Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #9: Turn It Off and Turn It On Again

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #9 by Drew Barth

Turn It Off and Turn It On Again

Most monthly comics are built upon legacies and reboots of older characters. Essentially, most superhero comic fiction is officially-sanctioned fanfiction as the original authors are either no longer writing, no longer living, or both. As a result, many writers have sandboxes with certain rules, mythologies, and canons to play with. The amount of reboots and legacies is massive. Just look at the current reboots happening with DC’s general timeline, as well as the sheer volume of Robins who exist in Batman canons.


Look at how DC is reworking older characters, staying true to their original form while not allowing nostalgia to cloud a strong story.

The publisher has been taking characters from the Hanna-Barbera vault and working them either into one-shots. The most notable of all of these is Mark Russel and Mike Feehan’s take on our favorite pink cougar, Snagglepuss. And this is Snagglepuss as a closeted playwright during the Red Scare.

So it’s Tennessee Williams.

This comic can’t be considered a cheap novelty, however. There is this constant underpinning of basic humanity throughout the issues that makes it feel so refreshing when compared to some of the other stories that have come from this experiment. Snagglepuss is one of those moments where you can see that edifice of large-scale comic publishers start to pull away and just let some fantastic stories get told.


DC have also been working on a completely separate universe that recaptures the feeling of the old Super Friends cartoon from the seventies. The Wonder Twins is everything a reader can expect from a rebooted Super Friends-esque universe. The Hall of Justice stands, although its super computer is rendered useless by cellphones, and the trinity of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman walk the halls waiting to hear that world-ending alert that brings them into action. But Jayna and Zan are the focus here: two transplanted aliens outcast from their home planet who can turn into, well, not much when they tap their fists together. They’re also transplanted into a high school on a new planet. As it stands right now, it’s a fun twist on characters who have been a cultural punchline for forty years. They’re not these stiff weirdos that talk as if they don’t have the animation budget for them to say anything interesting—as a duo they’re well-developed characters that seem like they’ll have more to do as the story progresses. As of now only the first issue is out, but it looks like it’s going to be a fun six-issue mini-series.


From there, we also have another first issue in the form of Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt. This is one of those odd characters who DC picked up in the 80s when they brought Charlatan Comics characters into their main universe. But Peter Cannon as a character is known more for who he was the basis for: Ozymandias in Watchmen.

However, since the death of his creator, Pete Morisi, in 2013, Peter Cannon has been owned by the late creator’s estate. As such, we now have a rebooted series from Dynamite Comics, Kieron Gillen and Caspar Wijngaard that looks to establish the character as something more than just a blueprint for others. They even address the issue of the “white savior” that Cannon was portrayed as for years due to being the last recipient of ancient scrolls from a Himalayan monastery after his parents died. It smacks of Iron Fist, but Gillen and Wijngaard create a character who feels generally remorseful at having to play this part.


It’s as close to a perfect first issue since Gillen’s last first issue in DIE #1. It’s for completely different reasons, though. This is Gillen bringing in his Watchmen love with utilizing the idea of thirty five minutes as a signal for what’s coming as well as Ozymandias’ plan for uniting the world through a fake alien invasion. Couple that with the two nine-panel grids that show up and you can see the influences right on the sleeve. That and the dash of Warren Ellis with a line like “HELLO ALIEN FRIENDS! DO YOU LIKE BULLET VIOLENCE?” to just tie the bow on top.

Of course, as always, there’s more characters and reboots out there. Kamala Khan, Jamie Reyes, Kyle Rayner, Robbie Reyes, et cetera, but they always have the one thing in common that matters to comic fiction, and that is they’re creating something new with their stories. When they’re done well, they’re iconic—they are the status quo for a series and the public face for decades. When not, we try to forget about them and move on to other things. Reboots and legacies fail, but with the series coming out just in the past year, there will never be a shortage of new takes on old ideas that feel refreshing.

Get excited. Comics are happening.

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.

Buzzed Books #88: Olivia Laing’s Crudo


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Buzzed Books #88 by Drew Barth

Olivia Laing’s Crudo

Identity is nebulous. Namely in how we perceive ourselves in terms of the work we create and how it is visible to others. In terms of Olivia Laing’s Crudo, her work with identity ties directly into the work and life of another author: Kathy Acker. We can see this done straight from the beginning with “Kathy, by which I mean I, was getting married. Kathy, by which I mean I, had just got off a plane from New York. It was 19:45 on 13 May 2017.” And anyone familiar with Kathy Acker knows she died in the 1997. So from line one Laing is blending both her own narrative and that of Kathy Acker into her novel. This brings up the question of where identity in the scope of the novel begins and ends. When is it Laing or Acker or neither?


What Laing specializes in more than anything is the constant imaginative sensory output of her prose: “When she was anorexic in the aughts like everyone she was conducting an assault on gravity, she was the apple that would go upwards, that simple. How nice to astonish the philosophers, to go off like a firecracker in all their faces.” But it isn’t just sensory overload as a means of simply overwhelming readers. Laing is working with a more contemporary rhythm. From her/Acker’s  Twitter dependency, to checking airline and hotel websites constantly, to the perpetual movement of herself all over the world, she creates this wonderful voice that captures the moment of mid-2017 in all its horrendous Trump and hate-filled splendor. Even in those moments of time screeching past like a freight train we have this slow building and composing of emotional peaks that hit perfectly every time.  The novel is visceral, yet wonderfully composed.

Laing uses the ideas of an oncoming dread or time screaming too quickly past us as a means of conveying how her/Kathy’s life works within emotional peaks and valleys. Never forget that there is a wedding taking place in this novel—accompanied by all the joy and stress that brings—but also the events of 2017. Trump and North Korea, Houston flooding, Charlottesville. All of that coupled with Kathy thinking “She missed Obama. Everyone missed Obama. She missed the sense of time as something serious and diminishing, she didn’t like living in the permanent present of the id.” But Kathy is married during this time, vacations in Italy, moves in with her husband. The volatility of the times are reflected in how the novel structures itself around them: with deft realism. We all remember many of the events of 2017 recounted, but we also remember our lives as well. But then again, it still all felt as though the time was being ripped from our hands as too much happened too often.

All of this to say that Crudo is a novel that feels like an incantation at the end of the world as a means of preserving one’s self. Getting lost in the timeline of our lives is relatively normal, but her working with identity and sensory components ensures that she is creating her own memorable impact on the world around her. For her, the act of writing and creating feels like it could be enough to fight back against a world that moves too fast and works to erase the individual.

Dharma Bums 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. His blog, Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart, appears on Wednesdays on The Drunken Odyssey.

Episode 355: Teresa Carmody!


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Episode 355 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 to fiction writer Teresa Carmody about the joys of making books, the patterns needed for experimental work, and approaching the musicality of writing like meditation.

teresa carmody

Photo by Jared Alan Smith.

The Curator of Schlock #262: Hell Night

The Curator of Schlock #262 by Jeff Shuster

Hell Night

Pray for day!

I keep thinking I’ve covered Hell Night. This would have seemed like the perfect movie to review when I was a younger Curator of Schlock, all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. It’s got Linda Blair in it. She plays the final girl. This is a tried and true American slasher movie. It isn’t some stupid whodunit where I have to figure out who the killer is. Just a deformed maniac. That’s how I like it. Don’t try to make me think when I watch these movies!


1981’s Hell Night from director Tom DeSimone begins with a raucous college party hosted by the fraternity Alpha Sigma Rho. Everyone is attired in various costumes raging from Playboy Bunnies to Vikings. There’s also a bit of drinking and puking going on. This is Hell Night, when new pledges of Alpha Sigma Rho and its sister sorority must test their mettle by spending the night in Garth Manor, an abandoned mansion where a rich man once murdered his entire family after his wife gave birth to one too many malformed children. The legend goes that his youngest son, Andrew, survived and still skulks about the mansion.


The initiates have to spend one night in Garth Manor. We have Seth (Vincent Van Patten), a surfer dude dressed as Robin Hood who likes to party hardy. He also wears boxers with little red hearts on them, but that’s neither here nor there. Denise (Suki Goodwin), a sorority initiate dressed as some kind of flapper. According to Wikipedia, Denise is “promiscuous.” We won’t comment on that, but she does sneak some Jack Daniels and some Quaaludes into the mansion with her. I think I’m in love. Where was I? Oh, there’s Jeff (Peter Barton), a rich kid who’s bit of a goodie good. He’s dressed as a cowboy. My name is Jeff. Why can’t I be rich? I don’t even have a cowboy costume! And last, but not least is Marti, a studious girl from a working class family (her father is car mechanic), who’s just joining the sorority for the free room. Marti (Linda Blair), take a page out of Denise’s book, please!

Hell2 (1)

The fraternity has the house rigged up with speakers that provide spooky sounds such as screaming and moaning. There’s even a projector that emits the ghostly visage of what I’d imagine to be old man Garth. The members of the fraternity are having a good time with their tomfoolery until the real Andrew Garth shows up and starts hacking them to pieces. To be fair, he doesn’t just use sharp objects. For the fraternity nerdlinger, Andrew simply twists his head around. Andrew later makes his way into the house and Denise is the first to go. Seth returns from the bathroom to find her decapitated head lying on the bead.


It’s around this point that the three remaining initiates start freaking out. Seth wants out of there. Naturally, Alpha Sigma Rho locked up the huge front gate so our initiates wouldn’t be tempted to flee Garth Manor after hearing those scary sound effects. Seth manages to climb over despite getting cut up by the sharp spikes atop the gate. Jeff and Marti make him promise to get the police over to Garth Manor pronto. I won’t say anything more about the film to avoid spoiling it for you lot except to say unless Jeff can fly like Superman, he’s in trouble.

Jeffrey Shuster 2

Photo by Leslie Salas.

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

Old Poem Revue #2: Raleigh’s Last Poem

Old Poem Revue #2 by Aaron Belz

Raleigh’s Last Poem

Before being beheaded, Sir Walter Raleigh served as one of Queen Elizabeth’s “Sea Dog” anti-Spanish pirates; founded two failed settlements at Roanoke, Virginia; introduced Europe to the curative effects of tobacco; twice ventured to South America in search of El Dorado; wrote a lot of poetry — some quite funny and cutting, like “The Nymph’s Reply” to Chris Marlowe; and ultimately found himself on the wrong side of an England-Spain treaty.


Raleigh possessed an incisive wit. Even at his own execution, he reportedly observed the axe’s sharpness and quipped that it was the only physician capable of curing all ills in one stroke. When his body trembled in its final moments, he told bystanders not to worry, the shaking was due to his “ague.” Yes, a bit like the Flight of the Conchords’ “I’m Not Crying.” Afterward, his head was embalmed and sent to his wife, who kept it in a velvet bag.

In other words, Raleigh was the kind of guy you’d want to meet for drinks. He was an adventurer, a contemporary of Shakespeare, a Renaissance Man’s Renaissance Man before Dos Equis was even a brand. He was real: while neoclassical allusions flourished in English poetry, he kept his verse idiomatic. He was good: while his fellow expeditioners were inventing the transatlantic slave trade, he was taking a proto-#metoo position against the carpe-diem-style poetics of Marlowe, Campion, et al.

In fact, though it’s not a 21stcentury thing to say, Sir Walter Raleigh was a man of virtue. Unlike his more popular successors, he was a Lord and Gentleman, husband of one wife, faithful father of three sons—given neither to the moon, nor to drink, nor was he a philanderer, nor ruined by opium and STDs. My sense after having toured the Tower of London many years ago, and having read the inscriptions in rock that are now protected behind Lucite, is that England has valorized Raleigh more and more as time has passed.

The night before Raleigh died, he wrote an eight-line poem. Like David Bowie’s “Eight Line Poem,” it was written in London. But that is where the similarities end:

Even such is Time, that takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, our all we have,
And pays us but with earth and dust;
Who in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wander’d all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days;
But from this earth, this grave, this dust,
My God shall raise me up, I trust.

The personification of “Time” isn’t so interesting, nor, for the mercenary mercantilist who founded Roanoke, is the metaphor of failed investment. There’s nothing really cute or twisty or particularly metaphysical or Elizabethan about this poem in any aspect. But to me, it’s a fascinating text for at least two reasons:

First is its weight of irony. In Sir Walter Raleigh we have what must have been one of the most colorful, abundant, heroic life stories — all joys enjoyed, all ways wandered, oceans crisscrossed, deals made, people and logistics managed at a monarch’s command. The man brought tobacco to England for the first time #Legend. I personally smoked cigarettes named after himwhen I was a teenager and later spent seven years living 40 minutes north of a city named after him. Yet his own measure of his life is 8 metrical feet in lines two and five. Nothing much. The poem’s focus is on death: an investment gone south.

Which brings me to the second reason I love this poem, and that is for its allusion to the King James translation of Ecclesiastes, which had been commissioned by King James in 1604 and published in 1611. It was, perhaps, a bestseller at the time.

Ecclesiastes is an old Jewish book about the futility of investment: “What profit hath a man of all his labour which he taketh under the sun?”Everything is “vanity,” says the author of Ecclesiastes; “All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.” Raleigh, too, repeats “dust” twice in his poem. The final chapter of Ecclesiastes (which is chapter 11, I kid you not) focuses on investment in particular, saying (I paraphrase) you can send your harvest out on a boat, and you might get back a good return, or you might not. The one thing you know you’ll get is death.

But the supremo-supremo irony is that King James also decreed the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Aaron Belz

Aaron Belz has an MFA from NYU and a PhD in American Lit from Saint Louis University. He’s published three books of poetry and has a fourth, Soft Launch, due from Persea later this year. He lives in Savannah, Georgia.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #8: The Royal Road of Comics

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #8 by Drew Barth

The Royal Road of Comics

Last week was looking at the numbers and making some guesses about why some comics sell and potentially why others aren’t doing as well, but what makes those comics good? What makes them resonate with readers in such a way that they keep coming back, month after month, trade after trade, to see what’s going to happen?

There are reasons outside of the comic being good that keeps readers. Looking at what sold well last year shows characters like Batman, The Flash, Thanos, and Spider-Man selling well even if the stories aren’t the best. But what’s familiar still sells. Despite everything.


The nineties were a dark time for us all. But all of that isn’t to discount any of those characters, they still have wonderful stories connected to them that survive any and all retcons and reboots. What we want to look at more in-depth, though, is just what makes these stories good.

I’m borrowing from manga creator Hirohiko Araki when it comes to breaking down the main fundamentals of what makes a strong comic. In his book, Manga in Theory and Practice, Araki outlines what he refers to as “the royal road of manga” that consists of: characters, story, setting, and themes. The four principles are fairly straight-forward to the point where they can work in nearly any narrative medium. But what I wanted to do with those principles is to hold them up as a lens through which to look at some more of the items on that top-selling graphic novel list. We could see potentially why things sell so well due to market circumstances around them, but how do the principles of the “royal road” come more into play?


If we’re going to start anywhere, we’re starting at characters. And no other story works as well with characters as Paper Girls. The first and fourth volumes of this series ended up besting Batman and Watchmenlast year and it’s easy to see why. Brian K. Vaughn and Cliff Chiang created a group of four teenagers in the eighties delivering newspapers before the world basically ends around them. There’s time travel and tech wars. It’s fun. But at its heart are the four protagonists: Erin, Mac, KJ, and Tiffany. The four of them together end up creating what’s akin to a perfect D&D party with lawful, law breaking, puzzling, and inquisitive characters that are dropped around the time stream and made to fend for themselves. Their four voices are distinct in a way that is both true to their time period and their ages and not a one sounds alike at any moment. You are reading about four people awash in dizzying adventure and it feels like wonderful genre-realism in each of their characters.

Story is the driving force of any comic. While a good character can help prop up a bad story, they can only go so far before it all collapses. When we go further down the list, we see a series that is defined both by its strong characters as well as an equally intriguing story into which those characters are dropped: Lumberjanes. Lumberjanes is a series about five friends in a summer camp for girls and summer doesn’t ever seem to end. The forest around them holds any number of magical and maniacal creatures and the counselors are tight-lipped on what happened in the camp’s past. It’s full-blown X-Files summer camp here and it’s some of the best comic storytelling I’ve seen since the series debuted in 2014. The fact that the first volume, from BOOM! Studios, is still selling this well is only a testament to the strength of its story.


Continuing down the royal road, we stop at setting and setting is something that, in comics, really is vital to how a story gets told. In Batman, we have Gotham City. In Star Wars, we have a galaxy. But in a series like The Wicked + The Divine, we have London. Just London. Although it’s London shaped by the existence of reincarnated gods that are, more or less, pop stars for two years until they die, but it’s still London. There’s only so much a city can change as a result of these reincarnated gods walking around, though. The real setting lies in the broader cultural contexts in which the world has changed. As these gods only reincarnate once a generation, a setting detail that’s brought up within the series is which generations deserve to have those gods? The last time the gods returned was in the 1920s, do they need to come back now? When so much of the story has to do with fandom and waiting, then it becomes vital that the gods exist in this specific moment. The world has created a culture around the gods returning and we see it constructed through the eyes of a fan. This isn’t a weird version of the world, it’s the one created for this specific purpose and it so perfectly balances the realism with the differences the story demands that it doesn’t even feel like an alternate world.


And the final stop on this royal road is theme and of course I’m going to talk about Saga here because I can’t stop talking about Saga. It’s because Saga has everything mentioned above and so much more. There is a reason it sells consistently well every year since its debut, that it out-sells most everything from DC and Marvel, that all nine volumes of the series are in the top thirty-five of this year’s best sellers list. Do you want to talk about loss? Got that. Grief and tragedy? In spades. How about redemption and unwavering morals in the face of horrendous death? Of course. But what Saga does so well compared to its fellows is how much these themes change and grow as the series progresses. Characters age and change as time goes on, but there’s always that thematic core of family and being together despite the universe ripping it all apart that it’s impossible not to be engrossed. It is Fiona Staples and Brian K. Vaughn’s masterpiece because it follows the ideas of the royal road so well. This is a series that bursts with imagination and humor and humanity at every opportunity. Saga begs to be read and its readers will beg non-readers to read it as well.


But there’s always more comics. There are graphic novels that don’t appear on the best selling list that likely do all of the above even better than anything I’ve talked about here. But that’s the fun with comics, like with all narrative mediums. The deep-dive to discover the new things that smack your brain around like a lemon-wrapped gold bar. There’s so much story out there to find and read still.

Get excited.

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.

Pensive Prowler #28: On Indignation

Pensive Prowler #28 by Dmetri Kakmi

On Indignation

Late in January, first thing in the morning, I received this on Facebook messenger: ‘You want to laugh at kids being groomed again come to my gym and do it on the mats. Will knock your ass straight the fuck out so a [sic] can laugh at you.’

The correspondent alluded to a Ren & Stimpy Facebook post in which he mentioned creator John Kricfalusi’s misdemeanours with minors.

His first message was followed by: ‘Will be sending a pic of you laughing to Eland book [my British publisher] see how they feel.’

A screen shot of the email he sent to the publisher popped up.

After contemplating the dizzying possibilities inherent in me rolling on a gym mat with a sweaty stranger, I pulled myself together and replied: ‘I don’t know who you are or what you are talking about. As someone who was sexually molested as a child, I do not find grooming amusing in the least.’

Back he came with: ‘Fuck you very much. Prick. Well you laughed at it. Why if thats [sic] the case.’

Sucker for punishment said: ‘Let me be very clear. I like Ren and Stimpy cartoons. That is not the same thing as approving child molestation. I often press like on Ren and Stimpy posts. To my knowledge I’ve never laughed at any cartoons about child grooming, something which horrifies me. Given my own experience as a child. Again I do not know what you are talking about.’

His reply: ‘Well I’m sorry Demtri [sic] you clearly hit the laugh and my post highlighting him grooming kids.’

Followed by a screen shot of the Ren & Stimpy post in question. Sure enough (much to my horror) I had pressed Laugh on his comment about Kricfalusi.

He went on to say: ‘You clearly did it. Am sorry for your experience thats [sic] horrible but it confuses my [sic] to why you done it then. You can explain it to your publishers.’

I explained it was probably a mistake when I was trawling comments to the Ren & Stimpy video. And I apologised for upsetting him. He accept the apology, adding that he will send another email to my publishers ‘suggesting it could possibly be a mistake.’ (Note the wording.) He signed off by saying he works in community development with victims of abuse.

I don’t bear the man a grudge. I’m not angry. He sounds sincere and well-meaning, if rather volatile. This is not about him. It’s about a phenomenon. Trolling. Call-out culture. Call it what you will.

I am astounded a stranger—someone I’ve never met and who knows nothing about me—can threaten violence, make vile accusations and fling about damaging insinuations; and then escalate the matter by including business associates in what is obviously a foolish error, something that could be sorted out in minutes if he and I engaged in civil conversation.

The intention was clear. Counting me among the worst offenders, he wanted to sully my relationship with my publisher and thus affect my livelihood. Why? Because a Ren & Stimpy fan, dizzy with laughter, mistakenly pressed Laugh on a comment about child grooming.

In the age of emotional upheaval and indignation, laughter (albeit mistaken) is complicity. Woe betide a dark or perverse sense of humour! On the internet individuals can now take it upon themselves to police behaviour and act as judge and jury, condemning willy nilly, certain of right doing.

Mature conversation goes out of the window. To say nothing of consideration and some degree of self-control.

I wouldn’t speak to the lowliest specimen like that. (Well, maybe a politician.) It seems untoward and rude. It’s no way for civilised human beings to conduct themselves in civil society. Given the far-reaching consequences, it’s tantamount to terrorism.

Only, of course, it’s happening invisibly and at a distance on the internet. We need never meet to destroy one another. Thus we need take no responsibility for the fallout. We need only sit back and enjoy our handy work.

How could you live with yourself if you got it wrong? Or doesn’t that matter when you’re piously beating your breast?

Even if I had deliberately pressed laugh, so what? It is not a crime to laugh. Given the subject matter it might be ethically and morally reprehensible. It might be in bad taste. But it’s still only laughter. It’s not the actual doing. Nor does it mean that one approves the crime.

People who go on the attack like this are ruled by their emotions. One word and they flare up. They’re offended. Their feelings are hurt. Now they will punish you. A scorched-earth policy rules. They have no self-control whatsoever.

If words can throw you into such turmoil, it means any one can control you. Anyone can press your buttons whenever they wish. Whereas true power resides in restraint. Sit back, take a breath and let it roll. Choose your battles.

When I mentioned the incident to friends, they laughed. ‘Welcome to the internet,’ they said. It appears I got off lightly. Lives have been destroyed for less. Offend online and you’re a goner. Might as well pack your bags and go live in the Vatican.

The double irony hit home when it was over.

Not only did this business happen because of Ren & Stimpy (an absurdist cartoon that sends up ugly behaviour), it also made a bad into a good. Getting molested as a child turned out to be a blessing for me in this instance. Something that blights my life, saved my bacon. If I hadn’t been fiddled with, I’d have no recourse against the march of the true believer—those who shoot first and never ask questions.


Dmetri Kakmi (Episode 158) is a writer and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. The memoir Mother Land was shortlisted for the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards in Australia; and is published in England and Turkey. His essays and short stories appear in anthologies and journals. You can find out more about him here.

Episode 354: Todd James Pierce


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Episode 354 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 to Todd James Pierce about his new biography of Ward Kimball from an epic corridor of The Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World.

Todd Pierce Studios CROPPED June 2018


Ward Kimball

Three Years in Wonderland


Check out Todd’s site and podcast, The Disney History Institute.

Check out my previous interview with Todd back on Episode 218.

Episode 354 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature is available on iTunes, or right click here to download.

The Curator of Schlock #261: The Prowler

The Curator of Schlock #261 by Jeff Shuster

The Prowler

Pitchforks are painful!

Yay. It’s February, which means another week of slasher movies. I suppose I’ll continue the trend of slasher movies set on college campuses. And tonight’s movie has a bit of romance going for it, perfect for Valentine’s Day.  How was your Valentine’s Day? Mine was great, just peachy.


Chrislystal broke up with me! My Canadian girlfriend broke up with me after I had driven all the way to Nova Scotia to be with her. I had even sprung for some Swiss Chalet ,and you know what she tells me as I’m halfway through my Rotisserie Beef Kaiser? “We’re not clicking.” That’s what she says. I don’t even know what that means.


Tonight’s movie is 1981’s The Prowler from director Joseph Zito. The movie begins with on old newsreel report about the end of the second World War, about all the American soldiers that will return to the women they love. Except, of course, for the returning soldiers who received “Dear John” letters. At a college graduation dance, one of these soldiers decides to dress in his combat attire and stab his ex-girlfriend to death with a pitchfork. Fast-forward 35 years later and the town of Avalon Bay is holding a graduation ball, the first one since that brutal pitchfork murder.


You know, I’m getting the impression from these movies that young people shouldn’t have any fun. If they do, some guy dressed as a clown or a World War II soldier murders them. What is up with that? You’re supposed to kill Nazis when you don that uniform, not sorority sisters! What is this guy’s major malfunction? The town sheriff leaves for a weekend fishing trip, leaving a deputy named Mark London (Christopher Goutman) in charge of keeping the peace. Right when the festivities start, a copycat killer dressed in World War II fatigues starts murdering the attendees.


These are some brutal deaths, too. Tom Savini did the special effects in this one, and it looks like the version they’re showing on Amazon is uncut. One guy gets stabbed through the top of his head right through the front of his face. A woman gets stabbed with a pitchfork while taking a shower. Gruesome stuff. What else? Oh, there was a gruesome stabbing/drowning in a pool. The person who finds the dead body in the pool gets stabbed and killed. Yeah, lots of stabbing and killing in this movie. Also, people shooting guns at each other.


What do want from me? These movies tend to be similar to one another. Like everyone at the time had the bright idea of making a Friday the 13th knockoff, not realizing everyone had the same idea. I think they all came out between 1980 and 1982. But The Prowler has style and good effects. There’s this one scene where the deputy calls up the motel the sheriff is staying at, only to be given the runaround because the slovenly night manager is too lazy to check in on the sheriff and wake him up. It’s like the movie slows to a crawl in this scene, showing the audience that while things may be frantic in Avalon Bay, other parts of the world are nice and serene. Check it out!

Jeffrey Shuster 3

Jeffrey 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 #7: Looking at Numbers

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #7 by Drew Barth

Looking at Numbers

Not too long ago I received an email from Diamond Book Distributors about the top selling graphic novels of 2018. These are the kinds of lists I love to see because there’s always a direct comparison between what’s considered to be a critical favorite and a commercial favorite. In comics, those sorts of things typically end up lining up, namely in the case of series like Saga or Monstress. While I was going through the list, though, I noticed something kind of odd. No Batman, Thor, or anything from DC or Marvel.

Diamond Books is actually a subsidiary of Diamond Comic Distributors that works with independent publishers to distribute graphic novels to non-direct market venues. More or less, they work with Image, Dynamite, Aftershock, etc. to get their work into chain bookstores. But it’s only the graphic novels and collected editions; all monthly issues regardless of publisher still go through Diamond Comics. And in comics, they all only go through Diamond.


(But Diamond as a distributor for comics has a monopoly over the industry due to them being the only distributor that works in a way that’s conducive to the comic market. More or less, their business practices work on a much quicker timetable compared to many larger distribution platforms like Random House or Simon & Schuster. Where traditional distributors have payment deals for publishers that may delay payouts for six months or more, Diamond works in one to two months—something beneficial to an industry that needs to know how well a series that is printing month-to-month is doing. So while I don’t like the idea of a monopoly in the industry, they have remained the most viable option in town. Plus, with their persistent and transparent sales numbers, we can get good ideas about what is and isn’t selling. Hence, the lists they’ve put out recently.)

Anyway. Because there are two distinct distribution branches to comics, we can actually see how certain series are doing both inside and outside your local comic shops. And these are two completely different kinds of places in which comics are being sold. A reader who trade waits (someone who reads a series through the trade paperback collections and not the monthly issues) may be more inclined to get their comics from a bookstore due to things like memberships, discounts, coupons, or location. It may be incredibly difficult to get to a comic shop on a weekly basis in most parts of the country, so when we look at a list that works exclusively on the bookstore level, we’re better able to see what access does to the comics involved.


When looking at just the top ten from each list, we’re seeing a snapshot of what was big at the time. Of course the top selling book in comic stores is going to be The Infinity Gauntlet by Jim Starlin, George Pérez, and Ron Lim due to the release of Avengers: Infinity War. Although that graphic novel has been selling consistently well for years now, it’s the film that would help push it to the top spot. And there’s always mainstays like Alan Moore and Dave Gibbon’sWatchmen that have stayed in the top selling category for actual decades now.


In terms of more recent material, Saga continues its reign as one of the best selling comics of this decade due both to its popularity and readers’ propensity for trade waiting on the series. With the announcement of Saga going on hiatus earlier last year, the sales of its ninth volume were absolutely going to increase to the point where it was just behind The Infinity Gauntlet. But that’s just in comic shops. While volume nine sold well there, volume eight ended up reigning in bookstores. Why? It could be any number of reasons. It could be that the release of volume eight coincided with one of Barnes & Noble’s buy-two-get-the-third-free sales or simply because it had more time on the shelves than volume nine did. Many of the factors aren’t really shown in-depth in any of these lists, but it’s still interesting to see how different sides of the retail world differ in a series like Saga.


Then we have a series like Deadly Class that just had the first few episodes of its TV series on Syfy premiere not too long ago. While the first volume of the series sold well—coming in at #35, enough to beat the likes of Darth Vader and a Spider-Man/Deadpool crossover—it only did so in comic shops. It doesn’t even crack the top fifty in among independent titles in bookstores. And we can tell the increase in Deadly Class sales is due to its new TV series as it jumped up nearly a hundred spots from the previous year’s list. This kind of information goes a long way to show the industry what sells best where. In the months leading up to the Deadly Class series premiere, I couldn’t get through many monthly issues without seeing an ad for the show somewhere. But then I wouldn’t see Deadly Class trade paperbacks that often when going down the graphic novel aisle at Barnes & Noble. The difference could be from bookstore retailers knowing that this particular series doesn’t sell as well as others and instead give their limited shelf space to what they know will sell better—all the while comic shops still sell it well due to the series being perhaps more familiar to the comics crowd.

All of this to say that comics is a strange business. It’s difficult to tell which series is going to sell well outside of those that provide the basis for films and TV series. Well, I mean good writing is always going to help a series, hence the reign of Saga throughout both lists. But when doing the number crunching we can still see how Marvel and DC still control the vast majority of comics out there. Smaller presses are finally making more of an impact—Image on its own has roughly 10% of the market now—and yet it still feels like such a small portion of the overall whole of comics. Although these lists don’t take into account other publishers like Drawn + Quarterly or Top Shelf and BOOM! Studios only works with Diamond to get their books into comics shops, there’s still things to be learned from watching these lists to see what people are reading. But then why are these specific graphic novels popular? What makes these stories resonate with readers that they would make it onto these lists?

Is that a part two I hear on the wind? I think believe that’s a part two I hear on the winds from the future. Get excited.

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.