One of the more interesting ironies of the new century is that while comics have become more popular in this country than ever before, it is that very popularity that seems to be threatening the existence of comic shops and specialty stores. Most major comics publishers, including the big two, have begun aggressively marketing digital versions of their monthly titles, complete with “smart” readers that zoom in and out on panel transitions like DVD-extra storyboards. Somewhat overlooked amidst DC’s New 52 initiative is the fact that the publisher is now releasing its digital editions simultaneously with print copies. Batman fanatics don’t need to hit their saver bin for a first peek into the mysterious Court of Owls. In fact, digital subscribers can download, read, and post spoilers on an issue before the local comic shop even opens for business.
Meanwhile, publishers of book-length graphic novels, as well as the cartoonists and creators responsible, are finding that their works are being embraced by mainstream bookstores and online vendors. The New York Times has a “Graphic Books” best seller list that includes volumes from pioneering indie comics publishers like Drawn & Quarterly and Fantagraphics. A backup story in Adrian Tomine’s Optic Nerve #12 addresses the painful realization that we’re likely never to see a staple-bound comic from the likes of Chester Brown, Peter Bagge, or Jessica Abel again. He includes a soundbite from a Daniel Clowes interview on NPR: “Nobody wants to sell some floppy thing that, you know, gets all bent on the shelf… No bookstore wants to carry it because the profit margin is so low…”
We saw this coming. Everything’s changed over the course of the last decade: the way we buy music, listen to music, share music. And although the Institute will forever and aye extol the virtues of the album, we’ve become increasingly aware that our so-called “bonus disc,” a typically 20-track compilation of our favorite non-album songs of the year, is often the finest mix in the best-of-bunch. My pal Uncle Isey is quick to point out that this is strongly suggestive of the 1950’s; we’re in a singles-era renaissance and one great track with popular appeal can go from an iPod commercial to an episode of Grey’s Anatomy to the cloud storage of a half-million Amazon customers in a matter of months. So it shouldn’t surprise me, then, that, for the first time, my picks for favorite non-album songs — tracks from EPs, soundtracks, single releases, etc. — might just be my favorite songs of the year.
Welcome to the future, Idle Timers. These songs were bought online, digitized into tiny magic MP3 particles, and shared with Willy Wonka widgets on the world wide wonderland.
5. Total Warr – “Jamie” (Weezer cover)
Total Warr is a Parisian band with an affinity for cute aminals and charming pop hooks. They’ve released a pair of EPs since their formation including this year’s bubbly singalong-friendly Please Never Come Back Again. They’re also responsible for reminding us how good Weezer used to be… with this cover of a blue-album b-side.
Sometimes first impressions are all we get. I don’t know if I’ll ever be back in China, let alone Shanghai, so these reflections, formed after just four days, may kick around in my head for quite some time.
Striking how much more intimate and compact these areas of devotion are. Western culture has us accustomed to expansive cathedrals and architectural feats to touch the heavens. Shanghai’s glorifying praise is to twenty-first century money — skyscrapers that stream colored lights like a nightly fireworks display, populating the Pudong, an army of freakish sentinels of finance and prosperity. But true temples? Religious devotion? Wooden buildings of two or three stories, a series of rooms holding statuary of no overly imposing size, carpeted in red cushions for brief periods of kneeling, incense burning, or admiration. Beautiful, intricate, but somehow secretive. Perhaps a remnant of private worship before the government made it okay to be spiritual again…
I joked with Benett this morning that we may have found the cure for his insomnia/involuntary early rising: cigars and alcohol.
My roommate is a fifty-four year old ex-New Yorker who has been living and teaching drama in Los Angeles for over a decade now. He’s enthusiastic, adventurous, and charming. His approachability (or apparent need for female company) had led to dozens of offers for “massage? sex massage? sex?” Always in that order. That, and the ubiquitous pressure by street vendors to sell watches and bags, is all we are ever asked in the streets. Continue reading Excerpts from the Journal, Shanghai 2011→
DC Comics unveiled the first issue in its “New” DC Universe (DCnU) yesterday, with the release of Justice League #1. Penned by fan-favorite Geoff Johns and featuring art by comics icon Jim Lee, this first installment in “The New 52,” the highly controversial and hotly anticipated reboot of DC Comics’ decades-long continuity, sets the stage for a new origin of one of the oldest superhero pantheons in pop culture. In an era where superheroes are big business, and the vast majority of comic book character introductions are being made via media other than comics, this fresh start has the opportunity to revitalize the DC canon. It has the potential to give a new audience the thrill of experiencing the magic of comics alongside generations of long-time fans who have been glowing in the burgeoning interest and exposure of their favorite stories. Instead of fresh, this first issue feels terribly stale. Comics, courtesy of inventive storytellers like Stan Lee, Frank Miller, and Geoff Johns himself, had been the inspiration for a decade of big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. If this one issue is any indication, however, DC would prefer that their movies, cartoons, and video games influence the comics instead.
…and win this limited edition Brian Wilson bobblehead!
First off, let me thank Jimmy Chew for talking me into this year’s The Giant Race half marathon. And even after I said I’d run it, his incessant “have you registered yet?” reminders ensured that I got a bib number before it sold out.
Of course, it’s been a good long while since I’ve run any kind of marathon, full or half, and getting my legs up to speed has been a drag (especially since my old marathon training team has either moved to the east coast; given up running shoes for a bicycle; or just opted for the most sane alternative to running which is, simply, not running).
When training alone, scintillating conversation needs to be replaced with music. The iPod Shuffle figured to be a great running buddy: it’s lightweight, clips to my shorts, and holds two gigs of tunes. What really sold me was the way it could auto-fill itself from your iTunes library, guaranteeing an exciting randomized playlist and miles of “guess the artist” fun.
I went from thinking this was a clever little device, to thinking it was stupid, to thinking it was cleverly sadistic in the span of three runs. Granted, it’s been pulling from over 35,000 songs, but this miniature robot prankster somehow manages to jumble in as many forgotten spoken word tracks, bluegrass banjo disasters, and instrumental lullabies that it can find on my hard drive. Instead of having fun being surprised by a song and wondering, “who sings this again?” I yank out my earbuds wondering (sometimes audibly, which can be embarrassing if there are other runners about), “what the hell is this and why was it on my computer?”
It should be an easy question to answer, a simple topic to elaborate upon. I love comics, and I love talking about the medium. And despite the fact that some of the best, most literate expressions of this artform have nothing to do with superheroes, I can’t ever deny the deep-seated passion I’ve had for capes-and-tights adventures since my first Avengers so many decades ago. But – why superheroes? What is it about this mythic cross of science fiction and fantasy that had not only enthralled me from a young age, but has also turned into huge business, dominating popular culture in movies and video games in the twenty-first century? Should be simple to answer. Shouldn’t it?
Grant Morrison, one of the most renowned and respected comics writers of our day, is far more equipped to tackle this subject than I. Thankfully, at least, as his new book Supergods shows us, I wasn’t wrong in thinking that there is no simple answer to the question. I’m just as thankful that the exploration of superhero culture, in his capable hands and guided by a life similarly captivated by the genre (as well as being twisted through years of genuine chaos magic and intense psychedelia), is a tremendously fascinating and rewarding one.
Supergods explores the history of superheroes, from Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s creation of Superman in 1938 through the modern era and the infusion of superheroics into the “real world,” both in Hollywood’s forays into more realistic portrayals, and the advent of real world superheroes, like Portland’s Zetaman and Atlanta’s Crimson Fist. As each decade and each era is explored, Morrison beautifully connects current events with the responses of popular culture, demonstrating how the world of comics, and superheroes specifically, became both accurate reflections of the times as well as prescient oracles of developing fears, dreams, and ideals.
It’s been little over a year since my most recent trip to Italy, which means I’ve already started thinking about how soon I can get back. The da Vinci-esque scrawls that fill up my Moleskine on traveling adventures are perfectly useless (and not just because of the illegibility) as a guide through foreign cities, but chronicling ruminations and observations about anything interesting in our lives is an Idle Time virtue, and one which I ceaselessly promote.
June 29, 2010
A week ago today we made our first trip into Firenze. The five of us, led by Margaret (our rental car’s soothing British-accented navigation device), parked at Piazza Michelangelo above the city, fairly near San Miniato en Monte. As promised by my Rough Guides guidebook (I’m now a big proponent of RG — dispensing with the juvenile snapshot summaries of DK and weary of the snarky pretension of Lonely Planet), parking was free in the piazza, and for €1,20 each we could ride the bus into town (which, honestly, wasn’t that far… we could really have handled a lot more walking on this trip…)
I was happy to show the kids (and Matt) what I remembered from my time here in ’06. Street-level, outdoor views of the Piazza del Duomo, Piazza della Signoria, Santa Maria Novella, Ponte Vecchio, and numerous other churches that I had something to say about — all marginally interesting, and in play later that evening.
The highlight — and easily the most memorable moment of our time in northern Tuscany — came during our exploration of the Duomo. After exploring the inside of Santa Maria del Fiore we decided to appreciate Brunelleschi’s accomplishment up close by forking over the €8 apiece to climb up into the dome itself. The stairwells were even narrower than the climbs in Siena; the exertion double what we experienced in San Gimignano. The initial egress put us on the first of two narrow walkways encircling the inside of the great dome. A sheet of plexiglass kept us from tumbling down the twenty stories onto the altar below, and above and all around us, the spectacular fresco of the Last Judgment in all its glory. Heads of demons and devils fifteen feet across were just above us — Hell being the lower rung of the artwork — tormenting poor souls with flaming cudgels and flaying skin from sinners’ bones.
At the EarthFair Festival in San Diego this past weekend, I was struck by the logo for the San Diego Pagan Pride organization. All these pagan religions united against discrimination and prejudice, reminding us all the while that crosses and Stars of David are fine as religious symbols, but if you’re really looking for iconography to rally behind, consider the ankh or… the hammer of Thor!
Which then made me wonder whether or not the half-dozen or so people in San Diego who actually claim to be adherents to the Norse faith had any problem with Marvel Studios’ upcoming summer blockbuster. Was Thor being seen as a trivialization of their beliefs? An insulting depiction of their deity dealing with the modern world like, I don’t know… The Book of Mormon or something? Or was this going to be their Passion of the Christ? Would Teutonic neopaganists start losing their shit in theaters nationwide (starting at midnight on May 6, naturally) watching their God of Thunder suffer at the hands of the divinely crafted Destroyer armor? Continue reading The Passion of the Thunder God→
On the last day of the 2010 regular season, with all apologies to that scintillating infield of Will Clark, Robby Thompson, and Matt Williams, I realized that, no matter how this Orange October would resolve, this team was my favorite Giants team of all time. This band of castoffs and misfits, this gritty homegrown pitching staff, this Buster Posey kid and thong-swinging Aubrey Huff, went on to create one of the single most intense stretches of anticipation, tension, and excitement in my life. A stretch that ended, of course, in pure joy.
It’s been a long time coming. A lot of heartbreak and a lot of frustration. But a lot of exuberance too. Winning the World Series was not just about chasing away demons from so many failed seasons past. Throughout this entire postseason I had exultant flashbacks to teams, players, and even broadcasters from the past. So forgive me if I’m not quite ready to move on completely from that magical season.
On the eve of Opening Day, 2011, I need to take a minute and count down my
Top Five Postseason Moments of 2010
5. Tomahawk Whiffs
The Giants won the West. We were hosting the Wild Card winning Atlanta Braves for the first two of a five-game NLDS. So why was the world ready to send the Braves off to another LCS before the first pitch had even been thrown? Why am I hearing on KNBR that our pitching measures up about equally, but the Braves have the edge in hitting?
This east coast bias monstrosity was just starting to build. And in the opposite corner, an orange-and-black northern California heartbeat, freak-powered and boldly defiant. You want to see pitching?
Tim Lincecum struck out fourteen Braves in Game One of the NLDS. Fourteen. Equal my ass. That one run? All the Giants needed. There’s a reason this kid won two straight Cy Young awards. And if the rest of the country hadn’t caught on yet, this was just the kind of call to attention they needed. Continue reading Top 5 Postseason Moments of 2010→
When I was a freshman in high school, my social studies teacher, Mr. Stiegler, recounted a story to our class about lifelong sports fandom triumphantly rewarded. For years, including every pathetic campaign during the 1970’s, he placed a five-dollar bet on the 49ers to win the Super Bowl. It was a symbolic gesture: he rooted for the team, and naturally wanted to see them win the title, even if in his heart he knew the gesture really only amounted to flushing an Abe Lincoln down the toilet every August.
When Bill Walsh, Joe Montana, and Dwight Clark stunned the country in 1982, Mr. Stiegler was five hundred dollars richer.
The story was inspiring. My good friend and classmate Nelson Wong was likewise intrigued, so as soon as we turned twenty-one, one of us, sometimes both, would place five bucks on the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series. On occasion the bet was a bit more (we were both in possession of five-dollar heartbreaks in 2002, but Pudge Rodriguez’s ’03 fistpump in my face cost me twenty bucks and a shot at two hundred), and the bet location often had a lot to say about the odds. Most of my money was dropped in Tahoe, but the odds were generally better during Nelson’s formerly regular treks to Las Vegas. Continue reading The Sportsbook Dilemma→