News Logo
HomeSearchContents PageSite Map
News Spotlight -- Genre Books and Media
by Sandy Auden

This month: A Comic Book Retrospective for Vertigo with Alex Irvine; Stan Nicholls warns that the Orcs are coming; Peter V Brett's new and original fantasy The Painted Man; Nigel Suckling talks fangs with The Book of the Vampire; and the Fall season line-up from Small Press publisher Telos.

Did you miss something? Have a look at last month's news page or that which lists all of our news pages.

Material for possible inclusion here should be sent to Sandy Auden at

September 2008
Alex Irvine on The Vertigo Encyclopedia The Vertigo Encyclopedia

Dorling Kindersley has released the first of two big coffee table books about the history of comics.

The Vertigo Encyclopedia by Alex Irvine is celebration of DC Comics' Vertigo imprint. It starts with detailed chapters of the line's most famous series, such as Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon and Neil Gaiman's Sandman, then follows up with some of their smaller projects, giving overviews of the characters and behind the scenes details.

Author Alex Irvine is no stranger to researching non-fiction books, with titles like The Supernatural Book of Monsters, Spirits, Demons and Ghosts already under his belt and he stopped rustling through his reference books long enough to answers a few pertinent Vertigo questions...

Why did you decide to do the book?
Well, it was a chance to read a bunch of new comics and reread a bunch of old favorites. I got to sit around looking at old issues of, say, Transmetropolitan, and claim that it was work. And then there was the chance to put between covers a first draft of Vertigo's history by way of short essays on the standard-bearing titles. I think this book turned out looking great, but in the end it'll also be a resource for anyone from the committed fan to the scholar who wants to work on any of the titles.

Where did the research take you?
Geographically, the research mostly took me to the front door and back, which was where huge boxes of comics appeared every day for a while. I read approximately 25 linear feet of comics all told.

I made several trips to the DC offices too, where the hardest working editor on 53 Street, John Morgan, set me up to read uncollected issues out of DC's library. Some of the stuff I was writing about has gotten pretty rare -- the entry on 100%, for example, was written using Karen Berger's personal copy, which she lent me because another one couldn't be found anywhere. Other stuff, like the uncollected runs of books like Doom Patrol or Black Orchid or Animal Man, was considered too valuable to leave the building, so I went to New York and read it there.

I also had the good fortune to use a couple of students at the University of Maine to help with researching old reviews and that kind of thing. So here's a tip of the cap to Tim Moore and Jasmine Haines.

As far as who I talked to, it was usually John Morgan and Alastair Dougall, who was handling things from Dorling Kindersley's end. They were great, and they also made sure that the creators got a look at the entries to make sure that there weren't any egregious errors of fact.

Were any sections particularly difficult or easy?
The sections about the comics themselves were difficult or easy depending on how difficult or easy the title itself was. The Fountain, for example, was tough to write about because it was a short entry dealing with a very intricate and complicated story that ideally would have needed some room to explain.

A comic like Hellblazer was easier to write about in certain ways, since so much has been written about it before -- but more difficult in certain ways, since the sheer volume of story means you have to make hard choices about what to cut. That was one of the entries that took a while to settle down, since we had to go back and forth among me, DC, and Alastair Dougall at Dorling Kindersley to sort out what the priorities for the entry would be. A book that's been running for more than twenty years presents a challenge for someone who needs to summarize it in maybe 800 words.

What's the most interesting fact you've discovered?
Hmm. Well, Grant Morrison tried to get people all over the world to masturbate simultaneously in an effort to improve the sales of The Invisibles. That's pretty interesting.

Which titles were the most fun researching and why?
The titles that are really densely packed with cultural and historical allusions, plus visual and verbal quotes from other comics and novels, etc., are the most fun. V for Vendetta was a very rewarding re-read. The Invisibles was a lot of fun because (among other things) it's saturated with quotations from and references to Philip K. Dick and I'm a longtime fan of and researcher about Dick. Transmetropolitan was a terrific read, and packed to the rafters with tips of the cap to other books. One of the things that emerged over the course of the book was how much these titles are in conversation with each other; I mentioned V for Vendetta, and I can't even tell you how many other Vertigo books quote visual or thematic moments from that one. The same is true of Swamp Thing, which of course overlaps with Constantine and on into the Sandman/Books of Magic/Dreaming/House of Mystery continuum. Keeping track of those interrelations, and becoming attuned to the moments when each book is quietly name checking the others, was one of the real pleasures of putting the Vertigopedia together.
For more information…

Beware: The Orcs Are Coming

Orcs Stan Nicholls's Orcs: First Blood trilogy was first released back in 1999 and has been growing in popularity ever since. The omnibus edition, now on sale around the world, is proving just how interested fans are in finding out all about the world of magic from the Orcs point of view.

So it's good news for the fans that Nicholls has now penned further adventures of his fascinating band of Orcs fighters as they explore other dimensions in an attempt to find peace for their race and escape the savage expansion of mankind in their homeland.

Since the first trilogy, Nicholls has been off having fun in the worlds of the Quicksilver trilogy so how did it feel returning to the Orcs?
A bit like coming home, really. It's been good reacquainting myself with characters I'm very fond of, and exploring further some of the themes from the first trilogy. But the thing to bear in mind is that when I originally planned the series I conceived a plot intended to span more than a single trilogy. I always had a big story arc in mind, so it isn't so much a case of coming back to the series as continuing it.

Quicksilver Did writing the Quicksilver trilogy change the way you approached the Orcs?
Only in the sense that writing, like any other activity, hopefully gets better the more you do it. Similar to working a muscle to make it stronger, as I'm fond of saying. The Quicksilver trilogy, although so called high fantasy, like the Orcs, has quite a different slant, and I don't think it's informed the new Orcs in any thematic or stylistic way. But with luck I might have learnt a little more about how to tell a story. The other thing the Quicksilvers gave me was a chance to immerse myself in something else. Much as I love the Orcs, and enjoy writing about them, you run the risk of over-familiarity, and getting stale, if you turn out six books on the same subject in a row. You need a break.

What will Stryke and his warband get up to this time?
Much more than I have the space to go into here! Or would want to, for the sake of the readers. But as I mentioned, this new trilogy, Orcs: Bad Blood, carries on the story that began in the first three books. Certain threads left unresolved get taken up again, and we find out how the characters have fared. But the story also opens out a lot as the new trilogy progresses; the action takes place in a number of different locations and there are fresh additions to the cast, orc, human and otherwise.

What has been the hardest aspect of writing the new trilogy?
Oh, the usual. Writing, particularly writing to a professional standard, is hard work. Okay, it isn't defusing unexploded bombs, working in a coal mine, feeding the world's starving or some other equally worthwhile enterprise, but it's draining enough for most of us. It's difficult to think of an intellectual task, if I can put it that preciously, that demands as much sheer mental effort. The hardest aspect is simply doing it as well as you can; making it believable, coherent and no great chore to read. Also, as far as this new clutch of Orcs books is concerned, the challenge has been to make it different from the first batch. I didn't want to just rehash what's gone before. You owe readers more than a re-run of what they've already had. There's still the same quota of action and a narrative with pace, I hope, but imbued with as much freshness as possible. Events seen through a slightly altered filter, if you like.

What's been the easiest part?
Are there easy parts? I suppose the fact that I'm dealing with characters and a storyline I've already established makes it a little easier. And what I said about exercising the writing muscle comes into it -- all being well you learn some tricks and techniques that help move things along, and of course the more you do the more you gain in confidence.

Why has the new trilogy taken so long to appear?
You mentioned one reason -- I wrote a different trilogy in between, and that's always time-consuming. Plus I had some other projects, professional and personal, to deal with. Another consideration was that when the original Orcs trilogy appeared it performed decently but not brilliantly in terms of sales. So I went off and did other things. But when I was about halfway through writing the Quicksilvers everything changed. Mostly through word of mouth Orcs: First Blood took off. Not just here in the UK but right around the world, to the point where its current sales are now well over a million copies. That brought a clamour from readers and publishers for more, so I was able to take up the series again and develop it in the way I intended from the start. In fact, that hunger for more stories about Stryke and the Wolverines has started to manifest in other mediums. I recently finished writing the outline for an Orcs graphic novel, for example. Not an adaptation of the existing books but an original story, though it features more or less the same cast. And there's a possibility of the series appearing in other mediums, which it's too premature to talk about at the moment.

How do you think the Tolkien purists will react to the new trilogy?
Probably in the same way they did to the first one. Which is to say mixed. Some thought it was a cheek that I dared to write about orcs at all. Others were more philosophical and didn't see what I was doing as encroaching on Tolkien in any way. Which I'm not. It's strange, but when authors have elves, goblins, fairies and the rest in their novels nobody complains that it's derivative of Tolkien. But take orcs as your protagonists and you catch the flak. I think that reaction's based on the misapprehension that Tolkien invented orcs. He certainly popularised them, but they weren't his creation. Orcs have appeared in folklore and fairy tales for hundreds of years, and they've been popping up in fiction since at least the mid 16th Century. I understand why some people who love The Lord of the Rings, as I do, can get irate but their fears of a kind of dilution of the books by other hands are groundless. That's not what I'm doing. I'm just saying let's give orcs their due.
For more information…

Peter V. Brett on The Painted Man

Peter V. Brett's debut novel is an engrossing tale about ordinary people who refuse to succumb to situations they live in. Refreshingly free of peasants who don't know they're really royalty and evil wizards usurping kingdoms, The Painted Man follows Arlen's life after his mother is killed by the demonic corelings that assault his village every day. Kept back by wards written on doors and windows, his village is terrorised every night and spends the days burying the dead when the wards have failed. Travelling to the cities, more than a day's journey away, is a risk left to the Messengers who survive with portable ward circles and a lot of luck. But eleven-year-old Arlen is sick of living in fear, especially when his father cowers behind their wards while his mother is ripped to shreds by fire-demons. Looking for a better life, Arlen runs away and heads for the city of Miln but without any wards to protect he might not last the first night.

As with many debut authors, Brett has had the luxury of time to polish this first engaging volume…
Technically, I have been working on The Painted Man since around 1999, since that was when I first started writing about Arlen Bales and his demon problem. I worked on it on and off for the next few years, interspersed with other projects, finishing and submitting a first draft to my agent in 2004.

That draft, of course, never saw the light of day. It was deeply flawed, and I retreated for some time to lick my wounds after receiving a blunt rejection letter that told me just why it was so. But deep down I believed the book was salvageable, and after I had grown a thicker skin, I threw out more than half of it and completely restructured the story. That second draft was written almost entirely on my cellphone keyboard whilst commuting to my day job over the course of 2006, and it was the version that finally sold.

Now that it's released, it's still a little surreal. Writing fantasy was always my dream career, and I still have trouble believing I'm really doing it. Beyond that, though, it feels amazing. Writing is a very private endeavor, and when you spent countless hours crafting something and then put it out in the big, bad world for people to judge, it can be a little scary. But reader response thus far has been amazingly and overwhelmingly positive, and I can't think of a better feeling than to see people enjoying something I poured so much of myself into.

Leesha the Herb-Gatherer is a beautifully written character in The Painted Man. How did you get so much understanding about women?
Ha. I don't know if my wife would agree that I understand women so well. But that said, the majority of my close friends have always been women. I'm not sure why that is. Maybe it's because I have zero interest in sports, and always wound up hanging out with the women at Superbowl and World Series parties. For whatever reason, though, there have always been a lot of amazing, intelligent women in my life (something my girlfriends have never taken well to), and I'm sure that has helped me.

I don't really think, however, that I have a special insight into women in general, because that kind of trivializes the entire gender. Women are hugely varied and complicated, like all people, so I try and think of it on a smaller scale and understand my characters as individuals. When I'm writing a character it's not "What would a woman do in these circumstances?" but rather "What would THIS woman do?" I like to think that whatever she chooses, I could create a believable woman who is motivated to do the opposite.

I've always been fascinated by people and their motivations, be they logical, emotional, or the result of experience. I try to understand everyone, especially those who think differently from me. I think that's the key to creating compelling characters. Writers who fail to do this tend to have cookie cutter characters who all think and act more or less the same, or stereotype characters who lack any motivation apart from the demands of the plot.

The third important character in The Painted Man is Rojer, the jongleur (juggler). Which character arrived in you imagination first out of Arlen, Rojer and Leesha?
Definitely Arlen came first. I wrote a short story about him in 1999, and he's been with me ever since. I like him because he is honest to a fault and utterly fearless. A very rare combination, but exactly the kind of person you need to change the world. At his core, he's just someone trying to stay true to himself while everyone else is content telling themselves lies.

Rojer and Leesha were meant to be Arlen's adult companions, and in the first draft of the book, we meet them both as adults. In the second draft, I decided to go back and show where they both came from as well, and I think it was this change that truly made the book resonate. They found their own voices, and I soon found both of them, Leesha especially, taking over and driving their own portions of the story. There's a certain magic that happens when characters come to life like that, and for me, it's what writing is all about.

The story, like many fantasy novels, is actually about real life and the way we live in fear in the Western world. How intentional was it to include that theme?
Utterly. From the very beginning, I wanted to write a book about the nature of fear, using demons as a metaphor. At first it was more a nameless fear, the kind that makes you turn on the light when you wake up at night, even though you know perfectly well you're alone, or the paranoia that can come from walking down an isolated street at night. As a New Yorker who's been mugged a couple of times over the years, that feeling is like an old friend to me.

Of course, cliché though it sounds, things changed after September 11. I was in Manhattan when the towers fell, and remembered how all my coworkers and I felt as we watched the smoke rising from our office windows. My father and mother in law were actually in the towers, though they were amongst those lucky enough to be evacuated in time. After that, I watched the nameless fear I had wanted to write about grip a nation, and a world, and I thought long and hard about terror and what it does to people. I try very hard to touch on that theme in The Painted Man in particular, and the series in general.

Can you give a brief preview of what will be happening in book two?
I am a big believer in the idea that to truly understand a character, you need to see where they come from and what motivates them. To this end, the first half of the second book, entitled The Desert Spear, steps back in time to show the formative events in the lives of the Krasians Jardir and Abban, in much the same way the first book did for Arlen, Rojer, and Leesha. It will give a new perspective to some of the events in The Painted Man, and properly prepare the reader to witness and understand what happens when these characters and their respective cultures clash.

I also think Jardir's origin story is chock-full of nonstop awesome, but that's just my opinion.

The Desert Spear will also focus on another bit character from the first book, Renna Tanner of Tibbet's Brook, and show what became of her after Arlen left. Renna is very different from the other women I've written about, and I've come to really love her. I hope my readers will, too.
For more information…

Nigel Suckling puts his pointy teeth in to talk about the Book of the Vampire Book of the Vampire

Vampire fans have a treat in store with the release of Nigel Suckling's Book of the Vampire  in September. Illustrated through out with gorgeous original artwork from Bruce Pennington, this high quality hardback is simply stuffed with well researched information about Vampires. From Bram Stoker's Dracula and Vlad the Impaler to the significance of bloodlust in medieval times, there's something for every discerning vampire lover within its pages.

So how did the project come to be published?
I've been writing the Book of the Vampire for twelve years or so because my original publisher went out of business and, until now, no-one else seemed very interested. Of course I haven't worked continuously on the book all that time because I've been busy with others; but on and off throughout those twelve years I tinkered with it whenever I came across some juicy new aspect of vampires or had some new idea.

Publication was a happy combination of simple curiosity and my editor happening to ask what I would most like to write about as the sequel for a book on unicorns which we had just packed off to the printers. For whatever reason, the vampires just popped into my head.

What sort of content will we find in book?
There's a balance between fact and fiction, between the anthropology and what you see in old Hammer horror films. I've tried to give them equal weight to show how the fears played upon in vampire movies just for entertainment have their roots in much darker fears that were taken absolutely seriously by our ancestors -- and by many people living today for that matter. The key for doing this was using Bram Stoker's Dracula as a kind of focal point throughout; partly because that book is probably the main reason for the vampire's modern fame, but also because it is quite solidly based on real folklore, so is a perfect starting point for exploring the realities and beliefs behind the legend.

Did your previous experience with non-fiction books help with this volume?
Well, every book contributes something to those that follow. Vampires may seem like an abrupt shift of interest from my usual topics (unicorns, goddesses, leprechauns etc.) but not really. For instance the research I did for a book about angels provided me with a lot of fascinating dark material for this Book of the Vampire. Faeries too have a dark side, so to my mind this book sits comfortably in sequence with the rest and hopefully it will enrich any future books I do on brighter topics.

Did any sections cause you more difficulties than others?
Probably the hardest part was finding reliable translations of contemporary documents relating to the original Dracula -- Vlad the Impaler -- and Elisabeth Bathory, trying to get at the truth behind the legends; but mostly the information kind of built up naturally. The great thing about this book was that most of it was written without any deadline, so I could let it just evolve at its own pace.

What's the strangest book you used for research and what info did you get from it?
The Tribes and Castes of the Central Provinces of India by R.V. Russell, 1916, which gives some fascinating examples of how fear of the undead can be used as blackmail, as in threatening to commit suicide so you can haunt your victim. One Indian tribe was so famous for its mass suicides against anyone who offended them that very few people did. And by all accounts their methods worked, as there were famous documented examples of their victims falling into madness and ruin.

There's lots of detailed info in the book but also some overviews where you look at patterns forming. How easy did you find it to swap between the two levels of thinking?
Swapping was easy enough because it just feels as natural as coming up for air when diving. Getting the right balance is always tricky though because it's such a subjective call. What I try to do is leave plenty of pointers so readers know where to look for more on any particular aspect of the subject.

What do you think of the illustrations and which one is your favourite?
The original illustrations are as brilliant as I hoped they would be when I first suggested Bruce Pennington as the artist. My favourite is his portrait of a lamia on page 124.

Of the stock illustrations we also have, probably my favourite for poignancy is the original programme on page 45 for a stage reading of Dracula, as required by law at the time to establish Stoker's copyright for a possible play. As a theatre man he would have loved to see a stage version of Dracula but that didn't happen till after his death. This performance was little more than a public reading of the novel which Henry Irving, his boss at the theatre, considered 'dreadful'.

Or possibly, on grounds of sheer creepiness, the wonderfully claustrophobic illustration by Harry Clarke on page 94 for Edgar Allen Poe's The Premature Burial.
For more information…

Taboo Breakers: 18 Independent Films that Courted Controversy and Created a Legend It Lives Again! Silver Scream Silver Scream

Telos Publishing Fall Line-Up

Telos Publishing have announced their new titles for the end of 2008 so if you're a Torchwood, Doctor Who or Horror movie fan they've got something for you.

August saw the release of Something in the Darkness: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Torchwood Series Two By Stephen James Walker. This is a companion guide to Telos' best-selling guide to the first series of Torchwood. Stephen James Walker unpicks the series, looking at the development and build up to transmission, and then extensively reviewing and analysing the transmitted episodes.

Hot of the presses in September was Taboo Breakers: 18 Independent Films that Courted Controversy and Created a Legend by Calum Waddell. Eighteen key films are analysed and discussed by Calum Waddell, with extensive interview contributions from the producers, writers, directors and cast.

This month (October) brings the two Silver Scream volumes by Steven Warren Hill covering Horror movies from 1920 to 1951. Hill discusses and analyses 80 key titles from the period (40 in each volume). 80 classic films from The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari to The Thing From Another World.

It Lives Again! by Axelle Carolyn brings you up to date with Horror movies in the new millennium. Presented in a large format, full colour illustrated hardback edition, Carolyn's assessment and analysis of the state of horror in the 21st Century will be of great interest to film buffs, critics and viewers alike. With an Introduction by Neil Marshall (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) and a Foreword by Mick Garris (The Stand, The Shining).

And finally, December brings a present fit for any Doctor Who fan in your life: Monsters Within: The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Doctor Who 2008 by Stephen James Walker. The 2008 series is subjected to analysis and discussion as Stephen James Walker continues Telos' series of titles looking at the new series of Doctor Who.
For more information…

More Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy on the way!

Penguin have announced that it is to publish the sixth novel in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series.

In their press release, Penguin gave the following details:

Eight years after the tragically early death of its creator, Douglas Adams, widow Jane Belson has sanctioned the project to be written by the international number-one bestselling children's writer, Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl novels. The new book is entitled And Another Thing… and will be published in hardback by Penguin in October 2009.

Jane Belson, the widow of Douglas Adams said, "I am delighted that Eoin Colfer has agreed to continue the Hitchhiker series. I love his books and could not think of a better person to transport Arthur, Zaphod and Marvin to pastures new. The project has my full support."

Eoin Colfer has introduced a new generation of readers to the absurdities of life, the universe and everything through his bestselling Artemis Fowl series, in which a teenage criminal mastermind wreaks havoc in this world, the next and any others that happen to be nearby.

Colfer has been a fan of Hitchhiker since his schooldays and said, "Being given the chance to write this book is like suddenly being offered the superpower of your choice. For years I have been finishing this incredible story in my head and now I have the opportunity to do it in the real world. It is a gift from the gods. So, thank you Thor and Odin."

Copyright © 2008 Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit

SearchContents PageSite MapContact UsCopyright

If you find any errors, typos or other stuff worth mentioning, please send it to
Copyright © 1996-2014 SF Site All Rights Reserved Worldwide