Wednesday, September 25, 2013


...too quiet. This is all I've managed to finish (and I use that word in its most liberal sense) in the last week.

I haven't had much going on aside from my posts at the AMAZING STORIES website. I haven't done much artwork in the past little while. One of the reasons was that I became a grandfather. My older daughter had a baby three weeks ago.

And I guess I feel about as old as this guy, though hopefully not as evil-looking.

I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?

Thursday, September 19, 2013


I'm reprinting my last column for the AMAZING STORIES website here because... because I feel like it, that's why. You got a problem with that?

MDJackson_Perry rhodan_header
If you are a fan of science fiction and if, as I do, you have a particular love for space opera, then you probably have come across the name Perry Rhodan.
MDJackson_Perry rhodan1If you're anything like me then you would have spent many hours scouring paperback aisles or racks looking for science fiction paperbacks. Sometimes in drug stores or supermarkets or maybe in second-hand book stores. Either way you are bound to have come across a paperback edition or two of the Perry Rhodan books. The English editions, anyways.
And if you are like me you would have asked yourself: what is this Perry Rhodan thing? And you probably would have been warned away from it as I was many times.
Perry Rhodan is a weekly German science fiction pulp magazine series that has run uninterrupted since 1961. That translates into over two thousand five hundred issues released so far not counting reprints, books and spinoffs.
Lets let that sink in for a moment. Can you think of a similar North American science fiction hero who has had such a run? The closest I can think of is Doctor Who and his run was certainly not uninterrupted.
MDJackson_Perry rhodan2Does this not sound like the most successful science fiction series ever? So how come hardly anyone outside of Germany knows about it?
The magazine was originally founded by Karl-Herbert Scheer and Walter Emsting, two German science fiction writers. Initially it was only conceived to run for thirty volumes, which was ambitious enough. Its popularity within Germany allowed it to run well past the original thirty volumes and now it is still being developed and written by an ever-changing team of authors.
So what is Perry Rhodan all about? Well, according to
PR1_2600_dU1U4.inddThe series begins with the first manned moon landing (in 1971) led by U.S. Space Force Major Perry Rhodan. However, things do not go as planned and the astronauts discover a stranded alien spaceship from a star system called Arkon and its crew who need medical help. The realization that mankind is not alone in space and access to the aliens' advanced technology lead to the (not entirely trouble-free) political unification of Earth under the eponymous hero-protagonist Rhodan, first expeditions into the cosmic neighborhood, and the eventual founding of first colonies on other planets, all the while trying to keep the more powerful established factions out there (especially the decadent Empire of Arkon, which had dominated local space for twenty millenia) from finding out just where the newcomers hail from.
Over time (over the course of the entire series so far, more than three thousand years pass in-universe), Earth and its colonies evolve into a major power in their own right while other space-faring races lose some of their traditional influence.
missionstardustWell that all sounds pretty standard space opera, doesn't it? There are elements of Doc Smith's Lensman stories as well as Star Trek. But why has Perry Rhodan lasted for so long, achieved this level of popularity in Germany but not elsewhere in the world? How can a franchise inspire Books, spin-offs, games, music albums (including one by Tangerine Dream's Christopher Franke) and even a movie back in 1966 (although Perry Rhodan fans will tell you that there never was a movie made... EVER! That's how bad it was) and not have been able to break out of its regional popularity the way Doctor Who has? Is it a German thing? Does it not translate outside of the German cultural ouvre?
I guess the question I'm really asking is: Is it any good?
Perry_Rhodan-The_Cosmic_LeagueAt this point I should come clean and tell you that I have not read any Perry Rhodan. I have several of the English language paperbacks but I have never read them. I have been warned away from the books by fellow science fiction fans, yet, there is an appealing allure about the existence of such a successful franchise that very few people, even the science fiction community, has even heard about.
My question then is the one in the title of this piece: What the %&*# is Perry Rhodan? Who out there knows and can share what it is about this series that has captured your imagination?
Who out there knows just what this Perry Rhodan thing is all about? Who out there knows and can tell me why it has endured? And who has any theories about why it hasn't become a breakout world-wide success like other sf franchises?

Friday, September 6, 2013


Here is a reprint of my most recent post for the AMAZING STORIES website. This post was inspired by my good buddy Cal over at the Cave of Cool who tends to knock one of my great childhood heroes because of his choice of shirts.


This post is about icons.

It's about powerful images and the way that they can become stuck in the public consciousness.

But it's also about old pulp heroes. One in particular.

I suppose I should start at the beginning. Not back in the 1930's when Street and Smith released a new hero pulp magazine featuring a super-scientific crime fighter named Doc Savage. Not even in the 1960's when the adventures were reprinted in paperback format with covers painted by artist James Bama.

For me the beginning was the summer of 1976. I was eleven years old and it was the start of our family summer vacation. Summer vacation for me meant long drives in a hot car with my brothers and I in the back seat. We had made a stop somewhere and my mother sent us in to a used bookstore with a little bit of pocket money to buy comic books to try to keep us interested in something else other than fighting amongst ourselves.

DocSavageTheOtherWorldCoverProofI started rifling through the second-hand paperbacks. I can't remember exactly what I was looking for, but when I came across the Doc Savage paperback I was stopped cold. The cover showed a muscled man with a torn shirt and a strange haircut, fending off a trio of weasel-like creatures. The name DOC SAVAGE was blazoned across the top but above it was the name of the adventure: The Other World.

The description on the back of the book got me even more excited. “To the world at large, Doc Savage is a strange, mysterious, figure of glistening bronze skin and golden eyes...”

How could an eleven year old resist that? I read the paperback and wanted more.

Fortunately there were lots around at the time. George Pal had just made Doc Savage, the movie. There were comic books and magazines and plenty more paperbacks all featuring the iconic image of Doc Savage sporting a torn shirt.

The iconic torn shirt.

An icon is a religious work of art from Eastern Christianity. Depictions of Jesus, Mary and Joseph, saints, what have you, these images were very powerful representations of a people's faith.

The icon has become co-opted by our society for anything but religious purposes. An icon is a visual representation of an idea or a feeling. It can be a symbols that encapsulates a feeling or an idea. Icons are very powerful, though we tend not to think too consciously about them. But that's how they work.

Take Sherlock Holmes. Holmes was never... NEVER... described as wearing a deerstalker cap. The illustrator of the stories, Sidney Paget depicted Holmes wearing a traveling cloak and a deerstalker hat for one adventure. For whatever reason, the deerstalker became permanently associated with Holmes. The deerstalker was a country cap, favored by hunters. To wear it year round, in the city was an absurd thing back in the late 1880's, yet it quickly became Holmes' costume.

Put on a deerstalker cap and you are Sherlock Holmes. Even the recent BBC TV series Sherlock, which has updated Holmes to the Twenty-First century, could not entirely get away from at least giving a nod to the existence of the famous cap.

Doc Savage wearing a torn shirt ALL the time is ridiculous. Yes, he's an adventurer and very busy. If, in the course of an adventure his shirt gets torn he doesn't have time to get a new one.

Some bloggers, including Calvin from Calvin's Canadian Cave of Cool, take to complaining about it, asking why he doesn't make his shirts out of the same, seemingly durable material out of which his pants are made.

But these questions are immaterial. Doc Savage's ripped shirt is iconic. It's as iconic as Sherlock Holmes' deerstalker, or Tarzan's loin cloth.

It was not always like that. Just as with Holmes's deerstalker, the torn shirt is a product of the illustrator. Doc Savage's original pulp magazine run featured lots of action-filled covers and on some Doc appears wearing a ripped shirt. In the very first issue Doc's shirt is torn. Nowhere near as torn as it would be in later covers, but it was there from the beginning. But other covers do not feature the torn shirt. In some cover illustrations Doc is wearing a suit and tie with not a single rip in sight.

When the adventures were released in paperback the job of painting the covers went to artist James Bama. Bama was the one who settled on the image of the torn shirt (the publishers insisted on the weird, widow's peak hairstyle, but that's another story) and the torn shirt appeared on every single cover that Bama or any other artist painted, right up until today.

So now, poor Doc Savage has to wear a torn shirt all the time, just like Sherlock Holmes was saddled with his ridiculous deerstalker. Perhaps Doc will move beyond the torn shirt. There is supposed to be a new movie in the works. Perhaps that will give us a new iconic image for Doc Savage. Maybe something cleaner, sophisticated and less... torn.

Perhaps that is a vain hope. I imagine that the poster for the movie, should it ever materialize, will feature a picture of whatever broadly muscled actor they cast sporting a shirt hanging raggedly about him to better highlight his pectorals and six-pack abs. That image will still overshadow the essence of a character who is so much more than a torn shirt.

Such is the power of the icon.

I've been here and there. I've drawn a lot of pictures. I've written a bit, too. I'm not good at this self-promotion thing. Look, you want to know about me? just visit these websites. Okay?
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