Thursday, May 31, 2007

Color Me Toffler


Not two days ago, I posted an email from Chris, in which he wrote:

"Software developers should be working on the next level and getting away from keyboards, mouse entry, and focusing more on touch screen, speech, eye and hand movements. That sort of thing. "

To which I replied:

"While I don't deny that it's a great and wonderful story, the "Minority Report" interface is probably going to remain an unrealized reality. ... I don't see software developers exactly coming in their pants at the interactive design possibilities these technologies open up."

You can read the whole exchange here.

And then - well, I can safely assume that if you have a computer with an internet connection (you're reading this, yes?), then you've already seen it, but go check out the Microsoft Surface here.

All right? Fine. Yes. I was full-on wrong. In my defense, I can only say that at the very least, I didn't pussyfoot around with any grey areas. I was completely and definitively and absolutely wrong. I couldn't have been more wrong. This could be an interesting power, making public statements on record that are not only immediatley disproven but flat-out refuted by reality not two days later. Let me try something:

Dave Kopperman will never, never ever win the largest Powerball drawing in the contest's history.

All right, I'll keep you posted on that. I guess if it works, I can just hire someone to write the Rambler. So it'll be a win/win situation for all concerned!

But these powers - what an awesome responsibility... the ability to make reality change just to prove me wrong. I guess I'll need some kind of superhero name and costume. Say, "The Non-Predicter" (chest symbol of a question mark with an arrow through it), or "The Future Gainsayer" (symbol: a squirrel tossing acorns into a storm drain), or "Mr. I'll Tell You Why Not!" (symbol: Herbert Hoover, a potted chicken and a car in a garage).

Now that I have these abilities, I promise only to use them for the common good. Also, maybe, you'd want to consider not getting on my bad side. You know. I mean, if I were to suggest that you'd never spontaneously combust because we all know that kind of thing is just an urban legend, well. You know. Or suggest that you'd never get audited because I'm sure that your understanding of the tax code is fairly thorough?

Just something to consider, and a reminder that my birthday is coming up in just six short months, so maybe you want to start thinking about what to gift me, now. Lest I get all non-predicty on you.


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Burning the Dynamite at Both Ends

We-lll, I'm not sure if it's the stupid late to bed, early to rise hours I've been keeping, the 25 pounds of airborne mold and mildew that I inhaled during Friday's basement cleaning, or just the pollen out there that's giving everything a dusty jaundice, but I feel like crap.

Also, it's late, I've got an 8:00 meeting tomorrow, and I hit my head yet again, this time on the metal towel rack in the kitchen as I was standing up from feeding the cat.

Not that I'm angry at the cat. She's my constant companion while Yesenia is away, and she's even a little depressed at her mistress' absence. She's also been mopey since the basement flooded and the house has been in emergency lockdown mode. At least by this weekend, the basement will be finally cleared out, so her litter box can go back down.

Anyway, all of this means that, even though I won't be able to sleep, I also entirely lack within me the cognition to assemble a decent Rambler for you. Apologies. I hope to do a couple of really nice content ones this weekend, with all of the free time I'll have. Last weekend was houseguests, and barbecues, and moving my mother, and visits to NYC, and demolition, and 3 AM trips to Newark International. This coming weekend will be just me and the cat and the house. Not sure which I prefer, but I know one thing: there'll be a lot of sleeping away those daytime hours for me coming up.

A side note: I might finally have come up with a decent lyric hook for a chord change & melody that I've had lurking around for about six months, now - an ambling piano piece that I'd recently taken to calling "The Flood of '07," mostly as a joke. But then I realized that I'd never really tried to write one of those Arlo Guthrie songs, before - the rains come up and the dam fails and everyone knows it's coming and there's nothing they can do - and it seemed like it might be kind of fun. Hopefully, I can fit some actual poignance in there, too, and exorcise a lot of the negativity I've been feeling since the basement flooded. THe bridge lyric came to me whole, and I think it points the way to the rest of the song:

"In the auditorium,
small behind the podium,
the Rev. Mr. Jimmy Young
tried to ease the crowd -
but that's when we lost power."

I like the idea of a series of vignettes as the town realizes the full extent of the calamity. Of course, there's only three verses, not much (if any) chorus, and the bridge, so I've got to really whittle out some punchy imagery to create a full narrative in only a few lines. I think I need for the title to be a little more vivid - it's kind of flat, now. If I can really nail the title, that'll give me all the context I need and the lyrics can be a little more free. We'll see. Perhaps I can get Billie Joe McAllister to throw something else off the Tallahatchie Bridge. It worked for Bobby Gentry!


Monday, May 28, 2007

Art vs. Commerce vs. A Rabies-Crazed Grizzly

Chris and I were speaking today - well, I was blathering and Chris was considerately not putting my head on the grill and then slamming the lid on it over and over - about ART and why we sometimes lose our connection to it, COMPUTERS and why they haven't improved our connections to them, and CONNECTIONS and why we sometimes computer our art into petunias.

What? Sorry, that got away from me.

Anyway, Chris sent me a follow-up on his end of the conversation, and I sent him some noise in return, and I think the whole thing (edited for clarity) is interesting enough to be tonight's Rambler. Maybe it's not Hitchcock/Truffaut, but it's probably better than O'Donnell/Hasselbeck.

For the sake of readability: Chris in bold, and me in italics.

in regard to computers:

The overall concept I have for computers is that the software should learn to become more intuitive. Maybe not even have the standard 6 or 7 heading up on top, with hierarchical sub menus. I don't mind keyboard shortcuts but I feel their times has come and gone. Software developers should be working on the next level and getting away from keyboards, mouse entry, and focusing more on touch screen, speech, eye and hand movements. That sort of thing. Why can't I just look at an icon, and have it open? Maybe a wink is a double click, or if I squint, the picture gets darker.... I don't know... something like that.... getting away completely from the PC altogether, and just making an integral part of the house. Your car, your cabinets, your refrigerator, your dishwasher, your tv, your lighting, whatever..... all an integrated unit. you'll know if you're low on gas, out of milk, need more pasta, running low on detergent, lightbulb is about to burn out, play games on
your tv, watch tv on your stovetop....... all this needs to happen, and we need to get away from this 15 year old computer interface......

Hello, Bill, get on it!

On 'convergence': The dream - or myth - of the fully integrated life with the smart agents and the avatars and the software with the learning curve and the hey-hey-hey it hurts me has been around for so long that its hair has grown hair. While I don't deny that it's a great and wonderful story, the "Minority Report" interface is probably going to remain an unrealized reality. I see a lot of movement on the interactive plasma technology front, but bear in mind that touch screen technology and even tablet monitors have been around for long enough to no longer be state-of-the-art (in fact, I think I used my first touch-screen monitor at the 1982 Knoxville World's Fair, along with my first Imax film) and I don't see software developers exactly coming in their pants at the interactive design possibilities these technologies open up. For better or worse, the free market will decide when the time is right to install Majel Barrett Roddenberry into your dishwasher. If people don't want a dishwasher that talks (or a car that tells you that your seat belt is unfastened, for that matter), then the market will never deliver.

Further - even though endless typing is not the funnest thing in the world, I note that both you and I are more coherent when we pass our thoughts through the keyboard. I can't speak (or type) for you, but I can tell you that I've been using this keyboard for long enough that it's become an integrated part of my creative process. I type faster than I print, and I think in type both clearer and faster than with my mouth. There's another feedback loop for you - how the tool has helped to shape the process. Bear in mind that the intelligence that separates us from the rest of the apes has be theorized to be a direct result of the evolution of the opposable thumb, so I wouldn't be so quick to remove the thumb from the human/machine interface.

Anyhow, Bill did get on it. The rest of us just can't afford it.

in regard to intellectual pursuits:

When I was younger, I kind of devoted my energies into writing, music, and photography, and a little bit of sketching. I found that it was impossible to maintain a relationship with anyone when I did this, because I became very moody and withdrawn. I also realized that I was not ready to devote the time it took to become really good at any of these things.

Yeah, no denying that the process can make you moody, and I've certainly entertained my periods of artistic despair, but moodiness is an energy, and it's a different thing in your thirties than your teens and twenties.

For what it's worth, I've seen your photography and I think you have a great eye, and the time may have come (as you said) to stop putting roadblocks in your own path and see what you might do. There's no guaranteeing that it will come easily - in fact, art, like science, is a process, not an end result. But art is not necessarily something that has to be dragged kicking and screaming to the surface that must be inflicted, rather than presented, to others. I don't buy that the artist must suffer for their art, but who knows? Maybe you've just listened to too much Ministry.

I just kind of decided to put it all out of my head, and move on with work and family..... Then the kids started to get old enough that they didn't require the constant attention that infants and toddlers require, and I thought I might pick up where I left off. I mean I hadn't played guitar, sang a note, or written anything besides business letters for a good 10 years at that point.

I am a bit of a voyeur. I watch people, take pictures, take mental notes, but I don't participate. That's just who and what I am.

So many times I've daydreamed in the middle of the day, and thought of an amazing idea for a story, but when I find the time to get down to it, I get about 2 pages in and stop. And I never go back. As far as photography goes, I'll put it to you this way, I lost touch with [an artist friend] for a while, and when [they] re-emerged , [they] had asked me to e-mail photos of what I am doing now with photography. So I sent what I thought was good stuff, and [they] said those pictures of my kids were nice, but [they] were expecting something else.

Let's start with the seeming implication that art cannot be about your family. Have [they] not heard of Jock Sturges, Sally Mann? It's a pretty basic concept that if your life has been dedicated to your family, your art could be as well. Secondly, even without the precedence of great and notable photographers who primarily shoot their close family, who is ANYONE to judge what an artist's subject matter can be? Can [they] think that abstract sculpture is a more elevated art than a direct document of your childrens' lives?

A better question is, should you? I don't need to tell you that I find most divisions between high-art, low-art, is-art and isn't-art to be entirely arbitrary, but this isn't even about that. It's about the mind-fuck that the art school mentality puts on people and the way we can buy into it and then judge everything through that particularly distorted and narrow lens. Disregard [them]. What [they] think is 'art' has nothing to do with how you should proceed.

Conversely, what I think about art has nothing to do with how you should proceed. If the artist has one mission, it's to satisfy themselves, and to only accept whatever criticism they feel applies to the betterment of their work. I consider my art to be a constant oil check on the contents of my head, often writing songs and creating comics (back when I created comics) that not only help to put my feelings into perspective but also give me hints as to thinks that I didn't even know I'd thought. So, it's a cheap form of self-analysis.

In my case, art is the conversation between my intellectual interests and my subconscious. For some, art is a purely aesthetic exercise, wrestling their own form of order onto a perceived chaos. I suspect that for you, your art may be that of observation and comment on others. But who knows? The only way to create art is to create it, and get an internal feedback loop going with that part of your brain that looks at it and thinks what would improve it.


All right. An interesting discussion, no? I'd be very interested to hear any other thoughts on any of that. Karl? I know you're out there...


Sunday, May 27, 2007

One Man's Content is Another Man's Floss

Not much to say, tonight, as today was a day light on intellectual challenges and heavy on the moving of objects. Did the speed-barbecue thing, since the first one was at 2:30 and the other started at 3 and were on opposite ends of the county. Then I blew out of the second one after about 40 minutes to help my mother move the very last truckloads of her unsorted belongings from Englewood to Tappan. Then we scared up a restaurant for dinner (hard enough on Memorial Day Sunday, apparently), were sat in the overloud bar, and I ordered the meatloaf, which actually turned out to have not one but two different kinds of bacon in it.

Mmm. Salty. But, really, why even bother calling it meatloaf? I mean, sure, bacon(s) is meat, but the ground beef in this was more like filler. Nitrate Log Smothered in Mushroom Gravy would have been more accurate - albeit far, far less appetizing to read about.

Not like I needed more beef - I had a burger at each barbecue, and that's two more than I usually have in a day. I have pulverized bovine in me. Eww. I wonder if it's possible to will my enzymes to digest faster.

Wait. I have enzymes in me. Ewww.

The highlight of the day (other than cracking my head on the 90 degree corner of the oak bench at the restaurant and being glowered at by one of the elderly residents of my mother's new apartment complex for driving 15 MPH in a 10 MPH zone) was at the first barbecue, where Jim and I got to view the host's pretty snazzy collection of comic art (he works for Marvel). Well, Jim looked, I mostly peeked, because I'd probably still be there now poring over pages if I'd really been paying attention.

Tomorrow, I'm going to try to throw a few more hours of repair time at the house. Well, not 'repair time,' yet... I'm still in demolition mode for the basement, which is Flashing Red Priority One with Double Klaxons.

What can I say? The basement's a horrid, horrid, gooey, gooey mess, and every moment I spend down there is torture. Still, with Putnam on Friday, we got a lot cleared out, but I spent a good hour performing triage on some boxes of my old art and writings that got a partial soaking. That's the part of the whole damp affair that I was most dreading - the part that reveals the personal cost, rather than the financial - and it turned out to not be so bad. Some of my old drawings now have some funky new stains, and a couple of my flipbooks were shot, and some others became a bit more... shall we say, "Psychedelic" than they used to be.

There's an interesting project, if I ever get around to it: scanning all my old flipbooks and making animated gifs out of them. Talk about time consuming, but that would be a pretty interesting segment on the site. After all, before I wanted to do comics, I'd wanted to be an animator, and between the ages of 8 and 16, I'd worked up quite a canon. There even lurks somewhere a four minute Inspector Gadget cartoon that I'd done when I was twelve (my friend Dave did one at the same time. His was better).

I'm not frankly sure what the priority should be for this site - archiving all of my old content that's of any interest, or as a platform for my new artistic endeavors. I mean, I know it will have both, but I was such a prolific doodler in my younger years that I could easily spend the rest of my life preparing an archive for it. I'd sort of be like James Lileks, except instead of scanning, posting and mocking other people's ephemera, I'd be scanning, posting and mocking my own.

Still, the various floods and other disasters that have befallen the house in the last season have convinced me that the next step is for the house and all of its contents to undergo SMEF, and then all of that stuff really would be lost. So, despite the questionable value of bronzing all of my own poop, I think doing it will be better than not. At least it would mean that the content side of the site will be freaking huge.

The only things that would be exempt from that web archiving are my earliest songs and recordings. No-one, least of all me, needs to have a place that that stuff can be easily and instantly accessed from anywhere on the planet, any time of day. I'm pretty sure that's not what Arthur C. Clarke, Vannevar Bush and Al Gore had in mind for the age of Individualized Telecommunication. If anything, I should make it more difficult to access, lest anyone should accidentally hear something that causes them to sue me for emotional distress.

Anyone know where I can lay my hands on an mp3 to wax converter?


Other People's Music

For starters: apologies for missing a day, but given yesterday's (Friday, that is) jam-packed schedule, and the fact that this is pretty much the last thing I do before bed each night, by the time we got into bed at 1:00, I was only going to get two hours of sleep before I had to get up to take Yesenia to the airport. So the Rambler fell silent.

Anyway, now I face ten days without the wife - and I'm not one of those married men that yearns for any kind of freedom. Basically, Yesenia's absence translates into cranky, moody behavior and an even greater degree of insomnia than I usually suffer from. So I the next few entries get increasingly self-pitying/mawkish/incoherent, at least you'll know why.

Spent the day hanging out with a couple of artist friends - both musicians, also in their mid-30's, both facing crossroads in their careers. Meaning that pretty much my entire day was spent giving advice and offering comment on their situations when I haven't even been able to sort it out for myself - simply put, how to proceed?

Putnam, a singer-songwriter in a folk/acoustic vein, seems to be on an upswing - he's just finished recording and album and has lined up some musicians to play shows with, and booked himself a few shows. If he plays his cards right, he should be able to build a small career touring the New England coffee house 'scene.' A scene I wasn't aware of until today, but I am assured exists. Which is good, because if you've ever met any New Englanders, you know how much they need a mellow place just to get some fucking coffee.

The other, Kristen, is in more of the same boat as me - a songwriter in a rock context who fronts a power trio. Kristen has suffered the same seemingly endless personnel changes as the type that plagued Copper Man during our seven year run. In our case, we were constantly breaking in new guitar players. For Kristen, it's either a new bassist or a new drummer, depending on the year. In the time I've known her - since 2002, when she answered an ad to audition for Copper Man, no less - she's had four bass players (although this last has stuck around for three years or so) and no fewer than four drummers in the last two years. And her most recent drummer just quit, meaning that she's half-heartedly embarked on the search for a fifth.

A fifth of scotch? Ha fucking ha. (No, although I'm sure she feels like she needs one.)

So, she's started to question even the point of proceeding in the context of the band as it is, and I feel both ill-equipped and perfectly suited to offer her any advice on the situation, since, when faced with the same decision a year-and-a-half ago with Copper Man, I decided just to shelve the fucking thing and walk away. And the sense of sheer relief I got when I registered that that particular outlet for my musical ambitions was truly over-and-done with released from me a mighty sigh, a sigh that shook the foundations of Heaven and Earth! Maybe you felt it? Big gassy rumble, back in January of 2006? Maybe it was more localized than I thought.

However, I can't bring myself to just tell Kristen to cash it in - although a goodly number of her friends have been telling her to do just that - simply because it feels wrong to do so, somehow. Mostly, it feels wrong because I think she's such an excellent writer and performer that she needs to have an outlet for her compositions. But I doubt she'd be happy with the solution I came up with to keep going for myself - namely, to construct a new band in which I was deliberately just a member and not the lead writer.

And I really doubt that she'd leap at the second part of my own musical reconfabulation, namely, giving up the lead vocal chores. Nor should she - in Copper Man, my position as lead singer was always by default, and ultimately it was a bad choice, hurting the strength of the music. I knew our songs were great, and that I just wasn't up to the task of singing them - since being a lead singer requires good pitch, projection, easy charm and sex appeal, all of which I lack (well, I'm dead sexy, but I lack the rest).* Towards the last year of the life of the band, I'd already made up my mind several times to find another singer, but was argued out of it. So the first decision I made when the new band came together that not only would I not write complete songs and would open up the lyric writing to all members, but that we'd get a singer, preferably female, to record the damn songs.

For Kristen, this part isn't an option, because she does possess all the great frontman qualities - she's got great pitch, excellent projection, charm to burn and (like me) she's quite sexy. But clearly the trio format no longer works for her. After all, what good is a tricycle if every trip down the sidewalk, you have to run out to buy a new wheel? Time to give up the fucking trike and upgrade to a Radio Flyer.

Lord knows what the Radio Flyer represents in this analogy - a band where everything is painted red enamel? - but it's at least a hint at a new strategy.

In other words, in Copper Man, the weakness was myself. For Kristen, the weakness is the structure of the band and the sound and style of the way it plays her music. So: how to create an environment where she can:

1) Write and sing the bulk of the material,
2) Maintain the environment without upheaval,
3) Find a way to make this new thing - whatever it is - a worthwhile pursuit.

And that's where it sits. I've suggested that she find a co-frontman, someone who could have a hand in writing the material while leaving her with the role of lyricist and singer, but she seems reluctant to pursue, and I don't say as I blame her. She's got such a unique style in mind that I don't see how she could fit anyone else's compositions in, and the primary time I tried that in Copper Man - the aforementioned Ryan Kaplan - the results were like chalk and cheese, if the chalk were radioactive and the cheese were (say) a fine, nutty Brie.

To me, the main stumbling block to finding Kristen a wider audience is the challenging nature of her arrangements. In many ways, her songs are straightforward enough (new wave anxiety like the love child of Tom Verliane and Chrissy Hynde), but every song is worked into a mini-suite, a collection of time-signature turnarounds and rhythm section feats of showy technique that push the music more into almost a Rush kind of context, with each song having not an ABACAB structure, but something that more resembles On Beyond Zebra in terms of sheer number of riffs, verses, pre-choruses, choruses, chorus variations, first bridges, second bridges, tacets, fugues, etc.

And the sad part is, losing that would change a fundamental part of what I've liked about her music - those clusterfuck arrangements. But what could be gained? Thematic clarity, renewed focus on lyric and melodic content, music that plays to her strengths as a singer and a trained actress, and above all, more direct communication with the audience.

I think that I could live with hearing that change in her. Frankly, I'd love it. But would she? I hope so, because the alternatives - either another go-round with the power trio or giving it up altogether - don't excite this fan.

Note: The entire reason this became a Subway Rambler entry rather than an email to Kristen should be apparent, but for those that missed it: all of the above says much more about me and my musical tastes than Kristen. She knows what to do and will figure it out without any influence or advice from me. In fact, following my advice in real life - much like in a game of Risk - can only ever lead to total disaster. Or at the very least, the loss of Kamchatka.


Actually, there's one area of frontsmanship in which I excelled, and that was between song banter. I mean, woo-hoo, but it's something. To this day I can listen to a live recording of one of our shows and laugh at something I just came up with, out of the blue.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Memorialize This

Whoof. That's for the day that's just past. Up at 7:00, solid day of work followed by helpling my mother take the last of her belongings to her new apartment, followed by a quick, late dinner at the diner, followed by our houseguests arriving at around 11:30, followed by some quick work for the office, followed by this. Regardless what the Google server thinks, as I write this, it's past Midnight on Thursday. I'm guessing the Google server is either in California, or just needs someone to replace the two AA batteries.

Whoof, whoof. That's for the day ahead, where I take my car in for inspection, do assloads of work on the basement and the dining room and hopefully get what's in the driveway over to the dump, help my mom a little more, get the dry cleaning, repair the garden hose, etc. I'm sure there's something I'm forgetting.

Whoof, whoof, whoof. You guessed it: Saturday. Wake up at 3 AM to take Yesenia to Newark airport, later head into Manhattan for various social engagements.

Sunday, the friend's BBQ.

Monday? Fuck, I have no idea what's going on Monday, but somewhere in all that, I need to put together a newsletter and brochure for a client. Maybe that will be Friday evening and Saturday morning? I'd love to get it out of the way and keep the rest of the weekend work free, but I'm such a deadline worker, I'll probably start both at 11:30 Monday night.

Really, I'm just shot. Sorry for the no-humor, straight-up datebook kind of entry, but the brain is in neutral and coasting to save gas, right now. I suspect that the Rambler this weekend will be a little light, but at some point, I'll post some lovely shots from out Tuesday night cruise around Battery Park to raise money for kids hockey(?).

Anyway, you should turn off the computer, get outside and enjoy what (at least here in the Northeast) promises to be a warm and sunny weekend. Go on.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

From the cheap seats

More response from John on the reappearance of these fifteen-year-old pages from At the End of the World with my Sister. My response to his response was originally going to be in yesterday's comments field, but it got kind of unwieldily for that. After today, we'll move on to subjects other than incomplete B&W comics from the 1990's, but he raises some points I want to discuss, anyhow.

Anyhow, John wrote: "You know, I've probably intimated this before, but I feel at this point I can say it with absolute confidence... your comics work had commercial polish. And mine had none. That might explain why you're at least working in a creative field and I'm shuffling paperwork... I know you have great respect for me as a comic-book artist, but I just don't feel the call of it anymore... it got me through my prolonged adolescence. Cheers to that. And I'm only writing such a personal talkback because apparently no one is reading your blog besides me and your sister."

Yeah, not too many riders on the Subway Rambler. Even still, I promise not to talk about your cross-dressing here.

I don't know if I agree with you on the assessment of our comparative commercial potential, if only because the concept of what's commercial in comics has moved quite a bit in recent years. A graphic novel no longer has to compete with John Byrne's Alpha Flight for shelf space and reader attention, because a whole host of new markets has opened up for readers who would NEVER have considered buying a comic before. Leah is a case in point, because she bought Alison Bechdel's (really, really great) Fun Home - in fact, it was her copy I read (I'm waiting for the trade to buy myself), which I think marks the first time SHE'S lent ME a comic. Now there's a paradigm shift for you.

Your work is not only appealing to me - as I'm one of those weird, rare fans of all kinds of comics (save manga) - but would, I can guarantee, find a very willing market down roads already blazed by the likes of Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Craig Thompson, Seth, etc.

In fact, the neither fish-nor-fowl quality of my work could be a turn-off to people in both the mainstream and art comics worlds. But there's also a growing market of people who like their sci-fi comics on the artsy side - witness the Flight anthologies, so maybe there's an in for Sister, as well.

I do agree that I aimed for polish, but I find these first few pages of Sister wildly inconsistent. They get better, though, and
The Fox was a major step up from that. Renunciation promises to be better still, and I hope it's good enough to get some real mileage out of. As soon as the current crises of home-wrecking and non-stop work weeks have passed and I have some serious time to dedicate to it, that's the first thing on my plate. If I do return to Sister - and that's still a highly provisional "if" - it won't be until I've gotten a few really successful (from a creative standpoint) shorter works under my belt. I refuse to throw myself into the deep end of the pool right off, this time around.

Now: to other readers, I want to assure you that's John's writing and draftsmanship in comics is without peer, so all that he says can be taken with a large hunk of salt. I only wish he'd self-publish, or find a publisher, or post on the goddamned web his mid-90's graphic novella Scaredy Cat, which, as I noted, could not only easily find a wide audience, but deserves to be seen by one. Anyone out there who is in the slightest bit interested in comics as art - or heck, just plain art - should try to will John into releasing this thing in some format.

If John gives me permission, I'll post some of those pages myself. Although scans from a decade-old Xerox vs. the original art boards won't do it proper justice, so we can only hope he chooses to do some scanning himself.

Hey, John! I bought a 12" x 18" scanner solely for the purpose of scanning comics pages without having to paste the two halves back together in PhotoShop. I put it at your disposal, and ivite you out for beer, BBQ and scanning once the summer gets underway.

Anyone else need anything scanned? Hey, put that away.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Where were you when the lights went poof

You all remember back in Summer of 1993 when that wormhole opened and something crashed in the Mississippi Delta and, like, 99.9% of the human population just disappeared in a flash? And then all the American survivors got on a riverboat to head south, because there were clues that something down there was the cause? Also, living on water was safer, because at night, legions of strange and terrifying anthropomorphs swarmed over the land, seeking out and destroying any human life they could find in truly gruesome ways?

And, of course, Louise Miller and her brother Dan ended up of the boat as well, and there was Jodie, and her estranged husband, and when the pulses began and Dan found the book, and he ended up in the beam and saw the stored versions and the encroaching well - well, best not to dwell on that too long. Dan nearly drowned, what, three times? And that crazy thing with the anthropomorphs crushing themselves into the music store?

The chase through the mountains at night after the destruction of New Orleans (yeah, it only happened 14 years ago, so I don't know why everyone was so uptight about Katrina) was pretty freaky, but after the avatars of Jupiter and Saturn appeared in that shit-encrusted swamp shack? And the town-hall meeting with the pipes? And the Sheriff's card game? Maybe it was kind of too much, those campfire executions, but you know, things were different back then. After all, we all thought that we were the last survivors of the human race.

You don't remember? Really? Not even the Beachcomber? I'm still a little unclear on whether he was real or just a story I heard, but in either case, he was very old, and very, very tired, and all the other rooms he'd lived in weren't really all that warm, so he was kind of cold, to boot. So, he found his way South, too, when he got real enough to do so. Even though it seemed like Jupiter and Saturn were trying to stop him. Maybe his waveform was just stronger? Maybe we just didn't understand. But there were three possible routes, and somehow, we just ended up on the wrong one. That happens sometimes, when you're not paying close attention to your driving. And I still think Beachcomber did his best to get us back on to the main road. No matter what you think.

And all those junks, headed East. What was that about? They sure were moving fast, though. Gliding across the water, even without the wind. Those were fucked up.

And Dan Miller. Sure, he was a loser - an immature, misanthropic, racist, misogynistic, self-loathing and solipsistic twerp. But he did manage to save the world (we think), so that's got to count for something. And considering everything that happened to him before and after the end of the world, I think maybe he deserves a little sympathy. Not much, but some.

You really don't remember that at all? Jeez. Maybe you just slept through it. Or blocked it all out. But it'll come back to you. We were all there. You'll remember, someday. On the main road.


P.S.: Clicking those pictures might refresh your memory

The Beginning of the End of the World

John wrote the other day (in response to the blog about my abandoned graphic novel At the End of the World with My Sister):

"To this day, I cannot comprehend why you got so demoralized and gave up on ATEOTWWMS. The first issue was quite good and the second issue was looking a lot better, in terms of the story picking up some steam."

Well, clearly the reason I gave it up is that as an acronym, it totally blows. Where's the elegance of "ST:TNG" or "WTF?" I'd taken to shortening it to just "Sister," but to my lights, all great works of sci-fi have to be able to have that great acronym.

Anyway, the reasons are manifold (clunky storytelling, unclear direction, more than I could chew, self-doubt, rickets), but only one really matters (psyched myself out). Here's most of the prologue. I'll let it go mostly without comment, except to note that the drawing quality varies wildly, from quite nice to pretty amateurish; the title lettering was done by hand - mostly copied out of my Letraset catalogue because I couldn't afford the real stuff and I actually enjoyed doing that kind of shit, and I have to confess that the wormhole on the first page is probably inspired most directly by the film version of Howard the Duck.

Also: the reason the panel borders are all bendy is not by some aesthetic choice, but because I used border tape that has, in the 14 years since it was affixed to the page, shrunk and warped. Those used to be nice straight lines. That was the point of the border tape in the first place. Ditto the mechanical tones (not Zip-a-Tone, which I hated and was either going or gone out of business by that point, anyway, but LetraTone), which is why there are halos around all the mechanical tones. Shame, because I was really anal about laying that stuff in just right.

Remember to click for bigness, and apologies for the two page spreads, which will require some horizontal scrolling!

Next: What the hell was all that about?


Monday, May 21, 2007

Almodovar vs. Sim

Yesenia and I watched "Volver," last night. One of those odd movies that's totally enjoyable (if a mite slow) while you're watching it, and when it ends, you wonder what the hell the point was. I know, Almodovar is a great filmmaker (he is), and maybe there isn't supposed to be a point, but he plays around with such weighty topics in this movie - GUILT, DEATH, MURDER, SEXUAL ABUSE, ADULTERY - that I can't let him off the hook for failing to tie it all together successfully. After all, if you're going to raise big questions, you've got to be willing to provide your answers to them. They don't have to be the answers, after all - nobody expects to have a spiritual enlightening at a Penelope Cruz film, but I think that's what artists are supposed to do - provide their own answers to the big questions, and then ask you what you think.

That can, of course, backfire. My favorite all time comic - well, it was and should have continued to be - was Cerebus. There's absolutely no way I can compress all of my thoughts about this remarkable work into one Rambler, and I lack the energy to even try this evening, but briefly: Cerebus is a 6000 pagee graphic novel created by Canadian wirter/artist Dave Sim, which he release in monthly installments from 1977 to 2004, for a total of 300 issues. Over the course of the creation of Cerebus, Sim let the audience know that he intended the work to be a record of his own search for truth.

Of course, by the end of the series, Sim's own truth led him to become a fairly strident anti-feminist bible/torah/koran thumper (he combined all of the Judeo-Christian religions into one very odd polyfaith unique to himself)- which wouldn't have been such a bad thing had he not felt the need to report it Cerebus. By the 285th issue, when he began his own exegesis of Genesis in the body of the comic in 6-point type to run for a full eight issues, it became crystal clear just how dreadful the other side of the equation can be: not only does an artist offer his answers to the truth, but the absolutely insist with utmost confidence that theirs are the only ones that are valid.

What does the artist owe society? What does the artist owe their own fanbase? In a capitalist society, whether an artist relies either on one wealthy patron or many smaller ones (Sim self published Cerebus, and over the course of its run went from over 20,000 readers an issue to closer to 5,000), the point is, their art needs to satisfy a need in an audience in order to allow the artist to continue producing. Almodovar chooses to dither around with the same themes in film after film, and also shows the same endless fascination with women as SIm (pro-woman, in Almodovar's case), yet refuses to give the satisfaction of a conclusion. Sim is all conclusions, which turned out to be even less satisfactory. If it turns out that the universe is as Sim understands it, it's a dreary place indeed.

Maybe art is a trick: you imply that you have an answer, but you refuse to give it away. That's the David Lynch method, whose work is full of signs and portents, mysteries that seem to hold answers of cosmic import. But what it gets down to is his Spielberg-like ability to maniplulate his audience, and to build mountains out of mole-hills (or mashed potatoes), only do it in such a stylish way that no-one ever notices.

Of course, this is a purely academic argument - there are plenty of artists who have no aspect of 'truth seeker' to their work, and have had long and successful careers. But. Think of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. Why is one regarded as a saint among men and the other merely a gifted tunesmith? And why is the saint treated as the true artist while the tunesmith fights for respect?

Art may well be a Rorschach Test, but we revere our artists who give us a hint what we should see. The ones who only ask what we see? They just piss us off.


Saturday, May 19, 2007

It ain't easy bein' green

At the studio again, all day. Mixing goes slowly, but the mixes have been coming out excellent, so it's worth it. Ryan Kaplan (the artist) is a little stressed out by the time it takes - and I don't blame him, as he's a new father and under pressure to spend time at home and also not spend money - but I suspect that the quality of the work is convincing him that it'll be worth the time. Probably one extra session will do it, really.

Of course, it's all easy for me to say - it's not my money. But it is my time, and given everything that (blah, blah, blah) has been piling up around the house, time is doubtless the most valuable commodity I have.

Too, I've gone through the same thing with the mixing sessions for Selling the Downtown Dream, and I know both the hopes of getting great mixes at maximum speed - hey, at one mix an hour, we could be done in a day and a half - and the anxiety-producing reality as you spend a third hour trying to figure out why the bass sounds like it was strung with used fan-belts and played with someone's limp dick.

I guess that would be my limp dick, considering I play the bass on both albums. But I digress.

Actually, let me continue the digression for a moment to pat myself on the back: the bass playing on Ryan's record is really neat. Really, really neat. It's by far the best playing I've ever done. The lines are tight and imaginative, and the playing itself is pretty damn smooth.

It's a little scary, because we're mixing stuff I played four years ago, and I can't even imagine playing some of it today. Of course, I haven't played bass in about two years, now, and at the time of the original tracking sessions, not only was it my primary instrument but I played it in a band that practiced regularly. But, seriously: if I'd enjoyed my bass playing while I was playing it half as much as I enjoy listening back to it four years later, maybe I wouldn't have been so cavalier about handing off the bass chores in the first place.

Gah. I sound like a sad old man crying for the lost love of his youth on his deathbed. In my defense, Yesenia has said that I'm very sexy while playing bass, but not expressed such sentiments about watching me play the Rhodes. Look, a bass is small and light, and you can wear it slung low around your waist and move your hands up and down the neck and it looks very sensual, but the Rhodes is this close to being a piece of furniture. It's damn hard to look sexy while you're pounding away at a veneer-covered plywood box about the size of a child's coffin. Just ask Michael McDonald.

In my life, I really have tried on and discarded a number of identities as an artist - animator, illustrator, pianist, bassist, drummer (kind of), songwriter, writer - and all of them have shown that with some diligence, to a greater or lesser degree, I had real skills to burn. I've always been hardest on myself while I'm in the mode, but it's odd to look back later and really nod in appreciation of what I'd accomplished.

In 1995, I walked away from comics in near total dejection, thinking that all the work I'd done up to that point was terrible, horrible, no good, etc. But the years have been kind to the work, and comics have been calling me back with increasing force over the last year, especially when I sit and look at the old pages that I'd done. What's funny is that when I gave them up, I'd suspected that it was something that I needed more maturity as an artist (and a person) to do the kind of work I wanted to do, and to be able to work through the hard parts without giving up.

I don't know that I'll ever return to the comic that broke me, an incomplete piece of sci-fi Americana called At the End of the World with my Sister, but I find it odd that if I sit and think about it for even a moment, I can completely call the entire 600-page graphic novel into my head, all the characters, all the plot, the symbols, even a good deal of the undone visuals. Which has to mean something. For the record, about 60 pages of Sister were written, lettered and pencilled, and 40 of those are fully inked. But to do it again would mean to start from scratch, and if there's one constant about me, it's that once I've done something once, very little can interest me in doing it again.

But here I am, and there it is, and if I owe myself anything in this world, it's to lay out the few things that are mine and mine alone. Sister was born out of the swirling miasma of anxiety that was the final end of my childhood, from nights of terrifying but enveloping dreams that came to me in my Junior year at RISD. Though it owes a lot to what I was reading at the time (particularly The Stand), it's about as close as I can claim to have come to a unique vision, a view of the world that didn't exist before I dreamed it. And the fact that it still lives in my head suggests that it's not yet done with me, even after all these years of neglect.

Hmmph. Well, if I do start that thing again, it's going to have to wait until I'm in my 40's. I just don't have the wherewithal to tilt at that particular windmill, just yet.

One of the students in my comics class is clearly losing interest in the visual arts and falling headfirst in love with playing the guitar. I couldn't get him to lift a pen the entire course, but the moment I offered to show him how to play "Blackbird" to impress his girlfriend, he sparked for the first time in 12 weeks.

I know just how he feels. It took me 12 years to feel good about a comic I drew, versus the four years it took me to love the bass playing I did on this recording. That's a much better rate of return.

Now if I can only find some of this "Instant gratification" I hear so much about, it'll all be worthwhile.


Friday, May 18, 2007

Stuff a Windsock in it

Looking over the blogs for the last week - indeed, the last month - it seems as though I feel my life is a never-ending struggle. Well, it may be, but it sure must be tedious to read about in post after post. I'd been making a real effort lately to curtail my sad-sack tendencies, left over from my mopey teen years (my teen years officially ended when I turned 28). Meaning, that when someone asks me how I am, I have to fight the urge to just rail off a list of complaints.

Not only have I not been too successful with altering that rather annoying personality tic in real life, I seem to have given it fresh license in these daily Ramblers. So not only has the Subway Rambler been a steady stream of my tiny miseries, it's also been so at windy, blowhardy length.

Bear in mind that I don't subscribe to some hokey self-therapeutic concept that focusing on positive things will eventually cause me to be a more positive person. Bullshit. I'm a miserable fucker, and what's more, I thoroughly enjoy being one. What I'm trying to do is to stop annoying people. Really, you'd think I'd have figured out by the age of 36 that when people - even good friends - ask you how you're doing, they don't really want to know.

And what's more, if every time you're asked that question you sigh, slump your shoulders and break out the world's smallest violin (that you carry around wedged up your ass) and play it for yourself, people are going to think you're just a crazy person. And not the good, entertaining Tiny Tim kind of crazy, either - miniature stringed instruments aside, I won't be playing "Tiptoe Through the Tulips." Anyone up for a few choruses of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald?"

So: somehow, I'll have to not only smiled through gritted teeth and say, "Fine, and you?" when asked, I'll also have to find a way to turn down the angst knob on the Subway Ramble just a hair. Not all the way, mind you - I know full well that there are those who enjoy watching a good train wreck in progress, and I promise not to cut you off cold turkey. But maybe we can mix in other flavors, too.

Speaking of flavors: I found something out tonight - which is good, because an adage I do like to subscribe to is learning something new every day. Did you know that if you cook a tuna steak long enough, it becomes pork? A slight scheduling mistake led me to cook tonight's dinner for about twice as long as I should have. A shame, because it really looked like such nice tuna. The consistency when we finally got to eat it really, no shit - just like pork.

See? Now, was that a glass half-full or glass half-empty kind of anecdote? Is there a way to relate the concept of overcooking a tuna steak and make it funny, without making it sound like I'm putting yet another entry in Dave's Ledger of Perpetual Self-Abuse? If there were enough of you out there reading this thing, I'd have some kind of contest to see if someone could rewrite the tuna story in a way that sets-up the points of the story, but instead of making me look like a helpless jackass in the kitchen, render me instead a sexy, roguish hero of the stove, who - ha-HAH! - has a comic misadventure one eve whilst preparing seafood for the lady.

Anyone handing out the lower middle class twit of the year awards?

Anyhow, I'll try not to blow so hard in the future, and thanks for reading. Sorry, no prizes just for that.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

The Decider

Well, after today, it's pretty clear that I have two choices:

1) Continue working the freelance job at the cost of my free time, health and sanity, or
2) Go back to just the one full-time job and give up the security of the extra income (also at the cost of my sanity).

Both scenarios meant the house will remain fuck't in one way or another. If I continue with the freelance gig - at 30 hours a week - I have no time to work on the repairs that need to be done. At this point, that's finishing the dining room ceiling and demolishing the basement, and removing the other half of the basement that's been sitting in the driveway for two weeks and counting. I'm thinking of adding a burned out '46 Chevrolet truck skeleton to the front yard on cinder blocks, just to balance it out and give the house that complete redneck look that's so in this year.

And, if I quit the gig, there goes the income that I could use to waterproof the basement, and do whatever major repairs need to be done. I mean, doing things yourself is great, but nothing says "Man of the house" like pulling out a checkbook and waving a contractor in the direction of some things that need whacking, then going off to lie in the hammock and read some Spider-Man.

There are other pressing uses for the money as well, but these are stories for another time and day. Check this space in a few months for what that might be about, hmm?

Spent another few hours in the studio today, mixing. Well, Ryan Ball (whose studio it is) did some mixing, and I sat around and made nattering comments about whether or not the kick drum was loud enough. Ryan humored me (as he always does), and we ended up 'getting a drum sound.' This seems like it would be straighforward enough, but drums are bastard things that are either too loud, or too quiet, or one part is too loud and the other is too quiet, or tinny, or boomy, or too 'dry,' or too 'wet,' etc. Entire wars have been fought that required less effort than goes into getting a drum sound in the mix that I'm happy with.

Hell, entire wars have been fought with less hardware than setting up the drum sound takes. Ryan has a set up that's probably small by professional studio standards, but it's still a few hundred thousand dollars worth of mixing boards, computers, hard drives, patch bays, compressors, clocks, pre-amps and cables. By the time Ryan is done patching things through (he does at remarkable speeds, considering that nothing seems to be labelled and the dozens of cables are all black and of identical length), the signal for each drum sound - broken down into 8 tracks, one to each piece of the kit - passes through enough circuits on its way from the computer and back again that British Telecom must be earning a royalty fee, somehow.

We did some last-minute overdubs (see! I said final was never final) to fill out the bridge, which seemed empty. We at first tried Wurlitzer, sounding a little Supertramp-ish, but then found - or refound, becuase I'm sure we knew this at some point - that the entire song was just a shade out of tune. In tune with itself, sure, but nothing could be overdubbed that couldn't be tuned to match it. So we intsead opted for a little Moog-like synth, which sounded pretty nice.

Oh! And speaking of things never being final, it turned out that all of Monday night's work - full vocals for two songs and various other overdubs - had been vanished by an automated hard drive incident. So all that work has to be done over.

I'm sorry. I meant, "All that fun needs to be done over."

Heading into a pretty busy weekend. Freelance full day tomorrow, an ad due for one of my other job's clients (that I really should be working on now, but it's off to bed for me and I'll rise at six to finish it up) and Saturday in the studio all day, Sunday in the studio half day and then helping my mother empty her garage in the afternoon.

My wife is going on vacation next week. Oh, how I wish I were going with her.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Live From Bed

Ah. For tonight's class - which was a lesson on how to color comics in every designer's favorite gilded cage, Photoshop, I borrowed my mother's laptop. It is that which I write this on now - lying in bed while Yesenia lies next to me watching the third episode of Showtime's "The Tudors." If that isn't a picture of domestic bliss in 2007, I don't know what is. Perhaps if it were the exact same scenario, only acted out by our avatars in Second Life.

Two notes on "The Tudors":

1) Henry VIII is sure looking young and buff, thanks to the non-stunt casting of Johnathan Rhys-Meyers, who is apparently such a good looking man that the only roles he takes are as men who kill women who either insist on having his children, or are incapable of it.
2) We don't normally have the TV in the bedroom - in fact, we don't even have cable. But it came out of the basement during the flood, and then up to the bedroom when the living room was rendered unoccupied terriotry when the dining room invaded. As soon as the dining room cieling repairs are done, the TV goes back in the living room. And then? I hate having it in the living room, too. The basement dungeon is the place to keep the beast chained, but that's a much longer project getting that swamp cleaned up enough for human habitation.


"Should I like something that accuses me of being cruel?" - sample dialgoue from Anne Boleyn. What's the right answer to that one?

...I meant, anyway, I can't tell you how badly I want a laptop. I spend most of my waking hours tied to a computer in some way, and if I have to use one, lying in bed is the way to do it. Or going out to the park. Doing my work in the Tappan Memorial Park, above the burble of the creek and cooled by the shade of the trees. On the grass, or, even better, sitting on the footbridge with my legs dangling over the water? That would be something I could get behind. And, best of all, the Tappan Library, at the edge of the park, has free WiFi. I wonder if it's a strong enough signal that I wouldn't even have to go inside?

Get outside. Outside. In the sun. On the grass. By the water. Blue sky. Light breeze. Light floral scents. Blossoms and trees.

Augh. I'm making myself sick with envy of myself. I have got to get a laptop. We were supposed to get one for the office (meaning for me to use at home, which is where I work), but the last few months have been slow enough that my boss is hesitant to make the investment. And the kind of design work I do definitely requires a MacBook pro, so even though I could pick up an iBook on my own, it wouldn't do everything - or indeed, much of anything - I would need it for, so it would end up a very mid-priced toy.

So, just the MacMini and the G5 to keep me indoors for now. The G5 is my office machine, and the MacMini is officially Yesenia's - we call it the Femputer - so I'd lovve to be able to get off of her computer. And out of her office, to boot, since that's where I've been working for the last year or so. It was just supposed to be temporary, but a year is the official point where things cease being 'temporary,' and I'm feeling guilty for taking up so much space in her space.

All right. I was planning on writing a wrap-up of the comics class, but I'll save that for later. An intersting experience, and not one I should just dash off snarky little asides on while half-asleep.

Enjoy your day. Hope you get outside and enjoy it. At least that makes one of us.


Tuesday, May 15, 2007

My Life as a Clown Car

When this current cycle in my life is over, I'm probably going to get a lot of sleep. For now, these Tuesday nights seem to be almost comically packed with needful activities -

1) I have to assemble a brochure for a meeting tomorrow at 9 AM
2) I need to finish inking the first page of "Renunciation" and scan it for class tomorrow
3) It would be nice if I could get together the agency brochure I've been trying to get to
4) FInish up log and letterhead for a friend's new business (well, the business is old, but she just inherited it) so that she'll have a draft in time for her meeting with Rosie O'Donnell (don't ask),
5) At some point in here, Yesenia & I are going to try to get to the gym.

Of course, tomorrow night itself is a sampler plate of three mutually exclusive possibilities -

1) Teach the last comic class of the semester, 6-8 PM
2) Attend my friend Selena's Thesis Show opening at Hunter College, also 6:30-8:30, or
3) Attend Impostor Syndrome's last show with the current drummer, on Delancey, at 8 PM

Think I should probably live up to obligations and go teach the class? Good idea, but that does add two more straws to tonight's camel back:

6) Prep computers and artwork for tomorrow's computer coloring lesson.
7) Brush up my 'Blackbird' so that I can teach it to one of the comic students tomorrow (that's right, it's a class in comics and Beatles standards).

So, the Subway Rambler has to go under the bus for this evening. Apologies. In the meantime I encourage you to attend either the art opening:

Or the rock show:

Note: despite what the graphic says, the show is tonight, Wednesday, MAy 16th, and not April 16th. A quick check of your calendar should show you why this is an impossibility.

Both come with my stamp of approval. Sure fire entertainment and culture, all in one!


Speaking of the Beatles, I note that Paul is finally selling all of his stuf through iTunes. I heard his new single on Sunday, sitting in the car and waiting for them to play it (they said they would!), and what do you know? I liked a new Paul song yet again! I wonder if I'm just incapable of seeing straight when it comes to new Paul material?

And, for the record? No gym. As if you hadn't guessed. Oughtn't there be clowns? Send in the goddamn clowns.


Monday, May 14, 2007

The Backburner

Spent the evening doing the 'final' overdubs for a friend's album that I've been producing - very, very slowly - over the last six years. You can see why 'final' is in quotes... anyone who's ever been involved in a long term backburner project like this knows that the finish line recedes faster the closer you get to it. Theoretically, we're going to start the final mixdowns on Thursday, and they'll be occupying the better part of my weekend. I'm looking forward to it, because when I'm in the studio I feel a confidence and decisiveness that's pretty elusive most of the rest of the time.

Tonight's work consisted of two final vocals - trouble songs that couldn't quite come together in the past. One got a complete melodic overhaul; Ryan (the artist) had written the original melody as a fast, rappy patter, with a lyric about someone else's romantic obsession with him. Neither the lyric or melody worked for me - in fact, it's fair to say that I really disliked them strongly. But the guitar solo had a completely different melody that I thought would work as a verse (it does). So, on Saturday - in a break from home repair - Ryan and I sat on the back porch and threw together a new version of the song, along with a more thematically appropriate lyric. The theme? Being unable to finish a long-term backburner project.

The other song just needed a tweak to make the melody more interesting, but apparently we didn't tweak hard enough, because even after redoing the vocals tonight, the thing still just lay there, a great instrumental track waiting to be fulfilled.

Other overdubs were mostly some 'final' vocal harmonies for me - a role I as a singer volunteered myself for, and I as a producer accepted. Ryan also laid down some nice harmonica on his ode to George Harrison - which was timely when we first started recording this album, so that should give you some idea of how long it's taken to get to this point.

Lord knows why these things take so long. Copper Man's own album, Selling the Downtown Dream, took about three years to pound through the tubes. The first sessions were done while Ryan was still in the band (in fact, about five of the songs on his album are his Copper Man compositions from those sessions) back in early 2001. Then those were laid aside. After Ryan left (alright, I fired him, sigh), Shaun came onboard and we developed enough new songs to replace Ryan's in the set, and went in to record those the week before Christmas, 2002.

Then Shaun flew to India to attend his sister-in-law's wedding, and broke his back in a terrible traffic accident there Christmas Eve, on his way back from the rehearsal dinner (well, whatever passes for a rehearsal dinner in Zoroastrianism). Then, his first week recuperating, they discovered that his wife was pregnant.

Think about that: that's got to be the most intense possible chain of events possible. I think only if he'd found out he was due to fly to Mars the following Wednesday would it have been any more storied.

So, we slowly recorded the guitars and vocals over the course of 2003, which Shaun mightily soldiered through, relearning each song before recording, not having a chance to develop any solo ideas that he really was thrilled with - although the guitar turned out to be a highlight of the album. But it all proved too much - he finally retired from the band in late 2003. The record sat around for a few more months, and then we finally mixed it - but by then, the spirit had gone out of it and I can barely stand to listen to big chunks of it (but I'm still proud of the achievement, so go figure that paradox).

It's funny - the rest of our lives, we spend trying to figure out ways to make time to play music - for many musicians I know, it's about the only thing that we really enjoy doing. But always, it's on the backburner, getting black and crunchy. Maybe when we all retire, we'll form some godawful band of octogenarian light rockers, an "America" for the 2060s.

But, really, who doesn't have something in their lives they'd rather be doing than the things they usually find themselves doing? Anyone who's figured out how to live that full life, out there? Or are you editing copy instead of printmaking? Assembling widgets instead of writing illuminating travel literature? Clearing tables instead of studying Byzantine Art? Answering phones instead of writing symphonies?

Really, why are we all jerking off instead of humping like bunnies?

Or was that just me?


Sunday, May 13, 2007

And there's beer in the Fridge

Sigh. You'd think I'd have come up with something hilarious or pithy to say; some salient observation of the human condition as illuminated by an anecdote from my day. You'd think I'd choke today's entry full of glorious, full-color art, pictures, anything with visual flair to save the eyes from wearing on all these tiny, tiny words.

Sadly, no. Today's the day that The Subway Rambler goes live, and all I really have to offer is more of the same, really: a few meandering paragraphs to get my writing engine primed, perhaps I'll be able to work up to a point, perhaps not. It's a given that the thing will go out unedited, and I am aware that the syntax, grammar, word usage and punctuation are a hopeless jumble. At least you can all rest assured that the spelling is spot on - that the computer can check for me.

Anyway, I welcome you to the new, daily Subway Rambler. As noted in the 'About This Blog' box, the blog's title doesn't mean that you're going to get some sort of jolly running travelogue of the MTA by the American equivalent of a Trainspotter. Rather, it's a shortened version of my original blog's subtitle, to wit: "That Rambling Guy on the Subway, Online." Maybe even that's not enough of an explanation, but I'd hope* that all of you reading have at one time or another been approached by a street crazy wanting to fill you in on their theories regarding John Foster Dulles vis-a-vis the development of the kosher Oreo.

*I know that's a strange thing for me to wish on someone, but it spares me, you, and everyone else paragraphs of tedious set-up if I can just assume that you've had that experience. Even if you haven't, please just nod politely and spare us all the excess verbiage.

There's always a mixture of sensation when the street crazy close encounter happens:

1) consulting of your fight or flight reflex - check for nearest available weapons/exits, depending on your predisposition,
2) a genuine leap of empathy across the gulf of souls to see another human being reduced to such circumstances, there but for the grace of God go you,
3) a deeply burning desire for a recliner chair and a bowl of snacks so that you can sit comfortably and really enjoy the free maniac in style.

The entire existence of this blog is predicated on my belief that, the resulting guilt from points one and two having been satisfied with a tithe to your local religious organization or sanitarium, deep down, number three is what makes the event truly rewarding.

Anyhow, that I titled this "The Subway Rambler" should leave no doubt as to how I feel about this particular exercise - clearly, anything that I write about on any subject is going to be at best, long winded and hollow, and at worst, bizarre and kind of stupid. Ah! But what I really hold on for are those days that I accidentally come up with a few hundred words of genuine solid entertainment, those nights when I set my brain on autopilot and what comes out not only edges up to Slightly Off but leaps over that hazy borderline into Just Plain Crazy.

So: Welcome! Take a look around. You'll find two solid weeks of entries parked in the archives, and a shiny new pile will be served up warm every day. I invite you to subscribe, I invite you to post your comments - because, after all, what's better than listening to a crazy person ramble than being able to mock and pester them? - and mostly, I invite you to enjoy yourself here with me every day as I word-by-painstaking-word lay the groundwork for my eventual insanity defense.

Pull up a La-Z-Boy and break out the Chex Mix. And I'll see you tomorrow.


The Turning Point

At some point, I'll relate to you the Parable of the Fourth DImensional Ass, but the upshot of it is that to all things, to every major moment in your life, there is a fulcrum - you can feel it in the pit of you metaphysical stomach when the roller coaster car that is your life finishes that ratcheting up the incline, and the pause at the top when you're about to move into a new moment.

Things here at Beadboard Manor are like that - since the other day, the plumber has come, the new ceiling in the dining room has started to be attached and the huge mountain of old plaster cleared out. In general, it's been a good feeling, like knowing that we've gotten past the most sticky bits and are starting to climb back out. Heck, even the piano tuner came today, just to add a symbolic bow to the whole feeling of renewal.

It's given me a feeling somewhere between satisfaction and gratitude. Make up your own contraction for that. I know that Yesenia has been hit hard by it - for a couple of weeks, our workable living space in a threes-story house (four, if you count the attic) has been reduced to the master bedroom. But I myself am both taking it more in stride, but feeling it at a much deeper level. It makes me sad, to put it plainly.

But I hear you ask yourselves, "What. Seriously? All this purple prose about some plumbing, a damp basement and a collapsed ceiling? Sure, it's an inconvenience, but... whatever. Boo-hoo."

You have to understand, SInce this is the house I grew up in, it's like watching an old friend suffer through a serious illness. Actually, it's more like watching an old friend suffer through a serious illness and you're the surgeon, since I've been hands-on in every part of this multi-theater engagement.

Now, you have to understand something: I'm never hands-on with anything. (Obligatory masturbation reference here). Me and tools don't see eye-to-eye (unless they're trying to gouge out said eye), and me and power tools is a combination that should have been outlawed by the Geneva Convention. But there isn't much of a choice. As the 'man of the house,' I bear responsibility for the house that I'm man of. And I know all too well the decay that can come with inattention.

So, maybe it won't be prefect. But I've got that Fulcrum Feeling - things have taken the turn here from getting worse to getting better. And maybe it's silly to derive so much of that from such a seeming minor thing like some (admittedly, major) home repairs, but -

- well, how to explain? The house itself has been the one constant in my life, a greater symbol of belief to me than any flag, or creed, religion or nation. Only the house and I know how I came to be who I am today, and somewhere in the great hard drive of all of its combined oak and plaster and corbels is stored a memory of every moment of my childhood, teenage years and married life. I mentioned that I felt gratitude, and that feeling is directed to the house. I dream of seeing it it its younger years, when it spread over three lots, with wraparound porches and a view down to the Sparkill Creek. Somewhere in the past sits the standalone garage, and who knows what else that defined the early character.

Gone, all gone.

The house we live in now is old, with all of its glory chopped off, all of the beautiful plain arts and crafts character faded, odd touches of the 60's-era residents coexisting edgily with the hardwood floors, a century of history having had its way with it. So, the house protected and sheltered me while I was growing up - now it's my turn to try to preserve and rebuild this silent, storied member of my family... hopes that it doesn't drop the bedroom ceiling on our heads while we sleep. That would be just like this fucking shack.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

Echo Chamber

People who visit the Subway Rambler regularly may well find themselves asking one fairly obvious question: if this is a blog, then where the hell are the links? That's a good question, and it deserves a poorly thought out and quickly typed answer.

I guess if you're expecting to open this, find a link to a Washington Post OpEd piece, and then a point-by-point argument of just where the author's reasoning went wrong, you're bound to be disappointed. The medium of the blog has been around long enough to set up certain expectations - and people who know me well enough know that I never meant a weakly reasoned political argument that I couldn't counter with some fairly hazy statistics of my own - so just why is the Subway Rambler just so goshdarned internal?

Two reasons:

1) I think the 'blogosphere' is going a long way towards demolishing what little remains of sense and politeness in political discourse that remains in our country ("What? A platform that instantly allows me to broadcast my drunken assertions across the world instantly? And ANONYMOUSLY?!? Fuckin' sign me up, dude!")

2) If there's one thing I've realized over the years, it's that there's nothing duller than listening to someone else's opinions as there is reading about them, at length. Especially mine.

The scary endpoint of that realization is the knowledge that only stuff that's in my head about me is worth anyone's time reading about, because it's the only thing I'm an expert on. And I mean, the only thing.

I'll put it this way: in Douglas Adams' last Hitchhiker book, Mostly Harmless, there's an extended sequence where Arthur Dent crashlands on a pre-industrial planet. At first, he thinks he'll wow them with all of the technological wonders that he'll recreate for the populace, but then he comes to the stunning awareness that he has no knowledge how anything mechanical works. Not even a ball point pen.

In the end, he becomes a shaman-like figure in their society by doing the one thing he knows how to do that they haven't figured out, yet - he ends up as the revered Sandwich Maker.

So, consider that an apology for why the Subway Rambler is just so solipsistic, and advance warning for the continuance of that policy. All you'll get from the Subway Rambler are the humid contents of my own head, yesterday, today and tomorrow. It's DaveLand! You must be this tall to ride.

Since I (wholly unfounded) consider myself to be an informed scholar of certain segments of the arts, there will be music, movie and comic reviews (possibly), and I'm sure my rambling will occasionally comment, pro or con, on current societal trends (see points 1 & 2, above), but as far as wars, elections, and pogroms are concerned, I promise to be reliably mute.

Unless you meet me in a bar and give me a beer. Then I'll show you just how truly specious my opinions can be.


Friday, May 11, 2007

House of Whacks

This is my basement, currently pausing in the driveway on the way to the dump.

This is my dining room. The ceiling is on the floor.

This is my kitchen. Above are the exposed, leaking 100-year-old guts of the upstairs bathroom.

This is me.

And this was your blog for the evening. Enjoy your Friday.


Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Stinking fresh art!

It's Miercoles, so it still must be La Semana del Arte!

Clicking makes the pictures bigger!


Tonight was the second-to-last comics class, and since it was still sunny and warm out, and the art center has a small sculpture meadow (the whole complex is in a couple of acres of cleared out forest on the side of Nyack Mountain), I took the kids outside to practice drawing with pen, brush and ink. After wandering around and looking at what was available, we settled on a bronze sculpture that looked like an accident at the Gyroscope and Uplight Factory. All curves and pods.

In other words: don't ask what this thing is. I sat in front of it for an hour, and I have no idea.

As usual, I joined in the exercise myself (in between bouts of critiquing). All in all, I had a very pleasant 40 minutes or so, in the sun, on the grass, loopily spreading ink and white acrylic paint down onto the pad. After spending the last 36 hours doing code for Flash, making charts in Illustrator, masking out complex machinery in Photoshop and just generally abusing my mouse hand with the Terrible Digital Design Minutia all day, I needed to just do some pure drawing today like few other times in my life.

Thing is, I didn't really know it until the moment I put the brush to paper and started to just happily slide ink up and down. If someone had told me the I was humming like a little kid while I was drawing, I wouldn't have been too surprised.

The final result shows me (if not you) just how far I've come in recent years with just being able to relax and be loose and gestural, which is a goal I've been trying to achieve in my work since I was in my early 20's. I got technical precision fairly early on - since David Macauley was a major influence on me as a child, I got very adept at doing architectural renderings with Rapidographs by the time I was 13 and 14 years old. That love of detail rendering really came to hurt me later on as an artist - surface detail can hide a lot of fundamental drawing errors, after all - and I had a lot of those.

Still, I don't want to knock the 14-year-old me too much - I have to say, I see some of those drawings now and I'm pretty impressed. Nonetheless, being loose and able to improvise across a large canvas makes me happy, and the 14-year-old me couldn't have done that.

Actually, the 14-year-old me would have been really unimpressed, so it's a question for the ages: am I growing up, or growing down?

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Daze of the Triffids

There are little maple trees all over the yard. In gutters, under small piles of leaves, in the garden. Hundreds of them. This is not an exaggeration. And I suspect this is going on all over the Northeast. Apparently, it's forest season. And I stride manfully and pluck them out, one by one.

It's a cheap feeling of power, being able to root an entire maple tree just between the pointer and thumb of one hand, but I take that feeling where I can get it.


Anyway, La Semana del Arte! continues, with some more preparatory sketches from "Renunciation."

Remember to click for bigness!

More poses with the shovel. It looks like the body english is getting a little aggressive in that bottom one. Working out some issues with that shovel, I think. Definitely out of character.


This one refers to itself as "The Spirit of Barren Harvest." Like the Spirit of Christmas Present, only for farmers, and not nearly as jolly. A good sign that something has gone very, very wrong in your life, if this is standing in your kitchen.


A two-page spread from the 'thumbnail' mock-up of the complete story. Most of my comics start life as one of these - I am aware of the severe lack of drawing goodness, but the point is to get the storytelling worked out first, and then do the purty pictures. Still, I may keep that dirty look the farmer gives the spirit in the second to last panel.


Yet again more poses with the shovel, still, only this time it's a pitchfork and the whole thing has a lame disco air about it. He's also looking kind of pissy, which isn't really a character trait I associate with our farmer. This is the first time I'd worked out the wardrobe, though.


Mugshots. First, he has a mustache, then he doesn't. Magic! The face in the upper right is a 'final,' and is the one I'm using for the comic. Inspired by a quote from some depression-era photographer about the 'harsh faces' of her subjects.


Inside the barn, where the farmer has an encounter with a territorial rooster. I'll no doubt assemble some photo reference for the final, but I do like to do these atmosphere sketches so I can nail down how I want the comic to feel. This is a lot closer in tone than any of the others, which are all either a little or a lot too cartoony for the story.


And here's a prep sketch from "The Fox:"

The basic layout is there, but it's clear I hadn't quite nailed down the style contrast. Also: I'm deeply embarrassed by the lameness of the 'Dave-in-Coat' in the lower right hand of the page, but I'll take it as evidence that at least my sketches have gotten better in the intervening decade+2. I know I've seen a more advanced prep for the first page of "The Fox" lying around somewhere; I'll have to see if I can track that down for the 'archives.'

The only reason I really like this one is because it's drawn on the back of some really, really old school computer paper, which my parents used to keep in a wok for scrap paper.

That's it for today. Sorry if it's a little blah - maybe I'm alone in this, but I always found these 'process' sketches from other artists pretty neat. Tomorrow, I'll put up something a little more complete, for those who prefer their art a little more cooked.


Monday, May 7, 2007

The Fox (with commentary), with commentary

Since this is going to be a week of incredibly tight work deadlines, the writing on Subway Rambler is going to be sparse until Wednesday night. But that doesn't mean I'm going to leave you in the lurch!

Announcing: La Semana del Arte!

Over the next couple of days, I'll upload some (hopefully) neat things from the archives, that will eventually be part of the fuller Copper Man site once I get around to refurbishing it, this summer.

First up: a five-page comic from the mid-90's. It still contains a lot of me rambling (which I do quite a bit most of the time, in almost every medium).

Click on each page to macro!

A little explanation about the story:

As noted in the first panel, this was, indeed, a dream I had in 1995. The reason it became a comic is unstated in the story (although I did toy with including it). The fox dream was one of those dreams you have maybe once a decade where you feel like you haven't just been dreaming, but you've experienced a gen-you-ine visitation. The fox wasn't a part of me, but an outside voice trying to impart some hard-won wisdom to me.

Of course, that's a function of the dream itself - reading between the lines, you can tell that 'Dave' has already done a good job of avoiding all the very, very obvious signs, in part because he's demanding some kind of cosmic truth. In the end, he misses out on the opportunity to question the fox on more pertinent matters, because he's been hung up on the pointless emotional detritus of a failed relationship, and can't see beyond it.

The segment that people always wonder about is the totem pole, because what I didn't realize at the time (but do now) is that people are hard-wired to get very specific answers, so they're searching for some meaning in that particular image. There isn't any; at least not anything beyond the dream meaning it has for Dave. So don't drive yourself crazy trying to figure out what story those totem figures are trying to tell.

As far as the meaning it has to Dave, I've already said: he's being confronted with the knowledge he's been hiding from himself - that he's been hanging on to his bad feelings at the end of that relationship for far too long, and it's preventing him from getting on with his life. More than anything else, working on the comic was a really great way for me (the real Dave, not the dream Dave) to put it all to rest, so the dream was a self-fulfilling prohecy... in a way, the comic became the fox itself.

As far as the graphic aspects of the story, I built in a lot of thematic obsessions I had at the time. The concept of multiple time-lines, that comics allow for (note the split narration), heavy use of blacks, and the sense of different levels of reality, through treating the black as 'space' and the panels as flat images in that space. The most important graphic element is the move from photo-real (not really, but we'll use that term for the sake of argument) for the 'real world' and very cartoony for the 'dream world' to cartoony for the 'real world' and the photo-real for the dream.

As to just what I meant to convey with that style-shift, well, it's open to interpretation. It was a dream, after all.

Anyway, although the comic fails on many levels, I'm still very proud of it. Hope you enjoyed it, and I'll see you tomorrow.


Sunday, May 6, 2007

At Least the Lawn got Mowed

Just watched "Little Miss Sunshine." And what can I say? It's like the writer, directors and producers got together and decided to remake the original "Vacation," but this time as an 'acting piece.' Good acting, cute moments, but you can hear the screenplay straining so much to fit in all the pre-programmed character beats in the alloted time that you're afraid it's going to snap like an over-tuned guitar string and smack you in the eye.

Not a bad movie, but real 'Miramax-y,' if you know what I mean. All the edges have been rounded off for your protection.

Other than that, it wasn't a very productive day - or at the very least, it didn't feel like a productive day, despite the fact that I spent hours and hours doing things. And the sad thing is that it's a Sunday, and all I really should've been doing was sleeping until noon and training for the Bathrobe Puttering Invitational. Instead, I'm knocking down plaster and caulking things and pulling up newly-rooted maple trees (hundreds of the damn things!) by the stalks.

Tonight is dedicated to assembling the start of a new Flash website for a client, a task even orthodontic surgeons note is more painful than a root canal.

My hopes that your weekend was as full as mine, but in a much more pleasant way, and that you're rested and ready to face the week ahead. I'm still chewing on the one that's just ended.


Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Sleep of the Just

I've always been something of an insomniac. Given that both my parents are and both seem to have gotten worse rather than better, I guess I can look forward to a future with less sleep than I'm getting now. I expect all of you to assist me through my days by speaking more slowly and not expecting me to do any heavy intellectual lifting.

If I could pinpoint my sleeplessness on one thing, it would be my guilty conscience. Which is odd, because I don't have anything to feel guilty about, so I guess it's just getting practice for when I participate in my first genocide. I'm not even sure whether it's cause or effect; in other words, does my mind racing keep me awake, or does my sleepless condition cause my mind to race? Working that out could keep you up at night.

To top it off, I also have the occasional night terrors - sudden moments when I rocket from sleep into panicked wakefulness, seeing things and trying to swat them out of the air. And since Yesenia always falls asleep before me, I never fail to wake her up as well. It must surely be a lot of fun to be in bed with me on those nights.

Still, it makes me a more interesting person, in the way that any insane person is 'interesting.'

At some point, I'll use the Subway Rambler to relate some of my more memorable night terrors, which I guess will retire some of my better cocktail party anecdotes.

Anyhow, today was another day of non-stop house-stuff, which I swore not to bore you with (too much), but tomorrow is going to be more of the same, so, despite the goodly chance that I won't actually be able to sleep, I should give it a try anyhow.

Perhaps, tonight, I'll keep myself awake by feeling badly for not letting a 6-year-old girl beat me at checkers, earlier.


Friday, May 4, 2007

The Corrections

Well, there it is - a week's worth of blog entries. One more week under the belt and I'll announce the existence of this magical place to the wider world (well, to whoever is on my mailing list). In the meantime, I'm stone beat: many large, heavy and downright nasty objects were moved today, not least of which a refrigerator from the basement that everyone involved felt sure was not going to come out. Then why even try? Because when you have a refrigerator halfway up the stairs and the only thing that's going to prevent you from being crushed when it falls back down is getting it the rest of the way up, why, the fridge miraculously moves! Up, that is.

Other things moved and or touched by me today: carpet and pad that's been not merely damp but soaking wet for a minimum of two weeks; bottom of the sawed off water softener; old bathrobe; part of my comics collection; a ruined "Tron" puzzle book (goodbye, eBay money-maker!); the sharp leading metal edge of a suspended ceiling support (this one touched by my forehead, and touched rather hard); a half-full litter box; many, many pieces of damp, mold-slathered wood; $100 worth of water-fused acetate; a bin full of about 200lbs of salt; lamb vindaloo.

So, I'm tired, and this entry will be brief. But I felt I should take this moment to thank "you" for reading, and to renew my pledge to keep this engine running - even when, as today, the fuel is low octane and we have knocks and pings. I also felt that this would be an ideal moment to clear any misconceptions or inaccuracies in my blogging over the last week.

1) In the entry dated Thursday, May 3rd, I related the oft-told tale of the introduction of Coca-Cola into mainland China and an amusing mistake in nomenclature. While not at any point factually inaccurate, I should note that a) this took place in 1928, so the distinction of "Mainland China" was pointless, b) this supposedly wasn't the mistake of Coca-Cola itself, but some local shopkeepers who produced advertising (which seems a little unlikely to me - wouldn't the locals better know what the thing was going to read than the foreign corporation with the totally different alphabet and grammatical structure?! But I digress.), c) Another notable translation of the character series would be "female horse fastened with wax." Okay. What's the fixation with the wax? And d) Coke immediately corrected the mistake and chose a different series of characters that both sounded like "Coca-Cola," and also translated a little more palatably, into something like "allows the mouth to be able to rejoice." Which seems like it's overstating the experience of drinking a Coke by a pretty wide margin, but, hey - who am I to judge?

2) In the entry dated Wednesday, May 2nd I falsely stated that I had class that night. This is untrue; I have no class, ever.

3) In the entry dated Sunday, April 29th, I state that Yesenia does not like Star Trek:The Next Generation. This, she informs me, is untrue. She likes it a lot, but I offer in my defense the observation that while watching it, she sure falls asleep quite often for someone who claims to like it. I'm just sayin'. Anyway, I correctly reported her negative feelings towards Voyager.

4) In all entries, I have maintained the facade of a native-English speaker from suburban New York. This is untrue. I am actually a million monkeys in a room in an undisclosed location in the Southern Hemisphere with a linked server-side Google Blog editor, randomly generating this blog by hitting keys in response to certain unethical stimuli.

5) In the entry dated Friday, May 4th, I stated that I am a million monkeys. This is untrue. I am, in round numbers:
- 150,000 Howler Monkeys
- 72,000 Gibbons
- 35,000 East African Plains Apes
- 12,200 Bonobos
- 11,000 Ring-Tailed Lemurs
- 9,700 Common Chimpanzees
- 7,300 Orangutans
- 2,100 Uncommon Chimpanzees (don't ask)
- 350 Western Lowland Gorillas
- 45 Pithecanthropus Errecti
- 8 Unclassifiable Chordata with surprising manual dexterity
- 3 Drifters with acute memory loss

The total participants in the study comes to just under 300,000 primates and related members of the same Phylum. I assure you that when the project was started, all positive motion was put towards securing the use of 1,000,000 monkeys. Budget cuts are partly to blame for this shortfall, but the real culprit is poor management of resources and a faulty air conditioner.

I apologize for any distress the above stated inaccuracies and misleading statements may have caused you. Please do not let this dissuade you from continuing to read, and rest assured that I will continually strive for factual reporting, completely vetted and fact-checked, and only of the highest standard. I will also strive for bananas.