Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #104: New Year, New Deep, Resigned Sigh

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #104 by Drew Barth

New Year, New Deep, Resigned Sigh

New year, new reminder to check up on your friends. Deep breaths. Drink more water.

Also, think about comics. It’s the beginning of a new year after continuously living through a year that felt like a painful, strange epoch, so we deserve to take a small break from the state of everything by looking forward to things. This year is looking like more digital cons and the like, but your local comic shop is likely still trying to survive, so let’s look at some of the series coming later this year they can order for you.

Starting off since the first couple issues of this came out yesterday is DC’s new event: Future State. Yes, it is another event that will “change the DC Universe forever” like the past dozen. But, honestly, I do enjoy these massive canon changes and reboots since new writers—Ram V, Becky Cloonan, John Ridley, Stephanie Phillips, Mariko Tamaki, Dan Mora, Leila del Duca, and a host of others—can get their hands on characters and a slate of new miniseries gives new readers an easy entry-point into the universe. What’s most fun here isn’t just the new series, but the new anthologies of stories that can help create a much broader sense of where these characters are going in the future. It should be fun.

Next we have Guerrilla Green by Cookie Kalkair and Ophélie Damblé from Boom! Studios in April. This graphic novel centers around an unnamed woman and her efforts to bring more greenery to her city. The story itself is already sounding fun, but when I found out it was based on the concept of guerrilla gardening—gardening without limits on abandoned and private property—I knew I had to get it as soon as possible. From what we know about it so far, it’ll be a story that also leads into a manual about how to garden guerrilla-style in your own city. It’s time to drag the 21stcentury kicking and screaming into solarpunk.

How much are you into sentai and giant robots? If you’ve been reading long enough, you’ll know I am. So James Harren and James Stewart will be bringing us their new series in March from Image: Ultramega. Not only is this going to be a culmination of everything we love about kaiju and series like Ultraman, but it’s going to be working with comics in a fun way as well. Instead of the standard monthly thirty-ish pages, we’ll be getting nearly double that every couple months. It’s providing a nice in-between from the standard monthly model and what November is doing with its releases.

A new graphic novel from Fantagraphics is always good news, and Stone Fruit from Lee Lai looks like it’s going to be the kind of book that I’ll cry multiple times over. Centered on Bron and Ray, a couple that gravitate back and forth from one another as they attempt to repair their broken family bonds while also playing the weird aunts to Ray’s niece. It is the kind of story that already looks like it’s going to be some of the most emotionally resonant work of the year and we still have to wait until May to read it.

Speaking of waiting, we’ll have to wait until June for Pascal Girard’s new graphic novel from Drwan & Quarterly: Rebecca and Lucie In the Case of the Missing Neighbor. After witnessing two men carrying something into a van and hearing that a home health worker in her neighborhood has gone missing, Rebecca puts her eight month-old daughter, Lucie, in her carrier and begins investigating. This looks like it’s going to be one of the more humorous books of the year as we have some hard-boiled detective work coupled with diaper-change stake-outs.

Another Drawn & Quarterly release that’s likely going to be another favorite, Guy Delisle returns with his summer job saga, Factory Summers. This is Delisle’s chronicle of his time working in a paper plant as a sixteen year-old as the industry was increasingly outsourced overseas. He deals with the ire of factory workers as he was able to get his job through his dad as well as a toxic culture that permeated nearly everything in the factory. A different kind of coming of age, this looks like it’s going to be an interesting take on what a summer job looks like.

And finally we have Celestia, the new graphic novel from Manuele Fior published by Fantagraphics. A futurist tale that focuses on the past clinging so desperately to the past that it becomes like a prison and the new generation that will have to lead people in a new way. It’s the kind of graphic novel that feels most pertinent in a time like this. But it is still the story of two characters, Dora and Pierrot, as they leave their home and hopefully push their world in the right direction.

And actually finally, maybe Saga will return this year? It’s less a prediction and more of a hope.

The beginning of the year always brings some new comics into our minds and this year is no exception. We’re likely going to see the results of lockdown free time and stress bubbling up into our stories this year. And next year. And the year after that. And likely for the next decade or two. But now is the time for new comics and hope.

Get excited. Get back to your local shops.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

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.

The Rogue’s Guide to Shakespeare on Film #87: All is True (2018)

87. Kenneth Branagh’s All is True, 2018.

I have a fraught relationship with Kenneth Branagh’s cinematic Shakespeare work. As an actor, he perhaps has no equal, certainly among his own generation. As a director, his indiscriminate courting of Hollywood has led to so many embarrassments. He has made more Shakespeare films than Olivier, yet as a director he hasn’t lived up to his potential. Someone would need to be so intimidated by his acting not to see the flaws in his direction. His shortcomings anger me because of how much I love him in Henry Vand in Oliver Parker’s Othello, which are compelling, perfect films.

In his latest film adaptation of Shakespeare back in 2006, As You Like It, Branagh-as-director refrained from acting, and managed to render something wonderful from this comedy. There were some Hollywood actors in the cast, but they weren’t struggling to seem natural in Shakespeare’s world. For some reason, this film wasn’t marketed well, and it didn’t get the love it deserved.

In All is True, Branagh returns to acting and directing. Penning the script is Ben Elton, who played a minor role in Branagh’s Much Ado About Nothing, a writer with credits for Black Adder.

All is True imagines William Shakespeare’s brief life after the Globe Theatre burned to the ground, which the film suggests led Shakespeare to retire from writing rather than rebuild his business venture to try to mount new plays. He retires to Stratford-Upon-Avon to try to put his house back in order, to cultivate his own garden.

In some ways, dear readers, this is how I feel reviewing Shakespeare films. I have perhaps experienced too much Shakespeare media. Oh, there’s a new Hamlet to watch? I’d rather watch cat videos on Youtube. The new Hamlet is amazing, you say? That will not affect my plans or desires. Let me know when there is a compelling Troilus and Cressida and then I can muster some excitement. Maybe.

But All is True is not an adaptation of a theatrical work. Imagine Shakespeare in Love, but in which Shakespeare is old rather than young, and with fewer metatextual games. In some ways, All is True could be seen as fan service for those who worship the bard. You will be rewarded if you thrill to a story that knows the details of Shakespeare’s life. You will be rewarded if you are a relative newcomer wanting more details about Shakespeare’s life. Since this was in part what my M.A. thesis was about, I am less enamored of this historical feature getting its facts right.

The core of this story imagines Shakespeare trying to put his house in order, trying to re-establish a family life, and struggling mightily at that. The running time is short, which makes a big difference. Ben Elton’s script shows real conflict between people whose hurts arise out of love and passion. This is a way to spend an hour and a half with Kenneth Branagh as Shakespeare himself.

The night scenes are especially evocative, as the lights from candles and fireplaces still leave most indoor spaces in the dark. In that negative space, confessions take on new meanings.

All is True tells a basic story exceedingly well. Watching Branagh, Judy Dench (as Anne Shakespeare), Ian McKellan (briefly, as the Earl of Southampton), and frankly the entire cast was a joy, a sorrowful joy as Shakespeare imagines how to live quietly, in harmony with a family he didn’t know he didn’t understand.

Branagh’s voice is such a delicious instrument.

All is True is a little sad, but it is precisely the way I want to spend time with Kenneth Branagh: charming, vulnerable, unforgettable.

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.

453: Carolyn Forché!

Episode 453 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).

This week, I talk to the poet and memoirist Carolyn Forché about her latest collection, In the Lateness of the World.




  • TDO Listeners can get 20% of a premium subscription to Scribophile. After using the above link to register for a basic account, go here while still logged in to upgrade the account with the discount.
  • Check out Netflix’s film adaptation of Lily Brooks-Dalton’s Good Morning, Midnight.

Episode 453 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 #337: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

The Curator of Schlock #337 by Jeff Shuster

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service

The Bond everyone forgets.

Okay.  I got a little tipsy last night on too much of the bubbly. I wake up wearing nothing, but a pair of red polkadot boxer shorts. My right arm has a bloody gash. No doubt someone in the house was doing some late night snacking. Oh, and there’s a kangaroo sleeping at the foot of my bed. I dare not wake her. Help!

schlock mansion

We’re going to ring in the new year with 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a much maligned James Bond movie that I found holds up better than you’d think. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is the first in the mainline Bond movies to feature a James Bond not played by Sean Connery. This time around, Australian model George Lazenby takes on the role of Britain’s top gentleman spy. It was distinct from the Bond movies of the era as it supposedly follows the novel quite closely.

Why is this movie worth your time? I think it’s the closest I’ve ever seen to a James Bond epic. The movie begins with 007 rescuing a beautiful young woman from drowning herself in the ocean. Her name is Contessa Teresa di Vicenzo (Diana Rigg), but she goes by Tracy. Her father is Marc-Ange Draco, head of a vast European crime syndicate. Draco offers Bond a deal: court his daughter and he’ll give Bond a clue to the whereabouts to Ernst Stavro Blofeld, leader of SPECTRE and Bond’s arch nemesis. Also, if Bond decides to marry her, Draco will give him a dowry of one million pounds.

Tracey is furious when she becomes aware of her father’s arrangements with Bond and forces Draco to give up the information on Blofeld and let Bond leave, but Bond is intrigued by Tracey enough to see her for a time. Anyway, turns out Blofeld is keen on getting recognized as a count and is seeking the aid of genealogist Sir Hilary Bray (George Baker). Blofeld requests Bray meet him at his allergy clinic in the Swiss Alps to finalize his claim to the title of Count Balthazar de Bleuchamp. Bond goes in impersonating Bray and discovers that Blofeld has sinister plans for the world.

Let’s get out of the way what doesn’t work in this movie. There are too many callbacks to earlier Bond movies in the first act. We see clips from the first five Bond movies during the credit sequence. Later, we see Bond cleaning out his desk after giving M his resignation from MI6 and we hear music cues from Dr. NoFrom Russia With Love, and Thunderball with each item he removes from his office. This makes me nostalgic for Connery which is a huge mistake when introducing a new actor as James Bond. Also, when Bond is disguised as Sir Hilary Bray, they overdub Lazenby with George Baker. That wasn’t clever and it undermines your new actor.

But when the ruse is discovered and Bond is face to face with Blofeld, this is where the movie hits its stride. It’s here that Lazenby is James Bond. And then the movie turns into one prolonged chase scene and it doesn’t let up. Bond skis down the Swiss Alps pursued by agents of SPECTRE gunning for him. When he gets to Swiss village below, he hides among the citizens enjoying Christmas festivities, but the bad guys are closing in and this will be the end for Bond, but then Tracey shows up in his darkest hour and rescues him. This is the love of James Bond’s life, the woman that he’ll marry, and the woman that will change him forever. You get all this from a movie made over fifty years ago. Not a bad way to spend your time.

Photo by Leslie Salas.

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

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #103: Crossing Into Reality

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #103 by Drew Barth

Crossing Into Reality

When a comic starts off with a quote from Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, you know it’s going to be fun. When you couple that quote with an event in which every superhero suddenly lands in Denver in a fight so massive they have to bubble the entire city to keep the mayhem from getting out, you have a different kind of fun. That kind of fun is Crossover by Donny Cates, Geoff Shaw, Dee Cunniffe, and John J. Hill. I’ve talked about first issues at length in the past, but it’s always nice to jump into a new series that is doing so many things well right from the start.

Okay, so what the actual hell is Crossover? For the most part, like I said in the beginning, it’s superheroes landing in Denver and having it out. But what happens after that? As this story is set in the real world, akin to DC’s Earth-Prime, casualties and widespread carnage the likes of which no one has seen before. The explosion of superheroes eventually causes one of them to shut off the whole of Colorado from the rest of the world while their crossover event takes place. From here, we’re introduced to Ellipses—a woman whose parents were in Denver when the crossover event happened and who still dresses in a domino mask and yellow trench coat despite the new stigma against superheroes. The world has taken a turn for the weird with a pre-Comics Code fervor against comics complete with religious protests and a firebombing.

What is really interesting in this first issue is how far Cates, Shaw, Cunniffe, and Hill go when asking about the reality of comics. This first issue outright asks if we the readers or Superman is more real in our reality. It’s a Morrison-esque analysis on our perceptions of reality intertwined with comics. And with a first issue, the creative team is here looking to see where they can bend that reality as this is our world, more or less. People carry around issues of Hulk, Rawhide Kid, and Supermanin Provo, Utah and feel incredibly ordinary. But then there’s a looming threat somewhere out of sight that has the entire world on edge. Wait, no, that’s ordinary too. What isn’t ordinary is the idea of crossing over, of the comic characters coming through the veil of reality into our own world. As this is the first issue, that hasn’t been explained just yet, but it also doesn’t feel like it needs explaining as much as it needs examining.

From some of the creative team’s previous endeavors with God Country, it’s hard to resist the hooks dragging you deeper into this first issue. It wants to show so much more, but knows that it needs to keep something hidden just outside of the panel to draw you into the rest of the series. Outside of world-building, those hooks are the most important thing to begin a series with, and this one has so many to bring you in.

Get excited. Get real.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

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.

452: Grace Elizabeth Hale!

Episode 452 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).

This week, I talk to historian Grace Elizabeth Hale about how Athens, Georgia helped launch an indie music revolution with the B52s, REM, Pylon, and other bands, and the art and college scene that spawned them.



Episode 452 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 #336: Wild Card

The Curator of Schlock #336 by Jeff Shuster

Wild Card

You celebrate Christmas in your way. I’ll celebrate it in mine. 

I hate White Elephant. This was Celestial’s idea. All of us bought a gift under twenty dollars. Then each of us randomly picked a wrapped gift, but the rules allow others to snatch what I get out of my hands in exchange for whatever crappy gift they unwrapped. I lost out on a sound machine and a Tony Bennett Christmas CD only to end up with a Chia Pet molded to look like Bob Ross! Merry Christmas!

Speaking of Christmas, this week’s movie is 2015’s Wild Card from director Simon West. It stars Jason Statham as Nick Wild, a sort of Jack-of-all-trades tough guy residing in Las Vegas. The movie takes place at Christmastime and while some of you may argue that the fact that a movie takes place at Christmastime does not necessarily make it a Christmas movie, it’s been a crap year. I don’t feel like watching Rudolf and Frosty. I feel like watching Jason Statham beat up mafia flunkies to the tune of “White Christmas” by The Drifters.

I don’t exactly know what Nick Wild does for a living. I think he’s a kind of bodyguard/tour guide/private investigator. Everyone in town knows him and he has a reputation as a problem solver. A female acquaintance named Holly (Dominik García-Lorido) gets sexually assaulted and dumped in front of a hospital. She contacts Nick in the hopes he’ll get information on the man that roughed her up so she can sue him. Nick finds out the man is Danny DeMarco (Milo Anthony Ventimiglia), a nasty piece of work with mafia connections. With that information, Holly has something more sinister in mind than suing Danny and asks Nick to use his special skills.

With Danny naked and tied to a chair, Holly gets out a pair of garden shears and comes very close to disemboweling Danny, but then settles on robbing him of $50,000. She splits the take with Nick before hightailing it out town, suggesting that he does the same as Danny’s men will soon be after him. I forgot to mention that there’s also a subplot of Nick playing chaperone to a young man named Cyrus (Michael Angarano), a Silicon Valley wizkid who’s a multi-millionaire, but wants to learn how to be courageous. While hanging out in one of the smaller casinos, Nick pushes his luck while playing a game of blackjack. He wins over half a million, but then blows it all when he bets it all in an effort to get over a million.

Don’t feel bad for Nick. Somehow things end up working out for him in the end. The bad guys get what’s coming to them and the not-so-bad people make out okay. What more can you ask for during Christmas? Also, I’d like to note that there are many cameos in this movie from actors such as Sofia Vergara, Jason Alexander, Anne Heche, and Stanley Tucci.

Wild Card received bad reviews and bombed at the box office, but the movie was a pleasant surprise for me. It’s based on the novel Heat by the legendary William Goldman that was also adapted into a movie of the same name starring Burt Reynolds. I’ll have to hunt that one down.

Photo by Leslie Salas

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

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #102: Maid in Le Mans



Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #102 by Drew Barth

Maid in Le Mans

Comics are well suited to depicting historical events. In her most recent work, Maids, Katie Skelly brings us the story of the Papin Sisters—two women who murdered the mother and daughter of the Lancelin family in 1930s France.

Maids is the story of former nuns and current maids, Christine and Lea Papin, and their lives before murder has crossed their minds. Or, at least, before we’re aware that murder has crossed their minds. Growing up with an absent father and alcoholic mother, the sisters had little choice in joining a nunnery. From there, the sisters are split as Christine is hired as a maid for the Lancelin family, leaving Lea alone and desolate. Soon, the sisters reunite as maids for the same family—one of the only moments we see the sisters truly happy together.

That moment, and after they’ve murdered the family they work for.

But even as the Papin Sisters are covered in the blood of the two women they’ve murdered, we still feel a certain kind of sympathy for them. For they most part, they are women with a bond who had nothing else in the world but each other. They were alone and any mistake as maids would have landed them on the streets. It’s that kind of tension that Skelly works with so well throughout Maids. Those anxieties link right into how Skelly displays the roots of those feelings as well. With only a handful of panels, she is able to establish the Papin Sister’s previous home life and their time at the convent—all of which were fraught with alcoholism and abuse by the very people you would expect to harbor some compassion.

The final two pages of this graphic novel are going to sit with me for a while. Christine and Lea get ready for bed after the murder, speak in unison, and sit in the bed in the dark with their eyes open. It’s a testament to the uncanny nature of the story. As real as this event was, it gives the readers enough distance to still be shocked by the text at the end outlining the sisters’ deaths after being arrested. It is an obscure point in history not many are familiar with, but it’s the kind of event that works so well in the uncanny medium of comics.

Get excited. Get that blood off your blouse.

Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

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.

451: A Panel of Debut Poets, with Tommye Blount, Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, & Joy Priest!

Episode 451 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).

This week, I share a Miami Book Fair panel of poets with debut books: Tommye Blount, Ricardo Alberto Maldonado, & Joy Priest!


The Curator of Schlock #335: Young Sherlock Holmes

The Curator of Schlock #335 by Jeff Shuster

Young Sherlock Holmes

I liked it. 

Watching that Suspiria movie gave me an idea. What if I used black magic to get rid of these vampires who are forcing me write their spec screenplay? I’ve digging deep into the manor library finding all sorts of forbidden tomes like The Book of Eibon, Nameless Cults, and Blowing the Bloody Doors Off by Michael Caine. There’s got to be an anti-vampire spell in one of them. Maybe not the Michael Caine book, but you never know.

schlock mansion

This week’s movie is 1985’s Young Sherlock Holmes from director Barry Levinson. This is another movie that made the rounds on Showtime a lot when I was growing up. It was supposed to be the next big hit from Amblin Entertainment which had just given audiences The Goonies and Back to the Future. Unfortunately, the movie was a box office disappointment. So this is a one and done, but you could see it as a prequel to any Sherlock Holmes movie.

During the opening credits, we see Steven Spielberg Presents Young Sherlock Holmes. Back then, you’d see Spielberg’s name on everything and I was too young to understand the difference between a producer and a director. What you got with a Spielberg movie was state of the art special effects and with Industrial Light & Magic at the helm, Young Sherlock Holmes does not disappoint. Now this being a Sherlock Holmes movie, you wouldn’t expect to see things like Belloq’s head popping, but you’d be wrong.

The opening of Young Sherlock Holmes begins with the murder of Bently Bobster, a Victorian gentleman out for a meal at one of London’s finest restaurants. A mysterious hooded figure with a blowgun shoots a dart at him that’s laced with a kind of fear toxin. Basically, anyone who gets a dose will see their greatest fears realized in front of their eyes. The roast pheasant Mr. Bobster orders comes to life and starts attacking him. He runs home only to then get attacked by his coat rack while the gaslights in his room start shooting flames everywhere. He jumps out of the window to his death while trying to escape the raging fire. Scotland Yard rules it a suicide.

We get more nightmarish visions that show off the effects powerhouse that was Industrial Light & Magic. One features a vicar seeing a stained glass medieval knight leaping out of a stained glass. Another features copper gargoyles flying about and attacking a man in an antique shop. One of the best nightmare sequences involves custard tarts and French pastries coming to life, even sprouting arms and legs.

I’ve noticed over the years that people just don’t like this movie. Maybe because it involves a teenage Sherlock Holmes (Nicholas Rowe) and John Watson (Alan Cox)? Despite the fact that they’re teenagers, they still act like Holmes and Watson if not a little less refined. Plus, we get an Egyptian cult practicing human sacrifice in a wooden pyramid inside an old warehouse in the middle of Victorian London during Christmastime.

Did I lose you?

I think I lost you.

Photo by Leslie Salas

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