The Black Centipede and related characters are part of a grand concept I came up with myself and started writing and publishing on the web.
They had actually been festering in my skull for more than 20 years-- a proposed comic book that never made it off the ground-- and it seemed about time to let them out.
I realized I wasn't getting any younger. So I started cranking out prose like a man possessed. Well, the Black Centipede Press web project caught the eye of Tommy Hancock at Pro Se Press, and they have now published the first Black Centipede novel, "Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede." (Order it now from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Creeping-Dawn-Rise-Black-Centipede/dp/146633813X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1316819459&sr=1-1)
The Black Centipede is a traditional pulp action hero who refuses to behave like one. He casually breaks every rule in the book. Then he writes new rules. Then he breaks those. He is the world's greatest action hero. He is a dangerous madman. He is both criminal and crimefighter, pursuing an agenda that he himself has yet to fully define.
His career has spanned 80 years (so far), and he has become involved with some of the most famous and infamous individuals of the 20th and 21st centuries. "Creeping Dawn" takes up his story in the pivotal period between 1927 and 1933.
In his fictional world, the Centipede is both a real-life crime fighter and the star of a successful pulp adventure magazine, which presents highly-fictionalized accounts of his adventures. The series explores, among other things, the disparity between the public image and the man himself. We also learn the "shocking truth" about several well-known historical people and events. In the world of the Black Centipede, absolutely nothing is what it seems to be.
The Centipede's best friend and arch enemy, "Bloody" Mary Jane Gallows is a strange creature indeed. She appears human, but is in reality a thought construct called a tulpa. She came into existence as the result of an unconscious telepathic union between Lizzie Borden and Jack the Ripper. And it just gets worse from there.THE CITY OF ZENITH, home of the Black Centipede, is a living example of the uncertainty principle. It is on the East or West Coast, or one of the Great Lakes, or the Mississippi River. Everyone has lived there at one time or another, including you.
Zenith is one of the most versatile cities in the United States. It is as large or as small as it needs to be for whatever story I happen to be writing at a given time. I did not, however, discover it myself. The city was founded by Sinclair Lewis. According to WIKIPEDIA, "Winnemac is a fictional U.S. state invented by the writer Sinclair Lewis. His novel Babbitt takes place in Zenith, its largest city (population 361,000, according to a sketch-map Lewis made to guide his writing). Winnemac is also the setting for ‘Gideon Planish,’ ‘Arrowsmith,’ ‘Elmer Gantry,’ and ‘Dodsworth.’"
Inspired by the work of the late Philip Jose Farmer, I have developed the habit of treating fictional characters as though they actually lived, and people who actually lived as though they were fictional characters. The Centipede has an elaborate history, for which I have created artifacts. Amelia Earhart, Frank Nitti, and William Randolph Hearst have prominent roles in the saga.Farmer's biography of Doc Savage, along with his "Riverworld" novels, started wheels turning in my head that are still grinding today. Farmer's influence on my own work cannot be overstated.
The Black Centipede himself began to take shape many years ago, when I read Farmer's essay, "The Fourfold Vision," in "Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life," which discusses the work of Lester Dent, E.E. Smith, Henry Miller and William S. Burroughs. Now you know who to blame for the connection I made between Burroughs and pulp heroes! Farmer pointed the way.
The Centipede was originally conceived as a cross between Burroughs and the Shadow, with a dash of Doc Savage. (Black centipedes are a loathsome centerpiece of Burroughs' novel "Naked Lunch.") Like Doc, he makes his home/headquarters in the top floors of the tallest skyscraper in the city; he is addicted to the use of clever gadgets of his own invention; and he performs brain operations on criminals. Of course, these operations involve the application of hot lead to the troublesome organ. (Though the survival rate is zero, so is the rate of recidivism.) The Centipede shares Burroughs' enthusiasm for orgone accumulators, the cut-up method, and quoting Shakespeare, as well as a certain unfortunate vice they both have in common with Sherlock Holmes. I have three other series, aside from "Tales of the Black Centipede." All of them sprang from my first novel, "The Optimist Book One: You Don't Know Jack," as did the Centipede himself. All of my "stars" started life as supporting characters in this novel. Here is a brief synopsis:
JACK CHRISTIAN ("THE OPTIMIST") is the grown-up former kid sidekick of deceased superhero Captain Mercury. After 12 years away from his home city of Zenith, Jack is lured back by the promise of a substantial trust fund. When he gets there, he meets one oddball after another, starting with Vionna Valis, a strange young woman with a startling secret that nobody-- herself included-- knows. An encounter with what purports to be the ghost of Captain Mercury puts Jack and Vionna on the trail of the Black Centipede. Along the way, they run afoul of the ghost of Jack the Ripper, and seek the help of Doctor Unknown Junior.
In the beginning, Jack Christian was going to be my star. That was how I had it planned. The Centipede, Vionna, Mary Kelly and Dana Unknown were to be his supporting cast. Well, John Lennon once said that life is "what happens to you while you're busy making other plans." I can now confirm that the same is true of fiction. The supporting cast staged a coup, leaving poor Jack behind. I now regard the Optimist as an artistic failure, but one that still has considerable merit. I don't plan to continue the series in its original form. Jack Christian has been co-opted by Doctor Unknown Junior to serve as her "Watson."
Dr. Dana Marie Laveau Unknown, PhD, is an incredibly accomplished practitioner of the mystic arts, having attained the status of Level Twelve Magus shortly after her 22nd birthday. She is the daughter of Raoul Deveraux Unknown, the well-known sorcerer/superhero/certified public accountant known as Dr. Unknown. The original Doctor Unknown retired several years ago, after a traumatic incident in which he accidentally destroyed the planet Earth and a large portion of the solar system. Though he and Dana were able to successfully reboot the time stream, thus more or less erasing the episode from history, the experience left him a shattered man.
Dana Unknown has taken over her father's former duties, sometimes humorously referring to herself as "Doctor Unknown Junior."
"The Incredible Adventures of Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly," "The Optimist," "Tales of the Black Centipede," and "The Mystic Files of Doctor Unknown Jr." are all set in the same world, and all the characters know one another and interact frequently.
"The Incredible Adventures of Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly." Detective stories with a paranormal twist. The WVC is a "psychic detective agency," staffed by a mysterious young woman named Vionna Valis, and the five original 1888 victims of Jack the Ripper, who have been bodily resurrected in the 21st century. It's a long story, which is told in my mercifully unpublished novel,"The Optimist Book One: You Don't Know Jack."
Philip Jose Farmer's inspiration came to me not only through his own novels and stories, but also by way of two lengthy conversations he was gracious enough to endure with the young fan that I was some 20-odd years ago. (Very odd years, for the most part.) I will always treasure those memories, and hope that I can do them justice now. I only wish Farmer were here to see this offspring of his vision come to fruition. It is to him-- and to the Original Centipede, William S. Burroughs-- that I dedicate the Black Centipede's maiden voyage.
William S. Burroughs, 1960. Photo by Brian Duffy. (Authorized for use with attribution.)