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On August 2, Kansans will be voting on what many are considering the first major referendum on abortion rights since the overturning of Roe v. Wade, as Kansas Republicans force the misleadingly-named (and worded) “Value Them Both” amendment onto the ballot in an attempt to strip Kansans of their most fundamental rights. If you live in Kansas, I hope that you vote your conscience on August 2, but if your conscience is anything other than “no” to this grotesque and inhuman amendment, I hope you take a long, hard look at why that is.

Abortion is a human right. And yet, for decades, there has been a heavily-funded, highly-organized, and often overtly violent right-wing effort to strip this fundamental right from all Americans. It has led to numerous bombings and several outright murders, not to mention the deaths caused by limiting access to vital healthcare, and the constant, targeted harassment. All culminating in a corrupt and extremely partisan Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, leading many states to ban abortions altogether, while Kansas Republicans seek the ability to do so here through this new amendment.

Whenever the question of abortion access comes up, the bad faith arguments are sure to follow. We are distracted by questions of when life begins, of whether or not a fetus has “personhood.” These questions, however, are actually immaterial. There are, of course, reasons to argue that a fetus does not have “personhood” until viability, and that life does not begin until birth. However, those arguments are distractions.

In the United States, it is illegal to take an organ from a person, even after they are dead, without their express permission. Even though those organs would directly and concretely save lives. This is the purpose of registering as an organ donor. In fact, organs donated from a single person can save as many as eight lives, while seventeen people die every day awaiting transplants. Despite this, organ donation after death is not mandatory in the United States and barely more than half of all Americans are organ donors.

What’s more, we can donate kidneys and part of our livers while we’re still alive, yet no one is (or can be, or should be) forced to do so, even when it would save a life. You can also donate blood every 8 weeks or so, and just a pint of donated blood can potentially save three lives. Yet blood donation is not mandatory, even in cases of severe shortages, like those that we experienced during the pandemic.

Most of these are things that inflict absolutely zero harm and virtually no inconvenience, having little or no impact on a person’s life or health. As opposed to pregnancy and carrying a child to term, which can and indeed inevitably do have severe impacts on both, including a maternal mortality rate in the U.S. that hovers around 20 per 100,000 live births – the highest in the so-called “developed world.” In the case of organ donation after death, the harm and inconvenience are nonexistent as you are, after all, already dead.

Despite this, the right for people to decide what happens to their bodies is recognized as eclipsing the importance of saving a life, even when those people are already dead. Corpses in the United States maintain bodily autonomy greater than that which the government seeks to grant to a pregnant individual.

Yet, while there are certainly those who work to educate the public on the value and utility of organ donation, there is no organized movement to make organ donation mandatory, even after death. Certainly, there is nothing anywhere nearly as well-funded as the anti-abortion movement has been for the past 50 years. You will never find picketers outside a funeral home, calling the families of a deceased person murderers because their loved one was not an organ donor.

This is because the anti-abortion movement has no interest in being “pro-life,” as they claim, any more than this amendment in Kansas “values” either parents or children. The anti-abortion movement may be about many things: control, misogyny, racism, keeping poor people poor, and so on. But for many of its most ardent supporters, it is really about one thing: punishing “whores.” And if you press them even a little, they will usually tell you so, in just about so many words.

So, even if you believe that abortion ends a human life, and that preventing access to abortion would save it, ask yourself why you’re so concerned only with this specific instance of saving a life. Ask yourself why you’re not, instead, working to ensure that they pass legislation to increase (or even mandate) organ donation or blood donation that would save vastly more lives while doing less harm. Ask yourself why you’re not pushing for measures to reduce maternal mortality rates in the U.S. Ask yourself why bodily autonomy applies to corpses, but not to those who are pregnant.

I don’t think you’ll come up with any very good answers.

I never actually owned a copy of HeroQuest, the 1989 game that introduced a generation of young nerds (myself included) to the idea of the dungeon crawl and TTRPGs. A neighbor owned one, instead, and it entrhalled me. Still does, a bit. I now have the board and box cover hanging on my office wall.

A few years later, after I had already gotten into Warhammer, Games Workshop (who had worked on the original HeroQuest) released the very first version of Warhammer Quest in 1995 and I did have that. It had many problems, but for a long time it was my favorite game. And it remains, in some ways, my ideal of the dungeon crawl board game.

There are plenty of aspects I could point to that are, for me, elements that have never really been surpassed, at least when it comes to how such a game is designed, played, and sold. The variety of floor tiles. The dramatic, clip-on plastic doors. The way the dungeon was randomly generated (and populated) by turning over cards in a deck. Even the expansions, which offered new adventurers who could be purchased individually, each with their own little rule books and miniatures.

Of course, the game itself was only part of it. I was already in love with the idea of the dungeon crawl, and the fact that it took place in Warhammer’s Old World, the first fantasy setting with which I was ever obsessed, made it irresistible.

Like any well-loved game, my copy grew decidedly worn over the years. Gradually, I lost bits of it piecemeal – selling or trading or breaking them over time and moves and life changes. Finally, I parted with the last remaining bits justĀ  few years ago. I almost regret it, but by then there was not really enough left to play, and I had acquired newer versions of Warhammer Quest, all of which boast their own charms, even while none are quite what the original was.

Recently, a stack of old White Dwarf magazines made me nostalgic for the game that meant so much to me, so I did a cursory search to see what it would cost to collect the original game again in, um, less-loved condition.

The answer was exorbitant. Just… beyond the pale, even as these old games go. I’ll give you an example: One person was trying to sell the box – not any of the contents, mind, just the box – on eBay, and not in pristine condition, either. They were asking $80 for it.

So, collecting that old game again is probably never going to be within reach. Which may be okay. Delightful as it was, it had its problems, too, as I mentioned, and some things are better left in the past.

Still, a skeleton can dream…

Twenty years ago, I did something that remains the best thing I have ever done: I married the love of my life, my spouse and partner, Grace. We celebrated our anniversary over the last few days, during which time we stayed in an adorable cabin next to a mountain stream, where we were greeted by a rare sight of a heron eating a fish (a good omen, as it turned out). It was a wonderful trip.

The time away from the online world was good for me, but it also means I was away from the computer when a lot of things happened, so let’s tackle a few of those. My new column on folk horror launched at Signal Horizon. I’ll be discussing the subject every month, through the lens (at least for the first year or so) of the All the Haunts Be Ours Blu-ray set from Severin Films.

For this first installment (and the next one; the doc is long) we’ll be going over Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched, the extensive folk horror documentary from Kier-La Janisse that opens the Blu-ray set.

Speaking of columns, my others are still moving along, and the latest installment of my board game column dropped at Unwinnable, where I’m writing about Tiny Epic Dungeons this month, a recent Kickstarter acquisition. Meanwhile, in proper “me writing for Unwinnable” fashion, I also recently covered some… very disparate films over there, writing reviews of a pair of kung fu pictures and a “classic” erotic thriller from the late ’90s.

I’ve also been movies editor for Exploits, an Unwinnable publication, for a couple of months now, and my latest acquisition was actually the cover story this month, as David Busboom wrote an unmissable review of one of my favorite weirdo flicks, The Monster Club.

Finally, this one hasn’t happened quite yet, but later this month, Tyler Unsell and I will be hosting a live screening of The Mask (1961) at the Stray Cat Film Center, followed by a live episode of the Horror Pod Class. Will it be sssssssssmokin’? No, it will not. But it WILL be in 3D, complete with special stereoscopic 3D glasses at the door and giveaways, trivia, and vaguely academic discussion to follow.

If that sounds like a lot, think how I feel? I’m gradually getting back into the swing of things this week and there’s a lot more to come but, for now, why not have a drink at The Monster Club. I’m sure a member of the wait staff will be with you shortly…

Tonight, I watched Men, a movie that is more awkward to write/talk about than anything since Us (2019). I had a good time and liked it fine. I’m not here to write a review, though you may be able to extrapolate something of a review from what I’m about to say, if you want that.

As I was watching it, something clicked into place. Something I’ve been trying to get at in conversation and on episodes of the Horror Pod Class for a while now. There have been a lot of people complaining, lately, about horror movies being “too political,” or about there being metaphors in their horror movies, as if this is a new thing. We’ve talked about this several times on the pod.

For the most part, these people end up getting dragged (and often rightly so) on Twitter, at least in the circles where I hang around. Horror has always been political, obviously, and pretty much every story contains metaphors. Despite the oft-shared joke from Garth Marenghi, all writers, indeed, use subtext (whether they know it or not) because text without subtext is virtually impossible. And yet, for all that we may disparage these positions, they’re obviously complaining about something.

In many cases, that’s simply that they’re no longer the center of the universe – or that they’re realizing they never were. It’s people who could blissfully overlook the politics of films from yesteryear suddenly being confronted with things that no longer privilege them. But that’s not the whole of it.

There genuinely is a difference (perhaps many of them) between much of the horror of yesterday (classic or otherwise) and the so-called “elevated” or prestige horror films of today. There’s something there that people are seeing, but they’re misidentifying it, calling it by the wrong name. Watching Men, I think I finally figured out what it is.

Most horror films of the past can be read literally. No matter how rich they may be in metaphor, if you read them as a purely literal chain of events, without subtext or theme or added meaning, they still make sense. Psycho, Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead, The Shining, you name it – you can recite the particulars of those films as a literal chain of events that make sense, without taking into account whatever metaphorical weight they may also possess.

In Texas Chain Saw Massacre, a group of young people run afoul of a cannibal family in the sticks. This is true, regardless of what metaphorical reading you then apply to the narrative – but that isn’t to suggest that those metaphorical readings aren’t there. Indeed, they are, just as rich and robust and important to the functioning of the film as the literal reading. Merely that the film can be read without them.

Even ambiguous films like The Innocents or The Haunting are ambiguous only in the sense that they support a handful of competing literal readings. A literal reading is still possible, without delving into subtext or metaphor.

Many of this more modern crop of films, however, make almost no sense without their metaphors. Read as a series of literal events, they are gobbledygook. It is only once the metaphors are applied that the films can be read at all. If you simply attempt to read them literally, as a sequence of events, they are basically incomprehensible.

This is what people are complaining about, when they ask for movies that “aren’t about anything.” Because of course no one wants a movie that isn’t about anything. They would hate that. Just as they don’t actually want movies that can’t be read as metaphors. Rather, they want movies that can be read literally.

And, to head off some angry replies, I’m not advocating for either side here. I have my own personal preferences, but I think there’s room at the table for both kinds of stories. Call them poetry and prose, if you like. That’s not the point of this post. The point is that people are identifying a real phenomenon – good, bad, or indifferent – but they’re misidentifying it. And I think it leads to confusion and hurt feelings and strawman arguments on both sides.

This isn’t really here to sway anyone. Rather, it’s to have something that I can point back to when, inevitably, this comes up again and again in the future, as it has so many times in the past.

I never really collected comics. Oh, I had comics aplenty – some of them ones I had inherited from my older brothers, others that I bought myself, from back-issue bins and garage sales and, yes, sometimes even brand new. I got them, I read them, I bagged and boarded them, and I kept them, but it was never really a collecting thing for me. I didn’t have specific “white whales” I was in search of, and I didn’t keep anything for its value down the road (thank goodness).

I just bought what I wanted to read, read it, and, eventually, years later, sold it, rather than move a box of comics one more time. By the time I sold those earliest issues, I had largely fallen out of the world of the tights and capes crowd, and when I did read comics, I was what they call a “trade waiter,” meaning that I tended to wait until a collected edition came out and pick that up, rather than reading individual issues as they were released.

There was something about the organization and completeness of trades that appealed to me – still does, really. But recently, when I started thrifting with Eli from Analog Sunday, I got back into single issues. Old horror comics, mostly, and movie and video game tie-ins. Weird one-offs that only ran for a few issues. Things that were never collected into trades, and probably never will be.

And as I started picking those up, I was reminded of the other thing that gets lost when you only read comics in collected form. Not just the forgotten titles that disappear into the dustbin of history. The ephemera that goes along with a single issue. The ads, sure, that’s part of it. I recently read a Darkman comic from 1993 and virtually every ad in the thing was either for Dungeons & Dragons or DragonStrike, which was a trip. But also inserts and other oddities that are probably still ads, really, but take on other dimensions.

Recently, I picked up a random issue of Time Masters from 1990 out of a back-issue bin. What drew my attention was that the cover looked, at a glance, like early Mignola. But when I flipped through it, I found an unexpected treasure. A stapled-in fold-out guide to Nightbreed, which had only just hit theaters.

This delightful piece of forgotten marketing ephemera was much more interesting to me, personally, than the comic – and also worth the price of a cheap back-issue. And it would never have found its way into a collection.

I’m not here to talk about nuScream (2022) but I’m going to have to, a little, so here we go: I hated it. First Scream-branded thing ever that I didn’t enjoy. But I also seem to be alone in that – as I am in hating the new Halloweens – so if you loved it, I am legitimately happy for you.

(Also, it didn’t have time travel, as per the gag in Scream 4, and so it is dead to me.)

Because we’re going to be talking about nuScream, January has been Scream Month at the Horror Pod Class, where we’ve covered Scream 4 (my actual favorite) and Scream 2 and, as such, there’s been a lot of talk about the franchise, including which ones are best, worst, etc.

And here’s the thing, when I say that Scream 4 is my favorite, which is absolutely true, I always feel like I need to caveat that with the acknowledgment that the original is still probably the best, for any number of obvious reasons. But there’s another layer to that. Scream (1996) is not only the original, the standard from which all the others must deviate, it is also fundamentally different from the others.

The original Scream is a number of things, and while the vast majority of the ink that gets spilled over it is about how metafictional it is, that’s only one small part of what makes it work. Ultimately, though, metafictional or not, Scream is a deconstruction of – and love letter to – slasher tropes.

The sequels pay lip service toward being the same thing, but they aren’t. Because they can’t be. Because they made a decision that other slashers didn’t, and they stuck to it in a way that few other horror franchises ever have. Scream is not, fundamentally, a franchise about Ghostface. He may be the face (no pun intended) of the series, but it’s always someone different under the mask. What stays the same, movie to movie, is Sidney and, to an only slightly lesser extent, Dewey and Gail.

Rare indeed is the horror franchise that runs this long while keeping its focus so squarely on the survivors, rather than the killer. As a result, groundbreaking or not, after the first movie, the series is no longer about what the first movie was about – both lampshading and upending the cliches of the slasher genre. Instead, it’s about these three survivors. About what this does to them, about what they do in response. About how they come together and what pulls them apart.

The metafictional elements may have been what made the first movie stand out (we can debate that; for my purposes here, though, it doesn’t matter) but after that, what makes the series unique is its dedication to those three characters. That’s why I love Scream 4 and hated Scream 5, even though they are, on paper, practically the same movie.

4 understood what this series was really about. 5 doesn’t – at least for my money.

There’s another thing that happens as a result of this focus on the survivors – another aspect of the Scream franchise that we rarely get to see play out in horror films, at least in this way. There is an organic growth to the scale of the film’s central mythology. Sidney is a celebrity, even at the end of the first picture. By the opening of the second, there is a movie-within-a-movie that parallels the events of the first film. By the third, they are in Hollywood, on the set of a movie about their lives, with actors who are playing them.

This is a franchise where the world knows what happened, and has changed as a result. In small ways, sure, but still. This isn’t supernatural evil or whatever, so the changes don’t have to be big. But they’re still there. Other franchises have often gestured in similar directions, over the years, but few have ever been as committed to the bit.

Scream wasn’t the first place I saw this kind of storytelling, though. Another of my favorite horror/comedy franchises does this too – perhaps even one better. As with Scream, the original Tremors (1990) is a self-aware horror movie that at once pays loving tribute to and lampoons a largely-defunct (at the time) subgenre of horror – in this case, the giant monster movies of the ’50s.

It’s also easily the best movie in the series. But the first of its sequels do something that, at the time, I had never seen any other horror movie do: they present a world in which the public is aware of what happened in the first movie. There’s a Graboids-themed arcade machine, and the survivors of the initial film are minor celebrities who appeared in a Nike commercial.

That sensation, of allowing the world to expand organically with the events of each prior film, is something that many franchises struggle with, and it is that, as much as anything else, that helped both Scream and Tremors remain something special into sequels that couldn’t replicate what the original had accomplished, and so chose to accomplish something else, instead – at least for a while.

One week from today, it’ll be Christmas. A week after that, it’ll be 2022. It feels surreal to type that, just as it feels surreal for it to be true. I’m not really prepared for either, but these days, who is?

I’m typing now because there’s a very real chance that I won’t get much else added here until the New Year. I’m coming out of several months of high-intensity work, and staring down the barrel of at least one more. In the course of January, I’ll be writing close to 50,000 words on a project that has to stay somewhat under wraps right now but if you know what I’ve been working on and skim this article, you can probably guess.

Tuesday night, I’ll be recording an end-of-the-year episode of the Horror Pod Class with Tyler Unsell, where we’ll be talking about some of our favorite things from this extremely weird year. I actually saw some new stuff this year, albeit not as much as I would in a more normal year. I’d love to pretend that next year is going to be better – I hope that it will – but with Omicron barreling down on us and everyone just deciding that they’re done acting like we’re in a pandemic, I guess, I don’t know how realistic those hopes are.

Even while I wasn’t necessarily going to theatres very often, I still spent the year watching plenty of movies, playing plenty of board games, and writing the various columns that I now tuck under my belt every month or so. I reviewed The Spine of Night over at Downright Creepy and a couple of different first-run movies for Signal Horizon, not to mention the usual host of retrospective movie reviews at Signal and Unwinnable.

Speaking of Unwinnable, they’re doing a special holiday subscription drive right now, and if it’s successful, we get to do a Gremlins-themed issue! So, go subscribe, is what I’m saying. And all that’s in addition to my column on Friday the 13th: The Series at Signal (which wraps up this month, to be replaced with Tales from the Darkside in 2022) and my recurring board game column at Unwinnable – check out the latest installment of that here.

I haven’t published a ton of stories in 2021, but I’m proud of the ones I did. A jokey flash piece called “The Last Day of Doctor Tillinghast” showed up in Curtains, an anthology to benefit Save Our Stages, while the extremely weird “Anum’s Fire (1987) – Annotated” was in Beyond the Book of Eibon, a tribute anthology to Lucio Fulci – both of which had covers by none other than Trevor Henderson. “The Robot Apeman Waits for the Nightmare Blood to Stop” was published in Tales from OmniPark, edited by Ben Thomas, while “The Cult and the Canary” appeared in the King in Yellow-themed anthology Y from Stygian Fox. And last but certainly not least, my timeloop giallo “Chanson D’Amour” broke into Nightmare, while my story “Screen Haunt” was podcast at Pseudopod.

There should be one more surprise coming this year – even though there is precious little of this year left – so keep an eye on my social media for that, when it comes.

I’ll probably do some sort of post-mortem of the movies I watched this year sometime in early January, but I’ve also been keeping (as is my new habit) a Twitter thread of movies that I loved that I watched for the first time in 2021.

We put up decorations and all that jazz, but the holidays feel… odd this year, and not only because it was 70 degrees in the middle of December the other day. Blame it on the Second Year of the Plague, I guess. I am one of those people for whom the holiday season is always bittersweet, at best, anyway, but there are certainly things I’m looking forward to this year and hoping for in the year to come.

Until that moment arrives, here’s a Yule Cat:

I’ve been using Goodreads for… many years now. I’d be too lazy to figure out how many, but fortunately my profile over there just handily tells me that it’s a little over 12 – I apparently started in March of 2009.

March of 2009 is like another world. At that time, I was still three years out from the publication of my first collection, and I had only sold the tiniest handful of short stories. In fact, 2009 would have been the year that I published my first chapbook novella, The Mysterious Flame, and the year that I attended my very first writing convention, ReaderCon.

In that time, again according to the site’s own stats because otherwise I would certainly have no way of knowing, I have read and reviewed more than 600 books. I won’t be doing that anymore. Reviewing, I mean, at least not on Goodreads.

I’ll probably still be reading books and occasionally writing reviews for places like Signal Horizon that don’t have the problems I’m here to talk about. But, let’s be honest, if you look back over my Goodreads activity for the last year or two, you won’t see anything all that much different from “nothing.” So I doubt anyone would even notice, if I didn’t make the announcement here.

If, like me, you are active at all in writing and book blogging circles, you have probably seen an article making the rounds from Time focused on the site’s problems with “review bombing” and extortion scams. And they’re part of what’s informing this decision, to be sure, but those topics are really only symptoms made possible by Goodreads’ larger problem.

It’s tempting to lay the blame at the feet of the site’s 2013 acquisition by Amazon, but I honestly don’t know when the problem started. What I do know – what I have heard time and time again, from authors both more and less “successful” than me, whatever that word even means – is that Goodreads has a disproportionate power to make or break a writer’s career.

For those dozen years that I’ve been reading and reviewing books on Goodreads, I’ve treated the site much as I treat Letterboxd now: a place where I leave a review and a star rating (even though I’m not terribly fond of using numerical rankings to describe experiences) that reflects my feelings about the book I just read.

This means that a book may get a rating of anywhere from one star to five, based on how much the thing spoke to me, personally. It also means that some things get judged by different criteria than others – I have to have some way of telling all the Mike Mignola comics apart without just giving them all five stars, after all.

The problem is that Goodreads has become a place where, if you give less than five stars to any book, you are basically putting a bullet in that author’s future sales, especially if they’re an indie author, or a marginalized one, or really anybody but, like, Stephen King or J. K. Rowling.

I don’t like that, but it’s the reality of the situation. Ratings on Goodreads and Amazon have huge impacts on the algorithms that get books in front of people and directly impact sales in significant and meaningful ways. A drop of even a few percentage points has real repercussions for an author’s ability to sell their next book, or the one after that.

I can’t change that. It doesn’t matter that I have my own reasons for a rating I might assign, my own system of determining how many stars I click. The algorithm doesn’t know and, more to the point, it doesn’t care. So, the only really ethical choice is to rate every single book five stars, or stop rating them at all. For the most part, I’ll probably be doing that second one.

I’m not shutting down my Goodreads account just yet, though I’ll admit that I’m on there rarely enough as it is. I’m not even going to swear that I’ll never review another book on the site. I may, and when I do just always hand out five stars each time. But I’ll no longer use it to track what I read, as I have until now. I’ll probably go back to doing that the old-fashioned way, in a paper journal – which I still do for movies, even though I also use Letterboxd until such time as I learn that it is equally ethically compromised.

Nor am I presuming to tell you what you should do with your Goodreads habits, except to say this: Think about them, and think hard. Before you leave your next two or three or even four-star review, do some reading about how this system affects authors, especially those who are the most vulnerable. If you have a favorite author with whom you talk or correspond, ask them for their take on the situation. And let all that inform your decision before you select those stars.

Back in 1982, more than a full decade before DC would launch their own, more successful Vertigo line of comics for “mature audiences,” Marvel introduced its Epic Comics imprint. Operating without the Comics Code seal of approval, Epic was also a place where creator-owned projects could happen – and sometimes did, including such titles as Groo the Wanderer and Sam & Max.

By the end of the decade, Epic was also licensing literary (and other) properties, leading to titles as diverse as Wild Cards, Tekworld, the really phenomenal Fafhrd & the Gray Mouser comics by Howard Chaykin and Mike Mignola, even a partial adaptation of Neuromancer – not to mention stuff like Elfquest, translations of Akira, and some weirdo crossover titles from their regular line, including a revival of Tomb of Dracula and that Silver Surfer comic that Moebius did, to name a few.

Among the strangest of these, for what we typically think of as Marvel Comics – though not, after all, so strange for the comics scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s – were a series of titles adapting, reimagining, repurposing, and expanding the works of Clive Barker, perhaps most notably Hellraiser. (The pictures accompanying this post are all borrowed from the Totally Epic blog, whose writer set themselves the perhaps-unenviable task of reading everything the imprint ever put out.)

The Hellraiser comic series kicked off in 1989 and ran for about twenty of these, like, digest-sized issues with cardstock covers and square binding. They’re all pretty nice, and they boast an impressive roster of talent, though most are more famous now than they were then. At least one of the Wachowski siblings is here, along with folks like Neil Gaiman, Scott Hampton, Mike Mignola, Bernie Wrightson, and Barker himself.

Besides the main Hellraiser series, there were spin-offs and also-rans, including a three-part adaptation of Barker’s novel Weaveworld and a Nightbreed series that ran for 25 issues or so and has since been collected into a nice hardcover from Boom, complete with a Mike Mignola cover.

There were also spin-off titles to the more popular Hellraiser, including one for Pinhead, which launched in 1993 and ran for six issues, all of them written or co-written by D. G. Chichester, a name that will be familiar to anyone who read much of the Hellraiser comic series. Also spinning off from that series was Harrowers: Raiders of the Abyss, which followed a handful of outcasts who had made their first appearance in the Hellraiser story that Barker had contributed, who were chosen by the goddess Morte Mamme to rescue souls from the Cenobites.

The Pinhead series sees the eponymous Cenobite hurled backward through his past incarnations throughout history, all of whom have different stupid shit stuck in their heads, including bones, arrowheads, and, at one point, tiny bronze swords. Also, because this was 1993, the first issue has a foil cover with art by Kelley Jones.

Harrowers feels maybe more like a regular comic book than most of the rest of these titles, in that it’s about a team of people with super powers who are uncomfortably united by a mission. It definitely feels like something that was intended to go on for more than 6 issues, as the storylines feel like they’re just warming up about the time they stop, and the Harrowers only save, like, three souls from Hell, and one of those is the wrong one. They also fight a headless statue possessed by the soul of Marc Antony in Times Square so, y’know, there’s that.

Probably more than any of the other Cliver Barker Epic titles, Harrowers feels like a warm up for what was to (briefly) come, the launch of a whole imprint, Razorline, dedicated entirely to characters and concepts made up by Barker. Separate from proper Marvel continuity – it’s officially Earth-45828, for those who keep track of such things; meaning who knows, maybe it’ll show up in the MCU once Disney inexplicably acquires whoever owns the rights to Barker’s various IPs – it was also distinct from anything else Barker had done.

While the Epic titles had all played in the Hellraiser sandbox, or adjacent to it in one of Barker’s other literary properties, Razorline was ostensibly going to be all new stories. Some promising talent was even attached, most notably to Ectokid, which started out penned by James Robinson before being handed off to Lana Wachowski – we were still several years pre-Matrix or even Bound at this point, remember.

Razorline amounted to four titles: the aforementioned Ectokid, the overtly superhero-y Hyperkind, the more artsy Saint Sinner, and the phenomenally-titled Hokum & Hex. (Barker may have been partial enough to the name Saint Sinner to use it for an unrelated TV movie in 2002, but Hokum & Hex was pretty clearly his best naming job.) Most of them only ran for nine issues. (Saint Sinner didn’t even make it quite that far.)

I’ve read the majority of these comics, though not most of the Razorline ones. The idea of this weirdo moment in time, when Clive Barker, of all fucking people, was mainstream enough that Marvel was publishing tie-ins of his shit, fascinates me, even while the comics themselves are all over the place. But I’ll be honest, I love them more being all over the place than I would if they were legit great comics (which they very occasionally are, especially some of the Hellraiser stories).

There’s a purity to these oddball comics that ran for a handful of issues and were, generally speaking, a wild combo of cash grab and someone’s genuine love of the material. It’s reminiscent of that magic you find in the gleam of just the right low-budget exploitation B-movie. One of the highs I’m always chasing. One more pin in my head…

I’m a writer, in case you hadn’t already figured that out. But my work has been and continues to be heavily influenced by visual media. Movies, of course, but also comic books, graphic novels, video games, fine arts, and, perhaps above all those others, illustration of various forms.

Beyond broader influences, I’ve written stories directly inspired by the photographs of William Mortensen, the paintings of Goya, wax anatomical models, and penny-arcade dioramas, to name just a few. Not to mention all of the movies that have directly inspired specific stories.

It’s why my list of major influences includes easily as many illustrators as writers – and many who are both – even though I’m no hand at all when it comes to illustrating myself. There are many names in that pantheon, and none are more important to the formation of my imagination as it exists today than Mike Mignola. But today I’m here to talk about someone else.

I’m not actually sure where I saw my first Gary Gianni illustration. It’s possible that, like so many other things, I came to his work by way of Mignola, through one of the Monster Men stories that served as backups in Hellboy comics (and vice versa). Those Monster Men comics have since been collected, by the way, and are amazing.

Or it may have been his illustrated version of some classic tale of weird fiction in one of the Dark Horse Book of… collections. What I do know is that, in short order, Gianni became the lens through which I tended to see classic weird tales of the golden age. There is something about his style that elevates it beyond mere pastiche of the old pulp illustrators. A wildness to his design sensibility, especially when it comes to drawing monsters, that puts him alongside folks like Virgil Finlay, Sidney Sime, and Lee Brown Coye, rather than working in their shadow.

(The more proper modern successors of Coye might be folks like Richard Corben and, more recently, Nick Gucker, who did several of my own book covers, but you get the idea.)

Gianni’s illustrations for Solomon Kane and some of the Conan books, not to mention the aforementioned stuff from the Dark Horse Book of… volumes, helped to cement him, in my mind, as the go-to guy for illustrating those kinds of tales. At least, the way I imagined seeing them illustrated.

A few years back, I got to meet him at the Spectrum Fantastic Art Live event here in Kansas City, and he seemed to be a genuinely nice guy, which was also pleasant. I had him sign some stuff, picked up a sketchbook, and was generally just happy to get to tell someone, even using highly inadequate words, what their work meant to me.

I hadn’t thought much about Gianni in some time – maybe not since Hellboy: Into the Silent Sea with his amazingly detailed art came out – when I saw Mike Mignola post a link to a new edition of Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu,” with 100 new illustrations by Gianni. As I said on social media: Does anyone really need another edition of “Call of Cthulhu?” Maybe not. But does everyone need 100 new illustrations by Gary Gianni, drawing the kind of golden age pulp stuff that his style seems made for?

Absolutely, yes.