Monday, July 30, 2012

'Mudwogs' by Arthur Suydam
from Heavy Metal magazine, March 2006

In 2005 Kevin Eastman, creator of the comic strip 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles' and owner and publisher of Heavy Metal magazine, decided to reprint the classic 'Mudwogs' tales that Arthur Suydam had provided for HM in the early 80s.

Eastman also commissioned new Mudwogs strips from Suydam, with the first of these appearing in the March, 2006 issue.

For 'Old School' HM readers such as I, seeing the Mudwogs again was great, despite finding Suydam's distinctive artwork nestled within pages and pages of cheeseball T & A 'portfolios', advertisements for Japanese cartoon porn DVDs, and something called 'The Erotic Library of Priapism'.

Here is 'Mudwogs # 8'. Continuing installments will be posted here at the blog in the coming weeks.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Book Review: 'Monitor Found In Orbit' by Michael G. Coney

3 / 5 Stars 
Michael G. Coney (1932 – 2005) was a British author who wrote a number of sf novels and short stories during the 1970s and 1980s, although his work in the latter decade was primarily published in the UK and Canada.

Coney’s work was a prominent part of the DAW catalogue in the early 1970s, with short story collections, like ‘Monitor In Orbit’, seeing print alongside novels such as ‘Mirror Image’ (1972), ‘The Hero of Downways’ (1973), ‘Friends Come In Boxes’ (1973), and ‘The Jaws That Bite, the Claws That Catch’ (1975).

‘Monitor Found In Orbit’ (DAW Book No. 120, September 1974, 172 pp) is a collection of short stories that first saw print in various sf digests and magazines in the period from 1970 – 1973. The attractive cover illustration is by Kelly Freas.

The first story in the collection, ‘The True Worth of Ruth Villiers’, is a sardonic look at a near-future UK in which health care is rationed on a steadfastly economic basis. Those suspicious of ‘socialized medicine’, so to speak, may find it disturbing.

‘The Manya’ sees a dissipated slacker volunteer for time-travel to the far future; he arrives in a tribal society and is welcomed as a God. Things take a complicated turn when neighboring tribes show aggressive intentions.

‘Hold My Hand, My Love’ deals with an interplanetary explorer who develops a complicated relationship with a crewmate in the course of investigating a planet with an unusual ecology; there is a surprise ending.

‘Beneath Still Waters’ uses a sailing race, and an unscrupulous competitor, as vehicles to explore an alien’s empathy for The Human Condition.

‘The Unsavory Episode of Mrs. Hector Powell’ is about a young boy who makes a vacation visit to an eccentric, elderly aunt. The story’s setting and subject matter evoke Roald Dahl.

‘Monitor Found In Orbit’ is Coney’s effort at writing a tale with a determinedly New Wave prose style, although Coney takes pains in his Introduction to this story to state that he did not see himself as a New Wave author per se. ‘Monitor’ employs a Joycean stream-of-consciousness narrative. The plot involves a scientist who engages in confused, even paranoid reminiscences en route to a meeting with his estranged son. This story is something of a chore to read, although it does offer an interesting plot twist at its end.

‘The Mind Prison’ is a competent, if unremarkable take on the traditional sf trope of a closed, post-apocalyptic society and the advent of rebellion on the part of its younger members.

‘R26/5/PSY and I’ is about a dystopian, near-future society in which most of the people are without work and purpose. The narrator becomes enrolled in a novel therapy designed to combat the injurious psychological consequences wrought by such a society. As with ‘The Unsavory Episode’, this tale borrows the sly, satirical tenor of a Roald Dahl piece.

The final entry, ‘Esmeralda’, deals with elderly sisters living in a bleak, polluted landscape in a future England. A downbeat, disturbing ending makes this the best story in the anthology.

All the stories in this collection display Coney’s strengths as a writer; clear, well-written prose, carefully crafted dialogue, and a restrained, very ‘British’ approach to plotting and denouement.

Coney’s work belongs in the New Wave catalog, primarily because its sf content is usually a simple, expedient framework within which Coney devotes careful attention to sociological and psychological themes.

I suspect that ‘Monitor’, like most of Coney’s work, is too understated, and too devoid of excitement, to offer much appeal to modern sf fans. But readers with a fondness for the mannered type of literature that Coney exemplifies may want to investigate ‘Monitor Found in Orbit’.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Ring of Roses
Das Petrou, John Watkiss, Trevor Goring,and Mike McClester
Dark Horse comics 1992 - 1993; Image Comics (graphic novel) 2004

Ring of Roses was first published by Dark Horse Comics as a four-issue limited series from November 1992 - February 1993. The series was republished in 2004, as a graphic novel compilation, by Image Comics.

As writer Das Petrou relates in the introduction to the graphic novel, in the early nineties he was an advertising writer, and he teamed up with artist Watkiss, and advertising designer Goring, to do a comic with overtones of Camus' The Plague. Petrou also was interested in incorporating a theme about secret societies (The Templars, etc.) fomenting a political conspiracy.

It's London, Summer, 1991......but an alternate London, where, in a manner akin to that outlined in Keith Robert's 'Pavane', the Catholic Church rules Great Britain.

Where Roberts had a victorious Spanish Armada serving as the vehicle for Catholic ascendancy, here, it's James the Second's victory in the Battle of the Boyne in July 1690 that has enabled the Church to assume power.

It's an uneasy world, however, with what could be the First World War underway on the Continent, and a British populace increasingly discontented with Papal rule. In an effort to retain British loyalties, Pope John XXIX is visiting London on a good-will tour.

This is a London where technology has advanced only to a point equivalent to the 20s or 30s of 'our' 1991. The police and military are armed with crossbows, radio is a newfangled gadget, antibiotics have yet to be discovered, and public health, an evolving institution. 

London's population is squeezed within the city walls, and the poorer districts are filled with garbage, dilapidated housing, and rats.

Samuel Waterhouse is a prosperous lawyer (er, barrister) who moves within the aristocratic circles of London society and politics. When ten priests go missing on the eve of the Pontiff's visit, a group of clerics ask Waterhouse to do some impromptu detective work. 

When Waterhouse finds his inquiries stonewalled by the establishment, he enlists the aid of a roughneck brawler, William Barnet, whose familiarity with the criminal world allows him access otherwise unavailable to an upstanding member of society.

As Barnet pokes within the dark corners of London, there are worrisome developments elsewhere in the city. An outbreak of severe illness is growing among the population, and by official order, the city gates- already scheduled to be closed for the week of the Pope's visit - are to be closed indefinitely to prevent its spread to the outlying districts.

Before long, the plague, and a conspiracy emplaced by the highest levels of the city government, collide to make London a dangerous place for Samuel Waterhouse and William Barnet. 

But if they fail in their efforts to unmask the conspirators, the death toll will be enormous...for the worst of the plague has yet to be visited upon London......

To me, Ring of Roses is an interesting melding of the novel 'Pavane' by Keith Roberts, and the 1977 thriller 'The Black Death' by Gwyneth Cravens and John S. Marr, still one of the best "plague loose in a modern city" novels ever written.

There are some weaknesses to Ring of Roses, however, and these can make the novel difficult to understand. One weakness is the lack of sufficient external narration to keep the various plots and sub-plots coherent. 

This emerges as a real problem when writer Petrou commissions one page to address two different plot threads, using text boxes reflective of one character's internal monologue superimposed on panels illustrating a different character, busy at something associated with an independent plot thread. This sort of quasi-cinematic jump-cutting occurs too frequently for its own good, and in fact, I had to re-read Ring several times before the sub-plots and side narratives finally made sense.

But the major drawback to the book is Watkiss's artwork. It's too loose, too half-finished, too murky. [A Spanish artist named Antonio Navarro was originally chosen to illustrate the series but withdrew when it became clear he couldn't meet the deadline]. I frequently found myself having to peer at a panel for an overlong amount of time in order to decipher Watkiss's poor draftsmanship.

Things aren't helped by the fact that the graphic novel released by Image uses an off-white, putty-tinted paper, that makes Watkiss's artwork even more opaque and difficult to make out.

[My advice is to seek out the original comic books, which are available at eBay for reasonable prices, and which used a white paper stock.]

In 2004 Petrou was approached by two film companies in regard to licensing rights to Ring of Roses, and in 2009 the film appeared to be nearing production stage. Where the project stands at this time is unclear.

In summary, despite mediocre artwork, and a narrative that often gets too complicated for its own good, Ring of Roses is one of the more clever treatments of an alternate, quasi-Steampunk UK, and readers with a fondness for that subgenre of sf will want to take a look.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The Heart of the City

The Heart of the City
by Margaret Gallagher and James Romberger
from the August 1982 issue of Epic Illustrated 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Book Review: 'The Last Deathship Off Antares' by William John Watkins

3 / 5 Stars

‘The Last Deathship Off Antares’ (204 pp.) was published by Questar / Popular Library in January 1989. The cover illustration is by Blas Callego.

When the Terran Stellar Incorporation decides that the Antareans, or ‘Anties’, are a threat to the profitability of the galaxy, a mighty space fleet is dispatched to the Antares Platform. Undergunned and underarmed, the fleet is promptly destroyed, and nearly half a million of its soldiers and spacemen taken captive by the Anties.

For the Anties, who adhere to a kind of alien version of the Japanese samurai code of bushido, surrender is a disgraceful act, and they decide to give their Terran captives a chance to redeem themselves. The Terrans are dispersed into a fleet of prison ships moored at the Platform.

Aboard each of these ‘death ships’, ten thousand men drift in low gravity and fight among themselves over access to the small number of feeding stations scattered around the interior of the ship. With each day, more men die from exhaustion, lack of food and water, or murdered by their erstwhile crewmates.

The unnamed first-person narrator is one of the men living day-to-day on board the deathship The Last, utterly consumed with the brutal struggle to gain access to a feeding station, or ‘niche’. Once entered, food and water are disbursed for no more than 10 minutes, while the occupant is safely sealed within the niche. Once the ten minutes are up, the doors unlock, and the desperate throngs clustered outside will attempt to pull the occupant out and take over the niche for themselves.

One day the narrator encounters a blind man named Driscoll, and a fight for a niche ensues. Despite his handicap Driscoll is a devastating master of hand-to-hand combat, and he easily evicts the narrator from his niche, only to ask him if he’s interested in joining The Cooperative.

The Cooperative, it turns out, is Driscoll’s organization. An organization with a seemingly impossible aim: unite the human psychopaths aboard The Last, and take over the ship from the Anties.

And then the other ships in the prison fleet.

And then overthrow the Anties in charge of the Antares Platform.

And then destroy the Antarean battle fleet.

And finally, return to Stellar Incorporation space, and deliver a vengeful reckoning to the Profiteers who ordered the disastrous assault on the Antarean Platform.

It sounds insane. But Driscoll has a plan. All combat aboard the prison ships is hand-to-hand, whether between humans, or humans Vs Anties, so ranged weapons – blasters, lasers, power rifles, phasers - make no appearance. 

Driscoll’s peculiar genius is to turn the Anties’ single-minded preoccupation about fighting and dying with honor, into their greatest weakness.

It also helps that Driscoll has a new religion for the crazed occupants of the deathships: the potent philosophy of The Gradient ….

‘The Last Deathship’ has the kind of hokey title that conjures up the pulp sf stories of the 30s and 40s. 

In actuality, it’s an offbeat, if not entirely successful, combination of space opera, and….. the UFC (?!).

The first 80 pages of the novel tend to drag, as author Watkins devotes over-much exposition to the aboard-ship ecology of the niches, and the the political and tribal features of the prisoner population.

As well, sub-plots devoted to the various intrigues among the factions vying for supremacy aboard The Last regularly crop up in the narrative, and after a while, tend to become tedious obstacles to the advent of Liberation, and the forward momentum of the storyline. 

However, the descriptions of the hand-to-hand battles among prisoners, and eventually, the aliens, are suitably violent, and as blood-spattered as an 'Ultimate Fighter' episode on the Spike channel. These martial arts contests help propel the narrative when the frequent, and rather dull, internal monologues of the narrator start to slow things down.

Despite its uneven pacing, I finished ‘The last Deathship’ thinking that it was a decent enough novel, with more coherency in its 200+ pages than the 500+ page military sf novels routinely published these days by Baen Books.

Monday, July 16, 2012

'Ultraterranium: The Paintings of Bruce Pennington' 
edited by Nigel Suckling

'Ultraterranium' (128 pp) was published by Paper Tiger (UK) in 1991.

Bruce Pennington was born in Somerset in 1944, and attended Beckenham College of Art, later the Ravensborn College of Art, where he embraced the Op art and Pop art styles very current in the early 60s.

From 1964 to 1966 he worked on movie posters. In Spring 1967 he received his first commission for a book cover, for Panther Book's 'The Defense', by Nabokov. His first SF book cover came later that year, for 'Stranger In A Strange Land' for the New English Library.

Since that time Pennington has continued to provide artwork for books, magazines, as well as noncomissioned paintings, some of which are presented in Ultraterranium.

Ultraterranium covers Pennington's cover illustrations for books (primarily from UK publishers) in the SF, horror, and fantasy genres from 1970 - 1990. Pennington's skillful use of color and composition meshed well with his subject matter, making him one of the more accomplished of the sf illustrators of the 79s and 80s. His later works, in particular, have an ornate, Dali-esque style to them.

Pennington's website is at:


Saturday, July 14, 2012

'Heavy Metal' magazine July 1982

The Summer of '82 rolls on. In heavy rotation on MTV are Paul McCartney and Wings with 'Take It Away'. Featuring John Hurt, George Martin, and Ringo, it is still one of the best Wings songs ever.

The July issue of 'Heavy Metal' features a front cover by Thomas Warkentin titled 'Cadmium Anniversary', with 'In Flight', by Chris Achiellos, on the back cover.  

The Dossier contains a number of argumentative columns on sci-fi, film, and what Rok Critic Lou Stathis calls 'Electro-Popism', but could just as well have been called 'New Wave'.


The  ongoing  essay authored by David Black, 'The Third Sexual Revolution', continues, this time on the topic of 'macho woman' (?!), with an illustrated accompaniment by Caza. It's too bad that editor Julie Lynch didn't just delete Black's hokey essay and substitute a full-length Caza comic strip.

There are continuing installments of Corben's 'Den II', Jodorowsky and Moebius's 'Incal Light', 'Nova 2' by Garcia and Bequer, 'At the Middle of Cymbiola' by Renard and Schuiten, 'Zora' by Fernandez, and 'The Voyage of Those Forgotten', by Bilal, which is posted below.