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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 played a big role in the  “crossover” novel that paired 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 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 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.

Shadowman Gets Reviewed!

Shadowman-1-Valiant-2012-BMy Kindle Worlds short story, “Shadowman: The Red Sash,” picked up a new review on Amazon. A reader named “zagain” gave it 4 out of 5 stars and titled his review “A Mixture of Valiant and pulp.” Here’s what he had to say:

The novella focuses initially on Palmer Harrison, an FBI agent who has spent the last three years investigating a series of incidents in which members of the Yih King crime organization were murdered and the crime scene was tagged with a special paint and a familiar catch phrase — “God help the guilty.” Harrison had listened to old radio programs and read pulp novels in his youth that focused on a crime fighting vigilante known as The Red Sash. The phrase used at the crime scenes was the same as the slogan used by the 1930’s era pulp vigilante. Eventually, Harrison learns the truth behind the murders and ends up facing some difficult choices as a result.

The current murder scene Harrison is investigating happens to be in New Orleans, home to another hero — the Shadowman. It turns out Shadowman and his associates, Dox and Alyssa, have their own interest in the Yih King organization. Khan, leader of the organization, and Lotus, a mysterious and mystical woman working alongside Khan, acquired a supernatural object known as the Jade Goddess — a piece they planned to use to breach the walls between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Overall, the novella is a solid, quick read that’s written in a pulp-ish style which fits with one of the primary characters of the work. The Shadowman characters are true to form, and the Red Sash characterization is handled very well in that it remains true to its 1930’s era roots while remaining in line with Valiant’s realistic approach to their characters. It would be interesting to see more stories utilizing the characters introduced in this work.

Glad you liked it, zagain! It was fun to write one of my favorite Valiant characters and, time permitting, I’d love to try my hand at more of them in the future.

News, Updates and Reviews!

thumbsupHello and welcome back to another day at Ye Olde Blog!

After much contemplation, I took the plunge and returned to tumblr. If you’re brave, you can give me a follow over there and I’ll do the same for you. It’s mostly going to be just pictures and videos of things that excite me.

Didn’t get much writing done yesterday. I just couldn’t get into this Pulse Fiction thing I’m working on, even though I got off to a good start last week. Hopefully the magic will return.

Over at Amazon, a number of folks have been commenting on my books. A reader named John posted the following about The Adventures of Lazarus Gray Volume One:

My First New Pulp book and I loved it! I have read several Doc Savage and The Shadow novels from the 30s and 40s and I loved them. I was a little hesitant about the New Pulp, but Barry Reese has nailed it. I enjoyed The Adventures of Lazarus Gray even more than the original pulps that I have read. 5/5 stars.

Thanks, John! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed the book and I hope you’ll continue to check out New Pulp works – both from myself and from others. There’s a lot of good pulp adventure out there. And I’m deeply honored that you enjoyed my book more than the Doc Savage and The Shadow novels you’ve read. High praise, indeed!

Meanwhile, Shadowman: The Red Sash has gotten two reviews so far. My Pro Se publisher Tommy Hancock said:

Barry Reese’s ‘THE RED SASH’ featuring Valiant’s Shadowman is typical of Barry’s work. That is to say, it is exciting, well paced, full of emotion and characterization, and great read for anyone who is a fan of comics, pulp, action adventure, and the like. Barry brings his own touch to Shadowman and it definitely makes the story stand out.

Doc Panic’s review went like this:

This was an enjoyable book from start to finish. I have read probably all of Barry’s work, and this story like most of his others, was very well written. Pulpy goodness bestowed upon a comic character. Highly recommended!

Thanks, guys! So far, I’d say that most of the people reading The Shadow novella are people who are already reading my other works. I was curious to see if I’d pick up any new readers — it’s too early to really tell. Hopefully Valiant fans will eventually sample this story and then jump onto Lazarus Gray or Gravedigger. Fingers crossed.

I haven’t watched episode two of Sleepy Hollow yet but I really liked the first show. As many of you know, I’m a sucker for The Headless Horseman and used him as the big bad in the first Gravedigger book. If you’re looking for a pulpy supernatural way to spend an hour on a Monday night, I think Sleepy Hollow will fit the bill.

See you guys tomorrow!

Monday Morning Musings

billHello, folks! It’s the start of a whole new week and I’m feeling a bit low-key this morning. Got to get those creative juices flowing! Wish me luck.

Shadowman: The Red Sash made its Kindle Worlds debut last week and hit # 3 on the Action/Adventure cart before settling in at # 5, which is where it’s been the past few days. Several people have asked me if I plan to do more and my response is — not any time really soon. I have a couple of projects-with-deadlines that I have to work on and I’d like to finish off Lazarus Gray Volume Five… and then there’s this crossover novel that I’ve been teasing you guys with (the one that will sport a Chris Batista cover). So I have plenty on my plate! But I enjoyed the experience and if more Worlds are added, I might reconsider. Hell, I’d love to write a Batman story, for instance… and this seems like the perfect way for some of the rights holders to the old pulp characters to gauge public interest in a revival. Put someone like Norgil or Seekay up there and see how fast I’d jump on that!

Pro Se publisher Tommy Hancock attended a convention this past weekend and reported strong sales for The Adventures of Gravedigger Volume One, which is always nice to hear. I was really pleased with how that book turned out and all the positive feedback it’s garnered has been flattering. Hopefully people will enjoy the second book just as much.

I have a lot of work to do this week at my “real” job and the pressures there sometimes conspire to not allow me much time for writing. In a perfect world, I’d be making enough off my pulp adventure stuff to just do that full-time but that’s unlikely to ever happen. In the meantime, it’s a fun sideline and occasionally brings in a nice check to supplement everything else.

For those of you excited about the guest blogger that I’ve been teasing — hang in there! He’s making sure that all his t’s have been crossed and his i’s have been dotted, so to speak.

I’ve been greatly enjoying the album True by Avicii. It’s a lot of dance kind of stuff but it’s got more depth than usual for that genre. The instrumentals (especially Heart On My Sleeve) are very strong and there’s even some folksy stuff infused with the dance beats. It’s a really strong album and highly recommended, even if you don’t normally go for that sort of thing. Sample a few tracks and you’ll see what I mean.

I’ve been thinking about giving tumblr another try. I had an account there for awhile but finally deleted it because pinning pictures just seemed… kinda pointless? I don’t know. I have a blog so I don’t need to use it for that and I have a Facebook plus a Twitter… but I was thinking of using tumblr this time for my music interests and maybe some comic book stuff. I don’t know… Anybody out there use tumblr and love it? Am I missing something?

Take care, folks — see you guys tomorrow!

Friday Fun

lg04_walther_lunt_smallHello Everyone!

Earlier today I uploaded the 50th episode of The Shadow Fan’s Podcast. I interview legendary writer/producer Michael Uslan on this one and it was a great time. I really enjoyed talking to him and I think that even if you’re not a fan of The Shadow, you’ll find something to enjoy — he talks about producing the Batman movies, writing the current Shadow/Green Hornet series for Dynamite and even gets into the nitty-gritty about what his favorite Shadow novels and characters are. I hope you’ll give it a listen!

The past few days have seen this site getting a lot more hits than usual. Not sure what’s driving the increased traffic but I appreciate the folks who come back every day to read my ramblings. Thanks so much for supporting this site.

Also, thanks to everyone who has checked out my Kindle Worlds story featuring Valiant’s Shadowman character. It’s currently # 3 in Kindle World’s Action/Adventure category, as of 9 am EST! It’s called Shadowman: The Red Sash and I hope that folks who are fans of Shadowman or just my own writing will enjoy it.

Currently working on my Pulse Fiction story for Pro Se and I’m having a ball with it so far. These characters were given to me in pretty broad form so I’m getting to do a lot in the way of defining them and they’re definitely the kind of characters I would have created on my own, which makes the process easier and far more fun.

My guest blogger is still working on his post but I hope to be able to run it sometime soon. I think people will really find it interesting. I know I keep teasing it but it will be worth it, I assure you.

Our art today is of the evil Walther Lunt, one of Lazarus Gray’s arch-foes. It’s by the amazingly talented George Sellas.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!

The Work Is Never Done!

fiction_writerSo my Kindle Worlds story is available now — Shadowman: The Red Sash is ready for you to download to your e-reader! I had a lot of fun writing the character and I would like to thank both Valiant and Amazon for joining together in the Kindle Worlds partnership and giving me the chance to do so. I’ve always loved the Jack Boniface character, both in his original incarnation and in the current version. Will I do more? Maybe something with my favorite Valiant hero, X-O Manowar? We’ll see. I’m curious how this one sells and how it’s received by fans. If there’s a clamoring for more, I might dip my toes back in.

With Shadowman in the rear-view mirror, I moved on to my Pulse Fiction story, starting it last night. I’m handling a story entitled “The Insanitors” and I think it’s off to a very good start. The characters and basic premise were furnished to me (this is work-for-hire) but there’s a lot of leeway for me to inject my personal tastes onto the project. So far, I’m enjoying the characters quite a bit. Since I’m doing the first story for them, I’ll be setting a lot of the parameters for how other writers will use them in the future, which is kind of fun.

After that, I owe Pro Se a Sherlock Holmes novella… and then I need to finish off Lazarus Gray Volume Five.

And then I can start on the Lazarus/Rook/Gravedigger crossover novel!

Anyway, go and read Shadowman – and let me know what you think!

Updates Galore

SM_003_CVRWelcome back to Ye Olde Blog! I hope to make some good progress over the next few days on this Shadowman story I’m working on for Kindle Worlds. Given how busy I was last week, it’s kind of stalled out at around 10,000 words but I definitely plan to type THE END in the next few days. It’s been fun… kind of reminds me of my old fanfiction days before I turned pro. The difference being that if this one is accepted, it’s officially licensed and I might make a few pennies off of it. That’s kind of fun! I wish more companies would consider going the Kindle Worlds route — I’d love to write Batman… or The Shadow… or any of a dozen other concepts that are either being ignored by their license holders or are simply unlikely to ever come my way.

Once I’m done with this current project, it’s on to several deadline-bearing work-for-hire jobs before I can return to my own characters.

Got to see the mock-up cover for my Liberty Girl book yesterday. Folks who have followed this blog for awhile know that I adapted the first Liberty Girl trade (and a few other issues) into a novella and then wrote an additional all-new story featuring the Heroic Publishing character (“America’s Bronze Goddess of Freedom”). It was an interesting experience! I can’t share the cover with you but I will say it’s *very* sharp. This is supposed to kick off a whole line of Heroic-inspired prose projects from Pro Se Productions and I hope the other books do very well.

I’m still getting positive reaction to the Chris Batista cover I posted last week, the one that will eventually appear on the Gravedigger/The Rook/Lazarus Gray crossover novel. Can’t wait to have the time to work on that book! Someday….

Sometime this week I hope to post a “guest blog” written by a prominent New Pulp author. It will be the first time I’ve turned over the blog to someone else and in this case, I think it’s very much warranted. This author has sparked a few interesting threads on Facebook with his ideas and they’ve been received fairly negatively by some. I think we need to discuss these issues and I hope that this blog will provide a forum for it. Stay tuned!

I’ve made a few pitches in recent months to major publishers about the use of their characters. Fingers crossed. These things always take time but nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Today we have another Shadowman cover courtesy of Valiant Entertainment, in the hopes it will inspire me to finish off this story!