Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: spooky scary comics

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reviewing these comics here.

I love horror and I love comics. I love it when a book can visually creep me out. There are a good number of horror-y titles on the list this year. This isn’t all of them, but all of these are supernatural in some way.

afterlifewitharchie

Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale

Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, writer

Francesco Francavilla, illustrator

Archie Comics

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Low. Archie comics aren’t really my bag, but I don’t actively dislike them.

My Reality: I loved this! Francavilla does a more realistic take on Archie and the gang and that somehow makes me take them more seriously as characters. Maybe because I don’t find bulbous hair attractive. Everyone is in deep shadow and the palette is strictly goth. It’s one of those zombie comics where it’s Halloween so the truth takes a bit to sink in, and then it becomes a bit of a claustrophobic survival story (with teen drama), so I’m all over it.

Will Teens Like it?: I bet they totally would. I’d bet at least a dollar.

Is it “great” for teens?: This has the qualities of GGNT greatness: great art, fun story, a bit of depth, something that makes it stand out from its genre or typical audience, and teen appeal.

Art Taste:

Afterlife-With-Archie-4

bad-machinery-v2

bad-machinery-v3

Bad Machinery V.2: The Case of the Good Boy

Bad Machinery V.3: The Case of the Simple Soul.

John Allison, writer & illustrator

Oni Press

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Well, I knew what I was getting into because I’m a regular reader of the webcomics, so… neutral? But wait, high, because I am a fan.

My Reality: Reading these comics collected really brings out how funny and charming they are. One of the best things about Allison’s writing and drawing style is is control over whimsy – it’s always a bit weird and tender instead of being too sweet or, god forbid, wacky. Although the strips are written to be enjoyed thrice a week and thus have punchlines at the end, the story reads as a whole and it is clear that Allison has created these new stories with the collection in mind. The stories always involve creatures or some kind of supernatural occurrence, but with a light touch. The focus is much more on the team of young mystery solvers finding more out about themselves and their town via the mystery than about being terrified or haunted.

Will teens like it?: The books are published in biiiig floppy editions so hopefully teens will pick one up and be sucked in.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think so. I think it’s great for you, too.

Art Taste: If you like this, I highly recommend reading the archives and ongoing comics at Scary Go Round.

shaunashousejohnallison

graveyard-book-1

graveyard-book-2

The Graveyard Book, Volume 1

The Graveyard Book, Volume 2

written by Neil Gaiman

adapted by P. Craig Russell

Kevin Nowlan, Scott Hampton, P. Craig Russell, Galen Showman, David LaFuente, Tony Harris, Jill Thompson & Stephen B. Scott, illustrators

HarperCollins

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Medium. I liked the Coraline adaptation. (In fact, I don’t think I’ve read Coraline proper yet).

My Reality: I thought this was really solid. Most of the artists worked in complementary styles, except for changes during parts of the story where the narrative takes a side journey, and the art style changes to reflect that. (And one artist that makes everyone look weirdly Hobbity). The text adaptation retains Gaiman’s narrator and warm tone, and it still feels like a story that’s been told and retold and fished out of the collective unconscious by Gaiman. A storyteller’s story. So that even though it’s about murder and ghosts and goblins, it’s about life and it feels cosy. The only thing I really don’t like is the cover of the second book. Bod looks posed, and that scene doesn’t happen, and also it’s a bit of a spoiler.

Will Teens Like it?: Teens will be into this, especially if they know it’s by the Coraline guy.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think it’s a very successful adaptation and that makes it great for me.

Art Taste: I particularly liked the chapter openers, as seen here:

graveyard-book-chapter-open

cemeterygirl

Cemetery Girl Book One: The Pretenders.

Charlaine Harris and Christopher Golden, writers

Don Kramer and ??? Rudoni, illustrators

InkLit

Expectation/Anticipation Level: Low, though I did read all of the Sookie Stackhouse novels. I haven’t had much luck finding good comic books that seem to be made just to trade on the name of an author who got famous writing prose books.

My Reality: It was funny to go from one good comic about a boy who lives in a graveyard to a bad comic about a girl who lives in a graveyard. It really brought out the reasons why Cemetery Girl failed so much. Art? Uninspired and unsure about the proportions of its main character. Some of the backgrounds looked like photos with the comic book filter on them. The story moved sloooowly, and was packed with characters who were one note: evil teenagers, folksy cemetery groundskeeper and neighbor, martyred ghost, etc. Calexa is really on top of waking up with no idea who she is and immediately parkouring around the neighborhood performing B & Es in order to get food and clothes, which makes it seem like she’s street smart and practical, but then she witnesses a murder and is handed proof of the murder that she could easily drop off at the police station or give to the groundskeeper or something and she dithers fully half of the book away not doing that because she’s scared that somehow the people who left her in the cemetery will find out. Not fun, not even easy trashy fun.

Will teens like it?: I’m sure there are teens who would like this; I won’t hold it against them.

Is it “great” for teens?: Nope.

Art Taste: I’m going to post 2 images so you can compare how Calexa’s proportions change from page to page.

lying down, looks normal

lying down, looks normal

cemeterygirl2

Standing up, has lost a couple inches on her legs, also her pants are baggy now.

baltimorev3

Baltimore vol 3: A Passing Stranger and Other Stories.

Mike Mignola and Christopher Golden, writers

Ben Stenbeck, illustrator Dave Stewart,colorist

Dark Horse

Expectation/Anticipation Levels: I think the first volume of this comic was on a previous GGNT list on one of my volunteer years, and I remember liking it.

My Reality: How weird that Christopher Golden was involved in Cemetery Girl and Baltimore: A Passing Stranger and I liked the latter and not the former. Charlaine Harris, the onus falls on you. Anyway. This is a nice little collection of short stories set in the alternate historical timeline of the Lord Baltimore universe, where vampires have laid waste to Europe in WWII. Baltimore is chasing the big baddie vampire and he meets some weird things along the way. These aren’t life changing stories, but they are nice little moody treats of the fantastical. Some alternate histories feel like they’re always poking you in the ribs, saying “See what I DID there??!!?!?!?” and this one does not. The way things are going feels appropriate and believable.

Will Teens Like it? Yes, especially if they like The Walking Dead/Game of Thrones

Is it “great” for teens?: It wouldn’t be on my top ten, but I think it’s a decent book. It’s not written FOR teens, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not appropriate and enjoyable for them.

Art Taste:

bdlr1p3

YA Literary Halloween Costumes I Want To See

A List of YA & Children’s Lit Characters I’d Love To See Brought To Life This Halloween!

Effie Trinket Claudia Kishi

by REBECCA, October 30, 2013

Happy almost-Halloween! There really is nothing quite as awesome as cruising a Halloween party and seeing recognizable characters from your favorite YA books. Since I feel this way, it will be no surprise that two of my favorite times dressing up have been YA characters. Let’s start with them.

1. Harriet, from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

Harriet the Spy Louise Fitzhugh Harriet the Spy

I went as Harriet junior or senior year of college—Tessa, do you remember which? It’s such an easy costume: red hoodie, jeans, black sneaks, glasses, and the notebook and you’re set. Then all you need to do is wander around the party writing snarky and hilarious things about people in your notebook and hope nobody “accidentally” reads it and shuns you as a result. When I was Harriet, Tessa and I wrote drunken hilarious things back and forth to each other, such as haiku about how hungry we were. It’s a classic, but it’s never old.

2. Your greaser of choice, from The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

The Outsiders S.E. Hinton the outsiders

Two years ago, my sister and I went as greasers, complete with an elaborate sororal backstory about our dead parents and our deadbeat third sister who wouldn’t come to the rumble—ahem, party. Another super easy, but very recognizable costume. All you need are some too-short jeans, any color t-shirt, a jean or leather jacket, and some hair product. Blondes who hate hair product, never fear: though Matt Dylan is decidedly brunet, in the book, Dally is “towheaded,” and his hair flies free. Mofo is so badass he doesn’t even need hair grease to be known as a greaser.

3. Claudia Kishi, from The Baby-sitters Club books by Ann M. Martin

The Baby-Sitters Club Ann M. Martin  Claudia Kishi

Claudia was always my favorite of the club. A junk food addict who loves fashion—what possible better costume? Eating ALL the candy will be totally in character for Claudia. This is a great one because there are so many amazing outfit descriptions to choose from throughout the series. As long as you rock a long, brown side-pony and graphic earrings, any YA fan worth their salt will recognize you in a hot second. And if they can’t, they’re not worth the newsprint their Baby-Sitters Club books are printed on. This heroic blogger celebrates all of Claudia’s amazing outfits, so take your pick and start crafting your clay animals for earrings now!

4. Effie Trinket, from The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

katniss-effie-reaping Effie trinket

Why on earth would I want to dress as Katniss when I could go as Effie! No, obviously there will be a lot of Katnisses running around shooting stuff this year, and it’ll be awesome. But if I had planned ahead at all, I would totally be going as Effie this year. Really, all you’d need is a loud-color outfit, a bunch of fake flowers and a scarf you could make a collar with, and a dab hand with the ole maquillage. Love it.

5. Miss New Mexico, from Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty Queens Libba Bray

When the plane carrying 50 beauty queens crashes on an island, the contestants are all wearing their formal dresses. They end up in various stages of tatterdemalion from the crash, not to mention blood-stained and bedraggled. But the best is poor Miss New Mexico:

“‘My head kinda hurts,’ Miss New Mexico said. Several of the girls gasped. Half of an airline serving tray was lodged in her forehead, forming a small, blue canopy over her eyes.

‘What is it?’ Miss New Mexico checked to make sure her bra straps weren’t showing” (8).

So, you will have the delight of ripping and bloodying a dress, making yourself a New Mexico sash, and finding some way to seem like you’ve been impaled with an airline tray. I can’t think of a better way to spend Halloween!

6. Eloise, from Eloise by Kay Thompson and Hillary Knight

Eloise Kay Thompson Eloise Kay Thompson

A short, pleated black skirt, black suspenders, white knee socks, black Mary Janes, and a white short-sleeved shirt with puffed sleeves. Oh, and pink bloomers (don’t forget the bloomers). Messy blonde hair and a red bow. A willingness to make a mess and be adorable and spunky while doing it. Find those things, along with your “Inner Resources” and an encyclopedic knowledge of the Plaza hotel, and you can own Eloise this Halloween.

7. Weetzie Bat, from Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia Block

Weetzie has a “bleach-blonde flat-top,” “pink Harlequin sunglasses, strawberry lipstick, earrings dangling charms, and sugar-frosted eyeshadow.” She wears “old fifties taffeta dresses covered with poetry written in glitter,” “dresses made of kids’ sheets printed with pink piglets or Disney characters,” “sunglasses and leather, jewels and skeletons, rosaries and fur and silver.”

8. Nancy Drew, from Nancy Drew by Carolyn Keene

Nancy Drew Carolyn Keene Nancy Drew Carolyn Keene

With delightfully high-waisted clothing in style right now, I feel sure that it wouldn’t be too hard to find some 1930s-ish Nancy Drew garb, especially if you can capture her penchant for acid greens. Now, just carry a flashlight and you’re good to go.

9. Max, from Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak Max Where the Wild Things Are

I would lose my shit with delight if someone showed up as Max! I don’t think it’d be that hard, actually. You’d need long underwear and some of those wolf slippers. Then you could make the head piece with ears pretty easily. And you can make yourself a crown to put on halfway through the party when you get crowned king of the wild things!

10. Will Grayson & will grayson, from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green & David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan (get it?)

This is a costume à deux. It’s subtle, so you might need name tags, but if you meet anyone who recognizes you right away you know they’re a friend for life. Really, you could wear any combo of jeans, tee-shirt, and sneakers, so long as you have Will Grayson and will grayson, respectively, on you. If it helps, though, Will Grayson is tall, with short, messy hair, and in the play, the character based on him wears his uniform: khakis, and a short-sleeve plaid button-down, both of which are very wrinkled, and black Converse. will grayson is small and blond and wearing a tee-shirt with a picture of a robot made out of duct tape on it, which says robotboy when the twain meet. You could add a Tiny Cooper, if you’re a threesome.

HAPPIEST OF YA HALLOWEENS TO YOU, MY FRIENDS! If you’re dressing in any kind of YA-related costume, tell me about it in the comments!

The Top 10 Greatest Halloween Episodes of TV!

My So-Called Life Halloween My So-Called Life Halloween

by REBECCA, October 16, 2013

I love holiday episodes of television. The fantasy world on the screen intersects with our mundane world during those episodes, as if the pull of shared seasonal moments is too strong to resist. Since I don’t usually watch tv in real time, though, one of my favorite things to do in the weeks leading up to Halloween is watch Halloween-themed episodes. Whereas Christmas and Chanukah and Thanksgiving episodes tend to revolve around family dynamics and issues, Halloween is nearly always a friend-centric holiday, making it perfect for Young Adult tv shows. But, since Halloween is the ultimate day of becoming someone we’re not, especially in terms of dressing up and acting childlike, it creates perfect opportunities for a YA feel even in adult tv shows.

1. My So-Called Life, “Halloween” (1994).

My So-Called Life HalloweenThis is, without a doubt, my favorite Halloween episode of tv; it really hits all the high points. Characters’ costume choices reveal insights into their personalities, like when Rickie decides to dress as Brian Crakow and comments, “I thought this Halloweek I’d be everyone else.” There’s an actual supernatural happening, in which Angela is visited by the ghost of Nicky Driscoll, a greaser who died in the gym on Halloween in 1961 (she got his book in English class, where every good haunting is born). Then there’s the parents’ humiliating storyline where Patty (gag me with a spoon I hate her) dresses as Rapunzel, and the poignant one where Danielle dresses as Angela because she can’t decide whether she wants to understand her or mock her. All in all, it’s grade-A Halloween.

2. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “Halloween” (Season 2, 1997).

Buffy the Vampire Slayer halloweenBuffy and her friends get their Halloween costumes from Ethan Rayne’s shop, and the costumes are magicked so that each one turns into the costume she’s wearing. Buffy is a meek damsel, so she can’t do anything; Zander is an army guy who, in an amusing twist later in the season, still remembers some of his army training; Willow is a ghost. This is a fun literalization of the idea that people become what they dress like. Also it’s fun to see Buffy, who’s usually such a badass, be scared of things, while Zander, who’s usually scared, gets to be capable.

3. Supernatural, “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Sam Winchester” (Season 4, 2008).

SupernaturalThe day before Halloween, Sam and Dean are investigating a man who dies from swallowing razor blades in candy and a girl who was bobbing for apples at a costume party and was boiled by the water, and realize they’re dealing with a witch who’s trying to raise Samhain. When Sam and Dean confiscate the dude’s candy to check it for supernaturaly things, there’s an amusing gag in which Dean eats ALL the candy. A fun episode and, bonus, it guest stars Ashley Benson, of Pretty Little Liars fame, a very spooky show—and, Ashley Benson is almost the same name as Amber Benson, who stars in Buffy. See what happens on Halloween?!

4. Roseanne, “BOO” (Season 2, 1989).

roseanne halloweenRoseanne did a Halloween episode every season after this one, god bless it, and they’re all pretty awesome. This is one show that’s an exception to the Halloween-is-for-friends theme I mentioned above—Roseanne and Dan are both obsessed with Halloween, and they spend the episode trying to one-up each other on pranks. They have their living room set up as a tunnel of terror for trick-or-treaters, but really Roseanne and Dan are mostly trying to scare each other. Roseanne forever!

5. Bones, “Mummy in the Maze” (Season 3, 2007).

BonesBones and Booth are investigating a mummy found in a haunted maze. Soon, another body shows up, and it seems like the person has been scared to death. The whole gang dresses in costume for the annual Jeffersonian Halloween party, so when Booth and Bones are called away to try and find a missing girl, they have to go in costume. Booth is a nerd squint and Bones is Wonder Woman and it’s amazing. Favorite moment: Booth and other FBI types are trying complicated systems to explain how to find the mummy in the maze and Booth is getting super annoyed. Then Booth realizes the maze is made of hay bales and just knocks the whole thing over.

6. Will & Grace, “Boo, Humbug” (Season 1, 1998).

Will & GraceSuch classic shenanigans! Jack begs Will and Grace to go with him to the Village, but they hate Halloween and are planning on having an Ingmar Bergman film festival at home. Jack begs Karen to go with him instead (and I think this is the episode where they really become friends—one of the greater tv alliances in recorded history). Just as W&G are pouring the wine, Will’s boss shows up and dumps his kids on Will, so he and Grace have to take them trick-or-treating. Hijinks ensue and W&G rediscover their childlike glee. Meanwhile, everyone in the Village thinks that Karen is a drag queen and worships her, which is really only her due.

7. Pushing Daisies, “Girth” (Season 1, 2007).

Pushing Daisies "Girth"Really, nearly every episode of this delight kind of seem like Halloween. Ned (Lee Pace, I love you) hates Halloween, because as a child it was the day he found out that his father had gotten a new family after sending him to boarding school. Emerson and Olive are on the case of a ghost-jockey and ghost-horse that are haunting other jockeys. Turns out, Olive used to be a jockey (amazing backstory choice since Kristin Chenoweth is so tiny) and is therefore in danger of being killed too. In a poignant ending, Chuck dresses up as a ghost and trick-or-treats at the aunts’ house. God, why is this show SO good?!

8. Grey’s Anatomy, “Haunt You Every Day” (Season 4, 2007).

Grey's AnatomyGrey’s Anatomy doesn’t usually do much in the way of Halloween episodes, but I really like this one because it’s more about a Halloween feeling than the holiday itself, although, there are some amazing Halloween moments, including when the boy born without ears goes to Sloan and trick-or-treats for ear surgery. In this episode, Meredith is carrying around her mother’s ashes in a bag and is trying to decide what to do with them, but can’t make the decision—her mother haunts the halls of the hospital and the decisions Meredith makes. The theme of haunting continues in a particularly creepy and interesting instance of a man who is convinced that his foot is “dead” and needs to be cut off.

9. Gossip Girl, “The Handmaiden’s Tale” (Season 1, 2007).

Gossip Girl The Handmaiden's TaleRemember when Blair and Nate were still dating! Well, Blair has arranged an elaborate scavenger hunt at the Halloween Masked Ball. Because it is a MASKED BALL, naturally cases of mistaken identity and disguise abound. In a show where appearance is everything, the opportunity to be mistaken for someone else is a dangerous one, and one that creates opportunities for people who are willing to take them. Bwah ha ha.

10. Beavis and Butthead, “Bungholio: Lord of the Harvest (Butt-O-Ween)” (Season 6, 1995).

Beavis and ButtheadI just found myself transported back to the moment I first saw Beavis and Butthead (sixth grade) and everyone (well, everyone whose parents didn’t immediately force them to stop watching it) was talking about it at school the next day, trying to figure out if they were using real words or just making stuff up. Sadly, my poor mother waged an epically losing battle against the phrase “that sucks” for years, which she can lay firmly at Beavis and Butthead‘s feet. Except they’d probably tell her, “shut up, dumbass.” Anyhoosier, this episode is 1990s MTV Halloweenery at its finest. B&B are watching a horror movie when trick-or-treaters show up at their door. When they realize they, too, could go trick-or-treating and get free candy, they take to the streets. After being dismissed for not wearing costumes, Butthead pours melted cheese all over himself and goes as nachos. Meanwhile, Beavis eats all the candy corn, and is transformed into Cornholio. Somehow, B&B end up at a farm, where they variously turn into zombies, are suspended on meat hooks, and are chased with chainsaws. Oh, the nineties.

So, there you have my picks for the 10 best Halloween episodes of TV. Tell me yours!

If a Skippy Dies in a Doughnut House, does he make ripples in the multiverse?

Ohskippydies

review by Tessa

Skippy Dies
Paul Murray
Faber & Faber 2010

Warning: this review contains so many quotes. Here’s the first one as an epigraph.:

“You know, you spend your childhood watching TV, assuming that at some point in the future everything you see there will one day happen to you: that you too will win a Formula One race, hop a train, foil a group of terrorists, tell someone ‘Give me the gun’, etc. Then you start secondary school, and suddenly everyone’s asking you about your career plans and your long-term goals, and by goals they don’t mean the kind you are planning to score in the FA Cup. Gradually the awful truth dawns on you: that Santa Claus was just the tip of the iceberg — that your future will not be the rollercoaster ride you’d imagined, that the world occupied by your parents, the world of washing the dishes, going to the dentists, weekend trips to the DIY superstore to buy floor tiles, is actually largely what people mean when they speak of ‘life’.” (25)

Characters

Students
Daniel “Skippy” Juster – Sure, he dies, but there’s so much more to him.
Ruprecht “Blowjob” Van Doren – Skippy’s roommate and string theory obsessor.
Lori Wakeham (Frisbee Girl, Lollipop Lips) – trying to figure out what she wants in life and how to get it while also being the object of two boys’ fantasies.
Carl Cullen – I believe if you saw Carl he would have what is known as a flat affect – also cut up arms, a serious obsession with Lori Wakeham, and not enough EQ to know what to do with that obsession even if it were returned.
Geoff, Mario, Niall & Dennis – the main core of Skippy’s friends.

Teachers
Howard “the Coward” Fallon – haunted by his past, and sort of stuck there, too – he’s teaching history at the school he attended
Farley – friend of Howard, a sometime instigator and sometime voice of reason
Aurelie McIntyre- businesswoman turned substitute geography teacher, incidentally she’s pretty good-looking, just kidding, that’s not really incidental
Greg “the Automator” Costigan – really wants to bring the modern money into the school, and really wants the school’s current Director to quietly die and let him take over.
Father Green (Pére Vert) – archetypal scary priest

Pagan Influence
The White Goddess – something different to everyone, but relevant to all.

Hook

If a Skippy dies in Ed’s Doughnut House, does he make a sound (in the sense of being remembered by his friends, family and loved ones)?

an irish door from flickr user infomatique - it's in the town of Black Rock.

an irish door from flickr user infomatique – it’s in the town of Black Rock.

Worldview

Farley says:

“‘This is Biology. These kids are fourteen. Biology courses through their veins. Biology and marketing. …They want to hear it from an adult. …They want to hear it confirmed officially that for all our talk, the adult world and their subterranean sex-obsessed porno-world are basically the same, and no matter what else we try to teach them about kings or molecules or trade models or whatever, civilization ultimately boils down to the same frenzied attempt to hump people. That the world, in short, is teenaged.’” (63).

I say: This in-depth look at the lead-up to and fallout from the titular event, centered around an Irish Catholic school is concerned with how the world is for teenagers, and how it looks to adults working with teenagers, and how it is the same and different for both sets of people. And the nature of time and memory and how that makes history, and if human lives are unimportant or important within that gigantic concept.

by flickr user Cindy Funk

by flickr user Cindy Funk

What is this book’s intention? Is it achieved?

I’m going to answer the second question first: yes.

And as for intention, it’s better rendered in questions. So, Skippy dies. Why does he die? Is there a reason? How does it make his friends feel? How is it seen by the adults who came into contact with him? How did he see it?  Etc. The book serves to explore these questions and more (see previous paragraph).

I don’t really want to describe the mechanics of the plot because they will sound falsely mundane.

On the flap copy, I’m guessing much to the author’s chagrin, Skippy Dies is compared to Harry Potter AND Infinite Jest. That’s a bit much for any book, but I will say that it does have similarities to the latter. There are many characters in the book, and the book discovers their quirks as a friends discover the weird parts of each other’s personalities, which is to say it lets them emerge over time. They are described because they exist but they’re not presented to the reader on a Platter of Quirk. I felt the same way about Infinite Jest, except Infinite Jest had a much bigger scope and often was hyperreal.

What Paul Murray does so, so well, so amazingly well, with the narrative is accordion it in and out so that somehow it is simultaneously big (Irish mythology and folklore, string theory) and small (jokes about lucky condoms, usage of zombie voices) while also making loud pleasing sounds and not making the reader dizzy. And much like an accordion it has structures inside of it that make everything work and hold everything together (in my metaphor these are the big themes of the book: death, depression, history, the point of life).

Here’s a great example of the first thing. Ruprecht is talking to Skippy at the Halloween dance. He’s talking as usual about scientific theories, relating to the world through them – and Murray describes the scene in deadpan, hilarious detail. Small moments.

“‘Fascinating,’ Ruprecht muses to Skippy. ‘The whole thing seems to work on a similar principle to a supercollider. You know, two streams of opposingly charged particles accelerated till they’re just under the speed of light, and then crashed into each other? Only here alcohol, accentuated secondary sexual characteristics and primitive ‘rock and roll’ beats take the place of velocity.’

“Skippy has gone to replenish his punch. Ruprecht sighs quietly, and looks at his watch.

“Patrick ‘Da Knowledge’ Noonan and Eoin ‘MC Sexecutioner’ Flynn pimp-roll by, plastic Uzis tucked under their arms, the faint frisson of tension still detectable between them, the aftermath of a heated debate earlier today over who was going to come as Tupac, which debate Patrick won, meaning Eoin is now waddling along in a fat suit, dressed as Biggie Smalls. The squalling riff from Cream’s ‘Layla’ blasts from the speaker; in the DJ booth, Wallace Willis nods to himself: oh yes. ‘Flubber’ Cooke, who has come in his supermarket shelf-stacking uniform, explains to a sexy nun that while it’s part of his costume, the trolley is actually company property, so although he’d like to let her ride in it, he can’t.” (171-172).

by flickr user mryantaylor

by flickr user mryantaylor

Meanwhile, he opens many sections with spot-on descriptions of what it’s like to exist in Autumn. The descent. The universal Autumnal experience (I realize this is not universal to people who live nearer to the equator, sorry). Big things.

“Autumn deepens. A fresh chaos of yellow leaves covers the lane up to the school each morning, as if it’s been visited overnight by woodland poltergeists; after school, you make the return journey through a strange, season-specific gloaming, a pale darkness, spooked and paradoxical, which makes your classmates up ahead seem to fade in and out of existence. The hobgoblin shadow of Hallowe-en, meanwhile, is everywhere. The shopping malls bristle with pumpkins and skeletons; houses lie swathed in cotton-wool cobwebs; the sky cracks and fizzes with firework-tests of increasing rigour. Even teachers fall under the spell. Classes take odd detours, routines slowly vaporize, until by the late stages of the week, the rigid precepts of everyday termtime seem no more real, or even slightly less real, than the fluorescent ghosts glowing from the windows of Ed’s Doughnuts next door…” (157)

Turnip Jack O'Lantern from wikimedia, Photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland.

Turnip Jack O’Lantern from wikimedia, Photographed at the Museum of Country Life, Ireland.

And sometimes big and small are in the same passage, as here, when the friends are giving Skippy advice on what to put in his text message to Lori:

“‘How about, instead of “if you want to meet up again”, you say “if you want me to sex you hard”,’ Mario says.

“It’s the end of the school day; they are walking down the laneway to the Doughnut House. In the dusk the world appears pale and exhausted, like a vampire’s been drinking from its veins: the thin pink filament of the just-come-on doughnut sign, the white streetlights like dowdy cotton bolls against the grey clouds, the soft hand-like leaves of the trees with the colours leeched away to match the asphalt.

“‘What have you got so far?’ Geoff asks.

“Skippy presses a button. ‘“Hi,”’ he says.

“‘It’s the only thing everyone agrees on.’

“Geoff frowns. ‘Actually, I’m not all that crazy about “Hi”.’” (264).

In an equally structured but subtle way, themes of the book recur as thoughts from different characters, framed in different ways, so as to fully exploit their themeyness.  Theme-itude.  One of the big themes is history and memory, because how are we humans to achieve immortality if not by being remembered, however inevitably inaccurate memory is.

Which is what Howard Fallon is trying to get at when he takes his history class on an unsanctioned field trip to a neglected monument for the Irish fallen of WWI:

“‘We tend to think of it as something solid and unchanging, appearing out of nowhere etched in stone like the Ten Commandments. But history, in the end, is only another kind of story, and stories are different from the truth. The truth is messy and chaotic and all over the place. Often it just doesn’t make sense. Stories make things make sense, but the way they do that is to leave out anything that doesn’t fit. And often that is quite a lot.’” (556)

And what the Automator is also getting at, from a different perspective, when he chews Fallon out for doing this:

“‘Maybe you’re right,’ the Automator continues, ‘maybe the [school]book does leave a chunk of stuff out. And maybe in the future someone will dig it up, and make a TV documentary, and there’ll be exhibitions and pull-out newspaper supplements and people all over the country will be talking about it. But when they’re finished talking, Howard, then they’ll go back to their kitchens or their golfing holidays or whatever they were doing before. The “truth” as you put it, won’t change a goddamn thing.” (564)

Irish Recruiting Poster from Wikimedia Commons

Irish Recruiting Poster from Wikimedia Commons

And what the developer is trying to get out of agreeing to when he has to explain on TV why he still wants to put up condos over an ancient archaeological finding near Fallon’s house:

“‘So you’re saying it should be bulldozed,’ the reporter says.

“‘I’m saying we need to ask ourselves where our priorities lie. Because what we are trying to build here isn’t just a Science Park. It’s the economic future of our country. It’s jobs and security for our children and our children’s children. Do we really want to put a ruin from three thousand years ago ahead of your children’s future?’

“‘And what about those who say that this “ruin” gives us a unique insight into the origins of our culture?’

“‘Well, let me turn that question around. If the position was reversed, do you think the people of three thousand years ago would have stopped building their fortress so they could preserve the ruin of our Science Park? Of course not. They wanted to move forward. The whole reason we have the civilization we have today — the only reason you and I are standing here — is that people kept moving forward instead of looking backward. Everybody in the past wanted  to be a part of the future.” (574)

And the value of memory in history is what Fallon is trying to call upon as he inexpertly lends the depressed Ruprecht an ear and some advice:

“‘The book [a history of his dead son’s regiment in WWI] took [Kipling] five and a half years to complete. He found it extremely difficult. But afterwards he said it was his greatest work. He’d had a chance to commemorate the bravery of these men, and to keep the memory of his son alive. A man called Brodsky once said, “If there is any substitute for love, it is memory.” Kipling couldn’t bring John back. But he could remember him. And in that way his son lived on.’

“This parable doesn’t produce quite the effect he intended; in fact, he is not sure that Ruprecht, tracing Sprite-spirals on the table with a straw, is even listening. The youth behind the counter looks at his watch and begins to dismantle the coffee machine; an electric fan whirrs, like the smooth sound of time passing inexorably from underneath them. And the, not looking up, Ruprecht mumbles, ‘What if you can’t remember?’” (582)

All in only 20ish pages, tying together plot threads and characters with the poignant string of a well-wrought theme.  Don’t read my stupid metaphors. Read this book.

Readalikes:

If the awkwardness and reality of Freaks and Geeks met the bravado and partying of Skins (UK).

freaksandgeeks    +    skins

If the boarding school scenes in Infinite Jest met the faculty life of Lucky Jim

 infinitejest   +    luckyjim

Then you’d have Skippy Dies.

Oh and in case you’re interested in other books set in the closed school environment aka boarding school, we have 2 lists for you:

1. Boarding School Books

2. Boarding School Books Redux

Links of interest:

Neil Jordan is going to direct the movie adaptation?? I’m interested.

An interview with the author at Bookslut.

Best Scary Stories to Read at Sleepovers

Friends, it’s HALLOWEEN, the best holiday in October! You know how we celebrate Halloween here at Crunchings and Munchings? We have creepy sleepovers where we read scary stories; then in the morning, we have Halloween brunch where we make elaborate Martha Stewart Haunted House Cake and watch movies like The Craft  and Hocus Pocus!

Martha Stewart Haunted House Cake

Cake made in an overnight frenzy by Rebecca and S. Dubs!

We don’t know about the sleepovers that you attended in your youth, but ours often involved scary storytelling—more like urban legend-remembering—and they never went well. Sure, as tweens we weren’t that concerned with having a well-crafted plot arc in our stories, but it does help to bring about chills and frissons of terror. Maybe you’d like to put together your own super-scary Halloween Sleepover? Or perhaps you’d like to come to ours? You can really never be too old, we assure you. If so, here are some of our favorite scary stories to ensure you never get to sleep. But don’t worry, if you can make it through the stories, you get the cake!

compiled by Rebecca & Tessa

TESSA’S PICKS

#1: TAILYPO

Found in the Robert D. San Souci collection Short & Shivery: Thirty Chilling Tales and illustrated by Katherine Coville, this illustration and accompanying story haunted my sister and I for years and years. It’s only repeated exposure therapy and the wisdom of old age that allow me to look at it now. I scanned it so that all of you dear readers could understand.

Imagine a voice whispering through your walls, all night, after you chopped off and ate a snake-like tail that was conveniently sticking through a crack in your log cabin. The voice wants its tail back (or its “tailypo”, who am I to question the dialect of chimeras in the deep fictional wilderness). You can’t give it its tail back, you ate the tail! You know it. It knows it. You try to ignore it and go to bed, hoping for the sunrise. Instead you wake up to those GLOBES OF HORROR at the bottom of your bed.

The tailypo is being returned, doesn’t matter if it’s half digested.

lucy clifford new mother

#2 THE NEW MOTHER

You may know this story from its effective adaptation in Alvin Schwartz’s More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark under the title “The Drum”. It was originally published (in English, I have a vague recollection of my roommate telling me that there is a Russian version of it, but that’s hearsay) by Lucy Clifford in her Anyhow Stories, Moral and Otherwise from 1882. (It’s free as an ebook on Google, so click click).

“The New Mother” is about two impressionable and unfortunately named children, Turkey and Blue-Eyes (Turkey is a fine name for a cat, but I draw the line at children.) Their goodness is tested by a girl they meet at the edge of town, who says she has such a thing as a pear-drum, with little people who dance inside of it. But she can’t show it to T & B-E unless they go home and behave as badly as they possibly can. No, they don’t understand, she tells them, you have to be positively evil.

The more they misbehave, the more their mother gets upset. Not just frustration upset, but really upset. Something really bad will happen if they continue their Pear-drum Campaign of Badness, she says. She will be replaced. With a new mother. One with glass eyes and wooden tail.

I think we all can see where this is going. Urgh, the feeling of consequence: your mother is really gone. You are alone, and here comes this new . . . not-quite human thing up the walk, to live with you.

#3 THE BOOGEYMAN

I just re-read this Stephen King short story, from the Night Shift collection, in order to re-assess it as an adult. Although my faster reading speed makes the story unfold more quickly and robs it of a little of of its power, it was so scary to me as a tween that I’m still a little afraid of closets. I spent many a night awake, sweating under an unnecessary bedspread, with my eyes averted but whole body attuned to whether or not the closet door. Might. Be. Opening.

I mean, let’s overlook the fact that Mr. King used “The Boogeyman” partially as a chance to do a character study of a guy who was bumbling and misogynistic and racist, and focus on some of the excellent, teasing descriptions:

“Last year wasn’t so good. Something about the house changed. I started keeping my boots in the hall because I didn’t like to open the closet door anymore. I kept thinking: Well, what if it’s in there? All crouched down and ready to spring the second I open the door? And I’d started thinking I could hear squishy noises, as if something black and green and wet was moving around in there just a little.”

Also: slithering.

#4 HAROLD

“Harold” is from Scary Stories 3: More Tales to Chill Your Bones, collected by Alvin Schwartz, illustrated by Stephen Gammell 4EVA, no offense, Brett Helquist. Someone read it aloud at a scary story share a couple of years ago and it still made me want to physically run from the room. As if Harold were in a corner of it . . . and he suddenly grunted.

Again with the theme of something not human interacting with an uncanny intelligence with humans. It freaks me out.

“Harold” is also acting as a stand-in for all the Schwartz collections. They reign supreme!

#5 MONSTER

Kelly Link has a story called “Monster” and illustrated by Shelley Dick in this book called Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and some other things that aren’t as scary, maybe, depending on how you feel about Lost Lands, Stray Cellphones, Creatures from the Sky, Parents who Disappear in Peru, a Man Named Lars Far, and one other story we couldn’t quite finish, So Maybe You Could Help Us Out.

Firstly, Kelly Link is a modern short story genius. I urge you to click on that link above where her name is and download Magic for Beginners from her site, if you haven’t read it yet. So this story is fun to read aloud. It’s about kids at camp, and about the monster that they meet in the woods. The monster is startling. The kids are funny. Kelly Link perfectly describes the cabinthink of a camp group, the finality of gossip, the way things instantaneously become The Way Things Are.

“‘There wasn’t any monster,’ Bryan Jones said, ‘and anyway if there was a monster, I bet it ran away when it saw Bungalow 4.’ Everybody nodded. What Bryan Jones said made sense. Everybody knew that the kids in Bungalow 4 were so mean that they had made their counselor cry like a girl. The Bungalow 4 counselor was a twenty-year-old college student named Eric who had terrible acne and wrote poems about the local girls who worked in the kitchen and how their breasts looked lonely but aslo beautiful, like melted ice cream.”

HONORABLE MENTIONS:

“Siren Song” from Ghostly Companions: A Feast of Chilling Tales by Vivien Alcock
: a boy gets a tape recorder for his birthday and through his taped diary entries we hear him discover children singing in the yard at night, their songs asking him to come out to play (hoooo, hoooo!)

“The Snipe Hunt” from Still More Tales for the Midnight Hour: 13 Stories of Horror by J.B. Stamper.
: a group of campers is sent on a wild goose chase (aka a snipe hunt). But one catches a snipe.

Now, on to Rebecca’s picks!

All My Best, Scary Tessa

REBECCA’S PICKS

Holy monkey brains, Tessa, I couldn’t agree with your picks more! Kelly Link is totally a short-story-genius, and I heard her read a few months ago and it was chilling and detached-sounding. The Scary Stories books (and especially the amazing illustrations) haunted my childhood too. The line “people can lick to” is one of the all-time scariest. So, I just got back from a week in New Orleans with C&M guest writer S. Dubs, who lives there. It really got my Halloween juices flowing. I’m not saying that we jumped the fence at Lafayette Cemetery #1 at midnight to light a candle on the Mayfair Witches’ grave, but I’m not saying that we didn’t.

So, without further law-breaking, here are my picks.

Clive Barker Books of Blood

#1. IN THE HILLS, THE CITIES, by Clive Barker

“In the Hills, the Cities,” is in Clive Barker’s collection Books of Blood, volume 1 (1984) and it’s one of my favorite short stories. It’s more creepy-bizarre-cool than it is scary, which would make it a nice breather for our so-far-totally-terrifying sleepover. Mick and his lover, Judd, are on vacation in Yugoslavia, looking for an historic church in the middle of nowhere, and realizing that their politics are . . . incompatible. They decide to drive down the valley of the Ibar and go see the hills. Duhn duhn duhn! Never have hills been so ominous! Well, I guess in The Hills Have Eyes, but this is quite different fare. Judd and Mick stumble upon a ritual contest between the cities of Popolac and Podujevo:

“Every single citizen, however young or infirm . . . all made their way up from their proud city to the stamping ground. It was the law that they should attend: but it needed no enforcing. No citizen of either city would have missed the chance to see that sight—to experience the thrill of that contest. The confrontation had to be total, city against city. This was the way it had always been. . . . Tens of thousands of hearts beat faster. Tens of thousands of bodies stretched and strained and sweated as the twin cities took their positions” (144-5).

Pretty Hate Machine Nine Inch NailsFor any Nine Inch Nails fans in the room, you might know “In the Hills, the Cities” for another reason: Trent Reznor borrowed one of Barker’s lines from this story for the song “Sin”: “I told you, I don’t want to see another church; the smell of the places makes me sick. Stale incense, old sweat and lies” (137). Also, though it’s not sleepover-length, you should totally read The Hellbound Heart (what the Hellraiser films are based on) by Barker, too.

Shirley Jackson the Lottery

#2. THE LOTTERY, by Shirley Jackson

I think “In the Hills, the Cities” would segue really well into another of my faves: Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” (1948). I sort of feel like anyone who has never read “The Lottery” should just stop reading this post right now and go read it—I envy you getting to experience it for the first time. It is one of the most subtle and masterful We Have Always Lived in the Castle Shirley Jacksonexamples of evoking terror from otherwise banal pastoral moments. Originally published in The New Yorker on June 26th, the story takes place on June 27th, as if with creepy prescience, and upon publication it received more hate mail than any New Yorker story in history (the mark of a winner, Shirley!). She lived in Bennington, Vermont for a time while her husband taught at Bennington College, and she reportedly was inspired to write “The Lottery” because she was thinking about the sinister underbelly of the idyllic small town.

Actually, I am of the opinion that everything Shirley Jackson touched turned to gold. Also check out The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962). Make sure not to miss this amazing cover by Thomas Ott, one of my favorite graphic artists!

Looking for Jake and other Stories China Miéville

#3. LOOKING FOR JAKE & FOUNDATION, by China Miéville

China Miéville is one of my favorite authors, and his short story collection Looking For Jake is a total treat. They’re all great, but the first two, “Looking For Jake” and “Foundation” are great to read out loud. Both are gorgeously textured stories of shifting, roiling, disappearing urban landscapes. In “Looking For Jake,” an unnamed narrator writes to Jake:

“It’s dark out here on the roof. It’s been dark for some time. But I can see enough to write, from deflected streetlamps and maybe from the moon, too. The air is buffeted more and more by the passage of those hungry, unseen things, but I’m not afraid. I can hear them fighting and nesting and courting in the Gaumont’s tower, jutting over my neighbours’ houses and shops. A little while ago there was a dry sputter and crack, and a constant low buzz now underpins the night sounds. I am attuned to that sound. The murmur of neon. The Gaumont State is blaring its message to me across the short, deserted distance of pavement” (13).

And in “Foundation,” a man speaks to buildings whose foundations are

“a stock of dead men. An underpinning, a structure of entangled bodies and their parts, pushed tight, packed together and become architecture, their bones broken to make them fit, wedged in contorted repose, burnt skins and the tatters of their clothes pressed as if against glass at the limits of their cut, running below the building’s walls, six feet deep below the ground, a perfect runnel full of humans poured like concrete and bracing the stays of the walls” (27).

Angela Carter The Bloody Chamber

#4. THE BLOODY CHAMBER, by Angela Carter

First published in a collection of the same name in 1979, “The Bloody Chamber” is a retelling of the Bluebeard tale. In Carter’s version, the girl who marries the Marquis (the Bluebeard character) is a pianist, and a blind piano tuner hears her playing and falls in love with her music. When the Marquis returns to find that his young bride has looked in the forbidden room and found his victims, her mother saves her. Long live moms! Badass. My absolute favorite Carter is Nights at the Circus (1984), which is too long to read at a sleepover, but which (along with Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love) so set the genre of weird-circus fiction for me that I’ve never been able to look at a circus book and not wish I were reading Carter. Also, I like to tell myself that Christina Aguilera’s video for “Hurt” is inspired by Nights at the Circus. God, I love that song.

#5. WHERE ARE YOU GOING, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN, by Joyce Carol Oates

“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been” (1966) is inspired by three real-life murders that took place in Tucson that same year. 15-year-old Connie gets picked up by a drifter who first acts charming, but then begins to threaten her family while getting her to do things for him as he describes to her exactly what is happening to her parents and neighbors . . . It’s creepy, with an inconclusive conclusion, and Oates signature insidious eerieness. For an extended creepfest, check out Oates’ Zombie (1995), told from the perspective of a Jeffrey Dahmer-esque serial killer.

My buddy Edgar Allan Poe

OTHER STANDBYS

There are certain people that I didn’t want to list above because, heck, I wouldn’t know which of their stories to pick. Edgar Allan Poe is a classic for a reason—one of my all-time favorite short story writers, and you really could add almost any of his stories to our sleepover. A few personal favorites = “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Purloined Letter,” and “The Pit and the Pendulum.” As for H.P. Lovecraft, another classic, well, he was a racist, intolerant little shit, but some of his ideas are amazing. I actually don’t think they would read out loud that well, and many of them are pretty long, but dang are they bizarre, so go read them quietly in a cemetery or something.

Another standby for me is Harlan Ellison, who wrote so many kinds of messed up shit I wouldn’t even know where to begin. “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” is great, and “Midnight In the Sunken Cathedral” is one of my faves. Check it out if you like underwatery things:

“He marveled that, if he were indeed somewhere beneath the Bermuda Triangle, in some impossible sub-oceanic world that could exist in defiance of the rigors of physics and plate tectonics and magma certainties, then this subterranean edifice was certainly the most colossal structure ever built on the planet. A holy sunken cathedral built by gods” (Slippage, 356).

Roald Dahl! Holy childhood terrors, Batman. There is just something about this man’s imagination that got me all my soft, squidgy parts. The Witches is absolutely terrifying, but in terms of short stories, I’d have to nominate “Lamb to the Slaughter,” “The Landlady,” and “Royal Jelly.”

So, Halloweeners, what are you bringing to read to the sleepover?! Tell us in the comments.

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