Articles Published the Week of 13 May 2019

A Meal with Blue Delliquanti. I’ve been a fan of the webcomic O Human Star for years now and the science fiction story has always been interesting, but I really loved Delliquanti’s graphic novel Meal, written with Soleil Ho, which was recently published by Iron Circus. The story of a chef who moved to Minneapolis to work at a restaurant that specializes in cooking bugs, it’s also the story of communities, of food, of of culture, gentrification, with a gentle love story at the center. A great work on so many levels.

Q&A with Marko Tamaki. I’ve been a fan of Tamaki’s writing since Skim, and in a series of books including This One Summer and a number of comics including Supergirl and Tomb Raider, Tamaki has really carved out a unique voice in comics. She has a gift for capturing teen and pre-teen voices in ways that are resonant and revelatory. Her new book Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me has at its center a young woman who has been dating the most popular girl in school, the titular Laura Dean. Tamaki described the book as in the vein of old eighties teen movies, but I also think of it as a critique of them, as the main character started dating the hot, popular girl – and it turns out that she’s a horrible girlfriend. I do dislike eighties teen comedies, but I loved this book.

Gifts I Have Purchased for My Brother in Recent Years (On the Occasion of His Birthday)

A Bobblehead of The Old Man in the Mountain.

Many years ago my parents spent a summer working at a camp in New Hampshire, and my brother and I were in the day camp and on their days off, we visited New Hampshire sights, most of which I remember being somewhat less than enthused by. (Pizza in New Hampshire was mediocre, taking a gondola up Wildcat Mountain felt very unsteady. Maple candy, which is an old timey idea of candy but sucks by comparison. I also distinctly remember a restaurant that offered “Oriental Food”). I remember driving across the Kancamagus Highway. One day we visited the Old Man in the Mountain, immortalized by Nathaniel Hawthorne in prose and seen on New Hampshire license plates. We parked the car and walked to the overlook to get a glimpse. My brother’s response, we drove all this way for this?! He was not impressed. When I saw the bobblehead, I knew I had to get it for him. If only to see his face upon opening the box.

A Corn Muffin recipe.

One of my brother’s favorite things is a good corn muffin. Always has been, ever since he was little. He does struggle to find good ones. He’s searched for them. I’ve brought him muffins back from New York or elsewhere. He’s been in foreign countries and curiously investigated places renowned for their muffins. None ever met his criteria. So I embarked on a task, to comb through the internet and hunt for recipes, to experiment and see what I could make. Anyway, I gained weight. My parents probably gained a few pounds. Fortunately some of this period of experimentation coincided with pledge week so I dropped off a couple dozen to the WNPR offices. And eventually I found one that was noticeably better. And when he tried it, he had to admit that they were very good.

Mini Loaf Pan. Made by USA Pans. From King Arthur Flour.

My brother’s favorite muffins from childhood could be found at the Pie Plate. A local chain, there were restaurants in Westfarms Mall, where they occupied a corner space on the second floor with two entrances, and another in Avon. There were others in Fairfield, Vernon, Waterbury, and the Danbury Fair Mall, but I don’t think I ever went there. It was a diner like restaurant, think Friendly’s and that ilk. I don’t remember the pies honestly, but I remember the muffins which were rectangular. They were also delicious. To go with the corn muffin recipe, I got my brother a loaf pan so he could make the corn muffins in the shape and style of his old favorite.

The Muppet Movie soundtrack.

One of our favorite things from childhood was the Muppets. Still is, really. To this day we quote The Muppet Movie and The Great Muppet Caper and will make references like “You know, like when the pigs took over The Muppet Show.” So when I saw the CD of the movie soundtrack, from Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher, I had to get it for him. We will quote Moving Right Along to this day, because it’s incredibly quotable, but I will go to the mat arguing that Rainbow Connection, I Hope That Somethin’ Better Comes Along, and I’m Going To Go Back There Someday, are quite simply great songs.

A Psych t-shirt.

My brother loves the TV show Psych. He’s the one who got me into the James Roday and Dulé Hill starring series about a fake psychic in Santa Barbara – which is so obviously filmed in Vancouver. But recently I was in Santa Barbara for a wedding and walking down State Street, I saw in a window a Psych t-shirt, which stopped me in my tracks. I ducked in and bought him one. No occasion; I just knew he’d like it. And I’ve seen him wear it a few times since.

A pineapple.

When Seth and his girlfriend bought a house, I debated on the appropriate housewarming gift. I gave them a pineapple. Which is also a Psych joke.

Penguin Encounter at Mystic Aquarium.

One of the things that my brother and I agree on as adults is that penguins are one of the best animals. Period. Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut has African penguins and they offer encounters with the penguins (and other animals as well) and when I saw that people could visit and meet penguins, I knew this was something for him.

Ice Cream Sandwich kit.

I’m not sure it’s ever been used, but I thought it was a great gift.

Articles Published the Week of 6 May 2019

Ben Nadler on The White Snake. I spoke with the cartoonist about his first book, an adaptation of a Grimm’s fairy tale, working with editors Françoise Mouly and Ben Karasik, writing, and related topics.

Maggie Umber Talks about the 2d Cloud Kickster and Her Book in Progress. I’ve interviewed Umber in the past and we spoke about 2d Cloud’s recent setbacks, their 2019 catalog, owls, and much more.

Fiction Friday: Buffalo Soldiers

I stared at the screen of a modified burner phone operating off the wifi in the coffeeshop where I was sitting, refreshing an app that a few months ago I would have dismissed as some bullshit for kids. Sally sat next to me, drinking a latte, dressed like she was going to yoga class, looking a lot more calm than me. Maybe that was what being a parent did to you, forced you to compartmentalize. Or maybe just enjoy the rare moment where you didn’t have to do anything.

The app updated. Our burners were muted. Our actual phones were elsewhere. My brother put mine in his locker at work. Sally’s friend brought hers to a yoga class. I bumped Sally’s knee with mine under the table. She looked up and opened the app.

Brown Ford CT 687GTA

We put on leather gloves and I pulled the keys from my pocket. A taurus was parked on the side street, nondescript, old enough to not have a transponder, with fake temporary plates.

I drove it off the lot that morning before meeting Sally. We had met twice before. She looked like the soccer mom that she was. She was also in excellent shape and wearing loose fitting clothes today. If she’d worn yoga pants like the last time we’d met, everyone would have noticed and remembered her. Not her face, but still, they would have remembered.

I pulled out and sat at the light. She pulled up the only other app on our phones.

“They’re a little South,” Sally said pointing left, “heading our direction.”

I pissed off the driver behind us by not turning right on red. We watched a brown sedan pass by.

“That’s them,” Sally said, her eyes not leaving the screen.

We followed them at a distance. We could track them, but we had to time this right, so we couldn’t hang back too far.

They parked on the street a few miles from where we had picked them up. Nik’s was somewhere between a lunch counter and a diner and famous in the neighborhood. One of those good, cheap places that never gets written up, but has a following. It was also a favorite of beat cops and I could see two sitting at the counter through the plate glass window.

Sally used the app to send a message, tagged with our coordinates:

Nik’s on Capitol.

Seconds later, we got a reply: Go

I pulled up right behind the car, and slowly edged forward with my foot on the brake until we hit their bumper, and only then put it into park and pulled the brake. I grabbed the temporary plate that was sitting on the dashboard and Sally grabbed the paperwork from the glove compartment.

She didn’t say a word or even look at me as she closed the door behind her. Sally had opened a knife and twice stabbed the back right tire of the car in front of us. She then removed the fake temporary license plate on the back bumper of our car and stuffed the paper into her jacket pocket before continuing to walk down the street, earbuds in her ears, as though she was just out for a walk.

I locked the car behind me and pulled out a knife, stabbing both tires on the left side of the car. The first one I took care of with two quick thrusts. The front tire I pretended to bend over for some reason and made sure I went deep and could hear air escaping before I walked on.

Sally walked South and I walked North. At the corner I waited for the light to change. As I did I pulled out the burner.

Done.

A car approached and pulled up near where I had parked. It didn’t park behind me, as I had parked behind the car in front of me and people had been doing. Instead it double parked, blocking the brown sedan. A man stepped out of the drivers side who I couldn’t ID after the hazards started blinking. He locked the car behind him and began walking South on Capitol before taking the first side street. I could see Sally in the distance, who kept walking in a straight line.

The light changed and I crossed. All the exterior cameras on the block had fizzled out at the same time for one minute. They should be back on now. I hesitated, wanting to go back and watch, but kept to the plan.

There was a trash can on the corner two blocks later. I paused to untie and re-tie my left sneaker, and took a look around. Then while waiting for the light to change, I pulled out my phone and removed the SIM card. I snapped it in two and tossed one half into the trash can.

I walked a few more blocks to the bus station and standing on the corner, tossed the other half of the card into a trashcan. I only had to wait a few minutes until the 118 arrived. I paid cash and took a seat in the back. I heard a few languages from the people scattered in the bus, talking to each other or on their phones. The Spanish I could mostly understand. I wouldn’t have been able to hold a conversation, but I understood the gist of what was being said. I could hear Creole and another romance language. Two women were speaking Korean or maybe Tagalog? This was the background noise I grew up with. This was the sound of America. I wondered how long the war would last. This was just the first day.

No, I corrected myself. The war had been going on for a while now. This was just my first day. The old song came to mind: Only thing I did was wrong, Was staying in the wilderness too long.

Review: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

First of all, Sabrina has nothing to do with either witchcraft or Satanism.

It’s always odd to talk about reality in terms of science fiction and fantasy, because of course it’s not real, but it is supposed to feel real. It’s supposed to feel plausible or believable. It’s supposed to make sense in the context of the world that’s presented. This is what “World building” means. Sabrina is trying to be ambitious and stylized, but it also keep failing because it’s unable to simply be its own weird thing, but it also isn’t real.

And if I thought this were intentional and trying to reflect the fact that she’s half-witch, half-human and torn between these two sides, then maybe it would work. But it never feels intentional, with each having a very distinct or planned aesthetic and sensibility and the ways that she struggles to move between, instead it just feels odd.

The series is directly based on the comic book, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who is also the executive producer of the TV show and wrote four and co-wrote two episodes. The comic is a strange and beautiful thing. The artwork from Robert Hack is gorgeous and the story is weird and creepy and strange. If you’re reading after reading the thousands of Sabrina comics stories of the Melissa Joan Hart sitcom, it’s a shock. The cannibalism (the aunts run a funeral parlor but in the comic they sometimes eat “long pig” which for those who don’t know, means human). The murders. The deaths. The cameo from Ann-Margaret. And those aren’t even the weirdest, creepiest parts. It’s a strange hypnotizing spell and I’ll be honest, I didn’t see a lot of the twists and I don’t quite know where the comic is heading. Though at this point, given how infrequently issues have been appearing, I’m unsure if it will ever get there.

The TV show is based on the comic, but it is very much its own thing. Even the opening credits don’t really capture the feel of the comic, though they do look comicbook-y and hand drawn.

I would like the show more if it included the credit “Sabrina the Teenage Witch was created by George Gladir and Dan DeCarlo.” Given that they, you know, created the character.

Of course the show is based on the comic series which Aguirre-Sacasa created which is based on the series that they created, but that feels belittling to not mention them. Both were it should be noted credited for creating the character in the credits of the live action 1990’s sitcom.

It’s also hard not to think that this is an intentional slight to the late DeCarlo. Though he worked for Archie Comics for decades, an argument over Josie and Pussycats when the movie was being made led to a lawsuit over the rights and the company never hired him for the rest of his life. In the history of comics, this is fairly typical.

The comic and the show remind me of Bewitched. Which reminds me of the Jimmy Stewart-Kim Novak film Bell, Book, and Candle. But Sabrina is Bewitched crossed with the teenage comics that Dan DeCarlo had been making for decades, with a witch (which is a heredity thing) living in the mortal world and complications ensue.

This is the same nonsense that’s perpetuated in Harry Potter and elsewhere, that only certain kinds of special people can do magic. Ordinary folk can’t. Which is of course nonsense – and also makes no sense. Because literally the entire reason why so many women were accused of witchcraft – and why it was so terrifying – was that anyone could do magic. That was literally the point.

Smarter and more thoughtful people than I have pointed out how Harry Potter is very much a metaphor for the British class system. That the special kids are sent away to boarding school where they can meet and marry each other, and are taught that the non-magical people in the world are essentially another species. The “bad” people think that ordinary people should be killed or treated like cattle, while the “enlightened” people think that ordinary humans should have a separate but unequal world, as long as the humans don’t get uppity.

This idea of class very much carries over in Sabrina, but it seems unconscious, or at least, there’s no evidence on screen that the writers have in any way interrogated it. There’s a way that the Spellmans represent a certain “old money” sensibility when it comes to both humans and witches, but nothing is done with this idea. They’re property rich and run a funeral home and have a large house filled with books and various odds and ends. On the witch side, Sabrina’s father was a major figure in the church, and both aunts attended elite schools (though only one enjoyed it), but neither has much standing in the church, though that may be because of gender.

They live in Greendale, which is a mining town but there’s one mine and it has a single entrance, which resembles those from old 19th Century frontier towns. (Or movie sets) Then of course there was a reason that mine entrances looked like that. Here the first time it was on screen – and every time afterwards – I keep being pulled out of the scene because it just looks fake. And not Ray Harryhausen creature or guy in a rubber suit Godzilla fake, but just fake.

The show has a similar problem whenever Satan appears on screen.

Also, the owner of the mine is Harvey’s family and they have to work in the mines digging coal? Leaving aside the fact that the grandfather lives somewhere else and the drunk father is supposedly running the operation, he send his sons to work in the mines? It’s weird. I say this because in reality that’s not what mine owners do.

Questions of gender certainly come into play. The hierarchy of the witches and how it plays out never really gets explained in a way that makes much sense. Sabrina’s father ran the coven now Father Blackwood (played by Richard Coyle) does, who talks about passing the leadership role to his newborn son. So how did he become head? Is it based on merit? Is there an aristocracy of sorts? Where does Aunt Hilda fit into this hierarchy?

I suppose my problem with comic books – and by extension comic book movies and TV shows – is that the world building tends to be, well, incomplete let’s say. There’s a certain default to being set in our present moment but at the same time, it’s fantastic and as events pile upon them, then it can no longer be like the world outside our window but so many comics function as though they do. Or some do and some don’t and that creates an uneasy and awkward continuity.

The first part ended where one part would have to end. The whole season (sorry, “part”) was about Sabrina living this divided life – part human and part witch, shuffling between the two worlds. In the final episode of the first part she signs her name in the Devil’s book and turns her back on her friends and the human world.

In the second part Sabrina admits to Aunt Hilda why this was. That she knew that what happened in the finale to part one wasn’t the last bad thing to happen, but a lot more was coming and she shut off her friends because she didn’t want them anywhere near her when it happened. That she was doing it for their protection.

Now admittedly this is the sort of self-sacrifice, I can’t be happy because I have a destiny kind of speech that one hears on just about every cop show, on every big fantasy story, in all those chosen one narratives. So there’s nothing new about it. It is tbh the kind of speech I would have loved to give as a teenager. Angsty and passionate, and maybe it’s because I find it annoying and overwrought when half the cops on half the cop shows in America give that speech, it fell a little flat here. Don’t get me wrong it worked in one sense, and once she admitted it, her aunt said, go. Which is what she needed. To be pushed or prodded into the proper action.

But I think that it also illuminates one of the problems with the show, particularly in the second half. The aunts occupy a role of parent-guide-teacher role to Sabrina but also in the way of stories about teenagers, they’re often tangential to what’s happening. This is Sabrina’s story but she’s busy trying to save the world and things like that. How did a handful of teenagers from some random small town end up in the midst of this? Of course they’re at the center of this because the show is about them, but like my earlier point about world building, it feels odd at times.

The world manages to feel very small, and somehow whenever the story is opened up and references are made to other places (the show never leaves Greendale), there is a strangeness because somehow everything is about this town. Not because people are drawn there, but simply because being there makes them important and capable to be a part of this epic battle.

Of course one way to make this smallness work is to go a little crazy with it. The comic book series on which the show is based is truly insane in a way that the series never even tries to capture. But in the comic everything is happening in this crazy world and we just run with it. Here the setting and the tone is more ordinary and less heightened and so those moments where I think the show sought to be big and melodramatic and operatic so often fall short.

I mean Satan literally walks the earth. There are witches and witch hunters and apocalyptic visions and the romance between Lilith and Satan and then there’s more ordinary things and it never quite finds a way to balance and synthesize all of these elements and tones.

The first part at least has an operational theme. It’s about Sabrina being part of two worlds and the ways that she’s drawn to both. The problem is that the second part starts with her having chosen one, and has nothing to replace that operational theme with except plot. Which is fine, but honestly the internal politics of the coven isn’t especially compelling or interesting. I pointed out how I object to the way that the show (and so much else in pop culture) portrays witches. But one reason that we keep seeing this is because it functions as a great metaphor, as something relatable to so many people. But in the second season we move past that and I don’t think it was clear just what discarding that would do to the show and how important it was.

Because by the end of the second part, she’s back to being a part of the town, she has regained her friends, but it’s more about how circumstances have pulled them together. And of course the witches’ coven is destroyed, the school is no more, and so she’s a part of the human world by default, essentially. For all the ways in which the character is central, she’s at the heart of this battle with the devil and the fate of the world, but then these other aspects aren’t about her at all, it feels off.

That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of pleasures to be found in the show. The actors are fabulous and the writing gives them the chance to play a wide range showing off both their comedic sides and the darkest sides. (In Lucy Davis’s case, those two moods are disturbingly – but perfectly – close together). I think that Kiernan Shipka could go darker and more dramatic, and she could play the light hearted Sabrina if given one of the old sitcom scripts with equal ease.

Michelle Gomez is amazing. Michelle Gomez is always amazing. The Weird Sisters don’t do very much, but what they do, they do to perfection. Chance Perdomo as cousin Ambrose is fabulous. Lucy Davis is great.

One of the show’s greatest pleasures - the very best thing about the show to my mind - is Miranda Otto. Yes, Éowyn herself, sitting at the kitchen table with her cigarette holder is so perfectly droll, I don’t know what I want to see her in more – a period piece where she plays a matriarch as elegant as she is terrifying, a Sherlockian investigator annoyed at having to solve crimes and deal with people so much less clever than she (I’m picturing a cross between Nero Wolfe and Phryne Fisher), or Morticia Addams. She would be a magnificent Morticia…

The closing moments of the final episode show that the coven is mostly destroyed, the handful who survived now living in the Spellman house and the prospect of Zelda organizing and running a matriarchal coven is an interesting idea with a lot of possibilities. Would they be torn between the structure that Zelda tries to craft and Sabrina’s more chaotic approach? Would they all have to attend public school, which could be interesting.

Of course the final scene of the season makes me think the next season will be all about these elaborate over the top magical adventures about rescuing her boyfriend in hell, so I think I’m done with it. This is one of those shows that I would enjoy a lot more if I were closer to the age of the characters, I think. Then I would see the teenage characters taking charge and playing leading roles, but as an adult, I’m left underwhelmed, and find a lot of the teenage stories to be troubling and uninteresting. Saving the world is all well and good, but I need a little more.

What Would Have Been Wednesday's Blog Post

I spent a lot of time writing a piece to post today and it was mostly finished, but then I spent many hours researching the Georgia and Ohio abortion bans. Reading the bills in detail, they are aggressively ignorant with regards to science and the people behind them hate women so much. It’s vile and disgusting. I can only imagine what it would mean for a woman who miscarried to have to answer questions to prove what really happened. Or the women who have ectopic pregnancies who now have to deal with lawmakers who honestly have no idea what that is or how it’s treated.

I just don’t have the words. These angry ignorant people want to inflict pain on others all in the name of religion. This is the inquisition. And the only solution is to fight as hard as we can as long as we can. It’s as simple as that. They want to kill us. All we can do is resist. Days like this, it’s as simple and as complicated as that.

Review: How To Be Alone by Lane Moore

How To Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t

by Lane Moore

I feel as though there’s been a new school of memoir/nonfiction written by comedians which have been coming out over the past decade or more. There are other books by comedians which are comedic in nature, extended riffs, whereas these other books are often about the stories behind the comedy and what they talk about on stage. They’re about discussing the roots of what they do, their journey, and in some ways capture that distinction between what Hannah Gadsby in her special Nanette talked about, between jokes and stories. For me Jen Kirkman is just brilliant at this. I’m a big fan of her comedy, but I think both of her books (I Know What I’m Doing: And Other Lies I Tell Myself, especially) are simply excellent, being both laugh out loud funny but also darker, deeper, more intense, and display a different type and approach of storytelling.

Lane Moore is the latest person to do this with her book How To Be Alone: If You Want To, and Even If You Don’t. The collection of essays covers a lot of ground by the comedian-writer-actor-musician behind the band It Was Romance, the comedy show Tinder Live and other projects.

Moore had me at the title. I read a lot of books about being alone and what that means for the simple reason that I’m alone. And I use the word as Moore does which is that it’s not about being single which is a temporary relationship status, but instead something more. It’s something that I sometimes use in jest, but it’s not an accidental or casual word choice.

But I do occasionally use it in jest or in a flippant manner, and in her opening chapters Moore slaps the reader across the face by saying, no, do not be fucking flippant about this. Because she talks about her childhood, which was brutal and lonely on levels that a lot of us have never had to deal with. About a childhood that was harder than a lot of us had to deal with and hurts to read about.

There are two aspects though which make this less brutal for those of us who had relatively happy childhoods. One is simply the ways in which she has such great insight into herself and to the people around her. From the dynamics of teenage and pre-teen friendships, to how we make and nurture friendships to parenting and so much more. Also she mentions how the act of writing this book meant that she reached out to her mother and sister to talk about some of these events and it sounds as though writing the book has brought them closer together than they have perhaps ever been.

Moore also writes extensively about one relationship – and the long and messy aftermath. There’s a lot that’s heartbreaking about this relationship. But what’s stayed with me is how insightful Moore is in dissecting both of their behavior. The way that she’s spent a lot of time thinking about it, how this relationship does stand out in so many ways, and what it meant. What it continues to mean. Because for some people there is this one relationship in our lives that didn’t work out, but it was the one that hit us. The one that really affected us. The one that taught us a lot about ourselves. And it didn’t end in this happily ever after way. It ended in this messy way that’s left marks that take us some time to figure out.

There’s a chapter about her adventures in babysitting – both when she was a kid and then in New York as an adult. There’s a New Yorker Shouts and Murmurs piece that covers some of the same ground but in a comedic way, showing off some of her purely comedic voice and approach.

There’s a chapter talking about TV and which mostly consists of her sharing her love for Jim Halpert from The Office and talks about her tendency to ship characters on TV shows which made me go, okay, fine, great, but then she mentioned Jaye and Eric from Wonderfalls as one of those couples she loves. And this is one of those things that I think is a good lesson with people as well as writers which is that one so often encounters in life and in works of art these elements and digressions and aspects of the work which is less than interesting, which doesn’t enthrall us, which makes us go eh. Chapters like this where it’s easy to skim to get to what we want. But what interest us in this person or in this artist is contained within there.

Plus she cited Wonderfalls. I mean Moore is so clearly my people.

Besides which she talks about the obnoxious disgusting bi-phobic bullshit that we find all over the place from all sorts of people. But not much. One could write a book about about being open to so many people but being rejected in such a nasty way by so many. But that’s another story and another book. To be honest I liked the fact that she didn’t make the book about that, though I’m sure some people will react differently.

The final essay in the book is titled “How To Be Alone” and if the earlier chapters in the book veered between scenes I couldn’t relate to and those to which I related so intensely, this chapter made me almost cry a few times. First of all it involves traveling alone, which I love doing and to the point where I struggle sometimes traveling with other people. Some trips have been the best of my life and some have been depressing, but I love traveling alone and any joyous tribute to the people you meet doing that is perfect in my book.

This last chapter is also where she tries to say, embrace being alone. Enjoy sleeping alone. Travel alone. Be weird. Be yourself. Do whatever you want. Encouraging us to see being alone as an opportunity. And as someone who deals with depression, I know what she means, and I also know what it means to be unable to think in those ways. Moore is saying to go and do what you want and find a new way to be. To take exercise classes and be open with your feelings to people. But also what it means to need physical affection when single and how hard that is for so many of us. She writes about getting a dog and how that changed her. She writes about her career triumphs, which are beyond what she ever would have dreamed. She writes honestly about how that doesn’t mean that dealing with depression and longing and sadness doesn’t go away. But that we know that life is hard and depression will return and that being in a relationship won’t solve any of our problems. The only solution is to simply be ourselves and grab at things and do what we love and what we think will bring joy. It’s a knowledge that comes from hard won sadness and depression and loneliness, but that’s the only answer. It’s not necessarily a comfort, but it is the answer.

“You take all that love you keep giving to selfish idiots and try to throw some of it in the general direction of your own heart and you pray even a little bit of it sticks there.”

I don’t know how it’s possible to read the book without falling in love with Moore a little. Without wanting to give her a hug and go drinking together. (Or at least attend the next Tinder Live show she does...more information of which can be found on her website). But if you can’t, then sitting alone in a room with a drink one night, and after turning that last page feel a little bit better, a little more connected, and a little less alone, that’s not bad, either.

Related:

Hard To Love: Essays and Confessions by Briallen Hopper. I interviewed Hopper about her book for The Rumpus which is about friendship and love and life outside of marriage. I feel like Hopper and Moore would be friends. Maybe, maybe not – I don’t know either of them – but I feel pretty certain that their books would be friends and go drinking together.

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. A book about being single and lonely in a new city and through it interrogating art and artists who have been lonely and solitary and how their lives played out and how some of their work tries to visualize this idea of loneliness in very different ways. I love all of Laing’s work but here she really captures in her own story some of the loneliness of living in a new city and she managed to make something from it in a way that’s really thoughtful and inspiring.

Articles Published the Week of 29 April 2019

“What’s Next, Walmart?”: An Interview with Mary Fleener. For The Comics Journal I spoke with the cartoonist and artist Mary Fleener who has had a long artistic career in and out of comics about her new book - and first graphic novel - Billie the Bee, and her long career.

Otava Heikkila on Letters for Lucardo. The Finnish writer and artist Heikkila spoke with me about his new book, Letters for Lucardo: Fortunate Beasts, the second graphic novel of his series about the romance between a young vampire and an older mortal man.

Q&A with Darryl Ayo. I’ve known the cartoonist Ayo for years, encountering each other at events and interacting online, but we never sat down for a long interview to talk about his own work and how he thinks about comics, Little Garden, and what he’s thinking about doing next.

Articles Published the Week of 22 April 2019

Lin Visel and Joseph Bergin III on How Do You Smoke a Weed? The duo known as Owlin have made a lot of different kinds of comics over the years but their new book is a funny informational guide to marijuana. I learned a lot, the artwork is gorgeous and it features characters who live “weird, weedy-muppety lives.”

A Q&A with Kori Michele. I’m a big fan of the cartoonist and editor who in recent years has made a great series of short comics, in addition to co-editing the anthology The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance.

Articles Published the Week of 15 April 2019

Today’s National Cartoonists Society: A Conversation with Steve McGarry. For The Comics Journal I spoke with the British cartoonist and former President of the NCS who is one of the people behind NCS Fest in May to talk about the festival, the society, and more.

Paul Constant’s Planet of the Nerds. I’ve been reading Constant for years but now the journalist has written the new comics miniseries from Ahoy about a group of jocks form the 1980’s who wake up today - and are horrified by what they find.

Omaha Perez: The Drude 2. I’ve talked with Perez a few times over the years and we spoke about his new graphic novel which he wrote, which besides having one of the most startling covers of any comic this year it’s a fabulous and strange magical ride.

Articls Published the Week of 8 April 2019

J.P. Ahonen: Belzebubs. I’ve been a long time reader of Ahonen’s comic strip Belzebubs. Even though I’m not a heavy metal fan it’s funny and relatable and hilarious for so many reasons. In between his making an album, creating music videos, and promoting the book across Europe, he was kind enough to answer a few questions from me.

Alex Segura Talks Archie, Writing Mysteries and His Editing Philosophy. I’ve known Segura professionally for years but we’ve never sat down for an interview. This year is a significant one for him as an editor and a writer and so we sat down to talk about different projects.

Dean Haspiel Talks Starcross. Starcross is the third volume of The Red Hook saga, which Haspiel has writing and drawing in recent years. We spoke about his New Brooklyn universe, planning out what’s next for the character, and more.

Articles Published the Week of 1 April 2019

Diana Chu Talks Ley Lines and More. Chu received a Gold Medal by the Society of Illustrators at last year’s MoCCA Festival and is behind the next issue of the anthology Ley Lines about Patti Smith, music and more.

“I Have a Very Busy Spring”: An Interview with Sara Elfgren. The Swedish writer is a prolific novelist, audio drama writer, playwright, VR game designer, and comics writer. I spoke with her about Vei: Volume 1, which was just released in the U.S., the second volume which comes out this spring in Sweden, opera, and more.

Q&A with Joseph Galluccio. The Senior Art Director at LEGO talks about his first comic, Space is Cold: Escape Velocity, his longtime obsession with space, telling stories for children, and more.

Navigating By the Right Stars: A Conversation with Briallen Hopper. One of my favorite books so far this year has been Hard To Love: Essays and Confessions and I had the opportunity to talk with its author about the single life, love, friendship, and how writing the book created its ending.

Articles Published the Week of 25 March 2019

In Conversation with Tom Sleigh. Late last year I spoke with the poet and essayist about his two new books, one a collection of poetry and the other a collection of essays, some personal, others reported from conflict zones, and we spoke about writing, the Middle East, and lizards.

Chris Schweizer: Fix a Car. The cartoonist behind The Crogan Adventures, The Creeps and pother projects talks about his new graphic novel, Fix a Car, which is part narrative, part instruction manual.

Q&A with Alex Law. A great cartoonist who’s been putting out webcomics and minicomics for years tackling issues of sex and gender that are cute and funny and thoughtful. They’re also responsible for some great recent comics which went viral breaking down tropes around female heroines and villains and we spoke about all this work and trying to find an online home post-tumblr.

Articles Published the Week of 18 March 2019

“If You Worry About It, It’ll Never Come”: An Interview with Jim Scancarelli. For The Comics Journal, I talked to the award-winning fiddle player and cartoonist Scancarelli, who’s been working on the comic strip Gasoline Alley for 40 years this year, and the strip marked 100 years last year. We spoke about his work and career, and the strip, which is one of the greatest comics ever made.

Q&A with Spike Trotman and MK Reed. The new comic book series Delver, which is out from ComiXology Originals. The epic fantasy story tackles some of he questions that are raised but never answered by fantasy series - which makes it my kind of fantasy tale. I spoke with the writers about the book.

A Conversation with Falynn Koch. I’m always interested in nonfiction comics and as an amateur baker, I had to read the new instructional graphic novel that isn’t simply recipes but gets into the science behind baking.

A Missing Monday

On a typical Monday I try to mention and highlight some of the articles that were published the previous week. Last week, though, nothing was published. Like a lot of people, and I suspect like a lot of freelancers in general and writers more specifically, I judge myself based on my writing. A productive day writing means that I had a good day. I am what I create. I am my job. There’s a way in which I believe that this is a poisonous and negative mindset. This is not the standard by which we should judge our lives. This is not a standard that leads to good mental health. Thinking like this won’t make anyone - and won’t make me - happy. But I still think this way. I need to stay on top of my e-mails. I need to check in on social media. I need to pitch and apply and obsess. Even if I’m not being productive, not really, I need to be working. I need to keep moving. And that mindset is exhausting. More than exhausting, it’s toxic. Because I am more than the widgets I produce. I keep thinking about how when I was younger I worked many jobs which have many derogatory terms, but I worked customer service. I always thought that I was more than that job. I never let that job define me in my own mind. Of course customers thought that anyone who worked such a job was a braindead useless moron they could scream at, but as anyone who has worked such jobs know, those people exist, but we never let them define us. But now I let my job define me. It is perhaps the only thing that defines me. It would be flippant and inaccurate to say that I have nothing besides work in my life right now, but it does not feel untrue to say that. An so I consider the fact that last week nothing was published, that I was away and not working for much of that time, and there is an existential worry about this. Because what am I if I haven’t done anything? More to the point, I’m not happy with my life. I’m not happy in my life. And if I am both unable to change and unproductive, then what is the point? What am I living for?

Fiction Friday: Or, the Failure of Fiction

Every Friday I try to post something fictional that I write. Something new, something old. Something different from my constant routine of writing nonfiction.

This week, though, I just wish that I could imagine a world where my friends and family could walk into their churches and synagogues and mosques and pray peacefully without rabid white supremacist murderers trying to kill them. Because right now I just can’t imagine that world. I wish I could, but today I can’t escape this world. No matter how much I wish that we could...

Articles Published the Week of 4 March 2019

Kwanza Osajyefo Q&A. Osajyefo has been doing incredible work in comics in recent years writing Black and other stories in the same universe. Now he’s launched a kickstarter for the direct sequel to Black, White. The second volume of a planned trilogy, we spoke recently about the new project, and his ambitions.

A Conversation with Cathy G. Johnson. I’ve long read and admired Johnson’s comics and we spoke recently about her new book, The Breakaways. Her first book for younger readers, it’s a great story of a middle school girls soccer team that manages to balance a large cast with different stories. We talked about the book, podcasting and teaching.

Fiction Friday - The prologue to The Bohemian Invasion

A few years back a wrote what I had hoped would be an update of the old Ruritanian romances about odd European kingdoms and power struggles. It would also be funny and over the top and involve cults and a famous actor marrying the prince of a small nation. The first chapter takes place towards the end of the book, and then we go back to the beginning to figure out how the heck we got here. I continue to like the opening chapter.

EN GARDE

The guards had chased us to the third floor of the castle where none of the doors had locks because under normal circumstances, the only people allowed were supposed to be there. We rushed through rooms filled with priceless antiquities that I didn’t know existed outside of museums, sliding across the polished marble floors. As part of a hastily constructed Plan B that had occurred to me while running, I was looking out windows for ivy to climb down or an awning to jump onto. Mark wasn’t.

“Are you going to help me figure out a way out of here or are you hoping to be executed so you can say I told you so?” The room was covered with mirrors, with white walls and gold trim and I was forced to scan the room twice before I was finally sure where Mark was standing.

“Escaping isn’t part of the plan,” he said, not nearly as out of breath as he should have been. He was moving items on the elaborately arranged mantlepiece. All the items fit in with the white, gold and mirrored theme of the room and likely each cost more than every building I’d ever lived in, but this was excessively detail-oriented even for him.

“The plan went to hell and Larissa is,” I struggled to think of something clever, pondering whether it would be possible to jump part way, “somewhere.”

“Plan B doesn’t involve retreat, Rose,” he said standing on a chair as if he was Henry V and this was Agincourt. Hell, maybe we were near Agincourt. My geography always sucked.

“No one told me there was a plan B.”

Mark ripped a pair of dull swords off a wall display and jumped off the chair with a flourish that impressed even me, and startled the hell out of the soldier at our heels. The Imperial Guard, which is to say the military, which is to say the police, who would find themselves outnumbered and outgunned guarding a Canadian mall, had replaced their usual outfits for formal garb and ceremonial swords for the wedding.

This kept us from being shot and when Mark attacked, it became clear that the guards had not been trained to fend off an invasion at sword point. Mark parried and thrust with the soldier at our heels, who even an ignoramus like myself could tell was embarrassingly outmatched as a swordsman. The soldier’s only advantage was that the white cult robes we’d worn in subterfuge were hell to run or fight in, not that the tunics and tights they wore were much better.

Mark drove the soldier to the wall, forced the sword from his hand and knocked the poor bastard to the floor with a hard punch to the face before stealing his sword, barely flinching. I could tell by the way he held his arm that it hurt, and made me a little sorry for the way I berated him as limp-dicked pussy who could only fight on stage that time we were mugged at the poisonous, spiky tailed end of our relationship.

Not that I’d tell him that. He dumped me.

“That was plan B,” he said holding out one of the blunt swords.

I gave him a look. I’m many things and I’m not ashamed to run away, but I was pretty certain that running with a sword would end badly.

He rolled his eyes and dropped it to the floor. “Just remember,” Mark said, “this invasion was all your idea.”

Two more Imperial Guards, or whatever the hell the purple and gold clad poofs were called, did a double take as they rushed past the room. Their clothing appeared out of place the first time I saw it and continued to make them look like refugees from a bad movie. They held their swords as if their knowledge of them didn’t extend much past which end to grab hold of, which didn’t help.

I grabbed a nearby vase and pitched it at one of them, knocking him to the ground as it shattered on his melon. It made a satisfying sound, and he almost comically felt to the ground without making a noise, causing the rest of us to pause.

“That’s probably a priceless antique and the prince is going to dock his family’s salary for generations to pay for it,” Mark said.

I shoved him towards the remaining guard. Mark recovered quickly. A sword in each hand, he screamed something in a language I didn’t know, using the sharp-edged sword to parry with the soldier while using the dull one as a baton to attack the knees and kidneys.

As he rushed around the room like some mad whirling dervish, the white robe flew up and offered me a glimpse of something fairly insignificant I hadn’t seen in years.

“Are you going commando?” I shouted over the fray.

“It’s. A. Surprisingly. Breathable. Fabric,” he grunted before finishing off the guy with a headbutt. “For a synthetic fiber, that is.”

I kicked the one I beaned in the midsection. He hadn’t moved. It just made me feel better. I was back to being embarrassed I ever dated Mark.

“Well, Here’s Another Nice Mess You've Gotten Me Into”: A Laurel and Hardy Primer

“Well, Here’s Another Nice Mess You've Gotten Me Into”: A Laurel and Hardy Primer

You may not have ever seen one of the more than 100 films that they made together, but you almost certainly know their names and can picture them – one is thin and one is fat, wearing identical bowler hats. The influence of Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy has been diminished by decades of their jokes being recycled and adapted – and especially by the fact that their best work remains their silent films – but the duo represent some of the great comedies in the history of film.

They played more or less the same two characters in almost every film – often named Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy – two friends who are forced to respond to absurd and over the top situations. They’re not trying to kill each like the Stooges, off in their own little world which just occasionally intersects with ours like the Marx Brothers, or at odds like Martin and Lewis were. Most comedy teams at the time consisted of a straight man and a funny man, but Laurel and Hardy had set personalities, but whether they were setting up the joke or the punchline varied depending on the situation.

One of the ways they were deeply influential in comedy was in pacing. Old silent films could be frantic, with visual gags piled up one after the other with little room to breathe or allow the audience to pause. Just as their films were realistic and were played straight, which made them funnier, the pacing added to the humor. After a fall, the characters would take their time getting up, other characters had a chance to react, and letting the situation play out in a realistic way makes the scene funnier than if Hardy simply fell into the cake and then everyone quickly moved onto the next gag. Letting the joke play out wasn’t just a way to improve the joke, it allowed the actors to build characters. In a film like Another Fine Mess, Laurel shells and eats a hardboiled egg, right before everything goes wrong and the way the pace goes from so laidback to so madcap is part of makes it so funny.

Stan and Ollie began working together in 1926 when both were in their thirties and they continued to work in film, television and on stage into the 1950’s. They began their careers separately on stage before they began working in silent films. Leo McCarey, who would go on to direct films like Duck Soup with the Marx Brothers, An Affair to Remember, and many others, was responsible for teaming them up and oversaw much of their silent film career.

They were a rarity among silent film stars, making the transition to the sound era, some of which was due to their uniqueness. They were physical comedians who weren’t necessarily slapstick comedians. They went from making shorts just a few minutes long to full length films. They were often confronted with absurd and comedic situations, but most of their films were completely realistic. Laurel and Hardy were actors who were willing to seem silly and stupid and be the butt of the joke. They never needed to look heroic or make sure that the audience felt sympathy first and foremost for them.

Since their deaths, their films have been shown on television for decades, the Beatles included them on the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, there are three different Laurel and Hardy museums in three different countries. There’s even an international Laurel and Hardy Society, Sons of the Desert, which is active today in more than a dozen countries. They went on to influence not just comedians, but were one of the inspirations for the characters in Samuel Beckett’s famous play Waiting for Godot.

The film Stan & Ollie explores the actors and their dynamic over the years, and it seemed a good opportunity for a primer of some of their greatest films.

The Battle of the Century (1927)

Laurel plays a boxer nicknamed “The Human Mop” and Hardy is his manager. Laurel dances around the ring with joy like, well, like he’s not a boxer in the middle of a match, and seems confused when he actually knocks his opponent to the mat. Then Laurel starts fighting with the ref. After the fight, there’s a banana peel gag, which leads into possibly the largest pie fight in the history of film. The pie fight works because it’s one pie hitting a character and then another character gets hit and tries to take their revenge but hits someone else and it escalates, taking its time to build up to a wild madcap melee. The two are still working out their characters, but there’s a sense of play and that escalating tension and the way that the comedy and the stakes are built in each scene.

From Soup to Nuts (1928)

From breaking the doorbell to spilling the soup to serving the salad “undressed,” the two waiters do a lot of damage to a fancy dinner party. They’re not the only crazy people or the only ones with comedic moments in the film, though. They have to contend with people at least as crazy as they are, including an angry chef fighting with Laurel, a host who nearly decks Hardy, a hostess whose tiara doesn’t fit and struggles with which utensil to use as she tries to eat a grape.

Wrong Again (1929)

While at the horse track, Laurel and Hardy read in the paper that The Blue Boy was stolen and a large reward is being offered. Seeing a horse with the same name – not knowing the article refers to the Thomas Gainsborough painting – they take the horse and deliver it to the mansion and then things start to go haywire quickly as the horse takes over the living room and the police show up with the painting.

Big Business (1929)

The duo play door-to-door Christmas tree salesmen. In California. In the summer. One man is so offended by their sales pitch and refusal to go away, he starts to destroy the tree. The duo retaliate, and the battle continues to spiral out of control until the house is destroyed. Well, it doesn’t quite end there, but I won’t spoil the very end. The film is 19 minutes long and it’s wild and over the top and shows how the duo go from an ordinary situation to a crazy one to something completely insane, the comedy and the attacks on each other escalating until they’re stopped. They’re helped by playing against James Finlayson, a great comedic character actor. Fun fact: producer Hal Roach bought the house where it’s filmed so that they could destroy it on film.

Beau Hunks (1931)

Ollie is distraught after being dumped by his girlfriend (played by Jean Harlow, seen only in a photograph), and so he and Stan join the French Foreign Legion. The film was remade by the duo as a full-length film in 1939 as Flying Deuces, but the short has a much funnier ending. Producer Hal Roach once said it was his favorite of all his movies.

The Music Box (1932)

The Laurel and Hardy Transport Company is hired to deliver a player piano in this Academy Award winning short. When they ask a mailman about the address, he tells them it’s at the top of a tall staircase carved into the hill. A woman with a baby carriage and then an older man demand the movers step aside so they can pass, a policeman interrupts their work, and once they finally push the piano to the top of the staircase, they have to find a way to get it into the house. The plot sounds familiar, but it’s been imitated because the two make a film that’s all physical comedy, but it’s not slapstick. They’re playing it straight, they have a job to do and need to get the piano up the stairs and into the house. Also in one inspired scene, after delivering the piano, they turn it on to have some music while they clean up all the devastation they’ve caused. Every time they cross a piece of wood, they dance in tune with the music before continuing to clean, each in their own style. It’s completely unnecessary, but inspired silliness.

Sons of the Desert (1933)

Laurel and Hardy are married friends who are members of Sons of the Desert, a fraternal organization like the Shriners. They agree to go to the club’s annual convention, but their wives won’t agree to it. So Hardy fakes being sick, gets a doctor to prescribe a cruise to Hawaii, except the cruise ship sinks while they’re in Chicago and they have to return and find a way to explain being alive to their wives, who go from distraught to homicidal.

The plot sounds familiar because, well, it’s been borrowed more times than anyone can count. The opening scenes with Stan and Ollie and their wives is essentially The Honeymooners. Down to the fact that Jackie Gleason and Art Carney were in a fraternal organization and tried to pull the wool over the wives eyes more than once. And if it inspired The Honeymooners, that means it inspired The Flintstones, and that means it inspired The King of Queens. And how many dozens of other shows?

Babes in Toyland (1934)

Perhaps their best known film, it’s also the pair’s most atypical. It’s a film explicitly for children with the pair in a fantasy world where they’re toymakers who live in a shoe with Mother Peep and Bo Peep. The plot of the musical involves Old King Cole and Mother Goose and Santa Claus. While the plot and setting of the film are fantastic, the dynamic between the pair to how they get in trouble, the escalating craziness and many of the gags make it feel like a Laurel and Hardy film. Explicitly a children’s movie, it may have helped ensure their continued longevity by introducing a new generation to the duo, whose films were shown on TV for generations.

Articles Published the Week of 25 February 2019

Kel McDonald Is Kickstarting The Dead Deception

I’ve been reading Kel McDonald’s comics for years, but we’ve never spoken before. She’s currently running a kickstarter for her new book and she took time out to talk about this book and her approach to fantasy stories, which I love.

Talking with Liz Suburbia about Egg Cream

I talked with Liz years back when Fantagraphics published Sacred Heart, her incredibly punk tale of teenagers left alone in a small town after all the adults leave. Now she’s returned to that world, picking up some of the characters a decade later. That’s the lead feature in her new annual comic Egg Cream, the first issue of which was just released and we talked about the story and her work.

“I’m Ninety and Sometimes When I Think About It I Get Worried”: An Interview with Joe Giella

Over the years I’ve spoken with a lot of older cartoonists and late last year I sat down with 90 year old Joe Giella about his long career which started as a teenager, included a stint working for C.C. Beck, decades at DC Comics, drawing multiple comic strips, and working with almost everyone on just about every character and genre imaginable, from which he retired at the age of 88. There was a contented sigh when he talked about life with no deadlines, which I don’t think anyone could begrudge him