wednesday Cover: The Phantom Stranger

Another one of my favorite Jim Aparo covers. I just love everything about it, especially the way that Deadman's emerging from the crypt wall. Simple, effective design and wonderful drawing. man, I miss Aparo and this kind of art....

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

A Weekend At The Lake

There's a remake/reboot of the seminal slasher film, Friday the 13th, coming to theaters on Friday the 13th (coincidentally enough), and to tie-in with that new theatrical release, Paramount is issuing new editions of the first three films in the franchise this week. I was sent copies for review, and my review will be posted sometime today in my bi-weekly column at Forces of Geek.

Because my review is over there, this post is more about some of the thoughts I had, while immersed in the genre over the weekend. Between Friday evening and Monday night, I watched Friday the 13th parts 1 through 3 (in 3-D!), Jason X, and a non-Friday slasher flick, the Norwegian production Cold Prey (a/k/a Fritt vilt, and also reviewed in this week's column).

Now, I've been into horror films since I was a teenager, but I was never a big fan of splatter or slasher flicks. I never saw a Friday the 13th until the late 90's, when I was in my Thirties, and that was one of the later, New Line-produced entries that most fans of the franchise despise. And it's not because gore bothers me – as a teen I read Fangoria almost as religiously as Starlog, and I liked the Nightmare on Elm Street flicks... and friggin' loved George Romero's zombie movies and Raimi's first two Evil Deads – it's just that I prefer my horror to have a strong fantasy element; I prefer monsters over psychos. (Of course, Jason Voorhees is a supernatural monster – at least he becomes one eventually – but I didn't know it.) I'm still not much of a fan of straight slasher (or torture) flicks, which is why I have no interest in stuff like Saw or Hostel, although I have come to appreciate some of the older movies in the genre, such as the first couple Halloweens.

So, what I'm getting to here is that I'd never actually seen these movies until this past weekend. My first reaction was that they didn't quite live up to their reputation – especially the initial installment – but by the time I got to Part 3 – and actually watched it in 3-D! – I was really having fun with the flicks. They aren't high art, but they are fun, and I can begin to see why the franchise has lasted as long as it has.

Anchor Bay Entertainment also sent me a Friday the 13th tie-in: a feature-length documentary retrospective of the entire series called His Name Was Jason, made up of interviews with nearly every actor, writer and director to work on the series. I have to admit that I now want to check out the entries I haven't yet seen. Part 4 looks bugnuts insane, and Part 7, which is the one with the telekinetic girl, looks like a hoot.

I don't think I'm going to suddenly start seeking out all the 80's slasher flicks I missed the first time around, but I'm certainly not going to shy away from opportunities to view the more highly-regarded ones. I remember being told that the original My Bloody Valentine (a remake of which is also coming out right away if it's not out already) is pretty good, so I'm planning to Netflix it soon.

I'm definitely open to suggestions from true aficionados, too.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Flashback: NOIR Quarterly

Paul Bishop was asking about this early project of mine over on his blog yesterday. The story behind the magazine that I created, edited and art directed (and did production on, and typeset, etc.) back in the mid-Nineties, NOIR: The Illustrated Crime Fiction Quarterly, is pretty convoluted and after a decade-and-a-half or more, I'm not sure I remember it all.

But I'll try.

At the time that I first conceived of the magazine, I was working for a small indie comics publishing outfit called Alpha Productions. I had persuaded the guys – particularly publisher Leni Gronros – to take a chance on another pet project, a private eye comics anthology called The Detectives, and it had sold fairly well, especially by our standards. This bought me a little goodwill, I guess, and when I suggested to Leni another hare-brained idea of mine – a comic-book sized "pulp" magazine containing illustrated crime fiction and hardboiled comic stories – he agreed to give it a shot.

Now, the basic idea came from a couple of sources. In the early 90's I had sold a short story to a local horror zine called Fang. The editors of that publication came up with a format that combined short horror fiction with some pretty crude horror comics. Their mag was pretty rough and amateurish, but I thought the format had potential. I believed that it might work as well – or better, I hoped – with hardboiled crime stuff.

Secondly, you have to remember that at the time, crime comics seemed like they could really become a genre to be reckoned with. Frank Miller's first few Sin City miniseries had come out and done well, Brian Bendis was doing his early crime stuff at Caliber (A.K.A. Goldfish and Jinx), and other publishers were starting to dip their toes in that pool. I saw NOIR as both a modern-day pulp magazine, with strong prose stories by professional crime fiction writers, and also as a way to spread the gospel of crime comics. I thought I might be able to get readers of Sin City exposed to some notable authors, and show fans of crime novels that comics could be fun, too...

Mostly though, it looked like an opportunity to create the kind of publication I had always personally wanted to read.

It's been more than fifteen years now, so my memories are fuzzy. I don't really recall how I pulled the first, 48-page issue together. But I contacted a number of crime writers that I was a fan of and comics artists I knew, and somehow sold a bunch of them on the project. I tried to make clear to everyone that I would only be able to pay them if the magazine actually made money – but my informal way of handling this subject came back to bite me later.

The first issue sported a gorgeous cover painting by artist Brian Stelfreeze, who was quite "hot" at the time. My contributors were fairly evenly split between the crime fiction and comics community: Mike W. Barr contributed a prose story version of his comic book series MAZE Agency, and Max Allan Collins offered me an early story of his (a reprint), which was illustrated by my future Gravedigger partner, Rick Burchett. The issue also featured a brand-new Michael Mauser comic by Nicola Cuti and Joe Staton. Other contributors in that first issue were Wendi Lee, Ed Gorman, William Marden, Jeff Gelb, Darren Goodhart, Terry Beatty and Rick Magyar.

That first issue came out just before I took a new job with Tekno•Comix in Florida. I never got an accounting on the sales, though I believe (and I may be misremembering it) I was told that it had just barely broke even.

After leaving Alpha Productions, I wasn't sure if I wanted to continue the magazine. I had a new job, and a new home to settle into. And, frankly, for reasons I never truly understood, my friendship with the Alpha guys suddenly seemed to disintegrate. But – I really thought the concept had potential to grow, and when I was introduced to Joe Monks – who published horror comics under the CFD imprint – I pitched him the magazine. We did two issues together, and once again, I seemed unable to get an accounting beyond "it lost money."

So, I made one more attempt with Gary Reed's Caliber Comics. They were already publishing several fairly successful crime projects – the aforementioned Bendis books, as well as Dominique and Nowheresville, among others – and it seemed like a good fit with their line. I got a really beautiful cover from Dan Brereton, a story from the late Michael Collins (Dennis Lynds), a great, new Joe Hannibal story from Wayne Dundee, another new Mauser story from Nick and Joe, and a bunch of other cool stuff and the issue was solicited.

Sadly, it never came out.

Reason number one was that, since I'd never been paid for the first three issues, I had been unable to pay any of the contributors to those issues. Most people took it well, and were very understanding, but others... well, a couple of the bigger-name authors were very angry and abusive, and threatened to blacken my name in the mystery community. One of the comic artists (not one of the pros) actually sued me; in scraping up the money to pay him off, I was unable to pay other bills, lost my phone for a while, and ended up in a hole that took me months to climb out of.

The new issue didn't look like it was going to be any more profitable – the publisher said the orders were enough for them to print it, but that it would be lucky to break even – and I didn't want to be stuck owing even more contributors money.

The second reason was that my employers at Tekno saw the magazine in Previews and threatened to fire me. I did not have a written contract with the company forbidding me to work with other publishers (although they tried to get me to sign one retroactively), but they decided that I was directly competing with them (since they then owned Mystery Scene magazine), and accused me of using their company's resources on my project. Actually, there they had a point – I had used the office copy machine and scanner. I am frequently an idiot.

Anyway, I promised not to publish the magazine, and saved my job for a while.

I do wish that I had been able to continue the magazine at Caliber – cross-promoting it in their other crime comics titles might have helped. And if I could have kept it around for a while – and actually met my way-too-optimistic "quarterly" publication goal – it might have built a following and eventually made money. But it wasn't meant to be. Kevin Burton Smith at the Thrilling Detective website thinks that the format hurt it – too much prose for the comics fans and too much comics for the more literary-minded – but I don't know. maybe he's right. I always bring copies along when I do shows, but no one ever buys them or shows much interest.

Ultimately, there just wasn't a market for the magazine.

I think the last issue I published – Volume 2, Number 2 – was a really slick little package, and the previous two issues both had a lot of good stuff in them, including a fun interview with Mickey Spillane, a William F. Nolan short about Dashiell Hammett, and some very good articles and reviews. I'm proud of them – I just wish I had been able to pay the contributors.

Obviously, I still love crime fiction and crime comics. My Femme Noir and Gravedigger books, my Guns In The Gutters blog, these are all the direct descendants of NOIR magazine. In fact, La Femme was originally conceived as a mascot for the magazine that I planned on introducing in that fourth, unpublished issue, and Gravedigger artist Rick Burchett contributed illustrations to the first two issues.

In retrospect, it was something I'm very proud of – especially since putting it together was essentially a one-man show – but it never really had a chance.