Cue the bunnies!

So here we were, talking about the Cineverse, that secret alternate universe of B-movie worlds that can only be accessed with the aid of a special decoder ring and the words “See you in the funny papers!” Looking back at my original proposal, I remember I had the sample chapters, and I had the outline, which was how you sold books to a publisher back in ancient times. But what was I going to call the individual novels?

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I had watched a lot of movies in my youth and younger adult years. All sorts of movies, from foreign classics to bottom of the barrel B-movie programmers, basically everything from Bergman to the Bowery Boys. And I had a fondness for movies that had the kind of title their meager budgets could never live up to. THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW, say, or VIKING WOMEN VS. THE SEAS SERPENT (both actual films, btw). I tried to design the titles of the Cineverse books to have that same, slightly over-the-top flair. For the first two titles, I just tweaked movie titles I had heard before. The first book I called SLAVES OF THE VOLCANO GOD, which was me taking the name of an existing Eurothriller (SLAVES OF THE CANNIBAL GOD< which I believe starred Ursula Andress) and replacing one word to make it sound more like a Dorothy Lamour South Sea adventure. BRIDE OF THE SLIME MONSTER simply takes the title of one of the great terrible movies of all time, BRIDE OF THE MONSTER (perhaps Ed Woods' finest hour), and adding Slime to it, because what title is not improved by adding Slime? Think of it, THE GOOD, THE BAD AND THE SLIMY; ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE SLIME; RAIDERS OF THE LOST SLIME; VIVA SLIME VEGAS – the possibilities are endless.

But what about the third title? I knew the third book would contain a certain number of cartoon rabbits (including a really big guy named Thumper.) But how to bring those rabbits to life?

This was just around the time George Lucas was finishing off the original Star Wars trilogy. The third film was originally announced as REVENGE OF THE JEDI. The actual title when the film was released was the far more benign RETURN OF THE JEDI, which lacked the exploitation angle that I was so fond of. Hey, I thought, if Lucas was going to be too much of a Wimp to use "revenge" in his title, I'd use it instead.
Thus was born perhaps my best book title ever, REVENGE OF THE FLUFFY BUNNIES.

Walter Velez came up with another wonderful cover, completely representing actual scenes in the book (unlike some covers I might talk about.)
Revenge of the Fluffy Bunnies I’m once again reusing Walter’s original cover painting for my e-book. It still looks keen.

Meanwhile, back at Mass MoCa

I’ve been meaning to write a follow-up to my brief discussion of my cousin Jim Shaw’s huge exhibit out at Mass MoCa. (It’s an exhibit that is so big, it takes more than one blog post.) They actually reviewed Jim’s show in this past Friday’s Boston Globe, under the headline “Jim Shaw’s subconscious runs amok at Mass MoCa.” It is a very positive review. The Globe art critic, Sebastian Smee, states “At the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, Jim Shaw takes on faith – and doubt – in a body of work that captures, better than any I have seen in years, what the writer Phillip Roth called ‘the indigenous American berserk.’ The exhibit, organized by Mass MoCa’s DEnise Markonish, might prove to be the show of the summer.”
He goes on: “It addresses not only credulity and collapse, but fantasy and absurdity, demagoguery and corruption, protest and pathology. It delves into Shaw’s personal biography, his skepticism, his compulsive creativity. And it is absolutely, utterly hilarious.”
Later in the lengthy review, Smee describes a room that I wanted to say more about myself. It’s a room dominated by a giant cartoon rendering of a 50;s superheroes “midsection” shall we say. The rest of the room mis taken up with a series of drawings made by Jim’s father, my Uncle Mark, after he enrolled in the Famous Artists’ Correspondence Course. These drawings, all course assignments, have critiques by one of the instructors at the school, pointing out the flaws in each particular drawing. When Jim was showing the room to me, he commented that he thought a couple of the drawings were quite good, but the instructors had to point out flaws anyway. After all, if you didn’t need to improve, why would you still be taking the correspondence course?
This got me thinking about my family. Jim’s and my grandfather was a man named Walter W. Shaw, a largely self-educated artist who ran an advertising agency in Rochester NY and then became the art director of a very successful company. On top of that, he had an equally successful career as a fine artist, with his watercolor landscapes and prints displayed at the local art museum and selling for decent prices in the area.
All the grandchildren were encouraged to be creative in my family – in large part due to the influence of my grandfather. I’ve written novels and short stories, Jim has a successful career in fine art, and one of Jim’s sisters, Nancy, has had a very popular run of children’s books beginning with “Sheep in a Jeep.” My parents tried their hand at painting, as did my Uncle Mark, but they all seemed to leave it behind while they raised their families. Mark had a high level job doing “package design” for Dow Chemical, which is essentially commercial art. Later in life – I think after he retired, but I’m not exactly sure – Mark went back to painting as a hobby.
Jim’s father had never told him he had enrolled in the correspondence course. Jim only found the exercises after his dad had passed away. It seems that, whatever his successes, my uncle wanted to be an artist just like his father (and, eventually, just like his son) but that goal was denied to him. He raised a family, had a successful career working for a major company, achievements that were expected from people who had fought in World war II and had returned home to make this country a “better place.” But (I’m guessing) he had a secret dream that never was fulfilled.
At the far end of this gallery, as I’ve said, there is a large drawing of (perhaps) Superman’s -ahem- crotch. In the picture that I’ve attached to this post, the area looks black, as if it was painted that way. But that is an optical illusion. When you get close to the wall, you realize the blackness is only an absence of light. The area is open, and when you look inside you see glowing rocks in a variety of colors scattered across the floor. Jim told me he based the colors on the various shades of Kryptonite, remnants of the planet that first gave Superman his powers, but later were capable of harming the hero or changing him in unexpected ways.
I won’t speculate about the meaning of all this (I do have my opinion). But for me, it’s an interesting reflection on our family’s history.
Did I mention that I really liked the show? Jim’s art will stay on display until next January.IMG_6786

The Slime Monster Returns

So, as I’ve said here before, Crossroad Press is slowly but surely releasing my back catalogue. I’ve always loved the Walter Velez art on the Ace originals, and was lucky enough to be able to license it for the e-books.

The Cineverse came about when I had finished my first three Ebenezum books, which make fun of all matter of traditional fantasy, from sword and sorcery through the epic quest stuff. I had loved THE LORD OF THE RINGS and CONAN and many other books in between. And my brain considered all these books I’d read, with certain standard characters and situations, and thought, what if we twisted some of that stuff just a little bit, and see just what comes out? Thus was born the vaudeville team of Damsel and Dragon, and the mighty warrior Hendrek and his doomed club Headbasher, which no man could own but could only rent, etc.

But here I was (I thought), done with Ebenezum. What could I do for a second act? What subject did I know as well as fantasy, what other leisure activity had I managed to enjoy/waste as much time with as I had with Sf and fantasy paperbacks?

The answer was obvious: Movies.

I grew up in the fifties and sixties, a time when TV stations filled their non-prime hours with movies of every possible type. I also lived in a region (Upstate New York) where there were a number of months that you really didn’t engage in outdoor activities. (It started snowing at Halloween and stopped sometime around Easter.) So I watched even more movies. Frankenstein. Godzilla. Robin Hood. The Sons of Hercules. I knew and loved them all — probably just as much as fantasy.

So the idea of a universe in which B-movies were real, and could be reached with the aid of a Captain Crusader Decoder Ring (found in specially marked boxes of Nut Cruchies) was born. And as for the titles, well, I figured, the more outlandish the better. Films like THE VIKING WOMEN VS. THE SEA SERPENT and THE GHOST OF DRAGSTRIP HOLLOW promised wonders beyond what their meager budgets could ever provide. But hey! I was writing books! My budget (at least on the page) was unlimited!

And so SLAVES OF THE VOLCANO GOD and BRIDE OF THE SLIME MONSTER came to pass. I’ve attached the cover for the second book to this blog post, now in its new e-incarnation, something like the print version, but still distinctively different.

Next on the new cover parade will be the revised cover to Cineverse #3, and a discussion of Fluffy Bunnies.Bride of the Slime Monster

The Death of Superman and Other Nifty Things

A couple of weekends back, I went out to see my cousin Jim Shaw’s exhibit at Mass MoCa.  I had seen a couple of Jim’s gallery exhibits in the past (mostly in New York City) and have always liked what Jim has done, but this show was an amazingly large exhibit of his work, taking up two floors of a vast brick mill building.  Mass MoCa is located out in North Adams, a good three hour drive from Boston (the last hour or so on a very twisty country road that still has the nerve to call itself “Route 2.”) Many of the old mill towns in Massachusetts have theses unused building, and I’ve seen them turned into housing, shops and a textile museum (in Lynn), but I’ve never seen the vast space in these buildings used as effectively as the museum did with Jim’s art. The show featured numerous large installations (some maybe thirty feet high) scattered over the space, along with a number of rooms filled with Jim’s smaller pieces.

Jim’s work combines popular culture and classic art with a large dollop of humor.  a number of pieces are based on Jim’s dreams, including a huge canvas that fills up two sides of a very large room, and features a gigantic, smiling Dan Quayle (who is shown twice in the diorama) reaching out to shake your hand.  It’s both funny and a little frightening, typical of my cousin’s work.

My very most favorite installation was the Death of Superman.  Jim often references comics in his art, most often classic DC characters. This room featured a large number of floor to ceiling banners, each one depicting a different pose of Superman in distress.  It was both a little overwhelming and exceedingly cool at the same time.

The Mass MoCa exhibit will stay up until January 2016.  I’ll write some more about it soon.IMG_6792 (1)