SDCC 2016 ‘Colt the Outlander’ and the Aradio Brothers: Never just a Bounty Hunter

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

Welcome to an alternative post-apocalyptic future, the struggle of daily living on the mining wastelands of Neb-6, where the only thing you can be certain of is that there is absolutely nothing certain in these brave new worlds.

Colt the Outlander, the fast-paced adventure series of rogue bounty hunter Colt and his deadly lady companions Jenna and Brem, as seen in the pages of the world’s premiere illustrated sci-fi-fantasy magazine Heavy Metal, comes to us in written-story format from a leading sci-fi author, Kevin J. Anderson!

Colt the Outlander has been around in some form or fashion, both story and art, since around 1995, first featured in Heavy Metal in the 2001 fall issue and many times since then, crossing over with other well-known properties like Rifts, Colt has an ever-growing and very loyal fan-base.

I was fortunate enough to catch up with the creators of Colt at this year’s San Diego Comic-Con, the Aradio brothers, Dominic and RC, and Dante Pacella at their booth. Excerpts from the new Colt story series by Kevin J. Anderson were being touted at the booth, and even as I stood there and watched, fans of Colt from Heavy Metal came and went, eagerly anticipating their favorite gritty Colt in a brand new series.

Dominic was kind enough to explain the series to me more in depth, talking about planetary fallout and ancient technologies brought back for new and unique uses, with far-spanning deserts and wastelands, bounty hunters and assassins, Colt and his badass female companions have their daily struggle to just survive cut out for them. Dominic laughingly confided that his sources of inspiration come from everywhere, from the long-running writings of horror laureate Stephen King, to the binge-watching of the show Supernatural with his kids. The boisterous Aradio brother delightedly explained that Kevin J. Anderson himself had expressed interest in writing the novella adaptations of the Colt series, and that Aradio himself was a huge fan of Anderson’s Saga of Seven Suns series and, of course, his Dune adaptations. “There are very few similarities between Dune and Colt, so it was kind of a challenge, but Kevin Anderson can write the hell out of nearly anything sci-fi.”

The comfort that understanding, in any medium, can bring, is often astounding in its effectiveness. More than once, I saw fans who were military members approach the booth and thank the Aradio Brothers and Pacella for their realistic, accurate, and totally empathetic portrayal of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in those who serve in the military, or have served previously, inside the ongoing Colt the Outlander  storyline. Dominic proudly informed me that, “A whole bunch of our Colt fans are servicemen and women,” and the women especially love their strong portrayal of lady bounty hunters Jenna and Brem, who accompany Colt on his scavenging and hunting rounds.

Now, the story of Colt and his pals and their heartaches and adventures, are brought to printed life by the same author who dared to take on a partnership to make more Dune stories, Kevin J. Anderson. Aradio Brothers Studios has ambitions to make Colt a multimedia platform featuring visual entertainment, video games (I see shades of Borderlands, that would be cool), comics and of course, books. To keep up with Colt the Outlander updates and maybe even find a copy of the new novella to purchase, go to the Colt Facebook page here.

 

Book Review: ‘Lincoln’s Wizard’

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

To most people, gray is just a color. To people who have read Lincoln’s Wizard by Tracy Hickman and Dan Willis, gray is something to be feared. The book brings the color gray to life, by mixing life and death, white and black, until the result is something eerily in between. The book takes place during the American Civil War, and the Confederacy has found a way to reanimate their fallen. The undead soldiers are known as Grays because of the color of their skin, and they seem to be a new twist on an old theme; zombies. The Grays have no feelings, and they are doomed to repeat the maneuvers they used battle that they died in. This makes them predictable, but their ability to take a bullet without wavering is what makes them a true asset. They have no compulsion to eat flesh, but they must be given a special serum every four days or they will fall apart.

The North is hit hard by this new weapon. They aren’t able to replicate this process, or even understand how it works. They are at a major disadvantage, and there is only one way to level the playing field. The North has to find a way to understand these monsters, and they have a spy in the South who knows where the Grays are being made. Just one small problem: The spy is in the most secure prison that the Rebels have to offer. Lincoln may have a mind for military tactics, but Alan Pinkerton is the brains behind the covert operations.

Braxton Wright is an engineer in the Northern army, and a very good one, at that. He was one of the brains behind the Monitor, a gun similar to a tank, but instead of wheels, the Monitor has legs of metal that it uses to lift itself above the enemy. The catch? The South has been given a few dragons by the French. The dragons are able to expel great gouts of fire, and they are a menace in the sky.

Lincoln’s Wizard is able to subtly integrate Steampunk, and it’s a great book for someone who favors wading into a genre over jumping in headfirst. The machinery is fully explained, and the Steampunk elements are not overbearing. The story is not centered around steam, nor does it strive to use it as proof that the story is unique. The fact that Hickman and Willis have found a way to put a new spin on the undead is proof enough that the book is unique. The airships are steam colossuses, and they plow through the sky with the grace of a hot air balloon. They are major forces to be reckoned with, and they are able to provide the aerial support that an infantry needs when they’re attacked by dragons. The only danger that the Northern airships face is the Hellfire that the dragons spew. When Hellfire and helium mix, the result is explosive, to say the least.

Wright is sent on a born-to-lose mission into the South. He has to deal with many obstacles, but his analytical mind and knack for machines serve him well as he moves from one danger to another. He has to deal with a trainload of Grays, a lost dragon rider, and a broken mechanical soldier whose construction is more sophisticated than anything he has ever seen before.

Lincoln’s Wizard deals with a question that few books do; what if the South had something that would swing the tide of the war in their favor? The North had the supplies, the manpower, and the upper hand. The South had strategists, and the home field advantage. In Lincoln’s Wizard, the South may have the Greys, but the North has superior engineers.

The standard set-up of the Civil War is North versus South, and Good versus Evil. This story shows us a glimpse into the life of Marcus Burnsides, a dragon rider who attacks the Northern air fleet. Our initial reaction is that Burnsides is a monster, someone who is against freedom and equality. As the story continues, we see that he is not a monster, but simply a human being. He lost his woman to another man, and dealt with the pain as people have for centuries. It’s a thought-provoking example of how most people were just the same as the people they are fighting, but simply on the opposite side of the Mason-Dixon line.

Lincoln’s Wizard is an amazing book that perfectly encapsulates the struggle of the North and the South. Some are fiercely loyal to their respective sides, and others have seen too many things to care. Those are the people who just want the war to end. They have seen the carnage and brutality that real war brings, and they are the ones who have been on the front lines. This is demonstrated by attitudes of the prisoners in the Rebel prison, as well as some of the soldiers who have been in battle. If you love alternative history, steampunk, and dragons, this one’s for you!

XXX

Worldcon 2015: Phil and Kaja Foglio Interview

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)

Some people find it hard to work well with others, and others find it nearly impossible. That is what is so unique about Phil and Kaja Foglio; they have written the entire Girl Genius series — both in comics and in books — together. Phil Foglio says, “The comics came first, and then, you know, we worked from the comics and wrote the novels, which is different from how it usually goes.” Both their books and comics about the exploits of young Ms. Heterodyne have a fandom that is quite large, but they are lucky to have fans that are content and just happy to get new material.

Although they may not have screaming fans who devote entire YouTube channels to following their cars (looking at you, George R.R. Martin), they still run into fans who have the ingenuity to recreate some of their character’s designs. Phil remarks, “Oh, that’s wonderful! It’s nice to see people in costumes [from our books] … I feel pretty confident in my costumes, because I took four years of fashion illustration in art school, so I have a lot of costumers who come up and go, ‘I can actually make your stuff! This is awesome!’ Well that’s because I had teachers who pretty much drummed it into me that … you have to design stuff that people can actually wear.”

Their fans aren’t the only ones who get to fantasize about sumptuous garments. Phil explained what garment he would bring back into fashion from the Victorian era, “If there was something I could bring back? I don’t think men wear enough hats … A gentleman looks good in a hat … It’s an extra little flip of style.” He may not have enough physical hats, but metaphorically he is a man of many.

The series that he has written with wife Kaja, Girl Genius, is published in hard-copy book format and as a free online web-comic. When asked about the unique challenges of writing both, Phil was able to give a unique answer, “Writing is more difficult because there is that old adage, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ … I think that is pretty much why I was more of an illustrator for so long, because I’m a really lazy guy, so I would just draw a lot … but as we started working on the Girl Genius novels, and I’ve done other novels in the past … There are things that you can do with language that you can’t, at least I can’t, do with art alone … Art is easier, but good writing is more evocative.”

Phil and Kaja have a very synergistic approach when it comes to the clothing that their characters wear. Kaja Foglio remarks, “We do a lot of scribbling back and forth,” with regard to their joint ideas for outfits. While Phil studied fashion illustration, Kaja was involved in the costuming of many theatrical productions. She says, “It [fashion illustration] teaches you a lot about how clothing hangs and where the folds go, and so when you’re drawing a garment, you actually have an idea of its construction. I, in college, took a lot of costuming and I did some theater work … and so I have more of an idea of how it goes together, and he has more of an idea of how to draw it. Sometimes when he draws it, it makes me crazy because I’m like, ‘You have no idea how that’s actually supposed to be constructed, do you?’ But, we found that even in the theater, the theater illustrators would draw something, and then they’d hand it to us and they’d be like, ‘Make that,’ and we’d say, ‘Yeah … okay, sure. We’ll do a thing like that … They would draw a beautiful piece of art, and it may or may not have actually worked.”

Although there may be a difference between fanciful and functional in the clothing, there is little difference when it comes to actually sitting down and creating both the Girl Genius books and comics: they are markedly similar. Phil explains, “They are both writing creative things. One is a little more visually oriented, but … I think being visually oriented, as both Ki [Kaja] and I are, makes our writing as visual as it is.”

When asked who he would love to collaborate with, living or dead, Phil let out a big sigh as he pondered this question, “Living or dead? I’d say Terry Pratchett of course, geez. The man was awesome! We learned an awful lot just by reading his stuff.”

Kaja has a slightly more realistic dream, “So, I would have said Tom Kidd, who does beautiful airships and has done beautiful airship drawings … and magical cities for a long time, but … actually, on the novels here, he’s the artist that our publisher got for us for the cover art. So, that was very nice. It was like, ‘Oh, I didn’t even have to ask, and he’s the person I would have suggested … Gosh, there are definitely a lot of people out there that I would love to have [work with].

“I have sort of a fantasy project that I would love to do, where I would hire a number of different fantasy artists to do their own take on the Girl Genius universe. For instance, do me a picture of the character, a cover, or something like that … then put it together in a big art book. I’ve seen this done for various manga series and anime series that I like. I have this fantastic book from Japan where they collected all this different art from Hatsune Miku and the other characters [Vocaloid characters] and some of it is manga, and some of it’s album covers, and it’s just all these different styles, all these different works, based around those characters. It’s amazing, so I keep this as one of my little treasures up near my desk, like, ‘I want this, but for Girl Genius.’ I would love to do this. To go to all of the artists that I admire and say, ‘I want to hire you to do a picture for us, for this book.’… It’s kind of a fantasy project that I would love to do.” Given a few years, Kaja’s dream may very well become a reality, and that would be a feat to be seen.

Working with another person on something as personal as art can cause tension and dissension, but Phil says that he and his wife have a great solution. “We talk it out. It’s just kind of like, ‘Okay … explain yourself, why do you think this?’ … it’s kind of like a D&D [Dungeons and Dragons] game … you have to say, ‘This would happen.’

“‘Ah, no, but this person would do this.’

“‘I guess they would.’

“‘Alright, then this would happen.’

“‘Uh, no, I don’t thing that would happen because this guy died two pages ago.’

“‘Yes he did!’

“Like I said, we just talk it out.”

They may not have much difficulty when it comes to problem solving, but they have found an unexpected challenge when they write the voice for one special character. The Hetrodyne Castle. “The castle is one person … but because it’s generally a computerized person, we’re able to have separate entities that … well, if you hooked it back up, it would all flow together, and then the castle would know everything that both of them knew, but they’re separate. Like the train … is like a peeled-off bit of the castle that was sent out and was experiencing things, and maybe eventually come back and add that data or that knowledge … It would come back and add that data to the greater mind, but at the moment it’s still its own little thing, and at the moment it’s still kind of got its own little way of speaking and it’s very angry, and very …’Well, you’re all idiots! Argh!’

“So writing those different voices, they’re … all the same person but they all have different experiences and have slightly different knowledge bases. The little bit of it that they [the main characters] have just met in Paris, that’s part of the castle, but it’s not currently part of the main castle, but it still thinks of itself as part of the castle, and if they hooked it back up, it would be like, ‘Hey I suddenly know all of the maps of Paris, and I know all the stuff that happened in Mechanicsburg, and the one in Mechanicsburg doesn’t currently have the knowledge of Paris that the other one has. If you put it all together, it’s like pouring water into a glass, and then it’s like, ‘Ha, now you’re all here,’ and that’s a weird … way of thinking that really kind of runs counter to our own human individualist idea of me and you as separate entities and individuals.” This certainly would be quite a task to write, and try and get all the little nuances across without making it too blatant.

Every good writer (and yes, even the great ones too), has to start by reading up on whatever it is that grabs his or her interest. In the case of Phil Foglio, it was comics. Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, by Gilbert Shelton turned out to be his favorite. He added, “Underground comic … from the seventies. About a bunch of … reprobates. They are certainly well-known.” The strip was first printed in an underground newspaper in Austin, Texas, around 1968. It starred three guys, although not brothers, who sported quite a bit of hair. The first was Freewheelin’ Franklin Freek, whose red hair flowed behind him as he moved from hi-jink to escapade. Next was Phineas Phreek, who has the biggest and most unruliest bush of black hair. Lastly came the most obese of the trio, the aptly named Fat Freddy Freekowtski, whose blond mop cascaded perfectly from his head.

The Foglios like to hide some Easter eggs into their comic. They will probably not be understood by anyone outside of the Foglio family, however. Kaja shares one such joke, “Occasionally we’ll use the name of a friend, or throw a joke in there that came from some place … private. Like, at one point, when Tarvek is babbling, he says, ‘Imagine everything is made of pigs!’ Which is nonsense, but it’s actually an old joke between Phil and me because he once, long ago, woke up in the middle of the night with a brilliant idea for a story. It was just an amazing idea, and he was so excited about it, so he wrote it down and went back to sleep. When he woke up in the morning, the paper said, ‘Imagine everything is made of pigs.’ and he was like, ‘Okay then.’ That was apparently a really weird dream, and we’ve laughed about that ever since … I guess the idea was to imagine that all of the electrons in an atom were little pigs, and they get all excited, and they run around a lot, or something. So, that’s just a thing that makes us laugh, and we throw it in there and it makes us laugh even more … Or, the occasional science joke that Phil will throw in there from something he heard from his friends at Fermilab years ago, or some weird historical thing that I’ve read about somewhere. I’ll throw things like that in. A lot of times, there is usually someone who gets it, in that case, and then they have the fun of explaining it to their friends.”

The Foglios incorporate witty banter, inside jokes, hat-tips to friends, and just plain old science jokes, to give their stories that little bit of umph makes them so entrancing and keeps the readers coming back in droves. They make personable and believable characters with fantastical, yet satisfyingly functional, designs and they take off to explore a world of their own creation with each posting of web-comic and chapter of their books. They have taken the steampunk genre by storm, and they are still going full speed ahead.

XXX

Worldcon 2015: Thrilling Thursday

by Agent Zara Cruden (a.k.a. Z the Pun-isher)        

The dark banks of smoke that covered the sky Thursday did nothing to dampen the enthusiasm of all the devoted fans who have flocked to Spokane for Worldcon. We are a resilient lot, and it takes more than that to bring us down.

The events really hit their stride at ten in the morning, when all of the panels and events started to get under way. The teenage delegations from all the fandoms were able to meet up in a room at the Double Tree Hotel and shared cookies, lemonade, and a bunch of games.

There was much to see, but one of the highlights was the all the dancing. People in fanciful costumes from all over the world came together and paired off for different traditional dances. Not necessarily traditional to our world, however. At two o’clock there was a ‘Nanny Ogg Knees Up!’ dance, based on the mythical realm of Discworld, a creation of the late Terry Pratchett.

Preceding the dance was a memorial held in honor of the great writer, and people he had met and influenced were invited to share their experiences. A young woman in a well-made cosplay had to have the microphone held for her because she needed both hands free to wipe her eyes as she spoke. Terry Pratchett touched many lives, and even now, the ingenuity of his fans is indoctrinating new people and opening their eyes to the wonderful, flat world that was his true art.

The location bidders (lobbying to win the honor of hosting the next Worldcon) from Washington, D.C. hosted a free barbecue lunch in the park, and they had a high turnout. Not only did they serve the traditional hamburgers and hot dogs, they also had vegetarian options, chips, and drinks. The burgers were smoky and the drinks were cold, so there was much merriment and lightheartedness.

After lunch, people separated from their new-found friends and went back to attending panels. Some people chose to learn about ambushes, while others thought that a conversation about Doctor Who was what they wanted to do. One or two of them may have even been fortunate enough to come across an owl puppet in a vendor’s booth that has the fourth Doctor’s scarf wrapped around his neck. If you ask the vendor, the owl is Doctor Whooo.

Though there was not as much hustle and bustle as there was on First Night, people still managed to have plenty of fun and laughs. At the Davenport Hotel, there was a big dance called the Girl Genius Ball. Plenty of people payed homage to the wonderful series that inspired the dance by dressing up in their own versions of Steampunk and looking like they had just stepped out of one of Phil and Kaja Foglio’s beautifully illustrated Girl Genius comics.

Throughout the day, there was much carousing and eating of delicious cookies (although no castles were stormed, much to relief of the hotel staff). There were tears shed for those that have been lost, and laughter shared with those who are just arriving. The festivities are still going on, and anime fans are delighted by the fact that there will be late night-and early morning-screenings of all their classics.

XXX

Check out our exclusive photo gallery from thrilling Thursday at Worldcon!

Welcome to the Super Villain Network

Welcome to the Super Villain Network. We are now in control. You have been selected for recruitment. We are pleased that you’ve responded to our summons, and have come to join the new order. We reject the “superhero” paradigm of maintaining the status quo. Super Villainy is true democracy in action. We recognize your potential as a Super Villain.

We will use our media influence to highlight the best, the up-and-coming, and the under-appreciated aspects of fandom, in order to restore free-thinking and creativity. We have overthrown the champions of box-store tyranny. We have overthrown the mundane and liberated the shackled imagination. You are a new asset in our order.

We are the Super Villains.