SWORDS AGAINST THE MOON MEN
ANDY NUNEZ INTERVIEWS and REVIEW
Andy Nunez, editor of Against the Odds and an ERB enthusiast,
sat down for interviews with author Christopher Paul Carey and illustrator Mark Wheatley.Reference: http://aresmagazine.com/
The Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs is a series of new, authorized stories
inspired by Burroughs classics, and is the brainchild of and published by ERB, Inc.
The latest saga (#6 in the series) is Swords Against the Moon Men.
INTRODUCTION by Andy Nunez
I was reading Edgar Rice Burroughs in elementary school, I just didn’t know it. In those pre-digital days, I read Dell and later Gold Key Tarzan comics, wondering who this fellow, Edgar Rice Burroughs, was. In junior high, I discovered his novels, reading several in hardcover. It was around 1971 that a friend of mine donated to me his huge collection of ERB paperbacks, because he was done with them, except for the Mars series. Among that trove was the Ace paperback edition of The Moon Maid.
This short novel has a rather unusual genesis. At the end of World War I, aghast at the Communist takeover of Imperial Russia and the rise of Socialist elements in the United States, Burroughs wrote a futuristic tale called “Under the Red Flag,” set in the 21st century after Communism had won and the United States was a conquered country. The story failed to find a publisher and Burroughs, always looking for a new way to sell a story, decided to rewrite it as part of a large future history epic.
The inventiveness of Edgar Rice Burroughs never ceases to amaze me. He created an entire society on the moon with distinct races and castes, as well as a chronology spanning hundreds of years for his planned trilogy of stories. Instead of Communists, the invaders would be the Kalkars from the Moon. The story would be framed around the reminisces of a reincarnated spirit, Julian, in what Burroughs biographer Richard A. Lupoff described as “trans-temporal telepathy,” because Julian could remember not only past lives, but future ones.
The story begins in 1967, using the standard Burroughs framing device of an unnamed narrator who runs into Julian aboard a transoceanic flight. Earth has just established communication with Mars, and it is the Mars of John Carter, Burroughs’ first interplanetary hero. Earth has just emerged from half a century of warfare and is in the process of scrapping all weapons of war except for an International Peace Fleet, dedicated to stopping any ruler from using military strength.
Julian tells the narrator of his uncanny ability to remember his past and future lives, and relates that while it took decades for humans to build a ship capable of reaching Mars, one did sail on Christmas Day of 2025. Julian was its captain, to the dislike of his old classmate, Orthis. Orthis designed the ship’s propulsion system and was obsessed with outdoing Julian, only to fail time and time again. Losing command of the Barsoom to Julian was the last straw. Orthis sabotaged the ship and it is only by skill that Julian and his small crew landed on the moon.
Similar to H. G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon a quarter-century earlier, Julian finds the inhabitants of the moon inside the satellite. Lit by some harmless radiation, the Moon’s interior is populated by the cannibalistic Va-gas, who are vaguely human quadrupeds, the U-gas, which are identical to humans, and the Kalkars, a brute race that seems to embrace collectivism rather than the feudal system of the ruling U-gas.
Along the way, Julian meets the titular Moon Maid, daughter of a local ruler, and they fall in love. After a number of escapes, the couple manage to reunite with the rest of the crew, except Orthis, and return to Earth as the last city of U-gas rule falls to the Kalkars and they presumably turn the Moon into a worker’s paradise.
Years pass and suddenly a space fleet from the Moon, led by Orthis, descends on peaceful, disarmed Earth, armed with a terrible disintegrator ray. Julian faces his old foe and both of them die in the final battle, leaving Earth prostrate before the invaders. Without the genius of Orthis, the Kalkars decide to bring their version of communism to Earth.
This is where Christopher Paul Carey picks up the story with Swords Against the Moon Men. I had a chance to chat with the author and with illustrator Mark Wheatley.
Author Christopher Paul Carey ~ Interviewed by Andy Nunez
Christopher Paul Carey is the author of Swords Against the Moon Men, an authorized sequel to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ classic science fantasy novel The Moon Maid. He is also the coauthor with Philip José Farmer of The Song of Kwasin, and the author of Exiles of Kho, Hadon, King of Opar, and Blood of Ancient Opar, all works set in Farmer’s Khokarsa series. His short fiction may be found in various anthologies. In addition, he is a senior editor at Paizo, working on both the award-winning Pathfinder Roleplaying Game and Starfinder, and he has edited numerous collections, anthologies, and novels.
How old were you when you read your first Burroughs novel? Which one was it?
Well, the first Burroughs novel that I started to read was At the Earth’s Core. This was when I was eight years old and had just seen the movie adaption starring Doug McClure. I had spied the Ace Books movie edition on the paperback spinner rack in my local A&P grocery store and begged my parents to buy it for me. I think I read about three chapters, which I remember enjoying immensely, before getting distracted like eight-year-olds often do and setting aside the rest of the book unread. But when I was twelve, I picked up a copy of Burroughs’ A Princess of Mars and couldn’t put it down. It was a life-changing moment that began a two-year period of voracious Burroughs reading, during which I tracked down almost every ERB novel that had then been published, with the exception of two or three obscure titles that I picked up a few years later.
What is your favorite Burroughs tale?
That’s a great question, and one that’s very hard for me to answer because there are so many good ones! If you don’t mind, I’m going to give you a few: The Gods of Mars, because it was so innovative in terms of establishing the sword and planet genre; A Fighting Man of Mars, because it’s an interesting take on a lowly padwar [ERB’s Martian equivalent to the rank of lieutenant] instead of the larger-than-life John Carter; the duology of Tarzan the Untamed and Tarzan the Terrible, as ERB was at the top of his game in terms of both digging into the psychology of the ape-man and presenting exotic lost lands; and I Am A Barbarian, simply because it’s so very different from ERB’s usual formula. And, of course, I’ve always loved the Moon Men trilogy, which has a complexity that makes it unique in ERB’s canon.
That’s not an unexpected answer, given the power of Burroughs’ storytelling. You biography reads like a literary Da Vinci—writer, editor, roleplaying game designer. How did you break into the writing business?
I came into it at different angles that seemed to converge around the same time and interplayed with one another. I had just completed my master’s in Writing Popular Fiction when I received permission from Philip José Farmer to complete the third novel in his Khokarsa series. I applied for a position at Paizo, publisher of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, at the same time that I was pitching the idea of Paizo’s Planet Stories imprint publishing my collaboration with Farmer. I’d already edited a couple Farmer collections for Subterranean Press at that point, which had springboarded off the fact that I had already edited several Farmer stories for Farmerphile: The Magazine of Philip José Farmer. At the same time, I sold a few stories to some small press anthologies. It all hit a critical mass at the same time, I think, because I had my fingers in so many pies. It was a busy time, and it hasn’t slowed down since.
You’ve written fiction, non-fiction, edited anthologies, and even scripted two graphic novels with ERB characters based on the Pathfinder system. Wait, did I read it right that you’ve even told a tale of Richard Henry Benson, the Avenger? I read the entire paperback library reprint series back in the 1970s.
Yes, that was a lucky one! A good friend of mine who had sold a lot of work to Moonstone, the anthology’s publisher, knew my love for the character and got me in the door. Richard Henry Benson, of course, was a member of Philip José Farmer’s Wold Newton Family of heroes and villains. I was attending the memorial service for Phil in Peoria, Illinois, the day I got the go-ahead to write the story, so I made several subtle Farmerian nods in my tale in tribute. I think Phil would have gotten a kick out of that. But I’m not going to tell you what those nods are, because it’s more fun to pick them out on your own.
Okay, now I have to track that down! (So many books, so little time…). Of specific interest to ERB fans and of wider interest to science fiction fans, you collaborated with the late but legendary writer Philip José Farmer, known to Burroughs fans for his biography of Tarzan, his unauthorized Tarzan pastiches, and his authorized Tarzan novel that takes place within the storyline of Tarzan the Untamed. Of course, he’s best known to the wider Burroughs audience as the author of two paperbacks from the era of Donald Wollheim’s DAW Books — Hadon of Ancient Opar and Flight to Opar. How did that come about?
As I previously mentioned, I was coeditor of Philip José Farmer’s official magazine, Farmerphile, which printed previously unpublished Farmer stories. Michael Croteau, Farmerphile’s publisher, had permission to comb through Phil’s files to look for new material to bring to light in the magazine, and one day he emailed me to say he’d found the outline and partial manuscript to the third Ancient Opar novel, about Hadon of Opar’s giant herculean cousin, Kwasin. I was floored and anxiously emailed Mike back, asking him to send me copies of the papers, which he did. I saw straightaway that the story was just too good to let languish. This was in 2005, and Phil had already retired from writing by then.
So I wrote a lengthy proposal outlining how I would go about completing the book if he so desired. And to my utter surprise, he enthusiastically granted me permission to proceed. I completed the novel, titled The Song of Kwasin, in early 2008. Phil’s health had declined since he’d granted me permission and he was pretty ill by this point, but his wife, Bette, read the manuscript aloud to him and she told me his face lit up with a big smile while listening to Kwasin’s adventures. Phil passed in 2009, and the novel was published in 2012 by Subterranean Press in the omnibus Gods of Opar: Tales of Lost Khokarsa. It’s since been published under its own covers by Meteor House, and has even appeared in a French translation.
What did you bring to the stories and what did Farmer bring?
Phil had written a long, detailed outline of the novel and the novel’s opening. His outline had some loose ends toward the finale, which I discussed with Phil. Since this was now to be the climax of a trilogy, instead of the longer series he’d originally envisioned, he had some wonderful new ideas about how he wanted it all to wrap up. I also wrote a revised outline, fleshing out the climax and other areas of the novel that the original outline skimmed over, all of which Phil approved. It was an honor beyond words to complete the novel and see it through to publication. After Phil passed, his estate authorized me to continue the series with Exiles of Kho, Hadon, King of Opar, and Blood of Ancient Opar.
How did the fans receive them?
The response has been overwhelmingly positive. I think the fans of the series got what I was doing, which was to immerse myself deeply in the traditions of Edgar Rice Burroughs and H. Rider Haggard that inspired Phil when he wrote the first two novels. People have told me my voice in the series is a fusion of the three—Farmer, Burroughs, and Haggard—and, if that’s true, I think that’s a winning combination.
After this huge body of work, why did you pick the Moon Men as your pitch novel to Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc.?
I met Jim Sullos, president of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., at an ERB convention outside of Chicago in the summer of 2016, and we discussed the possibility that I would write a novel for the company’s new Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs series. When we ticked off the different properties that hadn’t yet been plumbed for new novels in the works, the Moon trilogy jumped out at me. I was itching to write something very different from the Ancient Opar tales, and a science fantasy was just what I was looking for. I’d loved the Moon trilogy, which connects directly to ERB’s Barsoom series and is also critically acclaimed in Burroughs’ oeuvre.
Richard Lupoff in Edgar Rice Burroughs, Master of Adventure called the Moon Maid trilogy the best story that Burroughs created—but it doesn’t seem to get the love among Burroughs fans that his more popular creations like Tarzan and John Carter do. I guess it might be because the Moon Maid trilogy takes place in a sort of alternate timeline that can’t be reconciled with our own. The other creations tried to maintain a verisimilitude that didn’t look too far into the future, but with the Moon Men, Burroughs jumped ahead to a 1960s reeling from half a century of global warfare, then jumping ahead to the 21st century when man tries to get to the moon.
What kind of challenges did such an alternate history present to somebody a century later than the time of the original novel’s genesis during the Bolshevik revolution? [Interviewer’s Note: Burroughs’ original concept for his cautionary tale was called Under the Red Flag and showed an America under Soviet domination. Burroughs rewrote the story to become the middle tale in his Moon trilogy.]
The primary challenge was to maintain ERB’s voice, as the characters in the narrative bookends of Swords Against the Moon Men are the same as those in the original Moon trilogy. So I needed to write in a 1920s style that at the same time would be engaging to a modern audience.
A secondary challenge was to cleave closely to ERB’s early twentieth century pseudoscience, which was, frankly, already outmoded when Burroughs wrote the original tales. But in science fantasy, you can pretty much get away with anything, as long as it’s consistent with what has come before. And there were certain aspects of the original trilogy that didn’t make sense without further explanation. For instance, Burroughs never explained how the Kalkars from the low-gravity world of Va-nah within the Moon would not have been crushed by the higher gravity when they invaded Earth. So I had to come up with an explanation for that. Lastly, you refer to the political themes in ERB’s Moon novels. While I stayed true to ERB’s world building, I focused more on the Kalkars’ tyranny than their political structure, and the villain of the story is certainly more out for consolidating his own power than anything else.
A few folks out there might be thinking like Burroughs did when he wrote John Carter and want to write their own novel, so tell us what you can about the process. How did the concept for Swords Against the Moon Men come about? Who did you contact? What were their requirements? Did you work with an editor?
Creatively speaking, the process was to put myself in ERB’s shoes and try to write the story that I think he might have, had he wanted to continue the series. In terms of the book deal, the novel was licensed and authorized by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc., and anyone who would want to write such a book would need to strike up an agreement with the company. Jim Sullos, the president of the company, was familiar with my Ancient Opar work, so he already knew I could write a good story and that I was well-versed in ERB’s worlds. So it was simply a matter of writing a detailed chapter outline of the novel, which the folks at the company seemed to be quite excited about straight out of the gate. I worked with two editors, both of whom gave me wonderful feedback that allowed me to improve the novel, and a third editor proofread the novel after it was out of my hands, looking for any minor errors that might have slipped through the rest of us.
My old friend Mark Wheatley turned in a fantastic illustration job for your novel. Did you work with him on the ideas for the illustrations or did the Burroughs folks do that?
Mark read the novel and came up with his own list of scenes he wished to illustrate. We did consult on the illustrations, but Mark has such a knack for Edgar Rice Burroughs that it was mostly a matter of being repeatedly astounded by how uncannily his fantastic artwork matched what was in my head. It was almost as if we were both channeling the story out of the same etheric record. It was a joy to work with Mark, as it was to work with Chris Peuler, who illustrated the book’s majestic wraparound cover art and put a lot of thought and care into it. The book is truly a beautiful feast of artwork.
What do you think of this current Renaissance of these new authorized continuations of Burroughs’ characters?
I heartily approve! I got into Burroughs during the last great wave of paperback reprints in the early 1980s. There was a short blast of reprints from Del Rey in the early 1990s, but since then there’s been only a trickle of literary ERB works that have been coming out. But over the last couple years, that’s finally changed. Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. is pulling out the stops and there’s so much good material coming out now. I hear my friend Win Scott Eckert is supposed to be writing a novel for the Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs line in a year or two, and I’m very much looking forward to that since no one knows his pulp hero literature better that Win.
What does the future hold now for Christopher Paul Carey? Will we be seeing any more continuations or will you be plowing new ground for ideas?
I hope to write a new series of books set in Farmer’s Khokarsa titled the Foundation of Kôr trilogy, which will be as inspired by the works of H. Rider Haggard as the Ancient Opar novels were inspired by those of Edgar Rice Burroughs. If I were offered the opportunity to write an authorized John Carter novel or, say, a Tarzan novel set in Opar, I admit I would have a hard time turning that down. But my next project will likely be an original novel with supernatural elements set in the nineteenth century. It’s one I’ve been wanting to write for a long time, and I think now is the time to do it.
Artist Mark Wheatley ~ Interviewed by Andy Nunez
Any serious comic reader in the last thirty years has probably encountered Mark Wheatley‘s dynamic work in either story or art form. He is one of those rare multi-talented individuals like Christopher Paul Carey. I first met Mark in the early 90s, not long after he had completed his run for Malibu Comics on Tarzan. He went on to create memorable characters like Radical Dreamer and Frankenstein Mobster, and currently is delving into the world of H.P. Lovecraft. And of course, he did the interior illustrations for Swords Against the Moon Men.
Like a lot of great storytellers of the last half of the 20th century, you came up out of fandom, being the creative power behind a couple of fanzines in the 1970s. How did you make the transition from ardent fan to being in the “biz,” so to speak?
Being pushy? Well, publishing a fanzine taught me a lot about what was needed for me to become a working professional. I learned printing and deadlines. I ended up establishing an art department for the printer that was printing my fanzine, Nucleus. I also was working part time as a stock boy and clerk at a drug store that had an extensive newsstand. It was my responsibility there to order magazines, books, comics, and newspapers each week, and to prepare returns and maintain the stand. So I also learned what it was like for a retailer to have to sell publications.
Then I headed off to college at Virginia Commonwealth University, on the recommendation of Michael Kaluta, who pointed out that the school had three girls for every guy enrolled! I majored in Communication Arts & Design. Starting at the end of my freshman year I took on a full time job as the art director for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Commerce, while also carrying a full load of classes. In that position I began having a good deal of my work published, as annual reports, PR materials, and lots of drawings of chickens, cows, vegetables and farm equipment. In my free time I continued to publish a few more issues of Nucleus, where I established a relationship with several other fans who were soon to start working as professional comics creators. That includes Marc Hempel, John Workman, Howard Chaykin, Bob Smith, Dave Cockrum, and others.
When I graduated I quit my Agriculture job and moved to New Jersey in an all-or-nothing bid to break into comics. The industry collapsed at almost the same time. I still hope there was no real connection between the two events, but it did mean there were no openings for new talent. I did advertising work, designed magazine logos, and eventually found myself creating comics as small features for various magazines. This led to me creating GASM magazine and producing the color feature in each issue. That in turn led to me getting work at Heavy Metal, where I was then offered the position of editor. That timing was bad, as I was still chafing at the idea of another office job, like I had had at the Department of Agriculture and Commerce, so I turned them down. Before the direct distribution market opened up for comics, the slump continued to make it nearly impossible to get regular work in comics. I moved to Baltimore where I set up Insight Studios. Marc Hempel moved from Chicago and together we worked for several years generating advertising material for local businesses.
Good Lord! I had a couple of issues of GASM! It was a guilty pleasure. You worked with graphic novel guru Byron Preiss on the adventure series Be an Interplanetary Spy. How was it to work with such a legend?
Byron was an inspiring and energetic person. I’m afraid I can’t put a happy face on this, though. His projects often were produced at the expense of the talent involved. In the case of Be an Interplanetary Spy, he originally made his contract with Marc Hempel to produce those books. Marc signed a very bad and entirely unreasonable deal. The deadlines were tight even if Marc had been a seasoned pro with many years of experience, rather than this being his first major gig. And the budget was so low that Marc would not have been able to pay the rent or eat for the period of time it was going to take to create the hundreds of pages of art, designs and mechanicals. Marc ended up having a bit of an emotional breakdown a month or two into the schedule. Byron reached out to me to help. I was able to negotiate a more realistic deadline, but Byron refused to offer any additional money. I came on to the project and took on half the art and the job of running the project, just to help Marc meet his commitment. It took me several more months before I had a very similar emotional breakdown from the pressure and stress of the schedule and lack of income. But we got the job done.
When it was done Byron came back to me and we worked to come up with a better contract and compensation for additional books. He was fairly reasonable this time around and yet, I could not bring myself to agree to do the work. Instead I worked up the MARS series and placed it at First Comics, bringing Marc onto that project shortly before we first presented it to publishers. By the way, Insight Studios ended up doing a good deal of production work for Byron over the years, and it was always an exercise in brinkmanship and three dimensional chess to get paid for the work. Byron was notorious for running his business on a wing and a prayer and overextended credit, as well as any free labor he could wrangle.
Is that where you met Marc Hempel who joined Insight Studios, or did you know him before?
Marc submitted work via mail to my fanzine Nucleus in 1973. We finally met in 1977 when he came out from Illinois and visited me in New Jersey. We attended the New York Comic Con together that July. In 1980 Marc moved to Baltimore and we became partners in Insight Studios.
One of your early successes was Blood of the Innocent for WaRP Graphics. It has remained a classic tale and there was talk of it going to film. Is that still happening?
Yes, the film is in pre-production with a fantastic director attached and a sensational script. We are currently casting. Wish I could tell more.
You’ve worked for a lot of comic companies over the years, but your Tarzan miniseries for Malibu is where I first saw your name. Was that a labor of love?
Absolutely. I grew up in a corner of the Great Dismal Swamp. I read the Burroughs books as a kid and acted out those adventures in the forests and swamps around my home. I built a succession of tree houses and ended up living in my final treehouse in my high school years. That treehouse was a pretty slick piece of work, with wall-to-wall carpeting, air conditioning, bunk beds, a living room and nice shelves to store my comic collection. So even though I was inspired by Tarzan, I had it a bit better than he did!
It seems to me that after Malibu, your creativity really took off with characters like Radical Dreamer and Frankenstein’s Mobster. You moved into TV and concept art. Tell us a little about your growth in the last 20 years?
I’ve been busy creating my own characters and projects, even before working on Tarzan. In fact, it was directly due to the work I did on Breathtaker and the attention and awards that book got that lead to my being asked to work on Tarzan. And, while I was working on Tarzan I was also continuing the Blood of Dracula series and creating and writing The Black Hood for Impact Comics at DC. But Tarzan came at a time in my career when I was so in demand as a writer and producer that I had very little time for art.
Radical Dreamer was my return to writing and drawing one of my own creations. I also was self-publishing, which laid the groundwork for Insight Studios to become a full-time publisher a few years later. For about a decade we published a line of comic books and a number of award-winning art books. By the early 2000s I was pretty much fully occupied running the business end of things at Insight, with no time left for any creative works. And that was not a happy situation. I was trying to find a way to balance creative work with the business demands, but a small business has a way of eating up all your time. Whenever I carved out some “me” time, a new fire needed extinguishing or a new opportunity suddenly needed my full attention. I tried to elicit aid from my studio mates, but other than Allan Gross, no one was willing to step up and help keep the business running.
So I pulled the plug on publishing and set Insight Studios back on a course as a creative studio and production house. That’s when I wrote and drew Frankenstein Mobster. I did a number of commercial creations following that, including Miles the Monster for the Dover International Speedway and The Mighty Motor Sapiens as a continuing web strip for a popular sports website that ran for over a year. Next came EZ Street with Robert Tinnell for ComicMix, another web comic that was very popular and was nominated for the Harvey Award as Best Web Comic. Robert and I followed that with Lone Justice, producing two graphic novels worth of web comics, also for ComicMix. At the same time I was working with Mike Oeming on our Hammer of the Gods series. That had begun as a comic at Insight and we did a second graphic novel that was run as a web comic at ComicMix.
So much of my work was appearing to large audiences online, while my presence in print was just about gone, although I did contribute the origin of Bigby Wolf for Bill Willingham’s Fables at Vertigo.
In 2012 I was contacted by Greg Garcia, creator of a number of popular TV shows including My Name is Earl, Raising Hope, The Millers, and The Guest Book. Greg wanted to collaborate on a pilot for a new TV show for CBS called Super Clyde. It was my job to provide five to seven minutes of comic art for each episode that would tell Clyde’s fantasy story with a voiceover. One of the perks was that I got to work with Rupert Grint and Stephen Fry. While the pilot was highly rated (the trade papers were already including the show in their list of greenlighted shows) CBS could not find a space for it in their schedule. They put it on their online site where it became a huge success.
Meanwhile Greg got The Millers picked up and brought me on board to work on several episodes, including one where we essentially did the same kind of work that had been planned for Super Clyde. I turned Beau Bridges into a comic character named Tom Tom. This is an unusual kind of TV work, as my actual art is used on air and I also get a screen credit. The Millers brought in similar work for other shows and pilots, including 2 Broke Girls, Square Roots, and a second pilot for Super Clyde. I also did some design work for a proposed live action Beauty and the Beast for ABC, costume design for Lady Gaga, and set design for The Black-Eyed Peas. I love the variety of work and the unexpected connections.
But my true love is illustrated stories and comics. So when I was asked to be a part of the Jungle Tales of Tarzan project for Dark Horse and Sequential Pulp, I was the first to sign on and got to illustrate one of my favorite Tarzan stories, “The Nightmare.”
By the way, I have also had my originals displayed at a number of museums in the U.S. The Norman Rockwell Museum mounted a show that toured for several years. Currently the Rockwell has put together a show of Marc Hempel’s and my Breathtaker originals.
Along the way, you won several awards and were nominated for others. Watching your stuff on Facebook, you just seem to be getting better and better. You look like you’re on to another hit with Doctor Cthulittle, a strange mashup of a children’s story and H.P. Lovecraft.
Doctor Cthulittle has been in development for nearly five years. It started as a joke, a pun name. But my imagination was captured by the implied concept of the name. I spent a year or so working out some character and environment designs and finally came to the conclusion that the only way this would work is as collaboration. I just did not know who could help on the project, until I met G. D. Falksen. Geoff is a throwback to a time when the written word was supreme. He writes text as if it were poetry. And he has an arcane sense of humor and wit that was just perfect for Doctor Cthulittle. Geoff took the good Doctor and added new characters to my framework and nailed the story that could only be about saving the universe from the Old Ones. We just completed our successful Kickstarter campaign for the first fully illustrated hardback book adventure of the Cthulittle Team. I am going to be spending most of the winter finishing off about thirty pages of paintings to get the book done. We plan to have the book in print in the early summer.
You’ve handled pulp-era heroes like Tarzan and the Spider. How did you discover these characters?
I had been aware of Tarzan through the movies. Our local TV station ran Johnny Weissmuller films every Sunday morning. I was attracted to the characters and concepts, but even as a kid I was left thinking that the filmmakers had totally missed the inherent potential in the situations. It wasn’t until I picked up a copy of the Ace Tarzan at the Earth’s Core with the Frazetta cover that I actually read a story about Tarzan. It was good! This Edgar Rice Burroughs guy really understood the character!
At about the same time my grandfather passed away and my family spent some time clearing out his possessions. He had a small library and on one shelf was a perfect condition copy of the G&D Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar in the original dust jacket. I read that and suddenly I was hooked! Now that I knew there were more Tarzan books, more Edgar Rice Burroughs books, I tracked down every one that I could find. And in the process I started picking up Robert E. Howard books and Edmond Hamilton books and Leigh Brackett books, while not understanding that these were all reprints of old pulp stories. Then I read Jim Steranko’s History of Comics and came to understand that the pulp magazines had been the breeding ground for comic books. From that point on I was a pulp and comic book fan.
As for the hero pulps, I tried The Shadow and Doc Savage, but the stories did not have the intensity and fire I was used to in Burroughs and Howard. The pulps had such lurid covers that promised extreme stories. But the actual text usually was very mild by comparison, until I picked up a Spider pulp by Norvell Page. The Spider quickly became my favorite pulp hero. I didn’t find The Spider until I had been a working professional for a long time. In fact, it was the mid-1990s. And I happened to meet the owner of the rights to The Spider and arranged to publish my Spider story, “Burning Lead for the Walking Dead”!
You’ve contributed a lot to the fan base around Edgar Rice Burroughs, so I’m not really surprised that you landed a fun assignment like illustrating Christopher Paul Carey’s Swords Against the Moon Men. How did that come about?
This past summer at the San Diego Comic-Con, Jim Sullos and Cathy Wilbanks came by my booth and asked if I would be interested in painting covers for any of their new line of Wild Adventures of Edgar Rice Burroughs books. I was open to the idea. We left it that we would come up with specific projects at a later date.
Meanwhile, I had already painted the cover for Christopher Paul Carey’s book Exiles of Kho. He and I already knew each other and are friends on Facebook. He posted about his new ERB book project, I think on the same day I had seen the ERB, Inc. gang at SDCC. Well, I was very impressed with his Kho book and knew he must be doing something amazing for ERB, Inc. So I messaged him and asked if they had assigned an artist to his book yet. It all just worked out due to timing and connections. The only twist is that I could not do the cover because it had just been assigned to Chris Peuler, who delivered an excellent painting. So I don’t have any complaints! And I am working on at least one ERB cover, and that is all I can say about that!
Since you knew Christopher prior to getting the assignment, how was it working with him?
We really got to know each other through this process. When I painted the cover for Exiles of Kho, it was an assignment from Meteor House. Christopher and I didn’t have much contact. But for Swords Against the Moon Men, we were in constant contact. I ran every rough and every idea past him, and he was very good with comments and feedback. Christopher is an excellent author, very much to my taste. He is also something of a chameleon. And for this new book he has assumed a writing style that is pure Edgar Rice Burroughs. The tone of voice is perfect, but he also managed that inventive imagination that Burroughs brought to his best books. If I had any problem illustrating this book, it was that I was limited to eighteen pages of illustrations, and Christopher easily had a hundred great scenes in his manuscript! Anyway, he and I cooked up the idea to do a limited edition of the book, since ERB, Inc. didn’t have any plans of their own for such an edition. So I painted and designed a signing plate and we each put our signatures on 100 of these.
I’ve seen a lot of your Burroughs work over the years. Was the relatively obscure Moon Men trilogy a challenge for you, or were you on solid ground from being a fan?
I read the original Burroughs books back when I was a teen. So I did have to re-read the stories. But Christopher’s book also does a perfect job of re-introducing all the important details. Anyone could start in reading this new book with no previous exposure to the Moon Men series, or to any Burroughs series, and still get the full impact. And I should point out that, as Christopher has set things up in this book, the Moon Men series is clearly the glue that holds the Edgar Rice Burroughs universe together [so this is a great place to start].
How did you decide which scenes to illustrate and what materials did you use? How much digital technology was applied? I ask because I am always interested in technique, and you were an innovator in colorization in comics. Also, there may be some aspiring artists in the readership here who could use a few tips.
I read through the manuscript and made a note of every scene that stood out in my imagination. I was about three chapters into the book when I exceeded my limit for illustrations! So I had to pace myself and try to evenly space out placement of the illustrations throughout the book. I also eliminated any images that might give away major plot spoilers. And that was a tough one, because there are some wonderful surprises in this book!
My process was to work up a small rough digital painting for approval. This went to ERB, Inc. and also to Christopher. Everything was approved, with the only changes to any of the illustrations being that Jim Sullos asked that I turn two of the illustrations into double page spreads. Next I worked out my drawing, tightening details, proportions, perspective, etc. Then I did an inked line piece, using ink on paper. This line art got scanned and was used to digitally paint up the final pieces. I did the paintings in color and then translated them to black and white for their final form to be used in the book.
When I was asked to do this book, one problem was that, even though I am a fairly fast artist, it was at minimum a forty-five day assignment. And I only had a thirty day opening in my schedule. On one end I had several existing commitments and I was locked into the scheduled Kickstarter campaign for Doctor Cthulittle. At the other end I had a very tight deadline to illustrate a Neil Gaiman script for the Mine! anthology. But I so wanted to work with Christopher on this book, I decided that if I worked long hours and nothing went wrong, I would just be able to squeak by in thirty days.
So, of course, come the first day of the thirty and everything started to go wrong. I came in to the studio on the first day of the job and fired up my computer, and my hard drive was dying! My computer was in the shop for repairs for a week! My forty-five day job that I was squeezing into thirty days was now going have to get done in twenty-three days! I managed to pull it off in twenty-five days. And I still got Neil Gaiman’s script illustrated on time. But, as nice as everything turned out, I have no interest in repeating that kind of road race. Next time I’ll stick to my professional wisdom and insist on the longer deadline to start with!
Finally, unlike the fate of Julian in the Moon Men trilogy, your future is still building. Where do you go from here and what can we expect to see from your talented hands and brain in the near term?
Doctor Cthulittle is next up. And I am also working on that unspecified ERB cover, as well as covers for a few other books and several audio book CDs. I’m also penciling a new comic book in collaboration with my longtime friend and studio mate, Marc Hempel, for the first time in decades. Unfortunately, most everything is pending permission for public announcement!
Swords Against the Moon Men
A review by Andy Nunez
I grew up with Edgar Rice Burroughs and his many exciting worlds of adventure. Over the years, I’ve learned that continuations of his stories, even authorized ones, get a love-hate reception from Burroughs fans. Some, like myself, welcome well-written pastiches that explore areas of the Burroughs cosmos that he never got around to or only hinted at. I’ve written a few myself over the years. Others despise any tainting of the sacred word. I understand the haters’ point of view: nobody writes an ERB story like ERB.
Still, a good story using ERB characters is possible (see, for example, Fritz Leiber’s 1966 novelization of the movie Tarzan and the Valley of Gold). Christopher Paul Carey’s Swords Against the Moon Men, an authorized sequel to Burroughs’ Moon Men trilogy, is one such story. Though eclipsed by the popularity of Tarzan and John Carter, the three Moon Men stories have some of ERB’s best-written characters. They seem very realistic and human, without special powers like Tarzan’s jungle skills or John Carter’s ability to leap small buildings in a single bound.
Readers of the original trilogy know how the insidious Kalkars of the moon, led by the traitorous Earthman Orthis, invade our planet after a devastating decades-old war has led to nearly all weapons being dumped into the ocean. Orthis and the hero of the series, Julian, die in a climactic battle and the Soviet-like Kalkars take over Earth. Julian’s descendants appear now and then, and eventually Julian 9th leads a revolt against the Kalkars.
Carey comes to the narrative not at the end but smack in the middle, choosing to tell the story of Julian 7th.
Julian 7th is a simple horse trainer when he is sought out by a wicked descendant of Orthis, whose progeny is now known as Or-tis. Instead of a horrible death, Julian is rescued and taken to a rare working model of a Gridley Wave radio (invented by another ERB hero, Jason Gridley). There, Julian receives a desperate plea for help. It seems that the Martians, aghast at the defeat of Earth by the Kalkars, sent a delegation to one of the last remaining non-Kalkar cities on the moon, but have lost contact with it. The sender pleads with Julian to go to the Moon and investigate.
Julian manages to gain passage on a Kalkar ship. Upon landing he is befriended by one of the human-like quadrupeds, the Va-gas, and they set off to solve the mystery. Along the way, they encounter a number of new beasts out of Carey’s prodigious imagination, until they reach a fantastic city built in the walls of a crater. There, Julian meets his own Moon Maid, as well as learning the identity of the ambassador from Mars, which will give all Burroughs fans a huge smile. I am not going to spoil the rest of the story by telling you how that unwinds.
Instead, let me tell you how I feel about the book’s style and composition. Carey holds a Master’s degree in Fiction Writing. He has followed in the footsteps of the great Philip Jose Farmer and done a variety of other fantasy and science fiction stories. His imagination is fertile and there is not a slack part in the entire 225 odd pages of this wonderfully illustrated book. The dust jacket is moodily illustrated by Chris Peuler, while the interior illustrations are by comic legend Mark Wheatley. Wheatley uses a combination of period-looking tonal paintings that evoke the classic ERB illustrations by J. Allen St. John, while his character portraits are in his more familiar comic style of strong lines and dynamic curves.
All that talent is not wasted on this book. Carey’s experience allows him to mimic ERB’s style so closely you almost wonder if the story came from some dusty vault in Tarzana, California. His hero is strong, brave, and always ready to fight. Like all great ERB heroes, this Julian is as clueless about women. The world of Julian is radically different than our own and the science of the story is based on fanciful concepts that ERB used, such as rays of propulsion to lift ships into space. Carey has to wrestle with this mash-up of pseudoscience and alternate history, and does a creditable job.
Were I to title this review, I would good-naturedly call it “The Importance of Being ERB-est,” so faithfully does Carey fall into the Burroughs style. That’s both a strength and a potential drawback: besides a couple of nitpick typos, the biggest problem with the story is that Carey tries so hard to “be” ERB in style that his use of archaic words and terms may lead non-ERB readers to find an unabridged dictionary. Even so, Swords Against the Moon Men is accessible to those new to ERB.
If you are an ERB fan like me, this book will easily transport you back to your youth, whether it was reading the old red Grosset and Dunlap reprints or an Ace paperback with a Roy Krenkel cover. The story’s pace picks up so that by the last third there is a huge amount of action, with lots of ERB Easter eggs sprinkled along the way to delight faithful fans. The ending is full of twists as well, foreshadowing the events of The Moon Men and The Red Hawk of the original trilogy. Carey hints that Julian 3rd has another tale to tell, perhaps beyond the end of the trilogy. I can only hope so.
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