You’ve brought a bag of Funyons and twenty-sided dies to the party, and we’re rolling 3.5 with homebrew solutions for the quirky death-traps our Dungeon Master likes to spring on us. I’m an aging bard, you’re an elven thief, but we’re both in this no-good town together. Our eternal watering hole is this tavern on the outskirts of nowhere. You pass me an ale, and we are beckoned by a wizard to a dark table in the corner. He lets us drink and we do and it’s good. Of course, there is a mission. There is always a mission. And it’s the third sip that sours my belly. Roll for initiative. Take seven damage. But I didn’t know, couldn’t count the sips. Not even a hint. Our Dungeon Master burps. The wizard is a warlock from the realm of Owlmoon–if only we would have known, but the Dungeon Master plays for keeps, keeps sending in hordes of nine-horned ork vixens armed with battle axes and enchanted bows for back-up. I can’t get out of my seat. It seems the tables have turned and you, MP Johnson, were busy all along nailing my cloak to the floor with invisible nails. And the wizard has sent poisonous were-bats to scuttle past my felt boots, and up to where the Vlorton Sun of Princess Mortiz does not shine. “I’m helping you,” you say. And I try to breathe, feel my chest tighten.
Yes, you are MP Johnson, author of Dungeons and Drag Queens, author of The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone. A kind of freak tension spreads through the tavern. The roof explodes in green fire. I roll to hit, just a punch if I can. I miss. I always miss, and those were-bats are going to town on my guts and you laugh at the effort. But you swig, too, don’t you? And both of the cups of ale are poisoned, my friend. Too much froth. One should never trust a wizard who beckons journeymen in the dark. “Shall we sing?” I say. “I have a lute to pluck, a lyre of doom.” But you’ve already figured out the antidote. It starts with slitting the wizard’s throat. He rolls for damage. He’s dead. No matter. He was already dead and unless your blade is enchanted in the slime of the Klimazonk mountains, we’re both dead men. It always ends this way. With our gruesome demise.
Won’t you tell me a story? Won’t you read me a spell? “I’ll do you one better,” you say. But the were-bats have blasted my ears to shreds and I cannot hear music. It’s all fading away. “I have stolen three spells from the greatest mage in the land.” Do tell, I say. And speak up. And is it true? Is it true what they say of you? “Well,” you say. “What lies do they spout, poor bard?”
And here is the song of the were-bats dancing down my throat:
“Absolutely disgusting. Why would anyone read this for fun?” – Goodreads reviewer on The Mutilation of Paris Hilton
“I felt like I was suffering from literary whiplash.” – Goodreads reviewer on The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone
“Not worth the time spent figuring this nonsense story out” – Amazon reviewer on The After-Life Story of Pork Knuckles Malone
So, it is true, I say, bat wings gurgling off my tongue. Roll for damage, the Dungeon Master says. How many hit points do I have left? I am unconscious and we know what that means. There is nothing below zero, nothing but the abyss. The Dungeon Master cracks open another Mountain Dew and I prepare for the worst. But it is you, in my hour of unticking time, who chooses to use those three stolen spells on a most unlucky bard. And, as the wizard laughs scorn at your feeble attempts, you speak a triple-dose of punk-magic that swirls mist on my wounds. Here, dear reader, are the three spell of MP Johnson:
I’ve Got A Time Bomb by Sybil Lamb
Topside Press is relatively new, but it put out one of my favorite books last year (Nevada by Imogen Binnie), so I’ve been keeping my eye on it. Sybil Lamb is a longtime zinester and a badass visual artist.
When I saw that Topside was putting out Sybil’s debut novel, I got excited. Then I read about how it was assembled from bits from her zines and it sort of reminded me of that scene in Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch where Kerouac and Ginsberg are piecing together Burroughs’ scattered bits to build something bigger. That made me even more excited.
Then I read the book and it blew my mind. It starts out sort of like Mad Max, if Mad Max had been written by an even more fucked up Kathy Acker. But it’s not post-apocalypse. It’s post-hurricane. And I feel like a lot of it is actually autobiographical. Like, if there was a 2014 equivalent to The Basketball Diaries, I’d say this was it, but I think it actually may be too wild to even fit that description. I’m comparing this book to a lot of shit, but it’s really a singular work with a singular style. Crucial reading 2014.
Jaguar God: Snake Brother’s Revenge by Glenn Danzig and Simon Bisley
Glenn Danzig’s ability to channel his inner 14-year-old boy is inspiring. This book doesn’t come near meeting any standard definition of “quality,” but I fucking love it anyway. Bisley’s art is magnificent, even though it’s all kind of half-finished, un-inked, un-colored pencil work. The art is displayed beside Danzig’s epic, long-form poem that tells the tale of Jaguar God as he axes his way through naked snake women and evil snake men. It’s clunky as fuck, but a blast nonetheless.
Nagging Wives, Foolish Husbands by Nathaniel Tower
I’m almost done with this one and I’m totally in love with it. I don’t think Tower considers himself a bizarro writer, but a lot of his stuff fits. For example, the opening story, “A Happy Family,” is about a couple that gives birth to a boot. My favorite of the bunch is “The Abortion Party.” A wife drags her husband to an abortion party, which is kind of like a baby shower, except not at all. The story deftly creates a sense of suburban unease that grows to full-blown disturbing. The ending is just the right kind of uncomfortable. This collection is notable in that it is centered thematically on husbands, wives and just mundane family shit, from which all sorts of weirdness blossoms.
And the were-bats explode in a puff of horrendous gas, a gas which floats from my bloated body and wraps the undead wizard in a death-wind-storm plus twenty-seven. It is the twenty-seven that does the trick, makes our Dungeon Master lose his cool. And the wizard blows open gore into a hundred bits of evil filth. The chair turns to mud. And the Dungeon Master is no longer our friend. But we lived, didn’t we? We ended up carving and singing that tavern into a blizzard of of ork vixen limbs and teeth. And we’ve only just begun, for the map was tucked behind your ear the entire time. You sly devil, you.
It’s dusk now. Let’s go.
Thank you, MP Johnson.
Now, roll for damage.