Friday, April 29, 2011

A photo of a particularly bad part of my commute to work. Total commute comes to something like 40.4 miles each way. On Wednesday, the round trip took me almost 4 hours.

I realiz that these pictures aren't hard to come by, that I probably could've used Google Earth to get something very similar (or of my entire drive), but that's not as fun as browsing some weird site and coming across a picture of one of your most groan-inducing weekly moments (often when running late for work).

original can be located here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Gone With the Wind

Last night I watched Gone With the Wind. Actually, I read comic books and half paid attention and half complained while Carrie watched it. I had never seen it before, mostly because I've never had much desire to. From the story's content to its fans to the era in which it was filmed, it never held much for me to be excited about. to be honest, I think it's way more of a crime that I've never seen Casablanca than my not caring about Gone With the Wind, and my feelings haven't changed since last night.

  Let's ignore the fact that the movie is 11 hours long and absurdly racist*, and what I took away from that movie is that everyone is crazy and horrible or stupid and horrible. I mean just the sort of people I would absolutely not be able to sit in the same room as. Not that I could afford to, but still. I don't know why people don't talk about that. Probably because it's just a movie, and when you think about it, movies rarely feature characters that act like normal people. Hell, why pay for that? Pretty much all the best movies have a characters that would make you crawl out of your skin had you encountered them in real life.

Normal people.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

 Fredd Ott's Sneeze

It took 5 days to film. It required a machine the size of a refrigerator to view and takes up about a billionth of my hard drive.
 "The star is Fred Ott, an Edison employee known to his fellow workers in the laboratory for his comic sneezing and other gags."

comic sneezing?

Monday, April 11, 2011

pic dump 4/11

Graffiti in San Francisco 

Monster fire truck

Boojum tree. Taken because I like saying "Boojum" (name taken from a Lewis Carroll poem)

From James Jean exhibit "Rebus"

Truck I was stuck behind on a freeway for over an hour. Those are mattresses.

Not surprisingly, they were pulled over. They acted like the cop was insane for doing so, and were pissed when he told them that they couldn't drive home.

The Bradbury building, one of the most gorgeous pieces of architecture I've ever seen. You might remember it as J.F. Sebastian's home in Blade Runner. It's a little hard to see in these pictures, but the things on the sides of the first picture and in the background of the second are hand wrought steel elevators. It's hard to do the building justice with my crappy cell phone pictures, but check out some better ones here.

A converted theater across the street. These are really common for downtown LA, and often overlooked in the grand scheme, considering how beautiful they can be.

Weiner cactus

and weirdly related are these three pictures. I remember when I became old enough to notice used condoms in the street. It always (and continues to) freak me out because A) it's disgusting and B) how the hell did they get there. After awhile I figured out that lots of people have sex in cars, often professionally, and it's easy enough to throw it out the window when done. Gross and littery, but still an explanation.

Currently, I live across the street from a 24 hour "adult superstore". It's a thriving business, judging by the number of people who almost run me over when flying out of their parking lot hoping to not be seen. What I can't for the life of me understand is how many of these people are buying sex toys and throwing the packaging out the window on the way home. I get why they are popular. But are people using these in the car? while driving?

I don't care that there's a porn store across the street. There are like 5 of them within a mile of my house. There's also a stripper clothing store, several organized crime fronts, 35 tattoo parlors, 5 liquor stores, a trucker academy, a Harley dealership, and a hookah lounge. I don't care about any of these, in fact I kinda like the smutty character it lends to the immediate area. 

But for fuck's sake, can we not throw this stuff in the street? For one thing, it's like super industrial non-biodegradable plastic. For another, one has the words "Extra veiny dong" written on it, which perplexes me in ways unfathomable. Enjoy sex toys responsibly, people. and the their packaging.

Thursday, April 07, 2011


 Tamanend, leader of the Lenni-Lenape. Name later bastardized to Tammany (as in Hall). A man for whom I was woefully ignorant (despite growing up on his land) until quite recently, and driving past the above statue with regularity.

Weirdly, I can talk for hours about Tomochichi, though. One of my favorite names/bridges ever.

More flotsam

 My review for Asterios Polyp. (OGN = Original Graphic Novel):

I make no secret of my love of comics and graphic novels. Trying to legitimize them as a respected form of art on the internet in 2010 is probably akin to justify movies in the mid-50s, but for some reason I will always feel that the medium is undercut by the notion at large that they are mindless and sensational. Of course, many of them are. I probably tend to prefer the sensationalistic (though not without artistry) tendencies of the superhero genre more than the subtle storytelling of the OGN (original graphic novel). But I remain an avid fan of both and a staunch defender of the merits of both. Unfortunately, the mainstream will always be harder to legitimize, and at the cost of the latter.

After I recently gave one comic book (Jason Aaron's amazing Scalped) five stars, my sister (hey, T) sent me an email that consisted of one word: "really?" Granted, that particular collection had an unfortunate name, but it remains a powerful work and one that I was amazed with. Overall, the experience made me wonder if I should start putting more effort into explaining the ratings I give sequential art, both the bad and the good, the mainstream and the OGN, if only to solidify my opinions to myself, if not to others.

David Mazzucchelli was the artist on one of my favorite Batman stories ever, Year One. Now I'm discovering that he is the sole creator (yes, even lettering!) of one of my favorite OGNs. Asterios Polyp is the kind of book that I would give to almost anyone I know, a true endeavor of creative storytelling coupled with talent and soul. I bristled at some of the storytelling, but only in a way that made me somewhat embarrassed of doing so by the end, as if I hadn't been paying attention the entire time. It is a book that takes advantage of the medium and is greater than the sum of its parts.

As I mentioned earlier, this is the sort of book I would give to just about anyone, especially someone doubting the potential of a graphic novel in delivering a great story. Unfortunately, it's also the sort of book that 95% of the people I gave it to would never read. Still, that 5% might be worth it.

I could've sworn I wrote a really good review for I Kill Giants, but I can't find it right now.  Hopefully I'll fix that in the next few days.

Speaking of magic...

My review for Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites:

One of the pull quotes on the back of this book (from the amazing Eric Powell, creator of The Goon) begins with so "I never thought I'd feel this way about anything with talking dogs in it..." which is a good place to start. This is a book about talking animals. Who are friends and solve mysteries together. Spooky, supernatural mysteries.

That sets the bar pretty low, right? Sure it does. But this isn't an All Dogs go to Heaven. There are no stoned teenagers in a van. What you get here instead is an engaging, funny, and sometimes heartbreaking tale of a band of friends (or at least neighbors) handle the unexplained as if affects their neighborhood. the characters are distinct and developed, and each story unfolds with a complexity that belies the whole talking-dog aspect of the book. And there is Jill Thompson's art, a watercolor style that fits the story and characters like a glove. As with most of the comics I like, I wouldn't recommend this for children, but I think that mystery and pet lovers alike would really enjoy this book. I ask you to go ahead and prove me wrong, if you get the chance to pick this volume up. I dare you. Go out on a limb and try something new, and I bet you'll like it.

Strange Magic

   One of my new obsessions is Joe Hill's amazing comic Locke & Key, the trades of which I've been devouring lately. Eventually, I'll get around to writing up those books for Goodreads and repost here, which is something I've been meaning to do for awhile*.The book is fantastic, but I'm not necessarily going to talk about it today. However, there's a concept within the book that's been on my mind lately. In the story, there is magic. It is old and powerful magic, and so far, it is completely unknown by the adults of the series, even the ones that dabbled in it as youths.

   This isn't a groundbreaking idea. Going back to Peter Pan (and probably earlier), the idea has been raised that if magic were real, it would only be understood or appreciated by children whose minds have not been closed by... well, prolonged existence, I guess. I think this is a natural concurrence, really.

   I feel like my childhood was riddled with this, the magic of everyday life. The night I swear I saw a ghost in a rocking chair in the top window of an abandoned house. The power of a ghost story**, an out-of-body experience... these are things that I swear all happened to me before my teenage years. There was the time I went to Europe with my grandparents at age 8, and I returned with sore, hacked-up fingers. I thought for some reason that if I left fingernail clippings all over the streets and alleys of Italy then a piece of me would remain there and imbue me the wisdom and artistry of the ages. Now, it sounds like a pretty childish and disgusting habit, but you have to think that many, many superstitions have been started by less.

   There were two places in Maryland that I was terrified of. One was an old motorcycle clubhouse that hadn't been occupied in over a decade, the other was a cluster of trees around a streetlight. These were places I was certain were haunted, or at least held the power in my mind to be haunted. Nothing ever happened there, as far as I knew, although maybe some of my siblings tried to convince me otherwise. I don't know what it was, but I would fall into a catatonic state before willingly walking through these places. Weirdly, the giant abandoned hotel down the street was more or less fine with me. But a cluster of trees.... whoo, boy.

   Obviously, things didn't stay that way. The juju of the world is replaced by cold, dry logic. Gradually, the places I was terrified of became the type of places I would venture on dares from myself and others. It was somehow a part of the maturation process. Go to the places you once feared, and once you're not murdered there, a piece of magic withers away from your mind.

   I remember the first time I worked up the nerve to check out the old clubhouse, and the worst of my fears were confirmed when I saw someone had spray painted a pentagram on one of the walls. There has been foul business here. There were sacrifices of children and unholy ceremonies in my minds eye. It wasn't until later that I realized that it was a certainty that these were put there by kids not much older than myself, and with the intent of frightening kids like me. In fact, I'd put even money on the culprit being one of my brothers, trying to secure a place where they could smoke cigarettes without me finding them.

   There's a reason that teenagers love to spraypaint that shit. Pentagrams, 3 sixes. Swastikas. These symbols all have a power unlike anything else we know. It isn't until you're older that you realize that they are just lines and mean sweet fuck all. 99% of the time you see these things, it's a dumb kid trying to evoke a gutteral response from anyone that sees them. Unfortunately, it still works for a lot of people. Remember in the 80s, there was that massive fear of devil worshipers. the story of the West Memphis Three is pretty indicative of the paranoia associated with this stuff, which now we all look at as kind of silly more than anything. I feel sorry for devil worshipers at this point, since all they can really evoke from me is a rolling of the eyes.

   Nowadays, I miss that feeling. I think that I, more than just about anyone, fought the dissipation of magic from my brain. My reading habits (consisting largely of sci-fi, fantasy, comic books, mythologies, and occult manuals) probably helped with that quite a bit. But time goes on, magic grows stale and abandons our imaginations to more material pursuits. The Wonder of the world is replaced with a much different (and scarier) kind of fear.

The more I've been thinking about this the more I've been upset. I want nothing more than the ability to continue being amazed and enchanted by the world around us. I want one day to hear my child speak and not dismiss their magic as childish nonsense. So I started raking my brain for the magic in my life, and how I perceive it. and I realized, that I never really abandoned the concept, nor did it abandon me.

There remains magic in music for me. Not in the same way I saw it as a child, where members of KISS might abduct me in my sleep, or how Jim Morrison was some kind of stupid shaman. It is more subtle than that. When I was driving the other day, one of my favorite songs, "The E Street Shuffle" came on. Not the funky album version, but the shuffling, slow version that Springsteen and the band did live. Bruce tells a story, this one about Clarence Clemons and how they met. It's a long story, and a funny one. But it ends with Bruce cowering in the doorway of a closed shop, hiding from Clarence, who he thinks is out to get him. The giant man extends his hand and, this is where Springsteen's voice is practically a whisper:

Sparks fly on E Street when the boy prophets walk it handsome and hot 
   and I almost had to pull the car over. I can hear, feel the magic in those words. I've probably heard that song two thousand times in my life, and no matter how many times I might've glossed over that line, it still has that power over me. It was there the whole time.  Ditto for the beginning of the Velvet Underground's "Heroin", which I was certain I never wanted to hear again until this morning when it floored me by complete surprise. 
There is magic in The Exorcist, when that ghoulish face appears. I know it is a special effect in a film, but that has never stopped me from shuddering when I see it. There is magic in every single episode of Pushing Daisies that drips with a charm that distills in me a nostalgia for things I've never known. 

There is magic in The Stand, when we are introduced to Randall Flagg***, and in the narrator's home (a crumbling, waterlogged hotel) in Amnesiascope.
As I've mentioned before, there is magic in so many comic books I don't know where to start.
Though fiction, these things all come from someplace very real. Stephen King has admitted that his inspiration for Walter Flagg, one of the greatest villains ever created, came Symbionese Liberation Army leader (and Patty Hearst kidnapper) Donald DeFreeze. DeFreeze was a prison escapee who convinced people to do horrible things for him in the name of justice. Horrible, but absolutely magic. Same could be said for Charles Manson or Wayne Coyne (probably not a fair comparison, but I needed good and evil, you see).

In my rambling, incoherent way, I guess I'm just trying to remind you that there is magic out there. It's not Harry Potter or satanists, but it's in the minds of you and your loved ones, and creators, and in the atmosphere at large. the next time you get a feeling, instead of listening to the adult voice in your head or to rationality, try to just go with it. Make a note of it. Tell somebody else about it. Use it to wonder at the world around us. I know it feels naive, and perhaps stupid, even. But it makes things a hell of a lot more enjoyable. Don't preoccupy yourself with life, preoccupy yourself with living.

*So I've been pretty negligent with my Goodreads account, largely because I am always reading either too much or too little. One of my hobbies lately though has been to write up graphic novels and comics, since I feel they could use a bit more legitimization. I've done a couple, and I plan to do more. Unfortunately, most of these "reviews" are just diatribes about legitimization of comic books. Anyway, maybe I'll post a few after this post.

**query: Have I told my Tockwogh Hermit ghost story story here? If not I will fix that.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

   As a kid, I think my parents tried to do what they could to make sure that there were always educational books and toys around the house for the benefit of my siblings and I. There was a 25+ year subscription of National Geographic, which remaine largely untouched in our loft* for several decades until we moved. There was Changing Bodies, Changing Lives, which was somewhat sarcastically presented to me by my brothers when I was like 9 (two years after they gave me a preemptive, unsolicited birds vs. bees talk, and maybe 23.8 months after my dad figured out that somebody had taught me the term rimjob). There were trivia books (my favorite) and keyboards and globes and all sorts of stuff. Whether or not they had any effect on us I cannot attest to. I mean, I'm sure the results varied, but I don't think rolling the globe off the top of our roof a couple dozen times taught me much about geography...
   But there was a few books that I devoured, and would re-read every couple of weeks. These were largely American history texts I've long since forgotten the names of. I'd pore over these, remembering specifics about Civil War battles and where the Presidents were born. I'd stare at pictures of the A-bomb tests and woodcuts of the Crispus Attucks shooting. I probably learned more from those books than anything else before 7th grade. There was another book that I distinctly remember showing how Samoas are made. But in spite of these amazing things, my favorite of these books was actually a science book, which is odd because I've probably never liked science as much before or since.

But this one was special. for one thing, it had one of the coolest covers ever:

   Seriously, what's not to love about that? Crazy-ass rocket ship? check. Massive, impossible-in-outer-space flames? CHECK. I think I still love this cover, and I'm sure it's the reason I ever picked it up. In fact, I think it's pretty telling that I gravitated towards a science book largely because it had a very science fiction-y cover.

   Even though I learned a good bit of physics and astronomy from these books, the real reasons I loved this book were two features. One was that on the title page for every planet, there was a great illustration of the Roman god that the planet was named for, as well as some text explaining why the choice fits. I can still picture all of these quite clearly, although searching the internet has yielded few results.

As a kid steeped in Greek and Roman mythology, this was right up my alley. I wish I could find the Pluto and Saturn ones, both of which probably haunted my dreams well into my twenties.

But there was also something else. and that was a tiny section towards the back, where aliens were discussed, and several theoretical life forms were proposed, based on the environment of their respective planets:

This was the section, the 4-6 pages in the book that I would read over and over. I loved the idea of this, creating these aliens but with at least some basis for their appearance and behaviors. These seemed like things that could be. In retrospect, this was probably my first exposure to science fiction outside of Star Wars or The Black Hole, and it probably had a more positive impact on me than anything else at that age. Maybe it stimulated my imagination, or made me want to learn more about the other planets. Maybe it provided me with a desire to hallucinate. I don't know, and don't plan to. But it was something I lodged deep into my mind and never forgot.

   None of this is that interesting, I know. What is interesting is that I always thought I was one of few that read this book. It wasn't until much later, early into my relationship with Carrie that I made a passing mention to "stovebellies" that she bolted upright and screamed "You read that book, too?"

   It turns out she grew up with the same book. Since then, we've encountered at least a half-dozen people who also grew up with this book in their houses. and what's more, all of them thought they were the only ones that read it. Usually, with something that shared amongst a generation, there's some sort of reference made to it within popular culture or something that sort of cements it in our public identity. We realize that this is material that is sharing a collective brainspace, and from there we might discuss its impact on us.

   But I guess no Family Guy writers ever had this book as a kid. But looking aounf online, it's definitely more of a widespread phenomenon than either Carrie or I ever thought ten years ago.

   I guess what I'm wondering about is if there are still books like that in kids' hands. Or even those same books. There was no reason to have this book around (I thought it came with our subscription, but apparently not), and I was flipping through it long before I was old enough to understand most of it, but it still had that impact on me. I guess they bought it for my older siblings, but as far as I know they never picked it up. Their loss, but it was supremely fortunate for me.

   It concerns me when I see how age-specific some of the books out there are. In the library, there's pretty much an astronomy book geared for every age between 4 and 15. I understand the reasons behind it, but why not just get one that's way advanced. Hell, I probably couldn't even read when I first picked it up, but the pictures were enough to get me to want to understand it. Sometimes it can't hurt to aim impossible high.

   I still buy books like this whenever I see them. Hell, I still learn from books like this all the time (a few months ago, I bought a small set of Time-Life books about Jacques Cousteau, and I'm still loving them).  I look forward to having a little critter to show these to, and maybe I'll even know enough to help explain them to him or her by then.

So yeah, aim high. It's only going to help instill curiosity in a tiny person, and hopefully within you as well. Hell, you might even be able to use it to chat up an attractive member of the opposite sex.

*I grew up in a converted barn. Read this as "attic" and not "small apt. with high ceilings"