Hasslein Blog


Hasslein Blog

Friday, August 18, 2017

R.I.P.: Hasslein Books Co-founder Paul C. Giachetti

By Rich Handley

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here are a thousand pictures to prove it.

It is with the heaviest of hearts that I announce that one of my very best friends—basically, my brother—passed away two weeks ago today. Paul Giachetti was more than just my friend, however. He was also my business partner at Hasslein Books.

I've known Paul for almost 20 years, and have been close with him since very soon after meeting him. He was one of the kindest, most generous, most considerate people I've ever been fortunate enough to meet, and everyone who knew him felt the exact same way.

Paul and many of his closest friends at one of his New Year's Eve parties—a Paul Giachetti tradition...

...and at a more formal affair.

Paul was the author of two extremely well-received books, Total Immersion: The Comprehensive Unauthorized Red Dwarf Encyclopedia Volumes I and II, and he was also a 20-plus-year veteran of business-to-business magazines as an art director and graphic designer. Publishing was his passion, along with video games, Star Trek, Star Wars, StargateRick and Morty, South Park, Doctor Who, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Babylon 5, The Fifth Element (he loved Mila Jovovich), cosplaying, and the British science-fiction comedy Red Dwarf.

But more than that, he was passionate about the people in his life. He adored his niece, his nephew, his brother, his sister-in-law, his parents, all of his friends, and the online Red Dwarf fan community, and that sentiment was returned tenfold. He was an uncle to the children of all his close friends, and he was someone you could always count on, no matter the circumstance.

When it comes to Red DwarfPaul wrote the book(s)—literally.

Paul's death was sudden and tragic, and those of us who knew him well are all heartsick at his passing. There are only a handful of people in my life whom I've ever considered among my "best friends"—it's a term I don't use lightly—but he was high on that list. He was also the perfect business partner. During the five years he and I worked together at a B2B magazine as managing editor and art director, and during the decade during which he and I ran Hasslein, we've never had even a SINGLE argument or disagreement about what direction to take.

That's not even hyperbole; we agreed on everything and took great joy in building this company up from a small, independent publisher to... well, to the small, independent publisher that it still is. I am privileged to have worked with several fantastic collaborators during my quarter-century as a published writer and editor, but Paul was in a class all by himself.

I can't imagine manning another convention booth without my friend and cohort.

My heart goes out to Paul's brother Jason, his sister-in-law Amy, his niece Mila, his nephew Luca, and his parents, John and Jennifer, who are dealing with something no one should ever have to deal with. Having lost my father (Vincent Handley), a brother (Eric Tyner), and other members of my family, I know what they're going through, and it breaks my heart. I can only hope they find consolation in knowing that all of his closest friends are shattered by the passing of someone who truly deserved the title of "friend," in the sense that what we really mean when we say it is "family."

It's almost impossible to find a photo of Paul when he wasn't smiling.

On the other hand...

Rest in peace, my brother. The words "You will be missed" are so inadequate to the task of summing up how we all feel about you. Now that you have begun your journey through time and relative dimensions in space, always remember to bring your towel and your multipass as you pass beyond the Rim, and never take any smeg from anyone.

Like the TARDIS, Paul's heart was much bigger on the inside.

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Thursday, June 22, 2017

Hasslein Publishing Releases New Book Exploring Comic Book Icon Red Sonja

 Matthew Stephen Sunrich's Drawn Swords: An Unauthorized 
Exploration of Red Sonja and the Artists Who Brought Her to Life 
features a special foreword by writer Nancy A. Collins.

NEW YORK, June 23, 2016—Since her debut in Marvel's Conan the Barbarian during the early years of the Bronze Age of Comics, Red Sonja has become the undisputed queen of sword and sorcery. She has hacked and slashed her way through more than 300 comic books to date—a number that continues to grow in the pages of Dynamite Entertainment's series.

Savage and beautiful, altruistic and deadly, Sonja, the flame-haired "She-Devil with a Sword," is a war-goddess in the tradition of Athena or the Valkyries—but though divinely blessed with supreme battlefield prowess, she is a flesh-and-blood woman. It is this dichotomy that makes Sonja the most redoubtable female of the Hyborian world.

In Hasslein Books' latest release, Drawn Swords: An Unauthorized Exploration of Red Sonja and the Artists Who Brought Her to Life, author Matthew Stephen Sunrich explores the character's adventures and how they relate to other comics, as well as novels, television programs, and films. Drawn Swords features a special foreword by Red Sonja: Vulture's Circle author Nancy A. Collins, a noted horror fiction writer widely praised for her Sonja Blue vampire novels, as well as her comic book work on Swamp Thing, Vampirella, and other titles.

This 322-page softcover book explores the character's adventures from Marvel and Dynamite, examining the work of the myriad artists whose pens and pencils gave her the breath of life—such as Neal Adams, Adriano Batista, Dan Brereton, Rich Buckler, John Buscema, Fritz Casas, Howard Chaykin, Frank Cho, Sergio Fernandez Davila, Walter Geovani, Dick Giordano, Homs, Pablo Marcos, Esteban Maroto, Mel Rubi, Barry Smith, Frank Thorne, and many others.

Drawn Swords: An Unauthorized Exploration of Red Sonja and the Artists Who Brought Her to Life is now available to order from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, and CreateSpace. Click here for more information about this book, and here to download an excerpt.

Media requests: To obtain a review copy of Drawn Swords, or to arrange for an interview with author Matthew Stephen Sunrich, please email info@hassleinbooks.com.

About the Author
Matthew Stephen Sunrich has been a comic book, fantasy, and horror fan for as long as he can remember. After years of attempting to become a fiction writer, he directed his writing toward pop-culture analysis. He has contributed to two essay anthologies from Sequart—A Long Time Ago: Exploring the Star Wars Cinematic Universe and A Galaxy Far, Far Away: Exploring Star Wars Comics—and blogs about comics, fantasy, anime, and gaming at both Hasslein Books' blog and his own blog, Tomb of the Unknown Geek. Matt lives in Tallapoosa, Georgia, with his wife, two children, five cats, and eight hundred Dungeons & Dragons miniatures.

About Hasslein Books
Hasslein Books is a New York-based independent publisher of reference guides by geeks, for geeks. In addition to Drawn Swords, the company's line-up of unauthorized genre-based books includes titles about the Watchmen, Planet of the Apes, Back to the Future, Red Dwarf, and Doctor Who franchises, with future volumes slated to feature G.I. Joe, James Bond, and more. To stay informed regarding the company's projects, follow Hasslein Books on Facebook and Twitter, and at the Hasslein Blog.

Red Sonja©™ is the intellectual property of Luke D. Lieberman and Red Sonja LLC. No copyright infringement is intended or implied. Drawn Swords: An Unauthorized Exploration of Red Sonja and the Artists Who Brought Her to Life is a scholarly source-work that has not been licensed or authorized by any person or entity associated with Luke D. Lieberman or Red Sonja LLC.

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Comic Books: Writing or Art?

By Matthew Stephen Sunrich

Since at least the 1960s, there has been a lot of debate about which aspect of comic books is more important, writing or art. One could reasonably argue that both are indispensable, as the medium represents a marriage of the two, wherein neither is more important than the other, but it appears that many fans fall into one camp or the other.

When comics were a new thing during the 1940s, the quality of art varied wildly. Much of it wasn’t very good because it didn’t have to be. Many publishers would hire anyone who could get the job done in a hurry. Comics were considered kids’ stuff, and kids, after all, are hardly aesthetes. By the 1950s, however, the standards began to change. In the pages of Tales from the Crypt and Crime SuspenStories, for example, readers were treated to the sensational work of such luminaries as Graham Ingels, Jack Kamen, Johnny Craig, and Jack Davis, whose art made fans’ blood run cold with their macabre renderings.

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Sunday, May 7, 2017

To Boldly Collect What Others Have Published Before

By Rich Handley

When it comes to collecting Star Trek comics, every fan does things according to his or her own unique preferences. Some set out to own every individual issue, while others forego buying their comics monthly and instead purchase trade paperback and/or hardcover editions repackaging entire storylines or series. Some buy only one copy of each issue that comes out, while others attempt to track down every single variant cover ever produced, which can be incredibly expensive. Still others have fully made the transition to reading their comics digitally.

Some focus only on specific characters (James T. Kirk's crew, for example), writers (anything by Peter David, Howard Weinstein, or Michael Jan Friedman), artists (anything with a Jerome Moore cover), publishers (all IDW or DC Comics tales), or eras (just stories set in the 24th century). And some who have money to burn set their sights on finding everything remotely related to Star Trek comics, even if it's something they already own but in a different format.

Marvel's Star Trek: Untold Voyages issue #1, written by Glenn Greenberg, with art by Michael Collins
and Keith Williams, is the reason
Star Trek comics are worth collecting. If you haven't read this
five-issue miniseries, you owe it to yourself to rectify that oversight immediately.

My personal collection contains every licensed Star Trek comic book published to date by Gold Key/Western, Power Records, Marvel, DC, Malibu Comics, Marvel/Paramount Comics, WildStorm Comics, Tokypop, IDW, and Wired magazine, along with unauthorized issues from Antarctic Press, Indonesian publisher Penerbit Cypress, Amazing Stories, and "Inner Light" writer Morgan Gendel. I also have all of the British strips published in Joe 90: Top Secret, TV21 & Joe 90, and Valiant and TV21, and the U.S. strips created by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate, as well as several unusual and often-overlooked strips aimed at young children that were packaged with toys offed by Kenner, McDonald's, and Larami. And in all cases, I have the original, individual comics or strips.

Larami's Star Trek Space Viweer, the Holy Grail of Trek comics collectibles but 
basically godawful, which I recently discussed at length at Blastoff Comics' blog.

Ever since I began collecting Trek comics in 1984 (with issue #9 of DC's first Star Trek series, which so hooked me that I immediately began tracking down everything that preceded it), my goal has been simple: to own and read every Star Trek story ever told in comic book or comic strip form—and preferably in its original format.

Collecting all of the many reprints has not been something I've sought to do, however, as it would be not only prohibitively expensive but also redundant. If I already own every issue, why would I also need those same issues reprinted in a dozen different formats? The stories and artwork remain the same from one iteration to the next, after all, other than some clean-up work on the coloring. Still, there are always exceptions to any rule, and in my case, the exceptions are whatever reprint editions happen to strike my fancy or are particularly appealing from an aesthetics standpoint. These include...

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Saturday, April 29, 2017

Trumping the Future

By Rich Handley

Today, my son and I watched a story about a corrupt, sexist, bullying billionaire who rose up in power without having earned his own wealth, to become a dangerous, womanizing douchebag who used his money to control and manipulate. He married three women, all of them beautiful, the third of whom, though very clearly unhappy with her lot in life, remained subservient to him out of fear because her financial stability and that of her children fully depended on it. He looked ridiculous, with reddish-grey, straw-like hair combed over very stupidly; he treated women like property to molest; he used a propaganda machine and lots of spectacle to keep his followers ignorant of his true motives by pandering to their baser natures; he exhibited a small vocabulary and tended to misuse phrases when he spoke, indicative of a low IQ and poor education; and he erected an overly tall building and lived in its elaborate penthouse, very clearly to compensate for having an inadequate manhood. A megalomaniacal land mogul and political figure, he had strong ties to organized crime, gambling and vice. He was ruthless to his enemies, without actually accomplishing anything or working an honest day in his life. He hated scientists and youths who questioned authority, and the only thing that ever mattered to him was his own gratification—which he walked all over others to achieve. In short, he was a fascist, dishonest, corrupt piece of shit who needed to be taken down before he could do any further damage to the population over whom he held domain.

Then, after we finished watching Back to the Future Part II, we watched a news report about Donald Trump.

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Thursday, April 20, 2017

The British Star Trek Newspaper Strips—Fully Reprinted At Last

By Rich Handley

There's satisfying feedback, and then there's satisfying feedback.

As some of you know, I've been working with IDW for the past few years to reprint all of the old Star Trek comic strips from 1969 to 1973 and 1979 to 1983. One of the talented artists on those strips was a man named Mike Noble. A mutual friend, Lee Sullivan, helped me arrange for Mike to receive copies of these books, which reprint his 40-plus-year-old work.

An example of Mike Noble's wonderful artwork from 
the 13th U.K. storyline, "Mutiny on the Dorado."

Lee told me today that Mike is very happy with how the books came out—and specifically with the introductory materials I wrote. That alone justifies all the work that went into writing them. I'm a great fan of Mike Noble's beautiful artwork, so knowing that he thinks we did justice to his legacy is something I'm very proud of.

As it happens, I received a PDF of the fifth and final volume (two volumes reprint the U.S. strips, three for the U.K. strips) just last night, to review prior to printing, and it looks fantastic. The third British volume collects strips that, back in the 1960s, were printed in such a way that they came out a bit muddy and dulled, so I was worried that this volume might not look as impressive as the others. Silly me. I needn't have worried, as IDW's Library of American Comics (LOAC) imprint cleaned them up extremely well, just as they did for the previous volumes—they look far better than I could have hoped.

Volume 1 reprints storylines #1-7 (Joe 90: Top Secret issues #1-34), storylines #8-13 
(TV21 & Joe 90 issues #1-38), storylines #14-17 (TV21 issues #39-64), and the 
Joe 90 Top Secret 1969 annual, with an introduction by yours truly.

The book is now off to the proofreader and then the printer, which means my role in this five-year project has come to a close—which both excites and saddens me, as this was something I've actually been trying to make happen for about 15 years or so. My thanks to IDW's Chris Ryall for giving me the greenlight back in 2012, and to LOAC's Dean Mullaney for doing such an amazing job of restoring these strips. The work Dean and I have done on these books has been a truly enjoyable collaboration that has culminated in friendship, and I'm going to miss it (though not for long, as I'm now working with Dean on another project—reprinting the old Star Wars comic strips from the L.A. Times Syndicate).

Volume 2 collects storylines #18-24 (TV21 issues #65-105), storylines #25-30 
(Valiant issues #1-42), and the TV21 1971 annual, with more supplementary 
materials by some hack named Rich Handley.

For many years, I'd never met a single Star Trek fan besides me who owned a complete run of these old newspaper and magazine strips. Now, thanks to the efforts of Chris and Dean, thousands of fans have the strips on their shelves, and I can actually discuss them with other comics enthusiasts, which is much better than being the only guy on the block. It was my honor to be involved in making it so.

Finally, the upcoming third volume reprints storylines #31-37 (Valiant issues #43-118),
 the TV21 1972 and 1973 annuals, the Mighty TV Comic 1978 and 1979 annuals, 
the 1972 Valiant Summer Special, a Radio Times issue, and additional strips from 
Larami's Star Trek Space Viewer, the Kenner/Chad Valley Give-a-Show Projector, and more, 
with a Star Trek cover gallery and more supplementary materials from that Handley fellow.

Eaglamoss will soon reprint a portion of the UK strips as part of its Star Trek Graphic Novel Collection, and I've been privileged to be a part of that project as well (as discussed here). Eaglemoss has been doing a phenomenal job of repackaging these and many other Star Trek comics from throughout the past five decades, and I'm thrilled to see the U.K. strips being included in that set of hardcover books. Since Eaglemoss is a British publisher, it's only fitting that the strips would end up back in print in the land that first spawned them.
Eaglemoss is reprinting part of the U.K. strips from IDW's U.S. reprints 
for Eaglemoss's U.K. audience. It's Trekception at its finest.

After remaining Star Trek's most obscure comics series for decades, the British strips are finally getting their time in the spotlight. It's much deserved, and IDW, The Library of American Comics, and Eaglemoss have done fans a great service in making them widely available at last.

Gaze upon how cool that looks.
Go ahead... gaze upon it.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

Vampirella #38

By Matthew Stephen Sunrich

By the time I started collecting comics, Vampirella had been absent from the racks for about six years.

The original series ended with issue #112 in 1983; its companion magazines Creepy and Eerie held on for another couple years or so before James Warren, owing to health problems and other concerns, decided to close up shop. The property was subsequently acquired by Harris, which handled a variety of periodicals such as Guitar World, when it was auctioned off, but the company didn't begin publishing new Vampirella material until 1991.

Fan reaction to the stories, which were published in color comics rather than black-and-white magazines, was mixed, but the books sold fairly well. Drakulon's favorite daughter reached the peak of her popularity in the late 1990s when "bad girl" comics, oddly, became a thing, and many prominent writers, including Alan Moore and Kurt Busiek, contributed to her adventures. Harris held onto her until 2010, when it surrendered the lovely vampiress to Dynamite.

Admittedly, I had never found the character particularly worth looking into. For one thing, unlike the throngs of quasi-pretentious geeks/community-theater actors who played White Wolf's Vampire: The Masquerade roleplaying game around that time, I had never thought much of undead blood-suckers. In Bernie Wrightson: A Look Back, I found that the famed horror artist's opinion mirrored my own. "They tend to be snotty," he remarked, "and like being vampires." Other than Marvel's Morbius (who became a vampire as a result of a failed experiment), it didn't seem that vampires were ever looking for a cure. As Wrightson expressed, they didn't appear to have a problem with their condition, and they even possessed a certain "coolness" factor that reminded me of the popular crowd in high school. Remember that Ray-Ban commercial where the vampires are immune to sunlight because they're wearing designer shades? Ugh. (Trivia: The concept of vampires' being killed by the sun originated in F. R. Murnau's 1922 film Nosferatu, not in Dracula, the novel of which it was an unauthorized adaptation. While Dracula was weakened by daylight, it was not fatal to him.)

I knew virtually nothing about Vampirella; my opinion was based on the images I had seen in various magazines such as Wizard and Previews, which, like a lot of the art in 1990s horror comics, tended to be kind of gross (one cover has her lasciviously bathing in a fountain of blood) and over the top. I assumed she was a "standard" vampire, who just happened to be scantily clad and sexy, rather than an altruistic, non-undead superhero devoted to ridding Earth of evil monsters, who came from a planet where blood was akin to water (this version of her origin was later retconned, but the principle's the same). Interestingly enough, Trina Robbins, who designed Vampirella's costume, told Comic Book Artist in 1999 that a teacher with whom she once coffee had grown up enjoying the original magazine but had been "horrified and repulsed" by what she had seen in recent publications.

What I perceived as Harris' mishandling of the character kept me away for a long time, but I became curious when Dynamite released a paperback compilation of her original stories in 2013 (over 500 pages, culled from the first 37 issues, for a very-reasonable $25). Being a fan of Bronze-Age horror magazines, I felt that I needed to at least give the gal a chance. And, man, am I glad I did! I discovered a treasure-trove of fantastic material and became a fan immediately. I picked up the new series by Nancy Collins and Patrick Berkenkotter that started a few months later and found it to be likewise excellent, though in entirely different ways.

Since then, Vampirella has become one of my favorite characters, and I have collected most of the magazines (either in their original form or in reprint compilations such as the excellent Vampirella Archives) and all of the comics Dynamite has released.

For those of you who don't know, Vampirella was originally conceived as nothing more than a horror hostess. During the early 1950s, EC Comics found success with Tales from the Crypt, The Vault of Horror, and The Haunt of Fear, hosted, respectively, by the Crypt-Keeper, the Vault-Keeper, and the Old Witch. When Warren started its line of horror magazines, it borrowed this idea, giving readers Uncle Creepy, Cousin Eerie, and Vampirella (if you find it unfair that the women are outnumbered, you might want to check out DC's oft-overlooked Bronze-Age gem The Witching Hour, in which all of the stories are hosted by females). After a handful of issues, the editor decided that Vampirella was falling short of her potential by merely bookending stories and deserved a feature of her own.

Warren's magazines were anthologies, featuring several stories by several creative teams per issue. By the time Vampirella established itself, every issue included a tale starring the vampiress along with several others, some of which were parts of series but most of which were standalone stories. The themes in Vampirella's stories varied. Sometimes she'd fight monsters. Other times she'd face evil wizards or alien invaders. Her adventures were an interesting mixture of horror, fantasy, and science fiction, which reflected the genres that Warren's magazines made extensive use of (while it's usually associated with horror, many stories were sword & sorcery, science fiction, or weird western). The artwork was consistently spectacular, executed by such greats as Jose "Pepe" Gonzalez, Gonzalo Mayo, Esteban Maroto, Jose Ortiz, Alfredo Alcala, Luis Bermejo, and Rafael Aura Leon (Auraleon).

I selected #38 (November 1974) to discuss both because it's the earliest full issue in my collection and because it contains a mummy story, which is of particular interest to me. The issue comprises six tales, and, like most of Warren's magazines of the period, it's a great-looking package. The cover, by Manuel Sanjulian, is a real beaut; it possesses many of the attributes that made classic horror so compelling, juxtaposed with Vampi's stunning figure. (I was born too late to enjoy Warren's mags during their original run, and I envy readers who were able to get this much awesomeness for a mere dollar at the local newsstand month after month. Granted, a dollar was a lot more money back then, but comics are four bucks these days, and they arguably aren't as good.) There was a major Universal Monsters revival going on at the time, coupled with the fact that the Comics Code Authority had finally relaxed its standards, leading to a resurgence in monster comics (it should be noted that magazines were not forced to adhere to the Code, which is how Warren and its ilk were able to flourish). It's hard to deny that, for a horror magazine, Vampirella had a touch of class.

Vampirella starts things off with "The Mummy's Revenge," by Flaxman Loew and Gonzalez. Vampirella's most prolific illustrator, Gonzalez uses many different techniques in his storytelling. Here, he juxtaposes light and dark (not unlike the Renaissance artist Caravaggio) to create a feeling of endless dread within eerie catacombs. You can almost smell the dust and decay as the undead emerge from their niches. (Am I the only one who likes the smell of old comics?)

Touring Italy's Museum of Antiquities, Vampirella encounters a young antiquarian named Bruno Verdi. She accepts his invitation to dinner, and after the meal he takes her on a tour of the catacombs beneath the city, where untold thousands of souls were lain to rest. The vampiress soon realizes, however, that Verdi has left her to be torn apart by the undead, including the mummy of Ptolemy, who, strangely enough, is a vampire. With the help of Amun-Ra, Vampirella escapes and heads to Verdi's apartment, where she gets her revenge by feeding on his blood. He and the mummy, which is still back in the tomb, simultaneously crumble to dust, and Vampirella, when questioned about her evening, humorously remarks that her date "went all to pieces." (This may seem corny, but horror and humor have gone hand in hand for decades. The EC stories almost always ended with the host's dropping a pun or two, a tradition which has been picked up by the new quarterly Warren pastiche The Creeps, which I will no doubt write about eventually.)

Mummies have been popular fixtures in horror fiction since the 1800s. The discovery of the strangely intact tomb of Tutankhamen by Howard Carter in 1922 brought immense public attention to the discipline of Egyptology, and the mystique of perfectly-preserved corpses from millennia ago compelled even more writers to pen horrific tales of the risen dead. (H. P. Lovecraft even ghost-wrote a story for Harry Houdini called "Imprisoned with the Pharaohs," which is definitely worth checking out.) The new medium of film made the prospect of such tales even more promising. Universal and Hammer each produced their own versions of the mummy story, and there have been numerous others since then. Marvel published The Living Mummy in the pages of Supernatural Thrillers in the early 1970s, and all of the horror magazines featured bandaged abominations at one time or another. For Vampirella, mummies are just another kind of monster, nothing to write home about, although the revelation that she was, in fact, Cleopatra in a previous life adds more weight to the story. Exactly how she was supposed to have been born on alien planet and also undergone reincarnations on Earth is a question better left unasked.

Five more excellent tales follow.

Gerry Boudreau, Carl Wessler, and Maroto give us "Gypsy Curse," in which a rich count marries a gypsy maiden but succumbs to a terrible curse when he chooses to mistreat her. Maroto is another of Warren's most skilled artists. His airy ink work, combined with his phantasmagoric layouts, imbues his stories with an almost dreamlike aspect. It is interesting that the "gypsy" is a stock character in fiction (as a fortune teller and/or dabbler in magic of questionable ethics), but to the Romani, to whom the term refers, it is often considered a slur. Because of this, it is used far less frequently these days, but it's hard to deny the appeal of the image of an old, cloaked woman residing in a tenebrous wagon parked in the forest, ominously prognosticating with her tarot deck.

"Lucky Stiff," by Boudreau, Wessler, and Ramon Torrents, is the curious story of a mild-mannered office worker who becomes bewitched by the gorgeous new file clerk. Readers are given a glimpse into the possible, horrific outcome of their rendezvous, but he never reaches her house because fate has other plans. The archetype of the "crazy cat lady," which has become so popular these days, is flipped on its head in this yarn, and we are given just a hint of the twisted world of the girl in the office who seizes the attention of every man who crosses her path. Not unlike the hapless sailors enchanted by the sirens' song, they are bound to be undone by their own appetites.

Next, John Jacobson and Felix Mas offer up "Out of the Nameless City." Fans of H. P. Lovecraft will immediately recognize his fingerprints in this tale, and there are several things taken directly from his work. Set in 1926, the year Lovecraft's groundbreaking "The Call of Cthulhu" was written, this story concerns an actor believed to be the key to the resurrection of ancient gods and the man who tries to stop it from happening. This story's execution, viewed both as a pastiche and a story unto itself, is practically flawless.

"On Little Cat Feet," by Jacobson and Auraleon, is a tale of bizarre witchcraft. When an elderly landlady kicks a witch out of her boarding house, the sorceress, having transformed herself into a cat, returns to seek revenge. But she finds that her former roommate, a sculptor, has a bizarre way of creating her statues. There is quite a bit of humor in this story, but there are also moments that are bound to make readers chuckle in "self-defense" because it's hard to know what to make of them. Warren's magazines often feature particularly weird stories, and this is definitely one. It makes you wonder how on earth the writer came up with it.

The issue concludes with "Trick of the Tide," Jack Butterworth and Isidro Mones' short-but-sweet yarn of a treacherous man named Gabriel Greaves who earns money fishing corpses out of the Thames and the waterlogged corpse of a woman he murders for her husband's money. Not surprisingly, things do not turn out terribly well for him. Let's just say that he learns the hard way that being an opportunist can have dire consequences.

Matt Sunrich, a great fan of the Bronze Age of comic books, maintains two blogs: The Other Other Castle, about Bronze-Age sword and sorcery, and Forging the Dark Knight, concerning Bronze-Age Batman.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Introducing My Star Trek Introductions

By Rich Handley

I've mentioned here before that I've been writing introductions to several volumes of Eaglemoss's Star Trek: The Graphic Novel Collection hardcover set. I've contributed to about eight volumes of the first 20 or so, and the ones I've been chosen for have amused me.
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Monday, March 6, 2017

Alternatives to Traditional Roleplaying

By Matthew Stephen Sunrich

Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), the world’s first roleplaying game (RPG), was introduced in 1974. The original version of the game was, in essence, an expansion for Gary Gygax’s tabletop miniatures game Chainmail and, thus, did not have its own unique combat system. You had to have a copy of the miniatures game in order to play it. It was also, for some, difficult to understand. While these and other issues led some players to the conclusion that the rules needed clarifications and/or further development, there was no doubt that the fledgling company Tactical Studies Rules (TSR) had a hit on its hands.

Within a short time, similar games were coming out of the woodwork. It seemed as though the gaming community had been waiting for the fantasy RPG to be created and just didn’t know it. The first of these was Flying Buffalo’s Tunnels & Trolls (T&T), which debuted about a year after D&D. While its predecessor was a fairly serious game, T&T was designed in a more lighthearted vein. It was also less complex and was the first game system to offer single-player options. One of the biggest challenges intrinsic to RPGs is getting a group together (and, having done so, preventing that group from imploding). By design, RPGs require at least two players, preferably more. Someone has to run the game in which the players take part (a Game Master (GM) in general terms or a Dungeon Master (DM) in D&D). But what do you do when you crave a fantasy adventure but don’t have anyone to play with?  

To solve this problem, T&T introduced solo adventures. These took the form of short books in which players make choices at certain points and turn to the corresponding section. For example, the text might say something like, “You enter a dimly-lit room. There are doors to the north and west. A small chest stands in one corner. To go north, turn to 25. To go west, turn to 78. To open the chest, turn to 44.” If this sounds familiar, it was later used by the creators of the Choose Your Own Adventure book series, although the T&T books differed in that players use a character sheet and roll dice to determine outcomes, just like in a traditional session. Basically, the book was the GM.

Games Workshop (the British company known these days for the miniatures game Warhammer) founders Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone introduced Fighting Fantasy in 1982. Unlike the T&T solo adventures, these books were self-contained; they did not require players to use the rules of the “parent” game, as there wasn’t one. With titles such as The Warlock of Firetop Mountain, Deathtrap Dungeon, Temple of Terror, and House of Hell, this high-quality series proved very popular and remained in publication until 1995, totaling 59 books.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

A Plea for Policy Change to Amazon's Jeff Bezos

Dear readers,

Please excuse my indulgence in this post, but I sent the following letter today to Amazon's founder, chairman, and CEO, Jeff Bezos, and wanted to also post it here since it discusses an absurd and counterproductive Amazon policy that affects every single writer who uses Amazon Author Pages to promote their work, and because it partly involves Hasslein Books' titles. I tend to doubt my letter will change anything, but I firmly believe that it's always worth trying. If you're an author, I recommend you let Amazon know how you feel about their policy as well.

—Rich Handley


Dear Mr. Bezos,

I write to you today to express concern about a pair of emails I received regarding my Amazon Author Page. Recently, I've been adding books to my page for which I've contributed substantial amounts of writing, in an effort to make it easier for readers to find my work. Today, I added Planet of the Apes Archive Vol. 1: Terror on the Planet of the Apes to my page, for which I penned both the foreword and the afterword. After doing so, I received an email informing me that although the book would be added, Amazon has a policy of not listing books on Author Pages for those who have written foreword, introductions or afterwords, and that herein, no further such books would be listed on my page.

I politely protested this policy, but received another email repeating the rule. With all due respect, your company's reasoning on this matter is flawed. Here's why:

For every book on my Amazon Author Page for which I'm listed as an editor, I'm also one of the writers. I don't list any books on my page for which I am only the editor and not one of the authors, such as those put out by my independent publishing company, Hasslein Books. For example, I'm the editor of Total Immersion: The Comprehensive Unauthorized Red Dwarf Encyclopedia, but not the author. Hence, although I have an editor credit on the book's landing page, it's not included on my Amazon Author Page since I don't take credit for others' work. On the other hand, I'm both an editor and an author of The Sacred Scrolls: Comics on the Planetof the Apes. Hence, it's listed on my Amazon Author Page, as it should be.

So far, your staff have been quite helpful and friendly, and have added all of the books I've asked them to add. But given today's emails, that's apparently no longer going to be the case. That's a problem for me, as there are several unannounced books for which I've been both an editor and an author as well, but which I won't be able to include on my Author Page now, once the publishers announce them. This is going to majorly dampen my enthusiasm when those volumes come out. In fact, it applies to a majority of the books to which I've contributed.

For Planet of the Apes: Tales from the Forbidden Zone, for example, my co-editor and I conceived of the project, brought it to Titan Books and 20th Century Fox, hired all of the authors, and then each wrote more than 40 pages (a short story and an introduction). I'm one of the book's seventeen authors. But because I'm listed on Amazon as the editor and my co-editor is listed as an author due to how the publisher set up the landing page, your policy would dictate that I wouldn't be allowed to have it on my Author Page, yet he would. How is that a working system? How does that make sense? 

The same problem applies to all of my Planet of the Apes and Star Wars books from Sequart—I co-edited each of them, but I am also one of the authors for every volume. Each of these books is a team collaboration, and I wrote lengthy essays that ran with my byline alongside the work of the other essayists. We're all equal contributors. But if Sequart decides to list me as the editor while setting up the book's listing on Amazon, suddenly I'm not allowed to have any of them on my Amazon Author Page? Again, that makes no sense to me.

As for forewords, introductions and afterwords to other books, those involve a good deal of writing and research on my part. In fact, for the books from IDW and BOOM! Studios for which I've written a foreword, an introduction and/or an afterword, I'm the only person who wrote anything new for those books—they're all reprints of classic comic strips (Star Trek, Star Wars and Planet of the Apes), and I was invited to compose all supplementary text created for each book, in essence having me present the strips to the fans. And in the case of IDW's five Star Trek hardcovers on my Author Page, they're actually reprinting my personal comics collection, and I'm the one who conceived of the project in the first place. So how sensible is your policy if I'll no longer be able to list such books on my page?

The thing is, I'm not trying to be argumentative, arrogant, difficult or rude—honestly, I'm not. Your staff are all just doing their jobs, and I appreciate how helpful and expedient each has been every time I've asked to have a book added. They're not the enemy and neither are you, and I mean no disrespect to anyone involved whatsoever. But the bottom line is this: Amazon's policy is just too rigid. It screws over authors like me, whose contributions aren't so clear-cut and black-and-white. For the Titan and Sequart books, for example, my name is on the front cover of each volume, and I'm one of each book's authors, yet I wouldn't be able to have any of them on my Author Page, simply due to an arbitrary "no editors" rule. It's a policy that is dismissive of what editors do, and it's as unrealistic as it is admittedly offensive. I urge you to reconsider.

I use my Amazon Author Page to promote my work, in the hope that others will buy it after finding it all listed together. If I can't list half my books from now on due to some ill-conceived policy about what constitutes an author, then of what use to me—or to any writer, for that matter—is the Author Page? If a writer has helped to spearhead a project from start to finish and has contributed many pages to a book, as I have with my books from Titan and Sequart, how is that writer not an author? If a writer pens supplementary materials for a book, such as an afterword, an introduction, a foreword, a lexicon, or whatever else, as I have with the books from IDW and BOOM! Studios, how is that writer not an author?

More importantly, why would Amazon want to reduce its revenue opportunities? From a promotions and marketing standpoint, that seems nonsensical. What could you possibly gain from making it so that I can't promote all of my books at Amazon from a single landing page? Wouldn't you want fans of my work to be able to easily find and buy all of it? How could you possibly be better off as a seller of books if half of the titles containing my writing aren't listed when people look me up? Honestly, I'm baffled by this. Please help me understand.

Better yet, please consider making your policy much simpler and author-friendly. I respectfully recommend that if an author wishes to list a book to which he or she has contributed as a writer on his or her Amazon Author Page, then let him or her do so, provided that there's proof of that individual's involvement. How would such a policy in any way constitute a problem for Amazon? It would mean more potential book sales. You'd win, I'd win, your customers would win—everyone would win. The current policy, on the other hand, hurts all of us.

In short, I see no downside to letting authors include foreword, introduction and afterword contributions on our Author Pages. Where's the business logic in limiting my ability to promote my books that you sell? Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you at your convenience.

Rich Handley

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Friday, February 3, 2017

The Awakening

By Matthew Stephen Sunrich

In 1899, Kate Chopin published a short novel called The Awakening. Considered controversial at the time for its feminist themes and the candid way in which it deals with female sexuality, it has gone on to become a major headache for unsuspecting high-school and college literature students everywhere.

Thankfully, this essay has nothing to do with it.

The "awakening" I'm referring to was—for lack of a better term—an event that took place during my freshman year of high school, though it was not related to school itself. In June of 1988, I celebrated my fourteenth birthday. One of the gifts I received was a Nintendo game called The Legend of Zelda. Since then, it has spawned numerous sequels across numerous systems, has been featured in cartoons and comic books, and has appeared on T-shirts, tote bags, and even cereal boxes, but at the time it was a brand-new thing.

I had gotten a Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) the previous Christmas, and, having grown weary of Super Mario Bros., the game that came with it and of which I had at one time been a rabid fan, and Elevator Action, the second title I had picked up, I was eager to get into something else. I had no idea what Zelda was all about. At that time, the Internet as we know it today didn't exist, of course, so you could only get information about NES games from Nintendo Fun Club News (the precursor to Nintendo Power), to which I did not have a subscription, or from word of mouth. I didn't know anyone who had played the game, but I had seen a lot of commercials for it, so I decided to give it a shot. After all, Nintendo had cultivated a reputation for quality, so the odds of its being a letdown were slim.

I imagine that for many players Zelda was a revolutionary game, as it was for me. Up to that point, most console games lacked an adventure component. The aforementioned Super Mario Bros., for example, only allowed you to go in a predetermined direction, and backtracking was not permitted. If you missed something, you had no choice but to suck it up and keep going. Zelda was different. Its world was open and, for the time, vast. You could revisit areas again and again. In fact, one of the chief elements of the game was exploration. You were not told what to do or how to do it. You had to figure everything out through trial and error, to traverse deadly forests and spooky graveyards to find the entrances to the game's various levels. You had to determine how weapons and items worked and when they should be used. A map and instruction manual were included, but they only told you so much. Every now and then a wise old man in a cave would give you a clue, but it was often cryptic. For the most part, you were on your own.

Computer-game players were already familiar with this kind of thing. Games like Ultima, Wizardry, and Bard's Tale worked this way. The difference was that while these games required exploration and puzzle solving, they lacked action. The outcomes of battles were resolved by the computer, in a fashion similar to tabletop roleplaying games (RPGs). In a sense, the computer rolled the dice for you during an encounter and told you the outcome. In many of these games, the player controlled an entire party of characters rather than just one. The reason for this is that tabletop games like Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) are designed to be played by a group rather than an individual, with each player having a specific function within the party (a fighter for combat, a wizard for magic, a cleric for healing, et cetera).

Zelda, by contrast, was an action game through and through. It required fast reflexes and could be terribly frustrating at times, particularly if you wandered into an area filled with monsters you were not prepared to fight. Like computer adventure games, it had an overhead view rather than a side-scrolling one. Its closest antecedent was the Atari 2600's Adventure, but while this game required exploration and experimentation and featured rudimentary action sequences (mostly running from dragons or trying to stab them), it was much smaller in scope, did not allow you to carry more than one item at a time, and had primitive graphics due to the system's limitations. No one had seen anything like Zelda before.

As I recall, it took me about a month to conquer it. For those four weeks, it was pretty much all I thought about. I even took the map with me when we went on vacation. It was the most immersive game I had ever encountered. But the experience of playing the game, while rewarding, was not the most important thing. I got something much greater out of it. It was my introduction to fantasy.

As an avid collector of Masters of the Universe (MoTU) action figures and a devoted fan of the tie-in cartoon during my younger years, I had been exposed to the concept of fantasy, but I had never really thought of it as a genre. I didn't even know what "genre" meant. I just found it cool that the warriors fought with swords and axes and that there were magic and monsters involved. D&D had become huge by the early 1980s, and many toy lines reflected its influence. I was a fan of many of the MoTU knockoffs, as well, including Thundercats, Blackstar, and The Other World, the first two of which also had their own cartoons. There was even a toy line actually based on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, which was the preeminent version of the game at the time.

The most memorable figure was probably Warduke, who was later made into a miniature as part of the D&D Miniatures set "War Drums." Of course, there was also the D&D cartoon (the "Advanced" was likely removed to prevent confusion, although that didn't stop DC Comics from using it in the title of its early-'90s comic book series), which was fairly controversial due to the absurd allegations that the game was linked to suicide, antisocial behavior, and devil worship. I can remember watching it standing up so I could keep an eye on the door of my parents' bedroom. Not even kidding.

By the time Zelda came along I hadn't given fantasy much thought in several years, having become instead interested in Garbage Pail Kids, Madballs, and horror films like Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Soon after I began playing it, I became intrigued by Zelda's fantasy setting, and when I had finished the game I began looking for others in a similar vein. When school started, I met a guy named John (with whom I remain friends to this day), who was a computer- and console-game enthusiast, an RPG player, and a fan of speculative fiction. He was the first full-on nerd I had ever met, and I mean that as an enormous compliment. He introduced me to D&D, Commodore 64 adventure games (with their cloth maps and copy-protection wheels), and Dragonlance novels. (I subsequently turned him onto Forgotten Realms novels, thus returning the favor.) It didn't take long to realize that I was onto something big.

At the start of 1989, I began collecting comic books. I had grown up enjoying Superfriends, Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, and The Incredible Hulk on Saturday mornings, but I was a reluctant reader, so I had never bought many comics. Even though most comic books are not fantasy in the strictest sense, they feature speculative tales of a similar nature and borrow elements from fantasy, so there are, therefore, a lot of crossover fans. There's a reason that many comic-book shops also carry RPG books and accessories.

The "awakening" was, hence, my discovery of fantasy fandom. In the span of just a few months, I had found my niche, and I have remained there ever since. Today, I have a comic-book and magazine collection that would have made fourteen-year-old me lose control of his bodily functions. I have well over 700 miniatures, a plethora of dice (especially d20s, my favorites), and a number of publications related to fantasy games going back to the 1970s, which are just engaging to read. I have used my writing ability as a means of sharing my passion, contributing to the hobby, and "giving back" to the community. I have found incalculable joy in the books and games I have picked up during the last 28 years.

I cannot imagine what my life would have been like if I had never slid The Legend of Zelda into my Nintendo Entertainment System in the summer of 1988. Traversing the environs of the fictional world of Hyrule helped me discover myself.

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