The Young Witches: London Babylon – Lopez and Barreiro

Sequels sometimes manage to outstrip the works that preceded them, using the ready-made world and its existing rules, ideas and characters as a springboard to wilder flights of fancy. Serialized comics provide many great examples of this. From superheros like Batman to fantasy stories like ElfQuest to light comedy like Archie and its many spin-offs, authors and artists can capitalize on a ready-made set of rules to spin off new works that almost without exception prove to be more interesting than the first wobbly story of the series. It’s common to hear fans of this kind of story-telling apologetically explain that a title is “still very new;” there’s an expectation that better stuff is yet to come, but the alchemical transformation of the raw ingredients hasn’t happened yet.

Young Witches: London Babylon
PROTIP: always brake for naked ladies.

The second book in Francisco Solano Lopez and Eduardo Barreiro’s “Young Witches” series of (very) graphic novels certainly blossoms (metastasizes?) into something much more than what came before. I first discovered the “Young Witches” books, published in the U.S. by the Eros imprint of Fantagraphics Books, in the Adult Section of the sadly-now-long-gone Village Comics. The cover of the first collection of stories features a close-up of the open mouth of one of the lead characters, framed by assorted savage, leering faces. This cover suggests that all manner of lurid insalubriousness is going on within this book’s pages. In fact, book one of “Young Witches” is fairly unremarkable–as unremarkable as an extremely explicit story about sexually ambiguous just-post-adolescent sorceresses can be, anyway. But book two, “London Babylon,” takes a sound concept (young witches! in trouble! graphically!) and cranks up the insanity to spectacularly heady levels.

In the interests of fairness, there are spoilers (despoilers?) ahead, so if you’re the kind of person who likes his or her occult, historical-fiction S&M comics to be viewed with fresh eyes, turn back…!

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But look at this snake dance before you turn back, because it’s amazing.

At some point in the Victorian era (“Victorian” in the way that the Ren Faire depicts the historical realities of the Renaissance, anyway), young Lillian Cunnington and her schoolmate Agatha are fleeing from the repressive and frequently-rapey confines of the occult boarding school where they honed their witchcraft skills. They cross paths with Dr. Jekyll, who takes them to London where he promptly vagina-drugs them with a sedative-slash-aphrodisiac and enslaves them in the basement of his brothel/nightclub/cult temple. This might seem absurd, but according to the “Young Witches” mythology, one-hundred-percent of men are one-hundred-percent boner-motivated, so it makes more than a bit of sense that the need would arise for a lot of vagina-drugging white slavery organizations.

Albert Einstein: Physicist, Lover of Tig Ol' Bitties
Albert Einstein: Physicist, Motorboat Enthusiast.

A cast of characters files through Dr. Jekyll’s club, including Sherlock Holmes (who watches an erotic equestrian act in full-on deerstalker and pipe mode), Sigmund Freud (who gets a blowjob while traveling in a zeppelin–STEAMPUNK!) and a coked-out, misogynistic Robert Louis Stevenson (steampunk?). The main source of tension comes from wondering whether or not Lillian and Agatha will remain (EXTREMELY loosely-defined) virgins and what horrible plans Jekyll’s cult has in mind for the girls, but the story is mainly a framework upon which to hang every manner of perversion.

Sherlock fanfic is the worst.
“Sherlock” fanfic is the worst.

Illustrator Francisco Solano Lopez was an influential figure in mainstream Argentinian comics, gaining fame drawing science fiction tales before embarking on making erotic fare in the 1990s. It’s hard to imagine any classic American comics artist having similar latitude to explore these kind of deliberately provocative themes, considering there’s an entire book dedicated to one of the creators of Superman and his work on American pulps that was promoted in such a way as to incite pearl clutching among the masses. Thankfully, there’s a (sometimes literal) ocean of difference between the way readers in other countries approach serialized comics (and visual storytelling in general).

They really love each other :)
They really love each other.

Lopez’ highly-textural, sensual style of drawing complements Barreiro’s unflinchingly gratuitous story. I’m sometimes reminded of George Pichard’s voluptuous women, and the torturous scenarios to which he subjects them. There’s a real sense of flesh (and other various organic materials) throughout the book, creating a sort of “can’t look away” immersiveness to the perversity. In later books. Lopez takes a softer, grayscale approach and even includes color work, but it’s in these stark black-and-white scenes where his technique shines.

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Tonally, the book feels like a somewhat more literate version of the various “Blu” fumetti titles, crammed as it is with aggressively shocking sexual provocation. I’m not sure if, like its “Blu” spiritual siblings, it makes the overall effect of reading “London Babylon” more or less unsettling that there’s plenty of tongue-in-cheek humor to be found. Keep in mind that this is a universe where Jack the Ripper’s crimes are shown in gruesome detail but he is later entirely forgiven for his crimes and just… sorta… walks away because his therapist trusts that he got better. That’s got some fucking disturbing implications, cats and kittens. Apparently Eros found the book’s material potentially objectionable enough to issue a warning on one of the first pages, reinforcing that the book is satirical in nature and that Lillian and Agatha are totally empowered by  the process of overcoming what happens to them (which is why the explosive finale is wrapped up in two pages, but there are over a score of pages in which vagina-drugging figures prominently).

You thought you were getting out of here without nunsploitation, but you were WRONG.
You thought you were getting out of here without nunsploitation, but you were WRONG.

I think the book should be celebrated for what it is–a completely over-the-top, unapologetic celebration of the grotesque. Always dark, sometimes funny and utterly engrossing in its grossness, “London Babylon” is boundary-pushing, subversive erotica that delivers on its promises to shock and–yeah, I’mm’a say it–arouse.

If you’re so inclined to read the entire magnum opus that is “Young Witches: London Babylon,” you can follow a series of tubes and get to it by clicking here. And don’t say you weren’t warned!

Wall Monsters by Steam Crow

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As someone who has had the same reproduction Beistle jointed skeleton hanging in my room for over two decades, it should surprise precisely NO ONE that I’m very excited about Steam Crow’s current Wall Monsters Kickstarter. This series of three-foot-tall jointed paper monsters was inspired by a love for vintage decorations and lest you suspect your monster depictions are anything less than absolutely accurate, the project boasts the consulting expertise of Level 7 Monsterologist Dr. Duke Davis. Surely Dr. Davis had some input on the fact that, if one collects all four Monsters being offered, one will also have all the pieces to construct his or her own Frankenstein Monster. THINK ABOUT IT: a monster built from left-over pieces from the other monsters. I love it.

Steam Crow illustrator Daniel m. Davis (the “m” is for “monster) took some time to talk to me about Wall Monsters and his love for all things creature-feature-iffic.

TK: How did you approach choosing the monsters to include in the series?

skeleton_prototype_2  DmD: I was thinking a lot about classic Halloween, and also my own personal favorite monsters. There are a lot more monsters that we’d love to do sometime, but for this first set we went with what was in the public domain, what was iconic for Halloween, AND what we could fit on the paper.

These are just the beginning, and are only a small sampling of what we COULD put in these sets.

The Skeleton was a must; the old time jointed paper skeleton design was my starting point. I drew him a couple months ago, but I was thinking Harryhausen the entire time.

Next came the Zombie (people love zombies these days) and the Scare Crow. (The real Steam Crow mascot, done for entirely selfish reasons… and he FEELS Halloween to me.)

Frankenstein’s Monster seemed like a perfect one to break up across the other designs (in pieces just like the Monster) so I added him to the offering.

I wanted some sort of female beast, but my witch designs weren’t coming along so well… so I made up this Bat Witch. She’s a little bit vampire, a little bit Bride, and all dangerous.

Since I draw ugly monsters most of the time, drawing women is always a challenge!

TK: Were you thinking of any specific movies/stories/comics when designing the Wall Monsters? If so, can you share some of your inspirations?

DmD: Nothing too specific, other than the childhood love I had for Halloween. I just tried to think back to those times, watching Hammer Films on Creature Feature (The Bride of Frankenstein) and things like Mad Monster Party and the Monster Cereals. (Probably my standard influences.)

Really I just wanted to create something that felt old (screenprinting on paper) with designs that were mixing a vintage vibe with the way that I draw.

TK: There’s a great unifying sense of design between the five monsters.

wall_monsters_skeleton_prototypeDmD: One big challenge was how to make them as large as possible, and how to fit them all on the paper. They had to look good, but also utilize as much of the cardstock as possible. This made them all very long and lanky, to facilitate the big, wide Frankenstein design. Also, they all share the same limited ink palette – cream, the brown cardstock, and either the green or orange.

Someone asked “why not black?” For me, dark brown IS what happens when black fades over the years.

TK: Is there a story that brings these creatures together? Any plans to expand on their universe with stories/comics/further additions to the series?

DmD: In my descriptions of the WALL MONSTERS I tried to make them fit into some fictitious/haunted regional setting. I would like to make a map of the place someday, so that people can fill in their own stories. This is a starting point for folks to imagine their own plots and harried villagers. I like to see if I can ignite folks to engage their own imaginations.

 

TK: What is your favorite classic Beistle Halloween decoration design?

DmD: I love their jointed black cat, and the skeleton cat. (That thing is amazing!) However, we own their simple little jointed skeleton (with the green shadows) which is hanging in my office right now. Love it because it’s MINE!

skeleton_sheet

TK: Do you feel there is a monster out there that is especially under-appreciated by the horror community? If so, tell us a little bit about your thoughts on that monster.

DmD: Boy, that’s a tough one. I can’t say that I have my finger on the pulse of the Horror Community. I really have no idea what’s under-appreciated out there…

I will say that Witches (both pretty and vile) are feeling more and more interesting to me as the years go by, and I personally would like to create some more witch characters. I love how they eat bones, can be pretty or old, good or evil, and cast cauldron-churning spells.

Plus, those pointy hats are bad-ass!

Get your own Wall Monsters by contributing to the Kickstarter HERE.

Greatest Hits of Turkish Knock-offs

For those of you who couldn’t make it to Kevin Geeks Out About Rip-Offs, here is my contribution to the evening:

Turkey’s Greatest Hits from Tenebrous Kate on Vimeo.

This clip started out as 40 minutes, and every cut was painful. Unlike a lot of knock-off movies (I’m looking at YOU, The Asylum), Turkish rip-offs are incredibly entertaining. Some of them, like “Seytan (The Turkish Exorcist)” are scene-for-scene remakes while others are sort of through-a-glass-darkly reinterpretations of existing properties. In the latter spirit, I have to say if you watch *one* Turkish knock-off, make it “Three Dev Adam,” the “Three Mighty Men,” which involves Turkish Captain America and Turkish El Santo (f’reals) thwarting the sadistic criminal Turkish Spiderman (f’reals).  You can check it out on YouTube here.

Hemlock Grove [2013]

Hemlock GroveCome on, Internet–Netflix’s horror series “Hemlock Grove” isn’t even close to being as dire as you’ve led me to believe. Sure, this Eli-Roth-helmed serial tale of the supernatural in the suburbs tends to meander and features some of the last-teenaged-looking teen characters in my memory, but there’s something going on here that keeps me coming back.

Oh yes, I know what it is–it’s perversity. Different from graphic shocks or explicit sex (though Roth’s gloriously gross “Hostel II” certainly brought that to the table along with plenty o’ perv), my favorite kind of perversity is a current that runs through a book/movie/show/whatev’ and sort of taints everything that’s going on. Like snail slime, you know? “Hemlock Grove” doesn’t reach the ecstatic perversity of “American Horror Story,” one of my all-time favorite things to ever, ever air on teevee (can we talk about how stoked I am for Season 3’s Bayou Coven storyline?!), but it does a nice job of creating an uncomfortable alternate world that I enjoy visiting.

Look, guys, I’m going to give you five reasons to give “Hemlock Grove” an open-minded shot.

  1. Werewolves are awesome. A good werewolf transformation scene is so much fun, and episode two features one of the more creative shapeshifting scenes I’ve watched. Yes, its CG lacks the punch of practical FX work, but I guarantee you’ll cringe at least twice watching that sequence.
  2. High school was terrible, and this show doesn’t flinch at showing the weird social machinations that go on there. But with more monsters, because more monsters = more better.
  3. Admit it–you love melodrama. Interpersonal drama is fun, as long as it doesn’t belong to you. It’s kind of neat to watch other folks stress out over their lots in life–it’s why I like to listen to other people’s conversations at restaurants (yes, I am that guy, and yes, I do carry around a notebook to write down the juicier stuff–I do enough to make other people’s worlds more colorful, so I’m just Taking Back, guys). Additionally, it’s scientifically prove-able that monster melodrama is the best kind of melodrama.
  4. Famke Janssen plays a splendidly evil character. That lady is a gorgeous, nine-foot-tall incarnation of creepily-gothic maybe-incestuousness.
  5. You need something to watch till “American Horror Story” comes back in October. I’m hung up, I know. But in addition to the already-outstanding series regulars, Kathy Bates and Gabourey Sidibe have been added to the show’s cast, and they I’m rooting so hard for great roles for both actors (GS, in particular, is someone who desperately needs to be better-utilized by directors and script-writers–that lady’s got a lot of energetic radness going on). Also: witches in New Orleans. Nobody better think about calling me on Wednesday nights starting in October.

Analog Worship at Brooklyn Zine Fest 2013

“Do people still make zines?” That seems to be the stock response when I spoke to friends about attending Brooklyn Zine Fest on April 21. Many of us collected Xeroxed, hand-stapled booklets swapped through self-addressed-stamped-envelopes (SASEs, if you’re nasty) or sold for a dollar or two through black-and-white ads in the back pages of glossier publications. With the advent of blogs as the platform-of-choice for highly-personalized self-publication, one might wonder why there’s still an interest in zines. The fact of the matter is, in a world dominated by digital–and therefore ephemeral–self-publication, a growing community is returning to the tangible thing-ness of creating zines.

The creativity on display at Brooklyn Zine Fest was overwhelming. Authors, photographers, cartoonists and artists of all stripes brought their wares: zines represented a refreshing variety of perspectives, from the earnestly political to the irreverently humorous. Virtually the only thing in common between these vendors was their passion for a niche medium that allowed them to hand a physical artifact to a flesh-and-blood reader. There’s a connection between what drives zine enthusiasts and what inspires the retr0-rock renaissance–the process of working with “outdated” materials is almost (if not equally) as crucial as the final product.

Brooklyn Zine Fest: The Haul

My own zine haul wound up striking a nice variety in terms of subject matter and presentation. Let’s discuss the high points!

Brooklyn Zine Fest: Quali Bell

Quail Bell is a lovely, perfect-bound publication helmed by Christine Stoddard that features a mixture of fiction, essay and memoir writing, side by side with grayscale art. Deceptively beautiful in its presentation, there’s a dark subversiveness that runs through the content with discussions on Countess Bathory, Greek sex practices and haunted cities. It’s a capital-R Romantic vision brought to print, and one that’s well worth seeking out.

Brooklyn Zine Fest: Jusay Pulp

Issue One of Jeremy Jusay’s Jusay Pulp is a stunningly-illustrated comic ode to 80s New Wave. I’m insanely envious of illustrators who can work in black-and-white, and Jusay’s deft handling of his inks is in the greatest tradition of Los Bros Hernandez. The story is absolutely charming as well, and if you’ve ever wanted to see the ghostly incarnation of Joy Division disrupt a mugging, then THIS IS YOUR BOOK, friend.

Brooklyn Zine Fest: Lunchmeat

I would be the biggest jerk in town if I didn’t buy a copy of Lunchmeat, a zine that is second-to-none in its deification of VHS. The diehards at Lunchmeat exclusively review titles on tape format, rescuing the dustiest weirdness from format oblivion. So committed are these folks to their mission that they include within the pages of issue 7 a guide to maintaining your own VHS collection.

Brooklyn Zine Fest: f666

Suren Karapetyan’s f666 is a celebration of the DIY side of metal and extreme music. In addition to capturing the raw energy of live performances, Suren’s camera also documents the sweaty, exhausting and frequently beer-soaked reality of off-stage life. The zine does a remarkable job of breaking down the Fourth Wall between fans and performers. Nowhere is this more evident than in issue 3’s coverage of Maryland Deathfest 2011–much like the event itself, it’s as much about the audience as it is about the bands.

[All of which reminds me, I have to get around to telling you guys about my own journey to Maryland Deathfest 2012, which was… really, really weird and really, really real.]

Illustrator Mark T. Sedita’s “Sad Draculas” minicomic earned my Title of the Day Award and does exactly what it says on the tin.

Brooklyn Zine Fest: Matt Crabe

Matt Crabe’s ultra-grotesque, ultra-detailed illustrations are packaged in a touchably-appealing package, featuring clear covers with hand-painted accents. Evoking the 90s underground aesthetic Mike Diana, Crabe’s drawings ooze, spurt and decay in a thrillingly disturbed manner. His half of the split-zine “Hot Dogs” (paired “Witches in Danger” by Sheila Marcello) is a litany of gruesome fates suffered by tubular meats. It touches the heart and upsets the stomach, much like its namesake.

Brooklyn Zine Fest: Hot Dogs

Kevin Geeks Out: Wrestling Recap and Rip-offs on 5/10

Next Friday, I’ll be talking Turkish knock-offs at Kevin Geeks Outget tickets here!

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During the March Wrestling Geek Out (co-hosted by Friend of the Empire B-Sol from The Vault of Horror), I got to talk about lucha libre. I featured the following very-very-compressed version of “Campeones Justicieros(aka: “The Champions of Justice”) or as I like to call it, The “Monster Zero” of Lucha Films. Enjoy!

“Campeones Justicieros” from Tenebrous Kate on Vimeo.