MORE COMIC BOOK INFLUENCES…

BRAIN BOY and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS

I mentioned in my previous post how comic books influence my writing to this day. The tropes of metamorphosis and super humans possessing extraordinary powers have always been favorites of mine.

Growing up in the fifties and sixties, there were a ton of comic books available to eager, adventure-seeking geeks like me – just like today. A couple of short-lived, relatively unknown, comic books that I enjoyed as a kid were Brain Boy and T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents.

Brain Boy, published by Dell Comics in the early 1960s, only lasted six issues (although Dark Horse Comics recently rebooted the series). I’m not sure if its early demise was due to not being very good or what. I remember liking it a lot because it was somewhat unusual in that the hero didn’t wear a costume or mask to conceal his identity (much like the Fantastic Four in their first two or three issues).

Teenager Matt Price had been endowed with amazing mental abilities due to a horrible accident. Still in his mother’s womb, his family is struck by lightning which leaves his father dead and his still-to-be-born self changed forever. He can read minds, levitate objects and fly.

Recruited by a secret telepath organization dedicated to fighting evil, Matt becomes Brain Boy and battles international crime and, in one issue, reanimated dinosaurs. Ha!

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents was published by the defunct Tower Comics from 1965 to 1969 (it too has been brought back several times over the years) and some it was illustrated by the late, great Wally Wood. Taking cues from the popular spy dramas of the time like the James Bond movies and the television series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents followed the adventures of a group of United Nations-sponsored super heroes.

T.H.U.N.D.E.R. was an acronym for The Higher United Nations Defense Enforcement Reserves (of course!) and originally featured the heroes Dynamo (whose super strength came from wearing the Thunder Belt; NoMan, who was an android with a brilliant professor’s brain uploaded into him and who wore a cloak of indivisibility; Menthor, who wore a special helmet which increased his mental abilities to be much like those of Brain Boy’s; and the Thunder Squad, made up of the agents Guy, Dynamite, Kitten, Weed and Egghead. What a hoot! They all battled the evil Warlord and his minions, Demo and the Iron Maiden (a woman in very form-fitting armor).

Though not nearly as well written as the Marvel and DC comics at the time, these two series appealed to me just because they were so fantastic and action-packed. Their super-hero exploits were simply what they did on their day jobs. The interesting thing about Menthor, however, was he was, in fact, an agent of the Warlord but when he put on the helmet, he became a good guy. That was cool and had a little more depth and conflice then a lot of comic book heroes at the time.

In bringing my own characters to life, I often rely on the crazy stuff that inspired me as a kid, updated to an adult world. I’ve been told THE SIXTH PRECEPT would make a good graphic novel and that’s something I do think about. In the meantime, I’ll use my own super-power, which all of us possess–imagination. That really is the best.

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COMIC BOOKS AND OTHER INFLUENCES…

I’ve always been an avid reader. As a child, I haunted the local library, checking out the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, Andre Norton and Ray Bradbury. I read the Doctor Doolittle series, the Black Stallion and Island Stallion series by Walter Farley. The Hardy Boys series? You bet! I was a nerdy, geeky little kid, not good at sports or talking to girls. You know, kind of like the characters on The Big Bang Theory. So I immersed myself in imaginary worlds.

All these authors and their ideas influenced my own writing in various ways. Andre Norton, particularly in her later fantasies, wrote characters who possessed powerful mental abilities–telepathy, communication with animals as in the Beast Master novels. Her Witch World series are still some of my favorite genre books–magic is key in these stories, giving the characters amazing powers. I’ve always thought Norton’s characters in most of her books all talked and acted the same. There was very little difference from one to the other. But her imagination, action, and depiction of truly alien and magical worlds are unsurpassed.

Sometimes, a blip on the SF radar screen emerges with something unexpected. For instance, did you know Walter Farley’s third Island Stallion book, The Island Stallion Races, included a large science fiction element? As bizarre as it sounds, it’s true. Alien shape-shifters from a far galaxy land on the island where Flame, the Island Stallion, rules his herd. Fascinated with horse racing, one of the aliens gets Flame and his young master, Steve Duncan, to enter a prestigious international race in Cuba. What a hoot! I figure if Farley can do it, well then, so can I!  J

As an adult, I realized another big writing influence for me is comic books. I devoured the adventures of Batman, Superman, The Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, The Justice League of America and on and on. I still, on occasion, pick up a comic book to see how my childhood heroes are faring (the 21st Century is very different in comic book land these days as well). As a result, I became fascinated with the SF trope of metamorphosis, of change, either physical or mental. That trope permeates a lot of my writing.

A lot of my characters, either in my novels, novellas or short stories, change in some fashion over the course of the story or possess a power of some sort. It’s usually not something I think about much beforehand–I create a character and the power or change is just part of that character’s makeup. The action of the story follows from there.

My novel, The Sixth Precept, has several such characters, one, in particular, being based on one of my comic book super heroes of old. I describe my novella, Reunion at Olan, as the “X-Men Meet Die-Hard.” One of my short stories, “About Face”, published in the genre anthology, Raw Terror, is about a young woman with Prosopagnosia or Face Blindness, a real neurological disorder. She can’t recognize people’s facial features. Until, after taking an experimental drug for the disorder, she can suddenly see things no one else can. Very bad things. As a result, she becomes a “super hero.”

I guess you can say I’m one of those of people who never really grew up. In the case of my writing influences, that’s a good thing.

http://inkfish1.wix.com/larryivkovichauthor

 

 

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I STILL BELIEVE IN MAGIC – PART FIVE

THE REAL THING

I’ve been lucky to have seen two of the Twentieth Century’s great magician/illusionists, one of them twice. Mark Henning and David Copperfield pretty much ruled the magic superstar roost back in the Nineteen Seventies to the Nineties.

They couldn’t have been more different in look and presentation. Henning was the geeky, long-haired nerdy guy in a gold lame suit with his beautiful wife performing as his assistant. He came across as the genuine article, a guy who seemed to honor and do homages to the magicians he’d been influenced by such as Harry Houdini.

Copperfield was more the rock-star–very flashy, handsome and tuxedoed with super-model types as his assistants. Copperfield went for the big illusions. And I mean big like making the Statue of Liberty or an elephant disappear. And he did that on stage –in the middle of his act, he showed a film of him performing those illusions. Now he did do smaller versions of that illusion live but paying to see a film was kind of disappointing.

Don’t get me wrong, Copperfield was great but Henning was more personable with the audience, intimate. He did a sleight-of-hand performance with members of the audience coming up on stage to observe the card tricks he was doing with all that being projected on a big screen for the rest of the crowd. You couldn’t tell how he was doing those tricks. It was like seeing real magic. Very cool. He’s the one I saw twice.

One of Henning’s most impressive illusions was one originally done by Harry Houdini called ‘Metamorphosis’. I’ve included a link below to a video of him and his wife performing that. Pretty incredible and probably accomplished with amazing speed, timing and agility, all of which, done right, are magical in their own right.

Henning’s wife’s wrists are handcuffed. She’s placed in a large sack which is tied at the top. She’s then put in a large wooden chest which is also latched and chained up. Henning stands atop the chest and pulls a rectangular screen/curtain which is lying on the floor around the chest up to his neck, completely concealing the chest and all of his body except for his face. He counts to three, pulls the curtain up to hide his face, the curtain falls and his wife is standing atop the chest, free of all her bonds.

The chest, still chained, is unlocked and the person in the bag is now Henning, wearing different clothes! Simply amazing. And he did it faster than Houdini had done it!

Sadly, Doug Henning died of cancer several years ago and David Copperfield was a suspect in some kind of sexual assault case. Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Chris Angel seems to be the most visible magician/illusionist around these days and he’s good too.

The magic in my books is real, at least as it applies to the stories and milieus I’ve created. But watching true masters at their art, even when you know it’s a trick, is something really remarkable.

Doug Henning’s Metamorphosis

Larry Ivkovich’s website ~ http://inkfish1.wix.com/larryivkovichauthor

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I STILL BELIEVE IN MAGIC – Part 4

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Another Kind of Magic ~

A few years ago, my wife and I and two friends took a trip to Venice, Italy. Truly a magical place. It was like being in an honest-to-God secondary world. At least to me. I got a few story ideas there, three of which made it into finished pieces with all of those being sold.

Of course, Venice has its problems like any city and the extraordinary facts of it slowly sinking into the sea, has flooded on occasion and the canals smelling bad during the warm months are well known. But with no cars being allowed in the city, Venice’s amazing culture, history and architecture, and, yes, the canals, give Venice an otherworldly ambiance like no other place.

Again, at least to me. I can’t speak for anyone else. I remember, after visiting England and getting the same type of emotional reaction to Stonehenge, a coworker who had also visited that wonderful monument, asked me what the big deal about it was.

Yikes! How do you explain that to someone who doesn’t get it? I experienced such an overpowering mystical feeling in Venice when I first stepped onto the quay from the vaparetto that brought us from the airport. I just stood and gaped at our surroundings. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before. The Grand Canal, St. Mark’s Square, the Rialto Bridge and Market, the Jewish Ghetto, the labyrinth of winding, narrow streets where you didn’t care if you got lost, the dozens and dozens and dozens of mask shops with their huge front windows displaying a multitude of intricately-designed masks. Here was a place of real magic!

And how do I explain those feelings? I guess that’s why I write. I put all that emotion into my acts of creation. I infuse the cities I create with some element of Venice, my characters with some aspect of the strong Venetian personality, my magic with the idea that you get that ability, that strength from the land around you. It’s a part of you and you’re a part of it. The city and its denizens are a part of a great whole, a complete living entity. The city is a character in the story itself.

“The Raptor and the Lion” (published in the SQ Magazine anthology Starquake 1) takes place in contemporary Venice and is the first of my Maghi stories where Venice itself demands blood sacrifice in order to survive. The Maghi, a group of ancient sorcerers and sorceresses, are more than willing to provide that sacrifice.

“Ravilla’s Wraith”, published in the Twisted Cat Tales anthology, takes in a Venice-like city with art and, of course, cats taking center stage. But these aren’t your average, everyday cats.

My short story, “The Turin Effect” (published in Penumbra online magazine) takes place in contemporary Venice and also involves the Maghi and their nefarious plot to return to power. This time, however, they may have bitten off more than they could chew.

Finally, Venice plays a big role in my in-progress sequel to THE SIXTH PRECEPT. Much of the action of WARRIORS OF THE LIGHT takes place in that grand city and features, you guessed, the Maghi.

What cities or places have you all visited that evoked a sense of wonder for you?

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I STILL BELIEVE IN MAGIC – Part Three

Pick up any fantasy novel that involves magic and that particular book’s magic system will be different from any other book’s. For instance, Andre Norton’s WITCH WORLD series posits if her witches lose their virginity, they lose their powers. In Evangeline Walton’s THE MABINOGION, belief in ancient gods and goddesses, nature worship and blood sacrifice are the keys to evoking magic.

Many magicians, witches, warlocks, etc. focus their powers through some kind of talisman – an amulet or a ring. In the television series, LEGEND OF THE SEEKER, based on Terry Goodkind’s  THE STONE OF TEARS books, the wizard’s magic is only effective if he uses his hands in gestures and flourishes. If his hands are bound, he’s powerless. In the Harry Potter novels, a spell must be intoned aloud to accomplish the magic. Pins in voodoo dolls. And so on.

Even in myth and legend, these rules apply. Take witches, for example. According to WIZARDS AND WITCHES, a volume in the Time-Life series, THE ENCHANGED WORLD, witches’ power of flight often didn’t just result because of the brooms, staffs or farm implements they rode into the night sky. They would rub a magical ointment over theirs bodies made of a potent mixture of herbs such as monkshood, henbane, deadly nightshade, mandrake and hemlock to aid in their power of flight. In general, charms of all sorts were used diligently to heighten the magic-wielder’s powers.

Basically, there is a list of “must haves” for any magic system. These are:

  • A logic as to why a particular character possess magical powers.
  • Every magic-wielder must have limitations as to how and to what extent those abilities are and can be used.
  • There must be a balance with any opposing powers or enemies.
  • A magic system must have an internal logic.
  • Any working of magic must have a cost to the user.

Of course, all of the above points are open to interpretation and tweaking with fantasy authors playing around with these all the time. It’s great to think that, like Samantha in BEWITCHED, a twitching of your nose could accomplish anything. But, after a while, as a reader and a viewer, it gets boring and predictable. What if she got a cold and was congested? Then what?

In my novel, BLOOD OF THE DAXAS and its prequel, REUNION AT OLAN, my Priest and Pristess-Mages cannot bring to life their inherent magical powers until after they’ve consumed a small portion of dragon blood and keep the vessel the blood is contained in, The Well of Incessance, filled. Not all of the mage “candidates” can drink the blood with some of them dying in the process. Those who survive are inducted into the Congregate of Mages. The Perliox Animists derive their powers from the forces of nature. If those forces become weakened, then so do the Animist’s abilities weaken in turn. My dragon Wyverna possesses a very special magical power but using it exacts a powerful price.

In the end, it’s always more interesting to have a magic-wielder who is not all-powerful. Even Superman was given a weakness to Kryptonite early on and then also to, you guessed it, magic!

So, who would win in a super-powered face-off? Superman or Mandrake the Magician?

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I STILL BELIEVE IN MAGIC ~ Part Two

Magic, Illusion or Something Else?

Three of my favorite magic-inspired tales of the last few years are:

THE PRESTIGE – both the 2005 novel by Christopher Priest and (based on the novel) the 2006 Christopher Nolan-directed film.

THE ILLUSIONIST – The 2006 Neil Burger-directed film based on the short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist,” by Steven Millhauser.

LAST CALL – the 1992 novel by Tim Powers.

All three of these tales make use of magic and/or illusion, all different from the other and all used to obtain different goals.

Using the definitions of magic I stated in my previous post, THE PRESTIGE is defined by: The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.

In the movie, the two protagonists are rival stage magicians in Victorian London, determined to outdo each other on stage with increasingly complicated, mysterious and dangerous acts. Fame, glory, envy and pride are their motivations. Yet, in the end, something entirely different from magic and illusion comes into play with devastating and frightening results, giving credence to Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote – “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Dark and thrilling with the book’s entirely different ending even scarier.

THE ILLUSIONIST is also defined as: The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.

Here, the magician protagonist uses his powers of illusion in early Twentieth-Century Vienna to win the love of a woman of royal standing (who happens to be an old childhood friend). As a result, an elaborate “magical” con game is set up which keeps the film’s characters and the audience guessing until the very end. Sort of like a turn-of-the-century “Mission Impossible.” Much lighter in tone than the dark PRESTIGE but still evoking a sense of danger and wonder.

LAST CALL is the most mystical of the three and is defined by: The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or to control events in nature, or the charms, spells, and rituals so used.

In the book, magic really exists, it’s not an illusion. Taking place in 1960’s America, it posits the idea (central to most of Power’s work) that what really happened in historical events is never in the books we read in school. In this case, the founding of Las Vegas by Bugsy Siegel was really accomplished by the mythical Fisher King and the once-every-twenty year poker game (played with tarot cards) the King holds decides who will continue to hold the power of this magical world (unseen by most of us) or who will overthrow that power. Really, really strange and compelling.

In my forthcoming novel, BLOOD OF THE DAXAS, magic abounds. But is it really magic, illusion or something else?

What are some of the magic-inspired tales you’ve found in your life?

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I STILL BELIEVE IN MAGIC – Part One

The word magic evokes many things to different people. In fact, there are several varied definitions of magic. THE AMERICAN HERITAGE DICTIONARY defines magic as:

  • The art that purports to control or forecast natural events, effects, or forces by invoking the supernatural.
  • The practice of using charms, spells, or rituals to attempt to produce supernatural effects or to control events in nature, or the charms, spells, and rituals so used.
  • The exercise of sleight of hand or conjuring for entertainment.
  • A mysterious quality of enchantment: the magic of the distant past.

THE ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF MAGIC by Milbourne and Maurine Christopher states the first recorded description of a “royal command performance” magic act took place in ancient Egypt. The show was put on for the Pharaoh Cheops (who built the Great Pyramid) around 5000 years ago. A wall painting, accompanied by hieroglyphics, in a tomb in Beni Hasan, Egypt about 2500 B.C. depicts a “cup-and-ball” trick, still performed today. According to Egyptian mythology, the god Thoth was the inventor of magic.

Of course, every culture and country had their own forms of magic, magical lore and famous magicians. The Chinese had Ching  Ling Foo, “the Court Conjurer to the Empress of China.” The British had P.T. Selbit. America had Houdini. The list goes on.

As a child, I put on magic shows for my friends and family and wasn’t too bad at it. As an adult, I’ve seen the performances of both the late Doug Henning and David Copperfield and, though I knew what they were doing onstage were illusions, they were incredibly believable as real legerdemain!

To me, in reference to my writing and to my day-to-day life, magic encompasses all of the above definitions be it subtle or grandiose. I imagine dragons, super-powered beings and eldritch creatures every day, which are truly magical to me. I see the magic in living such as celebrating the holidays with friends and family or playing with my cats. The power of love is a real magical force.

In my upcoming fantasy novel, BLOOD OF THE DAXAS, being published by Assent Publishing in 2014, there are several factions of magic-wielders, each one unique and able to conjure in different ways. The Priest and Priestess-Mages of the Imperium have no magical abilities unless certain sensitive ones of their order drink dragon blood. The Perliox Animists possess a magic fueled by the natural world around them. When that world is under siege, they too weaken.  Farsensers possess a magic of the mind, able to read the thoughts of others and broadcast their own. Beast Witches can commune with animals.

But the magic of Wyverna, the Queen of the Daxas, the last adult dragon in the world of men, is the greatest of all. And the most surprising.

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