Book Review: Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat: The Graphic Novel

TSMG Cover ArtTobacco-Stained Mountain Goat: The Graphic Novel was created by Andrez Bergen (words and images) and his daughter Cocoa Bergen (artwork).

I keep saying I’m not a graphic novel sort of person, and Andrez Bergen keeps proving me wrong, damn him. Turns out I’m a complete sucker for his Bullet Gal comic series (also available at If? Commix). And so, over the Labor Day weekend, I decided to take a look at this 133-page color production with the eye-catching cover.  I was hesitant—it’s based on the novel by the same name, which I possess, but haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Trust me, I’ll be fixing that oversight soon.

TSMG:TGN (now there’s an acronym for the ages) has been unnervingly crafted to push all my buttons. Film Noir. Assemblage Art. Lauren Bacall references. Folks from his other novels wandering through and making themselves at home. Witty, tough dialogue. A post-apocalyptic city. Unforgettable characters. Unapologetic drinking and smoking.

Floyd and Laurel’s story should be soaked up, the way a cheap paper bar coaster absorbs slopped whiskey, rather than simply read. Let the graphics seep in, let the smokey story take a long drag and blow the words into your eyeballs.

Andrez counts among his visual influences, “Dada, cut-ups, Terry Gilliam, Jim Steranko, Steve Epting, Dr. Seuss and David Aja,” staying true to his eclectic, magpie-collector, culture-twister nature.  Just when you’ve acclimated to one startling graphic, you turn the page and are spun on your head, given a new and intriguing view of what passes for reality in the last city on earth.

Floyd and Laurel


The original novel is available at Amazon.

 Buy a copy of the graphic novel at If? Commix, just poke the logo below and you’re magically there.

IF? Commix

Read other reviews I’ve written about Andrez Bergen’s novels:

100 Years of Vicissitude

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? 

Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth

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Review: Who Is Killing The Great Capes Of Heropa

When author Andrez Bergen undertook the Herculean task of describing to me the premise of his upcoming book, I was, quite frankly, amazed when he didn’t pass out from sheer exhaustion.

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

“It’s a futuristic-retro superhero romp that mixes and matches 1930s Art Deco architectural lines with the gung-ho Soviet formalist propaganda style, twisted into 1960s pop art sentiment and the huge influence of Jack Kirby. Think golden and silver age American comics channeled into a dystopian future—via Japanese manga—while heavily skewed by the ’60s Marvel comic book baggage of Kirby, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, Jim Steranko, Steve Ditko and their ilk. And then decant that concoction into the legacy of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett.”

Now, I did say ‘book’, not ‘comic book’. Andrez Bergen has stuffed all these comic book concepts into one hefty novel. But the visuals so dear to comic book aficionados have not been forgotten. Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? is illustrated by a variety of artists from the UK, Italy, the United States, Japan, Russia, Spain, Canada, Argentina, and the author’s homeland of Australia.

“I wanted a more professional take on the visual concept and I also liked the idea of disparate visions of the same character—it’s the way comic books, after all, work in the real world. Bryan Hitch’s perception of Captain America in 2009 was far different from John Buscema’s in 1969.”

But the most challenging hurdle of all was his decision to let me read the book. I appreciate comic books for their rich history and contributions to our culture in the form of action movies, occasional fashion statements and a rich abundance of cultural references. However, my own interest in comics was short-lived, just a small dose of Superman back in grade school. I was more of a Tales from the Crypt, MAD Magazine, Asimov and Bradbury girl. And so, with my anemic comic book background, I cracked into Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? feeling like the odd kid out. Right off, I was introduced to Jack, a kid struggling to survive in the dirty ragged remnants of Melbourne, Australia. Jack and I clicked immediately, since I’m fond of survival tales, and so through his eyes I was finally able to discover what comforts and wonders can be found within comic books.

Southern Cross
Southern Cross

Eventually, Jack learns of an unusual way to escape his life in Melbourne and finds himself wandering Heropa, a retro-virtual metropolis that seems capable of giving him everything he needs. He gets a fresh start, food, shelter, clothing, and caring friends. Jack bumbles along, slowly figuring it all out, while I cheered and encouraged him along. Turns out Jack is a ‘Cape’ (Heropa’s superheroes) by the name of Southern Cross. He settles in with other Capes and learns more about life in the virtual world of Heropa. There are standards he must uphold; no drinking, swearing, or smoking (there are repercussions), and he quickly learns that wearing a superhero mask every day is really annoying. Oh, and there’s another fact of life in Heropa – every night at midnight, the city gets a reset. The ‘Blandos’ (ordinary folk, think non-player characters in a roleplay game) wake up in the morning and go about their jobs and lives with any mayhem, personal injuries and city damage from the day before set back to a nice tidy default. Their memories are reset as well, so every day is a new chance to do the same old things, oblivious to the repetition.

Seems simple enough on the surface, but Jack begins to discover that something is very wrong in the city. Capes are being killed more often and more flagrantly. The resets have stopped working. Alcohol is re-discovered and overly enjoyed. Jack meets a bank teller Blando who steals his heart. And that’s just the beginning of some very big changes happening in Heropa.

Meanwhile, what’s happening to the people back in Melbourne while their virtual Cape personas fight, fall in love and die? And what about the Blandos? With the reset off, are they closer to becoming real people? Are they capable of building memories and relationships and bringing lasting changes to Heropa? Is the definition of reality changing?

Andrez+Cocoa_Ghibli Museum
The Author and a Powerful Force. Also, there’s a Giant Robot in the background (at the Ghibli Museum).

I taunted Andrez about writing this whole review as an allegory to a 1947 Studebaker, but instead I’ll just give you a taste. By comparison, his previous novel, 100 Years of Vicissitude, is a Mazda RX-7, able to zip through convoluted Japanese streets and change directions quicker than you can blink.

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? is more like a 1947 Studebaker Land Cruiser. Big enough to hold a pile of passengers and all their baggage, but with enough attitude to cruise stylishly down a vintage virtual boulevard. First gear takes time to work up to speed, but that’s all right, we can study life on the sidewalks as we pass by. Second gear gets you moving along quicker – it’s going to be bad news hitting a pothole at this speed. Third gear and you’d better be strapped in because this car’s not stopping for anything. This novel ramps up the action one gear at a time, each shift revealing faster and more breathtaking scenery right up to the very end.

As a bonus, the back of the book contains a glossary of all the slang and comic books mentioned in his story, as well as bios of the artists, acknowledgements, inspirations, influences, moments of worth in the authors life, and essential comic book reading highlights. As you can see, Andrez is not one to take shortcuts when talking about his passions. I absolutely recommend Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?  You have nothing to lose but your preconceived notions.

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Dawn’s Early Light: The Blog Tour! Q&A Time with Tee and Pip

Pip_Tee_byJRBPhoto by J.R. Blackwell

Pip Ballantine: Prolific award-winning author, podcaster, cat-herder, New Zealander on special assignment in the States, wife and mother, blogger.  Tee Morris: Writer of Fantasy, Non-Fiction, Podcast Pioneer, partaker of good cigars and scotch, assistant cat-herder, father, husband, thespian.  Together, they fight crime! (Okay, I just really wanted to say that.)  Actually, they write crime. And the most dastardly of enemies. And astounding gadegtry and corsetry.  On March 25th, Dawn’s Early Light, the third exciting book in The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series, will take us on another amazing adventure with  both familiar and new agents. I caught Pip and Tee in a rare moment between their own adventures and, while running alongside , coaxed out answers to a few questions. And, at the end of the Q&A, look for details on a giveaway contest that you can enter!

Do you plot out a book in advance, or just dive in with a general idea of where you’re going? Or something in-between?
PIP: I’m a discovery writer, which is in between. When I start I know where the story is going to end, but I never know the bits in between. It’s like setting off from New York, knowing you are going to St. Louis, but not knowing the roads you’ll take. For me, it is the best of both worlds, I have the security of that end, but I have the spontaneity of the journey.

Do you have any bizarre writing habits?
TEE: I lack the talent my wife has where she can put on a movie or television and write. I can’t do that. If it’s email or administrative something-or-other, I can do that but when it comes to writing a manuscript, I can’t do that when somethings on the television. Impossible. I’ve seen Pip crank out a few chapters that way, but not me. Not even podcasts.

Dawn's Early Light

How do you go about choosing the names of your characters? (Although I think most of us can figure out the inspiration for Agent Bruce Campbell.)

TEE: Actually the story of Bruce came when we were making up agents from all parts of the Empire. I asked Pip “So what’s the Australian’s name?” Pip immediately came back with “Well, it has to be Bruce.” When she asked me for a last name, I shrugged and said “Well, of course, it’s got to be Campbell.” Now all we see is that incredible chin and that smug grin. We’re still hoping that someone gets a copy of either Phoenix Rising or Ministry Protocol to the actor. We think he’d get a kick out of it.

PIP: I usually dig deep into my own past and mix and match people I know. There’s only been one time I’ve vetoed a name. In Dawn’s Early Light, we have a character inspired by one of our favorite actors. I wanted to drop a subtle hint as to who the actor was, and Tee suggested “Luther Pentacost.” I said “No.” Quickly. A little too meta for my liking.

TEE: Still think that would have been a great name for a character.

Where do you see yourself as a writer in ten years?
TEE: If we are still writing in ten years, I’ll be thrilled. Ten years ago, self-published authors and eBooks were considered bottom feeders and what you did when your career was on the way out. Now, ten years later, it’s considered a viable option to getting published by the Big Six. It’s hard to say where we will be in that time. I am trying to make smart choices in this incredibly wild ride, so I’ll be very happy if people are still as anxious for my books as they are now.

PIP: Perhaps adapting The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences for Sir Peter Jackson. Or for HBO.

Are there topics you would never write about?
TEE: So far, I’ve not come across any topics I’ve not written about. I doubt if I could write about child abuse, even though I’ve never faced a setting where it would have been appropriate or would have worked. I tend to face whatever works for the story, and I’ve gone dark on several occasions. So far, so good; but if I write something dark, I do it for the merit of the story, not solely for shock value.

Is there a certain type of scene that’s difficult for you to write? How do you conquer it?
PIP: I had a terrible time with writing sex scenes. I preferred to close the door or fade to black if ever facing the moment when two characters wanted to enjoy one another’s company. To get over it and to improve my short story skills, I launched a podcast called Erotica ala Carte. I offered to my audience a setting, a sexual preference, and a unique element (a character, an emotion, or something) and based on the popular vote, I would write and podcast a short story. What was an exercise for me lasted for three years, and I even hosted “guest chefs” in my kitchen and was nominated for a few awards. Podcasting is a great platform for Tee and myself.

What is something you are determined to accomplish before you die?
TEE: I wouldn’t mind returning to the stage. Lately, I find myself missing those days when I was a professional actor. I don’t have a lot of free time for acting on account of the demands writing asks for, but I’d like to get in some Shakespeare again. I saw a video of Tom Hiddleston gearing up for a production of Coriolanus and I felt a twinge. I love performing Shakespeare.

What authors inspire you?
PIP: I love CJ Cherryh. She’s been my heroine for longer than I can remember. She has had a varied career, writing many successful series. I guess what first drew me to her was her powerful, but relatable female characters. As a young reader I found that very compelling.

My thanks to Pip and Tee for sharing their thoughts.  Dawn’s Early Light can be found at  Goodreads and Amazon.

New Zealand born fantasy writer and podcaster Philippa (Pip) Ballantine is the author of the Books of the Order and the Shifted World series. She is also the co-author, with her husband Tee Morris, of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. Her awards include an Airship, a Parsec, and a Sir Julius Vogel. Morris is the author of Morevi: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana and the co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels. In addition to his work as a fantasist, he is also a social media pioneer and the author of Podcasting for Dummies and All a Twitter.

Pip’s website — Pip’s Twitter 

Tee’s website — Tee’s Twitter

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Facebook page

It’s a  giveaway! Enter now! At the end of the blog tour, three winners will be chosen to receive the following gifties.

Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
Signed Abney Park Poster
Signed Abney Park CD Ancient World
Signed coverflats of Phoenix Rising and the Janus Affair

Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences
The Extraordinary Contraptions CD
Signed cover flat of Phoenix Rising

Three paperback set (signed) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences

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Book Review: Ice Planet Goth

Ice Planet Goth (Originally Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth, which I must mention as I personally loved the original title) by Andrez Bergen is optimistically due for release early in 2014.

The year is 1986. The place is Nede (say it ‘needy’) Australia. Mina Rapace is sixteen. She’s dealing with familiar woes that come with her age–challenges at school, fitting in with her friends, dealing with boys, obsessing over comics and music, clashes with family. We’ve all been there.

That’s the outer layer of the onion that is Mina’s life–just the thin, papery brown top layer. Let’s peel that off and take a second look. Mina’s music is goth, her comics are vintage and she knows them frighteningly well. Her friendships are toxic, and that includes a rather startling imaginary one. Her mother is dead and her brother is a horrid beast. As for the boys… impossible and abusive relationships are all she knows.

That plump onion still has more layers to scrape through, bringing fresh tears to your eyes as each is revealed. By the time you reach the center of that pungent orb, you’ll discover it’s been rotting from the inside all along.

But, to continue my analogy, onions are a traditional source of strength and healing. Even as Mina copes with her increasingly rotting life, she exhibits a surprising strength in the face of circumstances that would defeat most.

Those of a certain age will enjoy the nostalgic details of the ‘80’s, reminisce with every song reference, and smile at the fashion choices of the day. But you’ll do so while hanging on tight by your fingernails. I had faith in Mina, even when it seemed absurd to hold out hope. She didn’t fail me. In the end, somewhere in the jumble of mixed emotions I was wrestling with, I felt compelled to applaud.

Ice Planet Goth may be a difficult read for delicate sorts, but it’s well worth the journey. I knew by page three that I was in it to the end. I could never resist an onion, truth be told.

As a bonus, fans of Andrez Bergen’s previous novels may recognize some familiar references. One made me grin, and another made me cheer out loud.

Cover art will be provided by the talented, manga-influenced artist, Kmye Chan.

Other reviews of Andrez Bergen novels at A License to Quill:

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

 100 Years of Vicissitude

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Your Next Ministry Assignment: Follow the Protocol!

Ministry Protocol
Cover Art by Alex White

This week I’ve been having a happy wallow in new stories of adventure and mystery, as I follow our intrepid agents from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences while they conduct their investigations.  But this time around, our favored agents Eliza Braun and Wellington Books step out of the spotlight (no doubt an aid in their own furtive pursuit of whatever needs pursuit at the moment) so that we may meet a wider variety of the Crown’s elite agents. Their stories are told by a host of authors who’ve been invited to play in the wondrous world created by Philippa (Pip) Ballantine and Tee Morris.

I’ve been an avid fan of agents Braun and Books since the get-go, and will admit I cracked into Ministry Protocol with just a bit of hesitation. My hesitation turned to glee as I settled into the first adventure in this anthology series.  By the end of the tale, I was hooked. The opening story was absolutely spot-on to the Peculiar universe, kept me guessing, and charmed me with it’s style.

I’ve now read a half dozen of the adventures – and have traveled the world. While London has been the main setting for our adventures previous to Ministry Protocol, we now roam the world, with various agents who cover the globe, protecting (or attempting to) all of humanity from the forces of evil.  Some stories I liked better than others, but that’s all right. The variety is spicy, and I’m happy for that.

Tonight I shall play with the cat, have my supper and then kick the real world aside so that I might re-join the action. I wonder where the next tale will take me?  What sort of agent will be saving the day? My curiosity and wonder are getting a full workout.

Every story takes place in a different location, with till-now unknown agents. And, since each story is written by a different author, each with their own unique style, you just never can know what will happen next – or who your new agency heroes will be. Pack your passport, grab a carpetbag and stuff your hat on your head.  It’s time we were off!

If you have not yet become acquainted with the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, I will politely stifle a gasp of surprise and equally politely direct you to the website devoted to the cause.  Enjoy your visit, learn about the Ministry, and of course, purchase the books. We can all use more adventure in our lives.

Ministry Protocol will be available for public enjoyment on Friday, September 27, 2013.  Huzzah! 

~ * ~ * ~

Please also enjoy this rather official press release, which arrived via pneumatic tube a while back. I found this alarming as I’d never installed a pneumatic tube, but I’m sure there’s a fine explanation for that… somewhere.

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels are a multi-award winning steampunk series, which tells the story of the government agency committed to keeping citizens safe from the strange, the unusual, and the bizarre.

In a very successful Kickstarter in July, the Ministry Initiative was funded, allowing the creation of both a roleplaying game and a brand new anthology.

Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a collection of short stories that will take readers across the Empire and all over the world, revealing new facets of familiar characters and introducing new agents, allies, and enemies from the Ministry’s colourful history.

The authors of this globe-spanning anthology include Delilah S. DawsonLeanna Renee HieberAlex WhiteJared Axelrod,Tiffany TrentPeter WoodworthJack ManganJR BlackwellDan RabartsLauren Harris, Karina Cooper, and Glenn Freund from The League of S.T.E.A.M.

And one of the Ministry’s creators, Tee Morris, presents the origin story of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences itself.

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Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences

Early this year I made the acquaintance of two delightful new friends.  Let me tell you about them.

Eliza D. Braun is a bit of a renegade (a bit?) and knows how to live life to the fullest. She’s full of fight, loves her dynamite, and corsets her waist in tight (that’s a bulletproof corset, thank you very much).

Wellington Books appeals to my love of solitude, order and sanity.  Plus, he’s adorable.

Together, they fight crime!  (Sorry, I had to.)

Books and Braun held me as their happy captive through the novels Phoenix Rising and The Janus Affair.  It’s very hard for me to suppress the need to squee loudly as I am delighted to tell you about what’s coming next in the world of our favorite Ministry operatives.  Read on! The rest of this post is the official word from the Ministry’s creators!  And you’ll get your first glimpse of exciting new cover art!

~ ~ ~

The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences novels are a multi-award winning steampunk series, which tells the story of the government agency committed to keeping citizens safe from the strange, the unusual, and the bizarre.

In a very successful Kickstarter in July, the Ministry Initiative was funded, allowing the creation of both a roleplaying game and a brand new anthology.

Ministry Protocol: Thrilling Tales from the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a collection of short stories that will take readers across the Empire and all over the world, revealing new facets of familiar characters and introducing new agents, allies, and enemies from the Ministry’s colourful history.

The authors of this globe-spanning anthology include Delilah S. Dawson, Leanna Renee Hieber, Alex White, Jared Axelrod, Tiffany Trent, Peter Woodworth, Jack Mangan, JR Blackwell, Dan Rabarts, Lauren Harris, Karina Cooper, and Glenn Freund from The League of S.T.E.A.M.

And one of the Ministry’s creators, Tee Morris, presents the origin story of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences itself.

Look for the ebook coming in August, with signed print editions to follow.

Feast your eyes on the cover art from the Ministry renaissance man, Alex White, and spread the word about the anthology by entering the giveaway.  a Rafflecopter giveaway

Ministry Protocol

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Day of the Dragons: Ballroom Blitz

Announcing the release of the Clockhaven Chronicles 2nd Edition/2nd Episode! Congratulations are in order for Mr. P.S. Chambers for the publication and release of his second episode in the 4-part serialization, “Day of the Dragons”, from the Clockhaven Chronicles!

Day of the Dragons - Ballroom Blitz
Day of the Dragons – Ballroom Blitz

The Clockhaven Chronicles (2nd Edition/2nd Episode) – “Day of the Dragons: Ballroom Blitz”, written by P.S. Chambers and illustrated by Ashley Walters is available TODAY at (and very soon at and Barnes&

Stanislaus Pulaski’s carefree days on sunny Curacao have vanished in a puff of smoke. Threats lurk in the shadows while more loom just beyond the horizon. If that were not enough, he can count on meddlesome friends beside him, beautiful women to beguile him, and situations that will try him. Yet Stan strives to persevere; still determined to build an airship, still searching for answers, still tinkering with his craft, still-mostly-clueless.

Penny Gaff novels are available in PDF, Nook and Kindle formats – and true to their name, your cost is very reasonable – no book over $1.99!  Have you read them all?

The Clockhaven Chronicles

Captive Sky, Truant Heart
A Singular Story: by P.S. Chambers

Day of the Dragons
Episode One: The Girl in the Corner
by P.S. Chambers

A Drop of the Venom
Episode One: Leviathan’s Bane
by Andrew McCurdy

Day of the Dragons

Episode Two: Ballroom Blitz
(PDF is ready; other formats coming very soon)


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