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.
The gray ape scurried across circles, spins, and spirals, the feral geometry of a temple that once gave her the shakes, once reminded her of mournful teeth.
Now the architecture was as familiar as her mate, although there was no time to admire the fractals, to run her hands over the pillars. She was in a hurry.
She was expected.
Before the statue of Ezum, the ape kneeled, said a well-practiced prayer, and unsheathed fifteen arms, revealing parchment and bottles and green-yellow feathers from her sleeves. Every circle priest wore the robe. It was useful for implements and unflattering bodies.
Ezum would arrive. Somehow, someway, through its temple effigy, Ezum spoke, and the priests listened, and replied, and scratched the words into the Elegy of Entrails.
Literally Stories published my fantasy story, “Black Bear on White Paper.” The story takes place in a realm I’ve envisioned for some time: a forest world founded on an endless, underground library. Unexplained, and mostly unexplored, the library is attended by a small cabal of librarian-monks. The concept combines Borges’s “The Library of Babel,” Tolkien’s Mines of Moria, and the medieval monastery.
Literally Stories was started in 2014 by a wiggle of writers, including a bloke named Adam West (no, not that one). The magazine not only provides a platform for prose and poetry, but encourages reader feedback and author interaction. There’s even a comments section labeled “Your Thoughts” for criticism of the magazine itself. The hope is to give “each story its moment in the sun.” Naturally, this might provide a healthy tan; for others, a nasty burn.
The android was making them all uncomfortable with its Zelzer Stiff eyeing them from its hip. It’d only been forty point three seconds since the landmark decision to include artificial humans in the Second Amendment and this son of a manufacturing plant had just walked into the Rig & Rattle with a laspistol holstered, twinkling. Kghoshi—a real bastard on a good day—splashed his drink on silver chestmetal and said, “You packing, tin can?” The bartender—a saint on a bad day—put an arm on the droid: “C’mon, now, let’s not do this.” The move was registered as an offensive action and the android shot the bartender between his eyebrows. Kghoshi’s finger moved a centimeter toward his gun when a second shot put a red dot on his forehead as uniform as urna. The men in the bar leaped to their feet. Offensive actions. The men in the bar toppled over chairs and tables. By the time the android reached the counter, empty now of breathing souls, a feed of reaction times, facial registers, psycho-prints—all pointing to self-defense—had been submitted to local authorities.
Published at Rune Bear Weekly on December 6th, 2018.
The Tishman Review nominated my story “And We Who Never Died” for Best Small Fictions.
BSF is an anthology that honors the “best short hybrid fiction published in a calendar year.” The Harvard Review wrote that the pieces in BSF are like a “splash of ice water in the face,” a wake-up call to “your life… unspooling.”
When I heard I’d been nominated, I was like cool beans and moved on to lesson planning and grading.
Then Coffin Bell posted this:
And I discovered that MY WIFE HAS BEEN NOMINATED.
As of this day, she and I are no longer friends. No longer best friends. No longer lovers.
But bitter enemies locked in literary combat.
THIS. MEANS. WAR.