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Not All Comics Have Capes

Oftentimes the things that scare us the most are what is left unsaid—that unsettling fear of the unknown or intangible. It is those moments of uncertainty that toy with our imagination, ushering in that irksome moment when we are left alone with our thoughts and insecurities. It is this notion that makes husband and wife [...]
Danny Hamen

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Oftentimes the things that scare us the most are what is left unsaid—that unsettling fear of the unknown or intangible. It is those moments of uncertainty that toy with our imagination, ushering in that irksome moment when we are left alone with our thoughts and insecurities.

It is this notion that makes husband and wife duo, Lisa Sterle and Matthew Erman’s, horror comic series, “Long Lost,” so thrilling. Sure, they use evocative imagery, like twisting viscera creeping past the gutters of the panels, but it is their aptitude at slowly building tension that creates a unique and unsettling kind of drama.

“It is so much about what is not said, and what is left up to the reader’s imagination,” said Erman, who wrote the 12-issue series, leaving Sterle to illustrate. “It is about trying to build a feeling through tone and imagery. [Sterle] is as much of a writer of this as I am, because I rely on her ability to create tension through space and time. Without that, you can’t have horror. You have to build that moment before something happens.”

Scout Comics, an indie comic publisher out of New York, picked up their 12-part series last October, giving them a little more than a year to bust out a final product. Even before its initial release, “Long Lost” has already garnered national press for its engaging storytelling and unique style.

Sterle’s imagery combines viscerally charged elements from American known indie artists such as Charles Burns and Daniel Clowes with styles of Japanese manga, particulary in the use of exaggerated facial expression and lack of color. The comic lives in a sepia tone with the occasional addition of color to intensify a moment.

“It just feels right to me—having a horror comic without color,” said Sterle. “It is where all my inspiration comes from. As the issues go on, there is more exploration that happens with color.”

Each chapter—or entry—is titled after a song that they believe evokes the precise emotion of the release, nudging the reader to put it on while reading. The artists chosen range from Dirty Three, Blonde Redhead, Fleet Foxes, and Fleetwood Mac. The first issue, “The Exact Color of Doubt,” mirrors the cathartic and spacious aesthetic of The Liar’s recording, adding an additional, almost Easter-Egg-like layer to the series.

“A lot of the cultural references we plucked helped cement the tone,” said Erman. “Comics don’t have the benefit of film in that you can rely on sound to create atmosphere, so this is my way of circumventing that. I can name a chapter after a song that I think most emulates the feel of that chapter, or lyrics that speak to specific themes.”

At its core, “Long Lost” tells the story of two separated sisters, Piper and Frances, who must travel back to their small hometown to see their mother. The sisters, while sharing similar mannerisms, are polar opposites—Piper being the guarded worrywart while Frances is the bubbly optimist—in a way, symbolizing the two sides of a perfect human consciousness.

“There is a little bit of both of them in both of us,” said Erman. “Piper is an introverted person that is at odds with the world and her place in it, and Frances is this person that is settled, and OK with her place and embraces life as it comes at her. I have really grown to identify with these characters and how they navigate the world.”

Erman masterfully brings these characters to life through conflict, whether that means exploring the nuances of sisterhood or putting them in danger. Although there are strange and often frightening creatures within the series, they seem to serve as an abstract connection to the psychological conflict of the day to day.

“The themes of ‘Long Lost’ are purpose and trauma—feeling misplaced in the world—home, feeling, and belonging,” Erman said. “Sometimes you need the visceral, psychical nature of—whatever it is, a monster or a ghost—to [talk] about those real life fears.

Another unique element of the series is that there are, not including Piper’s puppy Pockets, no male characters, a conscious decision made by Erman and Sterle when creating the series.

“Originally, Piper and Frances were supposed to be brother and sister,” said Erman. “The problem with that is it really limits the roles they can play in your story—the reader is going to have an expectation. We thought really hard about why that particular character needed to be a man. And there was no good reason. And then, once we started writing the characters and their relationship with their mother, we kind of realized that is really a story about women.”

This is a refreshing change to what many has called a male-dominated media—a comic that favors emotions and subtlety over senseless action—an intelligent and witty shift in the conversation of what comics are actually supposed to be.

The first chapter of Long Lost will be released later this month. Copies will be available at your local comic shop or through their social media page,
facebook.com/longlostcomic. 

SHOUTOUTS

Lisa Sterle and Matt Erman spread the love on the local comic scene:

Cartoon Crossroads

This was our first year attending and it was so wonderful. With Tom Spurgeon running the thing, it’s putting a big spotlight on Columbus for creators.

CCAD’s Comic Major 

We’re so jealous of the kids going through this major because it is an absolutely unheard of experience. The work these students will end up producing is going to be stellar.

The Laughing Ogre 

Gib Bickel is a treasure in the city and his shop is nationally revered for a reason. He has seen it all. The staff there is so knowledgeable about comics—it’s the reason we’re semi-regulars.

The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library 

An incredible place to have here in Columbus for every aspiring creator or fan of comics/cartooning.

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Arts & Culture

Summer Camp Soap Opera

J.R. McMillan

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Young screenwriters shocked by surprise casting at Thurber House

Summer camp is a rite of passage wrapped in revelry, rivalry, and romance — all the makings of a must-see soap opera. But when Thurber House (humorist James Thurber’s former home turned local literary center) rushed to push their summer camps online this year, they feared some of that creative connectivity might be lost among aspiring young writers.

Hoping for a hook, camp counselors Justin Martin and Frankie Diederich decided to challenge campers with a genre they’d never tackled before: writing an original soap opera. Entirely on a whim, Martin took to Twitter to see if anyone happened to have a connection to the industry.


“I genuinely didn’t expect it to go anywhere, I didn’t even tag anyone. But an hour later I had half the cast of Days of Our Lives,” recalled Martin, whose disbelief still lingers. It was a plot twist even campers didn’t see coming. “California’s stay-home order was so uncertain, we never knew when everyone might go back to work. Even when we told writers and their parents the night before the performances, some of them didn’t believe us.

Though daytime television isn’t an obvious obsession for middle school students, nearly every novel of young adult fiction is essentially a soap opera. And Days of Our Lives is set in the fictional Midwest city of Salem — folksy yet sophisticated, and never short on scandal, not unlike Columbus, Ohio. It’s a short stretch that only seems non sequitur.

“Everyone started with a blank page, but by the end of the week, Frankie and I had helped them create a complete screenplay. But the cast was still a shock,” Martin explained. “Kids admire anyone who has made a career out of doing something they love, and these actors and actresses were so enthusiastic, flexible, and generous. They were every bit as into it as the campers.”

It was actress Martha Madison who happened to see a retweet of Martin’s request and matter-of-factly replied, “Can I bring some friends?” She soon roped in more than a dozen of her costars, all equally eager to give a bunch of adolescent screenwriters the performance they deserved despite a pandemic.

“I’m a big believer in fate. It was an easy ask, everyone said yes,” revealed Madison, better known to many as Belle Black. Her character’s parents John and Marlena have been synonymous with Days of Our Lives for decades. “There was so much character development, and they all had love and murder in the plot. They were real soap operas.”


Like many nonprofits struggling to adapt, the shift to online programming has actually expanded the reach of Thurber House. Much like parents working remotely, kids from across Ohio, and from New York to California, also received insightful lessons in craft and collaboration from screenwriter Amanda Beall, whose credits include The Young and the Restless, All My Children, and General Hospital.

“If you’re a creative person, none of that goes away just because you’re stuck at home. You can still share your experience with anyone anywhere,” Madison noted. “I was very impressed with the writing. I’d love to work again with any one of these kids someday.”

***

For more on Thurber House and upcoming events and programs, visit thurberhouse.org

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Arts & Culture

Rare flower ready to stink up 2020 at the Franklin Park Conservatory

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Photo provided by Franklin Park Conservatory.

“Some people wait a lifetime to see this,” said Bruce Harkey, president and CEO of Franklin Park Conservatory. 

What someone will wait a lifetime to see (or smell) varies from person to person. If watching a massive flower bloom and let out a wretched odor is your thing, you better keep a close eye on the Conservatory.

According to a press release sent out Wednesday, the endangered Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) will flower in the next week for the first time in the Conservatory’s history. The flower can grow to 10 feet tall and emits a strong odor, resembling rotting flesh. While the “corpse flower” only blooms for a few days, those who go to the FPC to visit it will not soon forget it.

And while it may seem that 2020 could not get any weirder with its masks and murder hornets,  this particular brand of weird is actually kind of cool—and it’s in our own backyard.

Check out the FPC social channels, where you can view the bloom live, or head to the Conservatory to smell it in person, though the required mask may prevent a full whiff of the dreadful stench. But if you dare, you can buy your timed tickets online here.

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Arts & Culture

Columbus Museum of Art opens June 23 for members; June 30 to the public

Julian Foglietti

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The Columbus Museum of Art (CMA)  has announced plans to reopen in the coming week after closing in mid-March due to COVID restrictions. Though museums were allowed to open on June 10, CMA chose to hold off reopening and will instead see it’s first visitors tomorrow,  June 23, as they reopen for museum members, and to the general public next week on June 30..

To coincide with the reopening, CMA has announced multiple measures to combat the spread of COVID-19, such as significantly reduced capacity, and the introduction of timed tickets, and special hours for at-risk populations.

Tickets for the following week will be made available for sale online each Friday, and an extremely limited number of tickets will be available for day-of admission. While there isn’t a time limit to how long visitors can stay in the museum, there is a one hour entrance window assigned to each ticket. 

Visitors will be asked to socially distance while in the space, and face coverings are strongly recommended. 

Learn more here.

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