Dungeons & Drag Queens
By MP Johnson
Reviewed by Karl Wolff
Sleazella LaRuse wakes up cuffed and chained in a dungeon only to discover she has been betrothed to Houmak, the serpent god of a strange fantastical realm. The former MC of Green Bay’s Bar Belle and fierce drag queen now finds herself embroiled in the strange affairs of sorcerers and magic in MP Johnson’s latest novel, Dungeons & Drag Queens. Despite its ridiculous title and equally ridiculous premise, Johnson gives the reader an enjoyable quest narrative. He also delves into the biography of Sleazella (nee Todd McKinney), a lonely kid growing up in Green Bay, Wisconsin. One day he discovers Dina Dee’s music video “I Bleed Pink” and Sleazella was born.
In the book, Sleazella escapes the clutches of Dravor and the mighty Gaktal. They seek a bride for the powerful serpent god Houmak. Unbeknownst to them, Sleazella isn’t exactly the queen they are looking for. Sleazella admits she is the fiercest queen in the universe, but not necessarily the exact fit when it comes to producing heirs. After her escape she encounters the horrific slavwolves and the brave Blada Femma. Since this is a bizarro novel, the beasties and the barbarians aren’t your usual color-by-numbers epic fantasy elements, unless your Dungeons Master is seriously weird. The slavwolves have multiple nipples that reveal mouths filled with razor-sharp teeth and the Blada Femma have a means of combating their enemies that is more Hard-R than PG-13.
One of the wonderful things about Dungeons & Drag Queens is its sly subversion of body horror. Body horror is a common element used in bizarro fiction, except in this case Sleazella is the most normal character in the entire book. While sophomoric humor is in abundance, Sleazella is treated as a sympathetic character. Amidst all the terrifying creatures and strange cultures she encounters, one wishes she could get back to the Bar Belle and MC at her fiercest. Johnson’s addition of biographical information adds the necessary human element. (Those accusing Johnson of homophobia either haven’t read the book, or having read the book, simply don’t know how to read. The charges are unjustified and rather ridiculous. You are laughing with Sleazella, not at Sleazella, a fine distinction. This is the exact opposite of “Gays are icky.”) The grossness involves lots of fluids with blood, puke, and guts aplenty. Similar to David Lynch’s treatment of Baron Vladimir Harkonnen as a floating disease-ridden personification of pure evil in his Dune movie. Among the grotesque and depraved surroundings, Sleazella, no saint by far, comes across as the most dignified. Her enemies may consider her nothing more than a “he-wench,” but she knows she’s the fiercest queen in the universe.
Bizarro fiction is an acquired taste. Dungeons & Drag Queens is violent, childish, gross, and weird. Depending on your own individual tastes, these are either positive or negative attributes. I enjoyed reading the book, but I also enjoyed reading the drag queen-centric novel, Our Lady of the Flowers, by Jean Genet. About the only thing similar between the two is that they have a drag queen main character.
Eraserhead Press, the publisher, has published works like The Baby Jesus Butt Plug by Carlton Melnick III and Ass Goblins of Auschwitz by Cameron Pierce. I give Dungeons & Drag Queens a lower score because it is part of such a niche genre. As I said before, bizarro fiction is an acquired taste and not for everyone. On a more personal note, I really enjoyed the book and had a fun time reading it.
Out of 10/8.9; much higher for fans of bizarro literature.