Category: Guest Writer

My First Date with Spawn

Contributed by Thomas S. Flowers

Not to be too weird about it, but imagine yourself for just a moment that you’re a twelve-year-old boy. You’re walking through the store and like any boy of pre-teen age back in the early 90s you decide to go check out whatever comics are offered at this very obviously not comic book store in the magazine section while your mom shops for food and other boring stuff like that. As you peruse the offered wares you come across a comic the likes you have never seen before. Its gritty. Slightly graphic. Super dark. And dare we say, demonic.

This was me. Back in 1990-something, 1994 or 1993, I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is how when I first laid eyes on Spawn, I ran and somehow convinced my mom to buy it for me and I took it home and was hooked ever since. Spawn was…different. It wasn’t Marvel or the X-Men, which is what most of my friends were reading at the time. It wasn’t DC, an entirely different circle of friends. In fact, I can’t recall Spawn being popular at all with any of my buddies…I’m sure they read it and maybe even liked it on some level…just not on the same level as me. Spawn spoke to a darker inkling to which I typically wandered. And because it spoke to that dark side, it helped galvanize some of my own creative thoughts and ideas of what could be possible within the realm of storytelling.

The badass covers helped. Those issues, man, from the very beginning are some of the best horror comic art I’ve seen. Todd McFarlane was known even before Spawn as leaning towards the more explicit in his artwork. If I’m remembering this right, there was a certain Spider-Man comic involving Wolverine piercing some bad guys eye with his adamantium claw. Or something like that. Recalling still, McFarlane didn’t care too much for censorship and ran with his own brand to Image Comics, creating Spawn…

…an Marine ex-CIA assassin who gets murdered by his best friend, Chapel, and sent to h-e-double hockey sticks and there recruited by a high-level demon named Malebolgia to join his army in a war against Heaven on the promise of getting to see his wife, Wanda, again. Agreeing to these shady terms, but truthfully…not sure who would turn down getting to leave hell, the demon sends him back to earth…five years later with the worse case of scatter brain and wearing a head to toe superhero costume. And the scars, did I mention the scars? Yup. Spawn aka Al Simmons was burned alive in life and as a kinda really fucked up signing bonus is now horribly disfigured.

The fact that this comic spoke to me at such a young age is disturbing…

Moving on!

In the first issue of Spawn, Al is trying to figure things out. He gets “flashes” of old memory. And as another high-five from Malebolgia, another demon is sent to “guide” Spawn in this new role he’s supposed to play on Earth. The guide is none other than The Violator who takes the form (most of the time) as a short, fat, hellish looking clown. When he’s not Chuckles, he’s this really freaking looking monster with large bulbous eyes and long needle like teeth.

Through these first few comics, it’s really about Spawn remembering who he was and coming to terms that in five years’ time, everyone thinking he’s dead (because he was), including his wife, life goes on. Wanda ended up marrying Al’s other best friend, Terry, and they end up having a daughter together. And soon after, Spawn also begins to realize that he wasn’t just dropped on Earth looking like a walking piece of human toast, he’s got power, real devastating shatter this world kinda power. And that suit of his isn’t some mom’n’pops Halloween get up, it’s a living symbiotic entity with its own set of abilities. But there’s a catch…those powers of his are not limitless. There’s a clock, so to speak. Once he drains all his green glowing goo…boom, back to hell.

This kind of story wasn’t something I was used to reading. As a comic marketed to young adolescent boys, there were layered intricacies. Spawn wasn’t just some Hellspawn with a host of awesome powers, he was also Al, a dead Marine ex-CIA assassin who lost his way but wanted to do the right thing. He loved his wife. He loved his country. But still, he wasn’t your typically “good guy.” Nowadays, the anti-hero is an overhanded trope. Back in the early 1990s, for me at least, it was not. Spawn showed me that characters didn’t have to be 100% good, that not everyone was 100% bad. That there were grey areas amongst the pure goods and evils in the world. Case in point, the story of Billy Kincaid.

As for kid’s comics, this was a dark story…but I wonderfully done one! Billy Kincaid was the son of some senator, an ice-cream truck driver, and a child murderer. His famous line being, “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream.” Pretty creepy, right? Anyways, in issue #5, Spawn pays ole Billy and visit and gives him a taste of his own medicine, hanging him in Detectives Sam and Twitch’s office with popsicles stabbed into his corpse and a note, “BOYS SCREAMED AND GIRLS SCREAMED SO I MADE HIM SCREAM…AND SCREAM…AND SCREAM.”

Yes, this was a kid’s comic, mind you.

And so wonderfully not appropriate. Like any parent back in the 80s and 90s is really going to thumb through the begged comic before buying. My folks were none caring when it came to violent content, it was the graphic sexual content they did not approve. Very puritan, I know. And I’m sure this is how an entire generation had been raised to think subconsciously, that violence is okay, but sex is bad. I’m rambling now, please forgive me. The point being, Spawn did something good by taking out this really horrible person, but he did so in a way that was utterly grotesque. Most hero characters would have simply captured Kinkaid and gift wrapped him perhaps beaten but still breathing for the police to find. Spawn on the other hand…well, he at least gift wrapped Kinkaid, right?

As far as Spawn comics go, its hard for me to pick just one that was the best. There were so many back then. Billy Kinkaid was probably the darker one , especially so early in the series. With storytelling like that, it’s no wonder how popular Spawn became. As you no doubt have heard or seen, there was that 1997 movie adaptation of the comic, written and directed by its creator…which goes to show that just because you can make a really badass comic, doesn’t mean you know shit about directing. Sorry. This was a really amazing movie for the first screening on that summer day in 1997, but every day thereafter…ugh.

In that same year, though, there was some grace to be found for Spawn. The HBO animated series took off with a bang, keeping more or less to the original comic story. If you haven’t seen these, you need to. Some are free on YouTube. Every bit like the comic is terms of dark, gritty, and bloody violent with that grey matter intrigue that makes you question what it really means to be good or bad. Which in a nutshell is the entire attraction to the Spawn as a story. Not everyday do you read something about a demon who questions his morality. That in his best moments tries to do some good, but usually makes a mess of things. And in his worst, is usually lethargic, and if not…well…think Billy Kincaid. And the best part? Here I am some twenty-three years later, still gushing over a comic book character. That’s love, baby.

Who doesn’t love a good story? From great works such as, All Quiet on the Western Front and Salem’s Lot, Thomas S. Flowers aspires to create his own fantastic worlds with memorable characters and haunted places. His stories range from Shakespearean gore to classic monsters, historic paranormal thrillers, and haunted soldiers. Residing in the swamps of Houston, Texas, with his wife and daughter, Thomas’s debut novel, Reinheit, was eventually published with Shadow Work Publishing, along with The Incredible Zilch Von Whitstein, Lanmò, The Hobbsburg Horror, and FEAST. His veteran focused paranormal thriller series, The Subdue Series (4 books and counting), filled with werewolves, Frankenstein-inspired monsters, cults, alter-dimensional insects, witches, the undead, and the worst monster of all, PTSD, are published with Limitless Publishing. For more intrigue, be sure to visit

Rising Stars – A Starting Point For Comic Excellence

Contributed by Morgon Nequist

I am a latecomer to comics. Am I allowed to admit that? Well, whether I am or not, I just did.

I grew up on science fiction and fantasy – mostly books, and Star Trek. At an age when many other girls became obsessed with makeup or other more typical girl stuff, I devoured book after book and hour after hour of Star Trek and other sci-fi offerings.

I came by it honestly. Both my parents loved it too. Neither were comics fans. And with no brothers to introduce me to superheroes, I kind of lived in a world that didn’t really acknowledge comic books much. Not that there was anything wrong with it – it just wasn’t my sphere.

So my first introduction to comics is very different, and more adult, than what is probably common. I didn’t stay up hours after my bedtime with a flashlight reading comic books.

But what I did start with was Rising Stars.

I had just finished watching Babylon 5 with my then-fiance. And he casually mentioned that J. Michael Strazynzki had written a comic book. The entire thing was done at that point, and he had all the novels.

Keep in mind I’d never had anything against comics at all, or thought they were silly or immature – I’d really just never even really thought about reading them.

Babylon 5 is amazing, so it couldn’t hurt to try his graphic novel, right?

Rising Stars is narrated by the ever-serious Poet, one of the 113 children given superpowers the night a comet crashed into the earth. It eventually morphs into a bit of a Highlander story – whenever one of the 113 Specials dies, the others experience a power surge. Chaos ensues, and then the story ends the way it began in a beautiful bookend. It’s powerful, bittersweet, and one hell of a read. The story is excellently written, and the art helped express the story in a medium I wasn’t used to anymore. I hadn’t read books with pictures for years. Characters, with twists to the typical superhero powers that I hadn’t thought of, caught my attention and drew me in.  The entire story arc and comic left an impression on me. I’m sure it isn’t new necessarily new or revolutionary for old hands in the comic reading world but it was for me.  I won’t reveal too much more in case you, dear reader, haven’t had a chance to read this one.

I blew through all three volumes of the final released work in a matter of days, annoyed whenever I had to put them down to deal with real life. And after that, I knew I had to check out more graphic novels and comics. One taste is really about all it took.

From there I moved on first to some of the other more adult works – Watchmen, V for Vendetta, The Long Halloween, and even AU works like Gotham by Gaslight. Now the list is getting too long to type out, even though it hasn’t been that many years since I first sat down with Born In Fire, volume one of Rising Stars.

But the best part of my late entry into this fandom is the massive amounts of amazing backreading I’ve got to delve into.

Morgon Newquist started life by causing an international incident in Central America, and has been marching to the beat of her own drummer ever since. She grew up in the Rocket City – Huntsville, Alabama. After a stint at the University of Georgia to study Latin, she has returned to the place of her upbringing where she wrangles two dogs, a cat, and four children daily.

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Comics: A Legacy for the Next Generation

Contributed by Steve Beaulieu

I started collecting comics at a super young age. I remember the first comic book I ever owned was a Spider-man comic book from the early 90s. The cover had him fighting against the green goblin. I had to be about five years old.
We were going “garage-saling” as we called it, and we happened upon a box of comics. My brother and I begged my parents to purchase some and they bought the whole box. I used to sit for hours trying to replicate the images I saw on the pages, often times tracing them exactly.
Years later, long after I’d given up collecting, I found out my wife and I were having our first child. I decided I wanted to have something to share with him. I’m not into sports or anything else anyone would consider very manly. I needed something. Comics became that thing.
Oliver—my son, named after the great Oliver Queen—has a multi-thousand book collection awaiting his grubby hands once he is old enough to know how to care for them.
I recently emailed my brother to see if he still had that little box of comics. Turned out, he hoarded it all these years. He sent it to me, costing me a couple dozen bucks in shipping. Part of me was horribly disappointed to find that most of them were no name or beat up oldies like Richie Rich or Savage Dragon–but there they were—Spectacular Spider-Man numbers 197 (The Vulture) and 200 (Green Goblin).
It was like I dug up treasure on a long forgotten beach. Let’s set a record straight—I don’t like Spider-Man. I’m an Inhumans kind of guy. I collect the mess out of Inhumans—but somewhere in my heart, Spider-Man will always remain because of these comics I had at such an early age. Much to my chagrin, Spidey is Oliver’s favorite, despite my best efforts.
The moral of this story is never discount the impact something as small as a worthless box of comic books can have on a young child. Although they were beat up and without monetary value, they led me to a love for comic books, which led me to coloring comic books, which led me to writing comic books, which led me to writing novels, which led me to unlocking a passion inside of me that is only paralleled or surpassed by my love of God and my family.
I hope every one of you readers can remember the first time you cracked open a comic and felt that joy and magic. That smell of new or old yellowing, brittle paper.
Check out some of those early 90s Spidey books. My favorite run was 1-16 of Amazing Spider-Man by Todd McFarlane. It ended with Juggernaut getting his eye gauged out, which Marvel couldn’t deal with. Because of Todd’s rebellion, it opened a door wide-open to Image Comics which gave birth to my all-time favorite comic book Invincible.
Go buy a comic and have an awesome day.


From Comic Reader to Comic Creator

Contributed by Kevin “Grivante” Penelerick

I started reading comics around ten years old and had access to a lot of different ones. I started with things like Richie Rich and Archie. From there I graduated into silver age Superman, Spiderman, Captain America and other super-hero titles, but mostly Marvel, oh and the original Star Wars comics series.

My access to so many comics came from the fact that at a young age I helped my grandparents out running their stall at a flea market in Everett, WA. Being the kid, I ran the kids section which included everything from barbie dolls to baseball cards, comics and toys. When it was slow I would sit there and read and I would read everything!

First and foremost I had a huge love for Spiderman. The way he bantered with his villains while fighting and also how he was quiet and kind and just trying to do good in the world. I loved the world of superheroes in general. How they struggled against impossible odds but always overcame them and saved the day. The young boy in me really identified with them.

At some point in my flea market business days I met an older kid by the name of Scott. Scott was the one who introduced me to alternative comics and zombies. It’s there that my particular tastes started to shift. He introduced me to one of the coolest and first zombie comics, Deadworld. Deadworld had incredibly gruesome artwork by Vince Locke and blew my mind that comics weren’t just superheroes in tights or silly kids things.

The story of Deadworld revolved around the outbreak of zombies who were let into our world by a spell book which opened some sort of rift between our world and that of the dead. Amongst them was this badass motorcycle riding zombie named King Zombie, who spent most of the series chasing and trying to destroy our small band of dysfunctional survivors.

From there I fell in love with a whole host of independent comics including the early dark and gritty Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Elfquest, which was where my love of deep fantasy narratives began and later, the comic Poison Elves by the late Drew Hayes.

By the time I discovered Poison Elves I was in my late teens and had graduated from selling comics at the flea market with my grandparents to having my own business online during the early days of the internet. I had a huge love for all things alternative, especially the indy comics market where I learned that you didn’t have to be attached to a big company to create and put your work out there.

The fact that anyone could create something and put it out into the world had a strong impact on my world view and how one could achieve success or at least satisfaction from creating. As I’ve gone through life and headed down the path of being an indie author, seeing the successes of those indy comic creators in my younger days has really inspired me to know that anything is possible.

I’ve wanted to write since I was able to read and when I finally got serious about writing ten years ago, I knew comics would somehow be in my future. When I completed my first zombie story, I wanted to try and make it a comic book. I spent several months learning about scripting for comics and then took the story and broke it down panel by panel. I was excited. I spent several more months interviewing and trying out artists before finally choosing one. Unfortunately, after twelve pages the artist abruptly quit. I debated continuing on, but after hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars to get to that point, I couldn’t imagine starting over. I went back and released the story as a novella and from there began The Zee Brothers series.

I released the twelve pages that were completed as a mini comic, which you can grab for free here. I’ve also recently completed a new mini comic that tells a story from within The Zee Brothers universe, called Zombie Buffet, it can be found on Amazon, Comixology and my own website It explores one of the characters in my series as well as answers the question, what would happen if a zombie was allowed to eat all it could eat.

I recognize I was supposed to be answering the question of what comic impacted me the most and why would I recommend it, however for me, it was really all of the comics I read as a kid. There are so many great stories contained in them and I read and was influenced by so many it was impossible to really name just one.

You can find more about Kevin “Grivante” Penelerick

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The Age of Apocalypse: The Best of the Worst Possible Futures

Contributed by Max Bowen

I recall a time at a comic shop when I dared utter the phrase “I really liked the Age of Apocalypse” storyline. The owner, as close to a living personification of the Simpsons’ Comic Book Guy as you’re ever likely to find, immediately launches into a tirade about how it’s actually the worst series ever, snatches one of the trades off the shelf, and then dares me to read it.

Keep in mind I own all the trades, so making me read this really isn’t that big a punishment.

“Well, OK, I will, I say.” Because it’s awesome—but not just because it’s a good look at a bleak future.

Age of Apocalypse (AOA), was a four-month spinoff series launched in 1995 that asked the question “What if Charles Xavier never founded the X-Men?” The answer is pretty damn dark, as the immortal, Darwin-obsessed mutant Apocalypse is able to rise to power and conquer much of the known world. Humans are reduced to a minority, hunted down, and placed on the short end of the stick. All told, they’re looking down the barrel of extinction, and Apocalypse is all too happy to pull that trigger. Only one man, the time-displaced Bishop, remembers the world as it should be, and he’s on a quest to make things right. From the company known for putting out alternative storylines, this one stands out to me as one of the best.

I won’t spoil all of it for those that haven’t checked it out, but the series is rife with ironic twists. The biggest of these is that Magneto, one of Xavier’s greatest foes, ends up leading the X-Men, now a resistance group dedicated to bringing down the big man. The entire familiar X-cast is there, all in unexpected new roles, or with major shifts to their personalities and it’s a great read, if for no other reason than to see what changes have been made to your favorite mutants.

OK, sales pitch aside, the message of the series as I see it is that one life touches many. Xavier dying before his time radically alters the Marvel Universe as we know it, showing us that without his influence, the worst of us are given the chance to show some good, and those with the purest souls can easily stray to the dark side.

But what about the rest of us? Most of those reading may not rise to his level of fame, but what we do still makes a difference, even if it’s a small one. What kind of impact do we have on the people we know, and what would their lives be like if we had never entered the picture? Yeah, I know, it’s the same message in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” but it resonates, even today.

Think back to those you spend a lot of time with: have you ever influenced them, either for good or for ill? Did they take your cue in planning their own lives, or making their own decisions? It’s not a bad thing—A lot of us will ask “what would so-and-so do?” I often thing of my mom and what advice she would have when I’m in a tough spot, and I think we all have someone whom we’ve changed their lives.

Consider that, and maybe you’ll see that you have made a difference for the better, and maybe you can do it again for someone else. Or maybe you’re actually the villain. Maybe you gave some bad advice that leads the listener to really screw up their lives. I suppose the lesson to take is to consider your own words and deeds, and if there’s someone out there that uses them as a blueprint for their own decisions.

Yes, you may not be the one to change the world, but you may change a life. And honestly, that’s a pretty big deal.

Max Bowen is the host of the Citywide Blackout Radio Show.


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