The Curator of Schlock #271: Death Warrant

The  Curator of Schlock #271 by Jeff Shuster

Death Warrant

Bring me a dream, Burke! Bring me a dream!

It’s May and that means it’s Jean-Claude Van Damme Month here at the Museum of Schlock. We’ll be taking a tour of his career from his early classics to his modern marvels. I remember covering Pound of Flesh last year, the one where Van Damme gets one of his kidneys stolen and goes on a mad spree to get it back. Let’s just say I have it on good authority that you’re not going to be getting up and running right after you’ve had a kidney removed. In fact, I’m pretty certain you’ll be laid up in bed, unable to walk for 24 hours. And don’t get me started on that catheter. Do you know what that is and where it’s inserted?

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Tonight’s movie is 1990’s Death Warrant from director Deran Sarafian. Also of note is the screenwriter, David S. Goyer. He would later go on to direct the Dark Knight trilogy. Goyer also directed the brilliant Blade Trinity. I’m kidding, of course. Interesting that this motion picture cost only 6 million to make wake, but made 48 million. Ah, the quaint 1990s before cinematic universes and 200 million dollar budgets. Back when a young man could look at that silver screen and imagine himself in that director’s chair one day. And then we got the pop culture abyss that gave us the  trailer for the Sonic the Hedgehog movie and said young man realized he was better off living in the past.

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Death Warrant begins with a Royal Canadian Mounted Police detective named Louis Burke (Jean-Claude Van Damme) tracking down a serial killer who goes by the nom de plume, The Sandman (Patrick Kilpatrick).  After confronting The Sandman in an abandoned warehouse, Burke plugs him full of holes. In other words, he gives The Sandman a lead shower. In other words, Burke pulls his gun out shoots the psycho serial killer many, many times. Burke did such a good job taking out The Sandman that he’s recruited into the Governor of California’s task force and asked to go undercover in Harrison State Prison, posing as an inmate to discover the reason behind a recent epidemic of murders in the prison.

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The prisoners don’t take to kindly Burke upon his arrival even though he was sent there on a fake charge of armed robbery, a respectable crime amoung inmates. Cynthia Gibb plays state attorney Amanda Beckett and poses as Burke’s wife so she can feed him information she gathers on the outside. There’s a point in the movie where she employs the help of a teenage boy who keeps making innapropriate suggestions to her before asking her if she wants to watch Star Trek with him (which is also innapropriate). I think the nerd hacks into some prison database and Beckett figures out the corrupt prison warden is, naturally,  running an organ harvesting operation right out of the prison.

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Things go from bad to worse when The Sandman is transferred to Harrison State Prison. He’s fully recovered from all those bullet wounds and ready to deliver some sweet revenge to Detective Burke. He lets all the prisoners know Burke is an undercover cop. They want his blood, as do the corrupt prison guards. The walls are closing in on Burke, but he’ll do some spin kicks, and that will make all the difference. Let’s just you don’t want to be standing in front of an open furnace when Van Damme delivers some sweet chin music to you.


Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

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 #17: The Shonen Problem

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #17 by Drew Barth

The Shonen Problem

Everyone loves a good Shonen series. They’re fast-paced, filled to bursting with action, typically include an expansive cast of characters for anyone to grow attached to, and are fairly fun with that right balance of drama to keep a reader interested. In many ways, Shonen manga and anime are quite similar to monthly superhero comics. And while tastes and styles are different, audiences come to each genre for the same thing: story, characters, and action.

Shonen Jump began as a weekly magazine in Japan roughly fifty years ago and has gone on to become iconic in its status as both the best-selling manga magazine as well as the starting place for many of the most well-known manga in the world. Nearly every major manga series to become popular in the states originated in Shonen JumpOne PieceDragon Ball, NarutoFist of the North Star, etc.

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The most popular, beloved series to come out of Shonen Jump is Dragon Ball. Created by Akira Toriyama in 1984, Dragon Ball is to Shonen what Batman is to superhero comics. Dragon Ball as a series has been ubiquitous in popular culture from recent fighting games to Patti Smith (thatPatti Smith) sitting down and enjoying the latest Dragon Ball film. Or perhaps you would prefer this fine fashion from Forever 21? But as a result of Dragon Ball’s ubiquity and popularity, its flaws have also influenced many other popular Shonen series as well.

If you have read Dragon Ball Z or watched the anime when they were younger, then you know the Shonen formula: There’s a bad guy. How do we handle the bad guy? We hit him real hard. That didn’t work. We hit him even harder. That sort of worked, but now the bad guy is also hitting harder. We almost lose and the bad guy is calling us pathetic. Now we’re going to scream and think about our friends/family until we can hit the bad guy SO MUCH HARDERand then we win. We celebrate.

But now there’s another bad guy who hits hard enough to blow up a planet. Guess we got to train/scream/charge up/etc. until we can also hit the new bad guy even harder.

From Dragon Ball Z’s Saiyan Saga onward, that’s more or less how stories unfold. Of course there were more nice character moments, some smaller villains, a bit of comedy, and an android marriage, but the beats perpetually returned to that same cycle.

Many other series ended up falling into this pattern as well. Naruto, One Piece, and Bleach were, and still are, among the other most popular series released by Shonen Jumpbut they still fall into these simplified drama trappings.

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As long as the main characters can power up through training or sheer force of will, they will always win in the end. Whether it be in the form of a character going Super Saiyan God Super Saiyan, utilizing the final techniques of the Sage Art, opening their final Bankai, or going into Gear Four, there’s always another level for all of these main characters to power up to defeat the nextbad guy in a long line of bad guys.

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When many of these series have hundreds of chapters and have been going on for over twenty years in some cases, the constant powering up and fights become repetitiously, repeatedly, redundantly tiresome.

However, this narrative weakness reminds me of a broader problem with Shonen and other manga genres: many manga chapters are published in various weekly magazines, be it Shonen Jump, Big Comic, etc., and many series chapters are anywhere from ten to eighteen pages. That is sixty to a hundred panels of penciled, inked, finished, and lettered manga in a single week, not including the labor for the mangaka to actually write the story and dialogue. The crunch time for a manga chapter sounds terrible, and with only the mangaka and maybe a couple assistants if they can afford them, I can understand why so many of the most popular Shonen series fall into the above tropes.

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At the same time, the tropes are partly  why people love Shonen. Reading through chapter #645 of Naruto likely has the same effect as reading Detective Comics #1002. For readers, there is a familiarity with the characters, the setting, and the action that is likely comforting. Shonen manga provides a slightly different use of character since a series is typically a single creative mind working toward an end goal with all the character growth and development that comes with the years of a series being published. But, like with Superhero comics, there is that tendency to fall into the above tropes since there is only so far a creator can take the one or two characters a series is focused on. It makes me wonder: are there are any Shonen series that are roughly thirty years old that don’t have the typical Shonen issues?

Get excited. Next week is a Bizarre Adventure.


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 364: Elisa Gabbert!

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Episode 364 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 poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert about the excitement of short-form essays, the glories of book design, not reading Moby Dick, and other literary confessions.

Elisa Gabbert

Photo by John King

 

TEXTS DISCUSSED

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NOTES

If you are into literary adventure stories, please pick up a copy of my debut novel, Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame.

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame Cover


Episode 364 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 #270: Billion Dollar Brain

The Curator of Schlock #270 by Jeff Shuster

Billion Dollar Brain

Michael Caine messes with Texas. 

Thumper once said, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” Or was that his mother? Regardless, we need to talk about filmmakers in the 1960s. Someone or multiple people working on these productions were on dope. Haschisch,  Angel Dust, maybe a little bit of Mary Jane (the drug, not Spider-Man’s girlfriend). I’ve had a dandy of a time trying to follow these Harry Palmer films for the past couple of weeks. Tonight’s feature is Billion Dollar Brain, which has the most coherent plot of the three. And the movie isn’t a complete snooze fest, but this is a weird one.

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Harry Palmer (Michael Caine) has decided to become a private investigator much to the chagrin of his former boss over at the Ministry of Defence. Harry isn’t making much of living as a P.I., surviving on Kellog’s Corn Flakes. One night, he gets a phone call, an automated message asking him to take a thermos full of eggs to Helsinki, Finland for a couple hundred pounds. There he meets an attractive woman named Anya (Françoise Dorléac) and an old friend from the United States, Leo Newbigen (Karl Malden). I guess Leo is Harry Palmer’s Felix Leiter, except he works for a mysterious organization and receives his espionage orders from a supercomputer in Texas that cost one billion dollars to build.

Yes, it’s the one billion dollar brain.

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Now it’s obvious that the organization Leo is working for is nefarious since the eggs Harry was transporting are filled with deadly viruses. But to what end? Harry is drafted back into the Ministry of Defence, but told to stay with Leo and dig deeper into this mysterious organization. This organization has serious interest in Latvia.

Harry travels to Latvia to do something for this organization.

I’m not sure what. Attend a meeting?

While staying in hotel, he runs into his old Soviet friend, Colonel Stok (Oskar Homolka), who tells him to stay away from this meeting. It seems this organization Harry is involved in is interested starting an anti-Communist revolution in Latvia.

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Harry and Leo end up in Texas where they run into General Winter, an oil tycoon played by Ed Begley. Hey, I bet that actor is the father of Ed Begley, Jr. Anyway, General Winter is a patriotic American and a proud Texan, but there’s something that really sticks in his craw and that’s communism. He goes on a megalomaniacal rant about how much he hates Godless communists and the chickens in Washington, D.C. who don’t want to drive it from the face of the earth. General Winters created a giant super computer to tell him how to do this. Leo was to carry out the machine’s orders, hire a bunch of men to infiltrate the military in Latvia, and unleash deadly viruses on the communist soldiers to pave the way for General Winters’ private army to invade.

Unfortunately, Leo pocketed the cash and never hired those secret agents. General Winters invades Latvia and there’s fear he may bring about World War III. General Winters’ convoy crosses a frozen Baltic Sea, but Colonel Stok is well aware the invasion plans. Stok drops bombs on the ice, cracking it and sending General Winters and his army of proud Texans into a watery grave. Harry survives to learn that the beautiful Anya was working for Stok all along.

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Maybe she should have been the main character of this motion picture. How was this thing pitched? The Texans are the villains, the Soviets seem sort of reasonable, and the British spy is ineffectual. Thus closes the Harry Palmer trilogy.

Have a nice weekend!


Jeffrey Shuster 3

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

Aesthetic Drift #21: I Am Wynwood

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Aesthetic Drift #21 by Rose Lopez

I Am Wynwood: Juggerknot Theater Companys Wynwood Stories

I’ve never been to the Wynwood Yard before, though I’ve heard about it. So when I go there the evening of April 18th to see Juggerknot Theatre Company’s Wynwood Stories, I’m not sure what to expect.

I know it will be an outdoor space, and I know there will be food trucks. I’ve also been told to “go to the box office” prior to the show. Before I get there, though, I’m wondering, Where in the Yard is there a theater?

Answer: it’s tucked away in a corner, just as you pass into the Yard. The box office is like an old shipping container-turned-office.

Wynwood Stories metrorail route

Beside it is a small, tented courtyard.

I give my name and am handed a tag to clip some place visible. The tag reads, “Route 2.” I am also given two tickets like the kind you use for raffles—a red one gets me Coconut Cartel Rum and a white one, Drake’s Organic Vodka. I am advised to use one before the show, and save the other for when I get inside. I go with rum, wishing I’d had time to eat dinner before I came.

While I sip my drink, I talk to a girl named Rolanda, a model and actress who joined Juggerknot last year during their Miami Motel Stories. She’s not acting in Wynwood Stories, she tells me. “I’m just getting my foot in the door.” Instead, she spends the time pre-show chatting with everyone in the courtyard.

I ask Rolanda about the route tags and Metrorail route map above the theater doors. “There are two routes,” she says, both on the Metrorail and in the show. She doesn’t want to give anything away (and neither do I), but depending on which route your tag says determines which “route” you’ll take through the show.

At its most basic, the show tells the stories of different people who have helped make Wynwood what it is today. “They’re all real, too,” Rolanda said. “Some of them are here tonight.”

My husband and I used to perform at a bar just south of Wynwood all the time. I think of the bar’s owner, an old friend I haven’t seen in years. The bar is closed now. I wonder if he’s one of the “stories”represented. I wonder if I’ll see him here tonight. (Incidentally, I do, after the show.)

There are no seats in the theater. The theater is actually an extension of the courtyard. We are split into groups based on the route number on our tags, and led from space to space: an industrial kitchen, a clothing factory, a bar, the inside of a woman’s home.

Each character talks to us in their own space and tells us their own story. We learn some of the people were here before Wynwood was bars and restaurants, art galleries, curated graffiti walls. The other people are the ones who brought all that stuff in. Either way, there’s a common theme: “Wynwood would not be what it is without me. I am Wynwood.”

Wynwood Stories Opening

If it weren’t for the earpieces each actor is wearing, I would forget these people talking to us and to one another are actors. In the woman’s home, she offers coffee and folds her laundry. Do you mind helping me with these?” she asks, handing a pair of clean underwear across her kitchen table to one of the show-goers. It’s not like any theater I’ve ever been to.

And there’s high drama. At one point, when we’re all gathered in the main courtyard, I step back to avoid getting pummeled.

“The one thing you don’t do is you don’t write over someone else’s name,” one actor says. But, it’s not just recognition everyone’s fighting over. They’re worried about being erased. “There’s a thing called progress and a thing called change,” says another actor. “I’m hip,”says another. “I’m relevant.”

As everyone’s arguing I realize, these aren’t just Wynwood gripes. These are universal gripes. How do you move forward while acknowledging the past?

And we, the spectators, aren’t ‘out there’in the audience. We’re part of the story, too.

Wynwood Stories runs through May 4th, which is also the Wynwood Yard’s last weekend in the neighborhood. After that, they’ll be moving to Doral, and a high-rise will go in its place.


Rose Lopez

Rose Lopez is working toward her MFA in creative writing from Florida International University. She also contributes content for the Miami International Book Fair. Her first short story was published with Big Muddy earlier this year. She lives in Miami with her husband and two children.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #16: Green Galaxy

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Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #16 by Drew Barth

Green Galaxy

If modern superhero comics are good at anything, it’s amalgamating. Cape comics are already deeply entrenched in popular culture and, as a result, are equally influenced by popular culture around them. And this influence can have a fun echo effect. DC Comics, for instance, has a massive archive of everything they’ve ever published for creators to peruse when they need to pull from the past to better construct their new stories. Fans love a deep pull in superhero comics—one of those old villains that no one remembers, like Kite Man, or a villain so ridiculous that no one but the bravest creator would drag them into the modern era, like Kite Man.

But influences and echoes in comics goes beyond just characters and canon. The entire format of a series can be based on older series and how they handled telling stories on an issue-to-issue basis. This is where Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp’s The Green Lantern lies in the grand scheme of superhero comics.

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Green Lantern, as a character, is typically one of four people. While John Stewart is the most familiar Green Lantern to us who grew up on the Bruce Timm Justice League cartoons, Hal Jordan is the main focus here. And for good reason. The Green Lantern as a series has its narrative arc, its main and returning cast of characters, and a strong central villain. But what the series also has is a sense of compressed storytelling akin to some of the original Green Lantern stories by John Broome and Gil Kane. Nearly every issue has a sense of being self-contained. This kind of compressed storytelling is something Morrison worked with on his Batman & Robin series years ago with three issue story arcs, but with The Green Lantern he’s compressing that compression.

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This compression, with a constant movement of story and character throughout, is honestly refreshing. If there was any one thing to bring back from older superhero stories, it’s that idea of having a story that feels nearly complete with a single issue. Some of the most famous Green Lantern stories from the fifties and sixties like “Menace of the Runaway Missile” or “The Planet of Doomed Men” are roughly ten to fifteen pages, and that’s all you need from them. Each story is a narrative piece of the overall story of the Green Lantern and contributes in some way to showcasing the character of Hal Jordan. This compressed storytelling allows creators to get out as many good ideas as possible.

And it isn’t just narrative influences that are at work in The Green Lantern. Liam Sharp’s art is, well, sharp as all hell. To look at a splash page of Sharp’s is too look at some of the most intricate and erupting with detail pages in modern comics. Art like Sharp’s is almost expected in a series like The Green Lanterndue to its sci-fi comic roots. Influences of the past percolate to the top when looking at a page like the following,

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and comparing it to the work of Philippe Druillet in his Lone Sloane series.

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Both series are pure science fiction and alien pulp at their roots, and it is that pedigree that runs through the veins and inks of The Green Lantern. From the intricate line work to the spectacular panelling, Sharp works with a vision of the universe that is strange and inspiring. Aliens burst from each page like supernovae and populate planets that feel like living, breathing ecosystems. Sharp’s work on The Green Lantern is nothing short of pure creation like the science fiction comics that came before.

One of the best things about Morrison and Sharp’s The Green Lantern is that it is a series that is always willing to wear these influences proudly. Some fans don’t enjoy the camp or the outright weirdness of Silver Age comics at times, but that era produced stories and iconography that has lasted decades. To fully embrace old science fiction titles like Mystery in Space, Tales of the Unexpected, and Challengers of the Unknown while staying committed to the core of Green Lantern’s character as an intergalactic lawman shows just how much thought and love Morrison and Sharp put into their series. They don’t reinvent the wheel, but they do make it better.

Get excited. Space is the place.


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 363: John King?

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Episode 363 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, David James Poissant turns the tables on John King and interviews him about the miraculous release of his epic novel, Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame.

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TEXT DISCUSSED

Guy Psycho and the Ziggurat of Shame Cover

Here is the original Guy Psycho short story.


Episode 363 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 #269: Funeral in Berlin

The Curator of Schlock #269 by Jeff Shuster

Funeral In Berlin

Harry Palmer is like James Bond except totally different. 

I’m so excited! The Star Wars Episode 9 trailer dropped! I’m just so excited! And I just can’t hide it! It’s called The Rise of Skywalker. What could that mean? I mean I hate to say this, but Luke faded into star stuff at the end of the last movie. Luke died as he lived, a failure. Who cares? We got Billy Dee Williams reprising his role as Lando Calrissian. I can’t wait to watch him die the painful and humiliating death he deserves.

Speaking of painful and humiliating, Michael Caine returns as secret agent Harry Palmer in tonight’s movie, 1966’s Funeral In Berlin from director Guy Hamilton. Hey, he directed Diamonds Are Forever, the worst James Bond movie—I mean, the worst James Bond movie starring Sean Connery, which is still the worst Bond movie.

Diamonds are Forever Poster

I don’t count 1967’s Casino Royale, the comic atrocity starring Peter Sellers and Orson Welles. The 1967 Casino Royale barely counts as a movie. It’s more like a bunch of random scenes strung together by a coke fiend. Maybe I didn’t need the word like in that last sentence.

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So how is Funeral in Berlin? It’s better than Casino Royale.

Better than Diamonds Are Forever?

Well, you can’t really compare Harry Palmer to James Bond. Harry Palmer wears glasses. James Bond does not. Harry Palmer can’t afford a car. James Bond drives an Aston Martin DB5. Beautiful women seduce Harry Palmer. James Bond seduces beautiful women. Harry Palmer enjoys gourmet food. James Bond enjoys gourmet food. Hey, they’ve got something in common.

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The plot of Funeral in Berlin involves Harry Palmer taking a trip to Berlin so a Russian Colonel can defect to the United Kingdom because retirement isn’t looking so good for this old communist. He doesn’t want to defect to the United States because Americans are just another bunch of revolutionaries with better pants.

Let me tell you something, my Soviet friend. Those revolutionaries gave the world Skyline Chilli, Teddy Ruxpin, and seven seasons of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. What did England give the world? Mushy peas, the Crooked Man, and the cancellation of Wire in the Blood, the greatest crime drama to ever to grace—ah, never mind. Where was I?

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This movie seems less eventful than The Ipcress File, which wasn’t all that eventful. Harry Palmer goes to Berlin pretending to be a lady’s underwear salesman. He meets a gorgeous Israeli spy played by Eva Renzi, and the actress dubbing her voice sounds pretty cute too. I think there’s a double cross. Someone gets shot. Twists and turns with as little action as possible. I know I’m not supposed to expect Tom-Cruise-attacking-a-helicopter-on-top-of-a-speeding-train kind of action, but we get nothing here.

I don’t know. Keep in mind that the second greatest Bond movie of all time, Thunderball, came out the previous year. I think I’m nearing to my five hundred-word count. Next week is Billion Dollar Brain, the final film in the Harry Palmer trilogy. I like the title. Lets hope this series goes out with a bang.


Jeffrey Shuster 1

Photo by Leslie Salas

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

Aesthetic Drift #20: Poetry in Pajamas

Aesthetic Drift #20 by Rose Lopez

O, Miami’s Poetry in Pajamas

As parents, my husband and I are constantly looking for things we can do with our kids. So when I first look over the calendar of events for the O, Miami Poetry Festival, I know right away we’ll check out their Poetry in Pajamas event at the Miami Beach Botanical Gardens on Friday, April 12th.

Poetry in Pajamas sign

We arrive a little late (another symptom of parenting) and pass ponds and kids and parents in pajamas playing cornhole and giant Jenga in the grass. Toward the back of the garden is a large Banyan. A small stage strung with Edison bulbs and a hand-painted sign is set up underneath the tree. To the right of the stage, a band plays; the woman sings about the joy of mangoes. (Later, I will realize the band is Afrobeta, a local duo described by the Miami New Times as “a match in disco-house heaven.”)

People have blankets and chairs set up on the lawn in front of the stage. My three-year-old is immediately drawn to a bubble machine. We will return to the bubbles many times over the course of the evening.

Annie and Bubbles

Afrobeta takes a seat, and two young boys stand on stage to emcee. They recite poems. “You probably know this poem,”the younger boy says, and points to his brother. “Sam wrote it!”It is about a whale.

Simon, Sam and Frankie

“Whose kids are these?”my husband wonders aloud. “They’re great.”

A woman standing nearby overhears. “They’re hers,”she says, pointing to another woman in a halo of bubbles.

The woman is Sara Kaplan, the creator of Poetry in Pajamas, now in its second year.“My boys used to write poems together in their bunks when they were younger,”she tells me. “They submitted them to O, Miami, and the event just kind of grew from there.”

At 7 o’clock, Kaplan’s boys, Sam, 10, and Simon, 7, open the mic to the kids in the crowd. Shel Silverstein is a popular source for the participants. Some kids read off their phones. One girl introduces her poem by saying, “I just wrote this ten minutes ago.”The poem is about the courage it takes to get onstage and read aloud.

Little Girl Recites Poetry

The extra incentive to participate in the open mic is entrance into a raffle to win a Poetry in Pajamas backpack. I am sorry my three-year-old can’t yet read, nor has she memorized any poems, because she loves backpacks. But many of the kids who do get on stage are not much older than my daughter.

Near the lawn, there’s a patio with food and vendors. Some kids are selling friendship bracelets they braid themselves. A young woman is offering free manicures to children. There’s a cart selling peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and bowls of cereal. Another selling crepes. Different kinds of fruit-infused water are free. Wine and beer is up for sale to the adults.

Pups in Pajamas

Apart from poetry and bubbles, the kids in the garden are drawn to the natural environment. My three-year-old spends a good portion of the night begging quarters off my husband to stick in a machine for a handful of fish food. She tosses it into the ponds where there are huge koi and a turtle.

My nine-month-old crawls in the grass, tries to follow the bigger kids onto a large rock. By the end, she is coated in a fine dirt. She is not the only one.

Lily Gets Muddy

Much of the time, the poetry functions as ambient noise. But I love how homegrown everything feels, like a lemonade stand. There’s a wonderful organized chaos to the evening that makes me nostalgic. It’s the kind of good, clean fun I remember as a kid. It’s the kind of good, clean fun I hope my kids will remember when they’re older, and then write poems about.


The O, Miami Poetry Festival has poetry springing up all over Miami in April. Learn more here.


Rose Lopez

Rose Lopez is working toward her MFA in creative writing from Florida International University. She also contributes content for the Miami International Book Fair. Her first short story was published with Big Muddy earlier this year. She lives in Miami with her husband and two children.

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #15: Graphic Cannon

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #15 by Drew Barth

Graphic Cannon

For this blog, I’ve mainly focused on the serialized comics since I’m in A Comic Shop every Wednesday. But graphic novels are a bit different.  Their releases are scheduled like books, typically on Tuesdays or Fridays, and are new, original works that have not been previously serialized. And that brings me to a graphic novel that is coming out on April 19thfrom Uncivilized Books: Cannonball by Kelsey Wroten.

Cannonball

You may recognize Wroten’s work from The New Yorker, The New York Times, or her Instagram. But with Cannonball, we’re getting her first long-form graphic work and already it’s one of the strongest graphic novels out this year. It’s top five for me, and it’s only March.

Basics: Cannonball is about Caroline Bertram, a recent art school graduate, queer, and a “self-proclaimed tortured genius” who rips up her thesis novel to use as cat litter for a stray she picks up outside her first apartment. Caroline and her best friend, Penelope, struggle to become adults with bills, rent, jobs, and the ever-encroaching sense of dread that comes with being a newly-minted adult. Throughout Cannonball, we see Caroline dealing with failure—personal and artistic—that permeates her new adult life. And although she draws some strength from a professional wrestler, the titular Cannonball, these feelings never truly leave.

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Cannonball is a graphic novel about the crushing loneliness that follows us throughout our lives. From the first to the last panel, we see Caroline alone. Even if in both of these panels she’s either in bed with someone else or at a party celebrating her achievements, she is emotionally alone in both situations. Caroline goes forward with herself, slips backwards, picks herself up, stumbles again, continues to stumble, and stumbles into success. But her success never feels forced or cheapened. Through a constant struggle, she earns every achievement she receives, and yet is never satisfied or cured by these successes.

A great moment happens toward the end of the book where Caroline talks about not being able to get a story published in the same zines she’d had stories in after getting her own book. Caroline’s art has touched people in ways she hadn’t imagined, but because she didn’t imagine her work having that impact, such success is alienating.

What Wroten works with marvelously throughout Cannonball is this existential idea of identity. Midway through the book, Caroline has an argument with her father about being an adult, about her “lifestyle” and what she plans to do with her life. It’s the kind of argument that is familiar and devastating in equal measure. Wroten’s art only heightens this tense moment with stark backgrounds, darkened panels, and onomatopoeia that floats around Caroline’s father like nagging insects.

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Her father’s words physically float and haunt Caroline even after she leaves the argument, and we can’t help but feel the bile and bitterness as though we just had the argument ourselves. But it brings up questions that the rest of the book hinges on: who is Caroline going to be and what does she even want to be?

She has a constant struggle throughout to answer that question.

With Cannonball, Wroten provides us with a staggering work that can act as a guide for creating a near perfect graphic novel. From its pitch-perfect art to a story that feels familiar and achievable to Caroline’s character living and breathing in a way that is perfectly flawed and human, Cannonball is a wondrous achievement in graphic storytelling. There are so many small moments and instances throughout the book that it’s hard to talk about all of the in the scope of one article, but I do hope all of what’s written above gets you just as excited for Cannonball as I am for it.

Get excited. The best stories 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.