The World That's Coming

And The Morning Seems So Grey

Something that no-one seemed to consider about this whole “living through history” thing is how utterly exhausting it is. We have, for the past two years or so, been in a political moment as dramatic and important as any since Watergate (at least; I’m sure there are those who feel what’s happening right now is more, somehow), and as thrilling as that may be — admittedly, alternate terms may include “horrifying” and “anxiety-inducing”; your choice as you may feel applicable — it also feels as if it’s an endurance challenge intended to destroy us.

The lives and livelihoods of friends and strangers have been constantly under threat during all this time, the moral thread of this country feels at times almost permanently lost, and reality often seems to be folding in upon itself as things which feel like paranoid conspiracy cliches turn out again and again to be true. (As I write, there are yet more stories suggesting with worrying legitimacy that the President’s loyalties lie with Russia, not the US, something that feels as if it really shouldn’t be true, as if that were too unoriginal and hacky.)

The upshot of this is a fraying of the nerves, and a growing weariness towards… Well, everything. There was a lot of don’t normalize this at the start of the Trump presidency from well-intentioned scolds, but how could we not? The alternative was to constantly live in this heightened sense of alarm and disoriented shock, which is an easy way to lose perspective on everything. And yet… isn’t that what kind of happened, anyway? I know that my good humor feels strained past breaking point, at times, now, and 2018 as a whole was a year that broke me — and legitimately broke parts of my life-as-was for good.

I was talking about this to a friend, recently. (Hi, Jeff.) He said that things feel different now, somehow, better in some inexplicable way that felt dangerous to try and identify for fear of simply tempting fate. I feel that, too, and the mixture of excitement, optimism and, to be honest, this beaten-down fear that, no, things don’t get better anymore, they just get weirder and worse is difficult to describe, beyond simply saying that it’s tiring. There was a time, once, when I didn’t feel so tired all the time, and I want to get back there soon.

Or perhaps that’s just age, for all I know.

January 14, 2019 Uncategorized, Writingthoughts

2018 Revival: The Sounds Of The Streets

Because I am permanently behind the curve, I only really started using Spotify last year, and used it entirely sporadically this year — which would be why the albums I bought and listened to incessantly, like this year’s Gorillaz and The Good The Bad and The Queen aren’t reflected on the below list at all, nor is my obsessive David Holmes re-binging — but here are apparently the 10 songs I listened to most on Spotify in the past twelve months. 

Goodbye, 2018. You had some amazing high points and some horrific low points. But, all told, I’m glad you’re behind me as of tomorrow.

December 31, 2018 Nostalgiaville

2018 Revival: THR Newsletter Logos

Something unusual — I do the header logos for the THR Heat Vision newsletter every week. I fell into it by accident, because I started by tweaking the logos someone else had done, and then somehow I was just doing the logos every week. It’s a surprisingly fun part of my week, even if I know my logos are far below the standards of people who, you know, do this for a living. Here are some of my favorites from the first few weeks.

December 30, 2018 Nostalgiaville, Writingthoughts ,

2018 Revival: My Personal Top 10 Comics Issues List

This one wasn’t written for publication or performance; it was the notes I made to accompany my submission to Shelfdust’s Top 100 Comics Listwhen I submitted my Top 10. (To clarify: It was specifically top 10 comics single issues, not storylines/collections/graphic novels, and it was by any definition I wanted — I went for something between what they meant for me personally and how good I thought they were.) I didn’t know that it wasn’t for publication at time of writing, because I didn’t know whether we were supposed to write note to share or not, but that just made sure that I wrote more, which is always good. 

#10: The New Guardians #1 (1988, DC Comics)

— I loved Millennium, the crossover this came from, so much that I subscribed to this (for an exceptionally large amount of money; I was in the UK, after all) before it launched. The series was a disaster, with Steve Englehart leaving midway through the second issue, but even today, there’s something special about the launch issue: A vision of socially inclusive and diverse comics that I was looking for but hadn’t found yet.

#9: The Invisibles #12 (1995, DC/Vertigo)

— The Invisibles was a (the?) seminal series for me, and this is arguably the most important issue in it; the one that introduces the true hero of the whole thing, and also explains how bad guys become bad guys. It’s very much in the whole pulp tradition, but also something that asks and expects a little kindness from those reading.

#8: Uncanny X-Men #185 (1984, Marvel Comics)

— The comic where I decided that I was going to collect comics. What was it about this? Claremont arguably in his prime, Romita Jr. and Dan Green at the 1980s best, but also the sense of it being this expansive fictional universe that went far beyond the superhero comics I’d read as a kid. This felt “other,” it was amazingly exciting.

#7: Or Else #2 (2004, Drawn & Quarterly)

— Kevin Huizenga has the honesty of an Eddie Campbell, but the formal curiosity of a Chris Ware and the heart of a Jaime Hernandez. This was the first thing I read from him, back when it was a mini comic called Supermonster #14. The reprint (that was, I think, also redrawn and/or expanded?) just cemented how wonderful he, it, and comics in general, are.

#6: Deadline #5 (1989, Deadline)

— The first issue of Deadline I bought, and the place where I discovered comics that weren’t superheroes or 2000AD. My first taste of Philip Bond, Jamie Hewlett, Nick Abadzis and Shaky Kane. This was unspeakably important to me at the time; it really felt like the world was opening up and comics were a place to explore all these things in a language I’d understand.

#5: Mister Miracle #10 (2018, DC Comics)

— No comic has ever felt like a more perfect expression of a relationship than this one, to me.

#4: Flex Mentallo #4 (1996, DC/Vertigo)

— “Being clever’s a fine thing, but sometimes a boy needs to get out of the house and meet some girls.”

#3: OMAC #1 (1974, DC Comics)

— One of the most perfect first issues ever made in comics, and also one of the most prescient pieces of 20th Century science fiction. Oddly, also released in the same month I was born, apparently.

#2: Dork #7 (1999, Slave Labor Graphics)

— Evan Dorkin writing about his nervous breakdown was (and, in many ways, still is) a shock considering this had previously been his humor anthology, but he does it with such honesty, anger and wit that it’s undoubtedly one of the best comics I’ve ever read.

#1: Grafitti Kitchen #1 (1993, Tundra)

— Simply one of the best one-shot issues ever, one of the best autobiographical comics ever — sure, he’s pretending to be Alec McGarry, but still — and one of the most honest pieces of writing about how complicated and dumb and hopeful we get when it comes to relationships.

December 28, 2018 Nostalgiaville, Writingthoughts , ,

2018 Revival: Who Is The Best Supervillain?

Another thing written for an unexpected outlet this year, and an unexpected revival — this was for io9, which asked me for a brief submission about the best supervillain. It was my first piece there for… eight years or so…? I also went to a get-together of io9 writers past and present at NYCC this year, so perhaps I’m over my weird grudge finally.

There’s a tradition in superhero comics for truly powerful beings to be beyond human morality — so, you get characters like Marvel’s Galactus, who eats planets but is somehow not evil because, hey, who are we to judge? Similarly, Marvel also has characters like the Beyonder or Michael Korvac, both of whom are omnipotent and definitely antagonists, but could they really be considered supervillains…? There’s an argument to be made against, seeing as neither are really trying to do much more than survive and learn, even if that process threatens the free will of everyone around them. Surely intent figures into deciding whether or not someone is a villain, super or otherwise…?

I really want to say it’s Darkseid, because Darkseid is obviously the best supervillain. He wants to eradicate free will, and he’s got no problem doing whatever it takes to achieve that aim, even though he’s bound by his own weird sense of honor. He’s complex, contradictory and fascinating, and he’s also been able to kill Batman and beat up Superman and screw with the entire Justice League, so he’s clearly pretty powerful. But, really, he’s not the most powerful supervillain. We’ve seen far stronger. (Nekron, for example; he could bring all the dead guys back to life as evil zombies!)

Instead, I’ll nominate the Anti-Monitor, the awkwardly-named villain of 1985’s Crisis on Infinite Earths. While his motivation and, really, personality, were somewhat unclear in that series, it couldn’t be denied that he was powerful: He was literally destroying entire universes to further his agenda of destroying all positive matter — he’s the Anti-Monitor, after all —succeeding, he killed countless versions of DC’s biggest name characters and, thanks to the cosmic laws of DC mythology, his being from the Anti-Matter universe automatically means that he’s evil. Most powerful supervillain? Almost certainly. That costume alone should earn him a place on the list, let’s be real.

December 27, 2018 Nostalgiaville, Writingthoughts , ,

2018 Revival: Con Survivor

Finishing out a year in which a lot has happened, but there’s been almost nothing happening on this site — mostly because a lot has happened. But I’m using this place as digital storage by including some writing for unusual places from the last few months. First up, this is a piece written for the launch party of Oni’s The Long Con at Portland’s very own Books with Pictures, which ended up being read aloud by the wonderful Ben Coleman.

Based on the questions I’ve been asked over the years, there are a few preconceptions about being a journalist at Comic-Con that I feel the need to try to clear up. Firstly, no; it doesn’t mean that you automatically get into all the popular panels and hang out with movie stars and eat free food, although I did once accidentally leave Hall H in San Diego through the wrong door and ended up in the celebrity waiting room, which had a spread like you wouldn’t believe, and was filled with the cast of some big blockbuster I can’t even remember, all staring at me while clearly thinking “You don’t belong here.” I was quickly escorted out by security.

And, no, being press doesn’t mean that you automatically know where all the good parties are, and it definitely doesn’t mean that you get invites and can sneak everyone in. I mean, yes, there was that time I got into a party where the band was Josie and the Pussycats from Riverdale and they were actually performing live, and everyone lost their minds, but that happens, like, once or twice a convention, tops.

Most of all, despite what I’ve just said, it isn’t glamorous. It’s glamor-adjacent, and that’s fun and strange and great, sure, but it’s also weird and uncomfortable and occasionally just very… awkward. Here’s the best example of what I’m talking about. It’s about eight or nine years ago, and through some unlikely happenstance, I’m working for a well-known weekly news magazine that I won’t mention the name of. I mean, technically, I’m working for the website of a well-known weekly news magazine, but the distinction is meaningless to anyone I tell about the job. Honestly, it was pretty meaningless for me, too; I was firmly under the impression that I had arrived in the big leagues, and that everything was going to be great from then on.

This was before I arrived in San Diego to discover that I would be sharing a room with five strangers for the next four nights. And that the room had two single beds, and we could maybe get an extra cot if we were lucky. On the one hand, everyone seemed very nice and there was only a couple of people whose work I recognized and felt embarrassed to be sharing a bed with because, really, they deserved better. On the other, I can’t emphasize this enough: We were all working for a well-known weekly news magazine — like, one of the ones that’s actually a name — and they definitely could’ve afforded at least another room or two. This was just cheap.

It also made it difficult to do work. It isn’t unusual to end up working late into the night to meet deadlines at Con, and when you’re sharing a room with five people trying to sleep, it’s not so easy to stay up, typing away, without making people mad at you. All of which explains why I ended up sitting in the foyer of the hotel, trying to write a couple of stories at ten o’clock at night one night.

So, I’m sitting there with my laptop and headphones on, listening and listening and listening to this interview, trying to transcribe it and write whatever I was writing, and I kind of half-noticed that it was getting pretty busy. I didn’t really think that much about it, because it’s Comic-Con and everywhere is busy at Comic-Con, especially hotels. And it keeps getting busier, and busier, and at one point I look up and realize, wait, everyone looks really fancy. This is odd.

It took me about another hour or so, and by this point it’s maybe 2am and there’s really loud music and the foyer is just packed, to realize that there was actually a party going on all around me and I hadn’t realized. And it’s a big party; there’s a DJ, there’s people dancing and drinking and making out and all kinds all around me and I somehow just hadn’t noticed for hours. I didn’t know what to do, because I couldn’t go back to the room, everyone was asleep and I hadn’t finished work, so I just…stayed there. And pretended none of it was going on while I sat on a couch, with various things happening literally right beside me that were very distracting. Eyes fixed on the screen. Writing. Just writing.

And then, at one point, with no warning, the music just stopped suddenly. The crowd groaned en masse, but stopped when it became clear what was going on: Everyone shuffled aside to let an ambulance crew pull a stretcher towards the elevators, and then they disappeared. No-one said a word, everyone just staring at the elevators for minutes until the ambulance crew re-appeared, with someone strapped into the stretcher.

This sounds like a downer, I know, and you could tell at the time that the ambulance crew was clearly thinking the same thing. They didn’t look anyone in the eye as they moved towards the door of the hotel, and then they paused, before one of them said in this wonderfully embarrassed voice, “He’s going to be fine!” As in on cue, the music immediately started back up, and everyone got back to partying, like the whole thing had been planned.

That is what Comic-Con is like as a journalist. Being exhausted, under deadline, surrounded by people having more fun than you, probably, and unsure whether or not you just saw something actually tragic, or if it was some weird performance art piece in the middle of a party. And, you know, also getting to see Josie and the Pussycats perform live on a hotel rooftop standing next to the cast of Arrow as they lose they minds.

What can I say? It’s really large. It contains a lot of multitudes.

December 26, 2018 Nostalgiaville, Writingthoughts , , ,

The Other Two Were With Me

I’ve been obsessed with R.E.M. again lately; I read Perfect Circle, a biography of the band, over the holidays and that has led me back to the albums I was addicted to when I first discovered them, back in the early nineties. For me, Out of Time was the entry point — I think it was “Losing My Religion” that probably piqued my interest, as it did everyone else, but I’ve always had such a fondness for “Radio Song” that I may be misremembering — but I quickly backtracked through their back catalog, becoming endlessly obsessed with Green and Life’s Rich Pageant in particular.

Of all their albums now, I’ve found that Automatic for the People and New Adventures in Hi-Fi are by far my favorites, although I have a deep love for Monster for all kinds of incidental reasons. (It was the only time I saw them live, that tour; I can’t remember who supported, but I do remember dancing in the stands when “Revolution” played, a song I’d never heard before but somehow knew.)

This middle period of theirs was my period — neither the impressive creative outburst that saw each album build on what they’d leaned last time, nor the slow decline and creative stall that followed 1999’s Up. I’m all about their biggest hits, the albums that worked as the soundtrack of my life from the end of high school through the end of college. For all my contrarian urges, I can’t deny it: when it comes to my fascination with R.E.M., I am unashamedly, proudly mainstream. When they were good, they were great.

January 8, 2018 Nostalgiaville

Here We Are In Our Summer Years

It’s been awhile, I know; June turned out to be curiously busy for a number of reasons, mostly work-related. There was a trip to LA that left me oddly… exhausted isn’t the right word, but definitely out of sorts for some time afterwards, more than I’d expected. It was a good trip, though, and something that was exhilarating during the trip itself despite the transcription and work it left in its wake. Still. June was mobbed and then it was over, somehow early, and now it’s July and Comic-Con is just two weeks away as I write and oh God where does the time go, how am I always behind, this is horrible.

**

I remembered, across the weekend, that when I was a kid, summer was a different time. Not just because of the time off from school, although that was its own reward — the laziness of those first couple of weeks, when it felt as if nothing mattered and everything was strangely unreal because time stretched out, endlessly, ahead of you — but because my dad would play hooky increasingly from work for the two weeks of Wimbledon, and that was always weirdly funny and wonderful.

My dad, you see, was a massive tennis fan. If you asked me at any other time of the year whether or not my fannish tendencies — such as they are — came from my parents, I would likely say no, but at summer, I always feel like I could draw a line from my comic book adoration to my dad’s love of tennis, which was really a love of Wimbledon. He played tennis himself, although that dropped off somewhere along the line of my childhood; I have memories of him in his shorts and his white shirt, racket in hand off to the local tennis club with an air of excitement, but I couldn’t really date them. Definitely, by the time I was finishing high school, he barely played any more, but I don’t really know why or when. Similarly, while he was an avid fan of Wimbledon, I don’t really remember him having the same interest in other tennis tournaments, and I couldn’t tell you why. Was it simply that they weren’t as available on television at the time, or something else…?

Nonetheless, Wimbledon would roll around every year and my dad would be on board. Evenings would be spent watching the matches on BBC2, which would come with lots of verbal appreciation (and advice) from my dad, and mornings would include commentary about what lay ahead that day in terms of tennis. Best of all, my dad would do that thing he never did for the rest of the year, unless there were special circumstances: he would leave his office for lunch, and come back for a lengthy period of watching whoever was playing at the time. If it ended up being a particularly engrossing game, well, that just meant a long lunch.

As a kid, I didn’t have much appreciation for tennis — I still don’t, to be honest — but there was something about my dad’s appreciation of Wimbledon that made me want to join in. Part of it was that the players became characters in this epic narrative that I watched him watch, if that makes sense: I couldn’t tell which players were talented and who deserved to win, but nonetheless I felt like each one was a particular character with defining features, and that was something that I could, and did, latch onto eagerly.

(Occasionally, I frame wrestling in this light, so that I can understand the appeal. The actual thing, all the matches and the stories and the complicated mythology, that doesn’t actually interest me at all, but when I think of it as “Oh, it’s the thing I kind of invented for Wimbledon when I was a kid, but for everyone else!” it all makes sense.)

I’m not saying that Wimbledon was some amazing bonding experience between me and my dad, because I don’t think either of us really thought it was, any more than his love of playing with my Star Wars toys when he thought I wasn’t paying attention was, or his encouragement of my love of comics (and reading in general) was, or any of a number of other things. But when summer comes, and I read online that Wimbledon has started over in the U.K., I often think about those days when he’d come back for lunch, make himself, and often me, a bacon sandwich or a roll with sliced sausage, and we’d sit down and watch Wimbledon together, happy silence punctuated by his ooooooh come ons or yes yes yes look at that LOOK AT THATs.

**

Now I really, really wish I had some Robinson’s Orange Barley to drink. Does that still exist in the UK? (One quick Google later: yes.)

July 5, 2017 Nostalgiaville, Uncategorized

No Antennas

For reasons I can’t quite put my finger on — a need for sanity and to expand my horizons, perhaps? — I’ve been switching up the stuff I put in my head recently. I’m still reading a metric shit-ton of comics, because that really kind of is my job, but this past couple of weeks, I’ve been making an effort to balance that out with prose about… other stuff, again.The thing I forgot about summer — probably because it didn’t happen last summer, when everything was strange — is that I find time to read prose, in a way that I don’t manage during the winter, or even the in-between seasons.  Right now, I’m juggling a handful of books on cultural theory and social changes driven by technology — The Ministry of NostalgiaThe Inevitable and The Industries of the Future, Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy, from the Seventies to the Twenty-First Century, with Against Everything waiting in the wings — with some purposefully trashy reading (A trilogy of Star Trek novels, which have proven to be a lot of fun) and, of course, my preferred method of information gathering these days, podcasts.

The multi-use nature of podcasts — that I can learn things and be entertained while doing other things, on the move — is endlessly appealing to me, and so I remain fascinated by good use of the medium. Current podcast addictions are Says WhoPod Save America and Lovett or Leave It for politics, The Daily for news (I listen every morning making breakfast) and Song Exploder for musical anal listening. I’m looking forward to the new season of Invisibilia and dip in and out of countless others, impatiently looking for some aural perfection that I can’t even explain if I wanted.

(No, really, I don’t know what I want from my ideal podcast; I wish I did. I’d just make it.)

Part of this is also a desire for new music, or at least, hearing new things in old music. My last couple of months has been all Humanz and Moondog and Jellyfish, and I’m not sure if there’s a connective tissue in there or not (The current Jellyfish obsession is particularly interesting, because I can hear all the influences I wasn’t aware of before; “He’s My Best Friend” is so clearly a Harry Nilsson song, but I never picked up on that before because I didn’t listen to Harry Nilsson). If there is one, I think it’s the quality of sounds, if that makes sense? What the three share is a value in the literal sound of their music, outside of genre or lyrics (or vocals at all, really): the interesting stuff to hear and unpick and embrace and enjoy. I feel like I need more of that, from new stuff or old: things to make me pause and unpick.

(Part of the impact of the Shock and Awe book has been to make me re-evaluate and draw lines between different music that I like, to try and find the connective tissue and see where the various pieces intersect; I’ve become fascinated recently with the previously unseen throughline between Big Audio Dynamite and Delakota, which means that the Clash and Gorillaz are connected beyond Plastic Beach, and makes me wonder where else that thread of… what, British cut-and-paste music culture has been, and gone? Time to revisit Coldcut, I suspect.)

May 29, 2017 Uncategorized

Somehow I Stayed Thin While The Other Guys Got Fat

And so we return and begin again, again.

Everything collided in the last year or so to keep me from updating this — work and personal stuff, house projects and an obsession with the U.S. election that turned into an obsession with everything that followed, and kind of flattened everything else out. One of the things I’ve been trying to do this year is regain the sense of perspective that just utterly disappeared last year. We’ll see how that goes.

What actually prompted me to return here this time was this article, as pointed out in Warren Ellis’ recent email newsletter, of necessary skills for the “postnormal era” that we’re now living in. It’s a fascinating list, filled with insights like “We can’t be defined just by what we know already, what we have already learned. We need a deep intellectual and emotional resilience if we are to survive in a time of unstable instability. And deep generalists can ferret out the connections that build the complexity into complex systems, and grasp their interplay.”

This speaks to something I’ve been wrestling with for awhile now — a way to escape the internet’s demand for complete and utter surety and confidence in everything. There’s something to be said for being lost, and thinking out loud, and being willing to be wrong in public.

Along those lines, I keep realizing the more I do it, how much I appreciate doing Wait, What? with Jeff — the very nature of it allows us (requires us?) to be wrong and uncertain and explore things in real time, and I think that’s necessary. The conversational — and safe — space inside the show feels more productive and helpful as a result, if that makes sense…? Uncertainty, ambiguity and a freedom to be wrong: I think this is what I’m looking for more of online, I think.

**

Current earworm:

I think I need to explore more of Big Audio Dynamite’s stuff. It feels like a step towards Gorillaz that I hadn’t really considered before. I heard this in a store the other day and thought, “Man, I haven’t heard this in years. It’s awesome!”

(Changing the music I listen to is another thing to do more of this year; I’m not sure obsessively listening to Humanz counts.)

May 22, 2017 Uncategorized