Book Review: “Tales of Woe” by John Reed

Tales_of_WoecovermashupInterior art by 8Pussy (at left) and cover art by Stephane Blanquet (at right)

There’s a new book of the illustrated macabre hitting shelves today that contains some of the most depressing, unbelievable, gore-soaked, abusive, disturbing and generally unacceptable stories you’ll ever hear … and they’re all TRUE!

Beef up on your happy pills before cracking open Tales of Woe. Author John Reed has handpicked 200 pages of stories about real people across the globe being eaten by baboons, plagued by incurable diseases, sexually abused and murdered … most without any sense of deserving or the faintest ray of hope.

Tales_of_Woe_John_Reed_40_41Art by Stephane Blanquet

The unique white-on-black, palm-sized book piqued my interest first and foremost because of the colorful artwork – most of which has an underground comics appeal. One of my favorite artists featured is Stephane Blanquet, whose finely detailed line art for the story “The Ugly Die in Vain” practically sings the complete tragic tale on its own. It’s as grotesque and fascinating as the disease that plagues the story’s unfortunate heroine.

Tales_of_Woe_John_Reed_30_31Art by Ralph Niese

Another favorite is by artist Ralph Niese for the story “Art Attack,” which captures the tragic events of an art installation gone horribly, fatally wrong. People are tossed about the page in anguish, clutching to anything they can for support as the very walls around them – walls designed to delight – collapse and carry them up into the air. Its garish use of colors and bold lines recreate the psychedelic nightmare as if it was pulled from some sort of hellish comic book.

Tales_of_Woe_John_Reed_136_137Art by Sarah Oleksyk

Some stories are so unbelievable that I wondered if I could actually finish the book with my sanity intact.  One story in particular, “The Purple Ooze,” centers on the small American town of Ashland, MA, where local children played regularly in toxic industrial waste. What blew me away was that even though the town sat next to one of the top ten worst toxic sites in the nation (as cited by the Environmental Protection Agency), studies performed as late as 1994 refused to link the unnatural environment to the many cases of cancer and disease plaguing the town’s youth.

Another story, “Sac of Sex-Slavedom,” is so disgusting and upsetting to me that I actually don’t care to describe it at all. I could scarcely believe what I was reading had actually happened … which is likely the reaction Reed is hoping to achieve.

What allows us to be so careless with ourselves, our homes, with our children? How can people be so cruel and insensitive? These were the kinds of questions that crossed my mind while reading. There are no explanations or judgments. You are left alone to ponder the inexplicable, and perhaps give thanks for whatever pleasures you find in your own life. Perhaps you’ll even be inspired to reach out and help those less fortunate. Ultimately I believe this book is a tool for raising self-awareness and the need to become more responsible human beings who strive to take better care of ourselves and each other.

Taking a different approach, if you’re fascinated by or a fan of the Faces of Death movies, this book is a no-brainer: It’s ugly, disturbing and unapologetic. Definite stocking-stuffer material for the nihilist on your list.

Sensitive readers of either camp will no doubt require a healthy dose of snuggling with their beloved stuffed animal collection before bed. If you dare, you can visit the book’s suitably twisted website to learn more and peruse the many talented artists featured in the book.



Tales of Woe is available now on Amazon.

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Artist and designer based in Brooklyn, NY