Friday, June 28, 2013

Fall Out Boy: This isn't just a concert review, it's everything

It's also a perhaps ill-advised homage to their song titles, but it felt like the right way to go, and it's not really everything, because there are some things that I am just going to mention to say that I am not writing about them now, just so you know.
My first thought getting out of the concert was that there is nothing like a good concert to cement your love for a band. I had sort of been coming to that realization anyway, having been so blessed with good concerts over the past few months, and it just crystallized there. It was a really good concert.
Where I get to my disclaimer, though, is here, where I need to explain exactly how new my love is. For a long time, I would hear "Fall Out Boy" and picture Gorillaz, because I guess it looked like maybe they were supposed to have some radiation poisoning going on. I didn't get the Simpson's reference until I read it on Wikipedia. Obviously, this is embarrassing.
Several months after I fell for My Chemical Romance (March 2012), there would be links for Fall Out Boy videos, that I eventually clicked on, starting with "Dance, Dance", which I liked, and "Sugar We're Going Down", which haunted me. By mentioning those songs, I am clearly identifying myself as one of those fake fans who only likes mainstream stuff, but I just kept clicking on more, and at some point I realized I was growing to love them. 

(MCR has been a real gateway band for me. I'm not sure when my love for Fall Out Boy kicked in, but it was definitely no later than February 2013:
The logical thing to do at this point was to follow the individual members on Twitter, and this led to finding out that they were on hiatus, but it also led to knowing when the hiatus was over. This was exciting, and getting concert tickets was exciting, but here is where the big disclaimers come. I did not like the videos, or the first song I heard off of Save Rock and Roll, though I still liked the album.
So the disclaimer is two-fold. One, I am a really new fan. There may be obvious things that I am missing here, and I may say things that everyone else has already said, and I won't know. Sorry. Two, this will not really be everything, because I am not going to go into some things now.
I probably do have things to say about clubby radio mixes, and the current state of music videos. I have things to say about the irrational stupidity of deciding that a band being successful, growing as musicians, or possibly both (the audacity!) makes them sell-outs. And I probably have some things to say about whether Rock and Roll needs saving, and if so, how to do it. Fall Out Boy can be a reasonable part of any of those discussions, but dragging those topics into a discussion of Fall Out Boy will, I feel, take away from the band, which I don't want to do because I love them, even if I am just a neophyte.
So, in my rambling and disorganized way, I will now try and get into just the band and their music, based on the albums and the concert, and things I love about them.
I love that they brought David Boyd (New Politics) up on stage. It is really easy to abuse opening acts, but good people don't do that. Benign neglect is also an option, but this was really supportive, and that may be admiring them more as people than as musicians, but I'm okay with that. They also brought a roadie (I think) up to sing for a bit. It's also easy to abuse road crew, but again, good bands don't.
I love the ridiculously long song titles, but also that they don't always do that. For example, with "Thriller", that is an unusually short title, and you think it's going to be like Michael Jackson's "Thriller", or at least reference it, and it is totally it's own thing.
I love that little laugh in "Young Volcanoes". I believe it signifies that the thing they have just promised to teach us is in fact not something that they can teach us.
I love the Vines they have shared with us via Twitter. Someone should put together a collection of those to "Thnks fr th Mmrs" as a thank you to both Fall Out Boy and Vine, which is probably going to fall by the wayside now that Instagram is doing video. However, that needs to be someone with some technical skill, not me.
I loved the slide show during the performance of "Save Rock and Roll". A lot of the lights and video during concerts doesn't add much, but this did. And I can't really say that it was that flashy a show anyway, so that's not the point that I'm making, but this in particular, was good. It showed respect to tradition, and emotionally it got me too, mainly because of Kurt Cobain and Joey Ramone. It tapped into something.
Let me say about the concert that there was a lot of heart in it, and consideration for the fans. They passed out water twice, which, I'm not sure if it worked as intended, but they were thinking of us, also shown when they asked everyone to take a step back, and when they would stop playing for a while, and talk, they said good things and I believed that they meant what they said.
I should also add something about that first track that I hadn't liked so much, "My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark". I didn't like the radio version, and I had only listened to the album a few times before the concert, focusing more on the rest, but during the concert when they did it, it was a revelation. That is a great song, and probably the one that stuck with me the most from the concert. I hadn't been expecting that.
Other standouts from the concert, for me, were "Hum Hallelujah" and "This Ain't A Scene, It's An Arms Race." Oh, and probably "The Phoenix." The thing is, there are songs that you love, and you expect them to do a good job, and they do, and that's great, but then there are songs that you don't expect, or you begin to see the song differently during the performance, and it's different, and it sticks with you more, even though the other things were great too.
Historically, I admit that their debut, Take This To Your Grave, is my least favorite, but that's not saying that it's a bad album. For me, and individual mileage will vary, I feel like there is a sort of coming together with Under The Cork Tree, where there is a stronger sense of identity, and performing at a higher level, but what I love is that they didn't stop there. They build on their experience, and continue to develop. They should.
It does feel like there is some growing disillusionment through Infinity On High and Folie à Deux, but it would be strange if there wasn't. Therefore, I am glad that they took the hiatus, and based on the quality of Save Rock and Roll, I feel like it gave them what they needed.
I will now throw out a few observations that are probably pointless, touching on each band member.
Drummer Andy Hurley has been working out. I know this from Twitter. It was interesting to me how powerful he seems playing the drums now. And it never seemed weak or sounded weak before, but now I just watch and sense power. I seriously don't know what I am saying here; maybe someone else can figure it out.
Guitarist Joe Trohman has probably been working the hardest during the hiatus, doing two other bands, With Knives and The Damned Things. (I prefer The Damned Things for sheer adrenaline value.) I am glad that they are making more use of him in the writing now. I feel like those additional experiences and the person who he is makes them a better band. If that sounds like it is putting any other member down, it is not.
Singer Patrick Stump has such an amazing voice. Has that been said before? Almost certainly. I think it is a combination of skill and work, but also with just some natural gift. One video he posted doing some warm ups actually had me wanting him to record an album of standards; how lame is that? I mean, a lot of rockers do it, but usually after they hit fifty. He would sound great, though. He has a great instinct for music, and it just feels like there is a lot of gentle peace and kindness radiating from him.
Bassist Pete Wentz has such a clever mind. He's not as showy as he could get away with, which is great, but he's really smart, and will take you to unexpected places, and he's a trooper.
So maybe what I am really trying to say here is that with the different skills and personalities that they bring, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This is a well functioning team, and I am glad they are back.
Maybe this was really a love letter.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Concert Review: New Politics

Opening for a popular band can be a mixed blessing. You get exposure to people you would not normally get, but they are not there for you, and may be ready to ignore you, abuse you, or just come late. It's still an opportunity, and New Politics capitalized on that opportunity better than anyone else I have seen.
Part of that was just fearlessly jumping in and putting on a good show. That "fearlessly jumping" part is more literal than you might think. Singer David Boyd started by crowd surfing during the first song, doing the robot in the second song, and moving on into full break dancing (you can get kind of an idea from the videos). And the crowd ate it up. They were there for Fall Out Boy, but they made room in their hearts for New Politics.
Their work did not end after their set. Later I saw Boyd working the crowd, approaching people and asking if they had liked the show, and giving out stickers. I am sad to say that the conversation I heard involved people who had not seen the show, but I know a lot of people did. I felt the energy and heard the cheers.
I also don't want to make it seem like it was all Boyd. Drummer Louis Vecchio and guitarist Søren Hansen were more tied down by their instruments, but played with great energy, and Hansen sent his guitar up in the air a few times, and swung it around.
That actually leads to something else. There were only three people on stage, and two instruments, but there was more sound than that coming out. There is some double duty going on, with Vecchio doing other percussion, Hansen doing keyboards and programming, and both of them doing additional vocals. Obviously there is some prerecording, and maybe that even provides some freedom, because if I toss my guitar into the air now, the recorded keyboards means it's not total silence. However, picking it back up in the right spot takes some skill. They are all really good at what they do.
I had been listening to their music in the time leading up to the concert, so I did recognize songs, but I think they would have won me over anyway. The music is really accessible. It's probably counts as pop, being very danceable, but it feels like there are hip hop roots, both in the beats and in the nods towards call and response, and maybe a little bit of Buzzcocks-style punk, but I am probably crazy there.
The 2010 release, New Politics, has a bit of a harder, heavier sound, with the possible exception of "Give Me Hope", which shows up again on the new release, A Bad Girl in Harlem.
The songs are fun, but there's depth too. "Stuck On You" and "Overcome" have different tempos and sounds, creating different emotions, but even on some of the bouncier tracks, there is still a feeling of yearning and something more. "Goodbye Copenhagen" is a good example of this.
I've been listening to A Bad Girl in Harlem a lot, and I'm not getting tired of it. Based on their talent, skills, and energy, I think New Politics is going places, and I'll be glad to see that.
Music is available via iTunes and Amazon, and I got A Bad Girl in Harlem at the show, so that's also an option. If you get a chance to check them out, do it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Comics Review: Grimm, Killjoys, and BPRD Vampire

I have three series here where I am getting in on the ground floor. With two of them I was invested before they even happened, and the third is one more connection to ICAF.
Overall, this is kind of exciting for me. I am not catching up on anything; I am completely even with the other readers. This means, though, that I also have to wait; I can't just pull up the next issues to find what happens. There's a little bit of torture there, but there's something kind of cool about that too.
One thing I have found with these, though, is that I want physical copies, not digital, and waiting for Killjoys to come in the mail took almost a week. This means I am going to have to start ordering and picking up at the comic book shop.
Or maybe I don't need to order, but just stop by on Wednesdays for new comic book night. Big Bang Theory didn't make that up; it's a real thing. And despite my earlier protestation of not having time for another social thing in my life, I may now be participating in an additional facet of comic book culture. There is a Things From Another World in Beaverton; I can work with that.
On with the reviews!
BPRD Vampire (Dark Horse Comics): Story by Mike Mignola, Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, with art by Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon, colors by Dave Stewart, and letters by Clem Robins.
In 1948, Simon Anders, of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, has had two malevolent vampire sisters locked inside of him, and the dreams and memories are changing him. He departs for post-war Czechoslovakia to destroy any vampires he can find.
They had free comics at ICAF, and there were still some left at the end of the conference, which included copies of the first two issues of this series. I liked them, liked the people involved, and it is only going to be a 5 issue run, so I already had 40% of the series. It was just very logical to stick with it.
Therefore I bought issue #3 when it came out, digitally, and whoa! I mean, I kind of thought that I knew where things were going, and it is very clear that I do not. Things are much more complicated than I realized, and I guess if this is the middle the momentum building and plot arc is set at about the right pace, and I do admire all of that, but I am not focusing on that so much as on what is going on and how is this going to turn out? Really, though, that's as it should be. What day does #5 come out again? (Just kidding. I totally know it's July 31st.)
Grimm (Dynamite Comics): Plot by Jim Kouf and David Greenwalt, script by Marc Gaffen and Kyle McVey, art by José Malaga, colors by Thiago Dal Bello, and letters by Marshall Dillon.
Portland Police Officer Nick Burkhardt learns that he is a Grimm, able to see that people are not always as they seem. It adds a new element to his crime-fighting, and it puts him in more danger, but it has also given him some friends.
I anticipated a Grimm comic some time ago. I anticipated it being done by Dark Horse, but also I imagined it still being a few years off, after the series ended, because that's how they do it, right? And then the canon of the series informs the comic? The shows just wrapped up Season 2. (Though, I had thought that maybe they could do a spin-off now, Wesen, about the Portland Wesen community.)
Anyway, no, they have a series starting now, with issue #2 just out this month, and yet
I can see how it can work without conflicting with the series, and it seems promising. I'm sure the close cooperation of the series creators helps.
The balance of explanation for those who might not watch the show, along with moving quickly for those who do not need it, is reasonable. It flows, basically. Also, the artwork is good, with a lot of action.
Nick isn't as handsome on the page as he is on the screen, but that may be an impossibly high standard.
The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys (Dark Horse Comics): Script by Gerard Way and Shaun Simon, Art by Becky Cloonan, Colors by Dan Jackson, and Letters by Nate Piekos of Blambot.
Obviously there was no doubt at all that I would get this and be all over it. I'm a fan of the people involved, I'm a fan of the album it relates to, and I was so inspired by said album that I wrote my own 427 page script about it, and am starting another creative project inspired by it next month. Most of the changes in my life over the last 16 months have in one way or another come from the album that is intertwined with this book! But how would it be finally getting my hands on the comic itself?
Actually, it's a bit confusing on the first read, and then more clear on the second. There's a lot going on with the different plot threads, and this is the just the first chapter. It is world-building, with a world seemingly quite different from our own (though possibly not different enough).
It is also a beautiful world, between Cloonan's art and Jackson's colors. The palette used is not super-bright, which would not fit the tone, but there are spots that are just luminous, and it all balances really well, with some glorious depictions of light. You could easily miss the sunrise, but don't.
Of course, the appearance wouldn't matter if the story didn't hold up, but I'm not worried about that. Right now there is already real feeling, and characters you can care about. I trust the writers, that the disparate threads will come together into a whole that pays off. I'm pretty sure there will be some grief on the way. That's okay too. Art should make us feel, and grief is as real as any other emotion, possibly more than some.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Going back to the MOOC one more time, in Scott Snyder's interview he talked a little about the creation of Harper Row. There was the question of why people stay in Gotham when it is clearly such a dangerous and depressing place to live. As true as that was, the city could also make something out of you, and reveal you, if you stuck with it. I'm not quoting this right, but ultimately it came down to the city having rewards for those who stuck with it, and there would be people who would respond to that.
So, getting back to dank, missing person Portland, what are Portlanders like? It was starting to talk about the people that turned the discussion around. It was difficult to find the right descriptor. Sincerity came up, and wasn't quite right, but then someone mentioned earnestness, and that seemed to be it.
The comparisons were Los Angeles, where at least one person always felt like he was being lied to, though I would guess it was more of a glossy, hyping kind of deception, rather than malevolence, and New York, where there was always this sort of ironic detachment. (Also, in North Carolina there is a lot of murder and unwillingness to be sociable about the weather.)
With earnestness, you really can't do any of that, because you are too invested, and too busy, to waste time with that. Someone repeated hearing that with people here, they have three lives: their work, their passion, and where they volunteer. That kind of sounds right. Therefore, Portland is a hub of human trafficking, but also of fighting it.
I suspect that we both shape our environment, and our environment shapes us. In Portland, you have people who care a lot about organic foods and buying locally, but also, we have an area where there is a lot of agriculture, and it is reasonable to find those things.
People can afford houses here that can't afford them other places. I'd read recently that one reason Portland under-performs economically is that people come here who don't make money a priority, so they will take jobs that pay less, but are what they really want to do. Well, it's nice that they want to, but also nice that it's possible.
Frankly, some of that is probably due to the weather. In terms of having a lot of land available, that is partly due to being out west, but California is too, and yet property values are much higher. Some of that may have been put into place during the Gold Rush, but maybe some of that is the sunshine. And our weather could be way worse.
And that nature? Maybe it is impersonal towards us, but I know that it is common for people here to develop personal affection for it. We can feel passionately connected to the land, and inspired by it. You don't have to go very far to be surrounded by it. So yes, Forest Park is an amazing wild space in the city, where you can jog and possibly spot some native animals, and it is also a reasonable place to dump a body.
There are people here who raise alpacas and make beautiful things with their wool, and there are people who make meth. Sometimes they are neighbors. There are sculptors and welders, and there are thieves who will steal the artwork for scrap metal. Maybe that sort of dualism is normal, or maybe we are lucky to have so many who fall on the gentle and creative side.
Thinking about the things that might make people move, most of the threats seem like things that could happen anywhere, like if Portland loses what makes it special, there may not be a lot of other places to find it. That's why we'll be moving towards what makes a community, and how, for next week.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Portland and sense of place

As I started paying more attention to the local comic book scene, I had become very appreciative of the richness of Portland. I know that this is not the only concentration of comic book artists (Los Angeles, New York, Toronto), and not even the only concentration in the Northwest (Seattle), but this seemed like a really good one, and as a local this was exciting for me.
Therefore, two of the scheduled events that I was really anticipating were the film screening for Comic Book City, Portland, OR, USA, a documentary directed by Shaun Huston, and the panel discussion, Comics in the Pacific Northwest, with Megan Kelso, Greg Rucka, Chris Roberson, Jonathan Case, and T. Edward Bak.
The movie was pretty much what I had been hoping for. Here are all these names that I have been becoming familiar with, and now I am seeing their faces and hearing their voices and they are being recognized, and I adore that. It is definitely worth checking out:
The panel started out on a much darker note than I anticipated. I was thinking about this green wonderland of creativity and fresh air, which I admit is an oversimplification anyway, but suddenly it was all about the remote spaces where you can cook meth and hide bodies, and the role of the I-5 corridor in human trafficking, and how people love the nature but it does not love you back. The gentlest part was that at least the frequent rain makes it easier to stay inside and work.
Sadly, I had to admit they were right. Well, I never really worried about whether nature was indifferent to me or not, but I guess I can see the point.
Also, the movie had brought up a couple of points that were not necessarily harped on, but stuck out, of how the area lacks in racial diversity, and there was some talk also of what things might cause people to move away, like bad legislation or something like that.
Things did turn around, and it might possibly have been my question that caused that to happen, but one thing that is worth noting is that none of this happens by accident. A key cause of many artists moving here is that Dark Horse brought them here. Not everyone from that crop is still here now, but once you build the community, it is easier for others to come. Having a lot of artistic talent in the area is probably pivotal in the buildup of smaller companies, like Oni Press and Periscope Studios, and that may in turn attract others. Maybe not every result is anticipated, but there is a logical progression.
This reminds me of two things that relate to racial diversity. One thing is that it reminds me of finding so many Laotian people in the San Joaquin Valley, and so few in the Willamette Valley. That is not an accident. As the refugees left the camps, they went to where their extended family or neighbors were. Some of this was because that was how they got sponsorship, and some of it was moving later to find familiar faces.
Up here around Portland we have more Cambodians and Vietnamese. There are a lot of Cambodians in Fresno and Modesto, but few Vietnamese. I imagine there was a similar process. How the first families that came over ended up in the spots they did, I don't know. There were probably factors that made a lot of sense, and maybe some that were relatively random, but the growth from that starting point makes sense.
For racial diversity in the area, yes, I do not remember having any black people at my grade school until 4th grade when Derek moved here. The number slowly crawled upwards through junior high and high school, but it was still a pretty small amount, and that included two brothers and their cousin.
(Those are Sid's cousins, actually, though I didn't meet him until my senior year. That is a great family.)
Anyway, a few years ago, that started changing. I started seeing more black faces around, and I was thinking, hey, maybe we are breaking some of the old barriers. An article about how the city was really white, though, and you needed to come to the suburbs to see people of color, made it seem like, no, we haven't really solved anything; we've just switched things around.
Actually, it appears that two of the big factors in the increased integration of the suburbs, which, truth be told, are still pretty white, were an influx in transplants from Hurricane Katrina as well as increased housing costs within the city boundaries due to gentrification. So, the historical problems are still there, and built on a foundation of very logical and rather disheartening progressions. A lot could be said here about the VanPort flood, but that's not really my area of expertise.
So, I guess the panel started out horrifying me a bit, but it didn't break my heart. It did turn around, and for all the bad here, there is good too, and it is legitimate good. Also, there are lessons in what goes right and what goes wrong.
So, tomorrow is going to be about what has gone right with the Portland Metro area, and I will save the tangent on community and culture and what we choose to celebrate for next week, going with the review of three new comic books for Wednesday. That makes tomorrow the last actual day of ICAF writing, because while those thoughts will inform next week somewhat, next week is more about some comments from a person who obviously pays too much attention to Fox News, and also my time in Italy. Comics will still pop up in other spots though, and that should include July 8th.
For now, Oregon does not have a great racial history, starting with laws against black people living in the territory going back to 1844 (though that did mean slavery wasn't allowed); Portland has been notorious for Shanghai-ing sailors, and while that no longer seems to be an issue, human trafficking still occurs in other forms; and honestly, while the climate is very mild in some ways, it can be rough on those with Seasonal Affective Disorder.
We are that, but that is not all we are.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Band Review: Snow White's Poison Bite

As I indicated yesterday, I did not get to see Snow White's Poison Bite, and I feel bad about that. On the plus side, covering them last, and with them have a larger discography than the other bands, I have spent more time listening to them than any of the others, so I hope that helps. They are permanently a part of me now.

Snow White's Poison Bite is a 4 person horror rock band from Joensuu, Finland. In this case I think horror rock refers more to the song content than the song styles. Their 2010 album, The Story of Kristy Killings, I thought sounded like pretty straightforward rock, musically. This year's release, Featuring: Dr. Gruesome and the Gruesome Gory Horror Show stretched a bit further. It incorporated more doo-wop elements, and was a bit more theatrical in terms of the first and ending tracks providing some narration and mood music.

Compared to the other bands from that night, I would say their sound is more similar to Farewell, My Love than any of the others, with a tendency towards the more melodic.

I don't feel like I quite have a handle on them, and I feel like seeing them perform would have helped with that, but we do have some transition going on. Even though the band has been around in some form since 2006, it was reformed almost completely in 2011, with only the vocalist, Allan Cotterill remaining. That's a fairly significant shakeup.

Also, there is some jumping around. That night, from seeing them earlier, they were in full skull face makeup. In the music videos they go back and forth between that, and their regular faces. The one video shows performing, acting, and miniature animation. There are just a lot of elements being thrown out there, which I think makes it harder for any of them to stick, though there are moments that really work.

Of course, my favorite videos tend to be comedic, with no fatalities, so I'm not the key demographic. Here there is a tendency towards a lot of death and a lot of blood, though it is pretty cheerfully fake. There is not a real sense of menace with any of it, and they are having fun with it.

While there is definitely the horror element, I would not say either album is a concept album. There is a "Kristy Killings" track on The Story of Kristy Killings, but the other songs do not seem to be related. They just all tell their own stories on the common themes of death and dismemberment.

Gruesome Gory Horror Show comes a little closer, telling you this is a horror show, and letting you know when it is over, with it's separate stories in between. In this way it reminds me of one of those old horror anthology films, like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors.

There is a kind of fun element to that, and a lot of the songs are really fun in their mayhem. "Halloween Means Death" gives this feeling of being pursued through a scary setting, but not too tense to not be enjoyable. Perhaps it is the equivalent of the chase through the haunted house in an episode of Scooby Doo. "Zombie Romance" (featuring Michale Graves, which is totally a big deal), sounds beautiful and heartfelt, but also, there is a certain amount of implied humor in the title, because there are many things that are completely impractical about zombies in love.

Again, back to that straightforward rock thing, "Will You Meet Me in the Graveyard" and "The End of Prom Night" both do rock, and both of those songs have videos (both with lots of fake blood). "SplatterSplatterBloodSplatter" is interesting, and kind of experimental, and then I just have a soft spot for "The Dreadful Lullaby" - I don't find it dreadful at all.

I could not find them on iTunes, but both albums are on Amazon.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Concert Review: Whispers of Wonder, We Rise the Tides, and The Haunt PDX

There were a lot of things that were unique about this show, so I wanted to talk about how it, and the venue, were different, as well as say a little about the two other bands.

The venue was truly unique. I am fairly sure it started as an office building, but has been changed into a haunted house, and the ground floor was set up with a stage and sound system.

It was probably the closest to a basement show that I have ever been in. Things were stripped down, and mic'ed up loud, and while there was room to hold a lot more people, I would guess the attendance was no more than about 100.

The atmosphere was good. There weren't really haunted house effects where we were, but there was some wall art that added some mood, as well as shades over the lights that were probably just there for glare/reflection reduction, but kind of resembled bats. Mainly it was pretty Spartan, and that worked. There was plenty of room for dancing, and like I said, they had it loud.

That vibe of low-key, but good, continued with the concessions. It was primarily bags of chips, candy bars, cans of pop and energy drinks - the things you can easily buy in bulk at Costco or similar places - but they were reasonably priced, and they also had a popcorn machine, which was really cool.

Personally, I hate moshing. It was allowed here, but there were warning signs, when someone got out of hand they stepped in, and then issued a reminder to the crowd that overall I think worked well.

So these were all good things about the venue, and I love the idea of concerts in a haunted house. There were two big downsides, one of can be fixed, but the other might be more problematic.

Set up took forever. It was like no sound checks had been run. Part of it may be that they didn't stack band equipment, so each band had to set up everything before going on. The stage was not huge, and I know it's probably a pain for opening bands to have to work around the headliner's equipment, but it just took forever. The show was estimated to end at 11, but at 11  Farewell, My Love had just finished, and that meant their takedown, Snow White's Poison Bite's setup, and then their entire show, were still to come.

This is part of the reason that I did not stay for Snow White's Poison Bite. Their review will be only a band review, not a concert review, and I feel very bad about that. Part of that is the workable problem, which is getting things running more smoothly and minimizing downtime. The other problem, that may be less workable, is location.

The Haunt is over by Portland Meadows. It was a young audience for the most part. I didn't see a lot of cars parked, and I would guess a lot of the attendees are either walking, relying on public transportation, or calling parents.

It doesn't seem particularly near to housing, and it is kind of near MAX, except that path to MAX is under a freeway underpass. On my way to the show, right around there I think I saw vagrants fighting over something. Even if I think I can make it home without being raped and murdered, I have people who worry about me, and I just could not stay out later than that.

As I headed back to the train, there were two young girls heading that way too. I thought, Great! I can keep an eye on them, or yell for help if needed. That worked well until we were almost out from underneath the underpass, when they hugged and the one started back. I am very glad that she escorted her friend, but now I have to keep looking behind to see if she is making it back safely. As far as I know, all three of us are still breathing, but it was more stress than I like.

It was a good show (and I wish I had seen all of it), and I like the idea, but there are some points against it. Also, I think the proprietors were getting some flack about the shows from the property owners, so I don't know what's going to happen there. Maybe they can move to Beaverton. We have a lot of empty properties out here.

One thing that did make the evening take longer is that in addition to the four featured bands there were two local bands, with their respective setups and takedowns. We had Whispers of Wonder and We Rise the Tides.

We Rise The Tides was probably the more put together of the two. They had banners similar to the ones Snow White's Poison Bite used, and two cute girls running their merch sales (I don't think Whispers of Wonder had any merch), and they even had a videographer, the female of a pair who may or may not have been the bass player's parents. However, I really liked Whispers of Wonder better.

Bands where the vocals are growling and shouting are not my main thing, but I've listened to quite a few since I've started doing this, and one thing that I have learned is that if you are going to do that, your instrumentation needs to be really strong, adding layers and complexities that normally come from the vocals.

With We Rise the Tides, it sounded like every song was the same. Listening to them recorded it is not quite as obvious, but still, listening to Whispers of Wonder is just more interesting. Listen to the intro on "The First Year" for example. Yes, they do start shouting shortly thereafter, but there is just more to it.

And that's not to make it a contest. Both bands are obviously young bands, with years ahead of them to get it right. I was listening to an interview about CBGB's not too long ago, and the point they were making is that CBGB's would let anyone play, and they had many sets during an average night, so it was a place where bands learned to be good. So I can resent the two local bands because it made the show an hour longer and I missed a band I was there for, or I can be grateful that bands get chances to try things out, which they need. I'm glad they got their chance. I'm just saying I think Whispers of Wonder is better.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

All kinds of comics are awesome!

I don't get to talk to people who are into comic books that often, but when I do, I usually keep coming back to the same question, wanting to know if there is overlap between the different audiences.
No, I'm not asking if people read both DC and Marvel, or stick to one or the other. What I want to know is whether the people who read Persepolis read Captain Marvel? Do the people who like Catwoman also like Maus? I keep asking, because the answer always appears to be "no", and I remain unsatisfied.

Of course there are exceptions. For one thing, in a venue like this, where everyone is either a comic book creator or scholar, they're familiar with both types. Also, I am sure there is some crossover. I bet Watchmen has a pretty broad readership. Still, I just want more, and it doesn't seem to be there.

One of the people I asked was Benjamin Woo, who had studied the social scenes at comic book shops, and he made a really interesting point. Some of these shopkeepers may carry both types of books, and get both types of customers, but the customers are probably still not crossing paths, because the people coming in for the superhero monthlies are coming in on Wednesday night, and the people coming in after reading literary views are probably there on the weekends. Maybe by virtue of finding other materials in the same store, they will branch out, but it still doesn't seem to be happening.

Intellectually I feel like I should be better reconciled to this. After all, people who like books don't usually read every single kind of book, but they are so close! Both readerships have been able to find pleasure and poignancy in sequential art, and they could find so much more if they would just look a little farther.

Not only is there room to appreciate both types of art, but to expand our use of it. Studies have shown that graphic novels help people learn. If you think about it, combining pictures with words provides more interest and reinforcement, and help for visual learners who may not do as well with text alone. We should respect this power.

With my music reviews, I will sometimes start wondering if there is some way to do more. Could I do some deejaying and play the songs, or do follow up posts? It is not my job to make people listen to the band, but I want them too, and it is not happening enough.

I am getting into the same place with comics. Yes, I will do a Goodreads review if it is listed there (books are, monthly issues aren't), and I will do occasional reviews on the blog, and some people will read that, but not enough, and probably not with much impact.

And then I think that if I am going to start evangelizing, shouldn't I do it about something more important? Except that I also blog about religion and faith and politics and economics and everything that is important to me, and also, I think art is really important. So then it sounds like what I really want is more influence, but people don't need to read comics because of me; they just need to read them. And yet, they are not reading enough, and right now my only tool is the blog. And sometimes I back Kickstarter projects.

So, I don't know where I'm going with that. I may start doing reviews more regularly; I don't know that it would make a difference. I know I will write more when I finish going through my Dark Horse trove. Monday and Tuesday next week will still be inspired by ICAF, but more specific to Portland, and living and creating in the Northwest. Wednesday could be an offshoot of that, or a review of three series I am looking at now. We'll see.

I don't know how crazy I will get over this. I may start giving out comic books at Halloween, which would be okay, and as birthday gifts, which could still be okay, but as wedding gifts they may start to get a little iffy. It's not always easy to find the best way of effecting change.

Just read more comics.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Stop, collaborate, and listen

The last post covered that all kinds of comics are awesome, and should have also made the point that lots of comic book artists and writers are awesome too. I know I implied it. What I want to cover today is the relation between those two points.
Obviously neither happens automatically. The art form has great potential, but that potential still has to be met. I did finally find a comic that I didn't like. Even with the ones I like, some are better than others, and there are so many variations within that it would be difficult to compare them.
I have written before about how being a better person can help you be a better writer, and hey, I love a lot of these writers and artists as people, but that's not where I am going with this right now. Instead, I want to write a little about the magic of collaboration. Ironically, the greatest testimonials on collaboration came during the panel discussion "Beyond Auteurism - Creativity and Collaboration in Comics."
Maybe that doesn't sound ironic, because it mentions collaboration right there. However, even though the title itself said we were going to go beyond auteurism, having that word there implied we might give it some credence, and it was so thoroughly smashed.
First of all, everyone started talking about the collaborations that they were doing, and how they benefited from those, and how with the schedules you are on for regular productions, it's not even possible to put that kind of control into the work, and then how the term was used as a cudgel, and finally Matt Fraction saying the term was born of snobbery, and it's kid stuff.
That's almost too far the other way, though my initial response was mental applause. The point someone else made, and I didn't write down whom, was that when auteur theory started with film, it was one of the things that made it acceptable for people to look at American film as art. So while that is borne of snobbery (Fraction), it helps overcome snobbery too, though it is a false binary (DeConnick).
So I want to hit that a little, and then go on to more interesting things.
Yes, some directors have a distinct way of doing things, and you recognize their elements. That's interesting, but is it to the point? There may be more value in adopting a completely different style if it suits the story better, and consistency isn't great if it's not resulting in great movies.
Also, I always think of Rebecca. I have seen it twice as part of Hitchcock film festivals. Hitchcock had a stamp in a lot of his films, but this one feels like more of a Selznick picture to me. I know nothing about the production process for that one, and I haven't really analyzed why I feel that way, but I do.
One thing, though, that I remember from early on when I started thinking about film making, is someone describing how collaborative the process is. Sometimes that distinct look is largely due to the cinematographer. Wes Anderson and Tim Burton both have their own points of view, but they also go back to the same actors a lot. There is sound and set design and costuming and if you want to work with miniatures in your garage you can control every aspect, maybe, but then you still have the audience interpreting it.
That is all stuff that I knew, and it applies to comic books too. What I had not considered was the value that the creators gain from collaborating with each other. This is where I have two pages of notes, and quotes taken down as quickly and accurately as I could.
I see now that most of what I wrote down was Kelly Sue DeConnick. She's really smart and passionate, and possibly I favor her. As I give this rundown, it may be a little lopsided.
We were moving away from films, and had just been talking about Upstream Color, by Shane Carruth, and he is the dominant force behind that, but still has a small number of other actors, and Matt Fraction said "I just wish I could draw," which got a laugh, but I also really sympathized with it.
Kelly Sue DeConnick talked about how artists have strongly influenced the stories, and she gave examples of artists that she worked with, and their strengths, and how she wrote scenes that they would do well. (This is where I kept thinking 'I remember that!') "If you're not writing to your artist you're robbing yourself.
Gabriel Bá spoke a little about how with Casanova, the idea started with Matt, but then the editor thought of the brothers, but then they decided which would draw it.
The audience brought it back to auteurism, and Kelly Sue asked, justly, if it has to be a solo craftsman, and that's when the cudgel (Charles Hatfield) and born out of snobbery (still Fraction) thing came up.
Someone in the audience asked about From Hell which was totally valid, and certainly Alan Moore, the writer, has been a big influence on comics, but Matt mentioned a cartoon that showed the artist, Eddie Campbell, crossing out words, which apparently is a big part of any artist's process, because they get more text than is needed.
Kelly Sue started talking about working with Emma Rios, and then wanting to do it again which led to other projects. She made a few good points, some of which may have come a little later. One is that she would send her scripts to Emma, and sometimes Emma would ask clarifying questions, and no, that was not what she had been thinking, but it would stop her; maybe it could be that way. Maybe that would be better.
Something the audience asked later was if you could draw, going back to Matt's comment, would you still collaborate? From a practical matter, the answer from everyone was yes. You have to for time constraints, but also, there are rewards to it. Kelly Sue said that even if she could draw like Emma, she could not bring Emma to the project.
So that came later, but the other thing that came at this point was that she talked about how this current project had her so far outside of her comfort zone that she would need a passport to get back, and it was wildly out of control, but also one of the best and most rewarding experiences of her life.
Matt added that he likes collaborators, but not employees, which I think adds an important aspect to it. Again, the creativity needs to be free to flow, so someone dictating to the other, even when you get to be the dictator, takes away from what you can have.
I believe at this point someone asked what the process was like. Kelly Sue said hers was somewhat epistolary, and some others shared. At this point it was said, and there seemed to be agreement, so I am not sure if my notes saying Fábio Moon said it are right, but it probably doesn't matter, that the script is the most boring part of the process. This made me feel a little sad, but that's for this specific medium. Fine.
Kelly Sue came back and said she is from a theater background, and so she is always looking for happy accidents, and that made a lot of sense. And the last thing that I wrote down that she said was an analogy about swimming and running. When she is doing one, the other looks really good, because what you are doing then is hard, and you are feeling that, but then the other is hard too. So you can be a part of all of these different processes, and they are hard, and you feel how hard it is in the moment, but then you may miss it later, because it was good too.
For me, with my one attempt at collaboration, I learned a lot, but it also left me exhausted and had completely unsatisfactory results. Again, that was not comics, so it's different, but as pretty much a straight writer, that's one medium where you can really be a loner. Sometimes that works well, but there can be enrichment from other people. I may get that from socialization and bring it back into working alone, but there may be other opportunities out there that will be rewarding and result in something better. It's good to remember.
In that way, this was the single most valuable panel for me, and that was out of a rewarding and enriching conference.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Global Comics Village

Another week, another three posts based on the International Comic Arts Forum. (Actually, it's going to bleed into next week too.)
I don't think I have anything to write about the plenary speaker. What he said made sense, and there were good points, and I will probably think about it a lot more while doing future reading of Hellboy, but at this point I don't really have anything to add to it.
There was one funny moment, though, when a question was being answered, and I think Bukatman used the term "absorption", and there is this nod from all the academics in the audience, and he immediately had to backtrack that it was not like that, because someone "Brand" had used that term a certain way, and so if you are familiar with that field, it holds that meaning, but he needed the word to do something else.
(I didn't relay that well, but if you were there it made sense and it was humorous.)
This is a thing within various fields of academics, because there is an existing body of literature and thought, and so there is this collective mental stock that everyone draws from. They may not agree on what everything means - you get some passionate disagreement in anthropology for example - but still, there are some shortcuts, and people know what you mean, and they know whom you mean.
One of the first things that I noticed at ICAF was that the moderator of the first panel I attended, Ben Saunders. seemed familiar. He had presented the panel I attended at Stumptown. Remember  the broader world of geekery? I thought about calling this the narrower world of comics, except, I don't know that the world is particularly narrow. There does seem to be a reasonable familiarity between the residents of this world.
First of all, everyone knew about the MOOC. Some of them had participated, some wanted to but did not have time, but no one was like, really, that happened? I think the instructor said we had 7000 participants, so that's a big start right there. Also, it was kind of a new thing, so the possibilities heading down that road may have generated a lot of discussion.
Taking that was helpful for me. It had me reading a lot of different comics that I don't know that I would have gotten to, but also the discussions gave this greater sense of familiarity that made everything resonate more. So many people in the class said so many wonderful things about Greg Rucka, and there he was.
I did not recognize Kelly Sue DeConnick from the MOOC, because I already recognized her from a survey where I chose her as the comics figure whom I would most want on my side under zombie fighting conditions. However, it was having recently gone through her work on Captain Marvel that made so many of the things that she said make so much sense. Yes! I remember that! So that's why!
It was not just from the MOOC; Twitter and Tumblr have played a big role as well. For example, one thing that Matt Fraction is great at, besides writing comics, is answering questions people give him. Yes, they are often about comics, but there ends up being quite a bit of classic movies and fashion too, and there he was, in a kind of retro, very snappy suit, and okay, this makes sense to me. With Chris Roberson, there was his daughter (with his wife, whom I also follow), and of course she had a dragon (Toothless, specifically). It made perfect sense.
(And I hope that doesn't come off as creepy at all either. Privacy is important too, and any public figure or creative type needs to figure out the balance that works for them, between accessibility to fans and comfort and security for themselves, but there are a lot of options out there.)
I guess what I am getting at is the familiarity made everything better, and more interesting. And, yes, two things I am really gifted at are liking people and finding things interesting, so perhaps my enthusiasm should be taken with a grain of salt, but I thought it was all really, really cool, and the people that I was not familiar with before, I want to read their stuff now. And I will.
And perhaps this is the best time to get back to the Wonder Twins. One thing I remember from an interview with Gerard Way was him talking about realizing that he needed them in his life, because of their love for comics. I wish I could remember whom he was speaking to, because the interviewer totally agreed.
So I had that in mind, but otherwise did not really know what to expect, but they were so lovely! And they do love comics! I mean, "the love" was part three of their four part presentation, and one of the slides was that "All kinds of comics are awesome."
And I can't convey it. I did take notes, to jog my memory, but the notes mean nothing, and it cannot convey the smiles and laughs and the spirit that they brought with them. I was just lucky to be there. If you were there, you were lucky. If not, well, there are other things. There are videos and classes and panels and conventions, and Twitter feeds, and many things to give you insight into comics and just love them more.
And when Moon signed my Dark Horse Presents, he drew me Daffodil from Sugar Shock. I had to say it. I may just be bragging, but I will cherish that.