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john g Kicking ass + making frames



PressureLife Creative Director, Owner

Jim Bacha

Art Director, Partner

Hannah Allozi

Operations Manager / Illustrator

Aaron Gelston

Managing Editor

Ryan Novak

Managing Editor

Alex Bieler

Content Strategist

Adam Dodd

Senior Writers Staff Writers Media Producer Project Coordinator Contributors

Dan Bernardi Gennifer Harding-Gosnell Darrick Tahir Rutledge Kevin Naughton Kevin Naughton Tiffany Fields Anthony Franchino Ben Diamond Casey Rearick @caseyrearickphoto

Dave Sebille Dave Skorepa James Earl Brassfield Juliet Abram Matt McLaughlin Mike Suglio Wilson Rivera Distribution

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FIND THIS GUY IN ONE OF OUR ADVERTISEMENTS + WIN $25 Weir was found by Casey gripping onto the devil's goatee in Funhouse's ad in Issue 15 of PressureLife. Weir will he be next? For your chance to score a $25 gift card, locate the elusive Weir stashed in one of our advertisements and be the first to cast his location to @thepressurelife through Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

Want to wear Weir? has your size.



06 Hot Ham & Cheese

A trio of veteran Cleveland rockers.

08 Sound and Vision: Sixth City Sounds

Music, business, and the death of 'Cleveland Rocks.'

10 Molto Bene Italian Eatery



Dine with the PressureLife team.

12 Embracing the Chill

Warm up this winter by getting cold.

14 Kaydence Jayne and the Cabaret

A drag queen breaks out into mainstream Cleveland.



16 John G

The tireless mind behind the drawing board.

22 Christmas Past in Cleveland

A pictorial history of Cleveland during the holidays.


24 Yours Truly

A mailbox menace leaves a small town under siege.

26 Tech Trends

The 2017 surveillance technology holiday shopping guide.

28 Different Strokes

An Ohio artist spotlight: James Quarles.

30 I Hate Kwanzaa

Two writers face off on their views of the holiday.

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Christmas Starts Early at Around the Corner one Lakewood bar decided that it needed plenty of Christmas cheer to go along with all the Christmas beer. On Black Friday, Around the Corner Saloon & Cafe officially opened The Christmas Corner Bar, a pop-up establishment dedicated to the spirit of the of the season so that patrons could enjoy a few drinks like every day is Dec. 25.


“I got the idea from my mother-in-law [Dr. Faith Kittoe],” Owner and General Manager Ryan Krivosh says. “She gave me the idea because their family loves Christmas, so she and my wife both came to me and said, ‘You've got to do this.’” The Christmas Corner Bar is located in the original Around the Corner space where Krivosh’s dad first opened the establishment up in 1974. It’s mainly used as an attached party room for the bar, so Krivosh and his crew spent a full night decorating the space to make it appropriately festive. So far, Krivosh hasn’t encountered many grinches. When the The Christmas Corner Bar opened at 5 p.m. Black Friday, the line was out the door. According to Krivosh, people of all ages are coming in check out the bar and enjoy some themed karaoke, Christmas beers, and specialty cocktails before the holidays arrive. In addition to spreading plenty of holiday cheer, a percentage of the proceeds from The Christmas Corner Bar will go to different Lakewood-based charities. A different charity will benefit each week the bar is open. These include My Best Friend’s Bowl, Lakewood Earth And Food (LEAF), H2O (Help To Others), and Trinity Lakewood Community Outreach. Donation jars will also be on the bars until the The Christmas Corner closes Dec. 26, just in case patrons are willing to offer up some charitable gifts of their own.

Want to partake in the holiday cheer? The Christmas Corner Bar is open through Dec. 26. Check out The Christmas Corner Bar on Facebook for updates on hours and events.

Pressure Plays

Louie: I believe the scene is constantly morphing, which is exciting to watch. I work in the local music industry, so I see it daily. What has changed the most for us is experience? We are now veterans. We have seen a lot. That has only solidified our bond. PressureLife: What are some of the driving inspirations for your music and lyrics throughout the years?

Hot Ham & Cheese A trio of veteran Cleveland rockers Dan Bernardi // Photography: Jason Yu


harlie Templeman is the father of Jib Machine Records. He’s also the singer and guitarist of the label’s hallmark band, Hot Ham & Cheese, along with drummer Robby Mitchell and bassist Louie Styx. The punk rock metal power trio just dropped its fourth studio album The Onions Have Eyes and gave us the secret recipe behind the band's spot on Cleveland's music menu.

PressureLife: Hot Ham & Cheese has been going strong since 2005. So I've gotta ask–how did the name come to be? Charlie: The way I remember it, after Robby and I had jammed together for the first time and–it went really well–he said, "I always wanted to be in a band called Hot Ham & Cheese." Robby: After our first jam the question obviously got raised: “What are we going to name this band?” Having too much fun as usual, I said “How about Hot Ham & Cheese?” Everyone smiled, saying, “I like it, let’s do it.” I said, “OK, but you guys know I was just joking right?” Louie: I joined the band after the name had been chosen so don't blame me. I actually enjoy it–people think we are going to be some kind of "funny" band, they are wrong. PressureLife: How have the times in Cleveland's music scene since you first started 12 years ago? Charlie: The rock scene in Cleveland has seen better days. The overall music scene is alive and well, but not if you're in a hard rock band. When we first started, there were more people going out to see live original music on a regular basis. The scene is completely different than it was a decade ago. Robby: Yeah, the music scene for original rock and roll has definitely declined since we started. The people seem to be more geared towards cover bands and solo artists these days. As a band, we just roll with Photo Credit: Steve Thrasher the punches, do us, and try to evolve musically the best we know how.


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Charlie: We all have our individual and collective influences, bands like Black Sabbath, Metallica, etc. Plus, we're influenced by whatever we listen to while writing our albums. Lyrically, we've given our political and governmental views, opinions on society and popular culture, and hit on everything from relationships to addiction. Louie: Since the start, our influences has really been within ourselves. Trying to push our boundaries while still keeping that neck-breaking groove aesthetic. If your head ain't movin', we haven't done our job. PressureLife: The Onions Have Eyes dropped on Nov. 3. How does the new album carry on the HH&C legacy? Charlie: The Onions Have Eyes took roughly four years to write and record and we're really proud of it. I think it shows major growth in songwriting and performance, and Brandon Youngs, our co-producer/engineer/long-time collaborator, did an amazing job capturing our live vibe and mixing it to sound huge. The album's themes include growing older, dealing with increasing government interference, and oversaturation of social media, to name a few. Louie: We really took our time with the album and had a vision for what we wanted. It all began with a writing session in the cabin in the middle of the words in the middle of nowhere for an extended period of time. This really helped us find a consistent sound and vision. PressureLife: What does the future hold for Hot Ham & Cheese? Charlie: The plan for the immediate future is to get out as much as possible, play shows to promote the new album, and see where this road takes us. Robby: Definitely a break from writing and recording new material for a while. It's time to play shows, promote the new album, and keep rockin our catalog, which we are all proud of. Louie: The future will play out like the past, we will continue to expand ourselves and our minds through this band. We will be brothers through thick and thin. If you want to enjoy the ride with us, welcome to the insanity.

For the latest on Hot Ham & Cheese and to check out their new album The Onions Have Eyes, visit

Pressure Picks Upcoming Events to See

Winter Warm Up 2017

Dec. 16 // Agora Theatre

Automatic Weapons

Dec. 22 // Beachland Tavern

Punk Rock Festivus 5

Dec. 23 // Beachland Tavern

Chimaira Christmas

Dec. 30 // Agora Theatre


Jan. 4– 7 // Hilarities

Bro Dylan

Jan. 7 // Grog Shop

Vince Neil

Jan. 12 // Hard Rock Rocksino


Jan. 13 // The Foundry


Jan. 27 // Hard Rock Rocksino

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Chayla Hope: We’re meeting with the city soon to open discussions. JS: Our vision is to get the local government and business community to support the music industry. Right now we’re the unofficial music commission. TE: The reason why Nashville is where it is on the musical map, their music commission was established in the ‘70s, so they’ve had 40 years of a government entity pushing the same ideas we’re trying to push. JS: Texas has a similar setup. Austin, Texas is not a music city by accident. That was a well thought-out plan. TE: Yeah, it very rarely just happens. And we’re sick of the "Cleveland Rocks" thing. It’s so rooted in that era, it doesn’t allow us to advance past it.

Rethinking Local Music

Sound + Vision Sixth City Sounds and PressureLife Talk Music, Business, and the Death of 'Cleveland Rocks' Gennifer Harding-Gosnell


leveland’s long-standing reputation as the Rock n’ Roll Capital of the World is just that: long-standing. Despite our city’s rich history of artists breaking into the rock music mainstream, that success has rarely trickled down to our own local music scene. Local artists that did make it big—the Dead Boys, the Pretenders, Marc Cohn, Kid Cudi—have all done so by going somewhere else. Jeanette Sangston, Teddy Eisenberg, and Chayla Hope have formed Sixth City Sounds, an organization working to establish an actual music business in Cleveland. They sat down with PressureLife to talk about how they hope to shape the future of the Cleveland music scene.

CH: We are so loaded in talent. It’s boggled my mind for the longest time: you have musicians who are good enough to go further, but they have nobody to help them, they have no resources—well, now they do—no way to get anywhere. TE: The local music industry has not evolved along with the national music industry. Radio stations are no longer the way to break bands. JS: Now it’s all about touring. You’re not going to make money selling music. It’s all merch. Nobody pays for music anymore.

We’re sick of the "Cleveland Rocks" thing. It’s so rooted in that era, it doesn’t allow us to advance past it.

TE: Over 50 percent of the revenue music artists make now comes from touring. You can’t fill your gas tank on free exposure. CH: Unfortunately, in Cleveland, we’ve had some events recently where musicians have not been paid for their work. That devalues what we do. JS: If you’re not into the local music scene, you think local music is a joke. Most people are into whatever is playing on the radio, they have no idea what’s out there. Many musicians do better outside of Cleveland than they do locally. They have bigger followings in Pittsburgh because they don’t have the “local” label attached to them. TE: The supply is clearly there. On 50 out of 52 weekends a year, you can go out and see three different great shows, wildly diverse music.


CH: Yeah, we’ve done it.

Jeanette Sangston: Music is a business. At Sixth City Sounds, we want the city to recognize music as an industry, something that can benefit the city financially and culturally.

TE: Cleveland’s been known for years now as a major food destination. Why not a meal coupled with a show?

Teddy Eisenberg: Music is economic development. It’s the attraction and the retention of talent. It adds to the life blood of the city. Is this a place a musician would want to relocate to? That’s how you get local business on board, by not seeing it just as some transient thing that we just do and enjoy, but something that has physical, economic impact.


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JS: Something as simple as changes to show start times can make a difference. You have people who are into music, but they have jobs, get married, have kids, move out to the suburbs, and they don’t want to go out to a show that doesn’t even start til 8 or 9 at night when they have to get up early for work the next day. We need to get better at creating the experience for people. Get with the times.

Columbus recently created a music commission. The owner of Donatos Pizza is from Columbus and is a musician, he supports live music. He has small stage areas built into several of his pizza shops. He pays the musicians, they sell merch for free, he doesn’t take a percentage. They promote each other on social media. He even has a 25 percent-off pizza card for musicians. That’s the kind of cooperation we need out of our business community. We need somebody to step up to the plate that’s going to support music in a real, tangible way, that will use their leverage, visibility, and resources to support the local scene. TE: That’s part of the cooperation we’re trying to build at Sixth City Sounds between artists, businesses, and government to make Cleveland a music city. Fans, too. We have a list of things you can do as a music fan to advocate for the local scene. Purchasing tickets in advance, that helps the venue gauge interest. Actually go to shows and once you’re there, engage, don’t just check your email the whole time. Follow and like bands on social media—there are record labels that won’t take you seriously unless you have a video with 100,000 views on it—they want to know you’re already out there. Pass out flyers, work their merch table, invite your friends to shows. It’s that kind of stuff that makes for a more supportive fan culture. JS: Every couple months we host what we call mixing sessions. They’re short educational panel discussion and the rest is all networking time. They’re free, open to anybody, different location every time, different speakers, and we encourage anybody from any genre to come out. I’d like to see some sort of round table where every music genre can bring one or two people as representatives of that scene so we can all come up with ways to work for each other. TE: Every genre is building their own infrastructure and they don’t need to. JS: There are many figures in Cleveland’s history that elevated this city from our past, but it’s time for this generation to pick up the torch.

For more details on Sixth City Sounds, how you can help our local music scene, and upcoming events, visit

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Food Review

What We Ate

The group's menu item ratings

Molto Bene

Cozze in sugo di pomodoro - Mussels: 4.5 Prosciutto e Arugula - Pizza: 2 Spaghetti al Frutto di Mare - Seafood Pasta: 4 Penne alla Carbonara: 5 Linguine al salmone e pistacchi - Salmon: 4 Pollo a la Lucchese - Chicken: 3

Italian Eatery

Gelato Lemon: 3.5, Espresso: 4, Peanut Butter: 4, Brie with Fig: 4.5, Chocolate: 3.5, Strawberry: 4

Dine with the PressureLife Team


ate onions? Put ketchup on your ketchup? We all have unique likes and dislikes, so when you hear about a new restaurant, whether it be from a foodie or someone who lives off of toaster pastries, you don’t know if their tastes align with your own. So, instead of reading a review from one source, take it from four members of our team. Even though we are woefully underqualified to review a restaurant, at least one of us will likely share some of your distinct tastes.

For this issue, the PressureLife crew visited Molto Bene Italian Eatery in Lakewood. Gonzalo Egozcue’s petite BYOB joint opened up this past summer and offers comforting savory dishes and cool, creamy gelatos under one roof. We stopped by Simone’s Beverage to pick up a couple bottles of wine before sitting down at Molto Bene to see if the establishment could live up to its name.


Liked: Every entree ranged from pretty solid to very good. I'd actually rank my dish—the pollo a la lucchese—last, although the chicken was still enjoyable. However, it suffered from comparison to the other main dishes, including a deliciously salty carbonara that I could eat for days.

Likes + Dislikes Get to know the group's taste preferences 10 PRESSURELIFE

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Alex: Mango is death; thinks garlic is a beautiful ingredient; can be seduced with a good meat and /or cheese board but hates blue cheese; loves meat in pretty much all forms. Jim: Prefers a salad over a burger but a steak over anything else; loves spicy

Disliked: The house bread was closer to a toasted focaccia chip, which is not bad by itself, but it seemed like an odd thing to pair with a dipping oil instead of a spread of some sort. The pizza is much closer to a basic, Italian style, at least for the red sauce on ours. I'm usually a fan, but this one didn't quite do much for me. Rating: 4/5


Liked: Italian cuisine is my least favorite, yet Molto Bene's modest BYOB joint curbed my opinion. All the entrees were delicious with the seafood pasta coming out on top for me. However, the carbonara will also put you to sleep smiling. I also don't like sweets, but the strawberry and espresso gelato worked well for me. "Pomodoro!" If that's not a term, Molto Bene should coin it. You're welcome. Disliked: The house bread was a disappointment. The closest way I can describe it is pita chips. I'd prefer a hard crust with a soft fluffy inside to soak up the olive oil it was served with. The pro-

and sour flavors; despises donuts and dry bakery; will try anything once. Aaron: Likes spicy; hates Thanksgiving stuffing or whatever that spice is; favorite food is anything from the sea; will try eating anything for the experience of it.

Hannah: Enjoys foods that are savory and slightly over-salted; meals are typically a collection of small snacks; hates funky cheeses and properly cooked red meat; generally not a picky eater.

sciutto pizza also under-delivered. I spent more time fighting with the large slices of prosciutto laid on top instead of enjoying the pie. Rating: 4/5


Liked: If I could characterize Molto Bene in one statement, it would be “fresh seafood.” From the mussels to the salmon consumed by a creamy white wine sauce in the linguine al salmone e pistacchi, it was clear that a lot of care was taken in providing fresh ingredients. Disliked: With so many pizza options available today—hipster woodfired, Super Bowl party delivered, and even frozen and baked at home—a restaurant really needs to bring it! Sadly, it was not brought at Molto Bene, not even begun to be broughten. Rating: 4/5


Liked: I absolutely loved my carbonara, so much that I have thought about it at least once a day since. It was rich and salty and savory and will definitely bring me back to Molto Bene. I also really enjoyed the BYOB (get twist off caps for your wine!) and gelato—I highly recommend the brie with fig and lemon combination. Disliked: The prosciutto pizza paled in comparison to the rest of the dishes, as did Alex’s pollo a la lucchese—the dish had an overall sweetness / vinegar-yness that I didn’t care for. And although I loved the small, quaint atmosphere, they would definitely benefit from a dimmer switch to tone down the overhead lighting. Rating: 4.5 /5

Molto Bene 18401 Detroit Ave. Lakewood, OH 44107 // 216.273.7333

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Embracing the Chill



How i mHof Hofmethod methodcan canunlock unlock Howthe theWWim yourlatent latenthuhuman your man superpowers superpo wers


Ben Diamond Illustrations // Aaron Gelston Disclaimer: Some of the methods mentioned in this article can be dangerous. Please consult a doctor or conduct further research before attempting them.


winter in Cleveland. It's that lovely time of year again when the bitter cold makes you want to lock yourself indoors and chug Christmas Ales by the fire. If you do have to venture outdoors, you might end up bundled up like Ralphie's brother in A Christmas Story. A reasonable person would do everything possible to not experience the cold this time of year. It would seem irrational to suggest that one should expose themselves to cold, and even more irrational that one could warm themselves using the only the power of their breath and their mind. But embracing winter weather might be a blessing in disguise: an opportunity to become stronger, happier, and a little more human.

Even so, when you hear about a man who climbed three quarters up Mount Everest in his shorts, you don't believe it at first. Then you do a quick Google search and see what appears to be a man climbing up Mount Everest in his shorts. You find out that this man is named Wim Hof, a Dutch fitness guru and daredevil appropriately nicknamed "The Iceman" for his incredible feats of physical endurance and environmental exposure. Hof holds the world record for time immersed in ice (1 hour 52 minutes and 42 seconds). He ran a full marathon bare-


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chested and without shoes in the Arctic Circle with temperatures dipping to around minus-4 degrees Fahrenheit. Researchers at Radboud University in the Netherlands injected Hof with an endotoxin, a dead bacteria that should have induced flu-like symptoms like a fever, chills, and vomiting. Instead, Hof was able to use concentration, meditation, and a special breathing technique to suppress it. In this way, he claims that he is able to consciously control his immune and autonomic nervous system. On his website, he maintains an even bolder claim: “What I am capable of, everybody can learn." Whatever you suffer from, whatever you desire out of life, Hof believes his method can help. "To me, God is Cold," he waxes in the VICE documentary Inside the Superhuman World of the Iceman. "I think of the cold as a noble force. It's just helping me. It's training me. It's bringing me back to the inner nature the way it was meant to be. And this way, I do not only endure the cold, I love the cold." Hof is fearless in the face of death because he seems to know that the human body is much more resilient that we once thought. He has attained celebrity status and many have flocked to his training center in Poland to learn his superhuman ways. If this all sounds a little cultish to you, you're not the only one.

I climbed up a mountain in Poland in the middle of the winter that stopped the Nazi army— and I was boiling hot that whole time.

Investigative journalist, Scott Carney, was skeptical too. He flew to Hof's camp in Poland in 2012 to debunk Hof's outlandish and dangerous claims before someone got seriously hurt or killed. Before making any judgments, Carney had to give the Wim Hof method the old college try. It worked. "I climbed up a mountain in Poland in

the middle of the winter that stopped the Nazi army," Carney said when reached over the phone, "and I was boiling hot that whole time." In his book, What Doesn't Kill Us: How Freezing Water, Extreme Altitude, and Environmental Conditioning Will Renew Our Lost Evolutionary Strength, Carney details his personal journey with the Wim Hof method and explores its underlying physiological mechanisms If you don't feel cold, from an evolutionary perspective. Among the remarkable tales is then you'll always be Carney himself: with six months miserable in the cold. of training he was able to summit Mount Kilimanjaro with an expedition led by Wim Hof in just 28 hours. That's a climb that most people complete in five to ten days in order to adjust to the altitude. Oh, and he did much of the climb shirtless—with the temperature dipping to around minus-30 degrees Fahrenheit. While the acts of extreme cold exposure were impressive, Carney was more interested in people who were using the method to heal themselves. He posits that many modern chronic ailments like autoimmune disorders arise out of an imbalance with a harsher environment from which we evolved. "We don't trigger our fight-or-flight response on a regular basis," he said. “We use those biological responses to instead go after more mundane tasks. So, we get that same sort of fight-or-flight feeling when we we're looking at our 401(k)s." The Wim Hof method is comprised of three main elements: cold exposure, meditation, and breathing techniques which enable the practitioner to alter his or her body chemistry. The main breathing technique consists of 30-to-40 deep inhalations in quick succession. On the final breath, you take a deep breath, fully exhale, and hold your breath for as long as you can. When you feel the urge to breathe, inhale deeply and hold for 10-to-15 seconds. Repeat this process two or three times. This type of breathing will blow out carbon dioxide, saturate your body with oxygen, and change your blood Ph levels, making your blood more alkaline and better suited to resist pain and cold. Biologically, cold showers are incredibly rewarding: norepinephrine and other endorphins flood your body to reduce pain, lower inflammation, and make you feel great. The body's circulatory system gets a great workout by using vasoconstriction to direct blood away from the extremities to maintain your core temperature. But like the most rewarding things in life, they're hard to do. So ease into it. Start by taking a warm shower, then turn the knob as cold as it can go. At first you stay in for only a few seconds, but you will gradually build up a tolerance. Carney also suggests removing a layer of clothing until you feel a slight chill when going outside. “You should actually go out there and embrace the environment a little bit. And what that does is that sensation of being a little chilly is actually a signal to [your] body saying that you're increasing your metabolism and you're trying to adapt to the environment. If you don't feel cold, then you'll always be miserable in the cold.” We are inextricably part of our environment; it’s something the cold never lets you forget. But if we can start to embrace the natural world like our ancestors did, we might start to feel a little more at home here.

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Kaydence Jayne + the Cabaret A drag queen breaks out into mainstream Cleveland

Juliet Abram // Photography: Ian Argo


hatever happened to baby Kaydence Jayne? In three years, she’s gotten classier, nastier, and sassier. She’s Cleveland’s freshest face of entertainment in terms of being a triple threat: Actor, singer, and drag queen. No offense to all the others who make Cleveland a hotspot for LGBTQ events (think 2014’s Gay Games), but Kaydence Jayne just has a certain je ne sais quoi.

Paul began his singing career 16 years ago, releasing 2008’s solo pop album On the Scene. In 2010, he released No Apologies with his hip-hop group, Freedom. Paul’s group toured successfully for two years, including two sold-out shows opening for Cleveland rapper Machine Gun Kelly.

Paul’s “Kaydence Jayne” is a wink and a nod to his musical talents with “cadence” and his love for family (Jane is his mother’s name, Kay is his grandmother’s name). Along with clever names, drag queens often develop creative backstories explaining everything from where they grew up to what Drag queens are more they’re wearing today. Drag queens are more than lip-syncers. They than lip-syncers. They build model cars, play build model cars, play Xbox, cut hair, or dabble in photography.

Breaking down misconceptions about drag queens is not an easy task, unless you’re Cleveland singer-songwriter Paul Douglas Xbox, cut hair, or dabble Kuznik. Three years ago, he began applying the final touches of makeup for his Too often, drag queens are portrayed in mainin photography. new drag queen persona, Kaydence Jayne, stream media as stereotypes, wearing outraappearing at Northeast Ohio clubs catering geous sequined gowns and lip-syncing to “It’s to a built-in LGBTQ fanbase. In 2014, he Raining Men.” Some shows spotlight theatrics won his first competition in Akron. Earlier and entertaining, but artists are not lip-syncing this year, he won his audition to become the first-ever singing for lack of talent. Drag is a creative outlet for people who come from drag queen cast member at Pickwick & Frolic’s cabaret. diverse backgrounds and unique talents and abilities; their common thread is the ability to tell a story and entertain through song. “It’s rare to find a drag queen that can sing,” Writer and Show Director Michael Rogaliner says, who, along with Music Director John DiSanto, “Defining the term drag is very personal,” Paul says. “Drag plays with has created and produced original shows for Pickwick & Frolic for over gender but it doesn’t question gender; you get dressed up and go out 15 years. They were looking for a singer to play the drag queen in Kimi’s and you lip-sync.” Las Vegas Bachelorette Party Burlesque. They ended with a drag queen who can actually sing. How rare is it to be cast as a singing drag queen Queer culture is mainstream now. The Supreme Court legalized character when you are literally a living, breathing, drag queen? Rarer same-sex marriage and Ru-Paul’s Drag Race has been a hit show for than diamonds or genuinely enjoying the prize in your Cracker Jack box. nine seasons. Naturally, drag show audiences have evolved. Years ago, Great Lakes Theater’s own Tom Hanks cross-dressed for ‘80s sitcom “Most people are known for lip syncing to Britney Spears, Bosom Buddies. Before that, Tim Curry was a “sweet transvestite” in Madonna, and Lady Gaga, but I sing live,” Paul says. “I’ve been The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a legacy which continues to this day recording for about a decade.” at Cedar Lee Theatre’s interactive, ongoing viewings.


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In fact, audiences have been enjoying drag performances for centuries; gender has always been fluid in performance art. Classical dance-dramas in Japan, Kabuki, was a woman-only artform. In 1629, women were deemed too sexual, so males took over. Centuries later, gender-bending artists like David Bowie, Annie Lennox, and Boy George also brought drag into the mainstream. Cabaret is a game changer for Paul and Cleveland’s LGBTQ scene. Pickwick & Frolic wrote a drag queen character for a show instead of catering to a straight, cis-gendered audience. Regarding his specific talents, Paul explains it’s a way to “Expand into introducing something new to a straight audience, for something that brings musical talents not just to the gay community. “This show brings the real feel of Sunset Strip,” he says. “If you can’t make it to Vegas, come see us because we brought Vegas to Cleveland.” The show starts with Kimi, who is always a bridesmaid, never a bride, played by Pickwick regular cast member Adrienne Krol. Kimi is going to do her cabaret show, but some friends decide to throw her a surprise bachelorette party hosted by her best friend Dijonnaise (Paul). The audience is busy eating and drinking when the show they came to see is taken over by a show within the show. The show is rounded out by a dance troupe (Dot King, Shrimp Cocktail, Ava Adore, and Gideon Lorete) and an intermittently-appearing magician Bryan Gerber, a.k.a. G the Magician. The tempo is held down by drummer and singer Andrew Rothman. According to the cast list printed in the programs, your host is Damian Henri. However, the real host for the party is Paul’s character, Dijonnaise. He literally takes over the show as both a drag queen in character and in real life. This is not the typical career trajectory of a drag queen, unless you’re Paul Douglas Kuznik. At the tail end of Kimi’s party, attendees are asked to call out what they are celebrating. At one performance, there was a woman who was eightmonths pregnant. With the enthusiasm of a powerhouse singer, Paul emotionally blasted into Etta James’ “At Last” and received the first standing ovation in Pickwick & Frolic’s 15-year history. At last, a drag queen has come through to a mainstream audience in Cleveland who may not otherwise check out a traditional drag show. Kaydence Jayne: She’s here, she’s queer, and she’s fierce as hell.

See Paul in Kimi's Las Vegas Bachelorette Party Burlesque before the show ends May 11 at Pickwick's Frolic Cabaret. For tickets, visit

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john g a

Kicking ass + making frames

grilled cheese sandwich is not a typical source of inspiration for an artist. John G is not your typical artist.

Alex Bieler Photography // Casey Rearick

If you’ve lived in Cleveland in the past decade, you’ve seen John’s work. Even locals who don’t know his name have likely spotted one of the 250-plus posters he’s created for Melt Bar & Grilled in the past nine years. “John’s art has become synonymous with what Melt is now,” says Melt owner Matt Fish. “He’s so ingrained in what we do. His art is a part of the culture at Melt.” John’s Melt work has been so popular that some patrons pilfer his posters and pin them to the walls of their homes.

For those who don’t want to resort to larceny, 1984 Publishing released Sandwich Anarchy: The Cult Culinary Posters of Melt Bar & Grilled this past Halloween, a hardbound collection of his grilled cheese-inspired works.

While there are Clevelanders who may only know John from his Melt masterpieces, to paint him as only a sketcher of sandwiches is to ignore the rest of his gritty, highly-detailed oeuvre. Since the early 2000s, John has treated Cleveland to hundreds of show posters, multiple zines, and plenty of freelance illustrations. No matter the project, John has a knack for turning sheets of paper into fully-developed worlds. “His detail work is unbelievable,” says Matthew Chojnacki, owner of 1984 Publishing. “Some of his work is so detailed that it’s like a Highlights magazine for adults.” While Chojnacki was one of the main drivers behind Sandwich Anarchy, his first introduction to John’s work was The Lake Erie Monster, an ongoing horror anthology comic that John creates along with fel-


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low Cleveland illustrator Jake Kelly. Chojnacki eventually met John at Genghis Con, an annual underground comic and zine convention that John runs. Once Chojnacki got to know John, he gained an even greater appreciation for the illustrator. “I had cancer a year ago and I’m compelled now by anybody who has a story,” Chojnacki explains. “Everyone’s got one. John’s story that he used to draw as a kid, got injured, and had to relearn how to draw, even though he can’t feel the pen, is really intriguing to me.” The story of John’s injury has been told a few times, but it still comes as a surprise to some of those familiar with John’s work. Before the injury, John Greiner was a typical kid who loved to draw. He was quickly drawn to comics at a young age, but the first artist that he knew distinctly was Vincent van Gogh. “As a little kid, I remember seeing his work and understanding how he did it and trying to draw the way that he painted with crayons, using

those bright colors and strokes,” John explains, hands digging into the pockets of his blue Carhartt hoodie as he plumbs his memory banks. While van Gogh made an early impact on John, it wasn’t long before comic book artists began to inspire him during middle school. He remembers walking into B&L Comics as a kid and being wowed by the old ‘60s X-Men comics hanging on the wall. He eventually grew an appreciation for artists like Hellboy creator Mike Mignola and how he used his art to tell stories. John always maintained an affinity for comics, but his teenage self was also drawn to punk rock and BMX riding. His family eventually moved to Fairview Park at the end of 1994. On May 13, 1995, he injured his spine in a BMX accident and ended up in the intensive care unit at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital.

“S  ome of his work is so detailed that it’s like a Highlights magazine for adults.” Matthew Chojnacki

The injury initially left John paralyzed from his mid-back on down. He eventually lost the ability to feel his hands and move his arms after undergoing spinal fusion surgery. By the end of the night, he was completely paralyzed from the neck down. John spent another few weeks in the ICU, unable to move and with nothing to do other than try—and fail—to move his limbs before he was transferred to MetroHealth. His first night there, his dad was around to hang out and watch TV when John was finally able to get his body to react. “I was lying on my side and my right arm kicked in and flexed my right bicep,” John recalls. “I punched myself in the nose and I started laughing. My dad was like ‘Why are you laughing? This

john g's favorite posters


My Big Fat Greek Gyro Melt


Reuben Melt “I really love Cheers; there’s something about that show that makes me super happy. The Lakewood Melt was like Cheers. I used to go there all the time and I knew everyone who worked there. I knew a bunch of regulars and would see people I knew all the time. I wanted to represent that. That opening sequence is one of the best opening sequences in all of TV. It was the sort of natural one to put at the beginning [of Sandwich Anarchy] to compliment the title page.”


Firecracker Chicken “When they were filming Winter Soldier here, they stopped traffic on the Shoreway, so all this traffic was going down Detroit Road and my neighborhood was just congested as hell. This was going on while I was drawing the Firecracker Chicken. I made these Nazi guys the Agents of F.A.S.T. F.O.O.D.”


Melt Pig Roast “This is a character I developed and then just brought back over and over and over again—this wolf guy. I started making this sandwich poster look like ‘70s crime neo-noir movies and just sat this pig lady in a muscle car.

“This one I’m really, really proud of. It’s a study of a classical painting of Vulcan and Venus. Vulcan was this Greek god who was born crippled, with malformed legs or something. Hera throws him in the ocean because she’s like, ‘Fuck this crippled baby. I don’t want this kid.’ He’s raised by mermaids to become an artist where he’s making jewelry out of seashells and stuff off of the bottom of the ocean. She sees it eventually and asks where people got it from and they say that there’s this crippled god and he’s really good at this stuff and she’s like, ‘That’s my son!’

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deadlines and started taking a drawing class at Cuyahoga Community College, where he made his first mini comic. From there, he held various day jobs. On the side, he made the occasional band poster and put out various comics and zines under the name John G, a moniker he’d earned during his high school job at Bobson Hardware because there were several “Johns” already working there. In 2004, he got so sick that he was out of commission for months and lost his job at a Kinko’s. Still, John’s drive to overcome yet another obstacle led him to keep looking for more freelance opportunities. “Most people aren’t ready or willing [to do this for a living],” Jake Kelly says. “The ‘able’ part is mostly taken care of. You can draw pretty well, you can draw hands, which is crucial, and you’re good to go. The ‘ready and willing’ part—You’re pretty much going to have to be alone all of the time. If you want to make a living at it, you’re going to have to cut some things out of your life.”

isn’t funny, this is Law & Order.’ I’m like ‘No, no, no, straighten out my arm. My hand is in my face.’ He would just straighten it out and I would flex it over and over and over again because I could.” While John could move his arms again, he remained paralyzed from the mid-back down and he never fully regained feeling in his hands. There is some sense of feeling in his thumbs and pointer fingers, but it’s muted to the point that he can’t feel if something is hot or wet. In addition to having to reteach himself how to write and draw again, John had to adapt to life in a wheelchair. However, he was more than up to what he saw as a new challenge. “You sort of have to reconcile when you’re put in that position,” he adds. “[The nurses] can show you how to live your life, but the one crucial person who can get you out of that hospital or back to being yourself again is you. It’s 100 percent on you. There’s no cheat, there’s no way around, you can’t ask someone to make that decision for you. I don’t know if I intrinsically knew that or if I had such a giant chip on my shoulder from being a teenager that I was like, ‘Fuck you, I’m going do this.’” Just over three months after the accident, John was released in time for the first day of school. After high school, he started really putting together the set of skills needed to make comics on a regular basis. He gave himself


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Of all the local artists, Kelly may be the closest person to John’s aesthetic, to the point of where both Kelly and John say that people compliment them on work that the other did. Kelly even has his own Melt connection, having done the murals in the business’ multiple locations. While John “[The nurses] was pumping out show posters, Kelly was churning out flyers right along with him. can show you how Because of this, Kelly is well aware of the to live your life, bumpy road an illustrator can face. “You have to put your time in to do this and practice to get really good, but then there are also points where you just have to get stupidly lucky,” he explains.

but the one crucial person who can get you out of that hospital or back to being yourself again is you. It’s 100 percent on you.”

John started catching a few of those breaks in the mid 2000s. Realizing he needed to make more money in order to make a true living off of his art, he raised his rates. Some jobs started falling into his lap right when he needed work. He went to shows and met people who needed posters. One of those people was John Delzoppo, a musician who John met after punching him in an aggressive mosh pit at the old Grog Shop. Delzoppo had access to some color printers, which added another dimension to John’s work. “At this point, there’s nobody who doesn’t know who he is,” Delzoppo says. “If there’s somebody in Cleveland who’s in the music scene and doesn’t know who John is, either they’re new in town or they haven’t paid attention at all because his stuff has been everywhere for the last 10-plus years.” While he was doing well in the music scene, John recognized that he needed to find additional work elsewhere. “I needed to start branching out and making more money doing this stuff. I didn’t mind eating frozen burritos every day, but I would have

loved to eat a non-frozen burrito, like a fresh burrito.” John started a “Month of Posters” project in 2009 to help expand his portfolio. He contacted several local organizations in the process. When Matt Fish responded, he pitched him an idea to create a poster for the Reuben Melt, their upcoming March sandwich special. It was a hit and started a series of posters that have been seen everywhere from Lakewood to the Food Network. John has no shortage of projects these days. In the past few months alone, he’s worked on an autobiographical comic titled Tales to Demystify, a residency for the Gordon Square Arts District, Sandwich Anarchy, Genghis Con, and various freelance work. The last four months of the year is his busy season, which can mean work nights that extend past 4 a.m. when deadlines are due. He does force himself to takes breaks to hang out at Superelectric Pinball Parlor or grab a juice and flirt with the girls at Daily Press, but he’s come to accept that a hectic schedule is pretty normal for him. “One of the ways I’m most comfortable working is in crisis mode,” John says. “There’s no time to really second guess yourself and you have to edit on the fly. You’re tumbling down a mountain in front of an avalanche and if you stop to fuck around, you will get demolished by what’s behind you.” While John’s career has grown over the years, that mindset of moving forward and getting work done has been with him for decades. Delzoppo recalls a time when John drove back and forth between the East and West Side during a blizzard after forgetting his Zip disk, all to make sure he’d finish a project on time. “One of his most admirable qualities and something that makes his work shine is the fact that he won’t let anything hold him back,” Delzoppo says. “That just goes for his whole life. Where a lot of people would either make excuses or put things off or for whatever reason not get things done, he has this drive where he’ll get through any situation just to get the job done or better hone his craft.” This should come as no surprise to people who know John. He’s someone who won’t be held back and continues to create artwork with the same sense of loving detail and personality since he re-taught himself how to draw. No matter what challenges lie in the road ahead, he’ll be ready to take them on and live to draw the tale.

Want to keep up with John's projects? Check out updates at his website.


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1957 Tower City goingI all JesusI on everybodyI

Christmas Past in Cleveland

A pictorial history of Cleveland during the holidays Kevin Naughton Photography courtesy of The Cleveland Memory Project


ou’d think Cleveland’s long-held tradition of economic hardship, crippling snowstorms, catastrophic athletic misfortunes, and toxic pollution would have sapped some of our holiday spirit. Apparently not, as evidenced by these pictures of Cleveland’s Christmas past. It turns out it'll take a little more than a couple centuries of bad luck and general misery to spoil a Clevelander’s passion for the one day of merry distraction from the grueling, icy hardship of our city’s long winters. Some heavy drinking helps, too.

Merry Christmas, Cleveland

1973 A Christmas tree one-upping Tower City


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1966 This is where the best toys were in '60s

1959 Cold and miserable Clevelanders distracting themselves from their cold and misery

1965 Classic Cleveland Christmas consumerism in Higbees

1935 A child whoI looks like he isI auditioning for theI opening scene ofI A Christmas Story aI few decades earlyI

we have the power to help ClevelanD stuDents A ShoeS And ClotheS for KidS progrAm

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1950s More cold and miserable Clevelanders distracting themselves from their cold and misery

When Cleveland’s neediest kids don’t have proper clothes and supplies for school – many of them just don’t go. And by 6th grade, chronic school absence becomes a leading indicator that a child will drop out of high school. Shoes and Clothes for Kids is committed to eliminating the lack of clothes and shoes supplies as a barrier to attendance and helping more kids reach graduation day.

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Adam Dodd Illustrations // Aaron Gelston


Letters of a love affair lead to fear, paranoia, and death in a small town

truth in unsolved mysteries often comes a distant second to our thirst for story. Our innate curiosity and desire to be entertained leaves the lives of those involved too easily forgotten. While mere anecdotes for others, these mysteries are too often synonymous with tragedy, loss, and an alienating lack of closure. For a small town just south of Columbus one such unanswered question would leave them gripped in a cycle of fear and paranoia for years. It is a mystery that lacks a definitive conclusion to this day.

The letter that Circleville’s Mary Gillisipie found in her mailbox in 1976 took her by surprise. Written in crude block lettering, it accused her of an affair with the school superintendent, Gordon Massie, of the district for which she was employed as a bus driver. It read in part, “STAY AWAY FROM MASSIE: DON’T LIE WHEN QUESTIONED ABOUT KNOWING HIM. I KNOW WHERE YOU LIVE: I’VE BEEN OBSERVING YOUR HOUSE AND KNOW YOU HAVE CHILDREN. THIS IS NO JOKE. PLEASE TAKE IT SERIOUS. EVERYONE CONCERNED HAS BEEN NOTIFIED AND EVERTHING [sic] WILL BE OVER SOON.”


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A subsequent letter mailed to Mary’s husband, Ron, spoke not only of his wife’s alleged affair, but insisted he force her to publicly confess to the act or his own life would be in danger. Whether the Writer’s claim held merit, it was clearly an issue he or she was dangerously fixated on, evidenced in the letter that came next: “YOU HAVE HAD TWO WEEKS AND DONE NOTHING. MAKE HER ADMIT THE TRUTH AND INFORM THE SCHOOL BOARD. IF NOT, I WILL BROADCAST IT ON CB, POSTERS, SIGNS, AND BILLBOARDS UNTIL THE TRUTH COMES OUT.”

Why Mary and Ron decided at this point to confide in only Ron’s sister, Ron sister's husband Paul Freshour, and Paul’s sister rather than turning to the police is a mystery of its own, but may speak to nature of the close-knit community. After circling the wagons, a list of suspects was narrowed down and a retaliatory letter was penned by the group and mailed to the presumed culprit. Whether the relative quiet of the following weeks was a result from their counter-letter or the Writer merely biding his or her time, it would only prove to be the calm before the storm.

On Aug. 17 of the following year, Ron received an unexpected call at his home. The phone had barely crashed back into its cradle before Ron stormed out into the night, taking only the time enough to find his gun. Determined to bring an end to the harassment once and for all, Ron sped off into the night in his pickup truck convinced that it was the Writer on the line. According to members of Ron’s family who were with him that night, the brief exchange was apparently enough for the husband and father to finally realize who had been tormenting them. Any answers Ron had would not find the morning’s light. The police found Ron’s truck wrapped around a tree not far from his home. He apparently crashed at a considerable speed on a road he passed nearly every day. A single bullet was said to be fired from his gun, but the police that arrived on the scene could not find any potential targets. A toxicology report would later find Ron’s blood alcohol level 1.5 times the legal limit, summarily ruling his death an accident. The Writer’s next missive, which was spread throughout the shell-shocked town, shared an unsettling difference of opinion. It read in part, “TWO TEENAGE BOYS SEEN WHAT HAPPENED: YOU ALWAYS USE HIGH SPEED FOR ELEMINATION [sic] OF SOMEONE IF YOU MUST GET RID OF THEM: YOU DONT [sic] FIRE SHOTS FOR DRINKING.” The letter closed by calling out the sheriff by name, “RADCLIFF DOES NOT ALLOW MEDIA UNLESS APPROVED BY HIM THERE WAS [sic] SIGNS IN THE GROVE CITY RESTAURANTS: THE POLICE LIED.” Over a thousand letters were sent to the besieged townsfolk in the years that followed, each offering disquieting knowledge of their personal lives. By 1983 the Writer turned his or her perverse attention to Mary Gillispie’s young daughter, Traci. Vulgar slurs were scrawled on roadside signs were purposefully erected along Mary’s bus route and were more than a mother could stomach. Pulling to the side of the road, she began ripping the signs off the posts that they were nailed to with her bare hands. That was when she found the box. Within it, the barrel of a loaded pistol stared back at her between the eyes, one final postscript from her cursed pen pal. Had the jerry-rigged box attached to the back of one of the signs operated as intended, the point blank booby trap would have spelled a definitive end for Mary. The Writer’s campaign of terror had escalated to a chilling new level: attempted murder. The only thing more unspeakable would be the discovery of the gun’s owner.


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11/27/17 10:01 AM |  25

RemoteLock LS-5i Deadbolt Lock Smart locks don't get all the attention, but they still deserve a mention this holiday. I mean, who doesn't want a lock that knows if you are home with the door unlocked? I'm sure they are completely unhackable and you should totally place your family's safety in their hands. Just don't forget to pay your monthly fee for the lock.

iPhone X Who doesn't want that slick new iPhone X? As if you weren't already satisfied with Facebook using your phone's microphone to listen to what you were doing or sending your fingerprints to the FBI, now the police can unlock your phone with just your face! How great is that? Your benevolent tech overlords know exactly where you are and what you look like. Don't worry, I'm sure they would never do anything unscrupulous with that information.

Tech Trends The 2017 surveillance technology holiday shopping guide. Dave Skorepa


that time of year again when that one friend starts decorating way too early for Christmas, which inevitably reminds you that you should start thinking about buying some gifts for people. More than likely, you're going to be eyeing up some hot new tech toys this year. The hottest trend in tech this holiday shopping season? Why, surveillance capitalism of course! Surveillance Capitalism: What's that (and how do I get me some)? Shoshana Zuboff, who basically coined the term, defines surveillance capitalism as "The monetization of free behavioral data acquired through surveillance and sold on to entities with an interest in your future behavior." Or more plainly: "Big tech companies listening and monitoring everything you do to sell your data so other people can influence your behavior and sell you more stuff. But you're totally fine with it because, hey, sweet iPhone." Great? So who got the hottest surveillance tech for the holidays? Here a breakdown of my favorites:


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HiMirror — Smart Mirror It's a mirror with a camera that connects to the internet so you can send out pictures of your imperfect naked body to look up whatever weird skin conditions you might have. If WebMD taught us anything, it's that regardless of the symptoms, everyone has cancer.

Google Home Google is pushing back hard against Amazon's Echo with their own line of smart home wiretap devices. Just plug one of these beautifully-designed robot spies into your living room to let Google know every dumb thing you and your family utter in private! They're always listening, so they can serve up the weather, share some inane bit of trivia, or just send all your conversations to Big Brother. Not recommended for anyone plotting to overthrow a government. -----------------------------------------------------------So there you have it, the best in surveillance capitalism for the 2017 holidays! If you're fine with letting that creeper Santa Claus in your house to bring you gifts, I don't want to hear any concerns about privacy and security!

This article is sponsored by Aztek, a web design, development, and digital marketing agency located in downtown Cleveland.

Local Somebodies Here are some Clevelanders with the talent to become real somebodies. James Earl Brassfield Cleveland has produced legends in every bailiwick, perpetual people who’ve turned their work or hobby into fame. All over town, you hear stories about a close call with fame. Someone's aunt knew a guy who told Drew Carey to do a show. Another went to see Trent Reznor’s ‘80s band. Let’s give you a chance at a brush with notoriety. It’s time to learn about some locals on the rise to the top of their field, as well as some others who are already sitting quietly atop their profession. Here are some of Cleveland’s future somebodies that you should know.

Dave Flynt

Comedian, Lover, Fighter Onstage Dave Flynt has tapped into the voice in your head. His rich car salesman-like voice pulling you in. Then his quick wits take your watch and wallet. As you're driving off in a lemon 15 minutes later, you realize his game, turn back, and he’s already gone. Flynt is originally an Eastsider. He’s an alumni of Glenville High School. Soon enough he should be added to the list of noted alumni: Leon Bibb, Dave Flynt, Superman, and SuperFly. Flynt is the kind of guy that’s looking for a joke to tell the cops while they throw his perfectlycrafted Subway sandwich in the trash. If you aren’t a spectator of local comedy already, Flynt is a good reason to be one. He’s building his brand right now, one belly laugh at a time.

John Bruton

Accidental Comedy, Host, Producer

Not only does John Bruton not care about how you feel, he’s going to tell you why while looking right at you. He’s unshakeable. Four months into his comedy career, Bruton was center stage in front of 700 people and his immediate family. He went ahead and bombed, hard. Back at his table the family didn’t provide any quarter. “Shit’s embarrassing,” his uncle said. Bruton nodded. His uncle continued, “No, embarrassing for us! Do you have to sit here?” That kind of tough love can break people, or make a comedian. When you see Bruton do his act, it’s obvious he’s too himself to pretend he’s anything else. Bruton talks to a room of 700 just like he’d talk to his partners in Accidental Comedy, whose Make Em’ Laugh Monday series is at the legendary Grog Shop. Sunday might be Henry Rollins. Monday is John Bruton. Rollins probably had to clear the date with Bruton.

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Different Strokes Dan Bernardi


James Quarles

leveland artist James Quarles is hitting the streets in a big way with his trademark classically cool illustrative style. For musical acts such a Mourning [A] BLK Star, Muamin Collective, LMNTL, Fresh Produce, Peerless, Wildlife Sounds, and even WAL legend MaxWell Shell to name a few, James is a go-to creative for translating their vibes to album covers, logos, and posters. But James doesn't limit himself to new music visuals. His recent solo show at Canopy Collective represented his range, displaying fresh works that channel his love for stars and stylings of the past. Born in Indiana and transplanted to Shaker Heights, James caught the art bug early on in life. He recalls painting flowers on the wall for Mother's Day at the age of 3. His father wasn't happy about it, but since that day James' mom has encouraged him to pursue art. Throughout high school and


college, he honed his current style of fused graphic design and fine art. Inspiration from his artistic heroes such as poet Shel Silverstein, Black Panther Party Minister of Culture Emory Douglas, and Jamie Hewlett of Tank Girl and Gorillaz fame helped further fuel his style.

An Ohio Artist Spotlight

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James describes himself as a drafter. Breaking the piece down graphically before quickly drafting it, he then puts himself to task balancing aesthetics and composition. James implores this strategy as he dabbles in several mediums including acrylic, ink, graphite, charcoal, silk screen, digital, and found objects. With accurate retro sensibilities, James demonstrates a potent pop-cultural awareness steeped in cinematic and comic history. The resulting art is a stellar blend that evokes pleasantly nostalgic feelings, both familiar and new-found.

Illustrated in beautifully living color, much of James' art depicts a variety of famous, everyday, or imagined people. His crowd scenes, as seen in his poster for the Hessler Street Fair, are epic party collages filled with vibrantly detailed characters. On another level, James is skilled at crafting elegant, and soulful portraits with a psychedelic twist, including the likes of Prince, James Brown, and Tina Turner, as seen in his series Notes from Black History at the Shaker Heights Public Library. When illustrating any personality, James has a knack for capturing the spirit of his subjects with fun, aptitude, When illustrating and reverence.

any personality, James has a knack for capturing the spirit of his subjects with fun, aptitude, and reverence.

Evident with his wide array of art throughout “The Cleve”— how he lovingly refers to the city—James aims to keep his portfolio fresh and diverse at all times. He's done sign design for The Cleveland Breakroom, a painted wall at B Side, and an art showcase at The Fairmount and Lava Lounge. James illustrated the children’s book The Adventures of Waly: The Day I Faced the Snake by Mary N. Oluonye and Waly Sene, available on Amazon, and he's currently finishing his own poetry book titled Born Blue. With James' drive, we can expect to see much more exciting work from him in the near future.

To stay up to date with James, check him out on Facebook at

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Two writers face off on one of the most important questions during the holidays: How do you feel about Kwanzaa? Illustrations: Aaron Gelston

I Hate Kwanzaa.

I Love Kwanzaa.

James Earl Brassfield

Dan Bernardi

is generally a time of good will, warm tree smells, and misunderstandings. Kwanzaa, a holiday born out of the Black Power movement during its short life, has become associated with black coworkers everywhere. Kwanzaa was invented to empower, embolden, and teach the seven principles of African Heritage to the youth.


The intention was to teach Black Pride and independence during a time when the statues that are being torn down now were first erected. Over time, Kwanzaa became a tool of relatability for well-meaning white friends and coworkers instead of being an educational event.

in wishing my fellow humans a “Happy Kwanzaa,” whether they like it or not. I am of the group commonly referred to as “white people,” so it’s easy to concede that “Merry Christmas” is a universal sentiment intended to inspire good tidings and joy. However, it’s not the only one, and we all know Christmas is a holiday seeded in snowy white lies and fueled by corporate and consumer greed.


That's not to say you haven't felt the requisite warm feelings of happiness during all 12 days of Christmas year after year. In reality, you've unwittingly indoctrinated yourself into the cult of Santa, and once you drink the nog it's all over. I sound like a Christmas hater, but know that I still love Christmas as I too have drank the nog.

Too much eggnog, coupled with a desire to appear as an ally in Trump’s America, is a recipe for awkwardness. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me “Happy Kwanzaa,” I’d need to hide it offshore. I don’t even celebrate Kwanzaa; I come from money! If you offer a “Happy Kwanzaa” as we walk to our cars for winter break, I die inside. “Happy Kwanzaa, black person I know! Don’t forget we’re different! Also, I know nothing about you culturally!” That’s kind of what we hear. This all-too-common holiday sign-off communicates a lacking knowledge of Black America. On average, about 85 percent of black Americans identify as some type of Christian. Did you know that Kwanzaa isn't even rooted in any religion? Kwanzaa is just a celebration of principles. It’s original intent was to have black people feel like there’s a holiday for us as well.

Kwanzaa, on the other hand, is nowhere near as egregious and imposing a holiday. Sure, it was created back in the 1960s by Maulana Karenga out of a desire to celebrate African Heritage. Some disparage the holiday because of how “new” it is, its lack of any religious foundation, and because Kwanzaa starts on Dec. 26, part of a presumed competition with Jesus' date of birth. But while Christmas often has people craving gifts more than gospel, at least Kwanzaa has the ornamental balls to stand for something. Unity, self White Jesus, White discovery, hard work, and creativity are just a few of the Santa, Dick Clark, and holiday's driving principles.

Charlie Brown.

White Jesus, white Santa, Dick Clark, and Charlie Brown: as an American I love those things. Those names are the holidays for me. As a black man, I know they’re not designed for me. If you give me a “Happy Kwanzaa” shout out, it’s like you're trying to take white Santa away from me. I too learned everything I know about Kwanzaa from writing this piece. Before you blurt out “Happy Kwanzaa,” learn a little more about the person you’re planning to say it to. Unless they have on a Dashiki or have a really swaggy Menorah, you’re risking being problematic. Don’t forget, Santa is watching.


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Before you go looking for a Dashiki in my closet, I have never celebrated Kwanzaa—yet. I realize it was not designed for a 33-year-old Caucasian, Catholic-raised, agnostic hippie contrarian. I learned everything I know about it while writing this article. However, with an open mind and in an effort to spiritually unify with all walks of life, I'll gladly relieve some of my innate white guilt and champion for my “new” favorite alternative holiday this December. While some are mesmerized by another White Christmas, I'll be enjoying a Black Kwanzaa, and no matter what holiday floats your festive boat this season—have a happy one!

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PressureLife Issue 16  
PressureLife Issue 16