Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Cinniúint na Déithe: Clontarf 2014


Mr. Bates,
New York City.
Dear Mr. Bates:
You may, or you may not have noticed my work in Weird Tales, Oriental Stories, Ghost Stories, Fight Stories, Action Stories, and Argosy; but that doesnt matter so much. The point is, I’m deeply interested in the intention of your company to bring out a new magazine devoted entirely to historical tales. I want very much to do business with this magazine, and would appreciate any pointers you might give me as to how to make the market [in case this story is not acceptable]._ I realize that editors do not have time to give detailed criticisms; but just a line or a few words scrawled on a rejection slip would help me wonderfully.
I’m hoping you can use this tale – “Spears of Clontarf” which I am enclosing. It deals with a phase in history too much neglected by writers – that of the Dano-Irish wars which culminated in the final shattering of the Viking power at the battle of Clontarf. Those days of war and rapine represent an age crammed with vital drama, enough to supply a hundred thrilling volumes.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Requiescat in Pace, Miguel Martins


I've typed, deleted, retyped this post a dozen times now. Nothing seems adequate. I'm just so frustrated and sad and bewildered and baffled.


Sunday, 23 March 2014

Still Remembering Steve

It's been 5 years now. I wish he could be here to give his thoughts on new Howard and Tolkien developments, the Hobbit films, the 1,000th anniversary of the Battle of Clontarf, everything. Even that ridiculous Shadow of Mordor game. But he's surely not forgotten:

Before his death in 2009 Steve Tompkins was probably the most erudite of the Howard scholars on the scene. Now, Leo Grin has received the blessing of Steve’s family and put out a call for material by the late, great critic. Here’s what he’s looking for:
• As complete a bibliography as possible of what Steve published in various fanzines, websites, and comic book letter columns.
• e-texts of these items, either from the original Word docs, or from OCR.
• scans of the actual printed pages, to compare to the e-texts as necessary when editing.
• any email correspondence or paper letters anyone cares to share. Where personal confidences must be retained, strip out the offending passages and replace them with a “***REDACTED***” placeholder.
• Any remembrances of things Steve said to you in person or over the phone, no matter how fleeting or seemingly trivial. Just tell the story and context as best you can. Doesn’t have to be composed for deathless publication, just the facts for now.
If anyone would like to help in this endeavor, shoot us an email at info@rehfoundation.org and we’ll get you in touch with Mr. Grin.

I'm hopeful we'll have a concrete book to supplement the undoubtedly rich legacy left behind.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Bite-Sized Blog: On Conan, REH and The Times In Which He Lived

“Crom!” It was an explosive imprecation from Conan’s lips as he started up, his great fists clenched into hammers, his veins on his temples knotting, his features convulsed...

In case anyone's wondering: I've not been up to much due to an attack of bruxism, which has resulted in me biting into my left cheek to the point where it feels like someone takes a pair of pliers to my jaw muscles every hour or two. Luckily it's starting to heal now, though I'll be needing gumshields and whatnot. Stayed in most of the last week washing my mouth with benzydamine and whisky.

Hopefully nothing interesting's happened in my absence, like a new Conan movie that's actually an adaptation of one of the original stories being announced with Patrice Louinet taken on board as advisor. 



Because that would just be the worst timing ever.

Thursday, 27 February 2014

8-Year-Old Aly Reviews: Walking With Dinosaurs IN 3D CANCELLED

29-year-old Aly here. A while ago, I saw Walking With Dinosaurs in 3D, figuring it would make for a good 8-year-old review. But unfortunately shortly after returning from the cinema, 8-year-old Aly was suddenly unwell, and is now in his room with a hot toddy.


Please ignore the ominous rumbling, I assure you there is nothing to worry about...

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Burns' Nicht 2014

(Cross-posted from the Bannockburn Comic Blog)

Wikipedia handily translates into English and Gaelic.

Most Scots, and I'm sure a fair good few non-Scots, know about this auld sang, but for those that don't: "Robert Bruce's March to Bannockburn," known more commonly as "Scots Wha Hae," was written by Scotland's most celebrated poet Robert Burns in 1793. Though the speech itself is conjectural, it was written to the tune of "Hey Tuttie Tati," a traditional Scottish tune of ancient lineage, which was widely believed to have been played by the Scottish troops at Bannockburn.


Wednesday, 22 January 2014

That I lived to a straight and simple creed...

In the last analysis, I reckon, I have but a single conviction or ideal, or whateverthehell it might be called: individual liberty. It’s the only thing that matters a damn. I’d rather be a naked savage, shivering, starving, freezing, hunted by wild beasts and enemies, but free to go and come, with the range of the earth to roam, than the fattest, richest, most bedecked slave in a golden palace with the crystal fountains, silken divans, and ivory-bosomed dancing girls of Haroun al Raschid. With that nameless black man I could say:

“Freedom, freedom,
Freedom over me! —
And before I’d be a slave,
I’d lie down in my grave
And go up to my God and be free!”

That’s why I yearn for the days of the early frontier, where men were more truly free than at any other time or place in the history of the world, since man first began to draw unto himself the self-forged chains of civilization. This is merely a personal feeling. I make no attempt to advocate a single ideal of personal liberty as the one goal of progress and culture. But by God, I demand freedom for myself. And if I can’t have it, I’d rather be dead.

 - Robert E. Howard, Letter to H.P. Lovecraft, ca December 1932

I had been neglecting my tributes to favourite authors for a while, but there would really be something wrong if I failed to observe the birthday of Robert E. Howard - not least because he, more than any other, gave me a channel for the passion I have for writing.

Bannockburn is permeated with Robert E. Howard. It isn't a pastiche, nor is it an imitation, but I'd like to think the impact of his historical and fantasy fiction on my creative mind would be, if not present, then at least acknowledged as a major influence - in particular "The Grey God Passes," of course, but also the Bran Mak Morn stories, "Delenda Est," "People of the Dark," and plenty more.

More consciously, it occurred to me how much of Bannockburn echoed elements of "The Hour of the Dragon." At first I thought it coincidental, but then I recalled the suggestion that much of Conan's journey in that story echoed the tale of Robert the Bruce himself. This has been brought up a number of times in Howard studies, but speaking in my position as a True Scotsman, I definitely support this hypothesis.

Consider: both are popular kings "elected" by the people to lead, after slaying their rivals by their own hand. Both are offered a position of vassalage to the invaders, which they reject not only from pride, but in the knowledge that the people would reject them and drive them out as the enemy. Both are driven from their country into the wild, where only a handful of brave supporters aid them as they cross the countryside to foreign lands in search of direction. Both (are said to have) come to revelations in dark caves. Both return with renewed purpose after their exile and search for answers, and engage in guerilla warfare, before a final confrontation in which their forces are outnumbered by their enemy - but in stronger positions. Both are aided by the timely intervention of the common people, abused and downtrodden by enemies from home and abroad, who were not ordered, but chose to fight for their own freedom.

I guess, then, it's just natural I would include a mysterious wise woman who may be more than she seems, people from distant lands who aid both sides in the struggle, a nightmare lord of undeath who has come to claim what he believes his birthright, women who remain defiant despite intolerable cruelty and humiliation, and monsters & sorceries beyond the ken of man. But then again, these elements are common to Scottish culture as well as in Howard's 20th-century translations of the Nemedian Chronicles, and since Howard was a great fan of Scottish authors Sir Walter Scott & Arthur Conan Doyle - not to mention the history of the British Isles - it's perhaps inevitable one could make allusions between "The Hour of the Dragon" and Scottish culture.

Zelata bears similarities to the Cailleach Bheur, she who is as part of the wilds as the wolf and bird-of-prey, as well as the many legendary Scottish witches & wise women. Albiona's defiance and determination to die rather than submit reflects the bravery of Countess Isabella MacDuff. The stalwart Pallantides is to Conan as "the Guid" Sir James Douglas was to the Bruce, while the proud Trocero of the semi-autonomous realm of Poitain echoes Aonghas Óg of the semi-autonomous Lordship of the Isles. The aid offered to Conan by the outcast priests of Asura is not unlike legends of the excommunicated Knights Templar offering their secret aid to the Bruce's cause. There's even tales of a Scottish wizard, Michael Scott, roughly contemporaneous with the Wars of Independence, who wore "the oriental costume generally worn by the astrologers of the times" - not unlike the star-and-moon robes Xaltotun was given.

Rest assured, though, this won't be just "The Hour of the Dragon" with a coat of Scottish paint. For one thing, the main character will not be the Bruce, but a lowly peasant of the "Sma' Folk" who finally won the battle. Even so, rather than consciously try to mimic or diverge from my influences, I will be happy enough to simply try to make a good story which reflects what I'm trying to do. It's the best way to pay tribute to both men of the name Robert.


Wednesday, 1 January 2014

2014

I suppose I might as well talk 2013/2014.

In 2013, I gained the confidence to embark on my new career and made measurable steps to that end. I made many new friends, caught up with faraway pals, and met some old ones I haven't seen in decades. I contributed voluntary work and tried to give a lot to the community, vital in this current climate. I had my first stall where I exhibited my art, and proved to myself I'm not uniquely unsuited to being an artist.

It was tough, too. There's been a lot of upheaval, some pretty profound effects on my personal life. Lots of heartache, turmoil, anger, sorrow, strife, and confusion. Friendships have been sorely tested, family relationships strained, even things like handling finances have taken a toll. Sometimes I wondered how we were going to get past some of those hurdles. Some of those hurdles are still there. And I see others yet uncrossed.

2014 will be one of the most important years of my life, on the grand and the modest scale. Grand because of the most important referendum in my country's history which will determine its future and that of my family and friends and their children. Modest, because it will be the year where I finally evolve as an artist and professional. Perhaps I'll never feel like I'm a "proper" artist, but now I've learned that I won't let that stop me from trying.

I'm looking to release the first issue of Bannockburn in April, before the other great 2014 anniversary: if it isn't released by then, then certainly as a single issue for June. Depending on whether I feel satisfied with the story I wrote or not, perhaps I will revisit it in the future: plenty of authors adapted short stories into novels, after all. I'll also continue writing on the blog when the fancy takes me, hopefully with more regularity (every week at least). I've had a nasty habit of not writing anything for ages, then vomiting up 5,000-word essays. That said, I have a backlog of posts which I'll do the finishing touches on.

I also plan on embarking upon the 5th Scottish Invasion of Cross Plains (and hopefully actually finishing the posts on the 4th invasion, jings, Al) and my 3rd trip to the Arizona Comic-Con. Maybe I'll bring some copies of Bannockburn over for my New World pals!

Until then, best of luck, one and all, for 2014.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Amazons of Far Harad


This lady appears for less than 10 seconds in the film, yet she is by far the most interesting character in the entire ensemble.

I went to see The Hobbit: The Disenfranchisement of Smaug. I cannot really say anything I didn't already say about the first one. What follows is a snippet of one of the strange mental gymnastic routines that happens to me when thinking about justifying narrative issues.

Scene: a group of friends are playing a tabletop role-playing game, not unlike Dungeons & Dragons. There is Pete (the Dungeon Master), Ian (a Wizard), Eva (an Elf), John (a Dwarf), Vickie (a Ranger), and Fran (a Hobbit). Their game is very loosely based on The Hobbit, where the DM has decided to make a few changes for the sake of inclusion and to keep the group's interest. Everything in italics is "in character," with breaks in character denoted by normal text.

DM: You now take in the sights around you, shaking the fish-slime from your eyes. An eclectic and unusual town stretches beyond. It is not built on the shore, though there are a few huts and buildings there, but right out on the surface of the lake, protected from the swirl of the entering river by a promontory of rock which forms a calm bay. A great bridge made of wood ran out to where on huge piles made of forest trees was built a busy wooden town, not a town of elves but of Men, who still dared to dwell here under the shadow of the distant dragon-mountain. They still throve on the trade that came up the great river from the South and was carted past the falls to their town; but in the great days of old, when Dale in the North was rich and prosperous, they had been wealthy and powerful, and there had been fleets of boats on the waters, and some were filled with gold and some with warriors in armour, and there had been wars and deeds which were now only a legend. The rotting piles of a greater town could still be seen along the shores when the waters sank in a drought. Among the townsfolk you see strange people unlike any you've seen in Bree - men with dark beards and unusual garb, ladies with strange eyes and silken hair, a woman with the darkest skin you've ever seen on a human - 

The Wizard: Where did they come from?

DM: (Sighs) Is this going to be a problem for you, Ian?

The Wizard: Is what going to be a problem?

(The rest of the group sighs and mutters, knowing what's coming next)


Saturday, 30 November 2013

Made It, Ma! Top of the World!


Today was a big day for me: the day where I take a new step towards respectability as a comic artist. The kind folk of the Dutch Gable House hosted a vintage craft faire, and I was invited to host a stall. Since the event had a general arty-crafty vibe mixed with Art Nouveau/Deco stylings of The Great Gatsby, I figured it would be cool to do some portraiture. I added a little twist: I took the neurological phenomenon of pareidolia, and spun it into a paranormal context - i.e. it isn't that people perceive imagery in everyday vision, but that that imagery spontaneously appears of its own accord.



PAREIDOLIC
PORTRAITURE

Alexander J. Harron, Esq

PAREIDOLIA

From Ancient Greek; παρα (para, "amiss, wrong") + εδωλον (eidōlon, "image")

Have you ever seen something unusual within an otherwise mundane object?

Perhaps an ANIMAL appears in the CLOUDS?

A WORD in the branches of a TREE?

A FACE in a layer of SOOT?

YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

This phenomenon is known as PAREIDOLIA – where a seemingly innocuous visual stimulus reveals a greater significance – and has been recorded throughout history!

The Neanderthals of Lasceaux conjured visions of MAMMOTHS upon the walls of a CAVE using only PIGMENTS and PAINT! The Ancient Egyptians used this craft to TRANSFORM what was once a normal mass of limestone into THE GREAT SPHINX OF GIZA! The illustrious Michelangelo materialized no less than THE HEAVENS THEMSELVES upon the ceiling of THE SISTINE CHAPEL!

VISAGES DRAWN FORTH!

This is but a piece of PAPER inscribed with INK. The paper was made from wood shavings as has been the fashion for centuries; the pen forged in the standard industrial manner.




Yet lo and behold, appearing upon this ordinary paper – A FACE EMERGES!
How can this be? NONE CAN SAY FOR SURE.

MASTERING PAREIDOLIA

Most examples of PAREIDOLIA occur seemingly at random – faces, creatures, or patterns seen in natural environments. But with tuition, and nerve, YOU TOO can evoke this arcane power of the ages!



It is not only stone, marble, paint or other such esoteric materials which can be used to draw forth spectral visages – tools as simple as PENCILS and PAPER!

With the secret method known as DRAWING, practitioners of PAREIDOLIC PORTRAITURE pierce the veil between worlds, and DRAW FORTH images – capturing them in this world with the materials you see before you!


  

Even something as simple as TWO DOTS and A CURVED LINE, juxtaposed correctly and clearly sketched, can summon shapes into YOUR VERY HANDS!


THE OASIS

Two travellers were crossing a vast desert, when they saw an oasis in the distance. One traveller was an artist, and so chose to set down an easel and paint the oasis; the other traveller was dehydrated, and hurried forward, intent on sating their thirst. After some time, the artist finished a wonderful painting; the other failed to reach the oasis.

In truth, the oasis both travellers saw was a MIRAGE – it was not real. And yet the artist achieved their goal to paint the oasis – while the other traveller failed. And perished in the attempt. As far as the artist was concerned, the oasis was real – but to the other traveller, it was not.

Who’s to say who was wrong or right?

PAREIDOLIA
FOR YOUR
DOMICILE
Alexander J. Harron, esq, has generously allocated some time from his tireless studies in the field of PAREIDOLIC PORTAITURE to grant the customers of VIOLET SKULLS a most extraordinary opportunity – a UNIQUE PAREIDOLIC PORTRAIT!

Give it to your sweetheart, ensconce it within a picture frame, hang it upon your wall, dangle it from your locket for identification purposes, or simply display it in your drawing room as an unusual conversation piece!


For more elaborate or ambitious PAREIDOLIC PORTRAITURE, consult with Mr. Harron for possible future opportunities – though be aware that his time is precious, and he treats EVERY project with the GREATEST of MAGNITUDE.

Mr Harron also insists that his work MUST NEVER be used in conjunction with fraud, perjury, confidence trickery, witchcraft, voodoo, necromancy, black sorcery, copyright infringement, inkblot testing, or other malefic magicks – the consequence could be most grave, and Mr Harron cannot be held responsible for loss of property, possessions, sanity, or souls.
Art really is quite bizarre, when you think about it.

So this is it: my first stall, selling my art and scribbling away. Not very fancy, ridiculously cluttered, and nerves were wracked and wrought, but I turned up and lasted the day. After seeing such talented folk as Morag Kewell, Craig Collins, Neil Slorance, Ben Templesmith, Onrie Kompan, Jared Sams, Giulie Speziani, Rob Harrington, Denae Frazier, Val Hochberg, Natali Sanders, Jolene Houser, and too many others to recall, I knew that some day, I would get there. Some day, with work, confidence and guile, I would get a wee corner at a gathering, and do what they do. So many thanks to Violet Skulls Market for hosting me, the preposterously generous Mhairi M. Robertson for being a wonderful neighbouring artist, my tireless family for the support and assistance that got me through, my friends who never doubted in my abilities when I most needed validation, and all the artists who awed me at their stalls from Glasgow to Phoenix who told me "yes, you can do it too."

You were right, guys! You were right!