My first introductions to punk rock were exactly as Tim Murr described them, “pink mohawked parodies on TV shows like Mama’s Family.” Or perhaps it was a young Johnny Depp “Speaker Diving” to Agent Orange on 21 Jump Street. The fascination with these cartoon portrayals led me to seek out other punks on film. Low budget movies with actual bands performing punk rock soundtracks and even real punkers as extras.
Anyone with a special devotion to punksploitation has a story of the influence it had on their life. Return of The Living Dead took place on the day I was born, and I’ve sampled many lines from Repo Man for mixtapes, over the years. Tim Marr shares the same love for the subgenre that I do. Curating a small collection of original short stories inspired by classics of the 80s like Suburbia and Dudes. St Rooster Books released the (hopefully the 1st of many) anthology, Kids of the Black Hole.
Sarah Miner’s “Black Thunder” is a fast-paced tale of mad science. Flesh crazed Gipper clones terrorize a dive on the outskirts of town. A band of punks on tour deliver a splatter fest with excellent one-liner cheese. Chris Hallock continues the theme of surreal tour life with “Urchins”. A punkrock girl finds her true voice after a gig. Facing off with Nazi skin heads as newly crowned queen of the Philly CHUDs. Paul Lubsczewski’s “I Love Livin’ in the City” is a hard-boiled fleece. A punk gang prowls through strange city streets, ready to pounce on poseurs for a good time. But amid the flames and dead bodies, who is hunting who? “Skate or Die” by Jeremy Lowe is a demonic cumming-of-age nightmare. Weird kids gotta stick together and take back their power when friendships are threatened. Even if it means unleashing hell on your hometown with Satanic skateboard Droogs! Tim Murr concludes the anthology with “What We Do Is Secret”. A spooky crush drags a musician into the middle of necromancer feud. Caught between a swamp witch and a death cult, this story proves that sometimes punk rock can save your life.
I certainly hope to see more volumes of punksploitation anthologies from St Rooster Books in the future. The title, Kids of The Black Hole was taken from a song of the same name off the Adolescents’ blue album, as a tribute to the late bassist, Frank Soto. It’s sloppy good fun for lovers of weird fiction and the horror show of subculture.
It has been almost 40 years since author Alvin Schwartz and illustrator Stephen Gammell released Scary Stories to Tell in The Dark and its sequels. That is 4 decades of kids giving themselves the creeps with this compendium of legends and folktales from around the world. Accompanying Schwartz’s retellings of these historical stories are the charcoal and ink illustrations of Gammell. Grainy images of ghouls and spirits designed to look right into the eyes of the reader, daring the imagination to dive deeper into a child’s fear. The series spawned a slew of horror books for young adults, delighting millions and stimulating controversy among parents and schools that lead to banning them in some libraries. It was even listed as the most challenged series from the 90’s by the American Library Association and remained in the top ten of the 00’s. Nightmares and offended adults aside, the series developed a massive cult following and served as a muse to darkly curious and creative children. John Squires of Bloody Disgusting curated a collection of art influenced by Scary Stories in 2017 at a small gallery in San Antonio, TX. Memories of the art exhibit can be found on social media with new digital additions of photography, music, paintings, sculptures and more. Jenna Dalgety, a Chicago writer, grew up reading Scary Stories and states that the series made up a large part of her childhood. The tales and artwork left deep impressions on her as a lover of horror and aficionado of comics. Dalgety met Sarah Benkin, a Chicago based illustrator, at a comic book convention and discovered she too was also a big fan of the Scary Stories series. Having previously worked on a few projects together, the two joined forces again in 2018 to create a tribute to the Schwartz and Gammell cult favorite. Dalgety penned screenplay-like story lines with precision, knowing exactly what she wanted to see in a graphic novel to extend that undulating dread captured in the early 80s books. Benkin delivered every gritty panel with the same shadowy grey-washed landscapes that Gammell made famous. During production, the pair traveled to the abandoned City Methodist Church in Gary, Indiana to be interviewed by Cody Meirick for his highly anticipated documentary Scary Stories. After months of tireless effort, Dalgety and Benkin’s collaboration It’s Coming Up the Stairs was debuted on comiXology in December of 2019. The popular platform offered a more unique experience of the graphic novel that could reach a larger audience, but Dalgety says there may be a possibility to print a physical run in the future. It’s Coming up The Stairs offers 3 reimagined favorites from the original book. Updated tales to fit modern times of hyperconnectivity and torture their characters in familiar Chicago-esque settings. The result makes the suspense for any resident of the Chicagoland area a very real threat; whether commuting home at night, paying a visit to spooky landmarks, or encountering the eccentric characters of the city. When asked if there were plans to continue with a modern and local feeling series, Dalgety admitted that she and Benkin have previously discussed and expressed interest in more projects down the road. You can find It’s Coming Up the Stairs and more of Dalgety and Benkin’s work on comiXology.
Originally published in Haunted Emporium Magazine October 2020