Digging In the Dirt: The Origins of Gravedigger

allstarsquadron_homage_clean_smallCharity Grace – aka Gravedigger –  has appeared in two solo volumes so far and she’ll play a big role in the upcoming “crossover” novel that pairs her with Lazarus Gray and The Peregrine. She’s become one of my most popular creations, thanks in no small part to the stunning costume design that George Sellas came up with. But where did she come from? What inspirations led her to spring forth from my crowded little mind?

What follows is an essay that ran in the first volume of The Adventures of Gravedigger. If you’ve read it before, hopefully you’ll enjoy seeing it again — if it’s your first time, expect a few insights into my creative process. I’ve tweaked it from the original in a few places, removing a link to the blog and altering the name of Max Davies’ costumed identity.

Our art today is from my buddy George Sellas and is an homage to one of my all-time favorite comic book covers: All-Star Squadron # 1. The original was drawn by Rich Buckler but I think George captured the feel perfectly, replacing the original DC heroes with my own. Hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

And now on to the main event:

Hello, Faithful Readers! I hope you enjoyed the introduction to Gravedigger, the newest member of my New Pulp universe that began with the arrival of The Rook. Since The Rook’s first flight back in 2008, I’ve added to the universe with Lazarus Gray, The Dark Gentleman, Guan-Yin, The Claws of The Rook and many more.

But none of them are quite like Gravedigger.

To understand how and why I created the character, we first have to go back to the misty past. It was a time of optimism and a surging economy. We were well on the way to electing the first Democratic President since Jimmy Carter. Grunge was filtering its way into the public consciousness.

It was 1992. I was 20 years old and in college, where I was working towards an undergraduate degree in Psychology. Then, as now, I was a huge comic book fan. Then, as now, I was a huge fan of the Valiant Universe. I loved the tight continuity it possessed and the way that little background events and characters would float from book to book, building a cohesive universe.

One of my favorite characters in that universe was Shadowman, who debuted in May 1992. A supernatural hero, Jack Boniface was poisoned by an alien, allowing him to “die” before being resurrected as an avenger of the night. We would later find out that he was only the latest in a long line of Shadowmen. I loved the concept and the series but it eventually faded away with the rest of the Valiant Universe.

But like all good things, it would not stay dead. Shadowman and the rest of the Valiant heroes were recently revived by a new Valiant. The promo art by Patrick Zircher floated around for months before the first issue actually debuted and I adored the revised look of the hero. It got me to thinking… Perhaps I needed to add a new title to my pulp hero collection, one that would serve as a “connector” series. It would have ties to all that had come before and would be the place where fans of The Peregrine or Lazarus Gray could come to get a taste of the greater universe.

I decided I wanted to make the new character a female, to balance out the male-heavy universe that I already had, and that I wanted her to be heavily supernatural as a nod to Shadowman. Like Jack, she would be the latest in a long line of heroes and, as with Shadowman and Lazarus Gray, rebirth would factor large in her origin.

From there, artist George Sellas and I tossed a few ideas back and forth. I had the name Gravedigger but I was afraid it was too masculine for Charity. He convinced me that it could be a neat twist on the name and concept. I told him my idea of tying Charity’s past to Samantha Grace’s origin, which he liked. It not only provided a link to the Lazarus series but also furthered the Grace family’s role in the overall universe.

Once I’d come up with the full origin and George had done his initial character sketch, I thought it would be fun to have a “hand-off” in the story. When I wrote my first Lazarus Gray collection, The Peregrine appeared, as if giving his stamp of approval on the new arrival. With this one, I wanted to have both The Peregrine and Lazarus appear in ways that would bolster Gravedigger but not detract from her starring role. I was inspired by the way Star Trek used to do this – Dr. McCoy from the original series was on the first episode of Next Generation, then Captain Picard from The Next Generation appeared on the first episode of Deep Space Nine, while that space station was a jumping-off point for Star Trek: Voyager when that series began. I thought was a nice wink and nod to the fans.

The decision to use The Headless Horseman in the book came about because I recycle everything. A few years ago, I wrote nearly 20,000 words on a novel I was going to call “Headless.” It was going to be a sequel to Washington Irving’s classic and would introduce a new hero of mine, Mortimer Quinn. I eventually abandoned the project but I always wanted to use parts of that story… so it ended up here. Tying Mortimer to the Gravedigger legacy was easy enough and allowed me to bring the Horseman into the story.

As for Charity’s allies… one thing that I learned from the Lazarus Gray series is that I like having a steady cast of characters to supplement my protagonist. But I didn’t want to create another Assistance Unlimited, who was inspired by Justice, Inc. Instead, I looked to another favorite pulp hero of mine – The Shadow. While Lazarus has a group of partners, The Shadow had a group of agents. There was never any doubt that Harry Vincent and Burbank were lower-ranking than The Shadow. That’s what I set out to do here – Mitchell, Cedric and Li all get their ‘origins’ here and we see what skills they bring to the table. All of them, however, are agents – not partners. Our heroine is the one that stands on center stage during the final conflict.

So where do we go from here? Obviously, the arrival of Mortimer on the last page suggests that there are more stories to be told here. The first Gravedigger book appeared in 2013, with a second in 2014. I hope to continue to update her adventures regularly, just as I have with Lazarus and The The Peregrine.

Speaking of artwork, I have to say thank you to George Sellas, for designing Gravedigger’s look and for the incredibly awesome cover he whipped up. Also, Will Meugniot’s interior illustrations perfectly captured the mood of the story, pairing Charity’s obvious beauty with her deadly nature. Thanks, guys.

Lock your doors, everyone. Gravedigger is hitting the streets.

How Far Is Too Far?

Psst-Masked-GirlI keep most of my New Pulp writing in the PG-13 range but I’ve been known to cross “the line” on occasion… some of you may remember when Sun Koh mutilated a rapist in an old Peregrine story, for instance. And my novel Rabbit Heart is basically a study in excess! Whenever I thought that I might be pushing the envelope too far in that book, I went ahead and tore it open.

But when is it *really* too far?

I’ve kept hardcore sex and violence out of Lazarus Gray, for instance, but there’s an element of subjectivity there, as with all artistic endeavors. When I wrote The Damned Thing, there was a scene early on that involved oral sex. To be honest, I’d forgotten about it by the time it saw print — it was just a brief character moment and believe it or not, not every scene sticks in the mind of the person who wrote it (I write a lot of scenes…). So when it came out, I had a reader who went on and on about that scene and how much it disturbed them. I didn’t even remember what they were talking about! See, for them, that was shocking and extremely memorable. For me, it was no big deal. So you never know how folks will respond.

But there are times when even I know that I might be going into territory that would be best left undisturbed. I’ve mentioned before that I started writing a sequel to Rabbit Heart — it was going to be titled Starstruck. In fact, I wrote about 12,000 words on it, meaning it’s about 20% complete. But even as I was writing the opening scenes of Starstruck, I knew that this probably couldn’t see print. Despite how far I’d gone with Rabbit Heart, I went a lot further into the disturbing territory with just the first 12,000 words on Starstruck. There is at least one scene in there that I think would be hard for people to get out of their heads when they thought of me… and I’m not quite sure I want to go there.

Nobody’s read Starstruck – not even people who’ve really begged & pleaded! I’ve thought about finishing it but it’s so dark and if I didn’t publish it, what would be the point? I’ve considered completing it and then sticking it in a box with a note to say that it could be published after I was dead & gone but then I’d miss the perverse pleasure of seeing people freak out!

On the other hand, I don’t want to tone the story down, either. If I’m going to write disgusting smut then by God, I’m going to write disgusting smut!

Anyway, I think that I’ll continue staying on the PG-13 path for most of my New Pulp work – I often try to craft stories that will appeal to adolescent boys the way that classic pulp did me when I was that age. A little titillation is fine but I try not to veer too far into adult territory. Of course, sometimes the characters demand their course of action (like Sun Koh did in that Peregrine story) and often what I consider PG-13 isn’t what someone else would. In fact, I had one lady tell me she’d never let her 15 year old son read my books because they contained too many “demonic” elements.

In the end, the work puts whatever restrictions on itself that feel appropriate. When I’m writing The Peregrine, there’s a certain feeling to the world that lets me know the basic parameters, even if I sometimes bump against the guard rails.

The “Other” Hero of The Peregrine Chronicles

Today I figured we’d spend a few minutes talking about the ‘other’ hero of The Peregrine Chronicles. Will McKenzie is introduced in the second Peregrine story and soon becomes not only best friend to our hero Max Davies but also a frequent companion on his adventures.

Some of the highlights include:

1937 – Will arrives in Atlanta and is introduced to Max by the mysterious Benson, a man who has risen above tragedy in his own life to become a hero in the employ of the government. The youngest police chief in the nation, Will has movie-star good looks and a fierce attraction both both the ladies and to danger. As we’ll see, the combination of those two interests is a particular problem for him! In his debut appearance, Will heads off into the Atlanta underground to help foil a vampire uprising “Kingdom of Blood”, The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One).

1939 – Max and Evelyn become parents to a son that they name William, after their good friend (“Abominations,” The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One). Later in the year, Will and an ex-girlfriend named Violet Cambridge become embroiled in a horrific adventure surrounding a cursed object, an ancient cult and Aleister Crowley (The Damned Thing).

1940 – Will travels to Berlin with The Peregrine and The Domino Lady to confront the organization known as Bloodwerks (“Bloodwerks, The Peregrine Omnibus Volume One).

1941 – Kidnapped by a Nazi agent known as The Iron Maiden, Will is able to not only escape her clutches but convince her that she’s fighting on the wrong side. Kirsten Bauer and Will are soon married (“The Iron Maiden,” The Peregrine Volume One).

Later in the Forties, we learn that Will and Kirsten are struggling to have a child. As of this writing, we don’t know if they ever succeeded or not. Will is actually in most of The Peregrine stories after his introduction but the above are some of the best. If you’re a big fan of Will, I’d definitely suggest you seek out “Kingdom of Blood” and The Damned Thing, both of which feature him very prominently.

All Kinds of Updates!

into_darknessThings are really busy lately so I figured I’d update you on a few of the projects I’ve got in the works.

First, the cover to my upcoming novella for A Song of Blades and Heroes game world is presented here today. It’s by Andrea Sfiligoi and I think it’s a gorgeous piece of work! Assuming the Kickstarter gets funded – and it looks like it will – you should see this sometime in early 2016. The world is high fantasy and features intelligent fungi, powerful warriors and lots of the supernatural.

In other words, it’s just my cup of tea!

Also, I’ve gotten a couple of great images that play into Lazarus Gray Volume 6 – one by Ted Hammond and the other from Chris Batista. I’m currently writing the second story that will make up Volume 6 and hope to be finished with the writing of the entire book before the end of the year.

I’m on page 28 of the edits for Götterdämmerung, the crossover novel that features Lazarus, The Peregrine and Gravedigger (plus many more!). Pro Se Press hopes to get this one out before the calendar flips over to 2016.

Once I’m finished writing the current Lazarus story, I have to jump over to do a Warden story and then I’ll be back to finish off Volume 6.

Beyond that… what would folks like to see? Something entirely new? Gravedigger Volume 3? A new Peregrine story?

Let me know, folks!

A Visit With… The Warden!

Steven Hudkins is the creator of a an exciting new hero, The Warden. I’ll be contributing a short story to the canon soon and I thought all of you would like the opportunity to learn more about Steven and his creation!
1. Tell us a bit about your secret origin, Steven. How did your incredible writing powers develop?

I wish they were incredible, my editor wouldn’t have to work so hard! When I was young, I decided I’d either become a film director or a novelist. It wasn’t until I was a little bit older that I really discovered comics. In a way, it combines the two art forms. Cinematography is a huge part of writing comics. After that, I just began to work it. As I’m sure you know, that’s really the best and only way to become a writer. You have to put in the time. I never took any classes, but there are hundreds of resources online that teach you how to tell a good story. I am also in a critique group, so we try to become better writers together. When I am ready to move forward with a project, I always work with an editor to make sure the script is top-notch.

2. The Warden seems to have some strong pulp influences – can you tell us about your past with pulp? What characters or stories resonated with you?

When I was younger, I was obsessed with film. I also loved fantasy, so I was a fan of the Conan and Kull movies (bad acting and all!). From the movies, I discovered the stories by Robert E. Howard. That was my gateway into pulp, really. I started with the really well-known authors, like Howard and Lovecraft, but then I learned about specific characters like Doc Savage. It was new territory for me and I really had to work to find pulp books. Mostly, I found them at flea markets or garage sales. I love Doc Savage, but I think Conan the Barbarian would have to be my favorite character. Howard has an incredible talent of taking a story with all these fantasy and supernatural elements and making it believable. Conan has all of these larger than life experiences, but Howard makes you believe every word of it. I’m still expecting archeologists to find evidence Conan existed.

3. Who is The Warden?

The Warden is a man with a unique quality. Every time he dies, he is reborn and his life starts over. Memories of his past lives often come to him in flashes or dreams and he uses the skills and experiences remembered to fight the supernatural. The main story is set at the turn of the 20th century. Science and industry are beginning to shine a light on the world, but casting deep shadows. The Warden is the one that delves into the darkness to prevent the shadows from engulfing the light.

4. Tell us about the Kickstarter involving the character – who’s involved and what’s coming out of it?

We have 13 total collaborators on the project, so it’s a big team! Our team is also a great mix of full-time professionals and a handful of up-and-comers. We are creating five short comic stories and one written story, then binding it all together in a beautiful hardcover. The first story, “Swamp Magic”, is already completed and is a free download on the Kickstarter page. George Sellas handled all of the art and did an incredible job. The other stories are scripted and ready to begin production. I wanted each story to have a slightly different feel to it, so they all take place at different times in the Warden’s life and in different locations. One story is set in the jungles of India while another is set in a boxing gym in Boston. This is the first appearance of the Warden, so I wanted to introduce the character in a broad way while leaving the origin story for later. Each story has a different artist and colorist as well, allowing for each artist’s style to suit the storyline. For instance, Jen Hickman has a softer, flowing style, so she is illustrating “Death Waltz”, which adapts a folk tale of a ghost seeking revenge during a wedding dance.

5. Any links or websites you want us to check out?

The Kickstarter page is the big one, but feel free to follow the project on Facebook as well!

Stuff and Things

lg09_eun_jiwon_smallThings continue to be quite busy in Barry Land — I’m hard at work on the second story in what will eventually be Lazarus Gray Volume 6 and I’ve agreed to write a high fantasy novella that will tie in to the Hammer and Forge supplement to Ganesha Games’ Song of Blades setting. I’m also going to be doing a story for Steven Hudkins featuring his great New Pulp hero, The Warden.

Plus, I turned in the second Dark Gentleman short to Pro Se a few weeks ago!

So, yes, even when I’m not updating the blog, please be assured that new projects are in the pipeline.

So what will Lazarus Gray Volume 6 bring? How about: a quest dealing with resurrection and loss; a new member of Assistance Unlimited; the return of a former member of the team; new villains; old villains; and special guest-stars aplenty! It picks up right where the big crossover novel leaves off but hopefully you’ll be able to follow along even if you jump straight from Volume 5 to this one.

Stay tuned, true believers! Good stuff is on the way!

Rabbit Heart Slashes Its Way To A New Review!

rabbit_heart_newAmazon review Matthew Bieniek had the following things to say about Rabbit Heart:

Not for the squeamish, but well worth the read 4 stars (out of 5)

I was familiar with Reese’s work on the Peregrine series, and his storytelling skill is evident here as well. Over the top with detailed descriptions of sex and violence, and frequently the combination of the two, this book was one that I didn’t want to put down. While many of the details of what happens to the seemingly endless stream of victims are fairly disgusting, if you can get past the gore, there’s a pretty good story here, populated by some likable protagonists and a thoroughly repugnant antagonist.

I don’t know that I can stomach reading this one again, but I think I would be interested in a sequel with these lead characters. Hopefully the body count will be a little lower next time.

Thanks for the kind words! Yes, the story can be a bit explicit but I really wanted to dive into some dark places and I like to thin that I succeeded on that front. I started a sequel years ago but never moved forward with it — who knows? Maybe I’ll return to Fiona at some point.

We’ll see!

Thanks again.