Tuesday, December 30, 2008

I read, in an interview with Renee French (maybe this one with Tom Spurgeon? That's got other bits to recommend it) that she doesn't think of herself as good with comics pacing, and that's why her current approach does the thing a couple Chester Brown books do, of having only a couple panels to a page. But, looking at this Marbles In My Underpants collection of her early work, I find a couple comics that I think are impeccably paced, as an accumulation of horrors and force.

These are comics drawn in Renee's old style, marked not just by the presence of a six-panel grid, but by being in stark black and white. Currently, she draws using black colored pencil, rather than ink, and it allows for more shading and tone. It feels like her drawing got softer, from the harsh voids of crosshatched black, around the same time her stories got a little friendlier. They also got quieter, with a few silent comics giving way to comics where what dialogue that is available is not present in word balloons.

(She also has a style of plain tiny, simplified line drawings on display in her book Micrographica and a minicomic I saw the last time I went to Atomic Books. And Corny's Fetish, which closes Marbles In My Underpants, uses greytones in addition to line drawings.) (Both tiny line-drawings and gorgeous pieces of shaded pencil work are on display at Renee's blog.

But those stories done in plain black and white have their own momentum to them. I am particularly fond of the serial "Silktown" and the short "Mitch And The Mole." These comics are all over the place in terms of their plotting, weird cascades of cruelty and fetishism that keep the reader off-balance, with this sort of detached tone- It's empathetic for some characters, but there's enough details that make you think "what the hell is going on here" both in the strange distance of the dialogue and little details to panel composition, like a loaf of bread leaning against the outside of a bathtub, followed by a panel showing the table with a jar of peanut butter on it on the bathtub's opposite side. "Mitch And The Mole" sort of wavers its grid- it's there as a standard, but the panels adjacent to each other are not the same size, and what panel is bigger than the other see-saws from right-to-left with each tier. Um, not consistently, but the overall effect aids in the disorientation.

But "Silktown" is the comic I really wanted to talk about. It pretty much opens the book, and throws down a tough gauntlet to get past of fairly shocking material. Everything about this comic feels horrific, and each scene plays out fairly slowly. Some are scenes of conversation, with little details lingered on- a chocolate eclair, a dangling chain to turn on a lightbulb- while others are scenes of fast-paced violence, but the drawings freeze them and linger on them- reaction shots of people in pain or suffering trauma. It's beautiful to look at, for its textures, but its textures are also repellent, sweating and boiling on the page. It feels like a Richard Corben comic if Richard Corben were a woman, drawing David Lynch-style suburbia rather than barbarian worlds. It also kind of feels like Brian Chippendale's Maggots, actually, in terms of how it dedicates equal amounts of interest to acts of violence and more common movement. (Also cock.) But there's more depth of field here, and that allows for more shifts in the vistas being depicted.

Marbles In My Underpants rules. It's not a complete overview of the comics done in this style, and some of the selections I would replace, and it's out of print, and the cover makes it look like it contains some kind of Slave-Labor-style goth comics, but if you see it, get it. It's got other comics- like The Ninth Gland, which is pretty great too, despite having a kind of broken pace that does make it hard to read- from later in her career, so you can see how her artistry shifts, and see that the things that I highlight about "Silktown" aren't even really what makes her a compelling artist.

Monday, December 15, 2008

More best-of-2008 listmaking mania:

Best comics:

I really didn't read very many comics this year. I didn't read anything from Japan (besides Hanakuma's Tokyo Zombie which was mediocre) or Europe. There were a lot of comics I would have liked to read if money were no issue. The Rory Hayes collection, Where Demented Wented, looked particularly appealing: Outsider horror comics including a porn comic drawn before the cartoonist lost his virginity? Sounds great! On the other side of the coin is Lynda Barry's What It Is, which I am strongly considering buying my mom for Christmas. Then there's Kramers Ergot 7, which is the book I would most want for Christmas.`But there are still some critical standards at work, as there are still a lot of comics I read and didn't like at all, and even more that I know my interests enough to know probably would not crack a list.

For me, the best comics of 2008 were written and drawn by Dash Shaw. His Bottomless Belly Button graphic novel was astounding, mining similar territory as a number of indie movies, but with more technical skill and greater emotional resonance. I don't feel the need to mention Margot At The Wedding on a best films list because of the superiority of The Bottomless Belly Button. If you kind of like comics, but haven't read it, do so. As far as "graphic novels" go, it's the book to beat. The fact that it was produced by someone just out of college is deeply inspiring. Meanwhile, Bodyworld was a webcomic I read every week, as it went online. A new type of serialization for a comics culture where solo-artist anthologies aren't really economically feasible, that also works for a diffuse community: In the absence of talking about comics at a comic book store, to tell my animator friends about how good this comic is over AIM, e-mails, and blogs, is quite fitting. Put them at the number one and two slots of a list. I didn't read his short story contributions to Mome or Meathaus, or his Bottomless zine Picturebox put out. (Actually, I think I read a Mome story or two, but I didn't spend much time with them.) I did read his Cold Heat minicomic, and while it was cool as a display of another format for him to play with, it still didn't display the strengths of Cold Heat that I'm really into that I will have to wait until next year to read and talk about.

Kevin Huizenga put out two of the best comic book pamphlets I read this year. Ganges 2 I talked about when it came out, but Fight Or Run is a really weird and fun little book, about nothing but formalism as fodder for laughs. I am astounded at how much better that stuff reads in a collection than scattered in little segments elsewhere. It almost argues for the death of the single-artist anthology, to have a guy like Huizenga working for a slew of different publishers, putting out books as focused suites of work. I didn't like Or Else 5 very much at all- I thought the pacing of the centerpiece story was really off, and the other material only intermittently worked for me.

The two best superhero comics would be All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely and Omega The Unknown by Jonathan Lethem and Farel Dalrymple with Paul Hornschemeier and Gary Panter. All-Star Superman is not really my favorite Morrison comic, but the issues that came out this year were really solid and entertaining, and a lot of the problems of reading a serialized comic with ads has been fixed by subsequent collection. Hey, speaking of which, maybe they actually give Gary Panter a drawing credit in the collection of Omega The Unknown? Just fun comics to read as they come out. (I also liked the issues of Casanova that came out this year, although I had some complaints about the ending, and only three came out.) That Gary Panter cover burned this kind of disposable intensity, and the near-wordless final issue was an amazing coda that felt near-otherworldly to read. Dreamy comics have a certain pull to them.

Taking up a number seven spot, as well as being the best of its format, would be the Core Of Caligula minicomic by CF. What a compelling thing that was, and really dense for its short size, enough to be satisfying. It's odd worldview and seeming spirituality make it not seem slight.

Speaking of Panter and minicomics, I would've liked to read the $15 8-page Jimbo minicomic that came out this year, too, by the way, or the Dal-Tokyo collection that was slated to come out but got delayed either until next year or is off the Fantagraphic schedule completely. That big monograph was pretty cool, although not a comic. The Shary Boyle and Ben Jones artbooks that came out this year are also probably pretty good. None of these comics listed are reprints of older material, but classic comic strips are really interesting to me, and I liked Heavy Liquid and Scud The Disposable Assassin both the last time I read them. (I actually really want that Scud collection. Talk all the shit you want about people making comics to get into Hollywood, but The Sarah Silverman Program rules, and Rob Schrab will never be allowed to actually make movies like those comics, which are such a perfect crystallization of 1990s culture currents that it's a shame he had to wrap it up this year in a supposedly pretty lackluster fashion.)

Top three film of the year, in order, despite appealing to me for completely different reasons: Synecdoche New York, Wall-E, and The Dark Knight. Would've liked to have seen Rachel Getting Married, Wendy And Lucy, Burn After Reading, The Wrestler, The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button, a half-dozen mainstream comedies, etc. but that's what DVD releases and the last weeks of the year are for. The possibility that any of those films are as ambitious as the films in my top three is so slim that I have no problem saying those were the best of the year. (Although My Winnipeg might be, and I want to see that too.) Synecdoche, New York is pretty much what I want movies and art to be, just a completely moving/devastating experience, a smart person going further and getting near the top of their game, which happens to be the outer reaches of what most people would find pleasurable. Wall-E is amazing filmmaking, with great animation, and is deeply inspiring to me as someone who studied those things in school, as well as something saying so many things I believe in and agree with in a language children can understand. The Dark Knight has an incredibly forceful and tense middle that is magnetic to watch, thinks in ways the comics it's based on never got around to, and is a fascinating document of what a blockbuster action movie in this modern era is.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Cool bands to see if they come to your town, whose split cassette I would've liked to buy if I had money on me:

Skoal Kodiak
Knife World

Unreleased song to find on Youtube and blow your mind:

Ol' Dirty Bastard's version of Build Me Up Buttercup. Sure, it's excerpted for a Rhymefest song, but this has ODB rapping verses

Cool tape by a cartoonist that works like a comic:

Anti-Matter Alma Mater by Matthew Thurber. From his "book-on-tape" label Potlatch, I Gather, comes this radio-play style soundtrack to an art installation I found really compelling.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

I tracked down a copy of Powell And Pressburger's A Matter Of Life And Death. I love a handful of Michael Powell movies, and got really obsessed with seeing more of them earlier this year, and this was the one classic that was unavailable on DVD. Sammy Harkham loves it, and his post about it is fairly exciting. I am really grateful for that blog entry I linked to, because I feel like it gave me some reference point and grounding about what, specifically, was good and compelling about the film. I kind of feel like it falls apart as it goes on. The ending trial in heaven is one of the most ridiculous things I've seen, in a way that I can only feel really conflicted about at this time of my life.

I also saw Orson Welles' Chimes At Midnight at the Baltimore library fairly recently, shown on rare VHS because the film print was too damaged. That was also fairly disappointing: The bad audio, along with the fast-paced Shakespeare dialogue, made for a tricky combination, and I am not that familiar with the plays in question to know exactly what Welles was doing here.

And yet, both of these films are worth seeing, should they come your way. Until then, why not watch the Orson Welles movies The Trial and F For Fake, and Michael Powell's Peeping Tom and Black Narcissus?

Friday, November 21, 2008

My friend Amber Smith's work was shown as part of the Olympia Film Festival this year, as part of a program that someone reviewed on their blog. I assume it is our mutual friend Joel Brazzel who is made to look like an asshole in said review. I think that Amber's work is amazing. I brought it to the attention of curator Bridget Irish, and more recently showed the work that was shown at the festival to a Baltimore audience that did not appreciate it as much as the reviewer I link to. The Baltimore screening depressed me and make me think said audience was stupid and wrong, and I am happy to post this link to a positive review. I should also give credit where it's due to Kendra for finding this review.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I've written about Dash Shaw's Bodyworld webcomic a few times by this point. But I would just like to link to this animation he did to promote it, now that a pretty big plot point has been revealed in the course of its serialization. Pantheon is putting it out as a book next year, but I would recommend reading it at his site. But that animation is worth noting as its own piece of work, for being really well-done.

Monday, November 17, 2008

I loved Synecdoche, New York, but that's not really surprising by now. Every Charlie Kaufman-written movie (besides Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind) has been increasingly more elaborate and affecting than that which came before it, and this, for all its trickiness, ends up being pretty devastating. I have no insights to it that wouldn't be better off if you had them instead. Really great, very dark, brutally so, and after only a short while I was the only person laughing.

My single complaint is the score, which in trying to emotionally engage, only distracts: The other aspects of the movie's artifice are more integrated, this is plainly a convention that could've been done without. It's by Jon Brion, but it's not as unconventional as his good scores tend to be. It's sap, and most of the time it just serves to obscure dialogue.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

It is late enough in the year for "best-of" lists to start coming into being. I only feel confident talking about records, thanks to leaks serving as an equalizer: There are any number of movies and comics that I have yet so see and judge.

Also, I kind of think it wasn't that great of a year for music. This could just be because of the way the music press works. The three records I am going to say were the "best" are all things that received no real reviews.

Best electronic record: Max Tundra, Parallax Error Beheads You. You know that story about the pottery class that was split into two groups? The one group was told to make a large amount of pots, and the other was told to make one perfect pot. The first group ended up making the better pots as they kept on working and learned from their mistakes. Max Tundra is almost the opposite of that: He has worked for six years making this record in keeping with his weird perfectionist tendencies. I guess he kept his game sharp doing remixes, though, because this album is amazing. Meticulously composed pop music filled with many moving parts, clicking into place.

Best noise record: Black Pus 4, All Aboard The Magic Pus. Only available as a CD-R still, as the vinyl release has not yet come into being. Some noise dude was telling me this isn't a noise record, and that Brian Chippendale refers to it as his pop record. This is in some ways true, songs are clearly distinguishable from each other. But only certain songs really register as pop songs, the whole thing is still pretty abrasive, and certain songs use pop song structures to freak out all over where the chorus would be. It's just restrained enough to constitute a step forward, and that on its own would be really exciting even before getting to the fact that the closing track was one of the songs I listened to obsessively.

Best indie-pop record: Nana Grizol, Love It Love It. This dude Theo was touring with the Elephant 6 Holiday Surprise. When the encore came, there was some confusion, and I had to tell him that some of his songs were worthy enough to fit into an encore setting. Which is quite the compliment, when you consider that other people on that tour who had written songs that could be performed for an encore included Julian Koster of The Music Tapes (and Chocolate USA, and while we were probably never going to hear "All Jets Are Gonna Fall Today," "Song For The Death Of Parents" seemed like it should've been a shoo-in), as well as Will Cullen Hart and Bill Doss of The Olivia Tremor Control (and The Circulatory System and The Sunshine Fix respectively). He ended up playing songs, but ones not on the album or the preceding EP. On those records are indie-pop songs of a certain nineties variety, and a youthful openness which you would think would find an audience I would find distasteful. The record certainly has awful twee album art. But, oh shit, "Tambourine-N-Thyme" would be the other song to be incredibly resonant in a way that led to many repeated listens, with its gorgeous horn parts in the place of Black Pus' abrasive keyboards. The other songs keep that strength, and while there's the occasional near-cringe-inducing line, there is still so much openness and positivity on this record that has me holding it close.

There were other records this year but they were just cool records. These include Thee Oh Sees The Master's Bedroom Is Worth Spending A Night In (garage-punk record of the year, five times better than that No Age album), Evangelista's Hello Voyager, Excepter's Debt Dept., and any number of albums made by bands I like because of albums that came out before this year that their new records pale in comparison to. See: Why?, Gang Gang Dance, The Lexie Mountain Boys, Beach House, Matmos, Silver Jews, etc. Those are the ones that weren't super-bleak disappointments.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

My grandfather is dying. He has Parkinson's, and several moves have been made to accommodate him. For a while, he was the sort of old man who walked a great many places: Up to the gas station every day to buy a copy of the Philadelphia Inquirer, or to the library further down the street. Or to the lake for fishing. By the time I was in high school he didn't walk around so well, using a walker to support him, not very often going beyond his yard.

Past that point, as I went on to college, my grandparents sold their house, probably for a decent amount of money, considering the neighborhood they lived in: Near that lake, a short walk from a booming downtown. He was in a Rascal scooter, he couldn't climb the stairs, and so they were moving to an apartment complex with elevators. Pretty much any kind of walking was impossible, but I guess the little bit of movement between a bed and the scooter was manageable. Then that was left, as my grandmother couldn't take care of him on her own, so into my aunt's house they went.

According to my grandmother, after each move he deteriorated, partly due to the shock of the new surroundings. The last time I saw him was supposedly a good day. There was another person, from outside the family, who came to take care of him, to carry him into the shower and wash him. He was slumped in a chair, tired, bothered by the wind and cold, and seeming pretty much to have no bones.

Tomorrow he's moving into a hospice. I hope he lives to see Thanksgiving, so I can see him one last time, but I do not expect him to make it to Christmas, and even my grandmother- who is pretty much the salt of the earth, and sort of classically optimistic and not really given to talking about things that are upsetting- halfway doesn't expect him to see me come to visit on Thanksgiving.

My grandfather is like a lot of old people in some sad ways: Afraid of teenagers he saw walking the street and generally politically conservative. These are the sort of things that feel like they fade into dementia, since they're based on sort of inarticulate fears. But that is not what the thing itself is, not what I see on his face or hear in his voice in these final fading moments. What is there instead is this love, for me and my grandmother and his two children, that's huge and deeply sad for him as he has the very real feeling of dying and losing these people. There is this cry he has for my grandmother pretty much every time she walks out of his sightline, which my grandmother explained to me with something almost cynical. "He's calling for you," I said, and she responded "he does that every time I leave the room," in this tone like she had to ignore it in order to even kind of function, to leave the room to order a pizza. The new town she finds herself in is pretty much unknown to her. She doesn't have the autonomy to leave the house to run errands like she did in the apartment. She doesn't leave the house, but every time she leaves his side he says her name as a pleading question.

He is maybe the grandparent I am the least close to. On my mom's side, I have these Jewish grandparents, that are people with great senses of humor and general easygoing natures. My paternal grandmother, as mentioned, is incredibly nice and has been the one most likely to spoil me, in the various meager ways someone like me could be spoiled as a kid: Water ice in the summer and a few bucks for comic books when I was a kid. Fresh fruit brought to me. My grandfather fits into a certain stoic mold, and while it's true I could've gone fishing with him it's true I never really got the appeal of such a thing. And for the fact he is so unemotional it is his unconditional love that bowls me over the most, that freaked me out real hard on the phone in the summer of 2005, when I was living a life that felt like shambles in Olympia, Washington. Talking to him a couple hours ago he said he thought about me all the time, and then put my grandmother back on the phone. He is collapsing, he cannot follow the train of thought that makes up a conversation, and all there is is love.

I hope he is not afraid of death.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Lynda Barry's novel Cruddy is a fine piece of work, some of the same subject matter tread by Charles Burns' Black Hole pitched through a distinctive prose voice that reads like her drawings but used to describe a world darker than her drawings themselves could convey.

Lynda went to the same college as Burns, as well as Matt Groening. Some apocryphal anecdotes have Gary Panter having gone to college with either of the latter men, but those tales never mention the college in question, because Panter didn't attend The Evergreen State College. I don't think the four of them have ever really been brought into loose conflation, but I would like to do that now, and cite how exciting they all were, in their own way, particularly at a not-particularly exciting time for culture, the 1980s, and all work in their own way to articulate a very large sense of anxieties. There are no real commonalities shared by all of them, but certain things each have in common with each other in way or another at one point or another. Taken as a single entity, they pretty much define post-underground comics as a thing infinitely more interesting than what came before. (While Burns is easily the least interesting of them, his work as a variation on some of the same thought processes, in a way more classically refined, presents some food for thought.)

And Cruddy is a novel, a piece of prose, with its illustrations not really particularly of interest, but of a piece with a cartoonist's worldview, the same way that The Simpsons articulates things in a different way than Life In Hell did. I haven't finished it yet, but still, I can't think of a book that draws its characters so vividly and recognizably, but still depicts them fantastically. Her new book, What It Is, has a completely different feeling to it, another set of strengths, but the point stands: What a consciousness that lady has.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

The whole idea of an automakers bailout is straight garbage, especially if it comes without a requirement to lower auto-emissions. Obviously, job loss is damaging, but there are reasons why industries collapse in catastrophic times. I believe firmly in the idea that America needs a second New Deal, which means the actual creation of new jobs, to get people through these times: Put the manufacturing industry to work on improved public transit and infrastructure, things that can run on alternative fuels, something to actually move forward from a collapsed automobile industry into a world where streets don't need to be perennially repaved to create larger roads to accommodate larger cars and greater congestion. That this is the first real thing Democrats have pushed since Tuesday's election combines with the fact that gay-marriage-banning initiatives were largely pushed through by the same African-Americans that got Obama elected to really take the edge off a lot of the feelings of progress that led to ecstatic street freak-outs.

Friday, November 07, 2008

This interview with Scott Adsit went up at The AV Club last week, and made me interested in seeing more episodes of the Adult Swim show Moral Orel. This was a show I was excited about when it started, due to Dino Stamatopoulos' comedy-writing history. It ended up not being as good as I would want it to, and watching Adult Swim programming online was always sort of a dicey proposition with how things would go on-and-offline at will. Now, it was being canceled for being bleak, depressing, and not fitting with the rest of the Adult Swim content. Sounds great.

I ended up catching a new episode premiere last night. It was pretty great.

The argument that the show is not anti-religion, but is just a satire of religious hypocrisy, never held any water with me, though. This is clear more than ever now that it is so bleak. It's actively nihilistic, people are horrible to each other. It's not without empathy, but I never get the impression that the character's main problem is their hypocritical approach to religion.

But the episode I saw last night? Great. Here are some insane reference points for this show: Chris Ware comics. Lynda Barry's novel Cruddy. The Wire. Wonder Showzen. Early seasons of The Simpsons. Chris Ware for the way bleakness is being presented passed down from generation to generation. Cruddy for similar reasons, but with the addition of the real threat of violence. The Wire... again, bleakness, but also for being a TV show that really makes you feel empathy. Wonder Showzen for the general presentational parody approach that accentuates the void of its worldview. And The Simpsons for how it takes that and filters it into a more narrative form using the family. I don't know, it really struck me as a piece of work. Watching other episodes from the season online this afternoon were not quite as strong, but still gave me the impression that watching all of it, in order and in big chunks, would really be quite the thing to bring on a dark place.

The way that Mountain Goats songs are used works really well- I have done the thing in the past where I listened to that stuff obsessively, and it's not at all uncommon. This actually feels like it's earning its music choices, and not just using it as indie-culture referents the way that a live-action comedy about teenagers and twenty-somethings would. The songs are used to really devastating effect, because they're actually coming from a real place of identification and empathy. I really hope the third season gets a DVD release.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Tonight has been the opposite of four years ago. Then there was sadness, tonight was this sort of ecstatic joy the likes of which I've never known: Parading through Baltimore, sort of being in front of said parade due to my habit of running up and high-fiving any black people on the street. From the H+H warehouse space across the street from my house, to the Washington Monument, up Charles Street, turning left on North Street and circling down Maryland to the monument again, where this time, there were a great many people, all excited. Two cop cars sat at the ready, but there was no property damage, not even very much drinking.

So happy, so free of cynicism or racial tension. Hope: Sure. I have been on the streets of Baltimore for two hours, chatting intermittently, and just thinking, this is not the end of it. The good guys won, and now I think we can be more idealistic, safely. I feel like cultural transitions like more bike-riding will have more cultural impact now. We can actually move towards the future at high speeds.

America elected a black president, you guys. We will never hear the name Sarah Palin again. We are improving as a culture. And, if you live in a city like I do, with a large black population, as well as a large college-educated one, the mood is one of recognition of these facts in a unanimously positive way. "Yes we can" bleeds into "Yeah we did." Cries of "fuck yes" fill the street. A group of thirty-plus people, applauding a television speech. A larger group at the foot of a monument. And the larger promise exists that we can be a better people still.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Last night I made my stand-up comedy debut in this Baltimore rock club, The Hexagon. I went on first, because I was planning on leaving early to go see Skeletons play in another neighborhood. I stuck around because a few of my friends were also to be telling jokes, and then by that point the appeal of getting paid a few dollar induced me to stay on for longer still.

Most of the comedians were Baltimore locals, that I would largely associate with a music scene. One performer who did pretty well was a playwright. The people who went on last were actual touring comedians from southern Maryland, who received the blankest reactions. It's not even that they were the worst: Most of the people on the bill were doing ironic/conceptual comedy of the "The whole idea of telling a joke or doing a bit seems stupid to me" school. I talked briefly to them afterwards- the headliner, Will Carey, told me I was "out there," and that he usually performed for rednecks. I really wanted to talk to the two of them at length, actually, because I just felt so much empathy for them, but I didn't want it to seem condescending. They probably were used to being in situations where they told jokes that were "too hip for the room," and here they were in a room that was too hip for them- One guy was wearing a Pizza Hut t-shirt, the other was wearing a The Starting Line hoodie. When the dude in the Pizza Hut t-shirt (Brian Preston) told a joke about how he wanted to be a writer for Dane Cook, and the first thing he wanted to write for him was a suicide note, I thought of L.A. comedians I've seen on Youtube doing anti-Dane-Cook material that went over really well, even as it seemed really weird and inside, and here it was playing to a crowd not engaged in that culture to really have processed it and come to conclusions. As someone who is a comedy nerd, but was performing pretty much on a lark, as a dabbler, to see people who are committed to the idea of it doing so poorly where I did pretty well felt pretty bad. I wanted to talk to them about Aspecialthing.com, maybe point out the Louis C.K. interview where the advice was given to have the confidence to not look down ever. Or ask if they heard the Louis C.K. set where he was opening for Yo La Tengo at a Hanukkah show at Maxwell's where he bombed real hard.

I didn't feel like I was performing for my friends, really. I felt like I was performing for acquaintances, because I don't really feel like I have that many close friends here, and even though I was glad that certain people came specifically to see me, it still felt good primarily to get dark and weird in front of that kind of audience, as it afforded me an opportunity to be a real person to some degree or another.

Oh, and after the house took it's cut, the money was split so that my cut was five dollars, which I think is also what the people travelling got. But these headliners also said that this was the best show of their tour- Maybe it was good for them to have an audience that was just laughing at their smart/weird material, and not responding very well at all to the gratuitous/desperate/casual swearing. But at the same time, "don't try so hard" is a lesson I would never want to teach anyone, probably.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The new Marnie Stern album is getting more attention than the last one, which is probably for the best: That first record ruled, total audience-builder type stuff. I am getting a vague sense, maybe, from the way people are reacting- dudes with blogs, mostly- of this sort of "Oh, man, I love her" borderline uncritical appraisal. Not in a prurient way, more like the way that Margaret Cho and Ellen Degeneres have really uncritical fanbases at this point. But in Marnie's case, it would be made up of straight dudes. I don't know for sure how accurate these impressions are.

It's pretty awesome at first- the first three songs have this sense of dynamics that I don't think anything on In Advance Of The Broken Arm had. There's this feeling of things being built, structures being erected. Sometimes the dynamics are kind of annoying, or simplistic, but then when that gives way to something else, they're some of the most thrilling moments of recorded music this year. It gets pretty exhilarating.

Later on, things start to feel- I don't know, eighties-ish? The songs sort of lose that initial dynamic quality, even as they're filled with more moving parts than ever. It's still a part of the same unifying impulse. It's sort of like the variations on Steven Millhauser short stories- The first few songs build impossible cities, and then the middle section sculpt incredibly detailed miniatures.

Things start to come together again towards the end. On the whole Zach Hill's drumming is more integrated into the songs this go-round, even as the drum sound in the middle songs starts to boom in a mildly off-putting way.

Oh, and even though it's probably not my favorite song, the lyric "I'm like a raging animation/I wonder what it's like to be one" is pretty awesome, especially for animation nerds. I like how the second line seems to imply "I wonder what it's like to be a raging animation" but the first line states implicitly that she already knows what that's like experientially. Rather, she's wondering what it's like to "be one"- a single thing, rather than a collection of tiny drawings or photographs ordered together. I think it's a pretty great statement, if that's what it's hinting at.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

For those who haven't heard it, I should point out that The New Bloods' The Secret Life album is pretty great, maybe the best debut album by a band this year. Live, some of the dynamics are lost and the songs start to blur into each other, but the record itself goes from strength to strength. When I saw them, a friend said "Yeah, I'm not into them- They're just ripping off The Raincoats."

Later on, I asked that friend if he had heard anything by The Raincoats after their first record, namely, their second album, Odyshape, which I had come into possession of. He had not, which is fair enough: They're a band whose entire catalog is out of print. Odyshape is a really weird record. I pretty much don't get it, actually. Part of it could be the CD remaster not being the best: That generally explains why the drums sound recorded from a ditch, and why the other instruments sound likewise isolated from each other. That also seems deliberate, with the way the melodies stop and start, rising and falling, generally travelling through space, on song after song. Not a crowd-pleaser in the bunch. Y Pants would almost be a comparison point, but sensory deprivation chambers would be a better one. It's really strange, but completely compelling: What possessed them? Does the second Slits record a lot of people hate sound like this? (Probably not, since The Raincoats' self-titled debut is approximately three times better than Cut.) Is it possible they got worse at playing their instruments after their first album, even as they were getting more ambitious? A really odd record.

They made other records after this, but I haven't heard them.

The New Bloods, while fine, will probably never make a record as fucked-up as this one. It's good for records like Odyshape to exist, to throw the distinctiveness of a band like The Raincoats into relief and allow for there to be variations that exist that need not get branded a rip-off.

Friday, October 10, 2008

I did not go to Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland. I did, however, go to Atomic Books in Baltimore and pick up this comic called "Swell #1: Open Faced Sandwich," by Juliacks. Normally my comics posts are just me singing the praises of stuff Picturebox put out, but this will be a slight change from that.

First off: Presentationally, this comic is sick as hell. It's 11 by 11, and the version I have has two-color silkscreened covers, which are really gorgeous. More than their aesthetic beauty, there's this charge I get from silkscreened cover comics: It's an incredibly laborious process, and then it's just put out there, for cheap. (This cost five dollars, there are also versions without silkscreen covers that cost $2, which is still a great bargain for the size.) It just feels so open. These comics will inevitably get looked at more than they get bought, flipped through at a convention and retain some finger-oil.The copy I have isn't immaculately printed, there is a little bit of bleed on the blue at the outer edge, which is completely understandable.

The rest of the book follows suit, even though it's black and white xerox, it's just filled with mark-making, and really thought-out and overwrought page composition. It gives off a feeling of passion, of emotion, through the book format. Sometimes it's not intuitively readable, but there's something being communicated.

The thing I've sort of attached myself to about comics, and the idea of cartooning, is that it's writing and it's drawing, each inform the other. This becomes evident with stuff like this, where the lettering is really intense and a big part of the page design, but there's also definitions at work. "Artist" is a pretty broad category, that a lot of people identify themselves as. Identifying as a "writer" is conscribing oneself to a more specialized field. Now, there are distinctions that have sort of emerged- of "literary" comics that tend to work like short stories or movies. In these, a cartoonist is a writer who's using a visual language. There are also "art comics," which is a term usually assigned to artists doing comics, or books, as part of their overall multimedia assault: A comic that could be placed into an art installation. Juliacks is firmly in the latter group, as she does performances and installations based around her comics and the themes contained herein.

I am a writer, as are a handful of my friends. I am also about Juliacks' age. One thing I have talked to some of my friends about in writing is the issue of having things happen, making writing that people want to read for the story being told, rather than the pleasure of simply experiencing the language. The writing becomes closer to visual art in something like this, I think, in how one engages it, and maybe in its emotional effects, different from something with tighter story structure. The thing about Swell: Open Faced Sandwich (which Juliacks says is just part one of a three-part graphic novel) is that there's no real arc to it: Things happen, kind of, but it's all pitched at this single level, of just trying to communicate a feeling. It radiates sincerity, and energy, but there's no pace to it at all as a thing that you read. Compare this to Anders Nilsen's The End, with its stripped down drawings and narration that give way to abstractions that communicate a very pure feeling, or to the way Gary Panter switches up his drawing style in Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise so that by the time you feel like you've come to the end of a long journey. Swell is art-comics as a really cool thing that, through it's nonstop ecstatic sadness, ends up just giving you more of a feeling for the artist making it rather than the emotions the story is ostensibly meant to convey. (The story is about a girl who dies, told from the perspective of her friend. The characters are teenagers, I think.)

Juliacks will probably get better. She is apparently working on a drawing collaboration with Matthew Thurber, who I think is an awesome cartoonist: He shares a love for mark-making, patterns, and psychedelic effects with Juliacks, but his stories are funnier, more fantastical, and actually just very recently got a lot more readable as traditional comics. Meanwhile, she's being championed by Austin English, who is much less talented at drawing, and also tries just to communicate feeling by crappy drawing and using crayons. Both of these people are probably more interested in art-comics of a recent vintage than the history of sequential art as a whole, which is maybe a weakness. Most of the "art comics" people I like (the Picturebox dudes) are pretty well-versed and immersed in mainstream comics and are just able to turn it inside out and disregard whatever. In some ways there's more freedom and coolness in ignorance, and I don't know if you actually need to know about that stuff to make good comics. It could just be a question of youth. My writer friends and I have read all sorts of books, and tie our inability to tell stories to our inability to really self-direct and control our own lives.

Oh, and since this post immediately follows one about the political apathy of Baltimore art kids, I must applaud the fact that this comic has a sticker on its inside cover giving out her website and saying "please vote!" Again, if I am going to draw a parallel between that level of political engagement and the emotional engagement and empathy that leads to creating strong work, that sticker feels sincere in the same way the printmaking and patterns all do. You could do worse things with your money than support this lady.

Now would be a good time to talk about Closed Caption Comics 7, but it's hard to identify all the artists, and I would like to see more of most of their work. Noel Freibert's comics seem pretty stupid though.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

I thought it was kind of odd when I heard that Brian Chippendale started a "Noise For Obama" website. I suppose that having gone to a liberal arts school in the Pacific Northwest, where the music community is fairly notoriously politically engaged, made me take certain people's political positions for granted. Now I live in Baltimore, am somewhat engaged in an arts/music scene, and haven't heard anyone talk about politics the whole time I've been here, despite sort of freaking out about the economy and being willing to talk to people about it.

But I just learned that the majority of these people- self-proclaimed "artists" are actually very much unengaged. Waiting until 2012 and the apocalypse. Not voting in the interim. Engaged enough in conspiracy theories to think that things could happen to make Baltimore devolve into race riots due to issues related to Obama's candidacy, like election defrauding. I'm sure all of these people admire Brian Chippendale a ton though. But I guess you don't actually learn things when you go to art school.

I went to a liberal arts college, where, in addition to having liberal politics taken for granted and having arguments about Palestine shoved down my throat, I also studied American history and economics for a year. By the standards of Olympia, I'm borderline apolitical, inasmuch as I didn't attend protests. But I still knew the issues enough to be engaged with them enough to talk about them, to write satire or freak out.

The streets of Baltimore are flooded with pro-Obama sentiment. Some random dude asked me who I was voting for outside on my front sidewalk. Maryland will surely go towards Obama. But a lot of the reasoning behind this seems largely to do with identity politics. To learn that, outside of that group, the people that you would think of as being smart and forward-thinking are just all about apocalyptic thinking (WHICH I AM COMPLETELY GUILTY OF AND INTERESTED IN) to the exclusion of moderation seems way more problematic than the Olympia activists who were interested in anarchist thinking who didn't vote because of it. Because I never respected or interacted with the latter group.

So, anyway, Noise For Obama. If you click past the portrait of Obama drawn by Chippendale, you'll find artist statements, and Chippendale's is as cogent as you would expect from a dude engaged enough in the world to actually make affecting work.

I don't know how politically engaged Marnie Stern is, although I linked to the Kill Rock Stars blog as well, and her album came out today, a little less than a month before election day, and I will buy it tomorrow.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Check it out: A negative review of me and a video I made! I would warn you about spoilers but to a certain extent the description of what happens is inaccurate. She also gets the title of the piece wrong. I am described as nerdy-looking, which is not inaccurate, but the reviewer doesn't make the connection that I am the person she is describing thusly. I am not going to respond to any of her actual critiques.

Friday, September 19, 2008

I have spent the last three days living in Baltimore, Maryland. I've moved into a house where a few nice people live, and find myself immersed in their set of friends incidentally. They are all art/music people who you might have heard about from the internet or print publications if that is something you are invested in. I bought a cat from the pound.

I also just received a press release for this Tollbooth Gallery show where a lot of the things I wrote about myself, some of which were jokes.

All of these are kind of weird interesting things that might lead to insights in the future, but at this point in time I have none. If you were thinking about getting into music from Baltimore, you can have my endorsement that the people involved are probably nice. I haven't met any of the Closed Caption Comics folks, but maybe I will if I go to SPX in Bethesda.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The latest figure to go from me not knowing who they are to hearing a bunch of things about them in a short period of time would be Tiffany Anders. She sings "Heartbeat" on Mike Watt's album Ball-Hog Or Tugboat, put out two records on Up, one of which was produced by PJ Harvey, and is the sister of director Allison Anders, who she now runs a festival of music films with. I share this with you in the thought that you didn't know who she was either, but now, in contemplating all that, are surprised that you didn't.

On a similar note: Do people know who Etger Keret is? This Israeli short story writer, whose book comes with Miranda July blurbs, who directed a film called Jellyfish, as well as being involved with Wristcutters: A Love Story, a film based on a short story that he also adapted into a graphic novel called Pizzeria Kamikaze, in collaboration with Asaf Hanuka, that was originally serialized in the comic book Bipolar? I've known about him since those issues of Bipolar came out, but I only read the first two of those, but it seems like I should pursue him further on the basis of his investigation of so many different mediums.

That Mike Watt album is kind of crazy, by the way. He mostly just plays bass for a group of alternative rock superstars. He wrote most of the songs, but the covers that are present are pretty notable- Sonic Youth's "Tuff Gnarl" featuring Carla Bozulich's vocals with most of Sonic Youth backing her up, Funkadelic's "Maggot Brain" with J. Mascis doing the guitar solo. Until a week ago, this is a record I only knew for the humorous inclusion of a Kathleen Hanna answering machine message where she talks about how she doesn't want to be on the record with a bunch of alternative rock superstar dudes.

Isn't it weird the way you can stack the deck to try to generate some noise for yourself and still be under the radar, while some Youtube celebrity can become a ubiquitous point of reference? Not like any of these things are totally transcendent and amazing (to the best of my knowledge thus far), but they're all interesting enough- maybe they're a little generic, but there's plenty of generic things that have made a blip on the collective consciousness with less effort.
I am leaving Olympia, Washington in three days. This is a short enough period of time that I can be relatively assured of the fact that every time I see someone, it will probably be the last time, and I can then tell them that this is then their last chance to either jump my bones or tell me that they hope my plane crashes. I have lived in Olympia for five years, which is long enough to predict with utter certainty what everyone will choose: To look stunned, and then walk away.

What I will miss most about Olympia is the Grocery Outlet. This is a store that only exists because the town is economically depressed, with a great many people on food stamps. But because of Olympia's large hippie population, organic foods and granola sometimes find their way to the shelves at a discounted price, where they are sure to be consumed. It is only through this that I ever ended up eating Seeds Of Change pasta sauce, which is delicious. There's also varieties of utter garbage for sale, sometimes with amusing things about the packaging: A drink called Ayds, a cereal called Crispy Hexagons. With its inconsistent stock, it pretty much stopped me from getting any sort of brand loyalty or keeping an eating habit up for an extended period of time: I've stopped making pancakes now that they've stopped selling pure maple syrup in glass bottles. It dictated my free will, the same way Olympia as a whole did during the time I lived there.

It was the kind of awful place that seemed to highlight the magic of Olympia even more. Seeing music being performed by the person who sells you your frozen consumables is a hell of a thing. Even if the music isn't that good, it is at least something going on in their lives, and so you don't have to be depressed every time you go into the grocery store, like I did once I saw that guy who was in my first class at college working at Safeway after he received his B.A.

The place where most people of the people I still know in Olympia congregate, the Capitol Theater, home of the Olympia Film Society, is pretty much the opposite of that. It's a volunteer-run organization, and the few paid positions don't offer that high of a wage. Everyone that is there is so for the love of it, for the thing they think it could be but almost never is. It's too financially struggling to show independent and foreign films all the time, and so shows a lot of second-run Hollywood movies, that the volunteer staff appreciates the chance to see for free even as they lament the downturn. There's not the same surprise when you see the people who volunteer there doing interesting things, it's half-expected, and if no one did anything you would maybe suspect them of being a kind of hipster hanger-on, a creature of habit with no real ambition besides being where the cool kids congregate. (At least of the twenty-and-thirty-somethings: The children and senior citizens are one of the few things that make you feel like you are actually, thank god, in a wider community, where there are people not your immediate peers that nonetheless share interests with you, which is nice in a sometimes oppressively small town.)

Obviously there is a handful of people that I will actually miss, but I take it for granted that they'll move on to bigger and better things: That one day, using Grocery Outlet as a metonym for Olympia, they'll go down the street and a bunch of the things that they knew would never last will be gone, and the few things they can get there will no longer seem appealing- can't be used in a recipe without the missing ingredients- and their habits will change and everyone will be scattered to the wind. All of these people- and even the ones that I will not actually miss except as symbols of Olympia are free to take refuge in my home, wherever that will be, if our lives cross paths on travels. That is actually a thing I am really excited about, maybe moreso than I am about the general idea and act of moving.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

This new version of Firefox is bullshit. I am particularly mad at the way it organizes my browsing history, and then displays it in a pop-up menu rather than a sidebar. This is made worse by the way URLs are saved: These are things that I use instead of bookmarks, people, and when thinking "Okay maybe I'll add bookmarks" I end up dealing with another pop-up menu, as opposed to a sidebar and just becoming disgusted. I would never have updated except for the fact that some sites pretty much stopped working in terms of showing content: For example, pages on the Village Voice were all sidebar links and no articles. That is still less inconvenient than what I now have to put up with.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

"Did you ever see The Holy Mountain on ice?"

I'm not certain that is the lyric that opens the last track on the new Max Tundra record, Parallax Error Beheads You, but that's how I heard it, as I listened to it for the first time, thinking that if it isn't the best record of the year (which it might very well be) it is definitely the record that Alex Tripp and I would listen to three times a day, as we were working on frenzied animation, if we were still living together. I'm already associating it with hypothetical good times. It's inspiring music.

Maybe the new Marnie Stern record will kick its ass for sheer inspirational force.

It's like glitchy, video-game music, with a lot of live samples, drum machine rhythms, kind of intricate compositions making all the disparate parts flow together, sissy-English-boy vocals on top sometimes. His "Some Best Friend You Turned Out To Be" was all instrumental, and I stole the first track, Cakes, for a video which is probably going to be showing at Tacoma's Tollbooth Gallery for a month starting on the seventeenth of September. I really like that record. His second album, Mastered By The Guy At The Exchange, I did not like as much, but I was really obsessed with trying to hear it after I heard about it, from a really positive Pitchfork review that mentioned there was a song called "Gondry" urging the director to do a video for him- Gondry's letter in response can be found in the booklet accompanying the Works Of Michel Gondry DVD. (This was before Human Nature had even come out, I think- certainly before everyone in the world knew what a genius the dude was. Before those White Stripes videos, even, maybe?) This record kind of integrates both of those records into a whole, and an awesome whole it is.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In getting ready to move across the country to Baltimore, I've been packing up all of my books, and getting new ones to read from the library.

One, Nicholson Baker's The Mezzanine came recommended by a friend, who read it in a burst, feeling that her thoughts had been captured on paper. While I was reading it, I learned another friend of mine felt the same way about it. When I began reading it, it was kind of irritating. If I had stumbled across it blindly, I could imagine throwing it against a wall in frustration. It's all minutiae, with no plot development. It's all digressions based around a vivid engagement with the materials of the world. I can imagine why my friends felt so drawn to it, can hear little bits of it in their voices. But, early on, when there's footnotes talking about the way plastic straws float in cans of soda to supplement a man body of text talking about an affection for straws that bend, I kept thinking "Oh my god, it's just going to go on like this." I think the climax of the book would be a list of reoccuring thoughts, arranged by how many times they are thought per year. It's kind of a cool book, consisting almost entirely of the sort of minute observation that would make someone's attention perk up in another book. It reads like consciousness, and while at first I was just viewing it as an argument against ever trying to write a book while on the influence of cocaine, lest you become as relentlessly focused on nothing in particular as Nicholson Baker is here.

It seems important though, as a sort of time capsule, a footnote to all the books written during the eighties that were too caught up in narrative to actually characterize the nostalgia for childhood that haunts people incidentally. It's really concerned with material things, and how those effect us. I was thinking of it in the same way people take a lot of visual art, in that I was wondering if there was some kind of critique inherent: It's about the way products and advertising surround our thoughts, and the occasional bits of beauty that emerge in a man-made world. I don't know if it feels damaged by it or not, that would sort of be reading in a moral dimension that might not really be intended. I wouldn't mind having it on my shelves at some point in the future.

On the complete opposite side of the spectrum, I read Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear It Away. It had a focus on narrative as well as morality, and I really loved it. I checked it out from the library along with a copy of the Dreyer film Ordet, and got pretty excited by the idea of religious art. It was really compelling for how the central character primarily denied the whole idea of even having a consciousness, and seemed determined to not have anything in the world inflict itself upon him.

I just put on this Akron/Family CD-R, Franny And The Portal, that opens with a song with the refrain "Because I am not my thoughts."
Let me explain the Silver Jews.

Let me first begin by explaining why I feel the need to explain the Silver Jews. It's because of people like Matthew Perpetua, he of the Fluxblog mp3 blog, getting all bent out of shape when David Berman makes fun of Radiohead.

I'm not going to attack Matthew's taste: There are at least three things we are both into way too much (Pavement, The Wu-Tang Clan, Grant Morrison comics) that probably have kind of defined us. If you go much beyond those things, you'll find completely different ideas of what's valuable and what's mediocre, though. Still, I don't think I can make fun of him without making fun of those things I really like, so I'll refrain from doing that, and just explain the Silver Jews.

The section of the interview where David Berman dismisses Radiohead talks about the idea of music, songs, as a thing you can put in your pocket, and carry around with you, rather than this notion of music as this soundtrack to your life, in the background, that frames it in epic terms. These are two different mindsets. The three things I mentioned in that parentheses a paragraph ago kind of all work towards the latter effect. A lot of the music I like that Matthew doesn't- from Animal Collective, to Neutral Milk Hotel, to noise music, to The Shaggs- works to reframe the world in a way that makes the individual smaller in awe of the beauty of the world. A lot of the music Matthew likes that I can't stand is dance music that exists for a context to cast the listener as this superstar at the center of the world/dancefloor. He'd argue that the former, with its obscurity, pursues mediocrity. I would say that what the latter embraces and encourages is at best narcissistic and at worst sociopathic. It's worth noting that Stephen Malkmus and David Berman are close friends, and they probably share some personality traits. I kind of think that without the Berman elements of his personality, Malkmus would probably just be insufferably smug, forever the guy kind of half-ass improvising lyrics; never the Slanted And Enchanted version of "Here," just the Peel Session "I was dressed for Suck!" version.

I think of most of the Silver Jews fans I know as sort of carrying these songs around them, as well as David Berman's book of poetry. You kind of keep a quiet dignity about you, and don't project your voice in public like someone's shooting an indie movie of your life. There are so many similar traits to the people I know who like the Silver Jews that I have actually started to assume that people who I later learn have never actually even listened to them are fans: There's just a set of common traits.

It's almost kin to another type of fan of music/literature, would be someone who's really into Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski. That kind of person would probably be an upper-middle-class person who is kind of into slumming it, especially as it regards to drinking to excess. I like some of those people, too, but I also think it's funny when they're mocked.

But I don't think that Silver Jews people are like that. I think they value idiosyncracy too much to pursue such a narrow set of cliches. David Berman said, in another interview, that a fan told him he was disappointed to learn of his drug abuse because of how much of a cliche it was. But: I think the thing in common is a sort of suspicion of the upper class. Granted, this is absurdly common amongst a wide strata of bohemia. But here in this specific subset, even large cities are avoided. Being put in a position to struggle to survive is kind of an albatross. The Silver Jews didn't tour for upwards of a decade, and Berman just sort of shrugged off the idea of live performance by saying he's not the sort of person to be the center of attention in a large room. (A manifesto of sorts, stated by one who's lived it towards those uninterested, can be found in the song "How To Rent A Room.")

It's the sort of thing that might look like mediocrity but probably stems more from having made a list of simple pleasures and then deciding that those were more interesting than any other kind. (In the interview linked to, Berman talks about talking about records all the time.) And then, alternately, making a long list of things that were distasteful and then trying to avoid them completely. (He then talks about not wanting to write top ten lists fbecause of how easy and unsubstantial they are.)

This isn't to say that all Silver Jews songs are awesome- Actually, Mark Richardson's review of Lookout Mountain, Lookout Sea sort of explains how the whole point of the Silver Jews is one that allows for there not to be wall-to-wall peaks; quiet dignity, remember? But even in the sort of dull moments there's a spirit that's there: "I'm going to shine out in the wild kindness and hold the world to its word."

(Tomorrow I am going to write a post about Flannery O'Connor and Nicholson Baker that will maybe serve to better elaborate these ideas I find useful and interesting in a way that's not about the Silver Jews.)

Monday, August 04, 2008

Pretty much every time I watch a Sergio Leone movie these days, my thoughts start off saying "Wow, this movie is awesome, and completely underrated, why don't people talk about this more?" They move on to "I just want to make movies for people's dads." By the end there has been enough things that didn't quite make sense that I just feel like they've gone on too long.

When I say "these days," I'm referring to my having just watched Duck, You Sucker- also known as A Fistful Of Dynamite and maybe also Once Upon A Time In A Revolution, as well as my fairly recent viewing of For A Few Dollars More.

It starts off amazing, maybe for the first thirty minutes, where characters are being introduced. I really like how much more vulgar and trashier it is than Leone's other movies in its opening moments: The opening shot almost mirrors The Wild Bunch, starting up with a shot of insects, but here they're urinated on. It stays pretty much great for another hour, approximately, until eventually the characters start to like each other and the revolution takes center stage. Not to say it's not interesting, or without its minutes during its last movement.

I feel the same way about Morricone's involvement, actually. Early on, there's all these amazing bits of music, with weird dissonances and rhythms. Eventually, though, a single, overly romantic, movie-score piece tends to dominate. It's probably the film's theme, which would seem to speak to a general problem of not knowing where its strengths lie.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The new Harmony Korine movie, Mister Lonely, is deeply mediocre. I don't have nearly as much to say about it as I have to say about The Dark Knight. The performances are all pretty bad. Werner Herzog, so awesome in Julien Donkey-Boy, is pretty mediocre here. Despite it being maybe more narrative and straight-forward than his other films, the endings are even more abrupt and arbitrary. Individual scenes don't stand out as distinct from the rest of the film, which seems kind of like a weakness.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

When watching The Dark Knight, I came pretty quickly to the conclusion that it's a better movie than Batman Begins. The question is how it compares to the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie, with its completely different tone. I compared Batman Begins to the 1989 film when it came out, too. There, you're talking about two films in terms of their success to start a franchise. Here, you're talking about two films about the same characters, and all the things those characters represent, responding to each other.

There's this thing, though, with the Christopher Nolan films- and I guess most of the superhero movies of the twenty-first century- of being really invested in the idea of gravitas, of importance. Real-world parallels. This, as well as the fact that the Burton movie really isn't that old, really seems to cast the action of The Dark Knight in these kind of mythic terms. And The Dark Knight works really hard to establish the conflict/relationship between these two figures.

There's something to the notion, I think, of these superhero comics as the closest America comes to a myth. The fact that these stories then become retold not out of any oral tradition but out of capitalism and exploitation of copyrights, and that they only find resonance after the fact, with the creators just sort of trying to make a buck on a trend- I find that completely American, in a really awesome way.

One of the things about the 1989 film and the 2008 film is how both are really of their time. Saying you prefer one to the other seems like it betrays biases just as surely as it misses the point. Still: The fact that the 1989 version had things like brightly colored vats of chemicals really appeals to me. It feels like comic books, kind of garish and retarded, with limited color palettes. The way that the 2008 version talks about terrorism- It's not problematic. It still allows for weird garish deathtraps and whatnot, convoluted moral decisions and whatnot, which is just as much a part of all the superhero comics. (Although- how weird is it that the poster image, depicting the side of a building on fire in the shape of a bat, does not happen at all?) It also allows for more property damage- that's the nature of a blockbuster film in 2008, as opposed to 1989.

But it's awesome. I love how huge The Dark Knight is, how chaotic it gets, the scope of the action scenes. The relentlessness to it, how somehow we're all so cynical or imagery-saturated that the tone feels like a horror movie, in how you wait for the other shoe to drop in every scene that lasts long enough for a normal interaction to play out. I love how it feels like a western, at the same time the Harvey Dent story feels like greek tragedy.

Although the ending's kind of bad, with its Two-Face stuff that just feels like a watered-down version of the Joker stuff, rather than the natural conclusion to a character arc, or even an understanding of the character as laid out in various other media.

What's weird, though, is how much it actually seems like a movie- especially when taking westerns into account. At the same time, the ending pretty explicitly seems to be setting up a sequel, with a new status quo, even as the rest of the movie- in working REALLY WELL as a movie, in terms of having themes and a point- works against a sequel even making sense of the world they've established- how do you top a conflict between chaos and social order?.I don't remember how the 1989 movie ends, although I feel pretty certain it wasn't in "stay tuned for THE PENGUIN" fashion.

In both movies, the Joker is the more interesting performance, and sort of what the tone of the movie revolves around, with the Batman figure being more stoic, and thus less interesting. There's no Prince songs in 2008, and no joy-buzzers that burn off flesh. Instead, there's knives, and a mannerism of flicking out the tongue when speaking. I prefer the 1989 version, but that's because of the type of person I am, my age, etc. Heath Ledger, like the movie he dominates, is fun and compelling to watch throughout. When his storyline's done, the movie takes a downturn.

It's weird that the slogan/recurring phrase for The Dark Knight is "Why so serious?" and it tries to play that as a threat, almost as a defense mechanism when that really is the question you want to ask the movie about its tone if you're someone who preferred the 1989 version. "Why so serious, Christopher Nolan?" And then Christopher Nolan thinks that if someone is going to make him smile, it will be by taking a knife to the sides of their face. This is the difference between the guy who made Insomnia and the guy who made Pee-Wee's Big Adventure. I guess I should just be thankful that the Darren Aronofksy version was never made.

Oh yeah: The Dark Knight had all these crazy bits of things exploding that I was really into, and laughed out loud in excited glee at. It also had bits that didn't really make sense and felt like plot holes.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

I really liked this bit from a Wall Street Journal interview with Lil' Wayne:

Wall Street Journal: How do you keep track of your ideas? Do you have a notebook of rhymes waiting for music?
Lil Wayne: I don't write my raps. I don't have time to put writing down on paper. If I did, I'd be a lot more dangerous.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

So, the other night, Extreme Animals and Fortress Of Amplitude played a show I set up here in Olympia. It was pretty cool, those guys are very nice, etc. It was great. I'm not saying this up-front because I'm about to contradict it, just as my way of saying this isn't what the post is about.

Sometimes I try to look out at all the things that seem current to me, or that feel like the future, and I try to view them all as one kind of unified field. Essentially, I am looking at all of the things I like, and then I project myself onto the universe, as my way of saying, okay, I get all this.

David Wightman of Fortress of Amplitude is totally into metal and totally also playing rave music, while also apparently writing classical music for orchestras. And making CD-Rs of cheerleading music and going to grad school. He is 100% knowing what he's doing, and doing it all with total sincerity. It's kind of amazing. Jacob, the other guy in Extreme Animals, is also totally busy with a bunch of different projects but it seems easier to contextualize him and the things he's doing if that's the sort of thing you're into- you can make all the paintings and the videos and the music fit into a "Paper Rad aesthetic," rather than just being "the products of a dude with a restless, creative, mind." Maybe these Extreme Animals tours- separate from Paper Rad tours- work to recalibrate people's perceptions, to say "this is not the thing you are stealing graphic design ideas from. These are people who know exactly what they're doing. You do not know what they are doing, not really, not completely, not enough for you to try to emulate or write a paper about. The best thing you can do is get to know exactly what the hell it is you yourself are doing."

And then when they left I got a Donald Barthelme book in the mail and tried to look for clues there, you know, to try to work out what it is I'm doing, since these dudes have just connected the dots between technical metal, raves, and the internet.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

I am a little bit in love with Carla Bozulich right now. I'm listening to the record that interview was ostensibly promoting. All over the place, frequently intense, occastionally unhinged. Demented in the best way, going for it in a way I could connect to Linda Sharrock or Lexie Mountain. I also like this bit from a review of an older record at the same website: "It sounds like what Flannery O'Connor would listen to before killing one of her characters. I listen to it all the fucking time." I'm listening to it for the first time, no new habits yet, but this is pretty good. Music that can control weather, that can split the sky open and summon torrential downpours.

Friday, July 04, 2008

The lost footage from Fritz Lang's Metropolis being found in Argentina is one of those things that completely astounds me. In the early 1980s, a completed version of Carl Dreyer's The Passion Of Joan Of Arc was found in a Norwegian mental hospital, after being thought lost. I don't know how this Metropolis footage holds up, either in terms of print quality or in the story being told, but the Dreyer example (in its restored form, probably my favorite silent film, beating out Murnau's Sunrise) gives me hope.

It all stands as a testament to the resilience of analog recording media.

Even though we'll probably never see the original cut of The Magnificent Ambersons, Orson Welles' vaults still promise riches I hope to see unearthed before I die.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Hold on to me tightly as if I knew the way.

I put in Pavement's Westing (By Musket and Sextant) the other day, and it's a great record. It sort of has this thing in line with the up-to-Wild-Love Smog records: This way noise is integrated with pop songs in a way that's completely separate from the shoegaze records at the time. It's a lot uglier. the sexuality of shoegaze is lost in favor of self-loathing and anxiety. Stick your fingers in my mouth, pull my lips back and watch me smile.

That band Times New Viking would almost be mining this aesthetic, but the things I've heard from them seemed a lot more shallow and facile: More like garage rock.

The Smog record Julius Caesar would also exemplify this style, just bummed out as hell and expressing it through dissonance. There's violin lines that slash at themselves but still play melodies, catchiness persists through these rudimentary rhythms. Everything is chosen to sound fucked up but still be musical, as isolated elements, and then they're put together.

Is this what Royal Trux sounds like? They were all on Drag City around the same time.

Monday, June 30, 2008

I spent the past weekend taking in the Olympia Experimental Music Festival. It was one half inspiring to one half dispiriting. The issue comes in with the use of the word "experimental" and then seeing a lot of noise, or improv, or something with a visual score.

There was a woman performing under the name Knot Pine Box, who it seemed like a lot of people didn't like, but I enjoyed how her first song ended with the refrain "What if it's already been done?" because that seemed like a question not everyone else was asking. Not like it should be, necessarily, I can see it being a hindrance, if you were really concerned about not repeating anyone so much you never attempted anything.

Anyway: At its best, it seemed like people were doing exactly what they wanted to be doing. At its worst, it was like people were doing what was expected of them after a lifetime of being told they were unique and special. The experimental film showing was pretty bad about this kind of thing too. There's this thing that happens where the avant-garde gets absorbed into the academy, and then it's no longer the future, it's just this sad and dead little tributary. I have started to hear talk of "noise conferences" and noise as a course of study at art schools. I went to a school that had its writing programs largely concerned with language poetry and its film program concerned with autobiographical documentaries. I can imagine people being really psyched on going to noise school, but I can't help but see the spectre of grim death in the offing.

I can imagine the same thing happening with art comics as well, sort of concurrent with any kind of comics studies. The latter is totally a valid thing, a way of teaching the visual language. But I can also definitely imagine weird self-congratulation happening. You know: I think noise studies is a silly thing, and John Cage disciples are stupid, but the idea of teaching music theory is super-valid, and with that knowledge students should be able to do whatever they wish. (Maybe comics will avoid this academic maundering if, when talking about the school of thought that originates with Gary Panter, the Rozz-Tox manifesto is disseminated widely. But maybe it's the existence of that manifesto that is what leads to Jimbo not being taught as widely as Maus.)

I was saying to people at the experimental film screening that, while I've noticed a lot of students just referring to their work as experimental after it failed at its original intent, the people I'm friends with just refer to actual forward-thinking things as "next-level," rather than experimental. It's hard to view a lot of the stuff at the experimental music festival as "next-level," honestly, but at least a lot of it was sincere and enjoyable.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

The new Pixar movie, Wall-E, is quite an achievement. It's the best film to come out of that production house yet, I would say: A mixture of 2001 and Idiocracy for kids. A love story between two robots, who are really only gendered by their abbreviations. Even then, Wall-E is this very gentle creature who's obsessed with a broadway musical, while the figure coded as being female blasts everything with a laser.

There are really so many things I liked about the movie: The human throwaway characters connected by accident when machinery malfunctions. The way sets were clearly different from each other, but uniquely mindblowing in their different color palettes. The way the point of the main character was to create new livable structures out of garbage.

Even the opening short was good: Embracing this sort of Merry Melodies comic anarchy for a procession of gags in a way I wouldn't associate with Pixar, due to Pixar's Disney association. The way that chaos was sort of greeted as a liberating force in the film itself.

And then the set pieces, oh my god: the dance sequence in outer space, and the use of nondiagetic dialogue to sort of reinforce that. Then, a hundred small moments. The damaged circuit boards. "Cupcake in a cup." Babies isolated from insulated parents.

Jeff Garlin! The music from 2001! Alternately: The large periods of time that would pass without dialogue!

And sure: I'm able to recognize and become distanced by moments of "How are they talking in space?" But I was also able to rationalize around these things: Maybe they can't actually hear each other, and what we're hearing is just what the characters are saying into the void.

This might actually be my favorite movie of the year thus far. We'll see what happens if Synecdoche, New York comes out, but for now: Wow, that was awesome.

Friday, June 20, 2008

I've been trying to teach myself how to write plots by reading genre fiction. It hadn't really been working out- I have problems making it through these books, due to the way they read not having as much of an emphasis on voice as what I usually read. Alternately, the plots have been feeling kind of invisible, which seems like the whole goal of good writing, that they feel as organic as possible even as they move towards their ending.

With Philip K. Dick's Ubik, though, you can kind of see the strings. It's a well-regarded book in his oeuvre, but it has the feeling of being made up as it was being written, kind of moving in distinct movements and acts. It creates tension by its gear-shifts into different territory in this way that feels hacked-out at its core, like the secret is just "Okay come up with some bullshit, and then come up with some more." It's just some pretty good bullshit.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

I paid money for the new Girl Talk record, due to my fondness for Unstoppable and Night Ripper, even though I knew I probably wouldn't like it, what with the guy moving more in this DJ direction away from glitched-out songs. It's pretty dire. The idea of having the physical object around my house bums me out. It is really not transformative. 2008 has been a pretty disappointing year for music.

I do like the idea of paying an undetermined amount for music, but the fact that you're guessing how much the music is worth before you hear it is probably going to be more damaging to unexperienced artists in the future- It benefits people only after they've actually made a good record, and I get the impression that some musicians have no real way of knowing which of their records is better than others besides sales. (Note: This idea is just based on my telling the guy from Out Hud that their second record was really bad while their first record was pretty good, and him being really surprised that was a thing that people thought.) But seriously- the idea of owning music is you can listen to it whenever, but there are some things that you hear once and know you will probably never really care about it and can get everything out of it in three listens.

It seems like Black Pus, Thee Oh Sees, and Excepter are the only people who came out with records this year that were "breakthrough" records, that were actively better than what had come before, rather than just kind of disappointing. This is because those people all come from crazy noise backgrounds, and just sort of calmed down enough to put in more melody and song structure (although Excepter's Alternation was pretty good for this a few years ago), which is different from some indie rock band that's been around for over a decade who couldn't be bothered to write decent songs this go-round. (I am talking about the new Breeders and Silver Jews records, although probably also other things that I've forgotten about because I took them off my hard drive already.) I also like the James Pants record from Stones Throw, which is maybe kind of comparable to Girl Talk, but more deserving of your money.

Monday, June 16, 2008

This weekend, I graduated from college, and my mom came into town and stayed for three days. After she left, a copy of Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button arrived in the mail. This seemed appropriate, due to the book's nature as a family drama, but I'm also reminded that it was the first book the artist completed following his graduation from New York's School Of Visual Art. It's a lot more mature than his last book, The Mother's Mouth, although still displaying some little tics and approaches that are completely jettisoned from his current webcomic Bodyworld. (i.e. self-conscious framing devices that act as a narrator)

Bottomless Belly Button reminds me of the last two Noah Baumbach movies, only improved by their shift to comics. The strength that movies have, of the distinct presences of actors, has been removed, and replaced with this kind of complicated cartoon set of symbols, which makes it feel less slight, and more epic and resonant. There's also a more detailed fictional world at work than you'd see in a typical indie family drama.

Anyway, it's awesome. It might not be the best comic of the year (although I don't think I've read a better one), but this will probably be Dash Shaw's year, based partly on this work he created fresh out of college, which strikes me as an inspiring thought.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Double Life Of Veronique was the movie I heard about from Kieslowski fans back when I was watching the Three Colors trilogy and it was not on DVD. It is now, though, and it's great: Possessed of a color palette of red, yellow, and green that completely puzzles me how it was created, and seeming powered by its images: Irene Jacob singing as it starts to rain on her face, or handling a marionette designed to look like her, to name two prominent examples. Leaving aside any ideas of subject matter, it just seems so much more cinematic than something like White, or at least my memory of that film, which seems more plot-oriented and almost like a play or a short story. This isn't to say the other films I saw a few years ago are bad, just that this was better. I'm sure this isn't really insightful or deviating from common opinion at all, just adding my voice to the chorus, writing it down for the sake of my own memory.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

This weekend, in New York, there's a comics festival going on called MOCCA. But here in Olympia, there was the Olympia Comics Festival, largely attended by locals. I imagine that, in New York, thes belle of the ball was probably the publisher I already talk too much about, Picturebox, with their debuting comics by Michel Gondry, and having him sign it alongside his son selling a minicomic. This was ordered from the internet.

In Olympia, I was blown away by the Sparkplug table, manned by Elijah Brubaker, who's drawing a comics biography of Wilhelm Reich. Sparkplug isn't really the best publisher- a lot of their stuff seems a little dull to me. But at their table they were selling all sorts of stuff, repping for other people- There were books on hand from Bodega Distribution, and minicomics by Tom Kaczynski and Matt Furie, and a lot of gorgeous stuff from New York's Partyka collective. They also had Anke Feuchtenberger books from the Belgian publisher Bries that I saw too late. (I should've bought a copy of W The Whore instead of Service Industry and issue 4 of Reich.) Anke is a German woman whose stuff looks like a way better Julie Doucet, filled with all this cryptic imagery. The Partyka stuff was what was most impressive to me, looking around the table. Lots of hand-sewn bindings, silkscreened covers and interiors, etc. It all looked amazing, and word from the internet is that the comics are pretty good too. I picked up a book called See Saw by Sara Edward-Corbett, which had totally lavish handmade packaging to collect strips from the New York Press about four elementary school kids. A few years ago, I talked about Bill Watterson's observation that, after so many years of comics about children, he thought a strip drawn by a woman, about a little girl, could be great. I was talking about how that seemed likely to actually exist at some point in the future, with there seeming to be more women reading and making comics. (I guess Lynda Barry could be said to be doing what Watterson was talking about, actually.) See Saw felt like another variation on that idea, filtered through this lens of handcraft that seemed to appeal to a lot of the women at the show I talked to. I walked away from the show even more psyched about comics, their weird potential, how they're currently exploding into a million different directions, because this seemed like the first time I've really been confronted with a large amount of beautiful handmade things, with an appeal separate from that of a mass-printed book. It probably would've been better if the cartoonists who'd actually done stuff like that had been present, for a greater feeling of the intimacy of exchange, but maybe it also would've been sadder, because it didn't seem like there was a lot of money changing hands. (Note: Most people doing comics based out of Olympia are doing really dull work, both in terms of presentation and subject matter.)

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

After enjoying Julien Donkey-Boy so much, I decided that I should actually see Gummo. Which actually is pretty unpleasant, in some of the ways I was worried about beforehand. What's interesting is that, by all accounts, Julein Donkey-Boy was made in a much darker place, in a way that's almost brushed over in that ANP Quarterly interview: More paranoia, "my brain had pretty much melted." Gummo, by contrast, was made as this successful enfant terrible figure, flush off the success of Kids. If Gummo is not exploitative, (which it kind of is) it's kind of reveling in people's bad behavior, from sort of an outsider's perspective. Julien Donkey-Boy seems much more collapsed, and also much more invested in things like transcendence. It's sort of surprising, given Korine's reputation, and the stronger film for it.

Gummo has this moment of joke-as-metonymy, which I will attempt to paraphrase: "I knew a guy who was dyslexic, but he was also crosseyed, so everything came out right." Which seems to be the perspective it wants you to take on various kinds of troublesome behavior.

The issue is exactly to the degree to which Korine's eyes are crossed when it comes to the behavior in Gummo. Rich kids idolizing bad behavior on behalf of the poor and mentally ill.

In positive news: My friend Bryan Fordney's new video has been uploaded to the internet. I'm waiting for it to load now. Also, the Paper Rad Problem Solvers videos are now on Youtube, and are really great, as previously discussed. Speaking of things previously discussed, Dash Shaw's Bodyworld webcomic just keeps getting better, but I should link to the beginning of it, and just assume people will read all of it if they're interested. He also did a short story a couple of years ago that I thought was great. I should look into his over-700-page graphic novel that just came out.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

I was looking into doing a medical study as a way to gain some extra money. I just received a phone call telling me I didn't qualify, because of something that sounded like "billy-ribbons." Too many of them were being produced by my liver, an abnormal amount. Looking into it, I think she was trying to say something about bile? My liver produces too much bile?
Altered States starts out as a poor man's El Topo, then becomes a poor man's An American Werewolf In Paris for a while. What's interesting is how it works like an eighties version of a seventies movie, in a way I, of course, can't really articulate. Something about the way the narrative is actually focused, and doesn't seem all that perfunctory, but the characters are basically cliches. Also: I really like how most of the special effects are video effects.

I also would like some kind of reason for why there's movies like An American Werewolf In London, The Thing, and Altered States- all those body-transformation/deformation themes all arriving at pretty much the same time. The David Cronenberg films of this time also kind of keep with these themes.

Oh man: In this Sound Of Young America interview with Jack Handey, I learn that guy wrote the Toonces The Cat and Unfrozen Caveman Lawyer sketches! And was friends with Steve Martin in the late seventies! CLICK ON THE LINKS!

In the world of sidebar blogs: Ben Parrish sends old Batman covers to Joel Brazzell, and through this I discover this really amazing stretch of covers in the early post-200s issues of Batman. Batman with a tiger head, or being led to the electric chair. Weird threats of death, and also: sexism. (One cover has Catwoman yelling "you just lost the battle of the sexes!" and another has women holding up signs protesting an unmarried Batman.) Where is this imagery coming from? Eventually there's a cover where Batman and Robin are trying to work out which one of the Beatles is dead, using album cover clues. Frank Robbins, Irv Novick, and the 1960s. The Batman TV show had been canceled, and the character was just invested with all this iconic imagery, but was just existing to be distorted. The Gardner Fox/Sheldon Moldoff era covers from just before that time are pretty good too. Heavy weirdness in the air, that doesn't seem far from early sixties wackiness at first glance, but... man, holy shit. Some dude, probably in his early thirties, hacking it out, psychological anxiety seeping through. (Batman, being pushed out of the door of a plane, the white house in the background, with the caption "Death casts the deciding vote!" Is this a response to the RFK assassination?)

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Somehow this news doesn't count as news enough for me to hear it when it happens, but John Philip Law, the star of the movie Danger Diabolik, died this past week. This is as good an impetus as any to watch it again, or for the first time. Directed by Mario Bava but not a horror movie, a score by Ennio Morricone not working in his western mode, and one of the most fun movies ever. It's this masterpiece of vaguely psychedelic sixties-pulp that's been homaged so many times yet is not at all diluted.

In other movie news, Nick Nolte is starring in Alejandro Jodorowsky's next movie, with David Lynch attached as a produer.
For those of you who don't read every blog I link to, this post is about a video that's pretty amazing.

Friday, May 16, 2008

In the latest issue of Arthur, there's an interview with one Rudolph Wurlitzer. His was a name I didn't know, but I learned he wrote the screenplays for both Monte Hellman's Two-Lane Blacktop and Sam Peckinpah's Pat Garrett And Billy The Kid, as well as writing novels acclaimed by the likes of Thomas Pynchon and Donald Bartheleme. Pynchon was quoted, about the Wurlitzer novel Nog, that it was "proof that the novel of bullshit is dead." I read this and thought to myself, great. "I know exactly what you're talking about, Thomas Pynchon." Others might say "Don't Pynchon's book have a ton of bullshit in them?" and while this might be true it's not the sort of bullshit that grabs you as immediately apparent when you open up a book.

So, I ordered Nog from interlibrary loan. And when I went down to the library, I found out that said library also had a copy of Frank Santoro's Storeyville in stock. Frank Santoro reads this blog occasionally, and is very much a good dude. Storeyville was originally a comic published in newspaper tabloid format, and then reissued as a hardcover book last year from Picturebox, bearing back-cover blurbs by the likes of Chris Ware, Brian Chippendale, and David Mazzucchelli, a hell of a triumvirate.

I walked the streets on a very nice day with these books in my hands like talismans or totems, excited to high heaven to have such reading material.

Okay so Nog starts off strong, with a great first chapter, and then sort of falls apart to be about hippies free-loving about. I'm about halfway through it. It shares with Storeyville a sense of being about a narrator searching/becoming/dealing with the influence of someone they admire. Fair enough that I should carry them both around with the assurance they had lessons to teach me.

Storeyville I feel uncomfortable talking about, because I don't feel as strongly about it as Chris Ware did upon reading it in 1995. I don't think it's bad, I think it's good, there's some great drawing in it, but something in my reading of it- a lack of engagement with it's rhythms, maybe, or not reading it in the context in which it was written- makes it hit me not as hard as it hits other people. I think I will be able to write a pretty good essay about Cold Heat once that comes out, as that's a book very much of its time, that I read as it was being made. Sequences in Storeyville stand out, but the cumulative effect doesn't strike me- maybe it was reading those reviews that spoiled the last two pages elsewhere on the internet? Maybe it's the format change- The newspaper format, with it's cheap paper folded in the middle, kind of precludes flipping through in a way a book doesn't, it kind of forces you to read it and turn its pages deliberately. There's a lot of people talking about how the original edition was a perfect match of form and content, and how the new bookshelf-ready version is just an adaptation for these times, where a comic can find a place in a bookstore or a library shelf.

I don't know what I can say about Storeyville: The drawing, in general, reminds me of Ben Katchor's, except that I think it's better, and rewards looking at it more. The way color palette frames compositions, the more expressive moments- Right now I'm looking at the bottom six panels of page nineteen, which are awesome.

I really can't work out the pacing of it, at least not for a sustained amount of time, the way that constitutes reading a comic. I kept on looking at Cold Heat in single issue form- each one worked really well as its own thing, with its own pace, in a way where I'm not sure how it'll work as a graphic novel- Storeyville can be broken down almost into strips, sunday pages, which themselves function like paintings, and it's weird for reading momentum considering it as a whole- The story feels so slight, compared to something like Jimbo: Adventures In Paradise- another comic where you let the images work like paintings, but which keeps up velocity and ends up feeling epic in scope. The figure drawings are super-inconsistent, which makes certain scenes hard to follow. Although it works well in the action sequences. There's also this stillness at work in the frequent landscape drawings. Both of these things are great, but there's this tension between them which makes it hard for me to read. Some will say that the more sketchily drawn bits are to be read faster than others- this distinguishes between the more landscape-dominated scenes, and their feeling of tranquility (for example, page 8) and the more movement-oriented scenes (page 9). This guideline makes the more populated scenes even harder to follow. (Is it Ben Jones' influence in Cold Heat that makes the character designs feel more delineated/more likable?)

I like the way the dogs are drawn, as well as the birds and horses, even if the drawings of human figures doesn't always work for me. And it keeps on getting better, the more I look at it, free from any sense of narrative pushing forward.

Picturebox gets a rep for putting out experimental books that I tend to think of as being really exciting for the way they engage with a huge tradition of comics. But: Almost every time I read one, I'm disappointed at first glance. They all work really well in anticipation, and after the fact, but they all have these learning curves- I was disappointed in Ninja at first for not being in full color, and for having a lot more to take in than I was able to absorb in a first reading, that felt pressured by the drawing and the hype to be as fast as possible. Eventually I worked it out. Then Maggots came out, and disappointed me in being even more abstract than Ninja, until I came to admire the way it depicted movement and life-as-lived. The serialization format, which was completely economically unfeasible, really flattered 1-800-Mice and Cold Heat for the way that the initial issues gave you time to acclimate to the aesthetic so you could see how the other issues furthered it. Powr Mastrs is one of the few books I understood immediately, but that was after multiple rereadings of the story in Kramers Ergot 5- Other people admitted to rereading it before really getting its greatness.

Anyway, if you are reading this in Olympia Washington, Storeyville is available at the public library and is pretty cool. If you are reading this in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and are Frank Santoro, what's up dude.