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Hang Ten

A young man with scruffy cheeks and chin-length hair told me to hang ten today. He was what I can only describe as the surfer type, with matching attire as you might imagine. When I got home, I did exactly as he instructed: I hung ten.

After hanging the first five, I admit my satisfaction. Hanging another five seemed superfluous—but then I had never hung ten before, and had no experience by which to judge whether hanging five was in any way more appropriate than hanging a full ten. Besides, the young man had clearly told me to, “hang ten.” If anything, I consider myself to be diligent in my obligations to others. So, despite my own satisfaction, I continued the act of hanging.

Hanging the sixth was quite a different experience. I felt a distinct rush, not unlike brushing against someone you secretly admire, or spotting an enemy advancing towards you from across the street.  My breath shortened and blood quickened. That young man knew what he was talking about! I quickly hung a seventh.

By the eighth, I was reeling. My entire body—every freckle, every mole divided by a hair, every fingernail, wrinkle and tooth—my every part burned with erotic possibilities . But soon my reverie waned, so I hung a ninth. Alas, the bliss brought began to walk apace, stepping further in stride with each passing moment. Oh, that ninth hanging! Pure torture! Would the tenth return the sexual—no, no—the spiritual satisfaction that the eighth had provided for the seventh?  The seventh for the eighth?  Or would this hanging of ten simply cast me further from what I can only describe as a “sphere of  gratification?” Depressed, I sat in silence for many a moment, contemplating the various possibilities. My heart hung heavy while awaiting the act decision would bring. Not knowing what to do, I sat there, exhilaration fleeing my body, dispersing outwards into the chilly night. Shaking, I hung the tenth.

Nothing.

It was gone.

Several days later, I saw the surfer guy across the street and quickly advanced upon him. Meeting his eyes with my own, I uttered two distinct words. The surfer’s eyes widened with horror.

Odd Schnozz & the Odd Squad available for pre-order!

I wrote a graphic novel which is now available for preorder from Diamond distributors via Previews. Retailers, click HERE to add to your orders, and customers, please use take the following item code to your local comic book shop to reserve your copy: FEB151530 – Odd Schnozz & the Odd Squad is a full-length graphic novel written by Jeffrey Burandt, with line art by Dennis Culver and color art by Ramon Villalobos, and published by Oni Press. ODD SCHNOZZ COVER MOCKUP V2_1

From the solicits:

Liz, Bodey, Maude, and Justine’s band, Odd Schnozz and the Odd Squad, are sure to win this year’s Battle of the Bands. But when a talking chimp, who claims to be a scientist from the mysterious organization B.L.A.N.K., interrupts their practice session, the band’s got a whole new set of problems. Now B.L.A.N.K. agents are closing in, determined to recapture the escaped chimp before he becomes a liability. Jeffrey Burandt (Americans UK) and Dennis Culver (Edison Rex) bring you this thrilling tale of cyborg animals and punk rock teenagers. 1, 2, 3, 4!

Blood + Brains

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BLOOD + BRAINS by Jeffrey Burandt and Dean Haspiel was first published in December of 2012 in Image Comics’ Creator Owned Heroes #7, which you can buy now, digitally, on Comixology by clicking HERE.

Pitched as a full-length graphic novel, Blood + Brains takes the “vampires vs. zombies” premise, and pushes it to a whole new, adrenaline-infused level, where the ubiquitous zombie horde is but the first wave of monsters our protagonists must survive as they head out on a death-race, cattle-drive against werewolf motorcycle gangs, chupacabra long-haul truckers, and creepy, cancerous mutants. Penny Dreadful meets Death Race 2000.

Adventures In Tasteful Living

My first published comics work was a special promotion for Amstel Light that ran serially in Details Magazine for 3 months in 2006, drawn by Terry Taylor, and developed by then Promotion Director Kristin Joker. Interesting note: the pitch that got me the job became Just Super 1, but Amstel or Details or both didn’t want to go with supes.

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Bibi & Cass

Illustration by Aaron Florian

Illustration by Aaron Florian

Bibi was already pretty old on the day she saved me. In the wild, gorillas can live as long as 35 to 40 years, and Bibi had just turned 45. I was 8 and leaning over the railing of the Gorilla Pitt at the New Jersey Zoo, excited by the dark, hairy creatures below, adolescent males galloping on their knuckles up and down the grassy slope, charging one another and wrestling playfully as their elders sat serenely, a mother preoccupied with the black, fuzzy newborn hanging from her neck. This mother was Bibi, I would later learn, and that baby gorilla was the cutest, most amazing thing I had ever seen. I struggled to get a better view, and as I pulled against the grip of my father holding me by the sewn-in belt of my gingham dress, the stitching snapped and I tumbled over the railing, falling 15 feet down into the pitt.

I press my face into her fur, nuzzling her neck, breathing in her musky odor that smells of animal strength, and outdoors, and motherhood. I place my cheek against her chest, and feel my head rise and fall with her breath, her heart beating beneath that breast that has nursed her many children—her children taken from her and sent to zoos around the world. I hold her hand and look into her all too human eyes, and she looks tired.

You’ve possibly seen the videos on YouTube. The gorillas below, I stretch into view from the periphery before falling fully into frame, crossing that sheer, concrete wall distance that divides we great apes from those, my head knocking against the cement gutter below, my body twisting in an unlikely position against that unforgiving ground. Zoo patrons gasp, my mother screams, children cry, a pool of blood spreading from a gash in my head as the camera zooms in on me unconscious. The gorillas are immediately curious about my presence, and the adolescent males approach my limp form. My father already has a leg over the railing to jump down when Bibi scoops me up under an arm, and drags me up onto the lawn, away from the other apes, her own child clinging to her back. The crowd gasps louder at this, my mother screams again, this time my name, “Cass!!”

I wake up and begin to wail. Bibi releases me, backs off, unsure. You can hear my mother panicked, pleading, “Cass, please baby, you need to be quiet.” The camera pans and you can see the other gorillas spooked by my wailing, some lumbering sidelong towards their pens. My father has now jumped into the pit, and another man follows him down, asking him to stop, this one with the zoo. The camera finds me again and zooms in on my face: I’m absolutely bawling, face red with fear and blood. Someone yells, “look, look,” and the growing crowd frets in unison, a lone woman announcing, “oh no.” The camera refocuses, pulls back, and takes in the scene. The most aggressive of the adolescents has emerged on the lawn—his name is Kigoma. The man from the zoo picks up a stick with one hand and tries to push my father back with his other, just as Kigoma charges towards me.

Dr. Madsen enters the small, tidy room. It’s difficult to read his expression, but then, I can’t look at him for long without losing it, and my only care should be for Bibi. My tears fall, quickly absorbed by Bibi’s hair. I caress her face and begin to whisper, over and over in a singsong voice, occasionally cracked by a sob, “Just rest, sweet girl. Sweet old lady. Just rest. That’s right, just rest, it’s time to sleep, sweet Bibi, just rest.” I can’t help but notice, out of the corner of my eye, the hypodermic needle that Dr. Madsen carries with him.

Knuckles pound the ground, and the gorilla Kigoma grunts, as he fast approaches to rip my head off. My father hollers, my mother cries, and Bibi the momma ape hurries back to my side, putting herself between Kigoma and me. The adolescent changes his trajectory to avoid colliding with the barking Bibi, her baby still clinging to her back. Bibi scoops me up again, and I faint from fright, my form limp under her arm. Voices from the crowd say, “look, look,” or “it’s saving her,” and the camera pans briefly to my mother with her hands cupped over her mouth. Hooting at the others as though to say, “stay away,” Bibi drags me further up the hill, and drops me in front of the zookeeper entrance, before trotting away with her baby. Eager human arms grab for me, take me inside. Hungry for resolution, the camera finds my father being lifted out of the pitt by an emergency crew as the zookeeper stands guard with his stick. A stranger hugs my mother.

I don’t remember any of it. One moment I was leaning over the gorilla pit, the next I’m waking up in a hospital. A couple years ago we hit the ten-year anniversary of my tumble, and so several news outlets reran the story. With me entering college at the time, the story had a nice little bow tied on the end: I intended to become a gorilla researcher. I’m sure most children would have never wanted to see a gorilla again, but I became obsessed, watching the video—then taped from a local news channel—over and over, countless times until the tape became worn and unwatchable. I would insist on visiting Bibi at the zoo, taking the train by myself once I was old enough. I invented a call for her, singing, “Biiii-biiii,” and I swear to you she recognized my voice and would come to the front of the pitt, purse her lips and kiss the air in reply. I truly and deeply loved her, and from that love grew a great passion for all gorillas. So here I am.

I was packing to go to Africa for the summer to advance my studies when Dr. Madsen called me on my cell phone. I caught the first flight home from my small college town back to New Jersey, and rushed from the airport, directly to the zoo. At 57, Bibi is the oldest living gorilla in the entire world, and she was now dying from an aggressive form of lymphoma ravaging her body. They would soon put her to sleep. My studies had brought me closer into the network of primate specialists who worked at Bibi’s zoo, purchasing for me this last goodbye and thank you. Bibi not only saved my life, but gave it purpose, and because of that, I have the honor of being with her as she exits her own. I will miss her more than I can now imagine.

Bibi rests, sedated. I sing her name quietly, as on my many visits, and pray my presence brings her comfort as I stroke her face lovingly. Dr. Madsen holds the i.v. port that keeps her hydrated between thumb and forefinger, whispering, “it’s time,” and pushes the hypodermic needle through the rubber seal. Bibi’s pupils dilate as the fluid stops her heart, and I say out loud between sobs, “I love you, sweet girl, I love you—just rest, just rest,” stroking her gently even after Dr. Madsen announces she’s passed. The world is worse for her absence.

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 [Note: an earlier version of this story appeared in Panels For Primates available from Monkey Brain Comics, and edited by Troy Wilson, which you should really check out, because it has a lot of cool, ape-based stories from creators like Stan Lee, Dean Haspiel, Fred Van Lente, Colleen Coover, and so many more.]

The Ghost Of Christmas Never

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My original identity is long lost to the oceans of time. I vaguely remember being a young Earth male living in the 21st century, 15 years old, as they would have measured it. I lived on the North American continent, in a country called the United States of America, and within that, a government known as the state of Texas, and further within that, a County named Collin, in a town titled Prosper, a semi-rural and suburban member of the greater Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. I’ll just come out with it: I was a teen boy who died on Christmas day. For reasons mysterious and fantastic, I was chosen as a spirit of Christmas, a specialized division in God’s army, as He proliferates his Theos throughout the multiverse, mining the cavern-system of reality for all its precious souls.

Every day I work to ruin Christmas. Somewhere, somewhen, across countless worlds, every day of my immortal life—it’s my job to undo the holiday. You see, given an infinity of bubble universes all subsumed within a Manichean reality, wherein two opposing entities compete for soul-stuff, Christmas emerged as a successful recruitment for the sort of metaphysical allegiances that drive sentient beings to devote themselves to my boss, aka, your God. The Christ story was the first successful, naturally occurring conversion of a winter solstice celebration into a temporal, soul-excavation-site that self-organizes and reemerges annually until certain Armageddon events destroy whatever culture evoked them in the first place. God is no dummy, and realized what a good thing he had going with this one, and so worked to invoke Christ stories into the narratives of every sentient world, creating a new officer class in His ranks, we of The Christmas Spirit division, 4 of us in total, specialists each of us: the Ghost of Christmas Past, the Ghost of Christmas Present, the Ghost of Christmas Future, and when things go to Hell, me—the Ghost of Christmas Never.

It’s kind of difficult to explain, but a Great Dragon-Worm sleeps curled amongst the fabrics of reality, slowly turning as it dreams of fire, whereby time and space are but jewels encrusted across its craggy hide. And while the Great Dragon-Worm sleeps, it competes against my boss for the mining of souls, dreaming up counter-agents to God’s host of angels, demons who roam the Earths planting seeds to sour the Christ story and turn Christmas against Him. My brethren and I descend upon these worlds infected by the Ex Mass, and while the others work to fix a world’s timeline to turn in our favor, I research its undoing. If the others fail, I either excise the Ex Mass (and thereby remove all Christmas celebrations from that reality throughout its timeline) or destroy the world. It’s a coin toss, really. I don’t like to contemplate what would happen if the Great Dragon-Worm ever woke up.

Look, I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. My colleagues are good at their jobs—excellent, even. But, again, given a multiverse, even a small percentage of failures is yet another infinity. No matter how fantastic my adventures, I admit, the job grows tiresome and I think I suffer from ennui. Just the other day, I was racing rogue elves circling the rings of an impossible planet in magical sleighs fueled by hope, and I had to syphon power from the fantasies of young, alien cartoonists just to eek out a win. I mean, how pathetic is that? As their galaxy collapsed around me, I took my victory lap, and I couldn’t help but think, is it all worth it?

There was this other time in the silicon realm, deep inside a hollow planet where I had confronted the Guardians of the Gone Crystal so that I could steal and shatter their holy gem, thereby sapping the strength of the surface’s ruler, Kr’rt the Conqueror, whose people celebrate Kr’rt Munst by exchanging paintings of the Great Dragon-Worm. And as I stood there, the gem crushed beneath my boot, my signal sent to the Ghost of Christmas Present that he could take the shot, I looked around the vast, dark space surrounding me, and wondered, is this all there is? Is this really me? Do I even like myself?

I mean, just between you and me, souls are pretty and all, but I sort of don’t get it. My boss, God, and his adversary, the Great Dragon-Worm, they’re not even getting the whole thing! They’re fighting for fragments! A soul is like a diamond formed from the intense pressures of reality impacted on dust sloughed off by the logos as it hums throughout the universe. But each individual person, any given personality, in any given epoch, in any given world, is but a facet of that dense and bright rock of identity. When my boss gets your soul, he’s just chipping off a piece from the source, completely unable to excavate the priceless mineral in whole. It’s kind of pathetic when you think about it. And what does He do with it? What does God do with the ontological representation of everything that you are? He adds it to his cape; He owns a cape sewn from soul shards. If you’re thinking, oh, well now I guess I’ll side with the Great Dragon-Worm, know that its minions grind the soul shards to a fine powder and collect it all in a giant bowl that the Great Dragon-Worm licks at in its sleep, presumably providing it with sustenance, but perhaps it just likes the taste.

It’s at times like this, I just need to step back and be thankful for what I have. It’s not all global atrocities and extinction events. I’ve got a job. I’m immortal. I’ve even got a lady. Her soul is magnificent; I’ve seen the whole thing. In every reality, I find her iteration, a new face on a familiar entity. Her name is Annie, Wendy, Klurklurlot, Danielle, No. 7356, Phonos, Aroxes, and on and on ad infinitum. While her names and faces are countless, her soul is monolithic, and no matter if my team fails or succeeds, whether her universe lives or dies, I know that she will live on in some other world, and that I will find her and we will always spend Christmas together, in one way or another.

Anyway, thank you for listening, but I have to go now. On the outskirts of an adolescent solar system, the denizens of Extreme World have become addicted to what they call, “Dragon Cider,” a drink they imbibe exclusively during their athletic celebration of Kicks Max. My team is being called in. So, you know, don’t be a stranger. And please, do me a favor, seriously: have a Merry Christmas—or you might not get a new year.