“What Is Going to Happen, Seeds of Change”

There are songs that are connected, forever, with particular moments and particular emotions; “Seeds,” from Camille’s most recent album (as I write this), is one of these for me. It helps, I guess, that I listened to this song on repeat at the particular time I recall with such clarity whenever I hear this — but there was something about the lines (and the delivery thereof) “How can you serve them?/How can you spoil them?/How can you trade them? How can you grow?” that made me feel as if I couldn’t breathe and needed to cry at the time.

I remember wandering the streets, walking back to where I was staying at the time, feeling at once disconnected from everything I thought about myself and what I wanted out of life — really intense, emotional existential crisis stuff that I’d been ignoring for years — and the sun was setting and I was just listening to this again and again and again. It had come on randomly, and I’d be lying if I said that I’d paid too much attention to the song or even the album it had come from before that. But at that point, it felt as if she was singing directly to me with a code I couldn’t break but could tell was important.

The strength of the memory to me is surprising, synaesthetic. I can remember my legs aching, the hunger in my belly at the time; I can feel the feeling I had at the time as I struggled with the everything in my head and what it might mean for me in the long run. All of that plays in me again when I hear this song, each time, with the verse feeling as if the tension is growing, just constantly ratcheting up until the glorious release of that chorus, the way her voice breaks free of everything being restrictive in what came before.  Each and every time I hear this song, there’s such a beautiful, freeing sense of escape to be found in it. In multiple ways.

In Transit

I remember telling a lot of people, at the time and in the immediate aftermath, that last year’s San Diego Comic Con was a very strange and emotional experience for me, but what’s interesting looking back at it was how true that was without me realizing it at the time — but it was San Diego that crystalized a lot of feelings that I was having about where I was (and wasn’t) in my life, and just as importantly, opened my eyes to the potential that was out there that I hadn’t really allowed myself to really think about before. I’m very self-conscious about it, to be honest; who has a week of emotional epiphanies at a comic book convention? The answer, I’ve learned, is me. I’m not sure if these images are actually both from the flights to and from Comic-Con that year — they almost certainly can’t be, that’s almost too perfect that I had them on my phone — but in my head they are, and that’s pretty much all that really matters, in a strange way.

The Big Question

Following Stone’s indictment on Friday, Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani scoffed, “Another false-statement case? God almighty.”

But it is unclear if the special counsel shares that view. While Mueller has not accused any American of criminally coordinating with Russia, the lies meticulously unspooled by his prosecutors over 20 months have not been mere quibbles.

They have documented various falsehoods by Trump advisers that masked efforts by people in his orbit to develop inroads with Russia and leverage that country’s hacking of Democratic emails.

The remaining question — for both Mueller’s team, as it works on a final investigative report, and for the American people — is why.

Did the president’s men lie to protect a still-hidden dark secret about the campaign’s interaction with Russia, engaging in a broad effort to obstruct the probe — one that included perhaps even Trump?

Did they lie to avoid diminishing Trump’s victory by acknowledging Russia played a role in his election?

Did they each lie for their own reasons, taking their cue from the president — who has told many whoppers of his own, including about Russia?

From here.

“So Many Ways To Pass The Time”

I wish I could explain why this song has been in my head so much recently. Not even the song; it’s literally just been the wan chorus, weak even by the standards of Suede, a band whose choruses have always been weaker than the rest of the songs that surround them. But it has, despite the fact that it’s likely been close to a decade since I purposefully listened to the song before looking for the video for this post. Sometimes, nostalgia works like that — part of your brain fixates on something of little to no consequence, and you’re just stuck there.

This song, despite itself, reminds me not of the era it comes from, but my walking some distance through San Francisco a decade or so later, listening to it and other Coming Up-era B-sides as I went through the city that was still new to me at the time. The feeling that being lost was a wrong turn away at any given moment, but the airiness of this song and the sunshine of the moment making me feel as if nothing could really go that wrong no matter what. It’s a happy memory, one that deserves better than this song, really, but we don’t get to decide what connections get made. We just surrender to the maps made inside our brains and move forward from there.

See What’s Become Of Me

Watching people compare their 2009 looks to their 2019 looks on social media has been a strangely disorienting experience, not least of all because the photograph I’ve been using of myself for whatever official purpose necessary — judging the Eisners last year, for example — are from earlier than 2009. What can I say? I… don’t age…? Or maybe that’s just the story I tell myself.

(To be fair, it’s not like I have publicity photos, per se; I don’t like being photographed, at all, and the one I’ve used so often was simply taken on a trip that I thought I looked reasonable in. I think it’s probably from 2007 or so, if memory serves.)

I have aged, of course. It’s just that it doesn’t feel like something that is particularly visible, for the simple fact that I’m bald, and I have been since before 2009.

There is something genuinely liberating about having no hair. Think of the decisions about haircuts and styles I’ve avoided, not to mention the haircut disasters I’ve missed, if nothing else; I’ve thankfully managed to skip out on having ill-advised moptops or dye jobs purely because they weren’t possible. (Otherwise, I know they’d have happened, sadly.) As heartbroken as I was upon discovering my baldness, via an errant photo of the back of my head about 20 years ago or so, I’ve never quite gotten to the point of wishing I had hair again, or pretending it was still there. No wigs for me, friends.

With a lack of hair, however — or, more likely, a lack of receding hairline — comes a strange kind of agelessness, where people seem unable to guess how old I am, and I look essentially the same now as I did 10 years ago. Or, at least, I did before I grew a beard; a 2018 addition that was part sad-beard and part wanting to make a change, it has all the white hairs and age that would otherwise be on the top of my head. People keep telling me it suits me, which is nice, but that could simply be manners and politeness.

Either way, were I to put a photo of me from 2009 and one from 2019 next to each other, I suspect people wouldn’t see a fine aging or anything similar; instead, they’d say with some justification, Oh, I guess he grew a beard.

2018 Revival: OMAC Essay

This only went up on the Shelfdust site a week or so back, despite my having written it in… October? November? I can’t even remember at this point. Internet deadlines can be weird, here’s an essay I wrote to accompany the Shelfdust Top 100 Comic Issues list. It’s kind of a mess — I was in a very strange frame of mind as I wrote it — but I like it anyway.

The very first page of 1974’s OMAC #1 tells the reader exactly what to expect; the opening narrative capture explains the set-up for the entire series as Jack Kirby starts the book in media res: “OMAC One Man Army Corps is the story of a young man in The World That’s Coming!!” it starts. “In that strange place, the common objects of today… may become the terrors that we never bargained for… like the one below!”

Kirby gets a lot of shit for his writing tics, all the weird emphasis and “random” “quote” “marks” where it doesn’t really seem to make sense from today’s point of view, not to mention the irrepressible momentum of it all; it’s a million miles away from the stylized, self-conscious thing that passed for naturalism in today’s mainstream comics, and for that reason alone it’s often criticized or targeted as a guilty pleasure. But it’s genuinely amazing stuff, as immediate as the best pop music and featuring turns of phrase or ideas that are wonderfully memorable and memetic decades before anyone knew what that word meant. OMAC is filled with so many examples of this kind of thing, from “The World That’s Coming!!” to Lila the Build-A-Friend, who pleads “Put me together… I will be your friend…” prompting OMAC to respond, “Where does humanity stop and technology begin? We no longer know, Lila…”

The techno-suspicion of the first issue is wonderful, and wonderfully prescient; Buddy Blank’s discovery that the one person in the world who was kind to him was just an artificial intelligence — although, again, this was decades before that term would enter popular usage — feels like a predication of the relationships formed through social media and the ways in which they can turn out to be not as real as some hoped for, or believed. But Buddy, the nebbish alter ego of the One Man Army Corps who essentially disappears from the series midway through this first issue, is what makes it feel like Kirby knew what The World That’s Coming!! was like more than most.

There’s a scene in the issue, where Buddy is wandering aimlessly through the halls of “Pseudo-People, Inc.,” the dehumanizing corporation he works for, having been bullied. What initially seems like a Marvel-esque origin story — is he the loser that no-one understands? — gets turned on its head by a subtlety and ambivalence that Stan Lee would’ve jumped away from in fear. “Maybe Fox is right,” Buddy thinks to himself. “I’m angry enough to flip out!” A page later, he says to himself, “I’m not angry at anybody… I just feel depressed, that’s all…”

OMAC #1 has all the hallmarks of a Kirby comic that people would expect from reading his Marvel work, and arguably even the majority of his Fourth World material — it’s visually bombastic, it’s fast-paced and dynamic and filled with astounding concepts that are at once ridiculous and utterly perfect. But at the heart of it is a character who feels honest and true and recognizable to so many people today: A character who is somehow more real than the milquetoast nerd stereotype of a million other comics by that point, who feels alienated and abandoned by a world around him that’s hypnotized by the toys and the technology at its fingertips, and who — most importantly, perhaps — doesn’t get a last-minute vengeance or score-evening moment of redemption.

Instead, Buddy is swallowed up by that same technology, against his will. He isn’t changed into OMAC by choice, or even an accident; he’s chosen by an authority he isn’t even aware or, and once “Omactivated,” is essentially a different person altogether: He’s more violent, more confident; a version of the cliched alpha male. Buddy is murdered by the state so that OMAC can live, if you like.

OMAC as a series is great; it’s got everything you could want from 1970s Jack Kirby, who is undoubtedly my favorite Jack Kirby. But OMAC #1, taken on its own, is something far greater than what followed; it’s a sneaky, but perfect, horror story about the world that we live in today, and the ways in which the everyman — “Buddy Blank” is a poetically perfect name for someone who could be all of us — is powerless to resist against its lure of techno-distraction and authoritarian control. 44 years after it was published, it just continues to feel more and more timely with each new reading.

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.