Zine Review: Unproductive #1

Screen Shot 2016-02-09 at 4.34.37 PMUnproductive #1
Comic, Robbie Robert (artist), 28 pgs,, $3

If you like your humour darker than your coffee, then Robbie Robert’s Unproductive comic series might be right up your manic-depressive alley. Vignettes about powdered meat, brain tumors, and disfiguration are played out using egg-and-stick characters who float up and down the page in an alienating abyss of black and white. Although lacking a central narrative, this self-described “death illustrated issue,” which came out last April, actually broods over a life of desolation, where our characters masturbate to Internet porn, hang themselves, and literally rot from loneliness. In one particularly memorable moment, an egg surgically snaps his teeth apart with toe-clippers in order to appease a critic. What makes this all funny, I suppose, is the absurdity of how we might respond to those critics, experts, or marketers who otherwise try to convince us that this hurt is somehow our fault. In this way, while Unproductive #1 is sad, it’s also wonderfully cathartic. (Jason Luther)

Zine Review: Drawing Thinking of You Dancing

Drawing ThinkingDrawing Thinking of You Dancing
Comic, Jason Kieffer & Mairi Greig, 46 pgs,, $5.

Jason Kieffer and Maira Greig’s Drawing Thinking of You Dancing is exactly as sweet as it sounds. The zine, which consists of 46 pages of drawings of a dancer, captures the strenuous actions involved with the process. The drawings are strategically placed and sized, some pages
featuring multiple drawings revolving around one big drawing, and some pages featuring rows of
drawings that incrementally become larger until she arrives at the ultimate pose.
While at first glance the zine may seem too repetitive to be all that interesting, the range of positions and
expressions are explored to the point where you feel as if you can feel the dancer becoming more in tune with herself as the workout progresses; you feel the unsteadiness, for example, as she lands incorrectly.
The zine becomes only more visceral with the occasional employment of sound bubbles. The choreography and isolated poses captured in this zine, void of actual motion, allow one to better connect with the dancer as a person. I also like that the title of the zine gives us some information about the emotion behind the zine, and points to admiration. The lack of narrative detail allows the reader to more closely appreciate the drawings and project their own narrative, which makes it only more accessible. (Rachel Davies)

Book Review: Skein and Bone


Skein and Bone V. H. Leslie, 290 pages, Undertow Publications,, $23.99 

Since 2010, Undertow Publications has been a champion of weird and slipstream short fiction — a genre not often given its proper due. Their most recent release is V. H. Leslie’s debut collection Skein and Bone. Leslie has produced an elegant collection of fourteen sorrowful, occasionally supernatural tales that skirt the line between the horrific and the surreal.

In “Namesake,” a woman with the surname Burden seeks the means to shrug off her family’s unfortunate legacy. The young boy at the heart of “Family Tree” must deal with shifting family dynamics as his father, having grown feral, abandons his natural role, forcing his son to grow up faster than he would have liked. “Bleak Midwinter” offers readers a different glimpse at the end of days, twisting childish symbolism — snowmen — into dark, oppressive entities. And the lonesome mapmaker of “The Cloud Cartographer” ruminates on the loss of his sister while traversing a cloudface that doubles as a Limbo of sorts.

The strongest stories in the collection also happen to be the most lyrical and imagistic. The titular “Skein and Bone” follows two sisters who, while travelling through France, enter a mysterious Renaissance chateau filled with impossibly corseted mannequins perpetuating an alarming “moral rigidity.” The short but devastating “Making Room” opens a window into a young relationship and the monsters under the bed — the skeletons of boyfriends past. And then there’s Dulcie, the beleaguered star of “Preservation,” who takes to bottling her emotions like preserves in a pantry, including “a whole row of jars filled only with profanities.”

From a bruised blue room embodying one woman’s idea of Hell, to a man lost in the wallpapered forest of his child’s nursery, Leslie’s writing is saturated with loss — not only in terms of death but also loss of control, of identity, and of purpose. To this end, Skein and Bone is a beautiful collection as heart-wrenching as it is strong. Leslie’s shorts are like personalized tragedies, gift wrapped and served alongside a lavish feast. (Andrew Wilmot)

Excerpt: Studies in Hybrid Morphology

Studies in Hybrid Morphology is a story collection trapped in the body of a scientific journal. Presented as a series of faux-scholarly articles, this genre-bending mash-up offers an array of surreal stories and flash fictions exploring the beings we want to be, can be, should not be, and will never be.

You can purchase the whole book for just $1 here! 

Matt Tompkins has awarded himself honorary degrees in bioanthropology, physiology, and zoology. His fiction has been peer-reviewed by Post Road, The Carolina Quarterly and other journals. Matt’s next collection of experiments, Souvenirs & Other Stories, is forthcoming from Conium Press. He conducts his research in upstate New York, where he lives with his lab partner and two small assistants.


Editor’s Pick: The Weird World of Interactive Cinema

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Everyone knows that moment: you’re sitting on your couch, watching a movie, and you find yourself marveling at the poor decisions made by the characters. Who hasn’t desperately wished they could control the outcome of a film?

There was a time when movie fans could do just that — by engaging in the now mostly-forgotten phenomenon of interactive cinema (also known as “Full Motion Video Games”). The game Dragon’s Lair (directed by Don Bluth) is commonly cited as one of the first examples of interactive film, appearing on Laserdisc in 1983. As computers and CD-ROM technology developed in the ‘90s, FMV games expanded to full narrative films where players could control the gameplay to reach a variety of outcomes. According to this excellent primer written for The Dissolve, some notable examples of ’90s interactive games include the Twin Peaks-inspired haunted-house hit The 7th Guest (1993), as well as the sexy thriller Tender Loving Care (1998.)

I realized that I also unwittingly dabbled in interactive film in the mid-’90s: I was obsessed with a supernatural murder-mystery game called Phantasmagoria. Released by Sierra Games, the game featured real actors exploring the nooks and crannies of a decaying estate, gradually uncovering a horrific murder involving an evil magician (yep, really).  The game was hugely popular and made millions of dollars, but also featured a controversial rape scene and grisly over-the-top violence. It was once named “the most sophisticated computer game to date” – a label that’s kind of funny in hindsight:

Although the interactive movie format eventually declined as the interactivity of video games rose, FMV games remain intriguing and cheesy relics that have indelibly influenced aspects of indie game-making and storytelling. (As one example, elements of interactive/FMV storytelling appear in last year’s indie game sensation Her Story, which features a series of VHS-quality police depositions featuring the wife of a murder victim, and tasks the player to patch together clues from each clip.

The Hand Eye Society is an organization that explores the creative possibilities of videogames in DIY culture. Torontonians can experience their celebration of ‘80s and ‘90s interactive cinema, FebMoVid, on Wednesday February 17 at the Royal Cinema in Toronto in conjunction with the Laser Blast Film Society, who will also be screening a rare feature version of the loosely-interactive Toronto-shot TV series Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future. You can check out a trailer for the Royal event below and buy tickets here.


Book Review: Night Moves


Richard Van Camp, 196 pgs, Enfield & Wizenty,, $19.95 

It would almost be wrong to call the wonder of Richard Van Camp’s short stories “magical realism” or “surrealism,” comparing them to literary traditions rooted in campesino South America and the salons of Europe. Rather, the day-to-day medicines, predictions, and rituals of the Dogrib and other Indigenous characters are an intuitive and foundational force in Night Moves, as unquestionable as they are native to the Northwest Territories, where the book takes place.

The short story collection expands on the people and places of Fort Smith that Van Camp introduces in his other books, and certainly they consistently feel bigger than themselves, bursting with pasts, futures, and unmentioned relationships. As a first-time reader, I also delighted in finding where themes and characters overlap and speak to each other within the book. Although there are elders and adults taking protagonist role, the most profound moments come from young people. These are the strongest stories: the alienated visiting student with a secret agenda of revenge, the young fighter with animal rage who abandons his sinister mentors, and the heartwrenching opening story “bornagirl,” narrated by the perpetrator of a transphobic assault.

Indeed, queer and feminist undertones also course through the book alongside post-colonial critique, as Van Camp takes up complex issues of human trafficking, sexual abuse, gender identity and sexuality.

Van Camp’s artistry and the compelling cultural landscape of the Indigenous north come together in unsettling, beautiful, and fantastical ways here. Night Moves is an absolute success. (Jonathan Valelly)