Goodbye, 2018.

Another year comes to a close. This was a really busy one for me.

I turned 37 this year, and I felt the numerology was in my favor to do some ambitious projects. First and foremost, I put together a team and produced a new comic series called CRISIS VECTOR. Things kicked off in January, and I worked at a breakneck pace to get both issues #1 and #2 through production simultaneously, like Peter Jackson filming Lord of the Rings, but with less New Zealand. The end result: 50-odd pages of full-color glossy comic book adventure spanning time, space, and the soul. I pitched it to publishers, they all said no, so now it is truly forever mine. Honestly, it’s the type of story that only could be mine. The genesis for Crisis Vector was the passing of my grandfather last year, and the benevolent ghost of his memory hung overhead throughout a lot of what I did in 2018. CRISIS VECTOR didn’t come from a place of the brain. When asked “What’s it about?” I often flounder like a fish out of water. I honestly don’t know what it’s about. I just did it. And now it exists, with thanks to fantastic artistic partners Samir Simao, Ross Taylor, and Micah Myers. I originally had CRISIS VECTOR slated as a one-shot, then a three issue miniseries. As I look ahead, I think maybe it will be a quasi-ongoing container for my self-published comic ambitions for years to come. My little sandbox in the graphic novel universe. I have issue #3 mapped out, which I thought would be the conclusion, but it seems to have spawned even more beginnings. That’s life for you.

An unexpected assignment came through mid-year, with a chance connection to the editorial staff at Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine. I landed two articles in the esteemed publication founded by Forrest J. Ackerman, tackling RETURN OF THE JEDI and THEY LIVE. I love movies, I love monsters, and I love Famous Monsters of Filmland, so the experience was pure joy. It also rekindled my freelance writing desires, and reminded me how fun it can be. I hope I get the opportunity to contribute again next year.

On the personal front, we made some major renovations to our 100 year old New England house. Living amongst a squad of contractors and seeing your home literally ripped apart and slowly put back together again is a next-level kind of stress. Not necessarily bad, but definitely a noteworthy experience. My sense of well-being is disproportionately tied to my physical dwelling (I guess this is a good a time as any to admit I’m a believer in astrology, and I’m almost a stereotypical parody of a Cancer). Gone is our mish-mash of a century’s worth of different exterior materials, the faded white of the house replaced with a clean and cool blueish-grey. Our little barn with its rusty metal roof now looks nicer than the house itself, decked out with smart asphalt singles and matching blue-grey siding. The roof of this place is slate, which requires specialized contractors, basically like masons in the sky. We fixed a bunch of issues up there, too, including repointing our funky chimney. I never anticipated living out an arc of This Old House episodes, but here we are.

When not writing, making comics, going to conventions, and juggling home renovations, Jessika and I managed to travel quite a bit. We went to Uruguay in the beginning of the year, visiting Jessika’s home city of Montevideo down at the bottom of the world. I’ve been enough times now that it almost seems familiar. It’s a truly unique place, and Uruguayans have a truly unique culture that is not easily describable or subject to any of the ideas most North Americans might have about South America. If I ever make my escape from the US empire, Uruguay is my likely refuge.

My lifelong infatuation with the US Southwest came back with a vengeance this year, and Jessika was kind enough to indulge not one but two trips to the region. First, I was in Las Vegas for a work conference, where I met up with my old Florida buddy Gordon Jonze and romped around the rapidly-expanding city. Gordon gave me a great look at the bizarre underground network of service workers who power the city. Nothing like seeing a place with a local, or enjoying heavily discounted food nearly everywhere. We parlayed Vegas into a trip to the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and Phoenix. On trip #2, we went back to Arizona and spent yet more time in Phoenix, and I spent my birthday in Sedona, one of my favorite places on Earth. Those red rocks are otherworldly, but Sedona proper has gotten mighty posh over the years. As much as I like dining in the same restaurant as GMA’s Robin Roberts (happened on my birthday), I equally enjoy the towns below Sedona in the Verde Valley, including Cottonwood, where I lived for a dazed and confused year in my early 20s. Good wine, good food, good people, and the amazing vistas of the desert. I couldn’t ask for much more than that.

The tail end of the year saw the publication of Famous Monsters in October, which served as a kind of fuel injector for celebrating Halloween in a big way. I also landed a prose piece in an upcoming anthology, PROS AND (COMIC) CONS, coming from editor Hope Nicholson and Dark Horse Comics in May 2019. CRISIS VECTOR #1 got picked up as the “Pick of the Week” by Newsarama writer supreme Pierce Lightning on the New Number One podcast. I’ve been connected to Pierce online for years now, and am a big fan of their writing, so I was thrilled by that. I closed out the year by being a guest on the SCI-FI SATURDAY NIGHT podcast, which was a first for me. It was interesting to try to put together the sprawling puzzle of my “career” in a way that makes sense to normal people. Not sure I succeeded, but it was a fun experience and I’m grateful to host Dome and his team for the invite.

As I look to 2019, I feel like I kind of want to let my foot off the gas for a bit, sort of coast through the year and make the day-to-day more enjoyable. However, CRISIS VECTOR #3 is nagging at me in a big way, and I read a short story by my friend Ben Joe that for some reason immediately struck me as something that would make a really cool short film. So, with Ben’s permission I took a stab at converting the story into a shooting script. I may try to film this thing in the spring of the new year, adding another expensive and thankless creative output to my agenda.

I’d like to write more in 2019, perhaps contribute to a few new anthologies, magazines, or websites. That includes this venue, too. I blogged too infrequently in 2018, and I want to make these kinds of posts part of my routine. I get irritated and angsty when I don’t write, and this is my prime spot to do that. So no one to blame but myself on that front.

Not really of consequence to many- but I stopped eating meat around September. Not as a political act or anything, just a personal choice. It’s been good for me. I’m constantly surprised by how little I miss it.

Lastly, in attempt to cultivate a more honest and focused digital representation of myself, I’ve cut down on the social media channels. I’m off Facebook and Instagram, solely sticking to Twitter. And on Twitter, I’m making a conscious effort to talk to you all the way I really speak. There’s more than enough “Internet” voice out there and it’s so easy to fall into that pattern (I’m guilty of it). But that’s not my thing. All I can be is me, and that’s what I’ll strive for most in the new year.

Hope your 2018 was solid, despite the state of the world, and here’s a virtual toast to a happy and prosperous 2019.

Erik

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The gift of gab is the gift that I have – SciFi Saturday Night podcast

I was a guest on the podcast SciFi Saturday Night! I talk with host Dome about my “career,” if you can call it that. A strange but I think enjoyable experience. I think. Anyways, listen to me drone on and behold the splendor of my provincial accent, if that’s your thing. Thanks to the SciFi Saturday Night team for the invite.

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First Reformed: A 21st Century Taxi Driver

Ethan Hawke cuts a lean figure in the equally lean and potent First Reformed from writer and director Paul Schrader. Hawke stars as Rev. Toller, a pastor tending to the needs of a cold little church in a cold little town in upstate New York. The parish has its 250th anniversary celebration approaching, and multiple sets of prying eyes from the mothership megachurch organization (think corporate bureaucrats more than priests and nuns) are focused on all aspects of the event. It quickly becomes clear that Hawke’s Rev. Toller is something of a black sheep in the church hierarchy, and his direct supervisors are anxious about his ability to successfully pull off the proceedings. Then there’s also bits about the role of God, the Iraq War, fear, alcoholism, suicide bombings, capitalism run amok, and the fate of the entire planet.

The ‘70s grit and localized urban violence found in Taxi Driver are gone, because, well, they don’t really exist anymore. But Schrader deftly weaves in the many frightening aspects of today’s global level of violence- extremist groups, the online world, substance abuse, suicide, greed, corruption, and a general pervasiveness of amorality- in the same way he channeled freaks, weirdos, and revolvers in Taxi Driver. The chief antagonist, if it can be called that, is the idea of a global climate crisis. Indeed, though the story is set in a small church in a small town with a small cast of characters, Schrader presents something out of a superhero plot- the destruction of the world itself – and makes it real. He’s mostly successful.

Some bumps in the road: First Reformed often feels cut a bit too close to the bone, like the version we’re seeing on screen is either the first draft or the 151st, a combination of either whittled away too much or not flushed out enough. The chief victim of this is the character played by Amanda Seyfried. Seyfried acts with a kind of earnestness that is captivating, but unfortunately she’s not given much of a story on her own. Her husband is a troubled environmentalist radical. Why exactly she is with him, given her lack of radicalism on the subject, isn’t really explained, nor are her reasons for seeking the help of Hawke’s character explored to any depth. She exists primarily as a prop for Hawke’s Reverend Toller to explore pretty typical yearnings of a middle-aged man. Hawke and Seyfried have a real chemistry together, and it’s a shame it doesn’t get more time or substance.

What Schrader does accomplish though is pretty remarkable in the sense that it attempts to both boil the ocean and thread the needle at the same time. Schrader takes a deep breath and goes for big, weighty subject matter questions, but where those aspirations threaten to slip over the edge into arthouse pretentiousness or, well, preaching, the movie instead remains ever-so precariously grounded and more importantly, interesting. This is in large part because of the restraint of the script, which although hollow in a few spots, is also sharp and quick enough to not spend too much time dwelling on any one of the many aspects it tackles. In a word, it is restrained, giving the audience plenty to think about but never so much that it blocks the very strong performances of the cast. Hawke in particular gives a lean and mean performance, one of the best of his career, which serves to make the film’s high-concept statements and philosophical tangents more earthy and real. The ensemble of supporting cast members, including a standout serious turn from actor/comedian Cedric the Entertainer as a megachurch management drone, also does wonders in bringing Schrader’s kaleidoscopic view of a world on fire into a crystalized whole.

Schrader’s script for Taxi Driver, brought to life by Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, swept up many strands of the violent America of the 1970s into one strange package, a fierce and pointed thrust that spoke directly to its time. First Reformed does much of the same with a very different world of the 21st century. Schrader reminds us of the toll of recent times, from terrorism to the wars to the current state of anger and fear-driven politics, to the absence of grace, compassion, and civility. There are swings toward the abstract, poetic, and nearly psychedelic that won’t sit well with those looking for a traditional drama yarn.

But those choices aside (or because of, depending on your tastes), First Reformed is a powerful piece of filmmaking that takes the template of a singular story and uses it communicate multiple complex feelings on life, God, America, the world, and more (as if that’s not enough), and showcases truly excellent performances from its cast. It’s an angry, powerful, and violent film, much like Taxi Driver before it, but at a modulation and scale that brings the frenzied state of the 21st century’s hyper-polarized, information overload world into a cool and clear focus. There’s a lot to process and it’s not for the faint of heart, but for those unsettled by the trajectory of current events, Schrader’s First Reformed will hit home in ways that are scary, moving, and fascinating.

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Northeast Comic Con Winter 2018 Recap

I just wrapped 3 days at Northeast Comic Con in Boxboro, MA. I didn’t know what to expect from this show– it was my first time doing it, and it fell on the weekend following Thanksgiving. Would anyone be around? Would Black Friday and football syphon off any interest? Would people be too hungover from turkey and gravy to move from their sofas?

Much to my surprise, the crowds were constant and enthusiastic throughout. The Con kicked off Friday evening and new readers quickly stopped by the table and picked up anthologies and comics. I had some great conversations with people genuinely interested in finding new and interesting things in the comic world– a less common occurrence at conventions than you might think.

The strong Friday start provided a solid boost to the rest of the weekend. Saturday and Sunday were equally bustling, with moderate yet steady crowds filing through in intermittent bursts.

I took a brief pause from my table on Saturday to engage in something of a lifelong dream. Peter Laird, co-creator of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and indie comic legend, was in the house. Mirage Studio stalwart Steve Levigne was also there. Laird’s TMNT and the DIY/self-publishing ethic made famous by Mirage in the ’80s serve as my guiding light, the template and inspiration for my books CRISIS VECTOR and CRYPT ZERO. Meeting Peter Laird was, suffice to say, pretty surreal. The word hero gets thrown around a lot, but in this case there’s no better term I can use. He was generous and kind. A perfect experience that I’ll remember forever. Here’s me with the man himself!

Other highlights include a whole lot of conversation about Famous Monsters of Filmland. This weekend marked the birthday of Famous Monsters founder Forrest J. Ackerman, and let me tell you, Forry’s spirit is alive and well. So many people have fond memories and recollections of their experiences reading Famous Monsters. For some, it was decades in the past and their smiles were those of reencountering an old friend. Others found back issues in more recent years and discovered the world of cinematic creatures through musty yellowed pages. And then there are the new generation of readers (my personal favorite), seeing the Famous Monsters logo for the first time and feeling a magical pull to crack open the glossy cover and dive into a whole new world. I was especially touched by a young man of about 12 or 13 who came by a few times, eventually returning with his father and grandfather. He was sporting a full Ghostbusters uniform, as was his dad, and he was clearly fixated on Famous Monsters. I should note here that I’m not much of a carnival barker or salesperson at cons. I generally let people discover the work on their own and then engage in a conversation if there’s one to be had. Just the way I roll. Anyways, this young man found something in Famous Monsters, and it was cool be a spectator, watching the tractor beam activate between reader and source. That young man’s Famous Monster’s memories begin with Famous Monsters #290, published just last month. Maybe it turns into a lifetime of memories. It’s an honor to play a small role in something like that.

I also was blessed by the patron diety of comic cons to once again have great table neighbors. I was happy to meet Paul Montani, writer and artist of THE RAT RACE, a fantastic looking cartoon strip featuring, you guessed it, rats. Turns out Paul and I work for the same mega-corporation as our day gigs, and I really enjoyed sharing war stories and reflections about everything from local comic shops to new Disney rides with him throughout the weekend. I was also excited to see Patrick Davis, Topps Star Wars artist extraordinaire. I recently met Patrick at That’s Entertainment’s MicroCon in Worcester, and we hit it off with our deep, perhaps unhealthy love of Star Wars. Patrick produced a stellar piece of my boy Count Dooku for me, and I shall treasure it always.

Ok, this is already longer than expected so I’ll close by saying great show, great crowd, and a hearty thank you to everyone who attended and picked up my comics and stories. Also shoutout to organizer Gary and the Northeast Comic Con staff.

This show closes out my 2018 convention season. Now comes the snow, the ice, the holidays, and raising the flame on a bubbling cauldron of content to serve up to you all in 2019 and beyond. 😎🍲

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So I have a piece in “Pros and (Comic) Cons” from Dark Horse Comics!

 

So. See that cover? See those names? Brian Michael Bendis. Kieron Gillen. Jim Zub. Amy Chu. And more!

That’s me. I’m the “and more!” !!!

I’m very excited to announce that I have an essay/prose piece in this tremendous looking anthology project, helmed by editor Hope Nicholson and coming to comic shops and bookstores everywhere from Dark Horse Comics.

I’m beyond honored to be contributing to this book and super grateful for the opportunity to share my little story about what’s it’s like being a writer in Artist’s Alley at comic conventions (hint- it’s weird).

Pros and (Comic) Cons is set to debut in May 2019. Check back here for updates, and check out the announcement coverage below:

Paste Magazine: https://www.pastemagazine.com/articles/2018/10/dark-horse-announces-pros-and-comic-cons-anthology.html

Dark Horse Comics: https://www.darkhorse.com/Blog/2811/explore-pros-and-cons-being-pro-comic-cons

The Hollywood Reporter: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/heat-vision/pros-comic-cons-anthology-explains-truth-behind-comic-con-myths-1156426

Comiccon.com: http://www.comicon.com/2018/10/30/dark-horse-and-hope-nicholson-reveal-stories-of-con-life-in-pros-and-comic-cons-anthology/

The Beat: http://www.comicsbeat.com/bendis-gillen-grace-among-contributors-to-pros-and-comic-cons-anthology/

 

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