Reading is a dying art form that must be preserved. Our attention spans must not go the way of the dodo. Among The Stacks is a new series to highlight the written word, in all its forms. Mostly focusing on horror, ATS will occasionally branch out into weird and speculative fiction, SF, and whatever else suits our fancy.
For our first installment, we’ll be looking at a new online, subscription-based periodical called Wyrd Daze. Published out of Quebec, it’s also chock full of British strangeness. Part travel guide, part music rag, all weird, and oddly brilliant. Read on…
Wyrd Daze #1
Experience the uncanny
‘Zines, amateur and pulp fiction are a cornerstone of the horror/SF industry, allowing some of the most adventurous and challenging material of the 20th century to infiltrate and take hold of mass consciousness. They can range anywhere from cheap fanfic, to dense elaborate prose. Frequently self-published, they are freed from the wheels of industry and commerce. Such practicalities should not concern flights of fancy and the limits of human imagination.
From Edgar Allan Poe to H. P. Lovecraft, some of horror’s darkest stars got their start on cheap, pulpy paper. It’s a vital part of being a true horror fanatic, made by fans for fans. With the proliferation of homemade creativity available through the information superhighway, it is essential to cherry-pick the gems, for passionate tastemakers to showcase the best and the brightest.
Towards this end, British native turned Québécois Leigh Wright, who makes music and curious artifacts under the nom de rigeur The Ephemeral Man, has launched an intriguing new subscription based ‘zine called Wyrd Daze, that is pushing the limits of what is possible with the format. Each issue features a staggering array of fiction, poetry, album reviews, artwork, and photography, and is accompanied by high-quality audio, video, podcasts, and music mixes. It’s a scrumptious cornucopia of unbelievably high standards, at the ridiculously low cost of 5 canadian dollars a month, or around £3.
I hesitate to even lump this under the category of amateur fiction, as nearly ever contributor to the first issue is a published author or established musician. The first issue opens with a story by Gareth Rees, a Hackney psychogeographer that frequently blogs and writes about vibe and space. “Between Floors” is a creepy and inconclusive piece of speculative fiction, short and barbed-wire short. It’s heavy on atmosphere and character, but if you like your plot lines cut-and-dry, this is not for you. Rather, it’s more like a more abstract version of an old Twilight Zone episode, pulling you into a strange and undefinable new world that will leave you hungry for more. Fortunately, you can find much, much more, as Rees’ new book, Marshland: Dreams And Nightmares On The Edge Of London, is now available from Inpress Books.
The other most notable piece of speculative fiction here, “Only The Pulsing Void” by folklorist, recorder player, and technoccultist Phil Legard, reads like a cross between H. P. Lovecraft’s “In The Walls Of Eryx” and Susan Hill‘s “The Woman In Black.” It’s described by the author as a mixture of “moorland, GPS, and proprioception.” It’s an exciting mixture of SF and supernatural horror, with an impressionstic, colorful nimbus surrounding it, peculiar to speculative fiction. It admirably evokes the wide wasted wilderness of the British moorland, which I desperately aspire to visit one day. In the meantime, works like this Anglian fantastist keep me going, keep my appetites and imagination alive. Like the previous story, the ending is not too concrete or conclusive, but for those that live the psychedelic vistas of British SF like J. G. Ballard, this will thrill you. You can visit Phil Legard’s blog here.
One thing I noticed about both of these stories is that the main characters are women, but convincingly written by men. This suggests a refreshing turning of the tide, as horror has often been accosted for being misogynistic, and for good reason. Women are frequently only stage dressing or potential victims, suggesting some worrisome psychology. It’s a refreshing change of pace, to put some different characters and scenarios into the genre, to keep it fresh.
Wyrd Daze also focuses on music. As I mentioned in an article last week, music is keeping horror alive and thriving, with classic soundtracks making a big comeback, and a wider berth of musicians claiming old horror films and literature as an inspiration. They are taking the images off of the screen and the page, and bringing them into screaming bloody life, in the present. For WD#1, there’s an interview with a French experimental pop group, Machine Est Mon Coeur and a Victorian man-sized rabbit, The Hare And The Moon, who should have a new album out by the end of the year. There’s also a hauntological mix from Robin The Fog, that ranges from spectral pop to contemporary noise, hip-hop and dance music. There’s a brief article about two of my favorite musicians, to boot, Demdike Stare and Laurel Halo, by Michael Holland, who writes the ears 4 eyes blog.
The most impressive feature of the first issue of Wyrd Daze is the “Phoenix Guide To Strange England” by David Southwell, well-known author of several best-selling books on conspiracy theories and organized crime. “The Phoenix Guide…” is an impressive eight page spread through the spooky side of haunted Hookland County, done with a proper hauntological attention to detail. This very would could be a strange and obscure guidebook from the late-’60s/early-’70s. The graphic design is stunning, and the writing is rich and evocative, with colorful imagery like “Witch balls of blue and green hang(ing) at every window,” or “the broken tower and walls a jagged scratch against the clear lines of sea and sky”. Southwell takes us on a guided tour through the haunted Royal Fortune Theater or quaintly named pubs like The Poisoned Pint, The Crashed Coach and Jacob’s Jest. He spins a tapestry of witches, phantom carriages, sea monsters, Nazis and the Devil himself. Anglophiliacs will be drooling.
I’m admittedly obsessed with the United Kingdom, being of British descent. For all of my years of obsessive research, it can be difficult to find the real deal, a picture of the stories and streets and fog and cobblestones of actually visiting a place. David Southwell transports the reader, through good writing and rich illustrations of English ephemera (Southwell’s crisp gelatin silvered photography is also scattered throughout the issue). It’s an invaluable resource for writer’s/artist’s trying to convey the actual hidden spirit of England, the seeker of Fortean mysteries, or the merely curious.
The Phoenix Guide… alone is worth the meager $5 (can), let alone the hours of original music, the mixes, and the podcast is rather splendid, as well. Leigh Wright himself does his ephemeral thing with Terrifying Tales Of The Amazing!: The Crimson Executioner, which ought to satisfy the readers of the original Amazing Stories, and fans of Old Time Radio. C.S.‘ post-apocalyptic Silent Streets: Awakening promises to be the first installment in an ongoing serial, that should satisfy the appetites of Richard Matheson fans. It’s mainly tense and atmospheric, so far. I can’t wait to hear what happens.
The production standards of this magazine are out of the stratosphere. Leigh Wright and his merry band of maniacs are striving to get this project off of the ground, towards the goal of paying the contributing artists. As writers and musicians are increasingly expected to dish out their works for free, this is an invaluable step, so we don’t starve to death, and can keep slinging ink and melodies to keep you entertained and terrified.
Full disclosure: several of the contributors to Wyrd Daze’s first issue are friends of mine, but we have become friends through mutual appreciation and support. I’ve been reviewing their work for years, across all media, and I am constantly impressed by what this crew of tinkerers can come up with. I titled this article Experience The Uncanny, as the words, images and sounds of Wyrd Daze are designed to make the world a stranger and more imaginative place. To make reality go a little soft around the edges, and make you question what you hold to be true. This is the real heritage of horror, and of SF, and of the imagination.
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You can check out a sampling of Wyrd Daze #1 at http://wyrddaze.wordpress.com. There, you can listen to the first episode of the podcast, download an abbreviated version of the ‘zine, watch a video from Black Classical. You can read an interview with Mr. Wright over here, describing why he feels this project is important, and what he hopes to accomplish. Feel like contributing to the wyrdness? Submissions can be directed towards Leigh Wright @ email@example.com.