Kafka on the Shore

I walk

the sandstorm


I walk onto the sidewalk

the sandstorm swirls sand as

it slides onto the sidewalk

I change direction

the sandstorm

does the same

All across my

walking route,

the sandstorm keeps dancing

like death’s daggers

I turn around




I r u n

I c a n ’ t l e t

f a t e t u r n

o n t o m e

Yet, sand has

hit my eyes

and my body

I walk home.

Not who I was before.

Something has changed.

— Billy Wikol

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Demon Press Review: Atomic Habits

Here’s a little secret about me: I’m a huge self-improvement nerd. Some of my favorite pastimes are going onto YouTube and learning productivity techniques.

Over the past 5 years, I have seen it all: from Pomodoros to habits to time blocking. I’ve learned all of these from productivity YouTubers such as Thomas Frank and Matt D’Avella.

And these two had been saying a lot about a certain book. A book that has been praised as one of the best self-improvement books of all time. A book so good that many “BookTok” (the side of TikTok populated by book-related accounts and videos) users praised it.

The book is Atomic Habits by James Clear.

Since I was attempting to read a book a week, I thought I should give this a read because…

  1. Almost everyone gave it 5/5 stars.
  2. It will help me build a reading habit to help me reach my goal.

So I gave it a read.

The book covers many topics on habit formation (i.e. cue, routine, and reward) and gives simple tips on how to break or build habits in easy-to-read chapters. Each tip or concept is broken down in each chapter. This allows the reader to easily go back to a certain section and remember a concept or tip.

While learning concepts to improve one’s life is important, it isn’t as important as putting those concepts into action. Atomic Habits solves this problem by providing readers with a full guide on how to successfully build good habits and break bad habits.

After finishing the book, I felt a tiny bit disappointed. Sure, the concepts in it were great, but there wasn’t anything new that I could use in my own life.

At first, I gave it 4/5 stars, but I soon realized something that changed my opinion:

The book summed up 5 years of (my) research in 256 pages that someone could devour in 2-3 days. I changed my review to 5/5 stars as a result.

If you want to find the most helpful information and actionable steps on habits, this is your book.

— Billy Wikol

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Poem: Define Poetry

Poetry is a difficult term

to define

It’s okay not to share some poems

Because all poetry is to create

Then if you would create

for yourself

for others

for the public

for love

or for hate

Then that’s poetry

— Billy Wikol

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Short Story: Monsters and Miracles

“I’m expecting you to bring back lots of candy,” the mother said.

The girl who wore the witch’s costume didn’t say anything back. She just picked up her bag and her orange cat, walked out of her apartment door, and sat on the steps where the mother couldn’t see her. She started to shake like she never had a skeleton.

Unfortunately, Mom walked out of the door and saw the girl. She sat right next to her daughter.

“Remember, this is one of the best times to go outside your room. You can relax all you want when you’re home,” the mother said.

The daughter replied, “It’s not that, remember? Didn’t I tell you that a billion times?”

“I know! I know! Just remember this one last thing: ‘Whenever there is a monster, there is a miracle,’” the mother quoted. “And now it is time to face that monster.”

Mom hugged the girl as she hugged back—as the cat waited on the sidewalk to remind them that it was time to go. Eventually, the girl and the cat walked out into the night as the mother waved back wishing them the best of luck.

“Trick or treat!” the witch and the cat said (or at least the cat tried to say) to their neighbor.

“Wow! Nice costumes!” the neighbor said as he dumped some chocolate into the witch’s bag. “Be careful, they are out tonight.”

Wearing a fake smile, the witch replied: “I know, and I will be careful—just like every year. Thank you.” And they left to visit the next house.

As they walked, the girl noticed that her cat had a disgusted, yet scared look. “Sure can be annoying to be careful of the same things every single year, right?” The girl told the cat. “It’s always better inside, after all. But why does Mum want me to be killed?”

Her cat tried to shrug using paws but instead tripped and fell.

“Are you okay?” she asked, but before she could help, someone else picked the cat up first. His red eyes appeared to be too realistic to be in a costume. His long white hair suggested that he was no ordinary person. He also had a suit that was covered in countless stains.

The witch’s feet shook so hard that she tripped just like her cat.

The vampire spoke familiarly: “Trade offer! I receive your blood. You receive your cat.”

Her heartbeat bumped faster. She got to her feet and turned around—to find someone behind her.

This someone has razor-sharp teeth, shorts with no shirt, and was surrounded by brown fur on his skin. Despite having the shape of a human, he appeared to be crawling on his arms and legs.

“Can you please give me back my cat?” The girl demanded the two teenagers, despite her fear.

Scared inside, the vampire said “Sure,” and handed the cat back to the girl.

“Now can you please leave me alone?” the girl asked.

“Nope.” the mummy said as he walked out of the shadows, and ate all of the girl’s candy in one bite.

“WAHHHHH!” both the girl and the cat screamed at the same time.

No one (including the vampire and the wolf) can see the mummy’s body nor his skin; it was all covered in the whitest of clothes. The bright, blue eye on its face was all one could see of the haunting creature.

The witch calmed down, forced herself to back away from them, and asked them “Why?”

The trio of monsters tried to contain their laughter, however, their chuckling burst out into loud laughter. But no one in the city heard the evil the girl and her cat were under. The monsters calmed their laughter and responded at the same time: “Because it’s fun.”

With a snap of the vampire’s fingers, he sent a dense fog that blinded the girl’s and the cat’s vision. The both of them can’t see where the boys had gone off to. She and her cat kept on breathing for air like they were drowning underwater. Instead, they were drowning in the strongest and the most effective kind of fear: the fear of the unknown.

A pair of white hands appeared through the fog as they grabbed the cat. The monster’s new pet tried to get out by scratching and biting, but the hands kept on grasping the cat’s body.

The cat’s real owner noticed what happened, gasped, and ran into the fog to bring back her beloved best friend.

The fog prevented her from seeing where the hands went, and she bumped into old trees and rusty graves because of it. To her surprise, there seemed to be no buildings around.

She couldn’t keep on walking with no idea where the cat went. Until she heard her cat’s loud and sad meowing. Once she did, she dashed over to where the sound came from. Moving closer and closer towards her cat, she wanted to hug the figure so badly that she didn’t notice the cat’s scratches and marks. Nor was she aware of the whip coming down towards her.

When she hugged her beloved friend, the whip smashed the girl’s back instead of her cat.

Now she also had scratches and marks on her skin. She felt the pain riveting through her body. From the back to the brain; the pain echoed through her whole body.

The fog laughed back at them in a single voice. The witch looked at her friend and thought of how enough was enough.

The girl got up and screamed through the pain and monsters: “You sons of witches want my best friend?! Then you’ll need to get through me first!”

Three large pieces of angelic light shined through the fog. They each got brighter until they blinded the girl’s and the cat’s sight.

When the light faded away, the friends looked to find the miracles: no fog, no wounds, no monsters, a bag of candy, Mom, lofi hip-hop, and their home.

— Billy Wikol

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Poem: The Chosen Child

One child

stands out among


One child

will save the world

from pain.

This child

was guided and

taught by great parents and

great warriors.

Two other children

had the same potential.

They could save the world.

They could even help.

But the parents refused.

And only allowed

the chosen one

to advance.

To overlook the pain.

And cause the world


— Billy Wikol

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How Squid Game’s Second Episode Made the Show Blow Up In Popularity

This may sound like a hot take, but I do feel like Squid Game blew up because of its second episode. I haven’t finished watching the show yet, but I can confidently stick to that opinion.

For those who are living under a rock, Squid Game quickly became one of Netflix’s popular shows this year. It’s filled with gorgeous visuals, future TikTok trends, and many more reasons one might say the show became a hit.

Some wonder exactly why its popularity blew up like it did, and it’s because of the second episode.  Why? Because the episode includes a lot of internal conflicts. How does that relate to a show blowing up? To answer that, we need to look to brain science.

There are two types of conflict in stories: external conflict and internal conflict. External conflict is defined as a struggle between a character and an outside force. In Squid Game, the external conflict is the players against the games themselves. If those players lose, then they will die, but why does that matter to the players if they die? Why are they even choosing to participate in these deadly games anyways? If they are participating in either getting rich or being dead, then why do they not get a job and get the money that way without having to worry about being dead?

I’m not trying to say external conflict is bad; it is important to have external conflict in your story to increase the tension surrounding it. But without any internal conflict, the audience doesn’t care about the characters and the story seems boring to them. Sure, it may be exciting to see characters facing challenging games or—in other stories—spaceship battles, wizardry duels, and giant monsters. But those things don’t make us care about the characters. If only external conflict is used, then your characters will feel like the punching bag for the plot; they are smacked with external conflict and more external conflict without any meaning to it. That’s not how a really good story is supposed to go; a really good story has the characters reacting meaningfully with the plot. That’s how most really good Disney movies go: almost every obstacle Moana or Hercules face is important to them—not to the world. So how did Squid Game create a really good story? By making every action matter to the characters. And how did they do that?

The answer comes in the form of internal conflict. Internal conflict is the type of conflict that happens inside of the character’s head—whether mental or emotional. Each one of us—whether we think of it or not—has some form of internal conflict. We each have a goal, or desire, we are trying to reach. However, there is a reason we may not fulfill that desire: fear. This fear is what makes us unable to achieve our goals. But this desire still matters to us, and if you share it with people then it might matter to them since they relate to you.

The same thing goes into watching movies and reading books; we relate and care about the characters who have a desire and a fear because we human beings also have internal conflict. Because of that, something magical happens when a protagonist shows off their internal conflict to the audience: the audience holds the character’s values close to them, and they pay close attention to the character’s actions. Author Abbie Emmons summarized this better than I could ever have: “Internal conflict is the secret ingredient to capturing your reader’s attention. When we know why it matters to the characters, we know why it matters to us. And when something matters to us we pay close attention to it.” That’s why Moana and Hercules caught our attention: when we know what they are doing matters to them, then it matters to us.

So how does this fit into Squid Game? In episode two, we learn about the internal conflict (both desire and fear) of each of the main characters. We learn why they are participating in these games that kill people. We learn that each of them is in extreme poverty and wants to get out of it (that’s the desire). Unfortunately, they have been faced with some fears that prevent them from reaching their goals: a greedy boss, struggles of moving, surgery of a loved one, a poor pregnant woman, the list goes on. These are the things that make us care about the characters; the writers are taking their time to introduce the main cast so they can show their desire clashing with fear and—more importantly—make us care about the characters and keep us hooked on what is going to happen.

But wait! There’s more. Another form of internal conflict is called “pain vs. pain”. It is when one type of problem a character is facing (the first “pain”) becomes more painful than another problem (the second “pain”). In the case of Squid Game, the reality of poverty is more painful than dying in a battle royale. As the audience can see, each character, in this case, suffers this sort of internal conflict—thus the audience cares about each of them.

The rest of the story is a tense series of events because the writers took the time to make us care about the characters. And that is why Squid Game blew up. Sure social media and the actual concept of Red Light, Green Light had some impact. But critically, it was the internal conflict that did it all.

— Billy Wikol

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Demon Press Review: This One Summer

I hope it doesn’t make for an exceptionally unexciting article—but this is the first time I plan to review a graphic novel that I have no especially strong feelings about either way. While there are a million aspects of the book that I really like, This One Summer, by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, mostly left me with the impression that it was very good, and that I was glad to have read it, but I don’t see it as a story that will stick with me the way some other graphic novels have. Overall, however, I do think reading this book was a valuable study in personal taste.

After all, the first thing I noticed upon taking This One Summer out of the library was the several awards advertised on the cover: “New York Times Best Seller,” “Caldecott Honor Book,” and “Printz Honor Award.” I have never seen a comic with this degree of literary recognition–so I don’t think it was unreasonable that my expectations were high. And, honestly, my expectations were almost completely met. The story was charming; it was well told, focusing mainly on the friendship between two young girls and the way the main character, Rose, is forced to change over the course of one particular summer. The characters were loveable and very believable. The artwork–I could go on and on about the artwork–was perfect. It sold the sense of comfortable realism that characterized the story being told, and it gave so much depth to the characters just through their facial expressions. However, it was also totally different from what I am used to seeing in comics.

I’ve reviewed a few different types of comics here in Demon Press: webcomics, comedies, fantasies, dramas, and even an informational memoir, but I have never seen one that looks like this. Most comics have pages I can best describe as busy–arms and legs sticking out of panels, paragraphs of text here and there, “camera angles” that seem to fly all around and zoom in and out wildly. In the context of experiencing the story, this type of organized chaos in paneling works really well—to me, at least.

In contrast, This One Summer has a very simple and neat way of presenting the story. Somehow, the pages don’t have the sort of business that I am used to. And, on one hand, it made the reading experience much less exciting to me. Yet, on the other hand, gives a comforting subtlety to all of the artwork. Each page looks like one coherent piece of art. Plus, the linework is soft–almost as if drawn in pencil–and instead of being black and white, the artist uses shades of dark blue. Where a lot of other drama graphic novels use flashy visual metaphors and aspects of magical realism when presenting real-life themes (like Annarasumanara and Our Dreams at Dusk), This One Summer sticks fully to the relatively mundane. It was a totally different reading experience than I am used to, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. Where, in the past, I have read dozens of chapters in a single sitting in order to write these reviews, in this case, even though the story is only a single volume long, it took me two weeks to get through, because, at times, I just couldn’t bring myself to want to read it (though being busy with college applications is probably more to blame than anything).

My feelings about This One Summer are hard to describe because they are contradictory. I can’t help but feel like it’s a less exciting version of a coming-of-age story I have heard a thousand times. Yet, at the same time, it is the subtlety and understatedness of the storytelling that really makes it stand out. It explores numerous unique yet prevalent themes with a clear understanding and maturity. However, it feels to me like it does not go into quite enough depth to be truly memorable. I think it is really difficult for artists to tread the line between drawing a mature and insightful comic with making a comic that is interesting and exciting. I appreciate This One Summer. I think it deserves every honor that it won. I know for a fact that there is an audience that holds this story dear to their heart. But somehow, because of my great expectations, my past reading experiences, and my teenage impatience, to me, this book was missing something that would make it truly special. Though, even having said that, I am glad to have read it.

— Quinn Hammon

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Social Media’s Grip on Society

Impact of Social Media on Teenagers | Negative Effects on Youth

Social media has impacted our generation in unexplainable ways. Kids are exposed to explicit content and teenagers are left mentally drained. As a whole, we are left to question how this is possible and what we can do to abate this issue.

First, we need to acknowledge a real problem: young children are on social media. Kids that do not meet the age requirements for social networks are making accounts and therefore, being introduced to mature topics. It’s more than trying to help a child mentally mature, it’s adults who don’t know when to draw the line. Remember when you would have fun with your friends on the playground, and someone took a toy you were playing with? It felt like the end of the world. Now imagine the pain of your little brother, sister, or child finding a video on social media containing graphic content. One thirty-second video can cause such trauma, confusion, and anxiety that no child should ever feel.

But, we can avoid this ginormous blunder. As a society, we are not obligated to give kids any sort of access to social media. Whether it’s blocking particular apps or not giving them a device, it all works the same. We are all in charge of protecting future generations. Giving them a clean slate is the least we can do.

Generation Z grew up with phones and the most advanced technology humanity has ever seen. It is not a surprise adolescents are ‘addicted’ to their phones; it’s the norm. For years we have been advised to be careful on social media, as it is dangerous for anyone involved. We know about stranger danger and talking to people you don’t know but in some circumstances, teens are not fully aware of the mental troubles social media can cause. Don’t get me wrong, I love being on my phone, but too much screen time can cause depression, loss of sleep, and low self-esteem. It is important to give yourself a break! Your health and happiness should come before anything else, and it should be made a priority.

Understanding the way social media affects us humans is the first step to resolving these obstacles. Proceed on social networks with caution, and know when you are risking your safety or health. Help out your fellow children with social media complications they may be facing, and we’re one step closer to healing the toxic environment created over the internet.

— Emily Gavin

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Demon Press Review: The Silent Patient

I’ve never really been too into the Mystery and Thriller genre. Sure—I’ve seen the typical plot twist and murder mystery, but I was not ready for the mystery of The Silent Patient. And it blew me away.

Alicia Berenson is a famous painter who lived a seemingly perfect life—until one night when she shot her husband five times. Afterwards, she never spoke another word—not even to the court! Drawn to her story, psychotherapist Theo Faber tries to help Alicia speak again; and it proves to be more difficult and dangerous than Theo could have imagined.

Many readers—myself included—praised the “final twist” of the novel, and for good reason. I knew where the twist was and noticed some of the foreshadowing of where the twist is going to go, but I wasn’t prepared for how amazing the twist was. Spoiler Alert! I felt like the twist got me hard because of how the novel plays with tense. Since it’s all in the past tense, it made me picture that all the events happening are happening chronologically; I was wrong.

I give this book a 9/10. If you’re looking for a story to make you think like a detective, this is your read!

— Billy Wikol

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Demon Press Review: Annarasumanara

Surreal and beautiful, charming and philosophical, the story of Annarasumanara draws the reader in with just one question: “Do you believe in magic?”

Questionable magic is the core of this 2014 webcomic by Ilkwon Ha, which invites its audience to an abandoned amusement park, where they will meet a mysterious magician who adamantly claims that his magic is real. The story unfolds as this unusual man offers magic lessons to local high schooler Yun Ai. At first, she and her classmates are greatly suspicious of him—reasonably so, considering that he is alone, unemployed, and living near the location of several rumored kidnappings. As the chapters go by, the reader and the characters both come to trust the man. Yet, upon more deeply considering his catchphrase—“Do you believe in magic?”—the reader and protagonist alike are forced to ask: Is this mysterious man a real magician? Or is he simply delusional?

The author does an incredible job of keeping the reader guessing until the end, and the end is a satisfying, memorable, and, perhaps, magical finale to the enchanting read. Annarasumanara is gripping and immersive–and very difficult to put down (Exhibit A: me, writing this review at three in the morning, having just finished it). For me, coming to know and understand the characters was a delight, and the final chapters broke my heart only to repair it again. The art style is like nothing I have ever seen. It can be surreal, with real-life photos of objects included among the illustrations. It is not afraid to be abstract, with some characters having bizarre appearances to match their mental states. And, most importantly, it perfectly sells the magical atmosphere of the abandoned amusement park, contrasting it with the dreary reality of Yun Ai’s life in poverty.

Photos from the webcomic by Ilkwon Ha, published by WEBTOON

Annarasumanara explores, like so much popular Korean media seems to, a devastating class divide, with Ai working numerous jobs and being the sole caretaker of her younger sister. It also explores mental illness in high schoolers with heartbreaking insight and maturity. It weighs the importance of our passions with that of our responsibilities, and Ai’s struggle to balance her school work with her growing love for learning magic is somehow very relatable–magic cleanly standing in for any interest thrown away in favor of our studies. In the case of one character, the story shows the damage unmanaged stress can have on the psyche of even the most successful students.

Despite having finished it just an hour ago, I can say with absolute certainty that Annarasumanara will stick with me for a long time. My only complaint is that it took me so long to discover. Why does WEBTOON seem to hide away their best publications? It’s hard to believe they so rarely promote such a masterpiece. I encourage you to immerse yourself in the dubious magic of Annarasumanara if you ever feel a bit worn down by the responsibilities of regular life…

— Quinn Hammon

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