Tuesday, June 29, 2010


[NOTE: I'm fairly certain that no one has ever done a review of a cemetery, so I hope this is the first of a new . . . subgenre, I guess? If anyone has heard of someone reviewing a boneyard, let me know. So far, I only have two of these pieces. Enjoy!]

It’s an unusual place for a cemetery. In fact, driving by, you wouldn’t believe that there’s a boneyard at the corner of Irving Park and Clark. The walls are high, so unless you’re in an SUV, you won’t be able to see any of the towering graves within.

But Graceland Cemetery is there, and it is the grandest graveyard you are ever likely to see. The people who are buried here have no interest in plain stones, and they would never settle for a mere plaque in the ground. No, these are probably the richest corpses you will have ever heard of.

Grecian pillars reach for the sky. Gray pyramids stand as the opening to mausoleums. Some graves are so elaborate that they have benches for weary wanders to rest upon. Life-sized statues, some who look suspiciously like Caesar, rest in positions of thought as grave markers. There are even crypts leading down into the ground. It’s easy to think you’ve entered another world upon driving through the gates to this place. In fact, if you stand on the island with the mausoleum on it and peer out over the pond, you can see what looks like ancient Greek ruins poking out from between the strands of a willow tree.

It isn’t hard to see why so many horror stories have come from this place. There are rumors of a green-eyed monster who stalks the graveyard on full-mooned nights. There is the requisite lady in white, in addition to a large grim-reaper-type statue; the rumor is, if you stare into his face under the hood, you will see how you’re supposed to die.

The most well-known story, though, is about the statue over the grave of a little girl. On rainy nights, the statue has been known to move around the graveyard of its own free will. It became such a common occurrence that the caretaker took it upon himself to put a glass case over the statue in the hopes that it would wander no longer. This plan did not work, and it is still common to find the glass case empty on wet evenings.

Who is buried here? The richest people in Chicago, of course. Some of the pioneers who helped found the city. Notably, Allan Pinkerton, the very first private detective in history. He died of an infection he received when he stubbed his toe on the way to his outhouse one morning. His grave now resides in Graceland, a triangular testament to his life.

Other “residents” of this graveyard include Augustus Dickens (brother of Charles), controversial boxing champ Jack Johnson, George Pullman (the inventor of the Pullman Car), Phillip Armour (of Armour Hot Dog fame), Edith Rockefeller McCormick (daughter of John D.), Charles Wacker (you’ve probably driven on the street named after him), John Jones (the first African American to hold an elected office—County Commissioner), and John Kinzie (the first permanent white settler of what would come to be known as the city of Chicago).

If you’re free for an afternoon and don’t mind a trip into the city, you might want to consider wandering the grounds of this cemetery. Death has never looked quite so beautiful, and you will while away the hours in the presence of gravestones that were meant to be more than just a place to mark where a corpse resides.

They were meant to be art, and nothing less.

Friday, June 25, 2010


[NOTE: Once again, I have cannibalized my MySpace blog. I hope you enjoy my fear and loathing on the trail to Wisconsin and Camp Blood . . . .]

It has been a while since I've gone camping in Wisconsin. In fact, I think I was a child the last time I did this. As an adult, I've noticed a few interesting things while on the road, and I thought I would share my observations with you.

First of all, why would anyone use I-90 if they didn't have a choice? Do you know how much I had to surrender to the toll booths before I mercifully found my way to Wisconsin? Three dollars. Isn't that insane? For I-Pass users, it's way less. I think it's a bit unfair to those of us who are willing to pay cold, hard cash. But fuck the tollways. I find that the only time I use them is whenever I'm going camping.

I was relieved to finally be off I-90 (which, by the way, is under construction and won't be done until sometime in 2009, so I paid $3.00 to drive on a SHITTY road), and one of the first things I saw beyond the wooden, circa 1970's Welcome to Wisconsin sign was a state cop giving some guy a ticket. I marvelled at the design of their state cruiser. Here in Illinois, we like our cars sleek with yellow lines going down the sides. In Wisconsin, their cruisers may have been purchased in the mid-nineties, and their cars are painted entirely blue except for their old school logos on the doors.

Oddly enough, his was the last cop car I saw for a long time on that stretch of road, so I felt safe letting my speed creep up into the 80's until I was almost upon 90 mph. At this point I should tell you that before I left on this horrible trek, I stopped by the liquor store to get some Wild Turkey 101 and Flying Dog Classic Pale Ale. Lo! and behold! They had a wine tasting thing, and it was only $10. Why not? I'm going to be on the road for a while, so it would be nice to relax myself a bit. So I downed a bunch of wine and hit the road. Hell, I thought I'd left early. The trip was supposed to take 2 hours and 41 minutes. I was ahead of schedule even after the wine tasting interlude.

Back to me speeding down I-90 in Wisconsin. Did you know that you can get a $500 fine for littering on the road? There are signs stating this everywhere, and guess what: it actually works! I was absolutely shocked to discover that there wasn't so much as a discarded Coke can by the side of the road. I kept my eyes open, looking for the slightest sign of a McDonald's bag, but there was nothing. Wisconsin really is clean!

Except for one thing. For a state so concerned with keeping its roads clean, they certainly like to leave roadkill lying around. And this wasn't new roadkill, either. I cannot tell you how many dessicated deer corpses I saw by the side of the road. They were flattened mummies, they were that bad.

Despite the bodies, the Wisconsin landscape is really quite beautiful. There are a lot of photo opportunities to those who are inclined to that sort of thing. Crumbling farmhouses, fields of perfectly aligned cornstalks, strange-looking trees; the state is a photography major's wet dream.

It was this beautiful foliage that disguised the state cop car on the median of the road. I looked down at my speedometer to see that I was going at the pants-shittingly fast rate of 88 mph. I stomped on the brake to slow down to the socially acceptable 65 mph, but I knew the cop had seen me. In my rear view mirror, the car pulled out and started following me so closely it probably qualified as tailgating. But the lights didn't go on. I started thinking, "Oh please, run my plates. I'm not a criminal on paper. You'll see. Then, let me go. Please. I'm only five miles away from the end of my journey."

That's exactly what must have happened, because after a harrowing three minutes of staring at my speedometer, the cop went around me and busted someone else. I swear, I'm the luckiest driver ever. Remember that wine tasting thing? I probably would have blown more than .08.

So I finally got to the exit for US-12, and the first thing I did was get gas. I'd burned nearly an entire tank getting out there, and I drive a Ford Focus. Then I went to McDonald's for some Coke and a couple of double cheeseburgers. Here in Illinois, if you go to a McDonald's, the double cheeseburgers cost the same as a regular cheeseburger: $1.00. [NOTE: THIS IS NO LONGER TRUE. Oh yes, and FUCK THE MCDOUBLE!] Up there, it costs $1.89. I did not expect this. I also did not expect an all-Swedish staff. Around where I live, McDonald's employees are quite multicultural. Wisconsin might well be the actualization of Hitler's wildest dreams.

After feeding myself and my car, it was time to find the campground. Here's the problem: according to the directions my friend, Jeremy, gave me, the name of the campground was Lake Delton. However, as I learned when I got onto US-12, it is actually the name of the TOWN. I stopped at a gas station to ask if there was a Lake Delton campground, and I was told there was. "Just head down 12 and turn right on Alexander Street and follow the signs."

I looked for Alexander, and I soon found myself lost in farmland looking at every side street for a sign. Another Wisconsin problem: they don't label a lot of their streets, not even the major ones with stop lights and everything.

Well, I didn't find Alexander, so I stopped at another gas station. The attendant told me he didn't think there was a place called Lake Delton campground, but he checked the map and the phone book, just in case. There are about fifty different campgrounds, maybe more, but none called Lake Delton. I remember thinking, "Why the hell doesn't someone build on Wisconsin? Their lack of anti-environmentalism is making this trek extremely difficult for me!"

I decided to call Jeremy from a pay phone (I still have no cell phone), but he wasn't answering. I noticed that he'd reserved site 400, and that sounds like a lot, so I decided to start going around to various campgrounds and asking them if my friend had checked into site 400. If they don't have 400 sites or more, I thought I'd ask if they knew of any campground that might accomodate this number.

I stopped a few places before trying Jeremy again. Still, no response. I went around to a few more places. I stopped at Jellystone not because I thought he'd be there (it's mostly a kids place), but because I recognized the name from my youth, and I knew they'd been in business for a while. If anyone would know, it would have to be them.

I got in line behind a middle-aged lady and her incredibly annoying 8-year-old. She was jumping around, trying to climb the ranger building, saying things like, "Ask the man why they have Christmas decorations up!" And then she turned her attention on me.

"Where are you from?"

"Illinois," I said.

"Grandma! Do we have an Illinois license plate in our collection?" Then, without waiting for an answer, she said, "Why does it say Modern Drunkard Magazine on your shirt?"

"Because I'm a drunkard." Hoping that would get Grandma to usher her over-active, Prozac-starved child away from me. She kept talking with the guy in the booth.

"My daddy's an alcoholic. He drinks, like two beers a night. I wish he'd stop."

"That's not an alcoholic," I said. "That's a social drinker."

She lost interest in me and started running out into the road. A pick-up drove by, and the driver's arm was hanging out, a cigarette poking out of his hand. "Hey!" she shouted. "No smoking in the campground!"

Finally, Grandma finished conducting her business and dragged the girl away. I then stepped up to the booth and stated my problem. The guy responded in perfect English, but with what I thought was a Russian accent. I looked at the tag on his shirt and saw that his name was Ivan. He looked nothing like a Russian stereotype, but I thought it was pretty damned cool that I was talking to a Russian named Ivan.

But he wasn't able to help me. He said there was another campground down the road where they might have 400 sites, but he didn't know. He gave me directions to Mirror Lake, I think it was. I pulled in, and it looked very professional and promising, but when I talked to the clerk, she said they didn't have anywhere near 400 sites. She said Devil's Lake had about 500, though, so I followed her directions. By now it was starting to get dark, and I really hoped this would be the one.

The sun wasn't quite down yet when I finally got out to Devil's Lake. I couldn't see it, but the sky was still tinted a reddish-orange. When I pulled into the drive for Devil's Lake, I found myself in complete darkness. The trees were so thick and plentiful that they blotted out the sky. I switched on my headlights and hunched over the driver's wheel, peering into the darkness.

I got out of the car and went toward the registration building, and as soon as I was inside, I saw a huge taxidermied wild turkey over the desk, and I knew I was in the right place. (Also, the name "Devil's Lake" was a good sign. How can my friends NOT be at a place called Devil's Lake?) I looked around and saw so many stuffed birds that if Norman Bates were there, he'd be in need of a new pair of pants. There was also a taxidermied baby bear, which was kind of creepy. I'm a complete asshole, but I don't know if I'd kill and stuff a baby bear.

Anyway, I looked at the map behind the desk and saw with glee that there were 500 sites. But when I got up to the clerk, she said that they didn't have a site numbered 400. They apparently skip each hundredth number, for whatever sadistic reasons. I then asked to use their phone. If I couldn't get Jeremy this time, I'd give up and go home.

This time, the phone picked up, and Jeremy's relieved voice said, "Bruni! Thank God you called again!" Apparently, his phone was on silent, and Monika and Kristina had been bothering him all day to check his messages to make sure I hadn't called, but he didn't think it was necessary. When he finally checked, he got my messages. Believe it or not, this was a mere ten minutes before my final call.

He gave me the name of the place and directions. I sped back the way I'd come until I finally found the right road (only by the Motel 6 on the corner; this street was, of course, not labeled) and turned down into Red Oak Campground. I registered my car and got a map. Who knows why? But there are not actually 400 sites there. There were maybe 20, it was just the way they chose to number their sites.

I noticed that 400 was all the way in the back, and it was a hell of a dark place. The path was heavily lined with trees so only one car at any given time can drive on this road. If you encounter another car, you have to put yours in reverse, and good luck in not hitting any trees.

I made it through, and when I got there, I noticed a super-creepy path that led away from our campsite, presumably to another site. More on this later.

I got out of the car, and after greeting Monika and Kristina, they helped me put my tent together. Their flashlights were very useful in achieving this goal. Jeremy came over and helped put the finishing touches on my tent. He then proceeded to apologize so profusely that I actually started feeling sorry for him.

But never mind that. They quickly moved on to introduce me to the people I didn't know, and we started drinking heavily. Well, they'd all gotten a head start on me, and I did my best to catch up, but since I'd gotten there so late I was only able to drink half the bottle of Wild Turkey and a few bottles of Flying Dog.

It was a good time once I'd finally gotten there. Plenty of booze was passed around with almost as many that's-not-a-sausage-that's-a-dick jokes making the rounds. It got a little weird when we headed out to the campfire, like there was a strange vibe in the area. (Again, more on that later.) Then, one by one we started dropping off, and I was left in charge of making sure the fire doesn't get out of control and kill anyone. (Yeah, I was elected as the responsible one. Go figure.) With the sounds of snoring, hiccuping, and fornication all around us, it was just Monika and me left. We started talking about how creepy the woods were, and how it looked like there was someone sitting in one of the abandoned chairs. The image was so distorted by the darkness that I thought the fellow might have had skeleton legs, and it really was quite creepy. It was even worse when I stepped into the brush to take a leak. The woods were completely quiet, which didn't sound right. There should have been some animal sounds, right? I didn't have a flashlight, and it was so incredibly dark that I couldn't see anything but the treetops. The moon was out, but the foliage was so thick that I couldn't see very well. I had to take a guess as to whether or not I was far enough out and hope that I wasn't about to piss on someone's tent.

After burying potatoes in the dying embers (potatoes she found the next day to be inedible), Monika helped get me back to my tent with the aid of her cell phone. Normally, whenever I go camping I sleep terribly, but I felt so drained I slept like a baby and woke up without any pain whatsoever. (My ribs usually ache after I sleep on the ground.)

The following day, I went down the abandoned, super-creepy path that I mentioned earlier in order to take a leak. It was now completely bright out. The sun was shining. There were very few shadows. And the path was still super-creepy. Nothing moved back here, no animals or birds made sound. The path was overgrown with weeds, and there were spiderwebs everywhere. The only thing that seemed plentiful were mosquitos. As I pissed on a bush, I had to keep blowing on my penis to make sure they stayed away from it.

Check out was at eleven o'clock, which is terrible for a group of drunkards like us, but we all packed up and, dripping sweat, we abandoned the campground. On the way back, I filled up my tank (again), pleased with the $3.88 per gallon price. (In Elmhurst, it's closer to $4.17.) Then, I got back on I-90, and when I returned to the retched tollway in Illinois, I found that construction had slowed traffic down so much that we were crawling along at an ant's pace. Traffic crept like a rapist in an alley. I spent about an hour on that horrible, 11-mile stretch of road. When I finally got home, I noticed that the front of my car was covered with dead bugs.

Every weekday, I make the trek from Elmhurst to Schaumburg on I-290, and I have never killed so much as a single bug with my car. When I went to Wisconsin, my windshield was a roadmap of bug guts. So, I took it to the car wash, and when I got home, I felt so drained I had to take a nap. When I woke up a while later, I was still exhausted. It wasn't until this morning when I finally found myself energized again.

(For those of you wondering, I finished the rest of the Flying Dog before we left the campground, and the remainder of the Wild Turkey went down my gullet last night as I ate a Pizza Hut Stuffed Crust pizza and watched MAJOR LEAGUE.)

When I came in to work today, Monika started talking about the weird shit that happened out in those woods, including the failure of her cell phone, mp3 player, and a brand new flashlight. She mentioned the haunted chair and said that there were orbs in the pictures she'd taken. Considering how drained we were the following day, and how electrical devices had a habit of not working, we decided that whatever was sitting there was sucking all of our energy away. We theorized about the super-creepy path, because she'd noticed a lot of the same things I had. We came to the conclusion that the path actually leads to a campsite that Red Oak never lets anyone use anymore, probably because there was a murder back there.

So Red Oak is now considered Camp Blood. We have no evidence to back up this theory, but you've got to admit, it sounds like an appetizing thought. If any of you have heard anything about Red Oak in the Baraboo, WI area, let me know.

Monday, June 21, 2010


It isn’t often that a new issue of MODERN DRUNKARD MAGAZINE comes out, but when it does, it is a grand occasion. No one knows the joys of hooching better than the editor and contributing writers of this august publication. Believe it or not, these guys have been around for 55 issues. They wouldn’t have been able to pull this off if there wasn’t a market for it.

Granted, just about every single advertisement inside is for a local bar in Colorado, but the ranks of readers run the gamut across the country, as is evidenced by their yearly drunkard convention, so this is no drop in the bucket. No sir, MDM is here to stay.

Why is that? Perhaps it is because it’s not a celebration of fall-down dangerous alcoholism. No, save that for the AA meetings. This magazine has always been about connoisseurs of the state of drunkenness. Those who can handle their liquor. Those who can function well after drinking copious amounts of booze. It is a celebration of the power of alcohol when applied in the right situations, whether it be the creative process, enjoying a sport, fighting a war, or simply unwinding after an unforgiving day of work.

The world is a stressful place, and sometimes one needs to experience life from a different perspective. Take, for example, their most recent feature, “Welcome to BoozeTown,” a historical look at Mel Johnson’s drunkard utopia that was never meant to be. It was to be a city inhabited by boozehounds, where there were no cars but motorized sidewalks, where the bars never closed, and where the police were there to help you get home and to even tuck you into bed.

Or perhaps you would like to consider their feature on Rome’s Fifth Legion, “Blood and Wine,” which tells of “the heroic and bloody adventures of the Roman Empire’s hardest-drinking legion.” If you ever thought booze has no place in war, you need to read this article. Drunkards get things done.

This is to say nothing of their regular columns, like “Wino Wisdom” (quotes from famous philosophical drunkards) and “Booze News” (up-to-date information that boozers must be aware of in their world) and “Drunkard of the Issue” (which this time is a blast from the past, Mojo Nixon). And don’t forget the usual editorial from the head drunkard himself, Frank Kelly Rich; in this issue, he suggests a stimulus package that every good drinker could appreciate.

In a society where you’re supposed to do what you're told, when you’re supposed to color within the lines at all times, MODERN DRUNKARD is like that first whiff of an opened bottle of Wild Turkey 101: sharp and cleansing. Check them out at www.drunkard.com, where most of their articles have been archived for your perusal. Then, show your support for such an incredible publication by subscribing.

Friday, June 18, 2010


[NOTE: This is yet another reprint from the ol' MySpace blog, so this all happened a while ago. Maybe two years.]

I used to work as a parts driver for the City of Elmhurst, so I am pretty familiar with dealerships and their waiting rooms. Back then, though, I didn’t have to wait for very long, and I usually sat on a stool at the parts counter, far away from the others who came in to get their cars fixed.

Today I finally got the tires on my Ford Focus replaced. Yes, I’m driving a safe vehicle now, except for the air filter, which is stuck in place with rusty bolts. I am told I should just replace the casing, which costs $340. Since my bill was already going to be $540, I understandably declined.

But getting everything else fixed (including the oil change) took three hours, and I had to sit in the waiting room. I figured it would take a while, so I came prepared with today’s new comics (if you’re not reading Ed Brubaker’s CRIMINAL, you should have your head examined), Simon Clark’s VAMPYRRHIC RITES (which is nowhere nearly as good as VAMPYRRHIC), and a couple of double cheeseburgers, so I thought I’d have plenty to keep me occupied.

Guess what was on the television. Go ahead, guess. Never mind, it was MAURY. People who were ugly as teenagers and had become sexy as adults were confronting people who wouldn’t give them the time of day back in high school. Since I didn’t want to get mustard on my new comic books, I ate my burgers while watching this tripe. I don’t know, but it seemed a bit creepy to me. It left me with the impression that these people got plastic surgery just so they could have a better chance when they resumed stalking their "high school sweethearts."

The burgers went fast, so I was able to quickly lose myself in books. The first hour passed, and before I knew it, Maury was replaced by Steve, formerly of the Jerry Springer show. Every other phrase out of his mouth was, "as a cop," as if we needed any further reminder that he used to be a police officer. This one was about child molesters trying to beat lie detectors, and immediately I decided the whole thing was the daytime equivalent of WWE. This one made absolutely no sense to me. Scumbags go on TV just so they can be ridiculed and shamed in front of the world? No one would do that.

God help me, I kept peering over the top of my book so I could watch this insipid display with . . . *gulp!* . . . interest. My IQ was dropping like JFK, Jr.’s plane, and I found myself getting ready to praise the screen as Steve got into a child fucker’s face and started yelling at him.

"Holy fuck, what am I doing?" I wrenched my eyes away from the TV and forced them to go over Simon Clark’s words instead. I feared that if my car wasn’t ready soon, I’d turn into Castle Freak, drooling and screaming..

Incidentally, have you ever noticed that daytime commercials are vastly different from those run at night? I was shocked at all the rabid and vile people I saw screaming catch-phrases and phone numbers like epileptics being tasered. I nearly shat myself upon seeing the grim visage of William Shatner doing a commercial for lawyers who are concerned about my rights. He is, beyond a doubt, history’s most prolific sell-out. He transcends the very concept of selling out. Is there anything this guy won’t do for a buck? I wonder if I can get him for a TABARD INN ad . . . .

A new show pulled me out of the frying pan of daytime TV and tossed me into the fire of sit-coms. As I settled in to continue reading, I noticed a middle-aged woman was staring at me from across the room. "No," I thought, "she’s probably looking at something behind me." Except I was up against the wall. I looked around to see if there was an intersting poster next to me only to find nothing. She was definitely eyeballing me.

I considered starting up a conversation with her, as this was what I usually did in such circumstances, but she wasn’t even blinking (which is never a good sign), so I tried to hide behind my book.

I thought I’d succeeded in securing myself, but she said, "You have a fascinating beard. You look Eye-talian, but your beard looks Greek to me."

"Um, thanks." (For the record, I am part Italian, part Greek, part Irish, and part everything else, so her guess was correct.)

"It’s good to see a young man like yourself with a beard. I don’t trust these youths running around without hair. They don’t know what it’s like to be a man."

I decided not to mention that I was going to get a shave and haircut tomorrow.

"Do you have a hairy chest?" she asked.

I have no shame whatsoever. At this time, I’d like to remind everyone that I have done many crazy things, up to and including publishing a picture of my penis (Mr. Happy, the mascot of TABARD INN) in issue two of my magazine. What did I do in this situation?

That’s right. I hooked a finger in the neck of my t-shirt and pulled it down, revealing exactly how hirsute I am.

"That’s good," she said, giving my chest a cursory exam. "I don’t trust guys who shave their chests."

I wondered how she’d respond if I told her that I shaved my crotch on a regular basis. Would I then be only slightly trustworthy in her eyes? A parts guy was looking at us, so I decided to stay my tongue.

I thought that was the end of our conversation, so I went back to my book. My neck tingled, which usually means someone is looking at me. When I glanced up, she was still watching me. When she licked her lips, I stabbed my face at the book and did my absolute best to ignore her.

She stood and began to approach me when one of the service guys came in and said, "[Expletive deleted], your car is ready."

She turned away from me without another word and followed him out to the shop. The parts guy behind me laughed, and I wondered what it would be like to be him, watching people in the waiting room all day. I’m sure it’s a great way to develop characters.

An hour later, the service guy freed me from waiting room hell and gave me my car keys. As soon as I was paid up and on the road, I thought, "So this is what it’s like to drive a car that has tires with treads on them." I no longer have to fear wet roads. No more fear of flat tires. No more fear of equipment failure.

Just so long as my air filter holds out . . . .

Monday, June 14, 2010


We’ve all been there. After a long, hard night of drinking and “doing terrible things,” the next morning is bound to be a tough one. However, Ig Perrish, the protagonist of Joe Hill’s new novel, HORNS, is about to go places where the rest of us cannot possibly imagine.

You see, Ig’s hangover is just the tip of the iceberg. Overnight, he has grown horns about the size of fingers out of his temples, and he has the sudden ability to touch people and know their deepest, darkest secrets. That’s not all: when in his presence, people confess their darkest immediate urges to him.

Not a bad power to have, provided that one is not a person of interest in a sex-murder case, like Ig just happens to be. He was accused (but not charged) with the rape and murder of his beloved high-school sweetheart, Merrin Williams. After the evidence gets destroyed in a lab fire, the authorities have no choice but to let him go. But everyone in town still believes he did it, although he remembers being passed out in his car in the parking lot of a Dunkin Donuts at the time.

Thanks to his new powers, everyone he runs across, even his own parents, confess to him that they think he did it. Ig is inundated with some of the darkest, heinous shit people believe about him, and it is absolutely heartbreaking. Because here’s the thing: he didn’t really do it. And early on in the book, he is gutted when someone close to him has something to admit to him . . . .

Human beings have a lot of vicious things in them, and HORNS showcases this grim reality in a rather horrifying way. As Ig, who is generally a good guy, hears more and more of the secrets those around him would rather keep secret, he grows more and more demoniac, twisted by the grotesque things he is told until he comes down to a decision: should he give in to the devil within? As the cover copy says, “Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge . . . it’s time the devil had his due.”

There are no real weaknesses to this book; there are only strengths. This darkly comedic look at God versus the devil (and whether or not God even exists) is not content with this mere theological quandary. Also at stake are the nature of relationships, boyfriend-girlfriend, brother-brother, friend-friend, and even fuckbuddy-fuckbuddy. Not to be overlooked are the peeks into the past, where we get to see the characters as children. Hill is one of the few people who have not forgotten what it was REALLY like to be a kid. There were magical moments, but most of it was, well, criminal. Who among us, when we were finally out of view from our parents, did not commit questionable acts? Illicit fireworks, maybe a little thievery, and death-defying dares, things that would have made our parents age prematurely had they known we were doing them.

It’s all here. One of the funniest scenes is when a teenaged Ig is talking with his best friend about pornography. Ig finally admits to having some, and his hiding place is in an old Candyland box. When his friend sees the quality of this “porn,” he can’t help but laugh: the VANITY FAIR with a pregnant Demi Moore on the cover, a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, those kinds of things. Nothing a true connoisseur could get off on. Kid’s stuff.

For such a thoughtful treatise on the nature of good and evil, it is a very visceral book. From Ig’s reaction to the real killer’s identity to the scene where Merrin is dumping Ig, mere hours before she is murdered, the raw human emotion is splattered all over the page, captured by Hill and carefully disseminated to his readers.

Hill has a metric-ton of talent, and he’s only getting better. 20TH CENTURY GHOSTS was an impressive beginning, showing off his talent with short stories, and HEART-SHAPED BOX only turned up the heat. His semi-regular comic book series, LOCKE AND KEY is an absolute masterpiece, and now we have HORNS, one of the best horror novels to come out in a long time.

Joe Hill’s going to be around for a long time, and the best news is this: he keeps getting better. Keep your eyes out for him, folks, and you won’t be disappointed.

(P.S. On the inside of the front cover, you will find a Morse code message. It would behoove you to translate it. You’ll get three words in before you realize what it is, and you’ll at least get a chuckle out of it.)

HORNS by Joe Hill
Publisher: William Morrow
370 pages

Friday, June 11, 2010


[NOTE: This first appeared on my MySpace blog a couple of years ago, brought back by popular demand. Mostly, though, you have Fitz to thank for this.]

Holy fucking Cthulhu, Fitz, what have you done to me? I've been a jabbering fool for days, all because of that bottle of cheap whiskey you got for me. Have any of you ever heard of Fleischmann's? I hadn't either, not until Friday night. It says on the label that it's been an American tradition since 1870, but they might just be delusional.

I am no stranger to cheap whiskey. Cheap whiskey has helped me through many lonely nights and long stretches when I haven't been able to get the good stuff. But Fleischmann's brought me to a whole different level of madness.

I remember showing up at Fitz's place. I remember a bunch of us having a conversation about the women who have fucked us over. Then Konz and a couple others showed up, and the mists of drunkenness started overcoming me. I remember vaguely some kind of card game, and holy shit! They were playing with Al-cocksucking-Swearengin from HBO's DEADWOOD. Was he really there? I don't think so. I recall them having a framed picture of the man on their wall, so I think they were just using that. The game was spades, but one of them was waving a knife around, and I think he might have shanked one of the losing players. Did they just kill a guy in front of me? Shit, what have I gotten myself into?

I do not recall going to the bar. Presumably, we did, but I don't recall doing so. I hereby apologize for any savage bullshit I might have pulled. Judging from my sore throat the following day, I think I did a lot of screaming, which is par for the course when I'm blacked out.

Anyway, the entire evening was lost in a haze of booze, and when I came back to myself, it was to a loud voice saying, "Hey, are you taking a piss?"

"Fuck no!" I screamed indignantly, but after a moment of careful consideration, I realized I actually WAS urinating. In one hand, I held the bottle of Fleischmann's, and in the other, my cold-shriveled dick. The sound of pattering fluid against metal was a pretty definite sign of what I was doing. I looked around, trying to figure out where I was, and I was still at Fitz's apartment complex, but I was outside, pissing against a Dumpster.

"You're really fuckin' wasted, man," the voice told me.

Who the hell was talking to me? Was I hearing voices? Was God finally speaking to me? And if it was Him, would He then ask me to kill?

"Where are you?" I asked.

"In the Dumpster. Where else?"

I peered over the top of the Dumpster, and sure enough, there was a guy in there, knee-deep in trash. He was kind of a short fellow, and it looked like he was ripping open garbage bags.

"What the fuck are you doing?" I asked.

"Looking for Marlboro Miles. You smoke Marlboros?"

"Sorry," I said. I looked down to see a yellow puddle at my feet, freezing over. Now that I was done, I flipped myself back into my pants and zipped up.

"I'm gonna' get me one of those sweet-ass jackets," the man in the Dumpster told me. "I'm almost there, too. It's gonna be fuckin' awesome."

I nodded. "Hey, do you see any Coke points in there?"

"Sure," he said. "A few. Trade 'em for a couple a' pulls on that bottle ya' got there."

I shrugged. "Sure."

He moved around for a bit, and I heard him spinning the tops off of several bottles. When he handed them over, I had about ten of them. I then gave him the bottle, and he tried taking a swallow.

"What the fuck?" he muttered. When he examined the top, he swore again. "I hate these fucking things. Sure, it makes pouring easier, but what about us guys who like drinking from the bottle?" He took another drink, then gave me the bottle back.

I took a swig, myself. Anyone else would have probably worried about whether or not this guy had something, but for those of you who have forgotten high school science class, alcohol kills germs.

"You live here?" I asked.

"Fuck no. I just come here for the Marlboro Miles. There's a few more Dumpsters, too, so I gotta' go."

"Me, too. Good to meet you."

I put the cap back on the bottle and started looking around, trying to get my bearings. It took me a little bit, but I finally realized where I was (and I must have been wandering around a long time before I came back to myself), and I started the trek back toward Fitz's place across some of the most treacherous ice and slush I've ever encountered. It didn't help that I was still tipsy. After a while, I realized I was staggering around like a lunatic, and I was holding the bottle the whole time. Things would not have gone so well if a cop just happened to come along. There was no way a bottle this big was going to fit in my pocket, so I held it inside my trench coat as I made my way through what could have been the movie set for John Carpenter's THE THING.

When I got back to where I must have started, I began looking around for my car, and I was not very successful. It was nowhere to be seen. As I stumbled blindly around, I kept pushing the button on my key ring that would make the lights flash. Nothing.

After a half an hour of wandering, I finally saw the bumper sticker (WHAT IS TABARD INN? GO TO: TALESOFQUESTIONABLETASTE.COM), and I made my way home. The next day, I came to feeling queasy, and I wasn't able to stand up without having the world spin around me. When I finally gained the courage, I looked at the bottle and realized I'd drunk between half and three-quarters of its contents. Horrified, I wondered if I should get my stomach pumped.

Later that night, I sat down to watch THE OX-BOW INCIDENT, and I brought my friend/arch-nemesis, Fleischmann's, to watch it with me. In the opening scene, Henry Fonda starts downing shot after shot of whiskey, and I decided to keep up with him. At the fifteen-minute-mark, I realized I'd had about six shots.

So, what the hell? Why not continue?

By the time the movie was over, I'd probably had about twenty shots or so. When I looked at the bottle to see where I was now, I was shocked to discover that the line of booze was just about at the same place. Was I losing my mind? Was I already wasted? I just felt buzzed.

So I started attacking the bottle as if I hadn't had a drink in months. My guts churned with cheap booze, and once more I found my life overcome by the mists of drunkenness.

I have one memory of jabbering wildly at some asshole who had broken into my bathroom and was walking around naked. I took me a moment to realize that I was screaming at the mirror.

The next day, the bottle was still filled one-quarter of the way. I felt like laughing and crying at the same time. When I ventured forth from my house to hang out with Jesse, Jason, and Vince, the neighbors looked strangely at me. I wondered what else I had done last night, then decided I didn't want to know.

The drive home from Jesse's sucked. It was so cold the inside of my windows were frosted over, and no amount of scraping was able to banish it. The garage door was frozen shut. A river of ice threatened to break my ass several times on the way to my back door.

It was time to get acquainted with Fleischmann's again. Not too much. Just enough to help me get to sleep. At least, that's what I told myself as I started swilling it directly from the bottle.

I woke up this morning naked on the bathroom floor in a puddle of my own blood. Clearly, it had come from my nose, but my face was not bruised and it didn't hurt much at all. During cold weather, I'm prone to nosebleeds, so that's what I guessed happened.

When I pushed myself to my feet, I realized that I'd written something on the mirror in my own blood. What it was, I honestly can't say. It was unintelligible.

I wondered vaguely how much I'd had to drink. Stumbling to my bedroom, I sought the bottle, and can you guess how much was left?


For now, I am sober. Tonight, when I get home, I might have to attack that bottle again. It's either Fleischmann's or me, and something tells me I'm going to lose once more.

Or maybe I've won. Maybe I've found a bottomless bottle of booze. Could Dionysus be so generous?

Don't be surprised if I come in tomorrow, and I'm no longer me. Fleischmann's may have stolen my body by then. If it's me, I'll wear a red carnation . . . .

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Gunshots in Elmhurst?

Last night, I went out for a walk. I didn't do it with a destination in mind, I just did it for the exercise and the alone time, time to think. I wound up near the fountain just north of York and Vallette, and I sat down on the bench for a rest. I thought about the bar I'd just passed, Kacey's Pub. On the one hand, it's a bar within walking distance of me, but on the other, the clientele would burn someone like me at the stake if I dared wander across their threshold. They're not ready for degenerates in there; they're too religious and parental.

But at that point, I sure could have used a beer, yet I had no money.

It was then that I heard what sounded like shotgun blasts going off. At first, there were only a few explosions, but then they were joined by a cacophony of whistles and screams and pops and booms. Fireworks. Enough to make me think for a moment that I'd been teleported to Afghanistan. Soon, people were driving by at top speed, yelling and honking their horns. Ah, this was a celebration of some sort. But what could it be? Had we finally captured bin Laden? Or did Jesus come back? I tried to figure out what it is that normal people celebrate, but nothing made sense . . . until I remembered that the Blackhawks were playing for the Stanley Cup.

This was reinforced by a carload of drunken teenagers who drove by, screaming, "Blackhawks win! Blackhawks win!" A fifteen-year-old girl leaned out of her SUV and flashed her tits in celebration.

Practically everyone who drove by shouted the news at me. I wondered if they ever considered that someone who had gone out for a walk during such a pivotal play off game probably didn't give a shit about the Blackhawks.

A van drove by, and a ten-year-old girl leaned out, gave me the thumbs up, and said, "Blackhawks won!"

Just out of meanness, I thought I'd shout, "Go Philly!" But I didn't feel like ruining anyone's innocence at that moment.

Instead, the noise was getting to me, and it showed no sign of letting up. I got up and started walking home as the city of Elmhurst went crazy all around me. At a stop light, I heard more than one person in their cars saying, "This is the greatest day of my life!" Jesus, I thought, what a grim thing to say!

Then, I was passing Kacey's Pub, and I heard the celebration inside. Someone said, "Drinks are on me!"

I zipped in, a grin on my face, a cheer building up inside of me. "BLACKHAWKS WIN!" I shouted and took a seat at the bar.

"You're just in time, buddy," the bartender said as he flipped a coaster in front of me. "This guy over here just bought a round of drinks. What'll you have?"

"Really?" I asked. "Awesome. Make mine a Jim Beam on the rocks, easy on the rocks."

As I sipped at my free drink, I figured I could be a Blackhawks fan for a little bit. Then, I'd have to sneak out the back before someone expected me to reciprocate, but for that brief period of time, we'd all be happy.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010


[NOTE: Whenever you see the words "sidebar interview," you can actually read the interviews here: http://thenapalmassault.blogspot.com/2010/04/john-bruni-interviews-at-c2e2.html]

If you read comic books by the issue, you have undoubtedly seen the advertisements everywhere: “C2E2: THE CON CHICAGO NEEDS. THE CON YOU DESERVE!” From April 16-18, C2E2, or the Chicago Comics and Entertainment Expo, celebrated its maiden year in the Lakeside building of the McCormick place to the tune of 28,000 attendees, according to the C2E2 blog. Exact numbers aren’t out yet, but taking into consideration the price of admission ($30 for one day, $60 for all three), this means the show made anywhere between $84,000 and $1.68 million.

Upon entering the convention floor, one is inundated with fellow attendees dressed up as their favorite characters, not just from comic books, but also from popular movies and television shows. Superman stands in the corner talking with Link from LEGEND OF ZELDA while Princess Leia shares a soft pretzel with her son, who is dressed as Spiderman. Meanwhile, over by the DeLorean from BACK TO THE FUTURE and the Batmobile from the Adam West BATMAN TV show, the Joker and Harley Quinn are inviting any passers-by to stop in and get their pictures taken with such Hollywood icons . . . for $10, of course. It is, after all, a convention.

Shills leap out from every booth, eager to sell their products, whether they be bootlegged DVD’s, their latest CD, a web comic, or even memorabilia, like old movie posters and autographed photographs of Hollywood stars. There are contests everywhere, and when one walks through Artists Alley, they are confronted with hopeful faces and an array of brand new, independent possibilities.

In short, it’s just like Wizard World Chicago. In fact, some skeptics have questioned as to whether or not C2E2 is necessary, since WWC, while actually located in suburban Rosemont, has ruled this roost for 20 years. However, attendees of C2E2 saw a few differences. For one, there is a lot of space to move around, whereas WWC is practically impossible to navigate through. There are the same smells of body odor and flatulence, but it’s not so bad when the person emitting these fumes isn’t rubbing up against you. And whereas WWC is closed off from the outside world like the inside of a casino, C2E2 has windows, and the crowd is actually exposed to sunlight. Granted, near the end of the day, it becomes blindingly bright, but at the same time, it is nice to be reminded that the outside world still exists. The panel rooms at McCormick Place are nicer, too.

But there is one key difference between the two conventions: WWC has, in recent years, been overtaken by pop culture in general, whereas C2E2’s clear loyalty is to comics. There is overlap, of course, but WWC’s guests last year were composed almost exclusively of wrestlers, television and movie stars, and something called a “reality TV star,” which probably doesn’t really exist. Comics writers and artists took a back seat.

So C2E2 had to up the ante by inviting practically everyone in the comics industry, from the folks usually found in Artists Alley to web comics creators to hot new talent to seasoned professionals to writers of actual books to the people who run everything. Jim Lee has been a regular, but Karen Berger and Joe Quesada? What about Peter Straub and George R.R. Martin? Does the name Neil Gaiman ring a bell? And how long has it been since Garth Ennis came to Chicago?

At a glance, the DC booth looks as it always has. The corners have been relegated to their separate properties, Wildstorm and Vertigo, with another corner dedicated to the toys they produce. Free comics are stacked up all over the place (more on that later). But who is that sitting at the Vertigo table? It’s none other than FABLES writer Bill Willingham! [Sidebar interview.]

Later in the day, crime writer Brian Azzarello has taken Willingham’s place. [Sidebar interview.]

Not all companies have had it as easy as DC, but there are some who keep kicking against the pricks and do so rather well, with a stable of amazing talent, no less. Take Avatar, for example. They started publishing in 1996 and were mostly known for their “bad girl” characters, like Pandora and Hellina. However, Avatar grew up quickly when it started publishing creator owned books with no content restrictions. Garth Ennis, Warren Ellis, Alan Moore, and other greats answered the call, and Avatar has been producing some of the most interesting, mind-blowing books on the market. In fact, some of their writers and artists are so dedicated to their company and their craft that they have decided to sign at the booth for the entire time C2E2 is open.

Take Jacen Burrows and Mike Wolfer, for example. [Sidebar interviews.]

And then there is comics legend, Brian Pulido. [Sidebar interview.]

Even LAW AND ORDER: SVU and NUMB3RS writer Christos Gage can be seen hanging out at the Avatar booth, signing books and pimping his most recent releases, including the first ABSOLUTION miniseries and the graphic novel from Vertigo Crime, AREA 10. [Review of AREA 10 will be posted soon.]

On Saturday, Garth Ennis sits at the Avatar booth, ready to sign. If you spend $30 or more at the booth, you get VIP status for this signing. This means that you get to go first, before the non-VIP signing, and you can have more things signed. Three items from other publishers, and anything else Avatar has published. As Ennis signs, he’s willing to talk about anything at all, from the final PREACHER story that will probably never be published (as reported elsewhere, it is the story of the Sexual Investigators; if you want to read it, it is recommended that you let Vertigo know, or in the words of Ennis himself, “Give them shit about it.”) to the reason why it’s been five years since a new issue of DICKS has been released (because they’re not big money makers; SHAME ON YOU, AMERICA!) to the search for good American beer (which has been a bit more successful than some would think).

No matter how much these talented individuals have to do at this show, it pales in comparison to William Christensen, the head of Avatar. He moves around the booth with sweat gleaming on his forehead, making sure that everything is running smoothly, that product is always on display, that product is moving, and trying to organize the big signings, namely Garth Ennis, George R.R. Martin, and Max Brooks. Of all the folks at the Avatar booth, he is the only one who turns down an interview, and one can hardly blame him. It is clear that C2E2 has wiped him out, that he is probably looking forward to sleeping for a week after the convention, and yet he somehow manages to stay on his feet. Through the virtue of Avatar’s amazing books, the publishing company has managed to get a lot of attention. One look at Christensen shows that a lot of hard work has gone into this, and the battle has been uphill the whole way.

In fact, it looks like the only ones who have had it easy (or at least easier than most) are DC and Marvel, and maybe Image. The convention is saturated with publishing companies desperate for your attention. For example, during the last half-hour of the first day, Archaia declares that anything on the center table of their booth is for free. The booth is inundated with customers, most of whom have come in to get their free books and not to look at the rest of their selection, which is a shame, considering the quality of these free books. Not one of them is much good. ARTESIA BESIEGED and ROBOTIKA are incredibly awful, and STARKWEATHER IMMORTAL barely qualifies as mediocre. SOME NEW KIND OF SLAUGHTER tries to educate, but it’s bogged down in a stiff style and awkward sideways printing. Only THE KILLER seems decent, but it’s hard to tell for sure because they only gave away issues four, nine, and ten. This makes judging the story impossible, as it is a book that needs to be read in order.

However, those who just came by to get their free books and not browse probably missed a book simply called TUMOR. [TUMOR review will be posted soon.]

All in all, Archaia could have taken a lesson from DC’s booth. In the Vertigo section, they are giving away the first issues of DAYTRIPPER, JOE THE BARBARIAN, and DEMO, which makes getting into a sequential book much easier. Sadly, these three titles do not amount to much, and neither do THE AUTHORITY and WILDCATS books they are giving away in the Wildstorm corner. SPARTA #1 is a bit more promising, but the true star of the free books DC are giving away is VICTORIAN UNDEAD. [VICTORIAN UNDEAD review will be posted soon.]

If comic books aren’t your thing, there are plenty of other products on the floor to choose from. Do you want autographed photos of celebrities? They’re here. Toys? They’re everywhere. Pithy t-shirts? A stone’s throw away. Old pulp magazines? You got it. Hell, do you want a tattoo? You can find several artists ready and eager to go to work on you. For those with the money, there is an IRON MAN auction going on, in which you can buy props used in the actual movie.

Then there are the DVD’s. If you want a bootleg, they’re all over the place, but the true attraction for movie lovers are the imports. You can find practically any movie you want in the world, including one of the worst films ever made, Ed Wood’s NECROMANIA. [See NECROMANIA review previously posted.]

Every once in a while, you might come upon a booth selling something a little more interesting, like Retro-a-Go-Go. They have t-shirts with old pulp fiction covers depicted on the front. They only fit the ladies, but some of you guys will probably like them enough to buy at least one, just to have it. They also sell flasks, lighters, key-rings, and picture frames with retro art on them. Is it no surprise that they have an undying love for all things Bettie Page? For those of you who can’t wait until the next C2E2, you can check them out at www.retro-a-go-go.com.

Walking around this convention, seeing all that it has to offer, can take a lot out of a person, especially if that person is lugging around a lot of books to be signed and recently purchased products. You can either spend a fortune on a Pepsi and pizza (or churros, or nachos, or whatever), or you can stop by one of the many booths offering free samples of energy drinks. Rockstar, Venom, Amp, they’re all here, and they’re here to help you stay on your feet.

And for those who want to know the state of their favorite publishing companies (or for those who want to take a load off), there are the panels. The very first of the show was the Vertigo panel with Karen Berger, Peter Straub, Scott Snyder, Cliff Chiang, Bill Willingham, and others. Here are a few things they discussed:

--THE UNWRITTEN. This awful book, sadly, shows no sign of being cancelled. Somehow, it collected three Eisner nominations, and one of the panelists said, “It’s kind of like if Garth Ennis wrote WINNIE THE POOH.” This is a selling point, but as anyone who has read the book can tell you, it’s a bit of a stretch.

--THE GREEN WOMAN. This is why Peter Straub is here today. There was a character from his novel, THE THROAT, by the name of Frank Belknap (fans of the Lovecraft circle will recognize this name). He was a very nasty serial killer who was quickly killed off with very little explanation as to his character. Vertigo has convinced Straub to create an alternate universe version of Belknap and put him in a home for spectacular serial killers. “It’s horror at its meanest and most powerful,” Berger said.

--AMERICAN VAMPIRE. This is number one reason for most people to attend this panel; since Stephen King is the co-writer, this is not surprising. Scott Snyder is tired of the Anne Rice-type vampire. He says the romantic vampire is simply not scary, that vampires are supposed to be your loved ones and neighbors come back from the grave to kill you. He cites ‘SALEM’S LOT as a major influence. Since he is friends with King, the master was invited by Vertigo to be a part of this book. [AV review will be posted soon.]

--Good news for JACK OF FABLES fans: #50 has been referred to as a “game changer.” Readers know that the book has recently focused on Jack Frost, the good son of Jack Horner (the title character). While it is interesting to see his adventures, they just don’t compare to his father’s. Why? Perhaps it’s because Jack Horner is a scoundrel and it’s a lot more fun to watch him in action. They did not go into details as to what might change this game, but keep an eye out for #50.

--Were you a fan of SHADE THE CHANGING MAN? Hell, do you remember the title? Not many do, but it was one of the first books on Vertigo’s roster back in their beginning days. If you enjoyed the series, then you’re in for good news: he’s coming back. After a short reintroduction in HELLBLAZER (which is only fair, considering the time that John Constantine guest-starred in Shade’s book), he will be returning with his own series.

--They also talked about a lot of brand new projects, including Christos Gage’s AREA 10. They discussed REVOLVER, a graphic novel in which the main character goes to work, expecting the usual boring day only to be confronted by the end of the world. He slogs through the destruction and makes it to the end of the day, but the following morning, everything is back to normal. The story switches off between days, and there is even a third story in a scroll at the bottom of each page. From the writer of HELLBLAZER: PAPA MIDNITE and INCOGNEGRO, we have DARK RAIN, a graphic novel using Hurricane Katrina as a backdrop. Two convicts decide to take advantage of the hurricane to rob a bank in New Orleans. In THE EXECUTOR, a man comes back to his hometown to be the executor of the will of a girl he doesn’t know. Denise Mina has SICKNESS IN THE FAMILY for us, the tale of a twisted family that gets killed off one by one. GREENDALE is a graphic novel written by Joshua Dysart and illustrated by Cliff Chiang, based on the Neil Young album. Women in a small town are changing and disappearing when they reach a certain age. The protagonist is a female who is approaching this age, but she’s disappointed in the state of our world. This is the story of what she does as a result. Lastly, we have two books, CUBA MY REVOLUTION and HOW TO UNDERSTAND ISRAEL IN 60 DAYS OR LESS, the first of which is about a woman who had to grow up in Cuba during Castro’s regime, and the latter about one American woman’s visit to Israel to see firsthand the horrors and the disadvantages of both the Israelis and the Palestinians.

--During the Q&A session, Straub was asked about the future of his own work with comics. Specifically, Stephen King has had a lot of luck with his work being translated into comic books lately. In fact, King and Straub’s THE TALISMAN is being published by Del Ray now, and the questioner was wondering if any of Straub’s older work, perhaps SHADOWLANDS or FLOATING DRAGON, would be published in a comics format. Straub said that at the time, there were no plans. As far as Del Ray goes, they just send him and King images for them to approve.

The Marvel panel is a lot more crowded, but not as interesting. Joe Quesada is a dynamic speaker who isn’t afraid to tell the truth. For example, he admits to enjoying DC Comics more than Marvel at one point in his life, even though he’s the big man at Marvel now. The problem is, Marvel’s ideas aren’t that exciting. He describes a new CAPTAIN AMERICA project helmed by Ed Brubaker, one of the greatest writers working in the industry, but there’s nothing about it that seems to leap off the page. Not even Warren Ellis’ new IRON MAN motion comic is exciting (but motion comics really aren’t that great, anyway, so that battle was lost from its conception). The highlight, though, is when a small, bespectacled woman meekly approaches the microphone during Q&A and suggests that Marvel comics is guilty of creating unrealistically proportioned women as the heroines of their female comics.

Most people would stare back in surprise with deer-in-the-headlights eyes, but Quesada is ready with a reply right off the bat. At first, he acknowledges her agenda, and then he systematically disproves it, while at the same time admitting that this kind of thing does happen in comic books. He also mentions that the same thing happens to men in comics, as well. He cites examples of 100% realistic women and the artists who render them, and with his point proven, he waits for her rebuttal. All she can say is, “Um, thank you.” And she walks away.

Back to the convention floor. The one thing that C2E2 has that WWC does not is an area dedicated to web comics. One gentleman is handing out bookmarks with his website on them, www.1977thecomic.com. The tagline: “Life, one toke at a time . . . .” Upon going online, though, this is a bit of an exaggeration. It’s the story of a young man in Lombard, IL, who decides that he’s going to be a rock star. He answers an ad in the paper and rents a room in a stranger’s house. Wacky PERFECT STRANGERS/ODD COUPLE hijinks ensue, sometimes involving weed, but more often than not involving mystic toads, magical sex changes, failed rock gigs, and the like. You know, with the exception of the failed rock gigs, these are all things that the year 1977 actually lacked. It’s not super funny. The jokes are usually kind of lame, but if you’re bored, it will get you through the day.

Speaking of hijinks ensuing, C2E2 was graced with the appearance of web comic HIJINKS ENSUE, where they are pimping their first collection, GODSPEED, YOU FANCY BASTARD. Do you like jokes about how the Ewoks used the Care Bear Countdown to blow up the Death Star? How about any joke about Iron Man, video games, THE MATRIX, and . . . and just about every pop culture reference you can think of? If the answer is yes, head over to www.hijinksensue.com at your earliest possible convenience. Only then will you find out about JURASSIC PARK 4: FREAKIN’ DINOSAURS WITH FREAKIN’ LASER BEAMS. And did you know that Darth Vader and Stephen Colbert made it to the birth of Christ via the Tron car? You will . . . .

And now for a stroll down Artists Alley. This is the corner of the convention that most people don’t visit, mostly because they’re not interested in finding something completely new. They have come to C2E2 to meet some of their favorite creators, a few celebrities, and to look for some of the more hard-to-find products they’ve been thinking about for a while. No, the browsers you find down on AA are the hardcore comics readers. They’re the ones looking for the up-and-comers. They’re ready to think outside of the major comics companies. They’re the ones who want more from a convention.

Going up and down the aisles of AA, the usual faces are seen. You know the ones. They have a table at every WWC. There are a few illustrators from DC and Marvel down here, looking to sell original art pages, but for the most part, the creators you meet down here are trying to get their indie books off the ground. Sadly, there isn’t much of a selection down here this time around. The familiar faces are too familiar, and nothing really jumps out at you and demands your attention.

Wait. There is a sign over one table with a picture of a large bearded man in wrestling gear shouting, “PLATO SMASH!” The book? ACTION PHILOSOPHERS! [ACTION PHILOSOPHERS review will be posted soon.]

Sadly, the only other attention-grabber is ONE YEAR IN INDIANA. The symbol for Kurt Dinse’s book is the black outline of the state of Indiana with a giant pentagram in the middle of it. They are pimping a new issue in addition to Dinse’s latest project, HURR. [ONE YEAR IN INDIANA and HURR reviews will be posted soon.]

All things considered, was C2E2 the convention Chicago deserved? According to rumor, the event coordinators were disappointed with the number of attendees. They wanted 30,000 at the least. Not only that, but McCormick Place is kind of a pain in the ass to get to, and the cost of parking is absurd. When the chips are down, and all the cards have been turned over, C2E2 is pretty much the same as WWC. Will Chicago convention goers want two conventions a year? Will they have the money for them? Time will tell for sure. Chances are, one of these two conventions will die out in the next few years, but which one will it be?

One thing is for sure: C2E2 is already planning to be here next year. Will you be there?

Monday, June 7, 2010


Stymied by a long list of cinematic failures, many of which, like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, GLEN OR GLENDA?, and NIGHT OF THE GHOULS, are today considered cult classics, auteur Ed Wood finally decided to stop trying. His standards fell with THE SINISTER URGE, a sexploitation classic, until finally he hit rock bottom with the hard-to-find NECROMANIA (1971). As he grew older, he realized that the cheapest kind of movie to make was porn, which was perfect for him. Until recently, one could only find the softcore (or HOT) version of this movie. Now, Fleshbot Films has released the uncut (or HOT HOT HOT) version of this “tale of weird love.”

Here’s the premise: Danny and Shirley are a young couple who are having intimacy issues. They have gone to Madame Heles, who is supposedly a sex therapist (as far as the ‘Seventies had sex therapists), to help them recharge their life between the sheets. When it’s put like this, it’s almost classy, like those Nina Hartley how-to DVD’s. Ah, but this is Ed Wood, remember. If anyone can fuck up a porno, it’s him.

First of all, it should be mentioned that the cast and crew wished to remain nameless, for the very obvious reason that shooting porn was illegal back then. Not even Wood himself (and he does have kind of a porno name, anyway) wanted his name on it, choosing to use his pseudonym, Don Miller. Also, this film had to be shot with two cameramen because one of them was disgusted with the prospect of recording penetration and cum shots. And Wood wanted longtime collaborator, Vampira, to play Madame Heles. Vampira turned him down as soon as she read the script, claiming that she’d be committing career suicide. She would have been right, considering how the movie ends with Heles giving Danny a blowjob. More on that later.

Only Criswell was willing to help out by loaning Wood his famed coffin. More on that later, too.

So, how does one ruin a porno? For starters, one can film an insanely long establishing shot showing the couple driving on their way to Madame Heles’ place. Then, one can throw a ton of mystic bullshit on the screen like a monkey hurling its own feces. As it turns out (and this is a spoiler alert, if you care), Madame Heles uses the sex therapist thing as a cover. She is really a sexual vampire who needs to be powered by people all around her fucking at all times. Those who don’t have any dysfunctions at all are thrown into a room where they do nothing but fuck each other . . . forever. This room, by the way, is portrayed twice, and both times it is through a weird, foggy filter so you can only vaguely tell that they are fucking. The number one cardinal rule of porn IS TO SHOW THE FUCKING. Thank you, Mr. Wood.

If you’re still having problems, then Madame Heles’ solution is to drag you into her coffin (YES, COFFIN; remember Criswell’s contribution?) to have sex with her until you’re fixed. This is where Danny winds up, getting his dick sucked, so he can be repaired before he’s thrown into the Perpetual Fucking Room.

Let’s see . . . how else can you destroy a porno? Perhaps by having most of the action be lame? For example, the actors (if they can be called such; porn isn’t known for winning Academy Awards, but still . . .) are expert leg and belly lickers. When someone’s about to go down on a girl, they waste untold minutes lapping away at their partners’ bellies or perhaps the insides of their thighs.

Maybe this is a godsend, though, considering that when they actually get down to their hirsute destinations, the hardcore action is kind of . . . embarrassing. Their faces are almost bored, and their movements awkward. Sometimes, things come off as silly, like when Madame Heles’ assistant masturbates with a skull. It’s so bad that when the words THE END appear on the forehead of a skull at the end, it’s actually a relief.

NECROMANIA is undeniably one of the worst movies ever made, but because of Ed Wood’s sensibilities, it’s also the weirdest porno ever made. How many other skin flicks have you seen that make a Bela Lugosi reference right off the bat?

Fleshbot Films
55 minutes

Friday, June 4, 2010


OK, as of now, I can also be found at Twitter (www.twitter.com/tusitalabruni). Now that that's out of the way, it's time to start this blog off right and proper. It's the first in a series of personal tales that I would like to call STORIES YOU WOULDN'T TELL YOUR MOTHER. My sexual adventures are few and far between, but when they happen, they happen in a big way . . . .

A weird sex story by John Bruni

Once upon a time, I had a friend who was all-consumed by the idea of receiving blowjobs. It didn’t happen enough to suit him, so he constantly searched for women who would be able to satisfy this need that was integral to his well being. One night, he enlisted me in this quest.

We will call him Mike, because that’s his brother’s name.

Mike found himself in a relationship with a wonderful woman, but the problem was, she hated giving blowjobs. She just thought they were dirty, nasty things. The penis does not belong in someone’s mouth. We’ll call her Lucy, because that’s her sister’s name.

Lucy had a friend for whom she was always trying to find a date. No one wanted to go out with this unfortunate lass, and anyone who went out with her once never did so again. We’ll call her Nancy, but only because she has no siblings, and I can’t think of anything else to call her.

Lucy made a deal with Mike: if he could find a date for Nancy, then she would suck Mike’s dick to his heart’s content. Desperate, Mike turned to me for help and explained his situation. Far be it for me to stand between a friend and a prospective blowjob, so I agreed to go out with Nancy, even though I had never met her.

“Is she at least good looking?” I asked.

Mike got a weird, pale smile on his face. “She’s got a great personality.”

I should have known then and there. Perhaps a part of me did. But I went ahead with the plan, regardless.

We all met at Mike’s apartment, and while I hadn’t been expecting much, it would be unfair to say I was anything less than startled by Nancy’s appearance. From the neck down, she was as perfect as a woman could get. She would have made a great lingerie model, provided the camera never went above the neckline.

Half of her face was dainty and beautiful and very kissable. The other side, however, was a horrible, mottled mess of burn tissue. She brushed her long hair over that side to keep it as concealed as she could, but there was no way to hide her Harvey Dent visage from the world.

I hid my shock as best as I could, and we greeted one another. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Mike suppressing a smile, and Lucy stood by, trying to be a supportive friend.

I ignored the 400-pound gorilla in the room, and we went out for an evening of debauchery. There was a movie, a cheeseburger dinner, and an outing to some bar that I don’t even remember where it was. It was a bit too expensive for my tastes, though, and this was in the days before I flasked those kinds of places, so my wallet was hurting pretty badly.

It was late, but we decided that we hadn’t finished drinking ourselves silly yet. We got a bottle and went back to Mike’s place, where we hung out for a bit before Mike and Lucy started getting a bit too frisky. They were about the width of a pubic hair away from fucking each other in front of us, so Nancy suggested we go for a walk.

The walk was a bit too arduous, though, since we were both hammered out of our minds. We stopped at my car, and she asked if we could just sit in the backseat for a while. We got in, and she rested her head on my chest and told me her story.

Apparently, she’d been the all-American girl. You know, prom queen and all of that nonsense. She fell in love with the most popular motorhead at her high school, and they went on to be married after graduation. Unfortunately, her beloved turned out to be an abuser, and she found herself getting the shit beaten out of her on a regular basis.

One night, she cooked her husband’s steak the wrong way, so he held her face down on the stove. Divorce and jail time followed, and not necessarily in that order.

As she told her story, her voice became more garbled, and she slid further and further down me until her head was in my lap, and she was massaging my crotch. The next thing I knew, she was sucking my dick, and she was working it like a pro. I’ve only ever had one blowjob better than that one (perhaps a story for another day). Looking down from that angle, it was hard to tell that she’d been a burn victim at all.

We maneuvered around a bit (because the backseat was not very big), and we started fucking, but it wasn’t doing much for her. “Take me from behind,” she whispered.

“Uh . . . I’m not into assplay,” I said.

“No, not like that. Just fuck me from behind, okay?”

Well, that was fine with me. I’m just not a fan of the butthole. That’s where shit comes from.

She turned around, and I started fucking her slowly at first, but that wasn’t good enough. She wanted it faster and harder, so I complied. I got a bit worried when her face started hitting the window, though. She didn’t seem to feel it, even though she was leaving smudge marks all over it, and the glass was fogging up.

“Harder!” she yelled.

I pushed myself harder until I heard a sudden tearing sound. I stopped, wondering what the hell had just happened. My body was wet from my dick to my knees, and I wondered if maybe she was a squirter.

And then I smelled it. Shit. Deep, fruity, pungent shit.

I had fucked this drunk burn victim so hard that she’d shit all over me. All over my backseat. All over the library books I had on the floor. It was everywhere.

I was just about ready to start screaming at her when I heard her sob softly against the window. As she broke down, I knew there was just no way I could yell at her now.

Instead, we came apart and sat next to each other. There was a box of tissues in my car, so we wiped ourselves off with those and threw the soggy Kleenex out the window into a fetid pile in the parking lot. We cleaned as much of it up as we could in utter silence. Neither of us said a word to one another, not even as we got dressed. Then, quietly, she got out of the car and walked out of my life forever.

The next day, Mike was very happy. Mission accomplished. But Lucy was clearly not pleased with me. She’d obviously heard from Nancy what had happened, and Lucy never said a word to me again. Well, she was polite and spoke in terse, but complete, sentences. But she never engaged in conversation with me again, as if the whole thing had been my fault.

I’ve always kind of wondered what happened to Nancy. If you’re out there somewhere, drop me a line. You know who you are.

Thursday, June 3, 2010


Welcome to Tales of Unspeakable Taste! For those of you who don't know me, my name is John Bruni, and I'm a writer with a wide variety of horror, SF, and mystery publications to my name. There aren't any novels (yet), but my work can be found in magazines like SHROUD, CTHULHU SEX MAGAZINE, TRAIL OF INDISCRETION, AOIFE'S KISS, TALES OF THE TALISMAN, DETECTIVE MYSTERY STORIES, HOUSE OF BIZARRO, and a number of others, should you want to look up anything I've done. I was also the editor and publisher of TABARD INN: TALES OF QUESTIONABLE TASTE (www.talesofquestionabletaste.com), but it has been dead for a while. You can also find me on MySpace (www.myspace.com/tabardinn) and Facebook. I've been considering joining Twitter, but for now, I am not there.

So . . . what will I post here? Who knows? Maybe I'll blab endlessly about writing, or what I'm reading, or whatever. Or maybe I'll make enemies by talking about religion and politics. The one thing I can promise is to post what my friends call "Bruni Stories." I've been through a lot of crazy shit in my life, and you're about to find out about all of it. (Or most of it. Some of it is still pending in court, and I can't talk about it. Yet.)

So, stay tuned. You might learn something, but more importantly, you might be entertained. To paraphrase Tom Lehrer, if I can make just one of you laugh (or at least strike a loved one), then it will have all been worth the while.