Altered Frontier: A Review

A is for All of Us: An ongoing series of reviews for inclusive online webcomics.

ALTERED FRONTIER  E Baird is amazing for so many different reasons. First of all, this ought to appeal to anyone who loves history, westerns, gender identity, and the possibility that women, too, can be big and tough. And also, you can be the biggest, toughest, smartest one on the block and still be a pacifist who only fires a weapon when utterly necessary

Diehard fans know GUNSMOKE was a radio program before it was a hit TV show. Now, we know that John Wayne was a flippin’ classist/racist, and the most liberal he ever got was show up on LAUGH-IN in a pink bunny suit. Or maybe it was that time he admitted to wearing a dress. Twice. But James Arness played things dead-on, and the female/lesbian protagonist on this is the same way. This is an interesting flip on the radio plays of the original GUNSMOKE. Enjoy it, please. This series (currently on hiatus because Baird has, like, 5,000 jobs) has the respect of many, many webcomic giants. In her work, Catalina is the sheriff in a world not too different from ours. Simply put, The United States doesn’t exist; genders are flipped but men are not held in lesser respect.  There is more cultural and racial diversity here, which ironically, is a case of an alternative world being more accurate than how it is portrayed in our popular culture. Baird has a secondary online comic, ON THE SHOULDERS OF GIANTS, which can be referenced off Altered Frontier. This is a world that goes to heck without the handbasket, and how people survive. What is frankly amazing to me is how one of the threads shows a cult of very conservative Christians, and how the parties realize the values of the cult are not, indeed, close to God at all. This is overall a sensitive, thoughtful webcomic where it should not be considered dogma or a suggestion on how to live. It is about personal decision and accountability.

Superbutch! A Review

A is for All of Us: Inclusive webcomics online

SUPERBUTCH: a PNW place called Turtle City (izzat an I-5 interstate sign I see?). An elderly woman tells the story of her life passing as a straight white woman in the early 40’s when she was a light-skinned African-American lesbian. She is one of the last living people to remember a folk-heroine protecting the (all too vulnerable to outsider violence) lesbian underground back in the 40’s, Superbutch!

Lots of history and a fascinating plot. Slowly the interviewers are drawn into the strange, rich and dangerous worlds of the past. Cultures here are not blocked off like bricks; they are layered like a shelf full of books ordered under a secret catalog. A few steps in the right…or wrong…direction sends a person from one realm to another. All is permitted as long as all is secret. The superheroes here are few, rarely seen, and can be morally questionable. The loose, simple art keeps the eye from being distracted; all the better to fall deeper into the emotions and ruminations of the floating world. There are sprinklings of period slang (Banana oil from 1910 is one of my favorites).

The creators (in alphabetical order) Are Barry Deutsch (Hereville!) and Becky Hawkins (Frenchtoastcomix!). Both are (or ought to be) familiar names to the Portland scene. Hmn. Is Tammy the Interviewer’s assistant a human version of Becky’s Shoulder Angel? I grew up in a dying railroad town so much of the feel of the place feels authentically pre-WWII to me (a pleasant feeling!).  When I read a ‘period’ comic that isn’t researched beyond cosmetic appearances, another fragment of my soul ulcerates. SUPERBUTCH is my antidote. Go poke around in the links and learn about the book Barry read that started it all.

Art Mourns

This is still one of my favorite pieces. I did it for two people I know personally affected by the 2015 shooting in Paris. One is a good friend who grew up reading Charlie Hebdo. I think for all the reasons that made her weep, it was knowing there were people who would lump the meaningless violence with a faith.


Published in: on May 23, 2019 at 10:31 am  Leave a Comment  

Nightmarescape: A Review


by Jonathan Fortin

Mocha Memoirs Press

This is a writer to keep an eye on. Perhaps both eyes. You can find him on Twitter.

This is almost hypnotically frightening. I kept reading out of my own free will even though I knew things were really bad and possibly could get even worse. The POV of the protagonist is strong and clever writing creates full-fleshed characters out of people we barely know. Mr. Fortin’s style is smooth, walking you along silently to the conclusion, everything painted in the dark colors of mental landscapes with layers of meaning that I go back and read several times.  I’m impressed and hope to read more from this author.
Published in: on February 7, 2019 at 11:16 am  Leave a Comment  

I am digging up gorse.

It is not a task for the weak or the hesitant.

Specific tools were made for this task. They are painted orange, heavy as a million bricks when hoisted upon the shoulder, and though square, seem to possess extra sharp corners within corners.

Volunteers, interns, and workers such as I have to deal with them every day we work. Few other things reach, clutch the base stalk, and hold fast. After all the positioning, it is a heave of the shoulders and a dig-in-deep of the foot atop the pedal, and the entire bush of scotch broom, or gorse, or even the Himalaya Blackberry, pulls out of the Pacific Northwest soil in a POP.

One day is barely enough to scratch the surface.

Please, folk, respect the people who do this for a living.

Published in: on November 18, 2018 at 12:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

De-constructing Sherlock Holmes

It is hard for me to be enthusiastic about the latest wave of pastiches out there. I can list all of these complicated, thoughtful, essay-inspiring reasons but it boils down to this:

When the Emperor asked his thoughts about human sacrifice, P.G. Wodehouse’s George answered he didn’t like them.

I heartily concur, and I confess, the current trend to deconstruct Sherlock Holmes strikes me as a strange form of sacrifice. Bear with me.

There are too many writers that lack love and respect for not just Sherlock Holmes, but for Arthur Conan Doyle himself.

What Doyle did was amazing. More to the point, it was on target. He illuminated with his cases the deep, emotional need for the public to believe that there are Sherlock Holmes in this world.

Doyle wrote plenty of other things–he tapped into our ability to wallow, delightedly, in a good ghost/monster story, and scandalized us with his tales beneath the red lamp. He gave us sympathetic villains and completely repulsive “good guys” and people who simply didn’t exist in the black and white of law, order, and society.

There were outsiders in his stories; the disenfranchised; the people who were important because Sherlock Holmes was on the case. The stories demonstrated that it was so easy to abuse and mis-use the vaunted ‘softer emotions’ which were held up as the virtue that separated us from the beasts–he showed us one can feel with logic and protect with reason.

In a world determined to live in a fairytale, Doyle was a Grimm who collected stories. They could both tell in unflinching words the cost of Dickens’ Want and Ignorance upon humanity. Both wrote pools of blood, and terrible crimes to befall the wicked and innocent alike. But unlike the Grimm his ‘unhappy endings’ were left open–perhaps reminding the reader that as long as we possess indignation for injustice, a crime is never escaped, nor a case completely closed. Will we, the reader, be the next person to speak up?

Like Hans Christian Anderson, Doyle could illuminate the beauty within humanity–and his characters ability to appreciate what they had or cast them aside was a major bone of their contentions. The little girl with the yellow face was a beautiful swan all along–the Greek Interpreter’s voice was the only thing that saved his life.  What was Mary Morstan but a real, breathing princess–who would have traded it all to have her father, and who accepted the theft of her father’s stolen treasure with the freedom to marry?

Like Madame d’Aulney, Doyle was born of nobility and did rather un-noble things by embracing outside thought. They invented words that needed to be created. She is the generatrix of “fairy tale” he, “the smoking gun”. Both were ahead of their time. Both were criticized for their willingness to write approach-ably to the common masses.

Like Joseph Jacobs, Doyle’s inspiration was drawn from all over the world; his stories can be centered in London…but just as likely in a raw, wild land the readers had only heard of–and many, many crimes, we learn, began elsewhere only to come home to their own land–a quiet comment against the belief that one may escape one’s past.

And, like Andrew Lang, Doyle found a bottomless well of creation for stories in the world before him–and like Lang, one always had the potential to seize victory from the jaws of defeat–if one was willing to face what they feared the most, and more bizarrely for convention, bow to ask for help.

So, I ask, why is it, are pastichers suddenly so committed to breaking down what made Doyle’s creation so great, and splicing him willy-nilly on an unmatched rope? Why is it, they have to break down someone in order to raise up another character?

I’m sad about this.

Why can’t we put Doyle’s toys back on the shelf when we’re done with them? I’ve read what feels like a metric ton of “alternative facts” stories, where Mrs. Hudson or Lestrade or (_____) are the real stars of the show. Some of these are still enjoyable–mostly because there is still a respect for the creations.

But any time you build up a character by knocking someone else down you add to a nasty tradition that begins and should have ended with how Hollywood gave the role of Watson to Nigel Bruce and said, “This is what you have to do.”

As a kid I adored the Rathbone films, and I cringed at all the cringe-worthy Nigel Bruce moments. But as I grew up I realized I wanted something more; there are only so many escapades where you can be the only working brain in a crowd of misfits. Solar Pons got us through a few dry spells but books were rare and you never knew if you were going to crack open a cover and find a Super Sherlock Saves the Day/Universe or a loving tribute written in the style and tradition of the original. In this era, we see re-made plotlines constantly. I’ve lost count of how many times we’ve seen remakes of stories that haven’t grown cold yet.  Honestly, I’m not talking about HAMILTON here. HAMILTON is brilliant for how it makes people think. And yet there is some sort of odd belief that in order to tell “your own, unique version” of Sherlock Holmes’ universe, you have to bash it into pieces first.

I disagree. That’s sloppy and you’ll get a D in English class. “Deconstructing” seems to be the in-thing now. It wouldn’t be half as awful if the so-called writers were actually reading the stories they were butchering with such crazed, addict-grade glee.

They’re not reading the stories!

These lazy people, who have enough wherewithall to get out of bed and whack out a novella in 30 days and get it published are still somehow inexplicably too mortgaged in time to learn about the world of Sherlock Holmes. There’s no excuse for this! Why is The Speckled Band considered such a masterpiece? Did they think about the multitudinous layers of plot, character, and atmosphere? Why do we cheer when Violet Hunter escapes? Did they think about the inescapable threads of human sadness in HOUN? They aren’t paying attention to these creations, who are all believable in their failures and successes.

I’m nauseated when this crowd avoids full exploration because it is condemned as “old and boring”. It isn’t, but you are, and you’re about as welcome as a bridal party in a gay bar.

Repeating previous statement: a loving tribute in the style and tradition of the original.

You can’t claim to “love” Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and all the others in this world and write contrary to that purpose.

His stories are written for a purpose.

If we write Holmes like a super-hero, then we are writing for swift gratification for a problem that won’t be duplicable by mere mortals. Besides, that goes completely against the message of Sherlock Holmes: He wanted to prove to the world that his methods were replicable; that anyone, if they so chose, would apply his methods and solve crimes.

That was terribly important to Holmes. He knew that his mind would break apart without stimulation, and what better, endless career than that of crime? Crime never ends. Crime never sleeps. It merely goes into hiding. There will always be a need for such a man who wants this work!

Consider that context, where if we write Watson as a vainglorious idiot, then we sell Holmes short for putting up with him. We make Holmes a poor, petty man who keeps a pet biographer, someone for his personal gratification and vainglory.

(It shakes me up when people think the police in the Rathbone films are just like the police in Adam West’s BATMAN series–no they are not. Commissioner Gordon and the other police were fine actors playing parodies. The police in the Rathbone films were fine actors playing once-respected characters as though they were idiots. There’s a difference).

If we write Holmes for satire, then we’d best be as clever as Oscar Wilde–cleverer, actually. Because satire means being on top of world events and how we’re really all related to each other in the grand scheme of things.

If we write a supernatural villain against Holmes, then we had better ask ourselves why we want to make it Holmes, instead of other perfectly fine creations of Doyle–and while we’re at it, have a friend look at the manuscript and tell you if it sounds like a plot out of Dark Shadows. Nothing says obvious like lining up a parallel plot with the show that stole ALL the plots in theatre.

But in the long run, it comes down to this: What is the writer getting out of this? Why are they doing what they want with the characters? What is the emotional investment? Too often it is just laziness–plucking another’s toys off the shelf and role-playing with them with all the grace of playing PLANET OF THE APES with STAR WARS action figures. It doesn’t quite cut it.

You can call them Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, but unless they are true to the spirit of Doyle, they will just be cheap mannikins recycled into a plot and pay for your ticket at the door.




Published in: on July 24, 2017 at 9:07 am  Leave a Comment  

It’s not what you think

Very well put. I could frame parts of this.

The First Ten Words by Rich Larson

Chris Cornell, 1964-2017

Chris Cornell died early Thursday morning. He hanged himself in the bathroom of his hotel room in Detroit.

For two days, I’ve been working on a piece to pay tribute to him, and it’s been a struggle. Usually when I have a problem like this it’s because I’m staring at a blank screen trying to figure out what I want to say. That’s not the problem this time. The problem is I have way too much to say.

I’m not going to sit here and claim to have been a huge fan of Soundgarden. I didn’t dislike them, I just had to take them in small doses. I was a fan of Cornell. I love “Seasons,” the solo song he had on Cameron Crowe’s movie, Singles. It’s a droning acoustic song about isolation and the meaningless passing of time. Your basic nihilistic statement written at what was…

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Published in: on May 22, 2017 at 5:06 am  Leave a Comment  

Why You Can Give Me A Bad Review

If there’s one valuable lesson a creator can learn, it’s not to engage with reviewers. With very few exceptions, railing against a negative review reflects most poorly on the reviewed, who are likely to come off as petulant, not the reviewer.

–Susana Polo, [Anne Rice Sics Her Fandom on Unaffiliated Lone Blogger for One Poor Review] 11:45 am, April 30th, 2013 

Once Upon A Time…

…There was a writer who worked really hard, did some hardcore personal PR, and broke into print with a major bestseller. It was a Cinderella-grade story. With sociopathic vampires. Then in an attempt to re-create success, they created a series of books that were increasingly off the wall and disconnected. And when I say it is actually possible to disconnect from both the Regular Realty, and the Reality That Has Vampires, Werewolves, Relentless Dub-Con and Underage Squeamish Bits, trust me, it is.



For the 6th Volume of MX New Sherlock Holmes Stories!


Published in: on February 15, 2017 at 3:15 am  Leave a Comment  

The Case of the Christmas Star: A Review of S. F. Bennett

First off, a brief explanation about S.F. Bennett. Many people (though far too few in my opinion) know of Bennett’s work from the glory days of, where it was quite possible to find rich, interesting, and grammatically correct short stories along the rules of traditional Canon. Bennett was one of the few, the proud, who knew those rules inside and out. Google this name and you may be pleasantly surprised to find it in The Sherlock Holmes Society of South West of England, as well as a few other lovely publications.

Bennett stood apart. We all checked FF.NET daily in hopes of a new story, and even as we read we thought, “But how will I read this again if the power goes out?” Some few of us were smart enough to save the stories for non-electric reading. I’ll say frankly that I was not one of them because organization happens to be one of the monsters that lives under my bed…under my sink…inside my garbage disposal.

In “The Case of the Christmas Star,” Bennett pulls together some of her richest and appealing elements: the humor that was an inherent portion of ACD’s creation; the inability of The Knight to create dull characters; crackling dialog that allows even a lazy student of the period to know a joke when they hear one, and the casual cruelty inherent in all societies. Consider yourself warned. Bennett isn’t going to call the remains of last night’s dinner a noble work of art. She will make you conscious of the moral failings in the system.

Watson’s loving marriage to Mary is fond and gentle. It also has its occasional frustrations (not unlike the frustrations of living with the equally strong-willed Sherlock Holmes) as Watson forgets that women just may have different priorities and aesthetics. In this story, Watson has purchased a very necessary bit of equipment (or vanity) for his medical office. Thanks to the gasps and wheezes of the Royal Mail and less-than-honorable purchasers, the good doctor finds himself in the middle of the Victorian version of “I bought it on eBay, honest, officer.”

And folks, if you have ever bought or known someone who bought on the Internet, you know where this is going.

Believe me, I am not doing this scenario justice. It doesn’t even fall under “spoiler” it is so under-justice.

But adding to the problem is the fact that Watson purchased the item with his old address with Baker Street attached to it. Co-incidentally or not, London is not so appreciative of the good doctor’s woes because they are all set for an upcoming honoring of the Queen, a regrettable lapse in stupidity within organized crime, and the local charity drive for Police Widows and Orphans is attacking all door-bells in their demands for human kindness. And who, pray tell, is imitating a Vicar? And during the Christmas season no less? No one is ever ‘perfect’ in Bennett’s London. We love the people because we understand their flaws as well as their admirable strengths.

One of my favorite bits about this story is the scene where Inspector Lestrade is clearly frightened for the safety of Holmes and Watson; he’s trying to protect them from a stone-cold murderer without openly letting them know their lives hang on a thread. Whilst he draws a full confession out of the iciest criminal we never hope to meet, Holmes quietly makes his own calculations from the sidelines. Of course knows just how much trouble they’re in but if he says the wrong thing it will all go quite badly.

But if you asked me, the crowning glory is Mrs. Hudson. Those of us who have relished Bennett’s stories from the very beginning know Mrs. Hudson is no light character to be dismissed upon a whim. She comes across as fantastically as ever, which is 30% mother hen and 60% dragon with just enough 10% inscrutable to keep you guessing. She is firm, she is compassionate; and she leaves a hard-bitten policeman in awe as she leaves her lodgers in cowed admiration.

Perhaps I’m jaded and speaking within the restrictions of my generation, but I am sick to death of lazy writers who are genderswapping Holmes and Watson, making them into beings they are not because they think it is better to take strong male protagonists and turn them into strong female protagonists. Why do you want to re-write feminist males and turn them into females? Don’t we need both? How can you do better than look at the already existing strong, female characters, with minds of their own and initiative and nerve? 

For those of us who like respect in our Holmes, Bennett’s work is the perfect remedy. Take this story and call me in the morning.

To read this–and other Christmassy treats–go here straight to the horse’s mouth (which not only supports the author and publisher, but also fails to give Amazon your support for their political bias: GO HERE.

and here: (non-UK) (Great Britain)