In June 2013, I launched a webcomic in an effort to kick off a career as a comics writer. I already owned the domain name “Deadshirt.net,” as it had been an online handle I’d used a number of times before as a record label (and even an earlier, aborted attempt at a pop culture website), so I decided I would publish it there. But since I could only afford to pay for pencils and inks at a rate of two pages per week, I decided a great way to drive traffic to the site and eyes to my comic would be to publish reviews, essays, and articles the remaining three weekdays. I asked some friends who were talented writers to join me in creating some comics, movie, TV, and music reviews.
By September the webcomic was forgotten, but Deadshirt had become a hotbed of activity. We’d quickly attained cooperation from comics publishers in the form of free digital review copies, we’d assembled a staff of a dozen writers, and were printing eight to ten articles a week. More than that, we’d become a community, stretching out from our bullpen Facebook group into Twitter to become a hotbed of pop culture conversation and friendship.
Over the course of working on Deadshirt.net, I have met some of the most important people in my life. It has been an honor and privilege to be a part of this team, to share and cultivate thoughts, to work through hard times, and to have some of the best times of my life with some of the most brilliant, determined, and compassionate writers and editors you’ll find anywhere.
I want to thank all of you who have read and enjoyed our work over the past four and a half years. We were never the kind of sight that drew a mass audience, but we had a loyal, passionate following, the kind of people who engaged with us social media and made us feel valuable. From the outset, we didn’t want to be the kind of site that simply reposts press releases or tries to trick folks into clicking on work that requires the bare minimum of effort. The thing that made Deadshirt special to me was that it was a place where writers could go to write just whatever the fuck they wanted as long as it had substance, without concern for how many clicks it might get. We got out those personal pieces or oddball projects that no one was ever going to pay us to write. We wrote for you, we wrote for ourselves, and we wrote for each other, for the pure joy of it.
Today, as Deadshirt’s final post, I want to highlight some of wonderful, joyful work that this group of people has produced, and to thank some individuals whose dedication made Deadshirt a special place.
Comics has always been Deadshirt’s bread and butter, the common passion that unites most of our staff, past and present. Our flagship feature was Deadshirt is Reading (along with its sister column Deadshirt Shopping List), which featured 2-5 single-issue comics reviews a week, nearly every week from September 2013 until last week. A number of editors have been responsible for curating this feature over the years, most recently Kayleigh Hearn, who became one of the guiding voices at Deadshirt since joining the team in 2014. Her wry wit and boundless knowledge of X-Men and cult horror movies will remain a highlight of our archives as well as at Women Write About Comics, where she also serves as an editor and contributor. (She shares an Eisner nomination for her work there.)
Some of the Kayleigh Hearn Greatest Hits include her series X-Education with Professor K, where Kayleigh paired each X-Men movie (up to Logan) with a related comics story and discussed them with a rotating chair of Deadshirt staff. She also wrote the recurring column Ink Ladies, which focuses on comics by women, both recently and as far back as 1972.
Another key figure in Deadshirt’s comics coverage—and the site as a whole—was Christina Harrington, one of the first people to board the project, our first Copy Editor, and a de facto Managing Editor even before we formalized the position. Christina wrote our style guide, enforced deadlines, and helped to establish a standard of sensitivity in our coverage of the frequently deliberately exclusionary comics culture. Christina personally read every word that we published in 2014, our most prolific year, as well as frequently writing engaging full reviews and contributing to digests. She also wrote our first Webcomics Field Guide, which became a series that would end up being passed between herself, Joe Stando, and Jen Overstreet. During this period there was no single contributor more essential to Deadshirt than Christina Harrington. Her skills and work ethic have since made her an Assistant Editor at Marvel Comics.
Other comics highlights include:
- David Uzumeri brought the brand of gleeful scholarly hyper-analysis that won him acclaim on Comics Alliance to Deadshirt in the form of his Secret Wars commentary track. He’d go on to become a fixture of Deadshirt is Reading.
- Our rotating-author series The Rundown, which reviewed specific runs on an ongoing comics series. Here’s a particularly fun installment about The Demon (Etrigan), written by longtime contributor Sarah Register.
- Max Robinson (who I’ll get into more detail about shortly) wrote a essay examining the weird dialect spoken in Chris Onstad’s Achewood.
- Deadshirt is Reading accounted for a very large percentage of our total comics coverage, which made it very difficult to dig through when assembling this retrospective, but I want to take a moment to recognize some of the writers who, while they may not have had regular columns or many full-length reviews, contributed to DiR for weeks on end for years. This includes writers like Jason Urbanciz, Robby Karol, Sarah Register, Patrick Stinson, Adam Pelta-Pauls, and Andrew Niemann. Their contributions to Deadshirt’s library are less obvious but no less essential.
- and finally, what our largest and most ambitious project, A Long Halloween, a collection of 17 wildly different pieces of writing, each centered on a supporting character from the world of Batman, each accompanied by a piece of original artwork. Contributors included myself, fellow project curator Max Robinson, Christina Harrington, Dominic Griffin, Kyle Herr, Mike Pfeiffer, and Cameron DeOrdio, and a murderer’s row of artists like Ramon Villalobos, Kyle Starks, JoJo Seames, Chris Haley, and Dan McDaid.
For about the past two years, our Max Robinson has served not only as our Movies Editor but also as Managing Editor of Deadshirt.net, overseeing day-to-day operations of the site, pitching new features, and rallying team members for our group round-table reviews or series. But even before that, Max was Deadshirt’s rock. Max recruited most of the writers who ever wrote for Deadshirt, recommended most of the editorial staff, and was one of the most prolific authors of the site. Apart from myself, Max is the only writer to publish here on Deadshirt both in June 2013 and in January 2018. He’s been here from the beginning, always writing, always helping. During a period in 2016 when my own enthusiasm for the work had waned, causing the site’s output to trickle, Max picked up the reigns and got us back into fighting shape. There is no Deadshirt without Max Robinson.
Max had his own recurring movies column, Stale Popcorn, in which he revisited movies from the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but one of Max’s largest contributions was as a collaborator, whether it was pairing up with writers to review each Planet of the Apes or Rocky film, or rallying other writers together to write limited series of reviews or retrospectives around a specific theme or genre. Among our themed movie months:
- Black Snow (dark Christmas movies)
- Buddy Cops
- A general October Horror Month, and one specific to Stephen King movies
- Two years of Noirvember
Max also scored us one of our first big hit articles, an analysis of Edgar Wright’s The World’s End‘s use of Arthurian legend that got reposted by the director himself.
As I mentioned, Max was responsible for bringing aboard a great percentage of our staff, including one-time Movies Editor Dominic Griffin, author of (holy shit) 128 reviews, essays, and articles here on Deadshirt, not counting his many contributions to team-ups and digests. And if you’re a reader of Dom’s, then you know that he’s not only prolific but also insightful, openhearted, and unbelievably knowledgable on an insane variety of topics. During his time here at Deadshirt, Dominic Griffin demonstrated deep, considered knowledge of arthouse film, blockbuster movies, unpublished screenplays, cult television, hip hop, rock, pop, and pro wrestling. But what I most admire about Dom’s writing is not only his expertise but his honesty, his ability to take any topic and make it deeply personal, while also accessible to as broad an audience as possible. Dom can make any topic interesting, even to someone new to a subject, and in doing so, teach you something about himself and his life.
Dom wrote a ton of movie (and comics, and TV) reviews, but also had his own movies column called Dark Gable Presents… which sought to highlight a broad array of films by black filmmakers in different genres. He also put his experience as a screenwriter and screenplay nerd to use in two particular highlights: one examination of Quentin Tarantino as a screenwriter, and one history of unproduced films based on DC Comics characters.
Other movie highlights include:
- Chuck Winters burst onto the Deadshirt scene with this intriguing analysis of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and then went on to start his own column about underrated or overlooked films, You Have to See This.
- Longtime movies and comics contributor Patrick Stinson took his love of and expertise in kaiju movies to its fullest with Angry Turtle!, in which he and co-writer Andrew Tucker break down highlights from the Gamera film series.
- As part of our first Horror Month, contributor and copy editor Cameron DeOrdio (who has since gone pro as a comics writer on titles such as Josie & the Pussycats) reviewed one of his all-time favorites, John Carpenter’s In the Mouth of Madness.
- Our recurring series Mind the Gap allowed critics who had never seen a particular seminal film to watch it for the first time and compare the experience against their expectations from the cultural zeitgeist. This ended up being fodder for some great comedy, both in Cameron DeOrdio’s review of Predator, and particularly in contributor Futura Nguyen’s side-splitting review of Top Gun.
- TV editor and comedian Haley Winters (more on her later) reviewed the trashy potboiler The Boy Next Door, and, well, the title of her review speaks for itself.
- Deadshirt’s very first staff writer Mike Pfeiffer wrote an intriguing analysis of Batman Forever as gay cinema called “The Talented Mr. Nygma.”
- As part of her contribution to our first Noirvember, Christina Harrington wrote what was hands down the best take on The Big Lebowski that I’ve ever read.
- Our second Movies editor, Caitlin Goldblatt, doesn’t have many solo bylines from her short time with us, but she engaged the staff in a number of interesting group panels, such as this one, in which she, Sarah Register, Patrick Stinson, Haley Winters, and Madie Coe expound on the fictional characters who helped them to define their own identities, and this team-up review of It Follows with Dominic Griffin. While on staff she also contributed to music, comics, and TV digests.
Standing out in the fast-paced world of music criticism is a particular challenge, so Music Editor Julian Ames and I (who together are now one half of The Hell Yeah Babies with former Deadshirt Staff Writers Mike Pfeiffer and Sam Paxton) decided that in addition to album reviews, we’d try a few wild ideas. One was to encourage writers to get personal—music, when it’s good, touches you on a deep emotional level. And while there may be a hundred other music blogs who got their reviews out faster or who have the exclusive interview, no one can write about how a song or an album affects you except you.
This approach led to the recurring column Perfect Records, a series of personal essays about albums that have stuck with a given writer (different each time) over a period of years, examining how the writer and their interpretation of the art have grown and changed around each other. Highlights from this series would include Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot (Christina Harrington), Ben Folds Five’s Whatever and Ever Amen (Dylan Roth), and forgotten 80s power pop band The A’s self titled album (Mike Pfeiffer), which was actually responsible for getting the album back in print digitally.
Taking inspiration from our comics digest, Julian edited Deadshirt is Listening, a weekly collection of capsule reviews of music that had been released over the past week. DiL kept the new tunes flowing for over a year, thanks in large part to committed music junkies Mike Duquette, Sam Paxton, and David Lebovitz, who would pore through music publications and streaming service algorithms to find something exceptional.
From June 2014 to July 2015, Julian curated a monthly themed Spotify playlist of songs called Listen Here, selected and annotated by himself and other members of the Deadshirt staff, around flexible concepts such as “The Ups and Downs of Love” and “‘Hot’ Songs for Cool People.” After the first year, a handful more playlists would be selected entirely by a different single writer each time, including one by Julian himself, “NYC Serenade.” All of these playlists are still available and a real treat to listen to, especially when accompanied by their curator notes.
One of the other ways that Deadshirt’s music department distinguished itself from other music sites was by eschewing listicles and countdowns in favor of a less common, less predictable structure that served more or less the same purpose—on four occasions, members of the Deadshirt team pit selections of music against each other in a March Madness-style bracket, debating the merits of each match-up, in order to determine the best James Bond theme, the best Beatles album, the best Christmas song, and the best fictional band from film, television, or comics. These were a delight to make and make for fun light reading.
Other music highlights include:
- Deadshirt’s musical coverage often crossed over into our other media categories, such as in this tribute of the late film composer James Horner by pop music and film score encyclopedia Mike Duquette. Mike could always strike a balance between the scholarly and the emotional.
- Mike also put his knowledge and experience with pop music curios to work with an article on musical side-projects throughout the history of pop, which deserve to be forgotten and which need to be unearthed. (Mike is a producer of boxed sets and collections of catalog music at Sony Legacy, this kind of thing is his bread and butter.)
- Sam Paxton’s review of St. Vincent’s self-titled album always puts a smile on his face. So much of music criticism is about trying to take the piss out of artists and demonstrate how above it you are; Sam doesn’t hide his unbridled admiration for his subject here and I think the review is all the better for it.
- In a similar vein to A Long Halloween, the Deadshirt crew banded together to create an essay about each track on Prince’s Purple Rain album, plus one about its feature film companion. We called it 30 Purple Years.
One of the things I’m most grateful to Deadshirt for is getting me back in contact with some old friends, like our first TV Editor, writer/comedian Haley Winters. Haley is funny and smart as hell, and one of my favorite qualities of Haley’s writing was how great she was at writing about material that is widely considered “low art.” Haley is a reality TV addict, and in all honesty I wasn’t sure if I wanted to dedicate a much attention in our TV section to unscripted television. Haley turned me around on that immediately, and you only have to read her essays on The Bachelor or Are You The One? to understand why. She got right to what makes a show appealing (or terrifying), who it’s trying to speak to, and what it’s trying to say.
And nobody was funnier during our #DeadshirtDateNight Twitter events, when the gang would riff on a movie or live TV event together with readers. It’s no surprise that Haley would move on to work in comedy and social media full time in Los Angeles.
Our next TV Editor was Joe Stando, who took over curating our weekly Deadshirt is Watching digests. Like DiR or DiL, this was an outlet for short reviews of individual episodes that came out in the past week. This is a much more challenging task than it sounds, particularly given that we discouraged writers from discussing the same shows over and over, week after week. There’s a lot of corralling and prodding that goes into keeping a small team of writers not only on deadline, but engaged in enough new material to keep the column fresh. DiW remained a fun window into cable comedies, network dramas, and even the occasional web series.
Like Haley, Joe’s also been a stand-up and comedy writer, but his work for Deadshirt—in the Comics, Movies, TV, and occasionally the Music section, was not always about laughs but frequently about heart or horror. Joe was able to put all of these aptitudes to work in his review of Cartoon Network’s Over the Garden Wall, which stands out as one of my favorites.
At Deadshirt we tried to avoid a habits of some other sites that cover TV, who frequently publish weekly recaps of shows even if the assigned writer doesn’t really have anything to say about it, or worse, nakedly hates the show they’re watching. One of our main rules for TV and Comics was to try and save full articles for finished products, seasons, or arcs, and save episodic coverage for digests. That’s much easier to do when talking about a Netflix show that’s binged in a weekend than a network series that runs 22 episodes a year. So, once members of the Deadshirt team got really intensely into the bonkers Batman-based Fox series Gotham, it was clear that an adjustment had to be made to that rule.
Thus, Aw C’mon Gotham was born, in which Kayleigh Hearn, Sarah Register, and Max Robinson unpacked each episode of Gotham from the second season on in the style resembling the Twitter reaction threads they were already having during Season One, just a couple friends riffing on the delightful absurdity of the show, punctuated by sincere praise or criticism. ACG was fun and successful enough to warrant a spin-off of sorts, in the similarly structured episodic team-up Riverdale’s Edge by Robyn MacLeod, Andrew Niemann, and Chuck Winters, a more serious and clinical look at The CW’s Riverdale befitting the show’s more deliberate pace and mysterious tone.
Other TV highlights include:
- Longtime Deadshirt staff writer David Lebovitz has a bottomless enthusiasm for late night talk shows, and put a ton of research into his column Talk Show Graveyard, where he tells the stories of late night shows that burned out or faded away. I don’t know that there’s a higher authority on this subject anywhere.
- Max Robinson and contributor Jake Arant teamed up to review select episodes of the classic TV series Miami Vice, and then moved on to that show’s dark reflection, Thunder in Paradise starring Hulk Hogan and a government super-boat.
- I had my own long-running column, Infinite Diversity, examining the various themes, messages, and a couple of specific stories from the Star Trek franchise.
- Christina Harrington and Haley Winters were among the first to dig deep into BoJack Horseman, really cutting to the core of what makes it Netflix’s best original comedy.
- Max Robinson scored this fun, unique interview with Janice Poon, the food stylist on Hannibal. If you’ve ever seen the show, then you already know how essential her work is to the experience. Learn how it’s done!
As I mentioned above in the Movies section, Dominic Griffin has a talent and a passion for making dense material interesting and accessible to new audiences. To that end, Dom pitched a column called In This Very Ring, which would essentially be an introduction to pro wrestling for non-fans, particularly those who had a background in comics, film, or television. As a non-fan at the time, someone who simply didn’t get the appeal (because I hadn’t watched any wrestling), I was still very taken with the column, which taught me the terminology and psychology of the medium, if not an enthusiasm for it.
So, when I actually watched some pro wrestling for the first time (thanks to Deadshirt Editors Kyle Herr and Christina Harrington), I found myself not only very well prepared, but very much in love. I dove into the art form hard, and have never looked back. Over time the number of wrestling nerds in the Deadshirt bullpen grew, and we were able to launch yet another weekly digest, Too Much Wrestling. This led to its own spin-off, Ashly Nagrant’s column Where’s My FREAKING Revolution?, which examined WWE’s self-proclaimed “Women’s Revolution,” and whether or not it actually holds up against any kind of feminist criticism. (As of the date of this publication, WMFR is currently looking for a new home, so if you’re interested, hit her up on Twitter.)
Wrestling made up a fairly small chunk of the Deadshirt universe, but it was close to my heart and we had a lot of fun with it. Special thanks here go to the regular contributors to Too Much Wrestling: Cameron DeOrdio, Dominic Griffin, Kyle Herr, Ashly Nagrant, and Andrew Niemann.
Some highlights from our wrestling coverage:
- Every installment of In This Very Ring is great, but the second chapter does a better job of explaining the wrestling audience and the magic of wrestling as a con the audience willingly participates in than anything else I’ve seen or read.
- Here’s a rare self-contained Too Much Wrestling, which focuses on New Japan Pro Wrestling’s G1 Special in USA tournament, tracking a single story through three matches.
- Ashly’s Where’s My FREAKING Revolution? was about being challenging and necessarily negative a lot of the time, but it was always gratifying to see when WWE actually lived up to Ashly’s expectations for women’s wrestling, as she documented in her review of last year’s Mae Young Classic.
Our video games section, led by Editor Kyle Herr, distinguished itself from larger video game review publications by sometimes getting delightfully weird. Kyle liked to break away entirely from the basic structure of a review and try to convey the joy of a video game from the inside. Take, for instance, a review of Animal Crossing that’s an in-universe journal of his character’s experience, or this satirical editorial from inside the world of Saints Row IV, where criminal wrecking ball The Boss is elected president. (Recent years have made this piece all the more bizarre.) Or how about the St. PigeoNation’s Fall 2197 Newsletter, from the world of Hatoful Boyfriend, written by Kyle, Kayleigh Hearn, Futura Nguyen, and Jen Overstreet? How else to capture the essence of such a bizarre game than to fully immerse yourself in the weird?
Kyle would dive deep into an underappreciated element of video game immersion with his column Audio Play, which explored video game soundtracks and how they enhance or influence gameplay. This column includes some very in-depth analysis of the Silent Hill series, fans should make sure not to sleep on this.
Like many of our editors, Kyle curated a recurring digest for his section called Deadshirt is Playing, where contributors such as Jen Overstreet, Julian Ames, Jake Arant, and Matt Bremner would dish on their current or classic favorites.
Other video game highlights include:
- Jen Overstreet, who also served as our designer and webmaster for much of Deadshirt’s run, hosted a short comics series here called Companions: A Dragon Age: Inquisition Play-Through Comic, which is delightful and funny even if you haven’t played the game yourself.
- Jen also used their experience as an artist and graphic designer to craft a detailed review the gorgeous indie mobile title Monument Valley.
- Jake Arant tooks us on an in-depth exploration into platformer level design in “Zone 1: Hedgehog Evolution Hills”, tracking the leaps in design and gameplay between the first stages of Sonic The Hedgehog 1, 2 & 3.
- Futura Nguyen reviewed the bizarre but richly textured Kickstarter-funded indie game LISA. The review touches on what it means for a story to be “grim,” or “dark,” what that means to a player, and how it affects a gameplay experience.
- In anticipation of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, I marathoned through each preceding game in the canon in my limited series SNAAAAAAAKE! (This series remains incomplete due to my completely stalling out of The Phantom Pain, but I think the reviews of the other eight games hold up very well.)
Lastly, Deadshirt was also the home to some works that didn’t easily fit into any particular category. For instance, Brian Garvey’s [Citation Needed] ruminated on TV, online fandom, audio dramas, and the nature of cult classics, linked only by the wit and distinctive voice of its writer and extensive use of footnotes for both informational and comedic purposes. Each installment is funny and introspective and just very punchy.
But when it comes to “Where do we even put this shit?” material on Deadshirt, you really gotta talk about The Trash Boys. Mike Pfeiffer and Max Robinson put their natural comedy duo charisma to work on some of the most bonkers stuff we ever printed. The first “season” of The Trash Boys, called The Trashford Files, was a series of reviews of fast food stunt items like the Taco Bell Smothered Burrito. These weren’t so much food reviews as short dark comedies told in dialogue. It is occasionally…truly revolting. Needless to say, it became one of our most popular features instantly. The second cycle, TrashMall, was arguably even weirder, as Trash Boys plumbed thrift stores, catalogs, and even a Julien’s auction of a bunch of Burt Reynolds’ basement garbage. It would be impossible for me to explain why this series is so funny. Just go read it. There was also a spin-off of sorts, Just Dandy, in which Mike Pfeiffer took reader questions and gave advice on topics like dating and the best way to reheat a pizza.
- Contributor Madie Coe didn’t fit neatly into any of the above categories, as she contributed to Deadshirt is Listening, Listen Here, Deadshirt is Watching, and a number of other odds and ends over the years. She also wrote Geeking Out in Public, where she reported on mass pop cultural gatherings.
- We teamed up with Women Write About Comics a few times during our run. Thank you to Editor-In-Chief Megan Purdy for including us in your circle.
- Thank you to Cameron DeOrdio and Robyn MacLeod for sharing Copy Editor duties with me for the past few years.
- Deadshirt had a Patreon! A handful of folks out there gave hard-earned money to help pay our annual hosting fees. Hopefully you’ve already received thanks from us via Patreon before we shut it down, but thank you again.
- A sincere apology to anyone who I left out. I hope having read this far you can appreciate just how much there was to comb through—individually acknowledging everyone was pretty much impossible.
No Goodbyes. Just good memories.
To everyone reading this who was involved with Deadshirt at one time or another, either for a few months or for nearly half a decade, take a moment, scroll up to the top of this retrospective, and take stock of just how long it took to describe all the work we did together. We created so much. That work isn’t going anywhere. Deadshirt.net will stand for as long as economically possible. This is, as it always was, your website.
For anyone reading this who wasn’t part of the team, thank you for lending these writers your attention and support. I hope you’ll follow them wherever they go next. (Or, better yet, pay them to write something!)
– Dylan Roth
Founder, Deadshirt .net