Back when I was working on the Borderlands & Beyond expansion for Iron Kingdoms: Requiem, I got the privilege of creating several new monsters for the accompanying Borderlands Survival Guide. Among these were a handful of critters that were essentially my take on Iron Kingdoms versions of classic monsters from mythology, inspired by the fact that several of the big robots from the Retribution of Scyrah faction were named after beasts of legend that did not yet have representatives in the Iron Kingdoms.
One of these was the manticore which, in my version, became a feline predator covered in onyx-like spines. “In outline, a manticore resembles a large lion or other hunting cat. Seen up close, however, the similarities end. Rather than fur, the manticore is covered in jagged spines of glassy chitin that sweep backward from its beak and end in a tail like a morningstar.”
For those who don’t already know, Iron Kingdoms: Requiem is the latest iteration of a tabletop roleplaying game that takes place in the same setting as the hit tabletop wargames Warmachine and Hordes. These have been around for more than two decades, and have recently released their fourth incarnation, which takes place some 15 years in the future from the time that Iron Kingdoms: Requiem is set.
The previous version of Warmachine and Hordes culminated in a world-changing cataclysm, while Requiem takes place in its shadow, as the world is just beginning to rebuild. By the time Warmachine Mk. IV is happening, things have changed considerably from what they were like at the end of Mk. III.
One of the biggest of those changes is to the elven nation of Ios, where those manticores I mentioned up above live. I won’t get into the nature of the change, except to say that the new elven faction, Dusk House Kallyss, is largely unrecognizable from the previous Retribution of Scyrah. For one thing, the cavalry of Dusk House Kallyss ride those manticores I created.
This is all a very long winded way of saying that, for what I believe is the first time ever, official wargaming models have been made of something that I created. As was revealed in the latest episode of Privateer Press’s regular Primecast, there are now official models of Dusk House Kallyss cavalry riding on top of monsters that I dreamed up.
As someone who has been a nerd about these kinds of games since small times, and a fan of Warmachine for more than twenty years, this is a bit of a dream come true. At one time, seeing my name on a product put out by Privateer Press was something that I never imagined would happen, but over the last decade, having worked on literally dozens of projects for them, I’ve grown used to it (not that it isn’t still cool). This, though, is something else entirely.
I haven’t posted about this before now for a few reasons. For one thing, I’m a working writer, and I’m busy and, frankly, this should all go without saying. Furthermore, I don’t want to talk or think about it because it annoys the fuck out of me but, unfortunately, I have the think about it, and it’s irresponsible not to talk about it. So, I’ll try to keep this brief:
I support the WGA strike. That’s the first part that should go without saying. Writers are workers, and workers deserve to be compensated extravagantly for the work they produce, let alone fairly. The fact that we have arguments about how much someone is entitled to when they literally produced all the work is fucking absurd. The strike should go on as long as possible, it should be joined by everyone affected, and the studios should fuck off into the sun. If there are no new movies or TV shows made for the next five years, that’s great, we already have plenty, and if the result nets a life that is even one iota better for the people who are actually making these things, then it will have been more than worth it.
But that’s only part of it. Partly due to timing, the discussions around the WGA strike have also become discussions around AI art and writing. And I need to be as clear as possible on this subject: So-called “AI art” (or writing, or any other creative endeavor) is bullshit. It is a misnomer, where the only accurate part is “artificial.” It has no intelligence, and even less art. What’s more, it is anathema not merely to art and writing itself, but to everything that makes life even moderately bearable. I don’t have much in the way of religion, but if I did, this “AI art” garbage would be one of its few blasphemies.
What’s more, while calling it “art” is crap, calling it “AI” is, too. I’m not an expert in software or “machine learning” or any of that, but I know this: There is no sapience here. There are no cool machine overlords coming down the road. There is nothing here but exploitation. These machine learning algorithms can do only and precisely what they are told, and when it comes to creative pursuits such as art or writing, they can do it only through one methodology: stealing. They are not AI, and they are not “creating” anything. They are advanced plagiarism engines, and that is all that they can produce.
By the same token, these algorithms are neither threat nor salvation. They are, as their proponents so often like to point out, only tools. But they are not being wielded by those proponents, not truly. Rather than evil robotic overlords, they are being deployed by the same evil overlords we have always had: corporate greed. Their one and only goal is to steal from writers and artists without paying them in either money or dignity. These engines run on exploitation, and produce nothing – literally nothing – but more exploitation.
Damn them, curse them, scorn them, and let them fuck off into the sun with the studios and corporations I mentioned earlier, who are the only people they will ever “benefit.” We will all be far better off without them.
This extremely weird made-for-TV movie about Jack the Ripper with an incredibly made-for-TV cast including Adrienne Barbeau, Clu Gulager, and David Hasselfhoff takes as its jumping-off point the true fact that the whole-ass London Bridge was relocated to Lake Havasu City, Arizona at the end of the 1960s.
For those (like myself) to whom this is Brand New Information, a little history lesson is in order. In 1831, a new bridge was built in London over the River Thames to replace the medieval one. This new London Bridge was designed by John Rennie and completed by his son of the same name. It served its purpose for more than a century, but by 1962 it was beginning to show its age. (There’s a traditional song about London Bridge falling down, after all, though it massively predates the bridge’s 1962 problems or, indeed, Rennie’s bridge itself.)
The City of London needed to replace the bridge with a newer model. Enter Robert P. McCulloch, an entrepreneur who was having trouble attracting buyers to the more than 3,000 acres of land he had acquired as part of the planned community of Lake Havasu City. McCulloch bought the London Bridge off the City of London for the equivalent of $2.46 million and arranged to have the whole thing shipped over and reconstructed in the middle of the Arizona desert.
This new/old London Bridge in Arizona was made of concrete underneath, with the original bridge stones used as cladding. Around it was built an “English Village,” essentially an open-air mall and tourist trap designed to look like, well, England. This unlikely but very real place provides the setting for our film, which also goes by such titles as Bridge Across Time and Arizona Ripper.
According to the movie, Jack the Ripper was slain in 1888 during a fall off the London Bridge. In the course of it, he took one piece of the bridge’s masonry with him to the bottom of the Thames. When the missing piece is recovered and replaced on the bridge in Arizona, a bit of blood gets on it and brings Saucy Jack back to life, where he resumes his killing spree, and it’s up to David Hasselhoff to stop him.
(For the purposes of the film, the missing piece of masonry isn’t recovered and installed until 1985, when the movie takes place. This is creative license, as the actual bridge was completed in 1971 and, thus far, no cursed piece of additional masonry has been appended.)
This delightfully off-kilter idea comes to us from prolific genre scribe William F. Nolan. A Kansas City native who may be best known for co-writing the novel Logan’s Run, Nolan also contributed to innumerable other projects, including the screenplay for Burnt Offerings and the teleplay for a much better-known TV movie, Trilogy of Terror.
The result is one of those slow-moving TV movies that feels like a tourist ad for Lake Havasu City, in spite of all the murders and the ripped-from-Jaws subplot about the city council trying to downplay everything in order to keep the tourist business booming. We are treated to lots of loving shots of the English Village and the beautiful, if stark, landscape around Lake Havasu.
Among the various attractions around the newly restored London Bridge, the one we spend the most time with is a wax museum Chamber of Horrors, continuing the long and fruitful symbiotic connection between Jack the Ripper and wax museums. This one is nicely Halloween-y, and makes me wish that the place was still open today, so that I could go visit. Since it probably isn’t, however, and even if it was, it would no longer look like this, long sequences set in it, with proper TV movie lighting, will have to do.
The cumulative outcome of Terror at London Bridge is perhaps more interesting than good, but it has that TV movie quality that I find very comfortable, and some nice moments of atmosphere, often existing around that wax museum, or the eponymous bridge itself. And while the quote that I used to anchor this post is obviously from Alan Moore’s From Hell, rather than Terror at London Bridge, there is a moment in the movie when David Hasselhoff and Stepfanie Kramer go to a nightclub and dance to a song whose only lyric appears to be “just a modern man,” repeated over and over again.
For nearly three years now, I have been working on and off for Privateer Press as a freelancer, writing large swaths (roughly 50,000 words each) of their Iron Kingdoms: Requiem RPG. It isn’t the first time I’ve worked with the folks over there, either. Those who have been around for a while remember that I worked in a more limited capacity on the previous Iron Kingdoms RPG, and also wrote some considerable amount of fiction for the brand, including my first (and thus far only) novel.
Working on Iron Kingdoms: Requiem has been something special, though. More than any other time, I have been able to help shape the fate of a setting that has been an important favorite of mine for more than 20 years. I’m proud of the work that we’ve all done to help update the Iron Kingdoms and bring them back to tabletops in a whole new form, so I’m happy to announce that the fourth series of books in this run is now up on Kickstarter.
Into the Deep Wild goes right where that title suggests, delving into the wilderness of the Iron Kingdoms in ways both familiar and entirely new. Perhaps most exciting for me, personally, it also brings to the tabletop (for only the second time, in RPG form) my favorite faction from the wargame: the gatorfolk.
As I mentioned, I’ve been playing Warmachine and Hordes since the very beginnings of both games, and I’ve tried my hand at a handful of factions in that time, but ever since they were first released, the gatorfolk of the Blindwater Congregation have been my go-tos. Delightful cartoon alligator people that are like if the voodoo alligators from a Disney movie got a (slightly) more serious makeover, they have delighted me from the moment they arrived on the scene, and I’m very happy to have played a role in this book.
As has been the case with the last couple of launches, I did quite a lot this time around. I wrote most of the setting gazetteer, as I have done throughout Iron Kingdoms: Requiem, and I also created some new subclasses, designed new feats, and did plenty of other fun stuff. There are a lot of cool new toys in these books, including an entire new bestiary which, if you know me, you know I love few things more than a good bestiary.
Perhaps most importantly, I have loved working in this sandbox again, and if these books continue to sell, I should continue to get more chances to flesh out this incredible world. And given that Into the Deep Wild has nearly doubled its funding goal in a matter of hours, that’s looking pretty hopeful. If you’d like to see what we’ve been up to, this Kickstarter is a great place to dig in to a world filled with monsters and robots and, yes, my beloved gators.
“Alien vs. Predator: Requiem is a film I’ve watched several times,” someone on the internet once quipped (and I am paraphrasing here), “but I’ve never seen it.” The joke being that the aforementioned sequel was so poorly lit that you frequently couldn’t see a goddamn thing that was happening on screen.
I have, myself, taken screencaps of scenes from AVP:R that are literally just black screens with subtitles at the bottom to show that yes, something is ostensibly happening, if only you could make it out.
Perhaps, however, the problem is just that the film, which came out in 2007, was about fifteen years ahead of its time.
I am in my early forties, meaning that I grew up with movies from the ’80s and ’90s, into the early 2000s. But I have been a cinephile for a long time, and I’ve watched movies from just about every era. I have also resisted the urge to declare one period of filmmaking intrinsically better than another, trying to view them all as simply different, with different strengths and different things to offer.
Everyone has their favorites, of course, and often those favorites are the era in which we grew up, though for me, it’s the 1960s, at least for horror movies, a decade with which I had absolutely no experience until I was an adult, and one that pretty much no one else would single out as the best.
In my life, I’ve also seen countless sea changes that threatened or promised to transform the world of cinema and, to the eyes of many, ruin it. From shooting on film to shooting on digital, from practical effects to CGI (and maybe a little way back again), from analog to digital, and from the dominance of physical media to the age of streaming. I’ve seen cinematic experiments including several 3D booms and the release of Peter Jackson’s (reprehensible for entirely other reasons) The Hobbit in 48 frames per second.
Through all of this, I have managed to avoid the dreaded onset of curmudgeonhood. I am not a curmudgeon by nature. I like things, and I like liking them. I enjoy enthusiasm, and 90% of the time, I am genuinely happy for people who like the things that I hate. What’s more, there are few things I appreciate more than changing my opinion on a piece of art. There was a time when I hated the original Texas Chain Saw Massacre, which I now regard as a masterpiece, even if it’s still not really my particular brand of vodka.
I have my preferences, certainly. I like film better than digital, practical more than CGI, but I have remained able to recognize, at least most of the time, the strengths of each, and realize that they are frequently better together, rather than trying to hold things in some often half-imaginary “way they were” created more by the poison of nostalgia than by reality.
But there is one particular change in movies, one that has been slowly amping up over time but has gotten so egregious in the last two years or so that I almost cannot watch new movies that feature it. It I loathe. I cannot temper my distaste, and I cannot find my way around it to acceptance. What’s more, in this case, I don’t want to.
The change in question is movies that are post-produced (or, in some cases, merely shot) to be so dark that you cannot see a damn thing. Sometimes this is something that happens entirely in post, in the color correction process that I honestly don’t fully understand. Other times, it’s a decision on the part of the filmmakers, a risk that shooting on digital allows them to take. More often, it’s both.
Sometimes, it’s also a factor of how you’re watching the film. Which goes beyond whether you’re in a theater or watching on the seatback of the chair in front of you on an airplane. If you’re streaming, compression can make the image seem darker than it would if you were watching from physical media or a projector. Ultimately, though, most of the research I was able to do about why films look like this suggests that they are meant to, which is maybe the worst of all possible explanations.
In 2018, I watched David Gordon Green’s requel of Halloween in a theater. I hated it, but at least I could see most of it. Last night, I finished watching Halloween Ends on my tablet, in a perfectly dark room. I mostly hated it, too, but more to the point, I couldn’t see a goddamn thing most of the time. Just muddy black screens in which indistinct blobs shifted and grunted.
While horror movies may be among the worst offenders – being, by nature, pictures that often take place in the dark – they are far from the only ones. Virtually every article I read on the subject referenced a particularly notorious episode of Game of Thrones, and not long ago I watched (also streaming) Wakanda Forever, a movie that cost over $250 million and is part of the MCU which has, in the past, been something of a poster child for “overlit” films. The night scenes were, again, essentially incomprehensible.
Of course, not all movies are like this. Malignant is filled with night scenes that are, for the most part, perfectly crisp, while Nope‘s dark scenes get a special mention at the end of the video I linked above for the way they were filmed with a mix of regular and infra-red cameras, allowing for deeper night shots that still retained their visual clarity. Meanwhile, films such as The Outwaters, like it or hate it, use the obfuscation of darkness in a way that feels intentional, whereas a film like Halloween Ends or Wakanda Forever or countless others (those are just the ones I watched most recently, not especially noteworthy offenders) feel like something has gone terribly wrong.
As I said before, I’m not a curmudgeon by nature, and I try hard to stay positive about the movies of today and tomorrow, even as I love and embrace those of yesteryear. But if anything is going to hurl me into my “old man yells at cloud” period, this trend may just be it…
At the time of this writing, it will be tomorrow night. Wednesday, March 29 in the year 2023, and Tyler Unsell and I will be hosting our monthly live episode of the Horror Pod Class at the Stray Cat Film Center here in Kansas City. We’ll be showing The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, one of the best new-to-me discoveries I’ve come across in the last few years, and probably the most obscure movie we’ve ever done. I can’t wait.
It’s the beginning of a busy string of days and weeks and months for me. April promises to keep me hopping, thanks in no small part to the annual return of Panic Fest at the Screenland. As I did last year, I’ll be covering Panic Fest for our local weirdo/dirtbag newspaper The Pitch, so keep an eye out for coverage there.
It won’t quite be my first time back in a movie theater this year. I’ve done previous episodes of the Horror Pod Class at Stray Cat, after all, and attended three installments of Analog Sunday. But I think this is will be my first time sitting down in an actual theater (Stray Cat is Stray Cat and Analog takes place in the Rewind dive bar now) to watch a first-run movie this year, besides seeing Shin Ultraman back in January.
Even before that happens, though, I’ll be back at Analog Sunday for their annual Evil Analog Easter in just over a week’s time, where we’ll be watching Spirits (1990). As is usual for me and Analog Sunday, it’s one I’ve never seen before.
Of course, that’s just the beginning. Once the next few weeks are over, there’s still more movies and more hosting in my future. Analog Sunday happens every month, of course, and there’s some cool stuff waiting in the second half of the year. The Horror Pod Class happens every month, too, and the next couple are going to be great. In April, we’ll be hosting I, Madman on April 27, and then in May it’s Folk Horror Month at Stray Cat, and we’re joining the festivities.
I originally wanted us to do Lair of the White Worm, but they were already doing it as part of their regular programming for the month, so instead I’m finally going to make Tyler watch Quatermass and the Pit. Will I then finally shut up about it? The only way to know for sure is to come out to the show and stick around afterward for our live discussion…
The other night, we watched The Sea Hawk (1940) for the first time. We watched this for several reasons, among them because Grace loves the old swashbuckling novels like the one this picture was adapted from. Books by folks like Rafael Sabatini (who wrote this one), Alexandre Dumas, Frank Yerby, and a variety of others, especially Samuel Shellabarger, who wrote one of Grace’s favorite books of all time, Prince of Foxes, itself adapted into a movie in 1949 starring Tyrone Power, Orson Welles, et al.
While I also like these old Hollywood movies, I was excited about this one for a particular reason. Like The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), another all-timer that we watched for the first time last year, this was directed by Michael Curtiz. While Curtiz is probably best known for Casablanca, and perhaps only slightly less well-known for swashbuckling fare like this, when I think of him, the first two movies that spring to mind are two of his only horror pictures – and two of my favorite horror films of all time: Doctor X (1932) and Mystery of the Wax Museum (1933).
I’ve written about those two films at some length various other places, but for those who are just hearing about them for the first time, know that I recommend them, especially Doctor X, as heartily as I possibly can. Not only are they two of the only surviving films shot in what’s known as “two-strip Technicolor,” lending them a lurid and unmistakable palette, they are also just dynamite examples of the horror films of Hollywood’s golden age – and horror films in general.
On those two films, and several others, Curtiz worked with Polish art director and production designer Anton Grot, who, for my money, may have been one of the best who ever plied that trade. The incredible look of both Doctor X and Mystery of the Wax Museum owes at least as much to Grot’s work behind the scenes as to Curtiz’s work behind the camera.
Grot and Curtiz are working together again on The Sea Hawk, and while the sets here are not as filled with expressionistic horror or pulpish shadows and angles as those of Doctor X, they are no less impressive, or integral to the mood and function of the piece. From possibly the most impressive ship-to-ship battle I have ever seen, which opens the film in dramatic fashion and for which Warner Bros. had to build a larger sound stage to accommodate the full-scale ships, to minor touches in quiet scenes, the production design and art direction here is always top of the line.
In fact, there’s very little in The Sea Hawk that isn’t a shining example of Golden Age Hollywood operating at the peak of its powers. The actors, including Errol Flynn, Claude Rains, Brenda Marshall, Alan Hale, Una O’Connor, and many others, all acquit themselves nicely, while Flora Robson as Queen Elizabeth is an absolute force of nature. But the human elements may be the film’s weakest links. Everything from the score (by swashbuckler stalwart Erich Wolfgang Korngold) to the costumes (by the prolific Orry-Kelly) to the scope and scale of the film itself is absolutely top-drawer Hollywood, as they only did back in those days.
Earlier on, though, I was talking about horror, and I want to address the horror bonafides in The Sea Hawk, which absolutely has them, even if we discount the involvement of Curtiz and Grot. One of the things that really sets The Sea Hawk apart from a number of the other cutlass-and-tights flicks of the era is the way in which it deftly handles a variety of disparate moods, from swashbuckling adventure to throne-room intrigue to romance to tragedy to tension and, yes, horror.
Each of these transitions is handled at once dramatically and dynamically, with touches that are often both small and ingenious. Take, for instance, the sequence of the film which takes place in the New World, where the standard “silver screen” black-and-white of the rest of the picture is replaced with a sepia tone that captures perfectly the changed feel of the setting.
This extends to the film’s few moments of genuine horror. The galleys of the Spanish ships, where slaves are whipped into pulling heavy oars, are rendered in an expressionistic scale that calls to mind the great German silent films, while an attempt at escape late in the movie is suffused with more genuine tension than most entire thrillers can ever manage. The desperation of a slog through the swamps of the New World is rendered suitably oppressive, but the real star of the horror show comes when the escaped crew of the Albatross attempt to return to their ship after an ambush.
Worn down and desperate, they row toward what should be their salvation, but even before they reach the ship, it is clear that something is very wrong. As they climb aboard a ship that should be bustling with the rest of their crew, all is silence and the grim creaking of the rigging, a setting as haunting as any ghost ship ever put on film. The real bravura touch, however, comes as they move to explore the deck, and the camera suddenly switches to a top-down shot from high in the rigging, one that expertly conveys the isolation and the unknown danger of the situation in which they find themselves.
These are only a few brief moments of horror in a film that otherwise moves effortlessly across a variety of other tones and moods, but they are no less deftly deployed for all that and for me, at least, they served to heighten what was already a most enjoyable experience with a classic film of yesteryear.
As of this writing, I am the author of some seven full-length books with my name on the spine. I have contributed to plenty of others, edited one more, and published a handful of chapbooks and zines. But these seven books are all me, from start to finish, minus the occasional introduction by an esteemed colleague.
Four of them are short story collections, because short stories are my primary raison d’etre. Never Bet the Devil & Other Warnings, my first collection and first full-length book, has actually been published twice. First back in 2012, in softcover, and then reprinted in a (gorgeous, frankly) deluxe hardcover in 2017 by Strix Publishing. The latter adds new illustrations by Mike Corley and a couple of new stories not collected in the previous edition.
The other three collections are all out from Word Horde, who has been my most reliable and frequent publishing partner. These include Painted Monsters, Guignol, and, most recently, How to See Ghosts. I’m proud of all of them, and all three boast phenomenal cover art by Nick Gucker, who has probably been responsible for selling more copies of any of them than my name ever has.
Rounding out the list is Godless, my only published novel to date, written for Privateer Press as work-for-hire, and intended as the first book in a proposed series that never came to pass for various reasons.
Recently, I got royalty statements for most of these books from the publishers, and I thought it might be a good time to talk somewhat transparently about royalties and the writing life and what it means when you buy one of my books. I believe in transparency, in general, and I’ve only gotten where I am thanks in part to the generosity of my fellow writers in this regard.
I am a full-time writer, which most people assume means that I make a living writing novels or even – absurd as the proposition actually is – short stories. This is far, far from the truth. There are writers who make a living writing novels, but I’m not one of them. (I don’t think there have been any writers who made a living writing short stories for… many years.) Instead, my income comes, primarily, from writing “content,” which means any number of things. I write marketing copy of all sorts, from the words on websites and corporate blogs to social media posts to “white papers” and press releases.
I also write for a number of what are sometimes derogatorily called “content mills,” websites that busy themselves with generating a never-ending stream of listicles, articles, and other odds-and-ends. Of these, I am probably most closely associated with Ranker and The Lineup. Ultimately, though, all of this is my “day job,” the work I do to bring in the money to write my goofy little short stories about monsters and ghosts.
All of that (with the exception of the columns) is work-for-hire stuff, meaning that, once it is published, I no longer own it. I get paid my fee, and that’s the last recompense I will ever get for the work. Fiction and such is, however, a different beast. When I sell a short story, I am likely to sell it again, at least into a collection down the road. Then, when I publish said collection, I will get a small advance.
Short stories do not pay well, nor have they for many, many years. Short story collections do not pay any better. While advances on novels may vary considerably, one can still potentially expect a few thousand dollars, maybe even five figures, if one is publishing through a larger press. Publishing a short story collection through a larger press is mostly unheard of unless one is already a best-selling author. So, you’ll be going through smaller presses, and your advance is more likely to be in the neighborhood of a few hundred to a thousand dollars, at least in my experience.
The advance is an “advance against royalties,” which means that you have to “earn out” that advance before you start making any royalties. Royalties on a collection are a fraction of the total price of the book. This fraction varies depending on your contract and the form of the book, but let’s say around 5-10% for physical copies, around 25% for ebooks. So, to make the math easy, if you sell a physical book for $1, you’ll make a shiny nickel. If you sell an ebook for the same amount, you’ll get a quarter.
Once you’ve accrued enough nickels and quarters, you will eventually have gotten enough money to pay back your advance, at which time those nickels and quarters start coming to you as royalties. At this point, most of my books (that pay royalties) have earned out, with the exception of How to See Ghosts, which literally just got published at the tail end of last year.
And yet, part of the reason why short story collections don’t pay as well as other books is that they also don’t tend to sell as well. I have been very fortunate, but even then, the number of copies of all my collections that are in circulation – including ebooks – still numbers only a few thousand, less than the print run of the average single novel. This is not a cry for pity or any such thing, but a bid toward transparency. I knew the marketplace of the short story when I got into this business, and I make a nice living with my writing, despite that it isn’t in the form of story sales.
What’s more, as I promised at the beginning of this surprisingly lengthy essay, I want to talk about what happens when you buy one of my books, in any form: I get some money. One way or another, sooner or later. Maybe it’s those nickels and quarters, but they add up. Every three months or so, I get a check from my publishers for enough money that I can buy a couple of nice Blu-rays, or pay part of one of my utility bills. It’s appreciated, and it helps, and that only happens when you buy my books.
And if you’ve already bought my books (thank you), it helps further to blog about them, review them, ask your library to order them. Little books like mine only do well thanks to word of mouth. That’s just the nature of this business. Without people talking about them, posting about them, leaving reviews, and telling their friends, they sink out of existence and into oblivion.
Perhaps even more important, those books selling as well as they do – the numbers might be relatively modest compared to a novel, but they’re pretty nice for short story collections – helps ensure that I’ll have the opportunity for more down the road. I look forward to a nice, long career writing various other stuff on the side so I can keep publishing books filled with stories about ghosts and monsters. And if you look forward to reading more of them, then I hope you keep buying! And for all those who have bought my books so far – I literally couldn’t keep doing this without you!
I don’t understand HeroClix. This is not the beginning of a knock against them, I mean it literally. I don’t know how they work, either as a hobby or an industry.
I have been aware of HeroClix for about as long as they have been around, but I’ve never actually played the game, nor known anyone who played it (at least, that I was aware of) or actively collected the figures. I have never so much as seen – let alone read – a rulebook or equivalent. This despite the fact that HeroClix has been in near-continuous production (under a couple of different owners) for over twenty years, so someone has to be buying and (presumably) playing with them.
HeroClix was first released by WizKids back in 2002, when it won a variety of gaming awards – which again, suggests that somebody was playing it. The system made use of the same “combat dial” that had originally been developed for Mage Knight, though I think by now that HeroClix is probably the place that most folks are like to have seen it, a system that, again, I have never seen in action, but that seems honestly pretty clever. Originally, HeroClix were, as the name might suggest, built around comic book superheroes from Marvel and, a little later, DC.
Topps bought WizKids in short order, and some time later the HeroClix line shut down. In 2009, NECA bought some of the IP rights that had previously belonged to WizKids, including HeroClix, and since then, NECA has been in charge of the line. Over the years, it has expanded well beyond just comic books to include various other properties from video games to Yu-Gi-Oh! to movies like Pacific Rim, which got a small string of (sadly not to scale) Clix. There was even a dedicated horror line (HorrorClix) with limited compatibility to the HeroClix line, and a Star Trek series that were all ships, rather than people.
Until somewhat recently, the only HeroClix I owned were a handful of Hellboy ones that I had acquired somewhere simply because they were Hellboy-related. I had no others, and no interest in any others. Then, in a little game shop I visited while on a trip, I found HeroClix, made to scale, of Giganto (the subterranean one, not the whale one) and Shuma-Gorath, which I bought for a song. My fate, as they say, was sealed.
Regular HeroClix, for those who have never seen them, are pre-painted miniatues of a similar scale to those which you might use for, say, D&D. Which means that each human-sized miniature is roughly an inch tall. Giganto and Shuma-Gorath being made to scale means that they are closer to a foot tall. Which is delightful. Shuma-Gorath’s central eye is even articulated!
More recently yet, I happened upon a large lot of HeroClix, which I got purely in order to secure the largest, as far as I know, HeroClix ever made – a similarly scale model of Fin Fang Foom, standing some two feet tall or thereabouts.
(There are, in fact, three variants of the Fin Fang Foom model. In ascending order of rarity, there is the green one I have, a green one wearing his classic purple shorts, and an orange one, harkening back to his coloration in his first appearance back in Strange Tales #89.)
This acquisition left me with several other HeroClix, as well, and among them I found a few that were delightfully weird. Some of these I recognized, such as Man-Thing, while others were (and remain) entirely new to me. But they are extremely strange and sometimes wonderful little miniatures of goofy robots, Stone Men from Saturn, and caterpillars in jars. Apparently, as a result of this experience, I have become a collector of HeroClix after all – albeit only, in keeping with my brand, the weirdo ones.
How much do you know about the chupacabra? Did you know that it might actually just be the alien from the 1995 movie Species? It seems that Madelyne Tolentino, the first eye witness to describe the chupacabra, had recently seen the film and may have just been describing the alien that she saw on the screen.*
It’s not even the first time something like that has happened, either. In 1972, two teenage boys in Victoria, British Columbia claimed to have seen a monster come up out of nearby Thetis Lake. The story was reported in newspapers, though the two teens eventually admitted to making it up, basing their monster description on the creature from The Beach Girls and the Monster (1965), which had recently shown on TV.
As a freelance writer, I write a lot of stuff. From corporate marketing and social media updates to true crime reporting to movie reviews and beyond. In that capacity, I often get hired to write about oddities of various kinds, from UFO sightings to cryptids to creepypastas and so on. In so doing, I learn frequently weird stuff, some of it true and some of it not. Some of it pretending to be true when it isn’t, some of it pretending not to be true when it is.
Some of what I stumble across makes it into whatever work I’m doing that day. Some of it is quickly forgotten. Some gets stored in the back of my brain and trotted out for something later, or repurposed into something like this blog post. Frankly, the world is filled with fascinating factoids and perhaps even more filled still with things that we believe even though they aren’t true.
Then again, many things are mixture of true and false. Take Project Sanguine, for instance. A real (and obviously extremely practical) government project originating during the Cold War, Project Sanguine would have turned literally 40% of Wisconsin into a giant radio antenna by embedding cables into the bedrock. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was never carried out. But I learned about Project Sanguine while researching Doveland, Wisconsin, an urban legend or creepypasta about a town that supposedly disappeared – and whose disappearance some people blamed on Project Sanguine.
Of course, for every Project Sanguine that turns out to be legit, there’s something that has been accepted as legit even though it’s just emphatically made-up. Take, for example, the story of the Brazilian village of Hoer Verde, which allegedly disappeared back in the 1920s. The story caught on enough to make its way into the 2019 video game Control – but its origin was almost certainly the 1983 Dean Koontz novel Phantoms.
(The Russian newspaper article that originally spread the Hoer Verde story also, and I am getting this secondhand via translation, so grain of salt, blames the Roanoke disappearance on “protoplasm coming from deep in the ocean and eating people,” which it does every thousand years. So maybe we should have been skeptical from the start, is all I’m saying.)
None of this is intended to make fun of the credulity of anyone, though. While we should all be careful about believing what we read on the internet, this is far from a phenomenon that is unique to our modern age. Take H. L. Mencken’s notorious fake history of the bathtub from 1917, which was circulated as true for decades.
Rather, I’m just posting this here because my work occasionally fills my head with lots of weird information, and I don’t always have the luxury of sharing it. (Such as the phenomenon of invisible fire and the low-tech solution NASA worked out to deal with it, or Taku-He, a South Dakota cryptid who is basically Bigfoot but wearing a fancy coat and top hat.) Today, things like Project Sanguine and that information about the chupacabra were buzzing around in my brain, and I thought my readers might also enjoy them. That’s all.
* Of course, reports of similar phenomena go back as far as 1975, where they were simply attributed to Satanic cults or to “the vampire of Moca,” named for the place they were first reported. But both the name and the general description of the chupacabra as we know it today date from 1995, the latter from Tolentino’s eye witness testimony, the former coined by comedian and radio DJ Silverio Perez.