If I Ever Open A Bar, I’m Going To Replace Eco-friendly Paper Straws With Red Vines That Were Bitten Off At both Ends I figure this would be a lot less harmful to the environment than plastic straws and more durable than paper straws. And getting to eat the delicious red candy when you were done sipping your drink would be most satisfying. Now, I have anticipated some blowback from the weirdos that prefer Twizzlers to Red Vines. But since both licorices can ostensibly serve as a conduit by which to sip liquids, we could also stock Twizzlers to appease the folks whose taste buds simply do not work. (For those people, we could also stock cilantro as a garnish, since I bet they eat a ton of that stuff too.) Of course, since this is literally the only reason I would want to start a bar, the odds that I No. 124 follow through on my licorice-as-straws solution is pretty slim to none. So if there are any bars out there who are racking their brains trying to find an alternative to both paper and plastic straws, feel free to steal this idea. What Do You Do For A Dying? Everyone always asks what you do for a living, but no one ever asks what you do for a dying. I suppose that makes sense, since the way it’s phrased, the question could mean a few different things. First, the asker may be curious about whether or not you’ve embarked upon end-of-life planning: do you have a will, estate planning documents, and advanced healthcare directives? Second, the query may refer

to what you’re doing to entice death: are you smoking, drinking too much, and not exercising or eating right? Third, I suppose it could be a clumsy way of asking if you’re about to murder someone. Fourth, you may mishear the question and assume they’re asking whether or not you’re going to a “die in” where you plan to “drink the Kool-Aid” (so to speak). And now that I’ve over-analyzed the shit out of this particular question, I suppose it’s far too fraught to bring up in polite society. So yeah, never mind. Do You Ever Suddenly Realize That You Haven’t Done Anything To Further Your Goal Of World Domination The Better Part Of A Year? It’s kind of sad when you realize your sole life ambition has been put on the back burner for reasons you really can’t control. Sure some dreams are worth giving up on, but your goal of world domination used to motivate you to amass arsenals, brainwash acquaintances, and write ever-more wordy and scatterbrained manifestos. And you’re giving all that up because your life got a little busy? Come on, now. That’s not the go-getter attitude that you need to show your adversaries who’s boss around here. You also don’t want to sully the memory of all those Pinky and the Brain cartoons that inspired your aspirations of total subjugation in the first place. So maybe make some time in your life for what’s important. Your friends and family may laugh at you, but they won’t be laughing when you’re the one in charge, now will they? I Often Wonder If Some Of My More Curmudgeonly Customers Experienced Their Last Laugh At The Age Of 17 At some point during Clinton’s first term, they must have read a Funky Winkerbean comic strip in the paper and laughed for what would be the very last time. And although they didn’t know it at that moment, they would never so much as crack a smile again. How else could you explain the fact that their whole adult lives have been spent making everyone else’s life as miserable as theirs? There’s something particularly pathetic and contemptible about taking advantage of a power dynamic (customer versus worker) in order to unload decades of crushing frustrations and resentments on someone who’s captive and has no choice but to take the abuse. You’d almost feel sorry for them if they weren’t so pitiful. I hope everyone reading this will make a promise to themselves never to become one of these people. There are so many more satisfying and productive ways to live. For example, getting an ice cream cone and tipping the worker who scooped it for you is a good place to start. I Was Cleaning And Found A Drawer Full Of 20 Percent Off Coupons To Bed Bath & Beyond Then I broke down in tears when I thought about all the times I paid full price at that store because I forgot to bring a damned coupon. And now that the retail outlet has gone out of business, I can never redeem myself (or these coupons). I’ve Decided That Instead Of Going To My Job Every Day, I’m Just Going To Be Rich So I Don’t Have To Work Since I don’t want to work anymore, I have come to the conclusion that I’m going to concoct a cunning plan to build a massive capitalist empire. The first step of this scheme is to obtain capital, since capitalists are the ones who own things that make money for them. That way they don’t have to lift a finger in order to pay for their extravagant lifestyles. I figure I would maybe buy a building and have people pay me money every month for the right to live there. Then maybe I would buy a grocery store where the very same people who were paying me for the right to sleep could also pay me for the right to eat. And then I might look into owning some kind of doctor’s office or hospital, so the people that are paying me for the right to sleep and eat could also pay me for the right to be healthy and pain-free. After securing all these money-making operations, I suppose I’d open a factory or retail store where I would employ the folks who are already paying me to live. And they could make even more money for me, and I would pay them a very small percentage of the wealth they created back to them — but not too much! (I figured not only would I not work, but I would also be, like, comically greedy.) And with this money I pay them, they would have no choice but to hand most of it right back if they want to keep sleeping in my building, eating my groceries, and going to my doctors. It all seems pretty simple when I spell it out like that. I wonder if anyone else has ever thought of this. What Does One Wear When They Go Shopping For Buildings? I just realized that I don’t have any nice clothes — much less the duds I imagine are required for building shopping. I don’t think anyone is going to sell me an apartment complex if I show up in my ripped up Alice Donut T-shirt, for example. Does anyone out there in reading land have any suggestions as to the attire one might don whilst completing step one in what will eventually be their massive capitalist empire? If so, send them to: birdy@birdymagazine.com, C/O Brian. Thanks, everyone! ERIK ROGERS - @EROCKROGERS

SOLAR SIGNS BY BEATIE WOLFE & AARON ROSE INTERVIEW BY KRYSTI JOMÉI Multidisciplinary artists Beatie Wolfe and Aaron Rose present Solar Signs, an intermedia display of shadow poetry and sun prints. Solarpowered and made from only three ingredients: recycled letters, the sun, and time, the piece captures shadow words revealed as the sun hits the hidden letters, celebrating nature's art and power to create on its own timescale, in ways that human beings often can't see or control. This minimalist art piece also serves as a poignant contemplation on sun and shade for those living in urban heat islands exacerbated by the climate crisis. Beatie and Aaron are launching the project in Denver as a three-part takeover including an exhibition at experimental gallery, Understudy, and a light projection on the iconic downtown clocktower in partnership with the Denver Theatre District, as well as a live art project during this year’s solar eclipse on April 8th. The third major solar eclipse visible in the U.S. in eight years, this one has the longest totality on land for over a decade, making it rare and special. And celebrating it here with Solar Signs is particularly meaningful for both Beatie and Aaron. Beatie used data from her visit to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Maryland and the National Science Foundation Ice Core Facility in Denver to create her latest work, Smoke and Mirrors. Premiered at this year’s SXSW, the powerful visualization showcased methane data and Big Oil advertisements since the first Earth Day in 1970. Her ties to Colorado date back even further to childhood to a place No. 124 she frequented and that deeply shaping her — Libre, the world’s longest running sustainable artist “commune” founded and built by legendary sculptor, Linda Fleming. Filmmaker, author and artist Aaron also has roots running through the Mile High City. His grandmother was connected to the Daniels & Fisher Tower when it still operated Denver’s then crown-jewel department store, Mary-D&F. A full-circle moment for him with Solar Signs’ projection install with Night Lights Denver lighting up the 325foot tower during the month of April. I had a chance to catch up with Aaron before he made his way to Denver to chat about his collaborative art process with both Beatie and nature. HOW DID THE IDEA OF SOLAR SIGNS COME INTO BEING? We had been wanting to collaborate on a creative project for some time, but hadn’t found the opportunity until this wonderful invitation came from Understudy and the Denver Theatre District. We wanted to combine two distinct disciplines that are close to our hearts. For Beatie, the crisis around climate has always been front and center, while my background in street art and visual dissent has formed the foundation of my work. We found that the meeting point between both practices came around public interventions and the idea of shadow graffiti kind of ticked all the boxes for us.

WHAT’S THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MINIMAL MATERIALS YOU USED FOR YOUR SHADOW POETRY? Graffiti is inherently simple when it comes to language, so we wanted the work to reflect that. It was also important that we used the sun as our primary activator. We didn’t want to confuse the concept by adding too much complexity, so a minimalist approach made the most sense to us. HOW WAS YOUR EXPERIENCE WORKING WITH THE SUN AND NATURE’S OWN TIMESCALE? DID IT INFLUENCE THE WAY YOUR ART TURNED OUT? POSE ANY CHALLENGES? DID YOU LEARN ANYTHING ABOUT YOUR OWN RELATIONSHIP TO TIME AND WHAT YOU CAN OR CANNOT SEE OR CONTROL AS AN ARTIST AND HUMAN ON THIS PLANET? This is a wonderful question. Working with the sun’s rays was actually incredibly challenging! When we first came up with the concept for Solar Signs, we thought it would be so simple, but only after we got out in the field and started trying to execute these pieces did we realize how unpredictable nature actually is! In some cases we had to re-execute the video components multiple times to get it right. Clouds, rain, faulty letters and wrong angles all came into play. We learned a lot, but at times it really made us long for traditional art supplies. PART OF YOUR APRIL TAKEOVER IS YOUR PARTNERSHIP WITH NIGHT LIGHTS DENVER TO CREATE A LIGHT PROJECTION ART INSTALLATION OF SOLAR SIGNS ON THE CITY’S ICONIC DANIELS & FISHER TOWER. WORD IS YOUR GRANDMOTHER USED TO WORK IN THIS CLOCKTOWER. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT? Yes. My family has roots in Denver and my grandmother worked at Daniels and 7 SUN/RAIN COMBINED PRINTS AS EVIDENCE OF MOLD PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER CHANG

Fisher. She was a comptometer operator, which was a precursor to an adding machine or calculator. When the store had sales they would bring it up to her and she would do the accounting. I’ve heard that it was a really beautiful store back in the day. ALL OF BEATIE’S CREATIONS AND COLLABORATIONS IN PARTICULAR INTERTWINE THE POWER OF ART AND SCIENCE TO AMPLIFY THE URGENCY OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS AND CURRENT STATE OF OUR PLANET, DUALLY CREATING AN OPPORTUNITY FOR HANDS-ON ACTIONABLE EDUCATION FOR PARTICIPANTS. PART OF SOLAR SIGNS IS THE CONTEMPLATION OF URBAN HEAT ISLANDS EXACERBATED BY THE CLIMATE CRISIS. CAN YOU EXPAND ON THIS AND WHY THIS IS AN IMPORTANT ISSUE FOR BOTH OF YOU? We are interested in both the healing aspects and destructive qualities of the sun. Nature is inherently volatile and we found that an interesting aspect to meditate on. In many ways, the climate crisis is a perfect example of this coming to fruition. Solar Signs invites us to re-imagine the ways we view and interact with the environment. FOR THOSE OF US SPECIFICALLY LIVING IN METROPOLITAN CITIES, WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP COMBAT THIS ISSUE? Awareness is key. There are of course things we can do individually to create a more healthy planet for our children, but sometimes just looking at nature through a different lens can be the first step. We are not proposing solutions, but rather creating a glitch in our awareness so that we can understand the climate as a tangible thing that informs almost all aspects of our lives. IN RELATION TO MINIMALIST ART MATERIALS USED FOR YOUR SHADOW POETRY IN SOLAR SIGNS, YOUR LATEST NEW YORK TIMES FEATURED BOOK, BLACKOUT POEMS, IS A COLLECTION OF OVER 100 POEMS YOU WROTE IN THE ’90S ON COCKTAIL NAPKINS AND INSIDE MATCHBOXES, ON SHOPPING BAGS AND SCRAP PAPER AND IN POCKET NOTEBOOKS. HOW DOES IT FEEL TO No. 124

HAVE CREATED A VESSEL TO HOLD ALL OF THESE PIECES TOGETHER THAT WERE SITTING IN BINS AND STORAGE UNITS FOR DECADES? AND WHAT DO YOU HOPE READERS TAKE AWAY FROM IT? This was a project I started during the pandemic as, like many of us, I had too much time on my hands. As I began transcribing the poems I was horribly embarrassed by them, but as I went on I began to understand that there was a unique honesty in the words. Most poets don’t publish their work until they’ve reached a mature age and I felt that reading the work of a 19-year-old might be beneficial, particularly to young people. BLACKOUT POEMS IS ALSO A PRECURSOR TO A MEMOIR YOU’RE CURRENTLY PENNING WITH AN END-OF-YEAR RELEASE DATE WITH HAT & BEARD PRESS AGAIN. CAN YOU GIVE US A TEASER OF WHAT WILL BE INSIDE ITS PAGES? The memoir is called Cosmic Poker and I’m looking at it as sort of a self-help book. Of course, it tells the story of my life, but it’s configured through the lens of the trials and tribulations of a struggling artist. I’ve found that there aren’t enough resources for young, creative people to understand how to build a life and career as an artist. Hopefully this book can help fill that gap. WHAT DO YOU WISH PEOPLE WILL TAKE AWAY FROM YOUR TIME AND ART IN DENVER? We hope the greatest takeaway from the installation would be a shift in perspective. It would be wonderful if the viewers began to see evidence of Solar Signs all around them in their daily lives. For the reasons of celebrating the complexity in nature and how beautiful that can be, while also understanding that the power lies with us to make sure we protect it for future generations. ANY OTHER PROJECTS COOKIN’ THIS YEAR? Just trying to finish this book!!! DON'T MISS THE DENVER TAKEOVER OF SOLAR SIGNS: UNDERSTUDY OPENING RECEPTION: APRIL 5, 6PM-9PM EXHIBITION: APRIL 5 - MAY 12 | THURS-SUN | 12PM-6PM 890 C 14TH STREET, DENVER ECLIPSE LIVE ART PROJECT *FREE SOLAR SIGNS ECLIPSE GLASSES* APRIL 8, 11PM-2PM | TIVOLI QUAD: AURARIA CAMPUS 1000 LARIMER STREET, DENVER NIGHT LIGHTS DENVER PROJECTION APRIL 1 - 30 | DANIELS & FISHER TOWER 1601 ARAPAHOE STREET, DENVER LEARN MORE AT SOLARSIGNS.ART SEE MORE FROM THESE TALENTED ARTISTS: BEATIEWOLFE.COM | IG: @BEATIEWOLFE AARONROSE.CO | IG: @AARONROSEOFFICIAL 9 SHADOW POETRY

A.M. PLEASURE ASSASSINS – CLOUDY, BLACK, RED AND ALL OVER This Fort Collins-based band has been a BY TOM MURPHY DUST CITY OPERA – COLD HANDS EP This latest release from the Albuquerquebased band has a cinematic resonance in the lushly orchestrated music throughout its six tracks. Paul Hunton’s warmly expressive vocals, reminiscent of John Grant circa his tenure in The Czars, syncs perfectly with the imaginative arrangements to sketch vividly observed portraits of people, places and situations. Whether the moods are reflective (for instance on “Evelyn”) or darkly bombastic (as with concluding track “No One Is Saved”) there is an intimate quality to every song that invites the listener into a vital and poetic emotional experience. Dust City Opera’s genre bends and blends with an elegant creativity so that its moments in a baroque pop, Americana mode seem to fit in well with its more fiery rock passages and modern classical flourishes. Even more so than on the group’s preceding two albums, the production and layers of sonic depth on this EP is as fascinating as the songwriting. staple of the local scene for well over a decade and has been regularly offering up recordings of its music since 2011. There was a homespun and DIY lo-fi charm to its earliest albums and a style that was refreshingly out of step with prevailing sounds rooted in indiepop, emo and post-punk. And there is plenty of that scrappy spirit to these songs and a touch of sneer in Jared Meyer’s vocals. The production is at turns hazy, gritty and vivid, and sometimes all at once. The recordings and the songwriting also feed any hunger you might have for a time when bands were not aiming for a market. When they were writing noisy, fractured pop songs and mainly playing to friends at house shows and dive bars, knowing they were sharing in something unique and special not made to cater to mainstream acceptance. These songs are the refinement of that aesthetic as a fusion of lo-fi indie, dreamlike psychedelia and punk in that 2000s Siltbreeze Records mode. MACHU LINEA – INVASION Armando Garibay brought on a dazzling FIRE MOTEL – THE WORLD AN OPERA Ilya Litoshik has always had an uncommon personal insight into himself and the world around him. The latest Fire Motel album was largely written, recorded and performed by the songwriter himself, with some vocal contributions from Alli Walz. This proves that his move from Denver to New York City has given Litoshik ample perspective and time to develop his concepts into a set of songs that creatively express and address the anxieties of modern life and some of its sources. But Litoshik is fortunately too much of a poet to offer obvious, face value observations, and too much of an authentic artist to abstract genuine fears and concerns. Songs like “Dot Coma” and “Fear of Death” on the surface seem to be very on the nose, but the lyrics are more about the experience of living through the moment and not merely an opinion on a subject. It is that human touch that renders these songs so deeply resonant in the tender spirit of their performance. Even on the fairly faithful cover of Robyn Hitchcock’s classic “Madonna of the Wasps,” Litoshik transforms into a poignant examination of the human condition. And with each song the songwriter offers a glimmer of hope in the little details of everyday life that point to the interconnectedness of our shared existence. No. 124 FOR MORE, VISIT QUEENCITYSOUNDSANDART.WORDPRESS.COM group of collaborators for this album including Michelle Rocqet formerly of The Milk Blossoms, Mezzzmer, KoKo LA of R A R E B Y R D $, Little Trips, FresaKill, Vedette, Briana JannYne, Machete Mouth, Shocker Mom and Spyderland. The songs would already be worth a listen for Garibay’s lushly entrancing production steeped in a downtempo R&B sound and deep house. But Garibay seems to have had in mind specific vocalists for the various tracks, letting each shine and direct the particular sonic flavors and moods of each song. The result is an album that feels like a string of great, late night dance club singles of vast stylistic variety with an undeniably sensuous quality that runs throughout the 12 tracks.

THE DEVIL'S CHARIOT BY JOEL TAGERT “Turn off your fucking engine,” Mackey groaned. It was three in the morning, for Christ’s sake. What was the point of living in the boonies if there were still jack-offs next door running their car all night? He waited, bones rumbling, and finally cursed and got up. He went out to the living room and pulled aside the curtain to peer through the woods. Wet and foggy, like most nights this time of year in Washington. A red glow of tail lights seeped through the trees from the direction of the road. He swore again and went to put on his clothes. Before opening the door he grabbed the big flashlight from its drawer, comforted by the weight in his hand. He clicked it on, walked down the driveway and saw that the offending vehicle wasn’t at his neighbors’ at all, but was parked on the far side of the road ten yards down and to the left. The car was a hulking beast, a black Dodge Challenger from the early 1970s that must be someone’s project car, paint corroded, chrome pitted. “Hello?” he called out, but no one answered. He lifted the flashlight higher and saw no one inside. He turned the light from side to side, saw no one nearby, either. He came closer. The driver’s side window had been smashed out and the rear view mirror on that side was missing as well. Long scratches gleamed along the door and body. He scanned the woods with the light, disconcerted. The interior of the car was none too clean, the passenger side littered with food wrappers, paper bags, cans, bits of plastic. A can sat in the cup holder. Whoever owned it, they were no neatnik. Wary of the glass, he opened the door, leaned in and twisted the key to off. Silence dropped like a lead blanket onto the woods. He stepped out and stood frowning at the vehicle. At first glance he’d thought it was a Challenger, but he was a mechanic and he knew cars No. 124 pretty well. Something about this one, an accumulation of details, made him stare. The weird dorsal ridge on the hood, the shape of the dash, the green glow of the dials, were all just a little off. “Custom job,” he muttered. Waffling, still expecting the car’s owner to show up, he circled around until he stood at the trunk and turned the light onto the emblem. In looping italics, the silver letters read: Chariot V/A. And centered between the tail lights was the make: DODJ. There was no license plate. He squatted, reached out and lightly touched the letters. What was crazy was that the E wasn’t missing, or at least, it hadn’t been broken off. The other characters were perfectly centered. They were meant to read that way. Meant to read DODJ. Cast that way at the factory, for a model that never existed. “Go back to bed,” he told himself. But goddamn if he wasn’t curious. His right hand fluttered on his jeans nervously. This could be a crime scene, for all he knew. And the owner could show up any second, seriously pissed to find someone messing with his ride. Probably would. On the other hand … he had to take a look, right? Had to. He searched for the hood release, found it to the right of the steering wheel. A minute of fumbling with the latch, and then he turned the flashlight on the engine and gaped. He could identify nearly nothing in it. In place of the engine block there was a kind of circular hub, six cylinders radiating outward like the spokes of a wheel. Its surface had an iridescent sheen, blue and green dominating. There were no belts, not one. A series of small baffles, what he thought might be air intakes, were arranged around the hub. There was more wiring than he was used to, a lot more. Even the screws he saw were atypical, a star-shaped head predominating.

“Project car,” he muttered. “Science experiment.” Before he thought too much about it, he turned and opened the driver’s side door. He had to see this thing running. “Stock,” a deep voice called. His head whipped around. The speaker fell to hands and knees. “Stock. Hell me.” No, no: Stop. Help me. The guy was clearly hurt. He wore a black studded leather jacket, black shirt and black jeans. He was pressing one hand to his hairless head and bright blood was streaming freely between his fingers. As Mackey looked on he fell to his side, unconscious. For a second Mackey debated turning around, going back to the house and calling the cops. Or an ambulance. Then responsibility resumed its course and he lurched forward to help. He was about to kneel when he saw the horns. They were about two inches long and projected from high on the forehead. Some kind of costume. Glued to the skin. Or shit, I don’t know, one of those body-altering freakazoids. But he didn’t believe it. There was something about the guy’s bone structure that insisted to Mackey’s gut that this was the way he was made. Then there were the pointed ears. Shocked, he stood back up. His eyes drifted back along the road and into the wood, following the trail of disturbed leaves back the way the man — the driver, he assumed — had come. Slowly he followed it, down the ditch and back up again, just off the road. It wasn’t far before he found it. His first thought was a giant bat, or several giant bats, but really giant. One torn wing must have been twelve, fifteen feet long. Making its total wingspan twenty-five or thirty feet. But there were too many wings, far too many, and they connected to a tentacled octopus-thing the size of a small bear. It was hard to make out what its face had looked like, because its head, such as it was, had been smashed to a gooey purple mess with a tire iron left at the scene. Mackey turned, striding on wooden legs, feeling himself in a nightmare, but nightmare or not he decided he didn’t need anything so much as to get the fuck out of here. When he got to the road the driver, the fucking devil-man, was trying to get to his feet again. He turned his head toward Mackey and looked at the mechanic with eyes orange as torches. “Help me,” he said, enunciating each word clearly, though his accent was thick as tar. “I’m going to get help,” Mackey said. “Stay and die,” said the driver. “They’re coming.” He pointed south along the road and Mackey saw an orange light there, long before the dawn. A fire, most likely. But there was a low noise, as well, like a great flock of cawing birds. The driver came to one knee, then with great effort to both feet. “What’s coming?” Mackey said. “More of those things?” The driver nodded, orange eyes fixed on the Chariot, taking slow and careful steps toward the car. One of his arms looked to be broken and his jacket was shredded at the right waist. “Fuck me,” Mackey said. “But — fuck, man, what are you saying? Where are they coming from? What do they want? I mean, where are you from?” “No time.” The driver’s side door was still open and the devil clutched the frame as he fell heavily into the seat, groaning in pain. “Where are you going?” “World after world,” the devil said, and closed the door. He glared balefully at Mackey and tilted his head toward the passenger seat. “Last chance. Ride or die.” “Fuck!” Mackey said, and got in the car. 13

By Hana Zittel Impossible People: A Completely Average Recovery Story by Julia Wertz (2023) Addiction and recovery are often portrayed as a relentless battle back to normalcy, a straight path from the absolute ruin caused by substance use leading to the grueling climb to recovery, one which is forever shrouded with the possibility of relapse. In Julia Wertz’s newest graphic memoir, the slip into addiction was a gradual slide. Masking and managing depression and anxiety with alcohol led to Wertz drinking daily, watching the clock wind down to 5 p.m. to prove to herself it wasn’t a problem, then drinking bottles of wine just to fall asleep. She hid her drinking, visiting different liquor stores or hiding that she was buying so much alcohol by insinuating it was for a party. As a cartoonist who mostly worked from home, her drinking habits were easily concealed from friends and family. But through medical visits and frank conversations with her brother, also recovering from addiction, Wertz began to address her alcohol misuse. When Wertz decided to move towards recovery, she tried a range of methods, checking into a 21-day rehab, therapy and meetings. She struggled through expressing her emotions and challenges with friends and family, but what she found through trial and error, setbacks and successes, was there was not a silver bullet to cure her alcohol dependency. Instead, a mixture of support, meetings and adventures allowed her to slowly find her way back to herself. From leaning into her love of urban exploring to learning comfortable methods of socializing, Wertz moves toward selfacceptance while capturing all of the bumps and setbacks of recovery frameby-frame in her characteristic cleanline drawings. Wertz’s journey in Impossible People, like so many of her intensely relatable graphic memoirs, is one of the every day, of the relationships that sustain us and the ones that fall apart, all while moving through the mundane motions of life. This graphic memoir is underscored with a story of addition, but it is so deeply a story about continuing to grow up in your 30s, when friendships, relationships, work and life seem to settle in different directions and reality doesn’t always match what you imagined. Impossible People marks another raw, silly and heartfelt peek into the world of Julia Wertz. Judas Goat by Gabrielle Bates Gabrielle Bates’ debut book is a shattering collection marked with rich language carrying themes of myth and religion, death and growth. Present throughout is the vivid, unique environment of the American South. Bates is able to paint the intensity of this region with careful words that illuminate each scene she creates. In Ice / she writes, “In pockets / of Alabama / it snows / in spring. / A man plants / a cherry tree / the night / of his daughter’s / wedding / & the deer come / while he sleeps. What’s wild / will never / lie to you / if caught / like this: / a doe, staring, / sapling limbs / half-ground / into splinter-spittle / behind her / inky lips.” The poems in Judas Goat feel at times holy and otherworldly as she leans on dark biblical themes and fits them to our times. In the title poem, Judas Goat, the goat leads the unknowing sheep to slaughter day after day. “We, of our ends, are perhaps all this oblivious: one goat / trained to live with the sheep, neck-bell jingling / in and out of the slaughterhouse. To the goat, / the shackling pen is no more than another human / room …” Her poems capture the beauty and violence of womanhood, complexity of the human experience and, trickled throughout the collection, the ubiquitous awareness of the inevitability of death. Judas Goat is deeply emotional, and carries unforgettable passages marking a riveting debut collection from Gabrielle Bates. No. 124



The stories of Plotzo spread quickly across the Undermalls of America, helping the Undermallers unify and they began using portal openings to plant mall-arcade clubhouses for recruiting members and collecting coins for Plotzo. This is the beginning of the “R@z Fusion” found in messages and recruitment tools/ games inside the portal openings of Meow Wolf Denver’s Convergence Station and other locations. Beware! The latest portal opening used for the Undermallers’ arcade planting is located inside of Mug Shots Plasmaplex of The Real Unreal in Grapevine, TX. Wait! Plasmaplex? Quick huddle. Here’s the piping hot leaf beverage regarding “plasmaplex” — apparently, the Undermallers made it fashionable to bleed on shoes (probably an initiation or modification-mishap turned trend). They believed this would earn Plotzo’s attention. There’s been speculation if any of the Undermallers have Times are changing and being changed. Recently, there’s been a noticeable amount of 80s-neon-cyberpunk-themed arcades filled with stylish misfits popping up and mini-shrines dedicated to a rodent-headed dude rockin’ a green mohawk. Benji Geary, Meow Wolf’s Senior Art Director and co-founder, explains that in the Undermallers origin story, there was a monumental time split in the early 1980s. In this alternate reality, tensions between nations shifted from bad to worse. Panic and paranoia forced the American population to move into massive arcology super-bunkers that were being built in large metropolitan areas across the U.S. They were designed to resemble a stereotypical American mall from the 1980s to aid in morale, but instead left the youth feeling disillusioned. Gene modification and hydroponic technologies were developed expeditiously to supply enough food for the inhabitants inside of these self-sustained mall-arks. G-modding was also being used for experimental style and fashion. Gangs of directionless, rebellious youth were on the rise. It is in this critical time of chaos that a mysterious figure — Plotzo — appears. He supposedly took g-modding to a whole new level by freaking mutating himself to have the head of a rat. Plotzo was quickly dubbed the “R@ King” by these radically g-modded mutant punks from the “Undermall” who are now referred to as the Undermallers. UNDERMALLER RAT FIGHT GAME | PHOTO BY JESS GALLO, ATLAS MEDIA even met Plotzo (it’s difficult to fact-check members of an interdimensional gang). There are plenty who have claimed they’ve met him and they continue carrying messages on his behalf. Does Plotzo really exist? What exactly is existence? If Plotzo only lived in the heads of the Undermallers, would that still count as living? Wouldn’t that hurt somehow? Anyway, that’s the hot goss about plasma. No. 124

VEND-L is another Undermaller vending machine that talks just like VEND-E from The Real Unreal. Although they might have similarities, there’s real beef between VEND-L and VEND-E about who is the better rapper after last year, when VEND-L released a catchy rap video. There are various products on display but this dweeb only seems to dispense frustration and steals coins for Plotzo offerings. VEND-L is usually spouting off jokes or trying to roast anyone passing through the R@z Nest, but also drops hints about swapping info that might end up turning into a sidequest. If you see an Undermaller, ask if they are thirsty because The Undermallers found portal openings thanks to QDOT (Quantum Department of Transportation) and created a punkhangout haven inside of an underground sewer chamber in Convergence Station. They call this the R@z Nest but this place is more like a R@z infestation. Be warned: This is a pretty cool joint and will probably entice you to stay and join the Undermallers — especially with these machines: Undermallers Rat Fight Game is a game that captures an ancient human hobby: fighting. The Undermallers spend much of their time and collected coins battling it out in this game. Ante up and keep it coming because these rats with bats are ready for bashing and smashing — all the time. Those rascals! they might not be hydrating enough. Portal traveling and gang recruitment can be a tiring job with little to no appreciation. They’ve been through a lot in their timeline and we should be more welcoming and thankful for their rad arcades. Remember to remember the Undermallers and please keep Plotzo’s message close to heart, “You wanna come hang with the R@z? Legit Plasma or Bust!” VISIT PLOTZO'S R@Z NEST (AND MAYBE EVEN RUN INTO AN UNDERMALLER) & MORE AT CONVERGENCE STATION IN DENVER, CO: MEOWWOLF.COM/VISIT/DENVER. UNDERMALLERS’ HANGOUT IN THE R@Z NEST | PHOTO BY KATE RUSSELL CHECK OUT MEOW WOLF'S OTHER PORTALS NEAR YOU: SANTA FE, NM; LAS VEGAS, NV; GRAPEVINE, TX; AND COMING SOON ... HOUSTON, TX! MEOWWOLF.COM/VISIT AN UNDERMALLER NEXT TO A PICTURE OF PLOTZO | PHOTO BY JESS GALLO, ATLAS MEDIA VEND-L IN THE R@Z NEST | PHOTO BY KATE RUSSELL


BY GRAY WINSLER Unforgivable. That’s what she had said. Her own mother. How could she? I saved her. Shut up, Liwen thought, chastising herself. This was not the time. She took a deep breath, trying to focus on the world around her. You cannot drift in the jungle. Its forest of entangled mirrors, life crawling upon life. If you let yourself drift, you will lose the day trying to find your way back to where you have already been. If you make it back at all. Capo mrrrped from a branch high above. Liwen tried not to anthropomorphize life in the jungle. It was a game of survival. Instinct. There was no right or wrong — no scorn or guilt or condemnation. Only life, and death. But she had known Capo too long to not feel the judgment in her gaze, reminding her to keep her focus. She felt cats had perfected the glare of disappointment. “Are you sure this is the way back?” one of the members of her group asked. Tourists. Always afraid, Liwen thought. Fear can lead you to pick up on subtle cues, a moment’s hesitation that can betray indecision, a lack of confidence. She was their guide in the jungle. They looked to her as a light in the darkness. If she flickered for a moment, their stomachs would lurch with apprehension. They came here claiming they wanted adventure. But Liwen knew they wanted the adventure they see in movies. Scripted. Choreographed. Planned. And she knew as well as anyone that the jungle does not care about such plans. She turned and smiled, shouting to the group, “Just another half hour! I hope you’re working up an appetite — we’ve got a big feast planned for you tonight.” Unforgivable. Her mother’s words returned, echoing in her mind as they had for years. Liwen shook the thought away once again and followed Capo’s lead as she leapt from branch to branch overhead. She wondered what she would do without her feline companion. Would she have made it this far? Or would she have drifted too far from the river one day, lost herself in the jungle, and slowly starved until her flesh was eaten away by ants and beetles and worms? Would Mom miss me then? This was the real reason oncillas were sacred to her people. The elders might tell stories of how oncillas were the spirit animals of the Earth, physical manifestations of the Great Spirit that guides all life. But Liwen knew better. Oncillas were sacred because without their feline companions, her people would be as aimless as a compass on the North Pole. Together, Liwen and Capo led their group back to XPLOR’s basecamp. The camp was made up of a collection of million dollar tree houses, suspended in the air like giant ornaments on a Christmas tree. They were complete with all of the modern amenities — air conditioning, Wi-Fi, VR. Her people thought these luxuries did not belong in the jungle. They thought they were abominations, given to man by wretched spirits who wished to enslave mankind. Liwen had believed this for a time, but her opinions began to change when she discovered soft serve ice cream. She preferred ice cream to water after a long day in the jungle. After guiding her guests to the main dining hall, she and Capo found their way to the staff kitchen. She made her companion a plate of fresh fish and thanked her for her assistance, then levered herself a mugful of ice cream. “I’ve never seen someone eat ice cream quite like you,” Matthew said, appearing in the entryway behind her. “Thank you. It’s one of my many talents,” Liwen winked. He laughed uncomfortably. Matthew was a biologist at XPLOR. He was also a full-blown nerd, which Liwen found endearing. Choices of companions in the remote jungle were slim, but she enjoyed his company. Later that night they found themselves lying in bed together, bodies slick with sweat, practically sticking to each other as they stared absently at the fan above. “What do you have against A/C again?” Matthew asked. Liwen shrugged. “Old habits.” “I’ve been meaning to ask you,” he sat up in bed to face her, “do you like your job?” “You want me to be honest?” she traced her hand along his arm. “Please.” “I love it.” “Really?” “Of course. I get paid to share my home with people. What’s not to love?” “I don’t know … I guess I just assumed there was something weird about serving outsiders.” “I don’t serve anyone.” “Of course, that’s not what I meant— ” Liwen smiled at him, bemused. “It is easy to make you squirm.” “Oh. Ha, ha.” “There are assholes, sure. The know-it-alls are the worst. The ones who think they know what they’re doing because they’ve led some Boy Scouts down a paved hiking trail in Indiana. They’re the dangerous ones, the ones you need to keep an eye on lest they drift into the jungle never to be seen again.” “Has that happened? Have you lost people?” “Me? No. But I’ve heard stories.” “I can’t tell if you’re just fucking with me.” Unforgivable. I don’t ever want to see you again. Her mothers words a constant intrusion, ordering her thoughts in a new direction like cordyceps ordering an asant to water, threatening to drown her. She saw her mother’s face in her mind’s eye. The contempt. The disdain. Their last moment together was like a nightmarish GIF on loop in her head. I saved you! She screamed inside at the pulsating image of her mother. Was she screaming? Or was she pleading? Begging her to understand? She had done what she had to — she must know that? “Liwen?” Matthew asked gently. “Hm? Sorry. Did you say something?” “Where do you go?” “Doesn’t matter,” getting out of bed she went to the railing, beyond which was the infinite jungle, screaming with life. A nightly orgy and massacre led by millions of organisms, some still to be discovered. He joined her, rubbing her back softly. The touch warmed her. She liked 21

Matthew. He was kind, comforting. Their relationship wasn’t serious, but it was good. Like a cup of tea on a cold winter day — something Liwen hoped she could one day experience. They both stared out into the black, listening to the symphony of life. “Does it ever scare you?” he asked. “No. It’s my home.” “My home scares me sometimes.” “The jungle is only scary because you don’t know it like I do.” “I know that out there even a frog may be my undoing.” “Frogs are sacred to my people.” “Really?” “They represent fertility. People believe that if you eat a poison dart frog it’ll make your penis grow bigger. I could try finding you one?” Liwen teased with a crooked smile. Matthew feigned a scowl. “What do your people find sacred?” Liwen glanced to Capo who sat on the railing not far from them, seemingly deciding whether or not to venture into the night and find herself a midnight snack. “Ah, the oncilla. I’ve heard they’re— ” He was interrupted by the screams of a human, cutting through the jungle like a knife. They looked at each other for an instant, more cries of pain echoing in the night, closer now. Without a word they threw on their clothes and set off toward the wails, ending up at the small med center in XPLOR. Bursting into the room, she had expected to find a tourist who decided to go out for a midnight stroll. What they found was far worse. Liwen stared at the man writhing on the table. She knew him. She recognized the paint on his face in an instant. He was one of her people. Carlos, their doctor, glanced over his shoulder. “You should go,” he said, before ripping off part of the man’s shirt, exposing his wound. Liwen walked to the table, trying not to stare at the blood that oozed out of what looked like bullet wounds in his stomach. “I know him,” she said quietly, brushing sweat-soaked hair from his face as Carlos tended to his wound. “Gael?” Liwen asked tentatively. Gael’s eyes drifted to her. “Liwen … ” Carlos wiped the wound clean. Liwen reached to hold Gael’s hand as he winced in pain. She leaned in closer to him. “What happened?” Gael moaned. “Gael,” she asked again, “What happened?” more forcefully this time, knowing her people were not likely to travel alone, knowing that whatever happened to Gael likely happened to the others. “Poachers … ” he whispered. “Poachers? Why would poachers have done this?” “We … had to stop them … ” Liwen clenched her fists. Idiots. For her people, poachers were the devil incarnate, killing oncillas indiscriminately for their pelts. But she never thought they’d try and stop them on their own. “Where are the others? Are they okay?” Gael groaned in agony as Carlos plucked a piece of shrapnel from his stomach. “Where are they Gael!?” Liwen shouted. “You mom … ” he began, before more pain seemed to shutter through him, too much for him to bear. He blacked out. “What about her? What about my mom!?” “Liwen!” Carlos yelled over her. Liwen turned to him, his hands covered No. 124 in blood. “You need to go.” She stared at him, scared, furious. But before she could think to say anything, to do anything, Matthew guided her out of the room. “Let me come with you.” Matthew said. Liwen shook her head. “I’ll be fine.” She slipped her pistol into her backpack. “I can help. You don’t know who’s out there, how many there are.” “I don’t have time to hold your hand.” When she looked up moments later, she saw Matthew had gone. She had not meant to be so harsh, but she could not worry about that now. She strapped her hunting knife to her thigh, tossed her bag over her back, and set off into the jungle. Capo traced her steps from above as the first light of dawn broke through the canopy. Liwen knew the way to her village well. She had made the trek many times before, contemplating whether or not confront her mother or to steal a secret visit to her little brother. He’d be five now. Was he okay? Poachers were desperate, but they wouldn’t kill a little boy, would they? Liwen quickened her pace, sweat streaming down her face, tracing faint lines in the mud she used to keep the mosquitos at bay. She emerged into the little clearing of her village hours later. Capo dropped down beside her, sniffing the trampled ground. Liwen crept quietly toward the main pavilion. She found the body of one of her people riddled with bullets, eager flies already buzzing. She knelt beside him and closed his eyes, whispering, “You are with the jungle now.” Not far from him was the body of an oncilla, barely recognizable without its pelt, skinned to little more than a thin slab of pink, grub-covered meat. She saw no sign of life but crept silently still, going house by house until she reached her childhood home. She paused just outside the door, images of her mother’s desiccated corpse flashing in her mind’s eye. Taking a deep breath, she pressed the crooked wooden door open. Their home was empty. It looked just as she’d remember, every board, every groove of wood. For a moment she was still, remembering glimpses of the childhood she’d spent here. But the thought of poachers chasing her mother and brother into the jungle, the thought of them being shot somewhere she’d never find quickly broke her reverie. She turned back to see Capo on the other side of the clearing, sniffing something on the ground. Liwen went to her, finding blood-stained leaves and broken earth. Without hesitation they set off back into the jungle, following the clumsy trail the poachers had left behind. It was a few hours of tracking before they found another clearing dotted with shelters. The sun hung high above, beaming down on rusted scraps haphazardly slapped together into a small collection of homes. Liwen surveyed the land, once again finding it still, quiet. She crept up to the first house, then stopped abruptly. Something rustled inside. Liwen slipped the pistol from her backpack and held it in front of her as she slowly approached the door. Then swiftly she slammed it open holding the weapon out in front of her. Her eyes flicked quickly across every corner until they landed on a person, hands and legs bound to a chair, mouth gagged. Ravi. She rushed to him, setting her pistol down on the table, and pulled the rope gag from his mouth. “What happened Ravi? Where is everyone?” He hesitated for a moment, and Liwen felt her rage prickle. Now was not the time to worry about her being an outcast. Ravi seemed to agree and eventually said, “I don’t know. We were supposed to go to the

temple. Everyone scattered … ” “Did you see my mom and brother?” He paused again, though this time his expression seemed almost sympathetic. “Liwen … your mother returned to the jungle months ago.” She could not say anything. It was as if someone had suddenly sucked all the wind from her lungs. That can’t be true … Before she had a second more to think, the corrugated metal door swung open. Liwen spun to see a poacher standing in the entryway, both of them momentarily frozen in place. The poacher reached for the gun slung around his shoulder just as Liwen lunged instinctively at him. He clumsily fired three rounds into the floor before Liwen threw her full weight into him and the two of them fell backward, crashing into the earth. The poacher gasped for breath, the air knocked out of him. Liwen reached down for her knife, slipping it from its pocket — but the man slammed his fist into the side of her head, knocking her off of him. Dazed, she found herself beneath his weight, his arms suddenly around her throat. Her hands clasped madly, gripping nothing but fistfuls of dirt as she felt desperately for her knife. Her lungs ached. She swung her hands at his face, trying to push him off, but she could feel her vision constricting. She wondered distantly if this was all her life would come to. There was a flash of movement then. She heard the poacher scream, her neck freed from his grip as he fell backward off of her. Liwen gasped for air, turning over in the dirt. She saw the dull glint of her knife in front of her. She grabbed it and quickly pushed herself to her feet, turning to see the poacher sieze Capo and violently fling her off of him. His face was dripping with blood, deep claw marks carved into his skin. Before he could recover Liwen lunged at him, plunging the knife into his stomach. There was a moment of stillness, of shared surprise. She looked at him, her face inches from his, seeing the fear in his eyes as he choked and fell backward into the earth. “Liwen!” Came a shout from back inside the house. She ran inside, finding Ravi still tied to the chair. “They will have heard the gunshot. We must go.” Liwen nodded absently and went back outside to the poacher, whose eyes were already vacant. She pulled the knife from his stomach and carried it inside. Ravi looked at her warily as she began cutting through his binds, the poacher’s blood leaking into the strands of rope, staining them just as it had her skin. Once freed Ravi took her hand and looked her in the eyes. “Thank you, sister.” Liwen was momentarily brought back to the present by his choice of words. “Now we must go,” he said, and led her back outside where Capo sat, seemingly unfazed by their encounter with the poacher. “We will go to the temple. I am sure the others will be there.” She followed Ravi into the jungle, grateful not to have to think about where to put her feet. Her mind was far from here, and no amount of breath work or admonishments from Capo could fix that. She had killed someone, yes. This was a fact now. Something she would carry with her for all of her days. But that is not what weighed on her, not now. All she could think was that her mother was dead. And yet, it still didn’t feel true, didn’t feel possible. She had always known, deep down, that she would see her mother again. That in her old age her mother would soften, would want her daughter back in her life. Liwen had longed for that day. Now that was impossible. The hate of their last moments together forever etched in stone. The sun was setting when Liwen and Ravi arrived at her people’s temple. The temple itself was no manmade construct, but a waterfall that crashed down into a thick mist. Many of her people were there, all of them eyeing her reproachfully as she walked with Ravi. But she was too worn down to be angry at their visible disdain. Then, sitting on a boulder not far from the water, she saw her brother, Joao, sitting, staring off into the distance. For a moment she felt happy, grateful he was alive — and mad at herself for having forgotten him. She went to him now, ignoring the others, and sat on the boulder beside him. Joao did not look up at her. A part of her wondered if her brother hated her too. But he was not leaving, either. She sat with him in silence for a time, then asked, “Do you remember me?” Her brother frowned. “Of course I remember you,” he tossed a pebble into the water. “That’s good. I wasn’t sure if Mom pretended like I never existed.” “She tried,” he said absently. Liwen sighed and closed her eyes. “But I could hear her cry at night,” he continued. “Sometimes she’d mumble your name in her prayers.” Her brother had spoken with distrait indifference, and yet the words loosened a knot that had been tied deep inside her heart, tied by the strands of thought that had convinced Liwen her mother loathed her, despised her. That her mother had died carrying the same hatred she had expressed in their last moments together. But that wasn’t true, was it? Liwen put her arm around her brother then, looking out at their temple, following the water as it rushed over rocks high above. She remembered her mother taking her here as a kid. She remembered standing in the stream, splashing in the water, looking back at her mother on the shore. And for the first time in years, Liwen saw her mother smiling back at her. 23 ART BY SOMMERSBY


In my next life, let me be after Natasha Rao BY BEE LB a rabbit or a bunny, little body, big teeth. let me sink into something crisp and sweet, let me nibble with delight, let me gorge myself on the garden someone else has planted, has tended to, has sweated over and into. If I must be chased, let me feel my heart sing in my chest with the thrill of delicious theft. Let me outrun my aggressor, let my legs carry me home, let me crawl, satiated, into my little bunny bed. Let me imagine bunnies have little beds to crawl into, burrows warm and welcoming, drowsiness to settle. I have always been afraid of eating to fill, never theft but the threat that follows. In my next life, let me know only the present moment, a full belly, a garden that is not mine to return to again and again. Let the shotgun remain unloaded, let the garden sprawl so my intrusion goes without notice. Let me feel my legs strong beneath me, my heart fast within me, my brain so small the burden of consciousness is not mine to bear. Let me live a short and beautiful life. Let me know the split and spill of a grape between my teeth. The sharp dry crisp of a radish. The sweet crunch of a carrot, followed by the earthy leaf. Let me know a garden feast without guilt. In this life, I hardly know fill without overfill. In the next, let me know my limits and meet them with grace. When I meet this end, let it be due only to time. Let the thought of ending early never enter my mind. 25 ART BY LINA GVOZDEVA

A year has passed since the harrowing events that took place at the Colorado Festival of Horror (COFOH) with the enigmatic slasher, Killr™. A new mysterious figure emerges on the scene of this year’s cosplay convention adopting the grisly murderer’s persona. No one knows if it’s just another obsessive fan of the franchise taking fandom to the extreme — or a new horrifying threat. Armed with 14-inch shears and a grotesque goggled-mask, whoever it is only leaves behind a blood-soaked trail of victims, which never seems to end. Bestselling novelist Stephen Graham Jones, acclaimed writer Joshua Viola, and artist Ben Matsuya are doing it again with the 3-part cosplay slasher comic series, TRUE BELIEVERS. With a smash hit launch of Issue 1 at last year’s COFOH featuring cameos by Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis, Goosebumps’ legend R.L. Stine, Final Destination’s creator Jeffrey Reddick, and the cast of the cult horror classic, Deathgasm, the crew is outdoing themselves with the Kickstarter release of Issue 2: MURDERVERSARY. Masked metal band GWAR, grammy-nominated band Trivium’s Matthew Kiichi Heafy, and renowned horror actor Devon Sawa (Idle Hands, Chucky), haunt the new issue inside and out with playful appearances and collectible covers created by a slew of artistic talent. Fans can now also score brand new limited Issue 1 variant covers of Curtis, Stine, Reddick and Deathgasm by artist Matthew Therrien. And it doesn’t stop there. Supporters have a chance to get their hands on one-of-a-kind prizes like Oktober Studios latex masks and bloody prop shears, a saw-blade vinyl score by Heafy, signed GWAR skatedeck and No. 124 drumsticks, original artwork and so much more. We had a chance to catch up with the writers and creators, Stephen Graham Jones and Joshua Viola, to talk about Issue 2's star-studded roster, their creation process and what Kickstarter backers can anticipate supporting this independent artist comic series. swept us into fandom. But now, we’re true believers. Issue 1 CONGRATS ON YOUR WILDLY SUCCESSFUL LAUNCH OF TRUE BELIEVERS LAST SEPTEMBER! WHAT WAS A HIGHLIGHT OF RELEASING ISSUE 1? AND ANYTHING YOU LEARNED FROM THIS EXPERIENCE THAT HELPED IN THE CREATION OF ISSUE 2? STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES: Highlight for me was holding the comic in my hands — all these variants covers, all this wonderful art and lettering and colors and more. Comic books are always a team effort, and we had a killer Killr™ team. JOSHUA VIOLA: The most fulfilling aspect has been witnessing this project take shape and seeing it connect with others. It’s incredibly rewarding to witness its impact and resonance with people. I think we’ve nailed a formula for our world and storytelling, and then learned how to sorta turn it on its head for the next issue. TELL US ABOUT YOUR WRITING PROCESS TOGETHER OVER THESE PAST FEW MONTHS FOR THE STORYLINE OF THIS SECOND INSTALL. DID YOU ALREADY HAVE THE PLOT SQUARED AWAY OR WAS IT SOMETHING AN INTERVIEW WITH CREATORS AND WRITERS STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES & JOSHUA VIOLA BY KRYSTI JOMÉI

JOSHUA VIOLA ISSUE 1 STEPHEN GRAHAM JONES YOU DEVELOPED IN REAL-TIME? SGJ: Developed in real-time, just figuring it out as the story opened up page by page. It’s always a mystery and a discovery, for me. But, we did know that, this time out, the story had to move ahead differently than the first, while still staying true to the slasher conventions. That was tricky, for sure, but “tricky” is where the fun is. JV: It was pretty spontaneous, especially with Stephen’s writing style. He’s the kind of writer who thrives on the unexpected. It’s really the exhilarating part of the process, leading to surprising and fun outcomes. While we had a rough plan for the second issue, the actual creation was very organic and fluid. THE NEW ISSUE IS NO DOUBT COHESIVE WITH THE FIRST BUT THERE’S CLEARLY SOME NEW DESIGN ELEMENTS PRESENT. DESCRIBE THE ARTISTIC PROCESS THIS GO-AROUND WITH ARTIST BEN MATSUYA AND LETTERER JEREMIAH LAMBERT AND HOW YOU ALL EXECUTED YOUR VISION TOGETHER. SGJ: Scripting for Ben is different than I’ve scripted for other artists. With Ben, I don’t panel-by-panel the story, but page-by-page it. It’s really opened my eyes to how to get a comic done as best it can get done. And, Jeremiah’s endlessly patient with all the little adjustments and fixes. But, each balloon floats where and how it should, so the reader can flow through them. JV: Issue 1 introduced some experimental elements. For instance, in the latter half of the issue, we explore two simultaneous stories: one unfolding in real-time, while the other takes place within the character’s mind as he tries to recreate his favorite movie, leading to disastrous outcomes. With this latest issue, we experimented with different storytelling techniques. It begins at a specific moment and then backtracks to the events leading up to the opening scenes. We also ensured that the cameo appearances played more integral roles in the story, requiring close collaboration to maintain coherence throughout. Thanks to our fantastic team effort, I believe we’ve achieved just that. ISSUE 1 CENTERS AROUND KILLR™ FANATICS AND SELF-DUBBED “TRUE BELIEVERS” KIT AND RIP. WHAT WAS YOUR INSPO FOR ISSUE 2’S NEW CAST — TROUBLED LONER TEEN KK, CONVENTION CRASHERS DANE AND TRESS, AND CONNIVING COLLEGE QUARTET GRACE, THOMAS, MEL AND E? SGJ: Those four, Grace and Thomas and Mel and E, just showed up completely randomly. Dane and Tress were more obvious necessities — gotta have the young couple getting it, to start things off. As for KK, she kept surprising me. JV: As Stephen sort of touched on, we aimed to incorporate certain tropes typical of a slasher narrative by assigning specific roles, but true to our style, we infused our own unique style into the characters and storyline. Hopefully there are some unexpected surprises for readers.

YOUR CELEBRITY CAMEO LINEUP IS UNPARALLELED IN THE WORLD OF HORROR WORLD INCLUDING JAMIE LEE CURTIS, GWAR, R.L. STINE, JEFFREY REDDICK, MATTHEW KIICHI HEAFY, DEVON SAWA, AND DEATHGASM. YOUR HEADS MUST BE EXPLODING! TELL US MORE ABOUT THEIR INVOLVEMENT. SGJ: That was Josh’s magic, reeling all these people in. But then, once we could include them, the trick quickly became how to do it respectfully, and for the most fun? They’re their own people, I mean, who say and do their own things. Incorporating that into a fast-moving story, without making their parts feel like we’re pumping the brakes, slowing down to look at the celebrities, that was definitely a challenge. JV: Yeah, it’s surreal for me. I keep pinching myself. It’s one thing to create a parody of a celebrity, but our aim was to involve the real individuals themselves, making it authentic. We didn’t want to just parody them; we wanted it to genuinely feel like them. Fortunately, everyone who has appeared has been incredibly generous and supportive of the project. We feel very fortunate in that regard. HOW DID YOU GO ABOUT DEVELOPING THEIR CHARACTERS? WAS ANYONE PERSONALLY INVOLVED? OR DID YOU HAVE FULL CREATIVE FREEDOM? SGJ: They had and have approval at all levels, but the story was us. JV: After pitching our concepts to everyone involved and receiving their initial okay, we proceeded to put it all on paper. Their final approval was crucial, and although there were a few minor adjustments needed along the way, everyone was incredibly accommodating and supportive throughout the process. Many of them were thrilled just to be featured in a comic. No. 124 JAIME LEE CURTIS IS BEST KNOWN FOR CHEATING DEATH BY PSYCHOPATH MICHAEL MYERS (HALLOWEEN) AND ALSO HER REALLIFE CHARITABLE SPIRIT. WHAT’S SPECIAL ABOUT HER PARTNERSHIP WITH TRUE BELIEVERS? SGJ: She’s, by far, the most iconic final girl of them all. So, in a story that’s a slasher, getting to include her gives things both a different weight and, at the same time, some unexpected levity. JV: What isn’t special about a partnership with Jamie Lee Curtis? Haha. I mean, we get to collaborate with a legend! But on a serious note, we’re honored to work alongside her charity, My Hand In Yours. For those who purchase the limited edition Jamie Lee variant cover of TRUE BELIEVERS Issue 1 (as seen on the Back Cover of this issue of Birdy), 100 percent of the proceeds will go towards benefiting critically ill children at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles. CAN YOU GIVE US A TASTE OF MATT HEAFY’S LIMITED EDITION EXCLUSIVE SCORE HE CREATED FOR THE NEW ISSUE? JV: Matt’s score is truly remarkable! Trivium’s heavy metal sound is well-known, but with the TRUE BELIEVERS score, Matt is venturing into new territory. While there are still evident metal influences, he’s skillfully incorporated synth and movie score elements, resulting in a captivating and unexpected sound. It’s quite a departure from what you might anticipate from Matt, and it’s incredibly impressive. Personally, I’m getting strong John Carpenter vibes, which feels fitting considering the connection to Jamie Lee Curtis. WHAT OTHER CAMPAIGN REWARDS ARE YOU EXCITED ABOUT? AND ANYTHING OF PARTICULAR SIGNIFICANCE TO SPOTLIGHT FOR

MATT HEAFY'S PERSONAL SIGNED LES PAUL GUITAR SIGNED GWAR SKATEDECK VINYL KILLR™MASK + PROP SHEARS RETURNING BACKERS OF THE LAST CAMPAIGN? JV: We’ve got an array of incredible rewards for this campaign. From various variant covers featuring our esteemed celebrities [by artists Therrien, Skinner, Matt Maguire (GWAR), Luigi Scarcella (Half Sumo), and Matsuya] to the above-mentioned exclusive 30-minute original score by Matt Heafy, available in both blood-red saw-blade vinyl and cassette tape formats, there’s something for everyone. Additionally, fans can snag latex masks of characters from the comic crafted by Oktober Studios, an opportunity to be immortalized in Issue 3, signed memorabilia such as a skateboard deck and drumsticks from GWAR, and a [Les Paul] guitar played and signed by Matt Heafy himself. For collectors, we offer a 14-inch hand-painted prop of our slasher character’s iconic shears, also courtesy of Oktober Studios. And that’s just scratching the surface; we also have original artwork, VIP passes to COFOH, and much more awaiting our supporters! THOUGH AN ABSOLUTE GRUESOME SERIES, THERE ARE BLATANT THEMES OF COMEDY AND EVEN POSITIVITY AND HOPE IN THE NARRATIVE OF TRUE BELIEVERS. WHY DID YOU DECIDE TO INCORPORATE THESE ELEMENTS INTO SUCH A DARK COMIC? SGJ: The slasher, when it’s really working, makes a lot of good use out of the audience not knowing, at any given moment, if they’re going to laugh or scream. But to get that good use, you have to establish early on that laughter is acceptable — that it’s part of the game, here. In horror generally, and definitely in the slasher specifically, humor resets the horror, so it can climb again that screechy incline. Without those irregular resets though, without that pressure release valve, things quickly plateau either into unrelenting grimness or an unending shriek, neither of which have that updown variation story required to stay engaging. WHAT ARE YOU EACH PERSONALLY MOST STOKED ABOUT FOR THE RELEASE OF ISSUE 2? SGJ: Same thing as the first: spooking up the Colorado Festival of Horror. JV: The ultimate satisfaction comes from holding the final product in our hands. The process of piecing together these projects involves a tremendous amount of effort, but witnessing it all come together is truly gratifying. WHEN CAN WE EXPECT ISSUE 3? ANY TEASERS? JV: We should be able to share details about Issue 3 very soon. Stephen and I have been writing while Ben wraps up the artwork for Issue 2. Let me just say, Issue 3 is going to be seriously bonkers. And yes, expect even more cameos from some incredibly talented individuals. SUPPORT TRUE BELIEVERS AND INDEPENDENT ART ON KICKSTARTER. VISIT & FOLLOW HEX PUBLISHERS FOR MORE TRUE BELIEVERS NEWS: HEXPUBLISHERS.COM GET TIX TO THIS YEAR'S COLORADO FESTIVAL OF HORROR KICKING OFF IN SEPTEMBER ON FRIDAY THE 13TH: COFESTIVALOFHORROR.COM

The Current BY ZAC DUNN Encapsulating the ocean’s motion Krill spilling into harbors Guarded by monolithic stone towers Driven skyward with roots of MAGMA Foothold upon the edge of the precipice So deep its boundless immensity only hungers To know more water and bones To nuzzle and rest upon the firmament Of decay and sublime KELVIN-like stasis Penetrating atoms to stand still As the UNIVERSE expands telescopically Removed 20,000 leagues of legendary Silence that reaches the pits of stomachs Churning in guts storming beaches As battlements volley hatred and ignorance The venom that spread all too Effortlessly upon the prick Systemically brokered to all the jokers Who sally forth speaking much too loud about NOTHING AT ALL Commanding the attention they seek screaming out One final SOS from the DEATH SUB That led them deeper and deeper To the place of stasis and entanglement Of greed, ambition, hubris to the mother and a will that knew Only its own curiosity so profoundly detached from the Magnitude of the endeavor Gilded in recycled carbon fiber splendor That we remember as the screams fade to silence and the Curtain slowly draws As the trawlers turn back to port and gaze upon NARWHALS for the first time Since even the saltiest can recall Their eyes briefly locking Only to slip back to the liquid that we Take so deeply for granted Yet will move mountains and seas of blood To spill (9:32 12/14/23) FOLLOW FOR MORE WORK: IG: @UZIEGO | TUMBLR: @WTFCRAIGSLISTNYC

LUKE DIBONA, NEW VIBES - @LUKE_D_ILL People with no functional understanding of the justice system outside of folksy wisdom they were once told by another middle schooler are liable to, at some point, tell you that possession is nine-tenths of the law. Slightly less likely will they then tell you that, according to the Catholic Church, possession is way, way up. Like national debt numbers of demonic entities spreading cases of terminal spirit disease (also a great record — look it up). Yes, that bastion of divine purity’s SEAL Team 6 for highly specialized ritual, The Exorcists — (not to be confused with my intramural goth soccer team) — have been facing down so many puissant Pazuzus that their very work-life balance is now being threatened by The Adversary. One poll of 120 enemies of Emily Rose uncovered the rather disturbing statistic that some were performing between 30 and 50 exorcisms a day. For comparison: A bartender working a weekend in any given metropolitan downtown may sell between 700 and 800 drinks in a night during a heavily antagonistic battle for their weary souls. But let’s assume the toll an exorcism takes is at least equal. Even though they’re not doing any sidework, the lazy fucks. Still quite a few. On top of that, they’re getting downright dangerous. In 2022, Father Giuseppe Bernardi — taking time off from carving marionettes that would one day become real boys — encountered a woman. Exhibiting remarkable hurdle skills, she leapt over a series of pews during a service to assault monks with both her fists and her words, insulting them in multiple languages in a violently demoniacal inversion of “Sticks and Stones.” Initially he sought psychology — in an ACT OF SCIENTIFIC BLASPHEMY — but ultimately determined that, in fact, the woman’s hysterics were the work of Satan’s servants and performed a nine-hour long exorcism. It would have been faster but, as everyone knows, exorcists are BOGO and his assistant was Neil Peart who insisted that hours three through six would be a holy drum solo. Now I know what you’re thinking. Neil Peart is dead. Not in the hearts of fans across the planet, friend. Next you might be wondering how, if an exorcism can take nine hours, are these raggedy-ass priests doing 50 in a day? For an answer to this query you need only the claims of the Pope’s Exorcist himself, Father Gabriele Amorth. In the words of Walt Whitman, “I contain multitudes,” and infernal goblins from Gehenna are those multitudes. In a 2000 interview, he purports to have kicked a cool 50,000 diabolical invaders from their fleshy homes. He also pointed out that many of these could take seconds and the boss fights might take hours. Exorcism is played by video game rules and Amorth was stomping hundreds of demons at a time. By May 2013, he’d high-scored the Vatican cabinet with 160,000 notches in the ol’ demon belt. Impressive. Merely a dent, however, in the number of devils still left for the demon-plagued cadre of padre to contend with. Eric Jacqmin — yet another journeyman in the field of (bad) dreams — claims there are “… billions of devils, and much evil.” Whether or not this portends the return of leather biker jackets or the 1989 Camaro IROC-Z 1LE is unknown, but either way things are looking up for ’80s heavy metal. In a recent interview Jacqmin stated that, after duking it out with the many spirits that were forcing a woman to urinate black while experiencing extreme stomach pains — two extremely obvious signs she needed medical help — he subdued Lucifer himself. But fear not — the good Father is nowhere near out of a job after taking an unmissed shot at the king. He maintains that Lucifer can be many places, tormenting thousands of people simultaneously with things like drugs and sex and a perfectly prepared al dente carbonara and returning all that time you put into watching Lost. So if you’ve been having a great time lately? Don’t bother the Church with it — they’re tired as Hell. HAVE QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PARANORMAL? SEND THEM TO: WEREWOLFRADARPOD@GMAIL.COM OR TWITTER: @WEREWOLFRADAR. 31 BY NATE BALDING


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