May 31, 2016

20 Facts

I was tagged on twitter by the awesome Mollie Wallace @readheadreader to share 20 Facts with you all. No idea why...but I have learned not to question such things. If you want to check out Mollie's answers go HERE.

And then come back to check out mine.

1. I have 6175 comic books in my collection. I counted them...and bagged them...and filed them. Yes, it took forever.

2. I can't stand the texture of sandpaper or the sound it makes rubbing against wood. It gives me goosebumps...and not in a good way. And yes, I was terrible at woodwork at school.

3. My middle name is Shannon. It's a family surname (great grandmother on my dad's side of the family), as opposed to a girl's first name. My dad also has Shannon for a middle name.

4. Despite being born and raised living no further than about a mile from the sea, I'm not the biggest seafood person. And don't even get me started about sushi...blerg! And, although my dad used to fish, I never really got into it. I did catch one fish, which looked like this...this is not the actual fish. My fish was bigger...

Aaaaah KILL IT WITH FIRE!!! (Don't worry, we released it), I took that as a warning, returned the devil fish to the sea and put up my fishing rod for good.

5. I have been on two cruises. Both were fun and both were filled with Star Trek geeks. I also met George Takei (Sulu), James Doohan (Scotty), and several other actors and actresses from the Star Trek shows.

Hanging out with Sulu with big glasses and a big grin

6. I think the Gurkhas are the baddest mofos on the planet. If you have never heard of them you should look them up. They're the little Nepalese soldiers who fight for the UK army...even though Nepal is not a part of the UK or a dependent of it. A former Field Marshal of the Indian Army was quoted as saying: "If a man says he is not afraid of dying, he is either lying or is a Gurkha."

7. I own a kukri. It's a large machete-like knife with a curved blade used by the Gurkhas (see above).

Haven't had to use it on anyone...yet.

8. I'm a sucker for a good "last stand" story. My top three are:

 - The Battle of Thermopylae: 300 Spartans - and 7000 others - face down the might of Persian Empire, but are ultimately defeated
 - The Battle of Rorke's Drift: 141 British Army soldiers defend a mission station in South Africa against about 4,000 Zulu warriors
 - The Battle of Saragarhi: 21 Sikhs chose to fight and defend an army post against 10,000 Pashtuns to give their relief time to make it to the outpost. They succeeded in preventing the Pashtuns taking the fort. All 21 died...taking anywhere between 180-450 Pashtuns with them. Sikhs are badass.

9. Careers I considered while I was still in high school: Librarian and translator. I enjoyed books, research, and quiet, so the librarian thing was interesting to me. I took French for 5 years, and briefly wondered how many jobs as an English-French translator there could possibly be. Turns out there's about 4 jobs. And no one's giving them up anytime soon. lol.

10. I've worked for the railroad since I was seventeen. First in the UK as an Engineering Technician in the Signal Department, then in the US as a Signalman, Testman, and now, Train Dispatcher. A train dispatcher is like an Air Traffic Controller except the chances of trains falling out of the sky are literally zero.

A pair of TRRA locomotives (my railroad), looking over the Mississippi at the St. Louis Arch. Part of the track I control runs right under the Arch grounds.

11. I play guitar, bass, and keyboards. None of them well. Me and my friend Andrew wrote many songs back when we were in our teens and early twenties, but, since you've never heard of our music, you can probably figure out how that worked out. :) I still dabble, but my 12-string only has eleven strings and a warped body.

12. On the subject of was a fun extension of writing stories where I got to dabble in heavy metaphor and trying to make things rhyme. My fact though is that I wrote my first song when I was about seventeen.

13. I have learned huge amounts about writing from comic books. Seriously. While they are often maligned for being "for kids" or for lacking emotional depth, I've found that to be far from the truth. And from comics I discovered my favorite proverb: If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, and one of my favorite phrases: "Pyrrhic Victory" - a victory at such great cost that it's hardly worth it. Both from The Avengers, by the way.

Pyrrhic Victory!

14. I'm 43. Born February 5th, 1973. I share my Feb 5th birthday with no less than Ronaldo, Bobby Brown, H.R. Giger, Laura Linney, and Hank Aaron.

15. Although I've written stories for decades, it wasn't until the advent of the self-publishing phenomenon that I actually finished a novel length story and released it. That was in 2010. I've written one more book since then and working on a third now.

16. I love Mint Choc Chip Ice cream. I mean, who doesn't, right?

17. I was born in Scotland. However, I've lived in the States for the past...almost...eighteen years. And I am now an American citizen (as of 2014).

18. My best friend Andrew has known me since I was eleven. And despite his attempt to get away from me (he moved to Australia) he's stuck with me. I don't recognize Australian restraining orders. :P

19. I spent 12 weeks one summer, during school break, working in a chicken factory. It was NOT fun. My mum worked there for more than a decade. I learned two valuable lessons that summer. First, never look down on anyone who works in a factory. It's easily the most physically demanding work I've ever done...and I've worked in 100F heat digging trenches and running cable for the railroad. Secondly, don't mess with mum. She will fold you up into unusual shapes even though you're twice her size.

20. I love animals. One of my absolute faves is...*drum roll*

...The Hedgehog!

There's my 20 Facts. Hope you enjoyed. I'm going to tag @SamiJoCairns @MayBBridges @JacquelineBach @LaurieBwrites and see what 20 things they will share. Follow me on twitter @Spartagus or on Facebook at thermopylaebooks


Apr 13, 2016

A to Z Challenge - K is for...


Jack "King" Kirby is one of the single most important people in comic book history. Unfortunately, many people still haven't heard of him. I hope to rectify that here.

Marvel Masterminds

What do The Fantastic Four, Uncanny X-Men, Hulk, Thor and Iron Man have in common?

You are correct if you said they are all Marvel comics. If you said they were all created by Stan Lee, you're only half right.

The legend goes...

Stan Lee would come up with ideas, basic outlines and tell them to Jack Kirby. Kirby would then go away and draw a comic book based on that idea. Once he was finished, he'd give the comic back to Lee who'd fill in the dialogue and speech as he saw fit. Often Lee would have no idea what he'd get back from Kirby and has been quoted as saying it was like doing a crossword puzzle, trying to figure out what story the pictures were telling him.

Later, the idea of credit became the subject of bad blood between Kirby and Marvel and, after his death, his family pursued the rights to their father's creations. Ultimately, the family settled out of court and Marvel does credit Kirby as co-creator for the books he worked on.

Aside from creating the bulk of what became the Marvel universe with Stan Lee, Kirby also created Captain America with Joe Simon. And, after moving to DC comics in the early 1970s, he also created The Fourth World which included the character of Darkseid (who is rumored to be the bad guy in the upcoming Justice League movie.)

Kirby's art style

Jack Kirby not only helped create many of the characters we know and love today, but he also created a new style of graphic storytelling that became the blueprint for Marvel artists and an exciting new visual chapter in comic books.

While Batman and Superman looked like this:

Kirby was pushing the depth of the page. Making the characters more dynamic and more powerful.

His style led the eye to the next image, and the characters never simply moved from panel to panel, they leapt, swung, flew, dashed, and battered their way from one page to the next.

Kirby's legacy is undeniable. Both he and Stan Lee changed comic books forever and since we're still discussing many of the characters they co-created, it feels right that he is still celebrated today.

Movie Trivia: In the movie Argo (based on a real story), the CIA mission to rescue Americans from Iran relied on the creation of a fake sci-fi movie. The storyboards for the movie were drawn in real life by Jack Kirby. In the movie, Kirby is played by Michael Parks.


Apr 12, 2016

A to Z Challenge - J is for...

...James Jean!

James Jean is a fine artist who is known in the comic book world for his cover art on the DC series Fables.


Shere Khan and Rose Red

Fables is a series about characters from fairytales and folk lore who are chased from their homeland and settle in a secret community in New York. The "Fables" who can't blend in with humans live in upstate New York at "The Farm."

TV Trivia: The Fables concept might sound familiar to fans of Grimm and Once Upon a Time, two television shows currently showing on NBC and ABC respectively. Both networks had Fables in development at one stage or another in the mid to late 2000s, and both chose to go a different way.

Fables was launched in 2002, under the Vertigo imprint, with James Jean doing cover art. Jean did every cover, except issue #11, until 2009 (issue #81) when he retired from illustration to concentrate on painting.

Fairytales and folklore was a perfect match for Jean's artwork. His dreamy and colorful style were a wonderful addition to the comic book shelves.

Primarily for his work on Fables, Jean was recognized as Best Cover Artist at the Eisner awards six years in a row (2004-2009). In the 23 years of the Best Cover Artist award, he still holds the top spot for most wins.

One of my favorite cover artists of the last 20 years, I actually bought a series of small prints based on his cover work and hope one day to get around to hanging them on some walls.


Apr 11, 2016

A to Z Challenge - I is for...


The Fab Five

Robert "Bobby" Drake was created in 1963 and is one of the founding five members of the X-Men. He has appeared regularly over the last fifty years in multiple incarnations of the X-Men comic books and in other teams like X-Factor, The Defenders, and The Champions. The character has also made appearances in cartoons and movie adaptations.

Stan Lee and Jack Kirby initially created Iceman using the Human Torch as the template, except giving him the "opposite" power. In the early books, Iceman had the appearance of a snowman in boots, and only later changed into the more crystal clear version more commonly known today. He also underwent a "secondary mutation" that for a time had him stuck in his ice form.

Cold hearted?

Bobby is an honest, forthright and sometimes cocky character, his status as the youngest of the original X-Men giving him certain allowances for his brash behavior, although he remained that way as he got older.

Throughout his comic book life, Iceman has enjoyed relationships with female characters like Kitty Pryde, Opal Tanaka, Mystique, and Lorna Dane, however, it was revealed in a more recent story that he was in fact gay.

Due to some time-travel shenanigans, a younger version of Iceman was present in the future and it was there that his telepathic teammate Jean Grey discovered that the younger Bobby was gay.

Together they confronted the older version of Bobby and he admitted that he'd been hiding it all those years.

Iceman in the movies

One of the disappointments of the movie incarnations of the X-men is that the original five: Cyclops, Jean Grey, Beast, Angel and Iceman, while all appearing in the same movie, have not actually all been part of the same line-up. The closest we've come to seeing the original line-up together was in X-men 3: The Last Stand, where all five characters were in the movie, although they never appear together in the same team.

Shawn Ashmore has played Iceman in four of the five X-Men movies so far. Although mostly used as a supporting character, we were able to see Iceman using his ice slides in "Days of Future Past."

X-Men: Apocalypse is due out on May 27th and although it looks like they recast a younger Cyclops and Jean Grey, and added an all-new Angel/Archangel to star alongside the returning Nicholas Hoult as Beast, there's been no word on Iceman making a return.

Maybe in the next movie...


Apr 9, 2016

A to Z Challenge - H is for...



Adam Hughes is an American comic book artist, primarily known for his pin-up style art and his extensive work as a cover artist on a large number of comic books. Including long runs on Wonder Woman and Catwoman.

Cover Artist

Hughes has no formal art training. He learned his trade alongside other artists as he picked up work, first with independent publishers and then DC comics.

His intricate style didn't lend itself well to the quick turnaround required for monthly comic books, so Hughes concentrated more on cover work and in the late '90s began a four year run doing cover art on Wonder Woman for DC, while also doing covers on Tomb Raider for TopCow, establishing himself as a much sought after cover artist.

Sexy or Sexist?

On top of his cover work, Hughes started designing statuettes for Sideshow collectibles, the first of which - Mary Jane Watson (Spider-man's girlfriend/wife) - caused a huge stir because many thought it was a sexist representation of a prominent female Marvel character.

Hughes' work is often scorned as sexist, and sometimes too sexy, especially for a medium that's still often considered geared towards children. However, despite his pin-up style, Hughes often draws women as powerful figures, and although the Mary Jane statue was designed with tongue firmly in cheek, it seems to project a dated image.

Much of the rest of Hughes' designs, covers, and lithographs, continue to retain a more powerful depiction of the women involved, but Hughes never shies away from keeping the artwork sexy. Still very much sought after, he continues to do cover art for a wide variety of comic books...although still, admittedly, drawing mostly female characters.

Real Power of the DC Universe poster
L to R: Catwoman, Oracle, Zatanna, Black Canary, Power Girl, Wonder Woman, Supergirl, Vixen, Batwoman (seated), Poison Ivy, Harlequin


Apr 8, 2016

A to Z Challenge - G is for...


Cashing in

In 1996, barely twenty years ago, Marvel was in big financial trouble. In an attempt to cash in on their large inventory of characters, they made several licensing deals with different movie studios. Universal snatched up the Hulk, Fox grabbed the X-Men and Fantastic Four, and Sony bid highest for the Spider-man rights.

Several lackluster movies were made over the next few years and many of the rights reverted back to Marvel. Hulk, Punisher, Daredevil and Blade foremost amongst the returning heroes.

Marvel comes back to life

By 2008, Marvel were on a stronger footing and ready to attempt a launch of their own movie studio. Since the licensing of Marvel's big guns (Spider-man and the X-Men) was still owned by other companies, Marvel decided to use Iron Man to launch the studio.

Not only was Iron Man a huge success, but Marvel enjoyed a long string of successes after it, including a little known property set in space called Guardians of the Galaxy.

The magic in Marvel's revitalization isn't just that they were able to create a viable cinematic universe on the backs of some characters considered "second tier" in the Marvel comic book universe, but that they could take a group of virtually unknown characters and make them a huge hit.

I am Groot

The Guardians were a team of five characters, two of whom were a talking raccoon and a sentient tree. On top of that, the tree could only communicate using the words "I am Groot" and nothing else. Somehow, with Vin Diesel providing the voice, they made it work in the movie.

Who is Groot?

Groot has actually been around for a long time. More than fifty years in fact. He's the second oldest Marvel character to appear in a movie, after Captain America, although the sharp-eyed amongst you might have spotted the original Human Torch exhibit in Iron Man, so he's the third oldest if you wanted to be pedantic. Groot is certainly the second oldest to have a speaking role in a Marvel movie. Such as it is.

Created in 1960, making him a year older than the Fantastic Four and two years older than Spider-man, Groot's debut was in Tales to Astonish #13 where he crash-landed on Earth, claimed to be the Monarch of Planet X and insisted he was going to take a small town back home with him for their scientists to study. The humans fought back and some specially bred termites were thrown at him and that was the end of Groot.

Or it turned out.

Groot was brought back in other comic books and showed a more heroic side until he finally became a part of the Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie star, and now he has a comic book series of his own. Probably doesn't have too many speech bubbles. 

I look forward to more interesting and unusual characters in the Marvel movies. Do you have a favorite?


Apr 7, 2016

A to Z Challenge - F is for...

...Fredric Wertham!

From the mid-50s until the early 2000s, almost every comic book carried the Comics Code Authority logo on its cover. The CCA was formed in 1954 as an alternative to government oversight in the comic book industry after a U.S. Congressional Inquiry into the comic book industry. The formation of the CCA began fifty years of censorship in comic books and it was due, in no small part, to one man: Fredric Wertham.

Seduction of the Innocent

Wertham was a psychiatrist and author and in the early 1950s he turned his attention on what he saw as the detrimental effects of comic books. In those days, crime and horror books were prevalent in the industry, alongside the super-hero comics that are more recognizable today.

Wertham's book "Seduction of the Innocent" described images of violence, overt and covert sexuality, crime, and drug use, that he claimed encouraged children to emulate. While horror and crime comics did have their fair share of gruesome imagery, a lot of Wertham's assertions were based on skewed data, some possibly falsified, and heavy bias against comic books.

The effect of Wertham's testimony in front of the Senate subcommittee was profound. Some states (Oklahoma and Texas) had comic book-burnings and so, to avoid government legislation and further backlash, comic publishers submitted their books to the newly formed Comics Code Authority. Wertham viewed the CCA as a half measure.

EC Comics

EC Comics produced many horror, crime, and science fiction comic books during the 40s and 50s, including "Tales from the Crypt." After the formation of the CCA, the level of censorship had a catastrophic impact on EC comics. Unable to reinvent themselves, they discontinued their comic line, concentrating on the remaining MAD magazine instead.

CCA guidelines

Included in the Comics Code Authority criteria was:
  • In every instance good shall triumph over evil and the criminal punished for his misdeeds.
  • Scenes of excessive violence shall be prohibited. Scenes of brutal torture, excessive and unnecessary knife and gunplay, physical agony, gory and gruesome crime shall be eliminated.
  • No comic magazine shall use the words "horror" or "terror" in its title.
  • Inclusion of stories dealing with evil shall be used or shall be published only where the intent is to illustrate a moral issue and in no case shall evil be presented alluringly, nor so as to injure the sensibilities of the reader.
  • Scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and werewolfism are prohibited.
  • Policemen, judges, government officials, and respected institutions shall never be presented in such a way as to create disrespect for established authority.

Times they are a'changing

Things slowly changed during the 70s and early 80s, as comic books embraced darker themes, and started producing more adult stories. The CCA revised the code several times during this period but it was becoming clear that many in the industry felt it was an outdated, and possibly dangerous form of censorship. Despite still working under the CCA guidelines, many comics continued to push the boundaries and by the end of the century, most comic publishers stopped submitting their books for the CCA stamp of approval.

Fredric Wertham's name is infamous in the comic book world, although he eventually stopped writing about comics and continued in the psychiatric field until his death in 1981.

Do you think comic books are too violent? Suggestive? Do comic books have a deleterious effect on children?