Michael Tierney on the Evolution of the Publishing Process {Part 4}

[P. Alexander: We’re a little over half-way through our crowdfunding period for Sky Dance of Winter Fire! This could very well be one of Cirsova Publishing’s rarest titles after Relics of the Kangsta, as there is a high likelihood that it will not be kept in Print on Demand. If you miss out on this now, you might miss out on it forever!]

It’s been a long-accepted fact that 90% of everything made is junk, and that is still true here. No matter how much text, nor how many of my photos I loaded in, with this type of generator you still have to wade through that 90% of the results until you can tease out something usable that can then be further refined into a finished work. Faces and human anatomy still remain wonky at best.

A lawsuit was filed recently against this process, claiming that these programs swipe existing artwork. Personally, I use it to create my own concepts using elements of light-dark shading and tone—an effect called Chiaroscuro. This is a process that I doubt the descendants of Rembrandt can claim control over.

Pulling sections from several A.I. images and using all the different skills I’ve developed over the decades, I created an original image. The art plate, Cthulhu man, is a good example of this. I pulled elements from several different versions generated from my instructions, and created a composite that I then airbrushed into the unique image in my mind. Any elements that I didn’t change, I used filters to give them shape and tone.

Live on Kickstarter: Sky Dance of Winter Fire, by Michael Tierney

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For Michael Tierney, it was nothing more than moving a stack of firewood; for Wallflower, one of the insects living in the pile, it was the beginning of the adventure of lifetime.

A few years back, author and artist Michael Tierney was out during a bout of surprisingly good winter weather, restocking his firewood. Huge waves of winter fireflies rose into the sky in an explosion of light.

This fantastical spectacle stuck with Michael, and sent him on flights of fancy. He envisioned the miraculous flight within context of an epic adventure and struggle. He wondered how those bugs that had been in the woodpile might have envisioned him: a giant; a monster; an out-of-this-world alien being? 

Michael initially put the story of the sky dance to paper, but that was not quite enough. He also wanted to capture the essence of those moments in art and imagery. Sky Dance of Winter Fire was born as a digital mixed-media storybook that Michael Tierney and Cirsova Publishing would like to bring to you now…

About the Author

Michael Tierney is an author, photographer, pulp historian, comic artist, comic shop owner, and digital art restoration specialist. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. 

Michael has been writing and illustrating for decades. One of his earliest publications was the Multiversal Scribe, a zine that showcased his short fiction with his original illustrations. He has gone on to publish multiple art folios, independent comics, novels, and art histories. 

He is most well known for his Wild Stars series, an epic space opera published across multiple mediums, and his massive Art Chronologies of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert E. Howard.

Michael honed his expertise in digitally restoring old and damaged pulp artwork for his Art Chronologies, a skill which he also lent to the Cirsova Classics projects, where he digitally restored the original cover artwork for Julian Hawthorne’s The Cosmic Courtship, A Goth From Boston, and Sara Was Judith. 

He also writes the Beyond the Farthest Star weekly web strip for Edgar Rice Burroughs, Inc. and digitally colored the first volume. 

He also completed a previously lost original Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan fragment which was published in Cirsova Magazine in 2019 as “Young Tarzan and the Mysterious She.”

About the Artwork

In late 2022, when AI artwork was really coming into its own, a common refrain was “I’ll just use AI art to help with compositions and then have a real artist draw the real thing for me.” What Michael Tierney wanted to see was what could be done with AI art in the hands of an experienced digital artist using it as a sampling palette, taking textures, tones, and figures and applying them to digital pasteboards to create wholly original compositions.

The imagery in Sky Dance of Winter Fire was created using a mix of original photography, photoshop, and MidJourney.  

In some cases, AI-generated images were used simply to extract textures and gradients which could then be applied to photographs. 

In other cases, various figures might be modified and extracted and used as collage components in a larger composition. Each final image is a composite of several different images from which various elements have been drawn. 

Below is an example of an finished composition created having drawn on and extracted elements from several different prompt-generated images.

Describing the approach to creating Sky Dance of Winter Fire in Michael’s own words, “it’s about 40% photographic and 20% A.I., over all of which comes the other 40% of me using my photoshop skills developed from airbrushing the shades and tones on 300-plus pages of my Wild Stars comics, colorizing 100 episodes of Beyond the Farthest Star, and processing and restoring 12,000-plus images that illustrated the works of ERB and REH. Having always been an artist, I’ve continued to study my craft and refine my skills with all the tools available, and now I finally have the time to put them to full use.”


$20 – Sky Dance of Winter Fire Saddle Stitched Storybook – 

Receive a saddle stitched copy of Sky Dance of Winter Fire.

$25 – Sky Dance of Winter Fire Squarebound Storybook

Receive a squarebound copy of Sky Dance of Winter Fire. 

$40 – Both Formats

Receive both the saddle stitched and square bound versions of Sky Dance of Winter Fire.

$60 Retailer Bundle (Saddle Stitched) – 5x Copies

$75 Retailer Bundle (Square Bound) – 5x Copies

Add Ons

$10 – Make Your Copy a Signed Copy 

Michael Tierney will sign your copy/copies of Sky Dance of Winter Fire.

$20 – Wild Stars Erlik and First Marker One-Shots

Add on Erlik and First Marker, the original Wild Stars one-shot comics that, along with the 2001 Wild Stars comic series, formed Wild Stars I: The Book of Circles.

$20 – Wild Stars 2001 Comic Bundle + Force Majeure

Add on a bundle of the original Wild Stars Comics which, along with the Erlik and First Marker one-shots, formed Wild Stars I: The Book of Circles. This bundle will also include the Force Majeure: Prairie Bay one-shot comic.

Risks and challenges

This is the first time Cirsova Publishing has done a full-color picture book project. We’re working with a new printer that we have never worked with before, so this is uncharted territory for us. While we’ve had a long track record of being able to deliver high quality products quickly, the timelines for this new printer are an unknown quantity, so we are trying to offer as much lead-time as possible. We also understand that this project is outside of the usual scope of our offerings. We hope that our loyal readers and fans will give this book a chance and will enjoy it!

Shuriken, New and Old

I’d shared a photo awhile back, but I’d been meaning for some time to get a decent scan of this portrait of Shuriken that Timothy Lim [Kamen America, Black Hops] did for me at a con earlier this year. With Reggie Byers finally dropping the book this week, it seemed like a good time.

I love the look of youthful trepidation that Tim captures in this piece, evoking the earliest days of Kyoko’s career.

Shuriken may have been one of the first major martial arts girl books of the Black & White boom, but it’s this very strange thing in the history of indie comics. It’s art and writing aren’t really on par with what came later, and it was hurt more than other Amerimanga by real manga becoming more widely available. But even with all of its flaws [it’s very cheesy, the art is often serviceable at best], I love it. Why?

Because it’s so filled with the creator’s love, and that love shines through in every one of Shuriken’s smiles.

Reggie Byers’ Shuriken is a wonderful example of how passion and love can overcome a creator’s limitations and drive success.

Despite being “okay at best” by most technical measures, the book was hugely popular when it was originally coming out.

One of the reasons that the licensed sequel series which Byers himself was uninvolved in feel lacking is that the passion for the project and the love and joy for the characters are almost wholly absent. Cold Steel turned the character in a far more generic 80s action ninja girl with an almost totally different characterization.

Hellbender was a step in the right direction with better artwork that would carry onward into the second full-length series without Byers.

While the second series was probably the best of the bunch by most objective standards and at least felt some connection to the original, it was still missing that spark.

Whether Reggie is able to recapture the “glory days” of Shuriken remains to be seen. While the book itself is promising and some of the charm and aesthetic is there, it’s a little late and it’s aiming to be the first of a series rather than a one-off.

But whether the new Shuriken succeeds or fails, classic Shuriken is a reminder that enough passion and effort can lead to the breakthrough success of an indie creator. Even if you’re doing goofy stuff like this.

At the same time, I would like to add that I don’t want it to sound like I’m coming down too hard on Reggie and his talents when I describe it. A few years ago, I tried to check out Billy Tucci’s Shi, when he was doing his IGGs for the new books. While the art was great and the writing was fine, there was just nothing about it that really clicked with me.

I’ll take this:

There’s a reason why I shelled out over $200 for Reggie’s Kickstarter across two different accounts. I’ve gotten a lot of joy out of this IP since I discovered it a few years ago, but since I’ve acquired it all second hand [including that beautiful portrait that I got for $20 that was just listed on the memorabilia site as “anime girl”], Reggie hasn’t seen a dime. So I’m happy to be able to have the opportunity to reward him for coming back to his signature IP.

I’m also hopeful that Reggie’ll be able to keep on track and continue to deliver. In the meantime, I’ll be happy to continue to support him.

Cirsova 2023 Calendars Are Here!

For the first time ever, we’re offering Cirsova wall calendars, featuring some of our best covers!

Misha Burnett has been bugging us for years to put together a calendar, so we took the time to reformat a dozen of our merch-formatted cover images to work for Lulu’s POD calendars.

Not only does this have standard holidays, it also marks our magazine’s release dates and submissions window so you’ll know when you can submit to us!

Some Brief Thoughts on AI Art

I recently started playing with Stable Diffusion, just to see what all of the fuss was about. I mean, I KNOW, what the fuss is about, but I wanted to see how easy it was to create something with it and see how viable it was for any sort of mock-ups.

Here’s a first attempt with a Maciste-related prompt.

Here are some choice results from a raygun adventure-related prompt.

As you could see, those results were terrible. So, I wanted to see if, at bare minimum, I could get it to generate a touhou.

One thing I realized was that I had to set inference steps waaaay above the default. I got substantially better results at 70-90 range + adding in an artist to “train” it.

Vermeer with 70 steps. Still pretty oof.

Renoir with 70 steps.

Renoir with 90 steps.

So, here’s my thoughts on Stable Diffusion. It reminds me a lot of the junior officer in Critical Point: she’s the only one on the station who can get the food printers to put out more than just unappealing space mush because she knows all of the various input configurations, levels and settings [ironically, she’s actually a terrible cook]. It may not be “art” but there’s certainly an artistry to it.

I understand why many artists find the rise in AI art worrisome, and the latest scandal involving DeviantArt default opting in its users’ works to train AI raise some serious red flags in ethics and handling of this new technology.

However, I’m seeing firsthand the weaknesses of the tool for commercial purposes. Yes, it’s proven its worth as a cute girl generator [despite my own failures to output anything particularly worthwhile], but its results are unpredictable and can’t deliver consistency necessary for the kind of work we need. It was a fun experiment, and it’s a neat toy. But we never had any intention of using any art but that created by professional artists.

If you ARE serious about trying out Stable Diffusion to create artwork for concept pieces, Rawle Nyanzi has put together some pretty good tutorials and shared his experience with it.

Wild Stars V Out in All Formats

Michael Tierney’s Wild Stars V is out now in all formats.

Need to catch up on Wild Stars? Really, at this point, the cheapest and easiest way is with the Wild Stars Omnibus. Use promo code WELCOME15 at checkout for 15% off. This tome contains all 4 previous volumes of Wild Stars in a single coffee table format.

Meerkat Appreciation Post

With the Mongoose and Meerkat Kickstarter about halfway through, we thought it would be fun to have a Kat appreciation post.

These were some concept designs from Dark Filly that you may have seen if you got the version of the hardcover with the bonus content. Her outfit and overall design was pretty close to fully-formed by this point.

In the valley of Terzol, Kat hangs precariously above a river full of crocodiles and flesh-eating fish after an ancient bridge gives way.
This tavern scene is one of my favorites. I love all of the Mongoose and Meerkat art Dark Filly has done for us, but this is the only one that I “bought” from the company [paying Jim his portion of the art sale]
This was a promotional piece Dark Filly did for the first Kickstarter. I really like this one, too.
In one of the recent adventures, Too Many Mangos, a doppelganger of Mangos tries to trick the duo, and, well, it ends about like you would expect it to.
This was a special cover we ran featuring 3 of the heroines of our serials. Though Mangos appeared on the cover of the Spring 2020 issues, this piece by Raven Monroe was the first time Kat graced the cover of Cirsova Magazine.
This was an alternative cover for the same issue above by Genzoman
I even tried my hand at a chibi Kat, tho it wasn’t one of my better efforts…

Jim Breyfogle’s Tales of the Mongoose and Meerkat Volume 2: The Heat of the Chase will be out later this year! Get your pre-order in today!

Quick Con After Action Report

Hey, back The Strange Recollections of Martha Klemm if you haven’t already! We’ve hit the mid-point doldrums and need things to pick up ASAP if we’re going to raise the amount we need to do another Cirsova Classics project!

Had a great time at Arkansas Comic Con. Our best con performance to date. We actually made our table back, which is a first for us!

Of course, I blew a lot of the money on souvenirs…

Got a sketch cover from our buddy Tim Lim.


The guy who does the Street Fighter battle academy doujin series was there; I’d been waiting for over a year to see him again, and I bought the next 10 issues. The interior art… is not great, but it’s serviceable for the story he’s telling, and the story he’s telling is legitimately fun and every page I can’t wait to see what happens next!


I also found a handful of Doctor Spektor and Jungle Twins books, including the issue with them choking out and punching a gorilla!


We even got to meet Misha Burnett in person for the first time!

Okay, so what’s on tab?

Cirsova’s Things To Do List is nuts right now:

  • First off, finish making payment to the accepted offers. I’m doing this tonight, possibly tomorrow as well. Checks will be going in the mail for people who requested checks. Please cash them as soon as possible, since terms are enforced on acceptance of payment. There are a few offers in limbo still, and at least one withdrawn story due to an eligibility issue–so, things are not set in stone, and I may “call back” a story or two that we sent rejections for when we know exactly how much space we will have.
  • The Paths of Cormanor arrived right on the eve of con setup. I haven’t had a chance to get to those yet. That’s the first thing I need to work on as soon as payments for 2022 are out.
  • Pulp Trading Cards are on the table as a stretch goal item for Strange Recollections of Martha Klemm. I need to get those laid out ASAP. Also, to fulfill one of the stretch goals for The Cosmic Courtship, Michael Tierney has his scans hosted at his website.
  • I’m sure there’s more I need to do and it is on my list, but I don’t know that it will get done this week. I DO want to get my United Caveman Federation tell-all posts done at some point, by OMG, I’m soooo busy! Help, I’m drowning!

About the Fires Rekindled Cover

One thing that’s raised a bit of eyebrows is the distinct cover of the third volume in our forthcoming collection of Julian Hawthorne’s All-Story Weekly fiction.

Since there were no original pieces of pulp art to use associated with either Doris Dances or Fires Rekindled, Michael Tierney suggested that we have an original piece done by Dark Filly, who has become Cirsova Magazine’s regular interior illustrator since the glowing reception of her work on Mongoose and Meerkat.

But why is there a blond woman in Ancient Egypt being attacked by a necromancer? This has popped a couple monocles and gotten a few head shakes.

There is, however, a good reason for it, and DarkFilly nails the scene and Michael’s colors [specifically the blonde in Ancient Egypt] are accurate. 

Fires Rekindled contains a “pulp within a pulp”; while on the trail to find the identity of the individuals he feels a past-life connection with, the hero finds a Georgian/Regency magazine that loosely fictionalizes the affair and possible murder, setting it in Ancient Egypt.

As to why the princess is blond, the mise en abyme story is explicitly a ham-fisted and hackneyed thinly-veiled allegorical account of the blond visiting opera singer who died in Georgian England.

We decided that the climactic scene of the mise en abyme Egyptian tragedy would make a better cover than a guy poking around archives trying to solve the 100 year-old mystery [and a more exciting cover than an eccentric millionaire playing the banjo].

As for the more “cartoony” aesthetic, how does one convey a scene of a cartoon within a cartoon medium? We were challenged with conveying a pulp adventure [one which the text itself describes as pretty shlocky] within a pulp adventure. Of course, actual Georgian/Regency-era magazine covers were likely not particularly thrilling on the whole; the magazine the protagonist finds most likely looked [and was meant to evoke] something like Blackwood’s Magazine: