Tag Archives: comics

Into The Weird: Exploring The Swords and Sorcery Genre

So I’m nearing the completion of Warglaive Volume One’s second draft. As this is a book largely inspired by Sword and Sorcery (and to a lesser extent Planetary Romance) , I wanted to explore some of my favorite aspects of this once-popular genre. What makes it distinct from the Tolkienesque or D&D-inspired fare of today? Here’s a few thoughts on what I feel are the genre’s essential elements.

The Weird, Pulpy Settings

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One of the things I find really lacking in much of “modern” fantasy is the sense of the truly weird. Fantasy nowadays is filled with familiar tropes and archetypes such as your orcs, elves, dwarves and manual monsters. Back in the 20’s and 30’s however, these tropes weren’t anywhere near as prevalent. Before the widespread appeal of Tolkien and D&D, pulp fiction authors came up with a weird cocktail blend of jungle opera, cosmic horror and mythic adventure.

You never quite knew what you were going to get with a “fantasy” story, as the “genre” wasn’t playing by any rules yet.  One story might have wizards in an Aztec-style temple attempting to stop a giant ape, while another might have Throngar the Barbarian astrally projecting himself through NYC’s Central Park. One of my favorite author quotes comes from an interview with Michael Moorcock, where he compares fantasy to early rock n’ roll. This was back in the day when “rock n roll” meant everything from Black Sabbath, to Led Zeppelin and DEVO.  And in his words, when you know what to expect from rock n’ roll, “the rock n’ roll dies.”

There were downsides to this approach, namely that the worldbuilding was usually far less rigorous than that of Epic Fantasy. Fantasy readers, especially in the age of the internet and wikis, tend to enjoy more fleshed-out and lore-rich worlds like Middle Earth. However, Tolkien’s influence is a double-edged sword, in that most of these secondary worlds look suspiciously like Frodo’s.

One thing I think many people forget is that despite coining the term, Tolkien’s Secondary World really isn’t one in the strictest sense. Like Hyboria and the world of the Wheel of Time series, Middle-Earth is meant to be our world from a long-forgotten age. The trend these days however, is completely different universes, such as World of Warcraft’s Azeroth. These worlds tend to have a very “familiar” feeling though, which makes me wonder…what happened to the fantasy? For such a fantastical genre, it can be awfully derivative at times…

Which leads up back to pulp Sword and Sorcery. While it does have its tropes, said tropes are spread out across a million genres ranging from horror to sci-fi, dark and heroic fantasy, sometimes crossing into full-blown slipstream. And that’s something I really love about this style of fantasy fiction.

Speaking of which…

The Sci-Fi and Horror Elements

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I’m the sort of person who really likes sci-fi peanut butter in my fantasy chocolate if you couldn’t tell. The juxtaposition of science and sorcery is one of my favorite tropes, and something I feel the writers and creators of the 60’s and 70’s really took advantage of. Ralph Bakshi’s excellent film Wizards is a microcosm of the cultural struggles and fears of the time, pitting an evil Nazi sorcerer against the good Fey folk of the woods.

Horror is yet another major influence in the S&s genre. While I previously discussed the “weird” aspect,  Gothic, Post-Apocalypse and other Horror tropes are also present. A good example of this is the influence of the “mad scientist” trope in games like Path of Exile, where ancient temples and eldritch horrors coexist with frightful technology. Creeping crypts, horrific monsters, unspeakable cults and dark magic are all common fantasy tropes “borrowed” from the horror side of Sword & Sorcery. Which is something largely born from pulp authors borrowing from one another’s respective settings.

When I first started writing, I started writing horror. Halloween’s always been tied with Christmas as my favorite holiday, and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every episode of Tales From the Crypt. Which is why the horror stuff in pulp fantasy appeals to me so much. There’s just something really bad-ass about heroes going toe-to-toe with monsters that utterly terrorize in other stories. Sure, the vampies in Salem’s Lot are spooky, but Conan has f*cked vampires up beyond recognition and that’s just cool.

Individual Heroes Struggling Against a Dangerous World

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Though it’s the third item on this list, individualism is arguably the most important facet of this genre. According to an article on the genre by Black Gate Magazine:

“Sword and sorcery tells the tales of men who are free from all constraint. Their stature and skill mean they are free from the tyranny of other men. Their birth and raising free them from the morals and mores of society, and the lack of higher powers unbinds them from any concept of fate. Thus the heroes of sword and sorcery become the true representatives of free-will, and through their stories, readers are able to imagine the capabilities and the triumphs of men who are completely free to chart their own destiny.”

Heroes such as this are notably different from those in Heroic and Epic fantasy stories, who often work in service of a higher power. These stories are often inspired by myths and epics, while Sword and Sorcery’s roots lie largely in the culture of the Pulps. Stories written for and by working-class individuals, from the same cultural landscape that brought us heroes like Superman.

And ultimately, I feel that’s why the archetypes of Sword and Sorcery (if not always the genre itself in fiction) has lasted as long as it has. Conan for all his failings, was a hero of the downtrodden, freeing slaves and saving those who needed his help. Is he a selfish character compared to say, Superman? Hell yes. He was after all, created as a power fantasy for the dock-workers, factory men and youths who flocked to his stories. But beyond that, he and other heroes like him represent the power to affect change (good or ill) of their own volition, free from (and often against) the will of deities, daemons and meddling kings. Which is just as powerful and timeless a message as you can get.

The Bad and the Ugly

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There are of course, issues with the genre despite all my gushing. And while some of the decline of Sword and Sorcery can be chalked up to over-exposure in the 80’s, there are other reasons.

One of the biggest culprits in my opinion is the pulp short story format. The formula where Conan, or other pulp heroes like The Shadow would encounter an enemy/trial, defeat it, and repeat the cycle anew. While great for one-off stories in the era of newsstands, in today’s Netflix-and-Kindle focused landscape, this sort of storytelling is sub-optimal. People love progression, and characters that dynamically change over time. Which isn’t to say that Robert E. Howard’s characters never changed (Barbarian to Pirate to King). But said stories were done in a very episodic, almost monster-of-the-issue sort of way.

Nowadays with the aforementioned Netflix and Kindle, it’s much easier to include story and character progression without having to worry if you missed an issue of Weird Tales. And as a result, modern readers have begun leaning more towards doorstopper epics and even web serials.  Although one notable figure who transitioned to new online stardom is H.P. Lovecraft, whose work was introduced to many a modern kid via the “creepypasta” (necro)phenomenon.

There’s also the overexposure the genre had in the 1980’s, after a glut of genuinely terrible films like Deathstalker, Ladyhawke, Red Sonja, Krull, Conquest, Hawk the Slayer (it’s rubbish, deal with it) and many more. There were also a number of knock-off Conan characters in toys, comic books and novels that sanded off the bloody, sexual edge and made it woefully PG-rated. By the time the 90’s rolled in, everything “cool” about Sword and Sorcery had been cannibalized by both Heroic Fantasy (Barbarian characters, big monsters, epic adventures) and Grimdark (all the violence, sex, nudity and horror).

Sadly, the sense of the truly weird got lost as a result, as did many of the strange and alien locales. Gone was the sci-fi, and the weird horror. And while there are many aspects of Sword and Sorcery that can use an update, I feel there’s still a lot of elements unique to the genre that can still work. Whether they be other genres borrowing from the classic pulps, or new takes on old styles of storytelling, there’ll always be a future for Swords and Sorcery!

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Beware the Red Ripper! My Horror Short Story is Coming Soon From Gray Haven Comics (The Gathering: Horror V)

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So a while back, before I decided to write prose, I took a stab at writing comics. I made it into a couple of anthologies, and it’s largely thanks to these that I got my start as a writer.

The story is a riff on the classic “teenage boy becomes superhero” story, only said superpowers turn him into a slasher killer! Can Raul Garcia stave off the slow but inevitable transformation into a masked monster? Or can he save a piece of his humanity?

It’s worth noting here that I’m credited as “Alex Moya,” which…is my real name. Yes, Martin J. Ashwood is a pen name. Not for anonymity’s sake, but because I designed some mockup (novel) book covers and the name “Alex Moya” looked like garbage on all of them. Not exactly the most exciting Secret Origin of my author superhero name, but it is what it is.

The Gathering: Horror V will hit comic store shelves soon, so keep an eye peeled for the Red Ripper if you enjoy some horror/urban fantasy goodness. And check out the Gray Haven Facebook page for more info on Horror V and all their other comics anthologies!

An Interview with Christopher Wolf, aka “Slimebeast,” Creepypasta Author Extraordinaire

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‘Tis the season for spooks and scares, which means I’ll be taking a break from my general focus on fantasy to bring you some Horror! And not just any horror, but a sneak peek at the web’s weirdest and wildest writing sub-genre…the Creepypasta. These short scare-stories often make their debut as writing simply done for fun, but occasionally go viral in a big way, propelling their authors to internet stardom.

Christopher Wolf is one such author, responsible for the infamous Abandoned by Disney short story, and writer of several other horror-themed stories. I sat down with him recently to discuss Creepypasta, how the internet shapes writing, and the viral nature of web-based media.

MARTIN: So Christopher, as a fan of horror fiction and Creepy Pasta, I’m already familiar with your work. But I’m sure there’s still a lot of folks out there who have no idea what it’s all about. Why is it creepy, and where do noodles fit into all this? Can you give us all a quick rundown of what exactly this web-based horror subgenre is?

CHRISTOPHER: “Creepypasta” began as corruption of the word “Copypasta”, or “copy/paste”. The original term referred to bits of text that could be easily copy/pasted on various forums in order to share them. Creepypasta, naturally, is the horror version. Usually short horror stories that could be spread across the web. Creepypasta as an idea has grown a bit beyond that, including a lot of different forms of creative work. People consider images and games to be part of the Creepypasta “world”, now. It has also produced a lot of sub-genres, such as Cr*ppypasta, Trollpasta, Iconpasta, and so on.

MARTIN: You’re the author of one of the more famous Pastas, Abandoned by Disney. It’s gained a bit of viral fame, with dramatic readings and reactions on Youtube. In fact, I watched a Disney Parks fan video not too long ago and even they referenced the story! How does it feel knowing that a short web story you wrote has become that huge?

CHRISTOPHER: It’s nice to know people enjoyed it, and are still enjoying it. “Abandoned by Disney” was written during a period of time when I would sit on a forum at 2AM and just write out something strange until I was tired and went to bed. So, naturally, to see any of those stories shared on a global scale, translated into various languages, and inspiring other creators, can be confusing and wonderful.

MARTIN: So aside from the aforementioned “Pastas”, what other stories have you worked on, web-based or otherwise?

CHRISTOPHER: I’ve been trying to make the move away from Creepypasta, to “FearFic”, or “Fear Fiction”. Something that will ideally provide a more open area to work in, even if it’s just a label. With Creepypasta, there’s a strong idea that you must be writing something similar to Slenderman, Jeff the Killer, and so on. When you present work that very much doesn’t fit any of those molds, it tends to be overlooked or
rejected as not following the tropes and traditions. Prior to getting involved in the genre, I wrote comic book scripts. Mostly unpublished, but a few found homes with indie presses. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek graphic novel reimagining the 1920s film “Nosferatu” as a modern film in 2010, which is probably still available online somewhere. I also have another comedic look at horror, titled “Love Monster: The Ballad of Baghead”, which is available on Amazon. Beyond that, I’ve written short fiction here and there over the years, but nothing people would probably recognize. More for my own enjoyment and local distribution through zines, and the like. (You might also find something kind of interesting if you were to look up facelessinc.com, but it’s in the middle of getting a redesign.)

MARTIN: As a horror writer, do you ever feel that Creepypasta or horror fiction in general is a current target of scapegoating or censorship? I recently watched the HBO Slenderman documentary, and while I found it interesting, I also felt the film carried with it a slightly unfortunate message. The idea that internet-based independent entertainment is “dangerous,” especially for children. It almost feels as if it’s a modern (albeit less prevalent) version of the EC comics scare. Would you happen to have any thoughts on this?

CHRISTOPHER: In this case, I think Creepypasta benefited a lot from being a largely unknown genre. At least as far as mainstream news and entertainment was concerned at the time. Blaming video games, movies, and music brings in a lot of interest. Creepypasta, not so much. I think that, at a certain point, the majority of the “controversy” was coming from the community rather than outside sources… Sort of like a major PR issue would actually validate us. It was a weird time. I feel like we’ve successfully gotten past the problem. Slenderman as a character will always have the stigma, but I think the general realm of Creepypasta is unaffected, personally.

MARTIN: Can you tell us a bit about your Kickstarter project? Looks like some scary fun!

CHRISTOPHER: A few years ago, I wrote a story that “explained” where lost episodes of TV shows and movies come from. Essentially, it was a meta origin for a really popular sub-genre of Creepypasta. People would write stories about haunted VHS tapes, episodes of cartoons that suddenly turned scary, and so on. In my story, they were all created by a single person who was obsessed with re-cutting and replacing recordings of popular media. So now, I’ve sort of expanded on that general concept with the Creepypasta Field Guide. It lists 30 (or more, based on stretch goals) Creepypasta monster and killer “types”. The Stabby Teen, the Faceless Stranger, the Redactive Researcher, and so on. I then gave them various original origins and histories. Each character is described in detail so any prospective “victim” can identify them on sight. Basically, I’ve tried to disassemble all of the cliches and tropes regarding Creepypasta characters, and form them into a fun, funny read that will show off just what makes each type of creature unique… or not so unique, in some cases.

I’m hoping to fund the book well enough to commission an artist named Nikita Kaur to illustrate each of the original entries in the book. I feel like it lends an additional “Monster Manual” style to the project. Hopefully, this book will be something to go back and read over and over again as time goes on. Every time you see a new Creepypasta Icon emerge, you can go back and determine which type it is!

MARTIN: So what are some future projects you’d like to work on, or are currently planning?

CHRISTOPHER: Right now I have a bunch of projects going. I launched TooSpooky.com a while back as a place for authors to show their work, get critique, etc. without having to be “ready” to post them to other Creepypasta sites that require a finished version. There’s also FearFic.com, where I’ve enabled people to archive stories without the fear of having it deleted by staff for “not being horror” or being unrealistic, etc.
Beyond that, I’ve also launched a “Fear Fiction Podcast” on YouTube along with Abysmii and Dead Palette. We essentially take a look at any and all horror-related stories from the internet (even romantic fan fiction) and just have a good time discussing the content… and our reading errors. Pretty much anything I’m doing is linked at my main homepage, Slimebeast.com. Every so often I write an original story “inspired by” a popular pre exsting tale. I’m thinking of working with Eyeless Jack next.

MARTIN: How do you see the Internet affecting writers as a whole in the future. Like you said earlier, you were just writing these stories for fun, and they really kind of blew up. But with the advent of Youtube, Podcasts, Self-Publishing and even web serials like Worm, what do you feel the future of writing will be like?

CHRISTOPHER: I think the internet makes it a lot easier – and harder – for authors. It’s easier because anyone can (and should) publish their own work online, quickly and easily. It’s harder because that makes it very, very simple for others to take your work and use it inappropriately. For example, a Halloween mask company recently not only made a bootleg mask of a popular Creepypasta character (Laughing Jack), but actually had the audacity to copyright it. We’re in a weird place where creator’s rights are being trampled on a large scale. Since we’re talking about amateur authors for the most part, there’s little they can do about it. I feel like the future of writing on the internet will end up skewing toward authors becoming well-known/popular and then moving to closed platforms like Patreon. The more people are punished for freely sharing their art, the more we’ll all move away from the public forum. At least, that’s my personal prediction.

I guess if I had to give “advice” to anyone hoping to post “Creepypastas” or other creative work on the web, it’d be this… Enjoy yourself, do it for your own pleasure, and be ready to fight for your work. Don’t be shy about telling people what you do or don’t want. Look into Creative Commons licensing and pick the license that works best for you, then attach it to your work wherever you post it.

MARTIN: Aight, now for a spooky Halloween Question! As of now, you’re trapped in a room with the last horror monster you read about. You have at your disposal an iron crowbar, a crucifix, and a small bowl of mellowcreme pumpkins. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “not very” and ten being “I’m already dead,” how screwed are you?

CHRISTOPHER: I’d use the crowbar to open the door. 🙂

Christopher’s latest spooky creation, The Creepypasta Field Guide, is currently up on Kickstarter. With 40 days to go, there’s still plenty of time to jump on in and get yourself some backer rewards! You can also check out his website at http://slimebeast.com, or check out a narrated version of his original viral story for free on Youtube. Also, please consider liking and sharing this post on social media. Every share helps me get the word out about writing, and keeps the man with the traffic-cone face far away from your vital organs. Your precious…slippery vital organs….

And remember…avoid mirrors at 3:45 AM, or else ✡︎□︎◆︎🕯︎●︎●︎ ♌︎♏︎ ♐︎□︎❒︎♍︎♏︎♎︎ ⧫︎□︎ ❒︎♏︎♋︎♎︎ ■︎□︎⧫︎♒︎♓︎■︎♑︎ ♌︎◆︎⧫︎ ⧫︎♒︎♏︎ ♏︎❖︎♓︎●︎ ♍︎♒︎♓︎♍︎🙵♏︎■︎ ♌︎♓︎⧫︎ ♐︎❒︎□︎❍︎ ⧫︎♏︎❒︎❒︎⍓︎ ♑︎□︎□︎♎︎🙵♓︎■︎♎︎🕯︎⬧︎ ⬧︎⬥︎□︎❒︎♎︎ □︎♐︎ ⧫︎❒︎◆︎⧫︎♒︎📬︎

So I Found Dragon Ball Z Vol.1 at my Friends of the Library…

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So…Dragon Ball Fighter Z came out recently, and it seems the internet’s abuzz with DB fever! Though I didn’t get the game, I did find a small piece of OG Dragon Ball media in the form of a manga volume at my local Friends of the Library.

This is the first volume of the “Dragon Ball Z” manga, which is really just Dragon Ball Vol. 17 in Japan, if I remember correctly. It pretty much starts right off where the anime started, with Goku’s brother and gutter trash tier character imposing bad guy Raditz showing up.

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Honestly, I’m kind of shocked at how good the art is here. It looks just like the DBZ anime’s playing out in my hands! Except it’s bit more clean, expressive, punchy…and violent.

Anyway, it was a good read! I’m kind of tempted to do an in-depth post about the connection between DBZ and early American pulp fiction, because as my other posts might infer, I dig me some pulps.

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Weirdly enough, I also found Maus there, which was every bit as harrowing and sad a story as it’s made out to be. Everyone and their dog knows that though, and there’s really not much I can add to the conversation. It is kind of funny to think how utterly opposite DBZ and Maus are stylistically, though. One’s a sketchy family tale about a holocaust survivor…and the other’s a clean, sharply-detailed funnybook about martial artists firing laser beams at aliens.

It goes without saying, I quite enjoyed both though.