John Dermot Woods - a mordant, deadpan collection of more than one hundred murders, betrayals, heartbreaks, suicides, and bureaucratic snafus—each with a half-page illustration by the author—that tells the story of a couple who spends a year in Baltimore in search of their respective siblings, who were abducted decades earlier as young children.

The Baltimore Atrocities

John Dermot Woods, The Baltimore Atrocities. Coffee House Press, 2014.

www.johndermotwoods.com/

A whodunit without the who, this illustrated compendium of mayhem and misfortune spirals out from an investigation into two disappearances.


The Baltimore Atrocities is a mordant, deadpan collection of more than one hundred murders, betrayals, heartbreaks, suicides, and bureaucratic snafus—each with a half-page illustration by the author—that tells the story of a couple who spends a year in Baltimore in search of their respective siblings, who were abducted decades earlier as young children.

“A novel of mysteries, obsession, and subtle conspiracies . . . [a] descent into a possibly unknowable landscape.”Vol. 1 Brooklyn

“Poignant and unsettling, and much like a good short story collection these tales resonate long after the book is closed.”—Largehearted Boy

“An accomplished artist and writer, in addition to being an entertaining and often an electrifying one. John Woods does something very original in his combining of the arts in this collection, and my hat’s off to him in his two-hat achievement.”—Stephen Dixon

In 1978, Austrian novelist, playwright, and poet Thomas Bernhard published Der Stimmenimitator (later to be translated into English as The Voice Imitator), which consisted of a collection of miniature works bizarre even for him. As the legend goes, Bernhard was known for spending hours alone in the back room of his favorite local café reading the newspaper and listening in on conversations between those around him. Having been a reporter at various times himself, he would make note of the strange local occurrences that struck him in the reports or among gossip, pulling odd details and scenarios out of the text like a sort of mental curio box full of the strange. The Voice Imitator, in effect, then, is a condensation of 104 orchestrations of little windows into evil, parsed together in Bernhard's own stylized way of telling. The result is a bit like so:
"Care"
A post office official who was charged with murdering a pregnant woman told the court that he did not know why he had murdered the pregnant woman but that he had murdered his victim as carefully as possible. In response to all the presiding judge's questions, he always used the word carefully, whereupon the court proceedings against him were abandoned.
Page after page of these minor delicacies recounting such nuanced tales of murder, suicide, robbery, destruction, and other such misfortunes when played in queue together amass a kind of Ripley's Believe-It-or-Not meets modern-day Dante of what goes on between humans. The end result is one of the most subtle and creepy of Bernhard's career, made even more prominent when viewed against the backdrop of his usual nonstop-run-on-paragraph style, if not less cranky when it comes to unveiling the behavioral plagues people are capable of, ongoing every day.
I bring all of this up on the occasion of John Dermot Woods's new book,  ​The Baltimore Atrocities, which takes its essence from Bernhard's model and then extends that mode into new territory, with compelling effect. The battery of the book, like Bernhard's, sculpts hundreds of sad, haunting miniatures into a museum of their own, though here all circling around the terrain of Baltimore rather than Austria. Woods's ability to imitate The Voice Imitator's tone is compelling, and also runs on blood of its own feel; his anecdotes are somehow more personal than Bernhard's, more guttural, and leave behind the feeling of opening a gift wrapped in black paper to find a smaller box inside it, also wrapped.
Woods is a subtle writer, even when dealing with such morbid subjects as murder, abuse, and death, and the details he uses to illustrate the tiny horrors of daily life might be even more disconcerting than the former. Weaving between stories such as a surgeon who falls asleep while driving and kills a mother and daughter; a suicide line operator who gives up on her job in the middle of a call, resulting in a caller's death; a woman who kills her dinner guest with a stun gun in front of a small crowd, a very dark and somehow heartfelt energy combines, builds stronger and stronger the deeper one reads into it, creating a kind of morbid arc.
And yet, where Bernhard left his museum open and devoid of momentum outside the miniatures themselves, what really wakes The Baltimore Atrocities into its own is the narrative that pierces its heart. Outside the framework of the terror, Woods constructs the story of a man searching for his lost sister, who had been abducted from a park in Baltimore decades back. Between the array of little terrors, we return to the narrator in his search, each time weighing a bit more as a result of the darkness surrounding his path. By alternating between the two modes, Woods builds a dark momentum otherwise lost in all the hell. Each cryptic occurrence is also illustrated with its own equally peculiar portrait of a moment, like little windows into the book's world, which somehow grounds the sprawl into something more palpable, recognizable as acts our neighbors are capable of, our friends and family, ourselves.
The result is an engrossing and unnerving collaboration between the grotesque miniature and a larger heart behind the darkness, reaching and reaching to come out into some kind of light. Woods is smart to take care with any certain form of resolution; readers looking to be absolved of these atrocities won't find any clear comfort along the way, nor should they, because why? And yet, though I can't quite put a finger on what binds it, there is a deft heart to Woods's orchestrations; the eye is warm, and beneath the blood there is a flesh. Like most great books, the experience provided by The Baltimore Atrocities is one you won't quite have a name for afterward, though you might start sitting with your back to the wall when you go to the bar.​ -Blake Butler

Brooklyn-based writer and cartoonist John Dermot Woods dedicates “The Baltimore Atrocities” to “Thomas Bernhard and the other ghosts who haunt the places they hated to love.” The crotchety Austrian novelist routinely depicted beautiful cities such as Vienna and Salzburg as ugly dead-end worlds — in a sense, perfect settings for his casts of troubled, self-loathing misfits. In his latest novel, Woods channels Bernhard by warping Baltimore into a crucible of crime and heartache. But also like Bernhard, all-out doom and gloom is averted by copious character quirks, regular doses of absurdity and an ever-present mordant wit.
With a clear nod to Woods’ literary idol, the book’s protagonist is named Barney and his friend Thomas. Both characters meet at high school and slowly discover a common bond that is also a freak coincidence: Barney’s sister and Thomas’ brother were abducted from a park in Baltimore and have never been seen since.
After finishing school, the pair move to Baltimore and begin investigating and searching. People they encounter reveal that they have also lost young ones. The city becomes a Bermuda Triangle that swallows children and refuses to spit them out. A mysterious blind woman attests to this “pattern of tragedy,” while at the same time warning that “The more you search for people you’ve lost — people, I suspect, you know in no way anymore — the more you’ve been defeated.” Giving up seems more practical than carrying on — until one day a surprise lead takes Barney to a warehouse in the woods.
This constitutes the book’s main strand, conveyed to us in 25 short chapters. Woods fleshes out the proceedings by complementing each chapter with a cluster of one-paragraph vignettes, each of them illustrated. The vignettes are a compendium of “atrocities”: not only accounts of missing children, but tales of sons who kill their parents, wives who kill their husbands, suicides, rapes and mindless attacks. An angry father sends his daughter to school with poisoned cupcakes and duly massacres a third-grade class. A reclusive party hostess fires a stun-gun at guests she considers boring, arrogant or sullen. A chemistry teacher cuts off his students’ pinkies with a scalpel, while elsewhere a manicurist’s hands are lopped off and taxidermically preserved after she strangles her abusive husband.
Woods’ cartoons don’t, as one might expect, trivialize or lampoon these atrocities; rather, they visualize the sadness or desperation that each callous act provokes. But although the pictures and vignettes are diverting, even arresting, it is the longer writing comprising each chapter that is more satisfying, partly because it features a recurring character and partly because it coalesces into a fuller picture — albeit one maddeningly short of answers.
We leave “The Baltimore Atrocities” reeling from its medley of antic happenings and feeling more perplexed than when we went in, but also relieved that there are writers like Woods who are boldly picking up where past masters left off. - Malcolm Forbes



Excerpt of Two Atrocities from The Baltimore Atrocities
"Mother's Intuition"


My companion and I used to end up in the first hours of many Sunday mornings at a club called the Flamingo on East Baltimore Street. One such morning, we shared a bottle of bourbon with a particular exotic dancer, who told us about the near horrors of her school years, horrors that made us wonder if our long-lost brother and sister were better off for having gone missing while still so young. On the day of the Rumson Street Children's Massacre, as the newspapers called it, fifteen members of the dancer's third-grade class were killed and six others fell ill, all because of poisoned cupcakes an angry father sent his daughter to school with on her ninth birthday. Then, in high school, four members of the volleyball team, of which she was the captain, were raped by a bitter young math teacher, who imprisoned them in the girls' locker room and held them at gunpoint (the gun, it was later learned, was a fake). I asked her how she had avoided these notorious tragedies, and she gave all the credit to her mother (for whom she had no other kind words), who often claimed to receive premonitions from her television set. They were almost always inaccurate, but on both of these occasions, the messages told her to insist that her daughter stay home from school the next day. Ultimately, the dancer admitted, although she had not fallen victim to these crimes, the debt her mother expected from her for her lucky intuitions was so unreasonable, and had created so much anger, that she often wished she had not been spared on either of those horrible days.
"Legs"
The more time we spent in Baltimore, the more we came to understand the city's unique ability to take children from their parents in increasingly indirect and unforeseen ways, as in the case of a high school English teacher, whose choice to conduct a relationship with his seventeen-year old student must have been a result of poor judgment provoked by his anxiety about turning forty. The girl was an only child of a single mother, and an aspiring track star with the promise of a full scholarship to any number of universities. Her mother always saw her daughter's legs as her most valuable asset, and she understood that she might never be able to use them again, so, when she was moved to exact revenge on the English teacher who had taken advantage of her daughter, she decided that a set of legs was the exact reparation she deserved. She hired a man who visited the teacher in the faculty lounge and explained that he was going to cut off his legs, and he did, calmly and surgically. After the details of the affair came out, the English teacher had not only his legs taken from him, but his job as well. At the time that he was attacked, he didn't understand why anyone would wish such a cruel punishment on him, until he learned a week later, as he emerged, legless, from the trauma of the event, that his seventeen-year-old student and lover had swallowed several bottles of pills after her mother had learned of their affair and pledged to get both school and legal authorities involved. The girl put herself into a coma from which she never woke.
- www.vice.com/author/blake-butler


FIRST IN LINE AT THE PEEPSHOW
Down on Baltimore Street, after spending several daylight hours at a bar, two college friends, who had attended the University of Maryland in their younger years, entered an adult entertainment arcade and stood before a live peepshow booth. Despite being slightly embarrassed, they both agreed that the women available were remarkably beautiful, and they assured each other that sensuality this rare was worth paying for. They both chose the same small dark-haired woman to watch, and, so as not to seem overly eager or perverse, they also both insisted that the other go first. At last they agreed that the married man, who, as such, was the more desperate of the two, should enter the private booth first. He was astounded by what the woman showed him when they were behind the curtain. He stumbled from the booth delirious with pleasure. But his bachelor friend began to sob once he himself was behind the curtain, a sob that slowly became a violent choking sound. The married man threw open the curtain to find his friend’s lifeless body before him, while the naked woman still performed, her eyes closed, unaware of what had happened on the other side of the glass. The man who survived, and whom we met one late night at a bar, said he still often thinks about this moment and wonders what his friend saw in the woman’s dance that he himself did not.
Baltimore Atrocities Image-063

HOLIDAY PARTY
As Christmas approached during our year in Baltimore, our neighbor said she hoped it wouldn’t be as horrifying as last year’s holiday, when a particular party ended in tragedy. Apparently, the aging daughter of one of the oldest and richest families in Baltimore had spent most of her adult life as a total recluse, but decided that particular Christmas Eve she would host a gala celebration at the family estate. The night would include cocktails, a seven-course dinner, and dancing to music performed by a chamber group made up of members of the Peabody Concert Orchestra. Whether it was due to anxiety or a desire for control, the hostess positioned herself on a balcony above the drawing room and watched the party from there for almost one hour before entering. When she did come down, she revealed a stun gun, which she used to shock any partygoers who, in her estimation, were either boring, haughty, or sullen. Unlike a normal stun gun, it was later revealed that hers had been modified to deliver a lethal shock. When midnight came and the holiday party was over, the only guests remaining were those whom she had shocked, and therefore lay dead on the ballroom floor or upright at the dining table. Perhaps the most unsettling, yet impressive, reality of the evening was the fact that the chamber group and the waitstaff refused to allow the misfortune to distract them and remained dedicated to their duties, playing every piece until the last and serving every single one of the seven delicious courses.
Baltimore Atrocities Image-048

          
-therumpus.net/2014/11/first-in-line-at-the-peepshow/


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Conspiracies, Scandals, and Disappearances: John Dermot Woods on “The Baltimore Atrocities”



Nathan Sterner speaks with John Dermot Woods listen




ACTIVITIES
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“John Dermot Woods creates poem comics. His iconic images have secret meanings! A girl smiles with her foot in a bear trap. A boy plays a whistle with a skeleton hand. Woods gives us snapshots of everyday life where everything is just a little bit wrong. Look and look

A collection of short story comics, including new and previously published work. Now available from Publishing Genius Press.
    
“John Dermot Woods creates poem comics. His iconic images have secret meanings! A girl smiles with her foot in a bear trap. A boy plays a whistle with a skeleton hand. Woods gives us snapshots of everyday life where everything is just a little bit wrong. Look and look again.” —Lauren Weinstein, Girl Stories and Goddess of War

“John Woods is making thoughtful, refreshing, beautiful comics that you can drink with your eyes.” —Blaise Larmee

“John Dermot Woods has a remarkably agile illustration style that well serves this collection of comics stories – each reading and feeling as sharp and poignant as any prose short story – with the ending leaving the reader to meditate on what they’ve just consumed. Woods takes the seemingly commonplace, a found shoe, a dead cat, a game of king of the hill, and takes them to unexpected and remarkable places.” —Benn Ray, Atomic Books

color-cover

NO ONE TOLD ME I WAS GOING TO DISAPPEAR

This novel in words and pictures, a collaboration with J.A. Tyler, tells the story-a love story-of conjoined twins who are conscripted into the service of the circus, and search for their freedom with the help of a cast of characters, including Jesus, a bearded lady, and a fish.
Published by Jaded Ibis Press, 2012.
134 Pages. Illustrated. Available in full-color, black-and-white, ebook, and limited art editions.
Available fromJaded Ibis here and from Amazon here.

SELECTED REVIEWS: Vouched Books / The Los Angeles Review / American Book Review


    

cover

Voltron

THE COMPLETE COLLECTION OF PEOPLE, PLACES & THINGS

A novel told in words and pictures. Watch as Optimus Prime, Rainbow Brite, the wily Benvereen wrangle with existential doubt and dream about the world that lies beyond the hills in whose shadow they've lived their whole lives!
Published by BlazeVOX Books, 2009.
179 Pages. Perfect bound. With drawings.
Available from BlazeVOX here and from Amazon here.

SELECTED REVIEWS: The Collagist / Corduroy Books / Three Guys One Book / Curled Up    
    
“An accomplished artist and writer, in addition to being an entertaining and often an electrifying one.   John Woods does something very original in his combining of the arts in this collection, and my hat's off to him in his two-hat achievement.”— Stephen Dixon

“John Dermot Woods' Complete Collection thrills the daylights out of me. Every word, every image is infused with vitality. Every place, person and thing breathes and moves. It is an android's heaven, a manikin's cocktail party. It reminds me of the Golden Age cartoons where human departure imbues clocks, canned goods, books, statues, toys or brooms with sentience. When we close our eyes our kitchens Jitterbug, our teddy bears waltz. The thing I love most about this world is that while Woods' imagination is opened full throttle, he provides an almost ethnographical structure to explicate it. His wonderland is so thoroughly startling because of -- not in spite of -- his ability to make his account as reliable as a Fodor's travel guide.”— Reginald McKnight

“John Woods' The Complete Collection brings the small-town America of Sherwood Anderson's Winesburg, Ohio into conversation with Italo Calvino's fake travelogue, Invisible Cities, and that book's dreamish vision of Imperial China. Like Calvino's novel, the book evokes a kind of nearly Renaissance-like iconographic worldview of Memory and the Imagination, but one channeled through the disposable world of American children's toys and comic books. The flat voice is disconcertingly balanced between farce, comedy and deadly seriousness.”— Johannes Göransson

FICTION, POEMS, etc.
/one/
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