Guest Post, Anne Barngrover: Self-Care as Vengeful Web Comic

Three years ago, my artist friend Heather and I created a secret web comic to mock the outlandish behavior of men. Officially its purpose was to call out “woke” male academics who gain social capital by posing as allies online while still treating women like dirt in their everyday lives. Rather than introducing a whole new cast of characters for each situation, our comic stars Chad T. Brooks, a floppy-haired amalgam of your basic late-twenty-something bro-ets (that’s bro-poets for those who are unaware).

Don’t let his self-assured, corn-fed looks fool you, though: Chad isn’t like the other guys. He’s a nice guy. He’s sensitive! He’s down for the cause! Or, at least he did purchase a ten-dollar Hillary mug after it was clear that Bernie had lost the Primaries, and he’ll perform a soliloquy on the exact moment his allegiance shifted while letting his hand linger (in a totally platonic, perhaps almost protective way) on the small of your back. Without a doubt, Chad T. Brooks is “the noblest white dude you know.”

He’s a Slytherin in Hufflepuff’s clothing, a run-of-the-mill misogynist in a pink pussy hat who’s marching (for the ‘gram) with a “Believe Women” sign. In our current #MeToo era, we’ve had Chad’s number for a while now, and it seems like the rest of the world is finally catching up to what we women have known all along: The number of feminist articles a man posts is in direct proportion to the miles you should run away.

“Keepin’ It Chad” is our attempt to balance the scales. Our comic is the most joyful, petty, reckless, silly, and emboldening thing that I do—or, rather, that we do, Heather and me, together. The collaboration is what makes it fun and what makes it powerful.

Our creative partnership began with simple storytelling about a year after we became friends. I would vent to Heather about the sexist microaggressions I experienced in the academic and writing worlds, and she’d sketch them out on scratch paper, complete with conversation bubbles and puns, to make me feel better. That was always our initial endeavor in both the stories I told her and the sketches she drew for me—to make each other laugh.

And there was power in that laughter. Suddenly, this annoying or even hurtful thing that had just happened to me didn’t sting quite so much. I was no longer the one being used or condescended to or ignored. I was no longer the butt of the joke.

Instead, we literally designed the perpetrator to be ridiculous. As the comic matured, we drew on our shared love for hyperbole and absurdism: Chad combusts in a puff of smoke because he can’t figure out if he should shake a woman’s hand or hug her. A mini Chad in a top hat and waistcoat pops out of a phone screen like Jiminy Cricket and squeaks, “But Pence could be worse!” Chad blasts himself out of a canon, declaring “Not all men!” as he flares across the sky. We created these images. Rather than being passive, we were active. With our words and minds and pen, we were the ones in charge now.

This role reversal got us thinking about how humor can function, not to downplay gender-related oppression, but to brandish as a weapon for our empowerment and survival. Of course, drawing a farcical comic and writing a clever caption cannot undo the real difficulty that inspired it or change the systems of oppression that allow Chads to exist in the first place. But, at the very least, our use of satire could illuminate a possible force to overcome paralyzing despair. Humorous rhetoric could work as both a lantern and a sword to reclaim our narrative authority.

After the 2016 election, “Keepin’ It Chad” is no longer a secret. We display it proudly on, and it will soon exist as the website as we develop it further. Even with its more public presence, though, we reject the goal of trying to reach out and reform others. Educating the Chads of the world is not our intention. We as women perform far too much emotional labor every day to expect our humorous outlet to undo years of deeply ingrained sexism and misogyny.

Alternatively, we view our comic as a resource to embolden other women with internal fortitude. We can let them know they’re not alone and that the reductive and hurtful things these men say and do to them are not isolated incidents but rather ongoing patterns of sexist behavior. In fact, the most rewarding aspect of our project is the community we’ve built along the way. Both newcomers and longtime female friends have approached us with saying, “So, this happened to me…” and then we have the privilege and challenge of flipping the script to turn their perpetrators into the ones who are actually ignorant and foolish, not the women themselves.

The best part is that we get to make our friends laugh. A narrative that once caused irritation, frustration, or pain can now burn like a talisman in their chests. Sometimes resistance is as simple as changing the direction of one small story. Sometimes it’s transforming the way you feel in your own body—that subtle yet remarkable shift from passivity to action. Collaborative storytelling and humor can perform this kind of alchemy. Let’s work to keep that magic aflame.

Guest Post, Michelle Ross, Kim Magowan: Delightful Anarchy: Why and How We Collaborate

Origin Story

Kim: It wasn’t our idea. Some journal—Sundog, I think—was running a collaboration contest, and Michelle proposed that we give it a shot. We each wrote an opening paragraph of a story and lobbed it to the other. The first of those stories has never been published—indeed, I think neither of us has submitted it anywhere for ages—though I still like it (recalling it now, I want to dust it off and send it to some journal). The second, “My Co-Worker Aldona,” is one of my favorites.

Michelle: Actually, I’d been thinking for some time about trying out collaborating, but it’s true it took the Sundog contest to motivate me to act on it. There was no question that Kim would be the writer I’d ask. Oddly enough, we didn’t actually end up submitting to the contest because by the time the deadline rolled around, our flash fictions had been accepted elsewhere (other than the one Kim mentions above that we’re less sure about).


Kim: We don’t have any. Michelle writes a few sentences and tosses it my way, I write more and toss it back. We decide when it’s done, and we edit together, sometimes as we go. We have no word count, no implicit or explicit regulation on when it’s time to lob the story to the other. Basically we toss it when we get stuck, or when we’ve handed the other person a good shoehorn in. It’s delightful anarchy.

Michelle: If there’s any rule it’s that we try to keep the momentum going by not letting a story sit for long. Often we lob a story back and forth several times in a day. Rarely do we allow a story to sit longer than a day or two.

Reasons to Do It

Kim: Because writing is lonely and isolating—one is isolated at one’s desk, isolated in one’s head. It’s much more fun to turn it into a conversation.

Because it’s fast! Solo, we each belabor a story, tweak it, tweeze it, get annoyed by it, and chuck it in a (metaphorical) drawer. Stories huddle in those drawers for years. When we’re collaborating, we run. We don’t wring our hands over a sentence: we hurl that smoking potato at the other. We wrote one of my favorites, “War,” in a day; it was accepted by Monkeybicycle the following day.

Because it’s good practice on how to adopt a different voice, try on a different style; it’s narrative dress-up.

Because it stretches us. I think we’re writing one kind of story, and then Michelle throws in some unforeseen element—a self-defense class, a book on how to fix home appliances, a surreally boring movie—and suddenly the story has morphed into something else altogether, something weird and unpredictable. The flower just became a cactus or a toucan.

Michelle: Because it’s tremendously freeing to surrender some of the control over a story’s plot and aboutness. Knowing that at Kim’s next turn she could take the story somewhere I don’t anticipate, I don’t need to concern myself too much with where the story will go. I can focus on where the story is now.

Because collaborating helps me break the bad habit of expecting too much of myself too quickly. That is, when I write a story solo, it’s tempting to sit at the computer too long, to exhaust myself to the point that when I finally walk away, I’m leaving on a low point instead of a high point. When all I have to concern myself with is the next paragraph or two, that’s a very doable task and a relatively a short time commitment. I’m much more likely to walk away from the computer feeling energized and eager to come back to the story when Kim returns it to me.

Because it’s fun.

Lessons Gleaned

Michelle: I feel I’ve learned so much from collaborating with Kim, but most importantly the value of writing in short bursts of an hour or so at a time, the value of keeping up the momentum by not letting a first draft sit unfinished for long (a terrible habit of mine), the value of pushing to the end before revising (another terrible habit of mine), and the value of not overthinking a first draft (terrible habit #3). I still make some of these mistakes in my own writing, but less and less so.

Kim: The best take-away for me is collaboration makes me freer and less fussy. Collaboration feels like the writing version of improvisation. It gets me out of ruts. Also, we are not at all proprietary about our parts of the story. I feel as comfortable changing a Michelle sentence as one of mine; I don’t have any sense of, “This part of the story belongs to me, this to Michelle.” In fact, I occasionally read a sentence in one of our stories and I can’t immediately remember which one of us wrote it (though if it’s about science, that’s a good clue that it’s Michelle! When I throw in something science-y—I think working with Michelle gives me the bug—there’s a good chance she’ll need to fix it. “Actually, I think you mean beakers”). Michelle and I have pretty different styles, so it’s been fascinating to me how well we blend.


Michelle: Submitting collaborative fiction can be a bit trickier—figuring who will send a story where, keeping each other updated about where stories are being considered, where they’ve been rejected.

Kim: One journal wouldn’t allow us to submit a collaborative piece, which shocked us both.

How to Find Your Collaborator

Michelle: Obviously, you want to choose someone whose writing you admire and whose instincts you trust. It’s perfectly fine, and perhaps even for the best, if you have different writing styles or preoccupations as a writer. It’s also perfectly fine to disagree some of the time, as long as you’re able to resolve those disagreements. I think that ideally you should collaborate with a writer you know fairly well, with whom you already exchange drafts. Kim and I had been exchanging work for several years before we began collaborating. We were already each other’s first readers.

Kim: What Michelle said—find a writer whose work you love and whose judgments you value. Michelle and I first “met” each other over a story: I loved her story (“Cinema Verite”), and the comments I gave her were useful. Also, find someone who has strengths you want to borrow. I’ve always admired the humor in Michelle’s stories— her writing, like Lorrie Moore’s or Amy Hempel’s, makes me laugh. And I think our collaboration stories are pretty funny, even the sad ones. She lightens me. Michelle is ninja when it comes to restructuring stories, moving around pieces. It’s like being on one of those crazy Top Chef team quickfires: we’re good together because we can lean on each other’s skills.

Michelle: I do love moving pieces around. Quite often I find the fix to a story that isn’t quite working is largely in reshuffling the pieces. And funny that Kim says I lighten her with humor. I think Kim does the same for me plenty of the time. Also, I think that working with Kim makes be a better constructor of sentences. Her sentences are always at once so elegant and sharp, like dancers wielding scissors.




Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award (MCP 2017). Her work has recently appeared in Cream City ReviewThe ForgeMonkeybicycleTriQuarterly, and other venues. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review and a consulting editor for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology. She lives in Tucson, Arizona.

Michelle Ross’s website



Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and is forthcoming in 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books. Her fiction is published or forthcoming in Atticus ReviewBird’s ThumbCleaverThe Gettysburg ReviewHobartNew World WritingSixfoldWord Riot, and many other journals.

Kim Magowan’s website

Local Event: Author Sherman Alexie at the Heard Museum

Though it’s over a month away, we thought you’d like to know that Sherman Alexie, featured poet in Issue 3 of Superstition Review, and accomplished author, will be presenting at The Heard Museum in mid-October.

Alexie will be reading from his newest book, War Dances, due out October 6 and available for pre-order at Amazon.

The event is being hosted by Changing Hands Bookstore, who announced the event on their Facebook page, as well as releasing an event page at their website, in collaboration with the Heard. The event is off-site, meaning instead of being held at the Tempe independent-bookseller site, it will be located at the Heard Museum at 2301 Central Avenue, Phoenix, 85004, and will be running from 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. the evening of October 16.

Tickets to the event are available for purchase only through Changing Hands, who can be reached at 480-730-0205. A trip to Changing Hands is not necessary if you don’t live nearby–you can collect your pre-purchased event tickets the night of the event directly at the Heard. And perhaps best yet, the ticket price of $7 is not only admission, but also a voucher to be applied to the purchase price for an autographed copy of War Dances that evening.

If you can’t manage to attend the event, but still want an autographed book, this can be arranged by phone with the lovely people at Changing Hands–just give them a call and they’ll help you get your own signed copy.

Superstition Review Features the Poetry of Sherman Alexie

Sherman Alexie’s Official Homepage

Heard Museum