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Interview with Andre Gower: An Homage to The Monster Squad

On a cold October Sunday, I found myself running down the stairs to greet my mother who was already waiting for me on our living room couch. The year was 1994, and as an intrepid 6-year-old, I found myself in love with all things spooky and scary. My mom asked what movie we were going to watch, as if she didn’t already have it prepped and waiting in the VCR. “Monster Squad,” I replied, my body wrapped in a blanket and ready to savor my umpteenth rewatch of the film. She pressed play and my eyes grew large as the opening scene of Dracula emerging from his coffin blared from our 36 inch Zenith.

Now, peculiar enough, but this was not my first copy of the film, but rather a copy of a copy that my uncle had procured for us, after the original VHS called it quits, tapping out after multiple viewings. Years would pass and although my love of Monster Squad would never wane or falter, the ability to find a copy of it was less than slim. It was a box-office ghost, appeared quickly and vanished just as fast due to poor receipts. It wasn’t until my roommate at nursing school had strolled out of his room donning a ‘Stephen King Rules’ shirt, something akin to owning a Morpher from Power Rangers or an Andúril replica from Lord of the Rings, a sigil to a fellow Monster Squad fan. After enquiring about the shirt, and us both realizing that our hearts belonged to the same movie, we made a pact to track down a copy to watch it ourselves.

As luck would have it, a fevered petition by fellow fans had forced the DVD release of the 20th anniversary edition, which found itself in our hands quick enough. A long awaited rewatch was paused for a moment as the fear that nostalgia had simply tricked us into thinking it was no more than just a childhood favorite. However, 82 minutes later we were reassured that it was abso-fucking-lutely worth it. Skip ahead to now, and I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss the film with none other than André Gower, the leader of the Monster Squad. 27 years ago I fell in love with a film, today, I hope to spread that love to anyone willing to listen.

Musings From Monster Squad Enthusiasts

“All my friends loved to talk about The Goonies, while I wouldn’t shut up about The Monster Squad. I stand by my choice. I mean, when a Werewolf jumps out at them they will all be too busy screaming, while I will already have my leg ready to kick him in the NARDS!”

– Kristina Mclean / @KMclean04

“It’s the movie my friends and I watched and quoted more than any other. To this day, when I quote it and someone recognizes it, it’s like finding a long lost member of my own Monster Squad. The perfect mix of scary and fun with incredible moments like when Scary German Guy reveals he knows a lot about monsters.”

– Jimmy Gaspero / @JimmyGaspero

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Books

Stephen King Turns 74: A Retrospective & Celebration

Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.

― Stephen King

            With over 60 novels to his name, countless short stories, a best-selling pseudonym, and a laundry list of awards, Stephen King is one of the most established authors of the 20th and 21st centuries. A wordsmith who can make your skin crawl, heart break, or even leave you inspired, there are many facets of King’s writing for you to choose from. The aptly named ‘King of Horror,’ began his meteoric rise with 1973’s Carrie and never looked back. Not without his personal demons, his tortured writing gave breath to those who were silently fighting their own addictions. The man even survived being hit by a car, an event that would inspire several novels and would encourage him to re-attempt finishing his magnum opus, The Dark Tower. Wherever your loyalty lies in the spectrum of King’s genres, Horror, True Crime, Mystery, etc., we can all agree his transcendent writing capability keeps us all coming back for more.

Jon Scott / @JMScott193

Book that got me into Stephen King: So, I was thrown right into the deep end on this one with The Dark Tower series, King’s magnum opus. When I was around 14, a family friend got me a collection set of the first four Dark Tower novels, since she knew how much I loved the fantasy genre. Once I opened The Gunslinger, I was hooked on his storytelling immediately.

Favorite Stephen King book11/22/63 is my favorite by him, without question. One of my favorite sub-genres of fiction is alternative history. I am fascinated by the what if’s and what-could-have-been moments in history. Marrying that kind of story with the style of one of the greatest living authors was a perfect union. Yet, King also presents a certain wistful nature for a small town in the 1960s. The scenes where Jake stays in Dallas with Sadie have a nostalgia about them, a yearning for a simpler time.

First Time Recommendation: If you are looking to get into the world of King, then I would recommend starting out with one of his first novels, all of which are classics. Salem’s Lot, in particular, shows King beginning to reach the truly grand heights we’ve come to know from him. In addition, it’s also just a super dope take on vampires. However, if you’re looking for something even simpler, check out Mr. Mercedes, King’s take on the hard-boiled crime genre. It’s an incredibly simple, yet downright effective, detective story.

Jimmy Gaspero / @jimmygaspero

Book that got me into Stephen King: The first Stephen King book I read was Cujo. I was in high school at the time and chose to read it for a school project. At that time, I was familiar with King’s work only through movie and television adaptations, including the 1983 film, Cujo. I still remember the experience of reading Cujo and thinking how unrelenting it was and the shocking ending, very different from the film, was brutal. It’s a feeling that has stuck with me to this today and, all these years later, I still can’t decide if I like the book. It didn’t stop me from reading more of King’s works though. 

Favorite Stephen King book: My favorite Stephen King book is Wolves of the Calla. It is the 5th book in The Dark Tower series and contains one of my favorite King quotes: “First comes smiles. Then lies. Last is gunfire.” Wolves of the Calla specifically, and The Dark Tower series, generally, has so many elements of horror, fantasy, and science-fiction. There was just something about the storytelling here that I loved a tiny bit more than the other books in the series.

First Time Recommendation: The Stephen King novel I’d recommend to new readers is The Gunslinger. This can start you on your journey toward The Dark Tower, as all paths serve the beam. It is a great introduction to King’s work as you can then venture toward horror stories like Carrie or It, or science-fiction/fantasy elements like The Stand or The Dead Zone. No matter where you turn next, there is plenty to choose from and if you don’t like it, that’s fine too, as Jake says, “Go then, there are other worlds than these.”

Dana Durante / No Social Media

Book that got me into Stephen King: Salem’s Lot. I was 12 years old when the book was first published. My mother was reluctant to let me read it as she had read Carrie and did not think I was ready to read something scary. After much pleading, it was actually my father who bought the book for me and basically lit the fire that is my love for all things horror. The writing was effortless and the pacing was perfect, it was such a great introduction to his writing. It was also one of the first books where none of characters were safe; I had to read to the very end with this overwhelming sense of dread. Writing this makes me want to pick it up again, just in time for Halloween!

Favorite Stephen King book: The Stand. Perhaps not the best book for our current state of affairs, but it really is such a well-rounded piece of American literature. Aside from feeling like I had some sort of phantom-cold while reading it, this novel was one novel I could not put down. I remember staying up and burning through the chapters, while constantly being reminded that at some point, I did require sleep to function. This book never shied away from the horrors that would befall society in this situation, but also the hope that may come out of it. The longest book I have ever read, but well worth it.

First Time Recommendation: Pet Sematary. This may seem like an odd-choice, being that it is one of King’s most frightening/disturbing books, but I think this is a great place to start. I was never a ‘dip your toe in,’ but rather a ‘cannonball into the deep-end’ type of person, so if that’s your motto then this is your book. However, for those who need more time to acclimate to the ‘King-Verse,’ I would say Salem’s Lot is the way to go. Be warned, once you start a King novel, you’re a fan for life.

Richard Durante / @ArghRJ

Book that got me into Stephen King: Nightmares & Dreamscapes. As a freshmen nursing student, my time was limited, but I was looking for a new book to keep my attention in-between stacks of medical textbooks. A friend loaned me her copy, and I found myself entranced from the first story on. My heart particularly belongs to The Night Flier, but the entire collection deserves equal praise. From there on, my journey began to King’s next short-story collection, and eventually, to his Dark Tower series, but I always find myself longing for these condensed tales. In all honesty, this had held its spot as my favorite of his works, up until I read one of his classics after the birth of my son.

Favorite Stephen King book: The Shining. With my young son in my arms, I remember rocking him to sleep while reading passages of Danny Torrance wandering through the doomed Overlook Hotel. The book elicited such visceral dread, from the long-deceased guests to the vicious topiaries, I found myself hesitant to turn the page. It was the perfect story to be reading with my infant son, as my insomnia addled mind began to see Jack Torrance’s side of things. All jokes aside, read this novel and skip the movie.

First Time Recommendation: Night Shift. This collection of King’s short stories gives readers the widest array of his talents, from the dramatic, to the downright horrific. It’s important to note that King indeed has this range, and even if you don’t particularly like one of the stories, there are so many more to choose from. Most of the people I associate with who state they dislike his works, tend to have not read anything from him, but rather judge his films as an apt sampling. To those I say, pull up a chair, here’s Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption, now shut up and enjoy.

Take this knowledge fearless readers and venture on to the works of Stephen King. As we celebrate his birthday, we wish him continued success and many more years of writing to come. As he once stated in Different Seasons: “Get busy living or get busy dying…..there ain’t nothing in-between”

Categories
Comics

Fun-Size Roundtable: Ordinary Gods #1

Welcome back to this week’s installment of The Fun-Size Round Table. I’m your host, Ashley, and today we’ll be diving in to Ordinary Gods #1 from writer Kyle Higgins, artist Felipe Watanabe, colorist Frank William, and letterer Clayton Cowles. 

Ordinary Gods starts out with a bang, right in the middle of the action in late 90’s Japan. As a reader, we’re not entirely sure what’s happening, but when things go south, we’re transported off-world and rewarded with some intriguing lore recounting the past of the One King and 13 immortal Gods.

As a lover of well-told stories, Ordinary God’s non-linear story structure shines. Often a fantasy series can be dogged by the “info-dump,” that age-old method of overwhelming readers with world-building and back story right at the onset. But Higgins has woven together the past and the present with finesse, always providing just enough to propel the next few pages forward with meaning and context. 

Our present-day hero is Christopher, an ordinary 22-year-old guy unhappy with the mediocrity and direction his life has taken. Christopher wants more. He’s tired of feeling weak. Well, Christopher soon gets what he asked for, but will he finally be happy when destiny meets him right at his kitchen table? Ordinary Gods is a story of reincarnation, otherworldly Gods, and alternate-Earth history. It grips you from the first page, and leaves you craving the next issue.

To weigh in on Christopher’s destiny, we’ve put together an incredible team. So read on and uncover our panel’s thoughts on Ordinary Gods #1, available today!


Rook Geary (@rookgeary)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

Well, that blew my expectations out of the water. I had heard good things about some of Higgins’ work, enjoyed the first couple of issues of Radiant Black and some of his Nightwing a few years back, but this hits hard out of the gate with vivid, engaging, bold storytelling choices.

I wasn’t even sure this premise was a great idea going in, but the setup with the gods has a huger-than-huge scope that sweeps you up, and a relationship with our “real world” that’s startlingly relatable. If they can do justice to half of the themes brought up in this comic (particularly the therapy session), this book is going to be really special.

And this is all without mentioning Watanabe’s brilliant direction of action and character, the saturated bursts of violence and clever manipulation of tone from Williams, and the effortlessly classic lettering from Cowles. This book had me from the start and didn’t let go.


Katie Liggera (@kataloupee)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

Most likely, I’ll show my age from this comment — but I can’t help drawing parallels between this expansive ‘immortal gods’ narrative and the beloved Percy Jackson book series from my childhood. Therefore, my Rick Riordian indoctrination in middle school makes Ordinary Gods #1 a perfect jump into indulging in a fantasy comic as an adult. Kyle Higgins demonstrates a remarkable propensity for storytelling structure. I wasn’t expecting an alternating narrative that both juxtaposed and echoed one another. However, Higgins engineers the dual storylines with alacrity. I found myself enraptured; astonished at how well the comic shifted between depicting immortal beings’ grandiose battles and relatability of young adult normalcy in the present.

Spectacularly, Felipe Watanabe’s illustrations, colored thoughtfully by Frank Williams, intensify the stakes. Intimate, close-frame panels expose Christopher’s struggles with depression, while sprawling splash pages enforce the ramifications of the gods’ conflicts. Clayton Cowles letters dialogue in the god-inhabited realms to stylistically appear as if we are reading an ancient manuscript. Visuals heighten every moment where I stopped reading often to let the images settle into my head. Ordinary Gods approaches its tale exactly like Percy Jackson. The fantasy concept proves more than palatable in the comic by treating a war of the realms and an everyman’s human experience with equal measure. Ordinary Gods whisks me back in time — in more ways than one! I am definitely adding this comic to my pull list.


Matt Brimfield (@the_brimmy)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

Ordinary Gods has a compelling way with its approach to its storytelling. While not being a reader of traditional comics, I found myself intrigued and curious over the lore that was trickling through the panels of this issue. Though “Gods among People” is a common trope used in storytelling, Higgins has found a way to circumvent the cliche with the delivery of the lore given to us. Higgins gives us little breadcrumbs to an overarching plot of a war among gods. 

The art between Watanabe and WIlliams is also punchy and vibrant; Giving life to Higgins’s story. You can go from a vivid depiction between the battle between gods to a seemingly average day at the mall with the protagonist, Christopher, and his sister. The over-the-top, gorey violence is icing on the cake.

Between the storytelling and the art, Ordinary Gods will definitely be a series that I will keep an eye on as it has captured my attention and drawn me into its vast world.


 Jordan Edwards (@IamJordanZoned)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

Higgins does an excellent job kicking off another series at Image. Ordinary Gods has an engaging premise and immediately interesting world. My only gripe was that it wasn’t explored enough. The issue does a great job of getting us a peek of the setting, but pinballs between different times and peoples a bit too quickly, I felt. The story alternates between sections with our young protagonist and expository scenes explaining the nature of the conflict. I felt that these expository bits went by a little fast, especially compared to the appropriately slow mundane scenes. I’m sure this issue will be resolved as the story continues, however.

Watanabe and Williams’s art does a lot of the work to sell this book’s two halves, as a whole. It could be easy for the extreme contrast to be overwhelming, but the art team paints with a careful brush, enticing us into a new and exciting world.

Ordinary Gods is absolutely a book to keep your eye on. It sets up an engaging premise with a relatable and human core. This could be something really special and I’m excited to see it kick off even further.


Jimmy Gaspero (@jimmygaspero)

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

There’s a lot I enjoyed about Ordinary Gods #1. Felipe Watanabe excels at both chaotic action sequences and intense, close-up character moments, with excellent coloring by Frank William, the comic was visually appealing, further enhanced by Clayton Cowles’s smart lettering choices, from tightly controlling the pace of the dialogue to letting loose with gunshot SFX. The story is also laid out in an interesting fashion. As the focus switches from another world inhabited by immortal gods to our own world and the protagonist Christopher, the panels bridging the gap are often visually connected as well as connected through dialogue or narration. There are clues seeded here early on regarding Christopher’s true identity, which I especially appreciated reading through this issue a second time. Kyle Higgins’ dialogue through the panels of Christopher and his therapist as well as Christopher and his family at the dinner table was straightforward, honest, and believable. It’s one of the reasons the end of the issue feels especially brutal.          

I think it’s inevitable now when dealing with stories of gods on Earth to make The Wicked + The Divine comparisons, and I found this first issue more accessible, but that’s not necessarily a positive. I was certainly left with questions regarding Christopher’s sister, what Christopher’s true identity means for him and his future, and if it somehow affects his depression/mental health, but there wasn’t enough here for me to connect with or to differentiate itself from things that have come before it to add this to my pull list.   


RJ Durante (@ArghRJ) 

Ordinary Gods #1. Credit: Kyle Higgins, Felipe Watanabe, Frank William, Clayton Cowles.

From a Yakuza shootout opening to a life-altering closing for our young protagonist Christopher, Ordinary Gods does not fuck around. Heads are blown off, families are torn apart, and uprisings are quelled, and that’s just the first issue. The tight narrative stylings of Kyle Higgins gives readers a release that’s less of an info-dump and more of a hand-holding guide into a world similar to ours. 13 gods lead 13 lands, with one overzealous ruler, appropriately named the One King, to oversee them all. Sauron be damned, there is no ‘one ring’ in this realm, but we can forgive this transgression as these gods bring new life to an old construct. The most relatable experience is to our aimless and depressed leading character Christopher. I’m all for ‘greatness thrust upon’ trope, especially when it comes from a family-ending bloodbath, I mean, look at The Punisher.

The real heavy lifting goes to artist Felipe Watannabe and colorist Frank William for creating visuals that seize your attention frame by frame, not letting go from beginning to end. Even though I laugh every time I see a gun fired and the words BLAM! are spread across the page, but they weren’t much of a distraction here as the artistry had me mesmerized. The look of the Gods themselves had a strange familiarity to them, which definitely made it easier to try and guess who was who without a label on their chest. Being a fan of violent comics, but specifically, violence with purpose because anything else is excess, Ordinary Gods fits the bill. I will definitely be looking forward to the next issue as this was a strong hook into this not so ordinary world.