Poem — “Elephant Statue”

The elephant statue, dark colored coal,

a kingly pet bought by a kingly toll,

the remain of days of foreign conquest,

put here to attend to an age of rest.

Now defenseless from a people irate,

who seek to call ruin on the estate.

An axe scrapes a toe to heartless good cheer.

Drunk now, a farmer attacks the veneer.

From a rotten wound in its side outbreaks

the rat-bit scholar who lives in its legs;

shouts at the mob every curse that he knows:

“You anarchists, anti-Christs, and assholes.”

Below callous claws, skin peels away clean

to release beneath a summerset gleam;

a chest, trunk, and tail made of despot’s gold,

dissolved into dust – the marketplace sold.

Satire — Bottled Up Blessings

The doctor’s office was the only place Fizz Ease could kick his feet around like a kid. It was odd sitting without touching the ground. Kind of like how accustomed he’d become to going into the restroom and looking straight in the mirror, not needing to stand on tiptoes and peer above the counter.

Dr. Sudarshan was looking at a chart. He flipped a few pages roughly, making them crinkle.

“Looks like you have eleven tender spots today,” he said finally. “That’s four more since our last check-up. How are your sleeping habits?”

Fizz repeated the usual stories, each anecdote underlying the symptoms of fibromyalgia. Sleep-heavy nights, moody mornings, fatigue at work.

(more…)

Denver Pop Culture Con 2019 — “Death in Fiction”

denver comic con
Photo by Josh Starbeck

This summer, I went to Denver Pop Culture Con, once Denver Comic Con until San Diego made them change the name. The convention had the usual—the cosplay, the contests, the artist alleys and merchant mesas, and many, many literary panels.

Being a dabbler of morbid subjects, I went to a panel, entitled “Death Becomes Her: Representing Death in Fiction,” which sought to explore our literary fascination with death.

The panelists were Brenna Yovanoff, Sherry Ficklin, Cat Winters, and Paul Kreuger, and the moderator was Amalie Howard. I found each of the authors had something to say of importance, and I will collect their best statements below:

Brenna Yovanoff

  • Literary deaths can be a safe space for readers who need to cope with their emotions. Books allow you to process at the spend you want to process. You have control. You can always put a book down and think a while.”
  • “Zombies compel and repel us. It’s the uncanniness. A thing that is supposed to be empty and still getting up and moving around.”

Sherry Ficklin

  • “Often YAF characters are experiencing things for the first time. First love, first death. It’s a fun playground because everyone reacts differently, everyone copes differently. It’s kind of like coping mechanism origin stories.”
  • The death of an inanimate thing can impact us as much as the loss of a life. The loss of a job, the destruction of an ideal. In fantasy, this can change from ‘my roommate moved to a different city’ to ‘my roommate turned into a cat.’ It’s still the loss of a friendship.”
  • “Death is not judgment. Time is the enemy, wearing down heroes and villains alike.”

Cat Winters

  • “Death in fiction can give us hope that there’s life beyond. Even the restless spirit appeals to us. Says—This might not be it. Death is not a stopping point. However, even if death is not finite, we still will not have what we have now. Death increases our appreciation of life.”
  • “Edgar Allan Poe was able to write about being alone, about not knowing how to handle the death of loved ones, the weirdness in our souls. He got away with horror and murder and madness under the stamp of literature.”
  • There is often hope in horror. Sometimes the story ends with the character destroyed, sure, but usually we get to see our protagonist once the horror has passed. We see what the character looks like on the other side of darkness. A stranger, broken, but on the path of healing.”

Paul Kreuger

  • “I often think of the post-apocalyptic story. The death of normality, of stability. And compare that to my experience as a millennial. The death of that promise I’ve had my whole life that if I get good grades and graduate from a good college, I will have a happy, cushiony job waiting for me. A house, a car.”
  • Fiction sometimes romanticizes death, but there’s a wide gulf between 13 Reasons Why and the economy of hot or not. I like hot monsters. I’d be okay with the grim reaper having ripped abs. If death were sexier I’d welcome it. But often, when suicide is glamorized, the author is usually the least affected by death, and the least responsible for the effect of their books. I question purpose. Unless its a martyrdom for loved ones, self-destruction is not congruent with hope.”
  • “Zombies can be whatever we want. They’re a blank slate. Romero had zombies represent the glut of U.S. capitalism. In Kim Eun-hee’s Kingdom, zombies literally eat the rich. They’re the external manifestation of the rot in South Korea coming from greedy rulers.”

Failed — Mudball (The Animated Series)

Phil Kiner and I took one last crack at the concepts we created in GLADiators and Mudball. This time, I had a completely new setting and conflict for our ball-kicking, mud-rolling, tomboy protagonist:

Lord of the Flies… in space!

Essentially, the premise was this:

A cargo ship carrying children (refugees from a planetary invasion) crashes on an unknown desert planet. The ship’s automated servants (called meks) activate Emergency Protocols, which includes creating machine-emitting air-bubbles on the surface, but otherwise the ship does very little in terms of leadership or guidance. It’s up to the rally of children to stay alive, create a functional society, and plan for rescue.

Maebee (now Mae Bee) effectively stayed the same:

But she was joined by new allies.

Zettle would be an excitable girl with a ferocious curiosity for new things. She’d constantly hurtle herself into danger (or over cliffs), pursuing impulses and inquiries with physical abandon.

We wanted her to represent the poor working-class, so she wore colorful, discarded clothing with no particular order or schema. She had style—it was just not like anyone else’s.

Zettle was also blind—her family unable to afford, in this age of hyper-tech and planetary exploration, to buy her mechanical replacements. Naturally, this made her cliff-hurtling curiosity more dramatic (or hilarious) depending on the circumstance.

This is my depiction of her:

Maeb’s other companion would be a blond, sensitive, super-genius named Nord, who would function as the anxious, cautious, “I don’t know about this you guys” comic relief.

(You could apply psychoanalyze this. Zettle as the id, Nord as the superego, and Maebs as the pragmatic “can-do” ego in-between.)

I wrote a script and Phil put together an animated storyboard for Nickelodeon, hoping they might pick up the series.

Nickelodeon said no, and we put Mudball away, moving on to other projects. But I have already begun to transform this concept into a far more serious novel, returning to the savage intensity that Golding intended. As this draft comes along, I will put out updates about concepts and characters.

For now, I hope you enjoyed my trilogy of posts about a failed webcomic and cartoon. Feel free to contact me with your failures, and we’ll revel in our misfires together.

Failed — A Webcomic called Mudball

As a summer cleanse, I’m detailing some of my failed projects over the years. (Believe me, there are a lot of them.) One of these failures was GLADiatorsa webcomic about goofballs locked in deadly combat. This week, I will focus on a spin-off.

Having dropped Gladiators, Phil and I decided to create a shorter, more focused fairy tale that took cues from sci-fi and Peter Pan. We cut the Cloudiseum, dropped Roland and Coolio and our wacky cast of sword-whackers and whack-jobs, and tossed out the Battle Royale for something simpler but no less sinister.

Instead, the focus would be the conflict between two planets, and really, two ideologies.

We called the series Mudball.

In this cosmos, there was a planet called The City made up of freeways and skyscrapers. Only grown-ups lived in The City, where suits and ties were mandatory, and everyone possessed a white-collar, corporate job. The form of government was Bureaucratic Monarchy. Due to a string of filing mishaps, there was no king, just a council paralyzed by paperwork and parliamentary procedures no one could recall.

The City had a counter-planet (really a moon) called Mudball, a marsh world full of children. This is where the adults of The City grew up (literally from pea pods). On Mudball, the children grew wild and free, playing imaginative games and exploring. All of this was secretly (and actively) monitored by machines disguised as animals and plants.

Every winter, harvesting machines picked the oldest kids to become adults. The children were brought to The City, given suits, given jobs, and spent the rest of their lives in the unhappy humdrum of cubicles and cafeterias.

In-story, Maebee, our protagonist, has just turned 12 (the proper age for collection) but doesn’t want to leave her friends or freedom.

Maebee decides to trek across Mudball in search of some place to hide. This is her ‘Call to Adventure’—to seek an alternative to adulthood.

Her adventures lead to an adult living in the swamp, a stubbled, dirty-suit-wearing man named Patricks, who has never grown up, but lives a slouchy, unhappy life in a stolen reaper. Think Peter B. Parker from Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse.

The story would continue to The City, where Maebs joins a resistance group called The Jobless (blame this on the writer’s anti-establishment attitude), and seeks independence for Mudball.

The webcomic would have explored the conflict between our biological compulsion to grow up versus the unnatural but hegemonic cultural expectations of what that actually means.

However, like GLADiators, the project didn’t make it past a few pages, partially due to the influence of a mutual friend who advocated against our project without really understanding it, calling our scripts amateur and pointless.

Later I would discover that he was trying to convince Phil to work on his project—a Dune-like comic where one’s reputation is both a physical and psychic currency. Phil would go on to assist this friend for a while, but quit when the man turned out to be a frustrating micro-manager.

It didn’t help that I was seriously depressed at the time, living in a small town without nearby friends, working as a tutor and substitute while pursuing my teaching certification. Even my girlfriend (now wife) was three hours away. I put up little resistance when the project ended, taking my friend’s criticisms for truth. It wouldn’t be until 2016, two years later, that I would shake off self-pity, smack my inner demons, and begin writing again.

Today, I keep a wary vigilance of friends with ill intentions, although I’ve forgiven this particular intruder for his self-concern. There is a lust for celebrity that consumes people and hurts their ability to rationalize or promote the dignity of others. I understand that, and try not to fall prey to it myself.

And when it comes to Mudball, I hope to revisit this project someday as a short story or novel.

I guess what I’ve learned is this. Don’t fall with your failure. Just steal from the ruins.

All of this post’s art (except for my crayon drawing of Patricks) was created by Phil Kiner.

GLADiators

 
Pictured above, as sketched by Edwin Huang of Skullkickers fame, are our sassy protagonists:
Maebee, a mud-lickin bad ass;
Roland, a talking frog mustacheteer; &
Coolio, the chillest sofa-flippin fridge wizard on the planet.
 

Failed — GLADiators Webcomic

Long before PUBG, Fortnite, H1Z1, Apex Legends, and the resurgence of standalone survival games, Phil Kiner and I were planning a webcomic called GLADiators.

Inspired by Harvey Birdman, the series would be a cartoon pastiche, using intensely different art styles in juxtaposition. Inspired by Koushun Takami’s Battle Royale, the series would depict involuntary warfare between strangers on a coliseum-like island.

Our premise was this:

An extra-dimensional race called the Administrators has picked champions from every dimension in the Multiverse and placed them on a floating island called the Cloudiseum.

Only one champion would be allowed to leave—the final survivor of a long, bloody war of all against all.

Our protagonist would be a rough-and-tumble girl named Maebee (pronounced “Maybe”) from a kids-only dimension (think Neverland).

Maebee would be Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn incarnate—reckless, deceptive, fun, not taking things seriously until forced by circumstance or conscience. She would also be an anomaly—the only child, and therefore (seemingly) easy-pickings.

One of her companions was Roland, a talking frog with a rapier, a courtly mustacheteer with pomp, decorum, and bravado.

We envisioned Roland as a cross between C-3PO (in his anxious concern for Maebs) and Inigo Montoya. Roland, a toad of honor, could not bring himself to kill a child, even in raw combat, and even saw her as his ward to protect.

Her other ally would be Coolio, a refrigerator with ice magic.

Coolio hailed from a dimension of talking appliances, a world where Game of Thrones meets Ikea, what you might call swords-and-smoke-detectors.

Coolio made his peace with fate, choosing to live harmoniously in the Cloudiseum instead of as a brutal pawn. He’d only kill reluctantly and in self-defense. In other words, Coolio was a chill dude.

We also created a ridiculous cast of GLADiators, including a Mormon with Eagle Powers, a sleazy Jiminy Cricket running a criminal empire, a hare who rides a tortoise and wields a carrot spear, a prison wasp with black and white stripes, the Segturion (a Roman Centurion on a segway), an expy of He-Man in a wheelchair, and Mecha Kurt Cobain. There was a guy in a speedo who kept rubbing his nips. A Veigar-sized Boba Fett. And the Butt Punisher, a Frank Castle type who forcibly spanks the Mafia.

The series would have followed Maebee, Roland, and Coolio as they survived harrowing attacks, became minor celebrities in the Multiverse, and led the resistance against the very regime trying to pit them against each other.

As a writer, I had a lot of fun developing the Behind-the-Scenes, a sequence of utility corridors and panopticons where the Admins control the island. And crafting the ending, where Maebee, secretly afraid of becoming a boring adult, grows into a clever, exciting, and wonderful woman (who wears a suit and tie and carries an enormous axe).

But the series was not meant to be.

Phil was pursuing a career in graphic design; he became bogged down in projects. I was pursuing my own profession in education—a turbulent project in itself, and very time-consuming.

We decided to abandon what was appearing to be a long, long enterprise, but we still retain those happy memories of collaboration and creativity.

All of this post’s art was created by Phil Kiner.