Wednesday, June 30, 2010
Just posted a new slideshow on Youtube...I figure some of you are Samurai Cat fans, so I thought I'd give you the link. The pictures sure are colorful, and my son and I slapped a nifty Klaus Badelt soundtrack over the proceedings. Here's the link:
Sunday, June 27, 2010
At the end of the last installment, the movie version of The Dead hadn't gotten off the ground (although I did fairly well with it anyway). Moreover, I was without an agent, and nobody would publish me anymore. However, at the World Science Fiction convention at Baltimore, in 1998, a guy by the name of Brian Kerr sought me out...he's a big Samurai Cat fan, and he had an idea. He worked for a a vanity publishing house called BuyBooksontheweb.com (they're now Infinity Publishing), and he said that Buybooks would be happy to pay the setup costs on my books, reprints and new stuff...I had a new installment int the Zorachus series called Blood and Pearls, and wanted to get that published (the new York folks didn't want it), and so I was delighted to go along with the deal. Buybooks published Blood and Pearls and the next two books in the series, and reprinted Sword of Samurai Cat and Samurai Cat Goes to the Movies...a lot of people asked me about The Dead, and we reprinted that too. It soon proved itself to be the best-selling book of the lot...there was some interest in it on the net throughout the early 2000's, and I finally decided to do something I'd always wanted to do, bring out an illustrated version of it.
For my money, my best art has always been my horror stuff...I'm not really interested in funny cats (although some of the Samurai cat pictures are pretty choice technically) and the pinup material did not come naturally to me...I really enjoy painting naked chicks, but the skill to do it properly was very much acquired...I really had to work at it. But evil looking art has always been a snap for me. Needless to say, the subject matter in The Dead played directly to that...I spent about five months knocking off 36 highly ill-tempered illustrations, and Buybooks (now Infinity) was willing to oblige me, God bless 'em. They also allowed us to clean up the numerous typos and referential mistakes in the first edition, which were entirely my fault...when I first gave the manuscript to Buybooks, it was the one I had on my discs, which was also the one I gave Ace/Berkley, which was, of course, not copy-edited. Oops. Compounding the problem is the fact that I'm completely oblivious to typos, because I'm so used to reading foul manuscripts...typos roll right off me, and so I didn't do a very good job looking at the ms. I got back from Infinity. Anyway, the new edition came out...no one seemed to notice the illos or the improved copyedit.
I went about my business, mostly working on Flaming Sword, the latest Zorachus book. Then, early in 2009, Jacob Kier from Permuted Press got in touch with me. In case you haven't heard, Permuted Press specializes in zombie and apocalyptic fiction, and Jacob had read the book awhile back, and had really liked it...I went for the deal, and the new Permuted Press edition that's out now resulted. We got Brian Keene, J.L. Bourne and Taylor Kent to write us some very nice blurbs, and the latest incarnation came out in Nov. '09. There were a bunch of really nice reviews...have no real idea of how things are going to turn out this time, and that's about all there is to tell.
Monday, June 21, 2010
It suddenly occurred to me that you guys needed to know my opinions on this subject. I picked some movies because I really liked them, others because they were influential, although some are good and influential. Here goes:
1. White Zombie. As far as I know, this was the first zombie movie, and it's quite a wonderful early thirties horror film, all the more remarkable because it was an indie production, not made by Universal or Paramount, etc. The guys behind it were the Halperin brothers, and they turned out a very atmospheric product for no money to speak of,, notable for one of Lugosi's coolest characterizations, the zombie master Murder Legendre. The zombies here are pretty much the original tradition...zonked-out living dead slaves, no cannibalism, no headshots. Very different from contemporary portrayals.
2. The Invisible Invaders. This is a cheesy little 1950's black and white movie about corpses possessed by aliens....scared me when I was a kid...haven't seen it in years. Even so, when I saw Night of the Living Dead, it seemed to me that a bunch of it had been inspired by this thing....also by Last Man on Earth, the Italian Vincent price version of I Am Legend, which was about vampires rather than zombies, although Romero's zombies are kinda vampire-like in some respects.
3. Night of the Living Dead, and you all know why.
4. Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things. This was made by Bob Clark on a shoestring before he started doing things like Porky's. First time I encountered it, I was just flipping channels, then settled in for no good reason. Was kinda bored at first, since the movie really takes its time getting to the zombies...there's a lot of strange characterization involving a bunch of hippies on a "cemetary island" off the coast of Florida. However, when the Manson-like head hippie finally raises the dead, the movie gets seriously scary. This may, in fact, be the scariest zombie movie. The overall cheapness and the shitty color and the caked-on crude makeup just make it worse. The scene where the zombies come up out of the graveyard is the best thing of its kind, period. Somebody said they look like they're being squeezed out of tubes, and it's true. I started wishing that I hadn't started watching it, it was that scary...I've never had that reaction before or since.
5. Shockwaves. Forget Dead Snow. This is the real Nazi zombie film. A bunch of dimwits find themselves trapped on an island in the Bahamas infested with waterlogged Nazis engineered to crew submarines that would never come up for air. Great, demented fun.
6. Zombie. More zombies on another damn island...islands should just be banned, dammit. However...this is Lucio Fulci's first and best living dead epic. His zombies may not be the scariest, but they are sure the deadest looking. In fact, they look like they were never alive to begin with, which is frequently how actual corpses appear. Amazing gross-outs...for my money, the scene where the girl gets the splinter in her eye in close-up in the most squirm-inducing scene ever.
7. The Return of the Living Dead. John Russo had the rights to do a Night of the Living Dead sequel, and he and Dan O'Bannnon cooked this thing up. Premise is that the story in Night of was partially true, and the zombies were actually resurrected by a chemical called 245 Trioxin, and that one corpses was shipped in a drum to a medical supply warehouse in Louisville KY...when asked if the drum will leak, the owner of the warehouse replies, "are you kidding? This was made by the Army Corps of Engineers," and kicks it, releasing a bunch of Trioxin gas, and freeing the Tar Man, my favorite zombie, a truly nightmarish creation. From that point on, it's one great bit of business after another, including living-dead butterflies and split dogs...the movie just plain abounds in wonderful ideas. I particularly like the undertaker who works across the street, who's apparently some sort of nazi, packs an p-38, and is named Ernie Kaltenbrunner, just like RSHA chief who succeeded Heydrich...
8. Dead Alive. A woman runs afoul of a Sumatran rat monkey, and well...zombies ensue. This isn't my favorite early Peter Jackson...I prefer Meet the Feebles. But Hell, this thing is gross, gross, gross. Romero's films seem positively tidy by comparison. There's a scene with a lawn mower that isn't merely the goriest scene committed to cellulose...it's probably gorier than every other gore scene ever, combined.
9. Bio-Zombie. Zombies Hong Kong style. If the prosthetic effects were better (they're crummy to adequate), this would be my pick for best zombie film. As it is, I think it's my favorite. Sam Lee and Jordan Chan play a couple of idiot low-level triads who find themselves caught in a tiny claustrophobic mall swarming with not-quite dead completely bonkers plague victims...it all has something to do with Saddam Hussain's bio-weapons program...I guess the WMD's wound up in Hong Kong! Anyway, the characterizations are very funny and smart, and the direction (by Wilson Yip) has no business being so good...it's almost as though you're watching a zombie comedy made by Martin Scorsese. Highly recommended. Saw this at an anime convention, went home and tried to buy the movie online, but couldn't...everybody from the screening had promptly gone home and bought every available copy.
10. Shaun of the Dead. Rather a similar vibe to Bio-zombie...better makeup effects. Very well done for the most part. Directed by Edgar Wright, the guy who created Spaced, and who made Hot Fuzz later on. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost are the obligatory dimwits confronting a zombie onslaught in London...I love the way that our heroes are completely oblivious even while the shit's hitting the fan. All of the characters are very nicely drawn...I love Bill Nighy as Shaun's stepfather, who you really expect to hate, but who turns out to be right sympathetic. My only gripe is with the climactic stuff...the zombies are just too stupid and incompetent. They're almost as bad as the vampires at the end of Dusk Till Dawn. But other than that, aces.
Even though TOR wasn't interested in publishing any non-cat stuff, I was kind of well known, thanks to the cat, about 1984-85...Paul Edwin Zimmer told me I could drop his name with Ginjer Buchanan over at Ace, and she took a look at my heroic fantasy novel Zorachus (if you want to see what a genuinely nasty Mark Rogers book is like, pick that one up), and bought it. She was also looking for horror novels right then, so I sent her The Dead, and she bought that too. Zorachus was a minor success, and Ace wound up publishing four more books in the series.
As for The Dead, it came out in 1989, I believe, and tanked completely. It didn't help that Ace refused to use my cover, the one that's on the recent editions; they'd just published the Books of Blood with Halloween masks on the covers, and decided that was the way to go with The Dead---awful idea, in my opinion. Looked like shit, very stupid, yakk. There was one really negative review in Locus, and as far as I know, there weren't any others anywhere. I think the book sold maybe 2500 copies, and it sank without a ripple. Or so it seemed. I had plans to write a bunch of other horror novels, including a sequel to The Dead, but the book had done so badly that I decided that I decided to scrub my whole horror line. After all, I had the Samurai Cat series going, and those Zorachus books. Of course, they wound up in the crapper too, although they were published, with ever-diminishing results. I did have some friends such as Tom Miller and Dave Murphy, who remained very enthusiastic about The Dead, but I put it behind me, and didn't think about it too much.
The nineties slipped by, most of them, at any rate. Then, in June 1998, I got a letter from my agent. He'd gotten a letter from his Hollywood contact two months before, and was only then passing it on to me. Greg Nicotero from the KNB-EFX company was trying to buy the movie rights to the book. In case you don't know, KNB-EFX is a prosthetic makeup company, and you've probably seen a bunch of their work. The severed ear stuff in Reservoir Dogs was theirs, and so was the guy getting his eye popped out of its socket in Casino; they did a bunch of the practical creature effects in the Narnia movies, and just lately, the gore FX in The Pacific. That's just to name a few...they've got a very long resume. Anyway, they'd just come off From Dusk Till Dawn, which they'd produced, and Greg had run across The Dead while he was working on Vampires for John Carpenter...Greg thought the book would make the best zombie movie ever. He wasn't offering very much money, and so my agent's Hollywood guy hadn't bothered to forward the matter for a couple of months; same deal with my agent when he was informed. Anyway, I decided there wasn't much point in retaining the services of these guys, and went ahead with the deal. The money was negligible by Hollywood standards, it's true, but it was quite a bit for me; moreover, Nicotero and co. were perfectly happy to have me write the screenplay, and I made some more money on that. Not that the money was the primary lookout for me; I wanted to be involved in the process, and frankly, I'd have written the script for nothing if I thought they were going to make a movie that actually reflected my vision...didn't tell them that though.
They shopped it around for a while...there was some interest. But Sixth Sense had just come out, and everyone wanted to remake that...zombies just weren't very Shyamalan-esque. Once again, I was way ahead of the curve. The KNB folks got farthest with some guys who really liked the horror scenes, but wanted to ditch the religious stuff...they wanted the zombies to be the result of occult activities by Max's father, who'd have a sorcerous book or some such shit. Anyway, Nicotero et al couldn't stomach this foolishness, and the project died.
Even still, I didn't do too badly on the thing, and for all I know, someone might use my screenplay in the future. The book would make a hellacious movie, as just about everyone agrees. But it was all rather a letdown in the final analysis. Luckily, a new edition of the book was just around the corner...
Saturday, June 19, 2010
Just saw Toy Story 3...best movie I've seen in a long time. Generally, I don't get completely caught up in movies anymore, but TS3 really did it for me. The writing is ingenious, the jokes are consistently funny, the main bad guy is truly hateful, and the scares aren't soft-pedalled, nope, not one bit. This thing is more frightening than most horror movies...the climax is really hellish and jaw-dropping. I don't know about you, but I like a liberal splash of terror in my kids' movies. The scene in Pinocchio where Lampwick changes into the donkey is one of the high-water marks in screen fright, and one of my favorite bits of cinema business; I loved the vastly underrated Return to Oz with its electroshock stuff, and detached heads, and the Gnome King being so balls-out nightmarish; David Warner wiping out all comers at the end of Time Bandits is mighty choice too. For that matter, the original Toy Story had some very unnerving stuff...remember the mangled toys coming up out of that mud puddle in the back yard? Well, TS3 tops that in spades. Which isn't to say the thing is lacking in heart...it's actually a pretty effective tearjerker...everybody in the audience was snivelling at the end, then applauding. I was kinda worried by Cars, and Wall-E, but between Up and Toy Story 3, most of my fears about Pixar are assuaged, at least temporarily. I just wish they hadn't been absorbed by Disney...I had stock in them when they were a separate production company, and much preferred that to having stock in the Mouse. Had stock in Marvel too, and then they pulled the same stunt...nowhere to hide except gold...sigh...
Hey, do you like the tadpole picture? It's an illo from an unpublished turtle kid's book by my philosopher wife.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
Seeing as how the main thing I've got going for me right now is this zombie novel called The Dead, I thought some of you might like to hear how it came about, and what's happened with it over the years. I've been living with it for a very long time, and while it never really catches on, it doesn't ever quite lie down and expire, either...
The very first thing that got me thinking about writing a zombie book was a glance at a painting called The Triumph of Death, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder...I was going to Monmouth College at the time, in 1970, and I spent most of the middle seventies thinking about incorporating that sort of imagery into a novel. Very scary picture...it's an allegory of death triumphant, and you have these wizened corpses hunting down everyone on earth...it's cadavers all the way out to the horizon, and no one is escaping, peasants, kings, churchmen, they're all getting slaughtered, or herded into these big landing-craft things, presumably for slaughter later. Anyway, when I saw Dawn of the Dead later on, while I was out in South Bend, Indiana (my wife was going to Notre Dame)I thought to myself that Romero's vision, as entertaining as it was, wasn't as frightening as that old Bruegel picture. The fact is, it's very hard to imagine Romero-type zombies ever getting the upper hand on the rest of us. They're stupid and they're slow, and they'd get shut down pretty soon. But you don't have any chance at all against Bruegel's dead guys, and let's face it, that's a much more badass idea.
As the seventies ended, I started kicked around the notion of a living-dead story set at the Jersey Shore, because I'm from there, and I began constructing sequences in my head, some of them derived from dreams...the bit where our protagonists walk across the dead on the mudflat as the corpses are waking up was based on a very vivid nightmare. Being a Roman Catholic and a big C.S. Lewis fan, I decided to suspend the story from a Christian escatological scaffolding, and rationalize everything in accordance with that...I'm not particularly End-times oriented, but it seemed to me that the Resurrection and the Last Judgement were better plot devices than saying the zombies were caused by radiation from a Venus probe, or, for that matter, any sort of pseudo-rationalistic ploys, since we know that nothing sort of a miracle would bring dead people back. It occurred to me right from the gitgo that this approach would annoy a lot of people, so I decided not to softpedal the Christian aspect at all...I'd been reading Dostoyevsky's The Possessed, and it seemed to be that the sort of balls-out controversial tack he took was the only way to go (my other stuff is a whole lot less in-your-face, religiously speaking). Still, I continue to be amused and amazed by the reaction that some people have to the book...even though there's a ton of zombie-fighting and scary scenes, and all manner of carnage, very fast-paced, about a fifth of the reading population reacts solely to the theology, to the point where their little heads explode, and more than one has declared that it's not even a zombie book at all!
But I digress.
What convinced me to go ahead and actually write the book was my Grandpa's funeral in 1980...I noticed all sorts of weird details about funeral-parlor culture, and decided they really needed to be incorporated in a zombie story...I was particularly taken with the strange pink lighting (to cover up the color or the corpse, obviously) and the flowers that look like they have little pee-pees sticking out of them, and the fishtanks, invariably with one dead fish floating in them, being chawed on by the other fishies...I was working on the first draft within the week, and the book pretty much wrote itself. I think I spent about five months on it. The version that's presently available isn't too different; subsequent drafts cleaned up some prose issues, but there weren't too many of those...I did add the Bonewolves, the Cairn, miscellaneous Hell-fauna, and Legion's true non-human appearance later on, but that's really not too much material. Certainly the main points of the story and the characterizations were settled very early on. No matter what, the book predated the present zombie-craze by a very long time, Left Behind too, for that matter. If you don't count John Russo's Night of the Living Dead novelization from the mid-seventies (Mr. Russo deserves more credit for Romeroesque zombie mythology than he generally gets), which was, of course, based on a screenplay, The Dead might well have been the first original zombie novel out there. I could be mistaken, of course, and would happily submit to correction. The characterization of the zombies was also ahead of the curve (or way behind it, given Brueghel's influence)...they're fast, they're mean, and they have a program. John Russo was kicking around similar ideas, which show up in Return of the Living Dead (one of my favorite zombie flicks), but I was unaware of that screenplay till the film came out, by which time I'd already written the book.
More digression, I apologize, I'm the monkey...
Had no definite plans regarding publication...after I finished the first draft, I started working on Adventures of Samurai Cat, and had a publisher lined up for that, and was hoping that would lead to other publications, but it didn't at first. The people at TOR books were utterly uninterested in any non-cat material, and I made no headway with them...I managed to get an agent, but he informed me that The Dead was "the gospel according to Mark" and that I needed to cut at least half of it before he'd think about sending it around...deciding that was pretty worthless advice, I resigned myself to simply not selling the thing. But that wasn't the end of it, hence the fact that you're looking at this now...
Tuesday, June 15, 2010
Just watched the director's cut of that Benecio Del Toro /Anthony Hopkins Wolfman remake. On the pay-per-view, they say it's "unedited," which is of course absurd (a movie would only be unedited if it were one long continuous take); what they really means is that a bunch of stuff got put back in that was taken out because it was too gory for a PG-13 rating, or because there were issues about length or pacing, etc. A lot of times, there are very good reasons for whittling flicks down, but sometimes it's a very bad idea, like when they cut the ending off The Abyss, or chopped most of the brains out of Terminator 2. The Wolfman wasn't so drastically mutilated, but the cuts they've restored never should've been taken out to begin with. The extra characterization is welcome, Anthony Hopkins has more bits of business (he's the best thing in the movie) and the violence is juicier---for God's sake, the thing's a horror movie, so why soft-pedal the gore? This goes for action flicks too. You just wind up with tepid stuff that older hardcore horror and action fans don't want to see, and younger folks don't want to see either, because the films are...well tepid, and they get bad word of mouth.I mean, there's no need for Lord of the Rings to be R-rated, but a Diehard movie should be; I mean the best moment in the first installment was that guy getting his kneecaps shot out in slow-mo in closeup. Number four sucked, at least partly because it was bloodless; contrast that thing with Rambo or Apocalypto or Kick-Ass...well, all of them kicked ass, and John McClane's last outing did not.
The Wolfman kicks more ass in its present version, and the extra gore helps to take one's mind off the absurdities in the plot. The thing went through a lot of drafts, and it shows---Larry Talbot arrives home after his brother's been murdered, folks see him being attacked by the werewolf, but still Inspector Abberline from Scotland Yard suspects him, etc. I also had a problem with the use of CG in the transformation sequences, and thought Rick Baker's werewolf design just wasn't that good (gold standard is still Rob Bottin's work in The Howling). However, the CG is used very nicely for purposes of atmosphere, and the flick looks great. I also really like Emily Blunt---a combination of Wolfman and her Victoria movie, say, one where Albert is a werewolf and infects her, would've been better either than Wolfman or Young Victoria. But the bottom line is this, the added stuff changes the movie from an annoying PG-13 misfire into an R-rated success.
By the way, I really hope they don't cut The Expendables down to PG-13. The end of that last Rambo movie was an absolute blood-soaked delight. Watch it in slow-motion...there's some amazing stuff. That Russian CG house that did the effects real tore up the screen.
Friday, June 11, 2010
Just this minute finished my last readthrough of Lilitu before I go back and make all the revisions. I was actually sorry to get to the end of it...it's very smooth and vivid, and I think it's got a lot of my best characterizations...Lilitu herself is my best character ever, hands down, although she's not very nice, at least not at this stage of the game. Book's rather a departure for me, in that it takes quite some time to turn into a typical Rogersian slaughterfest...but it moves right along....loads of sex. The story started off as special treat for my friend Lena, who really liked the character in the Zancharthus books...I wrote her a thirty-page segment about Lilitu and Torrisanna getting, uh, acquainted, and about two weeks after I finished that, the whole rest of the novel flew in over my mental transom. This struck me as a very direct order from the muse, and when she say frog, I try to jump...anyway, for no particularly good professional reason (I didn't have any reasonable hope of getting the thing published by a real New York publisher), I just started in writing the rest of the book...didn't stop for another five-six months. Very intense state of inspiration, kinda like being drugged, which is exactly how I like it. Anyway, as a technical exercise, I think a real quantum leap for me, but you'll be able to judge for yourself soon...I bet the revisions are going to go pretty quick, and then I'll have it nicely proofread (yes, we listened to you guys about the proofreading on some of the earlier Infinity efforts) and turn it over to the printers sometime this summer, after which I'll turn my attention to Flaming Sword, which is a monstrous piece of business in more ways than one, and will truly be a bear...talk to you later.
Thursday, June 10, 2010
Just did a search to see if this thing was actually showing up online, and...it is, so I'm going to post some more stuff. If you read my last post, you'll see some biz about my latest book, Yark...I mentioned I'd just gotten a bunch of them for Balticon. Well, it hasn't showed up on Amazon or Barnes and Noble yet, but it will; it is however, already available over at Infinity Publishing, the guys who've done all my latest stuff with the exception of the latest reissue of The Dead. If you want to get a preview of the Yark illos, here's a link to a Youtube Slideshow which you should take a look at...http://www.youtube.com/user/TheBigLebbowskii. It's much the same sort of deal as that slideshow for The Dead that's been up for a while. The link to that one is:http://www.youtube.com/user/TheBigLebbowskii#p/a/u/1/Vt2Nr96gxP4