Sean Maher's Quality Control

Friday, September 30, 2005

Amoeba Records and Tim O'Brien - Saved my yesterday

So, I was all comics-pissed yesterday and needed to get it off my mind. Where to go when you're all pissed off to guarantee a mood-swing back in the heels-clicking, shit-eating-grinning, singing-on-the-sidewalk direction?

Well, for Christ's sake, of course it's Amoeba Records, the best record store in the world. God, I love this place. You can find anything. You can talk to people, who're usually just friendly as hell, or you can mind your own business and just get lost for hours.

Recently, they set up a row of computer listening stations where you can scan the UPC code of almost any CD and it'll pull up the whole thing in Winamp. How awesome is that?

On top of this, I found out yesterday that Tim O'Brien has two new albums out, and that you can get 'em at Amoeba for just eight bucks each. They're called Cornbread Nation and Fiddler's Green, the former being a good timin' collection of mostly traditional songs played with new arrangements that begin to sound almost a bit modern, and the latter being a more introspective, emotional set.

Tim O'Brien, along with Gillian Welch, is probably my favorite of the whole "newgrass"/folk revival thing that's blown up since O Brother Where Art Thou, which is kinda funny because he's like the one guy who wasn't on the soundtrack.

Quick story to explain why I love his guitar playing. The first time I ever heard Miles Davis, my guitar teacher put on "So What" and pointed out how slow and simple the solo was. That's how you know this is really good, he told me. He's good enough to play any crazy, wild solo he wants, but he holds back and picks just the right notes.

At the time, I looked at my teacher like he'd just molested me. What the hell is wrong with you? I thought. If a dude can play crazy insane solos that'll blow my fucking mind, why wouldn't he do that all the time? Why would I bother listening to the other stuff?

Well, I'm a little older now, and even if I'm no wiser I at least recognize that some musicians - the ones who really love their craft, more than they love showing off - will play in whatever way they feel is best for the song itself. If that means showing off, that's cool - some songs are built for that - but when it's gonna disrupt the story you're trying to tell or the sensations you're trying to build, a real man will chill out and play it right.

See, that's what Tim O'Brien does on guitar. It's really skilled stuff, and I love the tones he builds on that thing, but part of what makes it really exciting to listen to is that you can hear all that wild talent being squeezed into just a few notes and a riff on the melody.

Plus, I love the guy's voice. I said a while ago that I like my roots music with some smoke and booze and grit in it, and by and large I wanna hear that in the singer's voice, but sometimes I like that clear as a bell, perfect-pitch thing that Paul McCartney does. O'Brien's voice pulls off this kind of clarity without becoming syrupy and fey because there's some real heart and excitement in his delivery, and again, it's really infectious and capturing.

Finally, there's a bit in the liner notes of Cornbread Nation that really caught my eye and got me thinking:

The words "traditional" or "folk" may connote something precious or sacred, something not to be tampered with, but I don't look at it that way and I don't treat these songs like museum objects. I borrowed lyrics from one for the other, and changed melodies to suit my mood, and put some drums and electric guitars with them. Others may argue, but this recycling is traditional in my book. The great purveyors of folk music always put their own stamp on things. Like good home-cooked food, it's gonna come out a little different each time you make it.

I was psyched to read that (and, on listening to the albums, to find that O'Brien makes good on his promise), because it's seemed to me that a lot of folk and blues musicians in the last several (10? 20?) years have been in a kind of contest to see who can be the most devoted to their form, basically judging their success by how much they sound like the old-timers. Who can sound most like it used to sound back in the day, that's the goal.

Well, that's fuckin' weak. What those guys were doing back in the day was taking old music and making it new, making it their own. The way to stay true to the forms they pioneered is to repeat that process, not by aping their performances note for note. It's nice to have people like Tim O'Brien on the scene who get that, especially someone with the talent to put that stamp on each song without doing something corny or off-the-wall for the sole purpose of identifying it as his own. Make no mistake, this is folk music and O'Brien's all about it. That's what's so impressive - he's using fairly spare arrangements, fairly simple tools, to bring these old songs to new life. His amazing duet with Dan Tyminski (of The Soggy Bottom Boys) on "Long Black Veil", for example, is like no version of the song I've ever heard, but it's definitely got a strong old-timey feel.

Just really wonderful stuff, this.

This weekend is the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in the park - I mentioned it here a few weeks ago. O'Brien will be there, along with Doc Watson and Steve Earle and Gillian Welch and a bunch of other musicians I love. So I'm feeling much better today.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I'm Pissed Off Today

And here's why.

I don't wanna talk about any fucking comics today. Shit. Fuck shit cunt bitch. Goddamn ass crackin' motherfuck.

Okay, I got more cussin' to do but it's the kind of thing that'll get in in trouble with Blogger, so I'll tell you guys about two other cool things that aren't comics at all.

The first is Thomas Perry's first novel, The Butcher's Boy. This is a great pulpy book about a mob hitman who takes down a senator and goes to Vegas to collect, only to find his employers have betrayed him. What follows is classic, a man-against-the-world revenge caper with the same kind of craftiness you get playing the Hitman videogame or reading the best parts of Garth Ennis' Marvel Knights Punisher run - when ol' Frank Castle scopes out the battleground, makes do with the tools at his disposal and takes everybody out simply by planning the fight better than they did. I thought Ennis did a great job conveying the sense of military intelligence his character was supposed to have, and Perry does a similarly brilliant job with his character, the protege of The Greatest Hitman Ever (the title of the book being a reference to our hero).

The second is Restless on the Farm by Jerry Douglas. This is a good one for you O Brother Where Art Thou? fans, a diverse album by the man often called the greatest dobro player alive.

"What's a dobro?"

Basically, it's a guitar and a slide guitar and a banjo all in one. I say this based on doing no research whatsoever, except listening to lots of awesome dobro music on this CD. The disc opens with "Things in Life," a lightning-speed assault of awesome bluegrassy riffs and some nice smooth singin' from guest vocalist Tim O'Brien (whose stuff I've been loving ever since he did Red on Blonde, a great collection of Bob Dylan songs rearranged as bluegrass tunes). Then the disc does a complete 180 with "Turkish Taffee", a middle-eastern jam that makes me thing of Quentin Tarantino movies, or Desperado - somebody busting in and shooting up the joint, looking all cool and slo-mo while their bitchin' wardrobe flaps around amidst gunfire and explosions. It's smooth and stylish, very cool, and the dobro playing is still just jaw-dropping. Steve Earle sings on a great downbeat cover of Johnny Cash's "Don't Bring Your Guns To Town". A sweet Celtic melody in "Follow On". It's just a really wonderfully diverse album with some killer licks hitting you left and right, and it's the only thing keeping my spirits up today.

Ooh, and you can download two free MP3s from Amazon, too, though they're not from this album. "Fluxology" and "Randy Lynn Rag", both from the disc Everything Is Gonna Work out Fine. They're a little cornier than what's on Restless on the Farm, but still plenty fun.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

She-Hulk: The strongest Hulk series there is

Boy, I'm happy to have Dan Slott's She-Hulk coming back. I have to specify it's Slott's work on the character that I'm talking about - if you told me a couple years ago that I'd even be reading a She-Hulk comic, let alone loving it enough to scream it from the mountain tops, I'd have suckerpunched you and ran off.

But after hearing all this unbelievable hype from some messageboard friends, crying out how great this book was, I got kinda puzzled. What the hell's the matter with everyone? I thought. Why are they reading She-Hulk, for Christ's sake?

Well, it's all because Dan Slott is a very, very good super-hero writer. He's working in something of a Kurt Busiek / Mark Waid vein, very reverent towards the classic, idealized world of superheroes, and very thoughtful about what makes them work. His take on She-Hulk is one of the most human characterizations I've seen in the Marvel Universe, ever. Throughout the first "season" of the series, he had her wrestling a lot with her "weaker" identity as attorney Jen Walters. After all, if you could be powerful and muscular and sexy whenever you wanted, why would you ever revert back?

It made for a great arc - not just in terms of the character development, but also through the humor Slott found in the drama, and in some great cameos from Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, culminating in a three-issue brawl with Titannia, for whom Slott wrote the best super-villain origin story since Brubaker's first season of Sleeper.

Some argument has been made whether the series should bring back European artist Juan Bobillo, or continue with Paul Pelletier. Bobillo's style is, well, a bit more European, more impressionistic and silly, while Pelletier has a more conventional American super-hero style that put me off at first but won me over in later issues.

Frankly, I think this series will work just fine with either man. As long as Slott knows which of them he's writing for, it'll be great comics.

Bobillo's great at bringing out the silliness of the book, creating a more unique vibe and conveying a great sense of wobbling motion, almost a slapstick feel on the page that, considering the vaudvillean style of much of Slott's humor, fits the book like a glove.

Pelletier initially disappointed me when he took over for Bobillo, but by the time he'd done a few issues I started realizing that his style worked wonderfully; it was the straight man of the act, and when Slott adjusted the scripts to play to that different dynamic, it became a really crisp, clever matchup.

There are previews of the first issue of Season 2 up at IGN and Buzzscope, and both contain the same pages. I've copied them to my Photobucket account if you'd rather just read them from here.

Page 1
Page 2
Page 3
Page 4
Page 5
Page 6

The promotional text reads as follows:

She-Hulk #1
32 full color pages
Written by Dan Slott
Art by Juan Bobillo
Release Date: October 19, 2005
Price: $2.99

In She-Hulk Vol.2 #1, Jennifer Walters deals with even more bizarre legal problems amidst a bevy of guest-stars. The first one is none other than Hawkeye and no, it is not a hoax or a dream. It's the one, true Clint Barton. And Hawkeye is far from the only guest-star in this sensational first issue as the New Avengers and Cassie Lang (Titan from Young Avengers) also make an appearance.

"Just try to find a more PACKED comic than SHE-HULK," dares Slott. "You get drama, comedy, action, and adventure! Three-part, two-part, and done-in-one stories! And all the Marvel U. guest stars and old-school continuity we can cram in-- and still have room left for the staples!"

In She-Hulk Vol.2 #1, the first issue of a new monthly ongoing series, Hawkeye's fate is somehow tied into Jen's latest case. So just why is he giving She-Hulk a hard time?

"Buy this monthly comic, and we'll give you a month's worth of entertainment!" says Slott. "You've heard the buzz about She-Hulk. Now is the perfect time to pick it up!"

So there you have it. If you're somehow still sitting this one out, you may as well at least take a minute or two and read some free comics. Issue #5 of the first season is online in its entirety here, and issue #8 is likewise all available right here.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Bruce Wayne: Murderer? Or just misunderstood?

Over the weekend I read a buddy's copy of Bruce Wayne: Murderer?, the first in a four volume crossover that, near as I can tell, was the last decent Batman event.

It's old enough that I'm pretty sure most of y'all have the basic idea of what happens by now. Vesper Fairchild gets murdered in Wayne Manor, Bruce is discovered with the body and the evidence that he did it looks pretty strong, he gets arrested and continues acting all cracked out, leaving the "Bat Family" (ugh) to solve the case.

What's cool about this setup is that it brings Batman himself almost into the background. A lot of crossovers like this seem really awkward when assembled together because each individual title is trying to serve its own readers (that is, focusing on Robin, or Nightwing, or whoever's book it is) while participating in the larger Batman-focused story at the same time, and it ends up totally shoe-horned. But a big part of the conceit of this story is watching the characters from each of these disparate titles responding to the crisis in their own way. So the crossover element is actually a natural, necessary element of the tale, which is really refreshing.

Also nice is that the writing talent is pretty consistently strong here. Chuck Dixon seems to be The Man In Charge, writing what seems like every other issue, and he's given to overwriting and melodrama here and there ("His life is a story of tragedies"?), but he's a competent writer for the most part and he's backed up here by Greg Rucka, Devin Grayson, Kelley Puckett (whose Kinetic series was the highlight of DC's defunct Focus line, for me), and Ed Brubaker, who writes the only two chapters that take Batman's point of view and brilliantly teases out just what's going on in Bruce Wayne's head; an important part of the story is his silence and refusal to explain himself to anyone, and the unnerving uncertainty this creates - but it would be meaningless, really, if we had no idea what he was thinking at all. Brubaker's first-person narration is spot-on and the closing pages here are really chilling.

I've read this crossover once before, and I remember it getting weaker and weaker as it went on, totally jumping the tracks by the end, but this installment is really strong, making interesting characters out of almost all of the supporting cast. Tim Drake, Dick Grayson and Alfred in particular are all strikingly written - it gets me curious about reading some of the corollary titles, which I suppose was the entire point, from the business perspective.

A few other things from over the weekend:

Fabio Moon pointed this out, which as a regular Fanboy Rampage reader I find hilarious:

Favorite new rap rhyme, courtesy of Fatlip: "You's a idiot, missin' what the facts is / Missin' the point like a bald-headed cactus!"

Favorite confirmation of my suspicions: Matt Fraction talks a few details about his upcoming series with Gabriel Bá, Cassanova, at his blog.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fatlip: The Lonliest Punk is back!

Holy crap, I'm so excited about this! I know The Goon and Conan and Stray Bullets came out this week but even they can't compete with how psyched I am that Fat Lip has returned.

If you've ever listened to The Pharcyde, you know who I'm talking about, but if you've watched the Spike Jonze music videos DVD you know even better - several years ago, after being kicked out of The Pharcyde, he made a music video for a single called "What's Up Fatlip?", an awesome rap about being an "immature, insecure grown up nerd, has-been MC on a label that's unstable," the likes of which I'd never heard before. Rappers can be self-deprecating? They can talk about feeling low, and make it funny without the "just kidding, I'm a pimp" wink?

Seriously, I'd never heard anyone rap like that, and I loved it. His style was great, too - nice and old school. Great jangly beat. Then it seemed like he dropped off the face of the earth, and it was kinda depressing. Did he really give up like that? Did he really get chewed up and spit out like he feared?

Well, maybe for a while. I don't know what happened. But I do know that Pitchfork Media told me this:

Long-Delayed Fatlip Album Coming in November

Zach Vowell reports:
Former Pharcyde MC Fatlip has been tantalizing us with rumors of a solo album for quite some time now. Such a record became even more necessary after a Fatlip-less Pharcyde lineup released a lackluster effort last year, the group's first record since 2000. Now, after years of scattered singles and months of moving-target release dates, Fatlip's label Delicious Vinyl has announced that the L.A.-based rapper's Theloneliest Punk LP will be released on November 1. The album’s 18 tracks include contributions from Jurassic 5's Chali 2na and from kindred P-funkin' soul Shock G/Humpty Hump of Digital Underground. The set will also include a bonus DVD featuring a Spike Jonze documentary covering Fatlip's life from his Pharcyde departure to the making of Theloneliest Punk. A nice gesture, sure-- we loved Jonze's video for "What's Up Fatlip?", in which Fatlip hung out with his mom and then got kicked in the nads by a small child-- but fans will likely only be appeased by hearing these songs:

01 Fat Leezy
02 Fatlip Intro
03 First Heat
04 The Bassline
05 Today's Your Day
06 Freestyle
07 Joe's Turkey
08 I Got the Shit
09 Writer's Block
10 M.T.A.
11 The Story of Us
12 Cook
13 Walkabout
14 All on Fly
15 Lyrical Styles
16 Freaky Pumps
17 He's an Outsider
18 What's Up Fatlip
19 Dreams

Leading up to the album's release, Fatlip will tour throughout the country, with more dates to be announced soon. A finer analgesic for Theloneliest Punk's delay we cannot imagine. Dates:

10-05 Albuquerque, NM - Moonlight Lounge
10-06 Durango, CO - Abbey Theatre
10-06 Denver, CO - TBA
10-08 Lawrence, KS - Gaslight Tavern
10-09 Columbia, MO - Mojo's
10-11 Bloomington, IL - Rhino's
10-12 Cincinatti, OH - Top Cats
10-15 Richmond, VA - Nanci Raygun
10-17 Baltimore, MD - Sonar
10-19 New York, NY - Rothko
10-20 Portland, ME - The Asylum
10-22 Providence, RI - Living Room
10-24 Pittsburgh, PA - Garfield Artworks
10-26 Chicago, IL - Abbey Pub
10-28 Urbana, IL - Illini Union Courtyard Café
11-01 Seattle, WA - Rainbow
11-03 Portland, OR - Greek Cuisina
11-04 San Francisco, CA - Milk Bar

* Delicious Vinyl:

Well, I sure as to fuck know where I'm gonna be on November 4th. The Milk Bar is that DJ club across the street from Amoeba Records, right?

The Delicious Vinyl website has preview MP3s of "Today's Your Day" and "Joe's Turkey", and three or four more on his "Artists" page.

And honestly, that title's clever as hell. Given his fondness for old school, jazzy beats, a Monk reference is nice and fitting, too.

It's a time to celebrate, oh yes.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Memories & Echoes: More noble causes

My review of Ronin Studios' Memories & Echoes: Remembering World War II is up on Bookshelf Comics here.

It's a worthy cause for a comic - $1 from each sale goes to War Child Netherlands, "a non-profit organization helping children who have lived through war to cope with their experiences and ensure their healthy mental development."

Which sounds pretty important to me, in that oft-overlooked kind of way.

Also, Josh Fialkov's got an interview up on CBR today, about Elk's Run and what else lies on the horizon.

Stray Bullets is awesome. Confidential to Jason Rodriguez: Letters page, bottom right-hand corner.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

The Longest Yard: Screw you guys, I liked it

Here I am with my indie-motivated blog and my reviews that talk about structural elements of blah blah blah, and maybe sometimes I come off as an arty snob. I'm not really sure whether I do or not - maybe I'm kidding myself that this blog is more smartly written than it is - but it's worth taking a moment to share this one point, 'cause goddammit:

I love Adam Sandler!

I'm going to step aside for just a moment and let everyone get the gay jokes out of the way.





Just saw The Longest Yard last night with Molly. And guess what? It was formulaic and silly. And I enjoyed it thoroughly.

See, it doesn't matter that it's silly. Because, of course, every Adam Sandler movie is (well, almost - Spanglish was more kind of unintentionally silly), and the point is that he's charming. He's fun to watch. I like it silly.

And the formula? Frankly, it's one that I really like, and funny enough, it's a formula that preempts a lot of the "Sandler is an idiot manchild who just cares about dick and fart jokes" criticism. The formula is reassuring, it's affirming, it's positive. It's always about Adam Sandler being a jackass who has to grow up. I dunno, seems like it's only the first part that people remember. Partly because that's obviously the funnier part.

The Longest Yard wasn't the best one yet, partially because Chris Rock sucks in movies. I'm sorry, the guy's an incredible standup comedian, but he makes shitty flicks. On the other hand, Nelly was surprisingly good, I have to admit.

At any rate, there it is. I love Adam Sandler movies. I even liked Little Nicky, believe it or not (if only for the sadistic joy of seeing Henry Winkler attacked by a swarm of bees).

Off to buy comics. Cheers.

Monday, September 19, 2005

DC in December: Hard Time is a good time

The DC solicitations for December are up, and I just wanted to draw y'all's attention to a few things.

Most important is this: Hard Time is back, as promised, finally. This was a great series that suffered from being released under DC's half-assed Focus imprint. Would have made a great Vertigo book, I think, but they're releasing Season Two in the DCU, apparently. It's gonna be great; this book balanced a whole lot of great characters and plot points, keeping all those plates spinning and really building the world of the prison. Here's the solicit and the cover (which I think is gorgeous... look at the colors, how they balance the sections of the page... wheew, loving it):


Written by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes, art by Brian Hurtt and Steve Bird, cover by Hurtt.

One of the most acclaimed new series of 2004 returns! Sentenced to 50 years to life for his role in a high school prank gone tragically wrong, Ethan Harrow has just turned 16 in a maximum-security prison. He's made fast friends, earned mortal enemies, and even gotten his first kiss from a mysterious girl named Red. Above all else, Ethan's only just started to learn the boundaries of superpowers he didn't know he had. The second season follows Ethan's quest for a new trial -- and reveals the secret histories of the lost souls inside State Penitentiary. Superpowers have never been this real.

32 pages, $2.50, in stors on Dec. 7.

The two other things you gotta check out are both covers. Look at this Eric Powell cover for Swamp Thing #22. I mean, just look at it. I don't have anything else to say. Just, wow. Look at it.

And Wm Michael Kaluta brings his A game to the cover for Lucifer #69 as well. The colors aw so pwetty... I'm just getting lost in this one. Hot damn, what a beautiful month.

Ex Machina: Molly's opinion

"Good for Denis Leary. I thought he was finished, too."

"Oh, did you--"

"--Yeah, I read what you wrote in the blog."

"I was right, huh?"

"Well, we were right."


"--Half of the entries you make in that thing are just conversations we've had and you, like, condense them."

"Well, kinda."

"Don't 'kinda' me. They're conversations we fucking had; you can't tell me I'm not right. It's just like that goddamn play you wrote in high school."

"Oh Christ, let's not talk about that."

"It was all just fucking IM conversations we had on AOL. And you were all, 'Yeah, I use things from my real life.' Those were my real words, asshole! And you never copped to it!"


"Thank God you didn't do anything with that fucking play."

"Well, I did submit it to the One-Acts competition."

"Well thank God it lost."

"Okay, babe. You've got a point. Why don't you tell the people what you thought of the second trade of Ex Machina, 'Tag'?"

"Fine, I will then. Brian K. Vaughan kinda pissed me off with the first issue of the series; it wasn't that I thought it was offensive to play on 9/11 or anything - it just seemed cheap, a lame way of charging the book. I mean, who's not gonna have a charged reaction to that kind of reference? It's the kind of gesture that writers make when they don't have any real talent, and I thought that was a dumb move on Vaughan's part because he is a talented writer. So the combination seemed smug somehow, and even though it was written with skill I could appreciate, there was something about the personality behind it that bugged me.

"The second trade is a big improvement, I think. Vaughan's trivia-as-dialogue tick is either more subdued here or simply matches the subject matter more naturally; while it bugs the hell out of me in Y: The Last Man, it seems to work here. I like the cast, and I'm surprised to find the political discussions don't irritate me the way they often do in this sort of context; maybe it's because everyone calls each other on their bullshit pretty often. I like bullshit calling.

"The mysteries we're getting are also all pretty interesting. I'm digging how the artifact at the center of Mayor Hundred's powers has several different levels of intrigue - it's got questions coming out of every hole, and I'm hoping (and expecting) the answers will tie together in a similarly cohesive fashion. I guess what really makes this work is that it reads very much like a story with a beginning, middle and end, and so everything feels tight and crisp.

"And Tony Harris is the fucking man. Photorealistic art tends to really bug me, but Harris tweaks the style with enough of his own touch that it completely works. The grossout panels and splash pages are really powerfully grotesque. The characters are expressive and have a wide variety of facial expressions - the 'acting' here is really strong. It's just remarkable work and it's got me interested in checking out Starman, Harris' other long form comics work."

"Thank you, baby. Now I don't have to write my own entry in the blog today! I'll just use what you said!"

"Wait, what? Hey, you fucker - I didn't say any of that! I didn't even read Ex Machina past the first issue! Okay, so I guess I might've said that first part, but the rest is all words in my mouth. Who the fuck do you think you are?"

"The love of your life, darlin'."

"I'm gonna kick your ass when you get home from work tonight."

Friday, September 16, 2005

Rescue Me: What'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?

Comics moment of the day: Wow, Lapham finally did something with the Punisher that Ennis hasn't already outclassed. This week's issue of Daredevil vs. Punisher was really strong.

So, I just recently rented the Rescue Me DVDs on the advice of some friends.

What a fuckin' show.

Denis Leary seemed for a while like he was about finished. I really enjoyed the Lock n' Load standup performance, but when I saw the exact same jokes recycled in the first episode of The Job, I quit watching, and his roast on Comedy Central was bloodless and limp. He looked and talked like a washed up Hollywood cokehead producer. I figured it was over.

So you can imagine my surprise to see him absolutely tearing up the screen from the first scene of this series. I'm really glad to see him on his game so lucidly here. This is the best stuff I think he's ever done; his character, Tommy Gavin, is complex and shady and hugely charismatic. The more he acts like a fucker, the more you want him to find a way out of it. This is largely because Leary is more visceral and engaging here than I've ever seen him - or any television actor in recent memory.

The supporting cast is incredible as well. The group of personalities is hugely diverse but remains believable because of the similarities they all share, and pretty much every character is totally owned and invested in by the actors.

Well, the male actors. My main problem with the series so far is that none of the women are interesting or sympathetic in the slightest. Leary's estranged wife is a whining, mealy-mouthed control freak; his best friend's widow is shrewish and undeveloped. The Woman Firefighter is like Tulip from Preacher - the only point of her character is that she Must Prove Herself Equal Among The Men, but ignores that the only reason we sympathize with the men is because they have their own personalities. They are defined by themselves, not by everyone around them.

Well, that's part of the challenge she must be facing in an environment full of men, right?

Sure, but it's a big mistake to start and stop the character development there. She's more sensitive and emotionally intelligent than the men? Well, fuckin' duh. That's no compelling character trait, my friends. I'm sorry.

Bret Fetzer over at Amazon wrote, "The core theme of the show, however, is how men react to stress--how anger, bragging, competition, sex, and booze pacify their jagged emotions, pulling the firefighters together and isolating them at the same time." I think that's a brilliant distillation of the show. Wish I'd written it.

The last episode... Jesus Christ. I haven't seen anything that made me feel that dark in a while. I gotta see where this is going.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hardly Strictly Bluegrass: A hearty San Franciscan good time

Last year I got to check out one of the many great features of San Francisco living, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival at Speedway Meadows in Golden Gate Park.

This was two solid days of free concerts on four stages throughout the meadows. A backpack full of beer and a towel are pretty much all you need. Food vendors selling garlic fries provide the sustenance. And for a whiteboy, there's no safer place to get your dance on. This is one of the things I really love about country and bluegrass and every other "hick" music. 'Cause when I dance, I like to look silly as hell. I don't give a damn; I just want to have some fun and flail around with some enthusiasm. Roots music is really great for this.

So, last year I had a great goddamn time. I got to see Tim O'Brien, Gillian Welch, Old Crow Medicine Show... unbelievable fun.

This year's tentative list includes Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Ricky Skaggs, Robert Earl Keen, and Steve Earl.

It's October 1st and 2nd, and it's DEAD FREE.

Life is fuckin' great.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Local #1: Life's tough decisions

As far as I've understood it, Brian Wood's upcoming Oni series with artist Ryan Kelly - Local - will contain more cohesive elements than its clear predecessor, Demo. Where the latter was loosely tied together from issue to issue by a "superpowers in the real world" theme (which had pretty much disappeared by the end of the series), the new book will tie together each issue in at least three ways: a character who appears in every story (though she's not necessarily the main character each time), a tough choice to be made, and a series of twelve locales as the series moves around the country.

I like the idea that the series will hold together tighter than DEMO did. Also, while I'm definitely looking forward to new work from Becky Cloonan on other projects, I've been a big fan of Ryan Kelly's work on Lucifer for years and seeing him on his own, experimenting with very different, black-and-white material is great fun.

So, the issue itself.

It's been reviewed elsewhere and many folks have already mentioned that (A) it takes a format much like the German flick Run Lola Run, bouncing from the same starting point to several different possible outcomes until we get to the "right" one, (B) the city of Portland doesn't make quite as strong an impact on the story as we might've expected, and (C) Kelly's work looks a bit like Paul Pope's. So I'll move on to other observations.

The economy of the storytelling is great. Few creative teams in comics today are able to really put together a solid single-issue story, and it's nice to see that Demo wasn't a fluke in Wood's repertoire, and that other artists can similarly respond to the demands of such a story. The premise of this story is clear after the first page-and-a-half, as Our Young Hero faces a difficult situation with her boyfriend, who has a serious problem. His desperation and her conflicted response to it are crisply scripted and drawn in an evocative, almost melodious style - Kelly really seems to be swinging across each page, creating a visual mood that keeps my eyes moving briskly across the page while nailing me with a haunting image every now and then to punctuate the flow. Crafty, concise stuff.

My only reservation is that the Big Choice that our hero finally makes seems a little too easy and obvious. By the time to story has brought us to the moment of decision, we expect it and find it to be clearly, 100% the right choice. I'm hoping that as the series develops, the options available to the characters become a little greyer, a little more complex and challenging.

However, it nicely sets up the actual means by which the series will travel around the country and still include a common character, and it's a premise I always enjoy. Makes me think of Tom Waits songs about trains and getting lost and bein' broke, not knowing where to go but celebrating the ride when you can.

By and large, this looks like a very promising series, and the clincher is that new readers can "just try it out" and even if they pass on (or otherwise end up missing) the rest of the series, this stands on its own as a story.

A PDF preview of the first nine pages is available here.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bob Dylan: Yeah, I'm about 40 years behind

Well, it's finally happened.

I'm getting into Dylan.

See, every time I've been really exposed to his music in the past, the context hasn't really been right. Growing up in and around San Francisco, I've gotten really fed up with the New Hippies, all those goddamn 18-year-old white kids hanging out at the touristy bits of Haight Street and asking for money, with jewelried piercings by the dozen and leather jackets and steel-toed boots and lots of other stuff I can't afford. Head down to the college campus and there's a few hundred more, living in the campus housing on their parents' nickel while they talk about the Evils of Money and spend their allowance on pot and stereo systems on which they blast... Bob Dylan.

So every time I've really heard his music, I've had really annoying people on my mind. He's used left and right to represent the sixties in pitiful throwback movies trying to capture the True Spirit of the Movement. Given that my experience with most people who were hippies in the 60's has been pretty poor (they tend to have either completely ruined their lives or else become passive-aggressive yuppie shitheads), I don't really have any lost love for the romance of that decade. So a lot of the Dylan love has left me rolling my eyes.

Don't get me wrong, I've enjoyed the odd Dylan song here and there; I've owned his first, self-titled album for a few years now, 'cause I really dig his cover of "House of the Rising Sun," and Johnny Cash's cover of "It Ain't Me, Babe" (in duet with his wife, June Carter Cash) made me a fan of the song. But he never hit me with the lightning bolt, y'know?

But the other day, I went walking through Golden Gate Park (man, I love living so close) with the iPod I got Molly for her birthday (ha ha, she left it home!) and listening to the Greatest Hits album she bought. I'm all by myself, middle of a sunny day tromping through the eucalyptus trees, and suddenly I realize:

All by itself, "Blowin' In The Wind" is a really great goddamn song. If there's no goddamn campfire kumbaya bullshit coming along with it, that's one beautiful, well-written number.

And here I always thought it was a cliche.

So yesterday I went to Amoeba and picked up The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. (I think I'm gonna go chronologically with this.) I'm really diggin' it. My favorite track, at least for the moment, is "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". Nice combination there between the intimate, affectionate bookend lyrics to each verse and the headier, more visual and abstract lyrics he uses to fill in the middle.

Also, reading through the liner notes, I found this quote that grabbed my attention:

What made the real blues singers so great is that they were able to state all the problems they had; but at the same time, they were standing outside them and could look at them. And in that way, they had them beat. What's depressing today is that many young singers are trying to get inside the blues, forgetting that those older singers used them to get outside their troubles.

Thought that was pretty cool.

So, that's what I'm excited about today. Music, not comics. It's all right; new comics day is tomorrow, so I'm sure I'll get the blood flowing again.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Nevermore: For those of y'all who liked LOEG...

So, a while back I'm hanging out at the Isotope chatting with my good amigo Joe Keatinge and I ask him about the last good book he read. Turns out it was Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg, a pulpy novel about a detective investigating some cultish murders and finding himself falling deeper and deeper into the mystery. Lots of smart writing, dark plotting and one of the best surprise endings I've read in recent memory.

So, Joe, check this out. Last week I started reading another Hjortsberg book. It's called Nevermore, and this one's about Harry Houdini and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle teaming up to solve a series of murders that mimic the grisly tales of Edgar Allan Poe.

I'm only about a third of the way through it - reading a couple other books at the same time, and I'm a slow reader - but so far it's really fun. The opening chapter, which takes us through an ominous performance of one of Houdini's great tricks, is worth the price of admission alone. And since this is a pulp novel by an obscure author and out of print, that price is mighty low - you can buy this for a penny at Amazon.

The characterization is really sharp; Houdini's a blustering, aging showman, on a campaign against those who profess supernatural powers, proving again and again what frauds they are, and during their acts. He's infuriated by their dishonest presentation, their pretending to connect to forces beyond the physical realm. "Not so very different from what you've been doing all these years," his wife kids. "I never claimed to be a supernatural," is Houdini's reply. "Everybody knows what I do are tricks." It's a cool take on the character, and creates an interesting role for him in the book.

(Between this, and the story about Houdini in Jason Lutes' stunning Berlin, I've really gotta do some more reading about the world's greatets escape artist.)

As a concept, I really, really enjoy making fictional characters out of historical figures. It economizes the storytelling really well, and it builds on feelings and thoughts the reader already has. I'm a big sucker for folks who take something legendary in some way and make it real, make it personal. Eric Powell's recent Billy the Kid miniseries did this just a little bit, too.

Spend the penny on Nevermore; it's fun reading.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Casanova: New "most anticipated book"

Matt Fraction and Gabriel Bá on a sci-fi lookin' book about a bad guy, at a reduced price (like Ellis' just-released Fell)?

And this is the ad?

Fucking sold.

Spring 2006?

Fucking pissed.

EDIT: This morning I'm listening to Marbletown by the bluegrass band Blue Highway, which I picked up for a mere six bucks at Amoeba. The vocals are a tad too polished for my taste - I like my roots music with some whiskey and smoke, a weary traveler singing about long days on the road, that sort of thing - but damn, these bastards can play. The instrumental track - "Three-Finger Jack" - is two minutes of some of the best banjo and mandolin playing I've ever heard. Can't stop tapping my toes to this one.

More weekend for you folks, eh? Enjoy it! I'm gonna try and make some money.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Daniel Merlin Goodbrey: Tomorrow's renaissance man?

I'm confused and enthused.

I'm wandering about CBR and come across a six-part webcomic of sorts by Daniel Merlin Goodbrey - the fellow that did The Last Sane Cowboy and won the Isotope's mini-comics award - and this new one is called Sixgun.

What could it hurt, right? I know the guy's minicomics are clever and trippy and original, so let's try this one out.

An hour later, I've run my mouse through the padding on the mousepad and am carving a groove in the desk, navigating the comics left and right and underneath and around...

This isn't just a webcomic, see - it's a hypercomic. Which means in this case that Goodbrey is busting ass to push the boundaries of how we tell stories; a drunken evening, for example, is recounted in short scenes and moments that connect to "index" images, which in turn connect to other index images that lead to more short scenes, the context of everything creating an impression, a mark in the reader's imagination, that pulls it all together. That is, the form of the story becomes part of the story itself; it's the kind of thing William Burroughs was working on in his cutup-style prose.

It's also really cool because it involves the reader; the comics are laid out in such a way that you have control over how you physically move through the comic. You wanna go front-to-back, linear style? You can do that, though you might be missing the point a bit. You wanna start in the middle and work outwards? Do it. Start at the end and move back? Jump around all nimbly pimbly? Go for it. It's a trip. And it's kind of a game, too - every time I think I'm at the end of one of these, I realize there's a whole path I didn't even notice the first time through and I've got twice as much to read as I thought I did.

Plus, Abraham Lincoln in a chainsaw fight.

So, thoroughly stimulated and entertained and puzzled, I mosey on over to Goodbrey's official site,, and I get this--

--which leads me to look for this--

--which kinda makes the decision about what to write about today easier. 'Cause Jesus, that's intense. And there's a lot more.

Also, per some advice from Tom Waits, I was listening to this:

It's been a strange morning, I'll tell you that much.

I've got some exploring to do.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Children of the Grave: Continuing my skyrocket to fame

Can't write much today - please forgive.

But I do wanna say how good it feels to get this in the mail--

--and turn it over to find my name in print, on the back cover, as a quoted reviewer. (Damn, I need a scanner or a digital camera or something.) Y'all might remember me taking a look at this title back in March, when this bloggin' thing was all new-fangled and confusing to me.

Well, it still is, but it sure feels friggin' good to see such a sight. Got that interview printed in Elk's Run #3, too... happy days!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Fabio Moon: School's in session

You might know the name of Fabio Moon from the recent Smoke and Guns graphic novel - I do - but he's also recently started what looks to be a series of short lessons on comics art over at the Isotope Virtual Lounge. Some of the lessons so far:

I'm loving this.

Interview: World Conqueror Rob Osborne

Hope y'all enjoyed your three day weekend, meaningless as it was to my working-every-day-of-the-week ass. Honestly, I don't really miss the damn things, because in return, I haven't had to set myself an alarm in a month. I just wake up, crawl out of bed and update Quality Control, then make myself some breakfast and figure out how to enjoy the next few hours before I have to go to work.

And I look forward to going to work, which I don't really remember ever feeling in my life.

It's a pay cut, after all the hoity toity office administration stuff I was doing before, but I gotta say - so far, it's well worth it. Waking up in the morning and looking forward to everything coming your way? Unbelievable. I can't wait for more - I'm headed back to school in the spring and that should kick my ass to untold regions of space. Point is: take the plunge and do what you want to do, even if it's scary. This message comes to you from a middle class white twenty-something who never went hungry a day in his life, so, y'know, that grain of salt thing.

Where the hell is the comics content, douchebag? Quit stroking yourself!

I'm totally psyched about Rob Osborne's upcoming book, Sunset City, and just to prove it, I interviewed him for Bookshelf Comics. It's up now, and I'm thrilled with how it came out - that Osborne, he's an interesting guy. Take a look, everybody.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Promotions Week, day five: Interviews

Before I get into today's post: I meant to mention yesterday the blog that Brian Wood has set up for his upcoming Oni series, Local. It's a neat way to sell the book, the angle they're taking being very personal and more about what the concept of the book means to the creators in their own lives, and thus making the reader go through the same process. Plus, there's a story about a drunken mistake, a man and a woman fighting, and a sock full of quarters.

Now this is a step that requires some connections and a little moxie, but if you can do a really strong interview and get me to read it, it'll often sell me a book right then and there.

You're facing a lot of the same trouble as the preview material, sort of a bootstraps situation - I'm not gonna read a big, expansive interview with someone I've never heard of, right? Leastwise, not unless you open with a wicked hook. So consider that, going in.

But once you've got me on the page, there's a lot of ways to get me interested enough that I'll be looking for your book at the local comics shop.

You might tell a personal story that lends some interesting background to your comic, like Kirsten Baldock did in this Sequential Tart interview to promote Smoke and Guns, recalling her time as a cigarette girl in San Francisco:
"The company was run like a covert operation. Every week the girls had to call a voicemail to get their assignments. I tended to work Wednesday through Saturday nights.

On those nights, I'd show up at the office around 8:30 pm and knock on the door for about 15 minutes before anyone would answer. And by answer I mean someone would yell through the door 'who is it?' If I got lucky it was someone who I'd worked with before and they'd let me in. Otherwise it was back to knocking."

Perhaps you're working on a Marvel or DC book and you've got a lot of expectations bearing down on you about the time-honored characters you'll be caring for. If you're Dan Slott, with an upcoming series about the ever-lovin' blue-eyed Thing, you're more than prepared to rise to the occaision, and charm the hell out of your readers with an interview style that suits the character:
"This isn’t going to be dark like Arkham Asylum: Living Hell or GLA - or feature the meta-concepts of She-Hulk. This is going to be a book about two-fisted adventures - starring Aunt Petunia’s Favorite Nephew, and a few of his super-powered poker buddies!
Benjamin J. Grimm has come into a rather sizeable fortune. The idol of millions is now worth billions! He’s gone from a rocky fella to a Rockefeller!"

Or maybe you're a big fuckin' deal already, and you just want to get people talking. I gotta say, this interview with Garth Ennis had me flipping out when he wrote about his upcoming projects
"Another 'Kev' series from Wildstorm, featuring Carlos Ezquerra's best art in years; a third Punisher special, 'The Tyger,' drawn by John Severin; 'Nick Fury in World War Two,' six issues by Darick Robertson; a four-issue 'JLA Classified' arc featuring Tommy Monaghan, effectively the lost Hitman story; a new book from Avatar called 'Wormwood,' starring the Antichrist (he gets a bad rap); 'Back to Brooklyn,' a crime book with Jimmy Palmiotti; a new creator-owned ongoing book with Darick Robertson, 'The Boys'; a western called 'Trail of Tears'-- a much darker, more brutal book than the one about to come out; and just started writing a new limited series for Axel [Alonso] at Marvel. Very pleased with it so far. Finally, of course, there's the regular 'Punisher' book, which is just about to start a new storyline, 'The Slavers.'"

(What, no City Lights?)

All very different styles, all well-suited to the specific needs I have as a potential consumer of their work. Excellent.

That's all for this week, ladies and gentlemen. Thanks for tuning in, enjoy the holy hell out of your weekends, and I'll catch up with you on Monday.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Promotions Week, day four: Blogs & Mailing Lists

Hey, you don't have to just be talking about your goddamn comics all the time.

A lot of creators and publishers create great promotional outlets for themselves with blogs, columns and mailing lists.

What I like about this is that the promotion becomes something worth my time in and of itself - I don't have to be invested in your comics to enjoy the promotion. This is pretty damn adventageous for the folks who pursue it, because while I'm sure it takes a hell of a bigger time investment, it's a great way to get your hooks in me; if I've been reading your blog or been on your mailing list, I've gotten to know your style, and if I dig it enough to read pretty frequently, I'll probably take the time to track down whatever comics you put out.

Jason Rodriguez is a blogging champion. The Moose In The Closet is an experimental storytelling device, a "blovel" as he's called it, and it's fantastic. Every day, he opens his post with a comics shout-out - whether he's pimping his work with Hoarse and Buggy (publishers of Elk's Run), letting his readers know what books he's digging that day, or what have you - and follows it up with a personal story from his past. The stories are generally really goddamn funny, more often than not painting a great picture of Jason acting like an idiot, but he gets a serious side that becomes more interesting because of its contrast against his usual humor. This is probably my favorite blog.

Of course, Warren Ellis' Bad Signal mailing list is a lot of fun. Though it can be wearying sometimes to weave through the messages about his latest cell phone or what he's been watching on television, it's worth it for the brilliant drunken nonsense, the occaisional "flash fiction" short, the "behind the scenes" discussion of what kinds of ideas he's working on, and rumor leaks such as he made today - apparently Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba are working on a comic in the same format as Ellis' upcoming Fell, which sounds really goddamn interesting.

Some comics stores do a great job with their blogs. James Sime keeps The Isotope Communique updated with local cultural events and exclusive comics material (as well as pointing to stuff the rest of us might have missed elsewhere); it's a wild, enthusiastic mix of material that does a great job representing the kind of vibe you'll find at the store itself. And I discovered the store in the first place by reading about the Ed Brubaker Armwrestlethon in James' excellent CBR column, The Comic Pimp.

I also regularly enjoy Brian Hibbs' Savage Critic, because while he can be a grouchy reviewer, he and Jeff usually have some sharp, succint points about the comics they read - they shoot straight from the hip. Again, you get a good idea of what the in-store experience is like from the online persona.

And then, there are the columns I'll read because I'm already a fan of your work or interested in your stuff. Erik Larsen and Robert Kirkman both recently launched columns on CBR, and I'm looking forward to where those go.

Wheew. I'm tired today. This ain't a game, and blogging ain't easy.

Just ask Graeme McMillan.
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