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The Pre-Pre-Production Come-Along of January

Posted in Blog, Making-Of, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 8, 2017 by Rathan Krueger

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Last month was a bit of a preparedness overkill, knowing that making WAKE UP ALONE is gonna be as much of a one-man show as possible. After taking care of The Most Important Part of Filmmaking, copyrighting the script, I made a list of things to do each month leading to the first day of filming (Mayday). January was dedicated to:

  • Looking into the average cost of locations, crew, and equipment
  • Checking The Knife’s “Marble House” for availability
  • Forming a producer list and sending inquiry letters
  • Building a budget
  • Storyboarding
  • Making a style guide [got bumped from February]

Everything got handled except for two things. I didn’t check the Knife song because I wanted it to run through the ending credits… but there wouldn’t be enough people in the credits to use the whole song. The whole song was important because of the idea I had for the credits needed all five minutes and eighteen seconds of it. WAKE UP ALONE isn’t gonna be the only film I make and I highly doubt that I’m gonna forget that ending, so it’s not a big deal. Plan B was for me to make a song, and I have an idea of what to create. The other thing that didn’t get handled was storyboarding, partially because I wanna lock a location before settling into visuals and partially because storyboard notebooks for the 2.35:1 format are expensive for me right now. “Buy a 1.85:1 notebook and draw matte boxes, dummy.” I said expensive for me right now. Once the money starts coming in and I lock a location, I’ll bite the bullet and buy what I need.

Something I’ve learned this year is that the world wants you to succeed, yet is indifferent to whether you do or not. It offers you SO many avenues to do whatever you need, but it’s up to you to take advantage or not. I raided producers’ info for query letters all month with IMDbPro’s free trial, for instance. I’ve found so many great sites that talk about average costs and making budget sheets, and Maureen A. Ryan’s PRODUCER TO PRODUCER has quickly proved invaluable. Spending years absorbing filmmaking info from DVDs, Blu-rays, YouTube, Vimeo, and books, the one person I’ve heard the least from is the producer. Ms. Ryan’s book tears down that wall for the indie producer. Or the indie writer-director-editor-producer. However, there’s an aspect of producing that I dislike. Ms. Ryan’s book goes into detail about how to write a proposal for investors, and I loathed the part where I had to break down WAKE UP ALONE into an economic statement. Not planning the budget (I liked that a lot), describing my film as a product and doing a fucking fantastic job of it. Art is resistance, but it is also commerce.

Making the style guide is one of the most fun parts of this. A style guide is making a folder of pictures that represent clothes, hairstyles, make-up, locations, and cinematography choices for the film. I do NOT want a shitty-looking film just because it has a micro-budget. I’m as far from the mumblecore movement as one can get. Closer to bargain-basement Rococo. Some might feel that it restricts the creative process, but I’d rather everyone know what I want than wasting time trying to figure things out. I’m open to further discovering styles and such, but I also have a very stable foundation for them.

This month has a lot going for it, so I better get to it. There’s a BIG gamble that I’ve been dragging my feet about taking because of the attention, good and bad, it’ll bring. Fortune favors the bold and all that jazz…

Like the Boomerang That Won’t Quit

Posted in Blog with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 2, 2017 by Rathan Krueger

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I’m making a film! This year! May! What does the pic up top of the dearly departed have to do with it? Lots, but not at all in the way you’re thinking.

Early-Summer of last year, I decided that I finally had enough experience behind and around the camera to make my first film (look at that IMDb page). There have been a few false starts over the years, and even a start that came up shorter than I wanted it to because I wasn’t quite ready to wield the camera long-term. I don’t have a problem with waiting ’til I’m ready for something. I could’ve made films ten years ago because I had a strong visual sense and knew I could show a good story. But I couldn’t tell a good story yet. The only reason I wanted to be a director is because I could write scripts for me, and my writing didn’t match quality the pictures I could make. So I chose to focus on making it easier for me to make characters more defined as well as make better dialogue. Somewhere around there, I realized that although I enjoy a good plot-driven tale and could easily write more than a few, my home was with character pieces. It’s much more interesting for me to see people deal with each other instead of giving them something to do. Then I found women more enjoyable to write than men and never looked back.

I knew that I wanted my first film to be a generational snapshot (like Easy Rider or Clerks). There hadn’t been one for my ilk yet, and I knew that it’s bound to happen sooner than later. I’d rather be part of the “sooner” crowd, so it was a matter of finding out what about my generation I wanted to say. As I think about what I wrote, I feel that I’ve said enough but I’ve left out a lot. Maybe next time. Isolation was the thing that caught my attention the most, so I followed that train of thought. The ending is one of the first things I think up no matter what story I tell. It’s something I realized recently, wished I knew a lot sooner, and was grateful for knowing at all. Lucky, lucky me, what ended up being Wake Up Alone had an ending that came to me briskly. I wanted it to start with drama and end with horror, and the ending didn’t disappoint. Why is the end so important to me? It gives me something to work towards and earn. You’re not gonna be able to figure out how it ends, but you’ll also see that it couldn’t have ended any other way.

And now, we get to Ms. Winehouse. In the early planning stage, I quickly latched onto naming the main character after her and titling the film after a song that felt right. So Amy became the star of Wake Up Alone. I changed her name to May because of a subtle(?) joke involving her name and the names of two other characters. But the Winehouse goes deeper because the film, in a way, is a nod to the “Rehab” lyric, “I just, oh, I just need a friend”. There are a few other big and little nods to her, but I’ll let the film show you them.

After lots of thinking and planning and writing, I finally finished Wake Up Alone… and it clocked in at 63 pages, I think. My intent was to get some producers interested, and no one’s gonna read a script that’s around 60 pages. That’s basically a short film, in their eyes, and they don’t make money. I decided to put it away for a little while so I could look at it with fresher eyes and see how I could add more pages. I was worried about doing that because it’s such a tight script. Every line lead to the next, so to add anything new could’ve fucked everything up. While I was distracting myself, I reread Mick Rock’s excellent Metallica biography, Enter Night, and read a Tweet that changed the rest of my year.

While reading the book, the idea of a blind woman starting a Heavy Metal band came to me. As I kept reading, the idea started to congeal. I was gonna resign it to my idea notebook and come back to it later, then I saw her bump into a wall and say “Wall.” just before she did it and knew I had to write her story double-quick. How could I ignore a blind woman Metal guitarist who’s comfortable enough with her handicap to knowingly bump into a wall? I’m not at all someone who’s constantly writing scripts. If I’m writing it, I intend on directing it soon. Or at least doing something with it. Then I read a Tweet from BBC’s Writers Room, a site the channel has that fosters writers (more things should do this). It said that it would be accepting unsolicited, one-hour, dramatic scripts in December. I was glad and worried at the same time. I’d been waiting for that, but didn’t have any ideas. Then I remembered my blind guitarist. Writing her was more instinctual, and I quickly found out that I wasn’t interested in writing a dramatic story about her. It was more interesting to write something lighthearted because anyone could do the “woe is me” tale about a blind woman trying to do something. Not many would not let her handicap get in the way. Fewer would make her a leader. But the BBC thing would want a dramatic script. Then I realized I could give them Wake Up Alone since it was around 60 pages and make Turn the Strange my first film.

If I could go on a tangent, I’d like to talk about how Doctor Who, Wonder Woman, and Supergirl allowed Wake Up Alone and Turn the Strange exist the way that they do. I’m a huge fan of the Sturm und Drang. The bleaker the story, the better. However, those three characters injected something in my storytelling palette that I wouldn’t have put on my own: the dreaded c-word, “compassion”. I didn’t know it was there, but I also didn’t try to get rid of it when I looked back. Wake Up Alone is about three women, and two of them fit quite well in my house of malaise. The third, though, is definitely a by-product of the Gallifreyan, the Amazonian, and the Kryptonian. She might’ve popped up a few years ago, but she would’ve been someone the film made fun of. Instead, she’s an integral part of the tale and as fucked-up and bleak as the ending is, it’s also full of compassion. And I wouldn’t have bothered with Turn the Strange’s blind Emily if I wasn’t such a geek. My storytelling hasn’t changed completely because compassion was added. What’s happened is now I have an opportunity to create richer stories. I also get to see me war against compassion with nihilism. Should be fun.

So. Back to Turn the Strange. I wrote it and had a great time and accepted that Wake Up Alone was gonna be made by someone else. Then I started location-scouting (finding places to make a film) and making a style guide (a portfolio that shows ideas of clothes and things as well as cinematography). Metallica’s new album came out the day I was location-scouting, so that was a particularly fun and karmic time. Then December hit and the BBC started taking scripts. Two funny things happened. I realized that sending Wake Up Alone to them would’ve been like spending time getting to know a woman who was really into me, telling her that she should date a stranger when she’s ready to go on a date, and think “They sure look great together. Wait a minute…” The other thing that happened was, unlike other script things they had, the BBC was only accepting scripts from the UK. Thus, my decision was made on two fronts: Wake Up Alone is mine. But I also had Turn the Strange. After moping for a few minutes, I told myself that I now have a second film script already ready and felt groovy. Well, there was another script idea, but that’s for another blog.

I now had my original problem with May and friends: how the fuck was I gonna pump the page count up without making the script bloated? I hate deleted scenes. If there was more attention paid to the script, those scenes would’ve been taken out and not wasted lots of time and money. So if I was gonna add more scenes, I had to be sure that they HAD to be there. One of the characters is damn verbose, so I wanted to try avoiding her scenes because they’re exhausting to write. Her scenes were the ones that would’ve suffered the most from adding, anyway. Because I walked away from the BBC thing, I got to make things more adult, which was nice. Those lines of thought made me develop scenes that I wanted to kick myself for not think of initially, but I’m glad I found them at all. Then 63 pages became 75, and things were groovy.

Starting today, I get the gears going for Wake Up Alone on the intense road to get behind the camera on May 1st. I’ve got a schedule set up, so it’s just a matter of tenacity and ingenuity. I’ll update when I can, so I’ll see you when I have more to say.

TURN THE STRANGE – An Excerpt

Posted in Blog, Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on October 24, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

I’ve been pretty busy lately, and I wanted to show you a few pages of a script I finished recently. It’s about Emily, a woman guitarist who’s trying to start a Heavy Metal band with a handicap she won’t allow to get in her way. I had a lot of fun writing it, she’s a lot of fun, and I hope you have a lot of fun reading her.

FADE IN:
INT. EMILY’S BEDROOM – MORNING
An old alarm clock goes off, glass absent from its face,
ringing its bells like a caffeinated woodpecker. The woman
it’s trying its best to win the attention of currently has
her head buried under a pillow. A feeble attempt to stop the
day. She eventually gives up and tosses the pillow at the
clamor. Or rather, tries to. She overestimates how far the
clock is by a few feet. She then lets out a defeated sigh
and sits up.
EMILY VERDA’S hair sticks up at all sorts of angles,
compliments of sleep. She sits on the edge of her bed, hands
on thighs, wearing a simple spaghetti-string top and pajama
pants. After slapping her legs rhythmically, she almost
immediately switches from being exhausted to being wide
awake, then turns off the alarm.

EMILY
You’re gonna get them today.

INT. EMILY’S BATHROOM – MOMENTS LATER

EMILY brushes her teeth while humming the same four notes
over and over. Faster, slower, higher, lower. The fingers on
her free hand, black nail polish chipped, rap upon the
mirror at the same tempo changes. Her eyes in the mirror are
unfocused, yet there’s still thought behind them.
She locks onto a particular tempo, repeating it twice, then
smirks before she spits into the sink.

INT. EMILY’S BEDROOM – MOMENTS LATER

A proper view of the BEDROOM shows amazing organization
skills. Apart from the pillow slumped in the corner and the
messy bed, everything is exceptionally neat and tidy. Three
other stand-out features are the lack of closet doors, of an
entrance door, and of any mirror. Just outside the doorway
is an astroturf rug.

At the closet and in a terrycloth robe, EMILY chooses
something to wear for the day. Her hair is now combed flat,
and her lips are painted black. She quickly flicks through
hung shirts, pants, t-shirts, skirts, and dresses, giving
some a stroke or two before passing them up.

She goes to a window and opens it. She then licks a palm and
sticks into the world…

EMILY
Pants and a button-up.

…then gets what she needs while wiping her hand on her
robe.

INT. EMILY’S KITCHEN – MOMENTS LATER

EMILY sits on the counter, twixt the sink and toaster, as
she tosses the last bit of one waffle in her mouth. A laptop
sits on the table. She then snatches another waffle from the
toaster. She tears off pieces and eats them, avoiding her
lipstick. While this is going on, she hums the melody she
came up with in the BATHROOM while tapping her bootheels on
the cabinet.

Until she almost chokes on a waffle bit.

She tosses what’s left of the breakfast pastry in the
garbage, in a fit of betrayal, then briskly washes her hands
in the sink. Her boots make the plastic mat on the floor
click and pop.

INT. EMILY’S LIVING ROOM – MOMENTS LATER

Sliding on her armor, a well-loved frock coat, EMILY
prepares to leave her apartment. Next, she tucks a pocket
recorder and a flipphone inside the coat. By the door is a
beaten-up guitar case ready to be slung over her shoulder
like a sword. On a short bookcase is her helmet by way of a
top hat and sunglasses. Both are vertically-striped black
and white, with the hat having a bit more business. The
black stripes are felt, the white are like silk, and a ring
dangles from the brim. A finger can easily fit through it,
which she does as she positions the hat so that the ring
hangs over her left ear.

Ready to face the day, she grabs one last thing: her folding
cane.

EXT. STREETS – MOMENTS LATER

EMILY walks with a little pep in her step as her cane goes
TAK-TAK-TAK-TAK, making sure that she doesn’t bump into
anyone (while not really caring if she does).

She points a twirling finger in the camera’s general
direction as she taks and trots along.

EMILY
‘Ello, dear viewer. Emily’s my name
and I was put on this planet for
two reasons: shredding guitars and
bumping into furniture. If the cane
didn’t give the game away, I’m a
bit blind. Don’t feel sorry for me,
though. You’re the ones who have to
see the state the world’s in.

She takes her finger away and continues walking to…

INT. QUEST CAFE – MOMENTS LATER

The bell over the door DINGS as EMILY enters. After folding
her cane, she approaches the register while getting her credit card.
At the counter, a clerk waits with a mug full
of the hot stuff.

CLERK
Ms. Verda! We ran out of white
chocolate last night, but we have a
nice–

EMILY stops in her tracks, flicks straight her cane, and
doffs her hat.

EMILY
I bid thee good day.

CLERK
Just kidding, just kidding!

EMILY
Don’t toy with my heart today.

EMILY folds her cane and continues her morning routine
towards her white chocolate mocha topped with whipped cream
and coconut sprinkles.

CLERK
I’m a wage slave, I have to get as
much harmless fun as I can to pass
the 9-5.

EMILY
And normally, I’d understand. Nay,
I’d encourage. But I need all my
strength for later.

EMILY swipes her card and enters her PIN as the CLERK
extends the mug.

CLERK
Oh? Why? Oh yeah, you’re still
doing those auditions. How long
have you been holding them?

EMILY
Doesn’t matter.

EMILY takes the mug and her receipt.

EMILY
(cont’d)
I’m gonna get them today.

CLERK
How many are you meeting?

EMILY
Two, but two’s all I need. Thanks
for letting me post my ad here.
That’s how they found me.

CLERK
Ah, no problem.

EMILY
Kayley and Leslie. Gonna have a
chick band.

CLERK
You just be sure to play your
second gig here.

EMILY
“Second”?

CLERK
Who’s ever great their first time
out?

EMILY
Har har har. I was gonna leave a
tip, but now…

CLERK
You can’t tip plastic. Besides, you
already swiped your card.

EMILY
Maybe I was gonna get a few
macaroons.

CLERK
Were you?

EMILY starts to step away as she sips her coffee, then turns
back to the CLERK.

EMILY
Do you know Kayley and Leslie? All
I have are texts that my phone
reads aloud.

CLERK
I only know you because you’re a
creature of habit and this place is
lucky enough to be within sniffing
distance of your apartment.

EMILY
Heh, too true, too true.

EMILY continues to an empty booth, but not before…

CLERK
Good luck today, Emily. Really.

She gestures a salute with her mug, then sits. She then
takes a big gulp, points a circling finger towards the
camera, and sets her mug down with a big whipped cream
moustache on her face.

EMILY
I know what you’re thinking, but
chick bands rock. No, you’re
thinking that other thing and, yes,
I know it’s there. No, no, you’re
thinking that OTHER other thing,
and we’ll never know if Neo
would’ve knocked over that vase.
It’s best to just let it go, I’ve
lost far too much hair over that.
Roy Orbison and José Feliciano.
Drawing blanks? I’m drawing
circles. They’re two of the best
guitarists to have ever lived. They
also found that blindness didn’t
take away frets and chords. Herman
Li is a beast with a guitar THAT HE
PLAYS WITH THE WRONG HAND, just
like Hendrix! So my heritage has
that covered because we all come
from the same womb. Joan Jett,
Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Nancy
Wilson.

She brushes the dairy facial hair off with her finger, then
eats it with a grin.

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Death is for Losers! And What It Takes to Make a Short Film

Posted in Blog, Making-Of with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 14, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

It’s been four Summers since my first attempt at making a film. For reasons mostly involving me, it turned into a short film that wasn’t close to what I wanted it to be. I didn’t mean for the gap twixt one directing gig and the other to be so long. I’ve tried many times to get another film off the ground, but it’s damn hard to convince people to give you money if you have nothing to show (but I had nothing to show because I didn’t have money [oh, you vicious cycle…]). I did get a chance to direct again last year, but that was more of a sketch than a drawing. I’m still proud of it, though.

I decided to back away from being a writer-director, for a while, and became just a writer. Almost immediately, things started happening. I wrote a feature film that led me to being part of a production company, Artigianale Films. I made a few industry connections. I got two IMDB credits by way of shorts I wrote. I wrote a dark comedy web series that’ll premiere in September.

I got to write and direct DEATH IS FOR LOSERS!

Here’s the script, too: Death is for Losers!

And the IMDB entry.

The story behind it, like most things, is interesting. The web series has one director and I thought that I could direct an episode. To ease the burden and to get behind the camera. But he said, and I agreed, that things are better with one voice. There was a brief period twixt auditions and filming for the web series where, if I really wanted to, I could squeeze in a short film. And I really wanted to. So I started thinking about what to make.

I knew that it had to have one location, two actors, and very few camera set-ups to comfortably do it in the time I had. Three weeks, from conception to final edit. I wanted to make a comedy (or what passes for a comedy) because I wanted a pallet-cleanser from my usual brand of Sturm und Drang. I quickly latched onto the idea of two women plotting to kill a man, which led to the original title: HOW TO FAIL THE BECHDEL TEST (AND HAVE FUN DOING IT). Because a way to fail the Bechdel Test is to have the female characters do nothing but talk about men. The women were gonna gripe about a man in their lives and settle on killing them. Then it became one woman killing hers and the other killing him in a song. Because of that, one became a martial artist (Ileana) and the other became a musician (Freya). Then I changed the title to DEATH IS FOR LOSERS!, because they were gonna kill/”kill” the losers in their lives. Then Ileana became a lesbian and a musician.

I thought about why they’d kill, and quickly latched onto Freya having a terrible father. With Ileana, I didn’t wanna fall into the trope of a psychotic lover. But I wanted her to have, from her perspective, a strong reason for murder. That’s when I thought of objectophilia. To be left for an inanimate object is grounds to at least entertain the thought of murder, methinks. Then I changed it so they both kill with a song. If I kept the original idea, Ileana was gonna slip more and more into derangement, Freya takes her outside for a smoke, and they pretend like everything’s ok. But since they’re “killers”, it felt better to leave them on the stairs.

Them talking about the worst things in their lives came about because I wanted to make a 20-minute short and needed a way to fill the time. I also wanted to build up to Ileana’s dramatic reveal. Another thing I wanted to do throughout the short was to show sex in a positive as well as a negative light. Usually, sex is A Very Bad Thing, and I wanted it to be A Thing. Freya masturbates and doesn’t feel guilty, Ileana loves burlesque shows, Freya had a bout of incest when she was wee, Ileana’s lover left her for a roller coaster… Oh, and even though Ileana (rightfully) has bad feelings about her ex, I didn’t wanna make fun of objectophilia. It’s an easy joke, and I didn’t think that mocking a fetish was funny. If it’s not child-endangerment or snuff, I don’t see the problem with kink.

Albert Brooks once said that he’s funny in the way people are funny and not the way comedians are funny. That always stuck with me. A comedian has to make everything funny: it’s their job. People don’t have to be funny all the time. That’s the kind of “humor” I was going for twixt Freya and Ileana. If something makes you laugh, great, but I wanted them to keep your attention rather than make you chuckle. Now, sometimes I go for the funny, but I’m content with you not cracking a smile while you watch.

I wrote the camera angles in the script because I was directing and I wanted everyone to know what I wanted.

After writing (and reading aloud what I wrote to make sure that it’s easy for the actresses to say), I put out an ad on Craigslist. I hear the site gets lots of flack, but it’s been nothing but good to me, so far. I put out character descriptions, what I was able to pay (nothing, but I’d make lunch and give IMDB credits), and when auditions would be. I got a few replies… then I sent parts of the script and got fewer re-replies. I knew that was gonna be the case, though. Freya and Ileana weren’t traditional women, so I was prepared to see a nice drop-off in interested actresses. I wanna point out, though, that I wrote in the ad that I was looking for any race, and that the age range was 20s-40s. I don’t write with anyone in mind, though I do have traits tucked away. It’s a matter of finding the right person for the role, to me, not the right name.

Over a Saturday or a Sunday, I saw a few actresses. One stood out to me as a great Ileana, though she came in for Freya. Lexi had an energy that I thought counterbalanced Ileana’s gloom. Imagine if Fairuza Balk played Lydia, and you have an idea of my mindset. Freya was a character who WAS the spotlight, so having a high-energy actress play her could’ve tipped the scales. Luckily, Lexi understood and latched onto Ileana. Later, she thanked me because, after reading the script, she felt that Freya would’ve been harder for her to pull off. Freya came by way of an actress who almost couldn’t be at the audition. The day that I was gonna reserve the rehearsal room for x amount of hours, I got a reply from Nadia asking if there was space left. She wasn’t sure which character was right, then settled on Freya. Her audition was interesting because she almost talked herself out of it before she started. As a director, you have to be the calm in front of any storm that comes your way, so I just had to be reassuring and patient.

Soon after auditions, I had rehearsals. Part of casting is finding the right performers for one another along with finding the right performers, so I was glad that Lexi and Nadia were friendly as soon as they met. The first day of rehearsals was in a big room with three chairs. I didn’t want them to get too used to acting in the space because the location was a living room. They might plan their routine with chairs in a big room when they’re supposed to be on couches and stairs in a living room. The point of that day was to get them to know their characters and lines so that when they got to the location, they were ready.

I had specific ideas of what I wanted, but casting the right way meant that I didn’t have much to say. It might’ve been weird for the actresses, me not giving lots of direction (especially during filming), but they were doing most of the things I wanted already so all I had to say was “Yeah, that’s fine.” I’m not at all one of those dictatorial directors or asshole directors who feel the only way to get what they want is to scream or treat people like shit. I’ve learned from the best that the best way for actors and actresses to give a great performance (a director doesn’t get great performances) is to make them comfortable. That doesn’t mean be a pushover or let them do whatever the fuck they want, it means to let them feel that they can do anything and be safe doing it. Martin Scorsese and David Lynch don’t get people wanting to work with them again unless they create safe environments, because their films are so intense and demanding.

What surprised me most about Lexi and Nadia was what happened after rehearsals. We only had about a week left before shooting, and they took it upon themselves to rehearse with each other, with no provocation from me. They went to a place that had two couches and rehearsed for a night, then called each other to rehearse throughout the week. They wouldn’t have done that unless they thought the script was good, so I had to make more than sure that I wouldn’t let them down when it came time to direct.

We had a day and a half to shoot, which was whittled down from three days due to life getting in the way. I would’ve preferred to have shot in sequence, but because the first day was the half-day, we had to shoot the stair stuff first. We rehearsed that a few times, but it was hard for them because, y’know, it was the end. They made it through, though, and we finished up on time. The second day was everything else, and we shot that pretty much in sequence. Instead of moving the camera back and forth, we shot all the stuff with one angle, then moved to another one, and on and on. The ladies rocked it so well that we ended up finishing three hours earlier.

Then came editing. I was really up against the clock (two days, in all) because the web series was starting soon and the computer I was editing on was gonna need the space. It wouldn’t have been so bad if my hard drive didn’t make all the footage skip during playback. You can imagine how I felt when I was cutting together Freya talking about Rusty and her half-brother. Luckily, the skipping didn’t mean the rendering was gonna skip, too. What also sucked was that the clips didn’t snap together, so I had to zoom in a lot to make sure they were connected in the work area. There were a few slight hiccups during filming that I knew I could fix in editing, that’s why there are black cards with words during certain shots (to hide the two takes). Then I noticed there was a gap towards the beginning, so I had to slide EVERYTHING incrementally. Then the footage was shorter after that point, so I had to stretch EVERYTHING incrementally. There was a little vignetting added and I wanted to add some grain, but the rendering would’ve taken too long. Then it was just a matter of putting in the credits and the songs I made. Then gloating while feeling geekily proud because I finished editing the same day that SUICIDE SQUAD did.

I burned the short to a DVD and was ready to show it to the world… then I saw that the DVD split the file so that there was an 18-minute clip and a two-minute clip. I fixed it soon after, and released it. It’s submitted to one festival, and I’ll submit it to another at the end of the month. I’m so proud of it because of what I did, and also because of the people involved. Hope you enjoy it and whatever else I do in the future.

Death is for Losers! - Poster

“I Could-a Plotzed!” A Critical Convo About Harley Quinn

Posted in Blog, Fiction with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 7, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

A little history. For a few years, I’ve wanted to write critical essays on some of the geeky things I love. Examining them and finding new and interesting tangents to take them to that might not be obvious. But every time I thought I was ready, I couldn’t follow through. It wasn’t until a week or two ago, after watching the amazing critical examination of METAL GEAR SOLID 2, that I figured out how I should go about things. The video plays like an essay in motion, but that’s not how it inspired me. For some reason, I saw that my way into writing a critical essay was by not writing it like an essay. Rather, like a conversation. Once that clicked, everything ZIPPED into place. The only thing for me to decide was my first subject.

After thinking for a while, I made a sliding scale. There are some subjects that I have A LOT to say about, but I might be overwhelmed by if I started now. They ended up on the far end, waiting for me to level-up and handle their boss battles. So I made my first battle against Harley Quinn. You’ll find it hard to believe after seeing how long this is (and this is LONG), but I have the least to say about her compared to the others. Once I had Harley, the next step was to create people to talk about her. Willa and Lucy fit the bill, but strongly coming at this as a writer, I couldn’t have them start off waxing poetic. I spent years training myself to put characters first, so much so that it’s second nature to me. Because of that, I had to find a reason for them to ramble about her for as long as they do, and make them interesting enough for me to care. Why fuck all night if you can’t stand the other person? And, like all characters, I’m in Willa and Lucy, but it’s not a one-to-one ratio sorta thing. For one, I’m a guy, but I would rock the pigtails if I was bored and hopeless enough. I can safely say that there’s none of me in Michelle, though. My intention with writing this was to create a celebration and examination of Harley, but also an introduction and a refresher. This is my first juggling act, so I apologize if I drop a chainsaw or two. With that said, this , along with my Bowie memorial poem, is my proudest written work this year, so far. There are some scripts, but they’re meant to be acted, and I’ll feel just as proud when they’re shot over the course of the rest of the year.

So, after a week of planning, here’s me at my geekiest(?).

-1st pic- Harley Quinn - By Bruce Timm

The woman of the hour – By Bruce Timm

Ding-dong!

A woman stands on the doorstep of her best friend. In one hand, she clutches a bag full of empty calories. Chocolate, donuts, chocolate, soda, chocolate, and ice cream. She can hate herself in the morning, they’re called “comfort foods” for a reason. As we’ll find out soon, Willa has a reason for each and every figure-destroying morsel crinkling in the plastic bag.

The locks begin to undo themselves on the other side of the door, and Willa tucks a wisp of hair behind an ear as she puts on her best face. The door swings open with a warm creak.

“Ahoy-hoy.”

“Hey, Lucy.”

Lucy’s spectacled eyes glance to the goodies hung in plastic. “I hope you know that I’m claiming all that butter pecan,” she says with a false queen’s authority and a grin.

Willa retorts, “After my week?” She enters and Lucy smells a new smell. Despair is a foreign concept to her, so she dismisses it as something her friend might’ve stepped in. Closing the door behind her, Lucy mourns, “Woe to the republic. And take off your Doc Martens.”

The early-afternoon sun passes through the curtained windows of the living room as welcome a guest as Willa. The room, like Lucy, is proud of the geeky accoutrements scattered, piled, pinned, and posed within its four walls. Lucy is a fan of symbols, so, to the casual eye, she seems to have a touch of hoarder in her. “Casual,” like “normal,” is a bad word here, and the time-traveler geek will appreciate the blue box with an old travelogue tucked inside. The open-minded sci-fi geek will get a chuckle out of the viral outbreak poster with “Smith” splattered on it in green paint. And on and on.

Willa sits on the couch next to Lucy’s cat, Michelle… or rather, Michelle allows Willa to sit there. Lucy takes her bag and arranges everything on a coffee table within leg’s reach in a buffet fashion. Willa reaches her hand out and is allowed to pet Michelle. While Lucy arranges, she hums to herself.

“Ah,” she mutters.

She hops to one of her two CD towers, then pops The Cure’s GALORE into the stereo. The first few notes of the first song, “Why Can’t I Be You?”, matches the bit she hummed. She looks at the table o’ diabetes and is about to settle next to her two pals when she remembers the final ingredient.

Lucy hops again to a cabinet near the CDs, lousy with stickers from pretty much any pop culture thing you could think of. She takes out two glasses and a partially finished bottle of apple Puckers.

“Michelle thought the little baggie was catnip, so…” Lucy admits with a certain sadness. Willa looks by her striped feet, at the gnawed plastic and hash, then at the mellow feline. “I was wondering why the little bitch was letting me pet her,” Willa says. Lucy shrugs apologetically, then gestures with the glass. Willa nods, “Three fingers,” then gives Michelle the death glare. Yet still, she strokes the fur…

As she pours triple-shots for both on the coffee table, Lucy straightens her red frames and asks, “Are we ready for an afternoon of toxicity?”

“The only reason why I bought so much junk food is because I thought I’d be earning my munchies,” Willa mutters.

“I said, ‘Are we r–‘”

“Yeah, yeah, I’m ready.”

Lucy makes sure that their hands have glasses full of sweet emerald.

“For duty and humanity,” they say together with a tink and a sip.

Lucy flips her hair behind her (“To get the spirits buzzing.”) and sets her glass on the arm of the couch behind her. She lies with her knees up, to not get in the way of her pals, and uses the arm as a pillow. A pose she’s perfected since her slumber party days at Willa’s. Willa considers setting her glass on the stoned kitty, then sees that it’s not worth the trouble of cleaning up if it spills. She settles on keeping it handy.

Lucy pokes Willa with a painted toenail and says, “I’m glad that you decided to come out today. I was worried about you.”

“Yeah, radio silence could be spooky. I had a reason, y’know.”

“I know. I’m not saying that you didn’t. I’m just glad you’re here, you know?”

“Heh,” Willa says with a smirk, “I know.”

“Do you wanna talk about him?

“Yeah, but I’ll only end up crying over how much he ruined my fucking life. So I’m gonna let you talk for a change.”

Lucy sits up with slight surprise, like Michelle after hearing a can opener if she wasn’t busy feeling a little THC. “Wow, you get to be Silent Bob for a change? How do I cope with the pressure? What am I supposed to talk about that’ll take your mind off of–“

“Don’t.”

“…He Who Shall Not Be Named?”

Willa sips approvingly and says, “I think you know. Something you’ve wanted to yak my ear off about for years.” She gestures with her glass to a place behind Lucy. Lucy, dripping with hope, slowly turns around and perches like a cat ready to pounce. As the back of her yellow thong peeks over her charcoal sweatpants, her eyes lock onto a red and black marionette in a doctor’s coat.

“I GET TO TALK ABOUT HARLEY QUINN!!”

SMASH! Her alcohol abuse hits the hardwood and sends a sticky-sweet green mess everywhere. Not that Lucy cares. Willa almost spilled her drink on Michelle. Not that Lucy cares. Michelle might be so high that she thinks she’s the universe experiencing itself. Not that Lucy cares. Because she finally gets to talk about one of her favorite characters, in all the ways she’s thought about, to someone who wants to listen. Cats don’t count.

Lucy springs from her spot and tosses a pillow over her mess in one deft motion. Willa would applaud if she wasn’t worried about the monster she just unleashed. Still, she’s glad that Lucy’s happy because she’s infectious and she prefers the monster bounding before her to the monster of her memories. Waiting for her to bait it with thoughts of Nameless He.

Before she disappears down a corridor for a spell, Lucy puts GALORE on random.

“Where are you going?” Willa asks.

“Getting into character!”

“Oh…”

Willa prepares for whatever’s about to come by filling her glass and worrying with a smile. Lucy can be heard rustling and twice letting out a quiet “ow” from her bedroom. When she rejoins the party, her friend can’t help but laugh.

“You… you realize that those are uneven, right?” Willa manages to ask. Lucy, looking the same as before save for two very lopsided pigtails, replies, “They’re so boss, shut up.”

“I guess I better take this off,” Willa says as she gestures towards her biker jacket. “I was wondering when you were gonna,” Lucy says. Willa de-robes, revealing her sleevless, white Victorian blouse. She chucks her hide to a corner and straightens out her long, black pleated skirt before reconnecting with her Puckers.

Lucy, barely able to contain her excitement, paces back and forth in a small area of the living room. Lucy, barely able to contain her confusion, zips her red hoodie up and down a few inches, revealing and concealing the black and white ringer tee underneath.

“Performance anxiety?” Willa asks, smugly.

“No. Maybe,” Lucy admits, still pacing and zipping.

“Well, I don’t wanna throw up, so could you stay in one spot, please?”

Lucy does, then pushes up her sleeves and says, “There’re just SO many places to start. Do I talk about her and Poison Ivy? Or how she’s an addict? Or if she promotes victim culture?”

Willa holds up a hand as if to stop her and says, “Whoa, victim culture?”

“Yeah. You see–“

“How about you start by reintroducing me to her and going from there? I only really know her from those Arkham games and a few episodes of that old Batman cartoon.” Willa looks Lucy up and down, then says, “I can tell by your bug-eyes that she might be in other stuff… so I’m gonna continue my Silent Bob routine. Take it away, Brodie.”

Lucy takes a deep breath–

“And remember,” Willa adds, “my attention span is like your bladder.”

Lucy takes a more determined deep breath, like an agitated dream puff. As she breathes in, she searches for her smartphone. Willa points to the donuts, and Lucy frees it from under them. She inhaled a bit too much because a loud burp shoots out of her.

“To start at the beginning,” Lucy says, taking a professorial tone, “we must start at the very beginning. Paul Dini was a writer on BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES and thought it’d be funny if Joker had a one-off henchwoman in an episode.”

“Wait, Harley was only supposed to appear once?”

Lucy nods as she scrolls through her phone. “Dini went to Bruce Timm–“

“Who’s that?”

“The guy behind the show. A puppet master, you’d say. Dini told him about his Harley Quinn idea, as in ‘harlequin,’ and even drew a picture of her.”

“Wow, the writer drew the character? That doesn’t happen a lot,” Willa says.

“Well…” Lucy says as she holds up her phone’s screen.

Harley's First Design - By Paul Dini

Harley’s first design – By Paul Dini

“Wwwwhat?”

“Timm said the same thing,” Lucy says as she brings the phone back to her and scrolls. “Then he drew the Harley in the red-and-black onesie we know and love. It was also Dini who gave Harley her voice. His friend, Arleen Sorkin, was on a soap opera and he thought she’d make a great Harley. Then Ms. Quinn popped up on the square screen on September 11, 1992 in the episode JOKER’S FAVOR.”

“Did Bruce Timm direct it?”

“No, Boyd Kirkland did. And Dini wrote it.”

Willa sips her green and asks, “Would you consider Harley a villain?”

“Hmm… Not really,” Lucy explains, “I mean, she keeps some deadly company, but I think she’s the truest example of Chaotic Neutral. Like Captain Jack Sparrow or Tyler Durden.”

“Ugh, Chaotic Neutral…”

“What?”

“Remember the one time we tried role-playing at that game store,” Willa asks, “but no one got a chance to play because EVERYONE wanted to be Chaotic Neutral?”

“Heh, yeah…” Lucy replies. “But don’t let that memory taint Harley!”

“I’m not, I’m just pointing out a bad time,” Willa says with a sip. “So that was the only time she appeared on the show? I remember her getting thrown out of a window.”

“That’s MAD LOVE, but we’ll get to that soon. Let’s see… I remember her in HARLEY & IVY, when those two first joined forces. Another Dini/Kirkland collabo, and it came out in January ’93. Did you know that Diane Pershing played Ivy?”

Harley & Ivy - By Bruce Timm

Harley & Ivy – By Bruce Timm

“Stay on target…”

“Harley tries to go straight in HARLEY’S HOLIDAY, but that didn’t go so well.”

“Dini and Kirkland?”

“Dini and Kevin Alteri, back in October ’94.”

“I hope you’re cheating with that info,” Willa warns. “Those are some detailed details.”

“O-of course, I am. That’s why I have the phone,” Lucy says as she laughs nervously. “MAD LOVE, the episode, was the series finale of the show, in January ’99. Dini and Butch Lukic made that one.”

“The episode?”

“Yeah, it was a comic first, published in February ’94. Even won an Eisner for ‘Best Single Issue.'”

“I wanna win an Eisner…” Willa gripes. “So that’s the one with Harley getting pushed out the window?”

“Yes, it’s that one. More happens, though.” Lucy starts to get visibly excited as she explains. “You find out that her real name’s Harleen Quinzel and that she was a psychiatrist at Arkham Asylum before things went bad, which gives her the rare distinction of a villain who starts off there as opposed to ends up there.”

“And Joker had something to do with that.”

“Uh-huh. Played poor Harleen like a fiddle, telling her what she wanted to hear so that she’d fall for him. Then she snapped and became Harley.”

Joker & Harley - By Alex Ross

Joker & Harley – By Alex Ross

“That’s new,” Willa quips. “Usually, villains get caught up in the murder or money machines. But she chose to be bad.”

“Ain’t she cool?” Lucy beams as she continues, “Harley does two big things to Batman in MAD LOVE: makes him laugh and almost kills him.”

“Then she gets pushed out the window.”

Lucy pouts. “Then she gets pushed out the window. There was also a web cartoon series, GOTHAM GIRLS. It was cute, but one of the things that stands out the most to me is when Ivy gave Harley a Joker sex doll.”

Willa almost chokes on her drink, almost getting a reaction from the still-stoned Michelle. “What?! On a kid’s show?!”

“Yup. You know about Real Dolls?”

“Sadly.”

“Well, Ivy’s present was a Joker doll in a big wooden crated labeled ‘Real Villains.'”

Willa can do nothing but finish her drink with a cough in disbelief. She then says, as Lucy refills her glass while trying not to get her very lopsided pigtails wet, “Time to take a break from the history lesson. What are some thoughts you’ve had of her over the years?”

Lucy starts bouncing, stops pouring, and says, “I’m so excited that I gotta pee!” She sets the bottle down and scurries to the bathroom. “Be right back!”

Even though it’s her house and they’ve known each other for most of their lives, Lucy turns the water on in the sink so that Willa can’t hear the obvious. As she sits alone, Willa slowly regrets finishing her drink so quickly. It’s gone to her head and, coupled with “Lovesong,” seems to bait her monster. The romantic confessional aspect of the song churns feelings that she thought she let go. That she wanted to let go. But how could you forget the love of your life in a week? She hopes the monster goes away with the toilet flush, and tries to feel better with a sandwich made of chocolate and donuts.

“Whew,” Lucy exclaims as she comes back, “I thought I wasn’t gonna make it! It’s a good thing I’m wearing a yellow thong, if you catch my…” She notices Willa’s change in mood. “What’s wrong?”

“Huh? Oh, I was just thinking about how this song’s kinda written for Harley.”

Lucy listens, then snaps as she agrees. “No shit. I didn’t notice that before. I guess you could say that about a lot of Cure’s songs.”

“You mean I figured out something before the nutty professor?” Willa puckishly asks. “Why am I here again?”

Lucy would be shooting daggers from her eyes if her glasses wouldn’t turn it into a suicide accidental. Instead, she settles for something more petty. “I’m taking the butter pecan.”

“Fair enough.”

The kitchen is practically a skip away from the couch, so it doesn’t take long for Lucy to get a spoon and dive into the slightly melted carton of ice cream. “Have you watched JESSICA JONES?”

“Watched, read, and loved,” Willa replies. “I still wish the show was named ALIAS, like the comic.”

Alias Issue 23 Cover - By David Mack

ALIAS #23 cover – By David Mack

“She and Harley have something in common,” Lucy says.

“Yeah, they’re both comic characters.”

“Besides that. They’re both survivors of asshole purple men.”

Willa wishes that she could raise an eyebrow. “How d’you figure?”

Lucy holds up her spoon and says, “Well, Harley has Joker–”

TDK Joker

She switches spoon hands. “–and Jessica has Kilgrave. Or Purple Man, as he was called in the comic.”

20-jessica-jones-014-w529-h352

Willa thinks about it and says, “That’s trippy.”

Lucy continues, slowly digging a scoop like a drowsy woodpecker, “Harley and Jessica end up with their purple men by completely different ways. Like I said, Harley chose to be with Joker. He whispered in her ear, but it was her choice, in the long run. Oh, and I’m not saying that Harley made the right choice by going with Joker. As you know, Jessica didn’t have a choice. Kilgrave’s morbid charisma made everyone his slave.” She says with a sick grin, “Which kinda makes Harley more twisted. Humans aren’t known for always making good choices, though, which is why so many women get beaten by their men. Sometimes to death. What Harley and Jessica go through could be seen as Stockholm Syndrome, but we know better, don’t we?”

Willa nods.

“Jessica’s pretty much an open-and-shut case: she’s a rape victim.”

Willa interrupts, “Who took it easy on that asshole when she–”

Lucy repays the favor. “Drink your juice.” Willa obliges as Lucy eats her scoop, then sets the carton on the coffee table. Rubbing the chilly hand that held the ice cream on her thigh, she sits on the floor and continues, “Harley’s got a lot of problems. Being a doctor and Joker being her patient, there’s a touch of the Nightingale effect going on with her falling in love with him. Him looking like a clown makes her a coulrophiliac. I don’t wanna jump into her being an addict just yet, but I will say that she has a strong case of dependent personality disorder. She’s obviously a smart woman, so you gotta figure that a big reason she sticks with Mistah J is because turns off that part of her brain. She also might see him as a challenge.”

“A challenge?”

“It’s an open secret that Harleen cheated her way through school, mostly by seduction. I can’t remember Joker ever getting horny. Harley does. You know how you’re at a bar or something and a guy hits on you and doesn’t get the point that you’re not interested and hits on you harder? It’s kinda like that.”

“Harley seems like a very sad character… but she’s always so chipper.”

Giving her biggest genuine smile, Lucy says, “It’s usually the happiest people with the darkest side.” Not giving her friend a chance to process that fully… “Oh! Speaking of chipper, I see Harley as a chipper Hannibal Lecter mixed with Charlie Chaplin and Bettie Page. In fact, I consider her DC Comics’ Bettie.”

“Because she’s naughty and nice?”

“Hell yeah! Lookit!” Lucy holds up her phone and swipes twixt two pics.

Bettie Page

And…

To My Puddin' - By Nszerdy

To My Puddin’ – By Nszerdy

Willa admits, “They are adorably pleasing to the eye. And her thigh-highs match mine in that drawing.”

Lucy peeks under the coffee table and says, “So they do!”

“Wait, Hannibal Lecter? How?”

“I’ve only seen this aspect of Harley used in a grand way towards the end of the comic series she had with Poison Ivy and Catwoman, GOTHAM CITY SIRENS, but it’s strange how everyone forgets that she’s a psychiatrist. Which means she knows how to get into peoples’ minds and manipulate them. At one point, she breaks into Arkham and plays mind games with a few guards with a rusty nail, some marbles, a plant, and a crowbar.”

“And those things worked?”

Lucy nods. “Because she spent time working those guards, finding out what their weaknesses were, and found out that they were a rusty nail, some marbles, a plant, and a crowbar.”

Willa stands up and announces, “Pee break.”

“But I was gonna–”

“When I get back,” Willa says on her way to the bathroom. Just before she closes the door on the disappointed Lucy, she adds, “You’re helping me a lot, y’know. Taking my mind off of… him. Think of how you’re gonna explain Harley as an addict, and that whole victim culture thing. Sounds really interesting.”

Something Willa can’t help but notice is how the room suddenly smells like apple as she relieves herself. The tiles on the walls have random designs on them, and to distract herself from her monster, she imagines things that they look like. A goat, a mountain range, an explosion, power lines, Japan. She finishes up while trying to figure out whether a particular design is a potato or a politician.

As she dries her hands on her skirt, she sees that Lucy’s taken her spot on the couch and that she’s playing with the limp paws of her stoned kitty. She takes her glass and asks, “Did you think about the stuff?”

“Yess’m,” Lucy replies. “But before I do, I should show you her conquering her addiction.” She holds up her phone.

Harley Quinn Issue 25 Page - By Chad Hardin

Page from HARLEY QUINN #25 – By Chad Hardin

“I have to show you,” she adds, “that my girl does get better. But this was a long time after she got pushed outta that window.”

“What happened to her skin?” Willa asks.

“DC rebooted the universe and changed Harley. The same basic things happen, except Joker throws her into the chemicals that made him look the way he does.”

“Where’s her onesie? I mean, I know it’s a little impractical, but it covered more.”

Lucy sighs. “This version, I don’t mind because she moonlights as a roller derby girl.”

“Heh, that’s actually a great idea,” Willa says.

“Yeah! Wait ’til you read the Skate Club issues. It’s like Fight Club, but on skates.”

“Does she wear this in the Suicide Squad comic?”

Lucy raps her fingers on her cat’s side, then says, “Yeah. But it makes no sense.”

“Ooo, is that disdain I hear on your breath?”

“I’ll get to that soon,” Lucy growls. “Addict. Her. Bad times. Do you remember those plasma glass balls? The ones you put your finger on and all the electricity goes to that spot?”2771597629_6aacbfe877_z

“Yeah, and they made your hair go all wild, too.”

“Imagine that Harley’s one of those, and those bolts are her love reaching out everywhere and once one bolt finds someone, they all do. The energy has no choice BUT to, and it’s beautiful when it does. Joker’s the middle finger pressing against her, and it has no problem if the glass tips over and shatters. But the plasma doesn’t care. All it knows is that it has a spot for it to focus on. The finger goes away, the bolts are sent into chaos. The finger comes back, serenity. That’s Harley and addiction.”

“That’s kinda touching,” Willa warmly admits. Then she makes a face and says, “Ugh, sorry, bad pun.”

“Heh, it’s fine.” Lucy’s face turns slightly sorrowful. “I know that Joker and Harley have an abusive relationship. It’s the part of her I wish I could erase, but at the same time, it’s one of the most important parts of her. Especially now, it shows how strong she is because she’s able to finally walk away from it. Her getting pushed out a window is pretty dark, but I felt that the story was leading to that point. Being a Harley fan means that you see different interpretations of her. Sometimes, it’s handled with a beautiful tragedy, like in the issue of GOTHAM CITY SIRENS when Ivy heartbreakingly finds Harley’s obsessive shrine to Joker. And sometimes, it feels like the art team uses Joker and Harley’s relationship as an excuse to abuse women.” Her hand hovers over her phone. “There have been other examples throughout the years… but this is the one that screams in my mind.” She shows Willa this:

Suicide Squad Issue 14 Panel - By Fernando Dagnino

Panel from SUICIDE SQUAD #14 – By Fernando Dagnino

The only thing Willa can say is “What. The. Fuck.”

Lucy quietly sets down her phone and says, “Joker is supposed to be jealous because she has a life outside of him. She beats him up afterwards, even bites off a bit of his tongue, then escapes his dungeon to show she ‘was more than just one of his broken toys to throw away.'”

“But the guys behind the issue you showed me didn’t have to go as far as they did in that panel,” Willa protests. “Maybe if it was a Lars von Trier film.”

“Yeah… The editor should’ve stepped in. Alan Moore wished his did when he wanted Joker to shoot Barbara Gordon and… do things to her in KILLING JOKE. Do I think that Harley promotes victim culture? In the wrong hands, maybe. In the right hands, she’s more of a cautionary tale.”

“Whose hands are the right ones?”

“Paul Dini’s are one,” Lucy lists, “Karl Kesel, Amanda Conner, and Jimmy Palmiotti are others.”

“Who are those other three?”

“Kesel wrote the first Harley series back in the early aughts. Up until his last few issues, they were drawn by Terry and Rachel Dodson.” Lucy happily swaps the previous pic on her phone with a new one.

e8d338cfab58fe9ace197e376beeab91

HARLEY QUINN #17 cover – By Terry and Rachel Dodson

Willa practically squeals. “That’s so fucking cheesecake! I want it!”

“Tough, it’s mine,” Lucy declares. “It was a fun run. Everything you loved about Harley in the animated series got cranked up. She even ditched Joker in the first few issues. The guy who followed, A.J. Lieberman… I understood what he wanted to do, which was everything Kesel and the Dodsons didn’t do. He made her a more realistic character, and I appreciated that a lot and I liked how he handled her. But during his run, I saw that Harley works best when she’s a flashing neon sign.”

“Is that what Conner and Palmiotti do?” Willa asks.

“OH, HOW–” Lucy agitates her bladder again and rushes off to the bathroom.

Even though the faucet runs… even though it’s buried under a few pounds of leather a few feet away… Willa still hears her phone ring a tune she hoped to never hear again. Metallica’s cover of “Loverman.” Before she realizes what she’s doing, she’s already answered the phone and kneeling by her jacket. She can’t help herself. Love was so hard for her to get that she’d leap at any opportunity to have it back. Even with him. Even after what he did. He tells her what she wants to hear, and her monster is pleased. It grows fat with each hollow syllable and greedy with each empty promise.

“Fuck off, we’re talking Harley!”

Willa didn’t hear Lucy get close or notice that she took the phone, but she was so happy to have her as a friend after hearing her say those words, then hang up and toss the phone on the couch. “Thank you,” Willa whimpers. She repeats herself as she looks at the floor, ashamed at how easily she almost fell back into his arms. Lucy kneels next to her and holds her. “Shh… You’re still Willa,” her friend reminds her. They stay like that for a song or two, until Willa gets into a more comfortable position and says, “What about Conner and Palmiotti?”

Lucy replies, smiling, “You remember that Eddie Murphy bit about crackers? How when you’re starving, a regular cracker tastes like a Ritz? That’s how I felt about Harley in the first few issues of the Suicide Squad comic. Then when Ritz came along by way of her Conner/Palmiotti-penned self-titled book, I realized I’d been eating regular crackers. Harley stories work best as character pieces instead of story pieces. They understood that, as did Kesel.”

“Do they do anything with her and Ivy?”

“Heh, lots. It was established a few years ago that they’re friends because they see similar wounds in each other.”

“How so?” Willa asks.

“Both were damaged goods because of assholes. In Ivy’s case, she was literally changed by hers. Back when she was Dr. Pamela Isley, she worked on plants with her unrequited love, Jason Woodrue. He forced her into an experiment, changing her into a human plant. He tinkered with the formula, then turned himself into Floronic Man.”

“Those two and Jessica Jones should form a club.”

“Heh, yeah.” Lucy continues, “Since teaming up, there’s been this ‘are they/aren’t they’ subtext that Conner and Palmiotti make text in an issue. Essentially, they’re friends with benefits in an open relationship. I don’t think it matters, though. What I was always drawn to was their friendship. Whether they kiss or not isn’t important to me.” She takes down her pigtails and says, “Harley must be crazy for having these up all they time, they fucking hurt.”

“I guess I’d be remiss,” Willa says, “if I didn’t ask the obvious question. How do you feel about Harley in the Suicide Squad film that’s a-coming?”

“Harley made a big-budget action movie in a comic once,” Lucy replies.

Harley & Ivy Issue 3 Cover - By Bruce Timm

HARLEY & IVY #3 cover – By Bruce Timm

She continues, “Her director name was ‘Alice Smithee’ and she kept killing Batman. Ivy kept jacking up the budget to fund their future crimes. Then Harley went mad with power…”

“What a great non-answer,” Willa quips.

“I know, right? I’ve gone on a media blackout with the trailers because I wanna be as surprised as possible. It’s been damn hard, in case you were curious. I saw what she looks like and heard who’s playing her, and I loved Margot Robbie in Z FOR ZACHARIAH.”

“Who’s your Harley?” Willa asks.

Without hesitation, Lucy replies, “Every Harley who enjoys life.”

-last pic- Harley Quinn - By Alan Scampos

Harley Quinn – By Alex Scampos

But First…

Posted in Blog, Fiction, Poem with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 19, 2016 by Rathan Krueger

    I’m glad so many people liked the bit of erotica poetry I wrote Wednesday. Back when I decided to create stories that weren’t typical and to focus on female characters, I didn’t want to restrict myself in any way. My creative urges veer towards the dark, but one thing I always wanted to make sure of was that whenever I chose to use sex, it would mostly be in a positive way. There’s enough stuff out there shaming people out of sex (while at the same time throwing as much sex as possible at people [psychiatrists wonder why Americans have problems…]), I didn’t feel the need to add to that pile. Celebrate sex, damnit. Responsibly. And although I don’t mind writing sex, I can’t write something that’s purely sexual. By that, I mean that I can’t write just a sex act. There has to be more going on. One of the things I’m proudest of about THE GRAVE OF LINDA SEWARD is that there’s a story along with fucking. Well… not so much a story as it is character stuff. But it’s great character stuff, I feel. I didn’t give them names, but I’d like to think that you know the couple well enough. Another of my prouder achievements is not making the couple typically romantic.

“I love you.” “I love you, too.” “This moment is so special to me.” “I know, it’s the same for me.” “Don’t let go.” “I’ll never let go, Darling. I’ll never, ever let go.”

    Fucking shoot me. That amorous interplay might’ve been fine last century, last millennium, but love evolves. It’s not just about being lovers anymore. The person you’re with has to also be your friend. Otherwise, why bother potentially spending the rest of your life with them? You should be able to have passionate sex with them as well as have fun. Be their shoulder to cry on and be their enabler. As I was writing the poem, I got the sense that the couple really liked each other as lovers and friends (I’m not nearly as “conscious” when writing poetry as I am when screenwriting, so lots of things surprise me) and that kept me interested. I wasn’t in the room with the people who’ve enjoyed it, but I’d like to think that it was a reason they were interested, too. That and the oral.

    But that’s not what I wanted to talk about. Things are still on-track this year to make the film that I wrote, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about, either. I told myself to not talk about a project until I was knee-deep in it. Eating crow is a terrible thing. I won’t be directing the film that’s a-coming, but I wanted to stay productive until I write my opportunity to direct. So I decided to write a book of women-centric short stories. Some dark, some funny, some sexy, some philosophical, but always entertaining. The format of the short stories will jump all over the place, too. Some will be written normally, but I plan on doing other things like writing some as if they were letters. And writing some like epic poems like THE ILLIAD. Which brings me to something I’d like to present to you.

    I love time-travel stories (at least one reader knows how deep I am into all things DOCTOR WHO), but I feel that the potential for them hasn’t been realized yet. I have a few ideas and I felt that it was time to put my money where my mouth was. THE PAIN OF BEING MAN (a barely modified Hunter S. Thompson quote) is turning out to be an awesome behemoth. My intention was to write a seven-part poem over the course of seven pages. Well. The part I’m about to share with you (3) ends midway on the eighth page. So, yeah, you’re in for a long read (sorry?). I think the only thing you need to know before reading is that the time-traveler’s name is Melody and that the time-travel device is a horn. Oh, and that I definitely wore my dark hat as I wrote it.

   Thanks for reading.

III

The charred live upon Gallows Hill
Still choke the throats of those who linger
Stroking an axe named “Regress”
On the grindstone called “Life”
History claims that The Trials hung their prey
Yet there is fiction in this truth
Nineteen twigs were snapped
But Salem’s most wretched blights
Are smears on antiquity’s chalkboard
For shared belief can build worlds
And shared denial can will anything to entropy
What tastes more bitter than a lynch mob?
What makes the prideful give pause
Embarrassment
Seeing the step too far behind them
Footprints in the ashes of those they have damned
In the delirium of their prudish blazes

The brandy of power
Flowed down the throats of Salem’s bureaucracy
As Sarah and Alice, Susannah and Mary
As Elizabeth swung from their “charity”
The collective subconscious of the bureaucracy
Drunkenly proclaimed
Women should know their place
On their backs, knees, or last nerves
At the whims of their husbands… their masters
The male gaze guided this purpose
But the execution was far more androgynous
Sisterhood served the mushroomhead
Legs spread and self-worth in absentia
The merest hint of dissent
Was banished to a hole under Gallows Hill
Twice as deep as the grave
But the grave was more inviting

Women dug the hole
Women filled the hole
Women’s cries slapped the dirt
…and some women preferred things this way
The hole began to fill and fill
But the drunkards couldn’t decide
If it was a means or an end
Demeter’s sadness made their choice
As her tears gave Charon a new harvest
Culling the women in the hole
Making them victims no longer
Yet the bureaucracy was still at a loss
Even as the man-made mire dried
Even as the carrion invited pestilence
Until, one night
A prudish blaze made the issue extinct
Lit by friend or foe
Covered by time and shame

In the pandemonium
(Milton’s or Webster’s)
Some women fled to sanity
Tide and plain alike
Caitrin, of the O’Days, found regretful peace
Conceived an expected brood
And died typically
Her mother and sister, however
Were spared such mediocrity
Denied such splendor
Mother, Margaret
Daughter, Fainche
Father, Struthers
All dancers in the Chauvinism Party Line

Once upon an evening dreary
A grievous Struthers took stock of his life
His life left lacking Caitrin
She was his favorite
Daughter, female figure, whatever
For weeks, she’s been gone
His agony caused frenzies and ulcers
He hid his apoplectic nature
For fear of ending up on or under Gallows Hill
But on this evening, he achieved lucidity
A crooked truth erected itself
As he made answers for himself
Its bricks were selfish
And perversions its mortar
Alas, humanity could not be found
Only Fainche, idle sans protection

The salty air, Neptune’s breath
Is a constant presence in this coastal colony
Still
Margaret feels a sting she cannot shake
Malaise ensnares her
Like the day’s take upon the pier
Mother’s intuition or puritanical paranoia
Whichever magnetic plight you choose
Pulls her from her wifely duties
To her idle Fainche

Passing through the doorway
Margaret wades through her dread
She knows they are inside
Yet she cannot place where
She wants to call out to them
Though she fears the potential truth
Her creaking steps reek of warning
Or laughter
But the stinging remains the same
Her failures of domestic exploration
Lead to one last room
Her quivering hand opens
The cellar door

What tender touches reserved for Margaret
Roam over Fainche
Gagged and tearful
Struthers explains himself
Without a hint of hubris or shame
And endeavors Margaret’s understanding
While casting out the absent Caitrin
Father knows best
Murmurs of the bureaucracy
Birthmarks on Margaret’s memory
Another voice she also hears
And mistakes for her conscience
She offers it the same obedience
Whilst snatching Fainche from the queer setting

Struthers commands
With the fury of a broken man
As Fainche clings to her mother’s chest
That his wife return his child to him
Lest he beat them both
And leave them to ruin
Father knows best
But Margaret can’t abandon Fainche
Loyalty to two masters
Takes its toll on her heart
The stinging in her breast
Is like a drill to her core
Her core drills back
A horn through time
…and through dear Fainche

“M-mother? It hurts so.”

Melody is again thrust into horrors
And a year she has never known
As a terrified man stands before her
As a dying girl is wrapped around her
As she still does not understand the spell

“I-I grow cold, Mother, but it’s n-not yet Winter.”

What gnarled thing passes for Struthers’ heart
Gives out first
Then his knees
His shoulders
His head
And Fainche’s tiny hands
Begin to let go of life

“Will I s-see Kitty, Mother? Y-you said that…”

When this happens next
Melody will know why
But until then
She can only bask in the death
And cry herself to sleep

An Open Letter to My Readers

Posted in Blog on May 22, 2015 by Rathan Krueger

Hi everybody!

I’ve been doing this for a for a while, and I wanted to remove the wall for a moment and thank everyone who’s joined me on this selfish road of mine to becoming a better artist. When I started posting my writings, it was mainly because I didn’t wanna feel like I wasted money on buying a domain name. I could’ve just as easily have bought a REALLY big notebook and kept my growth and experiments private. But I chose to fail in public, not expecting to get any readers, and now I’m close to 250. Some of you, like E.I. Wong and Damyanti, have been around for ages. Some of you, like robertsonwrites, have just found me today. All of you are valid, though, because you thought that my selfish writings are interesting enough to keep coming back and see what else I do. And though I have over 200 readers, not everyone shows that they’ve read what I’ve posted. And those few don’t like everything I post. Some would find that crippling, but I’m grateful. I know that not everything I do will be liked by varying degrees, so getting that fact bludgeoned in my head every weekday is fantastic training. Thanks, really.

Like I said earlier, I wanna pull back the veil for this post. This works both ways. I’d like you all to tell me what you think of what I’ve done. Your favorite or least-favorite posts. Whatever you wanna say is fine. Good, bad, elating, destructive: anything. I’ll reply to everyone who posts something, and they’ll go beyond the “Aw gee, thanks.” As Just Being Me can attest, I’m a great comment section conversationalist. If you’re daring enough, you can read the 24,000+-word thread we have buried in an old post. I won’t make it easy for you, but I will say that it’s enDEARing. So, don’t be shy. I can talk about anything and everything, be goofy and serious. Hope to hear from you soon.