Links to Megan Hutchison:
As someone who always identified with fire on a symbolic level, I’m proud to promote the latest anthology from Beyond editor Taneka Stotts, ELEMENTS: Fire. Not only is it an all-ages book featuring a plethora of artists and writers (the full list can be found here), but the choice to utilize the work of only creators of color inserts ELEMENTS: Fire into the greater conversation surrounding comic books and the lack of exposure given and value placed on creators of color and characters of color in a thriving and lucrative industry.
The thesis of the book is simple yet powerful:
Elements looks to add to the current conversation happening in the book industry: yes #WeNeedDiverseBooks, but #WeNeedDiverseCreators too. We are no longer just the sidekicks or token characters, we’re creators with our own stories to tell. In Elements we’re the main characters, dismantling tropes with our own stories that see people like us saving the day. Be it quelling a volcano, learning to fight with our brand of love, or breaking cyberspace, we want to let these stories and characters take center stage.
The purpose of the Kickstarter is primarily a means of paying the the contributors, another of many conversations happening around pay-for-work vs. exposure. As a writer, I can sympathize. Do you invest your time and energy in something that offers no money but promises “exposure,” which is already a vague concept to begin with, or do you put that focus on a project that will at least provide a monetary incentive however small the platform or the sum? Where do you draw the line and what do you sacrifice in the process? Obviously, Fire wants the artists and writers to receive compensation, not just for contributing but also as a visible means of creating value for their work. The comic book industry is still difficult to break into and it’s even harder for writers and artists of color, especially where mainstream comics are concerned, so every bit helps in terms of payment and exposure. Through the anthology and the Kickstarter, the visibility of the creators and the value of their work increases significantly.
One of the creators, it turns out, is past guest of That Girl with the Curls podcast Christina “Steenz” Stewart (Archival Quality) and I reached out to Steenz via email to ask her about her contribution to the book:
My story is called The Update. Its a sci-fi dystopia where the entire city is run by an operation system called PIOS: Pyre Intelligence Operation System. Transportation, where people eat, crime regulation… everything runs on PIOS. It’s just… better. But every once in a while the system shuts down and everything must be updated. And that includes the people.It’s written and illustrated all by me!
And wouldn’t you know it, editor of ELEMENTS: Fire Taneka Stotts is also a past guest of That Girl with the Curls! Her episode includes some talk about Fire, but I reached out to Taneka via email with a few questions:
What’s been the most exciting aspect of putting the anthology together? What’s been the most terrifying?
The most exciting aspect is finding all the new voices, mixing them with voices that are already around, and maybe reacquainting myself with voices I haven’t heard from in some time. It is a variety that I seek when putting together any project and one that I find I benefit from greatly. I would say the most terrifying moment is usually sending out any sort of invitation to someone you respect and super admire and hoping you’re not interrupting their day while you wait for them to get back to you. Also, realizing if they accept your invite, then you have to be the one to edit their work.
What made you choose Fire as the inaugural element? What does Fire mean to you?
I wanted to show that I was serious and I wanted to make an impact. Fire represents serious business to me and I just wanted to spread it around. For some it’s a symbol of life, death, and rebirth, so why not make it the theme of my first project? For me, fire takes on many forms, from passion to inspiration.
What do you feel is the ultimate goal of this anthology? What would you like people to walk away with should they support the campaign?
The ultimate goal is to have the printed book in all the contributors hands, to have it in the hands of the backers, to have it on library shelves and in shelters. It’s to be tucked under pillows, used to stop doors, and ultimately an emergency paper weight for those who have already enjoyed it a few times over. I guess what I’m trying to say is just for it to exist and for those who were part of it to be recognized even more as a result. I hope that anyone who backs this book realizes they are making something great happen and they are putting themselves into a position of power that tells other markets that watch us that they are tired of disingenuous representation.
Do you think crowd-source funding is a better means of exposure for upcoming comic book creators?
Yes and no. People die of exposure… from the sun. So you know, exposure is great but in moderation. I hope it’s something these creators can use to show why they deserve a place in the mainstream and why they should no longer be ignored but instead are a force to be reckoned with.
Why are you so awesome?!
WHY ARE YOU SO AWESOME?? That is the true question! I just wanna make books, write books, work on books and have fun. It’s important for me to at least have fun.
In news that shocks no one, Star Wars is kind of a big deal again. With the successful billion dollar box office trouncing that is Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it’s not surprising that the followup projects to the reinvigorated franchise are drawing more attention. Specifically, the young Han Solo movie being written by Empire Strikes Back and Force Awakens co-writer Lawrence Kasdan and his son, Jake, which will be directed by Chris Miller and Phil Lord (The LEGO Movie, 21 Jump Street). While the movie won’t be released until 2018, a shortlist of actors was revealed though the response from fans had about as much excitement as Arthur and his Knights eating Sir Robin’s minstrels. I mean, what’s not to get excited about when you see the same list of young actors from every YA movie adaptation?
Look, I know Han Solo is an iconic character to a lot of people. I get that. I love Harrison Ford and I love the Han Solo he created in the original trilogy and The Force Awakens. But let’s be honest, Han requires about as much backstory as Boba Fett – zero. Han exists within the Star Wars universe as a philosophical foil for Luke (hokey religions and whatnot) and a romantic partner for Leia. He’s a pirate, a ne’er-do-well, a lovable rogue, and an archetypal character of the monomyth. Making a prequel movie feels like it might go the way of X-Men Origins: Wolverine in that Han can’t grow all that much because he needs to be at a certain place in order to match up with A New Hope. That kinda limits you since his character development only happens within the original trilogy and, presumably, the thirty year gap between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens. Plus, the upcoming Rogue One, due for release in December of this year, is being described as a heist movie, which kinda takes the wind out of the sails of a movie focusing on a smuggler two years later. Really, the best we can hope for is the movie hinging on Han’s friendship with Chewbacca because if they do a “how Han Solo got the Millennium Falcon” type movie I swear to God I’m putting a blaster to my head.
For my money’s worth, the movie will probably be about the Kessel Run.
My point is that Han’s story is really only of interest when it intersects with the activities of the rebels. His selfishness is paramount to his triumphant return at the end of A New Hope and his “reluctant” yet continuing association with the rebellion throughout Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The same goes for Luke. He’s drawn into the rebellion through happenstance and thus learns about his true heritage and “destiny,” I guess. But the final member of the heroic trio has been involved with the rebellion for much longer and it’s really because of her that there’s any Star Wars to begin with.
I’m talking about Princess Leia Organa and she deserves a prequel movie more than anyone!
Think about it: Leia is the princess of Alderaan who becomes integral to the rebellion’s survival by the beginning of A New Hope. She’s the one carrying the stolen plans to the Death Star and it’s because of her resourcefulness that R2-D2 gets away to deliver those plans, and her message, to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. Without Leia there is no hero’s journey for Luke and there’s definitely no turn-a-new-leaf story for Han.
So what made Leia go from Princess to Rebel Leader? What pushed her into the crosshairs of a war with the Empire? Because that sounds way more compelling than the Smuggler’s Life movie in the works for Han. It’s essentially a coming of age movie that starts the moment Leia is adopted by Bail and Breha Organa and ends with her decision to commit to the rebellion. I mean, if you want an easy way for a movie prequel to tie into the anthology films, then this is it. Rogue One ends with the plans stolen and the Princess Leia film ends with her taking on the role of envoy to ensure the plans make it to the rebellion headquarters. The last shot is of her ship heading towards the beginning of A New Hope.
What ties the whole concept together is the potential character arc of Leia prior to the events of the original trilogy. For one, now that we’ve met Bail and Breha it kinda gives some context for how Leia might have responded to her position as Princess of Alderaan. Thanks to the prequel trilogy, we have a visual of the Organas:
Yeah, Leia had to have known she was adopted by the events of Star Wars, which opens up a lot of storytelling potential. How do the Organa’s explain their new daughter’s appearance? Has the Empire been keeping tabs on Leia the whole time? And since Bail knows Leia’s biological father was a very powerful Jedi, would he take steps to help her should she show signs of Force sensitivity? How would he take steps to help her if the Jedi have gone into hiding?
Leia’s prickly personality would certainly factor into the progression of the story as well. It’s clear, in hindsight, that Leia takes after Anakin more than Luke who tends to have more of Padme’s traits. Leia is strong-willed, stubborn, capable, and headstrong. Yes, she has a nurturing and romantic side, but Leia proves throughout the original trilogy that she’s a force to be reckoned with all on her own. Some of that could stem from being adopted and her sense of self-worth. Joining the rebellion may have given her something of importance to work towards, something that would make her feel like the title of “Princess” wasn’t just handed over but earned. Alternatively, Leia joining the rebellion could be her own act of rebellion. Perhaps Bail and Breha tried to keep a low profile under the thumb of the Empire to protect their daughter, but all Leia sees are her parents being subservient to the Empire’s cruelty. Furious at them, she takes more and more risks while helping the rebels, which puts her on the Empire’s watch list. And as a third option, Leia’s story could easily be about a high-born young woman whose eyes are opened to the truth of the Empire’s rule. She has everything and yet realizes it means nothing in a galaxy where the Empire reigns.
The only prequel idea we’re not doing is the Leia-falls-in-love-with-a-handsome-member-of-the-rebellion-who-makes-her-see-the-truth story. That is the worst possible scenario. Again, blaster to the head. Leia being involved in the rebellion has to be because of her agency, not because a pair of pretty eyes and some abs said, “Hey.”
I’m also aware that Star Wars Rebels will feature a teenage Leia in an upcoming episode, which is fantastic. It’s not surprising given the timeline of Rebels and how close the show is getting to the events of the original trilogy. But if Disney and Lucasfilm want to continue doing anthology films within the Star Wars universe, complete with prequels, then lining up Leia’s story matters just as much, if not more, than Han’s. Besides, Leia’s got a sharp tongue on her as well. You want some real fun? Let’s see what a typical day in the Alderaan court is like when Leia gets political.
Why eight questions? Because I had more than five and less than ten! Actually, there are more than eight because of grouping the questions by subject but – and you probably don’t care about any explanation I provide.
Over the summer I started reading more prose fiction to shake things up between comic book trades and I was fortunate to come across a spectacular, mostly coming-of-age, story of magic, music, and the harsh reality of growing up: Signal to Noise by Silvia Moreno-Garcia. Set in Mexico City and jumping between 1988 and 2009, Signal to Noise follows Mercedes “Meche” Vega who discovers her love of music, and the right vinyl, can cast magic spells. Roping in her friends Sebastian and Daniela, the trio use magic to change their lives for the better, but the consequences of their actions result in a decades long estrangement.
The book comes highly recommended by io9’s Charlie Jane Anders and I couldn’t agree with her more. Signal to Noise is an intimate look at a young woman searching for a solid foundation, something she can believe in, trust in, but always comes up short. Meche’s exterior and interior turmoil makes for a complex and nuanced protagonist who is as frustrating as she is sympathetic.
In light of my new found book to gush over, I reached out to Silvia Moreno-Garcia and she was kind enough to answer several questions, via email, about Signal to Noise and her forth-coming anthology, She Walks in Shadows, which looks at the works of H.P. Lovecraft through his female characters – or lack thereof.
Maniacal Geek (MG): Though Signal to Noise is a coming-of-age story, the magical elements are secondary, acting more as a catalyst than being a consistently present force. Is this how you perceive the role of magic in urban fantasy or did it just serve this specific story?
Silvia Moreno-Garcia (SMG): For many Anglo writers and readers magic must work as a system, a kind of D&D system. I wanted to play with this notion, with how much you can systematize magic, versus the ‘magic’ which appears in Latin American fiction which works in a completely different matter. So that the result is this is not quite magic realism and not quite urban fantasy.
MG: Meche’s grandmother doesn’t mind telling stories about magic but she’s reluctant to use it and only does so to save Sebastian from Meche’s recklessness. In your opinion, is magic the folly of youth?
SMG: I leave it up to the reader to figure that out.
MG: Music is the connective tissue that keeps Meche tied to her father and becomes her means of casting spells. What is your relationship with music and how did it influence Signal to Noise?
SMG: My parents both worked in radio stations. That’s the kind of environment I grew up in. We had a lot of albums stacked around the house. I used my father’s professional tape recorder to make mixtapes. That kind of thing. My son now has a portable record player. My grandfather was also a radio announcer so the fear is it’s genetic.
MG: Coming from a comic book background myself, there’s been an ongoing discussion about the flawed female protagonist, which Meche definitely fits. Were you worried that people might not be able to relate to Meche? Do we have to relate to a character like Meche? How do you feel Meche has grown as a character by the end of the book?
SMG: Ugh. Relatable, likeable characters, eh? There are so many famous characters in books you can’t relate to and the books do just fine. You have criminals like Tom Ripley and Dexter in multiple novels. And in the romance novel the brooding hero is a staple. I don’t find Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester to be relatable since I’m not a white billionaire living in the age of carriages. They’re not super likeable either, mad wife in attic and all. But women. Ah, we are much harder on women. Women better be fucking perfect and relatable.
Look, I’m Mexican, I grew up without a lot of the bells and whistles Americans take for granted. There’s not a lot of people I can relate to in books. Not Holden from Catcher in the Rye, not Bella in Twilight. So *I* can relate to Meche.
So no, I didn’t worry that Meche was likeable or relatable, although I’ve heard from many people that they can relate to her. If people find her interesting enough to follow her through the book I think that’s enough.
As to how she’s grown, I went to visit my friend who is now living in NY this year and I hadn’t been there in about 14 years. At one point he said something which sounds pretty accurate. He said: “Silvia, we are older but not more mature.” I’ll leave it at that.
MG: Do you believe Mexico has a greater cultural connection to magic? To music?
SMG: I grew up with a lot of folklore in my life and folk magic, but I believe this is unusual and certainly much more unusual for people younger than me. But you do see magic more openly, there is a witch’s market in Mexico City where you can buy ingredients, there was an “esoteric plaza” in a shopping mall near my home, and there’s the witches in Catemaco who are quite famous. Some people still might visit the curandero, the healer, or believe in the evil eye. Things like that. But the influence of Anglo culture is erasing a lot of that.
MG: You’ve edited several anthologies with horror themes with many specifically focused on H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. What attracts you to Lovecraft and the horror genre? Do you have a favorite Lovecraft story?
SMG: “The Colour out of Space.” My thesis work focuses on Lovecraft, eugenics and women so I’m interested in him on an academic level and at a visceral one. I like all kinds of genres and read indiscriminately, from cheap, old pulp crime novels to modern dramatic lit. As a writer, horror is just one tool I can employ. As a reader, I’ve always had a basic interest in terrible things.
MG: The latest anthology, She Walks in Shadows, explores Lovecraft through the feminine perspective and the explicit or ambiguously defined female characters. In your opinion does Lovecraft have an inherent feminist slant or did you see his writings as a challenge, something to meet head on for the anthology?
SMG: He barely has any women in his stories, so it’s a challenge. The writers are all showing a variety of visions of Lovecraftian characters, Weird fiction, and women. Women for Lovecraft exist as an absence, an unnamed presence, they are the lurking fear of his stories and we are bringing them to the forefront.
If you’d like to get your grubby mits on all of Silvia’s work currently available for purchase:
Signal to Noise: http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/books/signal-to-noise/
Love and Other Poisons: http://www.silviamoreno-garcia.com/blog/bibliography/love-other-poisons/
I told you I’d have an announcement to make soon and here it is. I will be contributing my first professional comic book story to the Killer Queen Comic Anthology for Red Stylo Media!
Here’s the official synopsis:
KILLER QUEEN is a collection of comic art and stories inspired by the discography of one of the greatest bands in the pantheon of Rock-n-royalty, QUEEN! This year, the artists and writers were challenged to turn their stereos up and take inspiration from Queen’s prodigious, diverse catalog of music. All the art and stories are original works inspired by a theme or premise in a Queen song, sometimes by the band itself.
Killer Queen is the latest anthology series from Red Stylo Media, following previous anthologies like Poe Twisted, Shakespeare Shaken, and Unfashioned Creatures (an anthology inspired by Frankenstein). In addition, Red Stylo also publishes a number of other graphic novels and comics like ORPHANS, City of Walls, TORCHBEARER, and Azteca.
I’m thrilled to be participating in such an awesome premise that got me to dive headfirst into the deep cuts of Queen’s discography. The first draft has already been written and sent off, so I’ll be editing soon enough, I suspect. As for what the story is about? Well…how about I give you the song it was inspired by for now?
I’ll be providing updates when I can, but I really wanted to let everyone know because this will be fulfilling one of those bucket list things by getting a foot in the door of the comic book industry as a writer.
Killer Queen will begin to roll out stories digitally in September with the book edition following in October. You can also keep up-to-date on the project by following @red_stylo, checking out their Facebook page, or the Killer Queen Facebook page as well. You can also follow me on twitter, where you’re more likely to get more frequent updates.
Once again, I’m over the moon about contributing to this anthology and I can say from now on that Queen is what made me a comic book writer. How is that not awesome?
This was previously posted at Word of the Nerd on November 6th.
When Dynamite Entertainment announced at Emerald City Comicon that Gail Simone would pen the new Red Sonja book back in March, the company and Simone drummed up excitement for the book, and one of pulp comic’s great heroines, through the release of multiple variant covers for the first issue, each drawn by a female artist. Not only did the variant covers garner more attention for the book, they also highlighted the plethora of talent amongst female artists in the comic book industry, allowing women like Fiona Staples, Nicola Scott, Amanda Conner, Colleen Doran, Stephanie Buscema, and Jenny Frison to put their own spin on the legendary warrior.
Inspired by the outpouring of support and demand for female talent in the industry, Simone and Dynamite embarked on a “bold new experiment in graphic storytelling” by bringing together some of the best female writers, in comics and traditional prose, to pen their own tales of the “She-Devil With a Sword”. The result is Legends of Red Sonja, a five-part anthology written by Nancy Collins, Devin Grayson, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Marjorie M. Liu, Mercedes Lackey, Rhianna Pratchett, Leah Moore, Blair Butler, Tamora Pierce, Nicola Scott, and Meljean Brook working within the narrative frame set by Gail Simone.
In the first installment, Simone quickly lays down the foundation of the anthology: A group of 12 mercenaries known as the Grey Riders are hunting Red Sonja. They all have their own reasons for wanting her dead, but along the way they learn of her various adventures through the stories of others in their travels. The two stories featured in this issue are Nancy A. Collins’ “Eyes of the Howling God” with art by Noah Solanga, and Devin Grayson’s “La Sonja Rossa” with art by Carla Speed McNeil.
Collins’ “Eyes of the Howling God” is told from the perspective of Eles, the learned assassin amongst the Grey Riders. A monk once in service of The Howling God, he was witness to the murderous and thieving Red Sonja who violently slew the human embodiment of The Howling God before robbing the temple statue of its ruby eyes. When Eles tried to stop her, she marked him for life, slicing her sword across his eye and setting him down the path of revenge. Solanga depicts Sonja as an ancient Laura Croft giving her a chain mail shirt and short shorts. It’s a little off-putting considering the setting, and the fact that she’s essentially fighting a werewolf, but I’m pretty sure Laura Croft found herself in some supernatural situations, so who am I to judge? Next up in Gayson’s “La Sonja Rossa” in which a sea captain tells the Grey Riders of how his beloved ship, Lacrime Di Gioia, was brought down by a young beauty with revenge in her eyes, but Red Sonja valiantly fought to save the crew and those on board from certain death, supposedly going down with the ship though the Grey Riders aren’t buying the tale. McNeil’s art is a little harder to pin down. At times it’s a bit cartoonish, but about midway through the story that cartoonish aspects work in the art’s favor, giving Sonja’s fight with a giant squid an epic scope.
What I definitely admire about the book are the different stories within this first installment. In Simone’s main book, Sonja is a fairly balanced figure – an opportunist possessed of a strong sense of loyalty prepared to mete out justice at her own discretion. The anthology, though not connected to the main continuity, continues Sonja’s characterization by giving the reader two diametrically opposed versions of the warrior. Eles, someone from within the Grey Riders, sees her as a thief and murderer having witnessed her actions personally. His view of her is ultimately biased, but no more so than the captain of the former Lacrime Di Gioia. He, too, was witness to the impressive feats of Red Sonja, though his is a tale of bravery in the face of death. Neither has more merit than the other. If anything, their stories emphasize the fact that Sonja is neither one or the other. A warrior the likes of Sonja is capable of actions both virtuous and immoral. It’s what makes her human and legendary.
Final Thoughts: We’re off to a good start. Next up are Meljean Brook and Tamora Pierce.
Now a tradition of the long-running series, The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror episodes are often the most anticipated of the season as they mark the return of the show from the summer hiatus and give the writers of the show a chance to tell out of canon stories where literally anything can happen to their characters without any repercussions whatsoever. Beginning in the second season, Treehouse of Horror is typically an anthology episode consisting of three different stories steeped in horror tropes, the macabre, and Twilight Zone style twists. While the episodes, in the early years, used to have a framing device that sort of justified the off-kilter tales, later seasons just jumped into the stories proper.
So, in keeping with this Halloween animation theme I seem to have going today, I thought I’d give you my 13 favorite Treehouse of Horror segments. Why 13? Do you really have to ask?
But it wouldn’t be The Simpsons without the requisite couch gag, so here’s one directed by one of the masters of the macabre, Guillermo Del Toro. Try to see how many characters, directors, writers, and concepts you can pick out!
Capitalizing on the Harry Potter craze, and even including a caricature of Potter chewing on some brimstone, Lisa and Bart are young wizards at Springwart’s School of Magicry where, surprise, surprise, Lisa is the star pupil capable of performing every spell perfectly. Bart, unfortunately, can barely manage to turn a toad into a prince, resulting in a creature that just needs to be put out of its misery. Seduced by the power offered by the evil Montymort and his pet snake Slithers, Bart agrees to sabotage Lisa’s demonstration of the “levitating dragon trick”, swapping her wand for a Twizzler. The trick gone awry, the dragon turns into Montymort who starts to absorb Lisa’s power causing Bart to have a change of heart and stab Montymort in the ankle with Lisa’s wand, which just so happens to be the dark sorcerer’s weak spot. In the end, Lisa and Bart patch things up and all is well.
Based on The Island of Dr. Moreau by H.G. Wells, the Simpsons are vacationing on “The Island of Lost Souls” and discover that Dr. Hibbert is running the resort, presumably to stay out of sight after rumors that he’d gone mad. It doesn’t take long for Marge to realize something might be amiss (especially when the family dines on a turkey who looks suspiciously like Prof. Frink) and goes to investigate only to find herself caught and genetically mutated into a cat woman. The rest of the episode is essentially based around the visual gags of all the residents of Springfield in their animal forms: Homer a walrus, Bart a spider, Lisa an eagle, Maggie an anteater, Flanders a cow-centaur, etc. In the end, they’re pretty much happy being animals and embrace the lifestyle on the island.
When a freak Halloween candy x-ray accident occurs, Bart and Lisa develop superpowers; Bart the ability to stretch every part of his body and Lisa super strength. The only possible course of action? Become the superheroes Stretch Dude and Clobber Girl. Elsewhere, Lucy Lawless (dressed as Xena) addresses a group of nerds at a convention and dodges all questions of continuity errors with the brilliant line, “A wizard did it.” In the midst of the convention, Lawless is kidnapped by Comic Book Guy, calling himself The Collector, who seeks to preserve Lawless along with several other celebrity figures. Lisa and Bart come to Lawless’s rescue, but find themselves captured as well. Only by feigning interest in The Collector does Lawless get the upper hand, punching him to the point that he removes his limited edition lightsaber from its original packaging, thus destroying its value. Stunned, he accidentally falls into a vat of Lucite with just enough time to strike a dramatic pose before the chemical encases him forever. With everyone safe, Lawless picks up Bart and Lisa and flies them home, prompting Lisa to point out that Xena can’t fly, to which Lawless proclaims she’s not Xena, she’s Lucy Lawless. Makes perfect sense.
During the 1600s, Springfield fell pray to the same practices of Salem, accusing various people of being witches with an impressive body count. During a church meeting to decide who to condemn next, Marge attempts to talk sense to the congregation and is accused of being a witch herself. Told to jump from a cliff to prove her innocence, it turns out that Marge is actually a witch and upon her discovery returns to her wicked sister Patty and Selma. Falling back on her witchy ways, the sisters start going around the village collecting children to eat. Only after Maude Flanders offers them gingerbread men in exchange for the lives of Rod and Tod do the witches think treats are better than eating children. A year later and the tradition is set, with the occasional accusation of witchcraft still used sparingly. Serves you right, Lisa, for pointing out the obvious!
When Lisa’s compassion for animals drives her to free Snorky the dolphin from the local water park, she unknowingly brings about a war between dolphins and man. Snorky is, in fact, king of the dolphins and organizes his subjects to attack the surface world. When Snorky interrupts a town meeting following a series of water-based murders, he banishes humans to the sea. Outnumbered by the dolphins, the residents of Springfield are resigned to their punishment until Lisa is bitten by a baby dolphin and Homer discovers that punching dolphins is an adequate defense. Unfortunately, the townsfolk still find themselves banished to the sea because the dolphins, “just wanted it more.”
A parody of Soylent Green, when detention appears to be getting overcrowded with students, Skinner approves using the overflow of children as a substitute meat product in the cafeteria. With the student body decreasing as the teaching staff grows fat from consuming their charges, it’s down to Bart, Lisa, and Milhouse who’re chased through the horrifically changed school by the ravenous teachers. In a hilarious use of meta-humor, Bart points out that there’s no way any of them could die right before Milhouse falls into a giant blender. Amending his statement, Bart is then confident that nothing could happen to the Simpson children…until he and Lisa also fall to their deaths.
Looking for material to do a book report, Bart stumbles upon a book of black magic in the “Occult Section” of the Springfield Elementary Library. Later that evening, Bart offers to resurrect Lisa’s beloved Snowball I from the Pet Cemetery when he spies her lamenting the loss of her cat. Uttering an incantation at Snowball’s grave, Bart accidentally raises the dead in the regular cemetery who proceed to run amok in the town, turning many of its citizens into zombies. When Lisa posits that the library must have a counter spell, the Simpsons attempt to brave the zombie horde to end the curse. Along the way, Homer gets to use his trusty shotgun to shoot anything that gets in their way, including Flanders…who turns out to have actually been a zombie. Not unlike George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead (1978), “Dial ‘Z’ for Zombies” ends on a satirical note with the town cured and the family sitting in front of the television staring blankly into the screen. It was honestly a toss-up between this segment and “The Fright to Creep and Scare Harms”, but this one edged it out mostly for Homer shooting Flanders for non-zombie related reasons and the sequence where the zombies attempt to eat Homer’s brain, but find him wanting.
Invited to Mr. Burn’s castle in Pennsylvania for dinner, the Simpsons are greeted by their host who’s taken on a very vampiric look, an homage of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, for the evening. Exploring the place Bart and Lisa discover Burns’ secret – he’s a vampire. Trying to escape, Bart is bitten and begins to exhibit signs that he’s also been turned into a vampire. Floating outside your sister’s window with all your recently turned friends is a pretty good sign, I think. About to bite Lisa, Homer and Marge walk in and realize he’s a vampire, leading the family to storm Burns’ castle to kill him and end the curse. The twist ending is probably one of my favorites as it’s so random you can’t help but laugh. While this segment is a big favorite of mine, this is also one of the segments my mother adores purely based on the staking gag. It’s The Simpsons at their best, defying your expectation of what’s actually happening as Homer stakes Mr. Burns only for Lisa to point out that he’s been staking Burns’ crotch.
A bit of a cheat, but the more I thought about it, there are just so many segments to choose from that narrowing it down gets a lot harder once it comes down to the top five. “Hungry Are the Damned” is an homage of To Serve Man, a short story by Damon Knight later adapted into an episode of The Twilight Zone. Instead of the aliens (the first appearance of Kang and Kodos) trying to eat them, Lisa becomes the villain when she accuses them of trying to fatten them up for slaughter based on a rather dusty cookbook cover that uses the play on words gag of the source material and milks it for all it’s worth. “The Shinning”, is a pitch perfect parody of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining. house sitting for Mr. Burns, Homer is denied the two things he needs in life: beer and television. Without them, he goes “something, something”, reenacting the intense chase sequence from Kubrick’s movie. Only with Bart’s “shinning” is the family saved when Groundskeeper Willie arrives and stops Homer’s insanity when his portable television drops into the snow. The family gathers around the tv and freezes together…until the Tony Awards come on.
Not only is this a great Invasion of the Body Snatchers parody, but it’s also a ridiculously funny political satire as Kang and Kodos return to run for political office by replacing then candidates Pres. Bill Clinton and Sen. Bob Dole. Learning to navigate the fickle political crowd, the two are eventually revealed by Homer to the American people. But because of the two-party system’s dominance over the political sphere, people are literally voting for the lesser of two evils, which is still pretty damn evil. Like I said, this segment is more political satire with aliens in it, but it has some of the best lines. When a cartoon can make you laugh at an abortion joke, you know they’re doing something right. There’s also the wonderfully trite statement of “Don’t blame me, I voted for Kodos,” that tends to pop up every election year since.
A parody of The Devil and Daniel Webster, Homer makes a deal with The Devil, who ironically happens to be Flanders, to exchange his soul for a doughnut. Discovering that only by finishing the treat does the deal stand, Homer thinks he’s found the ultimate loophole. Homer being Homer, however, he quickly consumes the rest of the forbidden doughnut and earns his ticket down stairs. Marge, trying to save her husband, asks for a trial in which Homer is judged by the most vile fiends of Hell. With Lionel Hutz defending Homer, Marge reveals that he’d already given his soul away when he married her, thus the deal is null and void. The Devil concedes but only after leaving Homer with a reminder of their twisted arrangement. Another segment packed with jokes, the best sequence is Homer’s stay in Hell while Marge puts the trial together. Hell may revel in their ironic punishments, but there isn’t a doughnut Homer won’t eat and watching the demon’s expression turn from evil glee to confusion in the span of a time fade is hilarious. And it’s always nice to hear the late Phil Hartman’s voice as the inept Lionel Hutz.
An absolute must read for any fan of the macabre and horror, Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” has endured not just because of its infectious rhyme scheme but also the imagery it conjures up of a man tortured by the presence of a raven in his study as he mourns the loss of his wife. Many interpretations have been made, but The Simpsons manage to strike the right balance of paying homage to the source material while also having some fun with it. Having James Earl Jones narrate the piece gives it gravitas, but there’s something to be said for hearing Homer spout Poe’s words in his own particular way that’s hilarious no matter what.
Hands down, this is my favorite segment of any Treehouse of Horror episode. Joke for joke, it all works when Homer buys a talking Krusty the Klown doll for Bart’s birthday from The House of Evil. Blowing off the warnings of the shop owner in regards to the doll being evil (as well as a fantastic exchange over frogurt), everything seems fine until the doll makes several attempts to kill Homer. After Marge calls a hotline, a repairman is sent and points out that the doll’s switch had been set to “evil”. Switching it to “good”, the doll becomes friendly and complacent, which Homer takes advantage of, making the Krusty doll his slave. The episode ends with the Krusty doll coming home from a hard day of work serving Homer to Lisa’s Malibu Stacy doll in her dream house. It’s a mundane end to a segment that’s anything but.
So those are my 13 Favorite Treehouse of Horror segments. What are your favorites and how would you rank them?