I recently had the honor, and pleasure, of writing the introduction to the newest Mice Templar hardcover collection—the Harvey Award winning epic fantasy from the talented team of Bryan J.L. Glass, Michael Avon Oeming and Victor Santos—and I'd like to share it with you. If, after reading my essay, you feel an irresistible urge to order the book, just click here: I don't think you'll regret it. Onward!
Worlds Within Worlds
I was a teenager when I discovered Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. I’d been a fan of fantasy and science-fiction, and a comic book obsessive, as far back as I could remember (blame Dr. Seuss, Rod Serling and Superman)—but I’d never encountered anything quite like The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers and Return of the King. Working my way—slowly, deliciously—through those three massive volumes, I encountered a fictional world that was not only utterly different than the world around me, but, in so many ways, more real. More true. All fiction is make-believe, of course—J.D. Salinger is as much a fantasist as Ray Bradbury, they just come at the work from different angles—but Tolkien’s achievement was, to my young eyes, unparalleled: He created an entire world—a rich, fertile universe filled with multiple races and cultures, a detailed history, unforgettable characters—from the ground up. I remember being stretched out on the living room couch, stunned and heartbroken as I turned the final page. The experience was such a unique and memorable one that I haven’t returned to the trilogy since: I don’t think any rereading could possibly match the magic of that first journey.
I had a similar experience, years later, reading the Narnia series—written by Tolkien’s friend and fellow Oxford professor, C.S. Lewis—aloud to my son. When we reached the end—after a memorable voyage through seven books—there was absolute silence in the room. After a few moments I asked Cody, “Are you sad that it’s over?” He could hardly answer, just nodded his head. “I am, too,” I replied. And I was.
That’s the power of great fantasy (whether it’s Baum’s Oz or Zelazny’s Amber, Bradbury’s Mars or Serling’s Twilight Zone): it transports you, alters your consciousness, peels apart the (so-called) reality we know and—most important—reassembles it in a form that serves not just as an escape, but as a way to see our own world with new, and more wonder-filled, eyes. I’ve long maintained that writing fantasy (and, yes, that’s a broad term, covering a wide range of stories) is, perhaps, the best way to capture the truth about the universe around us. In my experience, once you peel back the Skin of the World and look, really look, you’ll see that we’re all living in a universe as filled with magic and miracles as any found within the pages of a book. Our lives are fantasy—of the highest order.
Of course creating the world-building kind of fantasy that Tolkien specialized in isn’t easy. The bookstore shelves are filled with attempts that, however enthusiastic their creators may have been, just don’t convince. We may be initially intrigued, but we’re not transported; the alternate reality just doesn’t stick, doesn’t take root in the heart. I’ve tried my hand at it on several occasions and I’ll leave it up to my readers whether I’ve succeeded or not. What I do know is that there are few pleasures in the writing life more exhilarating, more intoxicating, than unlocking that door in the unconscious that connects to worlds undreamed of, voices unheard, stories untold. When I was writing the children’s fantasy Abadazad, it felt to me (no, it didn’t just feel that way, I absolutely believed it) that ‘Zad was a very real place, located on the far side of Forever, and that its inhabitants had somehow chosen me to tell their tale. I imagined someone hunched over a kind of magical teletype machine, click-clacking away, transmitting the details of the story across time and space into my head.
I imagine that Bryan J.L. Glass feels that way when he’s working on Mice Templar, because the tales he’s woven over the past ten years—abetted by fellow dreamers Michael Avon Oeming (who received the first transmissions from Karic’s world and set this spectacular story in motion) and Victor Santos—don’t feel “created.” You don’t get the sense of a writer sitting at his computer trying to fit together pieces of a puzzle, figuring out clever bits for this character or that, wracking his brain for a twist in the plot or a surprise ending. When you read Bryan’s stories it feels as if you’ve had a veil between dimensions pulled back, as if you’ve been yanked, body and soul, into a world that—like Tolkien’s—becomes somehow more real than the one around us. Bryan’s not a writer: he’s a channeler.
When I first encountered Mice Templar, several years ago, I had my reservations. Talking mice? Hey, I love Mickey Mouse as much as the next person—maybe more—but a fantasy story about heroic, sword-wielding rodents wasn’t a concept that got my heart beating or excited my imagination. Which just goes to prove the fruitlessness of approaching art, and life, with preconceived notions. To my surprise, Mice Templar wasn’t some fairy tale romp through magical forests—although you will find your share of magical forests in these pages—it’s a complex and fascinating epic about complex and fascinating characters, battling their way through a richly-imagined, and utterly convincing, universe. Strangely, the fact that we’re immersing ourselves in the adventures of talking animals doesn’t pull us out of the story, it somehow pulls us in deeper, makes it all-the-more believable. (I can’t explain that, but it’s true.) Of course, channeling a story is one thing—but taking the raw material teletyped across Creation and crafting it into a coherent and engaging tale is quite another. To successfully mold a fantasy world as powerful and persuasive as the one in Mice Templar, you need to be both a dreamer and a craftsman. Page after page, Bryan proves himself an expert at both.
But this is comics, after all, and words can only take us so far. Someone has to sit down and translate visions into images. Someone has to take a world that exists in the ethers and give it life on the printed page. Michael Oeming was the first to do that—and he did it brilliantly. The volume you hold in your hands was brought into being by the astonishingly-gifted Victor Santos (aided and abetted by the vibrant color work of the equally gifted Serena Guerra). Drawing comic books is fun, no doubt, but it’s also a difficult and challenging profession. Just being able to draw isn’t enough. (I’m sure we’ve all read comics that were beautiful to look at but utterly confusing. Worse: they were lifeless. Pretty pictures, I’m sorry to say, just aren’t enough.) An artist needs, first and foremost, to tell a visual story, to move the eye (and heart!) fluidly, effortlessly, from panel to panel, creating the perfect gesture, the ideal expression—eliciting awe and wonder in the big moments and a range of complex emotions in the quieter ones. Victor does all that and so much more. In the end, prose and pictures, Glass and Santos, fuse into one, creating something unique that neither could have achieved alone. And that is the magic of the best comic books.
That is the magic of Mice Templar.
©copyright 2013 J.M. DeMatteis
Well, that's as succinct a comment as I've ever gotten, Vassilis. Thanks!Delete
(And looking forward to working with you again as we relaunch THE ADVENTURES OF AUGUSTA WIND in the latter half of 2014.)
i am amazed..everytime i read something you wrote! it's so emotional.. i connect so deeply.. the way you express the fantasy and the need for imagination..!Delete
(ugh i believe the smile emoticon above might explained things better like you said..)
I can't wait to start drawing the next chapter of Augusta Wind...!!!!
And I can't wait to see your extraordinary art!Delete
You know you can talk to him when you come to Motor City in May. I believe he is from Michigan, and has been to every show since it Mice Templar came out. I think he even came for something at MSU a few years back, but that is all a bit fuzzy. I ave never met him or read Mice Templar. I think I might have exchanged pleasantries with him a a show two years back.ReplyDelete
Also: to be perfectly honest, I think I would like adaptions of older Sci-fi writers to look like 50s Sci-fi movies. I don't mean shy away from the new tech, just go for the soul of the era, even go for black and white. Shouldn't Bradbury, Heinlein, or PKD stories feel a bit Twilight Zone-Day thre Earth Stood still like?
Also: JLD still good. JL 3000 will get picked up today. I have heard that there were some behind the scenes tampering by management. I am still optimistic though. And didn't you say there may be a Dark Horse story in yours and our future?
I met Bryan at a con a few years back and we've been Twitter pals ever since; that's how I ended up writing the intro to the book.Delete
I like the idea of doing older science fiction in black and white. Lots of tone work to give it texture ala the great b & w cinematographers.
We had some bumps in the road at the beginning of JL 3000, as we tried to find just the right tone for the book; but first issues are difficult, especially when you're dealing with icons like the JL, and we found a tone that pleased all concerned. We're having a blast with the book. Very happy with the first issue and, I'm delighted to say, each subsequent issue gets even better. I'm scripting #3 and Howard Porter's art is just sensational. Each issue he hits the ball farther.
So am I right about the Michigan thing? I'm 90% sure I am.Delete
Doesn't Cosmic Puppet feel like it should be in black and white? Now, go Dematteis, list the ones you think.
I just picked up JL 3000 I'll report back
COSMIC PUPPETS would be perfect in black and white, Jack. It's one of PKD's most TWILIGHT ZONE-ish story. (And one of my favorite PKD books.) I think you could take just about any Bradbury story and do it in black and white. RAY BRADBURY THEATER would have been so much better, I think, if done in a rich b & w style. As for others...I'll have to think about it. I'm sure there are many.Delete
Interesting that TZ-type stories really work in black and white...yet STAR TREK, just a few years later, was made for color. I can't imagine it in black and white.
To be fair tough, Star Trek was literally made for color TV.Delete
If I had to pick one PKD story for the Twilight Zone, it would be "The Hanging Stranger." That short story was also my first PKD read, and I was told before hand that it was very TZ.
In the end though I think part of why Bradbury Theatre would have been better in Black and white is because atmosphere was so necessary in 50s-60s sci-fi. They were moody because Sci-fi was more common in non-sci-fi magazines and more people would look into them, and since it was considered trash they had top hook you a lot more. Black and white works well for moodiness. I think that it is swimilar comics in the 60s having more energy than now and more atmosphere in the 70s... trash has to win people over, nitches don't.
now I expect a list by the next time we digitally chat
Mood is certainly a key factor, Jack. The best TWILIGHT ZONEs are drenched in mood: the eerie interplay of light and shadow. I'm not the first one to say it, but I don't think TZ would have lasted as long if it wasn't in black and white. The medium perfectly suited the message. Even the best of Serling's NIGHT GALLERY shows looks more dated than an older TZ.Delete
During the last Zone Marathon in January (hey another one is coming up) I realized the Twilight Zone is at its heart Film Noir set in the world of the Fantastic.Delete
And as a fan of Film Noir, I can say that there is some really good neo-noir out there, but it is very hard to really capture the feeling in color.
I guess I don't think of Film Noir having the philosophical or emotional depth of the best TZs, Jack; at the same time I know exactly what you mean and basically agree with you (I'm a man of many contradictions).Delete
Film Noir's depth was always more in character than philosophy... but remember Noir isn't a writing style, its a visual one. However the expression of mood in visuals as well as writing is the most distinct part.Delete
Very true–but, more often than not, Film Noir seems to traffic in the suspense-crime genres, so that's what's lodged in the popular imagination.Delete
To be fair TZ was suspenseful, and a good portion of them did involve criminals... and alcoholics.Delete
And there are some film noirs out there with some real great human drama.
Hell the Neo-noir (I know I already said they don capture as well) the Machinist almost felt like a Twilight Zone. Sort of. You would have to see it to know what I mean.
I've seen it...and I DO know what you mean!Delete
It really id an under appreciated movie isn't it?Delete
That makes at least two. How much more incentive is needed?Delete
I read JL 3000 #1, not as JLI like as I was hoping for, but I am optimistic.Delete
And I am hoping for a cameo y a red headed man in a red jacket, a robot, and a one-eyed woman. likely? no. But it is the year 3000, and stranger cameos have been made in comics.
The book has to find its own tone and style, Jack...but, if you stick with it, I think you'll be pleased. Some interesting twists and turns ahead.Delete
You know what would make a great black and white TWILIGHT ZONE-ish tale? Heinlein's time-travel classic, "By His Bootstraps."
Like I said, I'm optimistic about JL 3000. I'm not going anywhere.Delete
Also, that "at least two" ting was supposed to be for the potential Silver surfer.
It doesn't really make any sense here does it?
I'm at that point in the day where NOTHING makes sense, so it's okay with me, Jack. (Say those last five words like Sinatra.)Delete
(Say those last five words like Sinatra.): No. maybe like woody Guthrie.Delete
R is for Rocket is another good black and white one. Earth Abides, the stars are the styx.all good choices. And even though I like the parts I saw of the adaption, The puppet masters
Oh and while we are at it can we expect any other worlds in JL 3000 named after science fiction authors?
Now admit that the Machinist is under appreciated.
Vonnegut's 50's science fiction stories would work well, too: "Harrison Beregren" (hope I spelled that right) and "Report on the Barnhouse Effect" are two that come to mind.Delete
"Barnhouse" was done on radio for the 50's shows DIMENSION X and X MINUS ONE. Both shows featured many s/f stories of the day that have gone on to be classics. Don't know if we've discussed it before, but, in case we haven't, you can download some episodes, free and legal, right here:
You'll hear them all in glorious black and white, if you know what I mean.
To be perfectly honest I don't care much for "Harrison Beregren." Though I do have the radio show of the "Barnhouse Effect" on CD somewhere and enjoyed it quite a bit. "The Stars are the Styx" was also a radio adaption.once, as was PKD's "the Defenders... true story.Delete
I'm trying to remember a few titles from back when I was in High School, so sadly I can't name all the ones I would like, but to go back to a classic well for this experiment, how about: The Father-Thing. a classic and interesting take n a common sci-fi theme. And "Foster, You're Dead."
Come to think of it Dick would have been perfect for the zone. A bit out there maybe. But of the classics Bradbury lacked the right style for too many adaption (I know "I sing the body electric," but I don't love it), Asimov is too dry, Heinlein too big. IN all honesty I would much rather have an anthology film based around his short stories, than having them picked apart like Minority Report. Dick adaptions have only really gotten good in the past few years and even that was spotty. I would love a Zone like show based off of "We can Remember it for you wholesale," than probably either total recall. The ending works better for the small screen than the big.
I digress though, start listing Dematteis, jog my memory. GO man, go.
Most of those adaptions you mention—including "The Defenders"—were from X-MINUS ONE and DIMENSION X. Great stuff.Delete
I'm totally up for the weekly, half hour, black and white PKD anthology series. Think we can get it on the air for fall '14?
And the end o each season could be the adaption of a novel. ut, your the one with media experience/connections. I'm just some jerk. So really you should be asking yourself.Delete
I'm aware that many where X-minus=-1 or Dimension X... but there where a few others. Also, as time progressed often times horror shows would adapt Sci-Fi tales.
Now list Dematteis, list!
There's a wonderful Frederick Pohl short story called TUNNEL UNDER THE WORLD that would make a perfect b & w short. (X-MINUS ONE did a brilliant adaptation) Others will surely come to mind...Delete
Believe it or not I've heard that one.Delete
Now I'll try to come up with some more as well.