Monster Earth (2013) – Written by Jim Beard, James Palmer, I.A. Watson, Nancy Hansen, Jeff McGinnis, Edward Erdelac, and Fraser Sherman – Published by Mechanoid Press.
Greetings, all! Glad to see you back again for another Atomic Interview. I talked with James Palmer last month (in Atomic Interview #4) about Mechanoid Press’ latest release, MONSTER EARTH, and this time around I am thrilled to be joined by James’ co-creator of MONSTER EARTH, Jim Beard. In addition to MONSTER EARTH, I talk to James about SGT. JANUS, SPIRIT BREAKER, RIDDLE OF THE GLOWING MEN, and his 2013 Pulp Ark Award for Best New Author! First, let’s take a look at the description for MONSTER EARTH:
MONSTER EARTH, from Mechanoid Press
Welcome to a world where the Cold War was fought not with the threat of nuclear destruction, but with Giant Monsters. Watch as the denizens of this Earth that might have been learn to harness the power of these legendary creatures for good and ill. In these seven tales you’ll witness first hand as…
–A young boy learns the value of sacrifice when the Japanese use a giant monster to attack Pearl Harbor…
–An Inuit confronts his heritage to harness a frightening creature of the Great White North…
–A false guru’s greed endangers 1960s Boston…
– All this and more await you in the pages of MONSTER EARTH! Join editors James Palmer (Slow Djinn), Jim Beard (Sgt. Janus, Spirit-Breaker) and some of the most talented voices in New Pulp, including Nancy Hansen (Prophecy’s Gambit), Edward M. Erdelac (The Merkabah Rider series), and I.A. Watson (Blackthorn: Dynasty of Mars) as they take you to a frightening vision of Earth… MONSTER EARTH!
And now on to my chat with Jim!
Mark Bousquet (MB): We talked with James Palmer, your co-creator/editor on MONSTER EARTH a few weeks back. Let me start by asking you the same question I asked James, What’s the premise of this universe and how did the world of MONSTER EARTH come about? Specifically, can you talk about the “great unifying concept for the book” that James credits you with having?
Jim Beard (JB): First off, I have to credit James right back with having the insight, foresight and guts to take on the concept and jump into it feet-first. We both wanted to do “something with giant monsters” at the exact same time and when our little fantasy was out in the open, it was like wildfire between us after that.
About a year earlier, I had the idea to do a giant monster graphic novel or comic series and began to imagine a world where every country had their own creature. I think it was James who, upon hearing the rough concept from me, made the even stronger leap to seeing the monsters as a stand-in of sorts for nuclear weapons. The Monster Earth “bible” came together fairly quickly once we got started. Again, it was like wildfire and we began to think that maybe we had something pretty special.
MB: I’ve been watching and reviewing the Godzilla franchise for Atomic Anxiety the past few weeks, and I’m struck by how strong the human element is in the early films. As an adult, I love the human element, but when I was a kid and watching WLVI-56′s Creature Double Feature, I liked the ads more than the films, because all the ads showed was the monsters. How do you balance the human/monster dynamic in MONSTER EARTH? And is there a particular Kaiju movie that you thought set the tone you wanted to emulate?
JB: I was the same way and I’m sure that most kids were, too. Any Godzilla movie that had an early appearance by a monster quickly rose to the top of my favorite list: “The heck with all that talkin’ and stuff – get to Godzilla!” But, as I got older I began to realize the importance of the people in the films and how they played off the monster stuff. Some of the Toho films are better at that than others, but overall it comes down to that balance you mention.
In MONSTER EARTH, James and I stressed that human element to our prospective writers. In fact, here’s an actual quote from the “bible” in regards to that:
“We will use the classic Toho Studios kaiju films as our guide for the stories, in terms of plot structure and character development. That means that stories absolutely need to have a human element to them; your tale should be centered on people with the monsters more as set pieces or props. Please do not use the monsters as your point-of-view, only the humans and the balance of power and emotion that comes from living in a world populated by these creatures. Of course, that is not to say that the monsters cannot display emotions of their own nor have some sort of close contact with a human, but we want the real impetus of the stories to be kept closer to the ground.”
I think every one of our writers succeeded with keeping that balance. And the book is better for it.
MB: What was your role in the evolution of the book? James mentioned that he wrote his story last. Where in the process did you write your story?
JB: Heh – I wrote my story pretty late in the game, although it comes first. I had the basic premise and the outline, but didn’t get down to writing it until we had most of the stories delivered. Poor Ian Watson had to have blanks in his story that referred to things in my story because I didn’t have the exact names of the monsters at that point! In Volume 2, I plan to write my story first, because it’s going to be absolutely crucial to the entire new scenario that the other writers see the set-up before they begin their tales.
MB: What is “The Parade of Moments” about? What were you trying to accomplish with this story?
JB: I admit that it’s, for the most part, an intro to the concept of the book, but it’s also, hopefully, a clear indication from the get-go that the humans are as important as the monsters. My story details the first-hand account of a newsreel cameraman in late 1930s China when the Japanese invaded and kicked off the Second Sino-Japanese War – which was really one of the first volleys of World War II. My main character, Don Witnes, is there during the so-called “Marco Polo Bridge Incident” except that in the world of MONSTER EARTH, the Japanese brought along a friend to accomplish their goal. A big friend. Don sees that, films it, and in doing so records the very first giant monster event of the 20th century. And that changes his life forever.
MB: You won the 2013 Pulp Ark Award for Best New Author. First, congratulations! Second, what does winning this award mean to you?
JB: First, thanks! Second, it means the world to me! It means that I feel like I’ve been welcomed into this incredibly wicked-cool world of pulp writing. I know it sounds like a damn cliché, but I didn’t expect to win an award right out of the starting gate. Honestly. I remember Tommy Hancock telling me that I had a lot of competition in the “New Author” category for 2012 and I said, “Oh, well, that’s that,” and pretty much forgot about it. Then, somehow, I won! Again, it makes me feel welcome … it also puts the pressure on me, I think, to show I have more to offer than just my initial forays into pulp.
MB: You had a very active publishing schedule in 2012. You published two full-length books (SGT. JANUS, SPIRIT BREAKER and CAPTAIN ACTION, RIDDLE OF THE GLOWING MEN), plus contributed stories to three anthologies (PRESIDENTIAL PULP, BLACK BAT MYSTERIES, VOLUME 2, and MONSTER ACES). We all know there’s a disconnect between writing a story, submitting it, and then finally seeing it published – walk us through your creative process, if you would. How do you balance your writing duties between your full-length work and your short stories? Do you have a preference?
JB: I was extremely fortunate in 2012 to have had that much work published in my very first year of pulp writing. I don’t take that lightly. I have all my publishers to profusely thank for that. Those guys took some chances on me and I’m more than appreciative of that. The world of pulp publishing moves slowly I’ve discovered, and to have that much stuff come out in relatively short order is just amazing.
Most of what I wrote in 2011 and 2012 I wrote one-at-a-time, and I set some plateaus for myself to hit so that I’d achieve my due dates. I’m a lazy, sloppy writer and I had to force myself a few times to adhere to a time table. CAPTAIN ACTION in particular was a chore, because it was the first novel I’d written and we had a kind of rush on it to get it done and published by PulpFest of last year. I’m proud to say that I actually finished the damn thing ahead of schedule! In all, it was just under seven weeks that it took me to write it, and that’s with working a full-time day job. I don’t how that stacks up against other writers in a similar situation, but for me that was a fershlugginer miracle …
I have a non-pulp, non-fiction project I’m working on right now that’s sapping all my writing time and has a hard due date of the end of May. As soon as that’s off my plate, my intention is to work on three pulp projects simultaneously: SGT. JANUS RETURNS, CAPTAIN ACTION BOOK 2, and a shudder pulp novel of my own characters…wish me luck!
SGT. JANUS, SPIRIT-BREAKER, from Airship 27
HERE BE GHOSTS Situated in the rural back country of Edwardian England is an old, mysterious house whose unique owner earns his living as a Spirit-Breaker, a hunter of ghosts. A former military veteran, Sgt.Roman Janus has devoted his life to aid those haunted, both emotionally and physically by obsessive wraiths whose spirits are still anchored to our world. Airship 27 Productions is thrilled to present Sgt.Janus – Spirit Breaker by Jim Beard. Part detective, part occultist, Janus is himself a man of mystery whose own past is shrouded and the motivations behind his calling kept hidden. Within this volume you will find eight tales as narrated by his clients, each with his or her own perspective on this uncanny hero and his amazing career. Filled with suspense, terror and agonizing pathos, each a solid mesmerizing journey into the unknown world beyond. Featuring a cover by artist Jeff Herndon and eight stunning illustrations by Eric Johns, Sgt.Janus – Spirit Breaker is the first in a new series by one of today’s leading stars in New Pulp Fiction.
MB: Let’s start with the novels: Who is Sgt. Janus and what are you attempting with this character? How long has this character been walking around in your head prior to appearing in print?
JB: SGT. JANUS, SPIRIT-BREAKER was my attempt at homage to all the great Edwardian-era occult investigators, like Carnacki and his ilk. I’ve more recently discovered that I have this strange affinity for that time and wanted to challenge myself to write something that wouldn’t seem out of place in that time. I also like a cracking good ghost story.
My first leanings toward creating Sgt. Janus came about after reading William Hope Hodgson’s Carnacki stories, which I was inspired to do after hearing that he’d be appearing in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. So, in all, it was around 2009.
MB: What’s going on in SPIRIT-BREAKER? The book description says that the book contains “eight tales as narrated by [Sgt. Janus'] clients, each with his or her own perspective on this uncanny hero and his amazing career.” Why did you decide to tell your stories in this manner?
JB: Probably one of the best ideas I’ve ever stumbled upon and after I had it I zealously guarded it, hoping that someone else wouldn’t beat me to the punch in New Pulp. The idea of having different narrators for each story came from a process of elimination, really. I know I wanted something different. So, I decided I didn’t want a) a third-person omniscient narrator, b) Janus himself as narrator, or c) a Watson-like sidekick narrator. That left me with d) several different first-person narrators, and once I arrived upon that it seemed to open up a world of possibilities for the stories. I wanted Janus to be a man of mystery so I couldn’t really have anyone who was close to him narrate the tales – so what about his clients? Some would be open to Janus’ strange profession while others would have their doubts about it. I could have men and women and all different ages, and therefore all different “voices” and points-of-view. It seemed to work and readers seemed to like it.
So, you may ask, what will the narration be like in SGT. JANUS RETURNS? Different yet again.
MB: Captain Action was originally an action figure released in the 1960s. Do you have any emotional connection to the toy? To the comics? How would you describe Captain Action as a character?
JB: I was born in 1965 so I was a bit too late to enjoy the toys the first time around, but years later when I started to look back fondly on the toys I had as a kid – Adventure Team GI Joe, mostly – I discovered the Cult of Captain Action. My brush with the good captain in the early 1970s was a brief one, which I detail in the afterward in the book, but I appreciated the toys a lot more as an adult. It was really an incredible concept for the time. I also many years ago bought the entire five-issue series of the DC comics, which I treasure for the art.
Basically, Captain Action didn’t have a character or personality of his own; that was what the toy was all about back in the day. And allegedly one of the reasons it failed. Today, we have the cool back-story for him that sprang out of the Moonstone comics and that’s what the novel is based on. The captain is a true pulp hero, and addicted to action.
MB: How did you get involved in writing RIDDLE OF THE GLOWING MEN? What’s the story about?
JB: I’ve known Ed Catto and Joe Ahearn of Captain Action Enterprises for years now and have admired their incredible drive to revive the character. I’d also been begging them for years to let me write something for the captain! I think it was in late 2011 that I suggested we do a Captain Action pulp story – they’re big pulp fans – and a month or two later they got back to me and said, “Yeah, let’s do that.” I brought them to the table with Ron and Rob of Airship 27 and within the span of a single day we had the project and the deal worked out. Now that’s action!
Ed Catto described the story in the novel better than I ever could: “What if Ian Fleming had written a Doc Savage novel?”
Now, on several levels that’s just about the greatest compliment anyone could ever have paid me. Huge James Bond fan, huge Doc Savage fan. The story has a little of everything; superhero action, spy intrigue, Cold War politics, a lost world, an incredibly nasty villain, a giant monster, a wee little bit of sex to make it interesting. I’m told it all works, despite the absence of the kitchen sink.
Book 2 will be more of the same, but different. We include the sink this time, too.
CAPTAIN ACTION, RIDDLE OF THE GLOWING MEN from Airship 27
One of the most popular heroes of the 1960s returns in his first ever full-length novel. Super-spy and master of disguises, Miles Drake, aka Captain Action investigates the “Riddle of the Glowing Men,” by writer Jim Beard. Foreign assassins are sent to kill Captain Action and though he manages to defeat them, it is their lifeless bodies that pose the greater mystery as they give off a green, glowing radiation. Teamed with a beautiful and seductive Russian Agent, Captain Action travels to the barren, frozen wastelands of Siberia where the secret behind the glowing men lies buried in a fantastic, lost underground world. It is a secret also pursued by his most dangerous nemesis, the alien-born Dr. Evil. What is this strange power hidden beneath the earth that could destroy all of mankind and who will unlock its mysteries first? “Riddle of the Glowing Men” is a classic pulp thriller packed with enough intrigue, daring escapes and breakneck adventure to fill a dozen books. Featuring a stunning cover by artist Nick Runge and interior illustrations by award winning artist, Rob Davis, it presents a well loved hero to a new audience eager to experience his special brand of two-fisted battling, Captain Action style! Airship 27 Productions ? Pulp Fiction For A New Generation.
MB: You’ve contributed stories to three varied anthologies last year. What are these stories about? Is there a connecting theme that runs between them? Are there certain themes you like to revisit in your work?
JB: Hard-hitting pulp action would be the theme, I guess, but overall they’re pretty disconnected from each other. My story for PRESIDENTIAL PULP is one of my most favorite things I’ve ever written and the one that the fewest number of people have read. It concerns Dick Nixon and his group of operatives known as the Swingers of the Unknown. Takes place in 1970 and is told absolutely straight; it’s literally a pulp tale that supposes that one of the most infamous presidents ever had a secret team that investigated occult disturbances. I had planned for at least three more stories, but it appears that sales don’t warrant it. It’s a shame because Nick Ahlhelm at Metahuman Press had an amazingly bold idea and it should have done much, much better.
The BLACK BAT MYSTERY VOL. 2 story is probably one of the most traditional pulp things I’ve done. Love the character and had a fun time writing it. And boy is that a beautiful cover on the book.
MONSTER ACES, I’m proud to say, is my own creation. I’m doubly proud to say that the writers on the book, Barry Reese, Ron Fortier and Van Plexico, are top-notch. Let me repeat that: Top. Notch. The premise is a team of independent agents who seek out and destroy monsters across the globe. Now, these aren’t giant monsters, but the kind you’d find lurking in old Universal or Hammer films…ghouls and goblins and vampires and things that go bump in the night. Or are swathed in bandages. We’re just now gearing up for Book 2 and I can’t wait to jump back into that world.
MB: What’s your non-writing life like?
JB: I’m married to an Appalachian dulcimist who is also a writer herself. We live quietly without the distractions of kids or pets, two geeks who enjoy each other’s company. I’m a retail manager in the day job.
MB: What’s next for Jim Beard? What are you working on? We know there’s a MONSTER EARTH 2 coming. How involved will you be in that project?
JB: Lot’s o’ stuff! Yes, MONSTER EARTH 2, as well as SGT. JANUS RETURNS, CAPTAIN ACTION 2, MONSTER ACES 2, an original shudder pulp novel, a chicken-themed pulp story – don’t ask – a romance pulp story, an intermediates-level pulp novella, and, hopefully, my first science fiction pulp novel.
There’s also all the written-and-delivered-but-not-yet published work of mine out there, including stories about the Purple Scar, Houdini, Amusement Inc., Lynn Lash, Lance Star, and an original character involving zeppelins…whew!
MB: And finally, where can people go to learn more about your and your work?
JB: Well, start out at my Amazon Author’s Page, then hop over to my Facebook “fan” page at http://facebook.com/thebeardjimbeard and then wash it all down with a visit to the Official Sgt. Janus Spirit-Blog at http://sgtjanus.blogspot.com, where you’ll find exclusive Sgt. Janus content and more!
And that’s it for the latest Atomic Interview! Thanks to Jim Beard for joining me, and remember, if you like an author’s work, there’s nothing you can do to help spread the word better than leaving them a review at your bookseller of choice!
When he’s not talking to other writers, Mark Bousquet is doing some writing himself. He is the author of multiple novels and collections, including the recently released The Haunting of Kraken Moor, Gunfighter Gothic, Stuffed Animals for Hire, Dreamer’s Syndrome, Harpsichord and the Wormhole Witches, and Adventures of the Five. He has also published a review collection entitled Marvel Comics on Film, which covers every cinematic and TV movie based on a superhero from the House of Ideas. A complete listing of all his work can be found at his Amazon author page.