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I've been a house painter, dishwasher, broiler cook, private detective, military intelligence analyst, and I spent nearly 40 years as a reporter covering crime, 26 of them for the San Francisco Chronicle. These days I write science fiction, fantasy, horror and crime fiction, and I blog about books, films and crimes that don't receive sufficient attention from the mainstream media. I would like to be Elmore Leonard, Raymond Chandler, Ross MacDonald, Dashiell Hammett or George V. Higgins, but all of them are dead so I'll just stick with what I am already doing. . .

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Dale Berry's "Moonlight Cutter" Is As Edgy as a Zhanmadao

  • Tales of the Moonlight 
  • By Dale Berry, et. al.
  • Volumes 1-4 plus a special edition based largely on Berry's original stories and art
  • (Myriad Publications; copyright 2002, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2012)
    • ISBN-10: 0977322203 
    • ISBN-13: 978-0977322206

Having now read the entire series, Tales of the Moonlight Cutter, volumes 1-5, let me make this clear: if you like graphic novels and want a satisfying read that features solid adventure yarns as well as excellent art, this entire series is for you.

"Tales of the Moonlight Cutter" features intriguing plots, lots of Song Dynasty atmosphere and great martial arts graphics. As a kid I cut my teeth on the grisly morality tales in the old EC comix published by Bill Gaines, Al Feldman and Harvey Kurtz; "Cutter" is very much in the same jugular vein: well-written and -drawn stories that feature ghosts, demons, double-dealing mortals and a sword-slinging gumshoe who tracks down evil spirits and sends them to hell with a magic sword.

A life-long Asian film buff, Berry's articles and reviews have appeared in The Hong Kong Movie Database and in Oriental Cinema magazine. His interest in martial arts comes naturally, considering that he studied European swordwork over 26 years and once was a fencing instructor at California State University Bakersfield.

He began as a cartoonist in 1986, publishing Ninja Funnies after stints as a carnival barker, film inspector, stage technician and scenic designer.
From 1988 to 1989, he worked with Daerick Gross Studios, creating the Moonlight Cutter series for Tales of the Kung Fu Warriors magazine. 

Berry's spare, Asian-inspired artwork is reminiscent of the chiaroscuro graphics of Aubrey Beardsley, the Edwardian English artist who illustrated Oscar Wilde's manuscript of Salome and worked extensively in a style related to the Japanese shunga style of erotic art.

Volume One has Shen intervening with a demon -- one that has invaded the soul of an exorcist who was trying to banish it. 

Volume Two involves Shen's struggle to overcome the Dragon's Blood Spear, a piece of cutlery that is controlled by dark forces.

Volume Three pits the Moonlight Cutter against a demon that threatens the Emperor of China's own son.

Volume Four sees Shen take on the doyen of a bandit clan who intends to unleash an unstoppable vampire demon that will suck the life from every living being on earth.

And Volume Five contains several stories, including one in which the Moonlight Cutter, weary of his constant encounters with the ghost world, has become a dissolute drunkard. Will an encounter with a tender-hearted prostitute return him to his former rectitude?

I picked up the last two Cutters at Left Coast Crime this month (March 2015) and was fortunate enough to join author Berry on one of the conference panels. Besides being a terrific story-teller and excellent artist, Dale is a hell of a nice guy to engage in conversation.

If you like Chinese kung fu action films, you are going to love what Dale has done with the Wuxia genre and his character, Shen Hua Yen, who comes across as a cross between the Song Dynasty martial arts hero, Qiao Feng, and Lankester Merrin, the exorcist of William Peter Blatty's book.

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