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Friday Five: 10 Winning Webcomics

Last Friday, Jenni and Stefan swung by to inspire us with some of the hottest new and ongoing comic books... this week we're going digital. This whole Internet thing, not just a passing phase. The tubes are busier than ever with creators making brilliant webcomics. But... there are so many! 

Fortunately, Laura "Lor" Graham and Sara Westrop are some ideas where new webcomics readers can start. Lor is a writer, brassist (I made up that term) and provides an extremely soothing Twitter presence at @LorGraham. [Also, we published her first, so ha! Wait for 1853.]

Sara writes and edits comics for a living with Markosia. Her new webcomic, FANGIRLS, is out now (and whole-heartedly recommended). You can hassle her for updates at @sarawezzie. This is Sara's second Friday Five. If she does three, she wins a toaster.



DarwinThe Darwin Faeries

This got pitched to me by a friend with the following: “there’s a loud, brash, ginger Scottish faerie in this. I didn’t know you had wings.” Charming friends I have. The story follows a group of tartan-wearing faeries punishing a male human who has spilled the blood of one of their own. It is in its second issue at the moment, and as a Scot I find it entertaining.

Supernormal Step

This probably my favourite webcomic at the moment, the tattoo of one of the featured “Tiny Fairy” on my left forearm will testify to that. Drawn and written by the very talented Mike Lunsford, and follows the story of Fiona Dae, sucked out of our world into one that is one above normal step to the left. She discovers magic, creepy security guards, and teams up with a reformed dark mage and a guy who turns into a bunny every time he does something wrong. Highly entertaining.

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Underground Reading: Home is the Sailor by Day Keene

This is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime mystery in order, one every week. You can follow along here.

Home is the sailor hccI reviewed Day Keene's Home is the Sailor (briefly) in 2011. Looking back, mostly to see if there was anything I could steal, I was delighted to find that my opinion of the book hasn't changed in two years. Which is that Home is the Sailor is pretty damn good and "if the faint mystery elements were shrugged off entirely, it would be even better." Pardon the egotism of quoting myself, but, I stand by it... Home is the Sailor is a gorgeous noir character study, rather unfortunately crammed into the format of a nonsensical Cold War thriller.

Swede Nelson is on dry land and ready to face his future. He's been a sailor for the past three years and an adventurer for the 18 before that. "In Mozambique. In Alexandria. In Tangiers." - Swede's been in tough situations doing tough jobs. Not in the James Bond / Modesty Blaise sense - Swede's been a miner, a roughneck and a general jack of all trades.

Swede's determined to find a nice farm and a nice lady. The first thing he does is buy a ticket to Hibbing, Minnesota, the least-adventurous place he knows, and therefore a good place to settle down. But before he gets on the bus, Swede goes for one last night of drinking... And that's where the story picks up.

In what soon becomes a familiar formula, the book opens on Swede, waking up in a strange bed, trying to figure out how he got there. In this case, it is a nicer bed than most. Swede's wound up in a well-to-do motel, escorted there by the motel's curvaceous blond owner herself, Corliss Mason.

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A Town Called Pandemonium: Café de Paris Edition - Pre-Orders

Cover - town called pandemoniumFinally, right?

We just signed off the final proof, meaning the hardcover limited edition of A Town Called Pandemonium will be with us by the end of February!

This edition is limited to 75 copies, each individually numbered. They're bound in an oak-coloured buckram with silver titling and red end-papers, designed to match the other Pandemonium hardcovers on your shelf. (This may be the last book we do in this style, gasp!) If you do have a Pandemonium shelf (bless you), make plenty of space for this one, it is our biggest book yet...

We'll do our best to gather some signatures before shipping... but we're also going to try to pass the books along as quickly as possible, as we know everyone's getting impatient. 

However, as a special treat, we've got a stack of bookplates with signatures from the American contributors: Sam Sykes, Chrys Balis and Osgood Vance. We'll tip those in for as long as they last.

Here's the table of contents, everything that's exclusive to this edition is marked with a *:

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Review Round-Up: Ants, Comics and the Universe

Seduction of the innocentThree reviews spanning 1890 to 2013: Max Allan Collins' Seduction of the Innocent, Liu Cixin's Of Ants and Dinosaurs and Camille Flammarion's Urania. 

Seduction of the Innocent (2013), by Max Allan Collins, is Hard Case Crime #110. I figured I could say a few words now and then revisit it in two years when the re-read gets there. Seduction is a great little parody - there's a guess there about authorial intent, but I don't think Mr. Collins intends for this to be read 'straight'. Jack Starr is the "fixer" (and co-owner) of a newspaper comic strip empire. The majority owner is his foxy widowed stepmother, Maggie Starr. Jack is the Archie to her Nero Wolfe, roving around 1954 New York City in search of clues while she pieces together the big picture.

Seduction is a murder mystery based that's inspired heavily by Dr. Frederick Wertham and his crusade against comic books. Most of the characters, including the victim ("Dr. Werner Frederick") are drawn (no pun intended) from life. The story is over the top, but fun, Mr. Collins loves his comics (as noted previously) and the whole book is permeated with a sense of, well, joy. Murderous, sexpot, hard-drinking, gun-totin' scandalous joy.

A marginally big deal has been made about EC artist Terry Beatty's illustrations, but Glen Orbik's cover really steals the show.

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Kevin Lynn Helmick on What is Southern Gothic?

Driving AloneEarlier this year, we (Jared, in this case) got to blurb a novella for Blank Slate Press, Driving Alone by Kevin Lynn Helmick.

Blank Slate are doing consistently brilliant work, quietly turning out great stories from Midwestern authors (woohoo!). Now Driving Alone is out, so we asked Kevin to swing by and share a few words about what it means to write "Southern Gothic".


Jared requested that I explain to some of you there across the pond, just what is a Southern Gothic, I had to take a breath. You see I’m not from the American South. I grew up in the Mississippi River Valley true enough, but on the borders of Iowa, Missouri and Illinois, and that’s not South.

I now live, and have for many years, just north of Chicago, which a Louisiana bartender in South Padre Island, Texas was once quick to point out, “Oh, hell yer a god damn Canadian.” I laughed at that, even though there was an insult somewhere in her tone when she said it. That should give you some idea how most American Southerners feel about the rest of America, and how some might even feel about me introducing or describing Southern Gothic.

That’s alright, just the way it is.

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Friday Five: 10 Comic Books You Should Be Reading

Comics. Where to start, right? There's always a cross-over multi-crisis on infinite shelves and, honestly, if you aren't up on the adventures of ultimate secret santa, there's no point in starting now anyway, you have to go back to the spin-off series that... etc. etc. And, hey, that just got cancelled. Oops.

Here to help are Stefan of Civilian Reader and Jenni of, well, many, many things (not the least of is her series of urban fantasy vignettes for Pandemonium). They're both people that capital-k-Know their comics so we've asked them to recommend five series that they're "following compulsively". How else would we know which bandwagon upon which to leap?


Jared and Anne gave me the brief – “5 comics I’m following compulsively” – and… I completely blanked.

Not because there aren’t series I am addicted to, but I don’t actually follow many on an issue-by-issue basis. Instead, I’m mostly addicted to collected editions.

So, here are five series that I am either still following and collecting, or obsessively read while it was ongoing.

Fables (Vertigo) - Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham

I only tried Fables after I read the first couple of issues of Fairest, its latest spin-off series. Since then, and in very quick order, I read the first five Deluxe Editions, and I’m absolutely hooked. Willingham has drawn together some of literature’s and fairy tales’ best-loved characters, brought them into a contemporary setting, and made them wholly his own. He has created his own modern mythology for these characters – everyone from Big Bad Wolf, Cinderella, the Frog Prince and so many more. This is, without a doubt, one of the best comic series ever published. The wonderful thing? It’s still running, and has thus-far not lost any steam in the story-telling.

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Underground Reading: To Demons Bound by Robert Vardeman and Geo. W. Proctor

To Demons BoundIt is easy to forget how lucky we are as modern fantasy readers. 

Today's fantasy isn't perfect. Far from it. There's sexism and racism and cultural appropriation and homophobia and rapiness and torture-porn and wankily pretentious pseudo-philosophy and ill-thought defenses of genocide... but... even with all that, the genre is so much better than it was. 

That's really important to keep in mind.

When we think about the fantasy fiction of the 1980s, we tend to remember two types of book: the stuff that's genuinely good and the stuff that we appreciated personally. The former, God help me, is pretty starved of examples. John Ford's The Dragon Waiting, perhaps? Fevre Dream? Early Discworld?! 

The latter category, for me at least, overflows with genial rubbish. David Eddings' Belgariad, the Dragonlance Chronicles, the Shannara books, really, damn near everything else on this list. Stuff that I'll secretly re-read on a regular basis, but wouldn't feel 100% secure about recommending to strangers. Or my mother. These are the books that hit me at the right time in the right place. We've all got them. 

But for every Mort or Pawn of Prophecy, there were hundreds, nay, thousands of other fantasy books. And they were awful. The chainmail bikinis, the nymphomaniac witches, the mulleted barbarians with names like Throg and Brak, the moonlit landscapes with wolves and dragons... We feel safe now, but only because we're safely hidden behind a successful HBO series, Peter Jackson's Academy Awards and a half-dozen China Miéville Guardian profiles. But our loinclothed past still lurks in Oxfam bookshops, library sales and in a thousand basements. Oh, we laugh now – but also we fear.

And, taking Robert Vardeman and Geo. W. Proctor's To Demons Bound (1985) as one example of our disastrous history, we've a lot of which to be afraid. 

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Underground Reading: The Confession by Dominic Stansberry

ConfessionThis is the latest installment in our scheme to review each and every Hard Case Crime mystery in order, one every week. You can follow along here.

So here's a thing - Domenic Stansberry's The Confession (2004) is one of the first Hard Case Crime novels I ever read, and I hated it. Seriously. Thought it was terrible. Annoying. Pretentious. Etc. When I started this re-read project, I saw my copy, knew it'd be looming in February and just, you know, resigned myself to having to slag off an Edgar winner.

Who knew that, one feverish re-read later, The Confession would become one of my favourites? 

Everything about The Confession hinges on the book's protagonist and (first person) narrator, Jake Danser.

Jake's got it all. He's married to a beautiful, wealthy, supportive woman. He's a moderately-acclaimed forensic psychologist, which affords him plenty of time in the spotlight during murder trials. To top it all off, Jake's a good-looking man with a lot of charisma and an extensive wardrobe.

And, let's be honest, no one appreciates Jake more than Jake. From the first few sentences, it is clear that this is a man that likes himself. A lot.

Jake also likes the ladies. And that's where his trouble begins (or, as the case may be, continues). He's playing around on the side with Sara Johnson, a young lawyer that he met at the courthouse. It is moderately serious - Sara's pushing him for a commitment (as her young boyfriend is pushing her) and Jake's not sure if he's ready to upset the luxurious apple-cart of his life. The affair isn't quite going sour, but it is escalating outside of his control. And Jake's a man that likes to be in control.

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New Releases: The Daylight War by Peter V. Brett

Daylight WarHere's your spoiler-free review in 15 words:

If you liked the first two, you'll like this one. If you didn't, you won't

Or read on.

The Daylight War is the third book in Peter V. Brett's series about a demon-plagued dying earth. The set-up is still the series' most appealing attribute: a world where, every night, brutish monsters rise from the earth to rend and slay. Prior to the events of The Warded Man (the first book in the series), people merely cowered behind 'warded' walls after the sun goes down, but the rediscovery of combat magic has led to a counter-attack by humanity. 

Arlen Bales, the rediscoverer in question, is believed by most right-thinkin' people to be the "Deliverer", a messianic figure, here to save folks from the demons. Jardir, the leader of a country of shameless Arabic analogues, also has possession of the combat magic - courtesy of some devious backstabbery. He's believed to be the Deliverer by his people. Although the two are mature enough to recognise that the demons are the main problem, both Arlen and Jardir each want to be the one and only Chosen One. Thus the "daylight war" - puny human vs puny human while the demons lick their chops and wait for sundown.

Caught between Arlen and Jardir are their wimmenfolks - Inevera, Jardir's first wife, and Leesha, a healer who has earned the affections (nudge, wink) of both men. The two women are powerful rivals and this book is their story...

...except it isn't.

Just check out the plot blurb on Amazon and the summary on the publisher's site. Neither one even mentions the name of a female character. Inevera and Leesha may be the point of view characters for the vast majority of The Daylight War, but, as the blurbs confirm, the book is in no way about them.

Lots and lots of spoilers from here on out. If you're still trying to figure out if you should read this book, please see the 15 word review at the top of the page. 

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The Kitschies: Seraphina and vN

The first two reviews of this year's finalists for The Kitschies are up:

Eight more reviews (from eight more great reviewers) will be popping up over the next few weeks. You can find the full list of those taking part here

Read either book? Agree? Disagree? Leave the reviewer a comment and let them know what you think...