Sunday, June 15, 2014

Family of Ghosts

Much like his father before him, Barry was a boy of the forests.  
                He’d taken to the trees like his old man, though Carl Woodson and his wife died much too young. Mad Cow, Chicken Sick, Hog Cough: one of the many flus that flew hard and fast following the fall. Barry Carlson will say he doesn’t remember any of the day his parents passed, but he has yet to forget that cold, sleepless night spent in the tree house outside his bedroom window. Now, long from his ancestral home, Barry had strayed far from the stands in which he and his family walked.
                Until his tenth year, the three of them ventured side by side, each of them a part of the landscape as the landscape was a part of them. His mother Mary taught him of the plants and animals, and of the webs that were so intimately woven between them all. His father saw what was hidden in each tree, the life that was given, and to what more they could give back. Barry listened, and he stored all these things in his heart.
                Barry, on the other hand, told stories.  He was gifted when it came to the word, and when he wasn’t listening, he was talking. His pappy had told him the old folks’ lore and he’d heard a lotta bit up the bend at Half-Truth. He had a penchant for telling his own tales to his mother and father when they could listen, or to the trees when they couldn’t.
                Sunlit days then, as the three of them held picnic, waiting for travelers to make their way along the Sus’kenna Road. They would stop in to barter, to and fro the inn at Half-Truth, always looking forward to seeing the family. Carl Woodson kept with the pleasant trees, offering up cider, syrup and an assortment of carved wooden items from walking to eating, or eating while you walked. His wife Mary, showcased all manners of fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, flowers and medicines. Barry liked to listen to the tales and talk of the town from Lou and Mr. Matt.
                His father tended to his carvings and his trees and his mother tended to her gardens and her bees.  Barry tended to the rock in the yard, staging elaborate battles with his much sought after collection of Yo Joes action figures. Though the set was meager, it varied greatly from change-bots to men with lasers coming out of their wrists to his prized Clark Kent in mid-change to Superman. It was the only one he had ever seen.
                Darker days, now.  He halted there at the top of the hill, struck still, and that was the beauty of it.  Barry was transfixed as the memories came and enveloped him much like the arms of his parents, feeding the tree from beneath the dirt. They were buried there, he knew. Nothing to mark the spot save the lone stone, nondescript in its permanence. There were no carvings upon the face of it to identify their internment therein.  This was where the simplicity stood out—you just had to know, the way Barry did.  Once you knew, you could never forget.
                Its proximity to a culvert that bordered the Sus’kenna Road lay just beyond the trees that lined the Woodson’s property. Pappy had planted the willow in the spring of his parents’ passing near the base of the rock, and the water fed it well. Shaded, the canopy drooping over the headstone lending cover from much of the harsher elements.None of this was lost on Barry: this rock was here in life as it was in death.  Time stood still for him. Then, as now at this moment, Barry’s heart was fixated with the certainty that this would be his final resting place as well. 
               He shivered, as if a goose walked over his grave. Unless, of course, it was he himself treading past, present and future, all in the same cautious step. 
               It was still early evening, but the homestead could wait until the morrow. It was best to do what scavenging they could in the full light of day. Barry knew the outlying buildings were on the verge of collapse, yet was thankful the main home structure wasn’t the frightening shambles that he purported it to be.  It bothered not that Ogethan continued down the hill as Barry paid his respects—until it was almost too late. 
               Even separated by the expanse of the drive, the house and then the pond opposite, Barry could still make out a little deer family at the wood’s edge. Bespeckled with white, a fawn was escorted by a majestic buck and regal doe. He felt and heard Ogethan’s deep intake of breath as the large man filled his lungs to capacity and his arm pulled back on the bowstring. 
               Barry barely had time to register that there was even a bow in the other man’s hands at all. He lifted his hand, slowly, so as not to startle his friend’s concentration.
Shoulders slumped, Ogethan slowly left his weight off the string. Grumpily, he loosed the arrow, and back into the quiver it went. Barry thought, not for the first time, that if there had been an arrow with a punching glove attached to the tip, Barry himself would be on the receiving end. The bigger of the two bared his teeth.
               “I had a clear shot, and dinner on the table.”
               “Our packs are full, buddy. Gramma Sal packed quite the spread for us.” Barry countered. 
               Ogethan muttered something unintelligible as they both turned to the house.
               They studied it from the drive, looked at it with a sense of humble trepidation. It was getting onto dusk and the bats were beginning to fly recklessly from all about the house. Even from this far, the boys ducked so as not to be assaulted. Their vantage point offered them a glimpse of the front porch, banister spindles missing like broken teeth, porch swing idly swung like a tongue. Eyes at half mast: sleepy, yet watchful. An addition to the house reached out for them.
                Ogethan shuddered.
                “You think it’s haunted, Bar'?”
                Barry just shrugged.
                “Wouldn’t doubt it.”

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Epic Beards of Review: Saga

One of the more exciting moments of this column will be discovering new things. Yes, from time to time, even I shall take the plunge. I myself, however, get the privilege to read some of these books for the second (or more!) times. Saga is written by Brian K. Vaughan (Y: The Last Man, Runaways) and illustrated by Fiona Staples, a swashbuckling space-faring fantasy I could shout across galaxies.

Marko and Alana are in love. They’re of differing species, however, and they’ve a baby on the way. The only problem (okay, one of MANY) is that their species are at war with each other. The three of them are being chased across star systems by bounty hunters, in-laws and ex-girlfriends. There are quite a lot of hands involved with their daughter Hazel’s upbringing, and bringing up a little bagging is part of that.

Hazel’s story (and that of her parents’) is told from an indeterminate time in the future. We know her parents are no longer alive, already darkening the edges of our story. She is an unreliable narrator of sorts, beginning her tale at the as she makes her escape from the womb, unfolding as she bounces around between the past and present-day from somewhere farther along down the line.

With all that being said: this is NOT a family-friendly comic, nor is it what the kids these days call Not Safe For Work (NSFW.) There are copious amounts of violence, sex and swearing; almost so much so that I honestly had to think twice about this being my first column.

I won’t go into the gory details here because, frankly, some of those details paint gory in a good light. Staples paints us a lush picture of space travel and warmongering that’s worth a thousand words. Cliché, yes, but in those panels which there are no words, you begin to understand where I’m coming from.

Aside from great story and art, there are plenty of other shenanigans jangling around here. There’s an honest-to-goodness letter page, something that has fallen by the wayside in today’s mainstream comics culture. The column only accepts letters sent through the postal service, making more of an eclectic feel to this comic. Letters are answered, and Vaughan and Staples occasionally throw in writing and art processes to titillate readers.

There’s a yearly reader’s survey and costume contest, and every month a best letter is chosen, netting winners with often irreverent ephemera from Vaughan’s desk drawer. Saga has created a community of readers, many of whom are sharing their own stories of love and loss. Veterans and active-duty soldiers, mothers and fathers, even book clubs are jumping on board.

Saga’s publisher Image Comics is also a whiz at handling the marketing angle for this series as well. At some point, issue one was selling for one dollar to get folks reading. As with all of their collected trades, the first trade sells for $9.99 instead of the $14.99 cover price follow-ups are tagged with. Vaughan and Staples also commit to taking two months off between arcs (every six issues) to make sure they’re caught up, as well as the readers. There’s always the hope fans will start buying single issues: there are no letter pages reprinted in the trades.

Saga (now in three trade collections and clocking in at 19 issues) is awash with originality and inventiveness the likes of which I’ve never seen. Every issue is better than the last and every character is your favorite.

This article originally appeared  06/05/2014 in the Williamsport Sun-Gazette Showcase as The Oracular Beard Presents...

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Interview IV

So, here's a place we've not seen you before: an office.

You could call it that. It's really a storage room in some undisclosed location on campus where we've piled all of the goodies that wouldn't fit in the apartment with the arrival of our baby earlier this year.

The place is in varying states of disarray. Surprisingly, my desk is the cleanest area in the room. Have some art up and an action figure or two, some book ephemera.

Just my own little cubby away from everything.

Sounds like a good fit for you.

Yah. Harrison Dale Conti was born February 5 at 255am. It was a bit of a scare at first, but everything turned out okay.

We named him after Harrison Ford, not William Henry Harrison like everyone thinks. The Dale comes from my wife's aunt. Okay, and maybe a little from the guy in The Walking Dead.

A little Traveling Tales trivia for you: HD are also the initials missing from the title of the fourth book of the series. Didn't realize that until later, but very hinky to see that pop up.

And how's your post-apocalyptic folk tale coming along?

Ah, you know. It comes in fits and starts. I was offered a lead this morning about writing for a local newspaper, so I may think about serializing the series somehow. Got the wheels turning, for sure.

So, baby. Have your writing practices changed?

Again, you know... I get to it when I can which is the completely wrong answer. I long to be doing this every day. Even this interview is just potchking until I sit down to the real thing.

Raising a youngling is hard work. The first couple of nights I was up all the time with feeding, piddling around at Traveling Tales, mainly Barry's story after the fact, and then my superhero short I was tackling for a workshop I attended earlier this winter.

I'd like this to be a job some day, so I need to start treating it as such.

And speaking of jobs, you've got something coming out tomorrow?

Yah, I do. The Oracular Beard now has a monthly gig in the Williamsport Sun Gazette reviewing comics. Funny, but this month is about a young family with a newborn on the run from some pretty unsavory characters. Very similar to our situation right now.


No, just the fact that we've got a baby. It can be pretty hectic at times.

Anything else before we let you get down tot the nitty gritty?

Well, I've some photography down at the Avenue to finance my newest project. Maybe another chapbook of poetry, maybe a short story.

I think I'm going to try and coincide this with an appearance at LHU this fall so I have something new to shill and talk about. If I can dovetail it into Lock Haven's 175th birthday, that'd be pretty swank.

That superhero short story I finished for workshop was the first thing I've completed in five years, so that's given me a push to do some other stuff. I've a collection in mind, so we'll see where that gets me.