The Curator of Schlock #302: Silent Night, Deadly Night 3

The Curator of Schlock #302 by Jeff Shuster

Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out!

Is that supposed to be funny? The main character is blind!

Is gooseberry pie any good? I have never tried it. In fact, I’ve never seen it sold anywhere. Not even on a restaurant menu. I’m beginning to think that gooseberry pie (and the gooseberry in general) does not exist. It’s what country folk eat in Hollywood movies. Some cigar-chomping producer probably insisted that the gooseberry pie be inserted into movies every now and again in an effort to mislead the public for nefarious purposes. Gooseberry pie is mentioned in tonight’s movie, but it does not, in fact, make an appearance. 

1989’s Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! from director Monte Hellman is the follow-up to Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, which was the follow-up to Silent Night, Deadly Night. The movie begins with a young woman named Laura Anderson (Samantha Scully) being chased down hospital corridors by Ricky Caldwell (Bill Moseley, later of Devil’s Rejects fame). Ricky Caldwell now has a glass scalp with some electronics plugged into it. Through that glass scalp you can see his brain and a pool of blood. Here’s your monster, folks. Someone behind the scenes thought this was a good idea. 

Laura wakes up screaming and we find that she’s actually psychic and that a Dr. Newbury (Richard Beymer) was using her to probe a vegetative Ricky’s mind. It seems that all those bullets did a number on Ricky at the end of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2, leaving him at the hands of intense reconstructive surgery at the hands of Dr. Newbury. The good doctor even managed to put Ricky’s brain back together and Laura’s psychic probing is proof that something of Ricky still exists in that living catatonic husk.     

Laura may be a super psychic, but she’s also blind. She asks the receptionist at the hospital if she could keep an eye out for brother who’s picking her up. The receptionist is very rude to her. Laura falls asleep and has a dream where the receptionist’s throat is slit. You see, Laura can see in her dreams and in her visions. Laura’s brother, Chris (Eric Da Re), and his girlfriend, Jerri (Laura Harring), pick her up as she wakes up screaming from her violent vision. Jerri is beautiful. Chris is hairy. Seriously, I thought the guy was wearing a shag carpet under his shirt, but that’s neither her nor there. The three of them are off to visit Grandma’s house many miles away. 

Meanwhile, a drunken Santa Claus roams the hospital halls. He visits Ricky’s room, makes fun of Ricky, calls him a vegetable and what not. Naturally, Ricky wakes up and slaughters him. Then he kills the receptionist just like in Laura’s vision. Then Rocky steals a car and decapitates a gas station attendant. And since Ricky has a psychic link with Laura, he knows where she’s going. Ricky decides to get to Grandma’s before Laura. 

Grandma is busy getting Christmas Eve dinner ready for everyone. There’s a glistening roast turkey in the oven that she bastes in its own juices. I’m sure chestnuts are roasting on the open fire. Oh, and Grandma has apparently made Laura’s favorite: gooseberry pie. (Liar.)

A knock at the door reveals not Laura and brother, but Ricky Caldwell. Grandma welcomes him with open arms, even feeds him. It is Christmas after all. Plus, she didn’t see Ricky’s exposed brain because he cleverly covered it with a cap. 

At this point, I’m almost thinking the movie will turn into Hallmark Christmas movie. The love and good cheer of grandma will reform Ricky’s psychotic heart. But then Grandma gives him a wrapped present. Ricky gets triggered and turns into the mass murdering Santa Claus once again. Grandma isn’t long for this world. Those of you expecting a scene of Chris opening up the oven to grab some turkey only to find Grandma’s seared corpse will be sorely disappointed. You were hoping to see Grandma’s seared corpse?

What is wrong with you?

Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #48: Live from Miami Part 2—David Heatley

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #48 by Drew Barth

Live from Miami Part 2—David Heatley

David Heatley’s Qualification is easily one of the strongest graphic memoirs to come out in recent memory. This autobiographical story spanning Heatley’s life takes us deep into the world of 12-step programs, addiction, and the people who qualify at every meeting. 

Recently at Miami Book Fair, I had a chance to sit down with David Heatley to discuss Qualification, the world that created it, and the nature of graphic memoirs. 

Drew Barth: Nice to meet you. Congratulations on Qualification from Pantheon, a graphic memoir in twelve steps. 

David Heatley: Thank you, it’s good to be here. 

DB: First off, this book is so resonant and devastating in equal measure, at times difficult to read because it is a memoir dealing with fairly heavy subject matter. So what was the impetus of structuring it in that twelve step way? You did have experience with those groups, so why were you going for that specific feel?

DH: I grew up in a twelve-step family and so it was part of my culture, for lack of a better word, growing up and it was always sort of pushed on me in a way and I really rebelled and hated it. But in my thirties I found myself kind of gravitating towards it—as you do later in life you sometimes come around to your parents way of thinking. And so this book chronicles six years of me going through six different programs and kind of losing myself in it. The way I describe it is kind of getting addicted to recovery. And so I’m just trying to tell the story of that and it seemed natural for it to have twelve chapters—it’s not like one chapter corresponds to each step, as you know—but just to have the structure kind of rhyme with the subject matter. And pretty much once I left the program, I immediately thought “I need to do a book about this.” While in the program I never would have thought this was material I could use, but suddenly once I was out of it and no longer following its dictates then it seemed like fair game and it was something I really experienced and even survived. I wanted to tell the world about it. 

DB: The weight of the material here—it is heavier subject matter for a great deal of this book—it’s hard to have imagined surviving most of that considering that addiction to recovery like you had said. And this goes into a lot of memoir work, but how did you come to the decisions of “here’s what I want to put in because I feel that this can be put out there” and what sort of stuff felt like “this needs to stay private, this is something that can’t go out there?” How do you come to those kinds of decisions? 

DH: With this book, I knew I wanted to work with an editor and I hadn’t before. A lot of cartoonists don’t, they just kind of edit themselves.

DB: It’s kind of a solo act a lot of the time. 

DH: Yeah, and that’s always what I had sort of revered was these people who could do it themselves. But for this one I just knew I needed some perspective on it that I didn’t have. And so I was assigned Anna Kaufman and Tim O’Connell at Pantheon and they were like my team. This was almost a collaboration with them, they were so wonderful and such good sounding boards. I was even sending drafts of this when it was just typed up prose before I had drawn anything to Tim and he was really helping me see like the tone was really angry or accusatory or like humorless and he was like “let’s lighten this up” or “let’s style this back” so that was really helpful. My wife too, my wife Rebecca certainly weighed in and helped shape how she appears in the book. And I do have my own artistic instinct which is like: I usually start with the things that have stayed with me so much that I don’t even have to look up any reference for that time, it’s just still eating away at me. We usually start with a certain character or a setting or an anecdote that has the emotional resonance to me and then I kind of work it through and write it until I feel it’s come to a place of forgiveness or starting with someone I hate, finding a way to love them by the end of it. It’s this intuitive process of trying to work out for myself what I want to say about this thing. I don’t always know going into it what that’s going to be. 

DB: Yeah, because it’s kind of hard to work with that in a memoir setting that’s like “can you trust your memory?” kind of thing as well. And that even goes into what I was thinking as well in terms of the art style. It is very stark, black and white, and a big departure from My Brain is Hanging Upside Downwhere that had all these colors and its own individual structure like short story pieces, and this being this much longer narrative. And with that starkness, how did you come to that decision to do that pure black and white and let it show itself?

DH: I’m really glad you picked up on that and I think that’s the right interpretation of it. When I was going to these meetings, like Alcoholics Anonymous for instance, first off, the word “qualification” in these programs is when a member tells their story in front of a group of people. So they’re qualifying their membership by telling their story and saying what their addiction was like, what had happened to them, and what are things like now that they go to the program. And so I was following that same structure for telling this story. I’m going to qualify about my time in the program. And the thing that always impressed me about these AA qualifications was just how stark, stripped down, and almost artless they were. And they went right from the person telling it right into my heart and I just had no defense against it, it was just so sincere and overpowering and moving. And I kind of was following that too—I didn’t want anything getting in the way of just this clear, clear direct message of what this story is, to pretty it up, or make it super colorful, or dial up certain parts over others just felt really false. 

DB: I think it reminds me of what Scott McCloud talks about too with the simplicity of it makes the message stick so much harder, where a beautiful painting makes you miss what the word bubble says. And for something like this, a lot of the words and images stick with me weeks and weeks later after I finished reading it, especially those moments with your father, I’m still thinking of them now. It’s horrifying, but it’s so resonant in that way and I think that’s why the black and white works so well. 

DH: I sometimes told people I felt like I had kind of opened a vein and was inking this thing in my own blood, like that’s how intense it was. 

DB: And you definitely can feel the blood splatter here. And speaking of just how you’re presenting some of the characters, especially for some of these dependency groups you had gone to, how were you able to find that balance between presenting them in an almost journalistic sort of way where it’s not backsliding into parody of “look at how absurd these people are” but “look at these people who are human, who have these issues” but these program don’t always draw out the best things. So how were you able to convey that without going into making fun of them?

DH: With some characters that I remembered well, it was easier than with others. I had nothing but love for them even after leaving the program, some people I had resented and some people I did find ridiculous in the moment. Tim as my editor was a good gauge on that and he even shared it with someone internally at Pantheon who was a current member of AA and that was a good gauge of “are you being sympathetic?” and I was trying to be. I definitely didn’t want to like hurl a bomb at the twelve step world. And it’s been heartening because several people in AA have approached me and said “I know you’ve made a different conclusion, but I do think of you as a fellow traveler and I think you’ve nailed a lot of this world.” And I mean we’re all kind of ridiculous figures, so like as long as I’m not elevating myself at someone else’s expense—in some ways I think I’m the most ridiculous character in that book, I’m in this quixotic mission to heal myself forever and I just keep stumbling and messing up. And so that’s really where my focus was and these incidental characters just sort of add color along the way.

DB: Speaking of the art style as well, I have seen a really interesting balance between using a lot of interesting visual metaphors, especially with the halo post-meeting and that slowly diminishing or that image too of you as the volcano. And how were you able to balance that as well—the visual metaphor and reality of everything? Figuring out “here’s where I want to make it more grounded, but here’s where I want to show off the actual feelings that I can’t convey in words themselves.”

DH: That’s tricky to articulate. In some ways, the art was secondary to this book. I mean I spent four years writing a manuscript to this before even drawing it all and when I did do the first pass of thumbnails, I did it very quickly, I just kind of said “okay, this panel goes here.” And a lot of what I ended up doing with the final art was very close to those thumbnails. So I think the fact that I wasn’t thinking too much did let those metaphors come quickly and have them be based more on the feeling than trying to be clever and show off any drawing style. It’s a funny thing, though, there’s a trade-off because there’s almost this disappointment once a book goes from just being in your head to being on the page because you’re like “well, that didn’t really capture how I felt.” You have to kind of say “well, okay, that was a very crude approximation and maybe someone else can fill in their own head what that might have felt like.” You kind of just have to accept that this is the drawn cartoon version of that feeling, which is never going to be in 3D Technicolor, it’s happening in this imaginary space in your head. I was sort of at peace with that. I was like “okay, now this is on the page, it just has its own life and its own version on the page and let’s just move on to the next one now.”

DB: With what you said earlier about how this started out as prose before it even became the final product of the actual graphic novel, is that much more different from how you would approach other works as well? 

DH: It’s much different. I’ve done a lot of dream comics and I would say that was a similar approach, like I would have these journal entries that I would then type up and treat as a script to be broken down into panels, so that was a similar process. But that was a series of small stories that I wrote and drew simultaneously. And it’s funny because when I started this book I was going through a period of not wanting to draw at all. I hadn’t drawn in year, I literally just stopped drawing and I even thought “maybe I’ll just write a text only book.” So when I was first typing it up, I wasn’t even thinking of pictures and it wasn’t until a couple years in I was like “this actually does need to be a graphic memoir.”

DB: I think one of the main things that really sticks out in this book is that road to personal clarity, like you have that revelation at the end and I really liked how at the end you also had that denouement sort of thing of “here’s what’s been happening since I finished writing the original script.” Was that something you had actually come up with by the time you had finished, because you said it took four years, so there’s that massive amount of time where you were in that post-recovery phase. And so was that something where you were consciously like “no, I should have this end on this better note than maybe something that may have been more sour?”

DH: Certainly some things happened after I started writing it that then got included. I’d say that both episodes with my parents, really kind of forgiving them, happened way after I started drawing this and I didn’t think that was even going to be in the book. And the section with my mom, really, the conversation where I felt the most forgiveness I’ve ever had with her came after talking to her about this book. So it was close to being done and I told her everything in it. I said “actually, I don’t really want you to read this, you can if you want, I don’t really want to talk it once it’s published. But just so you know, this is what’s in it.” And she really heard me and she really listened and it was a great discussion for both of us and I just knew I had to add two pages to the end of this book just to include that because that’s where it needs to end, with my mom. 

DB: The beginning and ending kind of have that full circle and working with your parents adds that, not necessarily “good ending” but it gives it that feeling of completeness, which is one of the reasons this book is still so resonant. 

DH: It did feel important to tie things up, at least a little bit. Because I’m in a very different place than when I was in that world. I think it’s important to offer readers hope, I do. I think it’s a fairly adolescent thing to just kick and scream and tell people how bad everything is and at a certain point when you grow up it’s like, well, I’m actually building the world, especially if you have kids, I’m building the world around them. So I want to positively contribute and it was important for me to have this book have some hope in it. 

DB: Thank you so much, David Heatley. 

DH: Thank you, it was a pleasure. 

This interview has been edited for clarity.  


Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Episode 396: A Very Scandinavian Christmas!

Episode 396 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

In this week’s episode, I talk with Vanessa Blakeslee about the new story anthology, A Very Scandinavian Christmas, from New Vessel Press.

A Very Scandinavian Christmas, now out with New Vessel Press.

In our discussion, we manage to talk about yuletide fellowship, hallucinogens, the possibility of St. Patrick’s Day cookies, and other perennial holiday topics.


This is not a paid advertisement. I just love New Vessel Press’s books.


This episode is sponsored by the excellent people at Scribophile.


TDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.

Check out Vanessa and I talking about A Very Italian Christmas last year, or she and I talking about A Very French Christmas back in 2017.

The Curator of Schlock #301: Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2

The Curator of Schlock #301 by Jeff Shuster

Silent Night, Deadly Nigh Part 2

It’s not the most wonderful time of the year!

When you’re written three hundred blogs about movies, you tend to forget what you’ve covered. For instance, you would think in the six years I’ve been doing this that I would have curated 1984’s Silent Night, Deadly Night from director Charles E. Sellier Jr. at some point. But it looks like I never did. And it’s not streaming on any services, but the sequel is, so we’re moving on ahead. Deal with it. 

1987’s Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 from director Lee Harry is half the movie that Silent Night, Deadly Night is. I mean it’s literally half of Silent Night, Deadly Night cobbled together with scenes from two other movies. That’s what it feels like, a Frankenstein monster of a movie. And I had to sit through it for your reading pleasure, so let’s get this over with. 

Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2 begins in a mental hospital with a deranged young man named Ricky Caldwell (Robert Brian Wilson) being interviewed by Dr. Harry Bloom, a psychiatrist. Seems that Ricky Caldwell is the younger brother of Billy Chapman, the maniac Santa Claus who got shot to death at the end of the first movie. Didn’t see it? That’s okay since Ricky gives us the highlights of the first movie with flashback scenes that seem to take up half of Silent Night, Deadly Night Part 2’s running time. Granted, I can’t get enough of the scene of Billy decapitating an eager sledder on Christmas Eve. 

We learn that even though Ricky was an infant at the time, he witnessed the murder of his parents by a gun toting Santa Claus just like his older brother did.

Ricky was raised in the same orphanage as his brother, raised by the same overzealous Mother Superior as his brother. Eventually, a nice Jewish couple adopts Ricky. The hope is their lack of Yuletide cheer won’t trigger Ricky and transform him into a psychotic Santa Claus.

Doesn’t work.

As a teenager, Ricky repeatedly runs over a drunken redneck that was getting too fresh with a date. The woman thanks Ricky and saunters off. It’s odd that a different actor plays the teenage Ricky considering adult Ricky is eighteen-years-old! It’s like they started making a sequel to Silent Night, Deadly Night, abandoned the production, and shoved the footage in the new sequel. 

Now we get flashbacks of adult Ricky murdering a bookie with an umbrella outside of the restaurant he works at. He falls in love with a girl, but gets triggered into murdering more people when she suggests they go to the movies and watch a film about a killer Santa Claus. Ricky kills people in the theater, kills his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, kills his girlfriend, and starts shooting random people in a suburban neighborhood before getting arrested. 

ater, Ricky murders Dr. Bloom, busts out of the mental hospital, murders a sidewalk Santa, dons the Santa suit, tracks down the abusive Mother Superior, decapitates her, and is shot to death by police just like his older brother. Okay, that was exhausting.

Oh, I just realized. I didn’t review Silent Night, Deadly Night all those years ago. It was Silent Night, Bloody Night, a completely different movie. 

Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #47: Live from Miami, Part 1–Patrick McDonnell

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #47 by Drew Barth

Live from Miami, Part 1–Patrick McDonnell

Every day for as long as I can remember, it has been difficult to go through a newspaper every morning and not see Earl or Mooch looking back from the three-panel joy of Mutts. Beginning twenty-five years ago, Mutts is the daily comic strip from Patrick McDonnell that we have all come to know and love each morning. But comic strips themselves aren’t enough to do McDonnell’s art full justice. From his more experimental works to his picture books to his work with animal shelters across the country, to encompass McDonnell’s expansive work, there needed to be more than comic strips. Enter The Art of Nothing: 25 Years of Mutts and the Art of Patrick McDonnellThe Art of Nothing is a marvelous work of both compilation and celebration—from the beginning phases of a strip of Muttsall the way to some of McDonnell’s latest work with the Jane Goodall institute—everything is here to showcase some of the best illustrative work of the century. 

Recently at Miami Book Fair, I had a chance to sit down and talk with Patrick McDonnell about The Art of Nothing as well as the quiet wonder of Mutts

Drew Barth: First off, congratulations on this: The Art of Nothing: 25 Years of Mutts and the Art of Patrick McDonnell. This is honestly one of the cooler books I’ve ever seen in terms of a retrospective of a newspaper strip comic. I have some Peanutsbooks at home, but I don’t remember them going as in-depth as this one does. 

Patrick McDonnell: Thanks, that was something I was shooting for. I wanted it to be more of an artbook than just a comic strip collection. 

DB: So how did the concept for this first come out because it’s the 25thanniversary of Muttsand it could have just been a greatest hits of strips, but this goes into a full retrospective of everything: the picture books, the work with Jane Goodall, all of that. So how did this concept come about?

PM: This is with Abrams Books and I did a book with them on the art of Muttsin 1982. And Charlie Kochman, the editor at Abrams, approached me and thought maybe we should do a twenty-fifth anniversary edition of that 2004 book. And we were thinking originally that we would just add thirty more pages to that book. And since that book there were so many things that happened with Muttsincluding the picture books that the thirty pages became more and more and so we thought “let’s just make a new book.” The twenty-fifth anniversary became its own art book. 

DB: It became its own art book with a ton of content, especially with some of your original sketches and a lot of the work-in-progress pieces.

PM: I really wanted to show the process, you know. I mean, twenty-five years of doing a strip, I really wanted that to be part of the book, so we included a lot of my sketchbooks and even the dummies I did for the picture books. I’m totally mesmerized by artists’ sketches, I always like the immediate, you know, right from the heart to the hand, I love looking at that. I thought it might be fun to include my stuff.

DB: I always love looking at that for any kind of nice artbook. Like where did it begin? We have this wonderful finished piece, but what were the sketches and the bare bones that you’re working with. And the fact that they’re here just shows off that nice beginning to end point in your process. And I was reading through the book and you mentioned that when you were selecting different strips that this was almost like going through a family phot album. Was it difficult to figure out which pieces to include?

PM: Twenty-five years is a lot of strips, that’s a lot of ink under the bridge. You have your favorites and they are like children almost to you. Even though it’s a large book with two hundred something pages, with twenty-five years there’s a lot to choose from, so it really was trying to select. I mean when it came down to me was just intuitively which ones put a smile on my face, or I felt were important to the different themes I used. It was a combination of trying to show all the different characters, but then, like I said, different themes too. The shelter story strips I do, the more spiritual strips, the more arty strips where I enjoyed playing with the medium of comic strips. I included a lot of the strips that talk about comics. 

DB: To me, those were some of the stand out ones. Especially the ones where there’s stark black panels with the little interlays of light or Mooch peaking the head in, that’s still one of my favorites. I think I remember reading that when I was much younger and then years later reading Krazy Kat and thinking “man, I can’t believe Mutts has been going on this long.”

PM: I can’t either. The daily comics strips is a strange artform. I mean, people live with it every day. When I think of Peanutsand strips I grew up with and love, they become a part of your family. It’s like a family conversation first thing in the morning. You meet your old friends and you spend some time with them. 

DB: It’s that comfort level—like a nice, warm hug with the newspaper every morning.

PM: Like family and friends. 

DB: For me every morning it was MuttsPeanuts, and Foxtrot.

PM: I call that the business section of the newspaper, for me. 

DB: You mentioned themes before and we do see those variations on different themes throughout the years and how certain strips have that certain repetition, like the shelter strips or those similar stylistic choices of the vase. There’s also that need to experiment we see with those stark contrast  strips. So what drove you to keep wanting to experiment and break out of the typical Sunday strip of three-panel funnies? 

PM: I’m a big fan of the classic comics, I love Krazy Kat and Peanutsand I compare doing a comic strip a lot to being a jazz saxophone player. I mean you play the same songs every night, which would be the themes, but then you get to solo and every night the solo is different. So with the comic strip I have certain themes—the little pink sock, the shelter stories—it’s a dog and cat strip so I do a lot about the weather, autumn when the leaves change, and then it’s like riffing on those themes in the way a saxophone player would riff on a melody. 

DB: And I love your riffs too with those large Sunday panels where it’s showing off the artists that you love as well. 

PM: Yeah, those are called the title panels. They’re also called the throwaway panels because most newspapers don’t show them because they don’t have space for them. But way back, almost from the very beginning, I though it would be fun to do little homages to different artists and illustrators that I like. It was a dangerous thing to do because they take a lot of time and time is of the essence when you draw a daily comic script. 

DB: I still think my favorite one in the book was the Big Brother and Holding Company Robert Crumb tribute. The structure was amazing especially for the more narrow space than the twelve inch record. 

PM: Crumb was a big inspiration for me. He came out when I was a teenager and I always wanted to be a cartoonist since I was a little kid and then when I was a teenager I though maybe being a cartoonist isn’t that hip. But then Bob Crumb came out and maybe cartooning can be hip.  And the fact that he did that old style that I just love. So he was a big inspiration, so being able to do the Big Brother and Holding Company as a MuttsSunday page was fun to do. 

DB: You mentioned that it’s almost like being a jazz saxophonist where you do the themes, but then you get that chance to solo, so when I see things like the picture books and the collaborative poetry it’s like that need to do those solos. 

PM: Yeah, to expand. I was doing Mutts for about ten years and I loved comics as a kid, but obviously I loved picture books too, I’m a big fan of Denslowand Winnie the Pooh, so I always wanted to do that too and I finally found a little time. I was getting a little faster with Mutts after ten years so I did The Gift of Nothingwhich was my first picture book. And I loved doing the picture books. It’s mainly to solo but in a different space. The comic strip, to a certain extent, is a routine, I mean it’s the same size, always the same medium, three panels most of the time. It becomes kind of standard, but with the picture books, I could do watercolors, oil painting, I could do anything I want, any size, I get thirty-two pages. I really get to flex the art muscle with those things. 

DB: Getting to break out of the mold, especially with those bamboo brush drawings. 

PM: I had gone to a great show at the New York Public Library of Japanese art books and that just inspired me to try to draw with those brushes and that ink. And the books I thought would be a good place to play with that. 

DB: There’s this constant theme of compassion throughout The Art of Nothingthroughout the entire work, with animals and people and how they treat their animals, especially the Guard Dog chained up all the time. And those were some of the most beautiful panels that I had seen. And you mentioned how one of your biggest influences was Charles Schulz and I always think of Peanuts as a very compassionate comic. Do you feel that Mutts was a continuation of that?

PM:Peanuts and Charles Schulz was the reason I became a cartoonist. I got so much joy and comfort from those Peanuts books as a kid that with MuttsI was just trying to give back some of that comfort and joy. Underneath all of that, Peanuts was just this kindness, and the way he drew it there was just so much love in the way he drew. So with Muttsthat was kind of the main goal. And the other thing with Mutts was that, when I started it, I really wanted the dog and cat to stay—even though they talk—I wanted to keep them as animal-like as possible because anyone who has a dog and cat know how much fun they are and how much personality they have. Most animal strips, they’re animals but mostly they’re people in animal costumes, so I really wanted them to stay that way. So my goal was to try to see through the eyes of the animals and when I started seeing how tough it is for so many animals on this planet, compassion and empathy became a big part of the strip. To talk about dogs and cats in shelters waiting for homes, it kept on growing and then I started talking about farm animals and endangered species, so compassion and empathy is a main focus of what I do. 

DB: I think one of the most powerful moments I saw in The Art of Nothingwas that strip of all the animals on the savanna just slowly fading away and there’s an impact there that hits really hard, especially when you couple it with the shelter scripts as well. So what was the main impetus to push you to start integrating that deeper animal compassion?

PM: The more I learned about animals and really trying to see through their eyes, the more empathetic I’ve gotten. And also, the planet’s in a dangerous place. Things are getting tougher. We really can’t avoid that truth anymore, I don’t think. Again, what’s nice about a comic strip, because people do see them as family—those are pretty big, strong issues—but I think with Muttsand comics I think you can kind of slip those in and people have their guard down. And like I said, because they feel like they’re family—and I try to do it entertaining, I don’t want to be too preachy with them—but I think I can reach some people. 

DB: Reading through those shelter strips did make me tear up, it was one of the more heart-wrenching things. But seeing your work and trying to raise that awareness I think is one of the best things in a daily newspaper comic. 

PM: Nothing makes me happier than when I get a letter or an email from someone saying that they were inspired to get a new best friend. And also I’m very optimistic. When I started Muttstwenty-five years ago, shelters back then were seen as scary places, people didn’t really want to go to them and that’s totally changed in twenty-five years. Now people are proud to talk about their shelter pet and there’s been a lot of progress. I’m a vegan and that’s getting so much easier all the time. The world is changing. So hopefully we all end up in the right direction. 

DB: With this book, you have the Mutts website, you have all the different picture books, collaborative work, working with Jane Goodall, where are you seeing Mutts in the future right now?

PM: There’s still the daily strip, which, amazingly even though it’s been twenty-five years, sometimes I feel like I just started and there’s plenty more to do. I’m still going to be doing picture books. There might be, there sounds like there’s a good chance, I’ve been working on a Mutts movie for a long time. I was originally with Fox Animation and then things kind of got on hold for a year because Disney bought Fox, so now Disney has Muttsand it looks like there’s a good chance they’re going to do something with that. So I’ll keep you posted, but I might be busy with a Mutts animation. And also there’s a chance, there’s a wonderful animation company called Cartoon Saloon and they’re going to try to sell Me, Janeas a TV show, the Jane Goodall collaboration I did. Hopefully it’s going to happen soon. They’re the perfect company to work on Jane Goodall. They have the sensibilities down, they really respect Jane and they love nature, so I think it’s really going to show in the cartoon. 

DB: Patrick, thank you so much for your time.

PM: Thank you so much. 

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Episode 395: Karen Best!

Episode 395 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

In this week’s episode, I talk to short story writer Karen Best about magic realism, folklore, fairy tales, the relationships between reader and writer, the psychological darkness of childhood, and other important matters. We name drop H.P. Lovecraft, Henry James, George Eliot, and others.



This episode is sponsored by the excellent people at Scribophile.


TDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.

Check out my literary adventure novel, Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame.

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame Cover

The Curator of Schlock #300: The Cannibals

The Curator of Schlock #300 by Jeff Shuster

The Cannibals

What’s eating you?

I said I wasn’t going to cover anymore cannibal movies for Thanksgiving. I had learned my lesson last year with a little French/Belgium production called Raw. But your humble Curator of Schlock must give his readership what they want. I know you want cannibal movies. And this is blog #300. I have to make it count. Jess Franco’s The Cannibals that also went under the title White Cannibal Queen should do the trick. 

The movie begins with an explorer named Professor Jeremy Taylor (Al Cliver), his wife Elisabeth, and his daughter, Lana, taking a boat ride somewhere in South America. I think the country is named Melabi, but nothing showed up in my Google search. Jeremy tells Elisabeth that it may have been a mistake to take his family with him due to rumors of cannibals attacking other boats going down the same river. Naturally, the cannibals show up right after mentioning this. They spear the boat captain and then proceed to devour poor Elisabeth Taylor on sight. That’s Elisabeth Taylor not Elizabeth Taylor, who to my knowledge did not die by getting devoured alive by cannibals. 

Was there a market for this type of movie back in the day? Did people have a fetish for seeing wild tribesmen in grass skirts ripping and choking down the intestines of screaming victims? These scenes go on forever. I didn’t know where the term “gutmuncher” came from. I do now! Professor Taylor is bound and carried to the Cannibal Village. They chop his arm off and eat it in front of him, but don’t manage to finish him off because their Chief proclaims that he found the “White Goddess” on the riverbank. Wouldn’t you know it?  It’s Professor Taylor’s daughter, Lana!

Professor Taylor slinks off as the tribe worships their new deity. Some explorers find him in the forest, but he’s delirious. Professor Taylor spends the next five years in a mental hospital in New York City. He keeps rambling about seeing his wife eaten alive. Finally, he snaps out of it and visits Barbara Shelton, head of the Shelton Foundation, which funded his original expedition. Professor Taylor hopes he’ll get funding for another expedition to rescue his daughter. Barbara and her elderly, wealthy, blue-blooded boyfriend, Charles Fenton, tell him he’s crazy and ask him to leave their penthouse. 

Professor Taylor travels back to … Melabi, trying to no avail to get a guide to take him back into cannibal country. Guess who shows up? Barbara Shelton and Charles Fenton had a change of heart and have decided to fund an entire expedition to help Professor Taylor find his daughter. Fenton says shooting a few cannibals for sport sounds smashing. I think wealthy Americans traveling to exotic locals where violent natives reside always works out well. Just fire off your boomstick. Show them who’s boss!

Of course, to get to the cannibal tribe, they have to travel through a swamp infested with alligators and rattlesnakes. Barbara sprains her ankle and gets a fever. Charles gets lost while having a heart attack. Cannibal Tribesmen start picking off members of the party with poison arrows. Barbara gets abandoned and is eaten alive in slow motion.

Seriously, I don’t get off on this crap.

The “White Goddess” looks on as her husband, the chief, feasts on entrails of poor Barbara. 

I think Professor Taylor has gotten eight people killed in his quest to retrieve his daughter from the Cannibal Tribe. Maybe he just should have left well enough alone. His daughter seemed fine taking on the role of the “White Goddess.” I don’t think anyone thought this through. Maybe it’s best just to stay out of Cannibal Country.

Anyway, Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Enjoy your leftovers. 

Jeffrey Shuster 1
Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131, and episode 284) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #46: Furthest Star

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #46 by Drew Barth

Furthest Star

In the pantheon of DC heroes, Green Lantern has maintained as one of the most iconic characters for the past eighty years. From the white gloves to the lantern battery to the green rings around their fingers, Green Lanterns are one of the most distinct characters in a typical Justice League line-up. And this area of iconography is where Young Anima, DC’s Gerard Way-run imprint, has flourished over the past few years. Green Lantern in particular is one of the newest characters to get the Young Animal treatment with the recent release of Far Sector by N.J. Jemisin and Jamal Campbell, and this new take is one of the most interesting the character has gone through. 

When thinking of Green Lantern, most readers think of one of the original Earth lanterns: Hal Jordan, Guy Gardner, John Stewart, or Kyle Rayner. And from there, readers know the iconography mentioned above coupled with the idea of the intergalactic space cop Green Lanterns represent. But this is where Jemisin and Campbell disrupt the canon. We are introduced to a new Lantern, Sojourner “Jo” Mullein, on assignment in the off-world metropolis, the City Enduring. The City Enduring is as ideal a city as can be conceived: no murders in the last 500 years, a beautiful cityscape, and the hub of a three-civilization empire. The only caveat is that no one in the city can feel any emotions. And this makes the first murder in 500 years the most shocking thing to ever happen in the city. 

As a first issue, Far Sector excels. The murder is introduced as a police procedural, and the mystery and world-building presented here should be used as a masterclass in story craft if only for establishing our three main alien species in the City Enduring within a couple pages. Couple that with the consistency of Campbell’s art that helps to maintain our immersion within the city and this new branch of the universe, and we have a first issue that brings readers right from the familiarity of past Green Lanterns into the present with Jo and her new ring that is still veiled in mystery.

Creating new characters and stories from the established DC canon is what has been making Young Animal such a refreshing imprint. At times, it feels like the pre-Vertigo work being done in The SandmanDoom Patrol, and Shade, the Changing Manas. Every creator here seems revved up, and Far Sector is absolutely continuing the trend of these refreshing books coming from Young Animal.

Get excited. Explore new stars.

drew barth

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Episode 394: Mixtape #12 (Music to Attack Keys By)

Episode 394 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

In this week’s episode, music!


This episode is sponsored by the excellent people at Scribophile.


TDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.

Check out my literary adventure novel, Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame.

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame Cover

Episode 394 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

Comics are Trying to Break Your Heart #45: Devil’s Night

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #45 by Drew Barth

Devil’s Night

I love, and always will love, short works. Blasts of story and character that know the precise moment to end with the biggest impact possible. Warren Ellis in his newsletter years ago ruminated on the idea of a graphic novella that would fill this purpose: short bursts of story that can be picked up and read by anyone in a single sitting. Some works like CrécyFrankenstein’s Womb, and Aetheric Mechanics had shown this basic idea of graphic novellas at work. Some ten years later, we now have the beginning of another graphic novella idea from Matt Fraction and Elsa Charretier in their new work, November.


November is a story in three parts that focuses on three different women over the course of a single night—the night before Halloween, or Devil’s Night. And this Devil’s Night is on the cusp of massive disaster. All three women are somehow connected to the disaster. One through a shady deal in a greasy diner, another through being a 9-1-1 dispatcher as the city burns, and another through the a serendipitous gun in a puddle. Each strand of story twists and ties together under the machinations of someone known only as Mister Mann.


What makes November so interesting in the scope of new graphic novels out this year is the collaboration between Fraction and Charretier. Fraction’s previous work on HawkeyeSex Criminals, and Casanova establishes November among his pantheon of wonderfully executed crime stories with interesting characters who can’t seem to stop fucking up. When tsuch storytelling is combined with the incredible art of Elsa Charretier—strengthened further by Matt Hollingsworth on colors—the hard noir feeling of November flourishes. And that noir feeling is hard to miss with a story so masterfully paneled and paced. Shadows abound for the dramatic shrouding of corrupt cops, but showing panels slowly crush characters as the city around them begins to violently erupt only bolsters that feeling of tension.


November is only the first part of a three-part graphic novella series. Fraction and Charretier are working toward what Warren Ellis had been theorizing about graphic novellas, but also working in the same vein as the Vertigo crime graphic novels from a decade ago. When thinking of ways to get more readers into comic shops and into comics in general as this is another good example of a new series being both fantastic in its storytelling and presentation as well as being something new for readers to look at on store shelves. November is another shot in the arm for comics,

Get excited. Comics evolve.

drew barth

Drew Barth (Episode 331) is a writer residing in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.