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Cover to Sick 'N Twisted

June 5th can’t get here fast enough. Doing my first comic con in over 10 years, and premiering SICK ‘N TWISTED #1 at Lake Collect-A-Con. I’ve mentioned it elsewhere, but if you ever wondered what Cry For Dawn X could have been? Now you have the chance to find out. Interiors by Will Pleydon, Jason Moser, Randy Zimmerman & others. Covers by Evil Ernie’s Andrew Mangum & Gene Jimenez, Mike Koneful and RC Young. 32 pages of story & art. NO ADS. Hopefully I’ll catch you in person in Leesburg, FL at the show, but if not, there’ll be a Kickstarter coming with all sorts of kick-ass goodies and even if you miss that, you can ask your local shop owner to get in touch. 30+ years, still offering distribution rate to retailers and signing copies at no addl charge. Gimme a hand making this one sell out!

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Make Like Picture

It’s 1984. Dad says, “Let’s go to the movies.” So we head to the Lynbrook Theater and catch the original Karate Kid.

Not the first time I’d seen bonsai trees, but, the flick sold me on them. Soon as I could, I got my hands on a sorta-kinda bonsai from Home Depot, but it was little more than a twig in a shallow pot.

Flash forward to 1992. We’re shooting the Cry For Dawn TV commercial, and Robb Horan is unloading crap he’d bought for set dressing Dawn’s lair. One of those items? A bonsai tree. Day hasn’t even begun, and I point to it, tell him, “When the shoot’s over, that goes with me,” and when it’s all said and done about 90 hours later, he’s trying to explain to me how ‘prop selloff’ works. 

Think about this. We’re shooting in a pro  soundstage in Manhattan. We’re using a model we’ve never met, who Robb says is a little iffy. Me and Joe had gone to Jersey the night before to get some motorcycle forks and biker gear from our friend, J.C. So, I’m going on a 4-day non-stop stretch, where cash is king. I probably had $1,500 in my pocket in case of emergency. 

“Robb, how much?”

“Well…we had to get this at such-and-such staging, and usually the rate for props after shoot is about 50%, and…”

“Dude, how much for the fv@king tree?!”

I think it was $22 bucks. I would’ve given him a hundred. It looked Miyagi-trimmed. I didn’t give a damn about how this-or-that worked, I had coin, I wanted the tree, it was not a tough sell.

“Trust,” Miyagi tells Daniel.  “Concentrate.  Think only tree. Close eye. Make a perfect picture, Down to last pine needle. Got it? Remember picture? Make like picture.”

“How do I know if my picture’s the right one?”

“If come from inside? Always the right one.”

At one point, I had about a dozen really sweet looking bonsai trees in my apartment in NY. Karate Kid quality. Once the lights went out, though? Time took ‘em.

3 years ago, I’m with Billy at Lowe’s, getting planter dirt. I mentioned the story of my first bonsai, and sure enough, there’s a couple there. Terrible specimens, the lot of them, but when I asked the salesperson about bluepoint junipers, she directed us to what they had, and I found Tree. In the BEFORE pics, he’s pretty bushy, hadn’t been trimmed in a while. And, even when I snagged him, I knew the trunk structure would be less treelike than I wanted, but…to possibly get back into it? Blind??? That was an easier sell than the Cry For Dawn shoot. 

Tabletop sized bushy bonsai tree

Spent about an hour and a half last night with him, trying to get him into shape. I don’t have my good bonsai snippers (and gonna have to get some light gauge wire to train some branches), but…not hideous. For Christmas, Mom got me a bluepoint, and while it’s not what you’d have seen in Miyagi’s workroom (imagine a 2 foot tall Evergreen with virtually no side branches to get creative with), it’s the kind you trim simply by pinching back—almost exactly like the ones Miyagi gives Daniel and his mom. 

I have no clue how Tree is gonna turn out, but like Pat Morita teaches Daniel in the first couple of films, the key isn’t making mistakes or getting anything ‘wrong’. You can’t. Treat it right, and the tree will continue to grow. Leave it alone, it’ll thicken up, get bushy, and you can again, try to “Make like picture.” Me? I don’t have any pictures left. And I couldn’t match things up anyway. But, I can feel for the crossed branches. Tell where things should and shouldn’t be insofar as a real tree would’ve grown. Won’t deny, felt pretty successful when Pam came out to take the AFTER pics and told me how Tree had changed. 3 years now, and he’s still hangin’ in there. Could be I should name him, huh?

Trimmed Bonsai tree

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But Joe — What About Your Work?

Something that’s come up in the wake of this MAUS controversy (which is totally manufactured, BTW), is my stance on not just books and graphic novels, but my own work in particular. If you’re not familiar, I came up in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s comic scene, doing books that were labelled: Underground and extreme. I have a great clip of David J. Schow (The Crow, John Carpenter’s HELL) introducing me at a Chiller Con as “One of the godfathers of splatterpunk.” 

But…my titles? What about them? Should Cry For Dawn have been available to middle-schoolers, like the kids the Tennessee censorship feud is about? In a word: No.

I can picture the reactions. Huh? WTF? But Joe—you’re anti-censorship! You oppose bans! What gives?!

It’s pretty simple. While I wholeheartedly oppose censorship (demands to silence Joe Rogan, for instance), Cry For Dawn was not for 12-and-13 year olds. There is nothing wrong with that. Our comics contained subject matter Diamond Comics required labeling as ‘Mature Readers’. We had nudity, we had profanity, we had rape. We had a vagina with teeth. We bent every rule we couldn’t break, telling stories designed to make people think, and to get a reaction. 

Cover to Cry For Dawn Volume One with caption: Banned In Canada; our initial printer refused our job after accepting it.

Doesn’t mean we had to hand it to middle schoolers, though. Here I am, 30 years later, talking about my interview with Art Spiegelman and discussing why there is no censorship going on in TN, because the truth is: there isn’t. Making a kid wait until he/she’s 16 to read a Mature Readers comic title? That’s no different than keeping that same kid out of an R-or-X-rated film. Preventing kids from seeing Cannibal Holocaust? Think about it. No kid’s being robbed or denied the opp to see that flick, there’s just a restriction on when. That we’re talking a Pulitzer prize winning graphic novel or a comic that broke new ground matters not. Good content being temporarily withheld from a reader is no crime, and it certainly doesn’t qualify as censorship. 

My new comic is filled with graphic imagery and subject matter. It’s basically Cry For Dawn 10, or what it could have been had we continued in the 1990s. It is rough stuff. Am I concerned that I may not snag as many teen readers as were sneaking into comic shops to grab Cry For Dawn in 1992? No. I don’t plan on going anywhere. I’m going to keep writing comic stories. I’m going to keep writing prose stories. Some are going to flip people out. Some are going to have people up in arms, like with Kids Meal in 1990 and BIRTHMARKS in ’91. Because, that’s what I do. If a kid needs another year or so to catch up? So be it. I am content to wait, rather than rush an audience into material they’re not ready for. Average 12-and-13 year old kid shouldn’t have access to Caligula, either. Doesn’t mean there’s anything ‘banned’ or being ‘censored’. I refuse to play victim simply because there are some rules in place for age-appropriate material, which is why I stand with the school board in Tennessee.

Illustration of a woman firing a crossbow to a zombie's head. Caption: Panel from my new MATURE READERS title — this is as tame as it gets.

Not that I’m gonna bitch if a kid like me skirts the rules and finds a way. Hell, that the kid is reading in the first place is impressive enough… I just hope he or she’s ready. The hard truth is, plenty won’t be, and I don’t think it’s worth the risk simply because a few whiners are screeching about something that hasn’t happened.