Saturday, April 28, 2012

Heart Like An Elephant



Cory Marder loved the world more than anyone I've ever met.

I adore this picture.  Look at her, out in Africa, in the presence of the elephants she so dearly loved, the breeze tousling her hair and unbridled happiness flowing from her smile.   This lady personified optimism, and had the disposition of the sun -- bright, cheerful, warm, kind, funny, nourishing and filled with delight.  If you didn't smile around Cory then it was a clear indication that you were in need of the sort of psychological care that only a specialist can provide.  If you didn't love Cory, then your capacity to love was broken.

I knew her through her husband, my best friend Larry.  He took me under his wing when I was a kid publishing a magazine about comics and provided my graduate education in the field when I managed his table at Comic-Con in San Diego.  Cory would swoop in on the weekend, some years organizing a dinner, others just making sure Larry was in good shape and on his way home in one piece from the exhausting proceedings.  My favorite Cory moment from when I worked at Larry's table is when, on a Sunday afternoon, the president of DC Comics walked over to say hi as a cordial formality, and in the same spirit said if there's anything he can do to be helpful to say so.  Without missing a beat, Cory spoke up and said that there was a light in their booth that was shining directly in our eyes and if he could move it that would be great.  Paul, the president, looked confuzzled.  Larry & I had to stifle our laughter.  When he explained to Cory that was the president of a major division of a major corporation being nice to a peer she was unmoved -- "He said if he could be helpful he would -- that would be helpful, sweetie!  You said that light was giving you guys a headache."

Cory passed away earlier today after a long battle with cancer.  Even in this combat with the most barbaric of diseases, Cory was a happy warrior.  Over the years I got to know her well, and was always moved by her inimitable and unique spirit.  Last year, when I was fucked up from a painful break-up and confused by life, she and I spent a long day talking about our lives, about confusion, and about the future.  She spoke candidly about her illness, but never with any sense of self-pity, or anger -- only in a matter of fact way.  She was more concerned about me, offering not just comfort, but sincere understanding.  True care. 

There are so many Cory stories.  She touched thousands of people, but every one of us felt like she was only there for us. For me.

Cory radiated compassion and endless curiosity.  She worked in travel, and got to see every continent.  She had a tendency to be going to places where war was just about to break out, and that led me to joke that she must be part of the CIA, and when I did she would laugh but would never confirm or deny it.  Certainly she was tough enough for the job.  But I'm not sure a CIA fixer going out to Egypt on the brink of revolution could be so ecstatic about meeting elephants, nursing lions, or talking to penguins.  My favorite Cory conversations were when she was just back from some faraway place and couldn't wait to tell me every minute detail about some strange wildlife she came to know.  She loved every animal, including "us chickens," as she would frequently say.

My heart goes out to Larry.  I know he's prepared, but Jesus Christ, I can't imagine how hard this is.

And Cory, well, I'm sure she's prepared as well. 

She was curiosity in human form, who loved every sensation, every flavor, every creature, every smell, every sight.  She loved all of it, even the painful parts.  Cory truly inspires me in how I engage with the world, and her attitude is something I aspire to.  That aspiration, in fact, is reflected in every post I make on this humble little blog.  Cory underscores my conviction that we don't have to do anything -- we get to do everything.

Thank you, Cory.  You are a vision and I am privileged that you touched my life.


"Requiescat in pace/That's all she wrote" -- Warren Zevon

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Monumental

I've talked about my affection for New Orleans as a city in a constant state of regeneration and decay, but my home of New York follows a pattern much more grandiose than that.

Here the city is in a constant state of arrival and departure.  New appears sudden and fully formed, like a city of radiant Athenas arriving beautiful, forceful, and complete from the brow of this city that has no time for incubation.  The flowers to the left did not occur on any kind of natural cycle.  They exploded at the peak of their powers within the beds of Washington Square Park,where they are vibrant masters of the spring.

New York spring is a privilege to experience.

Last week I got to take a half day and wander my city's late afternoon streets, luxuriating in the warm climate and the gorgeous new life taking hold of the town.  Here are a few things I saw.





Probably the coolest thing was this Gehry structure that's going in downtown.  I love how its twisting, gleaming lines stand tall above these old downtown structures:

But the most substantial pleasure was finally getting a chance to ride the East River Ferry back to Williamsburg.  It's a short but beautiful hop showcasing the majesty of lower Manhattan, the powerful stature of our bridges, and the radiant views of Manhattan and Brooklyn offered by the humble East River.  Here are some shots:









The cool sunset wind, the lapping waves, the skyscrapers blinking to light against the fading afternoon sky is why people fall in love with this place.  It was a good reminder for me -- take nothing, especially where you are, for granted.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bowery

I got back from Chicago on the red eye and crashed out long enough to go back into the office for a few short hours.  By the time I was done with gym and it was time to go home, I had the "no clue what time zone I'm in" not awake/not asleep sensation, so I took the opportunity to see what art was doing on the street.  I came across these pieces on the Bowery.

This Batman poster was cute, and once again evidence that comics are so mainstream that inside jokes like this play to street strolling New Yorkers:

 I liked this graphic a lot. It looks like viral advertising for a Jonathan Hickman joint:


Meanwhile, The New Museum had this video still-life.  I don't know whether or not I like it, but the colors are pleasing and the execution an interesting juxtaposition of classical values, contemporary technology, and 20th Century subject matter:




On the whole, I suppose it really does succeed, because it makes me consider the fleeting nature of content, the disposable nature of storage media, and the persistence of art history.

For my complex love/acrimony relationship with New York, I must admire its ability to consistently be a space for art to promulgate, and I'm lucky to be here to see what it's doing today, and most especially to see what's going to be gone tomorrow.


Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Her Satanic Majesty

I've already written about how much I love Trevor Alixopulos' work elsewhere on this blog, but I have to brag about the arrival of this original I picked up from him:

Trevor posted this piece to Facebook a few months ago and I fell in love with it for its strange, pagan majesty. We agreed that it should join the work I hang in my office to inspire my writing. I'm really pleased to have it.

Trevor also included this very nice doodled note:

Trevor's figures are mysterious and beautiful, and his pieces tell captivating stories. He's also super easy to buy from, so if you're in the market for great drawings at inexpensive prices, I can't recommend him enough.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

More Than A Maothful

Last Saturday after an exhausting but successful day at C2E2, I took volunteer extraordinaire Maggie Roll out to dinner in nearby Chinatown to Lao Hunan, a Maostalgia themed restaurant in the heart of Chicago's small but robust Chinatown. We got there around 8 and were able to be seated within 10 minutes, despite the full tables and long wait for larger groups. Here's what we saw from the waiting counter:

When we were seated they promptly brought us a delicious, spicy Chinese style kim chee to tide us over as we looked over the awesome menu. As you can see, the servers all wore Party uniforms, including a satchel for tips and notes. The waitstaff was outstanding -- they hustled and were cheerful. I don't know if this was part of the schtick, or because they liked working with each other, or both, but they were a really great crew.

The food was no joke. We settled on Spicy Fish Filet with Tender Tofu; Famous Prawn In Hot Wok; and Mixed Vegetables Hunan Style. I wish I was in Chicago more often, because there was a reservation only dish called "The Mad General Zhao's Yellow Eel Hunan Style" that seems like one of those bucket list kinds of foods one should have. They also offered frog and turtle, which are two creatures I have no interest in eating, but that I was impressed to find on the menu.

But let's get down to the stuff we did eat. Here's the spread -- Spicy Fish Filet on the left, Mixed veg in the middle, Famous Prawns at the end:



And here's a close up of the fish filet. It looks like Satan's breakfast:

Overall, the food was excellent. The vegetables were mildly spiced and diverse. The fish filet was amazingly flavorful and delicate in a way that it dissolved in your mouth. The use of wasabi peas was novel, and also quite tasty. The only downside to this dish is that it used so much oil in the sauce that it coated your tongue in a way that made other liquids taste weird. So while the actual ingredients tasted amazing, the sauce they were in overwhelmed everything else, which was too bad. That didn't kill the meal, but I would refrain from this dish if I get to go back to this place.

What I would not refrain from is the Famous Prawn in Hot Wok. I usually regard adjectives in Chinese food menus as hyperbole or Engrish, but in this case, it was the only appropriate word to describe the Prawns. They were gently breaded with a salt & pepper tempura, and then rested on a sumptuous bed of peppers, onions, garlic and scallions. This dish was the winner. Here's how Maggie felt whenever she tasted a famous prawn:

The meal was capped off by chocolate fortune cookies -- the first time I'd ever seen such a thing. They smelled like the tin of Nestle's Qwik my mom bought us to make hot chocolate with when I was a kid and tasted pleasant. The cookie seemed to know why I was in town, telling me: "It is honorable to stand up for what is right, however unpopular it seems."

Lao Hunan is located at 2230 S. Wentworth Ave. in Chicago.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Say Yes

Last Wednesday as I was walking to the train, my webmaster Christine shot me an IM asking if I wanted to go see Ghost, Opeth & Mastodon with her that night. It was a gimme of a question. Hell yes was the only response.

It was my last day in the office in between trips, with a Media Coalition meeting and a meeting with an out of town colleague on the books. I took a perverse pleasure in the knowledge that I would spend the afternoon talking about recent litigation trends and the evening swept in the turbulent majesty of these metal icons. We missed Ghost because of a misreading of the on-stage time, but Opeth and Mastodon more than delivered.

Opeth's set was an extraordinary display of technical prowess. They opened with "The Devil's Orchard," from Heritage, which is an album that behaves more as jazzy prog rock with death metal flourishes than as a straight-on metal album. Heritage-era work dominated the set, which gave the band an opportunity to show off their studied proficiency. I have to admit that during the show, I was nonplussed by how many slower numbers they played, snarking between songs that the set felt like a metal version of Say Anything, with Cusack in corpse paint holding up a boom box to his black heart beloved. My urge for the harder stuff was sated when they bolted out a punishing version of "The Black Conjuration" and "Demon of the Fall" at the end.

Even though I've spent hundreds of hours listening to Mastodon, I wasn't prepared for the savage intensity of their playing. I don't care for their most recent album "The Hunter" very much, but the muscular virtuosity of their performance made the tunes from that album as fun to hear as the rest of the show. Their visual kit was fun as well -- AJ Fosik's beast from the cover of "The Hunter" was the backdrop with LED eyes that would flash to accompany intense passages, giving the effect of a growling monster. Bassist Troy Sanders and guitarist Brent Hinds resembled growling monsters themselves as they took their turns on vocals. The real stand out for me was Brann Dailor's intense drum work. Listening to Mastodon is like looking at a Frazetta painting, and seeing them live is like inhabiting that master's work.

From the show it was off home for a short nap before getting up at dawn for a flight to Chicago. On the cab to the airport, with my ears still ringing from the show, I appreciated that I was now fully caught in the sweep of travel living. Travel brings a kind of magical thinking -- a worldview that requires flexibility of thinking and, when done right, encourages unexpected experiences, rare opportunities, and vast friendships. Although I was at home for the moment when Christine asked me to accompany her to the show, I was in that flux state of mind. I was in that place where connection is a state of being, and the best word of all is yes. Stepping into the JetBlue Terminal and looking at the departure board I was dazzled by how lucky I am to live in that mindspace. Then I stepped into the security line to move onto the next part of the adventure.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

America's Cosmopolitan Heart

The conventional wisdom about the Minneapolis-St. Paul area for those of us who don't live there is that it's a hostile tundra that spends most of the year attempting to kill anything that lives. The residents I know in that area don't ever attempt to dissuade me of that notion. After my recent trip there, I'm starting to suspect that the emphasis on the vicious cold and dark is a kind of passive-aggressive defensive posture employed to discourage interlopers from descending upon the city. Because while there's no question that the climate can be inhumane, there is a powerful civic beauty, a vital cultural life, and a tightly knit set of communities beneath all that snow and ice that can stand shoulder to shoulder with any other artistic place in the United States.

I was out there for Anime Detour, a 5,000 person anime and manga convention put on by the non-profit group Anime Twin Cities. Unlike most other conventions I attend, Detour was explicitly designed as a community event above all else. I was there under the gracious invitation of Anton Petersen who invited me after I expressed an interest in participating more actively in the manga community at MIX. Anton is one of the godfathers of organized fandom in the cities, serving in some capacity at most conventions in the region. He's the head of guests at Detour, and runs a crew that includes his insatiably curious wife Linda and charming daughter Megan. I was pleased to make their acquaintance at the show.

My first night in town I got to have dinner with Ryan Matheson and his parents, who are all powerfully interesting people. Ryan was the defendant in the CBLDF's most recent case, and is a very brave young man. I've spent a lot of time on the phone with him over the past year, but meeting him and his family in person was a delight. My admiration for Ryan in facing down the false and odious charges brought against him only increased by getting to spend time with him and seeing the conviction in his eyes that he was truly prepared to fight to the mat for the art form he loves and believes in. I'm glad I got to meet him finally, and to meet his family who encouraged his moral position even under the weight of the kind of stress that would have broken the resolve of many other families.

On my second night, Ursula Murray Husted and her husband Bryan Bornmueller whisked me into downtown Minneapolis for dinner at Evergreen, a brilliant vegan Taiwanese restaurant near MCAD. I met Ursula at MIX last fall and fell in love with her novella "Drawing on Yourself" and her graphic novel in progress The Lions of Valletta. The former is a smart, unsentimental, but sweet story that honestly depicts the often self-inflected wounds young people incur while coming of age. Valletta is a masterpiece to be -- a fable about a young cat who embarks on a fearless quest for benevolence despite the derision of her peers. The book is set amongst the landscape, architecture, history, and art history of Malta. I'm confident the book is going to make some publisher fill with pride and profit one day, and I hope it's one day soon, because I want to read it, and I especially want to see my young friends read it. Meanwhile, you should go look at her books and harass her for not having a buy link on her page.

After dinner, Ursula and Bryan took me up to MCAD. I'd never been on the campus before. It's much smaller than its national reputation would lead you to believe. Size matters not, eh? There was some really interesting work to be seen.

We ducked into the comics lab where Carl Thompson and Jack Kotz were working. Carl volunteered for me at MIX, and Jack I was meeting for the first time. Carl was hunched over inking seven pages from his upcoming graphic novel Parecomic about activist Michael Albert and participatory economics. He asked me to take a look at his Kickstarter drive, and maybe spread the word. How can I say no: take a look. Jack had some really interesting work on his screen -- it reminded me at once of Gary Gianni and Simon Roy. Neither of these guys are fully formed yet, but they're off to an interesting start, and I can't wait to see their mature work take flight.

Here's Carl looking serious:

Here's Ursula busting Jack's balls about his light sources while Brian looks on amused:

And here's Jack looking like Kerouacian beatitude:


The MCAD bullpen was a fun place. I'm not sure I'd want to spend years locked in there, but I certainly can see the appeal. The walls were covered with posters, drawings, and scribbles -- some were masterpieces, and some were the kind of scatological jokes that the students would likely be embarrassed for an outsider to see. All told, it was exactly the kind of place where young people should be discovering their artistic center.

After we took leave of the comics lab I asked Ursula to indulge me as I checked out the art show on view in the gallery. Most of it was the kind of student work one would expect to see at a place like this -- some really pretty, some fairly interesting, some dreadfully obvious and boring. I was most intrigued by this piece, which is a technique I've never seen employed before:

Installed in the wall using resin on cotton fabric, Unable by Nick Kovatch was an interesting subversion of the gallery space that bent my normal perception of the installation environment. I liked it because I've never seen this particular idea executed in this way before, and I'm interested in seeing what else the artist has to say.

Bryan and Ursula kindly dropped me back at the hotel where I had to drop my denial about the onset of con crud. I was full on congested, and getting feverish. It's an occupational hazard of living on the road. After enough trips and the ensuing lack of sleep, eventually there's gonna be a germ that breaks the immune system's back. So I was relieved to see signs for Uncle Iroh's Tea House. I weaved through the boisterous youngsters in costume cutting loose on the way to the rave, getting sugar high at the open door room parties, or pursuing other highs behind the closed door ones and found a cabana suite where one was asked to remove shoes before stepping in. Within the room was a tranquil space lined with tatami mats, bamboo leaves and low tables, and in the back Iroh and his companion were avatars of kindness. They poured me a wonderful, large cup of brown rice tea and sent me off to bed to convalesce before the show's final day. I'm still grateful. Here they are, my angels of good breathing:


I soldiered through Sunday with the aid of cold medicine and the kindness of Anton's team who spelled me whenever I had to step away from the table. This was by far the best day of booth encounters, with attendees coming out in clusters to learn what my "Manga Is Not A Crime" sign was all about. I covered all this on the CBLDF's blog, but basically we've still got a ways to go in making an impact in this community. But I still met some really interesting and motivated new people despite that.

Sunday night Ryan and I got to go to the staff and guest dinner at a Mongolian BBQ place down the street, and on the way there I met Sarah "Sully" Sullivan from Funimation, who thanked me for the work I do with CBLDF. Although I'm grateful for it, that kind of thanks always feels weird to me, because I'm just doing my job. Sully joined me, Ryan and Linda Petersen for dinner which became an extremely interesting, free-wheeling conversation about fandom, free speech, and community.

The restaurant was a snapshot of high spirits. 200 mostly happy staffers and guests were at last able to breathe a giant sigh of relief that the months of hard work that went into creating the convention had at last come to a close, and the result was a good time that raised money for local, national, and international charities. My favorite moment was late in the evening, after the rounds of applause for the contributors to the charity efforts, after the applause for the upbeat restaurant staff, and after the applause for all the volunteers who made the show happen, when Anton went back to the ingredients bar and someone called, "Anton's getting seconds, let's hear it for seconds!" and the place went nuts. I think that's probably the only kind of applause he'd be even partially comfortable with.

After dinner Ryan and I went back to the hotel for some last minute hanging out, and then I crashed hard in front of an NFL Network analysis of the classic Patriots game that gave us the Tuck Rule. Fuck those guys.

Next morning I went down for breakfast and ran into Linda again. She admitted her admiration for Ryan for living through his awful ordeal and then coming forward to help others from having to suffer the same fate. I had to agree. It takes strength to do that, and I hope Ryan knows that. Anton came in towards the end of this conversation as Linda finished her eggs, and asked her to please knock on the door of a guest who wasn’t responding to wake up calls. He reasoned the guest would respond more kindly to her soft voice accompanying knocks on the door rather than his booming voice. When Linda went upstairs, I complimented him on the show, because it served as such a strong, safe space for people to explore their fandom, and their personal identities. I admire that. It prompted us to talk about our belief that service to a community one cares for, whether it’s working at a shelter, developing a safe place for local fandom, or protecting rights is one of the most rewarding vocations one can pursue. As if by way of case in point, we only had a moment to bask in that fellow-traveler-well-met glow before Anton's phone went off and he was pulled away to do his duty.

Following breakfast I met up with Frenchy Lunning, who edits Mechademia, teaches at MCAD, makes music videos, and has served CBLDF as a legal expert. I’m not the only person who’d question whether Frenchy is actually human or is, in fact, a creature composed of a type of magic. The woman possesses an infectious, boundless well of enthusiasm, curiosity, and energy. Our conversation ranged from rights to art, to rock music, to feminism, to comics, to politics, to food, to videography, to creativity, to manga, to geography, to travel, to literature, to transportation policy, to burlesque, to education, to sexuality, to economics, to messaging, to, to, to, to -- there's nothing she's not interested in, informed about, or wanting to learn more about.

Frenchy took me out to St. Paul to visit The Source, a store that has been profoundly generous to the Fund over the years and that I'd never been able to visit before. They just moved to a new location near the fairgrounds. I knew the store's Nick Postiglione for years through his attendance at the CBLDF's auctions in San Diego and elsewhere, and through his support as part of the Midwest Comic Book Association, who host SpringCon and FallCon every year. We drove through the astonishingly beautiful historical main drag of St. Paul and out past the fairgrounds and a shopping district that was lifted straight out of a Kevin Huizenga page. The Source is tucked off one of the intersections out there next to a fast food place in a big, but externally unassuming commercial space. We were fifth in a line of cars pulling into The Source at 11:00 on a Monday morning. Frenchy and I joined the parade into the store, and I was so astonished when I stepped through the door that I felt like a religious person entering a singularly impressive cathedral. I'd have knelt if it didn't mean looking like a complete yutz.

The Source is 11,000 square feet of new comics, graphic novels, back issues, manga, anime, games, toys, art supplies, art reference, model kits, mini-comics, statues, t-shirts -- everything. Everything. Everything. It's quite possibly the best full-service comic book store I've ever seen. It's very clean, very bright, very welcoming. Nick and the staff told me "give us a year, we're just moving in," but even just moving in, this is hands down one of the greatest comic book stores I've ever seen. I was especially impressed by how the endcap on every bookshelf was used to rack small press and self-published work. In the back there's a big area with tables for community use -- gaming, comic making, whatever the community wants to do. This is a shop that gives a serious damn about comics and that has very clearly done a lot of work to serve its community and provide it with a hub to participate in this amazing field. Here's some camera phone pictures I'm almost embarrassed to provide, because they truly do not do justice to this amazing shop.

The view from the front door:

A view from the middle of the store. That mini-comics racking solution is really suave:

Looking up:

New issues:

Back issues. Another extremely elegant display solution:

This is a truly amazing store to be proud of. And the thing that stands out the most is that, sure, The Source is definitely a very successful store, but the cornerstone of its success is that it's a fulcrum of community effort. My favorite illustration of that came when Nick was telling us about the move. He said that 400 volunteers came out to get the store from its old spot into the new one. At one point he was driving a truck back to the old space to pick up a new load and coming up the road was a burly, leather clad guy on a roaring motorcycle with a sidecar full of Warhammer boxes waving as he passed by. The Source is located at 1601 Larpenteur Avenue in Falcon Heights, MN.

Frenchy & I took leave of The Source and rode down University Ave, where the light rail is being installed. This is a major public work that's going to do a lot of good for this city where, from what I can see, driving tends to be a current requirement. Along the way I spied all manner of international cuisine -- all kinds of Asian, all kinds of African, Indian, even some Mexican. I hadn't expected such an international flair in the heart of the Midwest, but that's another surprise about the Twin Cities, they're handily as cosmopolitan as any other great American city, but they don't brag about it like the rest of those cities do. They also have been quite welcoming towards refugee and diaspora communities, and after the most recent African atrocities opened their doors to that population. Again -- the spirit of compassion flows quietly through the area's character. We stopped at Trieu Chau for nuclear pho and the best iced coffee I've ever had.

The clock was ticking towards Frenchy's student obligation and my flight, so we went to the Whittier lab for MCAD where graduate students in painting and design ply their work. I was glad to eavesdrop on a crit Frenchy gave, and especially to poke my head in at the various student studios. These folks really jumped out at me.

Sherri Days
, whose use of typography and cartography made some very powerful points as political art & design:


Kyle Harabedian, who had some really attractive pages in progress from a comics piece that looks to be about the political conflicts of Eastern and Western cultures in the period before they became interdependent:


Jammo, one of Frenchy's students, who the World Wildlife Fund may as well prep a dump truck full of cash for and drive up to her apartment, because this series of canvases about the extinction of a species is powerful, universally gripping stuff:




There's so much more I saw and didn't shoot. The beautiful St. Paul historical homes. The De Stijl highrise that made my heart skip a beat. The shockingly verdant early spring trees against the cerulean sky. The late night coffee houses full of local paintings. This is without question one of the more culturally rich places I've visited in the United States, but you don't hear that much about it because there seems to be an ingrained humility in the character of the Minneapolis-St. Paul area that keeps the people who are doing amazing things there from calling attention to themselves. Well, I'm not from there so I can call attention to them. There's some extremely interesting art, some extremely beautiful places, and some warm, fascinating people in Minneapolis-St. Paul and you should go visit them. You'll be as charmed as I was. Just don't think about moving there, because the cold, well, apparently it'll try to kill you.