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Showing posts with label 2012. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2012. Show all posts

Thursday, January 17, 2013


Van Halen: Van Halen II (Warner Bros., 1979)

Growing up I had an inherent distaste for bands like Van Halen, as their music seemed to be the soundtrack to every unpleasant encounter I had with the jockos and trendoids in the halls of my high school.  I do remember kind of liking the video for "Hot for Teacher," because, after all,  there's nothing wrong with Sexy Teachers.

It wasn't till after college, when I was working in a warehouse in DeKalb, that I realized there may be more to Van Halen than I'd previously imagined.  A co-worker brought in a cassette of Van Halen I, and that sucker played in an endless loop while we ran the glass cleaning machine.  At first it was kind of an ironic affection I had for the cornier or more theatrical tunes on the album, but at some point I realized: "I, too, have been to the edge; and I, too, have stood and looked down."

It wasn't enough to get me to buy any of their records, but I did begin listening more closely to their songs when they appeared on the Classic Rock station.  And once I did it didn't take long to recognize: "These songs are good songs."

Flash forward twenty years.  I'm living in the gritted-out villa of South Beloit, Illinois.  One of my prime sources of entertainment is digging through the $5 CD bin at Wal-Mart.  LO, there is Van Halen I;  there is Van Halen II.  I'd been eyeing their various Greatest Hits CDs in the Wal-Mart racks for some time, but I just couldn't bring myself to purchase an album with Sammy Hagar on it.  I knew Van Halen I was primo from start to finish, and when I looked at the track listing for II, I recognized "Dance the Night Away," and "Beautiful Girls" as hits, so I thought, "Why Not?"

I came home and put the CD in my boombox.  Snaky lines of phased bass drifted out, followed by volume knob swells of electric guitar... then...  the whole band erupts, and -- Wait -- "You're No Good" is THAT "You're No Good"?  The old tune made famous by Linda Ronstadt?   I guess I never listened to the lyrics.  "I broke her heart, simple and true -- I broke her heart over someone like you..."  Oh, I see.

Then "Dance the Night Away."  In a more angry phase of my life I'd cynically consider this a pander to the radio.  But when you can simultaneously get skinny guys with half-formed mustaches to go to your shows AND get their hot girlfriends to sit on their shoulders there, you're doing something right.  This is an absolute pop gem.

"Somebody Get Me a Doctor" is the song that made me really consider exploring the Van Halen oeuvre   Worried that post-I records would be filled with... filler, I checked out some album tracks on YouTube.  Nope, the album tracks rocked too-- Case in point this balls-out rocker about how difficult it is to maneuver through a crowded bar when you have a hard-on in your pants.

"Light Up the Sky" is some kind of hysterical, brilliant warning about TV Sets that brings the energy of punk to whatever this is... Metal?  Not really.  Hard Rock?  I guess.  But hard rock with all kinds of subtleties, tricked out chording, and songcraft.  Then "Spanish Fly," a nylon stringed solo by Eddie that fades into the raunchy puke of "D.O.A."

"D.O.A."  This is the prime cut for me.  This is what makes Van Halen so fascinating to me.  A lot of hard rock bands posture about toughness, both their own, and the toughness they face in the world as outsiders.  You don't get the sense from these songs, though, that Van Halen thinks they're tough.  If anything, they're more self-deprecating and sly.  They escape hairy situations with their wits, not their fists.  But here's the thing-- sometimes they don't escape hairy situations.  Sometimes they have to face up to them and just simply survive somehow.  Hence, "Ain't Talkin' Bout Love."  Hence, "D.O.A.," with its admission of being "broken down, dirty, dressed in rags / since the day my mama told me boy you pack your bags."  And perhaps the most haunting line in any hard rock song of the era-- "They found a dirty-faced kid in a garbage can."  That dirty-faced kid isn't kicking ass on the world, he's getting his ass kicked by the world.  And that, I think, is why Van Halen is so appealing to me.  It seems more real, more honest, than most hard rock bands.

Also, I have to say here, Van Halen were definitely listening to punk, definitely affected by punk.  And bands like Black Flag, who were contemporaries, were no doubt affected by Van Halen.  There are plenty of riffs, moods, and phrases here, in songs like "D.O.A.," that would not be out of place on Loose Nut, or In My Head.

Then "Women in Love...."  Was this song a radio hit?  Because it could/should have been.  If not, that just goes to show you how smokin' hot this record is.  And "Beautiful Girls," another classic.

I'm the kind of guy that's pretty obsessive.  Van Halen II was the only album I listened to for about the first half of 2012.  And I never got sick of it.  Five Stars.

T. Rex: Electric Warrior (Reprise, 1971)

Another Wal-Mart $5 Bin score.

Of course I grew up hearing "Bang a Gong" on the radio, and then in the 80's I had some kind of cheapo British various artists LP with "Jeepster" on it, and "Ride a White Swan."  But it didn't affect me too much.  I never got into the whole "glam rock" thing really, so I felt no real necessity to try to understand Marc Bolan/T. Rex, the father/s of Glam.  If anything, I only knew that he was some kind of UK teenybopper sensation, and didn't he make a movie with Ringo?

Don't know why I bought Electric Warrior at Wal-Mart that day.  I guess in intervening years I'd heard enough tales about how influential Bolan was to figure he warranted a checking out.  I still had never really gotten into the Glam Rock thing, but I did have a sensory affection for that kind of warm, pastoral/electric vibe of early seventies rock, so I thought I'd give it a shot.  Whoa!

I love everything about this album.  The hooey-gooey lyrics that are nonsense sharpened with a hidden knife; the mesmerising production: ringing acoustic guitars layered with fat, warm electrics, that crazy backup singing that is so crazy it fits like a glove; and the tunes-- bare bones rock n roll boogie in a kinetic, and somehow hazy but utterly cutthroat groove.

Then there are the songs like "Cosmic Dancer," which leaven the playful sexuality of the album with an honest and deeply felt sense of loss and decay.  That $5 Electric Warrior sent me off on a Bolan tangent that I'm still joyfully exploring.

T. Rex: The Slider (Fat Possum reissue, 1972)  

Bolan and Company didn't sound unconfident on Electric Warrior, anything but-- but here on the followup, they sound positively ecstatic.  There's not much new ground broken-- the groove of the previous album is only honed to a finer point-- but what a point!  A song like "Telegram Sam," which on its surface seems just like a "Jeepster" retread, is instead a laser-focused word painting that is impossible to resist. (I'm no dancer, but it's impossible to sit still while listening to this music.)

Bolan manages to utilize the tropes of rock n roll, the adolescent sexuality and primitive rhythms of it, but still maintain a kind of wide-eyed innocence and warmth that no doubt contributed to his enshrinement by teenage girls.  Soaring, anthemic tracks like "Metal Guru" coexist perfectly alongside ballads like "Main Man" and "Ballrooms of Mars." And "Buick Mackane" deserves to be #1 on anybody's hit parade.

De La Soul: Buhloone Mindstate (Tommy Boy, 1993)

After their buoyant, dazzlingly inventive, breakthrough debut, 3 Feet High and Rising, rightfully considered one of the all time hip-hop classics, De La Soul countered with De La Soul is Dead, a darker, more conflicted album.  Their third LP, Buhloone Mindstate rekindles the warmth of their debut, but filters it through a more mature, jazz/soul-based sound.  Although filled with humor and playfulness, the overall feel of the record is more contemplative and patient.  Working live with Maceo Parker's group, Mindstate even features an extended all-instrumental jazz interlude among the vocal tracks.

The scene criticism of De La Soul is Dead is still present in "Patti Dooke" and "Ego Trippin'," but the group's anger here is tempered with wisdom and maturity.  They sound rejuvenated, and as dedicated as ever to following their own path.  As the album title references: "It might blow up, but it won't go 'pop'." This is De La Soul at their best.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

(Some of my) FAVORITE COMICS OF 2012

It may be that 2012 was the year comics reached saturation levels, at least in my brain.  Not only could I not afford all the comics I wanted to buy (nothing new), I couldn't even find the time to read all the comics I did buy.  There's that much great stuff out there now.  And this was the first year where I had to decide between not just two, but three festivals taking place on the same date.

Plus, 2012 was a weird year for me, in that I feel I had even less time to read comics than usual.  I was on the road a lot, and when I was home I was often slogging through a hefty history of World War II instead of reading comical books.  Also, depression.

What follows is a list of some of my favorite comics I read this year.  Please note that a lot of books I'd imagine would have made this list have gone unpurchased (Pure Pajamas, Out of the Shadows) and/or unread (Infinite WaitThe Voyeurs) due to the factors above. Fantagraphics in particular released a slew of titles late in the year that coincided with me going broke -- The HypoHeads or TailsThe Cartoon Utopia, etc. -- that I'm really looking forward to reading.  Well, that's what 2013's for, right?

* * *

In no particular order:

Apartment Number Three by Pascal Girard (Colosse)

This was my favorite comic of 2012.  Girard's squiggly, lovely line is put to perfect effect in this short and funny story of a young woman who becomes obsessed with discovering the identity of the overweight, bearded hermit in the basement of her building.  Turns out it's noted cartoonist Pascal Girard.  This wonderful little comic makes me laugh every time I read it.

By This Shall You Know Him by Jesse Jacobs (Koyama)

Following up 2011's stellar Even the Giants, Jacobs' second book continues his playful, mythic, open-eyed examination of suffering and beauty, with this tale of bumble-headed and not very altruistic beings who create and destroy worlds for fun, pride, and vengeance.  It's to Jacobs' credit that such heavy themes can be addressed in a wonderfully humorous manner, and his trippy but rock-solid cartooning is a joy to behold.

The Complete Talamaroo by Alabaster (Hic and Hoc)

In this age of pretty-but-empty comics, it's a rare delight to find a book as beautiful as Alabaster's Talamaroo that still holds up when you read it.  The charming cartooning inside belies the very thoughtful and human crises of faith and understanding that these little furry creatures go through.  Plus, it's funny.

1999 by Noah Van Sciver (Retrofit)

Noah is a great cartoonist who's constantly striving to become better.  His creative ambition and drive shows in everything he does, and his ability to write characters that are gently shaped but fully formed is remarkable. This short story, about a 90's loser who finds some kind of love before discovering that it's tough to be a winner, is his best work yet.

"Fly Like an Eagle" by Carrie McNinch, from Three #3

Carrie McNinch is mostly known nowadays for her excellent diary comics, which are some of the best we have.  It's nice though to see her stretch out here, with an extended look at her adolescence and the growing realization that she's gay.  Funny, moving and very real, this is certainly one of the stories I enjoyed most this past year.  And it's in full color!

X-ed Out by Charles Burns (Pantheon)

I've always enjoyed Charles Burns' work, but I had no inkling of the spell this recent book was going to cast over me.  The follow-up to his monumental Black HoleX-ed Out brings the masterful chops he developed over that decade-long project to bear on the more surreal (and funny) traits of his earlier work, and the result is this treasure house of comics.  Weird, biting, and deeply personal, I can't wait to see where this story goes-- I haven't been this excited about a comic in a long time.

Captain America Omnibus by Jack Kirby (Marvel)

In 1976 and '77, The King of Comics, Jack Kirby, returned to Marvel, the publisher he carried on his back for a decade, and to one of his original characters, Captain America.  This giant collection compiles a couple extra-length Annuals, the epic (and originally oversized) Bicentennial Battles, and his complete work on the monthly Captain America and The Falcon series.  This is Kirby Unleashed, from the period where he was writing, drawing, and editing his books, and this run on Captain America is everything we've come to expect from him-- nutty dialogue ("I'm going to do what SHIELD expects of me--!  But not before I've had a new hair-do!"), crazy villains and monsters, giant, beastly machinery, and delightful double-splashes all over the place.  Cap and his buddy The Falcon tangle with The Night People, The Red Skull, and bio-engineer Arnim Zola (the man with an ESP Box for a head), and every page is a delight.

Haunted Horror (series) edited by Craig Yoe (IDW/Yoe Books)

This new series of Golden Age Horror reprints is edited by Craig Yoe and released bi-monthly, so I have a good reason to head on down to my local comics shop on a regular basis!  Beautifully printed, with great old kooky comics by the likes of Simon and Kirby, Jack Cole, Jay Disbrow, and more, these lovely books are a steal at 52 pages for four bucks...  I em a heppy heppy ket.

Happy Hour in America #4 by Tim Lane (self-published)

The artist behind Fantagraphics' Abandoned Cars quietly continues releasing this amazing "one-man anthology" that is unlike anything else going in comics today.  Drawing equally from hard-boiled pulp, the beat writers, and Dick Tracy, Tim Lane makes comics that are ruthlessly violent, openheartedly sincere, and packed full of his deeply personal explorations of American Myth.  The latest issue features a bloody edition of his ongoing Belligerent Piano storyline, a journalistic look at a homeless tent city in St. Louis called Hopeville, and a few other short stories, "In My Dream," and "Diary of a Second Class Citizen."  Few artists working in comics today have the drawing chops Lane has, and couple that with his impeccable, gritty taste, and you've got a singular talent that's humbling to witness.

Notebook Drawings by Jim Rugg (Adhouse)

Not comics, but it might as well be -- for as fun as it is to look at -- this book reproduces Jim Rugg's eye-googling drawings that he draws in cheap, spiral notebooks, with ball-point pens.  (See examples here.)  Cheap, spiral notebooks, with ball-point pens.

After School Special by Dave Kiersh (Teen Pulp)

I've been watching Dave's comics develop since he was a teenager. He's one of those artists that has a kind of single-minded drive towards a deeply personal ideal, and his work is a shifting examination of recurring themes:  the loneliness of lust, the lostness of adolescence, and the decay of time.  After School Special, which he self-published via a Kickstarter campaign, is in many ways the culmination of his whole career up to this point-- in it he's absolutely nailed the essence of his obsession.  Everything he's done, most of it excellent in its own right, has led up to this point.  Brilliant.

July Diary by Gabrielle Bell (Uncivilized)

If you're like me, you want to read everything Gabrielle Bell puts to paper, including, and maybe especially, her great diary strips.  In July Diary she sets herself the goal of doing a page-long comic every day for the month of July, and she succeeds admirably.  Like most cartoonist's diaries, it's interesting to peek behind the scenes at her methods, process, and even her personal relationships with other cartoonists, publishers, and friends; but Bell is such a strong writer she ultimately transcends any simply voyeuristic motivations in the reader--  her gently intelligent and thoughtful search for meaning is inspiring and heartfelt.

* * *

Lastly, a tip of the King-Cat Cap to Fantagraphics, for completing their amazing publishing runs on E.C Segar's Popeye, and Herriman's complete Krazy Kat Sundays.  Cartoon aficionados the world over thank you!

Thursday, November 15, 2012


So, Sunday, I had a reading to do at R. Sikoryak's CAROUSEL series, where cartoonists perform their works.  But before that Julia, Tom Kaczynski, Jon Lewis and Karen, Domatille, Julia Gfrörer and I all went to that one place we always go for breakfast.  I made damn sure to get a copy of the receipt!  Then we walked over to the amazing Desert Island shop and ogled the goods, and I went to do the performance.

At breakfast, Julia Gfrörer and Tom Kaczynski explain to Domatille who the Great American Philosopher Ayn Rand is.  Domatille is like "WHAT???"
(Photo by Julia Wertz)

Tom K. and John P. at Des I.
(Photo by Julia Wertz)

CAROUSEL was very cool, with readings by Nine Antico (France), Sikoryak, me, Dongery Collective (Norway), Fremok (Belgium), and Molly Colleen O'Connell (Baltimore).

Afterwards I was wandering the streets in a funk, taking pictures.  I was so busy feeling sorry for myself, I didn't even realize that that was Gabrielle Bell walking towards me (below)!

Gabrielle and Steve saved the day by taking me to the art supply store.

At the store I impulsively bought a tiny rubber Bald Eagle for my girlfriend.  I named him Obama, and kept him in the palm of my hand.  Stroking his back kind of calmed me down.

We walked together to the Soloway Gallery for the Blexbolex/Richard McGuire/Olivier Schwaren exhibit.  The gallery wasn't open yet, but who was that peering into the window longingly?  It was Blexbolex himself!

We took him for a walk through Brooklyn, over the BQE, down Metropolitan, and I showed him my eagle Obama, the symbol of our great nation.  We were standing at the stoplight on 4th Street, and when it turned green we started across--  but a loud little import was roaring down 4th Street right at us!  We jumped back in a panic and the car squealed and slid to a stop, smoke pouring from its tires.  I showed Blexbolex the eagle, and told him that the Spirit of American Exceptionalism had saved us.

At the Gallery:  Richard McGuire's Popeye and Olive drawings.


Olivier Schwauren.

More Blexbolex.

L-R: Dre Grigoropol, Patrick Porter look-a-like Peter Larsson, Blexbolex, Ben Catmull.

At the gallery I noticed that the rubber eagle had a small stamp underneath reading "CHINA," so I renamed him Romney.

I went back to Julia's to watch the Bears lose to the Texans, and lick my wounds.  I was beyond depressed.  I needed to come up with a better plan.

Got up the next morning and said Fuhgeddaboudit, I'm going home.

Fog on the bridge.

It started pouring buckets of rain in Western Pennsylvania.  I poured out my heart to Zak, and talked football with Porter.  The miles rolled by.

I feel like I defied the laws of physics in doing so, but I started the day in New York City and ended the day back in Chicago.

Sweet Home!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


I have to admit, I was plenty burned out on traveling when I left for the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival last week.  I was in a financial sinkhole, and I was itching to draw again to find out whether I really was a hack, as I was beginning to suspect.

I headed out Thursday afternoon, and made it as far as Brady's Leap, Ohio, before settling in for the night.  In the morning a crescent moon greeted me.


Sunrise over Western Pennsylvania.

Whistling along to "Yours Is No Disgrace."

Got lost briefly on the New Jersey Turnpike and then made my approach to NYC via the Staten Island bridges.  Above: the Goethals Bridge.


God Bless America­­™.

I have a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.

Made it to Julia's place, where I had a stand-off with her baby squirrel, Jack.

Next morning went to the venue and set up, it felt good.  Above:  Spit and a Half table, BCGF 2012.

The crowd was insane all day.  At one point it was so hot and humid that the books on my table were curling.

Got to say hello to my hero, Matt Groening.  Aw Shucks.
(Photo by Robin McConnell)

Tom Spurgeon visits.
(Photo by Robin McConnell)

The festival was incredibly busy, with people at the table non-stop...  At 6 PM Box Brown covered me for five minutes so I could go pee and hurriedly buy the Michael McMillan release from Picturebox.

After the show, I was frantically running around trying to pick up books from people for the distro.  As I was walking downstairs, I noticed this dude...  "Is that...?" and on the way back up he looked at me like "Is that...?  It was.  It was Aaron Cometbus, and we made plans to go get tamales for dinner.

Aaron and I have only met in person a few times, but we were like old friends.  It was nice talking to a guy who knew the ups and downs of the zine life so intimately.  We had a good chat and rambled over to my car, where we said so long.

I got back to Julia's and this is what I had to put up with.

Jack sat down on the chair, and I sat down on the couch to add up the day's haul.  I was stunned to find I had only netted $140, and that was not subtracting the tolls.  A wave of dread washed over me.  I laid on the couch wondering where I went wrong in life, and then I fell asleep.

G'night Paul.

PS:  I want to be clear:  mentioning my low financial take shouldn't imply the show wasn't great -- it was!  There was a great turnout, strong programming, and steady sales all day long.  I'm chalking it up to a few things:  I usually schedule several revenue-generating stops when traveling to the east coast, to dilute the cost of getting there, and I didn't do that this time;  I traveled alone, so had no one to share gas costs with;  most of my sales are distro sales, which means I'm only taking home 40% of the revenue;  and I sell my own comics for $3.00.  C'est la guerre...