Posts Tagged ‘storytelling’

My copy of Remina from the library.

I’ve been looking forward to this book getting an official translation and release here in the US for quite some time. And I was so excited when it arrived at the library, I stopped by yesterday afternoon to pick it up rather than wait till Friday. As you can guess, I stayed up late reading it, hoping the story within would give me some pleasant nightmares.

Known as Hellstar Remina in Japan, Remina kicks off with the discovery of a new planet that seemingly appeared from a wormhole several lightyears away. The discovery is hailed as the greatest development in astrophysics ever, and its discoverer, Dr. Oguro, names the new planet after his beloved, beautiful but shy daughter Remina, causing her own star to rise alongside the planet bearing her name. However, planet Remina is moving through space in ways that defy physics and sense. Planets and stars disappear in its wake. And it soon becomes clear that not only is this planet headed to our solar system, but it spells doom for all on the Earth. Especially the young woman who shares a name with it.

Oh man, I don’t think I’ve loved something from Ito this much since Uzumaki!

First off, the concept is well-executed. Ito takes this idea of a planet flying through space towards us, threatening everything we found our worldviews on as well as our lives and our planet, and turns it into this strange, dread-inducing story that somehow manages to ramp up more and more with every page. The planet itself is rather terrifying. There’s so many unknowns about it, and the more you learn and see of Remina, the more questions you have and the more you learn to fear it. It really puts the “cosmic” into cosmic horror.

I was also impressed with the human characters. Remina Oguro, the planet’s namesake, is easy to like. She’s shy and humble, and really only becomes an entertainer because she’s suddenly famous, so she might as well use it to get through life more easily. Which makes the hardship she goes through later so heart wrenching. As the planet bears down on the Earth and no solution seems to work, people begin to wonder if the Oguros, particularly Remina herself, have some hand in bringing the planet to them. In their terror, many abandon reason and decide the only way to save humanity is to kill Remina Oguro herself.

It’s not only an excellent example of cosmic horror–of humans dealing/reacting to their insignificance in the universe in the only ways they know how–as well as making you feel for Remina, but it feels really relevant to our current predicaments. Whether it be COVID-19 or the national election, you see people embracing the most insane conspiracy theories rather than accept an obvious reality. That is illustrated so well in Remina, and I felt a chill reading that.

This shot encapsulates so much of what makes Remina great.

Other aspects of the story worked as well. Ito’s art is amazing, as always. Earth in this manga is portrayed as being a few decades ahead of us a la The Jetsons, flying cars included, and it’s cool to see Ito give Earth this futuristic look. The characters are well-drawn, with our protagonists given a more realistic look while those driven mad by fear or anger are hyper-exaggerated to best portray their emotions. But the best illustrations are the spreads taking two full pages. They portray that cosmic dread so well, I spent quite a bit of time looking at them.

And as for the science aspect of the story, while more pseudoscientific than based in reality, it seems plausible enough to believe in for the moment.

The one aspect I disliked was just how quickly things escalated in the first chapter. Within about thirty or forty pages, things go from excitement and new promises to gloom-and-doom and psychotic, murderous behavior. I would’ve preferred things to move a bit more gradually before getting to that level.

All in all, Remina by Junji Ito earns itself a splendid 4.5 out of 5. It’s terrifying in both its cosmic and human aspects and will be hard to put down for any reader. Pick it up, settle in for a terrifying ride, and never name anything Remina.

Also, someone please adapt this story into a movie or miniseries! Live action or animated, this would be a great spectacle to see on screens. Just lay off the CGI except when absolutely necessary and it could be awesome.

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I think I’ve mentioned how busy I am lately. But things have kind of calmed down a bit, so unless I hear back from a beta reader, figure out how best to edit this story I’m working on, or am lucky enough to get a story accepted somewhere, I know what I’m working on next.

You may recall back in the spring, I started writing what I thought would be a novella, but ended up being a full blown novel. This novel, The Pure World Comes, follows a maid in the Victorian era who goes to work at the manor of a mysterious nobleman, only to find mysterious and terrifying events occurring there. I haven’t touched it since then, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it and how to improve it. And now feels like a good time to get to work on a second draft.

As such, I’ve been prepping to journey back to Queen Victoria’s reign. I’ve been listening to audio books and watching movies and TV shows in that era to get that flowery, polite way of speaking down. I’ve been learning new bits of information, such as etiquette and dating advice (yes, the Victorians had dating advice). And I’ve been reviewing what I already know. After all, this isn’t just Gothic horror (or is it Gothic horror/gaslamp fantasy?) I’m working on. This is historical fiction! And historical fiction requires a lot of work to make the reader feel they’re in that bygone era.

All that being said, I have a few goals with this draft. Obviously, I’ll be looking to clean it up, fix any plot holes I notice, and cut out anything extraneous. However, I have a few other goals. This includes:

Victorian fashion. It was a special kind of extravagant.
  • Improve the dialogue. I feel like when I wrote the first draft, I made my characters speak like modern-day Americans. This draft, I’m going to go through the whole book and make sure they sound like Victorians! Eloquence and flowery language, fewer contractions, a focus on politeness and how to address different classes. Not sure I’m going to mad on the expressiveness like characters in Dracula did (oh my God, even when people were dying, they had to be so wordy and full of praise for people they admire!), though. That might be too silly and melodramatic.
  • Explain the era better. One of the problems I have as a writer is that I forget that not every reader knows the same things as me. So, while I know a lot about Victorian England and can put an odd detail peculiar to the era in, knowing exactly what that means, the average reader won’t. It’s my job as the author to explain the minutiae to the reader, be it the ritual of mourning (click here for more on that), how much a pain in the ass cleaning was, or how ice cream was made back in the day (they used to use cucumbers!).
  • The little details need to be inserted. By this, I want to include more things special to the Victorian era. You write about the 1980s, you include Walkmans and big hair and the latest pop songs. You write about the 1950s, you include Cold War concerns, soda shops in pharmacies, televisions and record players, and early rockers. You write about the Victorian era, you mention steam engines, Mudie’s Lending Library, penny dreadfuls, and so much more. I want to include more of those details in the story, so that others familiar with the era can say, “Aha! That makes it feel authentic.” And trust me, there are a lot of details like that to include.

So, that’s what I’m up to lately. Or what I’m about to get up to, most likely starting this week. With any luck, I can make a damn good draft and get this story one step closer to publication. And believe me, I aim to get this story published, one way or the other. After all, this story includes both my love of the Victorian era and my theory of who Jack the Ripper is! You know I gotta get that out there!

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to dream dark dreams. Possibly taking place at balls with huge dresses and polite conversation. Still dark dreams, though. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

Audible’s audio edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker. Turns out, it was just what the Count ordered.

Everyone has heard of Dracula. Most likely, you’ve seen some version of him in a movie or a TV series .* But how many of you have ever read the original novel? Not many, surprisingly. Besides the fact that Dracula’s melted so thoroughly into pop culture, the source material is a Victorian novel written in the form of diary entries and letters. Even veteran bookworms have to steel themselves for those!

I tired once or twice in my younger years to read Dracula, but found it harder to get through than some Lovecraft stories and had to stop reading. Last month, however, Audible offered its own audio version for free as part of my subscription. I was like, “Maybe I’ll enjoy it more in audio form” and downloaded it.

Turns out, while Audible may have a dumbass exchange policy (and yes, fixing Audible and Amazon’s issues are still works in progress), the audio book was just what I needed. Great cast that brought the story to life and allowed me to get into it while driving or working out or cooking.

And let me tell you, Dracula the novel is good! It’s a slow burn Gothic story that takes its time building up an atmosphere as well as a conflict. By the time the action really gets rolling, the suspense and dread is so well-constructed that you actually feel a bit of worry with every encounter or setback the characters endure.

I also liked how a lot of my expectations were subverted while listening to the novel. Yes, his name’s on the cover, but Dracula himself doesn’t show up that much in the story past the first act. He’s mostly on the edge, only showing himself every now and then. While this may upset some readers who expect the Count to be front and center, it’s actually pretty effective. Whenever Dracula shows up, you know shit is likely to get real, and you’re waiting for that shit to happen.

Contrary to what the movies portray, Dracula is more on the edges and backgrounds than front and center.

Another surprise: while I expected Dr. Van Helsing to be an important character, Mina Harker (nee Murray) really stole the show. She’s easily smarter than most of the other characters, including the doctor, and could almost be seen as a proto-Buffy. The only reason she doesn’t do any slaying is because Victorian mores made it impossible for anyone, including Mina herself, to see her taking on a more active role against Dracula (much to their regret later). Kind of makes you wonder if Stoker was making some sort of feminist statement there. I’d love to see an adaptation where Mina’s the one kicking ass. You know, instead of falling for the Count and/or being totally helpless.

And there were some details in the story that I found fascinating, simply because they never make it into any adaptation. For example, Van Helsing hints that Dracula, for all his power and evil, has a very childlike brain when it comes to planning or deep thinking, and that hinders him when he comes to England. It’s amazing what never gets translated to the adaptations.

All that said, the novel isn’t without flaws. The character of Renfield, Dracula’s faithful madman, is pretty extraneous to the plot. He’s really just a vampire radar, and other than that, he doesn’t do much beyond be crazy and help develop Dr. Seward’s character. Then there’s Quincy Morris, a character from Texas who feels more like a parody of Texans from Western novels than a real Texan. And yeah, I would have liked to see a bit more of Dracula, as well as him being a big bad. That might just be my pop-culture image not lining up with the novel, but can you blame me?

All in all, though, I think Dracula is deserving of a 4.8 out of 5. It’s moody, well-written and worth the read if you find a format that works for you. Hell, I think I might go on a binge of Dracula-related media: some essays on the story’s deeper meaning, some adaptations, that novel co-written by Stoker’s descendant (yes, that’s a real thing). I might also write a story involving Dracula and characters in the novel. Who knows?

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. If you need me, I’m celebrating the first night of Hanukkah with vampires and jelly donuts (weird combination, I know). Until next time, happy holidays and pleasant nightmares!

*Speaking of which, I’m still sad that the 2014 NBC TV show was cancelled after one season. All because they didn’t give it the advertising it deserved. The fact that this might be the first you’ve ever heard of it unfortunately proves my point.

Photo by Dmitry Demidov on Pexels.com

I know it feels weird to interrupt the partying and celebration with discussion of writing. But after today’s news, and after a hell of a week, I feel so energized to write. With that in mind, I finished the outline of my next story today, and I’m looking forward to starting it. So, I shall take a moment of your time to talk about writing.

As I said, I just finished an outline for a new story. And, as you can guess from the title of this post, it’s going to have two protagonists. Or, to be more specific, it’s going to be told from the points-of-views of two protagonists. One is a US Army major who has had his fair share of combat experiences. The other is a thirteen-year-old runaway who just happens to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. I can’t say more than that.

Now, plenty of stories are told from multiple points-of-view. All you have to do is look at the typical bookshelf full of fiction tomes and you’ll find at least three or four books where we see events from the perspectives of two or more characters. But then there are stories where you take for granted that the story is told that way. And then there are stories where you remember how perspectives differed from character to character. Where the multiple POVs is a main feature of the story.

It’s that sort of story I’m aiming to create.

The Bartimaeus books by Jonathan Stroud. Great example of this kind of distinctive-voice storytelling.

Thankfully, I’ve had plenty of teachers over the years with this sort of storytelling. From the (sadly underrated) dark fantasy series The Bartimaeus Trilogy to the literary satirical comedy that is The Falls by George Saunders (read that short story for two separate classes at OSU, and it’s still good), the strong voices of each narrator has a profound impact on the reader. By the time the story ends, you feel like you didn’t just read a story. You read a story and got to know these characters intimately.

That’s what I hope to do. I’m going to be switching between POVs nearly every chapter, and I have to make each protagonist’s voice as distinct as possible. It’s going to be a challenge. I’ve written several stories told from the POVs of multiple characters before. Every author has at least once. But often, it reads like variations of the author’s normal writing voice.

Take IT, for example. There are multiple characters in that story, and many of them get to tell things from their POV. Plus, King narrates things for a few chapters, especially in the early parts of the book when Georgie and the young gay couple are attacked. And it’s a great book with great and memorable characters. But you wouldn’t call every narrator/POV character distinctive from the rest, would you?

Well, that’s my challenge with this story.* With any luck, I can take what I’ve learned from the stories I’ve read and apply it to this next story. Thankfully, there’s only two protagonists, so that should help. (Actually, that might be an important ingredient, having only two leads. Keeps things simpler).

But all that starts tomorrow. For now though, I’m off to shower, pour some wine, watch a scary movie, and dance to “The Touch” by Stan Bush (great song from the 1980s to listen to right now). Until next time, my Followers of Fear, party hard and pleasant nightmares.

What are your tips for creating multiple, distinct narrators? What stories do you think of that do this well? Let’s discuss.

*That, and keeping this story from becoming the length of a novel, but one problem at a time.

The Hunger, looking rather snug with my spices and seasonings.

After reading The Deep earlier this year, it was only a matter of time before I read Alma Katsu’s other book, The Hunger, which follows the Donner Party. Which, if you don’t know who that is, were a caravan of settlers who got snowed in the mountains of California in the winter of 1846-47 and had to resort to cannibalism to survive.* And this October, I made it part of my Halloween reading.

As I said above, The Hunger follows the Donner Party, a pioneering wagon train led by George Donner and his family as they head west to California. However, this isn’t a simple retelling of a horrific tale. Something’s following the wagon train, picking off members. As tensions rise and odd events pile up, it becomes clear that’s something afoot. And it could be human. It could be animal. Or it could be something man has never classified before. Whatever it is, one thing’s for sure: it is very, very hungry.

The Deep was good, but The Hunger was even better. It’s a slow burn, but what’s burning away isn’t just the plot, but the sense of ease. As you go further along in the story and more strange and terrible events occur, you start to feel this awful tension. You’re going to get to the inevitable, but it’s not going to be what you expected. And you have no idea what’s going to happen while on your way there.

Speaking of which, the twist on what the source of the terror was at the end was great. I wasn’t expecting it, which is saying something for me. And when I finally did get an idea of what it was, it left me extremely satisfied. As well as worried about what could happen if such a thing were to exist in this world, but I think that was what the author was going for.

I also liked the characters. Alma Katsu has a talent for taking these huge casts and giving the majority of them enough development to make you like them. George Stanton, trying to outrun his past; Tamsen Donner, suspected of being a witch, when all she wants is to fill a great void within her; Elitha Donner, who hears voices no one else does; Mary Graves, who wants adventure in the great wide somewhere; and Edwin Bryant, who knows so much more than he lets on. These, and others, are characters I came to care for, even as I knew what was likely to happen to them.

There were a couple of downsides to this novel. One was that there were chapters where the reader was taken to significant events in the characters’ pasts, events which likely had an effect on them joining the wagon train. Some of these were relevant to the story and fleshed things out, but a few, especially earlier chapters like this, felt unnecessary.

That, and if you’re here for the actual Donner tale, it should be obvious by now that The Hunger isn’t that. Not a downside, just a different kind of horror based on a real-life horror.

All in all, The Hunger by Alma Katsu is a deliciously terrifying novel. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m granting it a 4.7. Grab a copy, order a steak dinner, and get ready for a slow ride across the US to the land of frights. Trust me, you won’t regret it.

*When I would describe this plot to people who asked me what I was reading, I would follow it up by going, “Om nom nom nom nom!” Totally worth the reactions I got.

I’ll admit it: I haven’t read any of Clive Barker’s books yet. I’ve seen some of the film adaptations, especially Hellraiser, but not his books. I know, shame on me. What kind of horror fan am I? Well, I’ve downloaded the first volume of Books of Blood on audio book.

But before that, I watched a new adaptation of his famous collections of short stories, Books of Blood on Hulu, which tells three interconnected tales involving the titular book.

Now, I’m not usually one for anthology movies. Or maybe I just haven’t shown enough of an interest. But this one was really good. The first two stories are very well-written, particularly the first one, “Jenna.”* The settings look great, and the acting never feels hammy or terrible. What special effects there are, they’re done so nothing looks silly or fake.

And of course, there’s blood. Lots and lots of blood. Enough to not make a liar out of the title.

That being said, there are a couple of negatives to the film. While there’s plenty of scary imagery and tense moments, there wasn’t any point until near the very end where I felt frightened. And while the stories were well-written, you could see the twists for most of them coming and the last one, “Bennett,” had no surprises at all.

And while the stories were interconnected, I wasn’t really satisfied with how a couple of them were connected. I would have liked more emphasis on the connections and how each story could play into and influence each other.

But on the whole, Books of Blood is a decent enough adaptation of the source material. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’ll give it a 4. If you like horror anthology movies, this might be something to put onto your watchlist.

Just be careful not to watch it while drinking red wine, tea made for you by someone else, or stay at a bed and breakfast while watching it.

*Not sure if any of the stories in the film are based on stories in the books, but I think I’ll find that out if I enjoy Volume One and decide to continue with the series.

Robert Johnson’s studio portrait, one of the few verified photos of him.

I come across the most fascinating subjects sometimes, and when I do, I just have to learn as much as I can about them. Especially if I think I can write a story around them. Robert Johnson is one of those subjects. And if you haven’t heard of him before, that’s a damn shame. Because guess what? Robert Johnson may be the most enigmatic figure in American music history, as well as blues history.

So if you haven’t heard of Robert Johnson, let me give you the quick summary: Robert Johnson was a blues singer who traveled around the American South during the Great Depression. He recorded several songs and two albums in the two years before he died in 1938 in obscurity. However, he made a comeback in the 1960s, influencing musicians like Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones.

There is very little knowledge about him as a person. Very few photos of Johnson exist, and everything we do know is from scant records and recollections. No one’s sure how he died, they just know that he did at the young age of 27 (my age at the moment, BTW). All this has led to a huge amount of speculation and mythology around the man. The most famous myth is that Johnson sold his soul to the Devil at a crossroads for talent.

If you’re paying attention this far down and you know me well, you can guess this was why I showed interest in Johnson in the first place.

But let me tell you, the Crossroads myth, as it’s known, only scratches the surface of this mysterious man. I’ve listened to all his music several times (which, by the way, is excellent), watched one biographical video on him, listened to one audio book biography about him and am in the middle of another (also on audio), and watched the movie Crossroads which heavily references Johnson and his legend (it was a lot better than I thought it would be). I’ve been down the rabbit hole on Johnson, and there’s so much more to him than just a myth about the Devil.

If you’ve ever wondered where the crossroads myth in Supernatural is from, Robert Johnson’s legend is an influence.

Robert Johnson was a man whose life was defined by music and impermanence. He was playing from a young age, and traveled all over the United States, and maybe even to Canada. He invented new guitar practices, some of which are still used by artists today. His relationships were often short and fleeting, and even the people closest to him, except maybe his family, weren’t entirely sure who he was. He was such an enigma, his death wasn’t officially confirmed until thirty years after the fact, when his death certificate was found by a researcher. His cause of death is listed as “Unknown Causes.” Even his gravesite is in dispute.

All this and more, from the legends around Johnson, to how he became the influence he is today, and of course his music, make him someone I want to learn more about.

And did I mention his music is wonderful? Because it is. I can put it on in the background and just zone out while I cook or work or write. Yeah, it has an older sound, but there’s something about Johnson’s playing and voice that stick with you, gets into your soul.

And I’ll keep listening to him and researching him for a while yet. I’m still learning what I can about him, and I haven’t figured out what sort of story I want to write around Johnson. I don’t want to write about the Crossroads myth, because that’s been done to death. I was going to do something set in the Cthulhu Mythos, but as much fun as playing in that sandbox is, I want to do more than play with someone else’s toys.

Well, I’m sure I’ll come up with something. May be today, may be next year, but I’ll come up with something. And in the meantime, I’ll keep writing and listening to Robert Johnson’s small but beautiful discography.

And if this makes you want to listen to and/or learn more about Johnson, I recommend the Centennial Collection, which contains the clearest sound of Johnson’s music. I also recommend Crossroads by Tom Graves and Up Jumped the Devil by Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow if you want in-depth biography on him. But first, you should listen to probably Johnson’s most famous song, as well as one of the songs that feeds the Crossroads myth, “Cross Road Blues:”

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I hope this made you interested in learning more on Johnson. Now, if you need me, I’ll be working on Toyland while watching a debate (Evil Dead original vs. remake. It’s going to get bloody).

Until next time, pleasant nightmares!

At the time I’m writing this, I’m in the middle of Chapter Ten of the second draft of Toyland, the Gothic horror/dark fantasy novel I finished earlier this year. And let me tell you, as I work through each chapter and make my edits, I find myself in awe.

What the hell was I thinking when I wrote some of these chapters?

Anyway, for those of you who aren’t familiar with Toyland, it takes place in an Ohio boarding school and follows students who become aware of a ghost haunting their school, one obsessed with a children’s book and that may be harming some of the students. Yeah, bonkers premise, but I make it work. At least, I’m hoping to make it work. Hence why I’m editing it rather than publishing it right here and now.

And I’m glad I am editing it. Because I cannot believe some of the shit I wrote. I mean, yeah, I was writing the early chapters during NaNoWriMo last year, so there’s a good chance I was up late and either sleep-deprived or hopped up on caffeine (or, if it was a weekend, buzzed). But still, some of these lines! What was I thinking? 

For example, in Chapter One, my protagonist Mason heads to the men’s rooms in the dorms. Here’s how I describe it:

Gabe and Mason entered, the door hinges squealing behind them. To the left were the stalls and sinks for the normal bodily functions.

“Normal bodily functions.” As opposed to what, Rami? Are there other kinds of stalls and sinks in bathrooms? Just what the fuck were you talking about?

And there are other passages like that, sprinkled here and there. Every time I come across them, I wonder what my state of mind was when I wrote them. Either that, or if I was just that desperate to make a fifty thousand word count by the end of November.

And in Chapter Ten, the one I’m working on now, I did something incredibly stupid the first time around. Mason the protagonist is about to reveal to a classmate of his about some of the strange events in the school. The story then fast-forwards to hours later, where Mason recalls the conversation in flashback. 

When I read that, I was taken out of the story for a second. I imagine potential readers will have that same experience as well. So now I’m busy rewriting Chapter Ten so that it flows better and doesn’t take the reader out of the story. It’s a pain in the ass, and I’m annoyed at myself for writing the story that way. What the hell was I thinking?

Well, that’s where the story is right now. The good news is, as I get further along, I find fewer of these problems. Hopefully that stays true for the rest of the second draft. But man, until I get to that point, I’m going to be looking back and shaking my head at those sections. 

So, that’s where I stand with Toyland, my Followers of Fear. I’ll keep working on it until probably October 1st, when I have to edit a couple of short stories for some publications that will be opening for submissions soon. But after that, barring anything else coming up, I’ll be back at work on Toyland and hopefully have it done by Halloween. Wish me luck.

Also, to my fellow Jews, tonight starts Yom Kippur, where we atone for our past transgressions and pray and fast for forgiveness. To you, I wish an easy fast and Gmar Chatimah Tovah, or “a good sealing” in the Book of Life. As well as a pizza party after the fast ends (wink).

Until next time, Followers of Fear, stay safe and pleasant nightmares.

One thing I can always count on with a Junji Ito collection. The artwork is always fantastic. And this latest collection of short stories, Venus in the Blind Spot, is full of some of his best work.

Now if you’re unfamiliar with Junji Ito, he’s a manga artist who specializes in horror, and is well known for illustrations that terrify and creep the hell out of readers. Hell, sometimes I don’t feel comfortable leaving his books on the night stand beside my bed without something to cover them, the illustrations are that terrifying. I’ve read quite a bit of his work, and I’ve reviewed some of those stories and collections here on the blog, such as his adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and his masterpiece Uzumaki (click here and here for those reviews).

His latest publication in North America is Venus in the Blind Spot, and I loved just about every story within. The majority of the stories revolve around obsession, especially romantic or sexual obsession. The titular story follows the members of a UFO society as their obsession with the founder’s daughter becomes skewed after they lose the ability to see her. There’s also the fan-favorite The Enigma at Amigara Fault,  which I’ve read before but was excited to find again. It revolves around finding something strange that’s just right for you, and the insanity of not claiming it, of not finding out its secret. Even if by doing so, you potentially doom yourself.

My favorite stories were Billions Alone, a creepy body horror story about people being found sewn together that’s perfect for the current pandemic, and The Licking Woman, a weird story about a wild woman whose monstrous tongue contains a poison that kills all whom it licks.

And like I said, the artwork is fantastic. Ito-sensei’s work is never concerned with looking visually appealing like other visual artists. Rather, he wants to provoke a reaction. Fear, disgust, horror, unease. He wants to disturb your inner Zen. You can see this especially with three of the stories which are adaptations of works by other authors. Yes, they’re not his stories, but he puts his all into making sure his art brings out all the terror contained within the words.

Famous image from “The Enigma of Amigara Fault,” which is some of Ito’s work at its best.

That being said, the collection isn’t perfect. While there are colored pages and colored panels, they show up inconsistently, and it’s a little annoying. Sometimes I can’t even tell they’re colored, as I’m red-green colorblind and the panels use colors I can’t always see. One of the stories, The Principal Post, is one I’ve never really liked nor understood why it was published. And there’s a story about Ito-sensei himself and the influence of another artist, Kazuo Umezu,* on his work that I liked, but which might annoy fans seeking another scary story.

But all in all, Venus in the Blind Spot is an awesome, freaky and unsettling collection. On a scale of 1 to 5, I’d give it a 4.5. If you want to see a Junji Ito collection at its best, you can’t go wrong here. Open it up and get ready to experience the madness.

Are you a fan of Ito-sensei’s work? Did you read this collection? Are you excited for all the adaptations of his work in production? Let’s discuss.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m off to work on my own stories and see if I can’t disturb someone else’s inner Zen. Until next time, stay safe, pleasant nightmares and why is there a woman with a giant tongue outside my building?

*Highly recommend his series The Drifting Classroom. It’s like a sci-fi version of Lord of the Flies, and just as brutal.

It’s been a rough week, so I was looking forward to ending it with a horror movie that’s been on quite a few people’s radars since the first trailer dropped. I mean, it has the producers of Get Out and Us on board! Even if Jordan Peele wasn’t part of the project (yeah, I know, I thought that meant he was too, but he’s not), it looked like it was going to be uber-scary and tackle difficult issues that have been plaguing America for centuries. How could I not watch?

Antebellum begins in what appears to be a Civil War-era plantation, and follows a slave called Eden. Suffering from the worst brutalities from her captors, she must find some way out of the nightmare she’s in. But not all is as it seems. What does what’s happening have to do with a woman in the modern era and an almost identical face named Veronica Henley? In the answer lies an evil dating back to America’s bygone days, one built on power, race and cruelty.

I think the film’s biggest issue is that, because of the creative decisions of the filmmakers, its plot is confusing. We start out on the plantation, then it changes to the modern day without any warning, then back again. It’s like two different movies have been edited together, one a historical horror film, the other a slightly supernatural horror film involving contemporary racism. It’s confusing.

And when the big twist of the story is revealed, it took me two or three minutes to wrap my head around it. And I’m the kind of guy who can usually guess a major plot point in a horror movie or at the very least wrap my head around a difficult concept rather quickly. If I’m having trouble, imagine what the casual viewer is going to have.

That being said, the rest of the film is decent. The sections on the plantation during the first third were especially horrifying for their brutality, and the second third had an uncanny, creepy feeling that balanced psychological and supernatural horror. The climax is exciting enough, and the actors are great at portraying pain, terror, hatred, sadistic joy and grief when called upon. Props especially to star Janelle Monae as the lead. The costumes and sets are also amazing, with everything looking like it might on an actual plantation in the mid-19th century. Except for the outdoor furnace, which gave me Holocaust vibes and scared me down to the core of my Jewish soul.

And like Get Out, Antebellum explores its main theme of racism and slavery in an angle that wasn’t expected and made me think. Especially after seeing the documentary 13th and learning how the modern prison system is very much a form of slavery.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I’m giving Antebellum a 3.5. How it tells its story does bring down the score, but there’s plenty there to keep you invested in the film. And if you need some new horror right now, this will scratch the itch for you. Just don’t expect Get Out or Us levels of terror or deep-thinking.

 

One more thing before I sign off, my Followers of Fear. Tonight begins Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish community prays for our past sins to be forgiven, seek to forgive and be forgiven by our peers, and hopefully have a sweet new year. I have no idea what made this past year such a horror, but I’m hoping the next one will be better, and that the news of Justice Ginsburg’s death is the last in a year’s worth of horrors.

Shabbat Shalom and L’Shana Tovah (that basically means Happy New Year) to you, my Followers of Fear. May we all be inscribed in the Book of Life, and may the horrors of last year not follow us into the new one.