Friday, December 28, 2007

Zeitgeist! Standortgeist! Kunst, kinder!

I'm basically an athiest. Technically, I guess I would be defined as an agnostic since I don't claim to know whether or not god exists. But agnosticism is like a slippery tight wire - you always end up falling to one side or the other. You can claim to be in total disinclination to belief one way or the other, but eventually, in real life practice, you find yourself tending towards belief or non-belief. So, I'm a non-believer, an athiest basically. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and all that. All a bunch of neurons firing or not firing, creating a highly developed collective consciousness. I don't know but that seems to be the case. And yet, sometimes coincidences, connections, serendipities, etc, give me pause. They float me into thinking that something's pulling puppet strings around me. But mostly they make me appreciate the poetic randomness of the world, rather than believing in some otherness operating in mysterious ways. Sometimes you are just in the right time and the right place for something.

For example, I've been working on my graphic novel, Business Casual Stag Devil Death Boy for quite a while now. There are probably a lot of people in the world working on graphic novels right now, but I don't know any of them. I have friends who read graphic novels and who appreciate the nature of the medium, but it's not like there are people I hang out with who have been going through this particular interesting/pain-in-the-ass process over the past [___] year[s]. It's taking forever and while I'm probably 95% through the whole process, that 5% is daunting. Then on Monday, I went back to Pittsfield for Christmas and my mother mentioned that they were having some sort of exhibit on graphic novels at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, 25 minutes from where I grew up. I borrowed the car and 25 minutes later I was looking at the only museum exhibition of the art form of the graphic novel that I'd ever seen. (There was a comic book museum in Northampton 45 minutes away, back in the 90's, but that wasn't specifically about the graphic novel, as opposed to the comic book. This was about graphic novels, not just superhero comics. I don't make the distinction to make a qualitative statement; they're just different forms in scope and content.) There - out of all the places in the world, near the house I grew up in. Then - out of all the times in my life, when I'm embroiled in the middle of just such a project. I just found it odd. Like I was smack dab in the middle of the zeitgeist (defining spirit/mood of a time) and standortgeist (defining spirit/mood of a place). Like I was meant to grow up there and to cycle back there, then, now. Random or not, the whole experience has pumped me up for the final five%.

Random. Paper salesman Papa VTK was relocated from Chicago to Pittsfield in 1974 or 5, so we ended up a few minutes away from the home of one of the greatest artists (not just "illustrators") of the twentieth century - Norman Rockwell. In his life, Norman Rockwell was ridiculously prolific in making some of the best portraiture work of his generation, of his century, in the conversation of of all time. Yet he received no respect from the despicable "Art World". Oh those were very nice illustrations, technically impressive; he's a fine draftsman. But it's not cubist and it's not dada and it's not surrealism and it's not futurism and it's not abstract expressionism and it's not minimalism. So, it's not something that should be thought of as art in the modern era. It's been done, so it's irrelevant. In recent years, the Art World has been so charitable as to recognize the skill of Rockwell, and has begun to recognize the skill involved in the artform of the graphic novel. But comic artists and illustrators have been disrespected similarly to Rockwell for decades, which is certainly why the museum chose to do this exhibition. But there I go railing against the art establishment (fuck you) again. Sorry.

The point is that if you are within striking distance of Western Mass (and Stockbridge is next to Lee, which is an exit off the Mass Pike) you should check out this exhibit and the rest of the museum. It has lots of original drawings, sketches, and gives great insight into this particular creative process. It features the works of R Crumb, Dave Sim, Frank Miller, fellow Progressive collaborator Sue Coe, and to my surprise and excitement the work of my favorite graphic novel artist, Marc Hempel, who did the artwork for The Kindly Ones, the best illustrated of Neil Gaimon's Sandman series, in my occasionally humble opinion. (that's his work to the left and up at the top)

Kunst, kinder! Art, children!

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Wii = Weeeeeeeeeee!

The Practical Slacker got an early XMas present yesterday: The Nintendo Wii!!

(sorry about the angle of the video - couldn't figure out how to change that)

I got a good laugh at the whole thing, until he gave me a run. And I'm here to tell you that this thing is addictive. We played a game of bowling and then nine holes of golf, wasting a solid 2 to 3 hours of my time. Good fun though. Here's my sopranosesque gangster character chipping from the edge of the sandtrap:

Here's PS's mustachioed asian character putting:

VTK Italiano was a stroke down going into the last hole, but chipped in from the rough for the win. Forza VTK Italiano!

Friday, December 14, 2007

OO US Presidents, 01 -45

Have you ever noticed that for all but 7 years between 1901 and 1945 the President of the United States had consecutive o's in his name? Check it out. Think about it.

1901 - 1909
Teddy ROOsevelt

1909 - 1913
William Taft (4 years without an oo - Taft finished third in his bid for re-election)

1913 - 1921
WOOdrow Wilson

1921 - 1923
Warren G. Harding (3 years without an oo - Harding dies in office (without an oo, unless you count "doom"))

1923 - 1929
Calvin COOlidge

1929 - 1933
Herbert HOOver

1933 - 1945
Franklin Delano ROOsevelt

Alls I'm saying is that's a lot of oo's with a whole lot of power in a concentrated period of time. 38 out of 45 years. Double zeros anyone? Draw your own conclusions.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Top Ten Pyrrhic Victories of All Time

10.a. Michael Jackson - becomes a child star, a teen star, and eventually the King of Pop. The fame fucks up his life/head beyond repair. He's now a pathetic, tragic mess.

10.b. Britney Spears - becomes a child star, a teen star, and eventually the Princess of Pop. The fame fucks up her life/head beyond repair. She's now a pathetic, tragic mess.

9. Apollo Creed defeats Rocky - Creed beats the scrappy Italian Stallion in a bout that is supposed to make him out to be the good guy giving the little guy a shot at the title on the country's bicentennial. The world turns against him, baiting him into giving Rocky a rematch. Rocky beats him and takes his heavyweight champ title.

8. Barry Bonds - Talk about topical. This very day, baseball's most prolific slugger was arraigned in a federal court on perjury and obstruction of justice charges - charges that stem from his continued cover-up of the fact that he used steroids - steroids which he used in the late 90s early 00s to help him compete with the other juiced up sluggers. Once on the juice, he went on an unprecedented home run tear and now holds the Major League records for most homers in a year and in a career. He's # 1, but it may very well end up landing him in jail and out of the Hall of Fame, and possibly the record books that he was initially trying to get in. Pyrrhus wants to buy you a drink, Barry. He's down there at the end of the bar.

7. Detective David Mills - Brad Pitt's character in Se7en catches the bad guy, solves the mystery, only to be baited into gaining his vengeance, thus falling into the bad guy's trap, and consigning himself to life in prison.

6. Kurt Cobain - wins fame, glory, mainstream success, and riches - all of which contribute to his drug addiction, his feeling like a sell-out, internal angst, etc, all of which surely factored prominently in his suicide.

Apparently, he missed the comfort of being sad.

5. Len Bias - the dreaded double pyrrhic victory. For the non-sports fan VTK readers, here's the story: In 1986, the World Champion Boston Celtics (considered to be one of the 3 or 4 best basketball teams of all time), lucked out and came in second in the draft lottery, then duped the team that won the lottery into picking another player. The Celtics then selected the best player in the draft, Len Bias, who was a great player in college and would have fit in perfectly with the Celtics, allowing them to rest their two big forward all-stars, Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. This would have prolonged their careers and the Celtics' dominance well into the 90's. Would. For his part, Len Bias was on top of the world - he had just been selected by the Boston Celtics, the best team in the world, rather than the usual scenario in which a star has to enter the NBA with a crap team and carry the load. But unfortunately for Len and the Celtics, Len decided to celebrate his good fortune and OD'ed on cocaine that night. The real tragedy of course is the death of Len and all his potential in the prime of his life. The secondary pyrrhic victory was for the Celtics, who lost their new star and whose front line would have to put in many more minutes than their aging frames could bear. They haven't won the title since.

4. Anne Boleyn - The second wife of King Henry VIII. Anne won the heart of the married king of England, so much so that being unable to get the Vatican to annul his marriage to his first wife, Catherine, Henry left the Catholic Church and formed his own religion, the Anglican Church, so that he could marry Anne. That's quite a coup; she married the King of England and launched the English Reformation. Too bad she wasn't able to give him a son (nevermind that that would have been his fault, genetically speaking) - an unfortunate reality that led to her beheading.

3. The Scorpion and the Frog - The scorpion wins a ride across the river on the back of the Frog. The scorpion convinces the frog to give him a ride across the river on his back, reasoning that he wouldn't sting him because then they would both drown. The frog agrees and starts swimming across the river with the scorpion on its back. Halfway across, the scorpion stings the frog and both start drowning. "Why did you do that?" asked the frog. "Because I'm a scorpion" said the scorpion. Both drown.

2. Boom Boom Mancini beats Duk Koo Kim - 21 year old American lightweight boxing champion of the world, Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini knocked out 23 year old South Korean Duk Koo Kim in the 14th round of their title bout, which was broadcast live on CBS on November 13th, 1982 (watched by a 9 yr old vtkid). Duk Koo Kim got up initially but the fight was stopped and he was incapacitated after the fight, hospitalized, and eventually died 5 days later from brain injuries sustained in the fight. Mancini went to Kim's funeral in South Korea. He soon slipped deep into a depression. Kim's mother and the referee of the match both committed suicide. Mancini fought a handful of times after that, but never recovered from the repercussions of this fight.

1. The Battles of Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC - King Pyrrhus of Epirus defeats the Roman Army, but incurs massive casualties from which his army cannot recover. The Roman Army has no problem replenishing their supply of soldiers and eventually wins the war.

The original.

[special thanks to N-Lo for his consultations and suggestions on this list]

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Screw Asylum

This is my latest cartoon for Illustration Friday Night (the topic is "screw asylum"):

Yeah. I don't know. I like it though.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Victrola Music Video - "Sweet Lorraine"

New VTK series: VMV, aka Victrola Music Video. I decided that I have to put some of these on film so that people can hear and see them and get most of the experience (the main missing ingredient here is the smell - the Victrola smells like old). The first VMV had to go to my favorite record, a 78 I picked up down at Cheapo's Records on Mass Ave. It's great because the fidelity is really good (relatively speaking) and also because the song is great. In fact, I don't think I'd ever heard this song before and it totally kicks ass. Enjoy.

(note - the needle spins around the center for about 20 seconds at the end because I was waiting for the satisfying click sound that it makes when it stops and it didn't do it this time. After 20 seconds I moved the arm to make the click sound. So only stick around if you want to hear the click. It's not essential, but I like it. Yes, I'm weird.)

All-star ensemble? Um, yes please. Here's what the label says:

Fox Trot - Parrish - Burwell - arr: Oliver -
Piano - Nat Cole; Guitar - Bob Ahern; Bass - Eddie Safransky; Drums - Buddy Rich; Trumpet - Charlie Shavers; Trombone - Lawrence Brown; Alto Sax - Johnny Hodges; Tenor Sax - Coleman Hawkins; Baritone Sax - Harry Carney.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Savannah's Savannah

"You wan'a spend 60 hours in the next 4 days doing a mural for me? You wan'a?" Yes I do, little Savannah. In fact, that 3 year old girl could get me to do nearly anything by flashing those big brown eyes at me, grabbing my hand, and saying "You wan'a?" in that sweet little voice. You wan'a watch a show with me, you wan'a jump in a circle with me, you wan'a eat oatmeal with me, you wan'a jump off the Golden Gate Bridge with me? Anything you say. Yes. When the coffee and the diet cokes and the whiskey and the corndogs wore off, that was the voice that kept me going in the 18th hour of the 4th day of this ridiculous project.

But let me start by saying that customer service at airlines and airports in the US is at an all-time low. I know. That's obvious to anyone who flies these days, but they really took it to a new nadir on this trip. I won't go into the details of the way in which they screwed me on my flight to San Francisco on the way over a week and a half ago, because they were many and varied, but let's just say that it took me a cool 15 hours to get to my destination. Once I arrived, everything was great though, as akboognish and wife sc showed me a great time and some first class hospitality. We got some quality Cali-Mexican food and hit some fun hip spots in the Mission before calling it a PST night. The next night, we headed back down to the Mission (an area known for its murals, incidentally), met up with a handful of former Massholes, and partied it up at the bars and at a hopping house party. After a couple nights of partying, we were happy to take a leisurely drive up to Napa to hang out with MCSmackdown and his lovely little lady.

The room is 11 ft x 12 ft x 8 ft high and MCSmack had primed it with a metallic paint that was going to allow magnets to be hang all over the mural. We weren't sure how well that was going to work with 2 coats of semi-gloss on top of it (that was back when I thought I was going to be able to do two full coats of the entire mural in 3 days and change) but MCS'down thought it would be worth it to try. Here's what it looked like when I got there:

On my 4th day in Cali, I got right to work on the mural (well, after eating oatmeal and playing house with Savannah - can't say no. can't do it). She was in and out, being run around on errands and playdates, but when she did pop in, she was happy to identify the animals I was penciling in on the wall and didn't seem to have a problem with what I was doing to her room, despite not really understanding it. She even helped by drawing a bird on the wall, which I later painted in (see the photo at the top of the post). Later in the day, she came in to give me a big hug goodbye (she was going to her mom's for a few days), and she asked "wha's that?" about the drawing on the wall at her eye level. I told her that it was a rhino. She looked at it, gave the wall a hug, and stomped out of the house shouting "klop a pop pop! klop a pop pop!"

the exact moment that my heart disintegrated.

at which point, I resolved that she was going to get a kick ass mural no matter what. Well, I don't know if it's "kick ass", but the "no matter what" on the mural turned out to be 60 hours over 4 days, including an epic 18 hour painting session that spilled into 4:30 AM on Thanksgiving morning (which was the last possible morning I could leave to go back to SF). Here it is:

If you want to see what it would be like for a 3 year old to walk into the room, including my impression of how she would say "Wan'a see a mural?", view here:

I could've easily put another 10 - 12 hours into it to get it to a point where I would've been satisfied, but that's all the time I had, so some of the things I wanted to do didn't get done, or got done insufficiently. But I got it to the point where all the animals were done to my satisfaction and all the mistakes and drips were touched up. Hopefully, Savannah's going to "wan'a" hang out in her room. I'm pretty sure she'll like it. MCSmackadoo said that she's not scared of any animals so that wasn't an issue and he was very happy with the final product so that's that.

Postscript: A few hours later, I was back in San Francisco, physically and mentally exhausted, with a 15 person Thanksgiving dinner on tap. Good company and free flowing beer and wine assisted me greatly in making it through that. Not that it was particularly stressful. But it's the holidays. And I was 100% out of gas. But I got my wind (fumes?), and the next day brought a little leisure (including a stop at the mystery book store pictured at right) until I decided to go online and reconfirm my 9:39 PM red-eye, non-stop, first class flight back to Boston at around 3:00 PM. I couldn't seem to get any results from my search of the confirmation number so I called the 800 number. Turns out that they had cancelled the 9:39 flight and I was supposed to have been on the 1:30 PM flight instead. A solid 8 hours earlier than my flight. And they didn't feel the need to inform me of that in any way. Moral of the post: airlines suck, murals are hard, Savannah is cute.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Night Shift

I was going to cook up a final post to tide you over while I'm away for a week on the West Coast doing a mural commission for the room of a friend's 3 year old daughter (safari/jungle theme). But I actually have some non-VTK work to do before I leave, so I'm going to leave you hanging on that. There's a small chance that I'll do a staggered live blog of the project, but I may just document it and post about it when I get back. We'll see. As a consolation, please enjoy this unrelated footage of The Commodores singing Night Shift on Solid Gold (inspired by the latest Duffless Foundation post):

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Von Cupcake Keeper, or A Taste of Binghamton

VTK hit the road last weekend to check out the home turf (current home turf anyways) of fellow blogger, UMass alum, and friend, Dearest Cupcake - none other than the hopping and happening Binghamton, NY. I've been promising a visit for years now and finally got around to making it happen. All it took was a 8.0 Richter scale earthquake in Peru to get me there. Binghamton is a classic post-industrial American city in decline, similar to Pittsfield in that regard but on a much larger scale. The population of the tri-city area, once 500,000, is now only 100,000. But it's the home of SUNY Binghamton and its Anthropology grad school program, which is how DC ended up there. There's not too too much to do there, so we made the obvious scheduling plan and structured our entire weekend around food. And I do mean structure. Here's a brief recap of the weekend as it progressed down the meals checklist:

1. Oneonta Sandwiches - DC picked me up at the bus stop and gave me the bad news that we would have to postpone our trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown because she had to finish a grant proposal. That was not a big deal since I was exhausted from getting up 6 hours earlier than usual to catch the bus. While in the Big O, we grabbed a bite - nothing extraordinary. Oneonta in a word? quaint.

2. Wings and Spiedies at Tasty's - Once the grant proposal was done, we headed down to a classic townie spot to celebrate with some Yeunglings and chicken wings. In addition to that belly bloating action, I got my first taste of a Binghamton original sandwich: the spiedie. My affinity for sandwiches is well known and I was excited to try a famous local treat. Pleasantly surprised I was not. I wanted to love the spiedie; I really did. But it's not a great sandwich. Basically it consists of chunks of pork, marinated in Italian dressing, cooked beyond dryness, and then served on dry bread, without any sauce or anything. The only thing that was missing was a cup of sand to wash it down. It was the driest food experience I've ever had. I just don't understand the concept. Sorry, Bing. Thumbs down. Fun times at Tasty's though. Even though I think we got shut off for not being townies.

3. Oatmeal and Apples - It was over this breakfast that we decided that we needed to sort out our meal plan for the weekend. There were some pretty important food experiences that we had planned and we had to make sure that we fit it all in.

4. Spiediefest 08 (08?) - I know what you're thinking - didn't they sample and reject the spiedie back at meal # 2? Like I said, I wanted to like the spiedie, and DC convinced me that we had to try the original at Sharkey's or Lupo's (the Pat's v Geno's of the Bing). We decided to go to Sharkey's, aka 1952. As soon as you walk into this place you're transported back in time. And you're Polish. And your cholesterol is through the roof. Our waitress told us that the layout and furniture were the same as they were during WW2. In addition to the spiedies, we got the fried clams and perogies, and a side of salt potatoes. The perogies and the salt pots were served in bowls of butter - butter which I would later use in a futile attempt to add some moisture to the spiedie. This was a feast that left us both in cholesterol comas. We tried to walk it off in the neighborhood by popping in some of the local antique shops. We also found a record player repair shop and went in to see if they had any Victrola Talking Machines. I talked to the repair man and explained the machine I have and the small irregular piece that I need. He knew exactly what I was talking about and had it in stock. But then he said that they don't sell the parts, that they're just for repairs. Ummm ... you're an idiot, old man. No wonder your town is economically depressed; you have no concept of commerce. How much would I have paid for that one piece that I can't find anywhere else.

5. Torrid Tempeh Temptation - We figured that somewhere in the middle of the artery clogging madness, we should try to fit in some vegetables. After lounging around for a few hours doing su doku and letting the lard digest, we walked downtown to check out a little Bing culture - the monthly art walk. By the time we got back, our expanded estomagos were ready for more, so we made a thai style dinner of vegetables and tempeh cooked in peanut satay sauce.

6. Dutch Babies - aka Babycakes - To set us up with a nice base for our trip to Cooperstown (Coop, there it is!), DC whipped up a delicious set of breakfast treats that I had never tried before. Unlike my introduction to the spiedie, my introduction to the Dutch Baby was a pleasure for the palette. It's basically eggs and flour baked in butter, topped with lemon and powdered sugar. A good way to start our pilgrimage to the Baseball Mecca that is the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. I was sure to wear my Pittsfield 1791 hat, referencing the oldest document in existence that mentions baseball: a 1791 law prohibiting the play of baseball within 80 feet of the Pittsfield Town Hall. What's up now, Coop! Despite the fraudulence of the Abner Doubleday claim to having invented baseball in Cooperstown, the Baseball Hall of Fame is pretty cool. It will be even better when the court order comes through to move it to Pittsfield.

7. Coop (There it is!) - After a couple hours in the BHoF, we found ourselves a bit peckish. A visit to the Doubleday Cafe took care of that with chowdah, and some quality deli food (salad with bacon for DC, corned beef and swiss on rye for VTK). Not gut-splitting, but filling enough to hold us over until dinner, which promised to be a doozy.

8. The Spot - after some deliberation, we settled on a Greek ... restaurant for dinner. What put it over the top was the fact that they served Harvey Wallbangers. I didn't know what was in a H-Wall but I knew that this was the perfect place to find out. DC went for another cocktail that we were unfamiliar with - the Stinger. We were both surprised and disgusted by what we had ordered. The Harvey Wallbanger is basically a screwdriver with a splash of a nasty herbal liquor named Galliano. The Stinger is brandy with creme de menthe (creme de sgusting). And if you're thinking maybe it would taste ok if you mixed them together, you're wrong.

oh, and the food. soup, bread, salad, and two mammoth fried chicken parmigiana dishes. holy bloated belly, batman. All we could muster after that was to play a quick 20 games of UNO with the Derek Jeter UNO cards that I picked up at the BHoF. Yeah. Saturday night. We're old.

9. Breakfast at the Skylark - At this stage of the game, our stomachs have expanded to about the size of hippo stomachs, so we had to just keep feeding the monster. We met DC's friends for brunch at the Skylark diner. DC went for the club sandwich and french fries. I thought the flapjacks, egg, and bacon would sit in my stomach better. Both were sufficient to tide us over until after the Pats - Colts game. DC got some knitting done while I explained the rules of pass interference and how the refs in this particular game were total asshats.

10. Taco Town!! - If you don't know what Taco Town is, please see the video on the previous post. They don't have crepes or gruyere in Binghamton, so we decided to go for Pizza Tacos, tacos wrapped in pizzas. As you can see, we put a lot of planning into the design of Taco Town:

We decided to go with model 4 - 2 home made personal dough pizzas and 2 tortilla pizzas, each wrapped around a taco. During the Pats game, we worked up the order of operations.

And the rest was Taco Town magic:

Pizza? Now that's what I call a taco!