Daily Inkling: THE MONSTER

Normal Happenings has tagged me in another of their awesome Daily Inkling challenges, and this one is really fun:

Write a terrifying fictional monster… and then tell us its greatest weakness.

I will admit, I spent over an hour exploring some creepy subreddits and creepypasta looking for inspiration to get me in the mood, and I drew a few ill-fated attempts at creepyness, but it just wasn’t working. I wasn’t feeling anything, and my drawings were junk.

Then I remembered a terrifying memory from my childhood that had been dormant and forgotten for some time… I didn’t need to come up with something, because it had already haunted my childhood nightmares…


 

Did you ever watch Goosebumps? I was a huge fan when I was a kid, of both the books and the show. I begged my Mom to sign me up for some sort of fan club that sent Goosebumps packages with jokes and stickers and stuff in the mail (she eventually relented.) I forced my entire family to save up the tabs of their Kraft Dinner boxes for weeks so I could mail them in to get one of the special limited-edition prizes – a rubber Slappy hand puppet. I had an audio cassette of Deep Trouble that I listened to over and over again as I lay on my waterbed gleefully imagining the watery depths swallowing me up.

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I considered myself to be a pretty tough kid when it came to scary stories, and none of the Goosebumps books or episodes really phased me… until…

I can’t remember the specifics of the episode. I don’t recall the context or background of the story that unfolded, or the intents of the characters. All I remember is the THING.

The THING changed my eating habits for weeks. My parents and grandparents were worried about me and the obvious effect that the episode had had on my impressionable mind.

A quick bit of internet sleuthing tells me that the episode was called It Came from Under the Sink, and that the creature of my nightmares was called a “Lanx”.

I, however, referred to it simply as…

THE POTATO!

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Yup, this thing majorly freaked me out. I was a kid who loved to eat, and I guess the idea that something as sacred as a common potato could be tainted so utterly blew my little mind. At the very end of the episode it was revealed, teeth gnashing, and I wouldn’t eat my mashed potatoes (a regular staple) for weeks.

So, what is the weakness of THE POTATO?

Time, I suppose. After a while I got over my fear of THE POTATO- hunger trumped fear, in the end.

Another thing that helps?

Drawing a cute potato.

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Ok, actually he is kinda creepy too, in his own way. Ah, well.

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Daily Inkling: Crooked Man

Matthew of Normal Happenings has challenged me to participate in today’s Daily Inkling:

Write a blog post inspired by today’s Daily Inkling:

“THE MONSTER IN THE DELL”

Take your favorite nursery rhyme and turn it into a nightmare.

I love the Daily Inklings ideas posted on Normal Happenings and I really should participate more!

And now, without further ado…

Here’s my disturbing take on the nursery rhyme “There Was a Crooked Man”

There was a crooked man, and he walked a crooked mile,
He found a crooked sixpence against a crooked stile;
He bought a crooked cat which caught a crooked mouse,
And they all lived together in a little crooked house.

He wasn’t literally crooked, at least in the beginning (though his sour face often twisted in disgust) but he saw everything and everyone else to be crooked, never supposing that his was the truly twisted view.

Nobody knew what turned him so bitter against the world- he just showed up in the town one day  with the rage already inside him- but for as long as anyone could recall he was known to be an angry recluse with a grudge against humanity at large.

His condition worsened steadily as he aged. His damaged worldview was paranoid, fearful, and angry. What started as bitter verbal vitriol eventually began to manifest in his physical mannerisms. His posture was affected, too- his back began to hunch and his shoulders bunched up tightly. He would sometimes be seen peeking out of his crumbling house, shrouded in shadow, craning his neck to look out at passersby and twisting his body as though to see them proper. His startling eyes would bulge and his mouth would hang open, revealing useless brown stubs of teeth on a face tight with silent fury and judgement. His face wasn’t seen often, but when it was, it was never forgotten.

His home became more and more dilapidated with time and his shoddy slap-dash repairs. Sometimes newcomers and visitors to the town would inquire sympathetically about the aging recluse in the patchy old house on the corner, but the town residents would dredge up abominable memories that swiftly dashed any potential for pitying him.

The only companion he had was a mouser with a sharp kink in her tail – the clever shorthair was fast and wily, and loved nothing more than catching mice to bring, still wriggling, to her master.

~~~

One fine and fateful day a young girl was selling cookies in her neighborhood without much luck. Her friends, who lived nearby, had already hit these familiar streets and taken the pocket change of her willing neighbors. These cookies are famously delicious, but nobody’s biting, she thought.

So she took her cookie wagon, and her business, elsewhere.

The new neighborhood was a ways away, and much more receptive to her Minty Crunchies. The little girl was feeling pretty good about her smart business choice. She moved briskly from home to home, feeling a lightness in her step, and in the red wagon she pulled behind her as the cookie boxes dwindled.

She was left with just six boxes when she noticed the sun was nearly done dawdling- it would soon be dark. She was about to turn around and head home when she saw a slender cat on the sidewalk a couple of houses down. The stripey cat looked curious, and very approachable. The girl couldn’t resist. She sidled up alongside the cat and gently stroked its fur. She noticed a bend in its tail and thought aw, poor kitty, did you get your tail caught in something? Did something fall on you?

The cat seemed to smile as it rubbed its face against the hem of the girl’s corduroys. It turned and padded languorously down a weedy, broken path towards the house on the corner, as if beckoning. The girl figured that this decrepit place was where the cat lived, and she felt a bit guilty for thinking I doubt they will have any money for cookies at least I can make sure the cat gets home, and who knows, maybe they’ll buy a box.

She grabbed a box of Minty Crunchies and skipped after the cat, who kept looking back at her invitingly as they approached the neglected old house.

 

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~~~

The girl’s parents had begun to worry- didn’t we tell her to be home before the sun was down? She knows better than this. 

As the minutes turned to an hour, and then another, they knew something was terribly wrong.

They called the houses of all of her friends. The mother circled their neighborhood in the car. The father’s frantic calls, echoing from the garden, grew more desperate every minute. The police were called. Two officers visited the house. They wrote down some things. Said they would drive around the neighborhood. They were calm, they obviously didn’t realize, this isn’t like her, this isn’t normal.

A neighbor offered to watch the house so the parents could search for themselves in the car. The mother insisted on a thorough search expanding outward from their neighborhood- maybe their daughter wandered somewhere new and got lost?

Their circle widened and widened as the father called out the passenger window into the darkness. The mother drove slowly but purposefully with a grim determination.

Isn’t this too far? the Father asked, why would she come all the way out here? We should turn back and go around our neighborhood again, then we-

Then they saw it. The red wagon, there on the sidewalk beside an old weedy path. Abandoned, along with 5 boxes of cookies. The little girl was nowhere in sight.

~~~

Jesus! the father cried. The mother screeched to a halt and flung open the car door, racing toward the wagon. The father joined her, shouting and sobbing his daughter’s name. They grabbed at eachother and followed their feet the only direction that made sense- down the overgrown path that was long forgotten before today.

The path led them to the steps of the dilapidated house. They raced to the top, hammering on the door. Nothing.

The father noticed a solitary box of cookies near his feet, and he made an inhuman sound. They beat on the door again. Still nothing.

Then the mother’s eyes met the eyes of another, peeking through the broken front window. Bulging, watery eyes, staring intensely. A crinkled nose and rotten mouth, open in a wide grimace.

The thing dangling in his arms couldn’t be their daughter. How could it be? Human bodies don’t bend that way.

CROOKED! the man screamed. ALL OF YOU!

Bad Romance: A Defense of Reprehensible Love Interests in Otome and Beyond

My prince charming is your worst nightmare.

From the age that I can first remember feeling the pangs of infatuation and lust in my mid-teens, I found I had a taste for rogues, tricksters, baddies, and miscreants. In books, movies, manga, anime, and otome games, I rarely go for the hero of the story- my affections are generally reserved for the evil adversary, mysterious secondary character, or perhaps the dangerously playful womanizing side-kick. These characters are often sexy but would ultimately make terrible romantic partners in real life.

Recently I’ve been noticing in comment sections all over the internet well-intentioned people decrying these very sorts of characters that I am drawn to. Fans and non-fans alike are calling out reprehensible actions of characters as they see them. I think this is a positive reflection of wider discussions and movements that are happening worldwide right now regarding healthy relationships, love, affection, sex, and consent. These honest reflections on characters, from Sabrina’s Father Blackwood to the Sakamaki family of Diabolik Lovers, are valuable and worth noting. The relationships you see on TV or other media are often not good examples for real-life relationships to follow- sometimes these sorts of characters stray into cruel or even verbally and/or physically abusive behavior.

However, I do not believe that the answer is to eliminate such characters from the stories we tell and worlds we create.

One area that gets a lot of heat for these sorts of characters is otome games- perhaps because they are simulating a relationship with the player. Games like these feel more intimate than watching a movie or reading a book: usually a player uses their real first name in-game to enhance the immersion, voice-actors use dummy-head mics to record sound like they are right beside your ear whispering sweet nothings through your headphones, and choices in the game lead to consequences for the character you play as well as other characters in the game.

The first true otome game I played was Code: Realize, Guardian of Rebirth. It’s an interactive visual novel with a Victorian steampunk aesthetic, excellent Japanese voice acting, and odes to famous historical figures throughout.

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Code: Realize

A common strategy for playing otome games is play the main route with the main love interest first (often he’s featured on the cover, as with this example featuring Arsene Lupin) and then branch out to other romantic partners in subsequent play-throughs.

However, I always gravitate immediately towards the character that (you guessed it) is strange, aloof, mean, temperamental, and/or seemingly sinister. In Code: Realize, I went for Saint-Germain, an intriguing and mysterious white-haired gentleman voiced by my favorite voice actor, Daisuke Hirakawa.

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Saint Germain still image from Code:Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

*Warning:  spoilers ahead!*

My interest in Saint only grew as his complex and tragic story slowly unwound, with seemingly no means of a happy end. Still, I was caught completely off-guard when my first play-through ended abruptly with that is probably considered the worst possible ending you can get in the game: he murdered me.

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Scene from Code Realize, Guardian of Rebirth

I was shocked, bemused, and strangely thrilled by this sudden turn of events. Retracing my steps and choosing different directions on my second play-through, I discovered that he had some solid legitimate reasons for killing my character (really!) and in the less tragic story-lines he is actually a gentle, devoted, caring partner, despite a crushingly brutal past that haunts his every step.

Aside from his bad-ending (murder…) route, Saint is actually not particularly problematic, so I’d like to present a more blatant example of the “reprehensible love interest”…

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Diabolik Lovers, by Rejet

Diabolik Lovers began as an otome visual novel game franchise, but has since been turned into manga, anime, a stage musical, and tons of drama cds and merchandise in Japan. I stumbled upon the subbed anime on Crunchyroll a few years ago, starting a personal infatuation with this vampire series- a series featuring characters that are unabashedly terrible in their treatment of the female protagonist, Yui.

Yui is a Mary-Sue type character often seen in otome series-  aside from some rare moments of tenacity, she is presented as an unremarkable, quiet, polite young lady. She’s a sort of vanilla stand-in for the viewer or player, one which they can easily replace with themselves.

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Her potential suitors, on the other hand, are some very strong personalities. Their dispositions differ widely, ranging from hysterical and possessive to dismissive and toying. What unites all of the Sakamaki boys, though, is the way they all cruelly use and abuse Yui to sate their thirsts for blood and amusement.

Some hardcore fans will argue that by the end of the plotline their favorite boy truly loves Yui and is deeply devoted to her, but let’s be real here: that doesn’t excuse the abuse, and nobody is compelled to watch the Dialover anime or play the Dialover games because of the romance. The average viewer would be repelled by the sadistic, narcissistic, misogynistic and psychopathic actions of the Sakamaki family (some of my friends certainly are). The Sakamaki brothers each in turn physically restrain Yui, attack her verbally and physically (mainly through biting and taking her blood against her will) and deceive her naive and trusting nature unendingly. Each boy has a different demeaning nickname for Yui (Pancake, Sow, Bitch-chan, and so on…). So why are some people, like myself, drawn to these characters who are obviously toxic?

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This scene from Watamote is literally me T-T

This conundrum has fascinated me for some time. Why am I attracted to characters in fantasy that would make me miserable in real life? Is this predilection linked to the dark triad of features that supposedly signal a capable mate, triggering some biological response in me? Am I simply bored by predictable good guys and their chivalry? Is it pure masochism on my part? While not everyone falls for the charms of the bad boy, i’m certainly not unique in this regard, and there are lots of potential reasons someone might be willingly pulled over to the dark side.

Whatever the reason, the truth is that I and many others enjoy these sorts of flawed, dangerous, cruel characters, even when they are at their worst. While I understand the criticisms of series like Diabolik Lovers,  I believe we mustn’t equate a portrayal of an abusive or problematic fictional character with the actions of a person in real life or an endorsement of these kinds of relationships.

It’s okay to enjoy a romantic fantasy, even a dark and twisted one.

I am an advocate for the freedom to read, write, and create without restrictions. No work will be pleasing to everyone, and some may find certain works distasteful, but we must remember that these stories are fictional. When I immerse myself in an otome game, it is my choice, and I can withdraw my consent from the experience at any time by pressing the “power off” button on my Vita. I don’t confuse the tangled relationships in the fictional stories I enjoy with my real life relationships, which are thankfully much less dramatic than the ones I read, watch, and play.


 

Abuse is wrong. Verbal, physical, and sexual abuse have no place in a healthy relationship. Consent is vital. I don’t condone abuse in real life.

The fantasy world of books, movies, and video games are a space where the dangerous sides of love and lust can be explored safely- the cat and mouse game, which is exciting in theory but potentially devastating in real life, can be enjoyed in a make-believe format in which the consumer controls (while enjoying being “controlled” artificially).

We can and should continue to reflect on characters, and each person can determine for themselves what they enjoy or do not enjoy reading, watching, or playing, but there should be no shame for enjoying reprehensible love interests in fiction!

 

Tis the Season for Creepy Christmas Recommendations

If, like me, you find that this cosy season lends itself well to curling up on the couch with a frightfully fascinating read, or hosting a Netflix Noel binge that will haunt your holiday memories for years to come, I have some recommendations for you to consider!

The following are some spooky and recent(ish) seasonal titles that I’ve enjoyed:

 

I am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

Boasting two lovely cover variants, this book is part of my favorite mystery series, featuring young sleuth/chemist Flavia de Luce. While it’s the fourth in the series, this title holds its own as a standalone story as well (but I bet if you read it you will be swiftly enticed to tag along on Flavia’s other adventures!)

This is a quintessential cosy Christmas mystery set in England in the 50’s- the de Luce estate is being used as the setting for a film, and the entire town becomes trapped inside because of a terrible storm. Flavia is determined to catch Father Christmas, but she ends up stumbling upon the body of a famous young actress… DUN DUN DUNNNNNNN

Krampus, directed by Michael Dougherty

Krampus is worth a watch; it’s creepy, campy, and fun for the whole family! Well, depends on the family I guess… at least, my husband (who is a bit of a wimp when it comes to horror movies) had no problem with this freaky and fantastical black comedy. We watched it with a friend a couple of Christmases ago and found it to be a pretty solid, well paced, and satisfying story if you don’t mind a few cheesy over-the-top monsters sprinkled here and there.

Some of the baddies in this movie are impressive feats of puppetry- check out the bonus materials for the film if you can to see some of the behind-the-scenes creativity that went into Krampus.

Hark! The Herald Angels Scream: An Anthology edited by Christopher Golden

This was a seriously fun read. Each story is short and unique- like most anthologies there were some that I enjoyed more than others, but overall it’s a great mix that moves along at a swift pace. A lot of the stories start out with everyday family drama and escalate into true horror, while several go in a more sci-fi or fantasy direction. Some of these tales will give me chills for a while to come!

A Christmas Horror Story, directed by Steve Hoban, Grant Harvey, and Brett Sullivan

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This movie reminds me of Krampus in some ways (aside from the obvious connection visible on the cover)- it’s got some camp for sure, and some moments that prompted my husband and I to make “SKKNKKTCHH” noises of disbelief.  At the same time, the intertwining stories balance action sequences, horrific and humorous themes, and moments both bleak and bright, plus lots of twists and turns.

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: A Midwinter’s Tale (TV series Holiday Special)

 

Hail Satan, it’s here! Dusty and I watched the CAOS holiday special episode last night.

If you haven’t watched season 1 of CAOS yet, here’s your excuse!

While it wasn’t everything i’d hoped for (my fave character didn’t make an appearance *COfatherblackwoodUGH*) and Dustin was concerned about the implications to the plot from what we thought would be a one-off isolated episode, we still enjoyed the para-normally festive atmosphere, the introduction of a cool new character, and the softer side of Zelda that is explored.

Seth’s Christmas Ghost Stories (Series, various authors)

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Ok, I had to edit this blog post to add these because I just came across them at an Indigo bookstore yesterday and I am so in love. The full set of these classic Christmas ghost stories includes 11 titles, although I was only able to find a few scattered throughout the store when I visited. These would make excellent gifts or stocking stuffers because they are tiny and unique, designed and illustrated by celebrated Canadian comic artist Seth. The publisher, Biblioasis, states on their site:

Reading a ghost story on Christmas Eve was once as much a part of traditional Christmas celebrations as turkey, eggnog, and Santa Claus…Trimmed to fit the coziest stocking, they’re perfect gifts for those who want a bit of extra Christmas chill.

 

Bad Taste in (Fictional) Men

Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been fascinated by freaky and evil characters.

I’ve blogged previously about how Elijah Wood was my first crush, and he’s pretty cuddly generally speaking, but bear in mind that I developed that crush only when I saw him with unnaturally pale stabbed-by-the-nazgul-help-me-i’m-dying eyes. I remember that moment, when my adolescent mind was like “oh”.

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^so healthy, so wholesome

It was only downhill from there, my friends.

In most stories the main protagonist is presented as the desirable one, clean-cut and clean of conscience. Yet I’m always drawn to the dark and devilish characters, who are sometimes but not always the cunning asshole characters, the ones who are equipped with a snarling mouth, deeply condescending voice, and heavy lidded eyes full of spite.

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Or, sometimes they are good, well meaning characters who are facing something tragic and/or are severely misunderstood.

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^Brandon Lee as The Crow

Occasionally they are cocky and controlling, complete with lust for power and soulless eyes.

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^Ezra Miller as Kevin in We Need to Talk About Kevin (yeah, I know, totally evil character, I’m not proud that I was attracted to Kevin! But Ezra IS really handsome, so I hope that has a lot to do with it…)

Usually the characters I am interested in are different than the characters my friends (and the general public, I’d think) are drawn to.

In my mid-teens, the tumultuous time of hormones and serious crushes, I fell head over heels for Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow, and his plentiful eyeliner. Subsequently I sought out more of his films and swooned over Edward Scissorhands, Ichabod Crane, and Sweeney Todd. Johnny was my first HARDCORE crush. Perhaps the most hardcore i’ve ever had or will have T-T

While I had a fleeting crush on Ron in Harry Potter, Snape and Lucius had more staying power.

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Criss Angel had a claim to my heart at one point, too. I remember rushing home from theatre practice so I wouldn’t miss Mindfreak (as well as InuYasha, but my anime crushes could fill an other entire blog post, so I won’t go there for now).

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Here are some more that come to mind:

Alan Cumming as Nightcrawler (X2)

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Clancy Brown as The Kurgan (Highlander)

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Ville Valo (H.I.M.)

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Tim Curry as Darkness (Legend)

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Timour Bourtasenkov as The Wolf (Red Riding Hood, 1997)

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I also fell hard for Louis and Lestat, at which point I realized I totally had a thing for vampires- capable fangs, pale skin eclipsed by crimson, captivation by luminescent eyes, an uncontrollable craving that drove them to desperation… freaking gothic euphemisms for sexual expression!

I’ve sought out so many vampire movies, but Interview with the Vampire is something truly special.

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Bonus points for Armand!

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Triple bonus points for QOTD lestat!

Now that i’m into kpop (namely SHINee), the music videos and performances that excite me the most are usually the ones involving aesthetics of darkness:

 

Tricksters and eccentrics often also captivate me:

Michael Sheen as Castor/Zuse from Tron: Legacy

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Heath Ledger as The Joker

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Hiddles as Loki

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^Yet more bonus points for sexy mouthguard!

Heck, even Kenny from Kenny vs Spenny has given me feelings a few times, and Kenny’s whole point is that he’s (sorry Kenny) kind of a mean, obscene, no holds barred asshat!

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^(Deep down I think you’re probably a nice guy though, right Kenny? Reeeeallly deep down? Maybe? >.> )

I say all this with the caveat that I DON’T think it’s a good thing to want to date someone who is actually emotionally manipulative, controlling or otherwise horrible to you. Happily, I  fell in love with my husband, a man who is warm, funny, silly, and kind- the opposite of a creepy, manipulative, controlling jerk!

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^& He puts up with my fangirl ways! ❤

To bring all of this full circle back to Lord of the Rings, here is a word of advice: never tell your friends “you know, there’s just something about Grima Wormtongue”, because they will never let you live it down.

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“Who knows what you have spoken to the darkness,

alone, in the bitter watches of the night?”

 

 

Beasts of Burden- A New Comic Fave!

A lovely woman at the Comic Hunter shop in Charlottetown PEI highly recommended this book, and it was an easy sell for her because I love dogs, I love comics, I love dark and creepy stories, and I love it when someone shares their favorite reads with me!

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If you aren’t into animal stories, I’d suggest you still give this one a chance, because this series is more than meets the eye. While it’s full of sniffing-sleuth shenanigans and humour, the series focuses on arcane paranormal activities, strange creatures, and carnage!

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I felt there was a very good balance between each story, flowing from disturbing tales into more (relatively) lighthearted stuff and with bits of charm and laughs throughout. Jill Thompson’s gorgeous watercolour illustrations are perfect for this comic- together with Dorkin’s writing the characters really come to life, each with their own distinct personalities. I have a fondness for Pugsly!

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Highly recommended!

 

 

*note: this review also appears on my Goodreads 🙂

Librarians, ghosts, mental-health & diverse characters: A Spoiler-Free Review of Archival Quality

Yesterday I was examining our library’s New Book display, as I am wont to do, and I noticed this book:

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Graphic novels are one of my passions, so poked through it and soon realized that this book was SO relevant to my interests that I had to read it immediately.

It’s a book featuring:

  • diverse characters
  • ghosts and creepiness
  • a librarian as the main character
  • reflections on mental health

So, I scarfed it down on my lunch break!

Weir and Steenz have created a compelling mystery buoyed along by a wonderfully morbid setting and interesting characters. The style of the graphic art is lovely, and for that alone I’d be glad to have this book on my shelf.

Capture33^A poignant observation from the beginning of the book: If I had to visualize it, I’d say it makes me think about the walls that protect beach towns from flooding. The water rises and then retracts, and the wall holds, but it leaves line marks. You can tell it’s been there. You know it’s coming back.

There were a few places that the story fell a bit flat (some plot points needed further explanation or illustration, and the ending felt a tad rushed to me) but overall I enjoyed this story.

I give it 4 glaring skulls out of 5!