Captain Squirrel (Part 1)

“Hey, is Matt alright?”

Karla hadn’t spoken to me in years. We’d been friendly when we were younger. Not the sort of friendship where you’d call each other, or go to each other’s house, but the sort where if the timing was right, you’d walk home from school together. We’d compare math tests and joke about Mrs. Fatoma’s wig. It wasn’t like Matt, who I’d talk about real stuff with, like comics and superheroes, but it was nice. But like I said, nothing was set in stone, so at first I didn’t realize that our leave times were no longer lining up. But then I realized it had been a few weeks. And I paid attention when I left school, and realized she was walking a different way with Lisa. That’s when I realized the gender divide that had entered our class had finally hit us.

So, now it’s middle school, and Karla is actually talking to me. And I have no idea what she’s talking about.

“Huh? I guess he’s not in today, or yesterday, I guess.”

“My mom ran into his mom at the store last night, and she said he got attacked by a wild animal.”

“A wild animal? In Lakewood?” Even as I’m saying it, I know that if there’s anybody who could get attacked by a wild animal in suburbia, it’s Matt. I once saw him get his foot stuck in a gopher hole. Another time, his cat was up a tree, and Matt climbed up after it. The cat jumped down on its own, and Matt couldn’t figure out how to get back down on his own. His older brother dragged out a mattress, and taunted Matt until he jumped/fell. He got a bunch of scrapes, but generally ok.

“That’s what his mom says. I guess he’s in the hospital. Maybe we could visit him after school?”

“Yeah. I’ll see if I can learn where he is.”

Black Bird (Day 3)

Sometimes, I hang out with Malcolm while he works. Of course, if he’s doing his job correctly, it doesn’t look like he’s working. We hang out on a stoop. Walk down to the bodega. Buy a loaf of bread and feed the ducks. People come up to us, slap us on the back, do intricate handshakes. I mean, there’s no doubt that we’re suspicious as fuck, but what he’s doing isn’t actually illegal.

Malcolm publishes the Guide. The Guide tells you everything you need to know about the local Supers (and a few of the more national ones who might drop by). Not like what you get in the magazines, where you can learn their favorite snack (yogurt bars, always yogurt bars), or their workout routine (treadmill, free weights, and oh yeah, a does of radiation). No, the Guide tells you who you’re most likely to meet in a given neighborhood, what’s their deal. Phasatron will fuck up even a low-level dealer, while Scarlet Princess will only intervene in what she deems violent crimes. Or if you do have a run in, it gives advice on how to escape. The Mole wears night vision goggles, so a flash of light can give you time to escape. Most synthetic webbing can be dissolved with orange soda. (“I don’t know if that’s racist,” Malcolm says, “But it feels racist.”) It stops short of telling the heroes actual weaknesses.

“Defense only,” Malcolm says, “This isn’t a guide for some cocky motherfucker to try and take on the league, and get himself killed. I don’t need that on my head. And shit, somebody gets lucky and takes down a super, and we’re all in trouble. You don’t want to seriously piss off the guy who can punch out a comet.”

He updates it frequently, adding in new information that people give him while he takes his walks. So, he prints out fresh versions every few weeks. He refuses to put it up on the web. Too traceable, and he likes to know who he’s distributing to.

It’s a Sunday, and we’re already at the park, feeding ducks with Malcolm’s little sister, when we’re approached. Face mask. Black pleather outfit. She has short red hair, and bright red lipstick. I mean, she was a knockout, if you know, tool of state oppression is your thing. Ok, she could probably convince me that it’s my thing.

“You guys from around here?” she asks she seems friendly or at least is trying to.

All around us, the old men who feed the ducks, or play chess in the park watch us closely, while pretending to not see us at all.

“Yeah, not far,” Malcolm says.

Kiara glares at him. “You don’t need to talk to her.”

“It’s okay, sis. I’m sure Ms. Night Terror has nothing but the best of intentions.”

“I don’t go by that anymore. It was a stupid name. I was young. I’m Black Bird, now.”

I’m sure Malcolm knew that, but we still catch each other’s eyes and smile. We have a joke about heroes who have the word black in their names.

“All cops are bastards and supers are just cops in capes.” Kiara has the confidence of a newly political 14-year-old. She’s actually pretty cool, but she’s bound to land us in the shit.

“I get that. I’m just here to help.”

“Help, huh?” Malcolm hands her a piece of white bread, “All we’re doing is feeding the ducks, but if you want to help with that, it’s cool.”

Black Bird instinctively glanced at the signs prohibiting feeding the ducks, but doesn’t say anything. She just turns to the pond, pulls off a corner of the bread, and throws it into the water. Malcolm makes a signal to Kiara, and she tries to casual walk away until she almost gets to the edge of the park and starts to run.

“You guys do this often?” Black Bird asks.

“We like ducks. Sometimes there are swans..”

“And geese.”

“And geese, and we don’t feed any of them on those days. We just like the ducks,” I say, “But it’s not like we really need you to stop by and help every time.”

“You know who really needs help, though? Clarence with his middlegame.”

“There’s nothing wrong with my middlegame,” Clarence yells from where’s he’s playing.

“I can come back, tomorrow, and play chess,” Black Bird says.

“Clarence doesn’t play against people in masks,” Malcom replies.

“You know why I wear a mask.”

“I do, and you know that as long as you wear one, you’ll never be able to help.”

Black Bird nods.

We keep tossing bread into the pond until the whole bag is gone. The ducks already full, have long since waddled away from us.

The Angel

After we go to a movie or a restaurant, I walk Melanie home. It stretches the night out just a little longer. We discuss when we’ll see each other next, though we never make firm plans, and it’ll always end up being longer than we’d hoped. I usually walk home from there, it’s a distance, so I stop in the Willow Park.

The Angel stands in the middle of the park. Arms reaching up towards heaven, wings outspread. The first time I saw them, I thought they were a statue.

“Nope, it’s a person.”

“Like a street performer?”

“No, like a superhero. They protect us.”


I don’t know if The Angel protects us or not, but I always feel safe in the park at night. I always stop and sit on a bench for a while. The city set up lights so that The Angel is always illuminated. They weren’t always still. I’ve seen photos of The Angel flying, and fighting. But that was long before I moved here. I’ve only been here a year, and I don’t know how much longer I’ll stay. Aside from Melanie, my connections are thin. Some work friends. A barista who flirts with me. But my position at work is about to be redundant, and none of these friendships will survive the slightest change in my routine.

“Should I just stand still like you, and see who comes to visit me?” I ask The Angel, “Are you waiting for someone? Should I wait for someone?”

Some people treat The Angel like the Palace Guard, trying to make them smile or angry. There’s a story that somebody once bumped into them and got burned. Maybe all The Angel protects is themself.

I glance at my phone, get up from the bench and leave the park. My lease will be up soon. I’ll have to decide soon if I’ll stay here. Leaving the park, I can hear the sounds of traffic. I soon a man walking his dog. A bicyclist calls, “On your left” before passing me. The city is once again in motion.

Day 1: Composure

When she closes her eyes, she can see her own nervous system. She can see the electrical impulses flashing in her brain. If she focuses, she can slow her heartbeat, make her hair grow faster, delay her period, smile. These powers were hard to control when she was young. As a girl, her fingernails would grow at an exponential rate. She’d nervously claw at things like a cat, and her classmates would make fun of her. Her mother would clip the nails at night, so she wouldn’t scratch herself in her sleep, and then again in the morning. Kelly knew it was inconvenient, but her mother never complained.

“Someday, you’ll be the best of us,” her mother said.

She didn’t understand at the time. No kid would. It’s a weird thing to say. And at the time, Kelly thought she was messed up. She assumed everybody had complete control over their digestive systems, and were so skilled at it, that it seemed automatic. The only thing she felt she excelled in was staring contests.

Staring is still a big part of her superhero persona. It freaks out the villains. They like to see their adversaries get nervous while they monologue. They want to see them sweat, but only Kelly decides when she’ll sweat. Stab her and she doesn’t flinch, doesn’t even bleed. She simply slows the blood flow. Villains don’t like fighting her. It’s unnerving. Other heroes don’t enjoy teaming up with her. She never makes any quips. She doesn’t do any interviews. Reporters never ask the right questions anyway.

Kelly lives in the apartment next to mine. She’s a good neighbor. Sometimes, I worry that I’m too noisy, listening to pop music while I cook, but she’s never complained. Still, when I bake, I always drop some off for her.

“Were they good?”

“You know I have such minute control over my tastebuds that I can make anything taste good.”

“Did you do that?”

“No. They were delicious,” she smiles, and I like to imagine it was involuntary.

Day ??: Exquisite Corpse

Exquisite Corpse by Pénélope Bagieu

Zoe’s life sucks. She works at a product representative at conventions (aka a booth babe), a job she hates, and goes home to a disinterested boyfriend who farts in the bed. Unlike her co-workers, who are putting themselves through school, she has not real ambition, and feels in a rut. When eating lunch in a park one day, she notices a man peaking at her from his apartment window. She more or less forces her way into his apartment to use his bathroom. The man, Thomas, is convinced she knows his secret, but after determining that she has no idea who he is, he invites her to return.

There are a few twists, and it’s a fun story, but what I truly love are Zoe’s facial expressions. Compared to the other characters, she has big eyes, and Bagieu uses them effectively. Pleading, coy, angry, dismissive. So much of the story is told in her expressions, and in particular how Thomas reacts to them. And Bagieu gives those expressions space. She uses silence, and draws out a moment both for emphasis and for comedy.

And now, just a ton of examples.

Day 8: Coin-Op Books

Coin-Op Books by Peter Hoey and Maria Hoey

The first time I picked up anything by Coin-Op books was at MICE 2012. I was drawn to the table by the series of short comics all designed to look like 45 sleeves. (I love the intersection of where music and comics meet). The comics are a collaboration between siblings Peter and Maria Hoey (sometimes with others as well) and how they divvy responsibilities is opaque to an outsider. The comics are stylish with a mid-century graphic design quality. (It’s unsurprising that aside from their comic work, they also do a fair amount of newspaper and magazine illustrations). Some stories share that almost infographic feeling. “Strip Mall (Instrumental)” isn’t so much a story as songs re-imagined as stores in strip malls. Another, has notable events that happened to rock musicians in hotels. Others, are more narrative, though there is a frequent existentialism to them. There’s a series of comics about a man delivering an inter-office memo, the office becoming wilderness as he treks alone to his recipients. There’s a pair of reoccurring dogs, Saltz & Pepz who are perpetually down on their luck. They feel like a cross between a classic comedy duo, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

The art is rich and detailed. They play with panel sizes, and gutters. A piece based on “Rear Window” uses thin vertical panels that are reminiscent of a film strip. Frequently, they’ll break up a larger image into smaller squares. The figures in each square believing themselves more or less alone, but seeing how their actions cascade outwards in calamity.

Coin-Op website:

Day 7: Melanie Gillman’s 24-Hour Fairy Tales

Melanie Gillman’s 24-hour Fairy Tales: The Fish Wife, Sweet Rock, Hsthete, The King’s Forest

24-hour comic day has been a tradition going back to 2004 (according to a website I just read on the subject), and it’s pretty much what it sounds like. A page an hour for 24 hours. Most participants simply do diary comics of each hour of the day, which means that by early afternoon, their comics become illustrations of them trying to catch up on their 24-hour comic. Luckily, Melanie Gillman cheats.

They pre-pencil the pages, they do fewer than 24 pages, they usually split it over two days. And yeah, they don’t go the diary route, they make queer fairy tales. A woman considering suicide, marries a mermaid instead. A woman is sacrificed to a giant because she is too bitter. A woman calls upon the Goddess of Mishaps to help her end her betrothal. They are bitter-sweet. Gillman colors them with colored pencils, and they are simply beautiful.

I continue to hope that some smart publisher will give them a crap-load of money for a full 10 story collection

This year’s comic, The King’s Forest

Gillman’s site where their webcomic “As the Crow Flies” is posted:

Day 6: The House

The House by Paco Rosa (translated by Andrea Rosenberg)

After their father passes, three adult siblings return to the summer house he built himself, to prepare it for sale.  Their father loved to keep busy, and as kids, he put them to work helping him. From gardening to building a stone wall. Even when they “went on strike” because they wanted a pool, he ended up agreeing, but they all dug the pool together. Returning to the house, they all face their grievances, and their loss.

There are feuds, some petty like who was supposed to buy paint, and some huge like to what extent each of them helped their father in his final days, and the biggest that Vincente (the oldest) decided alone whether or not to resuscitate their father. We’re shown their memories. At first, these memories are tense, but as the three children make their peace with each other, they remember good times.

The colors are muted, at times almost sepia-toned even in the “present” which gives the whole book a feeling of the past. The house feels cut off from the normal flow of time. Only scenes of the daughter remembering doctor visits with her father are done in blue, making it feel colder, and more rooted in today. Expressions form a large part of the story, though that includes posture and body language.

Day 5: Did You See Me?

“Did You See Me?” by Sophia Foster-Dimino

Shortbox is a small independent publisher out of the UK run by Zainab Akhtar. While they’ve branched out to sell their back catalog singly, and to kickstart a few larger books, their original model was a quarterly box of 5 or so comics, a print, and some form of strange British candy. I can’t recall if I’ve gotten 4 or 5 boxes thus far, but there has not been a bad comic in the bunch. And in every box, there is one that truly stands out. “Did You See Me?” is one of those.

David is an editorial assistant, and hosts a literary podcast. The story starts when somebody @’s him on twitter asking him to apologize for bumping into her the night before, causing her to drop her sandwich. He replies that he was home all evening. But she says, no, after that in her dream. David writes her off as a crank, but when telling his girlfriend about it, he recalls that something like that did happen in his dream. When he dreams that night, he apologizes to Emma (the girl from twitter). He still fights that this is reality, but slowly he comes to accept it, and their dream relationship continues to get more intimate. Finally, David breaks up with his girlfriend, and arranges to meet Emma in person.

The story is sweet and strange. Foster-Dimino uses three different styles. Twitter pages show the phone on a colored background. To prevent it from being entirely static, it switches from notification screens, to his typing, to DM’s. It shows him checking her page when he’s suitably intrigued. Then there is real life. Orderly boxed pages with a white outer border, the figures themselves with a black outline. The dream pages are an all white page, the figures with no outline, or just the lightest touch to distinguish white on white. Text feels crammed in, at times upside-down. The story navigates us through these three spaces, all of them are reality, but none of them are fully real.


Buy from Shortbox:

Day 4: Banned Book Club

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook, Ko Hyung-Ju and Ryan Estrada

The true story of Hyun Sook’s time in university and joining the protest movement against President Chun in 1983. She enters university attempting to avoid politics, particularly at the insistence of her mother who is unhappy that she’s wasting the money to attend university at all, and concerned that Hyun Sook will just get in trouble. But avoiding politics is impossible for her. From day one, she has to push through a protest to get onto campus. The masked folk dance team she joins hides political messages in their performance and gives way to political demonstration. Her English class discusses how Shakespeare used history to disguise anti-government sentiments, and her book club turns out to be the titular banned book club.

One member of the club, Hoon takes a particular interest in her, both as a protégé and a love interest. But she also spends a lot of time with Yuni and Suji who explain the added responsibilities and risks of being a woman in the movement. As one woman states, “The boys plan the events and then expect us to prepare everything” during a get-together to make Molotov cocktails. And one can see these moments accruing to make Hyun Sook a less passive protagonist.

While I can’t claim to now be an expert on South Korean politics, I did find myself reading a bunch of articles on Wikipedia, attempting to fill in some of the gap in my knowledge that is Korea after the Korean War. The magna influenced art is incredibly clear. I’m the first to admit that if you give me a cast of 10 or so characters, six of them central, and they’re not wearing color coded outfits, I’m likely to get confused, but the character designs are so well thought out that even in the epilogue, 33 years later, I could identify all the characters. The book is officially marked as YA, so it makes a perfect gift for your future revolutionary.

Order from the publisher Iron Circus.