Stack Overflow: Weird Tales

While many of the books and comics we review here at GeekDad fit into easily defined, clean-cut categories such as true stories, monsters, or gaming, there are many that are a bit harder to group. Honestly… they’re just plain weird, which is the lone classification of today’s Stack Overflow column. As succinctly as we can try to easily explain the plots of these printed oddities and weird tales, you’re much better reading each for yourself to fully appreciate them.


Preston Burt’s Picks

Elf Cat in Love by James Kochalka

In this whimsical adventure, Elf Cat goes in search of the ice sword, but instead finds a frozen hot dog, a giant blob of a snow princess, a ubiquitous dragon and (spoiler alert!) falls in love with his magic tennis ball along the way. Great for kids and parents alike, at first glance Elf Cat in Love seems like it came from the mind of a 6-year-old, but after reading it you’ll reconnect with the childlike, nonsensical imagination you may have lost along the way.

Our Mother by Luke Howard

In Our Mother, Luke Howard takes the reader on the journey of a child with a parent suffering with an anxiety disorder. Using a variety of artistic styles and storytelling genres, we get an inventive look of the complexities of what it means to maintain a relationship surrounded by mental illness. The conversation depicted between the author and his mother using real photographs toward the end of the book is funny and tender, and the splash page ending may be the single best in all of comic book history. As with most Retrofit books, this one is layered and garners repeat readings.

The Experts by Sophie Franz

Three researchers and their dog are surrounded by water studying…well, they’re not really sure. Why can’t they remember things, and why are they experiencing changes? In this comic, author Sophie Franz sets the reader up with a suspenseful tale that hopefully has Hollywood calling. The only disappointing thing about The Experts is the fact you’ll want to read more to know the rest of the story.

Babybel Wax Bodysuit by Eric Kostiuk Williams

OK. This is just one of those books that defies explanation. While the back cover on this comic lets readers know in this issue they’ll read about a tender online friendship, a cyborg pop star, and 2016 anxieties, it’s so much more than that. The Salvador Dalí-styled surrealist artwork complements the trippy, weaving stories about pop culture, internet pressures, and examining self worth.


Mar Ruiz Picks

In 1983, the car company Citroën charged Moebius to draw them a promotional album for their automobiles. What came out was truly weird; a sci-fi tale released in English as Upon a Star.

Stel and Atan are two humanoids; they crash on a bald planet and are guided towards a weird light that seems to be calling to them. The only means of locomotion is an old Citroën, a “human classic, made in the planet Earth in 1939.” They will eventually arrive into a camp where thousands of intelligent races are gathered, and they all seem to be waiting for something. That something is Atan, the pilot that will be able to enter a glass pyramid and drive them to Edena, the paradise planet hidden inside a galaxy. When the ship finally departs, it does so in the form of the Citroen logo… that image and the old car are the only references to the company. From then on, the story took life and started growing.

Moebius decided to continue with his tale, and plotted a series that ended up featuring six albums. The beautiful work that ensued took all these intelligent races into a paradise world, where questions about dreams, nutrition, health, and the human desire to live in a structured society, (among many others) were addressed. The light style he chose for this work makes it an easy read, full of wonder and beauty, perhaps resembling Little Nemo in Slumberland, only with exotic planets and races…

Dark Horse decided to bring back this classic, featuring the entire series, in a hardcover entitled: The World of Edena. It came out in November 2016.


Z’s Pick

charlie the choo-choo

Charlie the Choo-Choo by Beryl Evans, illustrated by Ned Dameron

It takes an awful lot of gall to write your own positive book cover blurb, just like it takes an awful lot to write yourself into your own dimension-spanning dark fantasy epic. Stephen King has now done both.

The cover for the twisted, surreal kids’ book Charlie the Choo-Choo by Beryl Evans boasts the following:

“If I were ever to write a children’s book, it would be just like this.” Stephen King

Which, of course, is true; Evans, like Charlie himself, is merely another warped creation from the mind of the master of horror. Ripped from the pages of The Dark Tower III: The Waste Lands, Charlie the Choo-Choo began as a fake book read by Jake Chambers, only to become a real book—first a limited edition San Diego Comic Con exclusive, and now a mass-market hardcover—that even those of us outside the shadow of the Tower can enjoy.

This sepia-toned tome tells the tale of Bob Brooks, the best trainman of the Mid-World Railway Company, and his trusty 402 Big Boy steam locomotive, Charlie. All seems right for the duo on their regular route from St. Louis to Topeka, until Mr. Biggs the roundhouse manager decommissions Charlie in favor of a new Burlington Zephyr diesel locomotive. The world has moved on, relegating Bob to a lowly engine cleaner and leaving Charlie the Choo-Choo to rust.

But everything changes when Mid-World’s president, Mr. Martin, needs to hop a train to Topeka for his daughter Susannah’s piano recital. There’s water in the Zephyr’s diesel, so it again falls to Bob and Charlie to make the run and save the day.

Positively packed with Easter Eggs for longtime Dark Tower fans, Charlie the Choo-Choo is no ordinary children’s book. While it opens cheerily enough, each subsequent page sees Charlie (and Bob Brooks) become more visibly grizzled, more obviously maddened, until its final pages. In the end, we see young Susannah Martin “yanking hell out of the train whistle” and, ultimately, Charlie pulling a mass of obviously mortified children around the brand-new Mid-World Amusement Park. Which is, of course, a fitting end for yet another warped anthropomorphic locomotive. [Review materials provided by: Simon & Schuster]


Jonathan Liu’s Picks

Motherless Oven, The Can Opener's Daughter

The Can Opener’s Daughter by Rob Davis

A while back, I mentioned a book called Motherless Oven that was a very surreal comic book for teens and up. It’s about a world that seems British in some respects, but at the same time totally unfamiliar. The kids are human, but the mothers and fathers are constructs—built by the kids, in fact. Instead of household appliances, there are “gods,” like the kitchen timer god. It was fascinating, but also quite confusing.

Now there’s another book in the series, picking up where Motherless Oven left off but also backtracking and telling a little more about the history of Vera Pike, the mysterious girl who shows up and tries to help Scarper Lee escape his Deathday. Things are still confusing, but as you read it, you start understanding the internal logic of the world and how the various pieces fit together. I went back and re-read Motherless Oven just to review, and these two together are a fantastic story. I expect there will be more of this story to come, and now I’m really eager to find out what happens next. [Review copy provided by Self Made Hero]

Sing No Evil

Sing No Evil by JP Ahonen & KP Alare

Perkeros is a metal band with a lot of problems—most of them due to Aksel, the lead singer. His voice just doesn’t have the right sound, though he refuses to admit it. He’s totally obsessed with his music, much to the dismay of his girlfriend, but he feels like he’s on the verge of a breakthrough. But this wouldn’t be in our Weird Tales column if it were just about an unemployed musician, would it? There are some supernatural forces at work, it seems. A competing band’s music has some really bizarre effects on its listeners—will Aksel be able to break the spell and also get the band working together by Rocktoberfest?

There are just a lot of strange things going on in this book, and not just because it was created by two heavy metal fans from Finland. For instance, Perkeros’ drummer is an anthropomorphic bear (named Bear), something that is never really explained. The first half of the book feels mostly realistic (other than Bear)—a little reminiscent of Scott Pilgrim but without all the videogame references and magic portals. But then once all the pieces start falling into place, the story really takes off, with a lot of action.

I liked the illustrations a lot—sort of cutesy at times, but then whenever bands are playing, Ahonen and Alare bring the music to life in pictures. All in all, a fascinating story that takes you to unexpected places. [Review copy provided by Abrams ComicArts]

Klaxon

Klaxon by Si Spencer and Dix

I’ll just come right out and say it: I don’t have any idea what’s going on in this book. There’s a guy named Carlisle who’s hanging out on a couch with two other guys who are pulling beads of insulation out of the wall to eat. When some new neighbors move in: a young woman named Carole and her weeping mother, dropped off by the ever-grinning Mr. Stapleton and his gaping, clay-faced son. There’s something about candy falling from the ceiling, a TV that shows things in reflections that you can’t see with your naked eye …

Yep. It’s vaguely unsettling, but mostly because it’s hard to follow and people have such creepy expressions. Mostly it’s dreamlike: if there is a logic to what’s going on, you can’t really figure it out, so you’re just carried along for the ride. [Review copy provided by Self Made Hero]

Shifter

Shifter by Haberlin, Brittenham, Holguin, Vandyke, Yap

Noah Freeman, a drone pilot for a government agency, discovers an odd discrepancy in the water levels near a dam, and reports it to his supervisor. Shortly thereafter, he is attacked during a hike and left for dead … and then is saved by an ancient machine of some sort called the Sphere. Aside from healing his body, the Sphere allows him to inhabit the bodies of “surrogates,” a vast library of different species, mostly prehistoric.

Noah learns how to control these creatures and sets out to figure out who was trying to kill him and why, uncovering (of course) a vast conspiracy. Can he use his newfound abilities to fight this new threat?

Shifter Smilodon
The app displays 3D models of various creatures and objects when you point your camera at the book.

Shifter is from Anomaly Publishing, which also published the massive sci-fi graphic novel Anomaly. Both titles have accompanying Augmented Reality (AR) apps that let you point your device at certain pages to get 3D animated models. It’s kind of gimmicky, but in this case it does include many prehistoric animals, so that can be kind of fun.

The downside is that the artwork looks like it was created in 3D modeling software and then painted—for some reason the people’s poses often look like something out of The Sims or something, just not quite right. The story itself, though, is fun to read once it gets going, as Noah uses various creatures to spy, create havoc, and take action. [Review copy provided by Anomaly Publishing]

Panther Brecht Evens

Panther by Brecht Evens

A little girl, in grief over her cat, gets a visit from a nattily dressed panther who climbs out of her dresser drawer. He calls himself Octavianus Abracadolphus Pantherius, Crown Prince of Pantherland, and proceeds to regale her with a fantastic bedtime story about Pantherland. But there’s something a bit off about him—the way he dodges some of Christine’s questions, or alters his story based on her reactions when he realizes something he said was a little too creepy. That unsettling feeling continues to grow throughout the book. Christine’s stuffed dog, Bonzo, appears to be running away from Panther, and then vanishes mysteriously. And then he’s back—but he looks a little different, and acts a lot different.

The artwork is somewhat surreal: the panther shifts and changes shape and appearance from one frame to the next, and the colors are impressionistic rather than realistic. He takes on the appearance of whatever he wants to talk about. There are pages that are mostly white, with very simple line drawings, and others that are filled with a kaleidoscope of colors and patterns.

Ultimately, though, it’s not entirely clear who or what the panther is—is it a figment of the girl’s imagination, or is it some monster hiding its true face? Or is it actually the innocent one, and the fake Bonzo is the real threat—or are they actually just two facets of the same creature? It’s hard to talk about without giving spoilers, but it also warrants a trigger warning because by the end it does in fact turn abusive. It’s definitely not a book for kids, and I think it may be too much even for some adults. It’s a powerful and moving story, but the exact meaning of it all isn’t ever explained, and that ambiguity may be the most difficult part to accept. [Review copy provided by Drawn & Quarterly]

 

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Preston is a writer and graphic designer. He lives outside Atlanta, GA with his awesome wife and two amazing daughters (6 and 10). The host of the Gameroom Junkies Podcast, he has an affinity for VHS tapes and an obsession with arcade games and pinball machines. He has written for Paste and RETRO Magazines and is a founder of the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo.