Posts Tagged ‘H.P. Lovecraft’

Why eight questions? Because I had more than five and less than ten! Actually, there are more than eight because of grouping the questions by subject but – and you probably don’t care about any explanation I provide.

Moving on!

Over the summer I started reading more prose fiction to shake things up between comic book trades and I was fortunate to come across a spectacular, mostly coming-of-age, story of magic, music, and the harsh reality of growing up: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in Mexico City and jumping between 1988 and 2009, Signal to Noise follows Mercedes “Meche” Vega who discovers her love of music, and the right vinyl, can cast magic spells. Roping in her friends Sebastian silviaand Daniela, the trio use magic to change their lives for the better, but the consequences of their actions result in a decades long estrangement.

The book comes highly recommended by io9’s Charlie Jane Anders and I couldn’t agree with her more. Signal to Noise is an intimate look at a young woman searching for a solid foundation, something she can believe in, trust in, but always comes up short. Meche’s exterior and interior turmoil makes for a complex and nuanced protagonist who is as frustrating as she is sympathetic.

In light of my new found book to gush over, I reached out to Silvia Moreno-Garcia and she was kind enough to answer several questions, via email, about Signal to Noise and her forth-coming anthology, She Walks in Shadows, which looks at the works of H.P. Lovecraft through his female characters – or lack thereof.

 

Maniacal Geek (MG): Though Signal to Noise is a coming-of-age story, the magical elements are secondary, acting more as a catalyst than being a consistently present force. Is this how you perceive the role of magic in urban fantasy or did it just serve this specific story?

Silvia Moreno-Garcia (SMG): For many Anglo writers and readers magic must work as a system, a kind of D&D system. I wanted to play with this notion, with how much you can systematize magic, versus the magicwhich appears in Latin American fiction which works in a completely different matter. So that the result is this is not quite magic realism and not quite urban fantasy.

MG: Meches grandmother doesnt mind telling stories about magic but shes reluctant to use it and only does so to save Sebastian from Meches recklessness. In your opinion, is magic the folly of youth?

SMG: I leave it up to the reader to figure that out.

MG: Music is the connective tissue that keeps Meche tied to her father and becomes her means of casting spells. What is your relationship with music and how did it influence Signal to Noise?

SMG: My parents both worked in radio stations. Thats the kind of environment I grew up in. We had a lot of albums stacked around the house. I used my fathers professional tape recorder to make mixtapes. That kind of thing. My son now has a portable record player. My grandfather was also a radio announcer so the fear is its genetic.

MG: (Silly question alert!) Which album would be your object of power?JoshJoplinGroup-UsefulMusic

SMG: Josh Joplins Useful Music.

MG: Coming from a comic book background myself, theres been an ongoing discussion about the flawed female protagonist, which Meche definitely fits. Were you worried that people might not be able to relate to Meche? Do we have to relate to a character like Meche? How do you feel Meche has grown as a character by the end of the book?

SMG: Ugh. Relatable, likeable characters, eh? There are so many famous characters in books you cant relate to and the books do just fine. You have criminals like Tom Ripley and Dexter in multiple novels. And in the romance novel the brooding hero is a staple. I dont find Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester to be relatable since Im not a white billionaire living in the age of carriages. Theyre not super likeable either, mad wife in attic and all. But women. Ah, we are much harder on women. Women better be fucking perfect and relatable.

Look, Im Mexican, I grew up without a lot of the bells and whistles Americans take for granted. Theres not a lot of people I can relate to in books. Not Holden from Catcher in the Rye, not Bella in Twilight. So *I* can relate to Meche.

So no, I didnt worry that Meche was likeable or relatable, although Ive heard from many people that they can relate to her.  If people find her interesting enough to follow her through the book I think thats enough.

As to how shes grown, I went to visit my friend who is now living in NY this year and I hadnt been there in about 14 years. At one point he said something which sounds pretty accurate. He said: Silvia, we are older but not more mature.Ill leave it at that.

MG: Do you believe Mexico has a greater cultural connection to magic? To music?

SMG: I grew up with a lot of folklore in my life and folk magic, but I believe this is unusual and certainly much more unusual for people younger than me. But you do see magic more openly, there is a witchs market in Mexico City where you can buy ingredients, there was an esoteric plazain a shopping mall near my home, and theres the witches in Catemaco who are quite famous. Some people still might visit the curandero, the healer, or believe in the evil eye. Things like that. But the influence of Anglo culture is erasing a lot of that.

MG: Youve edited several anthologies with horror themes with many specifically focused on H.P. Lovecrafts mythos. What attracts you to Lovecraft and the horror genre? Do you have a favorite Lovecraft story?she walks in shadows

SMG: “The Colour out of Space.My thesis work focuses on Lovecraft, eugenics and women so Im interested in him on an academic level and at a visceral one. I like all kinds of genres and read indiscriminately, from cheap, old pulp crime novels to modern dramatic lit. As a writer, horror is just one tool I can employ. As a reader, Ive always had a basic interest in terrible things.

MG: The latest anthology, She Walks in Shadows, explores Lovecraft through the feminine perspective and the explicit or ambiguously defined female characters. In your opinion does Lovecraft have an inherent feminist slant or did you see his writings as a challenge, something to meet head on for the anthology?

SMG: He barely has any women in his stories, so its a challenge. The writers are all showing a variety of visions of Lovecraftian characters, Weird fiction, and women. Women for Lovecraft exist as an absence, an unnamed presence, they are the lurking fear of his stories and we are bringing them to the forefront.

 

If you’d like to get your grubby mits on all of Silvia’s work currently available for purchase:

Signal to Noise: http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/books/signal-to-noise/

Love and Other Poisons: http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/bibliography/love-other-poisons/

You can also pre-order She Walks in Shadows and follow Silvia on Twitter!

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In the midst of the three-day walkabout that is Emerald City Comicon, I had the opportunity, thanks to the lovely team at Dark Horse Comics, to interview the writers of the Conan/Red Sonja crossover comic, Jim Zub and Gail Simone. First up was Jim Zub who was kind enough to set some time aside at his booth. The interview has been transcribed due to heavy background noise during recording. Jim Zub

 

Author’s note: All italics and parentheses have been added for emphasis and clarification.

 

Maniacal Geek: So, Conan/Red Sonja!

Jim Zub: Conan/Red Sonja.

MG: I read the issue the other night.

JZ: Issue three?

MG: Yep, issue three.

JZ: Awesome.

MG: So, if you can describe the process of working with Gail Simone first.

JZ: Sure. So, Gail was on the project first and she was the one that brought me on board. So even when I came into it she already had a couple ideas about how things could work. And I think the one thing that I’m really the most proud of that we worked out was – ya know this kind of a project, especially with characters who haven’t been teamed up in over fifteen years…

MG: Yeah, not since the movie, right?conanrs3p1

JZ: Right? You have them when they’re young and they’re vibrant and then you have them when they’re older. And both eras of the characters are really amazing. And it’s like, man, if this is the only time I ever get to write Conan, I wanna do it all and Gail had this great idea that we would show a story that evolves as they get older. So the first chapter is, ya know, when they’re young and impetuous and then as the things that they do in that first chapter come to roost in the later chapters.

MG: The bloodroot and everything?

JZ: Exactly. And so we wanted to create this – it enlarges the scope of the story and it makes it that much more epic, but it also allows us to show how the characters have evolved and how their attitudes have changed. So Conan has become much more serious. Ya know, in the early one Sonja is very harsh, she’s very prickly, and then as she gets a little bit older she’s a bit freer and Conan has sort of shut down after Bêlit’s death. He’s just, ya know, much more morose and kinda grim about the whole thing. And that – being able to show the contrast between them and the shift in time I feel like is one of the most – it’s something I’m really proud of in the series. And then, ya know, just being able to have this big sweeping adventure. You get to have that pirate, swashbuckling era. You get to have the ragtag thieves.

MG: Gladiatorial…

JZ: Exactly! We get to – literally it’s like a – the best of collection for me, it’s like the greatest hits of Conan and we just get to hit all these high notes all the way through. And that was just the best feeling. Ya know I can’t adequately describe…my name on a Conan book feels absolutely surreal.

MG: Is it one of those things that you kind of always dreamed of but never –conanrs3p2

JZ: Yeah, I grew up on it. I just never thought it would even be possible. Ya know I read the Conan comics growing up and I read the novels and that just felt like, well that’s what those people do. Not that I would ever be able to do that. So having my small little piece of the pie that’s pretty amazing.

MG: One of things that struck me with the third issue is that you’re really laying down this foundation of legacy. The storytelling to the prince. Is there something about that that just goes into the old novels or are you trying to play up the sweeping epic?

JZ: I think it’s a bit of both. I mean you wanna give a sense of…that this is not just an adventure that takes place in the moment but that it changes and it is recorded and it will be spoken of for a long time. I mean, that’s the nature of a legend, right? And we’re talking about two characters that are legendary and so being able to give it that – without trying to sound corny – that gravitas, like to say this is something that is – will be spoken of – this is not just these characters experiencing it but something that will echo outwards. And that’s, ya know, that great epic fantasy, that’s what they do and so that’s really very much the voice that was established even by Kurt Busiek when he was doing his run on the series and we looked to that and said, “Okay, we wanna run with it.” But Roy Thomas did that kinda stuff too. He would do this really poetic kind of prose and narration in his comics. It’s funny sometimes when you’re writing it you feel like, man, are we going over the top? But Conan feels like it can absorb it. It’s so big and he’s such a powerful character that even if it feels like you’re going too much you’re just right there. Like that’s where it should be.

MG: You feel like you’re going too far but, in fact, you’re not going far enough!

JZ: No, you’re right there. Right in the thick of it. You just wanna push it right to the edge in terms of the narrative quality or the intensity of those emotions and the poetic way you say it. And every so often I would find myself, I would write a sentence and I would go, “Am I nuts? Is this – did we – did we go tip it over the top?” And then we would, I would go back and I’d kinda read it out loud and my wife or other people would be like, “No, man, that’s totally Conan.” I’m like, “Wow! This is cool!” We get to really dig in on that kind of prose.

MG: Is there a particular metaphor that you’re proud of?

JZ: In the first issue we’ve got this – hold on, I – see I want to get the wording of it right and actually read it to you because I’m so proud of it.

MG: You have to do the voices too.conan-red-sonja-1-conan

JZ: Yeah, okay that’s a trick. Whenever I do a script and it’s got a – particularly licensed characters – I always read it back in the character’s voice so I feel like it has the right cadence. So, it’s corny but it’s totally useful.

MG: Lay on, Macduff.

JZ: Right here, right, so he [Conan] jumps over this gate and he smashes this guy in the face and as it’s happening the guard screams, “Gods above!” And he [Conan] goes, “Gods, you say? No, just a Cimmerian born with an appetite for things kept hidden behind steel and stone.” It’s just something, I don’t know, that’s like a badass way to introduce a character. He just comes out of nowhere and beats the hell out of people.

MG: Well why not?

JZ: It’s Conan, he can take that. So I’m proud of that one. I’m proud of the issue that hasn’t come out yet, issue four has got some – we go all epic. The original Howard stories – Robert E. Howard was actually – he was a pen pal with H.P. Lovecraft and you notice in a bunch of his stories he has a very almost Cthullian approach to the supernatural. Conan doesn’t just fight something, he fights something that could melt your mind or is beyond the universe’s ability to comprehend kind of stuff. And I always found that stuff very visceral and so I told Gail really early – we made a wishlist of all the cool things, ya know, we have a gladiatorial scene, and we have pirates, and we have this. And I said, one of my – on my wishlist was creature beyond the universe; creature of the unknown and she’s like, “Oh yeah, let’s do this!”

MG: I feel like Gail would be on board with anything.

JZ: I got to put one of those into issue four and all the prose around that makes me very happy.Wayward01A-teaser

MG: Especially with high fantasy because it’s like science fiction, it’s a sponge for everything. You can just – you’ve been doing that with, a little bit with Wayward and Skullkickers and then Samurai Jack. It’s all within kinda the same umbrella.

JZ: Yeah, totally, and I feel like…some people say to me, “Oh, you’re a sword and sorcery writer.” I’m like, “No, I wanna tell stories.” I like fantasy and I like magic but it’s broader than that. It’s about empowerment and it’s about excitement and I feel like these are great vehicles for excitement. In whatever I’m writing I want it to be action-packed and entertaining. Some of those are more comical and some of those are more serious but there’s an intensity to them.

MG: Definitely and I can’t think of a better way to end it.

JZ: Thank you so much.

MG: Thank you! I appreciate it and I loved having you on the podcast before.

JZ: It was a lot of fun, I really appreciate it.

MG: Yeah, no, you and Andy [Suriano] are like one of my favorites.

JZ: We’re having so much fun with [Samurai] Jack. The last issue, 20, comes out in, well it’s a little delayed now because of shipping, but it’s coming out in June and it is, like, it’s like our coda on the series. I tried to sum everything up and say, okay, if they never do an animated ending for Samurai Jack this is what I wanna say, drop the mic, and walk away.1 gOXhpN2a-nGNEnB24oR1sw

MG: Are they cutting you off?

JZ: Well yeah, but they gave us enough notice so we could go out the way we wanted.

MG: That’s good ’cause you don’t always get that.

JZ: Oh yeah, absolutely. The show didn’t get that! So, the last thing you wanna do is cut off the comic.

MG: Exactly. Thanks, Jim!

JZ: Thanks!

Night Vale LogoNot too long ago, I had the chance to see a live show of Welcome to Night Vale as the popular podcast does its tour of the West Coast. The audience was kindly asked not to reveal any details of the touring script since it would eventually be recorded as an actual episode of the podcast, so this won’t exactly be a recounting of the funny as hell and eerily satisfying experience of watching a live performance piece. Instead, I’d rather focus on why Night Vale works as theater and as a podcast. Why has a, until recently, unknown podcast combining elements of Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, George Orwell, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Rod Serling, and David Lynch captured the imaginations of fans around the world? Simply put: Night Vale relies on the fans to fill in the blanks, creating the world of Night Vale through a combination of being very specific and very vague.

Created over a year ago by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast centered around the town of Night Vale – which seems to be in an as-yet unknown location in the American Southwest – and the seemingly mundane things that happen to occur there as reported by the Night Vale Community Radio host, Cecil Palmer, voiced by Cecil Baldwin. On any given day, Cecil could report on the angels that took up residence with Old Woman Josie for a time, the Dog Park that no one is allowed to go to, speak about, or think of, or the helicopters of various colors that correspond to specific groups keeping tabs on the town. There are also several ongoing storylines such as the upcoming mayoral election between Hiram McDaniels (a five-headed dragon) and the Faceless Old Woman (the one who lives in your home), the current corporate infiltration of Night Vale by StrexCorp, and Cecil’s relationship with Carlos, a scientist who moved to Night Vale to study the phenomena that make it the “most scientifically interesting community in the U.S.”

Hiram McDaniels tumblr_mr6v0qvbBd1rl3zxmo1_500

Art by meeshyarts

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in the seemingly normal town where a mountain can randomly appear and citizens are mandated by the local government to eat at a pizza place once a week on penalty of a misdemeanor. Within each roughly 25 minute episode, listeners are given more insight into the workings of Night Vale while also being treated to the entertainingly weird underbelly of the town and its residents. The popularity of the podcast is due entirely to its fanbase, which is true of any podcast, but Night Vale’s rise has an element of interaction with its fans that differs from other popular podcasts like This American Life, The Nerdist, and The Moth. Night Vale isn’t about interviewing a celebrity or telling personal stories. Night Vale is theater of the mind, a program that requires its fans to “see” everything that’s happening based solely on Cecil’s descriptions. Because of this, the imagination of the fanbase is an additional element of Night Vale’s popularity and its success.

Like most radio shows, Night Vale has to be overly descriptive in order to establish its own reality and set the tone of each episode. So when Hiram McDaniels is revealed to be an “eighteen-foot-tall, five-headed dragon, weighing 3,600 pounds” and each head has differently colored eyes and voices, we get a picture of him in our minds but there’s also enough latitude there that someone with artistic talent could take the description and create a version of Hiram that’s no less accurate than another fan’s rendition. In contrast, incumbent Mayor Pamela Winchell has had very little said in the way of her personal appearance, but Cecil has provided many broadcasts that describe her near-demonic personality, which also allows the imaginations of fans to run with what they think Pamela looks like. Similarly, we have a vague idea of what Carlos looks like based on how Cecil described him in the pilot episode, but in 39 episodes of the podcast we have absolutely no idea of what Cecil looks like. Some have used his voice actor as a template, but many fans have essentially crafted their own image of Cecil out of thin air, though there does seem to be a running theme of adding a third eye. Even the community of Night Vale is a vague collection of buildings and landmarks, none of which are entirely set in stone by some map of the area. By keeping it intentionally vague, the creators can easily use the layout of the city at their leisure, but it still allows the fans to speculate and create. Plus, it’s really hard to put a house that may not exist on a map.

Cecil and Carlos spam_vale_by_littleulvar-d6jy07g

Art by littleulvar

Night Vale has also benefited greatly from social media outlets, specifically tumblr, where fans have formed their own communities that share insights on the episodes or whatever pieces they’ve created to express their fandom. Again, it’s no different from any other podcast, television show, or movie with loyal fans. But Night Vale isn’t like Supernatural, which has a healthy and active fanbase present on pretty much every social media platform. Supernatural is a live-action television show, one that gives its fanbase visual depictions of its characters and settings. So if someone dresses up like Castiel, Dean, or Sam there are ways in which that costume or any pieces of art can be compared to the television counterpart. Night Vale’s cast and settings exist entirely in the head cannon of the fanbase. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone criticized because their Glow Cloud costume wasn’t accurate. More so than live-action or animated programs, Night Vale lives and breathes on the investment of the fanbase in the show and the characters. God forbid Cecil and Carlos ever broke up is all I’m saying.

That’s why I think the live shows continue to work. Very little changes in terms of how the show is presented except for a live musical performance for the weather segment and the presence of Cecil Baldwin reading the script. Cecil is still in character and the news reported is still of the same quality. The only real difference is the presence of the audience, but even then there’s still a sense of the audience perpetuating the illusion of the podcast. Sure, there are more audible reactions to what Cecil reports, but the audience doesn’t need visual cues. We know Carlos, Steve Carlsberg, and Tamika Flynn but we don’t need the live show to give us a definitive image. We already have the idea in our heads and all we really need is Cecil to transport us to a sleepy little desert town where our existence is not impossible, but it’s also highly unlikely.