Sunday, May 29, 2022

Strahd Loves, Man Kills Issue Five Now Available!

Strahd Loves, Man Kills, my Ravenloft zine, is back with its fifth issue!  32 pages of content, cover art by Tenebrous Kate! I will also send a pdf version of the zine to the email address attached to your order!

This issue's contents include:

Lurid Locations explores three insidious sites: the Shadowlands, Ohrbach Tower, and the Scholomance.

Forged in Shadow details several magical items fit for Ravenloft’s macabre atmosphere.

Baleful Backgrounds presents three new backgrounds for characters: doctor, doomed royal scion, and gravedigger.

Seeds of Evil outlines several adventure seeds you can use to craft scenarios set in Ravenloft.

Portraits of the Damned presents two nonplayer characters for use in your games: Lady Edwina Thrush and Karlin Stroud, two inveterate sinners who have been transformed into demons by incursions from the Abyss.

Cryptic Alliances adds two additional factions to Ravenloft, one from my home campaign and an update of the Unholy Order of the Grave.

Wicked Wanderings adapts the Sword Coast’s factions to the Land of the Mists.

Tragic Heroes focuses on unorthodox champions you might create as characters for games set in the Domains of Dread.

Forbidden Tomes provides a bibliography of ghost stories for your edification and entertainment.

Check it out!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Monsters Attack! Issue One


Monsters Attack! was a short-lived, magazine-sized comic put together by Mort Todd, the then-editor of Cracked magazine. Each issue features a number of horror comics, as well as articles about horror movies and all things gruesome. I got my hands on the first issue when it debuted, but the pharmacy I bought it from never seemed to get the following numbers. Now that I have a copy of the Monsters Attack! Ultimate Collection, I plan to go through the series' five-issue run and briefly review the comic content from each issue. Let's start with the contents of the first issue.

"The Sex Vampires From Out of Space"

Story by Mort Todd, art by Gray Morrow

A hot new band, comprised of three vampy sex kittens, is tearing up the charts while a killer (or killers!!!) who exsanguinate their victims is on the loose. Coincidence? Well, our main character, a teenage rockabilly rebel with a nightlife addiction, aims to find out. When he finally barges into the Sex Vampires' dressing room, he's dismayed to find that they are a bunch of Alice Coopers--their whole act is just for the stage, they aren't undead at all! He soon quashes his disappointment by drinking their blood because he is, in fact, a vampire!

Re-reading this one, there are strange details in the art that caught my eye that I definitely didn't notice as a teen reading this. Although the story is set in the modern moment (the Sex Vampires are noted to be a "speed metal" band), many of the background characters look like they belong to a much earlier era. Besides the James Dean look of the main character (which is plausible, there's always a rockabilly guy within a ten mile radius), the concert goers look like they're housewives from the 50s or 60s and the venue security is a goon in a suit with a bowtie. Weird choices!

"A Monster for All Seasons"

Story and art by Pat Boyette

A lonely mage in "medieval times" is befriended by a little monster of explained origins. Although he's afraid of the creature at first, the mage comes to value the monster as a companion who helps alleviate the loneliness that has marred his life since the death of his wife. Unfortunately, the monster is carted off by an aristocrat who finds its antics amusing, but the noble's abusive personality causes the little beast to go on a justifiable murder spree. The ending of this one is a great example of the macabre shocks that comics in this vein were known for: as a parting "gift," the monster digs up the moldering corpse of the mage's wife so that he won't be lonely anymore!

"Return of the Golem"

Story by Mort Todd, art by John Severin

It's Kristalnacht, and the Nazis are destroying Jewish homes and businesses. A Jewish artist finds refuge in a kindly German's basement; he uses the raw materials found down in the depths to create a clay golem like that in the Czech legend. Predictably, the golem goes on a Nazi-slaying rampage. The end has a nice sequence where a Nazi commander smudges the Hebrew inscription on the golem's forehead, returning it to inert clay; however, as it reverts to base matter, the golem's clay smothers and suffocates the Nazi.

In retrospect, I think this story is actually a pretty important part of my personal history. Not only was this the first time I became acquainted with the legend of the golem, this is also the first mention I had ever stumbled across of the Nazi program against "degenerate art." They certainly didn't teach us about that in school. See, mom? Comics can learn ya something.

"Frankenstein 1990"

Story by Mort Todd, art by Rick Altergott

This one is more of an illustrated story than a comic. A down on his luck writer gets shanghaied by a mad scientist; his brain is put into the body of the usual patchwork of dead flesh and granted a new lease on life. This tale definitely feels like Mort Todd working out some anxieties and frustrations about being a writer in a world that doesn't value his skill set.

"Frankenstein 1990" was supposed to be a series, but this is the only installment of it that was ever produced. Apparently the magazine's readership wasn't too excited by it, which makes sense. To be honest, there isn't much going on in "Frankenstein 1990"! Maybe it could have developed into something interesting in time, but this single installment doesn't show much promise.

"In Solid"

Story and art by Steve Ditko

A scheming jerk turns some nebulous and undefined "scientific equipment" on a brilliant researcher, inadvertently transforming him into a architectural nightmare. This is a slight story, but the punchline is a nice full page bit of gruesomeness. This story is definitely an excuse for Ditko to do wheelies in the parking lot; he really gives the monster everything he's got.


Story and art by Rurik Tyler

This one was my favorite story when I first read the mag, and it remains my favorite now. Although no explanation is given about the "cause" of the monstrosity in this tale, the idea of a French-Canadian logger whose beard drinks up all manner of "fuel" (sap, gasoline, and blood) is a pretty uncanny image. Also, there are nice visual touches to show how unstoppable and relentless he his: there's an axe buried in his body and his forehead bears the scar of a chainsaw blade having snapped with its whirling teeth had been liberally applied to his skull. "Weirdbeard" also features a great little shocker panel as part of its climax. Ca c'est bon!

Sunday, May 22, 2022


Episode 56: Manhunt

Gretchen Felker-Martin’s debut novel Manhunt drops the reader into a post-apocalyptic future where a hideous disease has turned men into cannibal rapists while pitting transwomen against radical feminists. Join Jack and Kate on this splattery suspense journey through the many ways that people are awful to other people.

Why are nail guns so viscerally gross? Is heroism conducted under cover of night really heroism at all?  Was the real villain “internet culture” all along? All these questions and more will be explored in this episode of Bad Books for Bad People.

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Strahd Loves, Man Kills Issue Three is now Free!


I'm happy to announce that I've sold enough print copies of issue three of Strahd Loves, Man Kills, my Ravenloft fanzine, that the pdf is now available to all and sundry at no charge. 

Issue three joins issue one and issue two as part of the communal offerings that anyone playing D&D can make use of. Issue four looks to join them quite soon.

Here's what is in issue three:

A version of Sanguinia inspired by the Gothic fear of feudalism’s oppressive excesses.

A new background for characters: penny dreadful writer.

Two adventure seeds

Two nonplayer characters for use in your games: Reverend Krast and Sister Vulcra

Two additional factions to Ravenloft from my home campaign and an alternate take on the Vhage Agency

Notes on sinister spiritualists you might create as characters for games set in the Domains of Dread.

A table that generates Dark Secrets for the characters in your campaign and mechanics for making those secrets matter.

A bibliography of the dark fantasy genre for your edification and entertainment.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

RPGs for Reproductive Justice Bundle


My Krevborna setting is part of the RPGs for Reproductive Justice bundle organized by Hyrda Cooperative. Here's how they describe what it is and why it exists:

We organized this bundle in the wake of the leaked opinion from the US Supreme Court seeking to severely curtail the ability for people to seek abortions within the United States.

Abortion rights are human rights. 

All proceeds from this bundle will be donated to the National Network of Abortion Funds (NNAF).

With the amount of content you get in this bundle, it's a steal and the proceeds are going to a just cause. Check it out.

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Jane Eyre, Titane, The Unsuitable, and More

Things that brought me delight in April, 2022:

Jane Eyre

Ruth Wilson just absolutely kills it in the lead role in the BBC's 2006 production of Jane Eyre. She's actually quite obviously a beautiful woman, but she really knows how to sell "Plain Jane," choosing expressions that are unflattering. So much nuance. I think she's one of the best actresses out there at the moment. The rest of the cast manages to hold their own, bur she's a force of nature. I've seen many an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and I'd say this is among my favorites.


One of the cruelest things about getting older is losing your sense of wonderment. Even new works that want to off-the-wall or transgressive can feel dulled by the excesses we've already seen, already experienced. But every so often a film comes along that is so unlike anything you have ever seen before that it feels like being struck by lightning. I don't even know where to begin with describing Titane to do it justice; body horror, serial murder, the overwhelming abyss of grief, and the delusions we cling to when all hope is lost are all part of the mix. It isn't seamless, and it makes no attempt  to explain its own underlying logic, but in the end its endearingly affective. 

Molly Pohlig, The Unsuitable

Going into Molly Pohlig's The Unsuitable, all I knew about it was that the main character is haunted or possessed by the ghost of her mother--who died giving birth to her. On the surface, that sounds like an extremely Gothic premise, so I definitely was not expecting that the clash between the protagonist's spectral mother and hateful father would result in a dark comedy of errors. It's a funny novel, until it isn't.

And that's the trick of The Unsuitable. It softens you up, coaxes you into feeling quite warmly for its awkward, hapless heroine. And then it rips your heart out. 


It was interesting to watch Censor after Titane, since they both deal with the extreme lengths people will go to fill the hole left behind by an absent loved one. Even without that context, however, Censor would have been worth seeing. The movie is about a woman working at the British Board of Film Classification as a censor during the height of the "video nasty" hysteria; her sister went missing at a young age--a trauma she's never fully dealt with. When she becomes convinced that her sister is being exploited as an actress by perverse filmmakers in their gruesome little shockers, she strays further and further from reality and descends into the fantasy that if we edit the media that surrounds us into wholesome conformity, our lives will become smooth and frictionless. Of course, there is a price to be paid for paradise. Quite a strong debut film!

Clive Barker, Books of Blood, Vol. III

My long-overdue reread of Clive Barker's Books of Blood continued in April, though I did go out of order by tackling vol. III before vol. II. In retrospect, it's interesting that Barker's "Rawhead Rex" doesn't factor more prominently in discussions of the folk horror revival, as I suspect it's a sort of missing link that kept folk horror's ideas current at a time when they weren't a dominant flavor of horror. And obviously you just have to love the sheet ghost gag of "Confessions of a (Pornographer's) Shroud," but even eerier in 2022 is the way it presaged the idea of character assassination as motivating incident in a pre-internet era. But for my money, it's "Scape-Goats" that might be the most effective chiller in the entire anthology. 


Shelley dares to ask the question: what if a baby had an extremely bad vibe? When a woman agrees to be the surrogate for the childless couple she works for at their isolated rural cabin, things go quite badly for everyone involved. What sets Shelley apart from other entries in the monstrous pregnancy and monstrous baby subgenres is that there is no clear instigator of the evil that falls over the household. This is more of a mood or atmosphere piece than a horror movie with big bloody action or creeping dread, but I found it pretty effective at what it was attempting.

Darkher, Realms, The Kingdom Field, The Buried Storm

Attention Chelsea Wolfe fans: you will find much to love in Darkher! Darkher's catalog won't be metal enough for some ears; there are swaths of Gothic etherealness here, bits of dark folk, and an inclination toward arty melancholy. But when the dying sun dips below the horizon, things get outright doomy. These records are all about the textures leading up to the crushing crescendo.

Mike Mignola, Christopher Golden, Bridgit Connell, Michelle Madsen, Lady Baltimore: The Witch Queens

There are days when I'm convinced that I enjoy the Baltimore series even more than I do Hellboy. Lady Baltimore continue the former's storyline after the death of its titular character, following Lord Baltimore's wife as she takes on the mantle of hunting monsters in his memory. Lady Baltimore doesn't reach the highest pinnacles set by the best Baltimore arcs, but it's a decent romp with swashbuckling, magic, and swordplay. If anything, I wish the story was a little less compressed; I really think this kind of Gothic adventure does benefit from being a bit more drawn out to give the characterization room to breath.

Andrzej Sapkowshi, The Lady of the Lake

Alas, I've reached the end of the road with the Witcher series! Which means, of course, that another episode of Valley of Plenty is headed your way in the near future. Taken as a whole, the Witcher saga is quite strange; at the outset, it's really all about Geralt's adventures, but by the end it almost feels like Geralt has all but disappeared from the story. Perhaps somebody in the marketing division didn't think this would sell as well as the Ciri Saga? But then, even that might be a stretch as she's missing in action for big stretches of this weighty tome too!

Clyde Robert Bula, The Ghost of Windy Hill

I found this book for younger readers at a local flea market. The story concerns a Victorian era art teacher who takes his family to live in the supposedly haunted house at Windy Hill in order to prove that it isn't really inhabited by a fearsome ghost. The story is quite fun, but the real star here is the moody black and white ink illustrations by Don Bolognese.

The Northman

I went into The Northman knowing very little about it. I knew it was about vikings and was directed by Robert Eggers, but other than that I was primed to be surprised and delighted by the film. I had no idea it would be bringing in proto-Hamlet story arcs or Russian fairy tales. There's really nothing I didn't like about it! The atmosphere is appropriately gritty and grim, the performances are strong, there are some pretty gross murders, the mystical imagery works, and Anya Taylor Joy is nice to look at throughout. If you see one movie in which Bjork plays a Norse seer this year, let The Northman be it.

Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa, Cast No Shadow

Ah, Cast No Shadow has one of my favorite conventions: a boy falls in love with a dead girl! That's honestly the least of his problems; he's also trying to get over his mother's death, trying to reconcile himself to the fact that his father's new partner is moving into their house, trying to navigate his best friend becoming the girlfriend of a guy he finds highly annoying, and oh yeah his shadow is a malevolent entity that acts on its own. Cast No Shadow is more "cartoonish" than what I usually go for, but overall this was a pretty fun read.

Spectral Wound, Infernal Decadence and A Diabolic Thirst

Spectral Wound specializes in the old-school, second wave black metal sound, but that doens't make either Infernal Decadence or A Diabolic Thirst mere nostalgia trips. Dripping with atmosphere and unyielding rage, these two albums earn a place in your black metal collection.


Rarely have I seen a promotional image mis-sell a movie quite as badly as the one to the right! Looking at it, you would be excused for thinking that Agnes is an entry in the ever-growing "nun horror" subgenre, but that wouldn't be further off the mark. While the movie does begin with a situation involving demonic possession, this is really more of a drama about crises of faith, disappointments, and where we look for guidance and salvation. Forget the bleeding from the eyes, the upside-down crucifix, and the "Face your demons" tagline, this one is a character-driven study about trauma that can't be left by the wayside. It wasn't what I expected, but all the more stronger for that.

Andre Bjerk, The Lake of the Dead

The Lake of the Dead is an acclaimed Norwegian horror-thriller, recently brought to an English-speaking audience by the efforts of Valancourt Books. The titular lake has a legend of death attached to it, and when an idle man takes residence in the nearby cabin it seems like the legend has tragically repeated itself, which sends his sister and his friends to the supposedly haunted lake in search of answers. The final bit reminds me of Psycho quite a bit, as a psychoanalyst puts all the pieces together for the reader's edification. 

Sloane Leong and Anna Bowles, Graveneye

I can't believe how negative some of the reviews of Graveneye I've read have been. My suspicion is that some readers don't know what to think about the comic because it just doesn't tick the boxes of conventions, style, and theme usually found in modern horror comics. Told from the perspective of the house where the action centers, Graveneye is the tale of a maid in an abusive marriage who comes to work for a strange, hungry woman. As in the various tellings of Bluebeard, there is a room that is forbidden to her. She wants to find a place, a sense of belonging, but any safety attached to that urge is an illusion. The spare palette of blacks, white, grays, and the occasional startling splash of red, emphasizes the ways Graveneye dwells on hidden savagery and bloody desire. Hunger is red, after all. 

Lake of the Dead

After reading Andre Bjerke's The Lake of the Dead, I decided to check out the movie version from the 1950s. As far as adaptations go, the plot remains faithful to that of the novel, though some things are simplified for the sake of an easier to navigate narrative. I definitely recommend Lake of the Dead for when you're in the mood for a light horror-thriller that doesn't go particularly hard on the thrills and chills. Interestingly, Andre Bjerke and his wife both have roles in this!

Semblant, Vermilion Eclipse

Semblant's Vermilion Eclipse has a hell of an album cover to live up to, but in my opinion it definitely succeeds. Semblant marry goth electronic and symphonic flourishes, heavy riffs, and the "Beauty and the Beast" style vocals. At times, the amount of sounds and ideas they're working with can feel a little overwhelming, but I'd always rather feel overwhelmed than underwhelmed. Generally, though, this is the good excess.

Katsura Hoshino, D.Gray-Man, Vols. 10-12

Lots of battles in these volumes of D.Gray-Man, but although several prominent characters appear to have died I'm doubtful that we've seen the last of them. Unfortunately, because these volumes are mostly lengthy battle sequences, there isn't much of a sense of the narrative moving forward. Also, maybe this sounds better in the original Japanese, but powers like "crown clown" and "clown belt" really don't hit my ear right in English; there's a very real lack of gravitas there for abilities that I think we're supposed to take seriously.

Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

It's easy to see why Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? is considered a classic. Bette Davis's over-the-top delusional villainy is well known from the movie, but I reckon that Joan Crawford's more understated performance also deserves a revisit.