Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.
He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.
Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Wednesday, February 26, 2014
Taking on a major project by yourself takes guts. It also takes a lot more from you and out of you, as I learned when I attempted to launch my own digital magazine, Retaliate, in 2010.
I'd spent the previous seven years knocking myself out working my way up through the tiers of music and film journalism and I'd been writing simultaneously for numerous magazines and websites. With the transition in media toward the digital age, I found myself, along with my colleagues, dropped to the bricks as the trad print mags were sadly folding, one-by-one.
It was a very difficult and upsetting thing for me to digest since one, a lot of my secondary income was tied into my freelancing work for those rags, especially once I became a new father when we adopted my little guy. I'd already learned to fight for work, having been downsized from the mortgage title industry on numerous occasions since the rollercoaster nature of that business dictates employment, naturally.
Nonetheless, as I found myself being courted by loads of websites who couldn't afford to pay me, I nearly bowed out of media journalism, since my attempts to coax the editors of the few remaining big dog mags and newspapers were met with frustration. So too was the fate of many of my peers since those periodicals still hanging on were well-fortified with staffers and freelancers already.
As I turned to beat reporting for a local newspaper and also some field data collection for Patch.com, I got the idea that maybe I should take on the digital realm and begin my own venture. I had all the industry contacts I needed to get launched, so why the hell not?
To this day, I still thank every publicist and record label who got on board with me when I proposed to launch Retaliate, a digital magazine focused on heavy metal, punk rock, hard and classic rock and horror films. By now, it's been proven that horror and heavy music are natural bed partners, which I've said since the eighties. It was a winning concept my industry friends and my guests all believed in.
I deemed myself Editor-in-Chief and recalling my time as Assistant Editor on my college newspaper, Spectrum, I used my old layout techniques and learned to apply them in a digital format. Just this part of the process took a bit of time to refine before I began the months-intensive succession in assembling my debut issue.
Wearing multiple hats, I took on every aspect in making Retaliate a reality. I booked and conducted every interview. I fielded the music reviews. I did the live photography and used supplemental press photos from the labels. I laid it all out and banged my head against my desk when the pages wouldn't merge in succession, then rejoiced when they finally did. Outside of the cover fonts and logo, which I owe to my dear friend, Sheila Eggenberger, everything was done my me. I sometimes bounced my son on my knee while I edited my articles and told him I was going to do something big for our family.
I engaged a partner, who was going to handle online production and distribution. By the time I was ready to release Retaliate # 1 with a test price of $2.50 per download, I was already finding hints of gray on my head. Nonetheless, I'd assembled a hell of a guest list for Retaliate #1: Marky Ramone, Dave Lombardo from Slayer, Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach, Stevie Benton from Drowning Pool, Richard Patrick of Filter, Chris Adler from Lamb of God, Wolf Hoffmann of Accept, Jim Gustafson of Poobah, former Overkill drummer Rat Skates, Nick Cantanese, formerly of Black Label Society, Steve Von Till of Neurosis, Alexx Calisse and others. I had esteemed horror directors Mick Garris and Adam Green on board for my "Van of the Dead" horror section. It was gold.
I took to the pre-launch campaign trail and staged some goofy intro photos with me pimping Retaliate. One has me standing amidst a flurry of political candidate placards with my own stating "RETALIATE FOR READERSHIP." Another one has me dressed up as Pinhead from Hellraiser hitchhiking along an interstate with a sign stating "RETALIATE OR BUST." These photos were sent to all of my press contacts and I was offered publicity services from a few firms out there. I wanted to get the first issue running and then take them up on it to implement my marketing plan.
I'd spent many months hitting concerts to gather my live photos, going backstage for interviews and taking phone calls at ungodly hours to conduct chats with those who I couldn't connect with on the road. I was giddy beyond words through the whole thing, though, most especially when Marky Ramone and I kept playing phone tag with bad connections on our cells. I hightailed it back to my work office at the time and begged the use of their phone to get it done with Marky. As a Ramones freak, it was one of the most gratifying interviews I've ever done.
I could spend the rest of this post gabbing about the wonderful interviews I had for Retaliate # 1. I won't forget Adam Green getting on a roll about the production of his film, Frozen, and him generously asking me if he could call back because he had plenty more to talk about. He kept his word. On the nuttier side of things, my interview with Dave Lombardo was completely insane as I waited for my liaison to come get me, which was pretty danged long. I was scheduled to photograph Slayer and Anthrax's sets at the Baltimore Arena and by the time I was finally brought back to Lombardo on Slayer's bus, I was given five minutes. We did a lightning round that I think left both us dizzy afterwards. Dave's a gentleman, and I'm sorry to see what's happened in the Slayer camp since I've also had an amazing chat with Tom Araya in the past.
I'll never forget seeing the late Jeff Hanneman lounging on Slayer's bus and jamming to Zeppelin with a hundred lit candles around him. We said hello to each other in passing and that still strikes me today now that Jeff has passed. Afterwards, I had to blitz and navigate my way from the loading docks to the rear of the stage in the arena and bolt into the photo pit as Anthrax began their set. It's something you can't necessarily put into words, but it was a huge rush, disorganized as that night ended up being, but that's rock 'n roll for you.
Running into Stevie Benton of Drowning Pool a week after we'd interviewed in the photo pit of Godsmack was a kick and Stevie was cool enough to get a photo with me. I'd done phoners with Benton, Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach and Adam Green back-to-back, another chaotic but wonderful night of the Retaliate cycle.
And then reality struck.
As I was ready to hand over my work to my partner upon execution of a formal business agreement, the guy flaked out on me. No response, no further communication. I had to find out from a mutual friend he'd blown our little enterprise off despite his enthusiasm by my progress. In scrambling mode, I found another party who expressed interest but once again, those overtures fizzled out. I attempted to pitch on Kickstarter and was shot down. I then opened ties with one of my guests and we nearly got it off the ground together, but his prior commitments took precedence and by that time, my material was in danger of being too old to be marketable. Besides, the true reality of things is that nobody wants to pay for what they get for free everywhere else on the web, regardless of product quality.
With gnashed teeth and a heavy heart, I decided to throw the pages of Retaliate onto my site, The Metal Minute for free. I'd won an award from Metal Hammer at that blog, so it made sense, particularly as a commitment to everyone who participated in my endeavor.
To be honest, the entire experience ragged me out and I was in the throes of fatherhood anyway. Thus I pulled the plug on Retaliate, even as I received a nice outpouring of support from the industry. I'd had high hopes, as the song goes, but it takes more than a mere man these days to accomplish anything of significance. Retaliate was and still is my baby and I look at those pages with tremendous pride and gratitude toward the musicians, directors, publicists and labels who gave me their time. I thank them all for the crazy adventure that was Retaliate. At least it was an indirect path to landing with Blabbermouth.
All photos and pages (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Listenin' to: Devo - Duty Now For the Future
Tuesday, February 25, 2014
In 2009, I was invited out to the reunion gig of punk legends, Naked Raygun. I won't ever forget that night since I went with a buddy of mine and we ended up seeing many of the figureheads of the halcyon DC straight edge scene from the eighties in attendance. I met Government Issue vocalist John Stabb and one of these days, he and I have a sitdown planned that we need to freakin' book already.
Prior to Naked Raygun's set, Philly hardcore revivalists Paint it Black took the stage and ripped Baltimore's Ottobar to shreds. Think I'm overexaggerating? I've got the visual documentation here. A few of the pictures I got of Paint it Black's set made it into AMP magazine after I'd told their editor I'd fought the trenches and peeled off one of my personal best live photo shoots. Many of these photos feature animated vocalist Dan Yemin losing his shit, but hopefully I captured these guys in their rawest form. There are no photo bit barriers at the Ottobar, so I took a hell of a beating hanging front and center against the stage and nearly had my camera batted away a few times from all the rolling, jumping, moshing and pounding of the crowd at my back.
I'm long retired from the pit, ironically having gotten my first crack at slamming at a Government Issue show in 1987, which I discussed with Stabb after the Paint it Black shoot. Many of these shots are appearing for the first time from my archives. I hope you enjoy them. My back and shoulders are still smarting just looking at these shots, but I'm glad to have hung tough and snapped them off.
Photos (c) Ray Van Horn, Jr.
Listenin' to: Gorillaz - Demon Days
Sunday, February 23, 2014
This Comic Book Reading Spot is unofficial since I didn't center this selfie too good, but for fun, here's me 'n my four legged pal next door, Bruiser, taking in some She Hulk. Where will I end up next with a comic book? Stay tuned for that answer later in the week.
Listenin' to: Lionize - Jetpack Soundtrack
Saturday, February 22, 2014
There's a joke in my household that it's getting harder by the day for me to find a few minutes alone just to read a comic book, much less keep up with my frequently nutty schedule. Seems like every time I dive into a comic, I have to stop reading once the echoes of "Daaaaad..." or "Hoooonnnnnnn..." disrupt my concentration. I often tease my family that it takes locking myself in the can if I want 15 minutes to myself to knock out a comic book without interruption. I've even been keeping a higher fiber diet these days just to give me the excuse to disappear in private with a comic book. Desperate times call for desperate measures, you know.
Then of course, there's my work and an easy 40 to 50 new album promos hitting me each week, all looking for press coverage. I have side projects cooking and friends I sadly neglect but squeeze whatever time I can for them. I'm in the process of kickstarting my workouts back up to shed the winter pounds, as you can tell by the photo above. Like there's time for that, sheesh.
I'm happily a very busy man and ready to take on even more work with the expectation that my family takes precedence and all you family guys out there know what I'm saying when I say that fifteen minutes a day with zero obstruction is gold. Still, it appears I'm going to have to stake out some creative duckouts and even do some multi-tasking if I want to keep up with my reading. Thus I've started this admittedly silly exercise I hope will be fun for you readers here at The Crash Pad, the "Comic Book Reading Spot of the Week."
Join me as I pursue hidey holes in some likely wacky spots in the quest to turn off the switches of life for a few precious minutes and catch up with my comic book reading. What a guy has to do these days, I tell you...
Listenin' to: Mozart - Mass in C Minor
Friday, February 21, 2014
Thursday, February 20, 2014
Finally, a bit of a warm-up to this wicked winter weather. I'm not so naïve enough to think winter's going to make an early exodus after shellacking the east coast restlessly since early December, but here's a perfect time to start mapping out trails for hiking once spring finally arrives.
Last year, my son and I conquered seven different trails, a couple with return visits to cover the legs we'd missed before. We also took on the Appalachian Trail, for a few rugged uphill miles, anyway, until the lad gassed out on me. For his age, though, a few miles is impressive, especially in what equated to predominantly climbing mode. Never underestimate your children and always praise them when they accomplish anything favorable. The paths you lead them on figuratively and literally could impact their future lives in beautiful ways you never saw coming.
Parents, taking your kids hiking. It only costs the gas, some pepper spray which I recommend keeping on you, just in case you cross paths with any critters who you need to separate yourself from and some water. The bonds you forge with your children on the trails will last a lifetime, even when they have their noses buried in Nintendo DS more than anything else.
Listenin' to: Snot - Get Some
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
I'm usually dubious about the press when it comes to reports on our military, but unfortunately, these National Guard folk hung themselves in this despicable photo.
This Instagram photo posted by Spc. Terry Harrison of the 1st Battalion, 147th Aviation Regiment in Wisconsin. Before Harrison's photo and Instagram account was reportedly pulled down, Harrison's caption read, "We put the FUN in funeral -- your fearless honor guard from various states."
I don't care if that's an empty casket they're clowning around with. I can appreciate gallows' humor under certain circumstances, but this is a disgrace. My stepfather survived Vietnam and pulled numerous bodies off the front line, many of them his friends. The tortures he's had to relive in his mind took decades to purge, and for families of militaries worldwide who have lost their sons and daughters in combat, this mockery and effrontery is reprehensible.
Bet these people wouldn't be in such a partying mood on the front line.
Listenin' to: Deftones - Diamond Eyes
Tuesday, February 18, 2014
Even Frosty the Beer Man's lost his appeal, much less his functional ability now that he's neck deep in new snow. Here I am above three hours into an accumulated two foot scoop job, and you can be assured I was out there again the same night clearing five inches of that snow total. Thank God for the coffee. Now I'm waking up to another hit of white crap. Minor, compared to last week, but winter, piss of already, huh?
Those who live in the northern and western U.S., Canada, Iceland, Russia and anywhere that snow is omnipresent, my soaked snow hat is off to you. God bless ya, but I'm looking for some sun and green grass so I can go hiking instead of tromping.
Listenin' to: The Pretty Reckless - Going to Hell
Saturday, February 15, 2014
Let's face the facts; Saturday morning t.v. sucks these days.
From as far back as the Fabulous Fifties, Saturday morning air waves were ruled by kids. While I never grew up with Captain Video, Captain Midnight, Howdy Doody, Kit Carson and Hopalong Cassidy, I was seldom not near the boob tube from 7:00 a.m. to noon on Saturday mornings from the 1970s through the nineties. Only until Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network made 'toons a 24-7 anytime fix and network sold out could I be broken of my Saturday morning habit.
During the eighties after my parents had divorced, I would still get control of the t.v. when my dad picked me up for visitations and we stopped at my grandparents' house. Its to my father and my late grandparents' credit they stomached the morning onslaught of cartoons all those years, but my Saturday morning chemical dependency carried well into the first five or six years of my married life. I can remember refusing to budge from the living room on Saturdays until the WB and Fox cartoons were finished before moving on with our weekend plans. It was no different than when I grew up during the seventies, only leaving the house to go out and play with my friends once Fat Albert had concluded. I wasn't alone in that. Just ask anyone from my generation.
Most of favorite Saturday morning cartoons were superhero related, which of course, if you know me, you're probably saying, well duh. As early as the syndicated re-runs of the 1960's Spiderman show that carried throughout the seventies and early eighties, I was afflicted by the Saturday morning cartoon bug. I knew the lyrics to the Spiderman show as did most young American boys my age. Don't ask us to sing "Little Drummer Boy," as we're bound to screw that up, even with the gimme repeat words.
Yet it's not just superheroes that captivated me all those years, since Star Wars and Orioles baseball also dominated my life as a youngster. I blew my weekly allowance on comic books and trading cards as far back as I can remember, yet no matter how bad a lot of the Saturday cartoons could be (and there were thrice the amount of turkeys as there were winners), those 4 to 5 hour blocks of time became my weekly drug. That was, until I was introduced to kung-fu flicks and Ghost Host on late Saturday nights; then my world really opened up. Of course, I'd really loved Hong Kong Phooey first...
The nineties represent the final threshold of goodness for Saturday morning cartoons. Not everything the WB and Fox ushered out from the mid-nineties to the early 2000s was spot-on, but there was a lot of good stuff that came and went without a chance to flourish, Silver Surfer, The Magician, Static Shock, The Spectacular Spiderman and Freakazoid! being a few that come to mind. I know we all have to grow up sometime, but it's been years since I've woken up on a Saturday, switched on the t.v., filled a bowl with cereal that's terrible for you and only gotten up from the couch to visit the bathroom during commercial breaks. Nowadays, it's the same for me as any weekday morning, get up super early, make the coffee and work on my projects before the household awakes. Honestly, now that I have a son, I miss the opportunity to lounge and watch mindless cartoons delegated to that specific block of time. I can put on a DVD, sure, but it's nowhere near the same. Poor child, what fun he's missed.
That being said, here's a quick run of some of my all-time favorite Saturday morning cartoons through the ages:
What kid doesn't like Scooby Doo? Outside of The Simpsons and Looney Tunes, Scoob and the gang have filled more years with material and they just keep coming back. We'll forgive Hanna Barbera for the abominations that were Scrappy Doo and A Pup Named Scooby Doo.
The greatest cartoons ever. In my day, we were fed an hour and a half of these classics by CBS under The Bugs Bunny and Road Runner Show. Overture...hit the lights...this is it... you know the rest. Big raspberries go to ABC, who bought the rights to the Looney Tunes during the nineties and then butchered the snot out of them in response to censorship groups. Dark times, those were.
What I like to think of the best cartoon to eat your cereal by. Superfriends is so very naïve and tame by today's standards, and whoever did the coloring work should've been fired, since there's at least one miscue per episode. Still, we kids of the seventies were young, we weren't allowed to see anything truly explosive until Star Wars and this was the right way to come up in establishing good versus evil. I ate Boo Berry religiously while this was on.
One thing I cherish about our Saturday morning programming is that we had cool stuff to watch in-between shows. CBS had "In the News," a modified, family friendly look at world events that were more often than not, positive and full of inspiration. ABC could have us zipping back from whatever station we might be on to catch Schoolhouse Rock to hopefully sing along to "Conjunction Junction," "I'm Just a Bill," "Interjections" or to count off by fives to "Ready Or Not, Here I Come." Schoolhouse Rock, like The Electric Company, defines my generation and together, I think the two are the best educational programs that have ever been conceived.
Hey hey hey... Fat Albert broke the racial lines faster than the freedom fighters of the sixties. Bill Cosby managed to find a nonviolent way to cross over between races to the point none of us white kids ever thought of Fat Albert and his friends as anything but teenaged boys coming up in a tough neighborhood. They were learning life's lessons that had nothing to do with disseminating skin pigmentation and we all learned them together. We lived vicariously in that junkyard and thus, Fat Albert was for everyone.
Yeah, I admit it. I was a Smurf freak. I suppose the equivalent nowadays is the Bronie (i.e. male fans of My Little Pony) but Smurfs somehow became transitory where it was cool for boys and girls to enjoy them, even if girls were the dominant target audience. I didn't care. I thought the art was always magical and I wanted to know what it would be like to actually live in a house with a mushroom cap. I still do. Those live action films? As heard in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, I fart in their general direction.
Like Smurfs, Spiderman and His Amazing Friends was a big deal during the eighties. Both shows could often make you wince and groan from their stupidity, this one especially. Yet, this unlikely alliance of Spiderman, Firestar and Iceman was progressive thinking for the early eighties and with a number of other Marvel hero cameos later in the series, this was more often than not worth watching. Swarm and Video Man, though...oh, my sweet Lord...
I only played D&D for about a year on Fridays with some close friends of mine when it all came to a halt in favor of emptying bourbon bottles with pizza, Farscape, Lexx and drunken commentary thrown at Beastmaster. Dungeons and Dragons, the eighties cartoon, was that sleeper Saturday show many kids bailed on as the last program of the day. It was a slow cooker, but the animation was phenomenal for its time and the action could erupt sometimes. In its own class.
The always bodacious Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I'm still today fascinated how the first show from the eighties became a pop culture sensation, considering Eastman and Laird's original comic books were hardly for kids. Looking at the eighties show today, well, it bites the big one more often than not. The Fox redux during the nineties was spectacular until they marooned the Turtles in space. The current Nickelodeon show is decent, but for nostalgic purposes and nothing else, I still dig the first series a lot. I was working in a comic shop during this one's long run and would read my books with this show on...after eating my cereal, of course. I also dated a girl who had to put on a Raphael costume for a promotion at another job from yesteryear when this show was red-hot. She offered to do improper things to me with the costume on, and I'm hardly a prude, but yick.
Along with The Simpsons and Batman: The Animated Series, Animaniacs was one of the greatest 'toons of the nineties and of all-time, in my opinion. Nobody has the guts or patience to hurl a hundred one-liners in eight minute skits anymore, but Animaniacs did, and they could leave your sides throbbing from the relentless flurry of comedy. The Great Wakkarotti. Need I say more? Also worth mentioning, spinoff Pinky and the Brain was genius on all sorts of levels and indirect spinoff Freakazoid! was the little engine that could, but got stalled by the powers that be.
I'm lumping these together, since there was a Batman and Superman team-up show that merged after the successful run of Batman: The Animated Series and Superman. Individually, both heroes prospered in the nineties with fantastic, hard-hitting shows. Batman: The Animated Series first started out on Sunday nights, then flocked to Saturdays and weekday afternoons. I still have yet to see a superhero series that merges noir with traditional heroing like Batman: The Animated Series. Superman's show was almost as brilliant, never short on energy. Together, they outclassed even X-Men, which did for well itself during the nineties in the regular show and X-Men: Evolution. Let's not forget Batman Beyond, which surpassed all expectations by putting an elderly Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon in the future to keep a rein over the young new Batdude, who wasn't too shabby in his far-flung cyber adventures.
One of the first CGI animated shows to crop up, Reboot was exceptional with its fantastic imagery and it was shrewder than even Tron at bringing the computer world to life by using allegory and characterizations of central processing lingo. I'm old school and prefer traditional animation, but Reboot captivated me along with Beast Wars, Action Man, Max Steel and Cybersix.
The Transformers franchise can thank the electrifying Beast Wars and Beast Machines for holding the fort until the recent return to the classic robots in disguise format. Both series were also testing grounds for the Transformers movie series in terms of seeing how far CGI could be fluidly morphed and pushed. Frankly, I've come to prefer the "Beast" shows, outmoded as they already appear in light of technological advances. There was always a striving for purity between conflicting machina and the organic worlds they battled over. These two series were hitting the green campaign trail long before Gore.
Listenin' to: It's Casual - Stop Listening to Bad Music