Sunday, April 25, 2010

Deep in the Adamantium Heart of Texas


Something about a big white space that needs adding to, right?

  
Like that issue of Love & Rockets that starts off with Maggie & Hopey scoping the unmarked wall across their street, cracking wise about "The Great White Wall" and "Call me Fishmael" and so on before Hopey goes to tag it?
   
Yeah: Beautiful. I read that issue, what, once? Years and years ago?
And I still think of it every time I see a white wall, untouched, waiting on the street.
 
But I'm no tagger, no paint bomber, nothing but a vicarious aficionado of that whole fat-cap, wildstyle, mondo-piece street scene. What I do with spray paint involves stretching big swaths of burlap on an empty parking lot somewhere and spraying across the patterns of masking tape I've set onto the fabric ~ nothing more, little less. Art, some people call it; but what it really is, if I do a good enough job, is something that looks compelling enough that I'd buy it if somebody else was selling it.
   
But there's that call of blankness ~ "Hey, you! Fuckin' fill me with something, here!" ~ that obtains whether it's from a big urban vertical in the shadows of night or a sheet of leftover copier paper in some rat-race office or ... the Specials Board of a 24-hour diner on the near Westside of Austin, Texas.
    
Something about a big white space that needs adding to.
       
Something about the iconic sound effects of the Marvel Universe.
    




The Magnolia Cafe on Lake Austin Boulevard. Mid-90s. Don't ask me to remember the exact year. I was in my mid-30s. I was working as a waiter, had been at The Mag for half a decade already, ferrying hot food to patchouli-smelling hippies and Lexus-driving yuppies and Westlake fratboys and unsigned bass players and so on.
             
Busting the ol' hump so as to provide for self and young daughter: It was, at the time, a living.
            
I had a couple of graveyard shifts in addition to the dinner shifts and a Sunday brunch, and this was one of those graveyard shifts: Where this thing with Marvel's Wolverine happened.
                
Not with the character of Wolverine, exactly, nor with Hugh Jackman who would later play him in the movies. With the sound effect of Wolverine, as mentioned above.
                 
It's a funny world, I'm telling you.
             
Because there was no nightly special on the graveyard shift. So by the time I was on the floor, the Specials Board ~ an approximately 20" x 30" whiteboard with accompanying cohort of Dri-Erase markers ~ had been wiped clean of that night's unique dinner offering.
                  
There was the Board, sitting above the beverage station, right where all the customers could easily see it, but now displaying exactly nothing.
                 
And there was a lull each night, a lull that fell between the last of the late-dinner crowd and the first trickle of the bustling bar rush to follow. And, yeah, if you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean. But, first off, everything had been pretty much cleaned already by the departing dinner waiters and, second off, after seven years of working there, my cleaning habits had become somewhat, ah, lackadaisical.
                  
Shame upon the house of Brenner, but there it is.
                     
So I had a bit of downtime near the start of each graveyard shift.
And there was that Specials Board.
And customers ~ especially late-night customers ~ like a bit of distraction,
a bit of let's-call-it
whimsical diversion every now & again.

                   
Also, I've always had all this trivia stuffed in my head ~ literary things, comicbook things, movie things ~ and, except for endless self-amusement, it doesn't do anyone a damned bit of good.
                      
Well, so, hey: What's the intersection of all those conditions?
                  
This: At the start of each graveyard shift, I'd write a different quotation on the Specials Board. From a movie or a book or a graphic novel.  Just throw it on up there, give people something to look at and ponder over. And if they asked about it, hey, I'd be happy to tell them. Or, if they wanted to give a thumbs-up, because it was (typically) kind of an obscure quote and they were pleased for having recognized it & wanted to share a fleeting bit of camaraderie with whoever had written it on the Specials Board ... well, so much the better.
                 
"Only connect," right?
                         
In fact, that line of E. M. Forster's, "Only connect," that was the first thing I put on the Specials Board. And then, night after night, a new quotation, dragging up lines that were memorable from what I'd read of E. Hemingway ~ The road to hell is paved with unbought stuffed dogs. ~ and S. Jackson ~ 'Merricat,' said Constance, 'would you like a cup of tea?' ~ and N. Gaiman ~ How fares the gryphon at your gates, Dream King? ~ and so on, night after night.
                 
And people would occasionally inquire, and I'd tell them where the quote came from; or my fellow waitrons would refer the customer to me, and then I'd tell them. And, much less frequently ~ maybe every fourth time I worked graveyard ~ a customer would happily inform me of the quote's origins ... and we'd yak about the book or movie for a few minutes ... and I'd give them  ~ surprise! ~ a free slice of Peanut Butter Cream Pie.
               
Good times.
               
But after about four months of this, I was running out of especially interesting quotes. Things were getting a bit banal, and I didn't want to (during my non-Mag hours) have to start looking things up and writing them down for later. And so one night I grabbed the black marker and wrote, in big comic-sansy letters, SNIKT! across the Specials Board.
                   
Strangely, no one made a peep.  There wasn't a single response, querying or otherwise, from that night's trickle of people.  Even through the bar rush ~ maybe it was slower than usual, that night? ~ there was nothing about the exclamation on the Specials Board.
                      
After bar rush, however ...
                    
After bar rush, it was mostly empty in the section I was working ~ the front of the main room, with another waitron working the back section, and a third waitron on the covered patio. It was mostly empty, except for this one guy sitting in the first booth. He'd been eating pancakes, I think, and nursing a coffee ... and looking up at the Specials Board with a hint of amusement on his goatee'd face.
                  
And I'm standing there, leaning against the beverage station, pretty much directly underneath the Board with its bold SNIKT!, just taking a breather before it's time to start busting ass on all the closing sidework.
                       
And this guy in the first booth gives me a little c'mere tilt of his head, like he's ready to close out the check. And I walk over, all waiterly attentive. "Yes, sir?"
                    
And the guy nods at the Specials Board. "That's Wolverine," he says.
                       
And I smile all big & toothy, because ~ finally ~ somebody in the diner knows what the hell I'm talking about that night. 


(Or, okay, at least somebody knows and wants to share the knowledge.)
                      
"That's right," I say.  "You know the X-Men?"
                  
The guy reaches his hand over his emptied plate, reaches his hand across the booth's table, offers his hand to me for a shake. 


"I'm Peter David," the guy says.  "I write the X-Men."


It's a funny world, I'm telling you.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Recommended like wow:


"Dash Shaw's
BodyWorld
is a twisted masterpiece of storytelling built from stunning visuals and panel-manipulation, rendered with much care by the young artist whose first full-length graphic novel, Bottomless Belly Button (from Fantagraphics), was a black-and-white foreshadowing of what he's capable of in full color and unbridled weirdness."




That's from my Austin Chronicle review of the book, written for a general audience but not without a faint stain of insight. 
Click this for the rest of it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Meatspace Manifestation















The first offline form of Minerva's Wreck was released in 2009, 
in an oversized, handworked edition of 300.

The most thorough response to the project
was from Alan Rankin, writing in Poopsheet:


“This is the artifact itself.”

These words are on the indicia page of Minerva's Wreck. They remind me of Magritte's painting of a pipe, labeled “This is not a pipe.” Minerva's Wreck, no mere reproduction, is an art object itself, rare and beautiful, and perfectly aware of its status as such.

I can't write an ordinary review for this celebration of all things Austin and arty. Minerva's Wreck deserves something special. To give it the standard Ebertian thumbs-up would be like describing the canelones caseros at Austin's Buenos Aires Cafe as merely “delicious.” No words can adequately describe it to the uninitiated; and for those who already know, no explanation is necessary.

I liked Minerva's Wreck so much, I picked up and moved to Austin. Yeah, that's closer to the mark. An exaggeration, of course - or is it? Read the long personal narrative by editor Wayne Alan Brenner that threads its way through the pages of Minerva like a needle through fine cloth. Brenner's essay is all about the subtle, synchronous ways the city entwines itself into one's life; how the people and places at the hippie heart of Texas can create an Austin epiphany. Having experienced my own such epiphany, I cannot write about the city or its artists with objectivity - and it wouldn't really be appropriate to do so. Like the Beat, or the blues: you just gotta live it.

Minerva's Wreck is a very limited edition. Its rareness means most Poopsheet readers will never see it. This provides a special challenge to the reviewer. Ordinarily, the message of a review comes down to some version of “Buy the damned thing.” (Or: “Don't.”) But in a case like this, I have to sum the experience; the reader's vicarious pleasure depends on how well I express my own. Fortunately, I have lots of experience describing those wild paths and arcane alleys that most readers will never visit.

Good art makes you feel things: anger, hope, loss, love. Great art makes you feel things that cannot be summed in single words. Sometimes a photograph or a painting can fill you with a complex longing, like nostalgia for a place that never existed. When we say art enriches life, this is the full meaning of the word. Examples:

· Molly Rice's memoir of youth and illness, “Seizureville,” is listed under “Fiction.” But it is so painful it must be real, a sore spot in your mouth you can't stop touching with your tongue. It reproduces a tiny slice of life to perfection - like intricate dollhouse furniture - then rips it apart with one cataclysmic, drug-triggered grand mal.

· Profiles of the Alamo Drafthouse and The Order of the Oosik offer insights into gatherings of the Select. Somewhere there is a Church that never passes the plate, whose members pay for the privilege of congregating - but not with money. Their roving Witnessses walk right by you, their eyes passing over without interest - they're not looking for you. You must first approach them.

· Robert Faires' comic “The Lad in the Iron Mask” pastes a four-color hero into a little boy's life, just as that boy once imitated his heroes on the playground. If pop culture has invaded our lives to the extent that it supplants genuine experience, the story argues, then pop culture becomes genuine experience.

· Henri Mazza's “Kangaroos and Vibrators” successfully mingles loneliness with sheer banana silliness, like a 12-hour Animaniacs marathon and no one to watch it with.

· Brenner's rambling personal essay is the rooted bulb from which the rest of the magazine flowers. He's too wordy by half, but you can't stop reading, even flipping back to peruse footnotes that parody themselves. He's the friend whose chaotic personal life you've witnessed with alternating love and horror for the last 20 years.

The mag is full of goofy bonus materials - zines, stickers, postcards. The fact that some articles are illustrated with glossy color photos added by hand to each copy affirms Minerva's existence as an objet d'art. Other add-ons simply qualify as art. For example, why is Benjamin Reed's story of slow apocalypse, “Speechless,” obscured by multiple Post-it Notes portraying an open mouth? Well, Junior, that's what makes it art: Sometimes the question is the answer.

Brenner's mission in assembling the Wreck was clearly to collect some of the great art and writing generated in his home city on a regular basis. The fact that so many of the contributors are or were connected to him - even family - is neither accident nor design. It's just another example of what happens when you have a gathering of creative people, those for whom art is a way of life, not something you do in the off-hours. In a place like that, art and life intertwine so beautifully, so naturally, it's hard to believe we were intended to live any other way.

~ Alan Rankin


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A response to Reality Hunger


1) The novel is deader than God once was, and there's no rebirth in sight. Just in case, though, take this stake and mallet with you to the library. 2) "Shields," says my friend Sylvia, "wants everybody's dirty laundry hung on lines of literature for everyone to see. Wrinkles, stains, and – ugh – skid marks and all." She shakes her head. "Me, I like a little more Maytag action, you know?" 3) You have confused the true and the real. 4) The author of Reality Hunger: A Manifesto, whose previous work for Knopf was the genre-defying The Thing About Life Is That One Day You'll Be Dead, hereby kicks the dead horse of literary fiction in its rigor-mortis'd ass, the spikes on the end of his rugose jackboots made of mash-up and sampling, appropriation and aggressive mimicry, gambits ganked from the novelties of rap and DJ culture, 4chan, recombinant DNA, The Daily Show. 5) You might think that Sylvia didn't actually shake her head at that point, that it was fabricated to impart an emphatic rhythm to her speech. You'd be wrong: She shook her head, and she shook it right then, and I've got the video to prove it. 6) Destroy his fib or sophistry in vain; the creature's at his dirty work again. 7) "Shields," says Sylvia, "doesn't care if what you write about yourself or your friends actually happened, only that you say it actually happened. He doesn't want the usual fictions but insists that much of the writing in memoirs can be – almost helplessly – made up. But that's what he likes." She. Shakes. Her. Head. "He doesn't want to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to eat his cake and have that cake be a fucking hot dog at the same time." 8) Shields has a point. He gives a damn. He's trying to make a difference. He's using the best of his formidable talents to do that. 9) Bigmouth strikes again. 10) "Now I know," says Sylvia, "how Joan of Arc felt."

How Minerva Got Her Wreck

Whole lot of everything going on, Best Beloved.

More than ~ what is it, now? Some number we can't hold a significant portion of in our mind's arena? Six billion, the almanacs suggest. More than six billion of us, then: Cleaving the air around this whirling ball of mud, and many of us making things.

From Sheboygan to Shanghai, from Malmö to Mombasa, from Laos to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, from ~ well, you get the idea: So many of us, everywhere, and so many of us creating. Or, at least, copying and modifying others' creations, thus commenting on current events and whatever's fueling the zeitgeist; or commenting on what we've just modified; or commenting on our own personal lives; or commenting on the act of creating; or commenting on commenting, sometimes, for fuck's sake.

And sometimes there's no copying or modifying involved at all.
Sometimes it's just commenting.
A lot of the time it's just commenting: Everybody's a critic.

The amount of creating and commenting had been increasing, of course, and its churn-rate accelerating, long before what we worked went digital. Before Tim Berners-Lee set the www to dancing a voodoo hipshake boogie via hypertext transfer protocol, thwarting time and space and joining our globally scattered selves in ways that can still boggle those not born alongside a world built on nothing but nothing and one.

But now? These days, with the weather on the change and the metaverse morphing all territorial in our meatspace wake?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

We are already in a culture in which the cultural logic of information has shattered any comforting notion of order.
Non-linear principles of form, in fact, are the signifier of a culture accustomed to fragmentation and montage. Information
in this environment comes as an array rather than a sequence.

~ Timothy Druckrey, Information, Interactivity, Neurotechnology


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Still, barely daunted, we do our damnedest to consider and describe all that we've known in the past, to encompass both the particulars of what we're dealing with now and what, possibly, is left to come in the years before we nuclearly or biologically ragnarok ourselves to mythic smithereens. Some of us, reaching beyond omphaloskepsis, seem drawn to arrange the complex flora of le tout de monde into a single, coherent bouquet ~ nightshade, tansy, triffids and all ~ as if its subsequent presentation would win us the heart of whoever's heart is worth yearning for ... or reward us our own relief. It becomes apparent, though, that to try to singlehandedly wrangle the whole megillah is to court an obsession indistinguishable from madness.

A guy could go all Lovecraftian.
A guy could hallucinate Illuminati among the aspidistras.
A guy could pull a Johnny Truant and start nailing tape measures to the walls.
Jorge Borges, pudding and pi ~ y'know what I'm sayin'?

So what I'm doing here, with this unwieldy device yclept Minerva's Wreck? I'm considering and describing just a few scattered parts of the totality: The parts that come into contact with me, via whatever agency, and which I have the time and desire to go on about. It's a sort of value-added waggle dance (as famously performed by our hymenopteran friends, apis melliflera) potentially leading to your greater edification and entertainment. And ~ inasmuch as one can better understand one's own internal territories by mapping them textually ~ leading to a little edification for me, too.

Your comments, especially, will help with that last part.

Please: Don't hesitate.