comics, i would like to recommend these people's writing, neopulp

“Creating Myths, Acting Them Out with Toys” – An interview with Brandon Barker

WorCovers  Attention conservation notice: this guy makes crazy fun toys and comics. I talked to him about bespoke action figures, comics and the pros and cons of nostalgia. (2564 words)

Brandon Barker is the man behind Warlords of Wor, a series of handmade limited-run toys coming out of Barker’s own ManOrMonster? Studios. Warlords of Wor celebrates 1980s fantasy barbarian action figures (think He-Man) right down to their awkward bodybuilder physiques, furry underpants and goofy names.

Figures released so far include the claw-handed Clawbber (“Two-fisted General of Justice!”), the evil scientist-turned-swamp-monster Bog-Nar (“Mutant Muck Menace!”) and the skull-headed albino gorilla Beastor-9 (“Twisted Abomination of Science!”).

In addition to the action figures, Brandon has released 5 minicomics featuring stories about the characters in the toy line. They’re fun little reads, great examples of shortform genre comic writing that pack a lot of plot and character in between action scenes and still leave time for a bunch of playful riffs on childrens’ activity books and the crazy ads you used to see in 1970s comic books.

What makes Warlords of Wor different from other retronostalgic offerings out there is that, while it’s following in the tradition of the toys and comics I loved as a kid (and still love), it never crosses the line into simple pastiche, mere mashup or thinly veiled fan fiction. They’re a great example of using tropes to tell new stories instead of slavishly referencing and remixing characters and stories that are already out there.

L-R: Bog-Nar the Mutant Muck Menace; Clawbber, Two-Fisted General of Justice; Beastor-9, Twisted Abomination of Science
L-R: Bog-Nar the Mutant Muck Menace; Clawbber, Two-Fisted General of Justice; Beastor-9, Twisted Abomination of Science

A little while back I got to swap some emails with Brandon, talking to him about how he got started making his own toys, how he negotiates the pitfalls of nostalgia and how he comes up with such cool and kooky names.

To start with, how did you get into making your own action figures?

I got interested in model kits when I was young, and I’ve always drawn and created in other ways, so building and customizing toys is something that developed very early for me.

“…it just takes a little DIY, punk rock spirit.”

I think the first “custom” toys I made were cyborg army men.  I would take green army men, cut off arms or legs, and glue on pieces of chrome model kit sprues (the plastic “trees” that model kit parts were attached to).  I would also repaint action figures to give them new, mission-specific outfits like night ops, desert camouflage, or arctic gear.

As an adult I decided I wanted to create my own comics and toy lines, so I just started doing it. The materials and resources are out there… it just takes a little DIY, punk rock spirit.

Continue reading ““Creating Myths, Acting Them Out with Toys” – An interview with Brandon Barker”

neopulp, people who are nice enough to publish me, short stories

Published: Masters of the Universe in Love

Over the last 6 weeks I’ve had a series of photos published on the inestimable Instagramazine, an instagram account run by Gemma Mahadeo. The deal with Instagramazine is that it publishes flash fictions that people write in response to photos that they or others have taken.

MOTUiLThe photos I took and the flashfics I wrote to accompany them are of my beloved Masters of the Universe action figure dollies catching a break from the humdrum of fighting and world-conquering and discovering and/or inventing pseudoscientific-cum-mystical weapons for fighting each other or conquering the world or preventing said fights and conquests and just hanging out with that certain special someone for a little while. Screen Shot 2015-11-18 at 9.19.12 am

I had a lot of fun setting up these photos and writing the stories to accompany them. It was a genuinely neopulp experience that captured exactly the way I like to humanise, whimsify and sentimentificate the tropes of fantasy and science fiction.

The photos and stories are all over on Instagramazine, which you can check out even if you don’t have an IG account, using the #mastersoftheuniverseinlove tag. But if you do have an IG, I’d recommend following @ig_ezine. It’s a fun, sweet little account.

i would like to recommend these people's writing, neopulp, people who are nice enough to publish me, short stories

Published: This Mutant Life: Bad Company

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Also last year I was pleased to score a further bite of the Kalamity Press cherry by being included in This Mutant Life: Bad Company, the second This Mutant Life anthology of NeoPulp superheroic fiction to arrive just in time like a streak of light, as it were.

This time around the focus is on the villainous side of the equation, which made it a perfect home for my little supervillain joint, aka “Heroes and Civilians”, a tale of a lovesick henchman coming up in the world.

There are some rocking stories in this collection, including:

  • Frank Byrns’s “No Chance”, about a superpowered spy infiltrating supervillain gang and finding out who the real baddies are
  • Susan Jane Bigelow’s Kick-Ass-meets-a-hero-with-actual-powers “Don’t Save Me”
  • William Akin’s “Menace of the Metal Men”, an odd poetry/prose mashup that’s nevertheless kinda cute and very vivid
  • Mark Floyd’s impeccable “The Return of The Imperion”, which is reminiscent of Austin Grossman at his best
  • Kathryn Hall’s emotionally gripping and sleekly written “Immortal”
  • Ben Langdon’s claustrophobic “Scratch That”, which admittedly reads more like a horror story than a supervillain piece
  • Eric Scott de Brie’s saucy and playful “Curse of the Bambino”

To be honest I wasn’t as wowed by Bad Company as I was by This Mutant Life. There’s just as much standout writing, but the weaker stories seem shakier and hokier and more lacking in focus than the album tracks in TML #1.

The other thing is that quite a few of the stories – even some of the standouts – don’t actually seem to be truly about the supervillain experience so to speak. Sure there are mad genii and monsters and world conquerors here, but you’ve also got a few antiheroes and straight-up knock-down drag-out tales pitting goodie v. baddie with no particular focus on either side of the struggle. there are even a couple – “Immortal” and “Curse of the Bambino” – that are really about superheroes.

That’s a minor point, though. Bad Company is another great anthology from the mind of Ben Langdon, but it works best as a companion volume to the first TML anthology. If you’re thinking of picking up only one of the two volumes, the first is a safer bet, but your NeoPulp collection would be well served by having both books on your shelf. If you’ve got the first one, Bad Company is a must. If you’re yet to pick up either then you should grab both together.

This Mutant Life: Bad Company is available as a paperback or ebook – choose your favourite format from the Kalamity Press store.

For more about the series, stay tuned to This Mutant Life.

Thanks to Ben for once again including me in a great little book, and for continuing to promote the NeoPulp cause.

Aramis Fox, neopulp

Sightings: Aramis Fox on ABC Open

Me, my Movember moustache and my dolls. Photo by Larissa Romensky.
Me, my Movember moustache and my little plastic men. Photo by Larissa Romensky.

Speaking of Larissa Romensky, she also did a piece on my erstwhile twitter novel, Aramis Fox, for the ABC Open Central Victoria page. We talked about how the idea to write a twitter novel came about, what it’s like to write one and the narrative appeal of superheroes.

Larissa was also rather taken with my cabinet full of action figures, hence the photo. Please excuse the hella skeezy two-week-old Movember moustache.

Interesting to note that this is the second time in two weeks I’ve been photographed with my dolls by a journalist. If this is becoming a habit, it’s one I don’t mind at all.

Check out the full story over on ABC Open Central Victoria.

i would like to recommend these people's writing, lines I wish I'd written, neopulp, people who are nice enough to publish me, short stories

Published: She Called Up Her Mind’s Fire And Watched Him Burn

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I’m pretty stoked to have a story in This Mutant Life an anthology of NeoPulp writing – specifically, short stories about superheroes – published by the inestimable Ben Langdon.

My story in TML is one I wrote years back as part of a residency I did at the State Library of Victoria that was all about using their collection of 1940s and 1950s australian superhero comics as a starting point for a bunch of flash fictions.

It features a short-lived superhero called Kazanda the Jungle Queen, originally created by the legendary Archie E. Martin and Edward Brodie-Mack and featured in Rangers Comics in the ’40s as well as a reprint volume in the ’70s.

Continue reading “Published: She Called Up Her Mind’s Fire And Watched Him Burn”

i would like to recommend these people's writing, neopulp, people who are nice enough to publish me, poems, Published work, the writing process

Published: Aftermath

Back in 2009 John Birmingham put out a call over The Twitter for poets who read science-fiction thrillers, which a friend passed on to me for some reason. I got in touch and soon received an intriguing email from John about “needing to talk post apocalypse poetry”.

Turned out John was working on the sequel to Without Warning, a book of his about a mysterious wave of energy making half of the people in the USA disappear, and the resultant worldwide chaos. He had planned for the sequel to open with an official ceremony at which the US Poet Laureate read a poem reflecting on the wave and its aftermath, and he was looking for a poet to outsource the actual poem-writing bit to.

I very much enjoy writing poetry on spec, and this particular commission had the added bonus of being not only kind of tweaky, but also an opportunity to look at at the personal costs and emotional consequences of a high-concept science fiction event, which I also very much enjoy.

The real sweetener was John’s offer to officially appoint me as the US Poet Laureate of the fictional universe in which his books were set. I’m pretty sure that offer’s never going to happen in this universe, so I jumped at the chance.

Continue reading “Published: Aftermath”

i would like to recommend these people's writing, lines I wish I'd written, neopulp, people who are nice enough to publish me

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

I didn’t mention this at the time, because I wasn’t sure how to do it without sounding like an utter braggart – that kind of thing actually does worry me you’d be suprised to know – but I recently won the Judge’s Prize for my poem “A Timid Work Friendship”, which was part of this year’s Moving Galleries Exhibition. Yay me.

The prize was a book voucher, so I was out bookshopping on my lunchbreak today, working out what to spend it on, and I happened to walk past the table where the bookstore in question had their display of their store’s best sellers. Not a very surprising list – a lot of Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight books, &c, but coming in at #8 was this little gem:

PPZ

PRIDE. AND PREJUDICE. AND ZOMBIES. That’s a hell of a high concept right there.

You can read the first few pages of this work of genius! on Amazon, and I highly recommend that you do, if only to experience for yourself what comes after the immortal first line:

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.

Now, I did actually know about this book beforehand, but I just figured it was one of those internet things, like giant robot chickens dressed as Abraham Lincoln or monkeys punching dinosaurs. It’s one thing to find that kind of stuff on the intarwubs, but it’s a whole ‘nother bouilloire de poisson entirely to find it in your local bookshop on the best-sellers table.

I don’t know about you, but I’m kind of excited at the prospect of living in a world where not only will somebody publish you if you mash George Romero and Jane Austen together, but you might also stand a chance of making money out of it.

UPDATE: I was in the store again today and it’s now at #3, with the Twilight books sitting at the sad end with 8s and 9s on their little signs. And I saw a girl reading it at the train station this morning, too. hee hee hee hee hee…