The Importance of Being Idle

By now, I’ve got San Diego Comic-Con coverage down to a fine art. (Writing that ahead of time, as I’m doing, is tempting fate; for all you know, I might actually be having a mild nervous breakdown as you read these words.) I’ve been covering the show as press for more than a decade at this point, which is honestly somewhat surreal to think about, but it’s also allowed me to have a reasonable sense of what is needed and when, and how to do it. I actually — as shocking as it may be to actually admit — enjoy the show now, working it and the surreal experience of the whole thing, and the pressure of work that comes with it.

Part of that is, mind you, that the amount of work I do for THR, who I’ve been covering the show for for the past few years, is significantly less than other outlets. (The io9 days, I still shiver when remembering.) That’s not to say that I’m not actually working, mind you; it’s just that I know what I need to do and I know I can do it. The stress level is significantly lessened from previous visits.

There was, however, one year when I really did pretty much do almost no work at the show. Or, rather, I didn’t do anything immediately. I was working for an outlet I won’t name for fear of embarrassing anyone related to it, but the decision had been made that the approach to coverage would be very different on that year, compared with others. The many of us who were attending on behalf of this outlet were tasked with three things:

  1. Posting images and brief commentary on the outlet’s liveblog throughout the show.
  2. Interviewing people for stories to be written and posted after the convention.
  3. Working on a large thinkpiece-type story to be posted after the convention, but focusing on a trend or news story that we found at the show.

As if this didn’t seem breezy enough, midway through the show, I discovered that the third option was off the table, meaning that I could pretty much wander around, talking to people who seemed interesting and taking the occasional photo, and that counted as work.

At this point, I’d been to Comic-Con as press perhaps four or five times, and each year had been a shitshow in a series of new and increasingly ridiculous ways. Suddenly, I was given this surreal gift of being able, essentially, to have a vacation at Comic-Con. It was an utter joy, and even as it was happening, I knew it would never be this good ever again.

(Yet, despite the above, I still think that Comic-Con 2018 was the highlight of all my years at the show.)

Those Were The Days, My Friend

It’s the first day of San Diego Comic-Con 2019. (Well, it’ll soon be Preview Night, technically; but that’s the first day, really.) As you read this, I’ll be in the air on the way to the show itself, but I thought I’d share this piece of Comic-Con ephemera — me on Preview Night 2008, looking every bit of the excitable nerd that I was back in the day. (Look at that smile.) I’m pretty sure this is the first year that I covered the show as press.

Please, Just Leave Me Be

Watching the second season of Killing Eve, I had the most unexpected sense memory. Despite the fact that I, too, have been to many of the glamorous locations in the show — despite not being a psychopathic assassin with exquisite dress sense — it wasn’t seeing Villanelle or Eve wandering the streets of Paris or Rome that made me feel the pang of nostalgia, but instead a scene of Villanelle lying on a hotel bed, MTV on in the background.

There was a period in my life where I was traveling more than I do these days — which is to say, barely, and only ever for work — and I’d find myself in hotel rooms in countries where I didn’t speak the language on multiple locations. Every single time, I’d end up finding MTV on the television and basically living with that as the soundtrack to my stay.

It wasn’t the music that I wanted, many times just the opposite, with me complaining internally about the videos on rotation — MTV Europe still favoring music videos at the time I’m talking about; I don’t even know if it still exists. What I wanted, simply, was the voices saying words that I’d understand. It grounded me in a strangely reassuring way, despite how banal and meaningless what those words might be when strung together in that particular order.

I would rarely actually watch what was on MTV. It was background noise, there to reassure and little else. It became the sound of me being out of touch with the world and needing something to ground me, just a little.

With that in mind, the fact that I found myself searching out, and being disappointed by, MTV the last time I was back in Scotland and on my own for a few hours feels as if it’s saying something important. I’m just not entirely sure what.

But It’s Brilliant Anyway

It was a tradition that happened every July 4, for a number of years: My putting on Elliott Smith’s “Independence Day” in the morning, and enjoying the repeated “Everybody knows,” as if it’s some kind of mantra that completed the day the same way that Christmas only truly becomes real when I’ve listened to Low’s “Just Like Christmas” or Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody.”

It’s not a song that’s actually about July 4, of course; the only one of those I can actually think of comes from Holiday Inn, a genuinely wonderful song with at least one genuinely terrible moment of cringeworthy racism: The blackface number, “Abraham,” which also happens to be one of the most catchy songs of the entire movie.  But nonetheless, “Independence Day” became something that I did for years every July 4, just for myself. A newly created tradition I gave to myself when I arrived in the States and enjoyed the day for the first time, and the following years. A way to make the holiday mine, as opposed to finding it off-putting and alien.

(As someone who came to the States, the patriotism displayed on July 4, or at other specific times and situations, can be disorienting and confusing, if not accidentally disturbing and/or hilarious.)

This year, I listened to it again. The first time in years, as it happened; it felt like something I needed to do, a promise to myself fulfilled. I didn’t realize how much it meant to me until I heard that “Everybody knows, everybody knowseverybody knows,” with the harmonies gliding in, once again.

Cat, People

Recently rescued from what, I assume, is now a dead and gone Flickr account, this is Lunacat. (“Luna,” for short; it was, as you might imagine, her full name to begin with, but then “Lunacat” took root and replaced it.) She was a stray who followed us home in San Francisco, years and years and years ago — it was close to 15 years ago, if not more — and ended up living with us all the way until her death, after Portland had become home.

She had cancer, in the end. In fact, these photos are from her surgery to remove a tumor, when she was given six months or so to live. (That’s why she’s been shaved so oddly; it’s where the surgery had taken place, and also on her leg, where the IV had been put in. It’s also why her neck is so big; it was a side effect from the anesthetic.) She survived for years after that, too stubborn to give up, and too filled with love to say goodbye.

Losing her was, still, one of the saddest periods of my life, and I still miss her all the time. Pets become part of us in a way that few people do, perhaps.

Ignorance Is

As odd as it may be, I can remember the first time I thought to myself, Maybe this internet is bad after all. I was writing Fanboy Rampage!!! at the time, diving into the nascent comics internet every morning for pearls and/or the opportunity to snark and express my disdain and pretense of moral superiority, and that brought with it some interactions that were less than fun. (It’s strange to consider that something I did 17 years ago created enmity that to this day plagues my career, but there we go.)

These days, the idea that the internet isn’t a good thing feels oddly universal and widely accepted. For all the good that it’s done — and I genuinely believe that it has done a lot of good — there’s this general agreement that, really, when it comes down to it, the internet has been a net loss for humanity. And I say that as someone who only has the life that I have right now because of the internet, for better and worse. (Almost entirely better, I’ll be honest.)

I do this thing every Thursday and Friday — realistically, it’s more like “a little bit on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then a chunk of my Thursday and Friday,” but we’ll keep to those main days — for Wired which is officially called “While You Were Offline,” and unofficially called “Internet Week.” It’s basically a round-up of things that people have been talking about online over the past seven days, and in the past two years, it’s become increasingly political because, well, the world.

Every week, I basically search out some of the dumbest, most banal and occasionally some of the most fascinating things that people are talking about on the internet, and every single week, I find myself surprised by just how much of everything is out there. There’s always something (multiple somethings) to feel shitty about, it’s true, but there’s almost always something good to be found, too. Some random act of kindness, almost certainly, someone sending an unexpected message that can change — can save — someone else’s life.

There days, I find myself focusing more on the latter, at least personally. There’s so much shittiness everywhere, and it’s so easy to be cynical and pessimistic. More often than not, I find myself looking for the things that can put me back to the mindset before I realized, Wait, could this communication medium be bad after all.

Hope You’re Gettin’ Out More Now Your Roof Ain’t On

Am I the only person who has incredibly vivid memories that almost definitely didn’t happen? For the past couple of days, I’ve had this memory-that-probably-isn’t stuck in my head, of me in New York City in 1999 — this part isn’t the impossible part, I was there, back then — wandering the streets and listening to Lilys’ “Cambridge California” on headphones. I can remember with astonishing clarity the coldness of the streets, the busyness and the awe I felt at the scale of things, and very clearly and specifically, the Lilys track at 1:28 below.

I’m almost 100% sure that is something that didn’t happen, because I remember specifically buying that Lilys album on that New York trip and yet, being unable to listen to it until I got back home. (I can’t remember why; did I not have a portable CD player at the time?) I remember the frustration of not being able to listen despite my utter fascination with the band, brought on by the then-recent “Nanny in Manhattan” single, and, instead, listening to both David Holmes and Primal Scream on repeat throughout the entire trip.

Nonetheless, I could close my eyes right now and be right back there at the time. I could tell you exactly what it was like, as if it had definitely happened. Memory is an impossible, strange place.

Returning To The Scene Of The Crime

There has to be a word for something that isn’t quite nostalgia, but is nonetheless the feeling of being overwhelmed by your past.

I visited an area of Portland yesterday where I hadn’t been since a particularly emotionally turbulent time, and as soon as I started seeing familiar landmarks from that period — stores I’d walk past often, crosswalks that became signposts to certain locations — I found myself not just remembering that time, but reliving it surprisingly, uncomfortably, clearly. The emotions of the time were in my head again, the difficult and unpleasant feelings of shame, guilt and certainty that I was disappointing and upsetting people. Out of nowhere, bam: All flashed back, purely because of my physical location.

Even stranger: I was momentarily disoriented and had a second of thinking I should be somewhere else, somewhere I haven’t lived since even before that time. I knew it wasn’t true, I knew that I shouldn’t actually be there, but there was this… pull of guilt, almost, that I wasn’t there. It’s difficult to explain.

Is this PTSD? It sounds ridiculous to ask, but that was how it felt at the time, suddenly and surprisingly reliving a bad part of my past. If it’s not that, then it has to be something else. There has to be a word.

Who Knows Where I Came From

I’ve become obsessed with the idea of identifying artists being responsible for my visual sense. The idea came from a talk that Lucasfilm Creative Director Doug Chiang gave at Star Wars Celebration, in which he made an offhand reference to Ralph McQuarrie being the man singlehandedly responsible for his visual sense. It’s likely a simplification that just so happens to play into the Star Wars of it all — McQuarrie being the artist behind the iconic concept paintings that every fan of a particular generation is all-too-familiar with — but the idea has stuck with me, and left me wondering who my visual artists would be. Where does my sense of visual information come from?

I go to obvious personal touchstones, instinctively: Julian House and Rian Hughes as graphic designers (Chip Kidd, too, but I often overlook him for some reason); Dave McKean, Kent Williams, Gustav Klimt and Mark Rothko as illustrators or visual artists. Martin Parr’s photographs. Eddie Campbell’s comics.

But all of those ideas feel too late — I discovered most, if not all, of those people when I was in my 20s. Who and what was essential to me before then? The answers are almost entirely comic-based, unsurprisingly, and the answers are for the most part faintly embarrassing to me now: John Byrne was the comic artist to me through, at least, me being 14 or 15. I remember his Superman and his Legends as being as if I was seeing those characters for the first time, and although I was too young to have read his X-Men when it was coming out, Classic X-Men felt iconic and “right” when it reprinted that stuff for my generation. He has to be recognized as being a core part of my visual sense to some degree, even if I feel a level of embarrassment approaching shame to think of it now.

Other early options are more obscure, if no less fundamental. Jose Ortiz’s work appeared in all kinds of British comics that I read, and his casually grimy work felt real in a way that few other things I saw did, or even could. Slightly later, and post-Byrne, Steve Yeowell’s Zenith felt like a revelation with each new series through the third — to this day, I still thrill at the memory of his brushwork, or his seeming unerring ability to know when to use tight, controlled linework instead of something messier and more expressive.

It feels to me as if there’s a hidden component in there, but I couldn’t tell you what it is, or even where it would be. I’m sure it’s going to be something I’ll keep picking at for some time. Once you start retracing your steps like this, it becomes a preoccupation that’s hard to undo.