Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Heather's Resolution #5: A Visit to Ssalefish Comics

Hitting Hanes Mall in Winston-Salem, North Carolina? You should take a short detour across the street from the mall to Ssalefish Comics. Opened by Bret Parks in 2006, Ssalefish is not only home to comics, but a number of wonderful toys that invoke childhood memories for anyone that grew up with He-Man, Transformers, and G.I. Joe.

Bret and his staff, particularly, Adam Casey, are friendly, knowledgeable, and enthusiastic. I suspect Bret’s personal toy collection rivals the one in the store based on his interaction with a customer buying a robot with working parts. In addition to their knowledge of comics and toys, regular customers were greeted by name and with suggestions based on their previous purchases.

Ssalefish has the usual collection of new comics, trades, and back issues, as well as special incentive comics like the Ssalefish Godzilla comics featuring the store being crushed by Godzilla’s foot. While this is a smaller shop, Ssalefish makes good use of the space in housing the comics and toys collections in a way that isn’t cluttered or crowded. I don’t envy whoever is tasked with dusting the toys, but they do a really great job of keeping the displays clean and dust-free.

Ssalefish Comics is located at 3242 Silas Creek Parkway, Suite 20, Winston Salem, North Carolina 27103. The phone number is (336) 499-3910 or (336) 760-9851. Ssalefish is closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday and Thursday 11:00 am -7:00 pm, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday 11:00 am-8:00 pm and Sunday 1:00 pm-6:00 pm.

Want to see more of my visit to Ssalefish, check out my Flickr album

Monday, March 28, 2011

Measures of Waits Part One: "What Becomes of All the Little Boys Who Never Comb Their Hair?"

Measures of Waits is a multi-part series of posts, in which Seth relects upon Tom Waits and his musical influence.  The introduction can be found here

Tom Waits in the early 1970's was a clear product of his influences. The menagerie of folk, blues, pop standards, jazz, and beat poetry was ever-present, albeit unrefined. After all, how many artists are fully developed in their craft by their early twenties? However raw those early records were, they were what initially drew me to the artist's work. As an aspiring songwriter in my own state of development, it's understandable that I would gravitate toward the more melanchoic strings of nostalgia and wanderlust Waits' early work provided.

One of the funny things about young songwriters in particular is how sometimes they speak so longingly about their glorious pasts, oblivious to the fact that they might not be that far removed from it. Having been one of those young songwriters, I can see that pattern in myself and others. Part of the reason so many young artists fall into this type of creativity could be their lack of figurative depth perception. With age and experience comes a wider and deeper perspective that young creators aren't mentally, emotionally, or spiritually adept at tapping into. The luster of youth shines more brightly when it's still relatively close by. The same is probably true in regards to tragedy. If you go through difficult experiences in youth, those scars will inform different types of art depending on the creator's spatial relationship to the event.

What does this have to do with Tom Waits' music? I see Waits as being indicative of these kinds of qualities found in so many young artists. This isn't so much a critique of those early albums, but as an observation worth noting. Waits appealed to me early on because at times he as a young artist seemed to be mourning the passing of his youth with songs like "The Ghosts of Saturday Night." There is in every young artist a restlessness and desire for mobility that can't be fully attained. There are a plethora of reasons, financial and experiential, why such movement isn't possible. It could be that a desire for wisdom might exist, but not the means of adequately achieving it through means of impatience.

Waits' restlessness seems especially apparent on songs like "Shiver Me Timbers," "Old Shoes," and the classic "The Heart of Saturday Night." Elsewhere on songs like "Martha," we see Waits' mourning the lost past to great melancholic effect. While he always had the knack for the dramatic in his songs, it wasn't until Waits' mid-'70's milestone album Small Change that we see the complete synthesis of his influences and original thoughts. While there are successful representations of the influence of both spoken word and jazz, the three major ballads on the album ("Invitation to the Blues," "I Wish I Was In New Orleans," and "Tom Traubert's Blues") see Waits' best use of restraint in dealing with his once overly exuberant imagery. There's also a simplicity in the music of these songs that belies the honest difficulty it takes to play them. Dare I say it, there's even a healthy dose of soul in these pieces. Not the jumping, horn-driven soul of James Brown, but rather the quiet soulfulness of a writer who seems aware that he's actualized something in his art over time.

It is true that Waits' remaining '70's albums lacked some of the emotional and artistic depth he found on Small Change. While there is a more noticeable presence of electric guitar and horns (as opposed to earlier albums' heavier emphasis on piano and strings), in reflection, the most significant role of albums like Heartattack and Vine and Blue Valentine is one of transition. These albums mark the passage of an artist from his early '20's to his early '30s, and from his studies of songcraft so prevalent in the '70's to his much more experimental work of the 1980's. There are still songs worth hunting down, particularly the more uptempo bluesy pieces like "$29.00" and "Mr. Siegal," as well as slower songs like "On the Nickel" and one of my all-time favorite Waits' narrative ballads, "Christmas Card From a Hooker in Minneapolis."

Next time I'll try to put a frame around Waits' exploratory albums of the early '80's, and attempt to determine whether they are simply Waits' stabs at postmodernity, or if they're just examples of a writer stretching out and reinventing himself.

A Special Thanks!

You might have noticed a new site design this past week. Rico Renzi, Creative Director of Heroes Aren't Hard to Find, Colorist Extraordinaire, and All Around Awesome Person sat down with us Friday and created the border you now see. Rico hasn't only lent his creative design talents to our blog, but has been kind enough to support our blogging efforts in general.  You can find more of Rico's awesome art, like the adorable Valentine shown here at his blog linked above. 

We'd also like to thank all the members of Sketch Charlotte for encouraging us in our new adventure. You guys rock!

~Heather and Seth

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Piece Entitled "Entitlement"

I've been a comic reader for most of my life. For the past four years and change, I've been the warehouse manager for Heroes Aren't Hard to Find. These two facts don't make me an expert on comic creator and fan interactions, but between the two I've garnered enough experience to see plenty of examples of how not to act. Truth be told, I've probably done some stupid things around creators, too, but that just adds to my reasons for writing this article.

One of my biggest pet peeves regarding creator/fan interactions is the sense of entitlement that some fans have, especially concerning the 'when, what and how' of obtaining autographs, sketches, or commissions. When they make store or convention appearances, creators shouldn't be treated like gods, but they should be treated with respect. In most cases they are appearing solely to promote a new project. Most of the time, they aren't paid for their time, and in some cases provide their own accommodations and travel expenses. So consider the fact that while they are there to sell their books, they aren't there to deal with ungrateful fanboys.

I've noticed a tendency from some fans to think that just because they show up and ask for something, they deserve to get it. Free Comic Book Day is a prime example. It's essentially a nationwide event where creators show up at local comics shops and offer their time providing sketches and autographs in an industry-wide attempt to encourage new readership. I've had firsthand encounters with fans who are genuinely angered and offended when they're the last person in a line and don't get the all-encompassing/time-spanning sketch masterpiece they waited all day for. True, it's always hot in May during the first week of the month, and yes, one will get tired standing up and holding books while waiting in line. But don't you think the guys sitting down and sketching for hours on end get tired, too?

There are more important and economically viable career paths than that of a comics creator. Most of them aren't solving world hunger or improving the functionality of electric cars. They are at their purest, entertainers who on the national level are entrusted with taking care of decades-long pop culture figures. On their best days they remind us all why we love comics. At their worst they're creative people who worked extremely hard to get to the place they find themselves. Either way, they deserve respect. This means they don't owe you anything. This means they don't deserve to be followed into bathrooms at conventions by fans who want to ask them why they did what they did on a single panel of a page they illustrated five years ago. Let me say it again: They don't owe you anything.

Most creators have to work crazy hours just to provide for themselves and their families. That's not unlike most of the rest of us. So if you happen to meet a comics creator you admire at a store signing or convention this year, don't be a jerk. Tell them you appreciate their writing or their art, and thank them for making the appearance. And God forbid, if you don't get a sketch or everything you want, don't act like a child. Remember, they're people just like us, even the famous ones.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Nerd Swoon: First Full Captain America Trailer

In my twitter feed this morning, I was greeted by a lovely link from the Nerdist of the first full length Captain America trailer. Pick me up off the floor because this movie looks amazing. The Super Bowl trailer peaked my interest and I thought it was one of the better movie trailers of the night.

After viewing the full length trailer, I am more excited about Capt than I am Thor. I loved seeing the transformation of a skinny, short Chris Evans into the muscle bound hunk of a super hero. That's impressive CGI. Not to mention, more Tommy Lee Jones and Stanley Tucci! I hate to get this excited about comic book movies as it makes the disappointment even more painful when they're bad (see Wolverine Origins a.k.a Why did they ruin Deadpool). My normal stance is cautiously optimistic, but this trailer has me beyond that into childlike anticipation. Please don't disappoint me!

I haven't read much in the way of Capt in the comics, really only when he appears in some other Marvel story I'm reading. This trailer makes me want to dive right into a Capt story. However I have no idea where to start. I just want a Capt story and not a whole lot of crossover. I would appreciate any suggestions.

Captain America in theaters July 22!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Upcoming Event: Fluke

On April 23, you will find us along with the Dollar Bin Crew at Fluke, a Mini-Comics Festival in Athens, Georgia. This year is Fluke's Tenth Anniversary, but as this will be my first year attending I checked in with some friends about why they like Fluke.

First up is J. Chris Campbell. J. Chris is not only an awesome individual, but also the creator of Neatobots and other fabulous comic characters. He's quite the character himself. He was kind enough to share why he's been attending and setting up at Fluke from almost the beginning:

Wide Awake Press has been attending and helping with FLUKE almost since the first year. I probably would have been there, had I heard about it. It's unlike any other comic show you'll ever go to because it is almost completely made up of independent comic and zine creators. You'd be hard pressed to find any representation of a major Super Hero character in the room except maybe underground-satirical-favorite MODOK.

Top Shelf has been a supporter for many of the shows and they've had a presence there but other than them the majority of the stuff there is self published and created by hand. So it's a perfect place to find one of a kind comic books and hand made art objects that explore areas of sequential art that publishers can't. The atmosphere is really laid back and you're just hanging in a bar where everyone just happens to have stuff they've been working on. There is a lot of love for unique Comics and Zines in the room and you can really feel it. I'm jazzed about this year's 10th anniversary of FLUKE and the new location at Athen's famous 40 Watt. It's going to be rocking!!

Another one of my favorite characters, Charlotte by way of Concord's own, Henry Eudy, who I have the pleasure of hanging out with almost every week at Sketch Charlotte, was also down with sharing what he likes about Fluke:

This year will mark my third consecutive trek down to Athens, GA for the FLUKE Minicomics Festival. I unabashedly tell anyone who asks and, generally, even those who don’t care, that FLUKE is my favorite comics show of the entire year. There are a lot of reasons why I love FLUKE, I’ll try to boil them down to a few points but I’ll primarily state that FLUKE is for The People, yo, and it’s The People that make it great.

Firstly, FLUKE exists as a true celebration of minicomics. Minicomics are fascinating, they are often as bizarre and idiosyncratic as the people that make them. When you read a person’s minicomic, you let a little bit of that person into yourself. When you pick up a stranger’s mini, something they’ve labored over, drawn every line in , penciled every letter, folded each sheet of paper and pounded in all the little staples one after another, you almost can’t help but catch a little of their mojo coming off the page. Minicomics are all about the contact highs. There’s something about a handmade object, even if it’s just one about farts and duckies, that mesmerizes me in a way that corporately produced, professionally printed offerings rarely do.

Well, FLUKE is wall to wall to wall minicomics and it’s incredible how many weirdos there are out there who just want the opportunity to show you on paper just how weird they are. These people are out there in the underbrush and the tall weeds, hidden from the bloated eye of popular culture, making tons of dumb and beautiful comics each hour. Sadly, many of these comics rarely get read by anyone not also crouched down in those self same bushes because there are so few venues available to the minicomicist in the larger society of straight up comics shows. FLUKE cuts through that bullshit like a laser mounted on a rabid tiger. FLUKE says, “If you got $8, you got a table, son.” FLUKE allows no big banners or ridiculous signage that I see at so many larger cons where people try to get you to read their webcomic using the same tactics water purifier salesmen use at state fairs. FLUKE is a level playing field, the art school trained next big thing can get a table right next to the recently released and under medicated schizophrenic. All they need is $8, some boxes drawn on paper and a desire to sit in one place for eight hours. It’s democracy at work, goddammit.

And because FLUKE is such a mixed bag of people and comics, it is a beautiful thing. You can buy superhero comics at one table and dirty drawings of American presidents as represented by negligee clad rabbits at the next. You see laboriously rendered screen printed covers next to sloppy line drawings run off a dying Xerox machine in the back of a Foot Locker. You can see professional or near professional cartoonists like Drew Weing, Eleanor Davis, David Mack, Matt Wiegle, Josh Latta, Joey Weiser, and Chris Schweizer peppered in amongst a crowd of SCAD students and other weirdos who might be exhibiting their first ever effort at making a comic. It’s kind of thrilling that way, to see the whole evolutionary sweep of comics and cartooning lined up against the walls of a single large room.

I always buy a huge amount of stuff at FLUKE because I know I may never get a chance to read and experience many of the cornucopia of comics spread out before me ever again. FLUKE is a rare and precious thing to a minicomic reader; it’s a festival dedicated to the elusive and the finite. The thing that you only see slivers of as you dig through backroom shelves the rest of the year is suddenly in abundance and manifest in more varieties than you though imaginable. FLUKE is freewheeling and fun and it’s for The People, The Comics Making and Comics Loving People. Long may it reign.

Building on the Charlotte contingent traveling to Athens is Dustin Harbin, formerly of Heroes fame, now making it out in the world on his own, who had this to say about Fluke, "The best part of FLUKE is the laid-back social vibe, it's just a little chummy party."

Wow, I couldn't have said it better myself! Thanks to all of you for your awesome endorsements of what looks to be a great event!

Fluke is at the The 40 Watt Club located at 285 West Washington Street in Athens and is open from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm. We hope to see you there.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Measures of Waits (An Introduction to a Three Part Series)

To mark the recent induction of songwriter/musician Tom Waits into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I thought it might be worthwhile to reflect on how I came to his music, and how my experience with it has changed over time. Tom Waits represents many different bridges for me. He connects the singer-songwriters I listened to in my teens with the jazz leanings of my college years. He brings the implied rhythms of poetry to the primal spontaneity of raw percussion. And perhaps most significantly, he combines the sacred music of the church I heard as a boy with the muddy grit of humanism.

I could write volumes on the Waits catalog, but will choose to divide my analysis of his music (and my relationship to it over time) into three areas. These areas coincide with the generally accepted three eras of Waits career as a recording artist. The first era focuses on his first decade of albums, starting with 1973's Closing Time and ending with 1980's Heartattack and Vine. I'll next focus on standouts from Waits' early - mid '80's output, which includes his "Frank Trilogy" of albums (Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank's Wild Years), along with a word or two about the live Big Time album. And finally, I'll spend some time looking at the third era of Waits, encapsulating the past two decades worth of albums from Bone Machine through his most recent Orphans three disc set.

Waits' initially impressed me solely for his balladry, but over time I learned to appreciate his showmanship, the musicality of his arrangements, and the multitude of ways his songs can be interpreted. Some listeners understandably can't get past Waits' gravelly "Cookie Monster meets Louis Armstrong" brand of vocalizations. If you are willing to try, though, you'll experience a vast array of influences, genres, themes, and characters who walk the line between concrete reality and hyperbole. Waits' music isn't for everyone, but don't disregard his value as an artist and entertainer. He is a legend, abet one who seems unenthusiastic about the trappings such a status might afford. The reluctant Californian star, the poetic prince in pauper finery; the wolf in sheepskin still howling at sheep and other wolves alike.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Heather's Resolution #5: A visit to Apocalypse Comics

In an attractive brick strip mall on Highway 9 leading into Myrtle Beach you will find Apocalypse Comics owned by Chad Hudson. It is hard to miss or resist the rainbow sign declaring “Comics” above his shop. Once inside you will find a well organized store with lots of options for comic fans and gamers.

The shelves and racks contain new issues, back issues (including some hard to find back issues and variants), statues, and a wide selection of comic-based toys. The rack by the entrance displays weekly picks and recommendations. In addition to comics, Apocalypse carries cards and pieces for games like Magic and Heroclix. Chad currently runs games in the back of the store several nights each week and expects to eventually move to running games every night to satisfy the area’s increasing number of gamers.

A lifelong collector and reader of comics, Chad carried his enthusiasm for this industry into adulthood. Before opening his store, Chad worked as a contractor who traveled throughout the United States. He would visit comic shops within 100 miles of his work site, often making notes of what he thought worked well in each store he encountered. His attention to detail and love of the products he carries is evident in how he runs his store. Not only is Chad very knowledgeable about the comics and games he carries, but he’s also very friendly and willing to chat with shoppers.

One of my hesitations in visiting new shops is how so many seem to be dusty and cluttered. Apocalypse is open and inviting, and maximizes the amount of products he carries while remaining clean and neat. The store caters to regular customers, but also welcomes vacationing readers looking for impulse buys to read on the beach. There’s even a couch in the front of the store to accommodate visitors or parents (or wives) who can comfortably wait while their children or husbands enjoy the selection. For children not yet of comic reading age, there is small children’s area with games and videos to allow parents time to shop.

If you’re in the Myrtle Beach, SC area, I recommend a visit to Apocalypse Comics. You’ll find a wide selection of trades and single issues to suit your reading needs. Apocalypse Comics is located at 2126 South Carol

ina 9 #2, Longs, SC 29568 and the phone number is (843) 399-4765. The store is open seven days a week from noon to at least 8pm (depending on if games are being run). ‎

Want to see more? Check out Apocalypse Comics on my flickr page.

Heather's Comical Resolutions for 2011

One of the subjects I plan to write about is my progress on my resolutions involving comics for 2011. I originally posted my resolutions on the site for the podcast I participate in as a contributor.

Reposted from The Dollar Bin:

1. Step outside of my comic reading comfort zone. I admit it. I have a comic type. It involves cute animals and chick characters. Thor the Mighty Avenger was my toe in the water stepping out of my type and Marvel responded by cancelling it. (Yes, Ted, I’m still complaining about that. Damn it, people, put down the Deadpool and read TMA.) Thanks to the lending library of Brandon (Big Dog), I have read more comics outside by type, the Walking Dead for example. However my purchases for 2010 stayed clearly within my comfort zone. In 2011, I will make an effort to add different comics to my personal library.

2. Write more reviews for the Dollar Bin. I read a number of comics in 2010 that I really enjoyed and fully intended to review so I could share stories that I enjoyed. Like Cragmore by Pat Lewis. I will finish that review and post it along with others this year. (I am revising this resolution to posting reviews here as well as the Dollar Bin.)

3. Do more interviews. I love talking to artists and writers. Off the record, I have some truly ridiculous conversations with creative people. I want to channel that into interviews. Interviews get me interested in reading new comics which will be very helpful for resolution number one.

4. Go to more conventions. To date, I have only been to Heroes Con and SPX. This year the Heroes Mini Con (January 22 in Charlotte, NC), Fluke (April 23 in Athens, GA) Fanaticon (May 21 in Asheville, NC) are all on my calendar. My con ventures are still on the smaller side, but perhaps I will attempt some of the larger cons as well.

5. Venture out to more comic shops. Granted this venture may have me scurrying back to Heroes, but it can’t hurt (or can it?) to check out some of the other shops. I did enjoy my visit to Richard’s in Greenville, SC for the Chrissie Zullo signing, but my few other non-Heroes experience have been less positive. I can’t possibly be the first chick in some of these places, right?

6. Write more lists. Who doesn’t love a good list? They have numbers and some times a heading. Everything is nice and orderly. My comic goals for 2011 are laid out for me to check off. I shall have a feeling of accomplishment come December.

Allow me to introduce ourselves...

Hello, Gentle (hopefully soon-to-be) Readers,

Welcome to Exile on Plain Street, a little happy corner of the internet where Seth and I plan to share our interests with you. Those interests range from comics to music to law, with a little bit of everything in between.

You'll be able to learn more about us in our coming "About Us" section of the blog. We're both looking forward to writing here and hope you'll enjoy our content.

My first post will be following shortly as I am reposting from the Dollar Bin my resolutions for comics in 2011. Seth's first post will be up later this week. He plans to start off on a musical note with a three part posting on Tom Waits.