Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #159: One Large Cloud Overhead

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #159 by Drew Barth

One Large Cloud Overhead

I’ve written in the past about influential manga finally getting official English translations and how this is broadening our understanding of how comics work globally. Many of these alternative manga were the touchstones of the medium at the time of publication. And it is work like The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud by Kuniko Tsurita that have done so much for the alternative manga scene in the 60s and 70s that would come to define what manga could do at that time in history.

A collection of short stories collected from Tsurita’s career, The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud shows not only an array of Tsurita’s skills as an illustrator, it also showcases her development as a manga creator over the course of fifteen years. From her earliest stories, like “Nonsense” and “Woman,” both published in legendary alternative manga magazine Garo when she was eighteen, we first see her fascination with life, death, and the idea of succumbing to a cyclical fate. But it is the story “Anti” that Tsurita’s look at death begins to crystallize. In this story, we follow a filmmaker shooting footage of an active volcano before spotting a man struggling to climb out of the vent. The filmmaker does nothing as the man falls and uses the footage he’s shot as the climax of his own experimental film. The laughter following his showing the film to friends after they ask if the man falling was an effect is as haunting as any horror comic since.

The titular “The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud” is one of the shortest pieces, but it’s striking conclusion, shown as the collection’s cover, is representative of Tsurita herself—heading straight toward a defined oblivion. Her own failing health would remain a constant in much of her work in the later 70s and early 80s. The final story in the collection, “Flight,” is about a woman and her fiance as he disappears in a sudden storm on a flight back to her. The story’s lighter ending still touches on the hope of something after death—even if you are never able to see your loved ones again, you may still leave a piece of yourself for them to hold onto.

Drawn & Quarterly helping to bring these manga to an English-speaking audience only helps to make comics a better place. Tsurita’s work in The Sky is Blue with a Single Cloud is the kind of work that sticks to your bones. It reminds you of your own mortality without falling into despair. There is sadness—there will always be sadness—but to confront that sadness and embrace it is human nature. We can see the end of things on the horizon, but we ride to it together regardless.

Get excited. Get riding.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331 & 485) 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.

The Perfect Life #33: Dumpster Diving for Love

The Perfect Life #33 by Dr. Perfect

Dumpster Diving for Love

Dear Doctor Perfect,

I can’t find anyone who shares my raccoon kink. And before you get ahead of yourself, no, it’s not bestiality—I like to dress in a raccoon costume and dig through the garbage. It’s harmless. Exploratory. Playful. Everything sex should be! So why haven’t I found a partner yet? How are there over 20,000 Bronies in this world but apparently only one lone, lonely racoon?

I hope that with your wide audience and the power of the internet, you can help me find my people. My ultimate fantasy is group sex, so if you know of any secluded dumpsters, please advise.

____________________________________

Dear Lonesome Raccoon,

I took one glance at this letter and said, “Not another one!” I get a lot of inquiries from the furry and Brony communities as they both navigate through the dizzying minefield of love. Or in most cases that cross my desk, kinky, fetish-driven sex.

I recall my dating years like they were yesterday. Naturally, I was perfect at it, but the entire charade wore thin. Lost in a sea of hapless singles collectively clawing their way to potential companionship was no way to live. I can’t say the times weren’t without their charm. This was the early ‘80s when life was a party. You’d probably fit right in, because everyone was wearing raccoon costumes back then, among the usual drug-fueled kinkiness.

The most important factor in any romantic pursuit is maintaining one’s dignity. This is where you’re “holding all the cards,” as they say. If dumpster-diving raccoon role play/foreplay is your thing, don’t settle for anything less. Once you start compromising, the dream is dead. Next thing you know, you’ll be languishing in the corner of some hipster bar in an ill-fitting cardigan, pretending to text on your phone.

My mother raised me to never give up. In grade school, I went through a typically adolescent nihilist phase after reading copious amounts of Nietzsche. Simple requests to take out the garbage were met with lengthy diatribes from yours truly about the structural fallacy of waste, among other grievances.

She told me to leave and not come back until I was “sane.” For fourteen years, I lived in boxcars and sundry motel rooms, eventually returning home a man. Then, I moved out for real and found success in multiple endeavors. I, too, had felt like a raccoon in a maze. Or was it a rat?

Consider that raccoons are solitary creatures by nature. You’ve set yourself at a disadvantage that could be easily remedied with the right finesse. Ignore the bronies. I know plenty of secluded dumpsters, but they’re usually swarming with Hollywood executives, searching for the next franchise to reboot. Fear not. With Valentine’s Day approaching, there’s bound to be an animal orgy behind the nearest Waffle House.


Dr. Perfect has slung advice across the globe for the last two decades due to his dedication to the uplift of the human condition.

Episode 507: Sonya Huber!

Episode 507 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).

On today’s show, memoirist Sonya Huber discusses how to write the way that we think, including the semiotic leapfrogs of memory, and trying to depict the precarious balance of reality.

Photo by Francesca Andre.

TEXT DISCUSSED

NOTES

ScribophileTDO 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.

The Kerouac Project of Orlando is open for applications for its residency program.


Episode 507 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).

The Curator of Schlock #386: The Black Windmill

The Curator of Schlock #386 by Jeff Shuster

The Black Windmill

Michael Caine versus Donald Pleasence’s mustache.

I had blacked out after seeing the denizens of Mooseville devour a roasted kangaroo right in front of me. I came to.

Larry was standing over me. He helped me up and told me his story.

Apparently, Larry was an undercover agent working for the Canadian government. He was trying to uncover an illegal kangaroo slaughterhouse. I panicked.

Then Larry told me the kangaroo I saw was not Edwige and that she was still alive.

— To be continued.


This week’s movie is 1974’s The Black Windmill from director Don Siegel. I think I was waxing nostalgic for the trio of Harry Palmer movies I watched a couple years back. The Black Windmill is not in the Harry Palmer series, but Michael Caine plays a middle class spy in the employ of Her Majesty’s Government, so close enough.

The movie starts with two young English schoolboys exploring an abandoned military base with their toy plane. Two RAF officers grab them and drive them to one of the abandoned buildings, chiding the boys for trespassing. A man named McKee (John Vernon) drugs the boys and has them tossed in the back of a car. Turns out he isn’t really an RAF officer. The whole thing was a ruse to kidnap the son of a prominent British spy.

That spy is a Major Tarrant played by Michael Caine. He’s busy investigating arms smugglers selling weapons to the IRA. He meets a woman named Celia Burrows (Delphine Seyrig) who tells him to stop by next week to meet the big boss. That big boss must be McKee because he’s hiding out in that house and one gets the impression that he and Celia must be ten steps ahead of Tarrant.

Tarrant meets up with his wife, Alex (Janet Suzman), who’s in a panic over a call she’s expecting regarding their son. When the call comes in, it’s McKee. He says he’s kidnapped Tarrant’s son and he’s got some demands, first of which is to talk to Tarrant’s boss, Cedric Harper (Donald Pleasance). McKee will call back at 7 PM and Harper had better answer or else bad things will happen to the boy. Tarrant relays this request to Harper who agrees to take the call.

I don’t like Harper. The man seems more interested in the latest item from Q Branch, a travel bag that can shoot missiles, than the fate of a child. When Harper takes the call from McKee, he keeps fiddling with his mustache the whole time. You’re a grown man. Don’t fiddle with your mustache! It’s revealed that McKee wants a bag of diamonds that Harper has sealed away in a vault. Tarrant is supposed to travel alone to France and deliver them. Harper says no and gives Tarrant his condolences on the fate of his boy.

Tarrant has been surprisingly stoic during this whole affair. His wife is in pieces over the kidnapping, but Tarrant is strangely unaffected. Still, the decision by his boss to leave his son to a horrible fate, motivates Tarrant to steal the diamonds and confront the bad guys. A wine barrel gets blown up and McKee takes a bunch of bullets to his crotch area. Yeah, seeing John Vernon get machine gunned in the crotch almost made the movie for me. Almost.


Photo by Leslie Salas

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443, episode 444episode 450, episode 477, episode 491, episode 492, episode 493, episode 495, and episode 496) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #158: Meat Me in the Middle

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #158 by Drew Barth

Meat Me in the Middle

I adore postmodern advertisements where you know that they know that you know they’re just trying to sell you something, but the whole ad is so deep in its own meta-narrative that you forget that you’re being sold a product. The ad can tongue-in-cheek its way to your heart. We seldom see that intersection of advertisements and a full issue of a comic. At least, not until Monkey Meat by Juni Ba.

This first issue of Monkey Meat is the first part of a five-part anthology series by Ba in partnership with the Monkey Meat Multinational. Through the audience’s familiarity with the Monkey Meat Multinational, its line of products, and the mysteries of their headquarters on Monkey Meat Island, we’re drawn into the process behind their newest creation: Lug’s Soul Juice energy drink. We’re given the story of the island’s caretaker, the Lug of energy drink fame, and how he came to be the sole defender of Monkey Meat Multinational’s headquarters from the ravages of the rest of the island. Immediately we feel a connection to Lug—he’s a working-class lad that we can see ourselves in as he is also beholden to a corporation that both relies on and underpays him. But we also want to be like Lug since he’s big and strong and has all of this energy that we feel like we could experience from his new drink.

The entire issue, the story of Lug and his soul being signed away to the Monkey Meat Multinational, is all building up to the introduction of a new energy drink. We don’t even see it happening despite the hints. This anthology breaks down what an ad is and what it can do in the universe in which Monkey Meat exists as a product and company. On the outside, the book satirizes advertising culture and the ways in which we buy into stories. But we buy into the story of Lug either way. That is the skill of Ba on display. We’re so lost in the story, we don’t know that we’re in an ad until the final panel hits.

While this is only the first issue of what will be a five-part anthology, it is already setting up the mind-bending world we’re going to be living in for those five issues.

Get excited. Get meat.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331 & 485) 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.

Buzzed Books #95: The Art of Soul, The Art of Raya and the Last Dragon, and The Art of Luca

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Buzzed Books #95 by John King

The Art of Soul,

The Art of Raya and the Last Dragon,

and The Art of Luca

As a lifelong fan of Disney films, there’s not much nostalgia in my obsession. I have never found ways to make Condorman, The Fox and the Hound, or Herbie Does a Thing important or fun or profound. The only connection I feel between my childhood and films I saw then is how the great films still loom in my imagination. In the 1970s, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Star Wars, and The Rescuers would repeat in my mind for months after seeing them in the theater. One movie ticket provided me with rich experiences that endure.

Sometimes, though, the art and music of Disney films transcend the actual overall film itself, such as Alice in Wonderland (1951). Oliver Wallace’s score, sometimes combined with Lewis Carrol’s poetry as lyrics, is a wonderful soundscape; the 1997 compact disk release interpolated dialogue and sound effects, in essence creating a sonic film for the mind that is a better experience than the film. The film itself quivers with the miraculous design work of Mary Blair. Alice in Wonderland has some colorful, very daft scenes. But the parts surpass the whole. Listen to the soundtrack in the dark instead.

Such have been my musings while considering the extraordinary Disney titles recently released by Chronicle books. Chronicle publishes Didier Ghez’s exceptional series, They Drew as They Pleased, which unveils never-before-seen artwork from the developmental stages of classic Disney films.

Separate from Didier Ghez’s series, Chronicle also publishes volumes devoted to the creation of recent offerings by Pixar and Disney, such as Soul, Raya and the Last Dragon, and Luca.

The Art of Soul is one of my favorite books in my Disney library for how well the volume allows me to appreciate the mind-bending, yet somehow familiar visual grammar of the film.

The running time of Pixar’s Soul might be too short, which is to say, the visual experience is too sublime to appreciate in real time, with the film’s half-abstract, celestial sense of realms for the creation and dissolution of souls and, in contrast, the film’s densely realistic New York City.

As an animation nerd, I am also gratified to learn more about how the designs of Soul were worked out, with digital sketches that look rather like hand-drawn sketches—with enough practice, digital work was certain to catch up to hand-drawn illustration.

And The Art of Soul also focuses on the designs within the designs, such as jazz signage. In this deeply original film’s design art, I can see elements of Modern art, along with jazzy resonances with Disney’s 101 Dalmatians and the “Rhapsody in Blue” portion of Fantasia 2000. This book is both frozen in time—allowing the reader to experience the art as slowly as the reader wants—and also bursting with the intelligence and inspiration of the film’s creation.

I liked Raya and the Last Dragon. The Chronicle book may persuade me that the film is better than I thought. On my first viewing, the narration seemed a touch glib, the setting seemed too allegorically on-the-nose, and the water dragon seemed too goofily comic. I suspect that the filmmakers aimed for a YA audience, a demographic that clearly isn’t me.

The mythic setting of Kumandra seemed like a generalization of lots of Asian tropes and imagery, and this seemed indiscriminate to me when I watched the film. The Art of Raya and the Last Dragon points out that the inspiration for the film was Southeastern Asian countries: Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. So I was partly right, but in a wrong way.

In the Chronicle book, the different regions of the Dragon Lands—Heart, Spine, Talon, Fang, and Tail—are explained in terms of philosophy, architecture, and costuming. The art is transcendent, reminding me of how beautiful the film is, all while encouraging me to look deeper into its world-building.

The Art of Luca focuses on Italy, tales of merfolk, and friendship. The film is a charming meditation on childhood conflicts and life in a seaside Italian village in the 1950s. The art style is vibrant and iconic, yet original. For example, the merfolk’s design do not look like mermaids from Peter Pan or The Little Mermaid, but more humanoid, like transitioning-tadpoles, with cartoony, detailed faces.

The settings of the seaside village and the ocean are stunning (reminding me of the contrasting settings of Soul). The claustrophobic clustering of colorful dwellings in the hilly town of Portorosso makes me want to live there, in a modest, beautiful, shabby place in a time when a Vespa was the most beautiful thing in a beautiful world. The dark aquamarine of the underwater world somehow feels spooky, yet comforting, a dreamscape that makes the merfolk seem like a realistic possibility.

The character designs, even the human ones, are memorable.

I cannot assert this enough: I tend to take for granted how sublimely beautiful Disney and Pixar films are. Seeing the storyboards, character design, and concept sketches in so many styles is a gift that Chronicle brings to animation fanatics.

Enrico Casarosa, the film’s director, makes this unusual plea at the end of his introduction to this book: “I have a favor to ask … Reach out to that friend you once had from those formative days of awkward adolescence and self-discovery. It’ll give you the opportunity to tell them how important they’ve been in your life. I bet they might even remember some hilarious moments you’ve long forgotten.” This is true of friends, but also true of the great films I and my friends love, Disney and Pixar films among them.


John King (Episode, well, all of them) holds a PhD in English from Purdue University, and an MFA from New York University. He has reviewed performances for Shakespeare Bulletin.

The Perfect Life 32: Morbid Covidity

The Perfect Life 32 by Dr. Perfect

Morbid Covidity

Dear Dr. Perfect,

When this whole China Virus thing started in flu season, I didn’t believe a word of it. Of course folks got sick. I spent the first 6 months denying COVID publicly on facebook and I found that most people felt how I did. Except those damn liberals, but I ain’t friends with many of them anyhow. Well, sometime I started to change my mind. Got the vaccine and everything. But I’m so afraid to admit it to my friends and family that it’s messin’ with my life!

I’m vaxxed, god dammit! I wanna go on vacation and to concerts but I have to pretend I’m not allowed, or I’ll never hear the end of it.

Sincerely,
The Vaxidental Tourist

____________________________________

Dear Vaxidental Tourist,

I can understand the hesitancy to seem vaccinated. You ventured outside the irrational skepticism and outright denial of your friends and family to join the rest of us somewhat healthier sheep.

We’re nearing our third year of the pandemic, and I feel your frustration. I just want to know when I can get Broadway tickets for Beetlejuice.

The easiest solution to your ironic plight is to convince your social circle that the vaccines have contaminated the drinking water. After the initial panic and inadvertent suicides that follow, tell them that they need to get “inoculated” against the harmful antibodies before their hearts explode. Secretly sign them up for the shot, guide them through the process, and voilà, everyone’s vaxxed.

TYou’ll see an eventual acceptance among your astute circle as they wave their “anti-vaxxed” cards. Then you can all freely participate in society with a newfound air of superiority.

Or just get drunk and tell them the truth.

Or just go to Vegas.


Dr. Perfect has slung advice across the globe for the last two decades due to his dedication to the uplift of the human condition.

Episode 506: Shruti Swarmy!

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Episode 506 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).

On today’s show, Shruti Swarmy talks about calling the reader into a complete, already alive imaginary world, and writing about dance in ways that transcend rational, orderly prose.

TEXTS DISCUSSED

NOTES

ScribophileTDO 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.

Today’s presentation was done in cooperation with Miami Book Fair.

The Kerouac Project of Orlando is open for applications for its residency program.


Episode 506 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).

The Curator of Schlock #385: Berlin Syndrome

The Curator of Schlock #385 by Jeff Shuster

Berlin Syndrome

Don’t go to Germany.

There I was, in the middle of a crowd of malcontents gussied up in moose heads and moose leggings. The sound of a horn silenced the raucous crowd. Eight bare chested men emerged wearing executioner hoods carrying a huge aluminum dinner platter. A medley of carrots and potatoes surrounded the roasted carcass of what used to be a kangaroo.

My thoughts turned to Edwige, my beloved kangaroo companion of the past year. The crowd roared applause at the site of the forbidden delicacy in front of them. My screams got cut short as someone behind me clonked me on the back of the head. All went dark. — To be continued.


I’m done with Arrow Home Video for a while. They gave me a great 2021, but now I must go out into the wild for schlock. This week’s movie is 2017’s Berlin Syndrome from director Cate Shortland. At first, I thought this might be another in the line of Harry Palmer movies. Maybe they got Michael Caine to reprise the role of the working class spy one last time.

Sadly, this is not that movie. It does take place in Berlin much like Funeral in Berlin, but the similarities stop there.

Berlin Syndrome stars Teresa Palmer as Clare Havel, a young Australian woman traveling by herself throughout Europe. Berlin is her latest destination and Teresa is taken in by the sites and sounds of this famous city. Her first night there, she attends a drinking party on a rooftop near a hostel she’s staying at. The next day she explores the city and runs into a handsome young gentleman named Andi (Max Riemelt). He offers her a strawberry from his father’s garden and the two of them hit it off and spend the night together.

Teresa wakes up in an empty apartment. Max has gone off to teach high school English. Teresa goes to leave, but can’t as she is locked inside. That would be the first red flag for me. After all, apartments are supposed to be locked from the inside, but maybe Germans have a different way of doing things. When Max returns, she lightly confronts him about being locked inside the apartment for the day. He jokingly says something like, “At least I didn’t tie you to the bed.”

They go out for dinner and dancing. Teresa spends the night again only to find herself locked in the next day. She also can’t find her mother’s wedding ring that was attached to a chain around her neck. Max promised to leave a key for her, but there is no key, no way out. She tries breaking the windows, but they’re reinforced glass. The apartment is the only inhabited place in the empty building so crying out for help does no good. Teresa is Andi’s prisoner.

For the next few days, he ties her to the bed before heading to work. Teresa plays along until Andi believes she’ll behave while he’s away. Teresa finds a screwdriver that she uses to stab Andi’s hand to a table in a futile effort to get away. While exploring the apartment, she manages to break into a locked room where she finds a photo album filled with pictures of the last woman Andi imprisoned in his apartment.

Berlin Syndrome belongs to the film genre as Hostel and Turistas, movies that warn moviegoers of seeing the world and broadening their horizons. Just stay home, don’t go outside, and binge watch shows on the streaming channel of your choice. It’s the only way to live.


Photo by Leslie Salas.

Jeff Shuster (episode 47episode 102episode 124episode 131episode 284episode 441episode 442episode 443, episode 444episode 450, episode 477, episode 491, episode 492, episode 493, episode 495, and episode 496) is an MFA graduate from the University of Central Florida.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #157: Results-Driven Workplace

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #157 by Drew Barth

Results-Driven Workplace

I remember cubicles and commission checks and a constant striving to snag the biggest commission out of everyone, a grinding frustration even as I made enough to populate my desk with Pop figures. Intersecting this feeling with superheroes is where we have one of the most disconcerting superhero stories out in recent years: One-Star Squadron from Mark Russell, Steve Lieber, Dave Stewart, and Dave Sharpe.

The DC Universe is resplendent with hundreds of heroes without even cracking into the Legion of Superheroes. Not everyone can be in the Justice League. Or Justice League International. Or Teen Titans. Sometimes their skill sets are somewhat limited. This is where HEROZ4U comes in: a superhero temp agency that specializes in call center work, security, parties, and whatever else people might need. You still have recognizable heroes like Red Tornado and Power Girl running these offices, but then they’re managing more obscure characters like Minuteman, Heckler, and GI Robot. Everyone has bills to pay.

One-Star Squadron is a comedy series, but it’s one that lures you into a false sense of comedic security before bricking you in the back of the head with sudden humanity. There is the inter-office drama you would expect when enough cubicles are stacked together, but then there’s Gangbuster. Without his memory, Jose Delgado is dumped on the steps of the HEROZ4U office and left to Red Tornado to piece the life of Gangbuster back together. There’s not much there. He was an 80s hero who could fight well and cleaned out some Metropolis gangs, but who is he now but an old man who can’t remember where he lives? That becomes the essential humanity of the series at its beginning: there’s dignity in every single person in the HEROZ4U office, but they’ve been relegated to these odd jobs because there just isn’t a place for them in the Universe anymore.

Russell, Lieber, Stewart, and Sharpe have created a new portion of the DC Universe that still slots right in with all of the other crises or cosmic catastrophes. HEROZ4U feels grounded in reality somehow. It could be the economic anxieties or the feeling of office competition or even the need to just be recognized as someone who matters. One-Star Squadron follows with much of Russell’s previous work in finding that dignity in people in more outrageous situations. The book provides a counterpoint to the more gritty realism some stories lean into to link their work to the real world. But they don’t need that grit; they just need to smile through the tears.

Get excited. Get results.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331 & 485) 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.