Friday, March 25, 2011


This time on Chicanonautica over at La Bloga, I review Land of a Thousand Dances: Chicano Rock 'n' Roll from Southern California by David Reyes and Tom Waldman, an important document about La Cultura. So, here at Mondo Ernesto, I'm providing some musical examples.

Before rock learned to roll, Lala Guerrero shook things up in L.A.:

Then an Anglo provided the pachucos with a theme song:

And Thee Midniters wrote the lowrider anthem:

Later Los Lobos brought us más:

Finally, some elegant time travel from Mark Guerrero, son of Lalo, because the cycles keep spinning . . .

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


Flash! I've signed a contract for a short story to be reprinted in an anthology! The story isn't very well known, but the main character is Pablo Cortez, the hero of Cortez on Jupiter.

Pablo's first appearance was in the story, “Guerrilla Mural of a Siren's Song” first published in issue Four, Summer 1989 of Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine. That was within months of Ben Bova asking me if had an idea for a novel that wasn't as outré as the first one I pitched him. I thought of Pablo and followed my own advice at the time: “The way to expand a short story into a novel is to shove a stick of dynamite up its ass, light the fuse, run for cover, then take notes on how the flaming chunks splatter down on the landscape.”

So -- recently when Marty Halpern asked me if I had any previously published stories that would be suitable for an anthology called Alien Contact. “Guerrilla Mural” was the one that I suggested. Now it will be available again, in a book with some big-name authors that will get it some serious attention.

Marty also suggested that I make Cortez on Jupiter available as an ebook.

I was dithering about what to do for my first ebook. Looks like now that decision has been made for me. The question is: Can I get it done before November 2011, and do a proper new media blitz that will give it a chance at some serious glory?

Friday, March 18, 2011


When he sent me the PDF file of “The Great Mars-A-Go-Go Mexican Standoff” to look over, David Lee Summers, the editor of Tales of the Talisman expressed concern that the Venusian Yakuza in the illustration didn't match my description in the story. I know that some writers are sticklers for their illoes being accurate representations of their writing, but I tend to agree with my friend, the late G. Harry Stine: that illustrations and covers only have one purpose, “to sell the story.”

Paul Niemiec's “Mars-A-Go-Go” drawing does just that – an example of pulp art that makes the viewer become a reader by making them wonder what the hell is going on. Sure, the body modification on the Yakuza is more extreme than in the story. But I could imagine it happening in this universe, and I will take it into consideration when I write further adventures of Spike Gershwin, interplanetary detective. Niemiec also showed good instincts in providing Spike with a hat, a cigarette, a snub-nosed .38, and a shoulder-holster that instantly identify him as a private eye, giving a vital clue as to the kind of story this is.

Too many covers and illustrations these days have nothing to say, except for, “Here's more of this subgenre, and we promise it won't disturb you with any surprises.”

Worse yet are those uninspired “character study” portraits that are remarkably lacking in character.

Illustrators should be studying cartooning, pulp art, movie and circus posters. Dada and Surrealism, too. Emulate P.T. Barnum and Salvador Dalí. Forget subtlety, snag the eyeballs, and drag the frontal lobes into the writing. If the art isn't an exact match for the story – so what? It never is! A good artist should try to come up with imagery that is better than what the writer, or the reader, does on their own.

Sometimes, images that give you a broad hint or provide interesting counterpoint, like in DayBreak Magazine and Flurb can also do the trick. Snag the eye, worry about the brain later. As long as it makes them want to read the text!

So, my advice for illustrators is sell the story, and go wild. Imagine that your the talker (which is what insiders call a “barker”) at a carnival. Use your visual language to get the people to step right up, put down their money, and get a load of something that will take them out of their everyday world, and maybe even blow their minds.

If you manage to outdo the writer in your creation – well, that's the writer's problem, not yours. And congratulations, if you can!

Friday, March 11, 2011


This time at La Bloga, Chicanonautica is a short, sweet presentation of Matatoro, a cartoon that is also the best film about bullfighting I have ever seen.

Cartoons have helped me through these stressful times. Here's some of my favorites:

The Snow Man is titled and packaged like a Christmas story. It is not. It's more like a kiddie horror film. It has a plot similar to the song Frosty the Snowman, with overtones of Frankenstein, only it predates the song by almost two decades.

My friend Misha Nogha recognized the Snow Man as a Windigo, “a huge white ice skeleton and not matter how much he consumed he was always hungry for more,” that plagued her Cree ancestors.

The Sunshine Makers gets weird in warmer weather. A milk company commissioned it to get kids to drink more of their product. It suggests that milk is solar-powered, and has psychoactive, mood-elevating effects, and comes off like a collaboration between J.R.R. Tolkien and Philip K. Dick.

Both The Snow Man and The Sunshine Makers were directed by Ted Eshbaugh, a master bring myth into a modern medium.

In The Big Snit, Richard Condie brings us closer to modern apocalyptic times. The end of the world was never so funny, and it always gives me a warm feeling, and a smile.

I've got a feeling I'm going to need more of this stuff. I'll keep sharing it here.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


A Little Old Lady from Hell smiled as she held up her bleeding finger. She had cut herself on a book. Ah, the paper cut! That old bookstore hazard. So easy to do in the excitement of a liquidation sale.

Unfortunately, I was at the register, ringing up a customer who was buying a stack of books. There was also a line people, products in hand, waiting to be rung up. But the blood bead was getting bigger.

I excused myself, hit the button on my walkie-talkie, and said, “We need a bandaid for a bleeding customer up here.”

There's some the drawers.” Crackled in my ear.

I stumbled over and rifled through the drawers. I had decided that working at a dying Borders was like being in a slapstick comedy. Don't worry about it making sense – it won't. Don't worry about looking ridiculous – the more ridiculous, the better.

Before the blood could drip I handed the Little Old Lady from Hell a bandaid. She put it on her wound, then asked for a tissue.

We were out of tissue. But a lot of employees had had colds lately. Looking around, I found a roll of toilet paper that was being used instead. I grabbed it and handed it over. I felt I had dealt with the situation in a manner worthy of Buster Keaton or Jackie Chan.

Then I flashed back to other paper cuts. It had happened to me on occasion, while furiously wrangling books. It can especially happen during a holiday consumer frenzy. You feel the bite. See the blood. Where's a bandaid when you need one?

Unfortunately, you're surrounded by people who have all decided that they need your help finding some book, and they need it now. You put a hand over the cut, covering the blood, and help one person. Then another blocks your path to bandaids. Then another. And another . . .

You casually uncover the blood. Surely, someone will see the blood, and say, “Why, you're bleeding. You should go and put a bandaid on that.”


They keep coming. Even while you're hopping around to keep from getting your blood all over everything.

And I am not exaggerating. No satire or surrealism here. This is straight reporting. I know. I actually happened to me.

The truly bizarre thing, is, in telling this tale, I found out that it happened to my wife Emily, too.

It also happened to some of our co-workers.

Of course, this was back in the days when the economy was going strong, and you could get a good consumer frenzy going. Things are different now. Even at a liquidation sale, it rarely gets to that kind of cannibalistic intensity.

Now the customers come in waves that die out regularly. They all ask when the discounts will be ratcheted up, and when will be our last day. They do say how sorry they are that our store is closing, and how it's going to be inconvenient for them.

Sometimes they ask if Borders is helping us all get new jobs. I try not to laugh.

Yeah, the best way to get through this is to look at it as blood-spattered, slapstick comedy. It doesn't make any sense. It is ridiculous. And I rush around, doing my Groucho Marx walk, my Charlie Chaplin one-footed stall-&-turn, and whoop like Curly of the the Three Stooges under my breath.

Saturday, March 5, 2011


I've been a bit heavy here at Mondo Ernesto lately. Sorry about that. I've been up to my eyeballs in the turmoil of the times, and it's hitting close to home. So I've decided to lighten up a little with some classic cartoons with science fiction themes.

Let's start with Woody Woodpecker dealing with an alien invasion that literally eats up his world:

No real sci in that fi, but I can't help thinking that John W. Campbell would have approved of that ending.

Next we fly to the Moon with Casper the Friendly Ghost:

Turns out that Casper was right about water on the Moon. So what about the little people and tree men?

Finally, Popeye the Sailor in his very own space opera:

I wonder if Popeye used a special, genetically-modified, nanotech-enhanced brand of spinach? Uh-oh, think I bumped into another story idea . . .

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


You meet them when working in retail: The Little Old Ladies from Hell. They come in all ages and sexes. Sometimes they're sweet and clueless. Other times they're mean and demonic. You can always tell if you're dealing with them, because they have a knack for either causing everything to come to a grinding halt, or for throwing it all into diabolical chaos.

Sometimes they fill the store. This has happened more and more as Borders deteriorates. It's as if a bus were dropping them off at the front door. I imagined that bus, a smoking mass of scorched and molten metal, being belched out of a sulphurous sink hole in the desert, bringing them directly from the infernal realm.

They wander the ransacked shelves during the liquidation sale. Like many of our other customers, they are lost and dazed. Lonely people, like Eleanor Rigby.

There's one Little Old Lady from Hell in particular who is especially annoying.

She calls the store just about every day, and keeps whoever was unlucky enough to answer for a minimum of twenty minutes. She starts out with a legitimate question, then shifts to the story of her life and what's on her mind – which isn't much, or very interesting, but she can go on forever.

At home she has a picture of Jesus that she talks to. Starts the day telling him good morning, and keeps going. Drives her husband crazy.

The second day of the liquidation sale she showed up, talking loud. She can't just babble to herself like the schizophrenics who come in. No, she needs someone, like her picture of Jesus, on whom to focus her yammering.

Her concerns were different this time. Instead of her usual subject of undefinable spiritual angst, she was going on and on about Borders.

I did my best to ignore her as she lambasted people in the check-out line.

Later, I was turned loose to try to make the shelves not look like a disaster area. And there she was, blocking my path, with a book in her hand. She has learned that if she asks us about a product, we customer service drones have to talk to her.

Waving the book – something from the Christian Inspiration section – she looked at me, opened her mouth, and tried to speak:

Where . . . I . . . can I . . . I can't . . . I want . . .”

I frowned, started to walk away.

This book! I can't find what I want to say! Where can I find . . . more?”

Ma'am, everything we have is on the shelves. If there were more copies of that book, they would have been next to it. And now that we're going out of business, we can't order anything. We can't even have other stores put things on hold for you.”

But . . . but . . . .”

Ma'am, if you aren't here to buy anything, I don't have to talk to you. I have work to do.” I turned around, reached for a shelf that looked like it had been rearranged with a baseball bat.

She gasped, then it burst forth:

There's something wrong with America if Borders Books is closing! Is it Obama? I know he's got to be behind it! It's the end of the world! Civilization is over! A third world war is going to start in 2012! What are we going to do?”

What I did was walk away, straighten the books on the shelves that I knew would just fall over again when I was finished with them.

Later, she trapped a biker by the door and harangued him for over half an hour.

I sort of feel sorry for her. Her picture of Jesus doesn't have the answer, and there's no bus to take her back to Hell.