Monthly Archives: January 2017

What’s In A Name by Mike Baron

WHAT’S IN A NAME

When I name a novel, I try to use words that will entice and intrigue the reader. Bands do the same thing. Has there been a more resonant title than The Rolling Stones? It summons not only the Dylan song, but a lizard-brain ancestral memory of the blues, in which rolling stones prominently featured. Today, the Beatles resonate like crazy, but when they first appeared, people said, “Beatles? What’s that?”

Some names resonate because of what went before, some resonate because of what they suggest, and some resonate because of what came after. Who could have imagined that Hellboy would become part of our geek lexicon? When Hellboy first appeared, the juxtaposition of hell and boy was intriguing. Opposites, or oxymoron, are always intriguing. There’s a Swedish band called the Genuine Fakes. The Violent Femmes. Led Zeppelin. These names are memorable because of their contradictions.

Some names have no meaning. Blink 182. Sum 41. Matchbox 20. Level 42. If they do good work, their names will have meaning. If their work is unmemorable, they will slide into the dustbin.

Some names suggest irony, which is always intriguing. A Simple Plan. Everything Is Wonderful. How I Won the War. Many authors create a style for their titles, uniting a series. John D. MacDonald named his Travis McGee novels, The Deep Blue Goodbye, A Deadly Shade of Gold, Darker Than Amber, A Purple Place For Dying and so forth. Randy Wayne White, whose Doc Ford series follows in MacDonald’s steps, gives his books punchy, two word descriptors. Deep Blue. Black Light. Chasing Midnight. Bone Deep. Sue Grafton, of course, is running through the alphabet.

The title Superman is a stroke of genius, especially considering the timing. Its success has led to innumerable characters with man, boy, girl or woman in the title. When you designate one person The Catwoman, it sounds iconic. And it is.

My novel Banshees is about a satanic rock band that comes back from the dead. I chose the name not only for its literal meaning, “a spirit in the form of a wailing woman who appears to members of a family as a sign that one of them is about to die,” as well as  Siouxsie and the Banshees. But the Banshees are male. That’s part of the story, which readers will discover.

The reason for Biker is obvious.

Sometimes I get a title and carry it around for years before I find the story, such as “Trail of the Loathsome Swine.”  Sometimes I carry the story for years before I find the title, such as Whack Job. Mine is not the first title to be named Whack Job. You can’t copyright a title.

Meaning of Life by Mike Baron

THE MEANING OF LIFE

What is the meaning of life? It’s up to each of us to find our own meeting. God wants you to be happy. Gaia wants you to be happy. Even Dogdrbek wants you to be happy. Crom doesn’t care. So what makes you happy? Many people find meaning in their work and in their relationships. Good stuff! Many people find meaning in their favorite stories. Has a movie ever been greeted with greater anticipation than Rogue 1? Those of us on Facebook, particularly in comics, movies, or pop music, find just as much meaning in the enjoyment we derive from our favorite stories or music, as any devoted Buddhist Monk does from serenity.

Some people find the most meaning in pop culture. More than in their personal relationships or work. That’s fine, because enthusiasm drives life. We need our enthusiasms. Miles Davis said, and demonstrated, that music was the most important thing in his life. He may have left a trail of wreckage in his personal life, but he also gave meaning to millions of others. Sixty years ago, many young people found meaning in the Beatles. I knew a woman whose father was very old.

“He’s just hanging on so he can finish The Clan of the Cave Bear saga,” she told me.

Not to compare the Beatles to Mother Theresa, or the Little Sisters of the Poor. But just because you are more excited about the next James Bond movie than saving the starving masses doesn’t make you a bad person. It makes you human.

I know some wonderful people who are completely divorced from pop culture. They don’t watch television or movies, they don’t read fiction or comics, and they don’t listen to pop music. Sometimes they get depressed. These are people in good health with no financial reasons. Perhaps you could call it existential angst. I’m not saying becoming a Batman fan is going to save your life, but enthusiasms give meaning to life. As John Mellencamp said, “You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” As Graham Parker said, “Passion is no ordinary word.”

Horror Comics Again by Mike Baron

HORROR COMICS. AGAIN.

Comics are the worst medium for horror, yet the horror comic will not die. Comics fail at horror because of limitations. They control what you see, and they control the pacing, to a degree. But at any minute, you can close the book, look up, and say, “Oh. It’s time for lunch.” You can’t do that in a movie, unless you’re watching at home. Movies control not only pacing, and visuals, but sound as well. Think how important sound is to your favorite horror movies. That voice in The Exorcist. That creak on the stairs. And the immersive visual experience suggests half shapes and terrors. Who can forget when the camera pans up through the window to the werewolf in the trees, in The Howling? Or James Whale’s masterful jump frames when we first glimpse the monster in Frankenstein?

Novels are just as effective as film in conveying horror, because they too are an immersive experience. The power of the word. The power of description. The novel is that oldest of all fictions, a tale told around a campfire. No other medium is as effective as putting you in the protagonist’s head. Some of my favorites are The Shining, Michael McDowell’s The Elementals, and Robert R. McCammon’s Swan Song.

Has anyone ever been scared by a comic? Those old EC cautionary tales with the shock endings were good for a frisson, but I’m speaking of supernatural terror. Some people consider films like Saw, Last House on the Left, and Hostel horror. Maybe. But to me, they’re slasher films. And a slasher film is not a horror film. A horror film raises the hackles because it makes you believe in supernatural terror. Films like The Changeling, The Ring, and The Haunting. The latter, by the way, contains not a single drop of blood or special effects, but oh, that sound track.

I loved Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing not because it scared me, but because it was such a complex, plausible story. I devoured Creepy and Eerie, mainly for the art. But it never freaked me out. I should talk. Both DC and Graphitti Designs are releasing the Deadman I did with Kelley Jones in the eighties. Kelley is the consummate comic book horror artist, combining the best of all the old EC artists including Graham Ingels, and the new EC artists such as Berni Wrightson. Kyle Hotz is another. However, only Kyle is frightening in real life.