All Along

I had a plan, at the very very start of this year, that this would be a year when I’d start drawing again. It was very much a “plan” that I liked in theory more than practice, given that it lasted just one day before I abandoned it — I meant well, what can I say? — but it was something born of a real desire to do something creative for myself throughout the year.

This is, of course, also the year when this website kept failing, for reasons that were technical and beyond my understanding, never. Ind my control; as a result, the site was down for a few weeks a couple of times, and then the entire month of October. That last one was the one that really mattered to me, because it was the one that lasted and the one where I stopped writing here for an appreciable amount of time… and when I realized that this was the “something creative for myself” all along.

I’ve been thinking about my history with writing over the past few months; the loose-leaf sheets when I was a student that were versions of what I’d do here decades later, the zines I made when I was doing my Master’s degree, the reports and newsletters I wrote for various jobs and purposes in the years after that. I’ve been writing pretty continuously for more than a quarter century at this point, shifting (while in art school, ironically) from visual communication to written and training my brain to get better at that even when I didn’t realize that’s what I was doing at the time. Writing is my process now. It’s what I do.

With that in mind, I thought that perhaps my 2024 plan should be to get a notebook for writing in. That doesn’t feel right, though; now, if I’m writing for myself, I want to do it here. When I didn’t have that option for a month, I felt the loss. Now that everything is back to normal, I want to take advantage as best I can… at least until my next personal retrospective changes my mind all over again, I guess.

…I really should draw more, nonetheless.

Holiday Mood

When I was a kid and thought that I wanted to work in comics — basically, my entire teenage years, if I’m honest — I found myself utterly fascinated with the idea of newspaper comics. I’m not entirely sure why that was the case; there really wasn’t much of a tradition of newspaper strips in the UK by the time I was a teenager, beyond the obvious American imports, but over and over, I imagined scenarios where I’d be responsible for writing and drawing a newspaper strip on a regular basis. (To the point where I almost submitted a package to my local paper, surreally; the ego I must have had to even consider that!)

I mention this because one of my fascinations with the newspaper comic idea was a very particular part of that: the Christmas supplement. Again, looking back, I have no idea where this came from, as I’m not sure it was a thing at the time I was growing up, but I was obsessed with the possibility of a pull-out section where I’d have multiple pages to just play with for the holidays and do whatever I wanted with, for an audience, as long as it was appropriately festive.

Cut to my third year in art school. By this point, I’d been doing something akin to newspaper comics for the student newspaper for a year or so with my then-best friend, Andy Barnett; we’d kind of fallen into it and been successful with it, much to our surprise. By the holiday season of that third year, though, we’d fallen out of favor with the new editor of the paper, and had resigned ourselves to maybe focusing on our studies instead.

And then, we found out that the editor had quit, and that the old editor was panicking to try and get the holiday issue out in time. A call came in: could Andy and I possibly fill up, say, eight issues of the issue by ourselves? We were on the way out, obviously, but if we could hit this deadline, it would really help everyone out…

I knew immediately what we needed to do, and thankfully Andy agreed. And that was how, in my early 20s, I got to fulfill a teenage dream I’d long since forgotten: a Christmas supplement of our own to play with. Think of it as a Christmas miracle with admittedly low stakes, but a miracle nonetheless. ‘Tis the season.

This Was

Awhile back, I watched This England, a dramatization of the UK government’s response to the earliest days of COVID. It was a big deal when it aired in the UK last year, in part because no-one could seem to agree on whether or not it was too kind to those in power; the left-wing press thought it was too soft, the right-wing press that it was very fair. So it goes.

For my money, I think accusations of it being too soft were off-base, just as the “very fair” belief betrays biases in another direction. It’s clear that the government were unprepared and incompetent, and that Boris Johnson himself unable to connect with the gravity of the situation even before it was clear how deadly the virus really was.

A bigger problem for the show, though, was how uncomfortably shallow it proved to be, and unable to properly communicate the scope of what was happening. On the one hand, that’s to be expected given how impossibly overwhelming everything was — how can any show sum that up? — but the methods the show attempts feel trivial and tacky: overlapping audio from newscasters offering exposition, while a graphic ticks up the number of cases in big red letters.

More than anything, it reminds me of Years and Years, the Russell T. Davies show that kept jumping ahead in time as things got progressively worse. It’s a weird parallel, because that show — made in 2019, before all of this happened — was something I thought of repeatedly throughout 2020 and 2021, as if it had been soothsaying rather than entertainment.

This England’s inability to live up to reality transformed art into life into art again, in the broadest terms. In its own way, the journey might be the most interesting thing about it.

Sacrifice of the Traveling Pants

I’m not the best at packing for a trip, and that was especially true for the UK trip; at three weeks — well, just under — it was the longest trip I’d taken since, maybe, I was traveling to the States for months at a time before I moved here more than 20 years ago. I was out of practice, clearly, and I basically threw a bunch of stuff in the suitcase and hoped for the best.

What this meant in practice was that I ended up realizing halfway through the trip that I’d never noticed the number of holes in my jeans. And really, it was the holes in the crotch that were the problem; it’s not that I was wearing assless chaps, per se, but I was closer than anyone who’d feel comfortable with. They were so bad, in fact, that as soon as I realized their state, I decided to get rid of them. Why bring trash with me, after all?

The thing is, that wasn’t how it felt when I left the jeans behind. Perhaps it was the state of mind I was in at the time — tired, lonely, homesick — or maybe something else, but I remember very clearly the sense of sacrifice. Not in the way of, “I’m sacrificing something by leaving these behind,” but the idea of the jeans being a sacrifice to some unknown force that the rest of the trip would go quickly, and well, and that I’d be home again before too long.

I’m tempted to say it worked, but who can say? For all we know, the rest would have gone entirely the same had I carried the holey jeans with me. I prefer to think that wouldn’t have been the case, though; I like to believe in a world where magic like this exists, and it’s as simple as giving up a pair of jeans for the greater good. Magic that everyone can do.

How to Have a Number One the Easy Way

Little makes me feel that I’m in my 50th year on this planet as surveying the music scene and thinking to myself that I have almost no idea what the fuck is going on anymore.

This is, let’s be honest, the natural order of things: I’m 49 years old and therefore intended to be someone who should complain about whatever the kids are listening to these days and how it’s all just noise. That’s surely my role in pop culture at this point. But, as I look down the listings for upcoming concerts here in Portland, I’m struck by how uninspired and boring it all seems.

I don’t mean that in the sense of, who are all these whippersnappers with their newfangled sounds — if only that was the case! Instead, there are countless tours by bands that were around during, or worse, before “my time.” And those few new acts playing are described in ways that reference their predecessors in such reverent, glowing terms that they feel, if anything, even older.

I’m reminded of asking people what they were listening to during my UK trip in an attempt to find something new and unexpected. One friend excitedly told me about “the hottest act in the country right now” and how groundbreaking her music was, but upon exploration, it was banal pop sounds with someone’s confessional overlaid over, as if Olivia Rodrigo’s “bad idea right?” had been taken as a signpost by people who frown in photos because they think it makes them seem interesting. Worse yet, asking my teenage nephew — himself a musician — offered up a list of bands I’d listened to myself at his age.

(I’m referencing Olivia Rodrigo; does that make me contemporary? Am I secretly hip after all?)

My ears are restless, still, and seemingly more restless than other people’s. I scroll through apps and music reviews online, looking for things I’ve never heard before. It’s not novelty I’m looking for as such, but just something different. Maybe this is how it’s meant to be at this age, as well, but I kind of doubt it.

A Brief Aside

Longtime readers of this site will remember that, back when I freelanced for THR, I made graphics for their newsletter every Friday; I used to post them here after a couple weeks, both for safekeeping/posterity, and also because there were often some that I liked, despite the speed at which they were produced.

Now that I’m at Popverse, I don’t really have the same need or opportunity to create images, although very occasionally, I’ve made edits to header images when necessary. It’s uncommon, but every now and then, when we need to have a “new” image for a story but there aren’t that many source images to choose from… so we have to come up with something new. They’re pretty understated, nothing that would really draw too much attention to themselves, but still be relatively aesthetically pleasing.

I mention all of this, because I’m a subscriber to Chip Zdarsky’s newsletter. You know, former Daredevil writer Chip Zdarsky. And in a recent newsletter, he clearly grabbed an image of the TV Daredevil from Google without thinking about it — and it was something I’d done for Popverse a few months back.

I take this as an unexpected compliment for my work, and a nice surprise to see first thing in the morning one day. Hey, if Chip Zdarsky thought it was good enough to use…!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot

It feels as if winter arrived overnight, when I wasn’t paying attention. I remember arriving back in the US in mid-November and feeling, as much as anything, surprised that it wasn’t colder and darker. Certainly, the days immediately following my return seemed surprisingly sunny, even with a crispness in the air. It added to my sense of disorientation, every time I stepped outside the house.

And then, unexpectedly suddenly, I was waking up to see frost on the roofs of the houses across the street, and freezing fog hiding everything past the end of the block. The air outside the bedclothes felt sharp and uninviting, and I started making the traditional winter deals with myself after waking up in the morning: I know I probably need to get up to piss, but if I get to stay under the warm covers, then I’ll do anything, I promise…

As much as it felt like the weather was cycling through the same catch-up routine I was moving through — shit, it’s almost December already, we’re supposed to have done stuff by now— there was a distinct sense of comfort in the change, as if everything was finally settling into some kind of place, some semblance of order, after literal months of upheaval and quiet chaos. I’d gone weeks (months!) of exploring new things and moving through new places, and finally I’d arrived somewhere where I knew the emotional landmarks and furniture.

This might just be me, of course, this happiness and cozy affection for the start of winter, with the shorter days and the colder weather. I’ve often claimed it’s because I’m an October baby and therefore it’s my time, but that’s as likely superstition and nothing more. Whatever the reason, as the weather collapses down into freezing temperatures and the need for sweaters, hats, and heavy jackets, I’m feeling grateful and comfortable to feel at home for the first time in too long.

As Anxious As A Little Child

I remember very clearly a point when I was a kid — a teenager really, probably 14 or 15 — and impatiently ready for Christmas; I kept a diary at the time, because of course I did, and it was full of exactly the kind of dull things that you’d expect me at that age to be writing about, even if I (of course) felt very passionately about it all at the time. The reason I’m telling you this, though, was that I have a shockingly clear memory of it turning December and my starting to count down to Christmas Day, feeling that it was impossibly far away at 24 days, 23, 22, and so on. How could it ever arrive, when it was still 20 days away.?

Compare that with this year, when someone pointed out at the end of last month that Christmas was just four weeks away, and I broke out in the emotional equivalent of a cold sweat, wondering how it could be so close already. I hadn’t even planned out what gifts I was going to get everybody just yet…!

I don’t know if this is purely an aging thing, or if this year in particular has made me curiously aware of how quickly time passes. Certainly, the anxiety over not having planned everyone’s presents feels entirely new; I can remember going shopping the weekend before Christmas last year with some gifts still to get and feeling utterly fine about it, for example. Now, though, I feel as if I’m playing with fire and convinced that something will happen to distract me and leave me on Christmas Eve realizing that I’ve forgotten something important.

If there’s an upside to this, it’s that my Season of Caution might result in me finishing all my yuletide chores early enough to allow me to enjoy the rest of December in a holiday haze. Alternately, I might end up just being far too conscious of the rushed passing of time to enjoy anything. It’s beginning to look a lot like… middle age, I guess.