I am a huge fan of the website AUTOSTRADDLE. Yes, it is a queer-centric site and I do identify as queer, but AUTOSTRADDLE is specifically a website for lesbian culture that is also trans and non-binary inclusive.
I fall under none of those labels. Okay, well, genderqueer, but I present as a dude. I feel more akin to their writing than, well, just about any other culture site out there. They have a certain sensibility — a brusqueness and forthrightness coupled with insight — that brings me joy, although I do occasionally feel like an interloper. I have numerous tabs of their posts in my browser at all times. I want to send more eyeballs there way, and perhaps maybe you’ll enjoy it and maybe even become an A+ member. (I am a proud supporter!)
I first discovered the site via Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, who wrote for the very influential A.V. Club website before the working conditions went to shit, and she is now a writer and managing editor for AUTOSTRADDLE.
I’d be bereft to mention their selections of horror films based on your astrological sign. While I’m not all that into horoscopes, this is fun and I absolutely cannot deny that I’m undeniably a Cancer, to a scary extent, and despite — well, this entire fucking site — I have not seen any of the films they assigned to my sign.
AUTOSTRADDLE is a great site, one that really knows how celebrate Goth and Gay Christmas! I do hope that you click through to some of their non-horror posts as well, as they’re writing amazing works and I’m happy to call myself a supporter, even if I’m a dude.
If you’re looking for more horror/goth-centric queer essays, I highly recommend GOTHIC QUEER CULTURE from Laura Westengard. I will warn you that it is surprisingly more entangled with trauma than I expected.
As I’ve been following ND Stevenson for years through his tumblr, I am very familiar with his yearly reports. At the end of each year he would lay himself bare before his audience, emotionally unfurling himself through his sequential art to his readers. Some entries were longer than others, some were more terse than others, while some were heartbreakingly earnest and honest.
While it’s one thing to read them in real-time — year after year with the distance of hundreds of days in-between — it’s another thing to read them one-after-another in a single collection. Said collection? THE FIRE NEVER GOES OUT: A MEMOIR IN PICTURES.
I won’t mince words here: I’m old. In all likelihood, I’ve already tripped over the halfway point of my life. However, this memoir covering the adventures of a late teen to twenty-something creator endlessly resonates more and more every time I read it.
With THE FIRE NEVER GOES OUT (FIRE from here on out), Stevenson details the trials, tribulations, and difficulties of discovering and reckoning with one’s self. We watch as he goes from girly churchgoer to an Eisner award-winner for a techno-fantasy about a shapeshifting gremlin of a girl, embracing their queerness, showing weakness and vulnerability, and ultimately finding their place in society and settling into willful tranquility.
It’s an epic graphic work, one that speaks just as much with panels as it does with the space left between them. (If you aren’t aware, that’s traditionally known as a ‘gutter’, but with Stevenson it’s more like troughs.) Nakedly honest and unflinching, it’s a memoir like no other; introspection peppered with grand achievements the likes of which he — or few of us — ever imagine.
Again, I’m far older than Stevenson, but his message of opening up to people, to finding your crowd, to reckon with who you are and what you want is ageless. Stevenson skirts the issue of therapy — he does briefly discuss being bipolar early on in the memoir, and he closes noting that he finally entered therapy and reluctantly embraced meds — but, as with Julia Wertz’s IMPOSSIBLE PEOPLE, both come to the same conclusion that standing with others helps the most. That facet is something I’ve come to embrace over the past few years that I’ve been in therapy.
If you’ve previously read my words, it probably comes as no surprise that this blog — to use the outmoded term — is often my own sort of memoir. Several years ago I had a number of interactions where I realized the friends around me had no fucking clue who I really was. They had no idea of my past history, no clue about my inner life, no knowledge about any of the weird shit I’ve endured, and especially didn’t realize just how severely fucked up I am.
I realized I had buried most of my past. It was something not to be seen. Every once in a while I’d let loose with it — a piece I wrote for my now-defunct games criticism site that went viral was overtly self-reflective. Offhand remarks to friends that often resulted in shocked looks. However, those have been exceptions. This site has been a way to passively address that, to tell my own story, albeit in a way that I hope doesn’t feel like it’s an exercise in self-indulgence or nosedives into ‘too much information’.
There’s so much in FIRE that I can’t help but relate to. From an obsessive, myopic approach to work, to burnout, to feeling broken, to guilt and debilitating depression and wild upswings, to fully and completely reckon with one’s self; there’s a lot of harsh realities laid bare here. I am still somewhat shocked that publisher HarperCollins read his tumblr and thought: “Yes, this is a viable piece of entertainment content” because it feels so intimate. It is so very much of a certain over-sharing internet age that to put it into print almost feels sacrilegious, but I’m very happy they did so.
I first read FIRE as a collected work in 2020, right before I dove into some pretty intense therapy. (Fun fact: it’s only become more intense!) Upon rereading it three years later, I was shocked to read how many terms he used that mirrored my own, both with my partner as well as my mental health professionals. He uses terms that encompass feelings of guilt, of responsibility, of exhaustion, of frustration, of self-loathing.
FIRE isn’t a fictional work; it doesn’t wrap itself up into a nice, neat bow. It is a portrait of a life lived, a life learned, a life changed by experience and self-reflection and self-examination.
Upon my reread, I’ve found that his journey resonates louder than before. This isn’t a pandemic thing; it’s simply a matter of coming to terms with who the fuck you are and how you want to present yourself and endure the outside world.
I realize I’m privileged enough to live in a part of Chicago that doesn’t think twice about someone who paints themself up. No one here gives two shits about your gender identity or your pronouns; most folks just roll with it. I reside in a land of ostracized people; an area of living misfit toys.
In-between my initial read of FIRE and my reread I was diagnosed as bipolar, as well as suffering from acute anxiety and PTSD and dissociative disorder. Additionally, I came out as pansexual to a few folks. (I guess a few more folks now, if you’re reading this. Yes, I’m trying to come to terms with this.) Does it externally affect anything about me? No, it does not. However, like with Stevenson, it does require a lot of internal re-centering and a lot of recalibration and reflection.
We’re all just beings, living on the fumes of whatever societal and artistic and physical means we can. We want and want and want. We want to be heard, we want to be embraced, we want to be seen for who we are, but often settle for being seen for who we think others want us to be.
I’m happy that Stevenson figured that out earlier in their life than I did, but I’m also happy that I finally made some sort of peace with myself. The fire never goes out but, as Stevenson notes with hopefulness: You can “control your fire so that it warms instead of destroys.” I thank him for instilling that comfort.
I’d like to call your attention to The New Yorker review of FIRE, which I discovered after penning the final draft of this post. We’re very much on the same page, although Stephanie Burt is far more eloquent and exacting and less navel-gazing than myself.
She’s alone in the very first panel, spryly sidling up to his hideout.
The filmed adaptation of NIMONA doesn’t reveal her for 15 minutes.
Despite being the titular character, with NIMONA — the film — there’s a character imbalance. This feels more like it’s Ballister’s story (now named Ballister Boldheart instead of Blackheart), not Nimona’s, which is a goddamn shame. ND Stevenson’s original comic did an astounding job of balancing both Ballister and Nimona’s stories, how one needed the other, their push-and-pull, how they mirrored each other while also being completely separate individuals.
Sadly, what’s worse is that Ballister feels sanded away from the thornier, more morally ambiguous, more complicated character that resides in the books. Granted, while Nimona is the one who gets a richer back story later on in the film, it still feels like she’s often only there to bolster Ballister, to right his wrongs. In the comic, while Nimona constantly posits that she’s merely his sidekick, they’re more or less equals; they balance each other.
You got betrayed by someone you trusted.
I’ll note that these are disgruntled remarks from someone who expected a bit more fidelity from this adaptation. If you ignore the source material, it’s a progressive and entertaining film that is a breath of fresh air compared to many contemporary animated efforts. Nimona is brazen and fearless, with one hell of a sly grin, but still has her own insecurities and often feels like an aberration. Ballister and Goldenloin are still very gay. (Finally, a family animated feature that isn’t afraid to show two men kiss!)
The world kicks you around sometimes. But together, we can kick it back.
It’s also a visual marvel with a style all its own, even if it’s far denser than Stevenson’s evocatively simple thin line work. They capture Nimona’s wild expressions perfectly, and there’s a fluidity here that helps to recreate the kinetic nature of the original work. It feels like it’s a labor of love, encapsulated by the attention to detail paid to the end credits, of all things.
Hopefully this film will have legs, and will become the sort of work that is nostalgically discussed twenty years from now by those who stumbled upon it at a very young age. It traffics in characters that are seldom seen in family-friendly works; queer and monstrous characters who are just trying to be themselves, but are ostracized for being who they are.
Because once everyone sees you as a villain? That’s what you are.
Apart from perhaps CLOUD ATLAS (which is technically a Wachowski/Tykwer film adaptation), the Wachowski sisters’ BOUND is probably their most under-seen and under-appreciated work which, sure, given it’s their first film, but still! It a very queer neo-noir that, while stylish, doesn’t rely on the gonzo effects of their later films. In fact, one of the most effective shots simply involves buckets of white paint, squibs, and a body.
The fact that it isn’t heralded more is a shame because it’s certainly an iconic queer film, and it’s also my favorite of theirs.
I’m getting ahead of myself. BOUND is a very simple neo-noir with a small cast, smaller locales — almost all of it takes place in two Chicago apartments which, I’ll note, has appropriate trim — and some smoldering, absolutely perfect casting.
Corky (Gina Gershon) is a very butch ex-con who served five years and is now reworking apartments for the mob. She meets the apartment’s next-door neighbors, the sexpot femme Violet (Jennifer Tilly, doing what she does best) is entangled with low-level mobster Caesar (Joe Pantoliano before he was on THE SOPRANOS). Corky and Violet get lustily involved via a number of very heated scenes and, as always, watch how they handle hands. Violet decides she wants to leave Caesar and be with Corky, so Violet fills Corky in on Caesar’s task to pick-up and hand-off over $2.1 million dollars to his mob bosses.
Corky brainstorms a plan to steal the money from under Caesar’s nose. It sounds like the perfect plan.
As this is a noir work, it is not the perfect plan. Matters escalate, and quickly.
It’s worth noting that half of this film works because Gershon and Tilly have amazing chemistry and an amazing wardrobe and suits each perfectly: Corky is all leather, tight white t-shirts and dirty pants and Violet is often dressed like Marilyn in GENTLEMEN PREFER BLONDES, all glamor dresses and finely coiffed hair. The other half is because of the Wachoswkis’ script — which is far more funny than I remember — but also because of the way they visually frame Corky and Violet’s tryst; it’s restrained, knows when to linger and when to cut away, but is still tantalizing.
I’ll grant that you can see a lot of the Coen Bros. in BOUND, from some Sonnefeld zooms and heightened close-ups to the humor, but out-of-the-gate you can tell these are more-or-less nods, and that the sisters have their own voice and approach.
Lastly: as usual, I saw this at the Music Box Theatre — it was a personal print from the Wachowskis! — as part of the Music Box’s ‘Rated Q’ series, which explicitly is — in the words of Rated Q’s programmer/director Ramona Slick — “A Celebration of Queer, Camp, & Cult Cinema”.
At the time of writing this, it’s Pride month and Chicago’s Pride parade is only a few days away.
Obviously, the screening was completely overflowing with queer folk and it was glorious.
The screening opened with a pre-film, brazenly and enthusiastically over-the-top drag show in the main theater: a lot of torn clothing, a lot of skin, and folks stuffing bills into the performers’ works or throwing money at them. (I’m not 100% sure that the Music Box is zoned for all that I saw, but I will not complain!) The audience was so, so very game for it.
When the film started? Folks went bonkers but, as is the Music Box way, no one ruined the experience for everyone; there was a lot of hooting, a lot of laughter, a lot of veiled recognition at foreshadowing and villainous characters, and a lot of clapping (and even some snaps). In other words, the perfect communal viewing experience.
If you read the interview with Rated Q’s Ramona Slick, they discuss how formative cult and queer films were for them, as they lived in a small town without much of a queer community. Now they’re helping to introduce others to these films in a way that interweaves performance with projection. It also gives a venue for those who love these films and want to see them with likeminded folks instead of alone in a scuzzy dorm room on a tiny cathode ray TV and an exhausted VHS tape.
I know I endlessly beat this drum, but the Music Box has been firing on all cylinders as of late. They’ve slowly pushed back to being a repertoire theater instead of a new-release indie theater, and it’s paid off handsomely for them as practically every older film I’ve attended there has been packed to the ceiling. While that’s not the Music Box I grew up with — they have been around since 1929, and their repertoire period pre-dates the late 90s — I embrace the change. It fills a much-needed absence in the local film scene, and every screening has been a delight.
Corky: “Know what’s the difference between you and me?”
(PC/PS4/PS5/Switch/Xboxes) I’ve been seeking out cozy console gaming for some time as I’m fucking sick of mindless violence, even if it hits my lizard brain in the right places. Yes, there are a lot of cozy indie games available for PC — and when I mean cozy gaming, I mean small-stakes games that coddle you and actively try not to re-invoke any prior lived trauma — but I still don’t have a Steam Deck because holy hell they are expensive, and I don’t really do desktop Windows gaming as I like to keep my office to work-things, which means that space is off-limits for gaming. So, until I rectify that or receive my long-awaited Playdate, I’m at the mercy of the Switch and PlayStation Stores.
I downloaded HAVEN on a whim, shortly after having upgraded my PS+ account to Sony’s version of the Xbox Game Pass. I expected very little but a light experience, as it looked like JOURNEY meets ENTWINED (which may or may not be currently available?).
I didn’t expect HAVEN to be so romantic.
Historically videogames have not prioritized romance and — even when they have — it’s often offered as something secondary. (Unpopular opinion, but while that has changed quite a bit recently with games like DREAM DADDY and BOYFRIEND DUNGEON and even THE LAST OF US: LEFT BEHIND, more often than not games still focus on gunplay instead of folks navigating love.)
HAVEN puts romance forward, first and foremost, and it’s amazingly handled. Out of the gate, you know these two love each other. (Yes, you can queer the romance — thanks to a recent-ish update — although it does default otherwise. I’ll give you two guesses as to which I picked, and the first doesn’t count.)
Let me rewind a bit:
HAVEN features a couple, Yu (by default the woman in the relationship) and Kay (by default the man in the relationship), who have escaped a planet that features a ‘Matchmaker’ that forces coupling based on an algorithm. The two of them fall in love apart from the ones they’re assigned and they finagle a way off the planet on a rickety spaceship not meant for the sort of travel they’re embarking on, and they crash on a slightly unforgiving planet, having to use their skills to combat the creatures that inhabit the planet while also salvaging parts for their ship.
It’s hands-down the best depiction of a young relationship I’ve encountered in a videogame. It’s messy, it’s physical, but also endearing and earnest and honest. They cook together. They sleep together. They get high together. Yu sprawls over the bed, her arm laying across Kay halfway through the night. There’s even a bit where they try to change bedroom sides because of — well, moisture — and it ends terribly, but if you’ve been there, you’ve been there! They lounge around with their guard let down, mouths agape as they feel their own exhaustion. They change into comfy clothes when they’re in their ’Nest’ (the spaceship they’re trying to repair). They occasionally quip horny remarks to each other, but it never feels pornographic, it feels sweet, which — again — is rare for a videogame, but isn’t rare for real-life.
Also, both protagonists are super-smart and accommodate each other in ways the other cannot. It’s a literal coupling of minds, and I can’t get enough of it. Just watch how they nuzzle each other!
Hell, even the idle animations! Yu will passionately throw herself against Kay, and they both will heal that way. Occasionally there’ll be a chaste kiss. When they ‘flow’ across bridges (they have anti-gravity boots that allow them to float around the planet) they often hold hands. It is adorable, and I just glow and want nothing bad to happen to them.
This is one of the few games that realizes: you don’t have to put your protagonists through hell simply for narrative escalation. Is there conflict? Yes. Are there goals to be met? Yes. Do Yu and Kay occasionally bicker? Yes (depending on the dialogue choices you make). However, it’s a loving, non-toxic relationship, and goddamn, we need more of that in gaming. If anything, it reminds me of the simple tranquility of ICO, even just due to occasional downtime. (In fact, if you wait long enough in a certain spot, both Kay and Yu will sit down and a bird will nest in Kay’s hair. It’s so cute.)
Also: watch for the tactility. Kay & Yu are physical in a very comfortable way that also looks natural, which is odd for a video game, and something worth applauding. You can practically feel the drool from Yu’s mouth as she’s asleep. It may sound simple, but it’s an astounding accomplishment.
I don’t have enough superlatives for this game. While it has issues — especially with exploring, an impenetrable interface and a cumbersome fast-navigation system — I grinned and glowed 90% of the time while playing it. I just want more of this, all of this, all about intertwining. So many games suck at this, at character-forward romances with action-centric design but HAVEN absolutely nails it; it’s a gorgeous experience in every which way.
Also, the opening title sequence is amazingly opulent and kinetic with explosions of color and unfurling of watercolor emotions and I’d be lying if I said that I haven’t watched it more than a few times:
I’d also like to suggest the soundtrack video via DANGER, which is like DAFT PUNK meets HEALTH. It’s absolutely delightful while also being incredibly soft.
Goddamn, I just love to see them coupled together out in a field, nothing to bother them, just letting the sun soak in. If you’ve never done this with a loved one? Make a point to do so, even if someone calls the cops on you. (I’m not not saying that happened to me.)
(Also, I love how the seasons progress and times change in the OST as they stay stationary. So idyllic, at least until the last moment right before the very end which, oddly reminds me of the cult-favorite rhythm game GITAROO MAN, one of the few other games to nail peaceful, romantic tranquility.)
I’m astounded that this game didn’t initially launch with the feature to have a queer couple, as it feels so natural, especially considering that one of the primary themes of the game is indoctrination. This is a game that needed all sorts of different people and voices, and they managed to eventually find a way.
I cannot recommend this game enough. I feel like I’ve been overly enthusiastic about the recent works I’ve been imbibing and — yeah, I’m prone to gushing — but this is the real deal. I’m not sure it’ll have the influence of LIFE IS STRANGE, but it deserves it.
“Love stories always end badly.” “Ours doesn’t!” “No, not ours, but ours isn’t a story: it’s even better. It’s real life.”
Everyone knows the saying: “Never judge a book by its cover.”
Yeah, fuck that saying.
I’ll never refuse to read a book because of a terrible cover — I just bought a used Muriel Spark book that features an extremely off-putting cover, however I’m sure I’ll love it because it’s fucking Muriel Spark — but I will often buy a book solely because of a sharply designed, well-executed cover.
Jen Beagin’s BIG SWISS was one of those books. I mean, come on, scroll back up to the top of this post. I saw the cover, refrained from opening it, balked at reading the inscription in the slipcover and thought to myself: “I don’t know what this book is about, but I know I need it.”
I’ll note that I saw that one of my favorite media critics, Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya, wrote the best take on this novel — which I read well after reading the novel — please: read her words! Similarly, we both were won over on the cover alone.
BIG SWISS is a whirlwind of a novel, all focused on a capital L Literary take on queerness, therapy, interloping, trauma, power dynamics and middle-aged insecurities. It’s about a 45-year-old fuckup of a woman falling in lust with a far-younger married woman and the cavalcade that comes with that undertaking, all while also trepidatiously straddling the trauma that both women have endured. It moves at a breathless pace and features some absolutely filthy notes that I have no idea how will be adapted in the forthcoming TV series. (Apparently it was optioned by Jodie Comer (KILLING EVE) a good year before it was even published.) That said, I certainly appreciate that they exist in the actual text. It also hedges way too close to home for me, something I never predicted based on the cover.
I read this while visiting family and couldn’t stop blushing, but also couldn’t stop reading it. It’s an exhilarating swing of a novel, one that is naked about its approach.
(Oh, I forgot to mention: there are a lot of bees. Way too many bees, and I’m someone who was told at a young age: “Don’t let a bee sting you” and I later rode a horse that trampled over a hornet’s nest and they took it out on me and also proceeded to ride a lawnmower over a wasp’s nest and they also took it out on me so I should kind of be dead by now, and I should feel a bit more affected by this material, but oddly I am not. Also: yes, I realize honeybees are completely different from wasps and hornets, but their stinger threat is still similar.)
If you haven’t experienced any or all of the LIFE IS STRANGE works, normally I suggest experiencing the LIFE IS STRANGE universe in order of release, despite the fact that they jump backward and forward in time and place:
LIFE IS STRANGE: STEPH’S STORY (narratively predates TRUE COLORS and WAVELENGTHS)
However, I’d suggest reading STEPH’S STORY prior to playing TRUE COLORS, as you won’t have the knowledge as to how Steph’s journey plays out, and it will only enhance your enjoyment of TRUE COLORS and WAVELENGTHS. In addition, it doesn’t require any knowledge of post-LIFE IS STRANGE 2 games, and even better, it does a great job of introducing you to some of facets of the future games.
That said, there really is no wrong way to experience these works!
This post features mentions of familial death and spoilers for the first LIFE IS STRANGE game, LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM, LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS and LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS – WAVELENGTHS.
Franchise tie-in fictional novels have existed for years, probably most iconically via STAR TREK novels. Fans want more of their favorite characters, more experiences within this universe, and they allow writers a latitude that often isn’t an option with visual mediums or their purses.
I’ve played and penned a lot about the LIFE IS STRANGE series this past year, but was stunned to hear that they recently released a tie-in novel, focused on Steph of all people. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised: there was a LIFE IS STRANGE comic book series several years prior that continues exploring Max and Chloe in Arcadia Bay. (As I haven’t read them, I’m avoiding read any additional details as I’m definitely going to dive into them sooner-rather-than-later.)
LIFE IS STRANGE: STEPH’S STORY (STEPH’S STORY from here on out) — from young adult author Rosiee Thor (FIRE BECOMES HER and more) — picks up with a post-Arcadia Bay Steph, currently living in Seattle with her father.
One difficult thing about adapting an interactive work, especially one like LIFE IS STRANGE where your decisions have major ramifications, is simply laying the foundation for the text. The closing choice in the first game is that you’re given the option to save your best friend, destroying the town and killing many people, or sacrificing Chloe and allowing the town to limp along.
While Thor could have taken a CHOOSE YOUR ADVENTURE approach, instead the novel explicitly notes in the beginning that the events here take place in a world where Max saves Chloe, razing Arcadia Bay. Thor also underscores that the choices made in this book may not mirror your own if you played the first game, but urges you to keep an open mind.
As I’ve previously noted, there isn’t much Steph in the first game. You know she’s a proud lesbian who loves to run table-top RPG games with her best friend, she sells bootleg DVDs, she’s a tech nerd, and that’s about it. You don’t really even know her home situation, apart from her dad being a video editor.
If you’ve played LIFE IS STRANGE: TRUE COLORS you know that Steph now lives in Haven Springs, Colorado and is still very openly queer. WAVELENGTHS sees Steph navigating her new job as the voice and DJ of Haven Springs radio throughout the timespan of a year, neatly broken up into seasons.
With STEPH’S STORY, you discover that Steph was living with her divorced mother in Arcadia Bay. Her parents had a very dysfunctional relationship and stayed together far too long. Her father moved to Seattle while her mother stayed in Arcadia Bay, effectively dooming herself and dying during Max’s tornado. (LIFE IS STRANGE does love to kill family members.)
Steph gets her college diploma from DigiPen, then after a bout of living with friends, finally moves in with her father.
Steph is still struggling with the loss of her mother when she meets Izzie, who has recently been kicked out of her band. The two become fast friends, then decide to start their own band — DRUGSTORE MAKEUP, with Steph as the drummer and Izzie fronting — and in the process they become romantically entangled. The band starts to pick up steam, matters escalate, and the next stage of Steph’s life begins.
There’s a fundamental facet to Izzie that I feel the need to mention, but also feel it could be construed as a spoiler, so you can see for yourself below:
Izzie is a gay trans woman, and rightfully isn’t as open about this as Steph is about being a lesbian.
Again, if you’ve played TRUE COLORS or WAVELENGTHS, we know ultimately where this ends up: her relationship with Izzie ends, she is no longer in a band but still loves music — although she has mostly moved along from punk — and she’s left Arcadia Bay and Seattle behind. However, as with so many stories, it’s not about the destination but the journey.
And what a journey. Even if this weren’t a LIFE IS STRANGE tie-in, I’d still seek it out. It deftly portrays the highs and lows of a tumultuous relationship and one trying to do so while attempting to struggle with prior traumatic events. The prose is crisp and witty, the characters nuanced, and it is an extremely controlled example of building out a world using pre-existing characters.
That noted: this is a LIFE IS STRANGE tie-in, and Thor exceptionally weaves in all sorts of explicit fan-service in a way that feels respectful and rarely pandering and narratively fulfilling. It also contains a lot of clever wordplay and foreshadowing and tiny riffs on LIFE IS STRANGE dialogue from the past as well as Steph’s future. (There’s a lot of talk about choices and their impact, for example. You also learn the backstory behind Steph’s rainbow PRIDE woodblock, which is not as pedestrian as you might expect. Even the summary on the back mentions “different wavelengths”.)
A few quibbles:
While I know that Thor wants us to roll with her decisions, in this world Chloe and Max are romantically involved which feels like shipping to me, as my Max would experiment, but fundamentally consider herself straight. Max — to me — has always felt like Rory Gilmore — someone who is fundamentally reserved and while they may occasionally dip their toes into unconventional behavior, often they snap right back to being rather straight-laced.
Secondly, Steph seems like she’s far more involved and invested in Chloe’s life that doesn’t align for me with LIFE IS STRANGE: BEFORE THE STORM and how Chloe connects with Rachel Amber. There’s really no mention of them being as friendly enough before the tornado hits Arcadia Bay and obviously Steph moved right after that.
Lastly, there’s a relatively vivid description of Izzie’s entwined ring necklace, which 100% mirrors the necklace Steph brandishes in TRUE COLORS and WAVELENGTHS. I kept hoping the book would circle back to that, but it never does. So it goes.
I don’t mind these choices — after all, they’re the author’s choices — as they’ll certainly satisfy those who want more Chloe, but their friendship feels shoehorned in, even though they both overly queer. (Perhaps it’s handled in the graphic novels and, if so, I’ll note that once I inevitably write about those.)
Otherwise, this is a perfect tie-in to the LIFE IS STRANGE universe. It has personality, it’s very gay, it’s character-centric, and it will make you cry tears of joy and sadness. In other words: perfect for any LIFE IS STRANGE fan, or any fan of a young, queer, punk human drama.
Sarah Waters often traffics in thrilling historical lesbian romances, which is obvious by the names of her earlier novels, such as TIPPING THE VELVET (1998) and FINGERSMITH (2002).
THE NIGHT WATCH (2006) is a bit of a detour, as it’s far more Dickensian — in spirit, not time as it takes place in various times before, during, and after World War Two in London — and far more of an ensemble, which features not only a lesbian couple, but also a straight couple, and one jailed man whose sexuality is slightly more complex. (There are additional supporting characters, but those are the major players.)
If that description sounds maddeningly vague, it’s by intent. THE NIGHT WATCH is incredibly restrained with doling out character particulars, and jumps around in years to intentionally provoke intrigue and drama, but also serves to contrast how these characters have coped with wartime and recovery.
In that sense, it feels remarkably relevant in this age of COVID-19, as you read how the characters shelter-in-place, experience how they put themselves at risk by venturing out into the world, tales of first responders, and the like. More than anything, it’s about living with an invisible threat while also living a hidden life, and yes, it’s just as loaded as it sounds.
While all of the characters are richly drawn, I can’t help but wish that Waters had dialed back the scope a bit, as I found myself drawn to the queer relationships lived by Helen, Kay, and Julia, as opposed to the straight and male romances lived through Viv, Reggie, and Duncan, all of which felt like their relationships were hitting the same notes, but with less-satisfying results.
Regardless, Waters is an expert at balancing literary storytelling while also penning extraordinary steamy content, and it’s worth reading THE NIGHT WATCH solely for the more tantalizing passages and the relationship dynamics that she details.
(Showtime/VOD) WORK IN PROGRESS is a television dramedy about Abby (show co-creator and comedian Abby McEnany) who self-identifies as a “queer, fat dyke” and lives in Chicago. Abby is also 45-years-old and miserable, and she’s decided that if she can’t find some semblance of happiness within 180 days (marked by 180 almonds, one of which she throws away each day), she’ll end her life.
That sounds morose, but the show is often hilarious thanks to Abby’s cynical persona and the inclusion of Julia Sweeney, who Abby hates because for years people kept comparing her to Sweeney’s ‘IT’S PAT’ SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE character.
One endlessly fantastic facet of the show is that it is shot in Chicago, and quite a bit of it is shot in Andersonville, my neighborhood. Andersonville used to be known as ‘Girlstown’ due the number of queer women and lesbian bars — including the historic Stargaze — but that moniker no longer describes the area due to an influx of queer men and straight couples who will live here for a few years with their dog and toddler before they head to the suburbs.
But I digress. Andersonville is not why I mention this episode (although it does open with Abby at a bar just down the street from me). I’m bringing it up because the last third of the episode takes place at Ravinia — technically in Highland Park, a Chicago suburb — the oldest outdoor music festival in the U.S., and this episode features my favorite scene of the entire season, briefly featured in the trailer below. Additionally, it’s a great solo episode that encapsulates the show!
(Lastly, if you watch season two, you’ll catch a glimpse of our neighbor’s house, as they shot some interior scenes there several months ago. It was a tad surreal, especially during the pandemic.)
(Hulu/VOD) LAST MINUTE STREAMING alert! Apparently HANNIBAL leaves Netflix on June 5th and, while it’s also currently available via Hulu, it’s questionable whether they’ll stay there. Who knows, maybe it’ll become a peacock exclusive.
Either way, you have less than a month to watch all three seasons of this gloriously elegant, monstrous adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter novels.
It seems like Netflix has made the show far more popular than it was when I was one of five people watching the show weekly, so this recommendation may not be necessary but I’ll go ahead and give a description anyways: Bryan Fuller, best known for darkly comic works like PUSHING DAISIES (2007-2009, ABC) had long been infatuated with Harris’ novels about serial killers and the detectives that pursue them, and he convinced NBC to allow him to turn it into a very queer giallo TV series.
The end result was an adroitly pictured, psychosexual cat-and-mouse game between criminal profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy) and Hannibal Lecter (perfectly portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen), and it featured some of the most vivid, most memorable and horribly beautiful imagery ever to be approved by NBC standards-and-practices. With each season Fuller, along with director David Slade (30 DAYS OF NIGHT, HARD CANDY), ramped up the visuals and minimized the dialogue until the last season consisted mostly of a visually sumptuous mélange of abstracted blood and gore.
While the show improves with each season, my favorite moments are from the first season. To prevent giving anything away, I’ll simply allude to them: 1) the cello and 2) a hand-drawn clock. Upon seeing those moments, I knew this show was something special.
Sadly, rights and ratings kept Fuller from fully realizing his dream — no Clarice, no proper serialized SILENCE OF THE LAMBS — but the three seasons we have are some of the most audacious network TV yet.