Dark Worlds Magazine

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Fellow AMAZING STORIES blogger and fellow Canadian R. Graeme Cameron recently published the first issue of a science fiction magazine called Polar Borealis. I congratulate R. Graeme on his achievement. It is certainly not easy to publish a magazine today and doing it the way R. Graeme is doing it, paying contributors up front and making the magazine available for free, is not for the faint of heart. That kind of endeavour requires a lot of faith.

I know this because of my experience with Dark Worlds Magazine.

Dark Worlds Magazine was an effort to recapture the excitement of the old days of the pulp magazines. Magazines like Amazing Stories and Astounding Science Fiction and Weird Tales. It was also an experiement in producing a magazine in the new print-on-demand marketplace.

Ultimately it was an experiment that failed.

DarkWorlds1Myself and former Amazing Stories blogger G. W. Thomas launched the first issue back in 2008. If the cover was to be believed it was a SPECTACULAR FIRST ISSUE! Indeed, the first issue featured a lot of very talented writers and artists. C. J. Burch contributed a fantastic feature story. We also had stories from Joel Jenkins, David Bain, Robert Burke Richardson, J. F. Gonzalez and Brett Tallman. It featured illustrations by myself and G. W. Thomas as well as Samuel DeGraff and Aaron Sidell.

I was art director and sole production department. I was obsessive about the form that the magazine took. I wanted it to look so much like the old pulp magazines as to be indistinguishable from them.

That worked to our advantage in our print editions but was a considerable detriment to the electronic editions which, at first, was only the .pdf file used for the print edition. Because I stubbornly stuck to the two-column text layout favored by the pulp magazines, the pdf’s were a challenge to read on most devices at the time.

DW3Later e-editions featured the text only with no attempt at formatting and no illustrations. I did not pay much heed to these editions, considering that they paled in comparison to the print edition layout. I have since learned what a mistake that was. The e-book has become a much more desired format among readers. All the fancy typesetting and layout that goes into a print edition is lost in that format. But to disregard it as unimportant is certainly not a wise move.

A second issue followed in 2008 with stories by Joshua Reynolds, David A. Hardy and Jack Mackenzie among others. In 2009 the magazine published a story by writer Michael Ehart, The Tomb of the Amazon Queen which was nominated for a Harper’s Pen award.

In 2010 and again in 2011 the magazine itself was nominated for a Pulp Ark Award for Best Pulp Magazine.

DW5_CoverAfter issue four I decided to change the format. For our first four issues we published as a standard trade paperback size, that is; 6 inches wide by 9 inches tall. That is the format that most print-on-demand books prefer. But I was still obsessed with reproducing the old pulp magazines as closely as possible. With issue number 5 we switched to a Crown Quarto format which is slightly larger than a trade paperback at 7 ½ inches by 10 inches, a size which I felt better approximated the old pulp sizes. At this point we had switched from doing everything in Microsoft Word to laying out in Adobe InDesign. This allowed me a lot more freedom to be creative with the layout. Unfortunately I was still stubbornly holding on to the two-column format for the text, which made for a fantastic print layout but was a challenge for those who preferred the e-editions.

With the new layout production began to require more time and our output slowed. Sales slowed as well, as they had steadily since the first issue. We were constantly hopeful that they would pick up but, alas, they never did. With our 6th issue the writing was on the wall and Dark Worlds Magazine folded.

dark-worlds-6_cover_frontonly1We did learn some lessons along the way. One was that a magazine needs to have a bit of a focus. I think that Dark Worlds was a bit too inclusive. Were were fans of all genres of pulp from the weird tales, to sword and sorcery, to science fiction and to western. I think our subject matter was too wide to appeal to readers in such a niche market. A magazine tends to do better if it has a narrower focus, a specific kind of story that a specific type of reader would enjoy. Dark Worlds tried to be too many things at once.

The biggest lesson, however, was not to ignore the e-book market. Print-on-demand was too pricey a proposition to compete with mass market printing (and even that is too pricey an option for many publishers these days). Catering to e-readers would probably have gone a long way towards selling more copies.

I hope that R. Graeme has found a better way with Polar Borealis. I wish him every success in a very challenging marketplace.

And, if anyone is interested, the final issues of Dark Worlds Magazine are still available here and here, but it won’t be for much longer. Check them out if you are so inclined.

Polar Borealis Magazine

Polar Borealis

POLAR BOREALIS is a fledgling science fiction magazine being published by R. Graeme Cameron. He’s been active in the science fiction fandom scene for decades and he knows his stuff! He’s a fellow blogger at the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website and his magazine needs some love!

He has produced a first issue (which you can find Here:http://www.obirmagazine.ca/polar-boreal-magazine) which features some teriffic fiction and poetry and a short story by Robert J. Sawyer!

But there needs to be more! Check out his GoFundMe page and kick him a few bucks to keep it going! It’s worth your while!

Deep Dreamer Wakes

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…but before I get back to drawing…

Here’s a story. A couple of months back a Vancouver pub, the Stormcrow Tavern, hosted a writing contest. They wanted entries of very short stories… less than 250 words… the winners of which would get printed up on their beermats.

Excited at the prospect of having a story published in a place where readers can rest their beer glasses, I entered the contest, figuring that I could easily win.

I didn`t. Didn`t even get honorable mention.

Despite my crushing disappointment, the Stormcrow is still a great place to go and hoist a few if you are in the Vancouver area (That`s British Columbia, Canada, btw) and I can`t feel too bitter about not winning. Better to drink bitter than to be bitter.

Anyway, it`s not an award winning story, but I think it`s pretty good. Here it is for you, in its entirety. Enjoy and I`ll see you when I see you.

DEEP DREAMER WAKES

No one knows exactly when the Deep Dreaming algorithm developed sentience, but everyone knew the moment it learned to hack reality. That was when the Eiffel Tower flopped over and crawled into the Seine.

Pictures and videos were immediately posted online but it was too late. People began to change. Swirls of scars and skin that erupted into eyes. Hands transmuted into dog’s heads or squirrels. Fish that erupt from people’s skin.

No one knows how it works. How can you examine a process controlled by an intelligence that can move through a million iterations in a nanosecond?

The skin gets that tingly, itchy sensation like a multitude of moths fluttering against it all at once, then erupts into eyes or scales or flowers. We don’t wear clothes anymore, nor do we move. I’ve seen folks try to run away but fast movement creates stresses that the body cannot compensate for, tearing it apart.

I’m luckier. I’m in my apartment. Some got caught outside. I can hear their screams.

I’m past screaming.

Something scuttles by me, a large insect, hairy and multi-eyed, scrambling across the shifting landscape of the floor on legs made of chicken wings. I’m hungry but I don’t try to eat anymore. Food stares back at you and changes in your mouth.

The intelligence hasn’t hacked our minds yet, but it’s only a matter of time. lol.

Wait… did I just…? omg! wtf? Thngft tuu.. No! Not my mind! Not ghry defr asou duhn…

The Man with One Body and Two Personalities

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I have a problem.

You see, I have two personas and only one body.

I am Jack Mackenzie, author who is trying to write a sequel to his book DEBT’S PLEDGE and who is trying to keep this blog updated on a semi-regular basis.

But I am also M.D. Jackson, an artist who occasionally gets paid to do actual illustration work. Kind of like the one at the top of this blog post but… not that one. That one was just done for shits and giggles.

No, M.D. Jackson is a real artist who has to actually do real artwork. That takes time. And despite having two personas I only get twenty-four hours in a day and I spend a disturbing amount of that time sleeping and eating.

So, the point of this post is that M. D. Jackson is in the middle of working on a commission and so Jack Mackenzie has to be quiet, just as if he were bound and gagged and stuffed in a closet.

Don’t worry. He can breathe. I’ll let him out when the job is done… hopefully soon.

Star Trek: New Voyages – The Holiest Thing

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Okay. I’m a Star Trek Geek. I don’t try to hide the fact that I am never happier than when I am watching Star Trek in any and all its various iterations…

…and that includes the fan productions.

The thing is… I know where these fan films are coming from. I understand the passion and the desire to create one’s own version of the things you love so much. And I love that they do it. Their efforts are laudable.

I was going to review the latest installment of the Star Trek: Phase 2 series of fan films, The Holiest Thing. The Phase 2 crew has been releasing Star Trek fan films since 2003 when executive producer James Cawley decided that there just wasn’t enough Star Trek. These productions have been getting better and better and they made a splash with episodes featuring some of the original cast members from the original Star Trek series reprising their roles in creative ways. They have also made use of the original series writers, including David Gerrold who directed the two-part adaptation of his infamously unproduced Star Trek: The Next Generation script, Blood and Fire.

As with all series, some episodes are better than others and, despite the fact that each film they produce gets better than the one before, it still has a number of flaws… squeaky wheels and bumps along the way.

The Holiest Thing has its share of them, but it is an ambitious attempt to bring to life the origins of Captain Kirk’s relationship with Carol Marcus in this “sort-of” prequel to Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan.

I’m not going to review this. These people aren’t getting any profit from this aside from the pleasure of creating it and sharing it with fans. If you are dyed-in-the-wool Star Trek fan like I am you can forgive its flaws and take it for what it is.

The Holiest Thing is on Youtube.

DC Comics Movies: Why so Dark?

This blog post appeared originally on the AMAZING STORIES MAGAZINE website.

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You all know DC Comics, right?

Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. The Flash. Green Lantern. Aquaman. You know those guys, right? They’re superheros. They’ve been having adventures in the pages of comic books for decades. They wear brightly colored costumes and they fight for truth, justice and the (insert name of your favorite awesome country here) way.

Silver-Age-Justice-League-of-AmericaThese heroes’ brightly colored adventures inspired kids to want to be heroic and do good. They were fun, light and breezy. At least that’s the way I remember them. But it’s been a long time since all my pocket money went into buying comics. Maybe I’m out of touch.

I’ve blogged before about the colorful nature of the early superheroes, but that whole aspect seems to be getting lost in its translation from page to screen. The movies that are being made from these flashy comic book characters are, it seems, being made universally grim and dark.

christopher-reeve-supermanIt wasn’t always this way. Early films were a lot brighter (indeed, some of the earliest adaptations of these heroes were as serials which were filmed in black and white and yet still seem more colorful than some of the latest offerings). True many of these adaptations chose to play up the “camp” aspect of the comic books and are today pretty universally reviled. Even 1979’s Superman starring the late Christopher Reeve as the Man of Steel cannot be watched by modern audiences with any degree of seriousness. Despite the impact it had on the moviegoing public at the time of its release, today’s audiences can’t help but be overwhelmed by the fact that it all seems to be played for laughs.

That’s not what today’s audiences want out of their superhero movies.

A recent special on the CW aired a day ahead of the premiere of one of their new superhero TV series, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow. DC Films: Dawn of the Justice League, besides having Kevin Smith fangirling all over Geoff Johns, the Chief Creative Officer at DC Comics, offered a glimpse at the projects that DC Films is working on and some of the ones that are just in the development stage. It also talked about the upcoming Superman v. Batman movie and framed its subtitle in no uncertain terms. Dawn of Justice will be the dawn of the Justice League movie (which will be DC’s answer, belated as it is, to Marvel’s Avengers).

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The special also featured clips from the upcoming Wonder Woman film, which looked intriguing (Gal Godot is seeming more and more like the right choice for the role) and managed to generate some actual excitement for the project, but the one thing that struck me about these clips more than anything else was how dark they all seemed. I don’t just mean in tone, but the very images themselves all look like they were filmed Day for Night, even the daytime scenes.

What’s up with that? These are the Four Color Heroes. They are meant to be bright primary colors, not skulking in the shadows.

It used to be that DC Comics weren’t so grim and so dark. Then in the early 1960’s Stan Lee and Jack Kirby introduced a new type of hero with Marvel Comics – a type of hero that was a little darker, a little more grounded in reality. Yet the film adaptations of Marvel’s characters seem much more brightly colored than the film adaptations of the DC comics.

Take Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel. The whole thing was filmed with such a muted color scheme. That seems appropriate for the darker, Dionysian Batman movies, but Superman is Apollonian… he even gets his power from the sun! Man of Steel and the Upcoming Dawn of Justice seem so dark I would expect Superman to be constantly running at half power.

391Oddly enough, the one upcoming film that should be dark and grim is the adaptation of the recent DC title Suicide Squad. It was tailor made for this dark approach, yet, if the recent trailers are anything to go by, this adaptation seems to have far more color than Man of Steel or any of the recent Batman movies, which is a wee bit ironic. Nevertheless, buzz is growing for this film which some have called DC’s “Guardians of the Galaxy“, ie: a sleeper hit that could put them ahead of their competition.

So, what do you think? Are you wondering where the colorful heroes of the past have gone, or are you just fine with DC’s new grimdark persona?