Jonah Hex, Bad Mofo, Achieves Issue 50

When I was a kid growing up in the 70s, Western comics were among my favorites. I was a huge fan of characters like Two-Gun Kid, Kid Colt, and The Rawhide Kid. In a lot of ways, these heroes were Lone Ranger knockoffs; masked do-gooders who were usually misunderstood as outlaws. They were basically good guys who always had the pretty girls flocking around them whether they were in “costume” or hanging out in their secret identities (you know, as doctors, lawyers, whatever). My friends and I used to tear-ass around playing cowboys and Indians, shooting the hell out of each other and then getting back up for more. I even had a little cowboy vest I wore until it fell apart; I tore through my share of western snap-shirts too.

The first time I saw the character Jonah Hex, he scared the hell out of me. A friend of mine’s old brother collected the Weird Western Tales comic, and had continued with the character when Jonah got his own ongoing series. These were western stories with a supernatural theme to them, and to me they were just . . . bizarre. And then there was the man himself. Hex was no do-gooder. He was ugly, with a horrific scar on the side of his face that I still get kind of grossed out about. He fought for “the bad guys” in the Civil War. He just wasn’t the kind of guy that a naive little punk like me really related to at the time, but I always remembered him. By the mid-80s his book was canceled, though he popped up in the 90s when I wasn’t reading comics.

Fast forward to 2005, when DC Comics took a chance on a new ongoing Jonah Hex series, written by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray, with art by Luke Ross. Over the years different artists have contributed to the book, but this week DC’s committment to the hard work of Palmiotti and Gray pays off with the release of the special, double-sized issue #50. For fans of the series, and for people who know the comics business (i.e. make money now or get dropped!), this is a certifiable Big Deal. Four years is a helluva run for any book that doesn’t include a lead character that has been around for 30, 40, 50 or 60 years! And a western? Please.

This is a series I hold pretty close to my heart, because it’s one I jumped on board with right from the get-go, which has never happened before, at least not in any sustainable fashion (if only I’d held on to Peter Parker the Spectacular Spiderman issues 1-20 or so!). As comics go, at least a comic from one of the Big Two (DC and Marvel), Jonah Hex is anything but typical. Hex isn’t really a “good guy.” He is a former Confederate soldier turned infamous bounty hunter. He doesn’t speak much. He doesn’t seem to care for anyone, but one expects a dark history, especially when it comes to the horrible scar. We do see glimpses of his inner humanity, but they are fleeting. When Hex is broke, he’s on the trail of a face on a poster. When he’s flush, he wallows in booze and hookers until he’s broke again, piling up more bodies than a Stallone character.

Hex has a moral code, of course — I see him as something of a cross between Clint Eastwood’s western archetype and Omar from The Wire. He is a guy who won’t mess with you if you don’t cross him, but if you do it’s game over. He knows right from wrong and will stand up for it, regardless if that puts him in line with the letter of the law. For those who know his name, he is almost a mythical character.

What I enjoy about the series is it reads like a collection of flash fiction. Each issue of Jonah Hex — with only a couple exceptions (including a recent 6-issue run titled “The Six Gun War”) — has been a standalone story. That isn’t something you see in mainstream comics these days, where it seems every book is part of some sweeping drama that crosses over into every running series. It’s nice to get these tight little stories, and that in itself is a reflection on Palmiotti and Gray’s writing, because 22 pages ain’t much to tell a story that begins and ends all in one shot. I’ve probably re-read more Hex stories than any other, just for that reason. There’s never any question about what has been happening for 10 issues prior to a given book — what you see is what you get. I like that.

I remember reading an article — I think it was during the promotional lead up to Kevin Costner’s Open Range film — where the Western as a film genre was discussed. The films used to be ubiquitous, but you don’t see them much anymore. The premise of the piece I read is that they have been replaced by the cop/crime show, which makes sense to me. I think fans of crime stories would enjoy much of what Palmiotti and Gray are doing with this book. The things I’m enjoying about crime fiction, a genre I’ve only recently immersed myself in, are the very elements I enjoy with this series. Dark themes, multi-dimensional characters, moral quandaries . . . and a lot of fast-paced action and gunplay. Unpredictable women. The stranger riding into town. Crooked law enforcement. Vengeful villains. I mean, it is all here!

Another bonus with #50 is that the art has been provided by Darwyn Cooke, with colors by Dave Stewart. Cooke is arguably my favorite artist in this medium. His interpretation of Richard Stark’s The Hunter via graphic novel was my gateway into crime fiction, and I haven’t looked back. Darwyn has a blog of his own about Jonah Hex #50 that is well worth checking out, where he discusses how it came to happen and where his artistic inspirations for the work came from.

As for Dave Stewart, he’s just the best there is at what he does. Considering the work he’s done on Dark Horse‘s Conan series (simply one of the Greatest Things Ever), you know the man has my eternal worship. Cooke’s thoughts on Stewart’s work on this issue make me all the more excited for this issue to arrive in my eager hands come Thursday.

Buy the Damn Thing Already

So besides the opportunity for me to gush about something I think is cool as hell, what is the point of this particular blog post? I am of the opinion that all things awesome, especially creatively, should be rewarded. People love their entertainment — art, movies, books, TV, video games, et al — but unless you are someone who has a runaway blockbuster hit, the money sucks. So getting the word out about significant benchmarks is important to me.

This series is an example of an artistic endeavor succeeding in the face of steep odds. It’s like seeing an underground band I love getting a great opening spot on some huge band’s tour and then blowing the headliner off the stage night after freakin’ night. I love Batman, but there are about 10 Batman books and only a couple of them are worth a shit. Non-superhero books don’t live long these days, and this story ain’t no superhero book. It succeeded on the merits of everyone involved sticking to their guns (pun mostly intended), and I commend that and feel it deserves notice to people outside of the comics community.

Looks like the effort is going to pay off in other ways too, because the Jonah Hex movie starring Josh Brolin, John Malkovich and Megan Fox is scheduled to open on July 12th, 2010, and it looks awesome. Seeing Josh in No Country for Old Men and picturing him as Hex pretty much makes this film my most anticipated watch of the summer. So suck that, Iron Man 2!

     

Do yourself a favor and get on board, so that when the movie comes out and is a hit you can be all smug and act like you’ve been a Hex fan for years. Go out to your local comic shop and buy a goddamn comic book this week. While you’re there, pick up a couple more. Take a look at these preview images from #50, for crissakes; you know you want this thing!

PEEPSHOW — By Leigh Redhead (Book Review)

Peepshow (Outfit Crime, 2009) is the first novel by Australian writer Leigh Redhead, and yes, that is her real name. It is the first of three novels featuring Detective/Stripper Simone Kirsch. Simone originally wanted to become a police officer, but her history of working in the sex industry saw her bumped from consideration, so she chose the next best thing: a private investigator’s license.

Her PI career takes off with a boom when the owner of a local strip joint is murdered and Simone’s best friend Chloe, a dancer at the club, is kidnapped. Simone makes a deal with the kidnappers; if she can find the real killer in two weeks, Chloe will be spared. Her investigation takes her in and out of rock clubs, strip clubs, fetish clubs, and onto the floor of a sex industry conference. Meanwhile she’s dodging wise guys and crooked police, all while still having to earn enough of a living to make her rent.

Based on Ms. Redhead’s true life biography, it is clear she is drawing from much personal experience in depicting the scenes of this book, and it shows in the level of detail. The story has strippers, sex, drugs, and rock n . . . er, mostly country music. And that’s one of the things I loved about it! The fact that this book, by an Australian writer, references so much of the country music from my collection (Steve Earle, Vanessa Williams, Johnny Cash, et al) made it damn fun. And a scene toward the end where all these dive bar/strip club dwellers convene at an outside barbecue in broad daylight and how odd they look, to Simone, out of their element — classic! It reminded me of the summer I helped my wife build a straw bale house in Tucson, AZ. The day of the wall raising — when a couple truckloads of straw bales had to be stacked up in a shape resembling a dwelling — several of her friends from the Tucson music community showed up dressed as they would for a night on the town. Redhead’s description of her literary BBQ harkened back to this event from my own life so perfectly that I was grinning ear to ear.

The book is fast-paced, and if there are maybe a few too many coincidences moving the plot here and there, they are to be forgiven because the story is such a rollicking good time with so many memorable characters. Simone is an excellent lead and fun to spend time with. I enjoyed the Aussie slang employed throughout, and also liked to see the inner workings of the world of peep shows and strip clubs.

There are at least two more Simone Kirsch crime novels, and I’m hoping that The Outfit sees fit to reissue them as well.

Next Time You Make a Mistake I’m Gonna Ride Off and Let You Die

I didn’t get as much done last week on my big writing self-challenge, but I did accomplish a lot. I got a little sidetracked toward the end of the week when the Independent called and asked if I’d do a story/interview with Lita Ford for the upcoming show with Queensryche next week.

I was all over it. I was a big fan of Lita back in the day; she wrote some great songs and could unleash righteous shreddery on her BC Rich axe. In fact, interviewing her was probably trumped only by the interview with Ace Frehley.

Yeah, big hair 80s! That article will run in Thursday’s Independent.

Montana Festival of the Book

I attended two events at last weekend’s Festival of the Book, and both were fantastic. The first one was Thursday afternoon at The Wilma; “The Last Good Kiss: An Appreciation of James Crumley.” The authors involved were Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island, The Given Day, etc.), George Pelecanos (The Night Gardener, The Way Home, writer/producer of HBO’s The Wire, etc.), Laura Lippman (Life Sentences, Tess Monaghan series) and James Grady (Six Days of the Condor). They are all top, TOP shelf writers, and it was a fun and inspirational panel. Lehand and Lippman did most of the talking, and their banter was witty and entertaining. Crumley clearly meant a lot to all of these writers, and I enjoyed myself. Since the panel I have read Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss, which Lehane called “the greatest American crime novel ever written.” I enjoyed the hell out of it. I’d post more of the quotes I wrote down, but don’t have my notes with me. I’ll just say that for where I am with my writing, this panel was perfect timing.

The panel was moderated by Michael Koepf, longtime friend of Crumley. All in all, it was a couple of the best hours I’ve spent.

Julia got home from San Francisco late Friday night, then Saturday we went down to the Festival to see “The Wire: An Interview” with Pelecanos again and David Simon. Simon also happens to be married to the aforementioned Laura Lippman. Anyway, it was an interesting discussion on our latest favorite program, HBO’s The Wire. It was cool to hear how their processes for writing the show worked, the filming, all of it. Very interesting and informative. Another great event.

On the Road in Nebraska

I’m catching up on this thing from a hotel room in Omaha, Nebraska. It’s bigger than I imagined it would be. This is actually my first time to set foot in this state, though I’ve literally been in site of it a number of times. Here’s the glorious view outside my window.

That was taken when I arrived on Tuesday afternoon. Shortly after arriving I went hunting for something on which to feast. I found it on just the other side of the mighty Missouri river in Council Bluffs, Iowa.

It hasn’t been too exciting so far. Here’s the view outside the room I spent my day working in. These yayhoos make radios or something.

After work I managed to find a little culture, though.

You know I made the most of it.

Not the World’s Most Important Glass Ceiling, but the Mofo is Still Broken

Saw this article Friday afternoon over at Bleeding Cool (which is essentially a news gathering site for the comics industry): Amanda Conner First Woman To Make Wizard’s Top Ten Hot Artists List. I’ve probably been talking about comics too much lately, but this is still a big enough deal that I feel it’s worth mentioning here, given how much of a boys’ club this industry has historically been. From Rich Johnston’s article:

Wizard Magazine, the Entertainment Weekly of comics has been running its Top Ten Hot Artists and Top Ten Hot Writers List since the magazine started, reflecting the whims of the market, the readers, the retailers and the publishers over who is and is not in demand. It’s a cruel, harsh unforgiving column but its hard to deny to reflects a certain majority taste in comics. And while some women have broken into the Top Ten Hot Writers list, no female comics artist has been deemed “hot” enough to warrant inclusion in the Top Ten Hot Artists, despite many finding success, especially in the manga market. But, apparently, manga doesn’t count. And so the Wizard Top Ten Hot Artists List has remained an all-male preserve.This week, that all changes, as Amanda Conner joins the list in this Wednesday’s edition of Wizard Magazine. Her work on Power Girl, while just as excellent as her other recent work, has nevertheless found new eyeballs, and that’s what matters to The List.

I’ve become a big fan of Amanda’s work — I love the broad, cartoony style she delivers. That may sound silly, but she has a way of making the stories fun even when serious events are going down. In particular I love the emotions and expressions she captures on the faces of her characters, whether they are human or animals (as in this scan from the current issue):

Amanda first caught my attention with her work on the Supergirl strip that ran in Wednesday Comics, which just wrapped up last week. That strip was lighthearted and a lot of fun, and is what inspired me to start picking up Power Girl.

Power Girl is written by the team of Jimmy Palmiotti (Amanda’s husband) and Justin Gray (the Supergirl strip was also written by Palmiotti), and it is a team that, combined with Amanda’s art, really delivers on the fun side of what superhero comics can be. Not only that, but they have taken a character that many have considered something of a joke, for a couple quite large, obvious reasons, and given her some real personality and depth. Frankly, with a couple exceptions, the superhero genre hasn’t been doing a whole lot for me lately, probably because the companies with the market cornered continue to do these sweeping, world-changing crossovers that drive me up a wall. Power Girl isn’t in the middle of all that, and I’m enjoying the hell out of it. Congrats, Amanda!

I don’t know what kind of a living these creators make, but I’m glad they’re out there making it. They’re worth more to me than some jock who can catch a football, that’s for damn sure.

Would Dan Brown Read Your Script?

A couple of Official Big Things this past week or so have had the writing world all a’twitter. Literally. I’ve found both issues interesting, as a writer/reader lacking credentials to warrant an opinion to matter to most of these tightasses. Nonetheless, on this page at least, what I say goes. So dig. . . .

Big Thing One: Dan Brown Drops a New Book

If you are interested in reading at all you’ll probably know Dan Brown as the author of the mega-selling The Da Vinci Code. His new book, The Lost Symbol, just came out on Tuesday and sold a zillion copies. And was apparently already available via pirate copies online the next day. I’ll tell you what, there’s nothing like the dropping of a certifiable mega-seller to bring out the opinionaters.

I must confess I’ve never read any of Dan Brown’s books, so I don’t have an opinion on his writing. Julia read The Da Vinci Code, and her assessment of it pretty much assured me my to-read pile is high enough that I didn’t need to add to it with any of Mr. Brown’s work. I won’t likely buy this one either, though I would probably consider scoring the audio version if the whim should take me. Regardless, I’m sure his checking account balance won’t miss me.

I never got in a tizzy over the Harry Potter releases that such a big deal was made of either. I know I read the first Potter book, and maybe the second . . . but I didn’t care for the writing so I never read more. Obviously a lot of people do like those books, though, so more power to ’em.

But a lot of people get downright enraged over these kinds of books — the mega sellers. This snarky article talking about Dan Brown’s worst sentences is a perfect example. This kind of thing is just petty jealousy talking. I don’t care who the writer is — look hard enough for bad sentences, mixed metaphors and just bad prose, and you’ll find them. What one person sees as beautiful language is another person’s overwriting. I will take Robert E. Howard over Thomas Pynchon any goddamn day. That doesn’t mean I won’t read Pynchon, and possibly even like some of it, but if I’m on a desert island I know what I’m bringing and what I’m not.

Steve Weddle, writing for one of my favorite websites — Do Some Damage — sums it up in a way I can totally relate to when he describes the “page turner” qualities of Brown’s writing, in this excellent piece. In it, he makes a case for why people read Brown’s books, and boils it down essentially to this:

The reason people read Dan Brown [is] because they HAVE TO FIND OUT. His books are tons of fun because they’re not about the characters or sentence structure. His books are all about WHAT HAPPENS NEXT.

And for Dan Brown, what happens next is selling another zillion books.

Sometimes a story is just a story, a trip from point A to point B with a little excitement sans high-minded bullshit. Don’t like it? Then don’t read it! I’m sure Dan Brown really gives a rip what some disgruntled whiner — whose own meandering story of essentially nothing can’t find an audience — thinks. Me, I don’t need everything I read to be some deep, moving tale of this or that. Yeah, sometimes a 7-course gourmet meal is just what the body needs for sublime pleasure, but other times a double-double will be every bit as good. Too much of either one would syphon off a bit of the pleasure, I think. Hell, the best sentence I’ve read lately is this:

“I sat and chewed, mindlessly content for the first time in what felt like ages, forgetting all the bullshit and the drama in the simple distraction of a good, greasy meal.”

That’s from Hoodtown, by Christa Faust.

Big Thing Two: Josh Olson Will Not Read Your Fucking Script

Screenwriter Josh Olson (he wrote the screenplay for A History of Violence) posted this article via a blog on the Village Voice website. It’s essentially a rant on people bugging him, because he is established and has contacts, to help them by reading/critiquing/forwarding/etc. their own work. Makes sense, and I can understand the sentiment. There was a time when my late band Lazerwolfs seemed to have a reputation of actually being something; I was fielding requests all the time from unknown bands who begged to do a show with us, under the (mistaken) impression that it would give them a leg up on getting in front of a bigger audience. What they didn’t realize is every little thing we did from day One to day The End was a hardscrabble experience to make anything happen just for us — we had no golden ticket to do anything anywhere. We had some successes, sure, but just as often as not we were playing for 5 people on a given show just like every other friggin’ rock band. So yeah, I understand the frustration. I also understand the liabilities, when you consider how lawsuit-ready (he stole my idea!) everyone is these days.

Just google “josh olson” and you’ll see all the references that picked up the article. With each article you’ll also see comments from people both in support of his words, and those who think he’s a jerk for saying them. What you probably won’t see is all the friggin’ twitter posts from authors jumping on board to sign on to his position. Some writers, like John Scalzi, have made similar comments before this article ever broke. In the aftermath of this one, I think Scalzi had two or three. Other writers, like my current favorite — Christa Faust — weighed in in other ways. For example, in a post from her blog she says:

Many people seem to be deeply offended by Olson’s article. I’m far more offended by the astounding, profoundly selfish sense of entitlement displayed by posters who feel they are somehow owed a leg up from successful professional writers they’ve never met. Which probably makes me a dick, just like Josh.

I have a question for all the other published authors and produced screenwriters out there. Did any of you get your start in the business by asking a stranger to read your unpublished/unproduced work? I’m not talking about a legit submission to an editor or publisher, I’m talking about an unsolicited email (or paper letter) sent to a writer you’ve never met. Anybody?

Because I certainly didn’t. I got my start by working my ass off, writing and publishing short stories and small press novels until I got good enough to get recommended for novelization gigs. Not by a random stranger I bullied or shamed into giving me a leg up, but by someone who admired my published work. Work they had already read because they liked it, not because I asked them to. After that, I got asked to write for Hard Case. Then my agent asked to represent me. The few scripts I’ve written so far have been done for people who asked me to write them. Never the other way around.

What I like about both Scalzi and Faust’s responses is they are addressing an issue and responding re: their own experiences. I respect the hell out of that, and there is a lot of value from their commentary. Fantastic. That’s why I keep going back to their blogs and keep buying their books.

Some of the other stuff I saw from writers, though, was a bit off-putting. Just jumping on Olson’s wagon seemed a bit . . . cowardly, I guess. If a writer feels so strongly about something like this, why not address it on your own? Many blogs and/or communications from a lot of these writers is decidedly one way — Buy My Book. I don’t fault them for that. But with that communication comes some risks; open the door, and you are going to hear things you don’t want to hear. That definitely comes with the territory.

Both Scalzi and Faust — among others — take reader comments on and address them via the conduits they’ve chosen to create. If a “fan” is being unreasonable, they aren’t afraid to tell them so at risk of losing a precious reader. But the flipside, to just hide behind another writer’s comments, say, “Yeah, me too!” and then just duck back behind the little wall of “I love you all!” said writer has put up, seems to me a little lame.

If a writer chooses not to engage with their readers at all via blogs, forums, etc. that’s fine, and I respect that. But if one chooses to engage, then fucking engage. Otherwise it’s all just press release, and to call it anything else is disingenuous.