Archive for July 30, 2010

Carnival of souls

July 30, 2010

* The first paragraph of Douglas Wolk’s Comic-Con column contains a pretty good summary of the difference between us, I think. Contemporary nerd culture’s enthusiasm is a bug, not a feature, and being a nerd sure as hell was oppositional in my day. Damn you and your well-adjustedness, Douglas!

* Rick Trembles reviews The Human Centipede in his inimitable cartoon style, making the strongest case for it I’ve read so far.

* Would you like to spend your Friday afternoon reading a long David Bordwell essay about Herge and the clear line? You bet you would.

Comics Time: Paper Blog Update Supplemental Postcard Set Sticker Pack

July 30, 2010


Paper Blog Update Supplemental Postcard Set Sticker Pack

Anders Nilsen, writer/artist

self-published, November 2009

16 pages, 7 postcards, 1 sticker


Buy it from Anders Nilsen

A slice of history here: This minicomic/postcard set/collection of beautiful drawings of bird heads labeled with names like “Beyonce,” “Mister Peanut,” and “Paul Wolfowitz” contains the very first of Nilsen’s “Monloguist” strips. Monologues for the Coming Plauge, Monologues for Calculating the Density of Black Holes, The End, and even Nilsen’s blog itself wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for the first few strips in which blacked-out stick figures spoke dialogue jotted down during Nilsen’s conversations with friends on a trip to Switzerland. (“I think it’s bad, looking at the ass. I don’t mean spiritually, either,” says a figure I’m reasonably sure is Sammy Harkham.) It’s fascinating to see how rapidly all the tics and tropes that have made this style of Nilsen’s so quietly haunting develop: the blacked-out mistakes, the seemingly random distortion or deconstruction of the Monloguist, the sudden shifts from banal observations and list-making to gaze-into-the-abyss despair and back again. But the illustration work included here, including a fascinating postcard image of a deer and some boulders nestled in the strange branches of some bizarre alien-looking tree, offer ample evidence of the raw chops with which Nilsen complements his experimental zeal. I dare say that if you send any of the postcards to anyone, you’re liable either to get married or never hear from them again. A fascinating little package from a serious best-of-his-generation candidate.

Music Time: Foals – Total Life Forever

July 29, 2010



Total Life Forever

Sub Pop, June 2010

Buy it from Sub Pop

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Now here’s a weird one. Foals’ debut album serves a very specific purpose for me: Its standout tracks echo and enhance restless, caffeinated creativity. A breakneck pace provided by tight, crisp drumming; yelped vocals from singer Yannis Philippakis; repeated, high-pitched, distortionless eighth-note guitar riffs played with such precision you feel like the band’s multiple guitarists are hitting the strings with tiny glockenspiel mallets; unexpected saxophone bleats and blasts, strategically deployed…it’s the perfect accompaniment to when you’ve got so much energy your leg is twitching and it’s all you can do to to actually type instead of simply pounding on the keyboard, hoping to get your point across through sheer force of will. For me it’s that nervous urgency that separates Foals from the army of angular-guitar also-rans who’ve occupied UK indie for the past however many years. Songs like “Cassius,” “Red Socks Pugie,” “Olympic Airways,” and particularly “Balloons” have an originality of tone and force of execution that, for me anyway, makes them a lot more worth returning to than your average I Can’t Believe It’s Not Gang of Four product.

So what to make of a follow-up record where there’s pretty much none of that? I suppose that given the flack the band received for a) being late to the post-punk revival party, and b) earning, through simple instrumental proficiency and clarity, the “math-rock” sobriquet and all the approbation that comes with it despite being uniformly four-four, a change in direction was all but inevitable. And I suppose that since the band’s previous slow jams were more to be endured than enjoyed, there’s no way I’m going to connect with this less kinetic, more groove-oriented album the way I did with its predecessor.

But here’s the thing: What they’re doing here is less immediately useful to me, but it’s still interesting, simply because it’s so weird! Do you want to hear what post-punk Go-Go might sound like? Check out “Miami”! Do you want to hear skinny Englishmen funnel lyrics cribbed from the Lemonheads’ “Into Your Arms” into some weird Morris Day swing? Check out “Total Life Forever”! Do you want to hear a Discipline-era King Crimson take on Fleet Foxes? Check out “Blue Blood”! Most of the album is a fairly unremarkable attempt to create a sound as panoramic and pretty as Antidotes was mostly inward and aggressive–cf. lead single “Spanish Sahara”–but sprinkled throughout all that is such a strange set of vocal and musical approaches that I’m a bit dumbfounded. It left me feeling enough critical goodwill toward the band that they could throw in their most nakedly crowd-pleasing Bloc Party-type jam yet, “This Orient” (a big soaring chorus invoking “this Western feeling” and everything) and I end up really, really digging it instead of cringing.

I’d probably have preferred the band tighten up even further, damn the critical torpedoes and full speed ahead, emphasis on speed. And indeed this thing really could stand tightening up even if they are gonna move away from “Balloons.” But there’s a groovy weirdness in here I can get behind on the relatively rare occasions when it pops up, and I hope they double down on it next time around.

Carnival of souls

July 29, 2010

* Frank “The Tank” Miller talks Holy Terror, his now-Batman-free vigilante vs. al-Qaeda graphic novel, which he says he should be finishing next month. (Via Kevin Melrose.)

* Today on Robot 6: Tom Brevoort on Marvel’s latest “tie-ins for variant” swap.

* Today the five-minute trailer for Kenneth Branagh’s Thor that Marvel debuted at the San Diego Comic-Con leaked onto the Internet for a few hours. (It used to be here but is no longer.) It was pretty good. Firmly in the spirit of the 21st-century Marvel approach to any and all of its properties to be sure, i.e. filtering them through military-industrial-espionage-action tropes, but it’s not like I was expecting Asgard and its denizens to be done in Speed Racer style. Ang Lee scared the experimentation right out of Marvel movies, at least somewhat justifiably so. Asgard looked big and unearthly, at least, and the Destroyer–one of the all-time great villain designs, like Jack Kirby presaging the Cenobites–was great, and I look forward to seeing fight choreography that revolves around the use of a war hammer.

* Yet all that being said, I still find myself far more entertained by an entirely different comic-book movie trailer, one for a book I’ve never even read: Stephen Frears’s adaptation of Posy Simmond’s Tamara Drewe. What on earth could be drawing me to this movie? What could it possibly, possibly be?

* Guillermo Del Toro will indeed direct a 3-D adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness with James Cameron now producing, which seems to mean that yes, it’ll get made. Shrug.

* A great way to get a sense of fanboy conventional wisdom on any given topic is to read what the big horror sites say about it. In the process of reporting that They may hire Damon Lindelof to rewrite Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Dread Central shits alllllll over Lindelof and the Lost finale–like, to an M. Night Shyamalan degree. So I guess that’s where Nerd Culture comes down on that. NEEDS MOAR NANOTECHNOLOGY!!!

* Sean P. Belcher wasn’t nuts about Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour. The way he talks about it makes me think he had a hard time with aspects of it in the same way I did, namely not connecting with the supposedly knockout emotional content. And like me he feels obligated to couch this caveat in as complimentary language as possible, because the overall project was so innovative, entertaining, and endearing.

Carnival of souls: Special “San Diego Comic-Con Post-Game” edition

July 28, 2010

* Suddenly I’m a lot more sympathetic to Con Flounce: Tom Spurgeon and Tom Neely have both written rather soul-crushing con reports that give credence to the notion that the Hollywood contingent really, truly is crushing the the comics out of Comic-Con.

* Here’s your requisite on-the-other-hand: Peggy Burns’s upbeat report can be summed up thusly: Drawn & Quarterly sold through all but one measly boxful of comics, and the report contains the phrase “COMIC-CON LIKES COMICS” in all caps. So, y’know, it’s entirely possible for an event involving 130,000 people to result in different experiences for different people, even people keenly interested in precisely the same aspect of the show.

* But the Toms have me concerned over a couple of things. First, I’m concerned about the future of the show’s comics content. Not the comics-that-are-also-movies stuff, I don’t think Marvel’s going anywhere and nor are all the little outfits who are happy to serve as IP farms, but the comics-that-are-comics stuff, from self-publishers like Neely to retailers whose presence used to be my favorite single section of the show. The news that in the absence of Comic Relief and with a smaller Bud Plant booth there basically wasn’t a go-to comics retail area is the most disturbing single thing I’ve heard about the show ever. If you can’t maintain a place where people at the show can go to buy pretty much any of the comics they might be interested in buying, which is how that area used to function, then that’s a major structural failure for the show. And needless to say, a comics show without a vibrant small-press and alternative comics presence isn’t a comics show I’m interested in.

* But that leads me to the second thing I’m concerned about, which is that due to the kind of person I am, I never paid enough attention to this all along. See, I am an all-purpose nerd. I love going to Comic-Con to talk to Jordan Crane and load up on all the Fanta and D&Q debuts and get Bowie sketches from Jaime Hernandez and all that wonderful stuff. But in all honesty, if all that were gone, I’d still enjoy the show, because I also love superheroes and hearing announcements about the future of the Batman books and catching previews of big action-fantasy blockbusters and seeing people in costume and geeking out over Lord of the Rings replicas and on and on and on. I’m not like either of the Toms in that I don’t find any of that stuff infuriating and that it is, in part at least, something that excites me about art and culture.

* So I guess what I’m saying is that in retrospect, I should have stuck a big fat caveat lector atop my dismissal of the post-show pique that flares up after each year’s Con. Don’t get me wrong, I do think a lot of that stuff really is just pique (and pandering for hits). And in fairness to myself, whenever I talk to people who haven’t been to the show, I warn them that there are lots of people who are just not constitutionally suited to that level of crowd and media and visual overload, so it’s not like I’m totally head-in-the-clouds about the inhospitability of the show for some people. But I’ve been far too willing to ignore the fact that there are people with perfectly reasonable and even noble expectations for the show for whom those expectations are now going unmet.

* In other Con news:

* Sean Belcher caught a bunch of Grant Morrison newsiness I missed or forgot: He’s still planning a Wonder Woman story, he’s still working on Multiversity which will include a Frank Quitely issue that Sean says will be the Charlton/Watchmen riff though I don’t know the source for that, he’s planning a big joint project with Geoff Johns.

* Here’s everything Kiel Phegley did at the show.

* Guillermo Del Toro says inter-studio politics between MGM, New Line, and Warner Bros. are responsible for delays to The Hobbit and his subsequent departure, not just MGM’s financial problems.

* They’re making another Battlestar Galactica prequel series called Blood & Chrome, a webisode-type affair set during the early days of Bill Adama’s military career in the First Cylon War. I still haven’t bothered finishing the first season of Caprica so it’s tough for me to get too excited about this.

* Man, Frank Santoro’s Silver Surfer strip for Strange Tales II is gonna be something else.


* So say we all, Cameron Stewart.

Comics Time: The Comics Section from the Panorama

July 28, 2010


The Comics Section from the Panorama

(aka The San Francisco Panorama Comics Section)

Keith Knight, Jon Adams, Michael Capozzola, Gabrielle Bell, Daniel Clowes, Ivan Brunetti, Alison Bechdel, Gene Luen Yang, Art Spiegelman, Ian Huebert, Adrian Tomine, Chris Ware, Kim Deitch, Seth, Erik Larsen, Jessica Abel, Heather Brinesh, Katrina Ortiz, Carson Ellis, Jon Klassen, Jon Scieszka, Adam Rex, Mac Barnett, Jenny Traig, Kevin Cornell, writers/artists

McSweeney’s, March 2010

18 pages


Buy it from McSweeney’s

Buy it from

Everything’s coming up newsprint! Originally included with McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #33–the “McSWEENEY’S HEART NEWSPAPERS” project The San Francisco Panorama–and now conveniently sold separately because McSweeney’s knows its audience, The Comics Section hews pretty closely, intentionally or not, to its conception as a newspaper’s funny pages. There’s that same lack of a unifying aesthetic or visible editorial hand, that same variety in tone and quality, and that same presence a strip or two that leave you totally baffled. How does it work as an argument for the preservation of the newspaper as a format? Jimmy crack corn and I don’t care. I’m not here for the Wednesday Comics-style newsprint nostalgia, I’m here for the comics. And the strong ones are strong enough that I don’t mind having spent the necessary scratch.

Look, Ware and Clowes just tower over this thing, let’s get that established right away. Ware’s centerfold spread is a luscious thing, with those bright blue and pink colors he used for the cover of Acme #19 and an inviting assortment of strips about young-brainiac-turned-adult-divorcee Putty Gray and his enamorata Sandy Grains. You can start pretty much anywhere on the spread, flip the thing in pretty much any direction, just letting your eye go where it wants and reading accordingly, and it works. (Compare and contrast with Alison Bechdel’s tribute to the game of “Life,” which forces you to rotate the entire broadsheet with seemingly every panel to little discernible aesthetic effect and much upper-arm exhaustion.) As you might expect, several of the “punchline” panels here are real punches to the gut; I’ll never get enough of Ware’s sense of “humor,” the way he just puts despair where the jokes would go. Ditto Clowes, whose provides the section’s opening salvo, a nasty little science-fiction spoof called “The Christian Astronauts” with as funny and fuck-you of a final panel as anything in Wilson.

There are two other stand-out strips in the section. Kudos to Adrian Tomine for writing a strip about a superhero named Optic Nerve that’s just an out-and-out autobiographical satire of how badly comment threads comparing him to Daniel Clowes get to him and how all things considered he’d probably rather be hanging out with his wife than wasting his time in this thankless field. He doesn’t care if navel-gazing and superhero satire are the two things most likely to get your brand of alternative comics ridiculed on the Internet these days, you know? That’s what he wants to do, and dammit, that’s what he’s doing. And it’s funny! And kudos to the Editors for thinking to include Erik Larsen, of all people: He uses his Savage Dragon character for a light superhero satire at least as effective as Tomine’s, and it’s clear from inking, coloring, and choreography that he simply cares a lot about cartooning, which makes a two-page broadsheet spread arguably an even more effective showcase for what he does well than an ongoing series well into the 100s. And now that I think of it, I liked Seth’s page as well. The more I see of his stuff, the more the disconnect between his in-real-life look, his ruminative pacing, and his slick cartooning intrigues me rather than puts me off.

The rest? Eh, I can take it or leave it. Mostly leave it, I suppose–I don’t know why Kim Deitch laid out his story basically backwards, I don’t know why Jessica Abel’s adventure-strip pastiche selected a relatively inert portion of the adventure to depict, I didn’t think very many of the non-full-page strips (Knight, Adams, Yang, Brunetti) were funny at all. But then, for years, I only read The Far Side.

Carnival of souls

July 27, 2010

* Carla Speed McNeil and Grant Morrison agree: Let fiction be fictional. These are stories, not rulebooks. (Evan Dorkin apparently agrees too.)

* Ron Rege Jr’s “Math Comics” are now up on What Things Do. The more Rege comics made accessible to as many people as possible, the better.


* Jesus, is this what Paul Pope’s Battling Boy is gonna look like?


* Comics Comics’ Nicole Rudick takes a look at Russian comics.

* Douglas Wolk interviews Paul Cornell about Knight and Squire and Action Comics. Here are two back-to-back sentences from the piece: “We love Robo-Lois. Death appears at the end of the Gorilla Grodd issue.” SOLD

* Darren Aronofsky’s RoboCop remake is dunzo, sunk by the same MGM financial woes that have scuppered the Daniel Craig-model James Bond franchise and delayed box-office sure-thing The Hobbit to the point where directors are leaving and stars are publicly tweeting their doubts that it’ll get made.

* The trailer for Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch had me at using “The Crablouse” by Lords of Acid for background music. “The Crablouse,” for crying out loud! Pure ’90s trailer music, and my favorite Lords song to boot. Wait, what’s that? Oh, right, the movie! Well, it looks like fun, like an amalgam of all the other moderately boundary-pushing nerd-friendly action movies of the past several years, and it’s also a Zack Snyder movie, and I’ve enjoyed many of the former and all of the latter. I also think this trailer helps better contextualize what Watchmen ended up being. Like, if the line-up is A) Dawn of the Dead, B) 300, and D) this trailer, and Watchmen is C), then you probably have a solid idea of what Watchmen is. (Via Sean Belcher.)

* I dream of a world in which can do something, anything without taking pot/kettle shots at the rest of the comics blogosphere in such a way as to call further attention to its own lameness. Still, an international comics blog aggregator is an interesting enough idea…but again, given the site’s track record for its domestic coverage, I’m skeptical. (Via Flog.)

* Here’s a pretty solid piece by Adam Sternbergh on the rise of nerd culture, or more specifically fanboy culture. It has a lot of the stuff that sprang to my mind in the time between reading the headline and clicking the link–the internet facilitating the rise of a mass geek culture from previously isolated pockets, the rage with which dissent from the nerd consensus is greeted, and so on. To that I’d add Matthew Perpetua’s critique, which is that contemporary nerd culture crudely seeks to establish its masculine bonafides at every possible occasion–the emphasis on the supposed rules of pseudoscience rather than the more fluid and feminine magical approach I talk about in that McNeil/Morrison link is a big part of that–and reacts to flattery of even the most empty and mercenary sort by preexisting cultural gatekeepers (in the immortal words of W.P. Mayhew) like an old bitch dog gettin’ its belly scratched. That said, I think Matthew exaggerates the extent to which “fanboys are the new bullies.” I’d be really surprised if the ratio of kids singled out for months-long campaigns of cruelty by their peers for being too smart and too attached to fantastic fiction vs. those thus singled out for not being nerdy enough were anything but absurdly lopsided. And stuff like G4 can suck as hard as the day is long, but it’ll never touch the insane cultural hegemony of the National Football League.

* “Sun” by Caribou is one of my favorite songs of the year so far, and now its video is one of my favorite videos of the year. (Via Ryan Catbird.)

CARIBOU – Sun from Caribou on Vimeo.

Music Time: How to Destroy Angels – “The Space in Between”

July 27, 2010


How to Destroy Angels

“The Space in Between”

from How to Destroy Angels

The Null Corporation, June 2010

Download it free or buy it from How to Destroy Angels

Buy it from

It’s the way this song — from Trent Reznor’s new band with his wife Mariqueen Maandig and his frequent collaborator Atticus Ross — does and doesn’t sound like a pair of his previous band’s songs that strikes me. Lyrically, you could do a line-for-line swap with Nine Inch Nails’ “All the Love in the World” and literally not miss a beat — that’s how deeply Maandig has apparently internalized her husband’s aesthetic. (Example: “Watching all the insects march along / Seem to know just right where they belong” vs. “Blinding light illuminates the scene / Try to fill the spaces in between.” Try it!) And indeed the music itself is very NIN, albeit not so much the “return to rock radio” pummeling of “All the Love in the World”‘s source album With Teeth as the ominous droning and knowingly tinny, clicky programming of subsequent records like Year Zero and The Slip. And all that is fine — I am a big, big NIN fan and learned long ago that you don’t switch on Reznor’s latest record expecting to be surprised by a new set of thematic concerns.

But the bigness of “The Space in Between”‘s final chorus — twice as long as the first iteration, beefed up with echoey overdubbed harmonies, lifted aloft on the crest of a guitar that’s suddenly gone from a drone to a roar — reminds me of an entirely different NIN song, and one of my favorites at that, precisely because it is surprising: the title track from The Fragile. That song starts quiet and ominous, then reveals its intent with at-the-time stunningly kind and direct lyrics, then blossoms into an unexpectedly big chorus the second time around, then cuts away for a bridge and Reznor’s most emotional guitar solo to date before exploding into an absolutely massive third and final chorus — a chorus of Reznors given the full “Freddie Mercury treatment,” a whole new set of lyrics screamed near the top of Reznor’s range on top of the original lyrics, a shift to a major key, the works. “The Space in Between” echoes “The Fragile”‘s structure but never gets to that tear-down-the-sky point, cutting off abruptly after chorus #2. The result? I listen to the song on loop, waiting and waiting for that missing final section, for a catharsis that never comes — which is a very Reznor concept. Well played.

Carnival of souls: Special “San Diego Comic-Con Wrap-Up” edition

July 26, 2010

* And now: Morrisonia!

* You heard it from me at Robot 6 first: A Joe the Barbarian movie is in development with the folks who made Clash of the Titans.

* Three bits of good Grant Morrison/Frank Quitely news I missed/forgot to mention: Absolute We3 is on the way with ten new pages, Morrison is confident about the prospects for a collected Flex Mentallo, and Dwayne McDuffie is writing an animated adaptation of All-Star Superman.

* Sea Guy Eternal is on the way as well.

* IGN talks to Morrison about Batman Inc. It sounds like fun, which is probably something that needs to be said more often w/r/t Morrison’s Bat-books. They’re fun! Meanwhile, given my increasing interest in the narrative potential for the non-narrative tropes of videogames (all praises due to Scott Pilgrim), I’m obviously loving this quote:

So many comics are still inspired by Hollywood movies, (many of which are now inspired, in turn, by comics in that pop-will- eat-itself way), and by extension a kind of approach to narrative which dates back to Aristotle’s Poetics and the fundamentals of Greek Drama, almost two and a half thousand years ago, in the name of our dear lords Hermes and Zeus Almighty!

It occurred to me, immersed in my 50th hour of Just Cause 2, how far beyond that silent audience, proscenium arch, here’s some well-paid ‘actor’ pretending to be someone else experience we’d gone and how very timidly other forms of storytelling entertainment had reacted to the challenge of the beast in their midst, this ultimate choose your own adventure playground that in some cases simulates ‘life’ and terrain so effectively it’s like actually like going on vacation (how many gamers know the geography of Silent Hill as well as their own town? Do streets and locations from Liberty City, Panau, or Saints Row, turn up in the dreams of other gamers like they do in mine? I’ll lay odds they do. These amazing virtual environments appear in my memories as real as Chicago or London. Paris, Venice, New Delhi, Jogjakarta or any of the non-CGI cities I’ve been to.

Although many current video games are constructed on a narrative spine which follows the basic action movie hero-beats-baddie script, it’s never that aspect of the player’s interaction with the virtual environment that’s important. I know I tend to skip the cut scenes in games without losing any awareness of the arrow of narrative progression. Batman Inc. is an attempt to do a comic influenced by the storytelling structures, images, senses of scale, movement and perspective and so on that I’ve absorbed from games. The experience of actually being Batman in the Arkham Asylum game was profoundly eerie and I’d love to find a way to capture that depth of involvement and identification with the character and environment. I’m not sure how much of this I’ll be able to realise but this is where I’m beginning my thinking on what might make Batman Inc. different from other books.

* Finally, here’s another pretty great, and pretty blunt, quote from Morrison’s spotlight panel:

Me and Geoff Johns sell lots of comic books at DC, and no one’s ever said ‘Don’t do that,’ because they know it sells good. There are certain segments of fandom that say that my work is difficult, but it’s the best-selling stuff in the business and has been for 20 years. So I’m not going to change.

(Via JK Parkin and Kevin Melrose.)

* ICv2 has a few more details about the biggest story of the show, Fantagraphics’ deal with Disney to collect Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse strip.

* Here’s a look at Top Shelf’s spotlight panel. That’s an extensive coming-soon list.

* Jesse Moynihan will send you his Comic-Con minicomic for free.

* Here’s concept art for the upcoming American Godzilla reboot. I dunno, it’s a painting of Godzilla, whoopedy dee.

* I took a look back at my coverage of last year’s Con and was interested to see which projects announced back then still haven’t seen the light of day. Rafael Grampa’s Furry Water and his AdHouse art book and Gerard Way’s Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion and Killjoys top the list. Also, Geoff Johns’s All Flash series didn’t quite manifest as planned, though between Flash and Speed Force I guess we’ll see all of the intended material eventually.

* As longtime readers are no doubt aware, I’m habitually skeptical of post-Comic-Con flounce posts, like this one from Videogum’s Gabe Delahaye. In my experience they almost always stem either from wildly unrealistic expectations–like that the show should automatically lay itself out before you in the form best suited to your needs and that its failure to do so is a reflection of its shortcomings rather than yours–or from a professional mandate which requires immersion in the show’s gaudiest/most exploitative aspects or which treats it as an opportunity for cultural anthropology on nerd culture at its worst. In reality, it’s perfectly easy for a normal person, or even Eisner Award winning comics journalist Tom Spurgeon, to attend the show, even cover the show, in precisely the way they most enjoy. Yes, the show is huge, and crowded, and increasingly saturated with distasteful Hollywood types; and yes, nerd culture is an aesthetic morass in many ways these days. But whaddyagonnado? Alvin Buenaventura still had a table, Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez were available for gushing over, you could buy original art from the Beguiling, you could get limited edition He-Man toys, there was a torso-sized Infinity Gauntlet on display, Liv Tyler walked around disguised as V for Vendetta, and 130,000 people were there to enjoy the products of people’s imagination, even if some of that imagination has been commodified and stuck in flyer form into hotel bathroom mirrors. Ultimately, I’m with Matt Maxwell: “Yes, it’s coarse and crass and unforgivable, but there’s times that you find yourself stepping into a shoe that happens to fit you perfectly.” I will always self-identify as a nerd and I will always be glad that Comic-Con exists.

* In non-Con news:

* Chris Mautner takes a look at Fantagraphics’ fall/winter catalog. Moto Hagio, Dave Cooper, Los Bros Hernandez, Steve Ditko, Walt Kelly, Jacques Tardi, Johnny Ryan, Jason, David B., loads more.

* I’m never not in the mood for stories about relict African dinosaurs.

* Jason Adams liked Salt, but his and Matt Zoller Seitz’s points of comparison don’t exactly move it to the top of my to-do list.

Comics Time: Neighbourhood Sacrifice

July 26, 2010


Neighbourhood Sacrifice

Steph Davidson, Michael DeForge, Jesjit Gill, writers/artists

self-published, 2009

12 pages


See sample images and buy it from Michael DeForge

Bam bam bam bam bam–with each turn of the page, this cheap newsprint zine hits you with a powerful image as big as the trim size will allow. The images–a quick google search for the artists’ homepages reveals I’m out of my element at trying to deduce who did what based on their other work, for the most part, though I think I at least recognize DeForge when I see him–are tailored for maximum impact. Maximum awesomeosity, if you will. You’ve got DeForge’s trademark slimy monsters, seemingly constructed out of bits of thousands of other beasts–like if Shub Niggurth were made of her 1,000 young. You’ve got massive, realistically drawn altars laden with occult and Egyptian kitsch. You’ve got a guy looking into the mirror to see a melted-faced monstrosity staring back at him; turn the page and another guy’s cutting his cubist-looking face in half with a sword. Heck, the thing opens with a pretty hilarious selection of newspaper comic titles given DeForge’s heavy-metal typography treatment. (My favorites are Ziggy, which uses a sword for the “i” in the style of The Legend of Zelda, and Hi and Lois, whose letters are used to form a grinning skull.) It’s a delirious, this-goes-to-eleven experience, over almost as soon as it begins.

Carnival of souls: Special “San Diego Comic-Con Day Four” edition

July 25, 2010

* Your quote of the day comes from Grant Morrison:

Of course, the floor soon opened up for a lengthy fan Q&A where the first question drew out “Grant Morrison: Fiction Theorist” as a young man asked how old characters like Bruce Wayne and the various Robins were supposed to be. “It doesn’t matter. You must understand these people aren’t real,” Morrison said to laughter. “Batman is a mythical figure. I’m being funny, but I’m not being funny. They don’t live in the real world. It’s like this theory I’ve been developing – you know what they always say about kids? That kids can’t distinguish between fantasy and reality. And that’s actually bullshit. When a kid’s watching ‘The Little Mermaid,’ the kids knows that those crabs that are singing and talking aren’t really like the crabs on the beach that don’t talk. A kid really knows the difference.

“Then you’ve got an adult, and adults can not tell the difference between fantasy and reality. You bring them fantasy, and the first thing they say is ‘How did he get that way? Why does he dress like that? How did that happen?’ It’s not real. And beyond that, when you’re dealing with characters, they exist on paper. They’re real in that context. I always say they’re much more real than we are because they have much longer lives and more people know about them. But we get people reading superhero comics and going, ‘How does that power work? And why does Scott Summers shoot those beams? And what’s the size of that?’ It’s not real! There is no science. The science is the science of ‘Anything can happen in fiction and paper’ and we can do anything.

“We’ve already got the real world. Why would you want fiction to be like the real world? Fiction can do anything, so why do people always want to say, ‘Let’s ground this’ or ‘Let’s make this realistic.’ You can’t make it realistic because it’s not. So basically Batman is 75 years old, and Robin is 74 years old. They don’t grow old because they’re different from us. They’re paper people.”

* Douglas Wolk talks to Gary Groth about Fantagraphics reprinting the complete Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse.

* The Infinity Gauntlet is gonna be in a Marvel movie, Thor most likely.

* Marvel Studios now has the rights to the Punisher.

* Jeff Parker talks Red Hulk. I’ll give it a shot.

* In non-Con news:

* Frank Santoro waxes rhapsodic about Matt Kindt’s Revolver.

* Every time someone from one of the big publishers chides someone for analyzing publicly available sales numbers because they’re supposedly wildly inaccurate, I think “Okay–release the real numbers, then.”

Carnival of souls: Special “San Diego Comic-Con Day Three” edition

July 24, 2010

* Someone got stabbed in the eye with a pen over a seat in Hall H. People, nothing you can see in Hall H is worth stabbing anyone in the eye with a pen over, and I say that as someone who saw the sneak preview of the Lost pilot in Hall H.

* Over at Robot 6 I interviewed Chester 5000 XYV‘s Jess Fink and Incredible Change-Bots Two‘s Jeffrey Brown about their upcoming Top Shelf releases.

* I also posted a one-page preview of Alan Moore & Kevin O’Neill’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Vol. III: Century #2 – 1969.

* Wow: Fantagraphics and Disney are teaming up to release the complete Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse comics. Given Disney’s relationships with both Boom and Marvel I’m a little surprised, but only a little. I imagine that if you walk into a conference room with an armful of the Complete Peanuts, Dennis the Menace, Popeye, Krazy & Ignatz, etc., you probably walk back out with a handful of contracts.

* Congratulations to Tom Spurgeon for his much-deserved Eisner Award win last night. Glad to see Joe Sacco pick up a trophy, too.

* Spurge’s reports from the floor continue to be very comics-focused and very entertaining. For the second time he notes bad news for Fantagraphics, this time that they were shut out at the Eisners, which Fantagraphics does not ever deserve to be.

* The women of Drawn & Quarterly. That’s quite a line-up to field.


* Mark Ruffalo is Bruce Banner and Jeremy Renner is Hawkeye in the upcoming Avengers movie. It’s a strong cast, certainly. I have to say, it’s feeling really good to have been a Renner fan since Dahmer these days.

* Here’s a trailer for the long-gestating DC MMORPG. It’s a post-apocalyptic scene in which the few surviving villains, led by Lex Luthor, basically wipe the floor with the few surviving heroes, led by Superman. I understand that a six-minute vignette in which Deathstroke strings Batman up with Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth and beats him with a baseball bat until a jealous Joker blows them both up with a rocket launcher, followed by Lex Luthor stabbing Superman to death after the Man of Steel was poisoned by the kryptonite-booby-trapped corpse of Wonder Woman, isn’t going to ameliorate a lot of people’s concerns about where DC is today, aesthetically. That said, really impressive sense of scale, action choreography, stakes, and even lighting with this thing. If you like your superheroes hilariously grim and gritty, or just wanna see what a big giant rumble with the iconic characters might look like in a semi-realistic setting, check it out.

* The red-band trailer for Robert Rodriguez’s Grindhouse spinoff Machete is almost Crank-level crazy. (Via Topless Robot.)

* I am not at all sold on the Thunderbolt Ross Red Hulk as a concept even when Jeph Loeb isn’t writing him, but Gabriel Hardman sure can draw the shit out of him and just about everything else (Atlas #3 was really somethin’), and I’ve got some faith in Jeff Parker, so I’ll check out the team’s newly announced Hulk run with the character.


* Emma Frost cosplayer hates Tom Neely.


* Darkseid cosplayer killed Jim Lee.


* In non-Con news:

* Matt Zoller Seitz gives Salt a rave review, and suddenly I’m interested in Salt.

Carnival of souls: Special “San Diego Comic-Con Day Two” edition

July 23, 2010

* My interview with Strange Tales II editor Jody LeHeup is up at Sample quote: How similar was the project to something like the Bizarro books that DC did a while ago?

Jody LeHeup: It’s very similar, but there are some very important differences. In that book, there were no writer/artist stories for some reason. For example, I remember looking at that book-which I enjoyed very much by the way-and wondering why Jaime Hernandez, for example, didn’t write the story he drew. And it was like that throughout. In STRANGE TALES the opposite is true. Most contributors are writer/artists, which I think makes for a different kind of story experience. The other difference is that there is a lot of young and new talent mixed in with the veterans of indie comics. So there’s this exuberance or vitality to the STRANGE TALES stories that I’m very proud of.

Also, Benjamin Marra, Sheldon Vella, and Ty Templeton have been added to the line-up.

* Grant Morrison is launching a new ongoing series called Batman Inc. This will see Bruce Wayne “franchise” Batman out to a bunch of people. That’s pretty rad.

* Morrison’s also writing an independent film called Sinatoro. It looks neat. “Rad,” “neat,” yes, I’m very insightful today.


* Joss Whedon is directing the Avengers movie. Unless something in my life radically changes between now and then, this will be the first Joss Whedon thing I’ve ever watched.

* Ben Jones designed an ice cream truck!


* Tom Devlin ships Kristen Bell and Taylor Kitsch. “Your show gets cancelled, you do a guest spot on a show that everyone stopped watching about the time you show up and, whammo, you’re gone. See ya later, Ex-Oh-Ex-Oh. Man, Jessica Alba would have a crazy crowd at this thing. Keep her away from that John Byrne. Ha. Is he even still alive?” Glorious.

* Your quote of the day comes from Tom Spurgeon:

I heard some complaints from fellow comics reporters that there wasn’t more media coverage of comics from people at the show. I don’t know, maybe this obnoxious to say out loud, but it seems to me if you’re media and you don’t think there’s enough coverage of comics, maybe just do more coverage of comics?

* In non-Con news:

* I was really hoping this would happen: Dan Nadel reviews Blaise Larmee’s Young Lions. It’s a fine comic, which Dan addresses; it arises from a mindset in which, intentionally or not, the discussion and aura surrounding art/artists/making art has a place of primacy over actual works of art/actually making art, which Dan also addresses. Somehow I feel like this Nate Patrin piece on music critics talking about Pitchfork reviews of music instead of the music being reviewed is relevant here.

* PictureBox has announced the winners of its Thor Know Prize contest. Here’s Jim Rugg’s submission:


* I’m serious, Zack Smith is fucking killing me. Idea machine.

* The next time you’re tempted to dismiss Direct Market comics as a cultural irrelevancy because the most popular only sell like 125K copies, think of indie rock. Way more people bought Siege #1 than LCD Soundsystem’s last record.

* Can you imagine anything more horrible than deciding who is and isn’t a real pop music fan?

Music Time: A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Nitetime Rainbows

July 23, 2010


A Sunny Day in Glasgow

Nitetime Rainbows

Mis Ojos Discos, March 2010

Buy it from Mis Ojos Discos

Buy it from

Oh man, I love that this happened. I hit play to listen to “Nitetime Rainbows,” the lead and title track for this EP (extracted from last year’s pretty colossal full-length Ashes Grammar). Immediately there’s this sonic…vista, I guess you’d call it. Alternating between high soaring notes and low humming notes, held and stretched via god-knows-what heavily processed instrument, creating this beautifully vast and glowing space in my head. And I think to myself, “Wow, this sounds like what the Rainbow Bridge level in Mario Kart would sound like if you were standing there on the starting line.” Only then do I remember that hey, this song has the word “Rainbows” in the title.

That opening section is so strong, the portrait it paints so clear and complete, that the rest of the song still feels like the slow unraveling of potential contained within the introduction. That’s the intelligence of Ben Daniels’ and Josh Meakim’s songwriting at work. Structurally, “Nitetime Rainbows” is a series of interlocking but still discrete sections, shifting from one to the other with each new instrument introduced–a Byrds-style guitar line; a beat that sounds like you’re hearing it from several houses over; ethereal chirping wordless vocals–or each element dropped–the whole jangly schmear pretty much eliminated in favor of the distant-sounding bassline from the intro, with only an echoing whirr to accompany it–or each melodic shift up or down. At long last almost everything stops for just a beat or two, until the vocals return at their clearest yet, and an insistent dunk-dunk-dunk rhythm grounds everything in a way that feels sure and certain–to quote The House Next Door, a retrospectively inevitable destination. The finish line!

What I like about this EP is the way the rest of it reflects what’s going on in the title track. “Daytime Rainbows” and its doo-doo-doing vocals and sunny guitar feels like what the title implies–a looser, freer, brighter answer to the “Nitetime” version. “So Bloody, So Tight” takes the rhythmical chiming of “Nitetime”‘s guitars off into a synthier direction, which “Pianos Lessons” follows up on even more directly, its Krautrock repetition depicting what the Rainbow Bridge might be like for the drivers.

A trio of “Nitetime Rainbows” remixes closes out the EP, beginning with the Buddy System remix, which shuffles around the original’s constituent parts. Benoit Pioulard’s impossibly huge-sounding “Acid Wash Edit” blows out the original intro into gigantic, distorted rumblings, feeding into solar-wind gusting and whistling. Finally, Ezekiel Honing’s remix strips away all the lushness and fullness, reducing it to an eerily disjointed succession of sporadic handclaps, breathing sounds, a heartbeat, a repeated two-note riff, a hum like some ancient machine, and eventually a mournful acoustic-guitar strum. It’s the “Nitetime” to Pilouard’s all-“Rainbows” remix–the starfield surrounding the Rainbow Bridge.

Does it all sound very Court of the Crimson King, very Roger Dean? It ought to. It’s spectacle, not through prog virtuosity but through sheer sonic architecture–meaning both size and structure. It’s big, big music, of the sort that invites whatever worldbuilding the psychedelic part of your brain is capable of. Since Nintendo has been my mind-alterer of choice for the past year or so, that’s what I see: a ribbon of light winding its way through space. Double rainbows all the way across the sky, folks. So intense! And isn’t wonderful that music can do that?

Comics Time: Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour

July 23, 2010


Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour

Bryan Lee O’Malley, writer/artist

Oni, July 2010

248 pages


Buy it from Oni

Buy it from

Or: Scott Will Eat Itself. The gist of this final volume in Bryan Lee O’Malley’s worlds will live/worlds will die/comics will never be the same series is that it’s an extraordinarily bad idea to reduce the people in your life, even the people who used to be in your life, to stock roles in the beat-’em-up videogame or shonen manga you’ve mentally conceived your life to be. Not only is this cruel and reductive to them, not only will it cause them trouble to the extent that you’re still in their lives and forcing them into that role when you interact, it’s cruel and reductive to you yourself, since it traps you in the corresponding role as well.

I mean, I guess that’s the gist. I’ve always had a hard time connecting with Scott Pilgrim on the personal, emotional level a lot of its ardent admirers do, mostly, I think, because I’m a creep. As I put it when discussing Vol. 5:

There’s no doubt that I’m speaking from my own experience with my own emotional life, which for whatever reason I don’t experience as a lot of rock and roll fun with the occasional bummer mixed in, even if that is in fact a more objectively accurate view of what my life has been like. Maybe it’s just a preference thing, maybe I feel like darker material more accurately reflects what is important/lasting in life/art, I don’t know. I do know that I don’t see my life as a rollicking adventure, or more accurately, something that might be a rollicking adventure were the occasional metaphorical robot fight thrown in.

The long and the short of it, especially in a volume such as this, which wraps up an entire series’ worth of emotional arcs in the form a massive, bloody (!) swordfight, is that Scott and his friends are characters whose adventures I can enjoy even if I can’t personally really understand the thought process underneath them. Like, look, O’Malley’s art has never been better than it is in this volume, which is pretty much true every time–the climactic fight scene occupies about two-fifths of the book and has oomph galore, and I think O’Malley deserves some sort of special Eisner Award for the potential Envy Adams cosplay opportunities created here. And it’s difficult to overstate the subspace corridor opened in my head over these past few years by his overall mix-and-match aesthetic, from its non-traditional, designy use of captions and text to tell the story, to its no-explanations mix of romance and action, to his often laugh-out-loud funny dialogue and sense of timing, to most especially his incorporation of videogame tropes–just a vast reservoir of completely underutilized visual vocabulary and storytelling potential. So if, in the end, Scott Pilgrim isn’t my life, I sort of feel like the last thing Scott Pilgrim would want is for me to pretend that’s the role it played.

Carnival of souls: Special “San Diego Comic-Con Day One” edition

July 22, 2010

* Comic-Con International 2010 opened up yesterday in San Diego and had its first full day today. A ton of news and news-esque substances come out of the show every year. To follow it all I’d recommend clicking here for Comic Book Resources’ complete coverage and here for Robot 6’s slightly more curated and comics-centric coverage and here for Spinoff’s movie and TV-centric coverage. Those are the sites I’m following, and of course I’m writing for Robot 6 as well.

* So far Tom Spurgeon has reported a ton of actual news about good comics right from the show floor, which is astonishing in its way. The wording’s unclear, but for me the big news from that report is that (I think) Jordan Crane’s one-man anthology series from Fantagraphics Uptight is ending after its next issue.

* Strange Tales II is on the way from Marvel, featuring Los Bros Hernandez, Harvey Pekar, Frank Santoro, Rafael Grampa, Jillian Tamaki, Kate Beaton, Jon Vermilyea and many more.


* DC Comics may move to Los Angeles. I hope they make the decision soon so that the employees aren’t left wondering for another year or so.

* Fred Van Lente is writing a new Power Man & Iron Fist book. The Power Man in question isn’t Luke Cage, but still, a new Iron Fist ongoing is fine by me.

* Is there anything lovelier in all of comicdom than a fully-stocked Fantagraphics convention table?


* I just love these screenshots from the freshly announced Marvel Super Hero Squad: The Infinity Gauntlet videogame. I’d read a comic that looked like this.




* Now Tom Devlin is writing in-character Dakota Fanning as Cherie Currie/Alexis Bledel as Rory Gilmore femmeslash as part of his previously established Edward Cullent/Michael Cera-verse. Peggy, is there something we need to be told here?

* In “sort of interesting things that might eventually happen one day” news, maybe They’ve cast Brad Pitt in the movie They might make of Max Brook’s World War Z and maybe They’ll make a movie out of Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson’s Astro City.

* Wow, someone in the Green Lantern art department sure loves the “Bodies” exhibit.


* BREAKING: Major studio manages to assemble two minutes of reasonably entertaining footage from two-hour science-fiction-fantasy-action-CGI blockbuster with teal-and-orange color scheme.

* hahahahahaha

* In non-Con news:

* Good for Alan Moore for rejecting DC’s offer to give him back the rights to Watchmen if he agreed to sequels and prequels. I’m with Steve Ditko on this sort of thing: A is A. Either the book rightfully belongs to Moore, in which case you should give it back to him yesterday no strings attached, or it doesn’t, in which case who cares. But clearly someone does care enough to feel bad about the current state of affairs, which is an indication that, well, A is A.

* Tons and tons of Scott Pilgrim music is on the way.

* Ron Rege Jr./Marc Bell jam piece!


* Does Dave Kiersh draw the sessiest ladies in comics?


* Scott Tobias’s New Cult Canon series at the Onion A.V. Club tackles American History X. I admit I did a Find for “curb” immediately upon opening the page.

* Finally, here are paintings of Wonder Woman masturbating and Spider-Man preparing to make love to Cicciolina, by Giuseppe Veneziano. “Cicciolina, Cicciolina, Cicciolina per l’Italia!” (Via Spurge.)



Music Time: Janelle Monae – The ArchAndroid

July 22, 2010


Janelle Monae

The ArchAndroid

Atlantic, May 2010

Buy it from

Here’s something I should like, right? Science fiction you can dance to! The ArchAndroid is part of an ambitious concept multi-album project inspired by Fritz Lang and involving outfits out of Klaus Nomi’s wardrobe, channeled through the idiom of contemporary R&B yet looking and sounding like basically nothing on the radio, sung by a woman with enough confidence to make even her deal with Diddy sound like “I say frog, Puffy jumps.” I stuck this record on expecting to celebrate my way through it.

But something happened on the way to Metropolis. Making my way through The ArchAndroid–which I’ve now studiously done several times, convinced I must be getting something wrong–wasn’t the Ziggy Stardust Meets the Mothership dance party of my dreams, it was an endurance test. Right up front, a big part of that’s Janelle Monae’s voice, strident and sharp any time she goes for the big loud sound, which is often. Vocals play the same role in pop music for me that a cursory flip-through of the art alone does for comics: If my ear/eye bounces off or glazes over, then to heck with it, life’s too short. That was hard to get around. So too was the lack of simple, solid melodies, hooks, or grooves. It was as if Monae didn’t trust the basic stuff of pop songwriting as a sufficient demonstration of the breadth of her interests.

And that points to the big problem with The ArchAndroid: It’s practically a case study for the perils of the maximalist aesthetic. Monae slides song into song, collides genre into genre, and just keeps adding adding adding adding adding in a fashion that creaks and growns with its effort to be Intelligent And Entertaining!!!, ultimately revealing her to be a jack of all trades but master of none. So I’m taking The ArchAndroid song by song below, an approach practically demanded by the sheer volume of stuff inside….

* “Suite II Overture”–A melodically inert orchestral introduction that serves no purpose other than to say “Look, it’s an orchestral introduction”

* “Dance or Die”–That “BadabadabadabadabadabadaBA” emceeing wears out its welcome within the first verse; Saul Williams, who knows from overlong draggy albums, is much more flattered by the pummeling production Trent Reznor lent the first few songs on Williams’s own Bowie-indebted album The Inevitable Rise and Liberation of Niggy Tardust! than he is by this boho dinner-party hip-hop.

* “Faster”–What if you hurried “You Can’t Hurry Love”?

* “Locked Inside”–Here’s where the sharp vocals really started throwing me. A perfectly pleasant chorus, and I like the MJ bridge quite a bit, but we’ve heard that a million times. Britney Spears did it! Meanwhile the verses’ real estate is just squandered.

* “Sir Greendown”–Very mellow.

* “Cold War”–“Hey Ya”‘s rhythm with “B.O.B.”‘s drum sound. That’s definitely not a complaint. For the first time, the album conveys urgency without edging into stridency. Not a knockout, but the strongest so far.

* “Tightrope”–Very tough to argue with this one. But, well, okay. That opening “whoa!” is a little much–I’m guessing that how you feel about that will determine how you feel about the whole album. As an funkateer of some 12 years’ experience I was very excited by that horn section–it’s a horn section!–but calling attention to its funkiness by just straight-out calling it funky should be my job, not Monae’s. And whoop, here comes more maximalism–funny voices for the backup vocals, a goddamn ukelele. Edit!

* “Neon Gumbo”–The “played backwards” portion of the album. Prince by numbers.

* “Oh, Maker”–AM-radio chamber pop with a beat and a melodically meandering chorus, fade, some synth-psychedelia at the end.

* “Come Alive (The War of the Roses)”–Sounds like an outtake from I’m Breathless: Music From and Inspired by the Film ‘Dick Tracy’. And not like “Vogue” or one of the Sondheim songs, either. Then there’s some screaming.

* “Mushrooms & Roses”–Lenny Kravitzian psychedelic slow jam with “Hurdy Gurdy Man” vox. For people who wished The Love Below were even longer, I guess.

* “Suite III Overture”–Mostly a piano/orchestral cover of the previous song. I prefer it! Then it winds off into a Disney/exotica thing.

* “Neon Valley Street”–Is that a mellotron? I hope so. I dig the laid-back big beat and comparatively restrained vocals here. This also reminds me of Kravitz, specifically * “Sugar” from Are You Gonna Go My Way? Again, that’s not a complaint. The chorus’s repetition of “May this song reach your heart” leaves me kind of cold, though. I think the Andre 3000 distorted-vox rap section is fun.

* “Make the Bus”–Note salad from Of Montreal. It’s goofy!!! Zany!!!

* “Wondaland”–This is cute and has a great chorus. I keep hoping she’s saying “because she left her underpants.” An underwater feel to it. Let’s throw an Alleluia in there for no reason.

* “57821”–Parsely Sage Rosemary and Yawn. The chorus harmonies are lovely though, nice echoey production you don’t normally hear on this sort of thing.

* “Say You’ll Go”–1997 dinner-party music.

* “BeBopByeYa”–1961 dinner-party music.

Trust me, no one hates that this brought out the dismissive snark in me more than I do. It doesn’t even really deserve it! Whatever she lacks in execution, Monae’s ambition is praiseworthy, and provided she doesn’t let the plaudits she’s earned for this record go to her head, there’s every reason to believe that an artist of her obvious ravenous intelligence will learn to write stronger melodies–learn to relax and rely on stronger melodies, that is to say, learn to get out of her own way and edit a bit. But what happened here is that her whirlwind sci-fi tour of a million pop traditions just left me trying to find 18 ways to say I’m unimpressed.

Carnival of souls

July 21, 2010

* I have been writing a lot of reviews of all sorts of things over the past week or so and some of my posts may have slipped past you if for some reason you weren’t paying rapt attention to my every move. Here’s what’s been going on:


* The Troll King by Kolbeinn Karlsson

* Mome Vols. 17-19 by various

* Batman R.I.P. by Grant Morrison, Tony S. Daniel, and Lee Garbett

* King-Cat #69 by John Porcellino


* Head First by Goldfrapp

* “Karaoke” by Drake (from Thank Me Later)

* Disconnect from Desire by School of Seven Bells

* Night Work by Scissor Sisters

* “Always Loved a Film” by Underworld (from Barking)

* MOON8 by Brad Smith

* “Crying for Us and Them” by Phil RetroSpector (from Mashed in Plastic)


* Mullholland Drive by David Lynch

* And I also have a new comic up, in collaboration with artist Matt Rota, called “No.”

* Heidi MacDonald notes the location of the small-press area at San Diego.

* Speaking of San Diego, which I’ll be doing a lot, I’d imagine going and not seeing a Comic Relief booth would hit me pretty hard.

* Zack Snyder has begun working on the screenplay for Frank Miller’s 300 prequel Xerxes.

* Ooh, look, a Tim Hensley blacklight poster! (Via Flog.)


* Help PictureBox fix the Thor movie!

* Tom Devlin writes Twilight/Scott Pilgrim slashfic, for some reason.

* It’s been way too long since I’ve posted a picture of Kate Winslet for no reason. Well, other than the obvious reason. (Via Jason Adams.)

Comics Time: King-Cat Comics and Stories #69

July 21, 2010


King-Cat Comics and Stories #69

John Porcellino, writer/artist

Spit and a Half, September 2008

28 pages


Buy it from John Porcellino

In the right hands, comics don’t depict, they convey. This is the advantage they have over their cousin film. The basic stuff of film (putting aside animation and abstract filmmaking and CGI for the moment) is, on a fundamental level, the recording of things that actually happened in front of the camera recording them. Those recordings can be recordings of a fiction, and they can be used to construct a fiction, and directors and cinematographers and editors and composers and effects technicians can add their interpretive gestures, but film is nevertheless a hegemony of fact. Comics, by contrast, is all middleman. Even an autobiographical comic is by virtue of being a comic not showing you something that happened, but telling you about it, the telling coded directly into the line of the artwork. It’s a gestural art form, a mime medium.

No one gets that better than John Porcellino. Most lo-fi autobio cartoonists, perhaps paradoxically, aim for maximalist effect in terms of presenting the artist’s self-conception: shaky, rough-hewn lines, clumsy character designs, everything designed to get across “I’m self-effacing!” Porcellino stays out of his own way. With his smooth uniform line weight, characterized by elegant curves and semicircles, he presents information on a need-to-know basis, usually emphasizing human figures against a minimally depicted background (like a sky) or foreground (like a car window). He’s not conveying a pose, he’s conveying in-the-moment relationships: Between himself and his wife, between his two cats, between himself and a parking lot, between the grass and the sky. This happened, yes, but he allows you to draw the conclusion yourself–this is how it happened, this is how it felt in that moment. All that empty space allows you to place yourself between those lines. The effect is immediate, immersive, and evocative, so that when the poetic writing really hits–especially those frequently powerfully sad final lines–you can all but feel that world’s weight around you.

Music Time: Brad Smith – MOON8 / Phil RetroSpector – “Crying for Us and Them”

July 21, 2010


Brad Smith


self-released, March 2010

Download it or listen to it on YouTube here

Phil RetroSpector

“Crying for Us and Them”

from Mashed in Plastic: The David Lynch Mash-Up Album (bonus track)

1086 Productions, November 2008

Download it here

Download the whole album here

I came to The Dark Side of the Moon late. Not until I was a junior in college, if I recall correctly, did countless comparisons with OK Computer finally prompt me to pick up a copy. So I have no smoky adolescent memories of listening the record in stoned and reverent awe in someone’s parents’ basement. Nor in someone’s dorm room, for that matter–by the time I got around to Dark Side I expect most of my running buddies had long since made their peace with the record. If you wanna talk about chemically enhanced communal journeys deep into the heart of Kool Keith’s Sex Style, I’m your guy, but my experience with Pink Floyd’s career-defining record has been mostly solitary, mostly sober, and mostly grown-up.

Indeed, the older I get, the more I listen to it, and the more it clicks with me. This is an album about the passage of time, the fear of failure, the drive to succeed, armchair warriors, mental illness, and death–about, in other words, my life over the past few years. And it’s not just that “The Great Gig in the Sky” sounds very different when you’ve gone through three consecutive miscarriages, though I promise it does, it’s that with age I can appreciate not just the relentlessly bleak lyrics but the intelligence of the music in which they’re packaged. One of the last great flourishings of true psychedelia–not a cheesy retro formless paisley swirl, but an overwhelming, all-encompassing onslaught of aural information–The Dark Side of the Moon‘s sound seems inexhaustible. Layer upon layer of studio wizardry and improvisatory instrumental prowess surround (mostly) simple rhythms, almost childlike melodies, and of course the disarmingly direct lyrics, cushioning the blow and making the darkness almost comforting. It’s an album to cling to, and that clings to you.

Lately I’ve listened a lot to a pair of Internet-based projects that run Dark Side through the prism of very of-the-moment musical…well, trends, you could call them, or gimmicks, or even parlor tricks given their inherently playful nature. Created first as a hobby and then as a birthday present, Brad Smith’s MOON8 is a chiptunes cover of The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety. Smith transforms the Floyd’s lush, atmospheric, (ah, the hell with it) Floydian approach into the squeaky, squelchy sound of an 8-bit Nintendo-game soundtrack. This is really really easy to appreciate on a Tumblr-meme level, of course: Pink Floyd is awesome, Nintendo games are awesome, making Pink Floyd sound like a Nintendo game is a veritable double-rainbow of awesome. One level up, and (as Smith points out) it’s a fun way to extrapolate the coincidental similarity between old game soundtracks and the proto-programming loops of “On the Run.” One level past that, and it’s a clever blend of two traditionally communal experiences: Playing video games with your friends as a kid, and listening to Dark Side in a group–in Smith’s case, with his family. One level past that, and it’s a juxtaposition of the nostalgia of your childhood (Nintendo) with the nostalgia of your adolescence or young adulthood (discovering Floyd), which in all likelihood was a recapitulation of your parents’ adolescence or young adulthood (the original audience for Floyd).

None of that would matter, however, if the music didn’t end up being so surprisingly interesting. “I like the challenge of making something large fit into a small space,” Smith told Wired. “How much expression can you get from just the three oscillators of the NES?” Certainly a big part of the pleasure of MOON8 is discovering how your favorite sounds from the original album are going to be translated into the music of Mario and company, from the power-up and coin sounds that become the cash-register noises at the beginning of “Money” to the explosions and lasers (sorry, it’s hard not to hear it that way) that replace the big epic backing vocals on “Us and Them.” But reducing peak-of-their-powers David Gilmour, Nick Mason, Roger Waters, and Richard Wright to whatever you can fit into the rudimentary tools of the FamiTracker reveals as much as it replaces. “Breathe” becomes a cheeky, bouncy pseudo-funk track halfway between the Head Hunters version of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and the underground music from Super Mario Bros.; “Time” starts like a quest and ends like a losing battle. With so few distractions, the singsongy quality of Dark Side‘s simple melodies–as simple and timeless as “Ring Around the Rosey”–comes through, unveiling a heretofore hidden aspect of the original album’s power.

“Crying for Us and Them” is in a way a similar process of addition through subtraction, coupled with addition through plain-old addition. Created by Phil RetroSpector for Mashed in Plastic, an all-mash-up David Lynch tribute album, it combines David Ari Leon’s piano-only cover of “Us and Them” (from one of those countless “Piano Tribute to…” cash-in albums) with Rebekah Del Rio’s gutwrenching Spanish-language a cappella cover of Roy Orbison’s “Crying,” “Llorando,” from Lynch’s Mulholland Drive. Once again, this is some wheels-within-wheels stuff: A cover that translates a song from one musical idiom to another, coupled with a cover that translates another song from one language to another, combined to create a new song, which is itself a tribute to the pivotal scene in a movie preoccupied with doubles, shifting identities, personal re-creation, and the flimsy boundary between the real and the unreal. And oh, right, there are the original lyrics to “Us and Them”: “And who knows which is which and who is who?”

But here, again, beyond the conceptual hijinx, something interesting is being revealed about the music. Lyrically, “Us and Them” is a song about conflict, about the powerful fucking over the powerless, in no uncertain terms. “‘Forward!’ they cried from the rear, and the front rank died”–as blunt and angry a description of war as you’re likely to find, especially considering that given Waters’ history the war he likely had in mind was the Good War itself, World War II. But musically, isn’t it romantic? That gentle groove, that crooning saxophone, that piano like an inviting breeze…the first time I heard this song, off one of my dad’s LPs back in middle school, I put it on a mix for the girl I liked, thinking it’d be a great song to make out to. In that regard it’s probably the clearest articulation of Dark Side‘s project of using warm, intoxicating music to say awful things. “Crying for Us and Them” takes advantage of Leon’s bare, pretty arrangement to reinvent “Us and Them” as a love song for real, only it’s now layered with the vocals of perhaps the most devastating lost love song ever recorded. A personal apocalypse on par with any of the Big Questions tackled by Dark Side–one just as tied to adult failure and regret. I was alright for a while, but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.