Friday, February 25, 2005

Music to My Ears LXII

New iMix for your weekend consumption: We Are Professionals. Job 'n' roll!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Master of My Own Domain

It's official. I've been kicked out of the Cardhouse collective. "Creative differences," they say. Feh. Just kidding. But I do have a new domain name for Media Diet: Why not Well, the fella who's registered it -- someone I know, to boot! -- is squatting on it. Who knew the phrase had such value?

Monday, February 21, 2005

Comics and Conspiracy

I know it's probably a good thing that I don't read the Weekly World News regularly, but why was I so slow to know that Peter Bagge was doing a Bat Boy strip for the tabloid? Kudos to Reason for having such fun sharing the news.

Rest in Peace VIII

Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson killed himself last night. Salon offers a couple of worthy reads looking back at the man's career: The Duke of Hazard and Gonzo Gone.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Books Worth a Look XXIII

I completed two worthwhile reads over this past weekend -- Aaron Cometbus's Chicago Stories and Tim Hall's novel Half Empty.

The former is a slim, self-published volume -- no publisher credited -- that collects Aaron's Chicago-related writings from Cometbus Nos. 35, 37-38, 41, and 45. Sporting a color cover by Megan Kelso, it's a quick, clever read in the spirit of Aaron's characteristic writing. That said, it was odd to read him typeset -- not in his iconic handwriting.

And the latter is a 235-page novel written by former New York Hangover contributor Tim Hall. Largely set in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, Half Empty follows the loves and losses of a recovering alcoholic. Working as a designer, the main character, Dennis, half-heartedly extricates himself -- and not so successfully -- from a complicated relationship as he begins a decidedly less-complicated, and perhaps healthier, partnership with another woman. The story addresses workplace hierarchy and etiquette, faithfulness, and the funny things love can make us do. In the end, Dennis doesn't quite end up with what he was aiming for -- and I'm left with a feeling of befuddlement. What did Dennis learn? Who wins or loses here? Still, an awesome local novel.

Person of the Day

While at the doctor's office this morning, I started reading Terry Southern's The Magic Christian. Having read Candy previously -- and as a fan of Dr. Strangelove and Easy Rider, which Southern co-wrote -- I need to learn more about the man. As should you. Ladies and germs, Terry Southern.

Friday, February 11, 2005

Forever, Vermont II

This is a long-belated followup to an earlier post -- and is the second in a series of archival reviews of comics, zines, and records produced by participants in Burlington's indie-rock and -media scene. If you participated in the Burlington scene in the early '90s and would like to share your stories, insights, and experiences -- or correct any factual errors I make in this series of reviews -- please add a comment to contribute to the context! Special thanks extended to Brad Searles for loaning me his B-ton collection for more than a year and a half now.

James Kochalka Superstar #2
The hyperactively prolific independent comics creator opens this photocopied 14-page issue with yellow cardstock covers (a 1994 Konk Book by Konk My Konk Comics), by sharing some trade secrets. "This comic book was drawn on Hammermill Tidall DP Long Grain 8 1/2 by 11 inch paper with the Papermate Flair fine plastic point pen, and [Kochalka's] secret weapon, the Staedtler Mars Graphic 2000 Duo Japan, and each page is shrunk to 83% of its original size."

That kind of explicit exposition belies the ongoing balance of art and artifice that characterizes James Kochalka's work. Kochalka, as James Kochalka Superstar, makes comics and music because he has to, but also because he wants to make people want to make comics and music. Kochalka epitomizes the combination of personality, productivity, self-promotion, and professionalism.

This early example of his self-published comics output largely consists of "Satan's Walk," a piece that draws more on his fine art background (as represented by the cover to Kissers, published by the now-defunct and much-missed Highwater Books) than on his largely cartoony work. Including a photocopied photo of a Chinese restaurant's staff as well as an actual receipt, Kochalka shares a story about working as a waiter, not being able to call his wife Amy for a ride, and a half-hour walk home.

Leaving the Peking Duck House, Kochalks crosses a bridge and walks up a hill, imagining why Amy couldn't answer the phone. As he considers the gruesome possibilities, Deadbear, Nancy, and Sluggo make cameo appearances, prompting Kochalka to analyze the work of Ernie Bushmiller before a disappointingly anticlimactic ending.

The comic itself ends with several shorter pieces, including one featuring the band the Philistines Jr., Tarquin, Flip the Bird, a spider, noodles, and Whitey (who may have been later rejuvenated for the "Don't Trust Whitey" recording project). The band-related strips are more cartoony than the primary piece, which includes an interlude that reminds me of Max Traffic. And the lettercol features missives from Tom Hart, Ariel Bordeaux, David Lasky, Chris Ware, and S.A. King.

In the end, then, this comic represents the three sides of Kochalka as creator: the artist as character, the self-analytical comics activist, and the community organizer. An impressive example of Kochalka's craft. (Kochalka continued to operate out of P.O. Box 8321, Burlington, VT 05402, and this issue cost $2.)

James Kochalka Superstar #4
Sporting a badly off-register two-color cover, this 28-page 1994 comic continues Kochalka's evolution as character and creator. "Magic Boy! and Girlfriend" features an early version of Magic Boy and a consideration of penis envy and sexual exploration. A more stylized, older Kochalka remembers his childhood and introduction to Amy.

The two-fold approach to memory and self-development works. Kochalka checks in on Magic Boy (nice interruptive boundary breaking on p. 5 in which Kochalka grabs a speech balloon), and Magic Boy and his girlfriend in turn eavesdrop on Kochalka and his friends as they play dice.

That playful game leads to an uncomfortable sexual interlude telegraphed by Kochalka commenting on his craft. "Sometimes when I'm walking down the street, the world seems like an elaborately designed set or a full-scale model. ... Ink and paper." Despite the philosophical implications -- creator as character, memory as comic -- Kochalka's sense of humor and delight takes off the existential edge.

The two-page lettercol name drops Jeff Zenick, Ron Rege, and Scott McCloud. Amy King contributes a four-panel piece on her short-lived life as a boy. And David Lasky offers a cover design. "Fuck yeah," indeed. (This issue cost $2.)

James Kochalka Superstar #5
Maintaining the same P.O. Box and cover price, Kochalka precedes the comics in this pink cardstock-covered 20-page edition also from 1994 by shouting out to various Vermont-based projects and anthologies to which Kochalka contributed. The latter include Animal Review, Duplex Planet Illustrated, and Jef Taylor's old Don't Shoot It's Only Comics.

"Konk My Konk," the first comics piece, retells an experience in which Kochalka encounters a person at whom he once threw a rock. The older, wiser Kochalka explores how a rash act while in Boy Scouts may have led to a one-time friend's "never [being] the same." Kochalka's memory, guilt, and efforts to pin down the truth falls shy of the magic he's trying to realize, but his ongoing attempts to translate his existence into comics are definitely worth not giving up on.

The five-page "Kashitta" takes on a high-school nickname, a schoolyard bully, and the pettiness of adolescence. And the closer "Why Zipatone?" delves into the creative use of background patterns to "recapture and crystallize distant emotions."

A letter from Ed Brubaker and a comic strip by then Winooski, Vermont's Jason Cooley, who published the comic School Bus, cap the issue. For the most part, I found this issue disappointing. Kochalka's self-analysis doesn't seem to lead him any closer to the truth, and he sabotages the possibility of an epiphany by ending "Kashitta" with senseless, insensitive laughter. Similarly, he dismisses the seriousness of "Konk My Konk" by blowing on a "dandylion going to seed."

"I'm glad I didn't kill you." "It's OK." Is this how we reconcile our past actions?

James Kochalka Superstar #7
Presaging Kochalka's three-issue limited series, Little Mister Man, published by Slave Labor Graphics, this 24-page, pink cardstock-covered self-published comic from 1995 may very well mark the transition to the more widely published creator we know today.

Combining his cartoony simplicity, near-realistic fine art approach, and childhood comics featuring Dripsy and Mysterio (perhaps later included in Low Jinx #4?), "The Good Boy" touches on comics creation, childhood exploration, drug use, and honesty. "I was 'cool' 'cause I didn't 'rat,'" says one caption before the older Kochalka waxes on about belief in faeries, the maturation process, and mind-altering substances such as coffee, No-Doze, vodka, chocolate syrup, and acid.

Perhaps Kochalka's need to remember and reevaluate the past began with a mourning of the passing of childhood. "In growing up, you lose innocence but gain power," a full-page panel on p. 19 says. The question is, "How do we use that power?"

The edition ends with several short jam pieces with Dan Clowes, the Danish Anders Arentoff, Jason, and Amy (the latter two, "who are drunk"). After featuring a one-page column on "Color Theory for Black & White Comics," this issue may be the most internally consistent edition to date. From the cover -- "I'm riding in a rocket, and I'm looking for drugs!" -- to the main story and p. 23 beer jam, Kochalka looks at how the ways to search for ecstasy can be numerous and nefarious. Regardless, Kochalka pulls back from being overly didactic.

James Kochalka Superstar #8
Seemingly delayed by the publication of his Slave Labor Graphics miniseries Little Mister Man and graphic novel Magic Boy and the Robot Elf, this self-published, 36-page, blue carstock-covered comic from 1996 firmly steps into the mode Kochalka later modeled until recent years. Gone are the letter columns. Gone are the essays. Gone are the many one pagers.

What we get in this now-$2.50 edition is the 33-page piece "Magic Boy Wins the Moon." Trading the punk-rock process of zinemaking for longer-form storytelling, Kochalka matures as a publisher as well as a creator. And while I miss the community-oriented shout outs and lettercols, I think the new approach works well.

As is his wont, Kochalka alternates between two realities -- one in which Magic Boy goes to the moon and back, and one in which Kochalka remembers going to graduate school in Baltimore. The two threads intertwine nicely, and the comic ends up internally consistent between "Fuck you, Earth!" (p. 3), becoming acclimated to city life (p. 19), and nature boy in paradise (pp. 27-28).

Additionally, the theme of companionship crops up several times: "Wake up, Robot Elf!" (p. 6), a "roomate" (pp. 7-8), leaving Amy behind (p. 11), harpooning the moon (p. 13), and not being along (p. 20, numbered 18 -- I include covers in my manual page counts). Partnering real-life experiences, emotional reactions, and fantastic representations, Kochalka continues to look inward as he reaches outward.

While this issue does shed the trappings of the previous editions, Kochalka doesn't exclude community or short-form storytelling entirely. John Porcellino scripted the one-page piece on p. 35.

James Kochalka Superstar #11
Still using the same P.O. Box -- and this came out in 1998! -- Kochalka begins to experiment with yet another form of storytelling. Later reprinted as part of his recently published Top Shelf book American Elf, this 12-page, self-published comic with grey cardstock covers and a $1 price is the first installation of his daily one-page personal journal comics.

While traveling to the San Diego Comicon to support his book Tiny Bubbles (for which I served as production assistant at Highwater Books), Kochalka was inspired by Brian Ralph, who was at the time working on his Highwater Book Cave In. Deciding to draw "simple strips" in his journal every day regardless of where he was, Kochalka firmly embraced a form also used by Snake Pit's Ben White.

Items in this mini portray Highwater publisher Tom Devlin, consider the wonder of showering, invoke poo humor, cameo Megan Kelso (with whose Queen of the Black Black I also assisted), and recount the risk of urinating outside of a cheap hotel room after one of Highwater's infamous beach parties.

This comic particularly appeals to me because, well, I was there. Even moreso, it marks an evolutionary step for Kochalka. Rather than combining his various approaches to comics storytelling -- the artist as character (American Elf), the self-analytical comics activist (Conversations), and the pure storyteller (Peanut Butter and Jeremy). Does this fracturing bring clarity and cohesion or confusion? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


I was on TV this morning.

It was pretty neat.

Heath Row Goes to College II

Sept. 22, 1991

Dear mom and dad,

Today is Sunday the 22nd and it is about 2:30 in the afternoon. I awoke at ten, showered, and went to SBX with K. to get a couple more books. I returned to the room, ate lunch and then headed to Norris. There I purchased my last book. Registration on Friday went very well and difficulties were few. I had to pick a different discussion group for my history and poli. sci. and wasn't able to get into the math for behavioral science class so I signed up for calculus. Then I changed my mind and decided to sign up for introduction to statistics instead.

So... my final classes are as follows: American Government and Politics, History of the United States (Colonialism through the Civil War), Introduction to Sociology and Introduction to Statistics. All but Soc. fill distribution requirements. Worked out better than my original plan since I'd have to take the behavioral science math two quarters to fill the stat. req. but Into to Stats. does so in one quarter. Very nice. Here's my time schedule.

8-10 AM Am. Govt + Pol. lecture
10-11 AM Hist. of US lecture
3-4 PM Intro. to Soc.

3-4 PM Intro. to Soc.
4-5:30 PM Intro. to Stats.

8-10 AM Am. Govt. + Pol. lecture
10-11 AM Hist. of US lecture
3-4 PM Intro. to Soc.

10-11 AM Am. Govt. + Pol. discussion
2-3 PM Hist. of US discussion
4-5:30 PM Intro. to Stats.

10-11 AM Hist. of US lecture

My lectures for Am. Govt. and Hist. of US are in the same auditorium so that's neat. It'll be fun to see if I can get back from the Soc. class on Tuesday for Stats. Soc. is in the Tech Auditorium and Stats is in Parkes. Pretty far away but I should be able to do it without a hitch. You know, I cannot wait for classes to start tomorrow. Cool. Oh! Books! I now have notebooks, folders, an assignment notebook and all the required texts.

For Am. Govt. and Politics I bought Peter Woll's American Government Readings and Cases; Janda, Berry and Goldman's The Challenge of Democracy; and Butler's accompanying study guide/workbook for that text. For History of the US I bought Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Franklin's Autobiography and Other Writings, Thomas Paine's Common Sense, A Midwife's Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich, Christine Stansell's City of Women, Gerald F. Linderman's Embattled Courage and Stephan Thernstrom's A History of the American People. For Statistics I bought Freedman's Statistics text. Last but not least I bought Hess' Sociology text for Soc. Total cost came to $255.44. Wow! All the books look great and I can't wait to get into them. While shopping for books I saw so many more I was excited by but realizes I wouldn't have much time for leisure reading.

Oh. About K. He and I aren't as alike as you may think. He's a little like J. as far as his social habits go and has a little Eurofakeness about him. It's fine living in the same room with him but we're not doing too much together outside of that. But that's fine. Last night I toured the campus with D. from Itasca and L. from New Jersey. D.'s friends from his hometown were visiting from Loyola and U of I so we showed them the highlights of NU. There's this great garden thing called Shakespeare Gardens north on Sheridan. Hope I can find it again.

What else... the Tribune tour was lame but Billy Goat's was cool. Dad, ask mom what B. Goat's is. I told her on the phone. I did laundry for the first time today. Four wash loads nd two dryer loads. My underwear didn't dry first time so I had to do them again with the other stuff. My tee shirts are on the rack now.

The weather has taken a turn to the cool side of things. Comfortable though despite the wind. There are so many squirrels here! R. would go crazy. Really! And they're oh so tame. Something else that's neat. Despite being raised in an obviously predominately white city, I am having no difficulties getting along with the asians and blacks here. On my floor I have gotten to know (a little you realize -- haven't been here long) R., D. and V. -- all very nice black people. I feel weird calling them that (black) because I don't think of them as being different. D. next door is asian. It's sort of neat that I'm not having any racial hang-ups.

Oh. The tape I had gotten in the mail was Carolee returning a Zappa tape. My radio slot will probably be on Tuesday for two hours between (somewhere) 5 AM and 1 PM. I apprentice for 1/2 to 1 quarter before I go on my own. Should be fun and can hardly be called a time committment. No two t's in that word, I think. What else. Oh. My jazz audition is next (or rather this) Friday -- the 27th. Wish me luck. Last night late in Shepard's lounge I listened to two pianists and a sax/clarinetist -- all frosh. Absolutely amazing. Reminded me of Bix and Hoagie in a way with that "hot" piano. Nifty. Next time I'll ask if I can join in. Geez, this has gotten awfully long. Feel free to write or call and if I get tons of mail, send it. HA. Say hi to Bun and give me B.'s phone # sil vous plait. Merci.

Sprawled on his bed,

Monday, February 07, 2005

Books Worth a Look XXII

Not long ago, the fine folks at Drag City sent me a galley of Neil Hagerty's recently released book Public Works. Collecting 17 pieces that have appeared in various zines and little magazines -- including Lowbrow Reader and the Comics Journal -- over the last 10 years, the 157-page book is a far cry from his previously published novel Victory Chimp.

While the wide range of work herein may be as starkly scattered as Chimp seemed, the pieces themselves are concrete and consistent. Even though I've sat on this review for some time, I read the book in an hour and a half the very day I received it in the mail. Here's what struck me. "Van Camp's" is an intriguing description of a dysfunctional relationship. "Back to the Nowhere" details what might happen when bandmates become more -- or less. "My TV Don't Work No More" is a delightful critique of the TV show Wings -- perfect for Media Dieticians. And "I Remember Car-Toons," taken from the Lowbrow Reader, is a must-read piece of comics scholarship. Well worth reading.

Heath Row Goes to College

Sept. 17, 1991

Dear Mom & Dad:

Well, here I am on my first day here at NU. K.'s parents said that you left around six o'clock. Hope you made it safely home to find B. in a happy state of mind. After you left my room, I finished the initial tidying up of the desk area and stocked my medicine cabinet. Around six or so K. and I headed toward the downtown area to check things out. Befire this, however, I read through all the stuff in the folder we received and bought a Wild Discount Card for five dollars from a guy selling room to room. The card gives all sorts of discounts at Evanston businesses and will pay for itself in a very short while.

Once downtown, we discovered the comic shop and promptly went crazy. I held myself to a ten dollar limit and got some really great stuff, including Jim's latest Guardians. After looking around a tad more, we went to eat at McDonald's, since the food services had closed. Having taken my medicine at five, I had to wait until at least six to eat. Two cheeseburgers, medium coke. $2.51. Now we're back in our room at 8:30 PM about to leave for either the play fair or perhaps that film if it looks better. I'll break now and come back maybe tomorrow.

Just got back from the Playfair thing. It's now 11:00 PM same day and I'm passing on the ice cream so I can wrap this up and get to bed before too late. No, I'm not homesick, I just thought I'd get this done this week before too late. Bad sentence structure, I know.

Anyhoo, thanks for doing all you did to get me here. How's the van? Ha. Until next letter or Tuesday, whichev... Tuesday comes soonest. I'll probably give you this then to save postage fees.

Yours in Pepsi,

Among the Literati LX

The Book Standard, a recently launched look at the literary marketplace, offers statistics, financial figures, and analysis of interest to publishers, retailers, agents, and authors. Drawing on Nielsen BookScan's bestseller charts, Kirkus reviews, and additional sources, it appears to be an interesting new service.

Sunday, February 06, 2005