Warlock 5 is an interesting comic, with an apparently interesting story behind it.
Originally published by Aircel, written by Gordon Derry and drawn by Denis Beuavais, Warlock 5 is one of those comics that could probably only have been created in the 1980s. The opening scene of the first issue features a fight between knights and a sorcerer on one side, and robots that could charitably be said to be influenced by The Terminator movie on the side…taking place in a parking garage. Add into this mix a punk rock vixen leading a group of the undead, and a seeming sorceress along with a man who shape changes into a dragon and a barbarian carrying an assault rifles as other groups.
What is this wonderful thing?
There is a lot of violence in this first issue, which wasn’t unusual for indie comics of the time. One character is killed by having a broken spear handle shoved into their head. This obviously isn’t for everyone, but what makes Warlock 5 interesting is the fearlessness with which it mixes and bends genre conceptions.
I love a good interdimensional comic story, it is a favorite thing of mine probably since I first saw Steve Ditko’s art create surreal magical realms in early issues of Marvel’s Doctor Strange comics. On a level, this reminds me of that same sort of energy and excitement. The creators of Warlock 5 weren’t trying to duplicate those Doctor Strange stories, but I think that is why they succeeded…they weren’t trying to be derivative of other comics. Too often we see comic creators try to recapture lightning in a bottle and either copy themselves, or the works of others, in order to do that. However, one of the reasons why Aircel still lingers in the minds of so many comic fans is because of the fact that they did do their own thing and made their own, original, books and stories.
Part of why this comic appeals to me, I think, is because I play tabletop RPGs, and in a lot of ways the story comes across to me as someone’s RPG game. The ultraviolence. The bizarre mix of characters just thrown into a blender together. The disregard for genre purity. The story in Warlock 5 could have just as easily been someone telling about the game that they are playing in. I mean this in a good way.
I can easily see Warlock 5 brought to life as the setting of an RPG. It easily lends itself to that sort of thinking. Next time, I will talk a bit more about the world and the characters of the comic and draw some parallels to why I think that it might be a good game world to play in.
Christopher Helton writes about pop culture, comics and gaming at his long-running Dorkland! blog, and as a writer for the Bleeding Cool website.
Check out last weeks’ posts: Barry Blair 101 by Christopher Helton, Barry Blair: What to read first? by Christopher Helton,Barry Blair’s Samurai by Christopher Helton, Elflord: Past & Future by Christopher Helton!
Compared to some, Barry Blair had a relatively short career in comics, but it would be an important one. As a writer and artist, Blair was known for producing manga-styled comics through Aircel Comics such as Elflord, Samurai, Dragonring, Warlock 5 and Blood ‘N’ Guts. He passed away in 2010, leaving behind a legacy of comics that we are going to discuss over the new couple of months. In this first column, we are going to introduce Blair’s background and introduce some of the comics that he produced, and that Outland Entertainment is going to be reintroducing to comics fans.
The history of comics is filled with interesting stories of how people became comic publishers. The birth of Aircel Comics is one of those interesting stories. Initially the Canadian company was known as Aircel Insulation, and when the loss of a governmentcontract threatened to dissolve the company Blair convinced the owner to shift the company’s emphasis from producing insulation to producing comics. In 1985 Aircel began publishing, jumping in just as the black and white comics boom ushered in by the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was starting.
As Aircel would produce some quality books like Blair’s Elflord and Warlock 5 that would garner attention and an audience. Unfortunately this boom almost as quickly went bust and by 1988 Aircel Comics was having financial troubles. In order to alleviate these financial troubles, Blair would enter into a partnership with Malibu Comics that saw Aircel merge with Malibu imprint Eternity Comics, even though both would still exist as imprints. Malibu is probably best known as the publisher of the initial wave of Image Comics in 1992.
It was under the ownership of Malibu that Aircel would produce its biggest and lasting hit: Lowell Cunningham’s Men In Black. That Men In Black. Although the comic did not strongly resemble its media offspring, it did spawn the movie and Saturday morning cartoon franchise. The comic was much darker in tone than the movies, and also featured paranormal elements like werewolves and vampire in addition to the aliens that would take center stage in the movies. Blair would edit the comics.
Talking a little about Blair’s comics that we will be discussing in the coming columns. Elflord was a fantasy series strong influences and inspired by Elfquest by Richard and Wendy Pini. In fact, eventually Blair would work for Warp Graphics on various Elfquest titles. This series was high fantasy with a light touch, even though darkness lurked beneath the surface of the stories. Dragonring was a high octane pulp adventure strip, with elements of horror and science fiction. Warlock 5 was a blend of fantasy and science fiction and multi-world travel. All of these comics filtered through Blair’s unique perspectives, as we will see through this column as we explore them and other of his works.
In January of 2010, Barry Blair died of an undiagnosed brain aneurysm. His creations live beyond him, an ongoing testament to his creativity, join us as we explore the worlds of his creation.
This is the 1st of our brand new series of guest posts. These columns will focus on Barry Blair‘s legacy and are brought to you by Christopher Helton.
Christopher Helton writes about pop culture, comics and gaming at his long-running Dorkland! blog, and as a writer for the Bleeding Cool website.
Mat Nastos is a versatile artist who always manages to infuse his unique sense of humor into the countless projects he is involved with. He is known by his work as an artist in the cult-classic independent comic book, “ElfQuest”, and as a writer for film & TV as well as for his own novels. Fan of action packed stories with a sci-fi or steampunk twist, you won’t be surprised that from all the children shows out there, he worked for Disney Channel‘s “Phineas & Ferb”.
Mat, the big question: what did you want to be when you grow up?
My goal in life, from as early as I can remember, was to be a comic book artist when I grew up. Comics in general were my life: I read them, collected (read: horded) them, drew them…I started and ran the first comic book conventions in Hawaii in the 80s back when I was 11. Comics were my life and my driving goal had been to draw them. That spurred me to go to comic book school out in the middle of New Jersey when I graduated from High School.
I drew comics for a lot of years before transitioning over to film/TV and, eventually, to writing.
What was the first book you ever read (or was read to you)?
I remember my mom reading a lot of Dr. Seuss to me as a child, but nothing specific. I still have the very first comic I was given – “The Power of Warlock” #14. The first real book I remember reading was “The Hobbit” when I was about 6 or 7. That really stuck with me and opened the door to fantasy/sci-fi fiction for me. After I read that any the “Lord of the Rings” series, I went nuts and started reading everything I could get my hands on. Luckily, I had an older brother and mom who were also into that material and I’d read a lot of things they were.
Right around the same time, my family discovered the early Dungeons & Dragons game (late 70s) and I’ve been playing ever since.
And comics: which were your favorite ones?
I read EVERYTHING as a kid. Pretty quickly my collection of comics bloomed up into the thousands and then tens of thousands (now it rests at somewhere around 150,000 comics). When I was younger, my favorites were Elfquest, X-men, 2000AD, and Legion of Super-Heroes, but I wasn’t picky beyond that.
Nowadays, what can we find you reading?
I don’t read much in comics these days, and when I do they are generally trade paperbacks versus singles. The art of writing comics to actually be read as singles has become a bit of a lost art over the past 20 years or so and I find it a waste to attempt to follow series in that format. I pick up a lot of omnibus collections of material I was a fan of as a kid.
Outside of comics, I read an insane amount of things – tons of non-fiction, and at least 3-4 novels a week. Still a lot of sci-fi/fantasy more than anything else, although thrillers and any sort of action stories are finding their way onto my reading list as I begin to write more and more in those genres.
Who were your childhood heroes?
Most of my heroes were the men (and women) creating the material I was a fan of: George Lucas, Wendy Pini, John Byrne, George Perez, Stan Lee, Piers Anthony, Jim Kelly, Gary Gygax, Ed Greenwood, Chris Claremont…my dad.
And today? Who do you look up to?
I’ve been lucky enough that I still have a lot of the same heroes I did as a kid. I still have most of that sense of wonder and love I had as a kid.
Your first published work was in “The Big Book of Urban Legends” from Paradox Press in 1993. But what was the first thing you ever wrote?
My first published writing was a short fantasy story I wrote back in high school. I had an English teacher who was truly a terrible human being who went out of her way to put me down. Her abuse turned out to be a driving factor for me and I submitted a story I’d written in her class (and been given a “C” on!) to Fantasy Digest Magazine. They bought it and I was on my way!
After that, my writing was for my own comics – things like the Cadre, Elfsong, and Fionn.
My first “real” gig as a writer was the screenplay for the low-budget horror flick, “Stinger,” in 2002. Since then I’ve had 8 films produced.
Your writing spans from comic books to novels, video games to film and TV. Do you have a favorite?
Writing, in general, for me is a lot of fun. The most satisfying for me as a creator is probably novels because I have complete control over there. Good or bad, with a novel every aspect of it falls onto my shoulders. If it succeeds or fails, things are all on me.
The rest of the mediums all have their own positives, though, and comics will always be my first love. Working with a fantastic art as a collaborator is an incredibly fulfilling experience.
You have done the artwork, including the cover art for all your own books. Why?
I think it all goes back to control. So far, I’ve had very specific ideas of what I wanted on the novel covers and the easiest way to get those ideas out was to do them myself.
Does it ever backfire?
Not yet, knock on wood!
Your work in the comic world started with “Elfquest” comics for Warp Graphics, right? What made you enter this new universe of storytelling?
Well, my first comic work was on “The Big Book of Urban Legends,” and I had done quite a bit of indy comic work before Elfquest, including working as an assistant to Joe Orlando at the DC Offices while I was in art school.
Comics were my life-long love. Elfquest specifically was my favorite comics. Funnily enough, my biggest goal in going to art school was to draw Elfquest. I had always figured it would take me years (5, 10, or more!) to get a chance to work with the Pinis on Elfquest – they had never let anyone else draw the comic back when I was reading it, so my goal was a crazy fantasy at the time. It was mind-blowing to get a call from Barry Blair asking me if I wanted to work on Elfquest. I was still at the School of Visual Arts when he contacted me and it was easily one of the best days of my life.
There was never a doubt in my mind that I wasn’t going to work in comics.
“The Cestus Concern”, your first novel, was the #1 best selling Cyberpunk & Sci-Fi Adventure novel on Amazon for 7 consecutive months in 2013. How does it feel to have your work on the spotlight?
It was pretty crazy. Novel writing wasn’t something I had ever set out to do…in fact, when I started writing “The Cestus Concern” I’d never written more than a couple of short prose stories. Sure, I had written a bunch of material for TV/film and comics, but prose was so alien to me I wasn’t convinced I could even do it.
My whole goal with the book (and each once that’s followed) was to write something that I wanted to read. To write something fast, fun, and crazy. It’s been a great to see that so many other people have enjoyed the work as much as they have. As a storyteller, nothing is better than connecting with fans the way the Cestus books have.
Of all the projects you’ve worked on, is there one that stands out from rest? Why?
I’ve been lucky to work on a huge number of fun projects, so it’s hard to pick. Right now, the thing I’m the most in love with my Donner Grimm books. The first, “Man With The Iron Heart,” came out at the end of 2014 and I am finishing up the sequel, “The Unweaving,” right now. I love the action-adventure/pulp/weird war universe I’ve created for it and the characters are a lot of fun.
In comics, it’s the new Elflord series I’m working on. The artist, Tony Vassallo, is insanely good and the material we’re putting together isn’t like anything else being done in fantasy comics right now. The series is crazy good.
You own the license from Barry Blair’s projects. What made you take that leap?
Barry himself was the reason behind me picking up the rights to all of the material. We had been friends since the early 90s when he hired me to work for Warp Graphics on the Elfquest material, and we had very similar sensibilities . We started talking in 2007 about working together again and one of the things that came up was my love for so many of the characters he’d created, especially things like Elflord, Dragonforce, and Samurai. He said he was done telling those stories, but asked if I wanted to carrying on with their tales on my own. He turned over the rights to all the material to me in exchange for my promise to treat them like my own children.
We had been well on our way to doing a ton of new material together when he passed in early 2010. It was a crushing blow for me and it took almost 5 years for me to get back to the point where I felt like I was ready to start again. To be able to put the work out FOR Barry since I couldn’t do it WITH him.
Outland Entertainment is working closely with you not only to bring several of Barry Blair’s titles into digital format but to actually reboot some of them.
What are you most excited about this endeavor?
The most exciting part of working with Outland is having the chance to bring Barry’s work back out into the public eye. Barry was a creative dynamo who generated a ton of fun material in a dizzying array of genres. He worked in every possible genre you can image: sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, horror, satire, action/adventure, erotica…you name it and he produced work in it.
It’s been a shame that his work has disappeared from the comic industry, especially since his work and company (AIRCEL) was such a huge force in the 80s and early 90s.
Having the opportunity to make that work available once more is a thrill and an honor for me because I was a huge fan of Barry’s work, as well as having been his friend for more than two decades.
And now a peek into the Future. Can you tell us what project(s) are you most looking forward to?
I’ve got a lot of work coming out this year. Right now I’m finishing off sequels to both my prose series with “The Cestus Corruption” and “The Unweaving.”
In comics, I’m writing Rob Liefeld’s new “Brigade” series for Image and “Blindside” for Marat Mychaels. For Outland, I’m writing a series based on my Aegisteel fantasy stories with Alan Gallo as the artist; Elflord with Tony Vassallo, and a brand new Dragonforce series that will be drawn by Richard Pace (you heard it here first!).
It’s going to be a fantastic year!
It sure looks like it! Thanks Mat for taking time to let us get a glimpse of your vast creative work!
Press Release: Outland Entertainment brings a collection of Barry Blair’s comics to the digital age
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
SUMMARY: Outland Entertainment brings a collection of Barry Blair’s comics to the digital age for the first time.
TOPEKA, KANSAS, March 3, 2015 — Outland Entertainment is pleased to announce the release of a collection of Barry Blair‘s comics in digital format for the first time since the 90’s. “The Barry Blair Library” will include approximately 300 issues and over 6000 pages of content collected from over a half-dozen publishers that Barry worked within the 1980’s and 90’s. This includes comics from Aircel, Nightwynd, Davdez Arts, WARP Graphics, and Sirius comics to name a few.
“I can’t begin to explain my excitement to have Outland involved in helping to get Barry’s work back out into the world. He created, wrote, drew, and published some really amazing material, much of which was revolutionary in comics at the time,” states Outland Entertainment’s Jeremy Mohler, “it’s a shame that it hasn’t been available all these years and it’s going to be a pleasure to help get it back out into the world.”
“Blood N Guts“, “Demon Hunter“, “Dragonring“, “Elflord” and “Gun Fury” are the first titles you can look forward to (re)discover. You can currently purchase all the number one issues of these series over at the Outland Entertainment website .
In addition to republishing the out-of-print material, Outland will also be working closely with Mat Nastos, the license owner, to reboot select properties. The rebooted properties will start with a new Elflord series, which will premiere as a Kickstarter in late March and featuring a new story from Mat Nastos and artwork from Tony Vassallo and Pedro Figue.
Artwork by Tony Vassallo and Pedro Figue.
It will be followed by a Dragonforce reboot later in the year.
“Nothing could please me more than having the chance to help make this new announcement. One of the promises I made to Barry when he passed the rights to his work to me back in 2008 was that I would treat them like my own children. That I would make sure they were handled with the respect and care they deserved. This partnership with Outland Entertainment allows me to uphold that promise and give Barry’s fan-favorite creations the opportunity to shine once more. “Hawk”, “Windblade”, “Kohl Drake”, and all of Barry’s lost children couldn’t hope for a better home than with the fine folks at Outland,” Mat Nastos says.
Whether you are an avid fan who owns all the printed editions or you are new to Barry Blair‘s work, the digital versions will not only preserve a cult comic library but will also provide you an easier way to have all your favorite comics with you at all times.
New issues will be made available monthly.
For more details, visit outlandentertainment.com or The Barry Blair Library page.