Created by R.E. Hellinger & K.M. Claude
Published by Two Dead Queers
Genre: Horror, Erotica
Format: Zine, Print & Digital
TRIGGER WARNING: Discussion of sexual assault and abusive relationships.
SPOILER WARNING: Minor and major details are given away. You’ve been warned!
What if you were imprisoned for being…different? What if your darkest desires were their own kind of imprisonment? What if even your own sibling wanted to imprison and abuse you?
R.E. Hellinger and K.M. Claude, the masterminds behind Guillozine, are back with yet another tantalizing, phantasmagoric zine, complete with their ever so clever play on words. Quaranzine takes the concept of quarantine, and much like its predecessor, plays around with the concept, twisting and bending to whatever darkly shapes its wicked-minded creators can think of.
Starting off, let’s look at the cover:
Man, do I love this fucking cover! It’s got a menacing neon pink. I love the oozy neon green around the person’s mouth, and their sinister smile to boot! Then there’s the barcode design around the title. It’s like crime scene tape that tells you DO NOT CROSS! This cover is not only pretty, but also symbolizes the content inside. The color choices and the oozing of the mouth visually relates to illness, sickness, something gross and contagious; all these are words that we relate to quarantine, because we consider these things as needing to be isolated and blocked away from the world. We’ll even go so far as to say if people are “sick” or “ill”, they need to be quarantined. The idea they’re illness is a danger to society leads to justifying their imprisonment. However, as will be seen in the entries of Quaranzine, that line of thinking can be manipulated into evil acts.
Also, the cover summarizes Hellinger and Claude’s aesthetic, which is the grotesquely beautiful. Horror, in general, is an aesthetic obsessed genre, focusing highly on visual detail in order to firmly cement its atmosphere. For Hellinger and Claude, they draw upon the influences of gothic horror and ero guro nansensu, both subgenres that transform the disturbing into beauty. Even if it’s literal gut-fucking, there’s something oddly appealing about it.
Speaking of which, let’s start off talking about the first piece in Quaranzine, “Found Notes”. It’s a series of microfictions chronicling the twisted experiments of a serial killer hiding out in an abandoned hospital. As the killer’s experiments become increasingly sadistic, he starts noticing a change to his victims. They’re becoming more rabid, harder to kill, and the psychosis appears to be contagious.
“Found Notes” does a spectacular job of utilizing the “found” subgenre of horror. Instead of footage, it’s a series of notes written from the killer’s perspective. Since these are micro fictions, Hellinger’s flowery prose style is absent, but they’re absolute command of voice is strongly on display. The narrator’s voice is incredibly intimidating. It’s not just his detailed recollections of grotesque deeds, it’s the glee in which he commits them. As his victims show clear signs of infection and madness, he continues on, becoming more and more obsessed with just how far he can push them. “Found Notes” is a short, but sufficient tale of degenerate desire, combining American Psycho with Day of the Dead. I’m honestly shocked by how conservative the theme is. Usually, Hellinger is the type to take concepts and characters traditionally perceived as evil and empower them. Perhaps in this case, the character is so obviously evil, there is no expectation to subvert.
“Hazmat” is another micro fiction by Hellinger. At first, I thought this was part of the “Found Notes” series, but according to Hellinger, it is a standalone piece. I find that unnecessary because it’s a similar format to “Found Notes”. Not only that, but the voice and experiments of the narrator are exactly the same. It is still a great piece though. Oh, and it comes with this cute little illustration:
Next is K. M. Claude’s very first multi-page comic in one of these zines, “Freak of Nature”. It’s an origin story–well, actually more of an origin vignette–about two of Claude’s original characters, Emilein and Annemarie. Annemarie finds out about Emilein’s queerness and locks him in a closet until he’s willing to “be good again”. To Annemarie, this means having sex with her alone. Claude’s art is gorgeous as ever with fleshy anatomy, sensual inking, and intense eroticism. All these superb qualities I discussed in his contributions to Guillozine are on display, with the added bonus of seeing them done in a sequential narrative. Claude wastes no time in making his panel layouts equally innovating. After the first page, the next 6 are a series of two-page spreads. Normally, comic artists only use this for establishing shots or complex fight scenes. Claude is much more experimental.
On the first spread, Emilein and Annemarie argue while he’s trapped in the closet, the door a barrier between them. Page 2 is Annemarie’s side, while Page 3 is Emi’s; the gutter space between the pages acts as the door. The panels go in descending order, and as you go further down the page, you start to feel Emilein crumble under the feeling of powerlessness. On Annemarie’s side, her power rises. The gutter space, the door, becomes an extension of her power over Emilein, a power so great, she can simply leave the room and crush Emilein with it. This spread is simple design, and yet utterly devastating in its demonstration of abusive power.
Spread #2 is a white background with a series of panels focusing on the sky, showing the passage of day and night in a wave-like pattern. At the bottom of the spread is this sentence: “Please don’t leave me”. This spread captures the agonizingly long days that Emilein is trapped in the closet. It also further demonstrates Annemarie’s power over Emilein, how she is still with him even when absent. It’s how abusers convince their victims that they’re nothing without them, a form of mental torture to crush whatever independent spirit they have.
Spread #3 is a chaotic compilation of smaller panels that are claustrophobic close-ups of Emilein in various states of panic and depression. In this spread, we see Emilein defeated, desperately clawing at the door before collapsing from exhaustion. This last spread is so utterly crushing and sad, I can’t really fully describe its brilliance. It’s something you just have to look at. Or perhaps not.
“Freak of Nature” is the most visually powerful and uncomfortable entry. It takes the concept of quarantine to explore an all too real form of abuse in the world. It’s not an easy read, and I don’t recommend it for everyone, especially since it ends on a graphic sex scene. The fact there is this visual beauty and eroticism to the comic might be a bit of cognitive dissonance to readers. What is the purpose of framing such a horrible scenario in a beautiful aesthetic? What is the message that I’m supposed to take away from it? Personally, I do not believe there needs to be a positive outcome. If Horror is about exploring the worst aspects of life, part of that is acknowledging the moments that feel so utterly devastating that a happy ending seems unattainable. What you do or don’t take away from it is up to you. I enjoy it simply for that initial rush of terror like freezing water rushing through my veins. Sometimes my emotional appetites are not about happiness, but getting to feel negative sensations through a safe outlet. If this devastation plays out with pretty visuals, then that’s a bonus!
“Red Rings” is yet another piece from Hellinger, this time a longer short story. It carries a strong resemblance to “Carnal Bodies”, their gothic incest story for Guillozine. The story this time is a future in which vampires have returned after many years in dormancy. The world is not too happy about that, so all the vampires in the world are forced to live inside ghettos highlighted by rings of red light. One vampire, Damon, is in talks with a young man named Preston. He is part of a pro-vampire civil rights movement and seems a viable ally, what with being a powerful politician’s son. Unfortunately, Preston might have ulterior motives, and Damon isn’t about to appease him.
Much like “Carnal Bodies”, the genius of “Red Rings” is how it combines various genres and makes them all fit together. It starts off like a sci-fi dystopia, but then evolves to vampires, gothic horror, and, as always, a lotta hot gayness! “Red Rings” is grander in concept. The stakes are bigger, plot more complex, and by the ends on a shit & fan moment. Guiding the reader through this epic is Hellinger’s masterful prose. It’s detailed without being monotonous, reads quick without half-baked ideas. It’s like you’re there and can see the rustic ghetto, and feel the homoerotic tension between Damon and Preston.
As to how it plays with the theme of quarantine, the setting adds political implications to the word. With the recent news involving ICE, I wouldn’t be surprised if Hellinger is tapping into the zeitgeist. People deemed wrong for being a type of person (illegal immigrant, Jewish, gay, etc.) has always led to their isolation and, too often, their extermination in these type of places. However, like all people boxed in, there is also the call to revolution. The vampires are plotting to break out of their ghetto, whether or not they have the humans’ permission. So, along with everything else that makes Hellinger’s writing a treat to read, there’s also an optimistic, if dark, call to arms.
With all that praise, I still feel something is off about “Red Rings”. I recently talked to Hellinger, and they told me this short is part of a larger story idea for a novel. I can definitely see that. There is a lot material from this one short story alone that could evolve into a book, an entire series even. I think that’s the problem. Where as “Carnal Bodies” had a complete ending, whereas “Red Rings” ends open-ended. On the other hand, maybe I’m not feeling disappointed so much as nervously hoping that there will be more stories about this world in the future.
“Sick” is a one-page comic from Claude. It’s not as lofty as “Freak of Nature”, but there is a fun poetic beat to it. Also, it’s quintessential Claude: amazing art, gay as fuck, abusive priests, sexually confused victims, and the ever so present feeling that you feel bad for loving this dirty shit. It’s not your fault. Claude makes awful things look sooo pretty!
The final piece in Quaranzine is an art pin-up entitled “Gottkrankheit.” It’s…
I mean, it still looks pretty, but oh my gooood! If you’re a person with testicles, this piece will cause them to crawl up inside your body and hide until you can assure them it has gone away.
That’s all I’m showing. If you get curious to look, be WARNED!
Overall, I highly recommend Quaranzine. It’s as good as Guillozine while being unique enough on its own. If anything, I consider it more polished than the previous zine. The ideas behind each piece are more concrete, especially the “Found Notes” series, “Freak of Nature”, and “Red Rings”. This increased professionalism is achieved while maintaining the wild, creativer fervor of its predecessor. I would say the key difference here is that Quaranzine is much more narrative driven, which is why this review did an individual breakdown of the separate entries rather than a broad generalization. So, pick up a copy and read it, maybe even buy a physical copy so Hellinger and Claude can make money, get popular, and become the gay couple version of Clive Barker and Poppy Z. Brite that they are meant to be.
The zine: https://twodeadqueers.neocities.org/#zines