Monday, October 25, 2010

Scott West at 3AM Standing Still

Last week I spoke with Cloud Cult band member and live-painter Scott West. We talked about his band, his new focus on his solo career as a painter and a bit about how he is balancing the two.  Image to the left painted by Scott,  quick ink-doodle by myself.

Raighne HoganHi Scott, hows your day going?

Scott West: Good, good. I’ve got a model shoot today so I actually got up at 3 o‘clock in the morning and started painting.

RH: Holy shit! [laughter]

SW: Yeah the show is coming up quicker then I have time for, so I’ve got to make the most.

RH: [laughter] That is how it usually goes.

I know some of this will be familiar ground covered in past/recent interviews, but for the most part I will try to avoid that.

SO, from what I have read, it sounds like you have been with Craig Minowa for quite a while now. How is that you two met?

SW: Oh boy. We met-- I was a guitar player for his very first band. It was my first year of college or his or maybe both of ours. We met in college. I was friends with the lead guitarist and was the rhythm guitarist/back up singer.

We kinda met that way and then we had a practice space in Minneapolis [which] I used for my painting studio and he’d use it to go there and write. It was kinda a process where I’d be working on painting and he’d be singing songs and they started to influence each other. Things I’d be painting he’d start incorporating and things he’d be saying I’d be incorporating and it really became collaborative.

Craig was then dating Connie the other painter at the time and they were kinda doing similar things at the time... He then said, you know, lets bring this to stage and this was at the time I was going to leave the band ‘cause I really felt that I should focus on painting because that’s really what I love to do. And he said “nope, your not gonna leave the band, your gonna paint on the stages” [laughter].

Ok, alright. It kinda started way back then. Even our earlier shows, when I wasn’t painting he would fill the stage with easels and paintings. It was always kinda part of the stage show.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Good Minnesotan Interviews: Eric Ruby

Eric Ruby grew up in suburban Connecticut, went to Rochester Institute of Technology for four years, and then moved to Minnesota.

As a side note, do check out his site, he has some truly beautiful photo's and an amusing video of his current limited edition photo book!  And for those lazy-lackards I have included the video at the bottom of the post.

IKAF:1.) What do you do to make ends meet?  Does this interrupt the output of your own creative projects, comics and otherwise?

Eric Ruby: To make a living, I make prints of other peoples work; hopefully better than they could do themselves which is sometimes satisfying.  It does interrupt the output of my own creative projects, and is sometimes frustrating since the potential to become burned out is extremely high.  After spending all day using photoshop, the last thing I want to do after work is to get back on the computer and use photoshop, but since my medium of choice is photography, I can always just go out photographing if I don't want to be on the computer any longer. On the plus side, I have access to use equipment that I may never be able to afford personally.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Standing on the Brinkman

A few weeks ago I was on vaca. out east with my girlfriend to visit her brother and wife in NJ, see the first announced Pavement reunion show in Central Park, buy a ton of comics, walk around NY and avoid looking like a tourist as much as possible (we were successful until the last few hours before we had to fly back). In some of my downtime I gravitated towards my workaday habit of scanning through my list of comics blogs, one of the few types of reading I can do that doesn't require prolonged attention. I was fortunate enough to come across the news that Fort Thunder bigwig Mat Brinkman was having the opening of his first solo show on the only night I'd be in New York for the first leg of my trip. This quickly became the 'thing I had to do before I left New York', so I made my girlfriend, her bro and sis in-law accompany me to the opening (don't worry, I'll drop the exposition soon).

The opening was fairly average: crowded, apt background music (drone-metal), gallery attendant who appeared to be super into anything but answering people's questions, etc. Given that I was much more interested in the show than my companions and that I didn't want to stand in front of any particular piece too long (standard gallery strafing in effect), I made a concerted effort to get a general feel for the show and call it a night (I did return the following week to a virtually empty gallery, which made getting these photos much easier). I had read that there was a book released in conjunction with the show that was also being sold through Brinkman's current publisher, Picturebox, called Heads, 44, so I looked through the display copy before leaving. Prior to this show my primary exposure to Brinkman was via the collected editions of his comics (Teratoid Heights, Multiforce), since I was oblivious of him when he was putting out minis during his time at the Fort. I won't get into too much detail about those releases, since that's been done much more competently elsewhere, but it will suffice to say that Brinkman is no stranger to experimental narrative structures and an ethos that often foregrounds the visceral and deceptively crude act of mark-making that characterized the Providence scene he was an integral member of in the 90's.
In recent years he's moved in the direction of making primarily singular images (posters, silk-screened prints/books, etc.) and being included in numerous gallery shows and exhibits, most notably the Whitney Biennial in 2002. Again, there are many directions one could take the trajectory of his existence as an artist, considering the contrast between where his notoriety was fostered and where his work finds audience now (at least some of it anyway). I won't even begin to pontificate upon the role of galleries/art institutions overall as they relate to the dissemination, consumption and valuation of art, as I'll soon be noticeably out of my depth. Instead, I'll provide what impressions I can given my limited exposure to Brinkman's work and my status as a relative outsider to the 'art-comics'/primitivist scene as it relates to this show. Plus it's a way to justify doing a photo dump of the show for peeps who couldn't see it in person. 

(I apologize for the picture quality. In my attempt to avoid looking like a tourist, as noted above, I left my camera at home. As a result, you get camera-phone quality!)

A first for me was seeing Brinkman's charcoal work and how much it contrasts with the type of cartooning I had seen from him in his comics. Whereas his cartooning style was in the crude/primitivist vein he helped usher into fashion in art-comics of the past decade, here his assortment of reptilian monsters and demons have this somewhat trashy quality that reminds me of the tableaus painted on the walls of shitty horror carnival rides. I'd love to see one of those rides re-imagined in a Brinkmanesque format.


These two sets of images were hung in the first and last room of the gallery, sandwiching the charcoal pieces. In terms of the type of mark-making on display, these series of decomposing portraits felt more redolent of his cartooning work of years past, but yet a little more evolved in a way that isn't immediately apparent, at least from solely seeing them on display in the gallery. One could certainly say that these images are more technically accomplished than a lot of his cartooning work, but to say that is to ignore a crucial element of his comics, his unique construction of the comics page. Frank Santoro once noted when discussing Multiforce that there was an aquarium-like quality to the pages, meaning simply that his pages are these clusters of meandering tales occurring simultaneously. My first pass across these images at the show was a pleasant one, but I left missing the labyrinthine narrative play at work in his comics. It wasn't until looking at the selection of portraits collected into the Heads, 44 release that I appreciated the show on another level. In the description of the release on Picturebox's site, Dan Nadel (presumably) says, "As Mat drew, each of these ink-on-rice paper "heads" would seep onto the next sheet, forming the basis of that drawing, and so on". While I wasn't aware of this process upon my first flip-through, that feeling of each image informing the next was immediately apparent. In this way, Brinkman has devised yet another narrative technique, one that takes one of the very fundamental tenets of comics, sequentiality, and bends and shapes it to suit his current interests. As many comics scholars and critics have argued or resigned themselves to believing, attempts to define what comics are often end in the tautology that comics are what people say are comics. This release could certainly make a case for that circular logic, but given the liminality of the object (is it an art book? a comic?), we can't come to a conclusion readily. How it is classified will really depend upon the reader and the context in which it is presented.

I must admit, there are a couple of parts of the show I have failed to discuss thus far in my attempt to overlay this faint narrative onto Brinkman's development. They felt somewhat out of place at this show, mostly because they reminded me of his cartooning style from earlier in his life, but also because they felt like a smattering of images that didn't congeal into a concerted statement.

There is a second wall that is similar to the one pictured above, but the photo just turned out too poorly to even bother showing. Maybe these sets are not so much about making a unified statement, but rather to provide the viewer with a chance to form a better overview of his work as it has developed through various stages. The room not pictured in particular felt like a collection of sketchbook pages by a precocious metalhead, letting his hand scrawl out whatever possessed him that day. I know a lot of people wish he'd get back into making comics proper, but from looking at Heads, 44, I'm not so sure he ever completely stopped; he's just gone in a direction we may not recognize immediately as comics. It's up to us to get up to speed.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Good Minnesotan Interviews: Sean Lynch

Sean Lynch is a very talented comic booker, and an illustrative master of the brush.  Currently he resides and works in Minneapolis.  That will change in about a week or so when he moves to Japan to be with his wife Mako.  Catch him at FallCon this Saturday or on his blog which shows all of his most recent work.
IKAF:1.) What do you do to make ends meet?  Does this interrupt the output of your own creative projects, comics and otherwise?
Sean Lynch: To make ends meet, I've mainly been working on lots of small art jobs and random day jobs. As for random day jobs, for like 6 weeks, I worked at my friend's fish store and scraped soap scum and algae off of around 350 fish tanks. I had a lot of time to reflect and think about how I'd rather be drawing anything rater than being covered in fish algae. My art jobs are usually designing for bands, doing random illustrations and working on project pitches. I've been lucky to have some fun commissions lately too. This always gets in the way of the projects that I keep close to heart and keeps me bohemian.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Bring it on: Whack-A-Bone Plus Poke-A-Muscle Game Reviews

Meghan's disclaimer: I haven't played many video games, so I probably should be the last gamer to write a review. To read about what I actually do visit my blog.

Anatomy Arcade is a website with free educational human anatomy flash games. It was created by Ben Crossett, a Science and Physical Education teacher at Glen Waverley Secondary College in Melbourne, Australia. I love his motivation for creating this software:
This mission was born of frustration with what I saw as a lack of truly engaging material in the area of anatomy and also a frustration as a teacher catching students wasting class time playing flash games every time they were in a computer lab. The catch phrase "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em" sums up the decision I made; to investigate the potential of these "pesky" little games to invigorate the delivery of anatomical material to the teenage audience.

The games on Anatomy Arcade are organized by body system and game type. I'm going to review the two signature games: Whack-A-Bone from the skeletal system and Poke-A-Muscle from the muscular system. In addition, there are jigsaws, crosswords, word searches, match twos, and just for fun.

Whack-A-Bone begins with a mesmerizing vocal beat that sounds sort of like a robotic Sean Paul: "Whack-A-Bone, whack-a-bone, whack-a-bone, r-i-i-i-ght!" You will be singing this song all day, I guarantee it.

Description: Whack-A-Bone will lead you toward an instinctive knowledge of the major bones of the body. Build up, scan and whack the arm, leg and core. When that has been perfected, scan the entire skeleton and finally, whack Harold silly.
Difficulty: All major bone names. 10 years old and above
Controls: Mouse click, drag and drop

To advance you have to score 80% or higher. There is a nicely designed scoreboard that charts your progress. You are egged on by the robotic Sean Paul voice announcing the bone names for you. This is both amusing and infuriating as the voice can be hard to understand. When you progress to higher levels robotic Sean Paul is joined by a demonic chipmunk.

One minor annoyance: phalanges is used for both your finger and toe bones. There's a written distinction ("(toe) phalanges") but the vocals don't distinguish between the two and you have to choose correctly or it's counted against you.

Overall, I love this game! I can play it for hours and I'm really learning the bones.

The first thing that hooked me on Poke-A-Muscle is its humor. I can't stop cracking up over the funny postures and feedback. Plus that little hand you use to poke Russell the Muscleman with makes me giggle. I have to admit I'm a sucker for visuals, and I love how this game looks. Whack-A-Bone is more engaging but I get sort of lost in time poking those pretty muscles!

Description: Poke-A-Muscle is designed to help the learning of the major superficial muscles of the body. Hunt for muscles with an x-ray scanner and poke the right muscles with your finger. There are 10 stages in all that will challenge most students of anatomy.
Controls: Mouse click

Overall, as a beginning gamer I'm thrilled with the simplicity of the controls. These games are easy to figure out how to play but they are challenging to beat! You will learn a lot while having fun. If you can think of a better way for a teacher to introduce students to human anatomy, bring it on! But I'm sure Whacky Harold and Russell the Muscleman will convince you otherwise.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

About Narratives: An Essay That Might Be a Little Too Long

    What’s a narrative?  I’m not one of those people who likes to quote Webster’s at the outset of a discussion, so I don’t know the dictionary definition.  But I’ve used the term enough—both as a writer and a social scientist—to have an idea.  So I’d consider a narrative the way that a representative of an experience with some group, object, event, or idea conveys that experience.  The emphasis I put here is on experience and representative.  There are, for example, few slave narratives by people who have never been slaves or experienced slavery.  It’s possible for a slave owner to represent him or herself as one who experienced the impact of slavery, but one has to have experienced it in some way in order to represent it.
    I prefer to write narratives because they’re compelling.  They have the potential to be more interesting than a story from an omniscient know-it-all who’s telling me what everyone is thinking, who spoon-feeds you the entire story from a silver platter.  They’re easy to read: I feel that I pick up on more details and ask questions that make me challenge rather than passively absorb a text.  It’s often easier to connect with the protagonist, even if you don’t like him or her.  Finally, to me, there’s an implication in narratives about the importance of subjectivity and the fact that all narratives are essentially fictions.
    But narratives aren’t easy to write.  Sure, you might think, “I’m just going to write down a bunch of stuff that seems like it would go well together.  That’s realistic, right?”  Well, no.  Not at all.
You have to stay realistic to the nature of your narrator.  Does your narrator have the thesaurus memorized?  Is he really so shockingly quirky that you, the listener, notice, while others don’t notice at all?  Is he speaking in a manner consistent with what you know about him?  Kevin Smith, for example, once explained that he wrote the dialog for Banky Edwards from Chasing Amy so that every major claim or assumption he makes is proven incorrect as the film progresses.  While the nature of Smith’s dialog writing is frustrating to me in general (because nobody talks like that in real life), he does do very well with continuity and consistency, which I can appreciate.
    The narrative has to be honest to the nature of the situation.  Is the storyteller panicking, angry, happy, or attentive?  Is she in a car and trying to tell a story?  Where is she?  People talk differently and use different methods of speaking when they’re in all these situations.  When we meet the narrator in Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and he has a gun in his mouth, he seems pretty calm about it.  With the angsty self-destructiveness of the character aside, people who have been through situations like that are pretty traumatized and exercise reluctance to recall even tiny details.  With this in mind, did Palahniuk construct a realistic narrative?
    Finally, writers should always consider the audience—not readers of the story that you as a writer in this world are typing, but the person or medium through which the narrator is delivering the story within the microcosm of the story.  Is the narrator retelling the story to a police officer, his mother, her sister, his best friend, or partner?  To a group of people?  Is she writing it down, or is she merely thinking it?
    There’s my favorite situation which I call “the guy sitting in a bar drowning his sorrows” method.  This can make your narrator multi-dimensional and complex.  The ability to withhold secrets, to divulge others, and to tell tiny lies in order to impress the listener.  It also resolves the problem of figuring out who the audience is:  Namely, some poor shlub at a bar who’s there and doesn’t care.
    This is what Charles Johnson used in his novel Middle Passage.  Johnson has a solid narrative formula: a slick-talking freed slave (whom we actually do meet in a bar in the book) who might give the listener the impression that he’s blowing his experiences out of proportion to garner both prestige and sympathy.  This narrative uses an excellent context as well, because if you’re sitting at a bar and listening to his story, then you might miss little details that don’t make sense and poke holes in the story the narrator is telling—which is a good thing.  I promise you that you’d miss the same details as a casual reader, too.
    It’s also tough to not be boring with your narrative.  Why?  Because most stories are really boring.  Most conversations are really boring and we wouldn’t retell them.  Sometimes the more realistic you get, the more boring the story can become.  This can be because of the audience.  Consider the possibility of relaying a crazy night to a police officer or your grandmother. In both situations you’d probably leave out details.  Sometimes the story is just uninteresting, though.  There’s that little twinge you get before you open your mouth in real life that only somewhat translates to real words: “Is this worth telling? Will anyone care?”
    Or the narrator isn’t compelling.  This can be from a number of factors.  Here’s one we can all relate to: Your elderly (male) relatives might relay stories about wars in which they fought, but they don’t seem very exciting.  Meanwhile, on film and television, ‘splosions and blood and glistening, vascular muscles titillate the viewer’s senses.  So what happened?  Well, remember what I mentioned about trauma, and how people deliberately exclude some factors?  Do you think your grandfather or great-uncle thinks it was way awesome the way he torched that Vietnamese village to the tune of Papa Roach, dude?  No.  He probably shit himself for days afterwards because he couldn’t forgive himself and still can’t.  So when he tells you about little parts—like how after the battle at Omaha Beach (which he never gives you details on, because you’re just a kid), he got demoted to head chef and, well, that’s how he met his best friend Sal—that’s not an interesting story.  Sorry, granddad.
    When one considers that context, the nature of the narrator, and the identity of the audience are all factors in the way a story is told, one can begin to understand that all narratives—even those from real life—are fictions.  We tell them differently depending on who we’re talking to, how we remembered it, the emotions to which we attach those experiences (which are always changing), who we are, how well we remember details, and the medium through which the story is being told.  Which, in my opinion, makes writing narratives hard.
    I’ve worked really hard at writing narratives through my life.  Not necessarily because I’m lazy, but because I hate writing stories from an omniscient, thought-reading perspective unless I’m able to leave some thoughts un-read.  What I do is write narratives and read them aloud to see how they flow.  The hardest part is trying to present them in the tone of voice and manner intended for the narrator.  I’ve failed many times.  It used to be that, rather than making genuinely interesting stories, I’d usually end up writing lame fictional journals that copied the format of Chuck Palahniuk:
Here’s something nihilistic about how I view the world.  I am so calm.  Now here’s an informative, trivial tidbit you may not have known that’s actually quite dark and morbid.  I am a clever person, as evinced by the quirky phrase that I will use to end this paragraph.

    Then, unsatisfied with my writing style, I decided to go to college.  Not to study English or literature, but to study anthropology.  I did this to get brainstorming ideas, but also to look at how people tell stories.
    When you do anthropology you conduct interviews.  Then you know what you do?  You transcribe every word.  Every pause and laugh and “umm” and “yeah” and “so.”  By Odin’s beard, I transcribed so many interviews that it makes me shudder just thinking about it.  Do you know how long it takes to transcribe a thirty-minute interview?  Let’s not talk about it.
    After you’re done transcribing, you analyze what’s been said.  I learned that people tell stories in a certain way depending on who they’re talking to and the reasons they tell them.  They exclude and emphasize some ideas, and bring them up later on when they believe it will e more appropriate to do so.
    People rarely use traditional storytelling conventions like “He said, somberly.”  They might only say, “And he was so pissed off and was, like…” and give no indication of when another person’s speaking pattern begins and his/her own re-telling of that story begins.  Simply, people don’t speak with clear quotation marks or formal citations, and you often have to figure that out for yourself.
When people think about an intense or traumatic situation, it’s a sort of in-the-moment situation.  Think about accounts from police officers who have had to actually shoot at somebody.  They often don’t know how much time passed, what they were doing, how many rounds they pulled off, and so on.  They’re generally a shaky wreck and their narrative should follow accordingly: in a panic.  Use terse ideas and sentences, avoid needlessly long words or unnecessary adjectives, and so on.  (Unless you’re creating an unreliable, Picaresque narrator who’s to heroify himself.)
    People write down their experiences differently than they tell them aloud.  They might skip around some specific event that happened and generalize it around a sensation or feeling they had during that time.  In LiveJournal you might read something like, “Sheila made me feel really bad with what she said to me today”—but what she actually said might be excluded for dramatic effect.
    Finally, narrators often can’t think of the right way to explain something.  They might describe something differently twice.  They might forget something, then remember it, then forget it again.  There’s no need to interrogate someone or get aggressive when this sort of thing happens.  People re-evaluate the meaning of experiences all the time and there’s nothing wrong with that.  It’s how our brains work.  So just cool down, man.
    In my opinion, the best narrative writer, in terms of accuracy of his stories against how people actually speak and act, is Junot Diaz in The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.  It’s a palatable but realistic narrative.  He only occasionally uses quotation marks to indicate who’s talking or when, but it’s given in the context of someone re-telling you a story that someone else conveyed to the narrator anecdotally, verbally, and in writing.  There’s also no emphasized sense of “I” for a good part of the story, so it’s unclear who’s telling it (which can be dangerous but Díaz pulled it off flawlessly).  Believe me, it’s really hard to write this way and keep the narrative compelling.
    So what I do I recommend you do to improve your narrative writing?  Well, listen to or (be careful here) record conversations between yourself and other people, and see how everyone talks.  Transcribe them [this is where my groan goes] to get a better idea, and you’ll see how awkwardly you tell stories or convey ideas.
    Something I still do is play around with words and storytelling methods.  I try to write at least one short story (50 words minimum) per week using whatever voice I feel I need to express it in.  From a narrator telling you about his experiences, to someone in a panic right now, to someone giving you forewarning about something that’s going to happen, I’ve tried to play around with possibilities.
    And, of course, you should care about your narrator.  Even if it’s only 50 words.  It doesn’t need to be conflict and strife, but you can think to yourself, “How can I convey that this person is happy to have a daughter in his life?”  Then think about whether you care about something like that, and if others do.  Or look at it this way: You’re raising awareness about a storyteller’s cause, and people should pay attention to it.  After all, that’s why we tell stories.
 - Achilles Sangster II

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Deflated Part 2: Media Mail/Shemedia Shemail: Fun in Phonetics

Just as I feared, I got a package kicked back at me some odd days ago.  What I was trying to mail was comic books and the rate I chose was media mail- 'cause they are books, remember?   Thus continues last weeks quest of figuring out what in the hell exactly is a book or why a comic book is not considered a book by the Postal Service when concerning media mail.   So, I biked over to my local Post Office today with some questions.  Oh and below I have included the letter for your perusal:

Give it a click or a read if you like.  It's super non-specific.  I brought several copies of the different Funny Books we publish as well as a few by larger outfits like Pantheon and Fanta to ascertain what is the dealio.

To make matters more frustrating for my end I called the number included in the above form, and after gently and lovingly navigating the USPS telemenu system I was greeted by slightly uncertain representative of the Postal Service who did not believe comic books were excluded from Media Mail.  Obviously, this added to the confusion.

Upon arriving at my local Post Office, I was given a sheet that stated comic's are not allowed media mail rates.  Here is a close up:

As you can see I high lighted books, comic books, and no.  The Postal worker said that for some of these book/comics there was maybe a bit of a grey area.  I was also told that if I wanted a more definitive answer on all this to go to the Post Office down town.  Which is what I will do next week for part 3.  My apologies on dragging this out but I have been busy with other things.

Another note, I was made aware that the Post Office is to manually check 1 in 5 packages that are shipping the media mail rate.  Fun fact!  

Art by Luke Holden from an upcoming Funny Book we are putting out early next year.