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When I saw the picture of the homicidal Easter Bunny, I HAD to know more about the creators of BURLAP. Not only did I learn much about the comic creation process, but I got to see how much creative people have in common.

With the world around us filled with content, both good and not so good, Jesse James Baer and his colleagues are people we must watch out for. I would like to thanks Jesse in advance, for his participation in this interview and for contributing creations to the Horror genre.

With all the creative outlets available to you, why write comics?

So, as a kid I always loved comic books and superheroes. I had them all: Batman, Spider-Man, the X-men, you name it. In elementary school, I’d ask to stay inside during recess to draw and write my own comics instead of going outside to play kickball.

Growing up, I had many creative passions. My main passion was writing. I’d write short stories, plays, novels and film scripts. Eventually, I would make it my goal to become an independent filmmaker, attending Bucks County Community College and Temple University to attain a degree in cinema production. I took part in several indie film productions, but as I got older, filmmaking became more and more difficult.

In March of this past year I met comic creator Buz Hasson (The Living Corpse), at Monster Mania Convention. We got talking, and he offered his talents to draw a concept sketch of my short film’s lead character. The whole process of working with him opened my eyes to my old passion of making comics. I saw it as a great way to visually tell the story I wanted to tell and there were no limits! I wasn’t constricted by a budget or actors or locations! I could write my story however I wanted with no constraints. So I set to work re-writing my film script as a comic script and have been truly invested in writing comics since.

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Why Horror?

My relationship with horror has been quite the roller coaster. I grew up with a mother who loved horror movies, she had every one on VHS. Of course, being one of three boys, my brothers would often “borrow”, a horror movie when our parents were away. Safe to say, these movies scared me half out of my wits! I was six, and had been witness to movies like Nightmare on Elm Street, Halloween, Leprechaun and Child’s Play. I constantly had nightmares.

With Jason on set of Friday the 13th fan film I wrote and directed

But I also found a love for horror in the form of books and stories. I was obsessed with Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Edgar Allan Poe. I then discovered the Universal monsters: The Wolf Man, Frankenstein, Dracula.

Growing up, I often felt like an outcast. Horror was filled with relatable characters that I came to love. So when I started writing my own stories, I was drawn directly to horror as a way to express myself and escape the problems of the real world.

List some of your favorite writers or pieces, and tell how your work has been influenced by them.

My biggest influences when it comes to writing are from a couple of different mediums. Comic book-wise, my biggest influence is James O’Barr (The Crow). He, like me, used writing and creating comics to deal with trauma he suffered in his life, and that inspired me to do the same. When it comes to novels and fiction, the writer A. Lee Martinez (Gil’s All Fright Diner, The Automatic Detective) is my “go to”. I always loved the way he could blend any genre with comedy, which influenced me to add bits of humor to my writing. He creates these amazing characters that you just fall in love with.

At Bucks County Community College in 2010 reviewing script ideas

Of course, the greats, like Stephen King and Poe were very influential for me growing up and I learned a lot about conveying human emotions from their depictions of humanity and people. Last but certainly not least, are the great Pulp writers like Mickey Spillane, Dashiell Hammet, and Raymond Chandler. Pulp noir is one of my favorite genres and their work really influences the dark and mysterious/gritty tones I use in my writing. 

How does a story start? An idea, thought, message, scenario, etc.?

I always begin with a character. I get an idea for a person, I figure out who they are, what they look like, and what their motivations and background is. From there, I build a story around that character. The story almost writes itself. The characters I create start to breathe life into the stories themselves. 

Tell me about your writing process.

My writing process always starts with a notebook and pen, creating character webs and bullet pointed plot lines. Once I know what I’m getting into by brainstorming and outlining, that’s when I sit down at my laptop and start churning out the actual story. My ideas hit me at random. Sometimes, in the middle of the night, I’ll suddenly figure out the next plot point or a scenario, and run straight to my notebooks to write it down.

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My writing also comes from a very personal and emotional place. Getting lost in my own stories became a sort of therapy for myself. BURLAP was a way for me to release all my anger and sadness after I unexpectedly lost my older brother in 2018. I took all my rage, and aimed it at fictional villains through my lead character. 

Which piece are you most proud of, and why?

That would definitely be the first issue of my new comic series, BURLAP, a twisted tale of murder, revenge ghosts, gypsy curses, forbidden romance… and a homicidal Easter Bunny. It began as the script for a short film. I spent almost two years writing and rewriting the script. In the end, I’d written six drafts, the seventh being the comic book version. I’m most proud of this because I spent so long with it, trying to make it a reality. I had finally done it!

I’ll never forget coming home to the package on the front step, opening it to find my first self published printing of the comic. Just holding it in my hands and seeing my words brought to life through the amazing artwork of Zoran Jovicic, was absolutely thrilling. 

BURLAP would not have been possible without the illustrations and lettering by accomplished artist Zoran Jovicic, of Novi Sad, Serbia. Zoran was born in 1984 in Mrkonjic Grad, a city in the Republic of Srpska. In Belgrade, he graduated at the Higher Vocational School, Department of Industrial Design. His first comic was Kosingas-Order of the Dragon, and recently has done the artwork for the comic book Memento Mori.

First Burlap Concept Drawing by Buz Hasson

The horror community and comic book communities alike will very much enjoy BURLAP. My goal was to create a character that was part Batman/The Punisher and part slasher-killer like Michael Myers/Jason Voorhees. It takes the slasher formula and flips it, the silent stalker in the mask is actually the hero and his victims are the villains! Instead of focusing on the hero, BURLAP mainly focuses on the rogues as they struggle to survive, much like a slasher film mainly focuses on the slasher killers victims. My artist and I have worked hard on creating a cast of wild villains I believe the readers will love to hate. 

Where can I find your work?

My comic series, BURLAP will be available from Covenant Comics, later this year. Currently, you can find great info including a preview of the book, cover and concept art, and some great background info on myself and the project here.

Covenant Comics and myself will be releasing a Kickstarter campaign in March of 2020, to raise funds to keep the series going! We’re really hoping to rally the horror community around BURLAP and acquire the means to share it with the world!

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What do you think of this interview? If you know of any talented Horror creators we should interview, have a suggestion, question, or request, either:

  • Comment Below
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  • Email @ parzz1val@yahoo.com

Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 5: a Book Review

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I can’t believe we’re already at the mid-season finale of Monastery! Time indeed flies when you’re having a blast (or feel like you’ve been hit by a bag of bricks). The fifth installment of the novel is so action-packed I don’t even know where to start. All I will say right now is that we are in for a ride of a lifetime. Buckle up, folks. 

Plot

We begin the episode with Thomas preparing to leave Monastery, a plan put in motion by his mother which is thankfully quickly reversed. Can you imagine anyone else leading the investigation? Didn’t think so. Although Thomas is still dealing with his guilt over Pop Dennis’s death, he knows there is a lot at stake. After all, his cousins need directions to get to the bottom of things. 

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For arguably the first time the group comes across something of great importance as they discover Francis’s DNA test. The group then trails him and our antagonist George Turner on their quest for the money Albert hid before his death. The characters encounter a bunch of clues that the narrator basically screams are foreshadowing but David once again disregards them. Nice going, man. 

On the other end, we have an extremely disturbing scene involving Francis digging up his father’s grave and desecrating it. I don’t blame Nicole for throwing up at the sight. Seeing him getting more and more unhinged throughout the episode is unsettling as well as riveting.

Speaking of graves, we finally get a flashback sequence of the night Albert’s family covered up his murder. We still don’t know who committed the crime but can see who helped to bury the body aka who is complicit. The scene provides some great characterization to the adults of the ensemble cast. It also explains why George Turner is so involved in everything. Hell, it even manages to make me feel bad for Cassandra. Just for a moment, though. 

Our neighborhood bully Rick continues to be heavily entangled in the story. He and Thomas have a highly emotional altercation when Rick attempts to take his own life. It’s a shame Rick doesn’t tell Thomas why he’s doing this as it would alleviate both their guilt. However, it’s also a realistic exploration of how young children handle something they are not emotionally equipped to deal with.

It is purely because of Thomas’s intentions to help him that Rick ends up being a witness to something horrible. Let’s just say, Francis finally snaps and George meets his brutal end. I definitely won’t miss the guy but this doesn’t bode well for our main cast. It can’t get any crazier though, right? 

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Overall thoughts

This is easily the most exhilarating episode of Monastery so far, with action just seeping off the pages. A lot of other storylines take a backseat (such as the love triangle that is seemingly dead but not quite). Despite that, there is still some time for emotional moments to let the readers take a breath. Words can’t say how excited I am for the next part. I just hope against all hope all my favorites will come out safe. Only time will tell… 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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More from the author:

1. This episode of Monastery was probably the most morbid one yet (the flashback of the family covering up Albert’s murder, Francis digging up his body, Thomas climbing into his grave). What is your writing process when it comes to these types of scenes as they can be quite uncomfortable to think about?

I may well be a little unhinged, as I honestly love writing these morbid scenes – probably because they always feel like the reward you get after you’ve worked so hard for something, you know? As a writer, you try to build up to those big moments, so that they feel earned. My process then ties in with ensuring those big, morbid scenes aren’t gratuitous, that they make sense to the plot and the characters. The family covering up Albert’s murder comes from a place of despair and self-preservation; Francis digging up his body comes from a place of anguish and resentment, and Thomas, well, he’s a very driven young man who will stop at nothing to find the truth, and we’re only just beginning to see that.

2. The neighborhood bully Rick turned out to be a lot more integral to the story than I would’ve originally thought. What prompted you to connect a non-family character to the action to such extent and why him?

I always knew I wanted the regular cast to be an eclectic mix of characters – we have people of all generations of the family (from young Henry to nonagenarian Nana Beth), and even a couple of characters who aren’t family. There is no real reason for that, other than a quirk of mine. But Rick’s true purpose isn’t yet revealed – he just witnessed something immense, it now remains to be seen what he chooses to do about it…

3. I picked up on the theme of beauty throughout the installments of Monastery (especially Nicole and Cassandra’s interaction). Was this choice purely to provide some context for Cassandra’s character or to provide some social commentary about how beauty and youth are worshipped and as soon as a woman starts aging she’s discarded? Maybe a bit of a mix?

A little from column A, a little from column B. The commentary here ties in with the importance that the characters give to female beauty – Nicole is smart, resilient and courageous, but all everyone talks about is how beautiful she is, whereas Cassandra is often regarded as a former, faded beauty. Both women themselves attribute a lot of importance to beauty, an importance that was clearly hammered into them by the world around them. So, when we learn that Cassandra sacrificed her beauty to protect her family, it goes to show all that she was willing to sacrifice to keep her loved ones safe. She may not be grandma of the year – but she’s the hero of a lifetime. A really nasty, emotionally abusive hero, but a hero all the same!

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Book Reviews

Jennifer Weigel on Surviving Gen X by Jo Szewczyk

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Surviving Gen X is a dark and twisted tale of sin and salvation that comes to us from Haunted MTL’s very own Jo Szewczyk. Delving into the depths of debauchery, dysfunction, and deliverance, we follow our protagonists as they navigate the seedy underbelly of Las Vegas, circa 1990. The book reads sort of like an acid trip or a fever dream or both… Good, bad, and ugly, with the gut-wrenching soul-sped journey of a candle lit at both ends, simultaneously fueled by cum, gasoline, and fire. The sexual exploits of our mostly unnamed narrator and lovelorn abused housewife Annie and friends, lovers, and accomplices craft an affair of more than the heart, of two (hundred thousand million billion) lost souls swimming eternally in a fishbowl, year after year after year after…

Surviving Gen X book cover
Surviving Gen X book cover

So you think you can tell…?

Surviving Gen X reads less as a credible story and more as an immersive experience, a theatrical performance in which you are whisked away to an alternate reality caked thick in glamour and glitter and grime. It is the sort of journey that leaves a stain on the psyche that won’t wash away no matter how hard you scrub at it. It is raw and provocative and, more than anything, screams to be seen, to be heard, to be rescued. All involved are adrift, seeking fulfillment in a world that refuses to acknowledge and cannot accept them for who they are. They are surviving, moment by moment, and in that space they are each and every one alone, isolated and forsaken. Like flecks of stardust strewn across the universe, our protagonists yearn to cast their glow, to shine forth, to unite, to be made whole… but the growing vastness of the space between them prevents such true connection and eventually all succumb to their own despair.

Despite being naked and vulnerable, this is nonetheless an adventure masked in mud, merriment, and mayhem, seeking friendship and truth as gritty glimmers of hope found only when one throws oneself into the darkest depths of dysfunction to claw their way back out through all of the layers. Only here can such elements of titillating triumph be told, through snippets of scenes that seem to spring forth from the most unreal and unlikely circumstances, like a failed double date at a family restaurant that devolves into potential death by bachelorette party. It is the spaghetti thrown at the wall in the hopes of sticking, trying desperately to hold on, to cling to some sense of relativity. The result is absurd as much as it is agonizing.

Running Over the Same Old Ground, What Have We Found?

Much like a re-birthing, or a regurgitation, this experience is messy and sometimes difficult to swallow. It defies definition and refuses reality, eschewing enjoyment even despite immersing itself in all of the pleasures of the flesh. Because what is left when the body, mind, heart, and spirit are disjointed? Just an off-kilter roller coaster jaunt through oblivion, careening off course in a fast and rapid burnout. There’s no getting off that ride once the kooky contraption gets going, best just to accept the struggle, hold on tight, and see it out to its crazy conclusion. We’re still trying to wash the confetti from our hair after falling out that window.

To quote the 2006 Wergle Flomp poetry contest winning poem, this is:

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A travesty / Of buffoonery. / As if a five-year-old child / Were pointing a handgun / At a masturbating clown. Nicholas Moore, How to Write a Poem

And a hauntingly beautiful and brilliant travesty of buffoonery it is… So I’m not going to rate this experience by Cthulhus; the Cthulhus are still too busy trying to untie the ropes to release the French midget hanging from the crystal chandelier. But if you yearn to see how it all unfolds, and to experience the gritty gaudy glitz in all of its slimy sleazy splendor, then you need only to pick up the book and read for yourself. It’s an adventure you won’t soon forget. You can find it here on Amazon. Plus if you order it now you’ll have it for VD (Valentine’s Day, ya perv, though maybe there isn’t really much difference)… Oh and here’s a sneak peek from13 Days of Krampus 2020…

And if you want to explore something of similar sentiment to set the mood, may I recommend watching Unholy by Sam Smith and Kim Petras? If the following YouTube window doesn’t work, you can find it directly here.

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