Archive | Horror

Signing: “Death Head” creators Zack and Nick Keller at Dr. Comics

deathhead“I heard he lures kids into the tunnel… then chokes them till their necks snap!”

Dr. Comics and Mr. Games is hosting a signing for Nick and Zack Keller as they celebrate the release of their new series Death Head. The series was announced in March by Dark Horse Comics at Emerald City Comicon. The first issue will finally hit shelves on July 15 and the Nick and Zack will be holding court at the Piedmont neighborhood comic shop on July 18 at 3 p.m.

After the Burton family discovers an ancient mask fashioned in the style of those worn by plague doctors in the 17th Century they’re soon targeted by the mask’s owner. In an interview with CraveOnline, Zack explained “there are many haunted locations, but only one Plague Doctor. Like an urban legend, everyone knows about the creature wearing the white beaked mask. However, no one truly knows what it wants, where it comes from or why it so often takes the victim’s head. These locations—the cemetery sewer, an abandoned town in the redwoods—are real places near where we grew up that have scared us since childhood. By writing this story we’re exorcising our demons and passing them on to you.”

The story is especially relevant to those of us who call Oakland home. The graffiti sewer tunnel in Mountain View Cemetery serves as inspiration for a similar tunnel which makes several appearances in the series. It might be a fun place to set up camp and read the first issue. Or not, because plague doctors.

Find Death Head on Tumblr and Facebook.
Creator Website: Zack Keller
Creator Website: Nick Keller

What: Death Head signing with Nick and Zack Keller
Where: Dr. Comics and Mr. Games
4014 Piedmont Street
Oakland, CA
When: July 15, 3 p.m.

Bay Area Comic Crowdfunding: The Rattler

The Rattler prismatic

The Rattler prismatic

Why did I invest in the Kickstarter for Jason McNamara and Greg Hinkle’s horror graphic novel The Rattler? Because if I’m going to trust anyone to put out a solid horror comic it’s going to be the guy who says he writes graphic novels because he wants “every child in America to believe Two-Face wants to chop them into little pieces.”  Bonus: It includes an artist who went on an epic San Francisco bender with James Robinson in an effort to come up with an original concept for a new Airboy series.

According to Kickstarter The Rattler is a 96-page “atmospheric thriller that delivers strong characterization, a dark sense of humor and moments of abject terror.”

The last two years have seen a healthy  increase in horror comics, but it’s still rare to find a title that can instill genuine terror. Many of the early reviews of The Rattler seem to suggest this book succeeds in bringing terror and tension. The graphic novel came to my attention thanks to an enthusiastic write-up on Nerdlocker who says “I was terrified of what was waiting to jump out at me in the next panel.” Greg Burgas, writing for ComicBookResources, backs this up adding “Reading the book is a fairly white-knuckle experience, and it’s partly because McNamara knows how to manipulate the reader well.”

The Kickstarter launched today and is shooting for a modest $4,600.  There are some great backer rewards including a rad prismatic sticker you can use to decorate your Trapper Keeper.

rattler

Mixed Media: A Shirley Jacksonesque conversation about Shirley Jackson

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The author cannot decide which era’s editions are the most fun to collect

“It’s just that,” said Miss Pryor as she stabbed her cigarette out, “there’s a rather beastly amount of italics.”

“The better to brainwash you with,” said Ms. Queen, who was rather more cynical.

“One hardly knows whether one is reading one’s own version of events or the author’s.” Miss Pryor was not against italicized words, as such — after all, we must expect to set a standard, as she learned from The Road Through the Wall — but they did rather go on. For example, was it really necessary to know where the emphasis fell when Mrs. Merriam said “Well, you don’t need to worry… I was never so shocked”?

“What you are experiencing,” said Ms. Queen crisply, “is resistance to a cultural tone that is just distant enough to strike the reader as slightly archaic. It’s the fallout of a Great War and a Great Depression influencing an author keenly interested in the ways our deliberate social structures crumble in the face of real struggle.”

“And real horror?” asked Miss Pryor hopefully.

“In the broadest possible sense. Which books have you read?”

The Haunting of Hill House. We Have Always Lived in the Castle.” Miss Pryor ticked them off on her fingers as she recited. “The Road Through the Wall. Hangsaman. The Sundial. And collected short stories.”

“In which books did a supernatural, external threat figure?”

“Oh, I suppose… well, The Haunting of Hill House and perhaps The Sundial… but it’s very Turn of the Screw, isn’t it, in that you aren’t sure whether the narrator is quite reliable… why, one could hardly name a number!”

Ms. Queen nodded. “Exactly so. Shirley Jackson’s talent lies in growing disease as the strict social orders of her day imploded. Isolated homes figure prominently, often headed by women who would have faced considerable difficulty in gaining social acceptance as heads of household. The poor little girls of The Road Through the Wall, the young remainders of a murdered family in We Have Always Lived in the Castle, the dictatorial widow of The Sundial, or poor caretaker Eleanor who, in caring for her shut-in mother, became a shut-in herself.”

“And the lesbians,” offered Miss Pryor, who thought herself rather clever to have noticed.

“Well, yes, including lesbians as sympathetic characters before mainstream literature or society was quite prepared to acknowledge them was perhaps rather marvelous, though you must admit that by identifying those characters with boys’ names– Theo, Tony– the dated narrative remains somewhat problematic.”

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Pricey vintage is fun for the bookshelf, but expect the edition to ruin all surprises and subtleties

“What I hate are the vintage covers,” announced Miss Pryor in a sudden passion. “Why did I pay so much for a charming edition from 1951 only to have the final chapter spoiled for me on the back cover or the introductory summary page? Twice?!”

“Caveat emptor. All decades approach their horror literature differently.”

“I don’t stay after dark,” said Mrs. Dudley, who was beginning to clear away tea.

“It’s as if Jackson had earned such a reputation for terror that the publishers scrambled desperately to distract one from the bulk of the story, which is generally about someone whose inner life, insecurities, and occasionally awkward attempts to find a place in life are so like one’s own that the real horror is how well Shirley Jackson knew the human condition.”

“So there won’t be anyone around if you need help,” said Mrs. Dudley.

Ms. Queen smiled politely. “It’s not for nothing that she has an award named after her .”

“We couldn’t even hear you, in the night,” said Mrs. Dudley. “In the dark.”

“She writes of– and challenges– upper class American society by using it as the lens through which to examine folie a deux, mental illness, sexual molestation, apocalyptic endism, cult psychology, the vicious one-upmanship of the really wealthy–”

“Yes, indeed,” said Ms. Queen hastily. “I think you’ve got the gist now.”

Within Hill House, not sane, floors were firm, doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Review: The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan

As part of r/horrorlit’s Horror Novel a Day writers, I’m pretty sure of two things: I took on too many novels (six total) and my definition of horror is suspiciously broad.

hawklinemonster

Hawkline Monster image courtesy of Grant Hanna at http://granthanna.com

Take The Hawkline Monster by Richard Brautigan. It’s more of a gothic western novella than a horror novel. (It is in fact subtitled A Western Gothic.)

But isn’t deception a solid component of plenty of good horror? I don’t mean my deception of being well-versed in horror novels; I mean the deceptive simplicity with which Beat poet/author Brautigan offers the story. By the time you turn the first page of a chapter you’re almost to the next one. Events unpack in sentences so efficient Hemingway would weep:

The voyage from San Francisco to Hawaii had been the most terrifying experience Greer and Cameron had ever gone through, even more terrible than the time they shot a deputy sheriff in Idaho ten times and he wouldn’t die and Greer finally had to say to the deputy sheriff “Please die because we don’t want to shoot you again.” And the deputy sheriff had said “OK, I’ll die, but don’t shoot me again.”

“We won’t shoot you again,” Cameron had said.

“OK, I’m dead,” and he was.

Characters deceive the reader and others; someone exists and then doesn’t; twins’ identities meld and split fluidly. The nature of the Hawkline Monster itself is a creative bit of fearful imagination from a haunted poet whose life ended in suicide. The places the monsters hides…!

My journey to The Hawkline Monster began with this PWxyz entry.  Gabe Habash’s passionate recommendation might have led me to make a note of the book (from the blog: “Honestly, I’m working really hard to not slip into hyperbole here, to refrain from lapsing into a vocab commensurate with the heights of my appreciation for it. This book is the real deal. I can’t recommend it enough. … Do yourself a favor and give him a try. If you don’t like him, I’ll eat my shoe like Werner Herzog.)” but what urged me to buy the book immediately was Habash’s insistence that only Cronenberg could do justice to a hypothetical film of the story. Cronenberg’s film style is very much to my tastes (the guy’s acting– Cabal, Last Night— also assures him a big warm soft spot in my heart).

While I initially read the book through a Cronenberg filter it was impossible not to love the sparse style on its own merits. One of the ways simplicity aids horror is to lull and fool: the process of reading involves moments of “Uh huh… unfolding as expected… wait, WHAT?” A character dies not through violence but through identity obliteration. (To voluntarily kill a part of yourself that has served its purpose is not terror, but to undergo involuntary mental manipulation is. This book has both.) The monster fights with anger and light. Ice caves under the house keep the grounds in a perpetual state of freeze even in summer. A basement lab holds The Chemicals, the final experiment of a Harvard scientist who enjoyed his teaching position until one of his experiments got loose and ate the family dog in front of the neighbors’ wedding party. A 1902 setting allows for Wild West elements like gunfights, hired guns, hanged men, and brothels. It is a flavorful read.

“All the things that happen are like children’s pranks except the child has supernatural powers,” says one character, and if there’s one thing that horror teaches us it’s that children with undue power wield it in horrific ways (thanks, Twilight Zone). While nighttime shivers are unlikely, The Hawkline Monster deserves a place in a thoughtful horror canon on the basis of its dissection of what is frightening and how to write about it.

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