For a certain generation of British men, 2000AD has a similar resonance as the likes of Spider Man or X-Men for our US counterparts:
For those of us who were children of the 1970s and 80s, 2000AD was a cultural monolith: copies to be found on every news agent and corner shop shelf, hardback annuals of the comic regular stocking fillers come Christmas time.
But, unlike its Marvel and DC contemporaries, 2000AD has always been a horse of a different (radioactive, post-apocalyptic) colour.
Whereas those franchises (which were also readily available here during the era) tend to occupy themselves with moral absolutisms and cultural reinforcement, 2000AD has always been a far more deviant beast: in terms of its subject matter, more graphically violent and overt; willing to show the consequences of violence in a way that super hero comics rarely have (anyone who has read the likes of Judge Dredd, Slaine, ABC Warriors or Rogue Trooper can testify), in terms of its stories, tone and ideas, more counter culture; lampooning and parodying science fiction and fantasy tropes and cliches, as well as “real world” politics and social concerns.
As a kid, the gallows sense of humour that pervades almost every tale in the comic's history didn't consciously register; I was more intrigued by the imagery, the violence, the horror; the gore and monstrosity on display, as well as the truly incredible artwork, which varied from story to story, but tended to have a more detailed, painterly quality to those churned out primarily for US markets.
I recall lingering over certain images: that of Slaine physically warping and mutating, swelling and transforming as he was overcome by his battle rage and bloodlust, of Rogue Trooper encountering a notably Lovecraftian, occult entity that wove makeshift and truly bizarre bodies for itself from the flesh and corpses of its worshipers.
Most lingering of all: The Dark Judges, the undead superfiends that fast became favourite antagonists of the comic's headline Judge Dredd strip.
My first encounter with the undead entities came, as with so much that snared my attention back then, from a single image in one of the 2000AD annuals that a friend had for Christmas: a small image of Judges Fear, Fire and Mortis, their rictus-grinning master, Judge Death, looming at their backs.
Already being immersed and in love with horror, I couldn't fail to be immediately entranced by these creatures; the manner in which their rotted, tattered uniforms and armour resembled those of the “Judges” from Judge Dredd's own setting of Mega City 1, but twisted and perverted: badges of office replaced with skulls and demonic visages, armoured plates with rib cages and chunks of bone...even the iconic Judge's helmet parodied with Death's own portcullis visor.
As a child, I didn't comprehend the irony; that Judge Dredd's own peculiar brand of moral extremism can only be contrasted by another SO extreme that it results in mass genocide: all I saw was a fantastically cool, zombie-judge nemesis and his unliving cohorts, who exhibited some familiar but enticing imagery and provided an immediate “hook” for me to draw me deeper and deeper into the comic itself.
Most aesthetically engaging of all was and remains the skeletal Judge Mortis, a withered, humanoid figure that boasts a skinless yew's skull for a head, whose touch brings rot and decay. As a child, I found the imagery he incorporated distressing and disturbing, which in turn made me want to know all about him and see more of him.
Sadly, it wasn't until much, much later that he and his fellows were properly “fleshed out,” so to speak, when the sheer, macabre adoration fans exhibited for the Dark Judges made an origin story inevitable:
Young Death, following on from the zeitgeist shifting Necropolis story arc, in which the Dark Judges and their allies, The Sisters of Death, take over Mega City 1 and turn it into the eponymous city of the dead (the scenes of mass slaughter and bizarre, occult horror still notable in scope and invention, even to this day), provides an autobiography for the undead super-fiend, provided from his own receding lips:
As in all things, 2000AD does not opt for the easy or expected; it would have been so easy to make Judge Death far too morbid and morose; to lend him a tragic or abusive back story, that explains how he came to be as he is.
Instead, Young Death paints the story of a psychopath born and bred; a resident of another dimension, not massively removed from the one in which Judge Dredd operates, in which the Judges are the ultimate authorities, where life is no sacred artefact; death and suffering merely facts of life.
Into this world is born one Sidney De'Ath (or “Ssssssidneeeey,” as Judge Death himself reluctantly confesses); not some warlord or prince or occult practitioner, but an oddly pudgey, swollen-headed little boy who starts to exhibit classic tendencies of psychopathy from a young age. The story charts his early life; his mutilation and murder of animals, his attempts to harm and mutilate his sister and other members of the family, until his eventual ascension to the ranks of that dimension's Judiciary, where he excels with his non-compromising approach, and quickly earns himself the epithet that will become the one we know and love him for: Judge Death.
The story is a wry and bleakly humorous look at how the most unassuming, fairly pathetic individual rises to become the bane of an entire world: it isn't long before “Sssssssidneey” encounters the Sisters of Death; Phobia and Nausea, occultists and necromancers, who are themselves well on their way to becoming the spectral monstrosities encountered in Necropolis, who allow him to realise his expanding philosophy of life itself being a crime by transforming him into the undead entity familiar to the comic strips.
Perhaps more engaging and intriguing than the personal life of Death himself is the politics of the world in which he operates; even more totalitarian and extreme than Judge Dredd's post-apocalyptic reality, murder and violence are treated with degrees of casuistry that allow Death, even in his undead state, to rise through the ranks of the Judges, slowly escalating their efforts into mass progroms, until he and his followers become the ultimate authorities in the land, spreading their taint across the face of the planet and slowly murdering or tainting everything living, which they deem corrupt.
Whilst Young Death focuses on Death himself as a character, and therefore somewhat glosses over the details of how he and his cohorts manage to infest the cultures and political systems of his world and thereby destroy it, a recently published series delves far more intimately into those concepts, providing a close focus on the world and human culture as it slowly rots from within, as Death and his “Dark Judges” spread not only their metaphysical corruption, but their philosophy, one of the underlying and most subtle ironies of the entire story that masses of the living adopt his philosophy of life itself being a crime, even though they know that it will result in their own deaths. In this, The Fall of Dead World, a story that fans of 2000AD have been hankering after ever since Young Death was published way back in the early 1990s, cleverly parodies certain present day movements and phenomena (Brexit, Donald Trump et al) without being too overt or on the nose; a fairly misanthropic examination of how human beings will happily and readily act against their own long term interests out of tribal affiliation and identity, for a moment of ephemeral power and authority.
In this, the story exemplifies everything that is best about 2000AD, and demonstrates how, whereas other franchises have degenerated or lost their identities over time, the title still exhibits the same deviance and cultural awareness as it did back in the 1980s and 1990s.
The only obvious and overt difference here is budget; the art in Fall of Dead World has to be seen to be believed; every frame hand-painted with care and detail that other comics would only reserve for their cover art. This is a genuine labour of love, enormous amounts of work gone into the designs of characters, settings, machinery and architecture, so as to render what will become Dead World distinct from Judge Dredd's reality, yet eerily reminiscent of it; enough so that it isn't too far beyond the realms of possibility for it to suffer the same fate, by and by.
Whereas previous titles have tended to focus on Death himself (or his previous incarnation as “Ssssssidney”), here, Death hardly appears at all, and even then, only tangentially: this story focuses more on the world around him as it slowly, irrevocably decays: as the rot spreads out from the Judiciary to wider culture, not only ideologically (many adopting Death's bizarre, antithetical philosophy or degenerating into total lawlessness) but also physically, in the form of the “Dead Fluids.”
This is an element of the Dark Judge's back mythology that has been around since they first featured way back when: an alchemical matter that they use to “ripen” the dead bodies they inhabit, but which has always been a somewhat undereveloped and tangential concept, until now.
Here, the “Dead Fluids” are the means by which they introduce worthy initiates into their unliving flock, those touched or tainted by the matter slowly dying, but also transforming in the same manner as Death and his first lieutenants (Fear, Fire and Mortis); becoming abstractions and morbid exaggerations of themselves. As such, the Judiciary is soon populated by undead, semi-demonic entities that murder without restriction or compunction, that themselves spread the Dead Fluids to their victims, making them an army of undeath that slowly chokes all life from the planet.
More, the story introduces the concept of the Dead Fluids polluting into the environments and eco-systems of the world, resulting in great swamps, deserts and wastelands of rot and decay; of twisted, animal un-life, of tainted rivers and food supplies, meaning that the remaining living of the planet are met with the choice of dying of thirst or starvation or allowing themselves to become tainted.
The reader is introduced into this escalating state of decay via Judge Fairfax; one of the few still living Judges who opposes “Ssssidneeey's” regime, who remembers the man from when he was just a cadet, and the then aspiring Judge took him under his bony wing. The two have a connection that is not fully explained or explored in this volume, but which results in Death's agents pursuing Fairfax across the face of what is fast becoming Dead World, encountering small pockets of resistance, anarchist movements and others along the way, most of whom end up either tainted by the Dead Fluids or graphically and hideous dispatched, along with a young girl whose family are slowly either tainted or killed as the rot spreads even to their small, rural corner of society.
Apart from being aesthetically beautiful and inventively distressing, this first half of the tale is also brilliantly written, elegant and engaging: not wasting time on exposition or introducing characters, it has the quality of a well written film script; hurling the reader into situations and the company of characters that have little in the way of explanation, assuming that they are imaginative and intuitive enough to pick up what's happening from ambient details. Nor are aspects of the world and its culture particularly harped or commented on; much of its depth and resonance occurs off page as a result of some well-placed and subtle suggestion, both in terms of the script and the artwork.
As wryly humorous as it can be, the comedy here is pitch black, married to imagery that would be better suited to a work of all out, dystopian and metaphysical horror; the various forms of mutation and mutilation on display are truly spectacular, from eyeless, precognitive preacher-children (their capacities exacerbated by the Dead Fluids) to rotting skulls sprouting spider legs and given their own hideous animus by the same vile matter, there is more than enough grue, gore, monstrosity and disturbia here to sate the most hardened and hungry horror fan, but with it layers and gradations of complement and contrast; the kind of depth one would expect from an independent project or far more “artistic” piece, rather than a mass produced trade hardback.
Following the first half of Fall of Dead World (which ends on a cliff hanger whose resolution is going to be...interesting, to say the least, given that we already know the ultimate and horrific end of the tale) is a series of four short stories collectively titled Dreams of Deadworld, which follows each of the four classic Dark Judges after their victory; how beings that are truly immortal occupy themselves, now that their crusade is ostensibly over.
This is the true marrow of the collection; apart from the action and atrocity that defines The Fall of Dead World, these tales are short, intimate and quiescent, developing the classic Dark Judges in ways that the fan base have been clamouring for since their introduction, but that has rarely been explored, outside of the likes of Young Death.
This is where the writers and artists let their imaginations fly; exploring not only the Dark Judges, but Dead World itself; its plains and wastelands and cityscapes all boasting a macabre and twisted beauty; streets not only choked with corpses but constructed from them, great structures and temples and citadels risen from bone and rotten flesh, dead seas filled with the corpses of great leviathans and krakens...here, Dead World is rendered with as much style and detail as its four remaining denizens, lending it a character all of its own.
As for the Dark Judges themselves, in the absence of a crusade to follow, a cause to fight (and slaughter) for, they have each begun to devour themselves in their isolation; Fire consumed by old passions and vendettas that he vehemently denies to himself, Fear by paranoias and conspiracies in the shadows...the only one who demonstrates any contentment in his situation is Judge Mortis who, in a peculiarly bovine form here, occupies himself with small and petty distractions, all of which have a delightfully morbid flourish: tending to a garden of corpses, brewing a vile wine from compressed and fomented corpses...Judge Death, on the other hand, bears his isolation with a degree of grace; artfully dispatching those other Dark Judges (excluding, of course, his three original lieutenants) that don't quite fulfil his ideal then simply waiting in patience for what he know will come: extra-dimensional travellers, who will lend him the means of purging other dimensions, of spreading his gift and grace to other realities.
These stories are perhaps the highlight of the entire collection; foregoing science fiction and horror action for something far more intimate and intense, the story of Judge Mortis in particular evoking a twisted domesticity that is extremely fitting for the character, but also profoundly disturbing.
It has been a long wait for fans of the Dark Judges to experience this tale, but it has been worth every moment: the trade hardback of Fall of Dead World is glorious; a stunning product with some of the most morbidly beautifuly, deleriously grotesque artwork and design imaginable, a fantastic script, captivating and enduring imagery...
My sincere hope is that this book is found by others; children and adolescents who were the same age I was when I first came across 2000AD, and that it obsesses and inspires them as it did my younger self.
A more unambiguous recommendation I cannot give.
By George Daniel Lea
The title alone is enough to snare interest; a tacit promise: I am here to engage, to intrigue; to beguile and distress. For this reader, one that almost always seduces, but rarely satisfies. All too often, such superficial impressions fail to swell into anything more, once the cover is open, the pages have begun turning.
It's therefore a rare and radiant pleasure to report that Daugters of Apostasy, a collection of short stories and novellas by Damien Murphy, collects on its oaths and then some.
I have a penchant for work that doesn't particularly care if the audience knows what it's talking about; works of cyberpunk that throw ideas and images and concepts at the reader, befuddling and bemusing, but also bewitching through their sheer variety and abtruseness, surreal, Lovecraftian horror that reaches for the indescribable; concepts and images so bizarre and distressing that the human imagination isn't quite the equal of comprehending them.
Daughters of Apostasy has precisely that quality: from the first tale onwards, its stories beguile by befuddling, drawing the reader into realms of experience that are familiar and almost banal to the characters that inhabit them, but alien to the point of surreal for common or garden humanity.
Tales of occultism and bizarre metaphysics, of nostalgia that becomes a gateway to other and terrifying realms, of characters and creatures that inhabit entirely other states of being...the collection exercises that wonderful characteristic of throwing the audience headlong into situations that have little in the way of exposition, affording them credit in terms of their intelligence and imagination; that they will be intuitive enough to fill in the gaps themselves, and derive significance based not only on what they perceive, but what they project.
This is one of the rarest and most precious qualities in all fiction; stories that treat their audience with a modicum of respect.
I respond VERY well to this, and can forgive any number of stylistic or technical sins as a result. The stories collected herein -which range from short stories to small novellas- all exemplify it; they expect their audience to understand without being spoonfed; to intuit significance even when they are not familiar with the language, traditions and imagery unde discussion.
Occultism and ritual magic features widely throughout, The Scourge and the Sanctuary, for example, focussing upon characters who are clearly adept magicians and practitoners; who speak to one another (via the medium of written letters, the story recalling the journalistic styles of mid-to-late Victorian horror and science fiction) naturally and without deviation or explanation, lending the communciations an air of intrigue and mystery, especially since the topics under discussion are so esoteric and difficult to discern. Whilst the factor may prove alienating to some who wish for their horror fiction to be immediate and explicit, for this reader, the escalating sense of uncanny events occuring beyond immediate sight or experience; the accrual of implied back mythology and the innate mystery and poetry of the language utilised, lends this story -and others- a degree of depth and resonance that is rich, deep; almost decadent in its indulgence.
Writer Damian Murphy is a master at evoking esoterica and making it feel legitimate, as though the characters know what they are talking about, even if the reader doesn't. That air of quiet authority, of casual certainty, is what lends the otherwise esoteric and abstruse subjects verisimilitude; a certain resonance of the real, that doesn't require wider reading or explanation to justify itself.
That said, those familiar with occult and alchemical traditions, abstruse mythology and religious symbolism, will find plenty to occupy them here, as, even when the rites and subjects under discussion are totally contrived, they still reference enough of traditions that operate beyond the page to make themselves feel real and legitimate.
This is particularly apparent in stories such as Permutations of the Citadel (a personal favourite) in which images and settings that might otherwise appear banal intermingle with those that are perfectly bizarre and abstruse, the characters that occupy them seeming to regard neither one as any more unusual than the other, operating, as they do, in states of knowledge and experience that are far removed from the common or garden, but which are day to day for them. This does not have the effect of robbing the images of surreal, reality-warping horror of their impact; if anything, the manner in which they intermingle with the ostensibly commonplace has the effect of stealing the reader's breath, emphasised by contrast and the natural manner in which one sifts into the other.
Characters have a penchant for treating the bizarre and abstruse phenomena and situations they encounter with a degree of casuistry and familiarity (though not universally so), which in turn lends them a particular intrigue: what have these characters been through, what do they know, who and what are they?; A certain world-weary sardonism that is endearing and serves to inform the implied mythologies they are part of: much of what makes these stories work is what happens off the page; back mythology is rarely explicitly detailed. Instead, readers must discern and infer what they can from character experience and interaction: the characters and their backgrounds therefore become as much the reader's creations as the writer's; the former obliged to imagine beyond the bounds of what the latter provides in order to get the most out of them.
This is the principle strength of Daughter's of Apostasy as a whole; it is a collection that understands the nature of audience engagement in a way that very, very few do; it does not go out of its way to spoonfeed the reader every detail, such that the stories sometimes have the intense and bewildering qualities of hallucinations or fever dreams. This is also likely to be a factor that alienates certain audiences, as it requires a degree of engagement and energy that they may not be willing to provide.
For those that do, they will find something strange and rare and beautiful, here; stories that are consumed by particular ideas and images, that maintain a strange and distressing allure, in which personal mythologies and internal landscapes bleed out into reality, or reality exposes itself as being not entirely solid or certain; the very notion a nonsense, as apt to fray or break, shift or transform as wet clay or paint, beneath the right pressures.
Place and setting are all important, here; every story in the collection exhibiting an extremely strong and vivid sense of environment, many of them described in intimate and precise detail (perhaps over-described in some instances, which can clash with the elegance and suggestive nature of the rest of the prose, though there are often reasons why settings and environments are paid such specific attention), which has the effect of lending the stories a painterly quality, certain scenes and compositions extremely vivid in terms of their architectural detail and colour, especially in stories such as the aforementioned Permutations of the Citadel, in which place and mythology intermingle, one becoming an expression of the other.
Other stories in the collection, such as the languidly beautiful Book of Alabaster, explore ideas of bizarre metaphysics invading or erupting from an otherwise banal existence; nostalgia here becoming a gateway to something far more sinister; an isolated, ordered and controlled life breaking down through obsession over the past and its mysteries, of the unknown blossoming form what was presumed intimately familiar.
The story is also notable for its subject matter; peculiarly post-modern, in that it makes references to old video games in the manner that more traditional tales might cursed books or musical compositions; even films and TV shows. That intermingling of the subjectively post modern and the mythologically ancient and eldritch works beautifully, in that it suggests a far deeper and more distressing horror than any immediate threat: this is something intimate, something that knows the reader as it knows the protagonist, and will use that intimacy to inveigle them, to seduce and ensnare, then to break them down. That the events occuring may not be physically occuring at all is something left up to the reader; the story as much one of a mind in dissolution, of sanity fraying apart, as it is one of something vast and unseen insinuating itself into an unwitting life.
In terms of its individual stories, there is enough variety in tone and structure, concept and style to consistently intrigue throughout, yet a simultaneous sense of thematic coherence that lends the collection flow and rhythm.
That it plays with such esoteric and abstract notions and does so in a manner that is not overt and immediate but subtle and suggestive, may alienate some readers, but for those of us that find ourselves glutted with the familiar, that starve for something genuinely bizarre and removed from the common herd, Daughters of Apostasy is sure to satisfy.
Apollo Unbound is a 34 page comic book presented on sepia/light cream paper, with the interior art in greyscale, written by Chris Kelso, and illustrated by Jim Agpalza. FULL DISCLOSURE: Agpalza once provided an illustration for a short story of mine, which appeared in Splatterpunk Zine #5. This is my first encounter with Kelso’s work.
Also, while I do read comics, I have a woefully limited vocabulary when it comes to describing visual art, a subject about which I am almost entirely ignorant. So apologies in advance to both you and Mr. Agpalza - I’ll do my best.
Apollo Unbound is set in Ayrshire, and tells the story of Apollo Galloway, a Hollywood A-lister and philanthropist/campaigner, who unexpectedly finds himself alone in a squalid flat in a run down neighbourhood of this scottish town, with no memory of how he got there. We then follow him as he meets various local characters and tries to make sense of his surroundings.
The whole comic is also framed as a play. As the beginning, we are given a cast list, and throughout, the story is commented on by a narrator (represented by an an image of a sliced open haggis). It’s an unusual framing device that I’ll confess left me floundering, but it’s certainly unusual, and led to an act 3 twist (the comic is divided into 4 acts) that I found startling and unsettling.
Agplaza’s art I found superb throughout - he’s got a distinctive style that I find instantly recognizable, and the character work was rock solid, each cast member having their own distinct look and expression range. There’s a lovely single frame where Apollo smiles, for instance, and his face really lights up - it’s a gorgeous piece of art that marks a very poignant moment in the narrative, and the book has many such moments throughout. There’s also some lovely landscape work, emphasising the bleak environment Apollo finds himself in.
This is, at heart, a story about narrative, and asks some uncomfortable questions about the role of the creator of narrative, and their impact on their creations. In that sense, the story really isn’t about what it first appears to be, and the unexpected turn gave me a bit of narrative whiplash on first reading. On a re-read, however, it made sense of many of the questions I found myself asking first time through. In that sense, I think it’s clever piece of work, and I certainly found a second read richly rewarding.
Overall, I found this to be a fascinating piece of work, with an apparently simple opening (if apparently oddly framed) revealing layers of unexpected complexity and uncomfortable questions. It’s light years away from what one might expect from a tights-and-capes comic book, or even a more traditional horror comic - indeed, I’m not sure this could be really classified as horror at all, though it has some strong imagery and is undeniably disturbing. I’m out of touch with the current indie comic scene, but I found it to be more in line with works like Jar Of Fools, in terms of social realism - though, again, with an aggressively metanarrative overlay that takes it into widely different areas, more reminiscent of underground experimentalism.
If that appeals to you, I’d recommend checking this out - it’s an impressive, layered piece of work.
Matthew Weber writes with a simple and straight-forward style that reminds us of the best story tellers. I've always had a weakness for those who tell it like they were sitting across from you on the porch on an Autumn evening, sipping tea and spinning yarns. Weber's work is a lot like that but man, the yarns he spins...
With this collection he delivers a dozen slices of rural life, stained with trashy noir, monsters and abhorrent behaviors. The opener, "Suburban Facebreaker" is a tale of feuding neighbors that goes very dark and very brutal, this one made me cringe. Followed up with "Silly Rabbits" where a pair of hunters set out to find a rare but dangerous prey.
"Of All Nights" is a story of a small village, one with old customs and strict rules and about the pair of hoods who chose a bad night to do bad things. "Burt's Top Secret Spice Mix" involves the beloved proprietor of a strip mall sandwich shop and the means by which he handles a local boss trying to put the squeeze on him. "Waist Deep" is a gory backwoods romp of treachery and gators. "Louise, Your Shed's On Fire" gives us an alien invasion like none other. "Slice Of Heaven" and this might be my favorite of the collection, is a sadly sweet tale of a lonely nerd and the pizza delivery girl he has a crush on and that oft forgotten ideal of chivalry. I loved this one hard.
The second half kicks off with "Cookies" where a little girl discovers a unique pet and its loyalty can be most beneficial. "Gas Pedal" is road rage in the first person, but when the rage was already present before one gets behind the wheel. This one reeks of petrol and leaves rubber patches on your brain. "The Red Card" is a trippy tale that tells of a woman who finds mysterious cards in her apartment, each stipulating the day and time of her death. Deeply creepy and strange. "The Neighbor At The Curb" takes the nosey neighbor shtick to new and dizzyingly violent heights while the final tale, "Jacob Mosely's Raw Deal" involves a peculiar man and the authorities that he runs in with and toads.
All of these stories are fast-paced and wonderful. Weber has a knack for delivering just enough of the red stuff as is needed without overdoing it. His premises often start out a little hackneyed but at a point he always veers into a solely unique side road that more than makes up for it. Check him out if you like the early splatterpunks, you'll not be disappointed.
Teeth Marks is available from Pint Bottle Press
Born in Blood by photographer Nick Hardy and author George Daniel Lea can be described in the simplest of terms as a large format glossy photographic portfolio linked together by a series of short stories from George Daniel Lea. However, the simplest of terms is never nearly enough to describe anything that George Daniel Lea is involved with, for George is a writer who forces you as a reader to push the boundaries of what you are comfortable with.
Born in Blood is a challenging and at times bewildering collection of short stories, some of which can be described as screams of consciousness. In this collection, George never goes for the mundane or the safe ground. His rich, elegant prose and his refusal to shy away from some dark and disturbing imagery and themes will push the reader into the dark and primal regions of their psyche as they make their way through this bloodsoaked collection of stories.
While the stories themselves are not linked they all seem to share a common thread of mental anguish, facing the fears and confronting the past to find in some cases a minute fragment of redemption or at least peace the protagonists within.
Another Nightmare is an excellent example of Lea's use of a scream of consciousness, where the protagonists are trapped within a hellish nightmare, every time he falls asleep, a nightmare that has now started to exist in the waking world. Lea's description of this nightmare and in particular the feelings of the protagonist are utterly captivating; the nightmarish existence is brought to the page with a filthy and gritty realism that will leave the reader feeling genuinely disturbed.
A Feast for the Eyes is perhaps the most complete story in the collection with regards to a having a standard narrative structure. This tale of a man confronting the past, his relationship with his father, and the revelation of the monster that his father was, is an excellent and disturbing take on the sins of the father motif. A compelling tale that deals with the impact of one's parents on the psychological well being of a child, it is rich with darkly beautiful prose. The claustrophobic descriptions of the childhood home are an excellent metaphor for the sense of entrapment of your past
Elsewhere in this collection George touches on religious guilt and fervour with Be Well, and with Cains Gospel, a dark Barkeresque tale of a woman fighting against the confines of a mental torture chamber of her own making Lea's graphically gothic portrayal of a dark and dank mental prison are something to behold.
Born in Blood, as mentioned earlier, is not an easy read, the reader is always kept second guessing as to what is really going on, is this real life or is this fantasy? We are never really party to what is going on, but this never detracts from the power of these stories. The strong themes of entrapment and the confines of suffering from mental health issues are handled with a grotesque, yet sympathetic manner.
The twisted and malformed beauty of Lea's prose shines brightly throughout this collection, with nods to Barker and Z Bright, Born in Blood is a powerhouse of metaphor-filled prose, it will challenge, you, sicken you, and bash your soul its descriptions of mental anguish, but is ultimately a deeply rewarding and accomplished collection.
Sitting side by side with these stories is a series of stunning portraits from the talented photographer Nick Hardy. These disturbing, highly detailed photographs work withe stories to complement each other. Hardy's excellent use of lighting contrast, low and high key images and wonderful deep texture in each picture could only be achieved by a photographer who is at one with his art.
Born in Blood is an excellent example of a mixed media collection where all the elements of the book work together to create something truly magical. I highly recommend purchasing a copy, and doing so will help to raise money for some very worthy causes.
With this collection, Amber Fallon proves she is a worthy new voice to be keeping an eye on. If you read her novella, The Terminal, last year then you know she can deliver the pulpy horror goods. And with this years novella, The Warblers, she showed off her skills at coming-of-age-with-a-slight-bizarro chops. Now she's dropped a short collection in our laps and it's a damn good one.
TV Dinners From Hell offers seventeen courses in its nifty foil tray so I hope you've got a healthy appetite. The book opens with an introduction written by Mary SanGiovanni, a fantastic writer whom you should be reading. After this we peel back the foil, let the steam roll away and prepare to dig in.
"Night Music" is a unique tale about a strange epidemic with even odder symptoms. I really like this one and can't say more without spoiling its impact. "The Donor" is a story of choices and consequences only forced through a ghastly surreal filter. "Pretty Pretty Shiny" is a story about a quarrel of over a shiny object and squirrels.
"Behind The Smile" is one of the most effective stories in the book, touching on that early Stephen King vibe and I'm not just saying that because it features a scary clown. "78154" is a zombie story. A damn cool zombie story and the fact it's set primarily in the loo wins bonus points. "The Glen" teaches us that not all pretty and dainty things are good. Sometimes they can be most dangerous. "Something Bit Me" is a flash piece that will leave you squirming. While "Tequila Sunrise" is a surreal trek through desert heat. While "Dawn Of The Death Beetles" is the effective origin story to accompany her novella The Terminal--I mean it has barbarians and giant bugs so what's not to love?!
"The Shark That Ate Everything" is about, well a giant shark that eats a lot of things. "Demolition Derby" is about the titular sport but with a few ghastly twists and turns. "Blind" is a tale of a blind girl trapped in her apartment while something terrible seems to be happening to the world. "Tell Me How You Die" is the old movie Badlands, Kit Carruthers was psychic. "Clickers In Space" concerns those malevolent monsters from the Williams/Keene/Gonzalez world set in anew atmosphere...or lack there of. "Odessa" involves a lonely man and what happens when he tries to reconnect with a lost loved one. "The Dick-Measuring Contest At The End Of The Universe" is a darkly satirical exercise in the art of one-upsmanship. The final tale and it suits this time of year, "Ornamentation" is a somber short about a lonely man, I'm just going to leave it at that.
Fallon writes with a sure style and assured voice. She knows what she's doing and what she wants the story to convey. If you 're looking for a new voice in the genre. Give her a go.
TV Dinners From Hell is available from Fresh Pulp Press.
By Tony Jones
“Where’s the love? The hippy dream becomes a nightmare in North California
Randomly stumbling upon a novel that completely bowls you over gives the reader an experience which is very hard to beat, Matthew V Brockmeyer’s hypnotising exploration of the hippy dream gone sour does exactly that. “Kind Nepenthe” cleverly walks the plank between horror and thriller, with supernatural elements so subtlety interwoven into this story of industrial growing of marijuana you’ll be intoxicated by the fumes. If you have a bong lurking under your sofa this book will have you quitting once and for all.
Set in a remote part of North California, Humboldt County, Rebecca Hawthorne takes her five years old daughter Megan to a drug farm where she and her loser boyfriend Calendula are being paid to tend, grow and harvest a huge indoor marijuana crop. Rebecca is really gullible, following a misplaced hippy dream, believing the job will help her and her daughter live off the fat of the land and reconvene with nature. But she finds out the reality to be the opposite and the whole operation is industrialised, chemicalised and their remote farm is choked with smoke fumes from the machinery and is completely soul destroying. There is also the stress of trying to keep the equipment working, effectively living on the edge 24/7. Hating it and wanting to leave, her druggy boyfriend convinces her to stay, hoping they can make good money and build a financial stake for other things, whatever that may be.
The book is filled with a mix of very well drawn loser, pathetic and dangerous characters and in many ways Rebecca is an outsider in this world but she can see no way out. Many of the most powerful scenes revolve around this mother daughter relationship. Since arriving her five years old child has started wetting the bed, she also claims to see a ghost boy and has a similar sort of ability to Danny Torrance in King’s “The Shining”. For the sake of her daughter, does Rebecca leave the farm which the locals call Homicide Hill? No, she doesn’t. The fragments of her former life, and brief correspondences with her mother, which are told through flashbacks really help flesh out this very naïve and ultimately tragic woman.
The farm is owned by Coyote, a hippy misfit who may also see ghosts, or at least the ghost of Spider who was the previous owner of the farm and most likely murdered. Although he grows great drugs, profit margins are down, he blows much of the profits on prostitutes, more drugs, and is on a downward spiral which impacts upon Rebecca and her boyfriend. The drug stuff is another powerful element of the book – if you didn’t know anything about how to grow pot before reading this book, you sure will be the time you have finished as it delivers a few techniques from the A-Z handbook. The farm, or perhaps compound is a more apt description, is a dangerous, imposing and filthy place which was little more than a death-trap, but which was utterly brilliantly described oozing with oppressive atmosphere. Charlie Manson himself would have enjoyed hanging out here and various other dropouts turn up who could have come straight out of his family.
The supernatural stuff really is understated and within the context of this short novel it works incredibly well. The plot deviates to ex-con Diesel Dan, his son DJ and pregnant girlfriend Katie, all of whom are meth addicts and whose family previously owned the farm and are still owed money by Coyote and harbour a long-term grudge against him. Of course, the two plots eventually weave together, and I particularly liked the way the author showed the reader how the local rednecks looked down their noses at the fake hippies who thought they were living an alternative lifestyle just because they listened to bands like Phish and The Grateful Dead.
The first half of the book takes its time, fleshes characters out, describing the compound so well the reader can smell the outdoor toilet the child refuses to use. The second half really takes the idea of the hippy dream gone bad to a new level as the otherworldly elements are heightened with some shocking violence and an ending that was both terrific and brutal. This was a highly accomplished debut novel from Matthew V Brockmeyer, published by Black Rose, which I thoroughly recommend.