Monthly Archives: October 2021

Penny and The Wolf Man

Some dogs have a crush on the Wolf Man. 

This one dog I know, Penny — she definitely does. If you ask her, she’ll tell you the Wolf Man is something to see. 

Ever since she was a pup, Penny’s had his poster hung inside her kennel crate. 

She’d finish out the day napping, then spend the night looking at that classic black and white marquee image of the Wolf Man howling at the cloud-covered moon, and she’d sigh, thinking: 

He’s so dreamy.  

Like a hairy James Dean. Howling at everything and nothing, all at once. 

The other dogs never understood her preference. 

Their taste was more for AirBud or the show-dog cast of Best in Show. 

To them, these dogs exemplified excellence and ability. 

Their fur held well, like nice and shiny, like good boys — pedigree picturesque. 

To them, the Wolf Man wasn’t even a dog. He was a monster. A sad story.

But Penny saw something else. She saw another kind of life. 

That’s why when Penny grew up, she moved to Los Angeles. 

She became tired of the confines of her crate. She wanted action. And she found that she fit this new lifestyle just fine. 

Some nights, you found Penny at West Hollywood drag shows, draped in color streamers and neon glitter, barking Britney Spears lyrics in choir with her fellow lovers-of-life. Other times, she was poolside somewhere in the hills, quiet, diligently listening as someone offered to collaborate on something — like a TV pilot or an improv performance — right as she’d float to the next conversation with another someone, where the same thing was said again, yet, this time, the proposal was maybe more legitimate or possible or prestigious. 

This went on for about a year. 

Before Penny ran out of money. And she had to bartend. 

Now out of the social circuit, her dreams faded. Morale crumbled and caught a black eye.

The rail liquor looked more like fun to her than something to sell. She’d take anything to get away from the stale same-old, same-old of the working man. 

That is until the Wolf Man walked in one night. 

And let out a howl. 

Then laid eyes on her. 

And right then, Penny was back out of the crate.

Except for this time, she was carrying a souvenir. Some potent feelings from the past. That black and white buzz of something classic, just as it’s seen on TV. 

The Wolf Man was here and now, and he was a dream seen long ago. 

He walked up to the bar, let out a gruff, and said: “What’s down there in the well, you got?”

And before Penny could say, the Wolf Man reached in and brought back that brown Kentucky Sweet. Laid out a 20 for the bill. And he smiled his white, white fangs, still perfect after all the years. 

That’s when it got fun again. 

The Wolf Man loved her, and she loved the Wolf Man. The parties got better, too. 

No one could party better than the Wolf Man. 

Everybody wanted to celebrate with him. It didn’t matter that he never made another movie. 

The guy was an icon. And Penny was a reminder. 

The old boy still had it. 

He could walk into a room and rip his signature hooooooooooowwwwwwwlllll. 

And every single time, admiration would be waiting. 

From celebrities and civilians, alike. 

Because they only had to hear it once. 

Just the one time, real quick, and move on with their ambitions and doldrums. 

But not Penny. 

She heard it every time. 

Every single time, the same hat trick. The same schtick.  

Night in, night out.

And like anything, what was once exciting grew stale and tired and threatened to fall apart.

Because the Wolf Man was a narcissist. All he wanted was the spotlight. 

And he made sure to take it. 

The writing was on the wall. 

Except, Penny did see something. She saw an opportunity of another kind. 

She could howl, too. She could play the game.

And so she did. 

She started to howl with the Wolf Man. 

Upon entrance to any party they attended.

They gave the people what they wanted. 

And they became something to see. 

In a year, they were no longer a couple, but a tabloid meme. 

Penny was the Wolf Man’s creative director, and her own talent (with her own agent).

They’d been on Jimmy Fallon! Ripping big, beautiful howls. Telling Jimmy it’s great to be here. Making Jimmy laugh. 

The Wolf Man couldn’t have been happier. 

What a way to rebound one’s career. Back in action, at the top. 

But Penny … Penny saw this as just the start of something more big, more beautiful. 

She could build a howling empire. 

And never go back to the crate. 

So, she took her skills to TikTok, and learned to game algorithms. She figured out that 11-second howls performed better than 8-second ones. And A-B testing revealed a preference for deeper tones than harrowing ones. The depth of a howl implied confidence, you see. And the TikTok audience wanted self-esteem. 

The Wolf Man didn’t understand any of this. 

He just did what he did. He brought it up from his gut, through his lungs, and out into the world.

While Penny thought data could guide her self-expression. 

She could point and shoot it exactly to the heights it could go. Content became her king. 

More and more to feed the beast.   

While the Wolf Man took a backseat. Down at the end of the bar, howling on the social circuit, for all the new faces in town. 

Now, I don’t have to tell you how this story ends. 

It’s pretty obvious.

Penny became a billionaire. 

But more than that, she became a celebrity. 

And more than that, she achieved a dream. 

Sounds pretty nice, right?

It is. 

Today, Penny is happy and fulfilled. The world at large is hers to explore.

She never went back to the crate.

But what about the rest of us? 

Howling now saturates the culture. We hear it all the time! 

From a phenomenon to an identifier, to a war cry. 

It’s ours to live with.

Because of Penny. 

Staring at her crush caught on a poster. 

We’re a lot like the Wolf Man.

Howling at everything and nothing, all at once. 

You can listen to this story on the Appalachian Sound and Color podcast. Hosted by Logan Schmitt and Will Wallace, this podcast covers art and artists throughout Appalachia. You can hear the show on Spotify.

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(Why Think About) Comic Books?

They’ve just always been there. Comic books. Ever since I was a kid I’ve found them very interesting. Because of the superheroes their pages showed me. And because they just stuck out. These crazy little drawings inside crazy little boxes — that you read

Nothing else was comic books. 

And in fact, they still get my mind going. 

I can read the worst one and still find something to say about it. Like, about how dumb the plot is. Because of how poorly it was written, and the artist that drew it … they couldn’t save it. Like, that’s a shame. Because it could have been something. And that sticks with you. 

But, you know, comic books are a business. And that’s where it goes wrong. 

But, isn’t that interesting, too? With all its stories about real people who created, wrote, and drew to make a middle-class living, on insane deadlines. Competing with each other. 

Making stuff up!

These creative-types evolved from a point of origin. A guy who did it first — A central, defining artist, who laid the ground rules and instigated copycats. And then they summoned new, working artists. People who grew up reading as fans. And then they took over the business, slowly. But first, they had to learn the ropes via the standards of their time. 

Or steal from the best, their tricks and stylistic flourishes. 

All for a paycheck. 

And to keep the comic book machine printing and the good money coming. 

Because, you know, comic books are a business. 

But it’s run by people, and some of them are great.

Some of them are really bad, too. But that’s not what I want to say right now. 

I want to show you something, instead. An example of what I like: 

Just take 10 seconds and look at that image. Whether you think it’s ugly, or goofy, or not worth your time. Just realize that’s a real drawing in the world, and someone spent a lot of time on it. 

They’ve spent a lot of time throughout their lives trying to draw that image that way

It required their sustained progress, month-to-month, year-to-year. There are people that do this and succeed. There are some people in comic books that want to do something with comic books. And you can see who they are. And I love that.

A man named Bill Sienkiewicz drew the image shown above. Its subject is Moon Knight, a Marvel Comics superhero. A Batman-like character with a religious turn and a thing for brutality. He’s a man with multiple personalities, a disorder, playing a hero. To somehow change his past. 

The image shown above is a two-page spread. 

It’s two separate pages that amount to a whole, grandiose image. A two-page spread is often employed as a storytelling tool to emphasize dramatic moments in the plot. 

This Moon Knight example, shown in Moon Knight #26 from 1982, serves as a final snare drum snap. It concludes the piece of music soundtracking the introduction of this comic book story, where Bill Sienkiewicz is the storyteller. 

I mean, he has help — and a co-author. It’s the writer Doug Moench, who created Moon Knight, thought him up, who actually wrote this specific comic book. And there are the art assistants who helped the main artist, who helped Bill Sienkiewicz, such as the colorist, Christie Scheele. 

Plus, there’s the person who letters the text. Joe Rosen. 

You can see their names in the little box at the bottom right-hand corner of the image shown. All of those people contribute something. 

But it’s Bill Sienkiewicz who ultimately tells the story. 

How? Look at it again:

The text captions, written by Doug Moench, are rhythmic. They connect the character, Moon Knight, to the liveliness of the world around him. “Cats in windows … Money itching to change hands.” The character is a part of this scene. Another element of the city. And Bill Sienkiewicz draws this sweeping, graceful presence connected to a cape, high above a night-time mess. “Always, always blood to be spilled” down below in those streets. And Moon Knight looks light as a feather.  

That visual characterization tells you who this guy is. He’s a lunatic at ease in the debris. Comfortable with extremes. Bill Sienkiewicz presents him with style and composition. From a perspective anchored at a point that extends beyond the character. It encompasses what the image is really about. The image is really about those two buildings set in the background … and their yellow-lit windows. The people inside, having dinner, watching TV, that look out and see what we see. They look at this image, too, of a costumed man gliding through the sky, and recognize something. They see the world is fucking crazy. 

Bill Sienkiewicz decided to act to show this part of the story in this way. This is his brain at work. It’s his conceptualization and guiding hand that portrays it. He is communicating to a reader. And the communication of this idea, visually — that the world is kind of wild, and beautiful, and what the fuck — when that image is complemented by thoughtfully written prose … It is an example of someone saying something through an art form often doubted. In a genre that’s super nerdy and corporate and Disney-fied. But doing it, nonetheless. 

I think about comic books because there is potential in them, and that potential can be realized.

There’s proof. 

Here’s another example (not superheroes): 

This is a complete story. 

It’s called The Lifted Brow, and it’s by Lala Albert. It was self-published online in 2019. 

Notice how it’s designed to be read as you scroll on your phone. 

Then, notice how it’s the only image shown per “page.” There are no panels. There are no small boxes, just like you would see in a classic example of the comic book. But, when you scroll and realize these images are sequenced to show something happening, to show that eyebrow going back, the mechanics behind the story really take over, subconsciously. 

Your brain is taking static images and connecting them in a sequence. It’s a much slower version of what your brain kind of does all the time. Comic books can just show us that process. 

And like Bill Sienkiewicz, Lala Albert made these choices. 

An artist is directing your experience of the story. They are employing storytelling tools to show and communicate the story in a specific way that also contributes to its meaning. 

Why does Lala Albert want to show us this moment this way

I believe the meaning of the story varies between its readers. 

I can see a feminist concept in the story. Someone may connect to that — or understand it better — than someone who connects to or better understands the broader stress the character seems to be experiencing. Or maybe this entire comic is a reference to a similar piece of art, a way of talking on it? Maybe the story isn’t about anything other than showing the mechanisms of a story?

But just like Bill Sienkiewicz, Lala Albert drew this, and we can recognize something in it.

We can recognize that someone is saying something to us, and we can listen.


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All of this has been said before, bro. You know it.
I know you know it. But, 
I want to say it again:

I want to say it again because I’m sick of you, man.

I want my turn. 

But, what is there to really add? 

Except, a lot!

Except, I’m not exactly sure!

So, I still drive drunk, some nights. And that gives me power. 

That little league power.

But, Power! — from a broken law and a useless risk
Just to feel a bit wild and out there and no-turning-back. 

I’m looking out at the power plant smokestacks, tonight, 
while they send their legacy to the moon, 
and you know what, bro, 
it’s real pretty out here.

In this valley between the hills and Ohio, the graveyard to the world, the backbone of money spent and ignorant Jamboree. Down here in this valley of smokestacks. 

And I think about all those so many lips wrapped around me, 
doing favors, 
asking for their own. 

Promising me, it ain’t all bad.

And that’s where I am now

A place that ain’t all bad.

In the debris the moon rejects.

I hardly think about anything anymore except, “what to do.” 

I never know what to do. 

The therapist says, “do something.”

And I don’t! 


I went to Florida. 

I went to Florida and fucked my girlfriend in the swamp, 
and a hidden security camera saw us. It did! 
And the owner of that camera still has the show, and 
I live in a reality, now, where our porn exists, and 
I cannot help but laugh. 
Because that’s my own, special mistake. 
And who puts a camera in a swamp?

But, when I sit here and type, it’s always disappointing.

I feel delusional. 

I read stories by people who really do things. 

Bro, you said my stories could be good
if I didn’t leave Florida.

I mean, Fucking Florida?

And I’m kinda fucked up over that, still. 

I mean, it’s kinda fucked up that you even said that. 

But, honestly, I’m glad you did. 

I’m glad the reality shows. I’m glad I see the holes. I’m glad I recognize the pain. 

So, I can now write good stories. And get old.  

I’ve listened to a lot of bands like Creed, or A Perfect Circle, or Puddle of Mudd because they remind me of who I am. Guns N’ Roses, too. 

Back then, I would walk to high school just to listen to music. 

Just to excuse myself away from all things. Then, focus on nothing but walking to school and losing it. 

I’d see what I’d want to see: I’d see these giant guitar riffs soundtracking fight scenes or battle sequences, with a Tsunami tracking overhead, and all those great achievements I could collect, one day, held high at a banquet in my honor. Haha. 

And it was exciting! This was my music. 

This was not my dad’s music — This was mine to explore and pirate and appreciate until the time came to grow into someone else. When I realized this music is adolescent. 

It is written to recognize certain emotions felt at a specific time in your life. At least, if you are of a particular demeanor: An angry young man, maybe a little ticked off with your dad. 

And that’s fine!

That happens to more than would care to admit it. 

But, how many can admit it and get past it? 

Not enough, man. I’m trying!  

My way of trying is by appreciating a band like Slipknot or System of a Down for what they are, and maybe a little of what they aren’t. It’s commercial art dressed as something more.

And, you know what, when you’re 15, 16 years old in a small, limited place, 
back in time, Rust Belt stranded, 
it is something more.  

Bands like that did show me a thing or two. 

And I think it’s OK to take what you can, or need to, from that. 

And if you do it right, if you follow then break the rules, 
that someone-else you can become …
They’ll hold onto bits and pieces of the past. For good luck. 

And I wish that was OK with people. 

I wish it was OK with people for there to be people in West Virginia. 

West Fucking Virginia. 

Loyal, actually kind, actually curious,
talents found in and out of streams, and 
dollar stores, and Mountain Dew Monster cans, and Dolly Sods, 
covered in all those bent pine trees. 

But, it ain’t seen as too good. It ain’t given much of a chance. 

They look at us like we’re the blight of this land. 

And that hurts. 

It hurts to know that in some ways, we deserve it. 

And we don’t. 

And yet. 

On the drive home from Florida, crossing this state line, I cried and cried. 

I really did! I missed it here! 

I knew I was home 
the moment my car’s frontend climbed into a tilt, to the curve of that big hill, 
and I ascended into heaven.

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