Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Netflix has abandoned its "Community" features, which means that all of my compulsory ratings of movies I watch is now just myself, muttering into a void, helping only to aid a mathematical algorithm which seems to function pretty well already. Surely I have rated enough things at this point for my opinions to become predictable. Here's the latest things you could've already imagined I would have liked.

The two new Picturebox books, Powr Mastrs 3 and If-N-Oof, showed up earlier this week. Powr Mastrs is wildly self-indulgent, which I find funny. An 8-page full color bondage sequence, several short stories completely apart from the narrative, sequences that don't need to be as long as they are. It's well-drawn, well-colored stuff, and possessed of a willful defiance which I recognize the need for. Approximately a third of the book actually pushes the plot forward. If-N-Oof is super-straightforward and confined with accessibility, and ends up occupying a similar space in my mind to Taiyo Matsumoto's Tekkon Kinkreet. I laughed along with the audacity of Powr Mastrs but was exhilarated by If-N-Oof. The sequence where If goes out in the sun, moves to cover his eyes, and then the reader gets a first-person perspective spread of a hand shading the eyes from the sun? Shit man. It doesn't reward flipping through the way CF's comics do, as it's so much about pacing and sequence. There's a sequence which reads like a Mat Brinkman comic. The opening and closing sequences riff on a thing from Ninja, where clean lines and open spaces feels menacing and inhuman. Meanwhile, the rest of the book is varying degrees of expanded drawing, and the bits that seem closer to the size they were drawn are packed with detail.

It blew me away enough that, when I did a Google search for Coober Skeber 2, from Highwater Books in 1997, and found it for sale when I was only looking for scans, I ordered it. Chippendale's 3-page Daredevil comic ends up not being that good, but a lot of the other stuff is great, even though it comes from cartoonists I either don't really like (Ron Rege, P'Shaw) or have never seen anything else by. There's an uncredited Dr Strange comic, and a Spider-Woman comic by Magnus Johnstone, which I assumed was a pseudonym until I found the dude's website. He draws in a style similar to that found in coloring books, but in that comic, there's large globs of black for depicting things like water and hair, and breaking the page into panels plays off the linework really well. On his website, all of his black and white drawings are labeled as manga. I should try to interview this dude. He might be the same person as Mango Johnstone, whose website he links to, and which features pet portraits and mandalas.

That comic plays off the recent issue 1 of Strange Tales II that Marvel put out in a pretty interesting way, depicting how the past 13 years have changed things. Coober Skeber was unlicensed, a publicity grab by the underdogs, most of which had never been published before. Strange Tales II is Marvel enlisting alternative cartoonists to do short stories. But that is just a surface thing. In 1997, all of these cartoonists are dealing with the source material- comics from the 1960s through the 1980s- nostalgically. In 2010, the best comics deal with this iconography as a thing that's shown up in film, but that's based in comics. Dash Shaw's and Kevin Huizenga's comics do this the most explicitly, but it's arguably present in Rafael Grampa's piece as well. Shannon Wheeler's comic deals with Captain America as a symbol of American capitalist imperialism, which is pretty much the same thing. Frank Santoro's comic is maybe the closest to a Coober Skeber strip, except for the fact that the formal things it wishes to investigate are based in color, which means that, economically, it could only be printed by someone with money. (It's nostalgic for the blueline process of a pre-photoshop era.)

Somewhere between these two comics is this Punisher comic Richard Corben drew. In that it's from 2004, and it's fully a mainstream comic in a lot of ways, in that it's written by Garth Ennis, writer of plenty of Punisher comics, but it's presented as a one-off anomaly, labeled "The End," and that exactly is what it is, dealing with this character as iconography and brought to its logical nihilistic conclusion. It's pretty great.

I went to a Six Flags amusement park and realized that just naming roller coasters after comic book characters is the perfect thing to keep in mind. Thrill rides! You have to be a certain height to ride, but I think most people reach said heights at the age of eleven.

I've been watching a lot of horror movies this October. Ingmar Bergman's Hour Of The Wolf does not actually constitute a horror film, but that was the appeal for me when I watched it. I love Ingmar Bergman, but this felt pretty much exactly like all of his other movies that aren't the best. I am distracted by his use of Liv Ullman and Max Von Sydow all the time. And Sven Nykvist.
Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby and The Tenant are actual horror movies. Isabelle Adjani stars in The Tenant, and I saw her in Nosferatu and Possession fairly recently as well, but none of these movies are similar to each other in any way, besides all basically being horror movies- but horror used as a thing to destabilize, and create unease. All of the horror movies I've been watching feel different from each other- Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is obviously unlike these movies as well, but it's completely brutal. All use scores that feature dissonance and atonality. That's the common link. I also saw Cronenberg's The Fly, and rewatched John Carpenter's The Thing. None of these movies are similar to each other. There's so many things to be horrified by! I have no idea what people mean when they talk about a movie being scary, but everything is rooted in anxiety.

I also saw Lars Von Trier's Antichrist. Garbage! I'm exaggerating: But man, that movie did nothing for me. I was talking about Possession to someone who hadn't seen it, and they brought up Antichrist, and I felt pretty certain that they were nothing alike, and I was just focusing on the wrong aspects of Possession. (Oh, the Possession I'm talking about is the 1981 Andrzej Zulawski movie) When I watched Antichrist I realized that they are similar, but Possession is a lot better, for no other reason than there's actual characters. In the credits of Antichrist there are 4 researchers listed! One for horror movies. One for psychology. Holy shit. Get it together, asshole. I am sure the fact that I seem like I am angry at Von Trier will be proof for some of how powerful the movie is. I am actually pretty ambivalent to it, but am holding up the fact that it seems coldly intellectualized for simplistic mockery.

It hasn't all been horror movies. I also watched the Martin Short/Charles Grodin comedy Clifford. It's great. I didn't really rate Martin Short as a comedian before, but his performance is incredible. Tom Scharpling talks about Clifford all the time. Or used to, I haven't really listened to The Best Show On WFMU in quite some time. Charles Grodin shows up in Rosemary's Baby. Martin Short plays Clifford as the spawn of the devil, but it's for laughs.

Records: I downloaded Mayo Thompson's 1970 solo album, Corky's Debt To His Father, today, after learning of its existence. I'd heard a well-regarded Red Krayola record before, but didn't really get into it. My friend Owen Gardner pointed out that record as obviously being bullshit: "It's supposed to be a free jazz record made by people who can't play, which is the whole point of free jazz. Why would you want to listen to that?" I think we were discussing The Parable Of Arable Land. Owen likes other records of theirs, which I have not heard in their entirety. Anyway, Corky's Debt To His Father exists, and is pretty listenable. Mayo Thompson also produced Raincoats albums, which makes it clear he is on the side of the angels.

(Let me take this moment to point out that Fairytale In The Supermarket was not originally included on the first Raincoats LP, but was a single appended to reissues. Everything on the proper album is easily better than that song. Which I guess is fine, but it's hard to not want to skip to "No Side To Fall In." The rest of that record is so good I would want to hear the preceding single anyway, so it's fine. Their second LP, Odyshape, is even more phenomenal and its a shame its unavailable and never really talked about by anyone other than me and Owen Gardner.) (Look for Owen's drone record to come out on Ehse Records sometime in 2011! It might be boring, but I expect to get a free copy and listen to it at least twice!)

The final Sun City Girls record, Funeral Mariachi, is great. I say this as someone who doesn't really like Torch Of The Mystics, and is really into the spoken-word material that Charles Gocher provided. I also really like the stuff found on Grotto Of Miracles and 330,003 Crossdressers, which is what this is more in the vein of. Actually it seems sort of like an Alvarius B record with less prose and more Morricone influence. We all agree that Ennio Morricone is great, right? That's what I mean by accessible.

The new Matmos/Lesser/Wobbly LP, Simultaneous Quodlibet, is pretty great. Loose and improvised with a lot of fun goofin'. I don't have anything to say about it that is actually useful, or descriptive, but I am announcing it exists in the world, because I don't know of anywhere else that has acknowledged this. The cover is an image of Phyllis Diller, made from her possessions.

The new Fat Worm Of Error LP, Broods, has Mark Beyer cover art, and a lot of songs on their new CD, Ambivalence And The Beaker. The arrangements are completely different, and one who listened intently to both, and then saw Fat Worm Of Error play live, could probably work out how they operate. This would be a pretty big investment for one such as myself, who can't quite wrap my head around that band to the point of being psyched on it while it's playing for any extended period of time. I'm sure that if I lived up in Massachusetts and was seeing this band play regularly I would be pretty excited about it. As it stands I have two CDs that I process as sounding like post-punk bands without any sort of tightness or rhythm section. Specifically, when I hear them I think about the Black Eyes album Cough, but all the parts that have descended from Fugazi are removed.

There is nothing tying this post together. Nothing.

Friday, October 08, 2010

The drug experience Gaspar Noe's Enter The Void comes closest to is the moment when you've been high for quite some time and are now looking at your watch to see how much longer it will be before you can do something else more productive. There comes a point when you know that the rest of the movie will continue on much the same way it has already progressed, and there will be no scenes or performances to distract from the monotony. There continue to be shots that fly over space dividers in a blur, the same moments will continue to be revisited.

The second season of the show Delocated has been pretty incredible. I seem to recall the first season's shorter episodes as these unstructured strings, flitting about from things that were imaginative and surreal to things that felt too mean to be funny. The second season has each episode expanded to a full half-hour, each with its own individual sense of humor. One episode will get its humor largely from building up to an extended sight gag ("Mixer," the climax of which created some of the hardest laughter a TV show has brought about), while another will do an extended Face/Off riff that plays off watching an actor recreate another's mannerisms perfectly. I am missing out on the current season of East Bound and Down and the new Kids In The Hall series, and so can't make any definitive claims, but this is a very funny show. It seems to accomplish this really hard task, of communicating a sense of humor that seems too wild and free in its satire to ever be structured to narrative. It's funny the way some of my friends are funny- not in the Judd Apatow way of cracking a ton of jokes, "the funniest thing is just you and your buddies palling around" but in not taking anything seriously at all. If you are familiar with Jon Glaser and Jon Benjamin doing extended anti-comedy riffs on stage, you can maybe imagine the issue of how untranslatable that seems to a more palatable format. This isn't to say all the jokes land, but everything seems inherently funny and sometimes that then takes the plunge into actual laugh-out-loud gags.

More and more, it becomes clear that the idea of "indie" music in 2010 is a complete misnomer, and what it refers to is a culture of "the creative class." The mechanisms for the record industry when "indie" became a concept were completely different than they are now. Now I think the music press functions as part and parcel of an agenda of appropriation, taking what it wants and claiming it as a product. This is always how things always worked, music is a product in that records are available for sale- but now things move so fast that every new thing is just something to be consumed. This is an unclear way of putting it. What I'm saying is that the new webzines are written for a "creative class" of marketing people. That's who buys these records- Or who buys the most stock in them, by putting them into advertisements and Hollywood films. The purchase is done as part of their job. And the selling is done as part of the job of the music writer. Endless consumption, a snake eating its own tail. Everything is a job of selling the new- Listeners aren't necessarily being served, because old music is just as satisfying to discover. Sometimes, when a revival starts, canons are revised accordingly- Think of the bands being discussed when the eighties revival started. (Did The Pop Group have much cultural clout circa 1997?) Currently, music isn't even being sold on the basis of SOUNDING new, or futuristic, the way that people would talk about IDM ten years ago. It's just this weird world where The Arcade Fire are sold as being similar to Neutral Milk Hotel (when, actually, no, not at all), or Best Coast are compared to The Beach Boys (Again: Untrue) - An invocation of already popular reference points that does not actually explain what music sounds like, but positions it as an issue of "taste," but taste defined in the depressing way that Celine Dion 33 1/3 book did it- as a thing that people choose to fit their lifestyle expectations; a definition that completely neglects the fact that there are people who respond to weird music because it sounds new and alien and interesting and they're alienated from the rest of the dull culture. I have had a lot of conversations with people my age and slightly older about hearing Beck's "Loser" in 1992 and having our minds completely blown- despite the fact that people of the time would've considered Beck as related to Nirvana in some way, the sonics didn't bear that out to impressionable minds.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Aidan Koch is a lady who I'm fairly certain attended The Evergreen State College at the same time I did. She is my age, if not in terms of specifics, than in terms of generalities; which is to say, young. I have never had any conversations about her, but I can guess where she is coming from when I read her book, The Whale, published by Gaze Books.

Gaze Books' first publication was Blaise Larmee's Young Lions. I appreciate Blaise sending me another book after I wrote what most would consider a bad review. Like, I think it's a funny prank to keep sending someone work they're not really interested in, that isn't going to coincide with their interests. I support all pranks. Maybe eventually I will start evaluating the books on their own terms.

The Whale is a comic about dealing with the death of someone close. It is not as emotionally devastating as Anders Nilsen's The End, nor is it as formally audacious. It's not trying to be punch you in the gut with raw emotion. To me it is more about the feeling of the beaches of the Pacific Northwest, where the water is too cold for comfort and you just stand on the beach with your head empty.

What do we mean when we say "comics as poetry?" (When I say "we," I should point out that I don't think I would ever actually use that phrase, the same way that I wouldn't say "art comic" the way that people are using it nowadays.) When I read a comic like this, I think of it as being slight, but also sincere and direct. Does it flatter the work to put it out as a book with a spine? An actual book of poetry of this type would contain many more poems. You don't charge someone five dollars for a single haiku. (This comic costs ten dollars.)

Do I think the comic, "The Whale," could pretty much be eight pages long and not lose much? Yes. When I think of what is being conveyed- a method of drawing, wistful melancholia stemming from a place of loss, a bit of metaphor- I think it could be gotten across in a minicomic, and a few of those minicomics could one day form a book that would make sense on a bookshelf and constitute a major work. In dealing with it, it is probably best to view it as a minicomic. Granted, it's priced a bit steep for a black and white minicomic, but is only a little more expensive than something with silkscreened covers would be. I can imagine such a swap occurring between people viewing themselves as equals with different design aesthetics.

Maybe it would seem as if I am talking about the Closed Captioned Comics folks with that last remark. Lane Milburn made a perfect-bound paperback for his last publication, Death Trap. Lane is a dude I actually have had conversations with, and I got the impression that he is dialing back such handcraft elements in favor of an emphasis on the craft of comics as a thing you read. With these modifications in presentation, Lane's book reads like a deliberate response to horror manga. It feels appropriate, a thing that makes sense with a real sense of itself. On the other hand, if Aidan's comic had been a minicomic with a precious and ornate form, I would probably be more psyched on it. I imagine most readers would feel the same way. But that's not how the book-publishing game works, I suppose, and until the people of Portland work out a way to steal photocopies, Gaze Books will have 1000 copies of The Whale for sale to interested parties.