The Curator of Schlock #377: Short Peace

The Curator of Schlock #377 by Jeff Shuster

Short Peace

Don’t ask about the title.

I had collapsed in shock after witnessing a security guard get mauled to death by Tasmanian devils while trapped in a cage with a female kangaroo named Edwige. The devils ignored us, choosing to go after the other factory workers in the distance. Maybe it was a kinship toward Edwige and the other marsupials in this slaughterhouse for black market meats. Hours later, a team of soldiers led by Larry, a secret agent of the Canadian government bearing a striking resemblance to Don Knots, freed Edwige and myself from our cage. — To be continued.


This week’s anime extravaganza is 2013’s Short Peace, another animated anthology of short films from directors Koji Morimoto, Shuhei Morita, Katsuhiro Otomo, Hiroaki Ando, and Hajime Katoki. One of these shorts, Possessions, was even nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Short. The movie begins with a little girl following a rabbit into a chamber filled with wondrous delights that serves as a hub for the different worlds that await the audience.

The first short is the aforementioned Possessions. It begins in old Japan. A traveler  caught in a forest during a raging storm. He enters a shrine to escape the rain, apologizes to whichever spirits reside on the sacred ground. Before he knows it, he’s in a room surrounded by fancy umbrellas, all complaining about their state of decay. The traveler marvels at their craftsmanship and proceeds to repair them with materials made available to him. He repairs garments as well, but then requests that the spirits let him out, but the spirits of the abandoned items turn violent. Will he survive the night?

The next short is titled Combustible, and as you can tell from the title, it’s about fire. The short begins with an illustrated scroll rolling out. The images spring to life and we get a tale of a bride wanting a man other than her betrothed. She’s in love with a member of the town’s fire brigade. In her despair, she accidentally starts a fire, infighting her home and the entire neighborhood.

The third short is Gambo, a tale of a bear and an ogre. The short begins with a defeated samurai asking the big, white bear Gambo if he’s a messenger from God or something to that effect. In a nearby village, a giant red ogre with a twisted face and sharp horns attacks the villagers and makes off with one of the young maidens to impregnate her with his devil spawn. Later, Gambo meets the daughter of the emperor who conveys her despair and gets him to destroy the ogre’s lair. A brutal fight between bear and ogre ensues. The samurai from the beginning of the film rushed to Gambo’s aid.

The final short is titled A Farewell to Weapons and is about a group of scavengers looking for valuables in an abandoned city after a future World War. An artificially intelligent super tank wakes up and gives chase. Realizing how deadly this weapon is, the men vow to destroy it. And that about sums up Short Peace. I liked how some of the shorts were cel animated while others incorporated CG into the traditional look of cel animation. For fans of animated anthologies, this one is not to be missed.


Photo by Leslie Salas.

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

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #170: One Last Job

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #170 by Drew Barth

One Last Job

DC’s Black Label imprint has become the hub for stories centered on heroes and villains in their later years. From Catwoman: Lonely City to Swamp Thing: Green Hell, we get to see a variety of characters and how the changing times can change who they are. Or, in many cases, show how changing times can’t change them at all. And this is no truer than in the new series, Rogues, by Joshua Williamson, Leomacs, Matheus Lopes, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou in which we get to see the Flash’s classic gallery of Rogues in a different kind of light.

Set roughly ten years after their prime, Rogues centers on Leonard Snart, better known as Captain Cold. Central City is a different place from what we’re used to as readers. It’s brighter, cleaner, safer. The Rogues of the past have been scattered to the winds and have taken up respectable jobs wherever they can find them. Without a Flash in sight and parole agents breathing down their neck, they can’t not live without their past villainy. Snart, however, can’t any longer. Seeing his current life stuck in a job that doesn’t respect him and watching his city slowly gentrify, he wants out of the cycle. Captain Cold can’t act alone. Rogues always work as a team. And his team of Golden Glider, Trickster, Bronze Tiger, Magenta, Heat Wave, and Mirror Master come together to hatch a single heist that will hopefully pull them all out of the civilian lives they’re trapped in.

The Rogues have always been one of the most interesting groups in the DC Universe. We always see how villains will come together temporarily, namely in things like the Legion of Doom, before they inevitably back-stab and betray. The Rogues were always different. They worked together, they had a code, they were genuinely friendly with one another. Villainy for them was more of a job than a compulsion. And Rogues as a series feels like an extension of that thought. The Rogues gathered here are a part of the classic line-up with a few new members, but there is a camaraderie that brings them all together under someone like Captain Cold as not one of them wants to stay in their current lives much longer. The years can go by for all of them, but their central essence will still remain the same.

Williamson, Leomacs, Lopes, and Otsmane-Elhaou have something that’s difficult to pin down in Rogues. My mind always goes back to those episodes of Justice League: Unlimited where the Flash interacts with the Rogues like an exasperated friend more than a nemesis. That difference—the hatred of the circumstance rather than the individual—is why this group is as captivating as they are. The distinction between chaotic villainy and simply wanting to do a job isn’t explored all that often in comics, but it’s the kind of exploration that can show how human a man with an absolute zero freeze ray can be.

Get excited. Get cold.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Episode 518: Vidhu Aggarwal!

Episode 518 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

In this week’s show, I speak with the poet Vidhu Aggarwal about humor in poetry, the physicality of laughter, symbology, physics and spirituality, The Mahabharata, Samuel Beckett, and Shakespeare.

TEXT DISCUSSED

NOTES

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

If you live in Central Florida, check out Vidhu’s upcoming event on April 13th.

The Kerouac Project of Orlando is open for applications for its residency program until April 17th.

Check out these video archives of great poetry events from Miami Book Fair.


Episode 518 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 #376: Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland

The Curator of Schlock #376 by Jeff Shuster

Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland

Is it anime?

You ever watch a man get eaten alive by Tasmanian devils? I have. You ever watch a man get eaten alive by Tasmanian devils while trapped inside a cage with a kangaroo named Edwige? I have. You ever watch a man get eaten alive by Tasmanian devils while trapped in a cage with a kangaroo named Edwige while blowing bubbles with sour apple flavored Bubblicious bubble gum? I have.

Jealous much?

This week’s movie is 1992’s Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland from directors Masami Hate and William Hurtz. At some point, I hope they make a documentary on the making of this motion picture as it had been stuck in development hell for about fifteen years. Producer Yutaka Fujioka wanted to enter the U.S. market with a feature length adaptation of a classic American comic strip by Winsor McCay. Names attached to this production include Ray Bradbury, Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, Brad Bird, and Chris Columbus to name a few.

From what I can gather, this movie was an attempt by a Japanese animation studio to create a feature in the American style of animation, something akin to what the Walt Disney Studios would make. Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland had an estimated budget of $35 million dollars, but only made $14 million at the box office. I have to say, growing up I’d never heard anyone talk about this movie. It most likely was overshadowed by the recent Disney offerings of The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast.

I did a little digging and found an old Siskel & Ebert clip where they were not too kind to this movie. In Roger Ebert’s review, he states “Nemo himself has the IQ of an eggplant, but at least he doesn’t talk much.” Who is Nemo? He’s a 7 or 8-year-old boy with a wild imagination. When he goes to sleep, he dreams of piloting his bed through the summer sky and getting chased down by choo choo trains. Nemo also has a pet flying squirrel named Icarus because why not.

The circus is coming to town and Nemo begs his dad to take him, but Nemo’s dad is too concerned with grown up stuff like working and putting food on the table and a roof over their heads. I’m also not sure that Nemo deserves to go to the circus as he tries to steal a piece of his mother’s pie after promising not to. Nemo falls asleep and is awakened by a Professor Genius and his troop of circus performers. He presents Nemo with a gift from the Princess Camille of Slumberland, a box of fancy cookies she baked herself.

Professor Genius tells Nemo that he’s to become Princess Camille’s new playmate so off to Slumberland they go, in a dirigible no less. Slumberland is an amazing place with tall buildings and fireworks and fireworks shaped like buildings. He meets King Morpheus, a rotund fellow who makes him his heir and gives him a special key that can open any door in the kingdom. Nemo is told not to open the door with a dragon symbol on it. A grifter named Flip (voiced by Mickey Rooney) convinces Nemo to open the door and, wouldn’t you know it, the evil Nightmare gets out and kidnaps King Morpheus.

So Nemo makes stupid decisions while in Slumberland, but how many of us make smart decisions while in a dream? I didn’t like the main character. I didn’t hate him. Nemo is just kind of along for the ride along with the audience. Apparently, this movie was released in Japan three years prior to the American release and I’m curious as to whether the Japanese version had a different script. You can catch the English release on Amazon Prime streaming.


Photo by Leslie Salas.

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

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #169: The Walls Have Eyes

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #169 by Drew Barth

The Walls Have Eyes

How much has happened in your home? How much has your home noticed what you’ve done? Although it can’t speak, your home likely has had thoughts about you. But what would it say, your home, if asked? Sloane Leong and Anna Bowles take us into the perspective of a home in their new graphic novel, Graveneye. And while the home does tell us all, it is not one to judge its inhabitants—the home simply gives us its story.

Graveneye is the story of Isla and Marie, the owner and the new maid of the house, respectively. From what we see, Isla is a private woman, even going so far as to avoid Marie as much as possible when she is first hired. The house, however, bears witness to everything—Isla’s bestial tendencies most of all. As Isla hunts, skins, and taxidermies in the basement of the house, Marie is left cleaning and caring for the upper floors while unaware of what happens below. But their time together grows long and the pair become closer—Marie leaving pieces of herself in the house while no one is looking but the house itself. The house becomes a respite for Marie as she comes by with fresh bruises and marks that attempts to cover with sweaters and makeup. And it is after some time that Isla shows Marie what she is and helps her become something more.

It is through the ink tones and red that Bowles crafts throughout that we see the uncanny nature of the horror within the house. There is a visceral quality to these pages in which we can almost feel the substantive blood or viscera, but they act to weigh their scenes. The vast majority of this book is in black and white watercolor with these cuts of red that serve to highlight objects and bodies. But it isn’t always the viscera—panels are occasionally bathed in red around Isla as she enacts some kind of violence. Or around Marie as she receives. These pieces of red offer an emphasis. The eye is drawn directly to those moments as their own curiosity on the page in the beginning of the story. They give detail and purpose to objects and moments. Until the red spreads and takes over the panels and the house itself.

Graveneye is the kind of story that looks at horror from a different perspective. There is love and desire on the page—either via the house or Isla and Marie—but we’re given this outside view from the inside via the house itself. It acts as the static stage, offering no judgment or opinion on the acts inside itself as it knows only the love it feels toward Isla. The house simply is. Isla and Marie simply are. And what Isla does in the basement of the house is simply what she does away from prying eyes.

Get excited. Get inside.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

Buzzed Books #96: Topics of Conversation

 Buzzed Books #96 by Samantha Nickerson

Miranda Popkey’s Topics of Conversation

In March 2020, I was in New York City for vacation. I found myself in a bookstore on 34th Street. After looking at every shelf (because I’m compulsive), I found Miranda Popkey’s debut novel, Topics of Conversation, on display at the storefront. I devoured it in several subway rides and a few hours in my hotel, and discovered that the pocket-sized, pastel cover is deceptive; this story is huge. Spanning seventeen years and several cities, Topics of Conversation chronicles the unnamed narrator’s journey from the time she’s a twenty-one year old English grad/nanny through her thirties, insistently creating opportunities to ruin her life. Most opportunities were erotic, and as a twenty-three-year-old recent English grad myself, the narrator fascinated me. I recommended Topics of Conversation to everyone I knew.

Topics of Conversation derives its title from its structure; most chapters are conversations between the narrator and other people, usually women. Not everything is dialogue—the narrator also spends much time in her own imagination, admitting that “I am often thinking of the better story because the actual story is so often boring” (57). Often the narrator zones in and out of her own conversations. Something her conversation partner says sparks a thought, and the partner fades into the background as the narrator explores her own memory. The combination of conversation and reflection is how the narrative unfolds. If the narrator’s wandering interiority seems rude, rest assured that she is aware and practices self-hatred as often as self-sabotage. Both involve a refusal of intimacy, which is the narrator’s main struggle as it contradicts the core truth of this novel: conversations are inherently intimate, but to be intimate is to be vulnerable, and replacing intimacy with eroticism masks vulnerabilities while providing the illusion of meaningful companionship without the satisfaction.

Popkey writes her narrator in a pessimistic, self-argumentative voice. The narrator often starts a sentence one way, redacts, admits to an exaggeration or an outright lie, then verbally decides to tell the truth and follows up with a continuation of the narrative. And yet, she writes the physical world in such detail that it seems impossible for her memory to be anything but perfect. For example, on a long walk to the hotel, she plans to find a man to have an affair with: “I don’t remember the hotel I decided on, honestly I don’t, but this next part I do, this next part is true. I remember walking the square, putting one foot in front of the other. My shoes were tight and the skin they exposed was swelling, red and plump, the soles of my feet slick with sweat” (77-78). Later, at the hotel bar she writes, “Inside my heels my feet were cooling but where the edges of the shoe leather cut into my flesh I could feel not blood but that clear, slick, sticky substance that precedes it” (79).

The way the narrator speaks to the reader is stylistically identical to how she speaks to other characters. The other characters all seem to have the same voice as the narrator, slight differences here and there, but the same speaking style and cadence. The effect is that all characters and conversations could be a figment of the narrator’s imagination, that details can always be exaggerated or false. It adds to the doubts about the reliability of the narrator’s memory, as does all of the alcohol she drinks.

While stylistically the voice is literate and flawless, Popkey makes a different decision regarding grammar. The narrator trusts the audience to understand that she knows the rules of grammar, but disregards them in favor of indulging her stream-of-consciousness. Often, the narrator is drunk. Popkey made sure to explicitly state that the narrator is drunk in these instances, but put in the effort to change the narrator’s clarity of thought so that the prose reflects her slurry state of mind. The effect truly feels like trying to sift through one’s own drunken thoughts..

At the start, the narrator seems to obsess over the bodies of the women she speaks with. In grad school, she admires a woman two years ahead who she identifies only as “the tenant.” At a gathering at the tenant’s apartment, the narrator sits on the floor while the tenant paces and speaks, clearly establishing the tenant as superior and herself as the inferior party within their relationship, although not unkindly. The dynamic feels like a student-teacher relationship, or like your friend’s hot older sister is telling you a story. The narrator likes to feel less powerful than others, enjoys wiser people bestowing confidence in her. To the narrator, such experiences seem validating and rewarding—but she mostly focuses on the fact that it’s erotic:

as I stared up at the smooth slope of [her] throat, at the declivity above her collarbone, a further thought entered my mind, not a thought but a wish, specifically the wish that she not get on with it, get it over with, stop talking. The wish was that she would go on talking so that I could go on staring. . . I didn’t know her that well, this tenant, this not-girl, this woman, but she was slightly older and v very beautiful and she carried herself like she was one body, a whole, not a collection o disjointed limbs, and for this reason I believed her to be very intelligent and I was in awe of her and a little bit in love with her and also I loathed her, not furiously or passionately but attentively, careful to keep the flame of—it wasn’t quite hatred; something closer to envy, something tinged with lust—anyway, whatever flame I was nurturing I was nurturing it with care, so that, on this night as on all nights, it was burning fierce. (36-37)

The narrator loves when people, especially women, confide in her. While nannying in exchange for a free vacation to Italy, she becomes close with the mother who employs her, Artemisia. She notices Artemisia’s nipples more than once and remembers the way Artemisia’s hand felt on her neck. The narrator states at the end of the first chapter:

Artemisia was, at the time of our conversation, no older than forty-four. In other words she was young and yet, because of my age, she seemed to me old, even quote-unquote wise, and therefore untouchable, metaphorically but also literally, and so even as I was coveting her [clothing]. . . it did not then occur to me that I might also be coveting the body beneath and below. Now I know that I am never more covetous than when someone tells me a story, a secret, the sharing of a confidence stoking in me the hunger for intimacy of a more proximate kind. (27-28)

The narrator is open to the intimacy these conversations bring, and makes no effort to repress sexual thoughts, although oddly enough she never engages in any sexual act with another woman. Perhaps Popkey’s intention was to distinguish between different types of intimacy and prove that conversations are intimate without necessarily becoming physically sexual. But, as stories must in order for a character to—I don’t want to say grow, but in order for a character to change, for story to happen, the characters must—challenge the truth that the story proposes.

As the narrator spirals through her affair, the resulting pregnancy, her divorce, single motherhood, alcoholism, and loneliness, she closes herself off to conversation; her responses become shorter. She shares less about herself and listens to others for longer. She loses either her desire or ability (maybe both) to be intimate. During this time, the language is simultaneously overly-descriptive of insignificant scenic details and not descriptive enough of the narrator’s conversation partners. Popkey succeeds in illustrating how the narrator’s self-inflicted trauma removes her from any kind of intimacy—even platonic. Her son’s babysitter shares details of her life, and instead of reciprocating like one is expected to do in conversation, the narrator denies that invitation of intimacy: “Sometimes I say nothing. Silence: the great conversation killer” (194).

Topics of Conversation explores intimacy, so along comes vulnerability, followed by weakness, followed by disgust. There is a new term for the feeling one gets when a partner commits such an egregious turn-off that the relationship can’t survive; perhaps it sounds juvenile, but getting the ick is an accurate description of the feeling. It’s revulsion, and it can happen because a partner refuses to trim their nose hairs or chews too loudly or doesn’t support same-sex marriage, but for the narrator it happens when men demonstrate vulnerability. It’s an idea that Artemisia plants in the narrator’s mind when she’s just twenty-one. Perhaps the narrator would have figured this aversion out on her own, but she narrator has already drawn parallels between herself and Artemisia because they both dated their professors—the difference is that Artemisia married hers. This wise, older, attractive woman who the narrator shares some commonalities with pours out her history to the impressionable narrator, and it would be naive to suggest that the conversation was not influential to her future relationships.

So Artemisia spins her story: she married Virgilio in Argentina. He was more powerful, more established, a father figure to her even though her relationship with her own father was fine. She liked the structure and she felt comforted by the constraints of their relationship. When they moved to New York—he to teach at one university and her to attend grad school at another—their roles reversed because her English was better than his. She didn’t mind taking care of him, but hated the way it affected his ego. Artemisia says:

One searches, in one’s choice of partner, for a kind of reflection. . . Often unconsciously. And often not an honest reflection. One searches for a better-than reflection. . . Virgilio had reflected well on me. . . But in New York, Artemisia continued, he shrunk. And as he shrunk, so did I. At first I remained silent. I was saying nothing. I was ashamed. But then, Artemisia shrugged, something changed. I became a little colder. A little less deferential. A little bolder. I began to treat him a bit like a child. Knowing what someone else does not: this defines the relationship between the adult and the child. (19)

He grew jealous, demanding to know her whereabouts at all times. She says,

We had not had sex in months. Not since our first weeks in New York. By choice. By my choice. It wasn’t that he was controlling—that he was trying to be controlling. In the end this is not what bothered me. It was that his desire to control, she paused. This desire, it stemmed not from his power but from its lack. It was his desperation that I despised. (22-23)

The narrator moves on with her life, presumably never sees Artemisia again, but the lesson sticks and is reinforced by other women the narrator admires. In chapter two, the Tenant tells a story about a girl who dressed nerdy and acted prudish. She says:

I didn’t drink before college, had greasy bangs, wore long skirts because I hated my calves, wouldn’t wear pants because I hated my thighs. We should have been friends. If not friends, allies. Instead I hated her. Her vulnerabilities, her weaknesses—she wasn’t hiding them and because she wasn’t hiding them I felt she was exposing me, too. (39)

The tenant confirms what Artemisia said, that weakness deserves to be met with hatred, and that people see reflections of themselves in others. Finally, we see the narrator practice this theory in her life when she calls the hotel man a dick, and he acts as though his feelings are hurt: “Either his voice was muffled because he was facing away or, annoying possibility, I’d actually wounded him. I resisted the urge to roll my eyes” (70). Later, after leaving her husband, she explicitly states that his weakness provokes “anger” and “disgust” (94). What was a seed of thought in Italy with Artemisia grows into the narrator’s entire emotional ecosystem.

Popkey’s narrator enters the bottom of sexual power dynamics in her early years. She dates her married professor who is dominant within their sex life. She traces her hatred of kindness and comfort in taking orders back to their first sexual encounter. This happens a few months before she nannies. The reader sees how uncomfortable she is in the authoritative position at first, and how she acclimates to it after realizing that the children enjoy discipline. For the first week, they take advantage of her weakness to get whatever they want, until they grow bored. Then, they want boundaries, respond only to punishment.

The second week was worse because they’d tired, already of getting what they wanted, the desire in these cases, being not merely to get what one wants but to feel as if one is getting away with getting what one wants, and so they began to create actual trouble, trouble of the damaging-the-hotel variety, which is how I found myself, on the evening of the tenth night, yelling, for the first time really shouting at Teo to stop using the serrated dinner knife to try to liberate the feathers from a pillow. He responded wonderfully, stopped right away and only cried a little, ate his frutti di mare quietly, didn’t ask after a gelato or a chocolate profiterole. And the whole time: his eyes wide, a small smile on his lips, pink and wet, hoping for a smile in return, a nod of approval. It’s true what they say, children really do crave boundaries. (6-7)

The narrator acclimates to her authority, but her brief stint in a power position only reinforces that she doesn’t enjoy it. In her personal relationships she always prefers to play the role of submissive child with one difference: where children crave boundaries, the narrator craves to be controlled. Her fixation on the fantasy of non-consensual sex is a contributing factor to her pattern of dating “controlling and cruel” men (204)—excluding her husband, who she admits was lovely, and who she left. She even says, during a scene of verbal foreplay in that hotel, actively having the affair that left her pregnant, “I hate making choices. . . I take direction.” And so she does. What follows is the only lengthy passage of male speech in the entire novel. The man, unnamed, describes to her exactly how he likes to control women during sex, and exactly how he must be violent if they become scared. The narrator never expresses fear in this scene, only fascination. She leaves her husband the next day.

Reflecting upon that decision, she realizes that her disgust for her husband stemmed from the lack of control he exercised over her. You want to almost but not actually finish your PhD? Okay. You want to work in HR? Okay. You suddenly want a baby just because our acquaintances have babies and you think having something to constantly care for will give you a sense of purpose? Okay. It’s okay, you can be mean to me; you’re going through a lot. What’s that? You had an affair? How about couple’s therapy? No, you’d rather leave? Okay. The narrator says,

What I wanted was direction and praise for following it. As a child these were easy to find. As an adult I learned that the only people who seemed inclined to give out both were my professors, married men, almost all of them. But you can’t marry your married professor. So instead I married John. John, who was so kind and so supportive and emotionally generous and a good listener, who was everything a liberated woman is supposed to want. But then there was no one to pat me on the head for making the right choice. There was only John, who was so kind. Who was so kind and who wanted me to have desires of my own. Really it was a mean trick that the only one I developed was the desire to leave him… What I’m trying to say. . . is that I have been, that I continue to be, best at being a vessel for the desire of others. (97)

So maybe the narrator was on the right track with motherhood as a goal. She raises her son alone. She responds to his needs instantly. Mothering a baby makes sense for her — but what will become of the adult she must raise him into when all she’s good at is responding? She addresses this question as a fear:

When I worry about my son of course I worry about him dying, but when I have convinced myself that he is still breathing. . . what I worry about is how he’ll end up. I mean the possibility that he’ll end up like me. Not that I’m so horrible, just that I know I can do a great, and excellent, a perfect—I mean, my parents were fine. They weren’t amazing but certainly they did not encourage me to hate myself. They did not tell me to seek out men who were controlling and cruel, they did not suggest this is what I deserved. And if there was, during my formative years, a certain cultural consensus about what women wanted and how men should go about giving it to them, well, many others of my generation were smart enough to be skeptical of it. What I’m saying is that my life, like the lives of most people, lacks an origin story. I mean one with any explanatory power. Which means that my son could turn out any way and for any reason or for no reason at all. I’m not sure if it’s irony but here it is, at last I’ve found the thing I do want to control, and of course I can’t. (203-204)

Topics of Conversation is provocative, for older women likely reflective; for younger women educational, cautionary, eye-opening. For men, it may shed light on one version of the female psyche. The experimental structure is entertaining. The novel itself might prove inspiring to other writers who might feel stuck within the writing rules they learned in school. At 205 pages, it’s a lean novel, but I would suggest letting one chapter settle before starting the next because it’s easy to get lost in the details and miss Popkey’s deft exploration of the novel’s several themes. Topics of Conversation is an examination of intimacy in all its forms: platonic, romantic, parental, violent, sheltered, and stifled. Buy this book, reader.


Samantha Nickerson earned her MFA from Full Sail University. She is a waitress writer living in Orlando, Florida.

Episode 517: Kimberly Ann Priest!

Episode 517 of The Drunken Odyssey, your favorite podcast about creative writing and literature, is available on Apple podcastsstitcher, spotify, or click here to stream (right click to download, if that’s your thing).

In this week’s show, I speak with the poet Kimberly Ann Priest about purposeful ambiguity in poetry and the minor disturbing oddities in Hieronymus Bosch.

Photo by Ryley Eden Priest.

TEXT DISCUSSED

NOTES

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

The Kerouac Project of Orlando is open for applications for its residency program until April 17th.

Check out these video archives of great poetry events from Miami Book Fair.


Episode 517 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 #375: Robot Carnival

The Curator of Schlock #375 by Jeff Shuster

Robot Carnival

Nine animators, One vision.

An army of rabid Tasmanian devils rushed the security guard and myself. I did what any sane person would do and ran for my life. Edwige, my kangaroo companion and two other kangaroos were locked away in cages. I slid the latch off of Edwige’s cage and crammed myself inside. I watched in horror as the Tasmanian devils lunged at the security guard, sinking their jaws into him. — To be continued.


This month is Anime Month on this humble schlock blog. I’ll begin with the feature that got me Japanese animation in the first place, 1991’s Robot Carnival. I don’t list a director as this an anthology film made of up many directors that includes a who’s who of the Japanese animation industry of the time such as Koji Morimoto, Hidetoshi Ōmori, Yasuomi Umetsu, Hiroyuki Kitazume, Manabu Ōhashi, Hiroyuki Kitakubo, Takashi Nakamura, and Katsuhiro Otomo. Each of these directors was given a task: create a short film involving robots.

Robot Carnival might be the closest you’re ever going to get to an anime version of Walt Disney’s Fantasia. No classical music here, but you do get an excellent electronic score by Isaku Fujita  and Joe Hisaishi, the latter best known for composing the scores for the films of the great Hayao Miyazaki. Like Fantasia, most of these shorts have no dialogue, In fact, the short Nightmare is a direct homage to Night on Bald Mountain segment from Fantasia.

I first caught this movie on the Sci-Fi channel back in the fall of 1993. We were visiting a family friend over the Thanksgiving holidays and they had this wondrous device called a satellite dish that gave me access to channels I had never seen before. One of these channels was the Sci-Fi channel and they were showing a movie called Robot Carnival during an anime marathon. I would sneak watch when no one was around, absorbed in the state of the art animation I was seeing on screen. I wouldn’t get another opportunity to watch Robot Carnival until I got regular access to the Sci-Fi channel years later.

I picked up the VHS at a Suncoast Video in 1996. I watched repeatedly and worried about wearing the tape out, a common problem back the days before DVD. I was an early adopter, picking up my first player in 1998. I waited patiently for Robot Carnival to make its DVD debut in North America, but it would not get an official release until about seventeen years later. And when it did come out on DVD, the shorts were in the wrong order!

Allow me to explain. Depending on which version of Robot Carnival you watch, the shorts are presented in a different order. There is the Japanese original, the North American theatrical, and the North American laserdisc. When Carl Macek released the movie in theaters, he wanted the reel changes to occur in-between the shorts so as not to disrupt them. The Japanese producers allowed him to do this. I figure the laserdisc order was changed so as to disrupt the movie as little as possible when you needed to flip the disc. Yes, you needed to flip LaserDiscs over to watch the second half of the movie.

I learned all of this from the wonderful supplements on Blu-ray release from Discotek Media. And the great thing about the Blu-ray is that you have the option of watching the shorts in the original Japanese order, North American theatrical, or North American LaserDisc. The North American LaserDisc order even has a fake LaserDisc load screen. Obviously, great care was taken to make sure the fans of this movie can watch their preferred version.

I guess I haven’t said much about this motion picture because you need to just experience Robot Carnival for yourself. It is available to stream for free through several apps such as Tubi, Vudu, and Pluto TV. Jonathan Greenall of CBR calls Robot Carnival an “unsung anime masterpiece.” He’s not wrong so check out what was for the longest time my favorite movie.


Photo by Leslie Salas

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

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #168: A Life’s Collections

Comics Are Trying to Break Your Heart #168 by Drew Barth

A Life’s Collections

If we look around our rooms, we see our collections. The books, the artifacts, the bric-a-brac, the detrius. What we collect becomes just as important as why we collect. And a true collector knows when they have met another collector. Pierre Le-Tan was one of those collectors. From the apartment he maintained in Paris to the objects he drew, Le-Tan surrounded himself with collectors and collections. And it is in A Few Collectors, a series of ruminations on those collectors and the objects they surrounded themselves with, do we see the care and dedication Le-Tan had for those pieces that would define his life and his subjects’.

A Few Collectors is a collection about collectors. Le-Tan’s life was filled to bursting with individuals and their various collections—from art to wadded up paper. But it’s through his friends and acquaintances that he ruminates on their collections and the nature of collecting itself. What do these objects say about the people who collect them? Some of them define themselves by their collections while others don’t even let on that they have an apartment filled with precious objects until Le-Tan is invited over for a drink. But it’s the look at his own collection and the objects that he had and the ones he had sold off throughout years that is the most fascinating. The act of collecting is, in Le-Tan’s own words “both essential and completely useless.” But his collection and its continual tide-change maps out the kind of collector Le-Tan was: devout, yet distant.

Through Le-Tan’s inks, we truly begin to marvel at the collections he writes about. The distinct cross-hatching provides a depth and texture that makes these objects feel both ethereal and completely solid. They’re not meant to be photo realistic representations, but impressions of them through Le-Tan’s eye, but this makes them all the more real. Even the sketches of collector’s faces feel more like the person than a photograph. There is a warmth and nostalgia coming from his pen that can only be rendered by someone who had lived in 60s and 70s Paris—someone who has the first-hand account of these extraordinary collections through the decades. It is the kind of evocation that the Wes Anderson nostalgia of his younger audience can only grasp at. And yet we want to experience these collections for ourselves.

It is hard to pin down the kind of journey A Few Collectors brings its reader down. We are at once marveled at the stories of these eccentric collectors and the works that we would likely only see in museums now and pinched ever so slightly by the collecting bug ourselves. I look at my own room and the stacks of books or small plastic robots and wonder if this is the kind of collection that would be illustrated. But then I don’t mind if it is or not as it is my collection and mine alone.

Get excited. Get collecting.


Drew Barth at Miami Book Fair in 2019.

Drew Barth (Episode 331, 485, & 510) resides in Winter Park, FL. He received his MFA from the University of Central Florida. Right now, he’s worrying about his cat.

The Perfect Life # 36

The Perfect Life # 36 by Dr. Perfect

Dear Doctor,

Girl Scout Cookie season is upon us, but I was recently diagnosed with a severe gluten allergy. Seriously considering taking a week off work and bingeing a box or four of Thin Mints, for old times sake. Talk me off this ledge.

Sincerely,

The Sad Scout

————

Dear Sad Scout,

I’m replying between bouts of my own Thin Mints binge. They’re glorious. When asked how many boxes I’d like to purchase by scouts outside the supermarket, my first answer is always, “Yes.”

I don’t mean to be dismissive. I’m practicing material for my set at the Laugh Hole this weekend. Ladies drink free until eleven.

Of course, my state of mind is never in question. I just need to open another fresh box of delicious Caramel deLites. Maybe you caught me at a bad time. Nonetheless, allergies can be a real pain. They prevent us from enjoying the finer things in life, like shrimp and latex rubdowns.

During my college heyday, I developed a rare allergy to silk, which hindered my increasingly swanky lifestyle. My silk robe and various briefs were the first casualties. I was then deemed persona non grata at the national silk convention.

This kind of trauma sticks with you.

A friend of mine once claimed to be allergic to “meanness.”

I told her, “You have to be kidding.”

“No,” she said. “I break out into hives whenever someone is mean to me, honest.”

“There’s no way that’s medically possible,” I said.

“My doctor told me.”

“Well, your doctor’s a quack,” I snapped.

Next thing I knew, hives coated her face.

“See?” she cried. “Thanks a lot.”

For the record, I still don’t believe her.

Considering your current, unfortunate circumstance, I suppose you have no choice but to succumb to your diagnosis and drop the Girl Scout Cookies altogether. Take comfort in the fact that sweets aren’t everything. They are to me, but that’s not important. There are plenty of perfectly reasonable and healthy alternatives out there. You’ll also be pleased to know that the Girl Scouts offer gluten-free options. Of course, this may bring little solace. Their gluten-filled varieties remain a delectable godsend known only to those fortunate enough to indulge in their savory bliss.

You could do worse, though. At least you’re not in some Turkish prison, unlike some members of my family.

My doctor recently recommended that I limit my brandy to once a month. “What about my weekly galas?” I asked, mortified. He wasn’t sympathetic.

Please send whatever leftovers you have at your earliest convenience.


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