Tag Archives: Surreal

Sugar Skull

The concluding volume in a haunting graphic novel trilogy, Sugar Skull concludes the hallucinatory, heartbreaking, hilarious, and mysterious odyssey begun in X’ed Out and continued in The Hive.

Like all of Charles Burns’s works, including the acclaimed graphic novel Black Hole, the Xe’d Out trilogy features the same starkly-penned, startlingly-detailed drawings, but with one major difference: it’s all rendered in full color, adding a whole other dimension of dark beauty.

I could get more into some of the specifics of Sugar Skull, but the thing is, the X’ed Out trilogy doesn’t unfold in a traditional linear narrative. With each volume, Mr. Burns presents bits and pieces of a mosaic of five different storylines, and it’s up to the reader to figure out how they all add up.

Over the course of those different storylines, we get to know Doug, a lonely nebbish who’s just trying to get a good break in life. In one of the storylines, Doug is in his teens, living with his overbearing father and occasionally performing spoken-word songs from behind a mask at punk rock shows; at one point, he befriends and starts to date a moody and mysterious girl named Sarah. In another timeline, there are scenes of Doug and Sarah living together, while still learning more about each other—often through Sarah’s photographs of darkly erotic self-portraits. Then there’s Doug’s life after Sarah, where he wastes his days in his father’s house, recovering from a (mostly) unexplained accident. Later still, we see Doug, now seeing someone else, trying to come to terms with all his problems. Finally, there’s Doug, several years later, having recovered from an addiction and trying to move on with his life with his ultimate lover, Sally.

Woven throughout Doug’s story, there are glimpses of the strange saga of “Nit Nit,” a character that’s at once a surreal caricature of Doug and a bizarro parody of the famous comic character Tintin, created by Belgian artist Hergé. The darkly humorous adventures of Nit Nit take place in a strange dystopian world full of odd creatures, including a foul-mouthed, porcine-featured midget of a man wearing a diaper, who in showing Nit Nit around, becomes almost like a friend. Nit Nit where he is put to work by (and alongside) lizard-like creatures in office suits, slaving away at “the Hive,” where…well, let’s just say that’s where it starts to get really weird. Is this all a dream, drug-induced or otherwise, of Doug’s? Maybe. Is it a surreal summary of different passages of Doug’s life? Maybe. Is it an alternate reality from Doug’s altogether? Maybe. Does it really matter what this storyline means? Probably not.

Ultimately, I spent a lot of time reading these books with my brow furrowed, because honestly, the fractured narrative was more than a little puzzling. I even re-read the previous volumes before each new one came out, just to make sure everything was as fresh as possible, but that didn’t always help. I suppose, if one was to cut out all the pieces of the comic and arrange them into a somewhat linear storyline, one might be able to discern the big, weird picture—but what would be the fun of that? Although the X’ed Out trilogy thumbs its nose at the reader with one hand, its other is pointing the reader to travel even deeper down the rabbit-hole of its strange story. Like all of his previous books, this is a tale that only Charles Burns could tell.

Posted in Artwork, Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bone Whispers

I reviewed Tim Waggoner’s Skull Cathedral a few years ago—quite favorably, if memory serves—so when I saw that he had a collection coming out, I was looking forward to it. When I saw the chance to snap up a copy of said collection from the Post Mortem Press table at AnthoCon, I did it.

Bone Whispers is a collection of eighteen stories. Now, I’d be derelict in my duties if I didn’t warn the uninitiated that a Tim Waggoner story is NOT like any others. He deals out vicious, wriggling slivers of off-kilter horror, slathered in strange and stitched with surrealism. This is my favorite type of story, truth be told.

We open with “Thou Art God,” wherein a man makes the difficult discovery that he is God and much to his chagrin, that doesn’t equate to unabashed love and adoration from his fellow man. “Bone Whispers” takes us on a painful journey of sad nostalgia and coming to terms with tragedy…and a giant supernatural groundhog. “Some Dark Hope” give us a pathetic loner who finds a way to use his particular life “skills” to make some money in a very special house of ill repute.

Visit an orchard where the living dead sprout like trees in “Harvest Time.” “Surface Tension” delivers a very odd story of a man afraid of puddles, with good reason. “Best Friends Forever” shows us how powerful denial and guilt are when working together. “No More Shadows” is a bizarre exercise in paranoia and loyalty. “Unwoven” is a trippy little shard of existential humor…shaded darkly.

Marking the book’s equator is “Skull Cathedral,” a nightmarish kaleidoscope of surreal brutality. “Do No Harm” is a sort-of zombie apocalypse story without any zombies, but the vibe is eerily similar. “Country Roads,” which happens to be my favorite in this book, tells the tale of a sad man looking for validation in the echoes of his youth. Outstanding! “Darker Than Winter” gives us a tale of snowman murder and terror in the bold tradition of the old horror comics from the 50s.

“Swimming Lesson” corrals the weirdness into a public pool, while “Conversations Kill” finds a man confronting his woman issues in a very unhealthy way. “Long Way Home” is an apocalyptic tale of survival and resentment masked as guilt that, with it’s crazy monsters, plays like a Del Toro film. “Sleepless Eyes” is a crazy little scene in the most horrific roadside dive you’ve ever visited. “The Faces That We Meet” is a story that allows a dark glimpse into the secret habits and lives of those we know and think we know well.

The collection closes with “The Great Ocean of Truth,” a gonzo tale that channels the authors inner Kafka and brews it in a Norman Rockwell coffee mug to be poured down your throat while still scalding hot.

Bone Whispers is an astounding testament to the talents of Tim Waggoner. I have (and I hope to remedy this soon) only read his short fiction and I have loved all of it. Ranking among Brady Allen and Bentley Little in the halls of Weird Fiction Manor. toothy and terrifying and delightfully devilish. Good stuff that will leave stains and scars.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dead Things and Satanskin

I have probably stated before, quite a few times, actually, the fact that I am just about zombied out. So when I received a package containing Dead Things, by Matthew Darst, I read the blurbage and sighed. Zombies. But I won the book through a Goodreads giveaway—and hey, Free book! Better yet, a signed free book.

I started it that night, and within two or three nights had finished it. It was that good.

The debut novel is set nearly twenty years after the “zombie event.” The dead have risen and eaten folks. Society has collapsed and rebuilt itself. Religious fanatics have lots of control. Our main characters are literally thrown together in a plane crash and forced to stick together to survive. Adding to the tension of outrunning the hungry dead, there is the fact that no one trusts anyone else, as anyone could be a mole for the church. I’m talking Witch Hunt kinda-church.

Darst uses a number of nifty maneuvers to keep this a fresh offering. The dialogue is smart and witty. The science behind the story is very well thought out and smart. In fact, I’d say the weakest point would have to be the ending, which seemed a bit rushed—literally rushing headlong into and messily hitting closure in a chapter.

As I stated, this is a debut novel. A well-written, smartly entertaining debut. Integral to the plot are the zombies; however, it is more than a zombie novel. It’s a novel about humans being, a novel where the monsters we become are far more frightening than the things shambling from the graves to gnaw on our flesh.

Dead Things is available from Grand Mal Press.

In 1992, James Havoc released this wonderful book of bizarre and repulsive word swill. I loved it. Still do. Then he went missing. Dropped right off the face of the earth.

Gone. Never to be heard from again.

Like a meth-fueled mixture of William S. Burroughs, J.G. Ballard, Michael Gira and Chuck Palahniuk being poured down the eager throat of Edward Lee, Satanskin is that hardcore. Graphic as anything you can imagine. Surrealism carved in the faces of the damned with a rusty razor equals Satanskin.

Havoc didn’t paint with words…he fed you the words then reached down your throat—or up your ass—and then finger-painted your brain with them. These stories are prose-beasts. Skulking ugly creations that stumble in and out of cohesive narrative. There are vampires and nameless things, aliens and undead creatures. Depraved children and Demonic butt-sex. It’s an explosion of supreme insanity and chaotic cringe-worthy debauchery. This is Bizarro, from a time when the tag didn’t really exist.

This title was released in 1992 via The Tears Corporation/Creation Press. In 2011, the 20th anniversary e-book edition, which includes the bonus story “Third Eye Butterfly,” was released by Elektron Ebooks.

Posted in Blog, Book Reviews, Reviews | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment