Comics For Causes – A New Initiative

Hey everybody,

 

Ryan here, from Divisive Issues and Oops, I Talked Politics. For me, like many of us, the past few months have been… well, not great. I’ve been struggling to find a way to help fight this feeling of “what the hell is happening?” that has been permeating my entire life. Usually, I just turn to escapism, tear through a bunch of superhero comics, see Spider-Man swing in and save everyone, and I feel better. But that’s just not cutting it anymore. So I’m coming to you with a proposition.

 

Superheroes have always meant a lot to me. Characters like Superman have always inspired me to be better. They ask the question, what if? What if absolute power DIDN’T have to corrupt absolutely? What if those abusing their power and privilege had someone stop them? What if the weak, the disenfranchised, the forgotten, the ignored had someone who was willing to stand up and say enough is enough? To paraphrase Grant Morrison, at around the same time, human beings came up with two ideas. Superman and the atomic bomb. Why, 75 years later, do we still only have the one that kills instead of the one that inspires? Seeing the horrible hatred that’s permeated our society is affecting me on a level that I did not think I could still feel. Hell, I’ve been jaded for years, and I still can’t believe how much of an uptick we’ve seen in the normalization of white supremacy, the scapegoating of the Muslim faith, the millions who identify as LGBTQ, people of color, and so many other horrible things for people that don’t have the same privileges I take for granted.

 

                                       

 

 

And then, a few days ago, I saw the news about Portland. If you don’t know, I’ll spare you the horrible details, but two heroes, two real life superheroes, lost their lives defending the disenfranchised. The forgotten. The ignored. Ricky Best and Taliesen Myrddin stood up against hate and bigotry and lost their lives in a way that I question if I would be brave enough to do. And even though this broke my heart, they inspired me. In the same way that Superman does. So I’m starting a fundraiser.

 

I have a lot of comic books. I give them away to listeners, I sell them on eBay, but I don’t want to do that anymore. From now until forever, I would like to use them to try to get some people to try to help out. If anyone donates to a Progressive candidate, someone who fights for civil liberties and social equity, or a progressive charity, I’ll send them comic books that hopefully inspire them as much as they do me. Simply message proof of your donation to either podcasts’ facebook page or tweet at us with #comicsforcauses and I’ll be in touch with where to send them. No strings attached, no paying for shipping, just here you go. Smaller donations will get you some single issues. Larger donations and I’ll send you a collected edition/trade paperback/the kind of books you see in bookstores.

 

The places we recommend as a show are:

 

Planned Parenthood – www.plannedparenthood.org

The ACLU – www.aclu.org

Doctors Without Borders – www.doctorswithoutborders.org

Indivisible: https://www.indivisibleguide.com/

Swing Left: https://swingleft.org/

 

And we can be reached at:

Divisive Issues:  https://www.facebook.com/divisiveissues

Oops, I Talked Politics! – https://www.facebook.com/oopsitalkedpolitics/

Or the group for both: https://www.facebook.com/groups/oopsitalkeddivisiveissues/

Or on twitter at: www.twitter.com/oopspolitics and www.twitter.com/divisiveissues

 

Thank you all so much and I can’t wait to share my books with everyone as we try to make this world better. I hope, together, we can stop waiting for Superman to come save us, and show the next generation that maybe we don’t need him as much as we thought; we can all be Superman.

 

Ryan

 

                                    

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Second Network Playlist

Due to its middling popularity, we all put our heads together to think of how to assemble another Spotify playlist, as a group. And the bigger the group, the harder to decide on anything. Like taking a van to Blockbuster in the old days. People habitually shot down music genres, mood themes, and other reasonable picks.

And some how “food” made it through.

Someone said the word “food” and enough people were on board, so it happened. That’s how communities work.  So please enjoy our food and drink playlist, compiled lovingly by all of us.

Here’s the album on Spotify, and our friend A-Ryan has also made an iTunes playlist if you prefer.

And just so you can know which chef picked each dish, our friend Owen made this handy menu for you to browse.

 

 

*”Milk From the Coconut” was not available on US Spotify or iTunes, but feel free to look it up.   ** Consuming raw or uncooked meats can cause food poisoning and foodborne illness

Pizza box by Arthur Nygard

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Writers’ Week: Helen LaStar

As a hopefully fitting end to Writers’ Week here at Comrade Radio, I bring you a story of endings.

As a writer on the internet, I tend towards memoir. As a person in the physical world, I tend towards hoarding. In 2010 I opted to flaunt both of these things, and I created a blog called Casualties of the Hoard. It was an effort to keep me writing while I excavated myself from the overwhelming heap of my own belongings. In the blog I wrote of “things loved and tossed” — each entry featured a particular item I was getting rid of and told the story of the item and its echoes in my life.
Sometimes, however, the relic I wrote about was something grander, intangible — such as the first year of my marriage, past; or my favorite television series, over.

The entry I share with you today is one of those. This was written in early 2011, after the announcement that the company Borders — a fixture of my early adult life — had gone bankrupt. In keeping with the themes of my podcast, it’s a love story.

 

Borders Books & Music: A Story of Love and Loss

When I was a sophomore in college, I had a problem. I would go shopping — at bookstores, music stores, video stores — 3 or more times a week, spending as much as $250 at a stretch. I was single, living at home, getting financial aid, and working a sweet part-time job at JoAnn Fabrics; most of my income was disposable, and I had plenty of free time between classes with nothing to occupy me. Borders Books & Music was my most frequent destination — as a book/music/video store near my university, it covered all my needs.

While perusing the shelves on one of my Borders shopping excursions, a guy on the sales floor offered me assistance. I smiled at him and said I was just looking, and he began to chat me up (as I believe it is called). “Come here often?” he asked, knowingly, and introduced himself — I’ll call him “Jerome,” since I don’t know anyone of that name, and he kind of looked like a giraffe with glasses (so obviously Jerome). We shook hands.

This was an important milestone for me; as a shy person, I wasn’t very good at meeting people. The encounter with Jerome was the first time I had ever just met someone at a place — outside of work or school, without an introduction, by myself. And it was a Borders moment.

 Jerome seemed to be working every time I went to Borders between classes. We would talk among the scores of books — about what specifically, I can’t remember, but we seemed to have a lot in common. And talking to him seemed to curtail my outrageous spending somewhat. I blabbed shallowly about my classes, and we discussed our respective jobs. And then, on our third mid-aisle chat, he asked if I was seeing anyone. I was not, so I told him that I was running late for class, checked my watch (as an afterthought), and left the premises.

I didn’t go to Borders for a week after that. It wasn’t that I wasn’t attracted to Jerome, it’s just that I wasn’t very attracted to Jerome, and in the past I had been too quick to accept any offer of a date that materialized — just as I would buy any book, movie, or CD I was remotely interested in — and, if I’m being honest, I was holding out hope for a fellow I worked with at the school’s literary magazine.

That weekend I was working the register at JoAnn when Jerome walked in. He walked right up to my lane, grabbing a Sharpie from one of the impulse-buy bins. He presented me with the marker so I could ring it up, saying, “Hi. I needed a pen.” I scanned the item and processed his transaction. And then he took the receipt I had given him, turned it over, uncapped the Sharpie, and asked for my phone number.

“I needed a pen.”

It was a truly cinematic moment, the kind of moment you’ll relish telling your grandchildren about. So I said, “Uh, yeah. I have customers right now,” or something equally weasel-y, and weaseled out of it again.

Another week passed. I didn’t go to Borders. I went to class, read stupid poetry at open-mic nights. My magazine crush had gone from playing hard to get to playing impossible to get. I hadn’t gotten any other offers for dates, and I missed book browsing. I decided I should go back to Borders and give Jerome my phone number once and for all.

I got out of my car at Borders and walked towards the entrance. Jerome was there, leaning against the exterior wall, smoking with his boss. I said hey to him but wasn’t comfortable pulling him aside and giving him my number while the manager was there, so I went inside.

As I was looking at the newly released hardcover selection, an employee approached and asked if I needed help finding anything.

I didn’t even look up from the shelves. “No, thanks.”
The employee came a few steps closer and said, “Hey. It’s Helen, right?”
I turned at the sound of my name. It was Boris*, my magazine editor’s best friend. I had met him the week before at the open-mic night; he had loaned me his guitar and I had scratched it when I accidentally banged it into a chair. He was a mandolin player. His (really good) band had saved what would have been an empty open-mic night.
He was also very cute and had a beard.

We chatted for a while about movies and books. Jerome approached after his smoke break and we did the “Oh-you-know-So-and-So?”-“Yeah-I-guess-I-do” thing, and Jerome went back to work. And I kept talking to Boris.

I didn’t give Jerome my number.

Boris called me the next day and invited me to his house to have hummus. We ended up dating for a year and a half.

I went to Borders even more when I started dating Boris, studying in the cafe every day, browsing the stacks, and racking up Rewards points. But after about 8 months, both he and Jerome left the bookstore to become vet techs (together, yes. They always remained good friends).

 

When Boris and I broke up, I didn’t go to Borders for a long time. Everyone there knew me as Boris’s girlfriend — I’d gone to concerts with about half of the employees (and two managers) — and now I was the bitch who broke up with their friend. Though it pained me for a time, I was resigned to go to Barnes & Noble for all my corporate book needs**.

I went back to Borders again a month or two after the break-up to meet up with Boris. He returned my Smothers Brothers record and left without further discussion. That was the last time I ever saw him.

I’ve since gone back to Borders, many times, but never with the frequency of that one year.

When I found out my location was closing, I knew I had to go, to pay my respects, and to maybe get some dirt-cheap books.

The store was packed. People were milling about, moving things around on shelves, mentally calculating what 20% of $18.99 was. All of the cash registers were open, and the line to check out stretched to the self-help section and beyond. The adjoined Seattle’s Best (which, in my heyday, was still just the Borders Cafe) had already shut down.

I spoke to an employee about the store closing, and he explained that their landlord wasn’t willing to renegotiate the lease. “All the stores that aren’t able to lower their rent are closing,” he said. I imagine it didn’t help that Borders had another location and a Waldenbooks not too far away, not to mention the Barnes & Noble just a mile up the road, with their own proprietary e-readers. It’s a hard time to deal in books and other antiquities.

“It used to be so beautiful,” the employee said, gesturing towards the muddle of merchandise surrounding him, peppered with empty spaces. I couldn’t help but agree — it had been so beautiful, and it was coming to an end.

On autopilot, I started to browse the shelves. My e-mail from Borders Rewards had promised discounts of 10-40%, so I was optimistic that out of my grief would come some super deals. The books, movies, and CDs were all 20% off for the most part, with deeper discounts on stationery, games, periodicals, and some children’s items. And if I wanted a Twilight wall calendar, I could have gotten one for a dollar.

 

I’ve gotten much better at not buying books since college, at least full-price books. The need to de-clutter almost overcomes my need to amass volumes of words. Having monthly expenses helps me be more discerning with my spending, too, but there’s also the Google effect that suggested-retail-price retailers have to contend with. We’re too plugged in and too flooded with options — if I see a book I want at Borders, I can pull out my phone right there, enter the title, and the Internet will tell me all the places I can buy the book cheaper and order the list by distance from my current location. Or I can log into my library account remotely and reserve the book for free. Or I can find a digital edition of the book, priced 40% lower than the hard copy, download it right there, and read the whole first chapter on my phone before I would’ve even gotten to the cashier.

I was without my smart phone on this day, but even so, I had a hard time being impressed by only 20% off. If this had been weeks before, and I had known that the company was in danger of going bankrupt, and if I had thought that my purchase would make even the smallest difference, the impetus to buy would have been there. But they were closing anyway; nothing I did was going to make any difference. And the prices just weren’t all that great. I realized that, while I was sad about “my” Borders closing, I was going to be just fine without it. And that sucked a little.

I did find three books that I wanted. I even picked one up and carried it with me throughout the store, then stood in the middle of an aisle, staring dumbly at the cover for three minutes, trying to decide if I should buy it. With 20% off, the book was still $15. I really didn’t want to wait in that line. I felt sure that prices would go down further in the final days before the store closed for good, but it was the last copy, so I worried it would be gone soon.

I then told myself the thing every hoarder needs to hear, the thing I never could say in college: “I don’t need it. If I still really want it later and I can find it for x dollars, I’ll get it.”

 

I walked back to the biography section and put the book back where I found it. I was doing a final scan of the shelf, alphabetically by author, when another employee walked up to me.
“Hey,” he said.
I looked up from the spine of a memoir I was eyeing. It was Jerome.
 I don’t know when he’d started working at Borders again. I hadn’t seen him since I’d broken up with Boris, and I wasn’t sure if we were on good terms or not. I was happy to see him.

“Hey,” I replied.

He smiled weakly and said, “Do you need any help finding anything?”
“No,” I said, my eyes sweeping the chaos around us. “No. I’m fine. Thanks.”
“Yeah,” he said with a shallow nod, and he walked away, the back of his head saying, This is almost funny. I could almost laugh.

 

As soon as I got home, I went to Amazon.com and bought the books I wanted. They were about 20% cheaper than Borders’s 20% off, most of the shipping was free, and I didn’t have to wait in line. See, I don’t deny that I’m part of the problem. I’ve come to embrace the new shopping, and I’m sure I’ll soon come to embrace e-ink and digital readers — but I haven’t yet, and that’s why I’ll miss Borders. I worry that the book will one day be relegated to the rank of novelty, like the videotape or the record album or the pen. And so I’m blogging my unease, so you can read about it on your laptop or iPhone or Kindle.

That being said, my local Borders represents a chapter in my life that’s long since closed, and it’s comforting to write this epilogue. But don’t read too much into it.

 

 *Nope, not his real name.
**I got over it.

 

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Writers’ Week: Sly Krapa

The book I’ll be featuring for writer’s week is my first full-length completed graphic novel, The Smoke Man. The Smoke Man is a noir comic about a masked vigilante who appears and vanishes in clouds of thick white gas. This vigilante has begun to appear in unpredictable times and places within a troubled city and refuses to give any information about himself. The story is told through the point of view of other characters as they learn about this figure and question his motives. The Smoke Man claims to be a force for good and seeks the aide of one of the few uncorrupted police officers within the city. It is up to her to decide if she can trust this man she knows nothing about.

The premise for this book was birthed from me imagining a story completely told from Commissioner Gordon’s perspective. There are plenty of Commissioner Gordon stories that exist but there can never be a story purely from Gordon’s point of view. The audience will always know that Bruce Wayne is Batman even if Gordon is unaware. That backstory will prevent us from fully entering his perspective as we know Bruce Wayne’s inherently good intentions and motivations. But a vigilante inherently must be secretive, deceptive, and willing to bend the law. I wanted to try a story where the vigilante’s actions are all that can speak for him, even in the eyes of the readers.

I would get deeper into my writing process behind this book but I’ve probably already said too much. I’m the kind of writer who’d rather have my work stand on it’s own. I know the thought process behind every decision I made but it doesn’t matter an iota if the reader doesn’t get it. Some people do just write for themselves, but I’m always aiming for that sweet spot between the audience and the writer. Where the writer is telling a story that is very much their own but it’s accessible and appealing for others as well. I can’t say if The Smoke Man accomplishes that goal, but it’s something I have in the back of my mind when working on my current projects.

I figure instead of an excerpt from the book itself, I’d feature a short preview comic I created to hand out for free at comic conventions. It features a small side story about a reporter’s research into “the Smoke Man myth” that occurs parallel to the events of the book’s first two chapters. I think it works better as an introduction than any out-of-context snippet from the final graphic novel. Enjoy:

 

If you enjoyed the sample and are interested in more, the actual book can be purchased on Createspace or Amazon.  You can also see some art samples from the main book on my website. Thanks for reading.

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Writers’ Week: Jim Banks

Hey, buds. Look at us, living to see another Thursday in May and, as an added bonus, getting to experience even more content from some of our favorite Comrade Radio hosts! It’s Writers’ Week! Food still tastes good! Dogs are still fun to pet! If it’s your thing, go ahead and take a sec and give thanks to whatever it is you give thanks to (in my case, it’s a Cactuar). Go ahead – I’ll wait.

It’s good to be patient.

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I thought I’d invite you all to sit down so I can tell you a little more about your Good Uncle Jim. I’ll be the first to admit that this post is mainly going to serve as a way for me to express some things that have been on my mind lately but I hope it does some good for you all, too.

OK, here we go.

When I was a kid, I loved to write stories. I would write about anything. I wrote stories about superheroes, about creepy executioner guys, about Highlanders (that movie really made an impression on me as a kid – thanks, Christopher Lambert!) and about giant robots, just to name a few. I can’t tell you how much of my youth I spent holed up in my bedroom at my desk just writing while listening to the soothing sounds of a Mr. Sugar Ray and thinking to myself ‘ya know, this is pretty cool beans’.

With the exception of the Sugar Ray, that sounds pretty great, right? I think most of the people who are going to read this blog entry fancy themselves an artist or someone who wants to bestow a little piece of themselves to the world through a chosen form of media and can definitely identify with Little-Kid-Jim. Creating a Good Thing and then trying to fill the world with your Good Thing is one of the best Things we can do as people, I think.

Now, my other Comrade hosts who have participated in Writers’ Week so far have carried this forward and taken the time to share their Good Thing.

They’ve all been wonderful. Honestly. They’re all amazing.

But I want to do something a little different. Ya see, my buds, I have a confession to make.

Remember Little-Kid-Jim? That kid who spent days listening to terrible music and writing rad stories? That kid, who eventually grew up into the Young-Man-Jim who is writing this, was too afraid to share his Good Things. After I would write my Christopher Lambert adventures and let my giant robots destroy my cities, I threw all of those pages directly in the garbage. In fact, I even took it a step further. To make sure my mom or one of my siblings didn’t find them I ran them all under a faucet, rendering them totally unreadable and then put them at the bottom of the garbage can.

As I’m sure a lot of you know, there’s a kind of Newton-esque reaction that you expose yourself to when trying to fill the world with Good Things. You see, for every Good Thing you put out, you open yourself up to the potential for criticism, embarrassment and a kind of naked-in-public feeling that comes with sharing a part of yourself and your enthusiasm with the world at large.

I was unable to overcome this fear of exposure for a long time. Not only did I throw away my stories as a kid, I would often totally skip assignments in school and college that involved any kind of peer review or ‘share-with-the-class’ component. I only did it when absolutely necessary and felt totally sick about it.

This also carried into my adult life in ways I didn’t expect. Because I had never opened myself up, it was hard to present ideas at work. Things I felt enthusiasm about I never had the courage to share. In fact, I even kept my identity as a ‘gamer’ (not the gross kind) hidden from most people. The great things I felt like I could share I kept hidden.

It wasn’t until about three years ago that I started to feel differently. My family and I moved to a new state where didn’t really know anyone. The small, rural existence and the small word that comes with it had suddenly widened as I moved to a city for the first time. It was also around this time that I really got into podcasting and was exposed to all of the people who were actively creating what they felt was their Good Thing and bravely sharing it with the world. And, even though I didn’t quite realize it at the time, this affected me.

Fast-forward about a year and a half and, along with my co-hosts John and Matthew, I found myself releasing the first episode of Square Roots, a podcast that’s unabashedly nerdy and silly that allows me to explore and share one of my favorite things in the world in a way that I find to be creative and engaging. But man, was it scary. And even though I dreaded the reaction of the people who listened I found myself realizing that, it didn’t matter. Even though it had always been my goal to create something that other people liked and could connect with, I realized that just making the effort to add My Good Thing to the world was worth it on its own. People digging it is just a bonus.

The point I’m trying to make is – if you wanna create, create. Embrace the exposure and potential your Good Thing has to inspire, entertain or help someone else. One of the biggest benefits that’s come from the internet is the easy access to a platform that makes it easy to put your Good Thing out into the world; to take a little piece of your own Little-Kid-Jim enthusiasm and share it with all your buds. It’s worth it. Even if your Good Thing isn’t someone’s ‘thing’, put it out into the world because filling our world with things you think other people might enjoy is one of the coolest things you can do.

Heck., I’d even go so far as to say it’s pretty cool beans. Even if it’s kinda scary.

Have a good one, my friends.

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Writers’ Week: Malcolm Nygard

Image may contain: outdoor

 

It’s my turn on Writers’ Week, but I’m afraid I haven’t been as prolific as my childhood self imagined.

Sixth grade me would assume I’d be on book twenty of my unoriginal elf saga by now, but before he gets all judgey, I’ll point out *I* found a hot wife and have a driver’s license. So checkmate. What was I talking about?

Right, writing.

I’ve never finished a book, only half of one, a third of a graphic novel, a few shorts in high school and not enough songs for an album. I… don’t have a good work ethic. But I do have imagination, and if I can couple that with a deadline, I think I can get things done. If it’s a daily deadline, all the better.  Like the time I wrote a Twitter fiction.  It was certainly a gimmick to start. Can this be done? What would it look like? How weird would it be if it got popular and lots of people got into it? I found the answer to two of those. To find the structure of the story, I had to reverse engineer and wonder what kind of storytelling would fit the Twitter format. Limited characters, fleeting notes that get buried in a live stream. There are journals, but those are mostly for middle school creative writing classes or video game supplementals. Okay, but journaling could be the thing. Short journaling. But why would you write entries that brief? Graffiti. And then I had it.

I would write live, as a character, for as long as I could keep it up. Each tweet would be something the protagonist wrote on a physical surface. And it would be in real time. The apocalypse part just made sense after that. So on November 28th, in the near future, Sam Knoxville wrote down

“A highway full of broken down cars, driven by corpses. Entire cities black in the night. All the ice cream is probably melted.”

And I was committed. I’d try and write at least two messages per day, if I could, although I gradually started taking Sunday’s off to give my brain a rest. I got creative with the format. As a reader, you were meant to wonder exactly where the messages were inscribed, and what was happening that Sam wasn’t telling us. Ideally, you felt like you were always two steps behind as you picked up the notes.  Here’s Sam leaving a comment card on 12/13:

“Thank you for choosing Olive Garden! Please let us know how we can serve you better. The food is rotting + the servers are dead

I wound up writing as Sam for almost two years, minus a several month hiatus the second year. It was hard more often than it came easily. I had to force myself to sit down and stare at my phone until a joke came or I leaked one more plot detail. I felt hacky. I was certain I was reusing jokes. By its nature, it was uneven. I couldn’t plan as far ahead as you would a novel, and I couldn’t go back and edit. I was stuck with whatever I blurted out each day. But I also made good running jokes. Sometimes Sam would leave instructions on how to play a new game now that technology was over. Here’s a game from 1/31:

“End of the world horseshoes. You’ll need: horseshoes, a tall structure. Roof: 10 pts, windshield: 20. 50 pts if you couldn’t have afforded.”

I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on it. There was an arc of sorts. Sam got more insufferable. There was the first group of people in NYC. But they weren’t on the level, so it was okay to make a quick exit. In Pennsylvania, there was a dog, and Sam was definitely not a dog person.

“5/30 The dog spent the night in the corner. He didn’t seem interested in attacking me, but I did not sleep well.

Have spent the whole day in the basement. I tried bouncing a tennis ball Great Escape style, but the dog keeps taking it.”

“6/3 I’m not naming it. Not even a lame name that sticks. Dog must go.”

I went on to name the dog and it became a fixture.  Sam gradually made it from all the way from New York to Washington state. If that’s ringing a bell, maybe you’re remembering I started a podcast set in the same universe called Apoc Radio. And those two guys were in Washington, weren’t they? When it came time to end the story, after two long years (minus a hiatus) the best thing I could think of was merging the two stories. I won’t spoil how, but I’m still proud of it to this day. My rambly, reflexive writing was finally put to audio and concluded with two flesh and blood, out loud people. That podcast would last the rest of the year before reaching its own conclusion.

So all and all, I wrote in the Apoc universe for three years. I made every piece of apocalypse commentary I possibly could. It wasn’t all perfect, but it was sure big and, I think, immersive. The handful of people that followed along seemed to enjoy the ride. If you’d like to read my Graffiti, it’s available in chapter format, in its entirety, at apocgraffiti.com/chapters/intro.  The format takes a little getting used to. Remember that time passes in between notes, and they’re all physically written down. But I hope you enjoy it. I’ll leave you with one more game that Sam made up, free of charge. April 3rd.

“End of the world Frogger- Difficulty: Easy. Simply walk between the broken-down cars.”

 

Keep surviving.

-Malcolm

 

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Writers’ Week: Darryl Steffen

Hi ho hey ho! It is I! Darryl Steffen!!! In celebration of Writers’ Week, I am here to talk about a graphic novel of mine: A Numb Derivation!

It’s an odd little book, comprised of 18 short letters, each one being based off of a distant friend, love interest, or ex. But it’s not nearly as dull and direct as “Dear so-and-so, how are you doing?”—instead I veil each entry in abstract language and mire it in confusing metaphors. This way I protect the reader from knowing whom it is I’m truly talking about, as well as adding colorful symbology that emphatically captures the way I feel about them in my darkest state.

Are you a bit confused? Here, let’s break down one of the letters!:

Besides going under the nom de plume of “Venir Stroka”, the first thing you’ll likely notice is that I purposely obfuscate my language (“I trust not that I am in your thoughts”). The reason for this is that I used to (and still occasionally do!) unintentionally fumble around with my sentence structuring, arranging words in a slightly unusual way. For A Numb Derivation I wanted to be the most “Darryl” I could be, which meant writing off the top of my head with very few edits, allowing my artistic nature to run wild with my lexicon. At times this produces muddled sentences that may be difficult to parse (“And when I spin back towards the memories […] I can see those arms wrapped in bed, cuddling somewhere between red and blue!”), but hopefully the vernacular comes across as very authentic, malformed, and raw.

There’s a certain structure to each of the letters that I tried to follow: first I start off with some friendly banter that’s a tad empty and sycophantic (which is somewhat subdued here, but in the letters to women I lay it on thick). Then I bring up the Tyumen Oblast, a region in Russia that Venir claims he is being forced to move to, in order to evoke pity (the reason for this is elsewhere in the book). The prose then unfolds into reminiscing about past memories and explaining to the reader the small things I valued about the relationship with the letter recipient, before the topic starts to take a darker, more selfish turn. After detailing my own personal fears (filtered through Venir’s lens), I close the letter with a return to the initial chipper babble, as if to wave off the depressing introspection as a foolish mistake. This letter in particular gets pretty grim, which we’ll get to later.

Another thing you’ll notice is that scratched-out words haven’t been digitally removed—lines Venir found too bleak or strange are scribbled over, but left legible for the reader to discover. Since A Numb Derivation is kind of a case study of my personal regret, it was important to leave little clues around that illustrate how I really feel. The above section also introduces the first of many reoccurring metaphors: railroad tracks. These repeated symbols are used as metonymies for personal concepts, something I hoped the reader would pick up on over time. For instance, railroad tracks and snakes represent fatalism, flies and fish represent sex, and leaves are always used for love. I know it might seem asinine to mention that I make use of a basic literary technique, but the way the metaphors are injected throughout the story can be fairly bizarre and easily mistaken for being part of the book’s peculiarity if you don’t pick up on it (like how instead of “somewhere down the road” I say “somewhere down the tracks” to utilize the railroad imagery.)

Of course, since A Numb Derivation is a graphic novel, there have to be some drawings in there somewhere, right? The doodles in each letter aren’t anything special, only inserted to break up the blocky paragraph formatting. Most of them are considerably less delightful than a stormtrooper in an outdoor pool. The above section also includes another good example of my unorthodox language, referring to “cheat codes” as “the cheating words”. Sometimes in order to ascertain the exact phrase I wanted, I tried speaking each sentence aloud with a (terrible) Russian accent, playing with the words in my mouth until they were as weird as I was acting.

(Oh, and the video game I was referring to was Dark Forces)

This is the “pretty grim” part I was referring to earlier. There are some facts I obscure or mislead the reader on—like claiming I had an older sister that left for Canada whereas I actually have an older brother that moved to Virginia. But while the details may differ, the general sentiment and meaning of the statement is preserved. This is especially true about the paragraph regarding my father; even though he’s still alive, I haven’t spoken to him ever since his reckless drug addiction got him kicked out of the house over a decade ago. Venir paints a far more morbid picture than reality reflects (the “dead dead dead” repetition is just to drive home how absent he is from my life), but the lines “I could write a thousand things looking back on it, but when it happened, as it was happening… nothing. I wrote not a word” perfectly convey my emotions on the entire situation, revealing my guilt over the lack of an impact it had on me at the time. Out of the hundreds of poems and drawings I’ve made, not one has been about my father—isn’t that sad?

This was the main reason why I made A Numb Derivation in the first place—to give myself an outlet to say things I was either too embarrassed or too cowardly to admit. There is a part of me that is afraid to become like my father, to squander my family and friends and revel in my vices (any aquatic-based metonymies are about becoming him). However this is not a subject I’ve readily discussed with others, nor do I wish to burden them with my fears. Writing about him and many others was cathartic in a way, being able to express despair at how I’ve drifted away from some friends, or haranguing someone for the way they treated me, or confessing how terrible I acted towards others (for an unrequited love I compare myself to “a disloyal dog fevered with stomach worms”). These are ugly, unwanted statements, and I had no where else to put them but in letters that were never sent to their recipients.

The letter ends on a sour note, lamenting how no one really cares about the people you lose. This is a poignant concept that’s really stuck with me: though those in your life may express concern over your well being, no matter how close they are to you they will never truly grasp the profundity of your personal experiences with those you’ve loved. No one flinches with the same agony as you at recalling what it was like to lock the door on your father when he was begging to be let in the house, or dancing to Frank Sinatra in a motel with your timid ex, or vomiting into a squalid pond at the thought that your most meaningful relationship yet has reached its excruciatingly painful end. No one, no matter how sympathetic or empathetic they are, will ever grasp the visceral meaning—the sheer impact—that these losses have on your life… but you.

On the back page of every letter, I also include a full-page drawing that’s meant to be a “companion piece” to the written segment, this one in particular being about my father:

And lastly, the letter’s envelope is also included, which gives a close but incorrect address for each recipient, as well as the scientific name for the insect I see them as.

And that’s 1/18th of my graphic novel, A Numb Derivation! You can probably surmise that it’s a bit of an oddity, merging the lines between fiction, philosophy, autobiography, and stationery, all wrapped up in a fake-Russian veneer with kooky, insect-laden prose. It’s a book I first and foremost wrote for myself, indifferent towards how other people would receive it when they read it, though I certainly hope they liked it and/or there was something they could take from it. If you enjoyed what you read, please consider purchasing the book from either Lulu or Amazon (I get less $$$ from Amazon) and check out Novel-Graphics for the rest of my portfolio—any support means a helluva lot to me.

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Writers’ Week: Ryan Healey

Today I’m kicking off an event we’ve been very excited about: Comrade Radio Writers’ Week. Each day one of our hosts will share a bit of writing, and maybe a side of themselves they don’t normally get to on their respective shows. My contribution is an excerpt from a work in progress. Since Tales from the Static will be taking a break in July and August, and I apparently have no interest in helping myself by getting ahead on it, I’ve decided to write an original mini-series and release it as eight (I think) podcast episodes. There’s a story I’ve wanted to write for a couple of years, and last year’s election inspired me to create a detailed outline of the whole thing. I’m currently hard at work finishing the first draft, and this post is a challenge to myself to not slack off.

The story is called “Trailblazer”, and it’s about two women. Sandra Wallace is a politician and pundit who made a career of stoking the fear and rage of disenchanted Americans. When a personal scandal ends her run for office, she decides that her road back to success is a cross-country trip with a small entourage to film her encounters with “common folk.”  Whit Sadler and her boyfriend Mark are college students on a summer road trip, learning the ropes of their new relationship. After a terrifying encounter, Whit must fend for herself in a hostile countryside. Both run afoul of The Founders, a group that have long connected the prosperity of their valley to something they call “The Original American.”

I’m hoping the story will let me explore themes of otherness and self-preservation, and to write a horror story about women who refuse to be disposable victims. I also want to stretch my podcasting skills, and see what it’s like to produce a straight-up audiobook. There are some things I’ll need to figure out, like how to read a tweet out loud in a way that’s not jarring.

Anyway, here’s the opening of the story. It’s still the first draft, so some things might change before the completed product. Thanks for reading this; I appreciate you taking the time.

Part I

Ethan pulled off his baseball cap, slapped it against his thigh and sighed with exhaustion. He scanned the horizon, then pulled the hat back over his mess of straw-colored hair. He knelt, tightened the lace of his left boot, and chucked a clump of mud from the heel. Then, almost casually, he put his fingers around the steel rod and jerked it toward the sky. His shoulders creaked with strain.

“The pole don’t budge!” he whined.

“What in the hell was that, the element of surprise? Stop strategizing and pull the thing up! It won’t stay stuck forever!” His father slapped his own hat against his hip, but in frustration. He was amazed by how the smallest tasks could reveal the fundamental uselessness of young men. The boy wanted to blame the pole, but this here was the stubbornness of earth. Soil is just plain greedy; any man or woman who tried to coax a viable crop from the earth would say the same. Everywhere you looked there was a new something springing up, life choking life in its eagerness to be the one to reach higher and get more. But try to raise something on purpose and the ground just won’t give it up. Now that’s stubborn.

Bracing his hands on the small of his back, the farmer arched until his bones gave a good crack. Then he slipped on his own leather work gloves and placed his hands in line with the boy’s.

“Ready? On my signal, we rock it back and forth. Don’t throw yourself out, don’t yank it like a weed. Rock it and pull up a little. Rock and pull. Understand?”

Ethan pursed his lips in the way that made his own father want to punch him in the face, but he nodded.

They rocked, then they pulled. The thick chains hanging down from the top of the pole began to sway in counterpoint, clinking in time as they rocked.

For a time, the old man and the young man worked silently at the earth between them.

Finally, the ground gave a final suck and the pole pulled free. The boy hefted it and made his way up to the big blue barn. The chains dragged in the grass like defeated serpents, iron shackles agape.

The farmer kicked the dirt around, covering up the scarlet clumps of blood-stained dirt, the dull white of a splintered bone.

In time Ethan returned with the simple oak podium, and they stood it up in place of the pole. Then he sent the boy back to fetch the aluminum folding chairs.

 

Sandra stewed in the back of the tour bus, in her suite, where she spent most of her time between stops. It was a large space and built for comfort, but she folded herself into the corner, moth-like. She pressed her forehead against the cold window like a child biting into the delicious ache of a loose tooth.

Unfolding her arms, she looked down at the phone clutched in her hand and opened the Twitter app again. She knew for a fact there was no wisdom or understanding to be gained, but when things were going badly she compulsively dug her hands into the steaming mess of social media. It was too hard to resist this stock ticker of self-loathing.

Ed Shelly @skeptical_ed: @RealSandraWallace in Houston did you really say troops need “protection from IUDs”? Don’t know if ur aw shucks ignorance is cute or offensive.

Chris McCoy @whyohwhy50: @skeptical_ed @RealSandraWallace overly sensitive liberals spend 90% of day looking for ways to be offended #TeamSandra #AmericanTrailblazer

For The Ngyuen @viet_nguyen555: @RealSandraWallace @whyohwhy50 @skeptical_ed it’s that kind of wooly-headed liberal thinking that leads to being eaten. #TeamSnider

Dane Lewis @supermundane: The American People should be outraged to learn that a judge can take a unprecedented and unconscionable action like this. You deserved better.

Sandra tapped the little grey star under that comment, turning it yellow. Not that anyone would know. Her real account was managed by a Harvard grad half her age back at the office. When she went trash-diving, it was under the account MissAmerica1st.

lil bitchass danny @whiteosama:@realsandrawallace was so tight meting you in Richmond! I love those glasses!!1! #TeamSandra #MILF

Sandra’s thumb hovered over the little grey star while she read the tweet a second and third time. Then she realized that her phone had no signal, so it didn’t matter anyway.

She pushed her face against the window again, savoring the ache and watching all that sun-drenched green go by. For a few seconds, she saw a young man and woman sitting on the hood of a hatchback on the side of the road. They waved wildly as the bus passed, and Sandra’s gleaming smile and return wave were automatic. As soon as they were out of sight, Sandra came back to herself, and her self-loathing doubled. She closed the waving hand into a fist and breathed deeply. When she had counted down to zero, she got up and made her way toward the front of the bus. 

She passed Lily, her eager young assistant, who was seated at the fold-out table and combining pages from three cardboard boxes into hundreds of glossy leaflets. This was a task that Sandra usually did herself, enjoying the meditative motions and the quiet reflection on her own words. But Sandra had been slacking in her duties, and at the last event when Lily twisted her mouth to the side and stage whispered “We should probably get folding more of these things, huh?”, she had delegated. Now Lily greeted Sandra with a grin and a perky shrug of her shoulders, as if to say “See? It’s a cinch!” Sandra returned her smile and silently wished her a hundred paper cuts.

A little further along, Sandra passed her nephew Artie, who was the acting videographer for this little excursion. He was watching Lily, which Sandra could tell by how focused he was on the task he was supposed to be done with already: reviewing the footage from the last stop and cutting up the highlights into easily-uploaded clips.

It had been important to Sandra that this journey include a member of her family, to show that she cared about family, and preferably a young person, to show she cared about the future. Of course Artie had been more than reluctant to join because, her sister had happily informed her, he didn’t want people to think he agreed with her policies. On the environment, or guns, or gay rights or whatever club was most popular at the university last semester. And yet, here he was. Jack had made it happen, as always.

She saw his eyes flicker up to Lily, and down again, and could guess what buttons Jack had pushed.

She settled into the front passenger seat beside Jack, who had driven all night but by some magic had a crisp clean shirt and a perfect knot in his tie.

He gave her half a grin. “Welcome to the cockpit, sir.”

She took in the sight of the road racing toward them, through a windshield so broad and flat that it made the world look like one of those movies that tricked you into thinking you were moving. She stared out at the long line of asphalt, the green on either side, and the wires that swooped from one pole to another beside them. “Hmm,” she said.

“Mm-hmm,” he returned.

“How far?”

“Not far.”

She waggled her phone then set it in the cupholder. “No signal.”

He nodded “It’s for the best.”

She knew it wasn’t just an offhanded comment, though it was without judgement; just an acknowledgement that he new her implicitly. He knew what was good for her. She was overcome by a wave of appreciation for this man who just did whatever she needed done, and seemingly only desired the pleasure of a job well done. That and his salary.

“Hey, how did you convince Artie back there to come along?”

“You want to know?”

“I think I know. I want to know if I’m right.”

That half grin again. No teeth, ever. “I said, ‘Your country and your Auntie need you’.”

“Ha,” Sandra deadpanned.

Jack sighed. “I said that I knew he was broke and hadn’t gotten an internship with any of the production companies he wanted. So he could try to grab one of the quickly-disappearing opportunities still remaining at the bottom of the service industry barrel, or he could become a wedding videographer for a couple hundred bucks a pop, or he could sign a confidentiality agreement and produce some actual content. And enjoy the scenery.”

A slight emphasis on the last word told Sandra all she needed to know. “You dog! What did you do, flash a picture of her?”

Jack scratched the stubble on his cheek, the half grin twitching madly at the edges. “I showed him a picture of all of us. From when we picked up the bus. I didn’t point anyone out in particular.”

Sandra sighed in satisfaction. She liked being right.

“It’s funny,” Jack said suddenly, seriously.

“What is?”

“How often you ask me to do something, with the caveat that you don’t care how I get it done, and then after I get it done you ask me how.”

Sandra nodded and bit her lip, studying his profile as he drove. After a long silence she said “Well, you always get the outcome I want, and after the fact I don’t need to fuss about the details. I just marvel at your skill. Win-win for you, right?

Jack nodded, but he was staring into the distance as though he had stopped listening. He raised one hand, the one draped over the top of the oversized steering wheel, and pointed ahead.

Sandra followed his gaze and stared at a sign as it grew nearer. It was a large wooden sign, carved and painted, welcoming them to the town of Hobb’s End. It was like a dozen other signs they’d seen at the entrance to a dozen rural towns, usually proclaiming them the “1993 All-County Girl’s Softball Champions” or the “Cornbread Capital of the South”, but this one was topped with the image of a face. A man’s wide face, with an old-fashioned hair cut parted down the center and a red-lipped grin that stretched from ear to ear. And under the name of the town was the legend “Home of the Original American.”

“Pull over,” Sandra said excitedly, and jumped out of her seat before the bus had started to slow. “Get out your camera, Artie, because you need this image in the next video.”

For the first time in a long time, Sandra was positively beaming. “Mark my words”, she declared. “We’ve found our kind of people.”

 

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New Network Spotify Playlist

In further efforts to come together as a group, and to spread our taste like dandelion seeds on the wind, we proudly present our latest collaboration. We carefully curated a Spotify playlist with some of our favorite songs to form one mega list that represents our collective interests, I guess. Each host picked two tracks, listed below, so give it a shot and let us know what you think on the post or in our Facebook group. We’re more than happy to do this again if people like it.  Oh, and by the way, the list is called

NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL COMRADE!   VOL. 1: RADDEST HITS

Click the link here to get started listening, and read the track list, along with which host picked each, below.

 

Oh Daniel, by Civil Twilight   (Malcolm)

Alive With the Glory of Love, by Say Anything   (A-Ryan)

In the Meantime, by Spacehog   (Justin)

Midnight City, by M83   (Sly)

For You, by Lucy Rose   (Owen)

You’re a Wolf, by Sea Wolf   (B-Ryan)

Luka, by Suzanne Vega    (John)

Every Time, by The Last Bison   (Vanessa)

Screen, by Twenty One Pilots   (Justin)

Die Alone, by Ingrid Michaelson   (A-Ryan)

On the Nature of Daylight, by Max Richter   (Chris)

7, by Catfish and the Bottlemen   (Jim)

To the End, by Blur   (Helen)

Inside Out, by Spoon   (Jim)

Need Your Love So Bad, by Fleetwood Mac   (Owen)

DLZ, by TV on the Radio   (B-Ryan)

I Wanna be Adored, by The Stone Roses   (Valerie)

Sacrilege, by The Yeah Yeah Yeahs   (Vanessa)

Title and Registration, by Death Cab for Cutie   (Phil)

Primadonna, by Marina and the Diamonds   (Matt)

Pins and Needles, by Mutemath   (Malcolm)

Blood I Bled, by The Staves   (Chris)

Nangijala, by Jeniferever   (Darryl)

Small Bill$, by Regina Spektor   (John)

Suggestion, by Fugazi   (Valerie)

Kick Drum Heart, by The Avett Brothers   (Matt)

Digital Witness, by St. Vincent   (Helen)

Lyon, by Pinback   (Darryl)

Rusted Wheel, by Silversun Pickups   (Phil)

In For the Kill (Skream remix), by La Roux    (Sly)

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Static Screams – S1E15 “Three”

Ever since I started the “Tales from the Static” podcast last fall, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this episode of Static Screams. See, a few years ago I wanted to practice laying out a comic book story. More than that, I challenged myself to make the action clear without the benefit of text. While looking for a story that would fit the exercise, I thought of this episode I’d seen decades before. The episode was striking; it was presented in black and white, it had some strange visual elements, and there was no dialogue. Not one spoken word in the whole half hour. And yet, the action which was so straightforward and the small moments so thoughtfully constructed that it still held a lot of emotional weight.

I can’t prove it, but I think this episode might have been an homage or a spiritual sequel to the classic Twilight Zone episode “Two”, which is about two people moving toward interacting like humans again in an empty post-apocalyptic city. If I remember correctly that also had no dialogue, and Charles Bronson and Elizabeth Montgomery are both brilliant in it.

Now, this is something that I did as practice, so it’s pretty sketchy (in some places more than others). I put it together in Adobe Illustrator, with some of the elements created directly in the program while others were drawn on paper and scanned in. I think you can still follow the story if you haven’t listened to this episode of the podcast, but I recommend you check it out. My daughter joined me for the discussion, and I shared this story with her through the comic. I’ll go out on a limb and say that she’s probably the only guest who will ever sit on my lap while we record the episode. Buuuut we’ll see.

 

3_cover 3_1 3_2 3_3 3_4 3_5 3_6 3_7 3_8 3_9 3_10 3_11 3_12 3_13 3_14 3_15 3_16 3_17 3_18 3_19 3_20 3_21

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