Category Archives: Influences

M.V. Carey Was Kind to Me When I Was Young

M. V. Carey was kind to me when I was a boy

(this was written in 2008 for an old blog, but I wanted to preserve it here)

Cleaning up the basement, I just stumbled across a letter written to me many, many years ago by author M.V. (Mary) Carey.

As a kid, I was a fanatical fan of several series (the continuity of series books always greatly appealed to me): Notably Lloyd Alexander’s High King (or Black Cauldron) series, Hugh Lofting’s Dr. Doolittle books, C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, and Willard Price’s “Adventure” series. While I could never get into the Hardy Boys, I was a monster fan of the Three Investigators books, created in 1964 by Robert Arthur, but primarily written during my childhood by Carey.

When I was in fourth or fifth grade, my class was given the assignment of writing a letter to our favorite authors. Most kids wrote to Judy Blume or Beverly Cleary, but I wrote a heartfelt letter to Carey, explaining that I loved to write and draw, and that I one day hoped to write and draw comic books and maybe even write real books.

Virtually every kid in the class received very nice form letters from the authors they chose, but I received a lovely typed response directly from Ms. Carey, with specific advice on the craft of writing, and inquiries as to my hobbies and about the town in which I lived. Over the course of a couple of years, we exchanged three or four more letters, and each time she wrote to me without condescension, in a leisurely manner, sharing her impressions of the places I lived based on their names (we moved from Iowa to Texas during this period), and wishing me success with the detective agency I started with my friend Troy Petrick (C.L.O.Y. Investigations).

Over the years I’d occasionally stumble across one of Carey’s letters, and each time I’d make sure I tucked the letters away in some corner for preservation. Finding this letter tonight spurred me to search for information on her life after she stopped writing the Three Investigators books (her last book was published in 1987), and I found what I was looking for:

1925 – 1994

Personal: Born May 19, 1925, in New Brighton, England; brought to the United States in 1925, naturalized citizen in 1955; daughter of John Cornelius (an engineer) and Mary Alice (Hughes) Carey. Home address in 1993 was 3748 Birch St., Ventura, CA.

The entire entry can be found here:

Along with much biographical information, the entry includes this lovely quotation from Carey:

“Young people ask why I became a writer, as if it were something I decided. I didn’t decide; it grew on me like ivy. When I was a child I liked to read to my friends, or to tell them stories. When I grew up I had several false starts before I found a job on a magazine and discovered that people who read and write are more fun than people who don’t. I first wrote for profit at the Disney Studio. I worked on the Mickey Mouse Club magazine there. Suddenly I felt that I was ten again, sitting on the front porch telling stories to the other kids. Now that I am a free-lance writer, the sensation of reliving younger days is even stronger. I remember how it was when my brothers and I were small. We had no money because of that thing called a depression, but we had freedom. If there were wicked people on Long Island in the 1930’s – people who might harm kids – we did not know of it. On summer mornings my mother could open the door and send us out to wander through the neighborhood and she did not worry. So long as we came back in time for lunch – and relatively clean and undamaged – everything was fine. We explored all empty houses, and all empty houses were considered haunted. We went out on the sound in a tiny boat which my second brother had salvaged from the beach after a storm. We had clubs with secret passwords. We watched the older people of the community come and go and I think we knew quite a bit about what they were up to – probably including things we were not supposed to know.”

“And we read. We read everything we were supposed to read, and much that we weren’t supposed to know about. We fished pulp magazines out of the neighbor’s trash and learned all about Dr. Fu Manchu and Tarzan of the Apes and other super heroes. We also plowed through Dickens and Jules Verne and the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s and everything the librarian would let us carry home from the library. Today all of the reading and the roaming stands me in good stead. So does my habit of being not especially practical or brisk. People ask if I work for a certain number of hours each day. I admire people who do, but I must admit that I don’t. Some days it seems more important to wander and watch, or to read. There is only one brisk rule that I do observe; if I plan to write today, I do not leave the house until I’ve written. I know that once I go out, I will stay out until dark, and then I will come trailing home, tired and probably hungry. I will have lost the day.”

It’s now been over ten years since Ms. Carey passed away, and I regret not being able to thank her for her kindness, and for the small part she played in shaping my own life.


Leave a comment

Filed under Influences

Jack Davis: 1924-2016

Leave a comment

July 27, 2016 · 1:15 pm

A Ramble on Roger and Val and the Structure of Floppies and Television


So, I’ve been watching this rather brilliant BBC show called ROGER AND VAL HAVE JUST GOT IN, and it’s really got me thinking about ways to apply its structure to comics. It’s something that the equally compelling LUTHER sparked in much the same way.

ROGER AND VAL is a remarkably brave “comedy” starring Dawn French and Alfred Molina as a married couple, and they’re the only two actors who appear in the show. It takes place in real time, with no music, just after they’ve arrived home from work. They talk about their day, and deal with whatever issues a middle-aged married couple deals with after arriving home from work. The show was created by twins Emma and Beth Kilcoyne

What I find remarkable about the show is that the first two episodes give absolutely no hint as to where things will eventually head. The first real concrete clue that the show is more than it seems comes at the very end of episode three, and then the fourth episode opens things up about halfway through with a sort of staggering moment that changes the focus as well as the viewer’s awareness of the situation.

All of that aside, it occurs to me that almost the only place I’ve seen this structure work is British television. What executive penguins (to borrow a term from Mamet) greenlight a show that, for two episodes, sets up low key expectations, only to turn them around in the next two episodes? Evidently, some executive BBC penguins do.

The existence of creator-owned comics gives comic book creators a chance to approach things this way, but when every first issue is used to judge a series as a whole, is there any way to sustain an audience doing so? Can you hook readers with clever dialogue and engaging characters, and hope that’s enough to keep them around until you twist the knife and ratchet up the interest, a few issues down the road?

Thinking about it, I guess that’s sort of what Jason Latour and I were trying to do with THE EXPATRIATE. We tried to hook readers with a mystery about a man on the run, and then threw the craziest shit we could think of in their faces. Of course, we fucked it all up after that, but I guess it was an attempt.
Maybe that’s the only way to really make it work. Hook people with the appearance of GENRE X and then eventually reveal that it’s really GENRE Y.

With the next couple of books I’m doing, the goal is to provide reviewers and retailers with the complete series prior to release, so they can judge the book’s merits beyond the first issue. More and more I’m thinking that’s the only way to engender trust that things are headed in a direction worth following.

In any event, ROGER AND VAL HAVE JUST GOT IN is another example of British television impacting the way I think about storytelling in comics. And I recommend tracking it down.

Leave a comment

Filed under Influences

Chandler on plot vs. the scene

From the introduction to his Trouble is My Business collection, from 1950. Raymond Chandler discusses the strengths of the hard-boiled mysteries he helped popularize (and elevate). I think this bit applies to most genre storytelling…including comics:

“The technical basis of the Black Mask type of story…was that the scene outranked the plot, in the sense that a good plot was one which made good scenes. The ideal mystery was one you would read if the end was missing. We who tried to write it had the same point of view as the film makers. When I first went to work in Hollywood a very intelligent producer told me that you couldn’t make a successful motion picture from a mystery story, because the whole point was a disclosure that took a few seconds of screen time while the audience was reaching for its hat. He was wrong, but only because he was thinking of the wrong kind of mystery.”

Leave a comment

Filed under Influences

The Influence Map

Shane White put out a challenge to create one of these bastards, so I did. There are several key influences I realize that I missed (Mad Magazine! The Chronicles of Narnia! Lloyd Alexander!), but it works (click for a large look):


Filed under Influences

Road House (1948)

I’m probably the only dude in America who doesn’t get turned on by Patrick Swayze’s Road  House. Too much fake eighties gloss clinging to it for my taste, and it never really commits to being as bad as it should have been.

I did watch my father and my wife nearly come to blows over control of the remote once in Oklahoma, though. She was attempting to watch something, and my father kept insisting she flip back to Road House during commercials. You want to piss a woman off, force her to watch Road House in random four minute bursts. There was actually a point when pops almost bought a place called the Road House, just off the lake in Oklahoma. I’m sure he would have exhausted himself searching for his own personal Swayze to chase Okie trash out of the place after last call.

The original (1948) Road House, however (actually just one of a few films to share the title) … Richard Widmark, Cornell Wilde, and Ida Lupino? Fuck, yeah! It’s not great noir, really, but Widmark gets to play one of those borderline psycho roles he excelled at, Wilde gets to BOWL like a bad-ass, and Lupino drags her ass wearily through the best rendition of “One For My Baby” (maybe my all-time favorite standard) ever put on film. The scene featuring Wilde attempting to teach her to bowl, while she attempts to finger her ball without dropping her cigarette…worth the price of admission.

Look for it:

1 Comment

Filed under Influences

Donald Westlake (AKA Richard Stark)

From the NY Times:

Donald E. Westlake, a prolific, award-winning mystery novelist who pounded out more than 100 books and five screenplays on manual typewriters during his half-century career, died Wednesday night. He was 75.

Mr. Westlake collapsed, apparently from a heart attack, as he headed out to New Year’s Eve dinner while on vacation in San Tancho, Mexico, said his wife, Abigail Westlake.

Mr. Westlake, considered one of the most successful and versatile mystery writers in the United States, has earned three Edgar Awards, an Academy Award nomination for screenplay writing, and the elite title of Grand Master from the Mystery Writers of America in 1993.

I was a huge fan of the Parker novels, which Darwyn Cooke is now adapting  into graphic novels for IDW. Darwyn told me he had consulted with Westlake on the books, which I thought was pretty fantastic. If you’ve never read Westlake, you owe it to yourself to check him out.

1 Comment

Filed under Influences