Z File is happy to report that we have produced two new graphic nonfiction volumes for a new client, the Quarto Group USA. Two of its imprints commissioned volumes that have been published and are now available. Both are from the same creative team.

area51_cover_medThe first is AREA 51: The Graphic History of America’s Most Secret Military Installation, written by Dwight Jon Zimmerman and illustrated by Greg Scott. No—no little green men here. This is the true, recently declassified story of the development and testing of America’s most secret planes and other airborne weapons, from the U-2 spy plane to the new war drones.

Dwight has written many books on military history—some for Z File, in fact—but began his career at Marvel Comics and also spent years as an editor at Topps. How qualified is he to script this volume? Dwight is currently the head of the Military Writers Society of America. The information is well-researched and absolutely fascinating. Greg Scot does kick-ass b&w, half-toned artwork in a photo-realistic style. Greg has done work for all of the major comics houses, and the artwork for AREA 51 is just stunning.

mcqueen_covermedThe second book, just published this past July, is a graphic biography: STEVE MCQUEEN, Full-Throttle Cool. His charismatic career as an actor is covered from his first film appearance as the teenage hero of the sci-fi/thriller classic, “The Blob,” to his hit TV show, “Wanted: Dead or Alive,” and through his entire cinematic career.

And that’s only half the book: the other half details his true-life racing career in American and Europe. McQueen raced motorcycles, formula-one cars, and off-road buggies. He famously said of his life, “I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts.” Greg Scott’s art just kills it here.

At 96 pages apiece, they are delightful and refreshing dips into diverse areas of popular culture and truly worth the buy. Of course, I may be just a tad prejudiced—but the reviewers are not, and both books have been getting raves from critics and readers alike.

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In Hollywood, too much of a good thing is clearly never enough. Successful films and franchises must be sequeled unto death . . . and beyond. Especially if they are genre movies and franchises.


ex-machinaAt a recent viewing of Ex Machina (which I thought was surprisingly good, despite the familiar genre territory), the previews teased upcoming reboots of Poltergeist, The Terminator, Mad Max, and Star Wars. Four franchises that do not need any additional entries, whose original, seminal films are genre classics. For better or worse, they do not need re-doing. Hey, Hollywood—if you need to make more money from these franchises, why not just re-release the originals?


It seems that, in the era of ultra-short attention spans, anything that made money before can be remade again. But there will be a breaking point. Too much of a (formerly) good thing will not sustain mediocre repeats with slight variations and keep box-offices overflowing. A quick look at upcoming genre movies shows that comic book superheroes are also going to jump the shark. And soon.


age_ofStill to come in 2015 are The Avengers: Age of Ultron; a new Fantastic Four movie; and an attempt to do Ant-Man for the big screen. Oh—and another Star Wars film. (Cause, you know, six just aren’t enough.)



bt-vs-smIn 2016, fans of DC superheroes will get to see an initial cinematic version of Deadpool, and the much-anticipated Batman vs. Superman. Meanwhile, Marvel’s readers will get to see another Captain America flick, a new X-Men, an initial Gambit, and the premiere entry in what is hoped will become a Doctor Strange franchise.


Also, there will be, yes, another “new” Star Wars film. And yet another reboot of Star Trek.

Scheduled for 2017 are new Wolverine, Guardians of the Galaxy, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and Thor films from the Marvel stable, plus another “new” Star Wars movie and the premiere of DC’s Justice League franchise. Planned for release in 2018 are cinematic versions of DC’s The Flash and Aquaman. And from the Marvel stable, more Avengers, Spider-Man, and X-Men, plus an adaptation of The Black Panther. And this is by no means fully inclusive.


Ex Machina may be the last great genre movie that treats its potential viewers as grown-ups. It is a serious and wonderfully executed example of “what if?” sci-fi. See it. Then spend the next several years reacquainting yourself with the masterworks of the sci-fi and fantasy genres—films from the 1920s, ‘40s and ‘50s,’70s and ‘80s. Mostly you can get to see them at home, really cheap, and enjoy genre filmmaking from when it was still fun and less than totally cynical attempts to empty your pockets by showing you shiny baubles that require no mental effort other than keeping your eyes open for a couple of hours.

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The Search for Spock: Part 2

By 1984, Leonard Nimoy was doing very different and exciting work. Among other projects, he was the host of a Nickelodeon TV series called “Lights, Camera, Action!” The show took viewers behind the scenes on TV and movie productions, and showed the kids how it was done. The series ran from 1982 through 1987. Nimoy chose not to cover Star Trek at all in his show, and his contract contained language that gave him that choice.

ST_sFSAnd then, in 1984, he wrote and directed the third Trek movie, The Search for Spock. And so he made an exception, and devoted an episode of Lights! Camera! Action! to the film. To discuss it on-air, the show invited the movie’s publicist, Eddie Eagan, and the editor of the world’s bestselling sci-fi magazine, which happened to be me.

We did a brief run-through, chatting on set as Leonard gently probed for areas of interest to bring up once we began to record the show, which was done in a single take without a break. Little did I know that as we schmoozed, someone was writing down what I was saying. When we went “live,” I saw a person with cue cards standing next to the camera with the red light. My words were on them.

After introducing us, Nimoy proceeded to ask the very same questions on-air he had asked in the warm-up. He had long before mastered the art of reading from cue cards while making it appear that he was looking into the camera, as all good TV folks must. I had a problem, because if I looked at the camera, and therefore the cue cards, it meant I was looking away from Nimoy. So I eschewed the cue cards for the most part, because I knew what I wanted to say; what I had said earlier was pretty much what I had already written about in magazines and spoken about at conventions.


Artwork by Bob Larkin Printed with the artist’s permission


I explained that I found Star Trek to represent a new, more thoughtful and more mature look at science fiction. From its beginnings, with Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon, and the wonderful space-opera novels of E.E. “Doc” Smith, sci-fi had its core tropes, which I called the Three R’s: rayguns, robots, and rocketships. And, indeed, in his trendsetting homage to the heyday of sci-fi, George Lucas’s Star Wars universe still had those three elements at its core.

phaserBut Star Trek’s rayguns were mostly set on “stun”; robots were uncommon; and instead of a rocketship we were given a starship that was powered by a “warp-core engine.” And the heroes weren’t members of an army, they were explorers. They weren’t looking for new conquests, they sought new friends, alliances, information.

At its center was the great yin-yang of science fiction: the bold (and often rash) testosterone-laden Captain Kirk, and the logical, brilliant and insightful Mr. Spock. Together, they represented the full spectrum of what it means to be human. Separately, they were erratic, unbalanced. Together, they helped shape the future.


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spock_01R.I. P. Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy passed away today—2/27/15. God rest his gentle soul. I am so sad.

My career as a full-time publishing professional—almost 40 years now—is due in no small measure to Leonard Nimoy and his outstanding portrayal of the rational humanoid alien, Mr. Spock. Spock was a Vulcan member of Star Fleet, and the starship Enterprise’s Science Officer, on the seminal sci-fi TVdrama, Star Trek.


Starlog #1 artwork by Jack Thurston

I became a de facto voice for sci-fi fandom in 1977, as editor of the nationally distributed monthly, Starlog magazine; it was not my intent, but an unexpected result of doing good work. Nothing beats being in the right place at the right time. When I became an assistant editor at Starlog in 1976, it was a sci-fi nostalgia magazine. In particular, it was a loving homage to early science fiction and, in particular, the sci-fi moves of the 1950s. What gave it commercial relevance was the Star Trek TV series. The first issue of the magazine was meant to be a one-shot, loving homage to the TV show. And it surely was. Enough so that I gave it a rave review in one of the pop-culture magazines I wrote freelance for at that time (while still teaching third grade in NYC). That review helped garner an interview with the publishers of Starlog when an editorial position opened up.

I got the job.

In 1977 Star Wars hit, and the entertainment world changed forever. But Star Trek was still the lens through which sci-fi was viewed, and reviewed, and its fan-base was dedicated, and still growing.

st-tmpst-wokStar Trek, The Motion Picture premiered in 1979. It was a major event. The starship Enterprise had been redesigned; fans and reviewers took this very, very seriously. Spock was aging; Captain Kirk looked ageless—albeit with a wider girth and new toupee. The second Trek film reached into the TV-spawned mythos and successfully withdrew The Wrath of Khan, in 1982. A terrific movie that helped to create a new generation of Trek fans. Ironically, it took the death of Spock to make it a hit.


“Crazy” magazine cover artwork by Bob Larkin

To be continued . . .

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On January 7th, freedom of expression was brutally attacked as crazed gunmen penetrated the offices of the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris. The attack resulted in the deaths of eleven people who worked there:

Stephane Charbonnier; Elsa Cayat; Georges Wolinski; Bernard Maris; Bernard Verlhac; Phillipe Honore; Ahmed Merabet; Mustapha Ourrad; Frederic Boisseau; Jean Cabut; Michael Renaud; and Franck Brinosolaro.

They are casualties in the war against arrogance; against hatred; against bigotry; against intellectual challenge.

Of them, those who worked at creating the barbed satirical contents of the magazine were not just journalists; they were not just radical leftists; they were provocateurs. While there is great history in the potency of editorial cartooning, it has not produced such a dramatic response since Thomas Nast’s editorial cartoons were responsible for bringing down Boss Tweed’s outrageously corrupt New York/Tammany Hall administration.

Those who would rule via fear, via torture and unthinking observance and wrong-headed interpretation of sacred documents, cannot allow such potent attacks—i.e., political cartoons—to go unchallenged.

How much mightier than the sword the pen truly is.

And how inevitable that a French publication would be the lightning rod for brutal, radical extremists. The founding of the modern states of France and America are inextricably intertwined. Without France’s help, the colonies would have lost their battle for independence against the British monarchy. Without the guiding example, support, and philosophies of the American radicals, France’s revolution would have died at birth.

I truly admire those magnificent rascals at Charlie Hebdo for having the balls to continue to do what they have done: find the scabs and pick at them; don’t let the bastards rest—hold them accountable.

It is a time-honored tradition in free and democratic countries. Although today American editorial cartooning has, to be kind, lost its bite. Oh sure, the NY Post reprints editorial cartoons that make fun of how President Obama looks—the big ears are an easy hook. Cheap shots, really, but fair game over here. But pretty damned tame compared to where we’ve been.

As recently as the 1960s there was a vibrant, radical, confrontational press in America that used editorial cartooning as its own swift sword. In the wake of national tragedy and trauma, after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, editorial cartoonists and provocateurs were at their finest in America. They challenged authority; they disbelieved the official narrative of events.

Ramparts magazine, a radical, originally underground publication, published a cover story condemning de facto President Lyndon B. Johnson as being complicit in JFK’s death. Their cover story “revealed” that on the flight home from Dallas to Washington bearing the fallen president’s coffin, LBJ had had sex with the slain president’s body. It was in such bad taste that I feel uncomfortable even at this late date in describing the specifics of the piece. Yet no one was arrested; no one was attacked; no one was killed as a result of its publication.

The past is suddenly looking better than the present. Let’s re-educate the public and unshackle the editorial press, around the world, going forward.

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Humor in science fiction is a tricky business. Few people have ever done it well. Terry Pratchett, of course; Ron Goulart; Harry Harrison; and the brilliant Douglas Adams.

Sometime in the mid-1990s, Byron Preiss signed a deal with Douglas Adams to adapt his original “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy” trilogy into graphic novels, which were published by DC Comics.  Each print novel was adapted into a graphic trilogy. The immensely witty and talented English writer John Carnell did the script adaptation, which Adams positively loved. The equally talented and witty American artist Steve Leialoha did the artwork for the initial trilogy. I was the series editor and project manager.

Adams had final say over script and art. Getting the characters right was a challenge, especially as the BBC-TV series was running here at that time and it was bloody frikkin’ brilliant. Steve needed to have his characterizations of Arthur Dent, Ford Prefect, Marvin the Paranoid Android, and others, resonate with their popular TV portrayals, while still carving out his own territory.  His work on the book is astonishingly good. Adams gave him the hardest time over the look for Marvin. Steve must have done at least a couple dozen variations on a theme before both he and Douglas were satisfied.

Personally, I think the initial trilogy is the best body of work, collectively, that Leialoha ever did.


Adams knew we would have to edit, delete, and condense the story for the graphic adaptation, and he was very good at understanding why certain things turned out to be the way they did. But he absolutely, positively freaked in my face (metaphorically speaking) when I made a single change to the prologue of the first volume. Long story short, a character that lasts for all of about 2 or 3 panels is wearing a wristwatch. An analog wristwatch. I told Douglas I thought we should update that and make it a digital-display watch, that analog watches had fallen out of favor and it would look dated.

Douglas wrote me a two-page, single-spaced letter in response, explaining in a very detailed manner why the watch had to be analog and not digital, and why I should not assume I could make such changes anywhere else in the book. Of course, he was correct. It’s about 20 years later and here I sit with my analog watch on my wrist, which he predicted we’d all still be wearing far into the future.

Harry Harrison gave us much more leeway when we adapted “Bill, the Galactic Hero.”

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The most fun I ever had adapting books to graphic format came from the fact that in every case the original work was one I had read and liked. That was true with Ray Bradbury, whose work I adapted most extensively, from his classic short stories to his classic longer works, like Fahrenheit 451.

I was a huge fan of Roger Zelazny’s AMBER series—a brilliant fantasy world that grew more layered and exciting with each volume. At Byron Preiss’s, I got to adapt Nine Princes in Amber, the foundational work of the series, into three fully-painted graphic novels, followed by a three-part adaptation of the second novel in the series, The Guns of Avalon. Unfortunately, by that time Roger had already begun to feel the adverse effects of being a long-time chain-smoker. A man who was almost always seen holding a lit cigarette, he made Prince Corwin, the lead character in the series, a smoker as well. But when it came time for the graphic adaptation, Roger had already stopped smoking, although he could not avoid the disease it had caused. Hence, Corwin was no longer a smoker, and neither were any of the book’s other characters.

When I asked Roger about this, he explained that he had never set out to make Corwin a cigarette smoker. Rather, he would sit at his typewriter (yes, an actual typewriter) and, when the story wasn’t flowing or he wasn’t sure of what would happen next in a scene, he would light a cigarette and think about it. And so periodically in Nine Princes you can see where the creative process paused and then picked up again, because Roger invariably had a character (most notably Corwin) light up when he himself did.

The script adaptation by award-winning genre author Terry Bisson was splendid, but the experiment with full-painted pages was frustrating and less rewarding. The production time was way too long—painting is just awfully time-consuming. And it is more of a challenge to create an action sequence, as the artist cannot use “speed lines” or other traditional techniques to move the story action along. And Byron positively freaked when he saw one story sequence, which showed Corwin thrown into a dungeon after his eyes have been plucked out. But, as a Price of Amber, he manages to regenerate them completely. So the scene goes from complete black to a hint of a tone, to some light, to restored vision. Two of the pages were mostly black. Byron looked at them and screamed, “I’m not paying an artist to paint black pages!”

Next time: adapting the work of Harry Harrison and Douglas Adams.


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Over the decades, it has been my challenge and my pleasure to create graphic adaptations of some of my own favorite books by some of my favorite authors.

I got to adapt many of Ray Bradbury’s short stories, initially in the form of The Ray Bradbury Chronicles, a series of 80-page anthologies published by Bantam Spectra in the early 1990s. We could not have afforded to pay the illustrator-adapters their going page rates. Fortunately, everyone who worked on these volumes did so because they grew up loving Ray and his stories, and some even got to work on their favorites . . . and they took the rates we could afford.


And it was a hell of a lineup. The artists involved included: Dave Gibbons, John Van Fleet, P. Craig Russell, Vicente Segrelles, Daniel Torres, Ralph Reese, Marc Chiarello, Timothy Truman, and Steve Leialoha. Plus, we reprinted several of the classic E.C. unlicensed adaptations, including those by Al Williamson, Bernard Krigstein, and Wally Wood.


When Bantam Spectra went belly-up, the project was reincarnated as Ray Bradbury Comics, published by Topps. We didn’t have a long run, but again got to play in Bradbury’s universe. Most notably, perhaps, was the “All-Dinosaur Issue,” which featured cover art by Ken Steacy, a gorgeous frontispiece by William Stout, and a graphic adaptation of one of Ray’s most famous stories, “The Fog Horn,” by Wayne Barlowe. Some longtime genre fans may remember Barlowe from his award-winning, breathtaking volumes, Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials, and Expedition. Other genre fans may recognize him as one of Hollywood’s top film-creature designers, and many of his creature designs from Avatar.

My third go-round with adapting Ray into graphic format was the three longer works that were licensed and produced by Z File: Fahrenheit 451, The Martian Chronicles, and Something Wicked This Way Comes.

But there are other authors whose works I love, and I was fortunate enough to work on some of those as well. There was the adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s AMBER books, one of the most popular and bestselling fantasy series of all time. I also adapted Harry Harrison’s landmark anti-war dark comedy, Bill, The Galactic Hero.

More on these, and my work adapting Douglas Adams, next time.

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Whence Superheroes

The graphic adaptation of Amity Shlaes’s 2007 history of the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man, scripted by Chuck Dixon and illustrated by Paul Rivoche, has become a bestseller and a cause of some controversy, most notably due to Rivoche and Dixon’s letter to the Wall Street Journal decrying the left/liberal leaning of the comic-book industry in general and its monthly output.

My immediate thought was to check current sales results and, having done that, I can declare their strategy to have been successful. Chuck and Paul found a perfect venue for promoting their work while appearing to totally diss the format and forum into which they have released it.

There is a potent and thoughtful response on the Comics Alliance site, here:

But beyond that, there is the question the two have raised, however disingenuously, about the “liberal leaning” of mainstream comic books. They asked: Are comics too biased toward liberal thoughts and ideals? This is a total bulls*it question.

They are not talking about comics as a whole. In fact, they are ignoring about 2/3’s of all products that are published in the realm of graphic storytelling. What they are really asking, rhetorically, is: “Are superhero comics too liberal-oriented and left-leaning?”

Well, the original, iconic superheroes, those who created the genre and have had everlasting staying power and a vast impact on American culture and society, those which de facto define the genre, were created by Jews, either first-generation Americans or the scions of them. Their families had fled from Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, either in advance of National Socialism (Nazi-ism) or from its ever-threatening, ever-expanding, bloodthirsty reach.

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster; Captain America was created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby—all Jews. What made their characters SUPER heroes? The fact that they championed the inherent rights and freedoms of the little guy, the average citizen—which, in America, included the freedom to pursue your own religion, whatever that might be. Superheroes, and superhero comics, were created by Jews as wish-fulfillment.  The wish being to be left the hell alone to pursue their own lives as they saw fit and to value and honor their own culture and heritage.

Does that sound like leftist, liberal-minded thinking? By all of today’s definitions, I would say, “Yes.” And I would also say, “So what?”

Superheroes had to take up for the common man, the poor work-a-day shlubs. These were the folks who needed the most protection from prejudice and mob hysteria. These were the targets of cruel and deadly prejudice in the world. If America’s superheroes could not stand up and be counted as saviors of the common, decent, hard-working man, what would make them superheroic? Of course superheroes were created by liberals. Of course the original characters have left a legacy of protecting “the little guy.”

Aside from the superhero comics, the rest of the field—certainly graphic novels—is remarkably balanced. So Dixon’s and Rivoche’s lament castigating the entire industry of graphic continuity is totally disingenuous.

They are not stupid. They know the heritage of their chosen field. Superheroes are, by nature, apt to take up the cause of the “little man” against a company, a corporation, a faceless political system, the personifications of prejudice.

No, Dixon’s and Rivoche’s screed is a marketing gambit. Plain and simple. Their book is now a bestseller, and the “hubbub” they have created around it has served sales very, very well.

In this case, it is not I who is the cynic.

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American History Comes Alive—Part Two

Now I had my creative team, artist Ernie Colón and author Ruth Ashby, under contract. But before we even got started on the project, our publisher, Thomas LeBien, told me he was leaving Hill & Wang and going to Simon & Schuster.  Without getting too deep into the details, the book went through a series of hands at H&W, none of which had prior experience with graphic continuities.

No one there saw this as much of a liability, because, after all, a graphic novel is still a book. Well . . . yes it is; but no, not really. English and American contain many of the same words, but they are not the same language. Graphic novels are in book format, but they are visual continuity storytelling, which print books are not.

But I digress.

The challenge for us on Great American Documents was that we needed specific information included in each document story, but we also needed to fit 20 stories into a 160-page volume. For the most part, I think we met this challenge well. Some pages are denser than others; some have more text than I would have liked. But the canny type design and beautiful artwork keep the stories from looking cluttered and keep the narrative moving. The pages are richly layered, with Sam’s narration interspersed with characters engaging in conversation and sometimes in heated disagreements.

Collectively, the 20 stories weave together important parts of the rich tapestry that is our history and our heritage. It begins with “The Mayflower Compact,” which answers such questions as: Who were the Pilgrims and the other passengers on the Mayflower? Why did they come here? Why is their Compact important? How did it contribute to the birth of democracy?

Uncle Sam takes you on a guided tour through the founding of the colonies and the growing colonial resentment toward the British crown; the abuses of the crown; the call for self-governance; the coming together of American’s finest minds in a time of extreme crisis; our break from England.

He explores the meaning and impact of Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and “The Crisis.” He dives into the Declaration of Independence; the Constitution; the Federalist Papers; and the Bill of Rights. We treat these as “living documents” in America, and bringing them to life on these pages was a challenge well met. It is important that we understand and learn from history. It explains so much of what is going on right now. An informed public can make informed decisions about its present and its future. Discover the “what” and “why” of America’s great triumphs and failures.

Buy this book.

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