Posts Tagged ‘supernatural’

 

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In the midst of the three-day walkabout that is Emerald City Comicon, I had the opportunity, thanks to the lovely team at Dark Horse Comics, to interview the writers of the Conan/Red Sonja crossover comic, Jim Zub and Gail Simone. First up was Jim Zub who was kind enough to set some time aside at his booth. The interview has been transcribed due to heavy background noise during recording. Jim Zub

 

Author’s note: All italics and parentheses have been added for emphasis and clarification.

 

Maniacal Geek: So, Conan/Red Sonja!

Jim Zub: Conan/Red Sonja.

MG: I read the issue the other night.

JZ: Issue three?

MG: Yep, issue three.

JZ: Awesome.

MG: So, if you can describe the process of working with Gail Simone first.

JZ: Sure. So, Gail was on the project first and she was the one that brought me on board. So even when I came into it she already had a couple ideas about how things could work. And I think the one thing that I’m really the most proud of that we worked out was – ya know this kind of a project, especially with characters who haven’t been teamed up in over fifteen years…

MG: Yeah, not since the movie, right?conanrs3p1

JZ: Right? You have them when they’re young and they’re vibrant and then you have them when they’re older. And both eras of the characters are really amazing. And it’s like, man, if this is the only time I ever get to write Conan, I wanna do it all and Gail had this great idea that we would show a story that evolves as they get older. So the first chapter is, ya know, when they’re young and impetuous and then as the things that they do in that first chapter come to roost in the later chapters.

MG: The bloodroot and everything?

JZ: Exactly. And so we wanted to create this – it enlarges the scope of the story and it makes it that much more epic, but it also allows us to show how the characters have evolved and how their attitudes have changed. So Conan has become much more serious. Ya know, in the early one Sonja is very harsh, she’s very prickly, and then as she gets a little bit older she’s a bit freer and Conan has sort of shut down after Bêlit’s death. He’s just, ya know, much more morose and kinda grim about the whole thing. And that – being able to show the contrast between them and the shift in time I feel like is one of the most – it’s something I’m really proud of in the series. And then, ya know, just being able to have this big sweeping adventure. You get to have that pirate, swashbuckling era. You get to have the ragtag thieves.

MG: Gladiatorial…

JZ: Exactly! We get to – literally it’s like a – the best of collection for me, it’s like the greatest hits of Conan and we just get to hit all these high notes all the way through. And that was just the best feeling. Ya know I can’t adequately describe…my name on a Conan book feels absolutely surreal.

MG: Is it one of those things that you kind of always dreamed of but never –conanrs3p2

JZ: Yeah, I grew up on it. I just never thought it would even be possible. Ya know I read the Conan comics growing up and I read the novels and that just felt like, well that’s what those people do. Not that I would ever be able to do that. So having my small little piece of the pie that’s pretty amazing.

MG: One of things that struck me with the third issue is that you’re really laying down this foundation of legacy. The storytelling to the prince. Is there something about that that just goes into the old novels or are you trying to play up the sweeping epic?

JZ: I think it’s a bit of both. I mean you wanna give a sense of…that this is not just an adventure that takes place in the moment but that it changes and it is recorded and it will be spoken of for a long time. I mean, that’s the nature of a legend, right? And we’re talking about two characters that are legendary and so being able to give it that – without trying to sound corny – that gravitas, like to say this is something that is – will be spoken of – this is not just these characters experiencing it but something that will echo outwards. And that’s, ya know, that great epic fantasy, that’s what they do and so that’s really very much the voice that was established even by Kurt Busiek when he was doing his run on the series and we looked to that and said, “Okay, we wanna run with it.” But Roy Thomas did that kinda stuff too. He would do this really poetic kind of prose and narration in his comics. It’s funny sometimes when you’re writing it you feel like, man, are we going over the top? But Conan feels like it can absorb it. It’s so big and he’s such a powerful character that even if it feels like you’re going too much you’re just right there. Like that’s where it should be.

MG: You feel like you’re going too far but, in fact, you’re not going far enough!

JZ: No, you’re right there. Right in the thick of it. You just wanna push it right to the edge in terms of the narrative quality or the intensity of those emotions and the poetic way you say it. And every so often I would find myself, I would write a sentence and I would go, “Am I nuts? Is this – did we – did we go tip it over the top?” And then we would, I would go back and I’d kinda read it out loud and my wife or other people would be like, “No, man, that’s totally Conan.” I’m like, “Wow! This is cool!” We get to really dig in on that kind of prose.

MG: Is there a particular metaphor that you’re proud of?

JZ: In the first issue we’ve got this – hold on, I – see I want to get the wording of it right and actually read it to you because I’m so proud of it.

MG: You have to do the voices too.conan-red-sonja-1-conan

JZ: Yeah, okay that’s a trick. Whenever I do a script and it’s got a – particularly licensed characters – I always read it back in the character’s voice so I feel like it has the right cadence. So, it’s corny but it’s totally useful.

MG: Lay on, Macduff.

JZ: Right here, right, so he [Conan] jumps over this gate and he smashes this guy in the face and as it’s happening the guard screams, “Gods above!” And he [Conan] goes, “Gods, you say? No, just a Cimmerian born with an appetite for things kept hidden behind steel and stone.” It’s just something, I don’t know, that’s like a badass way to introduce a character. He just comes out of nowhere and beats the hell out of people.

MG: Well why not?

JZ: It’s Conan, he can take that. So I’m proud of that one. I’m proud of the issue that hasn’t come out yet, issue four has got some – we go all epic. The original Howard stories – Robert E. Howard was actually – he was a pen pal with H.P. Lovecraft and you notice in a bunch of his stories he has a very almost Cthullian approach to the supernatural. Conan doesn’t just fight something, he fights something that could melt your mind or is beyond the universe’s ability to comprehend kind of stuff. And I always found that stuff very visceral and so I told Gail really early – we made a wishlist of all the cool things, ya know, we have a gladiatorial scene, and we have pirates, and we have this. And I said, one of my – on my wishlist was creature beyond the universe; creature of the unknown and she’s like, “Oh yeah, let’s do this!”

MG: I feel like Gail would be on board with anything.

JZ: I got to put one of those into issue four and all the prose around that makes me very happy.Wayward01A-teaser

MG: Especially with high fantasy because it’s like science fiction, it’s a sponge for everything. You can just – you’ve been doing that with, a little bit with Wayward and Skullkickers and then Samurai Jack. It’s all within kinda the same umbrella.

JZ: Yeah, totally, and I feel like…some people say to me, “Oh, you’re a sword and sorcery writer.” I’m like, “No, I wanna tell stories.” I like fantasy and I like magic but it’s broader than that. It’s about empowerment and it’s about excitement and I feel like these are great vehicles for excitement. In whatever I’m writing I want it to be action-packed and entertaining. Some of those are more comical and some of those are more serious but there’s an intensity to them.

MG: Definitely and I can’t think of a better way to end it.

JZ: Thank you so much.

MG: Thank you! I appreciate it and I loved having you on the podcast before.

JZ: It was a lot of fun, I really appreciate it.

MG: Yeah, no, you and Andy [Suriano] are like one of my favorites.

JZ: We’re having so much fun with [Samurai] Jack. The last issue, 20, comes out in, well it’s a little delayed now because of shipping, but it’s coming out in June and it is, like, it’s like our coda on the series. I tried to sum everything up and say, okay, if they never do an animated ending for Samurai Jack this is what I wanna say, drop the mic, and walk away.1 gOXhpN2a-nGNEnB24oR1sw

MG: Are they cutting you off?

JZ: Well yeah, but they gave us enough notice so we could go out the way we wanted.

MG: That’s good ’cause you don’t always get that.

JZ: Oh yeah, absolutely. The show didn’t get that! So, the last thing you wanna do is cut off the comic.

MG: Exactly. Thanks, Jim!

JZ: Thanks!

 

Sam talks with Ben Blacker, co-creator and writer for the Thrilling Adventure Hour! They chat about the writing process, the stage show turned podcast turned successful kickstarter, and television as a medium.

Ben Blacker

Follow @BenBlacker and @ThrillingAdv
Check out thrillingadventurehour.com

Intro and outro music “French Kiss” by Mrs. Howl

The vampire as metaphor has had a fascinating staying power since Bram Stoker’s Dracula turned Eastern European folklore into a gothic tale of sexual repression and liberation. At times they’re feral beasts of horror or sexy, brooding heroes tortured by169c6f081c49a875dcbff5246a7ab4e7 their own immortality. Or…Twilight. The point is vampires, while we may associate them with certain traits, can be as powerful, vulnerable, and insightful as the narrative allows. Their monstrosity is subjective, giving storytellers ample room to explore the nature of vampires and the world around them. In A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, writer and director Ana Lily Amirpour crafts a vampire that is neither virtuous nor villain, but somewhere in between. Though she is what we’d typically classify as a “monster” it becomes clear that Bad City has more than its fair share of demons.

In the Iranian town of Bad City, The Girl (Sheila Vand) stalks the streets at night, preying upon the worst of the worst in a city where death and loneliness thrive. Her curiosity, however, leads her to an unlikely romance with Arash (Arash Marandi), a young man struggling to do what’s “right” when nothing is as clear-cut as it seems. As their lives become more intertwined the truth becomes harder to hide.

Billed as the first Iranian vampire Western, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night exists in a deliberately nebulous space that keeps it open to interpretation. One can view it through a feminist lens as The Girl primarily attacks men who bully and exert their own power on others, mainly coming to the defense of a prostitute, Atti (Mozhan Marnò), who’s connected to both Saeed (Dominic Rains) the local drug dealer and Arash’s addict father, Hossein (Marshall Manesh). There’s also commentary to be gleaned from the frequent shots of oil rigs, the open, almost casual display of dead bodies in a ditch, and the stagnant feel of Bad girl3_3City that appears to be stuck in several time periods as the director’s feelings on Iran and the country’s culture. Amirpour, however, finds the interpretation to be more reflective of the interpreter. As for her own view on the themes in her film, she said:

In this case, it’s really about loneliness. A vampire is the loneliest, most isolated cut-off type of creature. She also has something very bad to hide about who she is and it’s a brilliant disguise. It becomes a way to stay under the radar and underestimated. There are a million ways to read it. It will tell you more about you than it does about me. [Source: LA Times]

In regards to the disguise element, Amirpour is referring to the chador that The Girl wears in the film. A symbol of systemic oppression towards women in the Middle East, the chador and The Girl’s use of it as a means of making herself an unassuming presence have been the focus of many reviews; proof positive that The Girl is subverting the nature of the garment and using it as a tool of empowerment. The chador was apparently what inspired Amirpour to make a movie about a vampire, saying:

In Iran, I have had to wear a hijab [headscarf], and personally I find it completely suffocating. I don’t want to be covered up in all that cloth. But there was something about the chador though. It’s made of a different fabric. It’s soft and silky and it catches the air. When I put it on, I felt supernatural. But I also get to take it off. [Source: LA Times]

There are several scenes in the movie where Amirpour shows the ethereal and supernatural quality of the chador when The Girl is out on the town. One particular moment that comes to mind is The Girl riding a skateboard down an empty street, letting the wind catch the fabric. It’s one of the rare moments where she naturally smiles, experiencing a strange sense of freedom. Framed within the shot, the chador simultaneously resembles bat-like qualities associated with vampires and the silhouette of a superhero’s cape. It’s a beautiful display of the film’s cinematography that also highlights the prevailing theme of concealment. Interestingly enough, when The Girl and Arash meet and speak to each other for the first time, Arash – high as a kite – is wearing a Dracula costume. It’s a brilliant juxtaposition that the two begin to form their romance when both are essentially in disga_girl_photo3uise.

Where A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night really shines is in its style and mood. Filmed in black and white, Amirpour imbues Bad City and the people living there with a sense of style that maintains an air of retro coolness but is also indicative of a culture mired in crime and death. Bad City is stuck somewhere between the old and the modern as are most of its denizens. The opening shot of Arash establishes his greaser/James Dean aesthetic right down to the vintage car he drives. The Girl dances to 80s synth-pop but her short hair, striped shirt, and black leggings give off a mod Audrey Hepburn meets Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction vibe. The influence of Quentin Tarantino is hard to miss, so the look of The Girl was probably intended. Saeed has a very 80s look about him as well, sporting a track suit, gold chains, and living in an apartment that even the Land of Oz would say needs to be toned down. The stylistic choices are another way of commenting on the disparity of wealth in a place like Bad City where there’s a clear contrast between the rich and the poor but even the lower classes prey upon each other. Filmed in Bakersfield and Taft, California as stand-ins for Iran, Amirpour shows the industrial, ruined state of Bad City, telling us with only an establishing shot of the distant oil rigs exactly why everything has gone to shit.

Burrrt it wouldn’t be a vampire movie without an element of horror to it, right? Oh, yeah…Twilight. Anyway, Amirpour keeps the horror to a minimum. Yes, The Girl feeds, but the strength of film lies in the suspense. We don’t meet The Girl until about fifteen minutes into the film. In that time, we’ve met the rest of the cast and we see just how destitute Arash and his father are and how Saeed uses drugs and intimidation to get what he wants. When The Girl finally shows up, she’s at a distance, watching Saeed geting a blowjob from Atti after verbally and physically abusing her. From there on, Amirpour establishes a pattern. The Girl shows up and begins to stalk her prey. She’s unassuming and yet unnerving, constantly staring with wide eyes that are simultaneously curious and cold. Vand plays the part expertly. The Girl is a mostly silent character, which means all of the performance is in Vand’s eyes and movement. As the tension builds in the excruciatingly long shots and pauses between The Girl and her next meal – heightened by the sound of footsteps amped up to keep the audience as nervous as possible – Vand makes us feel and understand what The Girl is going through. The same is true of her scenes with Marandi. Though Arash is the more talkative of the two, there are several long pauses where the two are merely staring at each other, conveying everything with their eyes and making us believe that the two have made a connection. It’s the final ten minutes, however, where the two give us the most nerve-wracking moments of intensified suspense, all without saying a word. All because of a cat.

Currently in limited release, A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night, is well worth your time if you have any interest in the work of upcoming directors like Amirpour or desire something more substantial from your vampire-themed entertainment. If you can’t find a showing nearby, there are two issues of a comic book written by Amirpour available for purchase that give you some background on The Girl. Hopefully that will tide you over until the film comes out on VOD and DVD/Blu-ray.

Sam records live at the AFK Elixirs and Eatery to talk with Friday Elliott and her daughter Audrey. They talk about tea, custom blends, and hop around from Harry Potter to Supernatural.

Links to Friday:

Friday Afternoon Tea

Twitter

Facebook

Etsy

YouTube

 

Into music: “French Kiss” by Mrs. Howl

Okay, we’re gonna go about things a little differently here. Since I’ve decided to strike out on my own – updates forthcoming – I don’t necessarily have the time or the funds to read every comic and write the fairly long, detail-oriented reviews I did in the past. That doesn’t mean, however, that I’m shirking my analytical duties of reviewing comic books. It just means these reviews are going to be much shorter.

What’s the approach? Your standard pull list of comics for the week and my thoughts on why you should read them with a specific Spotlight position set aside for what I think was a standout issue. There’s also room for highlighting new books from smaller publishers or collected graphic novels and such. Pretty much whatever I think is worth your time, which means – obviously – that this will be heavily biased to my tastes. In all likelihood, some of you may or may not agree with my picks and that’s fine. If anything, it leaves us open for discussion about what you think were the best books of the week and to make recommendations of your own.

Sound good?

I’ll take your silence as a sign of agreement. To the list!

 

C.O.W.L. #5 – Image Comics

COWL_05-1Written by Kyle Higgins and Alec Siegel with Art by Rod Reis, the first arc of the series comes to a close with the dissolution of C.O.W.L. Or does it? Higgins, Siegel, and Reis started their story of the first labor union for superheroes at the beginning of the end, but everyone knows that the end is only the beginning. In tumultuous post-WWII, Cold War era Chicago tensions have finally escalated to the point of strikes and rioting with the city content to wash its hands clean of C.O.W.L. Not that the heroes are too broken up about it, at least most of them. While the world of C.O.W.L. has been slowly built within the era of equal rights, paranoia, and disillusionment, one man’s story has been cutting through the narrative: Geoffrey Warner, C.O.W.L.’s Chief formerly known as The Grey Raven. From the beginning of the book, Geoffrey has been trying every tactic possible to keep C.O.W.L. alive only to see it crumble before his eyes. It’s his desperation that makes his actions at the end of the issue – the last panel in fact – all the more shocking. Does Chicago need heroes? Geoffrey thinks it does and he’s willing to do anything to prove how necessary C.O.W.L. is to the Chicago, if not the world.

 

Low #3 – Image Comics

low03_coverWritten by Rick Remender with Art by Greg Tocchini, Low #3 is a beautiful cacophony of juxtaposing images and ideas set against what is ostensibly the end of the human race. While most of the people inhabiting the undersea city of Salus are set on counting down the days until they’re done for, Stel Caine holds on to the hope that humanity can be saved. The appearance of a long forgotten probe that may have found a planet suitable for human habitation prompts her to confront the decadent and corrupt councilmen who, like most people, see Stel’s optimism as some sort of disease. No one believes this more than her son Marik who, after being arrested for corruption and the death of a hooker, tries to kill himself because he can’t imagine his life could get any lower. Luckily, Stel manages to save him, which is debatable if you’re Marik, and takes him with her to find the probe. The issue mostly consists of a huge argument between Stel and Marik, a mother and son who’ve both experienced tremendous loss and have dealt with it in very different ways. But in this issue, there’s finally some catharsis and Tocchini’s art gorgeously captures the beauty and wonder of the ocean that Marik sees for the first time.

 

Wayward #2 – Image Comics

Wayward_02-1Written by Jim Zub with Art by Steven Cummings, John Rauch, and Zub, Rori’s fresh start in Japan hasn’t exactly gone very smooth. What with the pressures of being in a new city, reconnecting with your mother, discovering you have strange powers that allow you to see monsters and getting saved by a cat-person – wait, what? Seriously, the worst thing that could happen after that is starting at a new school where you’re treated like an idiot and judged for your appearance while trying not to be a burden to the one parent you don’t want to hate you. Which is why that’s exactly what happens. Though I’ve never been to school in Japan, Zub finds a way to make Rori’s circumstances relatable despite the cultural shift. We can all sympathize with feeling like an outcast or a loner as well as the intense pressure that comes with being a student. Heighten that with the intense nature of Japanese schools and we see just how stressful Rori’s world has become. How she copes with that stress, however, left me gasping out loud. The art continues to be a lush and vibrant world of anime and manga influences. Even in the darkest settings, the colors still pop off the page as Rori tries to make sense and connect the dots especially when it comes to one of her new schoolmates.

 

Storm #3 – Marvel Comics

Storm-003Written by Greg Pak with Art by Matteo Buffagni, Storm’s solo book is only three issues in and, on the surface, the stories feel like vignettes in Ororo Munroe’s life between the myriad events going on in the X-Men universe. But what Greg Pak has been doing is taking the reader back to her roots, showcasing exactly what makes the former goddess and Queen of Wakanda tick, which inevitably leads her back to Africa; specifically Kenya where she was once worshipped because of her powers over the weather. After meeting the locals, she also finds herself confronted with another part of her past when Forge is revealed to be the one behind bringing her back so he can create a method of weather control so the local villagers can grow their crops. Unfortunately, Forge’s machine is too unstable and the leader of the village is a little too eager to harness the power of a god. Through the lessons she learned from being falsely worshipped as well as her time being de-powered and betrayed, Storm shows what makes her a true leader as she shows the wisdom necessary to strike a balance between Forge and the village. Neither are ready to move on, so she makes sure they find a way to do so together.

 

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #5-6 – DC Comics

sensation5Written by Ivan Cohen with Art by Marcus To these two chapters serve as a full story that sees Diana’s belief in the gods challenged when she supposedly loses her powers. The writers and artists involved with Sensation Comics have been doing a stellar job of showcasing the various aspects of Wonder Woman and Ivan Cohen pushes the concept of belief into the forefront. Diana is a paragon of justice, truth, honor, and compassion, but even in this day and age her origins involving the Greek pantheon give people pause when she’s also wrapped up in the stars and stripes. The brilliance of this story, however, is Diana’s cleverness in sussing out who the true villain is and besting him through the sheer force of belief in one thing and one thing alone: herself. Without that she’s nothing and it makes all the difference.

 

Spotlight: Saga #23 – Image Comics

Saga23OneAs if there was any doubt! Saga is an ongoing emotional roller coaster and, as always, Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples still manage to pull the rug out from under the reader. The penultimate issue of the current arc finds Marko nearly giving into his feelings for Ginny after Alana kicked him out and Alana continuing to turn to drugs to cope with how miserable she is, but our favorite married couple find that even the greatest temptations can’t completely pull them away from each other. Oddly enough, it isn’t the calming and placating platitudes from Ginny to Marko or the story of lost love from Izabel to Alana that snaps everything into place, it’s Hazel’s toy Ponk Konk. Marko knows how much his daughter loves the toy and it spurs him to return to his home. Alana, on the other hand, sees how much she’s been missing out on by working the Open Circuit and getting high while Marko practically raises their daughter without her. Unfortunately, Dengo and the princeling show up before the family can reunite, fulfilling Hazel’s earlier statement that this is indeed the story of how her parents split up when Alana activates their rocket ship tree to blastoff, leaving the planet and Marko behind as a means of stopping Dengo. At the issue’s end, Marko is stranded, unable to reach his family, but he’s not the only father desperate to get to his family.

 

So those are my picks for the week. Please feel free to comment below and tell me what comics you’d highlight, either as regular pulls or new comics people should check out.

Ghosted begins its latest arc by bringing back the past. Not only does Oliver King, the skeptic turned believer of the first arc return, but we also get the notorious white room last seen in the Trask Mansion, plus a new character with an unexpected connection to Jackson’s deceased friend. While this set-up seems all well and good for Ghosted, Jackson is the wildcard for ghosted_12the first time. His involvement in previous heists were either through coercion or…nope, pretty much everything after the Spirit Casino debacle has been about coercion. This time though, Jackson is all out of fucks to give as the government tries to recruit him for a new mission that further expands the supernatural world of Ghosted.

Starting almost immediately after the events with the Brotherhood of the Closed Book and the appearance of King with the FBI, Jackson and Nina Bloodcrow are released from prison so King can introduce them to Agent Creed. Jackson is of particular interest to Creed. He seems to know everything about him (including what happened in New Orleans, which I’m sure we’ll find out about in the future) and he wants to “offer him a job” going after the proliferation of ghosts and spirits that have come out of the woodwork for reasons that appear to be unexplained. Jackson, however, is having none of it. He could care less about what’s happening outside of his personal bubble of anger and guilt and the alternative options of prison or death sound better than helping the feds. It isn’t until Creed reveals the man who may be involved in the recent uptick in spiritual activity is the late Trick’s son and introduces Jackson to his “fan” that the con man is finally interested in what Creed has to say.

What continues to impress me about Ghosted are the many ways in which the supernatural is treated and interpreted. It’s like a check list of horror cliches only Joshua Williamson manages to make them feel fresh within the context of the world he’s created. Haunted mansion? Check. Cults and possession? Got it! Rednecks dealing in candles made of virgin blood? Ch – okay, that’s not on the list, but it oughta be! The success of these scenarios, however, is how they’re filtered through Jackson and his involvement. He’s the connecting thread but with the beginning of this new arc, we’re seeing him begin to unravel. Thematically, Ghosted has its roots in the idea of the past haunting us in ways we can’t expect. The bookends of this issue illustrate that perfectly. A woman’s stalker kills himself and while the woman is happy to move on with her life, the ghost of R2nDrEx-ghosted_12_3the stalker lingers, hovering around her and letting her know that she’s not as free of him as she thought. Jackson has a similar predicament, but his demons are less visible to the naked eye. Instead, he literally bears the scars of his haunted past, one that everyone wants to exploit to get him to do their dirty work. The loss of Trick, however, has affected Jackson tremendously. If he had even a tenuous hold on staying alive, Trick’s death has finally pushed Jackson to the breaking point. His previous attempts at goading people into killing him seem trivial compared to the anger-induced provocation of Creed when the man has a gun pointed at him. The only person keeping him somewhat anchored is Nina.

Once again, Davide Gianfelice’s art works so well within the world of Ghosted. The sketch-like quality of his art instills movement in scenes that could easily look static. Like the previous arc, Gianfelice handles the horror with a deft hand, making spirits and possessed people look grotesque yet intriguing at the same time. The ghost of the stalker is especially chilling due to the minimal dialogue as the young woman goes about her nightly routine all while the deceased hovers nearby, his blank expression made all the creepier by the gaping would in his skull. The colors from Miroslav Mrva present an interesting contrast between the living world and the dead. For most of the issue, the colors are brighter, even in the prison facility where Jackson and Nina are being held, but when a ghost is featured in a scene they’re marked by a noticeable color shift that draws the eye immediately. It’s a fantastic way of highlighting the combined efforts of writer, artist, and colorist.

Final Thoughts: New story + new characters = a very excited Sam!

Night Vale LogoNot too long ago, I had the chance to see a live show of Welcome to Night Vale as the popular podcast does its tour of the West Coast. The audience was kindly asked not to reveal any details of the touring script since it would eventually be recorded as an actual episode of the podcast, so this won’t exactly be a recounting of the funny as hell and eerily satisfying experience of watching a live performance piece. Instead, I’d rather focus on why Night Vale works as theater and as a podcast. Why has a, until recently, unknown podcast combining elements of Alfred Hitchcock, Stephen King, George Orwell, H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe, Rod Serling, and David Lynch captured the imaginations of fans around the world? Simply put: Night Vale relies on the fans to fill in the blanks, creating the world of Night Vale through a combination of being very specific and very vague.

Created over a year ago by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor, Welcome to Night Vale is a podcast centered around the town of Night Vale – which seems to be in an as-yet unknown location in the American Southwest – and the seemingly mundane things that happen to occur there as reported by the Night Vale Community Radio host, Cecil Palmer, voiced by Cecil Baldwin. On any given day, Cecil could report on the angels that took up residence with Old Woman Josie for a time, the Dog Park that no one is allowed to go to, speak about, or think of, or the helicopters of various colors that correspond to specific groups keeping tabs on the town. There are also several ongoing storylines such as the upcoming mayoral election between Hiram McDaniels (a five-headed dragon) and the Faceless Old Woman (the one who lives in your home), the current corporate infiltration of Night Vale by StrexCorp, and Cecil’s relationship with Carlos, a scientist who moved to Night Vale to study the phenomena that make it the “most scientifically interesting community in the U.S.”

Hiram McDaniels tumblr_mr6v0qvbBd1rl3zxmo1_500

Art by meeshyarts

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in the seemingly normal town where a mountain can randomly appear and citizens are mandated by the local government to eat at a pizza place once a week on penalty of a misdemeanor. Within each roughly 25 minute episode, listeners are given more insight into the workings of Night Vale while also being treated to the entertainingly weird underbelly of the town and its residents. The popularity of the podcast is due entirely to its fanbase, which is true of any podcast, but Night Vale’s rise has an element of interaction with its fans that differs from other popular podcasts like This American Life, The Nerdist, and The Moth. Night Vale isn’t about interviewing a celebrity or telling personal stories. Night Vale is theater of the mind, a program that requires its fans to “see” everything that’s happening based solely on Cecil’s descriptions. Because of this, the imagination of the fanbase is an additional element of Night Vale’s popularity and its success.

Like most radio shows, Night Vale has to be overly descriptive in order to establish its own reality and set the tone of each episode. So when Hiram McDaniels is revealed to be an “eighteen-foot-tall, five-headed dragon, weighing 3,600 pounds” and each head has differently colored eyes and voices, we get a picture of him in our minds but there’s also enough latitude there that someone with artistic talent could take the description and create a version of Hiram that’s no less accurate than another fan’s rendition. In contrast, incumbent Mayor Pamela Winchell has had very little said in the way of her personal appearance, but Cecil has provided many broadcasts that describe her near-demonic personality, which also allows the imaginations of fans to run with what they think Pamela looks like. Similarly, we have a vague idea of what Carlos looks like based on how Cecil described him in the pilot episode, but in 39 episodes of the podcast we have absolutely no idea of what Cecil looks like. Some have used his voice actor as a template, but many fans have essentially crafted their own image of Cecil out of thin air, though there does seem to be a running theme of adding a third eye. Even the community of Night Vale is a vague collection of buildings and landmarks, none of which are entirely set in stone by some map of the area. By keeping it intentionally vague, the creators can easily use the layout of the city at their leisure, but it still allows the fans to speculate and create. Plus, it’s really hard to put a house that may not exist on a map.

Cecil and Carlos spam_vale_by_littleulvar-d6jy07g

Art by littleulvar

Night Vale has also benefited greatly from social media outlets, specifically tumblr, where fans have formed their own communities that share insights on the episodes or whatever pieces they’ve created to express their fandom. Again, it’s no different from any other podcast, television show, or movie with loyal fans. But Night Vale isn’t like Supernatural, which has a healthy and active fanbase present on pretty much every social media platform. Supernatural is a live-action television show, one that gives its fanbase visual depictions of its characters and settings. So if someone dresses up like Castiel, Dean, or Sam there are ways in which that costume or any pieces of art can be compared to the television counterpart. Night Vale’s cast and settings exist entirely in the head cannon of the fanbase. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone criticized because their Glow Cloud costume wasn’t accurate. More so than live-action or animated programs, Night Vale lives and breathes on the investment of the fanbase in the show and the characters. God forbid Cecil and Carlos ever broke up is all I’m saying.

That’s why I think the live shows continue to work. Very little changes in terms of how the show is presented except for a live musical performance for the weather segment and the presence of Cecil Baldwin reading the script. Cecil is still in character and the news reported is still of the same quality. The only real difference is the presence of the audience, but even then there’s still a sense of the audience perpetuating the illusion of the podcast. Sure, there are more audible reactions to what Cecil reports, but the audience doesn’t need visual cues. We know Carlos, Steve Carlsberg, and Tamika Flynn but we don’t need the live show to give us a definitive image. We already have the idea in our heads and all we really need is Cecil to transport us to a sleepy little desert town where our existence is not impossible, but it’s also highly unlikely.

A good laugh can get you through a whole day. A maniacal laugh lets you siphon off all those “crazy” plans stewing in your brain and gives those around you a slight pause to consider just how far they’re willing to push you.

So, start wringing those hands and grinning like a Maniac and belt it out!

The Winchester Brothers have a habit of getting possessed and it isn’t with the holiday spirit, I can tell you that. Sam seems to get the brunt of it, so here’s a little bit of evil, possessed Sam for your Friday morning.

manifest_Destiny01_cover1This was previously posted at Word of the Nerd on November 13th.

In 1804, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson, set out to map and explore the land west of the Mississippi River recently purchased by Jefferson from Napoleon Bonaparte. The Louisiana Purchase of 1803 doubled the landmass of the United States with the Louisiana Territory stretching from what is present day Louisiana to roughly eastern Montana. What few people actually know about the Corp of Discovery Expedition is that Lewis and Clark, other than looking for a convenient route to the Pacific Ocean, were under explicit orders from Pres. Jefferson to purge the land of monsters. Oh, yeah, you heard me right. Lewis and Clark were commissioned to rid the Louisiana Territory of monsters. Plain and simple. You won’t read that in Lies My Teacher Taught Me!

In reality, this is the premise of Chris Dingess’ Manifest Destiny, a book set to play off the otherworldly and supernatural exploits of historical figures. Not that it’s a bad thing. Dingess, a producer and writer for television shows like Reaper, Ed, and SyFy’s Being Human, uses the unknown element of the American frontier to his advantage. Lewis and Clark are still keeping with the original mission as recorded in Lewis’ journal, but the two friends are the only ones who know of the expedition’s true objective. Though they intend on keeping their secret for as long as possible, Lewis still doubts their mission is nothing more than an elaborate hoax brought on by French tall tales. Their plans are quickly squashed when they come across a structure that strangely resembles the St. Louis Peace Arch. Only this one looks to be entirely constructed out of plant life, some of which resembles ominous skulls if you look at them the right way. While collecting samples, the crew find themselves in the path of a creature hitherto unknown to them, something not of any tribe they know. Something that isn’t remotely human.

Lewis and ClarkDingess does an excellent job of setting up the premise and the characters while keeping the pace nice and smooth without wasting a panel. Lewis and Clark are painted (almost literally by the gorgeous artwork of Matthew Roberts) as an odd couple of sorts with Lewis being the bookish collector and Clark his practical bodyguard. Their company of soldiers, volunteers, and vagabonds are quite the motley crew with one degenerate in particular, Jensen, piecing things together rather quickly that he, his friend Wally, and most of the expedition share something in common: none of them have families to miss them should they not return for some unspecified reason. It’s a great way to add tension to an already tense situation considering the dangers the real Lewis and Clark faced from outside and within the expedition. Dingess plays a little loose with the history, though not by much – I mean, if you can get over the monsters bit. There is some discrepancy over whether Clark was a Captain or a Second Lieutenant at the time, but I’m okay with Captain Clark since he and Lewis, who was a Captain, shared command of the expedition. Sorry, I’m letting the history geek in me out to play today, but it’s a lot of fun considering Dingess clearly enjoys weaving the supernatural into the historical. Roberts makes for a good fit since his art is beautifully illustrative, bringing the famous duo, and their compatriots to life in a way most paintings never could. I especially enjoy his depictions of Lewis as a wide-eyed naturalist and Clark as a stern disciplinarian.

Final Thoughts: I can’t wait to see what happens when Charbonneau and Sacagawea show up!