Second First Annual Your Horrible Family Top Five Superlatives of 2014: 2015 Edition!

four yes blondes

With the new year comfortably fading in the rear view, we’ve all got enough time to collect our thoughts and look back on all those things we loved and lost and felt made our lives better in some measure. These can be people, experiences, and other such bullshit, but let’s not forget those most important things: the media we consume. From Jan 1 to Dec 31, here’s the shortlist of the Most Superlative Superlatives from this past year of our lords and lordesses, 2015:

  1. Most Touched (By a Space Angel): Peggy Blumquist, Fargo

The truth is out there. Yet no one embroiled in Fargo’s second-season games of deceit and hidden motivations has a strong grasp on the truth—no one but inscrutable hairdresser Peggy Blumquist. Played to perfection by Kirsten Dunst, Peggy is a standout character in a deep bench of standouts, a trapped housewife who wields her deadly delusions like a master swordswoman. As the bodies pile up around her—about 30% (lowball) directly resulting from her inability to process the hit-and-run of Rye Gerhardt as an empathetic human would—she barely bats an eye; in a season loaded with lens flares and iconography hinting at possible alien visitors, no one is more alien than Ms. Blumquist. Continue reading

Over the Garden Wall revisited: “Songs of the Dark Lantern”

As all of us in the northern hemisphere know, it’s time once again for another dry and spooky autumn, which of course means more Over the Garden Wall recaps. Writing about such a solemnly autumnal show in any other season or mood never felt right, and on the heels of its recent DVD release, now is the best possible time to dig back into the Unknown. So, then, let’s dig:

“Songs of the Dark Lantern” – Act One Ends with Three Songs and a Dance


What is Over the Garden Wall? Despite coming out of the gate with a fully-formed aesthetic and writing to fill it out, we really know very little about the Unknown and its denizens by the time “Songs of the Dark Lantern” rolls around. Our characters are effectively amnesiacs, hounded by a mysterious force, driven by hearsay, traveling a land where nothing can be taken at face value.

A lesser show would stoop to exposition dumps to flesh out this swiss-cheese-mythology, but Over the Garden Wall has other plans. “Songs of the Dark Lantern” calls upon the power of one of the simplest, most old fashioned storytelling forms in the modern western canon to convey its tales of beasts and burdens: the musical revue. Continue reading

Steven Universe: Prepare For #Stevenbomb 3.0 with a #Stevenbomb 2.0 Analytical Catch-Up

Steven Universe Steven Connie Pearl Sworn to the Sword 1

Steven Universe has me surrounded! I surrender!

Yes, it’s time for yet another Steven Universe megapost. What can I say? It’s not like I lay awake at night thinking about it! Wait—oh God! I do! With “Steven Bomb 2.0: Stevens of Rage” evaporating into the past and “Steven Bomb 3.0: Universe Never Sleeps” tilting over the horizon, I reckon it’s time to play a little recap for all the fans and fanatics who might have been sleeping on the smaller stuff this past month.

So here’s a little (a lot of) analysis of the prior Bomb to freshen your memories and whet your palettes for the oncoming emotional onslaught that’s bound to hit Beach City tonight. And awaaaaaaaay we go!


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Catalist: Rough Draft of a Grand Experiment

Tiresia reads the will of the Red God

Ever since Scott McCloud posited the existence of an “infinite canvas,” artists have been doing all that they can to extend the definition of “comics” as wide as possible. On the smallest scale, a webcomic can use its own webpage, beyond the panel, to capture a mood or, to drop a recent and hypeworthy example, mark the passage of time, like in this recent strip from the legendary, resurrected-at-a-snail’s-pace A Lesson is Learned But the Damage is Irreversible.

On the largest scale, we have massive multimedia undertakings like Homestuck, which have weaponized the internet as a medium, prioritizing moving images, interactivity, and original music. Taken as a whole, the comic is a brash sensory overload that barely resembles a “comic” at all. In a post-Homestuck world, the word “comic” has as much to do with Garfield and Action as  “marriage” has to do with old-school Christian mores.

The new, episodic more-than-a-webcomic Catalist, written by Daniel St. George with art by Jerome Queval and character designs by Jen Lee (of the fantastic Thunderpaw, which I previously wrote about here), follows the Homestuck tradition of going big, then bigger, then bigger and bigger and bigger. Though Catalist has obvious roots in webcomickery, its creators prefer the term “epic visual novel.” The project, published in weekly .gif servings and scored by atmospheric piano loops, stinks of genre-busting ambition for better and worse. Continue reading

On Steven Universe, and How Much I Love Steven Universe

Oh yes I love it, yes I do

Oh yes I love it, yes I do

I apologize for my tardiness. I had a broken computer, and some other stuff. I also apologize, in advance, for my inevitable incoherence. Over my extended hiatus, I watched a lot of Steven Universe, then I watched it again, and now I am going to attempt to write about it. It’s like an itch you try to scratch, but once you get your finger close enough it latches on and gives you a big hug and you forget exactly what you were doing in the first place.

Here’s the skinny on the show before I dive into my stream of adulation. The brainchild of ex-Adventure Time storyboarder, musician, and Forbes-certified Powerful Woman Rebecca Sugar, Steven Universe is about the Crystal Gems, female-presenting aliens who protect Earth, warp around on scenic adventures, and generally chill with each other. They are Garnet, Amethyst, Pearl, and Steven, the titular half-Gem half-Human kiddo whose mother Rose Quartz gave up her physical form to bring him into this world. She got knocked up by Greg, Steven’s van-dwelling father and all-around honeybear. Rose was the de facto leader of the Crystal Gems before her essence became a fixture on Steven’s belly, and if anyone mentions her in an episode, y’alls are due for a trip to the cryerworks factory. With a tangible sense of history and unflagging focus on interpersonal relationships, Steven Universe is the gut-bustingly funniest, eyelid-wringingly saddest show about ass-kicking grrliens to ever air.

And after three attempts to write a re-inaugural post about it, after two full binges and endless breaks between work shifts browsing fan art on Tumblr (MLG-Peridot forever!), I realized it was nigh-impossible to keep an objectivish, critical tone about this goddamn show.

I just need a moment to rave. And there will be free glowsticks.

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The Warm Lovelies of Portside Stories

Courtesy of Val Halla (pun apparently intended)

Courtesy of Val Halla (pun apparently intended)

You wake up at five in the morning, even though you set your alarm for six, feeling fully refreshed. Your body has decided to gift you an extra hour in your day, and the universe wrapped that gift with a big ol’ bow in the shape of a sunrise. You look out your window, holding a stiff cup o’ joe and think, damn, this is as good as mornings get. Sometimes the universe bequeaths you a hug, and there’s little you can do but hug back.

Valerie Halla’s Portside Stories is a lot like that cosmic hug. Everything about it breathes warmth. The plot, centering around best friends Alex and Nat and their adventures in gender fluidity, takes place on the intimate scale. Transitioning between genders is as much of an internal conflict—and initially, a literal dissonance—as an external one, and Portside Stories’s inaugural chapter concerns itself with the former, a struggle with the ambivalence lurking within. There are secrets revealed, hearts broken, and bras panickedly removed during Nat and Alex’s respective, four-years-separated comings out (coming outs?).

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First Annual Your Horrible Family Top Five Superlatives of 2014

Holy moly! Hot dog!

Holy moly! Hot dog!

The holidays mean lots of things to lots of people, but for me it’ll always be about the endless ranking, the distribution of hundreds of lists across thousands of locales tabulating how, exactly, anything and everything in the past 365 days added up. Go ahead and call it pointless, call it shouting into a storm, call it navel-gazing. I don’t care. When it gets to December and all the big blogs start breaking out the big fonts for their big wrap-ups, my heart gets a-stutterin’.

There’s something about standing in the center of the critical echo chamber, taking a few moments to let it all wash over and soak in, that I really like. For me, the act of going through row after row of wrap-ups and best-ofs is one part mixtape, one part sabermetrics: the mass attempt to turn people’s opinions into objective fact is oddly addicting and, frankly, more often than not makes for damn good recommendations. For someone, such as myself, who constantly feels like they’re lagging behind the zeitgeist, it’s pure manna.

Before I get into my awkwardly constructed and woefully underpopulated favorite whatnots of 2014, I would like to take a step back tonight and thank all of those people out there with capable literacy and the means to project their voices throughout the information superhighway. I know that just sounded snarky as fuck but I mean every damn word of it. It’s the time of a season to share your thoughts, rank your opinions, and tabulate the stats on your year-end lists until you’ve got enough scribbled ticker-tape to fill the stockings. If one person reads this list and finds just one thing that they’d like to explore more in these coming winter months, then we’ve all done our job as critics.

Now, having laid down all that praise for praise, please note that you are now to bear witness to some true hating dabbled here and there within this list. “Best of” is a bit of a narrow window for a year partly defined by hate, fear, and disappointment. Great artists embarrassed themselves. Everyone was racist. Kanye West did practically nothing of import. So let this be a (media-focused) reminiscence on not just the best, but everything else interesting enough to warrant mention on the other sides of the emotional prairie.

Plus, like the most accurate year-wrapup lists, this shit is actually coming out in after the year is fully over. Take that, everywhere else!


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Over the Garden Wall – “Schooltown Follies”: Brightness on the Edge of Schooltown

Oh potatoooooooooes (Cartoon Network)

Oh potatoooooooooes (Cartoon Network)

“I guess the world really is as sweet as potatoes and molasses.”

– Father Langtree

Over the Garden Wall shifts tones between episodes with an effortless confidence that ought to, on paper, take several seasons worth of material to back up. We would need to know our main characters well enough to empathize with, become acquainted with the setting well enough to believe that it could extend itself beyond two dimensions, and be familiar enough with a standard rhythm to justify a detour.

In short-form animated television, the depth of familiarity needed for this type of leg-stretching especially requires a considerable amount of prologue. Adventure Time took at least two seasons before it ventured into darker territory and embraced the adolescence metaphor incubating at its core. Viewers, at that point, had become acquainted well enough with the nooks and crannies of Ooo and its diversity of inhabitants at their brightest moments, paving the path to more challenging territory.

Over the Garden Wall pulls off a similar modulation, albeit in reverse and in a considerably shorter amount of time. The series starts off dark, moody and slightly broody, and must rise to the occasion of turning on the lights for its third episode, “Schooltown Follies.” Jumping from the dark fatalism of “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee” to an upbeat, optimistic romp through a schoolhouse for snappily dressed animals ought to be a jarring transition.

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Merry Zinesgiving to All and to All a Zinesgiving

Hello y’all! It’s been a long, long week and an even longer weekend, and unfortunately this means little time for OTGW reviews. Throw in the fact that I’ll be on a jet plane next Friday through Monday and it’ll actually be two weeks without ’em. Don’t worry though, I’ll still try to keep up posting here and there on this and that.

Speaking of thems and those: check out these!


I’ve been building up a repository of quality zines and, with any luck, will have enough time in my life to sing most of their praises into the vast internet abyss. The way my life is currently going, the pace for this eternal song will likely be one batch of zines per month. cAll that ado aside, it’s about time I introduce y’all to a little feller called Za: The Pizza Zine.

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Over the Garden Wall – “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee”: Darkness after the dawn


whaddya lookin at (screencaps, Cartoon Network)

“Folks don’t tend to pass through Pottsville. It’s nice here.”

-Pumpkin Lady, being creepy as shit

In an offhand parenthetical in my last review, I dismissed a particular moment of “The Old Grist Mill” for being a little too self-conscious. I feel like I should clarify that my criticism of the moment is rooted in its uncharacteristic sloppiness, since on the whole Over the Garden Wall is actually a very postmodern show. A pastiche by nature, the miniseries combines the DNA of two dozen genres, classics, fables, and bits and pieces of tall tales here and there, to create a singular timeless vision—neither original nor replication. The final product is offbeat and warped, but polished enough to cover up its Frankenstein’s monster scars.

Two of the most prominent elements in this pastiche chowder (for such an autumnal show, it must be a chowder, or maybe a bisque) are the  clashing genres of children’s television and psychological horror. Scaring the bejesus out of kids while teaching them important life lessons is hardly a new idea—as for who did it first there’s no earthly way of knowing—but Over the Garden Wall’s particular blend distinguishes itself with the masterful “Hard Times at the Huskin’ Bee.”

The horrorshow horror starts exactly as you wouldn’t expect: It was a calm and sunny morning. Wirt discovers signs of civilization, while Greg is busy freeing a bluebird from the bush. While the premiere taught us not to take the Unknown at face value, things are still looking pretty damn hopey for our lost boys (and Beatrice the bluebird, their salty new companion). These first few minutes are rich with (mostly) friendly banter and gentle sunrays; Greg accidentally lodging his foot in a tiny pumpkin is the scariest occurrence, a moment that relies on rapid-fire comic timing to mask its ominous portent.

The placid façade doesn’t quite shatter into the shitter, rather, “Hard Times” is a slow descent into Hell. Its positioning as the second installment of the series allows it a unique benefit; while “The Old Grist Mill” had to bare its fangs to rope viewers into the darkness, “Hard Times” has the privilege of patience—it is Over the Garden Wall’s first opportunity to stretch its legs. Out of the forest and into the corn fields, the dawning day promises to shed some light on the series’ central mysteries, geography, logic, denizens, whathaveyou.

But, like the leaf spinning through fickle currents, we are no less lost than before. Pottsville is empty. The sun is a big toasty red herring, a thin blanket that coats the mattress of menace established in the pilot. Even though nothing has gone wrong yet, the still air in a seeming ghost town is enough to tell us something bad lurks around the corner.

But before I get to the bad stuff, I’d like to talk about The Wicker Man.

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