Stranger Things, The OA, People of Earth, the (re)returns of both The X Files and Twin Peaks. There's no denying that the Paranormal is once again enjoying a high level of interest in pop culture. Could it be that, at long last, the Fortean community will receive its chance to be the 'cool' minority in the block, following in the footsteps of preceding groups --gays and geeks to name the latest ones?
The ultimate test in such trends is when the minority group manages to expand its exposure into one of the most important pinnacles of Western civilization: Children's TV programming. The Black community had Fat Albert while Latinos had Dora. Geeks dreamed of hanging out with Dexter in his lab, and the ripples caused by Tinky Winky's vague sexual orientation are still felt to this day!
Why do I hold cartoons in such high regard, you may wonder. I can give you 2 simple reasons: a) because future generations end up dealing with the world (and sometimes shaping it) based in no small part on what they were exposed to at their most tender years; thus b) the filters by which cultural content is parsed through, in order to be deemed appropriate for those impressionable young minds, are much more stringent and narrow.
With that in mind, may we ask where's our Paranormal Powerpuff Girl, then? Enter Roz and her band.
Roz Wells + The Vortex is the toon tulpa of Jack Cusumano, an L.A. based artist whom I befriended through the sort of oblique and synchronistic circumstances which make the life of a Fortean fiend worth living. Animation is one of those perfect occupational matches with podcast listening, which is why Jack ended up becoming a hardcore fan of Mysterious Universe some time ago.
MU successfully turned into Jack's gateway drug to the slippery slope of High Strangeness, and it didn't take long before he started to amass all sorts of books dealing with all the customary menagerie of things that go bump in the night.
Oh, should I also mention Jack is currently working on season 3 of the widely acclaimed Rick & Morty? That's right, Ben and Aaron: If you ever sought confirmation that the creatives behind those shows are actually influenced by the weirdness YOU release on a weekly basis, seek no more!
But as much fun as collaborating in the mind-bending (mis)adventures of a drunken genius and his witless grandkid may be, Roz Wells is Jack's way of exploring some of his own personal ideas about UFOs, Cryptozoology, ancient civilizations and the whole of the High Strangeness enchilada we all deeply love --sometimes hate to love (if you're a believer) or love to hate (if you're a skeptic).
The concept behind the series is both simple and at the same time incredibly provocative: How would the world look like if all of our wet dreams came true, and humanity finally discovered the world is indeed inhabited by aliens and cryptids alike? What happens after we all have our big fat "I TOLD YOU SO!!"?
Roz Wells + The Vortex is the story of a human girl and her Gray and Sasquatch friends who go to the same school and form a punk rock band. "They live in a post-disclosure world," explains Cusumano, "where Bigfoot, Grays and Atlanteans have all been revealed and are now no big deal. Roz wants to freak people out with her music, but it’s tough to surprise anyone in a world that’s already this weird."
Below is Roz Wells' first released short, which had its debut last week on Youtube as well, and a week prior during the Loop de Loop Chicken Show at The Downtown Independent Theater in Los Angeles:
I asked Jack to describe the sort of paranormal influences he used to conceive the backstory for the series. Here's his reply:
"I drew specific inspiration from genuine reports and books that I’ve come across after years of research. For instance, The Cryptoterrestrials by Mac Tonnies was a big influence on how I explain Grays in this world. They’re a subterranean race of hive-minded humanoids who lived on earth long before humans arrived. When humans did arrive - big, dumb, loud and violent - the grays retreated underground into bug-like hives and developed high technology. They now reproduce exclusively by cloning.
The Sasquatch in this world are dumb (perhaps an influence from MU’s sasquatch impressions) but well meaning folk who live in the forest and have a strong connection to and empathy for Nature, plants and animals. A big influence was Kewaunee Lapseritis’s Psychic Sasquatch book, even though I cut out the psychic and multi-dimensional bits here. I loved his overall portrayal of these gentle giant nature loving creatures and found the book endlessly entertaining.
There’s no Atlanteans in this initial short, but they’ll feature in later episodes. For them I look to things like Helena Blavatsky, Manly P. Hall and Graham Hancock for influence. In the show they were a civilization that existed before the great flood, and afterwards were scattered around the world where they concealed themselves and lived in obscurity. Their society was based on magic, which led to the cataclysm that wiped them out, so now they don’t touch magic except for benign “love and light” crystal magic type stuff. But there’s some older, darker magic that Roz and her friends might encounter…
The setting for the show, Crimson Canyon, is based on Sedona AZ, one of my favorite weird spots in the world. Much like the real Sedona, it’s a new-age hippy paradise, so the Grays, Sasquatch and Atlanteans fit right in amongst the rest of the eccentric citizens. In the short you just get little hints at it - the red rocks, the statue of Thoth in front of the school, and the posters and flyers in the halls (pause it and read them)."
Despite all the software and technical advances the animation industry has witnessed in the last 2 decades, creating a short independently is an incredibly time-consuming labor of love. Even more so if it's a one-man's job! I asked Jack whether he was planning on releasing a second short any time soon, and he conceded he's still weighing a few different options, depending on if a studio shows interest in buying the show a making a series; if not he would continue to make the series all by himself, and try to produce a second short before the year ends.
Either way, I just can't wait to see more of Roz, Dee and Uma --BTW see what he did there?-- because as a kid I always dreamed of finding a TV show just like that, in which High Strangeness could be shown not as something to be challenged and debunked ("And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren't for you meddling kids!") but embraced and celebrated instead. "All in all, Roz Wells is my love letter to all things high strange," Jack says, "and owes a big debt to MU for steering me towards these avenues of research!"
Here's hoping Roz Wells + The Vortex gets its chance to steer a bunch of impressionable young minds into enjoying the weirder side of things.