VAMPIRE HUNTERS IN THE WILD WEST!
by Gary Reed
Meet Christian Savage, vampire hunter in the wildest backlands of the Wild West. Abandoned by his parents at birth and raised by a kindly priest, Savage was lured to the black arts of the occult, and his sins cost him the life of Father O'Toole. Now, with Father O'Toole's spirit to offer support and companionship, Savage roams the countryside ridding the frontier of the supernatural enemies of civilization, until his mission brings him to the last two people he ever expected to meet...
Savage is written by R.A. Jones and illustrated by Ted Slampyak (Jazz Age Chronicles). Here, we talk a bit with R.A. after giving some of his credits.
R. A. Jones got his start in the comics business in the 1980's and served as Executive Editor of Elite Comics. He wrote a tremendous amount of comics for Malibu Comics, including Dark Wolf, Fist of God, Scimidar, Merlin, Sinbad, White Devil, Protectors, The Ferret, Pistolero, Prototype, Night Man, Air Man, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. He also wrote for other publishers: Dark Horse (Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor), Image (Bulletproof Monk, Automaton), Innovation (Straw Men), Humanoid (Metal Hurlant), DC (Showcase '95), Marvel (Weapon X, Wolverine & Captain America).
What can you tell us about the book?
Savage grew out of my love of all things pertaining to the Old West of 19th century America. During my formative years, Westerns were still very common fare in both movie theaters and on television (where, at times, they accounted for about half of all the programs airing in prime time).
Whether it was the silent films of William S. Hart or Tom Mix, the Western "musicals" of Roy Rogers and Gene Autry, the slew of James Stewart/Anthony Mann Western movies of the 1950s, the ubiquitous John Wayne classics (often directed by John Ford), or the so-called "Spaghetti Westerns" of the 1960s - I eagerly devoured them all.
As a native son of Oklahoma - once called Indian Territory - both the lore of the West and tales of the Native Americans (and yes, like many other "Okies," I too lay claim to at least a dollop of Indian blood) are very much a part of my heritage. In part because of that, I have always wanted to make at least some slight contributions to that lore. My first opportunity to do so produced a one-shot comic for Malibu Comics entitled Pistolero.
More recently, Airship 27 published my prose novel Deathwalker, a Conanesque fantasy - but one wherein the title character is a Cheyenne Indian warrior in a mythical setting where white men have not yet set foot in the Americas.
And now Savage.
My desire to write stories of the Old West has never diminished. But the pragmatist in me realizes that "straight" Westerns are a hard sell today, especially in comics. But if I could "spice" my story up a bit, I thought, with some element that might be more palatable to modern readers, I might have something a varied audience would like.
The classic Universal and Hammer "monster" movies were also a fondly remembered form of entertainment (In case you didn't know, many comic book writers and artists are also big movie buffs!). And Horror never seems to go completely out of style.
Now I had my formula: a story featuring vampires, werewolves, ghouls and the like - in an Old West setting.
From that sprang Savage - and writing it proved to be just as much fun as I thought it would be!
How did you "break" into comics?
The first step of my entry into the comic book field came in the pages of the popular fan magazine of the 1980s, Amazing Heroes (published by Fantagraphics).I wrote several articles for AH, of a sort they called "Hero Histories." In time, I also became the magazine's regular comic book reviewer.
That review column brought me to the attention of fans, comics pros, editors and publishers. That, added to the networking I did by attending and participating in various comic book conventions from the Mid-West to the Pacific, led to me finally earning the opportunity to write the comics themselves.
I've been at it ever since.
So, do you have any kind of educational background for your comic skills or are you self-taught?
I guess you'd have to say that whatever "comic skills" I have were largely self taught. Of course, being a writer, I had a virtually endless supply of "textbooks" available to me. Almost by osmosis, you absorb the elements of storytelling to which you are exposed: In my case, the great heroic fiction of the likes of Jack London, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard; the comic book stories of Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and many others; and even movies and television.
Apparently, I've always just naturally had a tendency to analyze stories, to discern what makes them work. And I've tried to incorporate that knowledge into my own work.
I think the benefits of a college education have greatly helped also. While I never took any creative writing classes, I do have an Associate Degree in Journalism. I also have a Bachelor Degree in History, received while minoring in English and Psychology - all fields I believe have been beneficial to me as a writer.
What's the best project or situation that you've worked on in your career so far?
I've been extremely lucky in that virtually all the projects I've worked on over the years have been good experiences for me. Some do stand out, though:
My sci-fi adventure series Scimidar always brought me great challenges. The superhero team book The Protectors, which I wrote in the 1990s, was a lot of fun, allowing me to work with characters created by both me and some of the comics greats of the past, at a time when the field itself was going through explosive growth.
A short story that appeared in Malibu's Star Trek: Deep Space Nine entitled "A Tree Grows on Bajor" allowed me to contribute to one of the greatest and most enduring of science fiction properties.
The Wolverine/Captain America mini-series I wrote for Marvel. It may have been Wolvie that sold the book - but it was getting to write Capt. America that most appealed to the 12-year-old in me!
And, of course - Savage. I love the way it turned out - due in large part to the stylish visuals of Ted Slampyak. Thanks, buddy!
What's the best advice to give any aspiring creators?
The best advice any pro can give to any aspiring writer is simply this: DON'T DO IT!!
I don't mean that entirely facetiously, either. Writing is a difficult, highly competitive field. One that is extremely tough to make a living at - that's why so many writers and artists have died in virtual or literal poverty. The rewards are often far smaller than the hardships.
Now, if you take the above advice and give up immediately - there's a good chance you probably wouldn't have made it as a writer anyway. If you choose to ignore the advice - you just might have a chance of becoming a writer! That said, there are some more tangible bits of advice I can offer.
First - you have to actually write. That may seem insanely obvious, but you'd be surprised how many would-be writers walk around with incredibly detailed plots in their heads - but who never actually put them on paper!
Contrary to what most people seem to think, coming up with ideas for stories is usually not to most difficult part of writing. Every sentient being on Earth has countless ideas that pop into their heads. The writer is the one who pulls those ideas out of his head and lays them down on paper in a coherent and engaging fashion.
Next: No editor or publisher is going to magically or telepathically know what a great writer you are. You have to show them, by actually submitting plots or scripts to them.
Doing so risks rejection, of course, which is a very daunting prospect for many people. But most of us who succeed only do so after collecting several rejection letters. You have to develop a thick skin and keep submitting. Rejection stings - but it doesn't kill.
Finally, as in any business, networking is very important. Who you know can indeed be at least as important as what you know. The convention circuit still offers good opportunities for that. Perhaps your best tool today, which was unavailable to me in my youth, is the Internet. Be it chat rooms, blogs, fan fiction sites, e-mails to publications' letter columns - use every tool to which you have access.
And good luck.
Anything that you worked on that you would love to go back to?
Since, in a figurative sense, your stories are your "children," you'd like to revisit almost all of them. As a writer, I have almost always tried to write stories and characters that I could tell new stories about if the opportunity ever presented itself. You never want to limit your options.
As an example: I once ended a comic book series by having the entire planet Earth destroyed - and I still built in an escape clause that would have allowed for future stories! Given my love of Westerns, I would obviously love to have the opportunity to tell another Savage story - and as those of you who have read our graphic novel know, there are still lots of fun places we could take our hero!
What's next for you?
Ron Fortier of Airship 27 has already been kind enough to tell me that he would like me to write a sequel to my Deathwalker novel, which I fully intend to do and I hope more than one!. Before I get to work on that, though, I am currently hard at work on my current prose novel - one I hope will especially appeal to the fans of some of my past comic book work.
Without giving too much away prematurely, let me just say it involves the formation of a team of super-powered heroes - in the days just before the beginning of World War II. It's tentatively entitled The Steel Ring - keep an eye out for it!
Who is your favorite comics writer?
That would have to be Stan Lee. It was his work that sparked my love affair with comics, which in turn inspired me to pursue a career as a writer. In some ways, that's perhaps been as much a curse as a blessing - but if so, that's my fault, not Stan's!
Who is your favorite "classic" comic artist?
To go against the grain here, my favorite artist in the early-to-mid-60s was Don Heck - whose work I found, when I was a boy, to be more attractive than that of Kirby or Ditko--Though both later won me over as well. But if I had to pick just one favorite, it would be the late, great Big John Buscema.
Who is your favorite current comic artist?
I can't name just one - there are simply so many good artists working in comics today. I have to give props to my good buddy and frequent collaborator Tom Derenick and to even earlier collaborator and friend Rob Davis - and of course the likes of Jim Lee, Art Adams, Eddy Barrows, Ivan Reiss, Rags Morales, Steve McNiven, Ryan Sook, Adam Hughes, Brian Bolland, Mike Deodato, Alan Davis, the Kuberts, George Perez...have we got all day for me to go on?
Do you read digital comics or plan to soon?
I'm so far behind the curve, technologically, that I don't read anything digitally. And that's fine with me. I still like the feel of a pen in my hand when I write the first draft of my stories - and I like to be able to hold an actual, physical, printed book in my hands when I read.
What is your favorite movie?
As I alluded to in an earlier answer, I am a big, big movie buff - so this is another list that could go on practically forever. But push come to shove - I'd say The Searchers, directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne--a film that often makes critics' lists of the best movies of all time.
What TV shows are you watching?
Of the broadcast networks' offerings, my absolute favorite is Big Bang Theory -every comic book/sci-fi fan should be watching it!. I also enjoy Two Broke Girls, Two-and-a-half Men, Person of Interest and The Mentalist. But I also am a regular viewer of several cable shows: The Closer, White Collar, Covert Affairs, Suits, Burn Notice, Necessary Roughness, Royal Pains, Hell on Wheels and Mythbusters.
Give a shout out to wherever you get your comics.
That would be Starbase 21 ---"Where you never have to grow up!" in Tulsa, Oklahoma!
For more information on SAVAGE including a preview,
Gary Reed is the publisher of Transfuzion Publishing and was the former publisher of Caliber Comics. As a writer, he has written a number of graphic novels and comics including Saint Germaine, Deadworld, Baker Street, Renfield, Raven Chronicles, A Murder of Scarecrows, and others. Outside of Talking Transfuzion, he has his regular blog covering a wide variety of topics at reedgary.blogspot.com and his website www.garyreed.net
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