As I mentioned a couple of weeks back, in my post on the zombie apocalypse series Afterlife with Archie, I’ve become a comic book reviewer for the news site Comics for Sinners. And occasionally I come across a horror series that I think might interest you Panatics, so I decided to now and then reproduce my C4S reviews here at Zwieback Central. (And yes, it helps to update this blog.) So this time around I look at the first issue of Black Mask Studios’ Pirouette. Read on to find out more…
Confession time: I’ll admit I experienced some trepidation when I was asked to review this title from Black Mask Studios, but that was entirely due to confusing writer Mark L. Miller with Kick-Ass shock-and-awe hypemeister Mark Millar. Not being a fan of Millar’s work, I couldn’t imagine what Hollywood pitch this latest work would turn out to be. But then I took a second look, and realized a completely different writer was involved (an unfortunate circumstance that I’m sure Miller is sick of by now), so I started reading.
I’m glad I took that second look.
Pirouette is the eponymous star of the comic, an extremely sad, 16-year-old clown who dreams of running away from the circus because of the abuse—both physical and psychological—that she suffers at the hands of her fellow carnies, as well as her parents; to say she’s the resident punching bag would be an understatement. And yet there’s a spark of hope in Pirouette that a better life exists for her, somewhere beyond her nightmarish existence. And if what one of the other clowns has told her is true, there may be a chance for that spark to blossom into a flame…
The first impression one gets from Miller’s tale is that he’s wearing his Ray Bradbury influence on his sleeve—Samwell’s Circus of Curios and Wonders seems straight out of Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show in Bradbury’s classic novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. And that’s not a bad thing—given the extremes of hyperkinetic art layouts and ultraslow, “write for the trade” padded scripting that dominate comics these days, Miller has found an easy balance between the two, with a story that moves at its own pace without being derivative of Bradbury’s work.
Although billed as a horror miniseries, there’s nothing supernatural in evidence in this first issue; the horror solely comes from watching Pirouette’s mistreatment from a cast of characters you’d like to see run over by the train that transports the circus through its 1930s’ Midwest America setting. From all I know there may be no supernatural elements to the story, and that would be fine—Pirouette works just as well as a character-driven tale.
The art by Miller’s creative partner, Carlos Granda, is breathtaking. There’s a hint of Angel Medina (Spawn), a hint of Bernie Wrightson (Swamp Thing), and a touch of old-school EC comics to his style, and it all combines for top-notch storytelling pages that range from wide-screen double-splashes to intimate close-ups.
Bottom line? With its winning combination of Bradbury-esque influences and incredible art, Pirouette is a miniseries definitely worth a look for horror fans and comic fans.
Written by Mark L. Miller
Art and cover by Carlos Granda
Publisher: Black Mask Studios
32 pages • full color
On sale now
Best wishes for a fantastic All Hallows’ Eve to all you Panatics, from me and the rest of the StarWarp Concepts crew!
(Photo courtesy of Petr Kratochvil.)
Just in time for Halloween, here’s something different for this site: Me recommending a project I had nothing to do with. Okay, maybe not all that different—after all, I’ve posted summer reading lists in which I recommend other authors’ works. If anything, it’s different in that it involves a comic book series, the latest issue of which I reviewed for the news site Comics for Sinners. It’s the most unexpected—and most popular—Archie Andrews comic ever: the zombie apocalypse series Afterlife with Archie. And I think it’s something you Panatics might be interested in…
It started as a joke: a Halloween drawing by artist Francesco Francavilla (The Black Beetle), of a comic-book cover for a nonexistent horror series called Afterlife with Archie (a parody of the long-running Life with Archie); in it, America’s favorite teenager was being stalked in a cemetery by his best friend, Jughead—who’d become a zombie. The image went viral and comic fans laughed about it…but at Archie Comics, someone took a look at it and thought, Archie and his pals in a zombie apocalypse—what a great idea!
And thus was born Afterlife with Archie, the series, with Francavilla as artist, joined by writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa (Stephen King’s The Stand). Together, they’ve made AwA one of the most talked-about series currently being published, and one of the company’s top titles, by treating it as a straight-up horror series not intended for younger readers used to Archie’s more comedic antics. The setup is: Jughead’s dog, Hot Dog, is hit and killed by a car; Jughead brings him to Sabrina the Teenaged Witch and begs her to revive him; Sabrina uses The Necronomicon to do so (well, there’s a bad idea). In a Stephen King’s Pet Sematary–style twist, Hot Dog comes back as a very bad dog—a zombie dog, in fact, that puts the bite on Jughead…who then quickly spreads the infection to the rest of Riverdale. And suddenly Archie Andrews knows what it’s like to be Rick Grimes in The Walking Dead…
With the first story arc completed in AwA #5, Afterlife with Archie #6 shows us what’s become of Sabrina after her two witchy aunts punished her for accidentally unleashing hell on Earth—the last we’d seen of her was in the first issue, when they’d banished her to the “Nether-Realm.” Now we find out things haven’t improved much for her…
“Witch in the Dream House” uses the trope of the lead character who insists that their “hallucinations” and imagined life are reality while everyone tries to convince the character they’re insane. For Sabrina, it’s her certainty that she’s a witch, surrounded by monster in group therapy at a mental institution—run by two doctors named Lovecraft and Machen. If you recognize the names H. P. Lovecraft and Arthur Machen, two of the horror genre’s greatest writers, you can see where this is going, can’t you?
For horror fans, there are Easter eggs galore, with shout-outs to the authors’ works, most notably Lovecraft’s C’thulu Mythos—two of Sabrina’s fellow patients are Erich Zann (“The Music of Erich Zann”) and Richard Pickman (“Pickman’s Model”)—as well as Robert W. Chambers’s fabled city of Carcosa (most notably referenced in the first season of HBO’s acclaimed series True Detective) and the cult classic film The Wicker Man (the original with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee, not the crappy remake with Nicholas Cage). And as for the ending…well, you’ll just have to see it for yourself.
As a bonus, instead of AwA’s usual backup stories—reprinted from Archie’s Red Circle–imprint series Chilling Tales of Sorcery, with stories and art by some of comics’ legendary creators—this issue features a sneak peek of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #1, Aguirre-Sacasa’s not-quite-an-AwA-spinoff-series that’s currently on sale. Set in the 1960s, with art by Robert Hack, it seems to take its cues from Rosemary’s Baby and other occult thrillers of the sixties and early seventies. Definitely another series to check out.
Bottom line? If you’re already reading Afterlife with Archie, or are a fan of the works of Lovecraft, Machen, and Chambers, then definitely pick up this issue. If you’re a horror fan in general, you need to be reading this series. AwA is one of the smartest, creepiest comics out there right now, with a minimal amount of gore shown during its most violent scenes, but a lot of oppressive mood. Archie + zombies + the C’thulu Mythos = a can’t-miss series.
Afterlife with Archie #6
“Witch in the Dream House”
Written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Art by Francesco Francavilla
Publisher: Archie Comics
32 pages • full-color
On sale now
This past weekend, Saga of Pandora Zwieback cover painter Bob Larkin was the guest of honor at Doc Con XVII, the latest gathering of fans of pulp action hero Doc Savage. Interested in finding out what happened? Then head on over to the StarWarp Concepts blog and read the convention report.
By the way, Panatics, have you purchased a copy of The Bob Larkin Sketchbook yet? If not, you’re missing out on spectacular pencil drawings of Doc Savage, Spider-Man, Batman, the X-Men, and other subjects, and features a special, full-color cover drawing of a certain Goth adventuress. It’s 24 pages of artistic goodness, available exclusively from the StarWarp Concepts webstore. Visit the Bob Larkin Sketchbook product page for all the ordering information, as well as sample pages.
Here’s something you Panatics might enjoy. Over at the StarWarp Concepts blog, I occasionally post “Tales of Development Hell”: stories of projects I was hired to write, only to see them wind up being canceled for various reasons (a deal fell through, the publisher went out of business, etc.). One of those projects involved contributing to a collection of horror-movie reviews that ultimately never saw print.
The movie I covered was 1973’s Horror Express, which starred Christopher Lee (old-time fans know him as Dracula; younger fans would know him as Count Dooku in Star Wars: Episodes 2–3, Saruman in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, and the voice of Pastor Galswells in Corpse Bride) and Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars: Episode 4, Dr. Who in Doctor Who and the Daleks, and Van Helsing in Christopher Lee’s Dracula films), who team up to fight an ancient monkeyman that’s killing passengers on a train. And that’s not even the weirdest part of the movie!
Teen Read Week 2014 is happening right now, October 12–18. What is it? Well, to quote the event’s Web site:
Teen Read Week is a national literacy initiative of the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of the American Library Association. It’s aimed at teens, their parents, librarians, educators, booksellers and other concerned adults.
Teen Read Week’s theme is Read For The Fun Of It. Each year, YALSA offers a new sub-theme to serve as a basis for developing programs in schools, public libraries, and bookstores. The 2014 sub-theme is Turn Dreams into Reality @ your library, which encourages teens to read for the fun of it. The event offers librarians and educators a chance to encourage teens to read for pleasure and to visit their libraries for free reading materials.
For more information on this annual event, visit the Teen Read Week site.
Thanks for stopping by the StarWarp Concepts booth today, and for your interest in my Goth adventuress, Pandora Zwieback. If you’re here because you spoke with me, then click on the cover in the right-hand sidebar and download the Saga of Pandora Zwieback #0 digital comic that I showed you. Not only is it an introduction to Pan and her world, hosted by Pan herself, but it contains two sample chapters from her first novel, Blood Feud. Give it a read.
The Saga of Pandora Zwieback is the young adult, dark-urban-fantasy novel series that I write. It’s the story of a 16-year-old Goth girl who’s spent the last decade being treated for mental health problems because she can see monsters. It’s only after she meets a shape-shifting monster hunter named Sebastienne “Annie” Mazarin, in the first critically acclaimed novel, Blood Feud, that Pan discovers she’s never been ill—her so-called “monstervision” is actually a supernatural gift that allows her to see into Gothopolis, the not-so-mythical shadow world that exists right alongside the human world. But before Pan can learn more about what she can do, she and her parents are drawn into a conflict between warring vampire clans that are searching for the key to an ultimate weapon (or so the legend goes)—a key that just so happens to have been delivered to the horror-themed museum owned by Pan’s father.
“Blood Feud is far and away one of the best young adult supernatural fantasy novels released in the last few years. Pan is exactly the kind of teen heroine that readers should be standing up and cheering for.”—Melissa Voelker, HorrorNews.net
“One of those fabulous books that manages to straddle the young adult/adult fiction divide, catering equally for teens and more, ahem, ‘mature’ readers alike with a light touch that makes it a joy to read.”—Kell Smurthwaite, BCF Book Reviews
Pan’s debut adventure continues in the second novel, Blood Reign (on sale before year’s end), in which she and Annie face challenges from not just vampires but legions of monsters led by a fallen angel—who happens to be one of Annie’s ex-lovers! Blood Feud ended on such a shocking cliffhanger that Pan fans (I call them “Panatics”) have eagerly been looking forward to see how it gets resolved. Feel free to join their growing ranks—we love adding new members to Zwieback Nation.
Along with Blood Feud, on sale right now is The Saga of Pandora Zwieback Annual #1, which features two brand-new adventures (written by me) of Pan and her friends that are separate from the novels: a full-color comic story drawn by Eliseu Gouveia (The Saga of Pandora Zwieback #0), in which Pan and her boyfriend, Javier, run into one of his ex-girlfriends…whom Pan can see is really a mythological siren that can enrapture men with her voice; and a short story that pits Pan, Annie, and Javier against a trio of Elegant Gothic Lolita vampires—in a shopping mall! An additional backup tale, “After Hours,” is provided by DC Comics writer Sholly Fisch (Scooby-Doo! Team-Up, Action Comics, Batman: The Brave and the Bold) and drawn by comic-art legend Ernie Colon (Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld).
Give the site a look-over, and don’t forget to check out the gallery called “The 13 Days of Pan-demonium,” featuring 13 unique drawings of Pan and Annie by a host of talented artists. And when you’re done, give Pan’s Facebook page a Like, so you can keep up-to-date with all the latest news.
(A special shout-out to teen readers and Pandora Zwieback fans who are budding authors, but who may think their work isn’t all that good and worth continuing: Check out this post from May 27, where I talk about my first published work—a science-fiction story I wrote when I was 16. Take a look at that and tell me you can’t do better! )
And please keep in mind that Pan’s publisher, StarWarp Concepts, is not just a YA fiction house. It also publishes illustrated classics (including J. Sheridan’s Le Fanu’s vampire romance Carmilla and Edgar Rice Burroughs’s A Princess of Mars); graphic novels for superhero fans and adult horror aficionados; digital and print comic books; and artist sketchbooks. Give them a visit and check out all they have to offer.
Hopefully I’ll see you again next year!
Sorry, Dark Shadows fans, Collingswood isn’t the fictional mansion where vampire Barnabas Collins hung his cloak in the classic TV series (and that terrible Tim Burton movie)—that would be Collinwood—but rather a town in southern New Jersey, close to the Pennsylvania border. It’s also the location of one of the northeast’s most popular, and continually growing, book festivals—so of course The ’Warp has to be on hand for it. But don’t worry—we’ll have enough vampire fiction on sale to sate the reading appetites of any Barnabas fans who stop by.
The 2014 Collingswood Book Festival is being held tomorrow, Saturday, October 11, and StarWarp Concepts will be making its debut appearance at Booth #18; as always, just look for the Pandora Zwieback banner. On sale will be the Pandora Zwieback novel Blood Feud; the comic The Saga of Pandora Zwieback Annual #1; the illustrated classics A Princess of Mars and Carmilla; the graphic novels Lorelei: Sects and the City and Troubleshooters, Incorporated: Night Stalkings; and the Official Pandora Zwieback T-shirt. I’ll even be selling copies of my non-SWC projects—the X-Men: The Chaos Engine Trilogy novels, the Untold Tales of Spider-Man anthology, and the young adult superhero graphic novel, Sunn—so get ’em while supplies last.
The Collingswood Book Festival is open on Saturday, October 11, from 10:00 AM to 4:00 PM. The event is free, but for more information—including the festival’s alternate setting of Collingswood High School, in case rain forces it indoors—head over to the festival website.
New York Comic Con 2014 starts today, October 9th, and runs through Sunday, October 12th. And although the StarWarp Concepts crew won’t be attending (we’ll be at the Collingswood Book Festival on Saturday), Bob Larkin—cover painter of my Saga of Pandora Zwieback novel Blood Feud, and featured artist of his own Bob Larkin Sketchbook—will be tucked behind Table C4 in Artists Alley, signing autographs, taking commissions, and selling prints of his well-known cover paintings for Marvel Comics, Bantam Books, and other publishers. If you can’t remember the number, you’ll probably have to look no farther than the growing line of Doc Savage and Dazzler fans at his table.
New York Comic Con is being held at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, on Manhattan’s West Side. For more information, head over to the NYCC site.
By the way, have you purchased a copy of The Bob Larkin Sketchbook yet? If not, you’re missing out on spectacular pencil drawings of Doc Savage, Spider-Man, Batman, the X-Men, and other subjects, and features a special, full-color cover drawing of a certain Goth adventuress. It’s 24 pages of artistic goodness, available exclusively from the StarWarp Concepts webstore. Visit the Bob Larkin Sketchbook product page at StarWarp Concepts for all the ordering information, as well as sample pages.
The 2014 Collingswood Book Festival is being held on Saturday, October 11, and StarWarp Concepts (and me, of course) will be making its debut appearance! Never heard of CBF? Well, to quote the festival’s site:
The 12th Annual Collingswood Book Festival makes a triumphant return as bibliophiles converge in this historic South Jersey town to celebrate everything about the written word. The Collingswood Book Festival is a big literary event that exudes small-town, friendly ambience. A week of activities will culminate on Saturday, October 11, 2014 from 10am to 4pm. Festival-goers will have an opportunity to stroll more than six blocks of Haddon Avenue filled with nationally recognized authors/speakers for adults and children, as well as booksellers, storytellers, poetry readings, workshops, exhibitors and performance stages. All events are free.
Booth #18 is where you’ll find me hawking The ’Warp’s goods; as always, just look for the Pandora Zwieback banner. For more information, including travel directions, head over to the festival website.