Obscure Oswald / by Justin Schwanke

There lived a skeletal character with an appetite for oddity. One day this individual—simply known as Obscure Oswald—walked into a desolate saloon to get a drink and spit some game. Never one for normality, he ordered a gallon of vinegar and proceeded to talk to the bartender. His face began to swell and his complexion became pale, but he reveled in this uncomfortable state.

The topic of long term goals eventually came up in conversation. The bartender explained that she yearned to leave her hometown and roam the planet like a vagabond. She emphasized the fact that these travels would need to be conducted in a moderately classy fashion. Obscure Oswald replied that he was indeed a wanderer, although with little class, and was seeking to create a full-fledged vagabond clan. When the bartender asked if this was his long term plan, he explained that it was only a small part of the bigger picture. “What exactly is the bigger picture?” she asked. “The bigger picture is to promote weirdness to the extent that it is mutually desired and viewed with reverence” he said.

Obscure Oswald then took his last swig of vinegar. “So the objective is to become weird and revered?” the bartender questioned. Before he could respond his stomach began to rumble like a violent pride of lions chasing a fleeing harem of zebras. A few convulsions later and Obscure Oswald was on the ground unconscious. The bartender, having become accustomed to this type of situation (although for different reasons), cleaned up the mess and dragged his body out back. She decided however, that from here on in, she would devote her life to becoming a connoisseur of all things obscure. The bartender then resolved to painting an intricate pattern of white to black gradients on Obscure Oswald’s belly while chanting about the oddities of life.

As originally posted here: vimeo.com/117074537


Obscure Oswald awoke in an alley with a gnawing sensation in his gut and monochrome gradients painted on his stomach. He wallowed in the pain amidst confusion as to the previous night’s events. Unsure of what occurred; he attempted to psychologically retrace his steps. He knew he had a few pints of vinegar at the saloon, but what followed was all just an acidic haze. How did he get here? How much vinegar did he drink? Why were his hands tied to his ankles? It was as though someone forced him into a temporary fetal position. Was this a metaphor for never having grown up? One thing was certain; Obscure Oswald’s escapades were catching up with him.

Obscure Oswald decided to grunt for help. A wiry raccoon peaked around a dumpster, having heard the skeletal character making noise. Acute to its surroundings, the raccoon was aware that this particular vagrant was new to the alleyway. It sauntered proudly on two legs towards Obscure Oswald. An odour of vinegar soon filled the animal’s nostrils. Keeping calm, Obscure Oswald remarked to the raccoon, “You’re a cute little critter. Golly, you have such a beautiful smile. Do you think you could chew these ropes with those perfect teeth? In return I will buy you fish and chips and vinegar.” The raccoon appeared offended. “Was it something I said?” commented Obscure Oswald. The raccoon clenched its teeth. It was the “cute” comment that was upsetting. This hyper-masculine raccoon considered itself a creature of fierceness, rigidity, and vigor; anything but cute. Nonetheless, the raccoon was famished as food scraps were scarce in this part of town. It reluctantly obliged to the vagabond’s request. The raccoon hastily chomped through the ropes, freeing Obscure Oswald from the fetal position.

A man of his word, Obscure Oswald then took the raccoon to Weirdo Wally’s Whalefish and Chips. The restaurant was unusually vacant and so the server, an indifferent young man, signalled no objection to the raccoon entering the establishment. Obscure Oswald ordered their food. The server arrived with their meals and a squirt bottle of vinegar thereafter. Obscure Oswald gazed at the vinegar bottle anxiously. The internal dilemma: satisfy his cravings, or make the first step towards kicking his habit. Having smelled the vinegarish odour surrounding the vagabond earlier, the raccoon was aware of Obscure Oswald’s struggle with substance abuse. As Obscure Oswald went to reach for the bottle, the raccoon hissed and dug its claws into the vagrant’s arm. Obscure Oswald winced in pain. He soon realized, however, that the actions of the raccoon were not intended to be an attack, but rather an act of mutual support. The pair looked each other in the eyes and realized they needed each other. The raccoon needed food, and the vagabond needed positive and negative reinforcement to curtail his vinegar addiction. What followed next was a friendship that would last a sliver of eternity…..

As  originally posted here: vimeo.com/131909504


On a gloomy morning in the quaint town of Normsville, Obscure Oswald dressed himself with his usual attire from Conformo College’s lost and found bin. He then pranced leisurely on route to Standard Square via General Drive. Trailing behind him was his raccoon sidekick nicknamed Ricardo. Obscure Oswald had decided to gather together the members of his vagabond clan for a meeting.

Upon arriving in the square, he sat on the ground with his hands in his lap and Ricardo the Racoon atop his head. Obscure Oswald observed each passerby. He examined their body language, their facial expressions, and the speed of their strides; most of whom appeared alarmed by his presence, flustered with life, and in a rush to make it to work on time. He noted their perturbed reactions to his skeletal figure and uncanny behaviour. Obscure Oswald was genuinely proud of his ability to make people feel uncomfortable and confused. Together with Ricardo, he hissed at those who seemed most annoyed.

As his fellow vagabonds gathered, Obscure Oswald indicated that the purpose of the meeting was to share a story. “Many moons ago I was in the coastal city of Uniqua during my pal, Gregarious Gary’s birthday. We spent the bulk of our day wandering around the beach, scaring spoiled children, and splashing snobby parents. By evening, Gregarious Gary and I befriended some locals who wanted to take us to a roller derby. We both obliged and joined them.

Everyone else socialized and watched the event, but I could tell Gregarious Gary wasn’t his gregarious self. I asked what was wrong and he explained that his only birthday wish was to stuff his face with chicken curry and strawberries. I was empathetic and decided it was my mission to fulfill his desires. There were two problems though: We were on the other side of the city from our campsite, and Curryberry Grocery Store was closing in an hour. The food and ingredients had not yet been purchased. Without access to an automobile, I realized we wouldn’t make it to the store on time. I tried to think of an alternative. Suddenly, it came to me. We could roller skate.

In order to obtain some skates we would have to borrow them from the roller derby girls. If we could woo these women, perhaps they’d give in to our request. I advised Gregarious Gary of my plan. We then observed each of the girls, paying close attention to the size of their feet. On the roller derby track I soon spotted two husky women ahead of the pack. We both noted their broad shoulders, man hands, thunder thighs, and enormous feet. Once they finished the race, we each went in to spit some game.

Gregarious Gary approached the winner of the heat race. He congratulated her and asked ‘Was your father a mechanic?’ ‘What do you mean?’ she replied. ‘I was just wondering how you got such a finely tuned body. You’re a high performance machine. You really led the pack out there’ he said. The girl blushed and laughed. Gregarious Gary continued to work his magic and eventually asked to use her roller skates. The girl explained that she still needed them for her final race. However, she had access to the roller skate stock room.

Meanwhile, I was coming up unsuccessful with Husky Girl #2. She wasn’t in the mood to talk, especially after her loss. Gregarious Gary called me over and told me we had a hook-up on some roller skates. Husky Girl #1 took us to the stock room. With our roller skates laced up and 35 minutes until closing time at the grocery store, we were ready to rip. Before leaving, Gregarious Gary thanked the girl and told her to watch for a smoke signal later in the night.

Our quick legs and our ability to skitch vehicles allowed us to make it to the store with minutes to spare. Gregarious Gary and I sighed with relief. We had done it. After purchasing an excess of food and ingredients, we then headed to the campsite. Gregarious Gary built a fire and I prepared the meal. Husky Girl #1, having spotted Gregarious Gary’s smoke signal, arrived in time to eat. She brought with her a squad of fellow roller derby girls who appeared disgusted by the chicken curry and strawberries. I watched intently as Gregarious Gary took the first bites of his birthday dinner. He savoured the plethora of flavours on his pallet and chewed calmly. Gregarious Gary then began to purr like a kitten. ‘Mission accomplished’ I said. ‘What do you mean?’ one of the girls asked. I ignored her question and instead resolved to thinking about the day’s journey.”

Obscure Oswald looked at his audience after having completed the story. One of the vagabonds, Juanita the Wanderer spoke up, “And where is Gregarious Gary now?” Obscure Oswald paused for a moment and then replied, “He’s somewhere out there in this complex ecosystem enjoying the simple things, just as we all should.” The vagabonds took a minute to reflect and then nodded in agreement. Together they would hiss at the pre-occupied people of Normsville for the rest of the day.

As originally posted here: vimeo.com/145818564


Author: Justin Schwanke
Original Drawing: Henry Young