The Man in the Torn Shirt

Here is a reprint of my most recent post for the AMAZING STORIES website. This post was inspired by my good buddy Cal over at the Cave of Cool who tends to knock one of my great childhood heroes because of his choice of shirts.

This post is about icons.

It’s about powerful images and the way that they can become stuck in the public consciousness.

But it’s also about old pulp heroes. One in particular.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. Not back in the 1930′s when Street and Smith released a new hero pulp magazine featuring a super-scientific crime fighter named Doc Savage. Not even in the 1960′s when the adventures were reprinted in paperback format with covers painted by artist James Bama.

For me the beginning was the summer of 1976. I was eleven years old and it was the start of our family summer vacation. Summer vacation for me meant long drives in a hot car with my brothers and I in the back seat. We had made a stop somewhere and my mother sent us in to a used bookstore with a little bit of pocket money to buy comic books to try to keep us interested in something else other than fighting amongst ourselves.

DocSavageTheOtherWorldCoverProofI started rifling through the second-hand paperbacks. I can’t remember exactly what I was looking for, but when I came across the Doc Savage paperback I was stopped cold. The cover showed a muscled man with a torn shirt and a strange haircut, fending off a trio of weasel-like creatures. The name DOC SAVAGE was blazoned across the top but above it was the name of the adventure: The Other World.

The description on the back of the book got me even more excited. “To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious, figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes…”

How could an eleven year old resist that? I read the paperback and wanted more.

Fortunately there were lots around at the time. George Pal had just made Doc Savage, the movie. There were comic books and magazines and plenty more paperbacks all featuring the iconic image of Doc Savage sporting a torn shirt.

The iconic torn shirt.

An icon is a religious work of art from Eastern Christianity. Depictions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, saints, what have you, these images were very powerful representations of a people’s faith.

The icon has become co-opted by our society for anything but religious purposes. An icon is a visual representation of an idea or a feeling. It can be a symbols that encapsulates a feeling or an idea. Icons are very powerful, though we tend not to think too consciously about them. But that’s how they work.

Take Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was never… NEVER… described as wearing a deerstalker cap. The illustrator of the stories, Sidney Paget depicted Holmes wearing a traveling cloak and a deerstalker hat for one adventure. For whatever reason, the deerstalker became permanently associated with Holmes. The deerstalker was a country cap, favored by hunters. To wear it year round, in the city was an absurd thing back in the late 1880′s, yet it quickly became Holmes’ costume.

Put on a deerstalker cap and you are Sherlock Holmes. Even the recent BBC TV series Sherlock, which has updated Holmes to the Twenty-First century, could not entirely get away from at least giving a nod to the existence of the famous cap.

Doc Savage wearing a torn shirt ALL the time is ridiculous. Yes, he’s an adventurer and very busy. If, in the course of an adventure his shirt gets torn he doesn’t have time to get a new one.

Some bloggers, including Calvin from Calvin’s Canadian Cave of Cool, take to complaining about it, asking why he doesn’t make his shirts out of the same, seemingly durable material out of which his pants are made.

But these questions are immaterial. Doc Savage’s ripped shirt is iconic. It’s as iconic as Sherlock Holmes’ deerstalker, or Tarzan’s loin cloth.

It was not always like that. Just as with Holmes’s deerstalker, the torn shirt is a product of the illustrator. Doc Savage’s original pulp magazine run featured lots of action-filled covers and on some Doc appears wearing a ripped shirt. In the very first issue Doc’s shirt is torn. Nowhere near as torn as it would be in later covers, but it was there from the beginning. But other covers do not feature the torn shirt. In some cover illustrations Doc is wearing a suit and tie with not a single rip in sight.

When the adventures were released in paperback the job of painting the covers went to artist James Bama. Bama was the one who settled on the image of the torn shirt (the publishers insisted on the weird, widow’s peak hairstyle, but that’s another story) and the torn shirt appeared on every single cover that Bama or any other artist painted, right up until today.

So now, poor Doc Savage has to wear a torn shirt all the time, just like Sherlock Holmes was saddled with his ridiculous deerstalker. Perhaps Doc will move beyond the torn shirt. There is supposed to be a new movie in the works. Perhaps that will give us a new iconic image for Doc Savage. Maybe something cleaner, sophisticated and less… torn.

Perhaps that is a vain hope. I imagine that the poster for the movie, should it ever materialize, will feature a picture of whatever broadly muscled actor they cast sporting a shirt hanging raggedly about him to better highlight his pectorals and six-pack abs. That image will still overshadow the essence of a character who is so much more than a torn shirt.

Such is the power of the icon.


So last night I started watching DaVinci’s Demons, a British-American series which presents a highly fantastical representation of Leonardo Davinci’s early adult life as an artist, inventor, idealist and intellect and Florence under the Medici’s. The series is conceived and written by David S. Goyer.

Described as a historical fantasy, the series explores the untold story of DaVinci “inventing” the future at the age of 25, at a time in history when “thought and faith are controlled…as one man fights to set knowledge free.” The young DaVinci struggles with his inner darkness “tortured by a gift of superhuman genius. He is a heretic intent on exposing the lies of religion. An insurgent seeking to subvert an elitist society. A bastard son who yearns for legitimacy with his father.”

I was not expecting much with this show so I was pleasantly surprised at how good it is. It strikes the right balance of history and fantasy. DaVinci is presented as a sort of Florentine Sherlock, his unique vision and insights highlighted by moments of slow-motion and animated DaVinci drawings.

In fact, if you’re waiting impatiently for the new season of SHERLOCK in October (and, let’s face it, who isn’t?) then this just might be the series to tide you over. Visually it is very lush with beautiful scenery and costumes and, as this is Starz, there are enough expletives, boobs, bums and dicks on display to satisfy the GAME OF THRONES/SPARTACUS crowd. There is also enough action, sword fights, spurting blood, clever chases and explosions to satisfy attention deficit viewers.

Tom Riley does his best Benedict Cumberbatch/Johnny Lee Miller as Leonardo. He is difficult, a womanizer, a drunkard as well as a man of frenetic action and tortured genius. The rest of the cast is good and mostly British. DEEP SPACE NINE fans will recognize Julian Bashir — Alexander Siddig as Al-Rahim and SHERLOCK aficionados will recognize Irene Adler — Lara Pulver as Clarice Orsini.

I’m only two episodes in but I’m enjoying it enormously and I would recommend it based on the opening two. There are only eight episodes in the first season but it has been renewed for a second. It’s certainly worth a look.


Why are we Crowdfunding Novels?

internet begging

Okay, I’m just gonna put it out there; Why are we crowdfunding novels?

If you don’t know, crowdfunding is a method of finding financial backers for a project that requires startup funds. Instead of finding a few wealthy investors, the projects hits the internet in search of a whole lot of backers who are willing to kick in a smaller amount. Kickstarter  is a website that specializes in these campaigns. Another is Indiegogo.

I have no problem with finding investors for a project that needs startup cash if there is a chance the investors will get a return on their investments. But what exactly are we funding when we crowdfund an author writing a novel? Are we kicking in to support the author while he dedicates all his time to writing?

I’m sorry, but the idea just sits wrong with me. I wrote four novels in my spare time while I was working to support a family. If something is important to you, you find the time. Writing these novels was important so I found the time. I woke up an hour earlier than my usual time and spent that first hour of the day working solidly, every morning, until I finished. It’s a habit I still have to this day.

Look, I sympathize with any writer who is struggling — trying to make ends meet is tough if you are a writer only. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do. Jobs are tough to find in this economy, I know, but to resort to what amounts to electronic panhandling… something about that just gets in my craw.

Maybe I’m wrong about this. Maybe I’m sounding like a member of the Tea Party, but honestly I’m not against welfare. I wrote part of a novel while I was on EI here in Canada (I didn’t get on to EI just to write the novel, but since I was on it I took advantage of the time). J. K. Rowling wrote her first Harry Potter novel while she was on the dole in Great Britain. Lots of novels get written that way. I don’t have a problem with that.

But this crowdfunding, I have a problem with it.

Maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick and, honestly, I would welcome discussion about this. I’m open minded enough to listen to counter arguments and I probably can be persuaded by a strong enough argument. If I’m missing something, please let me know.

Until then, I’ll be up at the crack of dawn each morning to get in as many words as I can before heading off to my day job.

Atomic Interview 12: Talking ONE FOOT IN MY GRAVE with Joel Jenkins

Atomic Interview 12: Talking ONE FOOT IN MY GRAVE with Joel Jenkins.

If you haven’t read any Joel Jenkins… what’s wrong with you?

Writer’s not Writing…


If a tree falls in the woods and there is no one around to hear it, does it make any sound?

If a writer isn’t writing is he still a writer?

Those are stupid questions. The point I’m trying to get to is that Jack Mackenzie has not done a whole lot of writing lately. The problem with Jack is that he is only one half of the person otherwise known as M. D. Jackson, who is trying to convince the world that he is an artist.

M.D. Jackson has been writing for the AMAZING STORIES website. He writes an article every week. He should be writing one right now, but Jack has taken over just for now.

I have a lot of stories floating around in my head. Most writers do. Some stories are vague, half-formed ideas. Some are just images. But some are becoming very fully developed. Like the one about Roman occupied Briton, a captured Roman soldier named Maximus Decius and a Briton whom he befriends named Donal Donaleigh and a tribe of warriors who may or may not be supernatural entities called up from the earth by a deranged and vengeful druid.

Or the one about an investigator for Whitehall in the late Victorian Era named Emory Beech who finds himself trying to end a clandestine war between rival wizards and finds an unexpected ally in a strange and mysterious woman who calls herself Saffron but whose real name is Sandra Frene. Or is it?

Or the one about Bradik, a wily sword for hire who has taken a job to retrieve some property for a wealthy client — said property being a half-blind seeress who can read the future.

And there are the abandoned projects which must be finished. I have five decent chapters of a sixty-thousand word New Pulp novel which is screaming to be finished. And, as anyone who has bothered to read this blog knows, there is the unfinished prequel to my novel The Mask of Eternity. The Price of Redemption is here on this blog, unfinished — cut off in mid-stream. Honestly, there ain’t no more of it. It just fizzled out. I need to relight the fire under that one for sure.

There’s lots of others and there’s not a lot of time to write them all down. Actually, that’s not true. There’s time… there’s always time if you know where to look for it… but the inclination is not there. Being M. D. Jackson takes different mental “muscles” than being Jack Mackenzie. My writing muscles — my fiction writing muscles — are weak and flabby and need to be worked out.

So, M.D. Jackson, I think you’ve had control of the muscles for too long. I think Jack will be taking over.

Watch this space.


My characters, Ka Sirtago and Poet are featured in three sword and sorcery tales in this collection.

Heralded by Blood_Amazon Cvr

Three tales about the strangest duo in Fantasy fiction, Ka Sirtago, the heir-apparent to the Trigassan Empire and his sensitive friend Poet. In “Heralded By Blood” we see how the two met in childhood. In “Mark of Gennesh” they are on a desperate mission to save Sirtago’s sister from a demon-marked sorcerer. “The Sound of the Deep” takes them on the ocean waves where more sorcery is afoot. Sword & Sorcery tales to please the new fan or the old.

Pick this us at While you are there check out my other works featuring this sword and sorcery duo:


$2.99 at


$2.99 at

STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS: and How it Could be Made Better

  I’m not going to spoil the whole movie with this article. I’m only going to spoil the first five minutes.

If you want to see it completely fresh, then stop reading. If you’re not to concerned about having what is essentially a prologue spoiled, then you can read this article and still enjoy the bulk of the movie fresh.


The movie opens in the middle of the action. It hits the ground running as all action movies seem to want to do these days. That’s fine. All good action fiction should hit the ground running.

But what is essentially a prologue to the main film was, for me, a really good ending to a potentially great episode of Star Trek if it were back on TV (where it belongs). I would really like to have seen the first 40 minutes of that episode. It could easily have been more like Star Trek then the rest of the movie that comes afterwards.


The Enterprise crew has clearly chosen to break the Prime Directive by saving a planet full of white-skinned aliens. It would have been interesting to see the crew wrestle with their responsibilities not to break the Prime Directive, and their desire to save an entire species who are doomed to die. Do they break their Starfleet oaths? Or do they let an entire species die. That would have been riveting to see Kirk and Spock and McCoy wrestling with that dilemma. That would have given further gravitas to McCoy’s answer to Kirk’s question: “What would Spock do?”


Obviously Spock is argued into action because it is he who has to set the device in the volcano. I imagine Kirk wanting to do it himself and Spock pointing out that it should be he who sets the device as his Vulcan physiology would allow him to function long after a human would have passed out from the extreme heat. It would also have been a great opportunity for a scene between Uhura and Spock. “You may not care about your own life, but did you ever consider what your death would do to me, you selfish Vulcan?”


Why was the Enterprise hiding under the ocean? That would have been interesting to watch the decision making process that led to that development. I imagine Scotty’s initial resistance at such a mad idea, then watching as he reluctantly solves the engineering problems that allow them to do just that.


Why did Kirk steal the scroll? Perhaps it was a last minute thing. Perhaps Spock determines that he cannot set the device fast enough to guarantee the safety of the temple. Kirk has to figure out a way — fast — to get them out of the temple without revealing who he is. It would have been entertaining to see the aliens worshiping the scroll and Kirk’s spur-of-the-moment decision to steal it in order to get them out of the temple.


And what about McCoy? He obviously had to spend some time getting that beast that Kirk stuns to be cooperative enough to be their ride. Imagine The potential for a number of humorous scenes of McCoy trying to coax a recalcitrant animal into taking riders on its back. McCoy as a grumpy “alien whisperer” would have been priceless.

See? Now THAT would have been a decent episode of Star Trek if Star Trek were to return to television, like it should.It’s just too bad that the rest of the movie was not quite as good. I mean, it was exciting and thrilling (and in 3d!) but it wash’t really Star Trek.

Not my Star Trek, anyway.






I’ve been falling behind with this story and now I will likely fall behind even further because this below is the last that I have actually written on it. I know how it is going to end but I am not sure when I will be able to sit down and write it all down. To be honest I don’t know if anyone even cares about this story at this point. Nevertheless, it will get written and will eventually be compiled and edited and be available somewhere. I hope someone has enjoyed this. Let me know, or better yet buy THE MASK OF ETERNITY (see sidebar) for a complete Solis DeLacey novel

So, here’s part ten:


Solis picked up an overturned chair and waved it menacingly at the first suited figure. The figure paused in its approach and held up its hands as if to try to calm Solis down. Solis gestured menacingly at the figure with the legs of the chair and the figure stopped its approach. She whirled around to menace the figure that was coming up behind her. That figure had gotten alarmingly close while her back was turned. It, too stopped.

Solis blinked back tears of frustration. She slammed the chair onto the floor and sat down upon it, hunched over clutching her stomach.

The figures approached her silently. One took her arm and gently but firmly drew her to her feet. Silent as ghosts the suited figures guided her out of the structure.

Outside Solis saw a ship. It was one of the ships that had carried out the assault on the Kruath the night before. It had its landing gear deployed and it was sitting in the field while the suited figures moved silently around it.

Human girl!” Solis heard Ovrafa shout. She was being similarly guided by another suited figure. “Are you alright?”

Yes,” Solis said. Neither tried to get away from their captors. Solis guessed that both had come to the same conclusion about the futility of that.

The ship was obviously their destination. It was configured unlike any ship that Solis was familiar with and whatever engines were powering it seemed to work in an unnatural silence. The side hatch was irregularly shaped and had a small step. The suited figure guided Solis up the step and inside.

Solis’ stomach tightened as she stepped into the dark. Her eyes had not adjusted but the suited figure kept guiding her onward. Solis stumbled once and the suited figure stopped to allow her to regain her balance. The figure did not loosen its firm grip on her arm.

Her eyes were adjusting now. They had come through what Solis assumed had been an airlock. The inner hatch was what had tripped Solis up. She was standing at the entrance of what looked like a cargo space. There were a number of items scattered about. Most of it was tied down. The suited figure guided her to a bulkhead and gestured for her to sit. She sat, her back against a bulkhead.

Ovrafa was guided in as well and was encouraged to sit beside her.

Who are they?” Ovrafa asked in a whisper. “They aren’t Kruath. Are they another Hegemony race?”

Solis shook her head. “They wouldn’t have attacked the Kruath if they were. Hegemony races don’t fight amongst themselves no matter how much they may hate each other.” The races that made up the Hegemony were all of them thralls to one master race, the Taarkaan, who rarely left their homeworld.

Where are they taking us?” Ovrafa asked.

Solis could only shake her head.

The space began to fill up with suited figures. There were nine in all. Three continued on through a hatch on the far side to what Solis assumed was the ship’s control area – a cockpit of some kind, perhaps.

The other suited figures occupied a part of the bulkhead that formed a kind of bench on either side. Three on one side. Three on the other. Three more suited figures in the control room and two frightened beings without suits sitting on the cold metal deck with their backs up against a bulkhead.

Solis felt the deck below her shift and the room seemed to rock for only a moment. The craft was taking off. There wasn’t the tell-tale sound of engines firing that she was used to with shuttle-type craft. This craft was unnaturally silent, just like its crew.

The artificial gravity kicked in and Solis noted that it was a lot lighter than the local gravity. She almost felt like she would soon float off the deck. Instinctively she searched for something to hang on to.

The suited figures became animated then. With the lighter gravity they seemed to relax. They began removing their atmosphere suits and Solis heard them begin to speak to each other in a language that she did not recognize.

One of the figures closest to her reached up and unsealed its helmet. As the helmet came off Solis was shocked to see that their captors were Urwaldian – or, at least, similar enough to have evolved from a similar subspecies. The Urwaldians they had met on the surface had been short and stocky. These Urwaldians were tall and had delicate features, almost brittle. They had the same red eyes and structures that swept up from their heads as well as the same blue skin coloring. But their complexions were lighter, more even. They also seemed not to have the same bark-like appearance that the Uwaldians on the planet had possessed.

As the figures began to remove their suits one other fact became clear. All the Urwaldians on the planet had been male. These Urwaldians were all female.

The figure closest to her stood and addressed her in her language. Solis shook her head to indicate that she did not understand. “Why have you captured us?” Solis asked in Koh. “Where are you taking us?”

The tall female stared at Solis quizzically then she replied using Galactic 1 “It is not safe on the surface. The Kruath have been scattered but they still have a ship in orbit. They will send reinforcements. We are going where they will not detect us. We are going to Monat.”


We are going to the moon.”

…to be continued…




MD Jackson has another article over at the AMAZING STORIES website:

Human beings have always had a fear of and, at the same time, a fascination with the “other”.

Almost as soon as humans were able to make art on cave walls depictions of strange and bizarre creatures began showing up amongst depictions of their fellows and animals. The stone walls of ancient Egypt were rife with depictions of gods with human bodies and the heads of jackals or eagles or snakes.

In modern times, when gods were replaced with aliens, depictions of beings from other planets have ranged from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Before the twentieth century a number of Victorian illustrators, chief among them French illustrator Isidore Grandville, were adept at creating menageries full of wild and outrageous creatures, but it was in the twentieth century with the rise of the science fiction pulps, that alien creatures really took center stage.

J. Allen St, John, a marvelous illustrator from the very earliest part of the century, had the enviable opportunity to be one of the first to illustrate the fantastic tales of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Although mostly remembered as the author who created Tarzan, Burroughs also wrote planetary romances set on the Moon, Mars, Venus and even at the earth’s core. Burroughs’ books contain a menagerie of alien creature which were ably depicted by St. John. From Martian Thoats to Lunar Kalkars St. John’s depictions inspired the imaginations of readers of the Blue Book and All-Story Magazines where Burroughs’ stories first saw print.

Read the rest of this article over at the AMAZING STORIES website.

Dress For the Occasion: The Scantily Clad Female

AMAZING STORIES has posted another article by artist M D Jackson, this one about a subject close to my heart (or maybe a little lower) The site is now live!

So, here’s a question:

Say you’re a beautiful woman (I assume some of you reading this actually are women. Please believe me when I say that in my eyes all women are beautiful. If you’re a man reading this, then use your imagination) and you need to leave the relative safety of your spacecraft to go out into the vacuum of space or maybe planetside where there is a strong possibility that you will run into hostile aliens.

What do you wear?

It’s a tough one, I know.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that a self contained space suit with a substantial air supply and radiation shielding. That sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

But not so fast. If we’re examining the history of science fiction illustration (which, at the moment, I am) then we have to think outside the box of conventional wisdom. Here we must enter the strange wisdom of the science fiction cover illustration.

So, what does the typical beautiful woman wear into space?

How about an evening gown?

That seemed to be a good idea to the woman depicted in a Norman Saunders’ painting for Marvel Science magazine in May 1951 in which two adequately suited spacemen appear to be manhandling a negligee-clad woman into a spaceship.

Now, according to something that we like to call science, the human body cannot survive unprotected in a vacuum. So the chances that the lovely lady in this painting is alive are slim to 0 to the power of 10 billion. She does, however, leave a beautiful corpse, which is surprising since her body has been exposed to hard vacuum.

You can read the rest of the article at the AMAZING STORIES website.


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