Butt Plugs, Shit Golems, and Living Castles: Graphic Novels for Summer Reading

Looking for strange graphic novels to read while getting liquored in the sun? Here are five illustrated fever dreams guaranteed to make you wonder if you’re suffering from heat exhaustion:

Shit and Piss by Tyler Landry

Imagine being trapped in a truck stop bathroom while the person in the stall next to you is having explosive diarrhea. Now, multiply that stench by thirty billion. That’s the level of stink pervading the world of Tyler Landry’s Shit and Piss. This slim volume of surrealist horror is set in an apocalyptic wasteland, within the walls of a sewage processing plant. The place is run by a sentient human skull that spends its time playing cruel games with the plant’s inhabitants. There’s a golem made of human shit, dangerous parasites, humanoid builders with vaguely vaginal mouths and terrifying aquatic monstrosities. The art is rendered in gorgeous (if you want to call it that) black and white. The text is minimal, poetic and laced with heavy doses of existential horror. This one is a hidden gem and a must-read for horror fans and coprophiles alike.

Monsters by Ken Dahl

Whatever happened to educational scare films? You know, the ones where they’d warn you to stay celibate unless you wanted your junk to explode? Then proceed to attack your eyeballs with extreme close-ups of genital sores leaking something that looks like cottage cheese? Well, if you’re crazy enough to be nostalgic for those days, Ken Dahl’s got you covered. His graphic novel, Monsters, is a unique pairing of autobiography and sexual education manual. It opens with the evocative line: “Imagine never kissing anyone on the lips ever again” and proceeds to tell of Dahl’s experience with the herpes simplex virus. Everything he learns about the disease throughout the narrative is presented in an honest, educational and oddly entertaining format. He dispels a lot the myths surrounding the disease, and in the process paints a portrait of himself that’s both funny and painfully human. You’ll be hard pressed to find anything so unique in the field of graphic storytelling. Fans of Robert Crumb should keep an eye out for this one.

Survivor’s Club by Lauren Beukes and Dale Halverson

This criminally underrated series penned by Lauren Beukes (The Shining Girls, Broken Monsters) and Dale Halverson, basked in 80s horror nostalgia before it truly became fetishized by the mainstream. The story follows the members of the titular Survivor’s Club: a support group made up of individuals who survived various horrific events in 1987. One was trapped inside a haunted house. Another was pursued by a vengeful Japanese Yūrei. One boy from Africa played an evil Polybius-style arcade cabinet, and so on. Each of their stories is presented like a greatest hit from the canon of 80s horror, but with Beukes’ unique touch of the macabre. Things really start picking up when the group is seemingly contacted by the aforementioned arcade game. Throughout the nine-issue arc, Beukes and Halverson gleefully subvert familiar tropes as the characters seek to unravel the connective tissue that binds their trauma together. Survivor’s Club is a must-read for devotees of 80s horror.

Safari Honeymoon by Jesse Jacobs

I don’t plan on getting married or going on a honeymoon. But if I do, there damn well better be butt plugs and monstrous trees. Jesse Jacobs’ Safari Honeymoon is a psychedelic trip with an oddball sense of humor. We follow a pair of newlyweds who spend their honeymoon in a jungle straight out of your Uncle Jerry’s acid stories. With the help of a guide that happens to be riddled with every species of parasite, real or imagined, they are subjected to a series of misadventures, including: running away from killer trees, punching monsters in the face and getting trapped in a time loop—along with a bunch of other crazy shit. This book is absolutely hilarious. It can be read in one sitting and the art is stunning. Everything is doused in shades of green and presented in a mind-bendingly kaleidoscopic style. It’s the perfect way to spend your time on a camping trip as the mushrooms kick in.

Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freakshow by Suehiro Maruo

This wouldn’t be a list of weird graphic stories if it didn’t include anything from Japan. Suehiro Maruo is a manga artist known for his ero guro (erotic grotesque) aesthetic, which is characterized by frank depictions of deviance, sexual corruption and violence. Its influence can be felt throughout Japanese cinema, from pink films to the works of Takashi Miike and Sion Sono. As far as Maruo’s work is concerned, the best place to start is Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show. Set early in the Shōwa period, this manga follows a young orphan named Midori who’s rescued from the streets by a traveling freak show. She soon discovers that her existence as a beggar was preferable to living among the murderers and sadists that make up the troupe. I’ll tell you right now, Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freak Show is tame by Maruo’s standards, but it’s still not for the faint of heart. The panels ooze with demented sexuality, brutality and, uh, eyeball licking. But through it all, there’s an interesting, albeit depressing, story to be had. It almost feels like a pitch-black version of a children’s fairy tale. And if you happen to enjoy it, and the violence doesn’t trouble your sick mind, give Maruo’s even more disturbing Ultra-Gash Inferno a try. It’s like getting a face full of pepper spray.

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

Grimm’s fairy tales meets the body horror of David Cronenberg and the surreal beauty of Maya Deren’s experimental films. Through the Woods is a collection of five short stories penned and illustrated by Canadian artist Emily Carroll. Every time you turn the page, your vision is dazzled by striking full-color art. Sometimes vibrants, often somber, but always arresting, Carroll’s imagery brings these stories of ghosts, sprawling estates, murder and madness to vivid life. My personal favorite “The Nesting Place” is grotesque, creepy as hell, and totally unforgettable. This beautiful volume is guaranteed to give you a chill during these unusually hot summer days.

Ragemoor by Richard Corben and Jan Strnad

Fans of horror comics will no doubt recognize the name Richard Corben. His highly idiosyncratic art has graced the pages of Heavy Metal, Creepy, Vampirella, as well as the album art of Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. One of his more interesting works, Ragemoor, is the Gothic tale of a living, monstrous castle. The entirety of this comic—from the monochromatic art to its distinct Poe/Lovecraft flavor—brings to mind the works of another famous Roger: one Roger Corman. The story follows Herbert, the heir of castle Ragemoor, who returns home in the wake of his father’s death. As he explores the halls of his birthright, the horrifying truth behind the blood-soaked stones begins to unravel and threatens to drive Herbert to madness. From beginning to end, this comic will make you feel like you’re watching an undiscovered B-horror film. It’s creepy, campy and downright fun.

So there you have it. Hopefully one of these books scratches your summer itch. Now, it’s time to slather on some tanning oil, open a can of beer, and fire up that joint. Here’s hoping your summer is weird as fuck.

Top Ten First Date Horror Movies

Okay, so you’re on a first date. Things are going well. You started the evening with coffee, followed by dinner and then several drinks at the bar. Now it’s past midnight. You’re drunk, horny and wondering what to do next. Then it hits you.Why not head back to your place to watch a really fucking weird movie? To your utter amazement, your date agrees. What happens now is crucial. You don’t want to spend an eternity browsing Netflix. That’s a real libido killer. Instead, think of this moment as a chance to show your impeccable taste in cinema. And since this is a first date, why not exploit the age-old tactic of cuddling up to a horror movie? But what are you going to watch? Don’t worry. I’ve got you covered. Here are ten foolproof first date horror movies that are weird as hell and guaranteed to make for a memorable first date.

Kuso (2017)

Imagine if John Waters directed a post apocalyptic film and you’ll have some idea what awaits the viewer in Kuso. This film is comprised of a series of increasingly repulsive vignettes directed by electronic musician Flying Lotus. It follows a cast of eccentric characters dealing with the aftermath of a cataclysmic earthquake. There’s a massive laundry list of crazy shit in this movie, but here’s a couple highlights: a man receives a blowjob from a talking boil on his girlfriend’s neck, and a doctor has the ability cure various phobias with the help of a giant insect living in his anus. Yes, you read that right. Not only is this film bizarre on a narrative level, but its presentation—part mixed media collage and part deranged comedy sketch—is an absolute trip. Kuso is a must-watch for fans of strange, experimental cinema. It will scar you in the best way possible. And, who knows, with all those bodily fluids shooting across the screen, maybe you’ll look over to see your date raising some suggestive eyebrows in your direction.

We Are the Flesh (2016)

Nothing heats up a first date more than incest and cannibalism. Emiliano Rocha Minter’s We Are The Flesh is a modern masterpiece of transgressive cinema. The story centers on siblings Lucio (Diego Gamaliel) and Fauna (María Evoli) as they explore an apocalyptic wasteland in search of food and shelter. Eventually, they happen upon an abandoned building inhabited by Mariano, a creepy uncle type chillingly portrayed by Noé Hernández. He offers his hospitality in exchange for their help. What kind of help, you may ask? Well, he needs a few extra hands to help him transform the building into a giant cocoon, and there’s also the small matter of wanting to watch the siblings have sex. With no other choice, Lucio and Fauna submit to his demands and things only get stranger from there. For a debut feature, We Are the Flesh is a true accomplishment. It’s impressive on a technical level, appropriately offensive and oddly prophetic. Emiliano has proven himself to be the cinematic heir of Alejandro Jodorowsky. And, oh yeah, the ending will knock you flat on your ass. When it’s over, just be sure you and your date check out one of those genealogy websites before ending the night on a high note— because you never fucking know.

Rabid (1977)

Cronenberg’s second entry into the canon of body horror tells the story of Rose (Marilyn Chambers), a young woman who undergoes experimental tissue grafting after surviving a motorcycle accident. And because this is a Cronenberg flick, the procedure has some unexpected side effects. For one thing, Rose develops a taste for blood. And again, because this is Cronenberg, she doesn’t sprout fangs, but instead grows a phallic stinger in her armpit. To make matters even worse, whenever she feeds, she transforms her victims into ravenous zombies. I’ve heard about some botched medical procedures, but this is some next level lawsuit shit. Anyway, there’s nothing more romantic than making out while a woman drinks blood through a tiny penis in her armpit onscreen. And should this date blossom into a relationship, you can both check out the remake by the Soska Sisters. It’s the perfect opportunity to reminiscence about your first weird night together.

It’s Alive (1974)

It’s generally not advisable to bring up children on a first date. However, let’s say you don’t want kids and need a benign platform to make your intentions clear. Well, it doesn’t get any clearer than Larry Cohen’s schlock masterpiece, It’s Alive, in which a mutant baby is shot in the face with a rocket launcher. This movie is basically an exercise in anti-baby sentiment. Lenore (Sharon Farrell) gives birth to a monstrous, seemingly indestructible child that turns the delivery room into a slaughterhouse. After escaping the hospital, it goes on a rampage through Beverly Hills, crying and snarling as it tears through unsuspecting victims. At turns hilarious and insightful, It’s Alive is a low-budget monster movie with a surprising dose of social commentary. It engages with society’s views on physical deformity, and levels criticism against pharmaceutical companies. This is the perfect date movie that will scare anyone into purchasing a truckload of prophylactics.

Singapore Sling (1990)

This movie is tricky: at first your date will think you’re showing them a classic film noir, then suddenly two women are submitting a man to electroshock therapy and using his body as a vibrator. Written and directed by Nikos Nikolaidis, Singapore Sling is a Greek midnight movie that follows a private detective (Panagiotis Thanasoulis) searching for a woman named Laura. After sustaining a bullet wound, he stumbles upon a secluded mansion inhabited by a mother (Michele Valley) and daughter (Meredyth Herold). The women take the man in and subject him to a gauntlet of sadistic sexual roleplaying games. The film is shot in gorgeous black and white, and despite its affinity to the noir genre, it defies categorization altogether. It’s a mad, fourth-wall breaking romp, filled with top-notch performances and gorgeous cinematography. One word of warning, though: if you really enjoy kiwis, you might have second thoughts about eating one again after you see what the daughter does with that poor furry fruit.

964 Pinocchio (1991)

The Japanese cyberpunk movement has given rise to such films as Shinya Tsukamoto’s Tetsuo the Iron Man and Katsuhiro Otomo’s anime masterpiece, Akira. Unfortunately, though, these flicks tend to overshadow some of the more bizarre contributions to the subgenre that emerged during its prime in the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. One of the best, and definitely strangest, of these hidden gems is Shozin Fukui’s 964 Pinocchio. This film is so bizarre, it’s almost impossible to describe. There isn’t much in the way of plot. We follow the titular sex android after a dissatisfied customer abandons him in the street. The android later meets a young homeless woman who attempts to educate him in the ways of the world. Meanwhile, he’s being pursued by a group of individuals intent on keeping their illicit sex android business a secret. The rest of the movie is pure hallucinogenic madness, underscored by a throbbing industrial soundtrack. By the time the credits role, you and your date will feel like you’ve both come back from a night of drinking Ayahuasca. Take my word for it: watching this movie will be one hell of a bonding experience.

The Greasy Strangler (2016)

Get ready to laugh until you throw up. Jim Hosking’s directorial debut The Greasy Strangler tells the story of a romantic rivalry between father Big Ronnie (Michael St. Michaels) and son Brayden (Sky Elobar). Together they run a disco walking tour in Los Angeles and simultaneously fall in love with a woman named Janet (Elizabeth De Razzo). Meanwhile, a man covered in cooking grease is stalking the streets at night, murdering innocent people, and Brayden decides to find out who’s responsible. This is a film that might be easily dismissed as repulsive and juvenile, and in many ways it is, but it’s also funny and truly captivating. The director hypnotizes the audience with a constant barrage of disgusting imagery and highly quotable dialogue. If your first date has a strong stomach, this is the perfect choice for the night. Personally, I laughed my ass off. But, as you can see, my taste in movies isn’t what some would call normal.

Visitor Q (2001)

Whenever people are discussing Japanese filmmaker Takashi Miike, I’m always baffled that Ishi the Killer and Audition are considered his most disturbing movies. In my mind, the pitch black comedy, Visitor Q, holds that coveted position. The story follows a highly dysfunctional family whose lives are forever altered by the arrival of a mysterious houseguest. The film was shot on digital video, and the handheld camerawork gives it an almost documentary-style realism. The performances are cartoonish and over-the-top, a directorial decision that either highlights or downplays some of the atrocities happening onscreen—it really depends on your sense of humor. If you look over and see your date laughing their ass off, then you either found your soul mate or a good reason to run away as fast as you possibly can.

Meatball Machine (1999)

Are the movies on this list not romantic enough for you? Well, the next entry should do the trick. Yüdai Yamaguchi’s Meatball Machine sounds like a homicidal kitchen appliance, but it’s actually the timeless story of two young lovers infected with alien parasites that transform them into biomechanical monsters known as Necroborgs. They are then forced to do battle, which obviously throws a wrench in their relationship. Like 964 Pinocchio, Meatball Machine is considered part of the cyberpunk movement. Unlike Fukui’s film, however, this one is less experimental and more of a silly action movie with horror elements. It’s the perfect viewing experience for a budding relationship. In addition to the over-the-top gore, you’ll also learn an important lesson: it’s okay to fight as long as you’re not possessed by a body-deforming parasite. Otherwise, chances are things will get a little awkward.

Raw (2016)

Julia Ducournau’s coming of age cannibalism flick is arguably the most accessible film on this list. It tells the story of Justine (Garance Marillier), a strict vegetarian who acquires a craving for flesh while attending veterinary college. Most of the marketing for this film centers on its gore, but it’s actually not very gruesome. It’s shot with such deliberate artistry that everything, including the violence and nudity, is depicted in a tasteful manner. In other words, the ‘gaze’ in this film is incredibly refreshing. Nothing is made to be titillating or gratuitous. So, if everything else on this list seems too fucked up, maybe some good old-fashioned cannibalism is more your cup of tea. At least you’ll have something meaty to discuss over breakfast in the morning.

There you have it, ten first date movies guaranteed to either get you blocked on social media or, if you’re lucky, help you find the love of your life.

An Update: Where the Hell Have I Been?

Big surprise: a writer who doesn’t post regularly on their website or social media. Well, I’m determined to change that, beginning with this blog post.

Admittedly, I’ve struggled with online interaction ever since I’ve had access to the Internet. This is due, I believe, to a combination of social anxiety and a reluctance to share information about my personal life. However, nowadays it’s almost impossible to succeed as a writer without an active online presence, so I’m determined to change my habits. Also, I sincerely wish to interact with friends online, share my love of horror movies and fiction, and generally devote more time to engage with readers. The only reason I even mention these struggles is because I know I’m not alone. The Internet can really fucking suck sometimes and it’s often easier to simply delete Facebook and Twitter from your phone, get stoned, and melt into the couch. And, you know what, that’s totally okay. Our mental health is important.

Anyway, think of this post as a casual conversation. If you give a shit, I’ll fill you in on what’s been going on in my life, and discuss future writing projects I have lined up.

Without further ado, here we go…

The primary reason for my absence has been the need to focus on family. My sister gave birth to her second child in June, and just a few days after the birth, the child was diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis. The news was a considerable blow to everyone and we are still struggling to navigate this new and frightening territory. “New” in this context is subjective, however. This is the first instance of CF in our family—that I’m aware of anyway—but my family is no stranger to illness.

When I was fifteen years old, I was diagnosed with Systemic Lupus. The disease affected my brain, resulting in psychotic symptoms such as hallucinations (both visual and auditory) delusions, and migraines so intense I sympathize with the exploding-head-guy from Scanners. I had an opportunity to write about my experiences in detail for the Town Crier—thanks to my good friend (and exceptional poet) Rebecca Salazar—a couple years ago. If you want, you can read it here.

About a year after my diagnosis, my mother found a tumor in her breast. Following intense radiation and chemotherapy, she entered remission, and eventually underwent a double mastectomy to reduce the likelihood of a recurrence. More recently, she started experiencing seizures and lapses of memory that culminated in the diagnosis of epilepsy.

There’s more, but I won’t dwell on the details. Suffice it to say, if there’s a genetic lottery, we fucking lost and then some. A good friend of mine once said, “I don’t mean to be insensitive, but the Vidito genes are something else” and he’s not wrong. So, yeah, illness has been, more or less, a permanent fixture in my life. And it crushes me that my niece will be bearing that burden into the subsequent generation. The only silver lining I can think of is that she will have people to talk to, people who lived through similar experiences, people who survived, who persevered. She won’t have to feel like an outcast. Not if I have anything to say about it, at least. I’m determined to be not only a cool ass uncle, but someone who can help keep at bay whatever fears will arise throughout her time contending with this disease.

On its own, this news was a lot to take in, obviously. But it hit me especially hard since one of my greatest fears—ever since I was diagnosed—was the notion of bringing a sick child into the world. This fear was so acute I even had the good ole snip, snip last year to ensure I can’t produce children. (This might sound like over sharing, and I mean—it probably is—but it’s not like I haven’t made this fact public before. I posted an image of myself wearing a dog cone on Instagram minutes after the procedure, for Christ sake) Anyway, you have to understand that my sister had no idea she carried the gene, neither did my brother-in-law, which makes the diagnosis even more surprising and heartbreaking.

Inevitably, witnessing the diagnosis of another family member triggered my own trauma response, and it usually takes me a while to snap out of it. I’ve been in remission for five years, and though my physical health has been stable, the scars of living with a chronic illness persist regardless of how much time has passed. So yeah, recently my time has been split between family and taking care of my own mental health. For those struggling with trauma, please know that you are not alone, and it’s okay to take a break and focus on recovery.

If you read my work, you probably noticed an overlap between my fiction and my personal experiences with illness. Many characters in my stories undergo horrifying transformations, contract strange diseases, or possess disabilities that make it difficult for them to contend with the horror. The truth is writing has always been cathartic for me. So, even though this time has been trying, I will continue to work and share my stories with you. Writing sustains me, keeps me alive, and helps me navigate this confusing, fucked up world. And I want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has purchased and read my work. I love you all, and I hope you will stay with me as I continue to come up with shit that makes you go:

So what have I been working on? Well, progress on my novella, The Inoculated, is coming along nicely, and will now release in 2022 through Clash Books. I’m working on a few short stories, and a novel I’m very excited about (it involves, to some extent, a surrealist take on the stuff I mentioned above). I’m also hoping to release a book between now and The Inoculated, possibly another collection (a spiritual successor to Nightmares in Ecstasy) so stay tuned for more news about that. But yeah, things are picking up again, and I’m happy to be back in the game.

In the following weeks I will also be posting articles I had originally written for Yes Clash on my website. These include such gems as “Ten Movies Guaranteed to Give you a Weird Boner” and “A Horror Fan’s Guide to Love and Sex”. I just love these dumb lists so much and they’re no longer available online, so I’ll rehome them here.

Once again, if you reached the end of this post, thank you very much, and I hope you take care of yourself and have a fucking awesome day.

P.S. If you have gone through something similar, or just want to chat, feel free to drop me a line. I’m on pretty much every social media platforms as Brendan Vidito (I even recently signed up for *swallows* TikTok).