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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:

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Book Reviews

A Misfortune of Lake Monsters: a Book Review

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As summer approaches, there’s nothing quite like reading a book with warm campy vibes. It’s especially true if you’re lying on a sunny beach. Nicole M Wolverton’s A Misfortune of Lake Monsters matches that picture perfectly. It’s described as a creature feature with a Stranger Things-esque friend group.

Although set in modern times, I found the story felt like something out of the 80s (in a good way). Character dynamics reminded me of The Goonies and IT while the narrative combined just the right amount of adventure, romance, and horror to bring out nostalgia and comfort at the same time. Anyway, let’s dive (hehe) in! 

Plot

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Lemon Ziegler has one aspiration in life – to become a vet. Unfortunately, that would involve leaving her hometown, which is a problem as she is obligated to continue the family business. While such a situation is not out of the ordinary, the business itself definitely is. Lemon must impersonate Old Lucy, the town monster (a nice homage to the Loch Ness myth). 

The decades-old legend about this creature swimming around in the lake is keeping tourism in the town alive. Because of this, poor Lemon has no other choice but to follow in her family’s footsteps. She keeps this secret from everyone, including her best friends, Derrin and Troy. The latter is harbouring feelings for Lemon that are stronger than friendship. As he is a teenage boy though, he is too afraid to make a move (much to Darrin’s enjoyment). 

Things take an unexpected turn when a real monster shows up, hungry for blood. As one could guess in these kinds of stories, no one believes Lemon at first. This only allows the creature to claim more victims (and yes, I feel the saddest about the poor dog). Once the adults finally decide to do something, it alerts the FBI, which makes the situation more difficult for our gang. Unsurprisingly, they are the only ones who can stop the monster from wreaking move havoc.

In the midst of the riveting adventure, we also see Lemon go through a character arc. She stands up to her grandfather, allowing him to see her as an adult for the first time ever. There’s also the blossoming of her and Troy’s romance. The pair awkwardly navigate the transition from friendship to romance in an adorable way. At its heart though, this novel is about family, blood or otherwise, and how strong connections can sometimes be the only way to save your life. After all, who could defeat a multidimensional monster by themselves?

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Overall thoughts

I had a blast with A Misfortune of Lake Monsters as it combined all the components of making an effective adventure story with enough heart to make you care about what happened to the characters. They are sympathetic yet entertaining and their relationships feel organic down to the dialogue that, while a tad cheesy, is oozing with charisma.

The reasons I am giving it four stars are more individualistic. I tend to go for a darker type of thriller/horror and this story, although not short of gore, ultimately steers in a more heartwarming direction. It’s something I anticipated knowing the age range and found fitting with what the narrative was going for.

I also would have liked a slightly different as I feel the story entered more of a sci-fi subgenre in the last third. While that’s fine overall, it is not my first choice of horror. Considering these things are more down to my personal preferences as a reader, I would absolutely recommend this book. I’m excited to see what the authors does next!

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 8: a Book Review

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Dear readers, the time has come for some answers. At least, that’s what the teaser for the new installment of Monastery says. As usual, it delivers what it promised and more as we untangle the past and its connection to the present. Without any further ado, let’s talk about it, shall we? 

Plot

We start the episode with a blast from the past. Cassandra and Celeste (Nicole’s aunt and Arthur’s lover for those with short-term memory) are in the hospital because of Celeste’s pregnancy complications. Cassandra promises her former best friend that she will ruin her all the while we find out Francis’s real parentage. The picture is finally starting to come together. 

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As we are back in the present day, our group is more scattered than ever. Thomas is his father Walt’s prisoner while David is still running around looking for Rocky. Fred on the other hand is just looking for any place to crash, homelessness and all. Our dethroned beauty queen Nicole is hiding away from everything – including her shame. Last but not least, little Henry is spending his time taking care of Nana Beth. Guessing that is his redemption for trashing all the evidence of Albert’s murder gathered so far. Although frustrating, his actions are understandable – the poor kid is traumatized and just wants some peace. 

George Turner’s murder is still an active investigation. It is obvious that this cover-up wasn’t nearly as successful as Albert’s. I sure as hell hope that Francis gets his comeuppance sooner rather than later. Not particularly because Turner didn’t deserve it but so the rest of the characters would be safe from him. Although as I’ve said before, his clear descent into sociopathic tendencies is kind of fascinating to watch. 

We also get an interesting development in what so far has been a tiny background detail, which is the Monastery Werewolf. As the creature comes to visit Rocky, we find out our resident star dog considers it family. Not going to lie, it took me a few reads to understand what this means. Now I’m getting all sorts of ideas as to how the supernatural ties into the rest of the story. 

Speaking of the supernatural, it is none other than Madame Witch who frees Thomas from his captivity. Well, her contribution is indirect as she sends his best friend Alfie to help instead. Although I’d say currently the two should set their dynamic status to ‘it’s complicated’. As soon as he’s free, Thomas is immediately back in his detective mode. For arguably the first time he gets some real answers as we find out the whole backstory of Albert/Celeste/Cassandra triangle. I won’t go into details as that trio deserve their own article but let’s just say it gives Cassandra a big ass motive for killing her husband. Not to mention the way she took Francis from Celeste was quite brutal to read. 

We reach the lead-on for the grand finale as David and Henry are coming to free Rocky. This naturally comes with a condition – they must hand Francis the key they found during the investigation. Little do they know Nicole is already there being held at gunpoint. Oh, and Fred should also be around somewhere as he was sleeping there the night before. Thomas might be a little late to the party since he and Alfie are held a knifepoint by Rick (seems like a running theme here). Nothing good can come from this. 

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Overall thoughts

This episode does a perfect job of setting up the big finale. It reveals everything we need to know except the main question – who killed Albert? At this point, while it of course still matters, this story is so much more than that. It’s about all the mess that this family has got themselves into, how with each mistake they kept digging deeper, and how it took a whole new generation for all of that to come up to the surface. I can only hope our investigative gang will make it out alive…  5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

More thoughts from the author:

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1. Although a minor character in comparison, Walt strikes me as someone who’s there to represent the themes of Monastery – someone who will do horrible things in the name of family. What was your intention with his characterisation, especially considering he works for justice (aka the police?)

This is why I will always defend my decision to have a large cast, as opposed to most books – when you get even the slightest sense of fleshing out a minor character, it feels so rewarding. Walt, to me, takes the crown of “father of the year”, even if he does it by locking his son up in the bedroom. He is protecting his wife’s secret, protecting his son’s innocence, and doing so by going against his core ideals – i.e., a detective covering up a murder. He’s also based on a favourite uncle of mine, so it makes me happy to give him his moment to shine.

2. Something I thought of while writing this review – the cover up of George Turner’s murder seems to be a kind of juxtaposition as to how neatly Albert’s was since the police keep discovering evidence left and right (and how Francis doesn’t particularly seem to care). Was this intentional on your part?

It all adds up to plot convenience, and I have no shame in admitting that – Albert’s murder was so neatly covered up because I needed it to go unsolved for 14 years, whereas the reader knows who killed George, so there is no need for the cover-up to be well done.

As for Francis’ reaction to the murder, he started out anxious and paranoid after the fact, but he has grown into a state of not caring, which further depicts his descent into darkness – he knows he’s close to his goal (of finding the money and leaving his family), so there is a sense of invincibility taking over. He is stepping into his main villain energy and we are here for it!

3. Alfie has been yet another background character until now and yet he is the one who rescues Thomas. To me he seems like the friend who genuinely cares for Thomas and who gives him that reality check he sometimes needs to get out of his own head. Was that at least partially why you chose to bring him in for the grand finale?

Fun fact: Alfie was originally a series regular. However, halfway through writing the series, I realised I wasn’t using him as much as I’d wanted to, so I bumped him down to recurring. But the original plan always saw him and the other regulars coming together for the big climax, which is why he is in the fold. Alfie is someone who keeps Thomas grounded (if not humbled), since Thomas has the slight tendency to, well, think he’s better than everyone else. What’s coming up for them is one of the most exciting things I’ve ever written about.

4. Lastly, it’s not so much a question but rather a well done for how you crafted the Albert-Celeste-Cassandra dynamic! I was very invested despite knowing the outcome. Weirdly enough, while hating Cassandra for how she handled it, I sort of understood why she thought that Celeste deserved it? Either way, congrats for managing to craft these love stories in the midst of all the murdery goodness.

Thank you so much. As I’ve said before, romance is not my strong suit, but I do love a soapy triangle – and if it ends with gun violence, even better! The reveal of this mystery is probably my favourite sequence in the series so far.

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Book Reviews

Maeve Fly: A Horror Novel Review

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The evils lurking Los Angeles are unveiled in CJ Leede’s 2023 debut novel, Maeve Fly. The novel is a gruesome love letter and ode to Los Angeles and horror icons, centering on the titular character, Maeve Fly. She is, in short, a Disney Princess and serial killer.

Below the Depths of Anaheim

By day, Maeve Fly works as a princess in “the park.” It is is never named, but obviously Disneyland as depicted by Maeve’s vibrant descriptions of the princesses, furry costumed animals, and movie-themed rides. She plays a Scandinavian princess (Elsa) and genuinely loves the job and her coworker, Kate. In her personal life, Maeve tends to her sick, comatose grandmother, former starlet Tallulah, and her grandmother’s cat.

A stock photo of Los Angeles

Maeve has an ordinary personal life, including going out with Kate and takes biweekly, afternoon trips to a Tiki bar in which she, a man who may or may not be Johnny Depp, and the bartender are the only patrons. Her interests include the macabre and all things horror and Los Angeles history, her love for the city a central theme throughout the novel. When Maeve meets Kate’s brother, Gideon, Maeve’s sense of self unravels.

Mirroring Fiction

The problem with Maeve’s sense of self, however, is that she has no idea who she really is. She adopts the personalities of literary characters, from Dostoevsky’s Notes from Underground narrator to those in James, Kant and Milton novels.

Maeve is selfish, antagonistic, and very selective of the people she lets in her life. She is an unreliable narrator with an unpredictable temper and ultraviolent tendencies.

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Leede’s prose and writing of Maeve invites a new narrative to the genre. Maeve is persistent in her disgust with how often villains need a tragic backstory as excuse for their monstrous behavior, especially when the villains are women. Leede dismantles that trope and provides Maeve with no reason for her treacherous behavior. It is simply who Maeve is.

An Ode to Horror

Maeve Fly is everything I love in a horror story. It is an unpredictable slasher with comedy and heart. Leede has displayed her talent for writing horror. She has created a story that pays its dues to the genre’s long iconic history — one example is the references to Pyscho or American Psycho — but is wholly unique in it’s own form. From captivating dialogue to visceral depictions of horror history and Los Angeles’ sites, like the La Brea Tar Pits, the novel sucks you in until the very last, bone chilling sentence.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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