Saturday, July 25, 2009

I have been house-sitting at my mom's house in Pennsauken, New Jersey. I take the bus into Philadelphia, and on these trips I find suburban sprawl hard to navigate. Most of South Jersey is undergoing this trend of development based around "upscale" shopping centers- The shopping center and its attendant large parking lots are a large part of my personal history and what I take as the quintessential New Jersey/suburban America experience, but these centers (elevated from the street, all major chains, with no room at all for small businesses) is something else. They seem to be multiplying exponentially.

But: Somehow, in riding the bus, I discovered a building labeled "JAIN TEMPLE" mere yards from my mom's house. In walking distance. (In suburbia, almost nothing is within walking distance.) I'm going to investigate tomorrow- Sunday, which doesn't necessarily mean "church services," especially for Jains (a faith where some believers do not even enter temples) but it seems like my best bet after I squandered today. This chunk of the post is for my friends, in case the sign that says "Jain Temple" is but a ploy to lure spiritual seekers to their doom. (A possibility that strikes me as more likely than their actually being a Jainist temple in Pennsauken, NJ.)

The rest of the post is pretty much just for Frank Santoro: I am around a bunch of 90s superhero comics and want to highlight Noelle C. Giddings as a colorist of note. She colored for Milestone, which for a while publicized in advertising that all their books had painted color, but her stuff looks the best, to me. Maybe it's the msot restrained. She colored Static and Xombi. Xombi's drawings are pretty stiff, but her work- which resembles watercolor, but might just be airbrush- lets some life in. Xombi was the Milestone comic that was "arty" in a Vertigo-ish way, and even though most Vertigo comics have crappy art, I still think part of Xombi's success is due to the way the colors are so loose. I don't have a lot of issues of these comics, and what I do have is frequently nonconsecutive. The later issues of Static look okay, they have a certain grace to them, but the first issue (the only one of the early issues, drawn by John Paul Leon I have) looks rad. The art is more cartoony than anything Leon would draw in the future: It's real loose, in a lot of small panels, and gives the color a lot of room to carry weight, and delineate form. But because the line-art is so loose and cartoony, the coloring is too. Even though it's painted, it's printed on newsprint, so it's not slick at all. It's sort of smeared: if a nose is drawn by just two marks for nostrils, then the coloring is then just a mark of the rest of the nose. Hair is drawn with chunky lines of black alternating with chunky lines of wavering color. It looks unruly. Another Static art tip is that some middle-period issues were drawn by Wilfred Santiago, later to draw porn, and then a graphic novel, for Fantagraphics. I only have memories of those issues, which I remember looking weird and super-minimal. Further along on the abstraction tip, but by that point I think it was on slick paper and I don't remember how the colors compensated. There's no scans on the internet that do what I'm talking about any justice, as what I can find isn't big enough to convey how idiosyncratic it looks. But on my last few trips here I've just stared at it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

I was talking to my brother yesterday, and he mentioned an article he'd read. I haven't seen said article, and so can't link to it, but here's the heads-up: Corporations are changing their logos, due to the recession, to all-lowercase, in order to appear "friendlier" to customers. He mentioned Wal-Mart, right now the only thing that occurs to me is Pepsi, which I'd previously singled out for a new, stripped-down and bland design, which I was thinking of as a weird corrective to the perceived gaucheness of "cool" nineties branding: A willful lack of style to not chance anything. The mention of it brought to mind Daniel Clowes mocking non-capitalization in people's names in an old Eightball strip, but I guess Wal-Mart doesn't take it's marching orders from "I Hate You Deeply."

Meanwhile, in my mind I am trying to devise what I want the new canon to be for upcoming nineties nostalgia. The most recent discovery I've made from that time that I had not heard before was the Dog-Faced Hermans, who recently had their first record reissued by Mississippi Records. It would seem to make sense for Sun City Girls, Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, Helium, etc. albums to come back in print following being cited as influences, but the record industry is collapsing, so maybe that won't happen. (Although, it seems like in conservative times the back catalog gets milked hard and placed into deluxe packaging: Look at how many hardcovers the comics industry is pumping out in 2009.) Those bands have nothing in common with each other besides existing during the same time and being out of print. I'm really interested in seeing what are the things that come back into consciousness as nostalgia hits, since it seems like people never stopped talking about My Bloody Valentine.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WFMU's blog pointed out that today is the thirtieth anniversary of Jimmy Carter's "Crisis Of Confidence" speech. I link to it so people can read it, but I don't have much comment on it. I'm halfway through watching Robert Altman's Tanner '88, and thinking about the way politics have changed: Eight years of the worst president the country ever had makes a lot of things seem somewhere between being quaint and being foreign. Even now, immediately on the other side, talking about the Bush presidency seems like both of those things. (A friend also bought a copy of the issue of The Believer with John Kerry taking up the whole of the cover, as messiah: So strange!)

And I woke up this morning thinking about the economy, and the way that, in some way, the existence of the internet is to blame for its collapse: The free content has done damage to the print industry, and the music industry, places for artists, our best and brightest. But there's also the way e-mail has replaced the post office, and probably led to the cutback of a great many federal employees.

Moreover, the whole concept of the internet as a place for content, for free, is a parallel to the actual downfall of the economy: A world where credit is more plentiful than actual capital ends up devaluing money, with nothing to back that credit up. Meanwhile, internet businesses subsist on advertising, in an infinite loop that probably does not lead to actual purchasing: But that's fine, the people writing for the internet aren't really getting paid, except for the exposure, designed to get them paying jobs in print, which the bottom is falling out of. "Credit" in terms of money ends up equal to "credit" in terms of recognition, and both end up being hollow when there's no actual monetary compensation.

I apologize for the fact that I didn't do any research to write this post, and am going to speak in a language of simplified abstractions because of that.

The internet devalues other things besides money: Like ideas. And sex. Personal interaction. Spirituality, probably: It seems like that would follow a general coarseness brought about by the rest.

But of course, the genie can't be put back in the bottle, pandora's box can't be closed, and Obama can't say: "Here is my new economic stimulus plan: The internet will no longer work, forcing everyone back into situations where things have material form and value, and the exchange and trade of content will create an economy no longer built around abstractions." (If I were seriously advocating this, I would also have to acknowledge the problem in the plan of the cost of material and distribution taking a toll on the environment.) But in such a situation, it seems the main place jobs would be lost would be the place that jobs seem to be growing right now: Those technicians building the infrastructure of the internet, working out ways for more effective image searches and whatnot, which strikes me as a field with a narrower worker base than that of content producers. But more importantly is that there's been no large-scale WPA to work on the infrastructure of the material world, where there should be an even broader pool of people to select workers from.

In this abstract computer landscape, there's an ever-shrinking elite left with a desirable skill-set: Soon only mathematicians, dealing in abstraction, will be able to get at the real money.

Friday, July 10, 2009

I sort of freaked out over The Lexie Mountain Boys when I lived in Olympia: Playing songs over the radio, showing the MySpace page to travelling bands coming through town, recommending friends to listen to them.

This was all based on the band as pure sound, despite them being, on a pretty large level, a performance-art project. Costumes play a part of it, but the main thing is presence. Since moving to Baltimore, I've seen them multiple times, and they're sort of inconsistent, which makes sense, considering it's all improvised. But on record they're always compelling. As pure sound, the harmonies interlocking: it seems really feminine, in a great way. It's redolent of pagan ceremonies and campfire jamborees, but when it's pure sound it becomes this thing very infinite: Every singer is going for it, going the distance, out into space, and existing in harmony with the other members, while still being free, and not held back at all. They go into space, and then become it. Some kind of cosmic vagina at the center of all things, free from any bullshit of modern cultural expectations, totally fascinating to behold.

I also know these people, now that I live here, and I really feel like they have the right spirit. (This also holds true for the dudes in Lexie's other project, Crazy Dreams Band) There's a friendliness (as in the harmonies) as well as a lack of uptightness (spacefaring) that, while it makes the music compelling (or mysterious, and occasionally frightening to the uninitiated), makes them great people to have around at a barbecue or house party or whatnot. Someone, elsewhere on the internet, described them as the people skinny-dipping at 3 in the morning, and that was just based on the music they make, but those are the sort of people that I want to have around me, whose friendship I value deeply.

Whartscape has begun in Baltimore, and I am not attending, because most of the acts play out all the time, and not all of them are as standout phenomenons as these projects, either musically or as people.

Monday, July 06, 2009

Kazimir Strzepek's The Mourning Star 2 really works for me. It functions sort of like a 1980s black and white fantasy comic, but with the revelations of twenty years worth of craft development behind it. Rather than be published in serialized pamphlets, it comes out as a book, which gives the fight scenes room to breathe- a trick some people learned from manga, but here, the way that action plays out feels more influenced by Mat Brinkman comics. Partly I could be picking that up from the book's square size: post-nineties, comics don't need to be taller than they are wide, and I think the squat size keeps the action moving, while also feeling really intimate, and just fun to hold in the hand.

The book also starts off with the story's presumed villains, which makes them approach sympathetic-character status, in a way similar to how CF's Powr Mastrs comics move between characters working at cross purposes. Sure, at the opening they might not be seeming likable, but when a never-before-seen character shows up, doesn't speak, and brutally murders people seen sleeping next to their wives, the fact that they're parts of the ruling empire depicted as antagonists to the rest of the main characters doesn't seem to matter as much.

(Oh, speaking of CF- the Mark Lord tape on the Rare Youth label is pretty great. The Mark Lord stuff has this techno/industrial beat moving the noise into a more pop direction, where Kites - on Peace Trials and the occasional tape- had folk music and clear vocals as reference points grounding the chaos.)

In another strain of influence, there's something of Jeff Smith's Bone in the character's dominant cuteness, as something anthropomorphic but unrecognizable. But that comic didn't work for me the way this does, seeming to exist in a harsher world. Partly the post-apocalyptic setting, and the focus on survival, serve to move it away from the tropes of fantasy that I find tedious, but it also moves the book closer to its real formal strength: The contrast between the cute and the brutal powers the book. The way the cute, uniformly well-designed characters look when suddenly cut in half. The way the square shape sits nicely in the hand and keeps you moving through the action sequences quickly. The way Bone and Fort Thunder are reconciled.