vacuumhorrorIf you are a weird comic junkie, comic artist Aaron $hunga is your connection. With Vacuum Horror, he has released not just a weird thing, but perhaps THE weird thing. The Ur-Weird Thing.

Vacuum Horror (originally a webcomic, now in print) is a unique tale of the end of the world, with humanity going down in a way so ridiculous that it crosses hemispheres and becomes disturbing again.

The story opens with a news announcement. The President has declared that all laws are repealed; America is now an anarchy. The nation immediately collapses into a shitheap of murder, rape, depredation, and fist-pumping Ayn Rand fans. As Lily and her family stock up on guns to protect themselves from marauders (and each other), a discovery is made: their vacuum cleaner can talk.

Vacuum cleaners are not just handy household cleaning devices: They are a race of super-advanced aliens. For years, they have watched us grow strong…and now, we’re too strong. Soon we will be waging genocidal wars throughout the galaxy. There is only one solution: we must be destroyed. We are the dirt of Planet Earth, and the vacuum cleaners must perform their duty.

Lily’s vacuum cleaner, however, has fallen in love with her, and wishes to save her from her fate. Time is running out. Even now, a giant vacuum cleaner is flying through space, and when it arrives, it will suck up every human on Earth.

This sets off an absurd road trip through a Mad Max-esque version of America, as Lily and her vacuum cleaner attempt to meet the vacuum high command to plead for her life. Aaron wimps out on drawing a human/vacuum cleaner sex scene but there’s lots of other funny and grotesque events in his book.

Aaron’s style is nice and very memorable, reminding of Terry Gilliams, Klasky Csupo, Shintaro Kago, and Superjail. It’s rough and abstract, but pernickety and full of details. He loves symbolism, and is fascinated by things, not as they are, but by what they represent.

As an example, when it is necessary for the President of the United States to appear, it is not Bush/Obama but Abe Lincoln, who, of course, is America’s definitive President. Aaron says he used Lincoln because he’s “a letter in a nationalistic alphabet.” In other words, when you need a president, you use Abe Lincoln.

Very odd and amusing, Vacuum Horror is both a weird piece of art and a cohesive and well-thought out comic. Even though Vacuum Horror’s influences are clear, as a product there’s not much you can compare it to.

The story ends the way all great literature should end: with Lincoln’s decapitated head floating through space. Please acquire Vacuum Horror by any means necessary.

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bob2Poor marksmen have the option of firing lots of bullets and letting probability hit the target for them. This was Clive Barker’s approach in his Books of Blood series, and in volume 2 he scored a massive hit.

“Dread” is Clive Barker’s all-time best anything and one of the scariest horror stories I’ve read so far. A young college student called Steve comes under the aegis of an older man called Quaid, who seems to worship fear as a religion, albeit one that admits no salvation. Quaid is curious about the nature of his god, and wants to use Steve’s brain as a testing ground. The result is a shocking and fascinating story that puts King’s “Apt Pupil” on notice for the most disturbing mentor/student relationship in fiction, despite its short length.

It could have stood to be a bit shorter. The ending of “Dread” disappoints the same way “The Hellbound Heart”‘s did. Clive Barker’s endings are usually too cheap and too camp, and out of phase with the rest of the story. After scenes of powerful existential dread, it’s boring to end with horror movie gore. Welcome to Le Restaurant De Barker, where we serve world-class cordon bleu with pop tarts for dessert.

The other four stories are another day at the office. “Hell’s Event” is about a demon who enters a footrace. Barker does the best he can with an uninspired idea. “Jacqueline Ess: Her Will And Testament” is nice and gory, and evokes more flavours of Stephen King. A woman with psychic powers reshapes her life using the power of her mind, and not in a way endorsed by Oprah or Tony Robbins.

“The Skins of the Fathers” gets silly in places, reminding of Barker’s most annoying creation (Mister B Gone), but keeps lots of action and excitement in the mix and ends up being the most accessible story of the volume. “New Murders in the Rue Morgue” is a stat-flipped “Hell’s Event”, featuring a great idea (C. Auguste Dupin was a real person, Poe’s stories about him weren’t fictional, there’s been a coverup, etc…) but the story is just not that exciting. It seems perpetually ready to kick into high gear…and then you turn the last page and wonder what happened.

The Books of Blood contain about thirty stories in all. None of them reach the high water mark of “Dread” (“How Spoilers Bleed” is close), but there’s a lot of good material spread throughout. But Clive Barker’s inconsistency wears on you. You get good stories, and bad stories. Even worse, you get semi-good stories weighed down by cancerous tumors: poorly-attempted comedy, bad horror movie cliches, incomprehensible “what?” moments that disrupt the atmosphere and jerk you out of story, and stories that seem promising but just can’t get off the runway.

Unreliability is a sin that only artists can get away with this. Imagine being a plumber and only knowing how to replace an S-bend every second day on the job. In a way, the shakiness of the Books is emphasised by their own pull-quote: “Every body is a book of blood; Wherever we’re opened, we’re red.” Crazy, world-bending horror, and they’re heralded by that dumb joke we got tired of in middle school.

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Myst was advertised for years as a computer game for people who don’t like computer games.

The graphics were and still are beautiful. I can think of no better use for your i386 processor and Mach 64 video card. Someone once said that Doom was the first game that could impress a non-geek with its graphics, and while that may be true, Doom was a game of small rooms and corridors. Myst’s pre-rendered environments look even better, and it came on a CD-ROM when that alone was a selling point.

But Myst cannot be played, only be experienced. It’s an interactive travel brochure. You click and look at pictures and get bored and stop. The game’s world is beautiful, but the sterility and lack of motion soon feels creepy, like you’re trapped between two frames of a movie.

For a lot of people, Myst (and The 7th Guest, which had a Myst-like ambiance) was their first experience playing an adventure game, which is like someone’s first experience with cinema being a 5 hour foreign language art film. Myst probably helped kill adventure gaming: the public’s perception of the genre swiftly became “games where you don’t have any fun.”

Too bad. The Monkey Island and Leisure Suit Larry titles contain funny writing and interesting puzzles. Infocom’s A Mind Forever Voyaging had a compelling dystopian story, and that game didn’t even have graphics. Myst just has the gestalt of moving around in a beautiful, eerie, slightly interactive world. Too bad you can’t play hype or this would be the most fun game ever made.

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