Grave Matters

The following is an essay that ran in the first Gravedigger book. It’s an interesting look at the steps to the character’s creation and serves as a sort of literary time capsule. Hope you find it interesting!

GRAVE MATTERS
OR…
HOW I CAME TO WRITE THIS BOOK

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 Peregrine. Since The Peregrine’s first flight back in 2008, I’ve added to the universe with Lazarus Gray, The Dark Gentleman, Guan-Yin, The Claws of The Peregrine 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 Rook 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 Rook 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. This first Gravedigger novel will appear in 2013 and I hope to follow with a second volume in 2014, if the fates are with me. I hope to continue to update her adventures regularly, just as I have with Lazarus and The Peregrine.

Stop by my blog (http://www.barryreese.net) to keep up with the goings-on in all my pulp stories, as well as take a gander at exclusive artwork. 

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.

Christmas Treats?

Had a brief conversation with Pro Se’s head honcho yesterday and he said that both the tenth volume of Lazarus Gray and the Grimarr sword & sorcery collection are throught the editing and formatting stages, meaning that we’re just waiting on Amazon to finish whatever magic they work behind the scenes. So it’s possible that you might get TWO new Reese Unlimited titles in time for Christmas! I hope that’s the case and all of you will have time to grab them as stocking stuffers for the pulp fans in your life.

Fingers crossed!

George Perez

My all time favorite comic book artist has announced that he has terminal cancer. George Perez has been such a major part of my fandom and I’m glad that I got to meet him several times over the years. I love his work, his enthusiasm, and his endearing personality.

The announcement came in the form of an open letter from George and it shows what kind of man he is. I’m going to post it in its entirety below. Let’s hope for a miracle and, failing that, let’s wish him a peaceful journey.

From George Perez –

To all my fans, friends and extended family,

It’s rather hard to believe that it’s been almost three years since I formally announced my retirement from producing comics due to my failing vision and other infirmities brought on primarily by my diabetes. At the time I was flattered and humbled by the number of tributes and testimonials given me by my fans and peers. The kind words spoken on those occasions were so heartwarming that I used to quip that “the only thing missing from those events was me lying in a box.”

It was amusing at the time, I thought.

Now, not so much. On November 29th I received confirmation that, after undergoing surgery for a blockage in my liver, I have Stage 3 Pancreatic Cancer. It is surgically inoperable and my estimated life expectancy is between 6 months to a year. I have been given the option of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy, but after weighing all the variables and assessing just how much of my remaining days would be eaten up by doctor visits, treatments, hospital stays and dealing with the often stressful and frustrating bureaucracy of the medical system, I’ve opted to just let nature take its course and I will enjoy whatever time I have left as fully as possible with my beautiful wife of over 40 years, my family, friends and my fans.

Since I received my diagnosis and prognosis, those in my inner circle have given me so much love, support and help, both practical and emotional. They’ve given me peace.

There will be some business matters to take care of before I go. I am already arranging with my art agent to refund the money paid for sketches that I can no longer finish. And, since, despite only having one working eye, I can still sign my name, I hope to coordinate one last mass book signing to help make my passing a bit easier. I also hope that I will be able to make one last public appearance wherein I can be photographed with as many of my fans as possible, with the proviso that I get to hug each and every one of them. I just want to be able to say goodbye with smiles as well as tears.

I know that many of you will have questions to ask or comments to make, and rather than fueling the fires of speculation and well-meaning but potentially harmful miscommunication, I will be returning to the arena of social media by starting a new Facebook account where fans and friends can communicate with me or my designated rep directly for updates and clarification.

Please search for @TheGeorgePerez on Facebook if you’d like to join the page to receive updates. For media and press inquiries, please use the contact information on the page as well. Please respect the privacy of my wife and family at this time and use the Facebook page rather than reaching out through other channels.

I may not be able to respond as quickly as I would like since I will be endeavoring to get as much outside pleasure as I can in the time allotted me, but I will do my best. Kind words would also be greatly appreciated. More details to follow once it’s up and running.

Well, that’s it for now. This is not a message I enjoyed writing, especially during the Holiday Season, but, oddly enough, I’m feeling the Christmas spirit more now than I have in many years. Maybe it’s because it will likely be my last. Or maybe because I am enveloped in the loving arms of so many who love me as much as I love them. It’s quite uplifting to be told that you’ve led a good life, that you’ve brought joy to so many lives and that you’ll be leaving this world a better place because you were part of it. To paraphrase Lou Gehrig: “Some people may think I got a bad break, but today, I feel like the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

Take care of yourselves—and thank you.

George Pérez

December 7th, 2021

Casting My Various Series

One thing that every writer does is perform a ‘dream casting’ in their head. For my Gravedigger series, I’d go with actress Ana de Armas for Charity Grace. She’s beautiful and has the physicality for the role. As for Lazarus Gray, he was initially based on a young Kirk Douglas but if I had to find a modern day actor to embody the role, I’d go with actor Mark Strong. He could embody the stoic bravery that the role requires. For the Peregrine, I used to think that Nathan Fillion would be perfect but he’s aged out of the role a bit so I’d go with Oscar Isaacs at the moment.

A New Review

Reader Greg A. Marshall posted a review on Amazon.com about an anthology that I contributed to several  years back: Bishop & Hancock’s Pulse Fiction. He gave the book five stars and had the following to say about the anthology:

Sometimes you read a book for the sheer fun of it! This was one of those books! I loved it from the beginning! Fast-paced action, exciting plots, and great character development in short order. When you have an afternoon or two, and you want to be taken back to a time when writers worked hard to grab your attention and hold it. Fun read!

My story for this book was The Insanitors and I was very honored that it was chosen to lead off the volume. I’ve often considered going back and doing some more stories with this interesting father-and-daughter team of heroes.

Thanks for the review, Greg!

Audio Pulp

If you’re a fan of audiobooks, you might want to drop by Audible and check out what’s available. As much as I love podcasts, I’ve never been able to get into audiobooks — I find that my mind wanders and I have to go back to hear what I’ve missed! Nonetheless, I know that audio is a major part of many people’s reading habits and I’ve been blessed to have my work narrated by some of the best in the business. If you do listen to one, be sure to let me know what you thought.

Rabbit Heart

Most of my writing career has been focused on pulp-style heroes or even outright superheroes… but I’ve occasionally made forays into other types of fiction. RABBIT HEART is a slasher horror novel set in my birthplace, Milledgeville, Georgia. It’s brutal in terms of violence and so sexually explicit that it’s made close friends blush at the mere sight of me after reading it. The beautiful cover by Jason Levesque has always made the book one of the top sellers in my catalogue.

Reese Unlimited

Over the years, most of my New Pulp writing has ended up at Pro Se Productions and they’ve even given me my own imprint, Reese Unlimited. That’s where my Lazarus Gray, Gravedigger, and Peregrine stories have seen print and the majority of my writings connect to that same universe.

The logo for Reese Unlimited was designed by genius Sean Ali. You can go visit the page they have for me on their website to see some of the books I’ve written for them and read over the cover blurbs for the stories.

A Lazarus Gray Review

Over on Amazon.com, a reader from Canada has posted a review of The Adventures of Lazarus Gray Volume Nine. Alphonse Dupuis gave the book 5 stars and said the following:

In the ninth instalment of the “new pulp” hero series “Lazarus Gray”, Barry Reese continues the storyline set up in the previous novel and concludes it with an action packed smash to the senses!

It’s Assistance Unlimited vs Murder Unlimited! The adventure may begin in Sovereign City but shifts to the mythological realm of Asgard, culminating in a final battle deep within the hollow earth with the existence of the entire world at stake!

In addition to the Black Terror & The Golden Amazon, Reese has introduced another public domain hero to the team (which I hope will return in future volumes). It would be great to see this  character’s unbreakable patriotism lending itself to the upcoming battles against fascist forces during WW2.

Reese always does his homework when introducing mythological tales and characters to his stories. The addition and handling of ancient Norse gods in this volume was well done and hints are left that we may see them return in future adventures.

Unlike Volume eight, this novel consists of one main story told throughout the book compared to a series of short stories with one central theme linking all of them together. Reese is able do both “story styles” successfully and consistently gives the reader an enjoyable pulp-style adventure.

As a fan of the Reese Unlimited imprint, I really like the mixing of original characters with public domain/pastiche characters. In saying that having Lazarus Gray joining forces with The Revenant & Ki-Gor in a Hollow Earth tale would be awesome. An uneasy Darkling/Leonid Kaslov alliance vs the evil Warlike Manchu would be a just what the doctor ordered!

Looking forward to future installments!

Thanks for the kind words, Alphonse! I’m glad you enjoyed book nine, which was one of my favorites to write. I agree that the Norse elements seemed to fit right in with the rest of the series. I like your idea for a Darkling/Kaslov team-up, as well. Definite shades of the Shadow and Doc Savage in that one! We’ll see if I can fit such a thing into my schedule.