Some of you who've followed this blog for a long time will have seen parts of this story before, but not all tied up into one single narrative, and not with so many pretty pictures. So I hope you'll stick around for the whole tale, and I hope you enjoy it.
The immediate reason for writing it is to make you aware of my newest book, Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising. Its official on-sale date is Tuesday, Sept. 20. As I've written before, I'm especially proud of this one. Here's what it looks like, thanks to the amazing cover art by Aaron Riley.
Steve Ellis did a bunch of fantastic interior art pieces for the book (this is, by the way, the same art team that provided art for the previous Deadlands novel, Jonathan Maberry's Deadlands: Ghostwalkers, and that will be doing the art for Seanan McGuire's Deadlands: Boneyard in 2017). Here's one:
As for how this all came about, to tell that story we have to go back to the dawn of history. Or at least, the dawn of my history.
When I was but a little tyke, westerns were the biggest thing on TV. I idolized Roy Rogers and Hopalong Cassidy and Disney's Zorro and many others, but especially Roy, if only because he had the coolest fringed Western shirts.
In those days, I couldn't afford fancy fringed shirts like Roy's, but I made the best of what I had.
When I was six, my family moved to Paris, France, because the Department of Defense transferred my father there. Living in France was kind of a culture shock to a little kid. But when my dad took me to a Russian barber's shop in a building leased by the DOD in downtown Paris, I found that the barber had a bunch of comics for kids--including Roy Rogers comics. To my knowledge, that was my first exposure to comic books, and it was obviously a significant turning point in my life.
Fast forward to 6th grade, in Virginia. The Scholastic Book Club and the Tab Book Club provided little catalogs of books to classrooms, and my parents always let me pick out a couple of books to buy through those. They're all forgotten today, except one (I don't have my original copy, but I've since picked up a used copy). It's The Mystery of the Haunted Mine, by Gordon D. Shirreffs.
No other book has had as profound an impact on my life, in multiple areas. It's a contemporary western (contemporary to when Shirreffs wrote it, in the late 1950s/early 1960s), set in and around Arizona's Superstition Mountains, involving three teenagers who stumble across clues to the location of the Lost Dutchman mine. Shirreffs changed the names--he calls the Superstitions the Espectros, for instance, but even to me in 6th grade it was clear what he was writing about.
This book has it all--action, adventure, mystery, horror, a supernatural-seeming component, a little romance. Throughout my writing career, 60-some novels and well over 150 comics/graphic novels, I've tackled all of those things, and I owe my love of genre-blending to Shirreffs.
Moreover, though it took me decades, I finally wound up in Arizona, where I met my wife, author (and writing partner) Marsheila (Marcy) Rockwell, and where we live, just down the road from the real Superstitions.
Among the comic books I've written, I'm best known for a series called Desperadoes. It was launched in the late 1990s, when I worked for WildStorm Productions, then published under the Image Comics umbrella. We had launched an imprint focused on non-superhero comics (except one, Kurt Busiek's Astro City). Other titles at the launch were Leave it to Chance and Strangers in Paradise, which I'd brought into the fold thanks to an existing relationship with creator Terry Moore. The company's owner, artist/publisher Jim Lee, thought it would be good to have a western in the mix, and knowing my fondness for that genre, he asked me to create one. I came up with a pitch for Desperadoes, but I left out the horrific element I wanted to put in, because I thought he wanted a straight western. When he read the pitch, he thought it was good but needed something else to round it out, and asked if I thought I could work in a supernatural element. That was exactly what I'd wanted to do, so I added that back in and we were off and running (with the great John Cassaday handling the art for the first miniseries).
Desperadoes came along at a time when there were essentially no other westerns in the comics market. Author Joe Lansdale had fairly recently done a run of comics using DC Comics character Jonah Hex, but those were over. DC's The Kents hadn't come along yet. Although western comics had been huge in the 1950s and early 60s, by the 90s, superheroes dominated the marketplace. I'm proud to say that Desperadoes helped change that. The first issue sold out quickly and a reprint was ordered with a new cover. Cassaday became a household name (at least, in comics-reading households). The book was well reviewed all over the place, and not too long after that, other westerns--often including supernatural elements--started to show up on the racks.
At about the same time, over in the role-playing game world, Pinnacle Entertainment Group had released an RPG called Deadlands. It was also a weird western, set in an alternate-history west overrun with all kinds of monsters and strange powers. I had never been a gamer, so it took me a while to become aware of Deadlands, but when I did, I realized we were exploring some of the same turf.
My first direct encounter with Deadlands came when Pinnacle asked me to contribute a short story to a series of short fiction anthologies they were releasing. The overall series was called "The Anthology With No Name." I told them I wasn't too familiar with the world of Deadlands, and they said that didn't matter--it was open-ended enough that if I just wrote a weird western, it would fit in. So I came up with "Behind Enemy Lines," which was published in 1999, in the first volume of the series, A Fistful O' Dead Guys.
Years went by. I wrote more Desperadoes comics, illustrated by folks like the late, great John Severin; John Lucas; Alberto Dose; and Jeremy Haun. They were published by Homage Comics/Image Comics, and after DC Comics bought our company, Homage Comics/DC Comics, then IDW Publishing, after I left DC and became IDW's first editor-in-chief. Some of those books were recently featured in an exhibit at the Tucson Museum of Art.
Fast forward a few more years, and Shannon Eric Denton and I wrote another weird western comic, called Graveslinger, published by Image Comics and IDW Publishing.
Now the trail winds back around to Deadlands. A small publisher called Visionary Comics had acquired the license to publish Deadlands stories in comics and prose. They lined up creative teams to produce five one-shot comic issues, but the fifth team bailed before doing their story. I was contacted and asked if I'd be willing to quickly write a fill-in. That became the story "Black Water," with art by Brock Turner, later reprinted in the Dead Man's Hand paperback.
Throughout this process, I got to know Visionary's Chief Creative Officer C. Edward (Chuck) Sellner. He's a multi-talented guy who, with his partner Charlie Hall, was intent on building Visionary into an industry powerhouse. They wanted to expand into prose publishing, but they didn't have much experience in that arena. Since I did, I volunteered to try to sell Deadlands to a major publisher. Two years later, I succeeded in setting up a co-publishing arrangement with Tor Books. I found the writers, and Tor would put out three Deadlands novels with Visionary's involvement. Those are the novels mentioned at the top of this post, including mine. Somewhere during this process, I became a partner in Visionary, and the company's editor-in-chief.
So what's the moral of this story? If you want to write a weird western novel, you have to set up the publishing deal yourself and then deal yourself in? Maybe something like that.
The other moral, I guess, is that if you really love something, don't give up on it. I loved--and love--western stories. And fringed shirts, as you can see in this photo of my son David (now an assistant editor at the aforementioned IDW Publishing, to my great pride) and I:
And I love Arizona, and weird westerns, and that book by Gordon Shirreffs that set so much of my life's direction.
I hope you love Deadlands: Thunder Moon Rising just as much.
In case you need a reminder of what to look for at the bookstore, here's Aaron's cover again: