Under The Sea

It’s not always about the music, guys. Sometimes I write about other things. Things like beer, movies, childhood, beer, and comics. I thought I’d share with you all this amazing series I’ve started to read called Low. If you don’t like that, then afterwards I’ll talk about beer. Or the album I was listening to drinking my first underage beer.

So Low is a comic by Rick Remender and drawn by Greg Tocchini. Coloring duties were also done by Tocchini until issue 8 when Dave McCaig took over. It’s a post-apocalyptic tale of an earth millions of years into the future where the sun has expanded into a “Red Giant” and has made the surface uninhabitable. Humans are forced into the oceans where underwater cities are created. The story is about Stel Caine, her husband Johl, and their three children. Stel follows the teachings of a prophet who espouses positivity, hope, and always looking for the good. Of course this way of thinking backfires and ends up tearing their family apart(of course.)

The story to this point spans over several years from the beginning to where I’m currently at, so I’m not going to drop storylines and action. I’m just going to say that this is one of the most riveting and captivating stories I’ve read in a long time. Like the best graphic novels, the story is something you can lay over your own life and can relate to. If you’re in a family dynamic in your own life then you can relate. Remender has written a dense world with characters you can relate to. Characters flawed(and in some cases quite terrible), yet even the worst of the worst seem to find redemption from the actions they’ve taken. Of course, I can’t really relate to the earth crisping from the sun to the point where I have to live in an underwater city, but the human elements are all there.

One of the most important things about this series(besides the writing of course) is the artwork. Rick Remender has written great characters, and Greg Tocchini has illustrated them beautifully. Both his drawings and the stunning use of color has given the whole series this eye-popping quality. I’m not good with describing art styles, but the look of Low puts me in mind of guys like Paul Lehr, Bob Pepper, and Frank Frazetta to name a few. The artwork is classic but it pulls you in viscerally, too. This new life under the sea is haunting, desolate, and can be quite terrifying. Living literally on canned air for years and years, always longing for fresh air that we can’t have, and wondering if we’ll ever find a new home all go into making an eye-popping, viscerally illustrated experience.

For me, the attraction to a great comic is always how well the creators can take a fantastical situation and turn it into something very human and relatable. Brian K. Vaughan is one of my favorite comic book writers. He’s done that sort of thing time and time again. Rick Remender is quickly becoming one of my favorites as well. I can’t wait for the next trade.

Give this one a shot. Now, about that beer….

 

 

Tubby and Vim : Paul Pope’s One Trick Rip-Off

Paul Pope is the kind of writer and artist that seems to be as much a rock star as he is a comic book writer. Not like the cheesy, machismo-type of rock star that wears spandex, primps his hair, and exudes arrogance for miles. More like the kind of rock star that has something to say, and when he says it it’s important. The quiet, brooding type of rock star. In his graphic novel The One Trick Rip-Off he even uses Nick Cave as an inspiration for one of his characters, Jesse James. I think what that says about Paul Pope is that he’s not the typical writer. He’s someone working on the fringe, yet he’s never run from success. He’s just found it on his own terms, man. When you’re trying to be unique in the world of comic book writing and illustrating that’s a dangerous business model. But if you can stick to your guns and continue to push yourself and your art and actually pay the rent, then you’ve achieved something.

One of my closest friends told me when I first started getting into graphic novels that I should check out Paul Pope’s Battling Boy books. Of course I never listened and instead ordered his Paul Pope’s Batman : Year 100 and was completely blown away, by both the story and the artwork. Pope’s got a very unique art style, and I think that might be from his years living in Japan and working for Kodansha, the leading Japanese publishing house and worked on several manga books. He said of that time that he never looked at any American comics, with the exception of a handful of his friends self-published books. And his writing seems to veer towards outcasts and characters on their own. I don’t know the guy, so I don’t know if he himself is or was a bit of an outsider, but by his impressive list of clients I’d say he’s not THAT much of an outsider. If anything, he can relate to them.

The last book of his I picked up was The One Trick Rip-Off. It’s the story of Tubby and Vim, two lovers that want to escape their lives and start over. To do that all they have to do is rip off Tubby’s pals in the One Tricks, one of LAs most dangerous street gangs. Why are they called the One Tricks? Well that one trick is that they can use mind control on people. If Tubby says a snake is choking you, then you think a snake is choking you and you die. Kind of a Jedi mind trick thing, I guess. There’s not much to the story, really. It’s nothing too heavy or anything, but the simplicity is appreciated. Boy and girl love each other and want a new life for themselves. They decide to steal from bad guys and things don’t quite go as planned. There’s double crosses, near misses, and epic fights. Oh, and Thai food laced with morphine. It has a real True Romance/Pulp Fiction vibe. It was written in 1995, right when Quentin Tarantino was blowing up in a big way, so the noir-ish aspect of his films were an influence on Pope’s story. He was also pulling from Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, which is woven into the backgrounds of illustrated gritty Los Angeles streets penned so wonderfully here by Pope and colored beautifully by Jamie Grant(the original run was in black and white.)

I can see where some might find the story here a bit thin, and I think this was really at the start of Paul Pope’s upward trajectory. His writing only got better from here, but for a book like this I think the story was well suited to be more of an impressionistic journey. The art here is what sells this for me. It’s a brooding story that finds its footing in the two troubled lovers Tubby and Vim, their search for a new beginning, and the drawings of Pope that show us their dirty, messy world.

When I look at this book and Pope’s style here, it reminds me a bit of early Ralph Bakshi films. Stuff like Wizards, American Pop, and Fire and Ice come to mind. I’m sure Paul Pope would despise that comparison. His influences are probably far more intellectual and storied in the comic book world, but there was always something about Bakshi’s work that felt very visceral to me. A rough sketch come to life. Something very organic and sexual in nature. Not perfect, but gorgeous and alluring nonetheless. That’s what I get from Pope’s work. It’s raw.

This is only my 3rd outing with Paul Pope, but one of my favorite books to look at. I read it, of course, but looking at it is amazing. I picked up the special edition The One Trick Rip-Off/Deep Cuts HC, which like I said earlier colors in the black and white book to stunning effect. There are also several early works of Paul Pope’s included which gives you a glimpse of where Pope started. It’s not essential, but I’m glad I’ve got them to go back to once in a while.

Along with Batman: Year 100 and Escapo, Paul Pope is batting 3-0 with The One Trick Rip-Off. I think I might jump into Battling Boy next. I also want to track down hardcover copies of Heavy Liquid and 100%. All in due time.

All in due time.

The Great Machine : Brian K. Vaughan’s ‘Ex Machina’

So yeah, I do other things besides spend all my money on records. I dabble in other activities that expand my mind and intellect. I realize there’s more to life than spinning vinyl and sipping beers. Snorkeling in the pacific ocean, horseback riding in the Lexington countryside, hiking the Appalachian Trail, camping under the starry Montana skies, and skydiving in Big Sky country are all things I’ve heard of. I’m sure they’re great, really. But just not for me. I’m afraid of large bodies of water, I’m allergic to horses, I’ve seen Deliverance so the Appalachian Trail is OUT OF THE QUESTION, don’t want a damn rattler crawling in my sleeping bag, and skydiving? Really? No thanks.

I’m a reader. I’m music guy. I’m an art house cinema kind of fella. I don’t do Davy Crockett and James Bond activities. I do like a good hike through the woods, and watching a sunset over the great lakes(safely on land of course.) But I’m a pretty landlocked dude. I like exploring inside the gatefold sleeve of a double LP, or cracking open a good graphic novel.

Yep, comic books. They’ve become another hobby of mine. Not the usual stuff. Not the cape and tights crowd(though I dabble in some of those.) I like the flawed superheroes. I like the screwed up folks in those books that are trying to make a difference. Brian K. Vaughan is a writer that excels at the broken and flawed. Books like Y: The Last Man, Saga, The Private Eye, and Paper Girls are epic, genius tales about regular people doing the extraordinary. The guy has written so many books, but these I mentioned are the ones I’ve read(or are currently reading.) Saga I think is his most operatic and vast in scope. It’s an interstellar love story. Two people from opposite sides of warring planets fall in love, have a baby, and are on the run from nearly everyone. There’s adventure, sex, humor, tragedy, creatures of all shape and size, and your typical parenting fiascos like losing your kid to the enemy and flying around space in a giant tree. It’s brilliant in every way.

I’m now currently deep into Vaughan’s Ex Machina, which debuted in 2004. Ex Machina is the story of civil engineer Mitchell Hundred, who becomes a superhero after an extra dimensional device blows up in his face after he discovers it at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. The accident leaves him scarred on the side of his face and body. The scar resembles a circuit board, sort of. His ability is that he can talk to machines. Like lights, toasters, guns, airplanes, missles, or anything that is mechanical in any way. With the help of a man named Kremlin(yes he’s Russian) that Hundred has known since he was a little boy, they build him a jet pack and suit and mask and he goes out trying to help solve crimes. After awhile Hundred decides he wants to help people without being a superhero and unmasks in Central Park, where he announces his candidacy for the mayor of New York. So the entire run of Ex Machina takes place during Hundred’s term as mayor of New York and shows the ins and outs of his political life while it also flashbacks to his time as The Great Machine.

So I’ve only read book one and just started book two last night, but I can tell you that with just one book down I’m completely blown away. What Vaughan has done is create a comic book story that can tackle both the science fiction world and the ultra scary world of US politics. You have mayor Hundred marrying a gay couple in a grand ceremony, trying to stop a serial killer that’s leaving mutilated bodies as clues, saving lives on 9/11, and dealing with an activist mom as a kid. There’s also the whole stigma of being a former superhero. Vaughan never gets overtly political in this tale. It’s really just this genius character study, with a quirky protagonist that was just a mild-mannered civil engineer who ends up becoming a superhero by happenstance. His personal relationships with his staff, journalists, the police chief, his campaign manager, and his oldest friend open doors to all of these other amazing side stories.

The fact that this came out in 2004, just three years after 9/11, is also very telling. Not that it’s a recurring theme, but you get a sense that Vaughan created Mitchell Hundred out of a certain feeling of helplessness. Helplessness and hopefulness. Helpless in that we were helpless in stopping those attacks and saving 3000+ lives that were lost on that day, but hopeful in seeing regular people step up during that time of horror and give of themselves. Firemen, policemen, and regular Joes and Janes that traveled far and wide to come to the big apple and help clear ground zero. Some of those folks became permanently ill from working in that cloud of soot and pulverized concrete, just to help out and give a hand. Mitchell Hundred seems to be a stand-in for the everyday people that did what they could in New York City. Hundred was a normal guy working a job until he wasn’t. He wasn’t wearing a cape and brightly colored tights. He’s a clumsy hero that sometimes makes things worse. But he’s trying anyhow.

He’s flawed, just like us.

This is a lot to write for a book I’ve only just begun, but I’m excited about this one. When I can find a writer that I connect with so intently I stick with ’em and seek out all their work. I know Brian K. Vaughan has written the usual cape and tights kind of comics(he’s behind the Marvel Runaways series), but the guy excels at original characters. He has that unique ability to take these huge ideas and concepts and ground them so that some guy in the Midwest reading in his La-Z-Boy at 9:45pm on a Thursday night can relate to it. Not only relate to it, but get pulled into that world. Vaughan’s work is the kind of stuff that pulled me into the world of comic books and makes me excited about them.

So no, I won’t be camping under Montana skies or riding a kayak down some wild stream in the dense Virginia mountainside with Burt Reynolds. Nor will I be jumping out of an airplane or swimming with dolphins. But I might hike the Beyer trail after work and maybe jog a mile or two over in Hawthorn addition. Afterwards I’ll spin some vinyl, crack open an imperial IPA, and delve into some more Ex Machina.

SEX=DEATH

No, this isn’t a pro-abstinence post. It really has nothing to do with abstinence. Please, continue the fraternizing and heavy petting. No, actually I’m just sitting here on a blustery December Sunday afternoon with the snow accumulating outside. We’ve been under a winter storm warning all day and will be until late tonight. We could see as much as 8-10 inches of the white stuff(I believe we’ve gotten at least 7 inches up to this point.) It was a weekend of laziness on my part. Other than my dad coming over for coffee yesterday morning, I spent the rest of the day in pajama pants and my Wooden Shjips pullover hoodie and did nothing. I did some writing, then sunk into my leather recliner and let Netflix guide my moves from then on.

The wife and my 13-year old headed out of town for some Christmas shopping, and my son was over and my mom and dad’s house so I took advantage of the quiet and watched the film White Girl. The story of a promiscuous, drug-addled pixie of a blonde college girl living in Brooklyn. Her and her roommate get high, hang out with the drug dealers across the street, have sex, get high, go to clubs, get high, have sex, sell drugs, get high, party, have sex, and get high. There are a couple redeeming characters in the film(including the Chris Noth-played lawyer and the drug dealer with a heart of bronze played by Brian ‘Sene’ Marc), but everyone else are just horrible people. Well made, but Kids it is not. After that I watched the excellent documentary DePalma. It’s Brian DePalma talking about his career and films for nearly 2 hours and it was amazing. I forgot how prolific of a filmmaker he was. I’ve always been a huge fan of his, but this film made me think about all of his movies I haven’t seen in years. Raising Cain, Carlito’s Way, Body Double, Dressed To Kill, and Femme Fatale just to name a few. He seems to have a pretty good head on his shoulders after so many ups and downs in his career, and he tells some great stories about Bernard Herrmann, Sean Penn, and Orson Welles. My son and I watched A Christmas Horror Story. It’s an anthology horror film about the events on one Christmas eve the involve the Krampus, zombie elves, a Changeling, and a ghostly possession. It was a pretty funny and gory flick that the boy and I quite enjoyed. Stupid fun.

I suppose Saturday was in response to last weekend where there was no downtime. Honestly, it felt great to just do nothing and get caught up on some movies I’ve wanted to see for some time. I also finished up the first two volumes of Jessica Jones : Alias. It’s the 2001 series that created the Jessica Jones character for Marvel and is also what the Netflix series is based on. It’s a great series. It’s more like a noir tale with hints of superheroes strewn throughout. I highly recommend it to all you comic book folks that haven’t read it yet.

mansellIt’s now Sunday on this lazy weekend and I’m listening to Clint Mansell’s score to the horror short In The Wall. This was one of those LPs I got back in January of this year that I’ve only recently just begun to enjoy. I haven’t seen the movie yet, which is sad as it’s free to watch on VEVO. I’ll fix that very soon. If the score is any indication it’s a tension-filled 26 minutes. Mansell is another favorite composer of mine. He’s done some amazing work, with his scores for Requiem For A Dream and Moon being two of my favorites. I’m just finding myself being drawn to scores and instrumental fare lately. Gives more space to explore ones own mind without all those pesky lyrics and vocals. Mansell goes for a more classical approach to his composing and arranging, but likes to throw in elements of noise and dissonance here and there. On In The Wall there’s a couple of spots where loud explosions of distortion break up the quiet.

Well that’s all for now. I’ve got a great one cooking up that will be up very soon. Until then, take a weekend off here soon if you can. I highly recommend it.

 

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Bring Out Your Dead…

So over the weekend I was thrilled to see that Amazon Prime had Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2 available for streaming. Of course I had to watch it and my son was equally as excited to watch it as well. I’ve been gearing him up for these Fulci films for a few years now, ever since I started collecting the soundtracks on vinyl thanks to Death Waltz/Mondo and my severe record buying affliction. We watched Fulci’s The Beyond on ‘Black Friday’ of all days last year. My memory didn’t serve me correctly on that one, as what I remembered to be a classic in the genre was really kind of a turd. There was some great cinematography and the music was outstanding, but it seemed to just be a garbled mess of bizarre story line and effects that were extremely dated. The Thanksgiving leftovers in the fridge looked far more “fresh” than The Beyond. So,  I thought Zombi 2 would be a chance for Fulci to redeem himself in my eyes and my son’s. Five minutes in and I realized this wasn’t going to happen. Two New York harbor cops come up on a stranded boat in New York Harbor; one cop’s voice matches his lip movement while the other does not. This seems to be the case throughout the whole movie. The “acting” wasn’t horrible and the story was at least somewhat understandable, but overall it just didn’t hold up to my memory unfortunately. My son was waking me up whenever something was going to happen.

Zombi 2 was kind of a bust, but there’s still a touch of bizarre Italian magic there. Fulci always seemed to tow the line between exploitation and Fellini. He seemed to have grand ideas and a widescreen scope, but it never really came to fruition due to lack of funds to fully commit. He ended up making a name for himself as the Italian master of exploitative gore. Dario Argento was also a master of gore, but he fell more into the art camp as opposed to the woman-hating, misogynistic gutter camp Fulci ended up in. I’m refraining from watching House By The Cemetery and City of the Living Dead, as I don’t want to completely destroy those horror cinema memories from my youth. Someday I’ll go back to those. Just not right now.

14628081_1114520488655196_1490173642_nThis whole zombie kick started off because last week I began getting caught back up on Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead. I started reading TWD back in late 2010, around the time the first season of the AMC show started. Everyone was talking about how great the show was, but I wanted to go the source before I started watching the TV version. I ended up going through the first 12 trades pretty quickly but then the zombie fever sweeping the nation left me and I felt I was done with the books. I stayed caught up on the show because, well, I didn’t want to be left out of the discussions and what not. I’d grown an attachment to the TV versions of Carol, Michonne, Rick, Carl, Rosita, Abraham, and Eugene and felt invested in the show. After last season’s finale and the introduction to one of the book series’ most reviled antagonists Negan, I knew I wanted to revisit the books and get up to speed on the story. Sure, the show veers off from the books and their narratives, story arcs, and character developments/demises, but knowing the books helps to give you a guide as to where the show may go next(it also allows you to feel superior to those that don’t read the books and feel like you’re one up on them.)

So over the weekend I read the entire The Walking Dead : Compendium Three, which collects books 97 through 144. There’s only two other trades out now, so when I read those I’ll be caught up. I have to say, I’m surprised by how easy it was to jump back into that world. I have always enjoyed The Walking Dead, but diving into the world of the zombie invasion and the Rick Grimes crew I realized how little the zombies have to do with the stories. The zombie take over was merely the tool by which you get to see how truly evil the living can become. You do get to see how the strong and capable take care of those who can’t take care of themselves. You see the perseverance of strangers coming together and what lengths people will go to in order to protect their loved ones. But what’s even more striking than the good, is the evil. You see characters like The Governor, Negan, The Whisperers, the cretinous goons that Rick, Abraham, and Carl came across on the deserted post-apocalyptic highway and nearly slaughtered them like animals; sadly I think that’s where most of the reality lies in the story. We’re seeing some of this right now in this current presidential campaign. All across America hordes of what were at one point regular human beings living their lives and occasionally spouting something maybe inappropriate are now all-in and backing a misogynistic, racist, xenophobic, hate-mongering, bully ignoramus billionaire(?). They’re blindly following this turd in a suit and bad hair because he’s “gonna make America great again”, and that he’s gonna “build a wall” and that he’ll keep America safe from ISIS and Syrian refugees and Mexican drug dealers and rapists who are coming over the border and stealing our jobs. Sight unseen, they’re following his hate speech. Out of fear, like most of the followers of the Governor or Negan? No, they’re following because Trump is saying all those horrible things that his followers really want to say. They’re willfully and gleefully backing this guy, even after the “locker room talk” audio that was released last Friday.

14627910_1114520471988531_1051177666_nI don’t know how anybody in their right mind would back this guy, zombie apocalypse or not. In the world of zombies, I could see Trump more like Dennis Hopper in Romero’s Land of the Dead as opposed to some villainous leader Robert Kirkman created. Hopper, if you’re not familiar with Land of the Dead, ran a ritzy skyscraper where all the rich and wealthy stayed after the zombies took over. It was walled off and you had to buy your way in to live there. While the rest of the world traveled in armored vehicles and carried machine guns, the rich stayed comfortable smoking their fine Cuban cigars and drinking single malt scotch. You see? The zombies are more or less hungry observers while the living go in being evil.

Anyways, it was great getting caught up with The Walking Dead. I look forward to keeping up with it. And sorry for the whole Walking Dead/Election correlation. It just seemed to damn related not to bring it up. And if you haven’t seen George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead, you really should. It’s a classic in the series.

 

Death, You Cantankerous Letch

When you live in times like these it’s hard not to think about ones fate, and ultimately death. Sometimes it barely cracks the surface with me, but there are some days when those thoughts of the morbid and dark are around every corner. Maybe I’ll bite it going to work. Or maybe I’ll choke on some pasta. Maybe on one of my afternoon walks I’ll get hit by some senior citizen with a wandering attention or some 17-year old texting while they’re driving. Or maybe the heat will get to me. Maybe some space debris will make its way into the atmosphere and it’ll hit me as I’m walking out to the car with the week’s groceries.

The possibilities are endless, really.

Okay, I’m not trying to be morbid here. I’m trying to prove a point, and that point is we have no idea what our fate is. Sure, we can do things like exercise, eat right, and stay away from putting carcinogens in our lungs. Those things help, but for the most part it’s a crap shoot. I started thinking about fate and death quite a bit after reading Paul Pope’s excellent book Escapo, the story of an escape artist in the circus.

IMG_1999When I started digging into graphic novels one of my best friends was guiding me to the good stuff. He sent me a list of writer/illustrators that I needed to read. One of those guys was Paul Pope. Pope has a very unique style, both writing and illustrating. He’s from Philly, yet was hired by Japan’s most prestigious Manga publisher, Kodansha, and developed for them the book Supertrouble. He completely immersed himself in the Manga style, but decided to come back to the US and get to work on his own material, publishing his work on his own as well as with DCs Vertigo imprint.

The thing that stands out about Pope is that he comes across like a real renegade. A DIY kind of artist that follows his muse wherever she takes him. In that respect Paul Pope feels more rock and roll than a lot of other comic artists. That’s not to say that guys like Charles Burns, Daniel Clowes, Scott Snyder, Jeph Loeb, Garth Ennis, Alan Moore, R. Crumb, and S. Clay Wilson aren’t rock and roll, but Pope looks the part. With his long, scraggly hair he looks like a cross between Thomas Haden Church and Jason Patric from The Lost Boys. His attention to detail is phenomenal. His drawings are crude and sleek, sometimes in the same frame. Bodies seem elastic while facial expressions are intense and pointed. It all comes together beautifully.

ringmasterSo the first book I read by Pope was Batman: Year 100. It’s a work of gritty genius as far as I’m concerned, and it pushed me more into Pope’s direction. So, digging through his books I found Escapo, a story about an escape artist that has a near death experience which changes him. I’ve always liked the idea of escape artists. Putting their lives in danger for the sake of entertainment. I guess boxers, MMA fighters, and footballers do that too, but you don’t have that unique sense of pizzazz; you don’t have that air of show and entertainment in those sometimes brutal displays of force that you do with an escape artist. Chained, bound, and tied, the escape artist must escape the depths of a water tank or the pending death of a dangling car overhead.

Vic is the real name of Escapo, but Vic is merely a beat up, Band Aid-covered ugly mug. Escapo isn’t a man; he’s a legend. Vic is a lonely guy who pines for the lovely and beautiful tightrope girl named Aerobella, who has feelings for The Acrobat King. When Vic is Escapo he looks at Death in the face and laughs. Even losing the girl Escapo seems to keep the crowds entertained and his fellow Circus folks in awe of his talents.

One night Escapo forgets the combination to a lock that he needs to open in order to escape a container from drowning. While in this life or death situation he’s confronted by Death himself. When Escapo is floating in this vault-like container filled with water he sees Death floating towards him. Once he realizes what is coming towards him he exclaims “Oh!“, with Death responding “Why do you look surprised? Your time has come escape artist.” Escapo then begins to barter with Death. “I’ve got things I gotta take care of…Wait, I have a letter…w-written to my sister…It’s in my coat pocket in my trailer! It’s all stamped and ready to go! But-But I didn’t have time to put her name on the envelope! How will they know it’s for her??“, to which Death replies “That is not my concern.” Eventually Escapo dares Death to keep him alive, and if he does Escapo will let Death ride on his shoulders during his next performance. If Escapo dies then Death can steal his breath while it’s still in Escapo’s throat.

IMG_2002 (1)So does Death take up Escapo’s offer, or does he take Escapo right then and there? Well you’re going to have to read Escapo to find out. Believe me, it’s well worth diving into this beautifully drawn and written story. The pages are sharply drawn, and the colors are rich and full. Pope’s prose flows effortlessly. You hear conversations between the acts, but the true draw here is the heart-broken and lonely Vic. He may have respect among his peers when he’s performing, but afterwards he’s just a “pug-ugly luckless jack”.

Now I’m sure you could find this somewhere online and you could read it and be done. But I say find this wonderfully put-together book. It’s a hardbound book with this amazing cover art that looks like a homemade, cut and paste art. It’s hard to describe, really. But it’s absolutely stunning. You hold the book in your hand and you can feel Pope’s intentions and aspirations. I guess I’m just a tactile kind of guy. I like the feeling of the hardcover and pages between my fingers. The heaviness in my hands.

You just don’t get that flipping digital pages with a mouse, folks.

escapoSo Paul Pope, he’s pretty great. Maybe Paul used to think a lot about death, like I do sometimes. Writing about an escape artist is a pretty unique way to work out some of those existential kinks, don’t you think? Escapo is avoiding death at every corner, and we’re all the better for it…but at some point, we all falter. Even Escapo. Just one misstep; just one second of hesitation and we’re floating face down in a tank of water as onlookers gasp in horror. Or we’re crushed under the weight of a ’52 Buick just seconds after it drops from it’s dangling perch in the air above. You just never know. You can never be certain when your time is coming.

Death’s got a schedule, man. He’s got places to go and people to see.

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Wasted Years : Charles Burns’ ‘Black Hole’

I think it’s safe to say that the teenage years can be some of the most exciting and horrific years of our lives. You’re discovering music, books, films, the opposite sex, and all the beauty and pain that come with all of them. You were trying hard to build a world of friends and confidants you could count on and rely on to help you through those years of academia that could make or break you for the rest of your life. Unless you were the top jock or cheerleader, or a top tier academic then things could sometimes get a little messy for you. Awkward conversations; stumbling over your own words in the presence of that guy or gal that made your heart skip a beat. Or even trying to relate to someone that was above you a few levels in the high school food chain.

I was never the Lothario I appear to be today back in high school. I know, I know…it’s hard to imagine me not being the suave, charismatic, and ever-so smooth operator that I am now back in the high school years. But yes, there was a time when I wasn’t this enigmatic and filled with animal magnetism. There was a spot in my life between childhood and adulthood where things weren’t quite so easy for me. A time where being a Rush fan AND a Woody Allen fan wasn’t as cool as it may(or may not) sound right now. That time was high school(well, really that time was probably up to my mid-thirties but I digress.) And after finishing Charles Burns’ excellent graphic novel Black Hole I realize that things could’ve been a hell of a lot worse for me.

FullSizeRender (5)If you’re not familiar with Black Hole, I’ll try and get you up to speed. The book takes place back in the 70s and it’s about a group of teens that attend high school somewhere in the Pacific Northwest(Burns grew up in Seattle, so I’m guessing the book takes place in a fictitious version of his childhood home.) There’s a sickness that is spread through the exchanging of bodily fluids among these teens that causes them to turn into these mutated monsters. This sickness, or “the bug” as its referred to by the kids in this book, is essentially the mark of a freak. Once these kids have been infected they’re ostracized by everyone, including their parents. A group of these teens have formed a small society in the deep, dense woods near the ocean where they live like scavengers, eating scraps and trash they find in dumpsters and warm themselves by campfire. They have been forgotten by their classmates and have become merely strange faces staring out from someone’s yearbook.

The main characters are popular girl Chris and popular guy Rob, quiet Keith, and the mysterious Eliza. I won’t go into details, but the book revolves around these four characters’ relationships and how they cope with “the bug” and how it manifests itself in them. Though the effects of this teen plague can be somewhat shocking and gross at times, you forget about those aspects as you get into the story and the book becomes this very sad, perverse, and tragic look at adolescence and the painful truths that come with growing up. Feeling ostracized for how one looks and the friends they keep has been the central theme for high school for a long time, and Black Hole takes that idea and turns into into this surrealistic meditation on teen angst and the awkwardness of growing up.

FullSizeRender (4)There are obviously metaphors abound here. You could take “the bug” or teen plague as it’s referred to here as well as a stand in for the pain of growing up, trying to fit in, and generally just wanting to be a part of something. The disease both segregated and brought together these teenagers. They lost their old friends and found a new community of freaks and geeks to live with in the forest. Those monsters sitting around the campfire were those same people that were ignored and picked on in the halls of academia. They were the kids in chess club, National Honors Society, and Latin club. They were the greasy-haired kids in the back of class no one turned around to address as their voice made its way to the front of class.

They were the Rush and Woody Allen fans.

FullSizeRender (6)I don’t know why this book affected me as much as it did. Truth be told I wasn’t really a freak in school. Even if I was I didn’t care. I had a small but solid crew of friends. We mingled with everyone. I may not have been pals with the super jocks and cheerleaders, but I certainly wasn’t picked on or looked down upon by them(and if I had been I still wouldn’t have cared.) I think Burns’ take on adolescence and the pain it causes some kids is what feels important to me. Turning the awkwardness of wanting to fit in into this horrific disease that marks kids with the shame of an outward mutation, which in turn makes fitting in impossible, is the best way to get across those awkward teenage moments. And the fact that he doesn’t make light of it adds to the heaviness. There’s no lighthearted scenes or hilarious sidekicks hamming it up here and there to add comic relief. As I read this book I was reminded of River’s Edge. Kids were depicted in this very hyper realistic way in that film; getting stoned, getting drunk, skipping class, having sex, and with a listless fervor that says “We’re gonna die eventually, so what’s it matter?” But the kids in Black Hole seem to have more ambition in life. They genuinely seem to be upset and pained at their situations. They want to be a part of something. They want to be wanted by someone. They want love and acceptance.

And really, don’t we all?

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Besides the story, Burns’ drawings are wonderful as well. His style is very specific and detailed. I’m not an art guy, so trying to technically explain his illustrations is futile coming from my head. All I can say is that his illustrations are precise and fit the storytelling wonderfully. The yearbook pics are especially poignant, to me anyways. 

Just had to mention the artwork.