Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Good Cause: Hugs for Madison

I first saw James Hance's work on Red Bubble t-shirts of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh as Han Solo and Chewbacca.  It's quite an adorable mash-up of beloved characters.

Hance's six year old daughter, Madison has a rare intestinal disorder that requires travel from her home in Florida to Boston for treatment.  Her insurance does not cover the cost of this trip or the medical expenses associated with this treatment.  The details of Madison's current treatment for this disorder sound horrible, especially when you consider that she's a six year old child. 

There are a couple of way you can help support Madison as she seeks medical treatment that will hopefully rid of her of this condition.  You can donate at the Give Forward site or you can buy art from Hance, including commissions.  Give Forward is currently at over $15,000 of the $25,000 needed. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Heather's FLUKE Loot!

There sure was a lot of mini-comic goodness to be had at this year's FLUKE.  I had been stashing cash for over a month in anticipation of all the purchases I knew I would want to make.  Some of the creators I was already familiar with and owned some of their comics, but others I was discovering for the first time.  Wow, do I have a lot to read before Fanaticon! In no particular order, other than the one that I pulled these out of my awesome Adhouse Books reusable bag:

  • Diary Comics by Dustin Harbin: My first encounters with Dustin were during his tenure as Heroes Aren't Hard to Find Creative Director. Since then, he's made the full transition to the other side of the table.  I've checked out his Diary Comics online and was happy to pick up the book with a really great cover.  I love the way he draws himself!  

  • Rashy Rabbit #7: Droppin' Anchor by Josh Latta: I've read the Rashy Rabbit series completely out of order starting with #6 then reading #5 and #1.  I just got #4 from Adam of the Dollar Bin, which I may read after #7 just to keep my randomness going.  I still need to pick up #2 and #3 at some point from either Josh or WAP to have the complete Rashy Rabbit history and to watch Josh's style evolve.  It's fun to see the little changes over the year and check out how Rashy has developed.

  • Set to Sea by Drew Weing: I first saw this book at SPX last year.  Even if I hadn't heard so many good things about it, the colors and art on the cover alone would have attracted my eye.  I haven't had time to read this yet, but if you'd like to know more about it check out Shawn of the Dollar Bin's review

  • Mermin #1-#6 by Joey Weiser: Another SPX first encounter that I waited to buy, but now I have six issues at once to enjoy.  This is another purchase with some seriously cute covers.  I like the consistency of the Mermin sticker on each cover, but appreciate the uniqueness of each cover.  I can't wait to dive into these stories.

  • Wide Awake 666, an anthology by Wide Awake Press, including J. Chris Campbell, Ashley Holt, Josh Latta, Brad McGinty and many more!: I love the gang from WAP and a flip through of this book shows that I'm really going to enjoy it as well.  J. Chris is the only Wappie I got to doodle in my copy so far and I will be carrying this with to cons until I get them all. 

  • My Doomed Affair #2 and #3 by Jacob Hunt:  I picked these books up because I liked the cover art.  My Doomed Affair is a relationship comic about the creator and his ex-girlfriend, Apryl.  What I've read so far is amusing and I am enjoying Hunt's art style. 

  • The Moonshine Murders by David Allan Duncan: I picked this book up because of the title.  Moonshine and murder? Sold! The title page promises an introduction to three boys who will eventually be murdered.  Sad, sure, but my not graphic type reading tends to be murder mysteries making this right up my alley. 

  • Big Deal Comics & Stories No. 4 by Patrick Dean: This is a fun collection of sequentials that made me laugh.  It covers all manner of subjects from cupcake ghosts to aliens and is consistently funny and well executed.   

  • A Graphic Cosmogony: 24 Artists Take on 7 Pages to Tell Their Tales of the Creation of Everything- I picked this one from Adhouse Books after hearing a lot about it on Twitter.  It's actually more a gift for Seth than it is for me, but the art looks really interesting and different.  This looks to be a time consuming book worthy of a full review from one of us at a later date. 

  • Tofu Baby by Missy Kulik: I also picked up several adorable buttons from this table.  Who doesn't "wuv Tofu Baby"? The comic is cute and I really picked it up because I had just eaten some really excellent tofu for lunch. 

  • The Public Domain Catalogue and Night of the Suflex: Cartoon Tantrums by Ashley Holt: Both minis were very amusing.  In Night, I found the tale of the hipster conflicted about how his Chuck Taylors were now made in sweatshops in China to be really funny.  The Public Domain characters are hilarious.  My purchase also came with a tiny cd of Holt performing music.  He's multi-talented! 

  • Folly the Leader, Hamsternaut, and The Excessively Boisterous Mongrel Canine by Fish: I would love to link to this guy, but the link from his comics doesn't appear to be working at the moment and I don't want to send anyone to a broken link.  While I have been focusing on trying new comics, I can't completely ignore my first love, adorable animal comics.  When I saw the angry yet adorable dictator panda on the cover of Folly the Leader, I had to buy it.  I also couldn't resist picking up his mini-comics with a hamster and a dog on them.  The Excessively Boisterous Mongrel Canine is particularly neat as it is printed on one page of card stock paper and folded into little pages rather than cute.  All three books are cute and funny. 

  • Frogshway by Allen Spetnagel : I can totally be swayed by a cute display and this tiny little comic was displayed in the mouth of a frog.  I had to have it! I really dig the principles of Frogshway, very eco-conscious. 

  • Wow, I killed Rock N'Roll, A-Symmetrical O-Possum, Phillip Henry, and Phillip! by Shannon Smith: I really like the Phillip Henry stories-tales of an elementary school boy with a bit of an obsession with Wonder Woman.  They're quite funny and a bit sad all at the same time.  Shannon also had a mini-comic by his daughter, Kassidy, that is very cute.  I hope there will be a father-daughter collaboration in the future. 

  • The Indestructible December Mercy by Meg Golding: I bought this comic with the actual comic unseen based on the packaging.  This tiny little book is an accordion style fold in between to two black covers and tied with ribbons on each side.  I didn't even open it until I go home as I wanted to photograph it before I did.  I wasn't disappointed.  It is a cute, unlikely superhero story that benefits the Lupus Society. 

  • The FLUKE Anthology: Free with Admission! I haven't had a chance to give this book more than a flip through as of yet, but it has an impressive list of contributors who attended the show.  This is just another thing about FLUKE that makes it such a great show.  Admission was just $2 and it included a fairly think mini-comic anthology, a sweet button, and access to a ton of excellent people and their wares.   

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

FLUKE 2011 Report

FLUKE itself:
Wow, FLUKE was everything promised and more! FLUKE was my second venture into the world of mini-comics, the first being SPX last September.  I knew it would be a good show when we arrived shortly before eleven and the line was wrapped down the sidewalk in front of The 40 Watt Club.  The trip down from Greenville, South Carolina where we met up with the Dollar Bin crew isn't bad, unless you do it in the very back of a 4-Runner (ugh, carsickness). 

Once inside of The 40 Watt Club, we were greeted by rows of tables.  Many of the artists have really impressive set-up times considering that they only got in the door shortly before we did.  As with most cons, I had particular goals in mind as to what I want to pick up so I tend to seek out those artists first before I start to do more free range browsing.  

My first stop was the Wide Awake Press gang.  I had already gotten a carsickness curing hug from J. Chris Campbell in the line (as well as one of his Fanaticon trading cards!), but I still needed to pick up Rashy Rabbit #7: Droppin' Anchor from Josh Latta and the Wide Awake 666 Anthology.  My next stop, directly across the club, was to pick up all six issues of Joey Weiser's Mermin.  Joey took the time to do a different sketch in each issue.  Joey was also kind enough to do a sketch in my Pinky and the Brain sketchbook.  

Speaking of getting sketches, one of my pre-con goals was to get at least one new sketch in my book and I came away with three new ones.  In addition to Joey's, I also got Patrick Dean, one of the awesome organizers of FLUKE and Charlotte's own Dusty Harbin.  All three are very different styles, but I love them all in their uniqueness.    I wasn't the only one collecting sketches.  The Dollar Bin's Brian Eison started a G.I. Joe sketchbook and it's already great just with the FLUKE contributions.  My current favorite is Josh Latta's lovable Hooded Cobra Commander.  Both my sketches and Brian's are included in my FLUKE flickr set.  

I did a lot of shopping once I hit all of my pre-con goals.  Luckily, Chris Pitzer from Adhouse Books provided both Seth and I with a handy Adhouse Books reusable bag.  I love reusable bags, not just for cons, but all kinds of shopping.  It was much easier to navigate the rows with my giant bookbag safely tucked away at the WAP table.  The Adhouse Books bag was perfect for all my mini-comics carrying needs.  Thanks Chris! I will post my full FLUKE loot list later this week.  I have a lot of reading to do! 

Admittedly, I am a bit of a foodie.  I also have the temperament to become extremely cranky if I am not fed.  The restaurants and other food available in and around a con are almost as important to me as the con itself.  This means I do a little research prior to heading out to a con. 

The Grit: I discovered this restaurant via that handy "search nearby" function on google maps.  After I posted on our plans to check The Grit out comments on here ringingly endorsed this place, including Brad McGinty explaining he had once driven 45 minutes just to get a Golden Bowl.  On Saturdays, The Grit operates on a brunch menu until 5p.m.  I opted for the Breakfast Burrito with tofu and was not disappointed.  Their tofu is amazing with a perfect texture and golden brown crust.  I borrowed a copy of the cookbook from Adam of the Dollar Bin so I can attempt this perfection myself.  Seth went a more traditional route with an egg and cheese sandwich that was also really good.  We also picked up their "veggie burger of the day", a black eyed pea burger for friends back at the con.  The review on the burger from Henry Eudy (not a vegetarian) was it was really good for something that wasn't dead!

Clocked: Just a few doors down from The 40 Watt Club was a diner with the a sign on the door for milkshakes. Our group couldn't resist this place even though we knew we were having pizza later that evening.  Every single one of us ordered a milkshake and some form of food from burgers to tater-tots.  The milkshakes were super yummy (I went with mocha.  They have vanilla, chocolate, mocha, and blackberry.) and the tots were a perfect snack before dinner.  The wait staff was really friendly.  A few had even stopped in at FLUKE.  Our waiter had on a J. Chris Campbell smiley face button. 

Transmetropolitan Pizza: It's hard to imagine just a few hours after shakes and tots, we would be ready for a visit to a pizza place, but we were.  Seth and I split a cheese calzone and it was yummy, cheesy goodness.  Everyone at our rather large table seemed pleased with their food from pizza to pasta.  Transmet has an upstairs bar area with lots of tables, booths, and couches and it was easy to accommodate a big group, especially at dinner-time in a college town.

Assorted Details:
Between dinner (Clocked) and "second dinner" (Transmet) as several of the Dollar Bin guys call it, we made a visit to the local comic book store, Bizarro-Wuxtry.  This place is jam packed full of comics and toys.  Upon first entering, this store can be a bit overwhelming with the sheer volume of stuff, but once you acclimate, you'll notice that it's well organized by creator and has a lot of mini-comics and indie books. My allergies could do without some of the dust, but wow, what a selection.  Check it out for yourself in my flickr album of our visit. 

Adam of the Dollar Bin grabbed several interviews during the last hour of FLUKE.  The rest of us, save Shawn, who was manning the DB table, were taking down milkshakes in Clocked at this point.  Adam, undeterred by our exit for a snack, got interviews with FLUKE organizers, Patrick Dean and Robert Newsome, as well as DB and Exile favorites, Chris Schweizer and Josh Latta.  These interviews will be up on the Dollar Bin on Wednesday for your listening pleasure. 

Overall, FLUKE is really great con.  It's always nice to see old friends and make new ones, especially when you're able to put a face to that person you've been tweeting with for a little while. FLUKE is small enough that you manage to see everyone and everything that is there yet large enough to stay busy looking all day.  It was also really conveniently located near good restaurants so that it was easy to pop out and grab a yummy lunch.   FLUKE will definitely be making our annual con list.  Patrick Dean and Robert Newsome did an excellent job organizing and prompting FLUKE and I can't wait to see what they do next year. 

Monday, April 25, 2011

Coming Soon: FLUKE Reports!

We'll be deviating from our normal posting schedule just slightly this week as we got in from FLUKE last night and Seth appears to have picked up a strain of con crud.  In addition to our day jobs, I have a ton of photos to upload, organize, and label on flickr for your viewing pleasure as well as writing a full report on FLUKE. 

A brief summary to tide you over until we return to our regular posting schedule: This was our first year at FLUKE and it will not be our last.  It was so much fun and we purchased a ton of mini-comics and books.  Athens is a very friendly town and we also enjoyed visits to several restaurants, a record store and the local comic shop, Bizarro-Wuxtry.   

It looks like most of this week will be dedicated to FLUKE posts as we each share a report on FLUKE as well as our loot lists.  I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been reading and linking our blog.  We hit over 1,000 views this past week and we couldn't have done it without all of you. 

Friday, April 22, 2011

On the Way to FLUKE

Seth and I are hitting the road today for FLUKE via Greenville, South Carolina where we're meeting up with the Dollar Bin crew to head to Athens, Georgia.  I'm super excited to check out all the mini comic goodness that will be packed into the 40 Watt Club.  I'm also curious about the Inch High Button Guy that is one of the sponsors of FLUKE, but doesn't have a website.  Is his title self-explanatory? I hope so, because I adore little buttons! Speaking of buttons, the $2 admission price for FLUKE gets you the FLUKE Anthology and a shiny button! Could this get any better?

I'm also looking forward to checking out the college town of Athens and all the yummy vegetarian-friendly restaurants that appear to be nearby the 40 Watt Club.  I'm particularly interested in The Grit, a full fledged vegetarian restaurant within walking distance with a conveniently located coffee shop, Red Eye, next door. 

I will also be found hanging out with the awesome Henry Eudy, who will have some fantastic Sketch Charlotte Anthologies for sale.  I'm already planning to pick up some Mermin books by Joey Weiser, a Wide Awake 666 from Wide Awake Press and the latest Rashy Rabbit by Josh Latta.  Who knows whatever cute animals and hilarious mini comics will catch my eye while there? I'm not sure how sketch/commission friendly FLUKE will be, but I hope to come home with at least one new addition to my Pinky and the Brain sketchbook.   

Check back on Wednesday for our FLUKE wrap-up report complete with pictures, opinions and awesomeness! For day of the event updates, you can check my twitter, @bestgirkfriend. 

Drawn Together

There's something really fun about artists doing warm-up sketches and other drawings outside their day jobs.  Sometimes you see this in commissions, but lately there seem to be a number of websites were artists are working with each other to pick themes and other outlets for their creativity.

Most recently a twitter conversation between Ben Towle and Rob Ullman brought us the joys of the Animal Alphabet.  The premise is simple.  Each week artists draw animals for the letter of the week.  The number of artists varies week to week as the only requirement to participate seems to be drawing an animal within the week of that letter.  They're up to C this week and I have to say that my favorites so far have come from Brad McGinty and Rich Barrett (See Rich's "B is for Basset Hound above).  
Comic Twart, with a rotating theme each week really pulled me in with their recent Calvin and Hobbes theme.  They have a more set cast of artists participating each week, including Chris Samnee , Francesco Francavilla and Declan Shalvey to name a few.  The themes are widely varied from movies, television, children's literature and even comics.  Each Monday a new theme is picked by one of the members.  The membership is closed, but it sure to have inspired similar collaborations. 

I discovered Draw Bridge from Becky Cloonan's twitter.  My favorite part so far: the number of Whedon related themes selected by the artists from Buffy to Angel to Firefly. 

Rico Renzi recommended I check out Drawer Geeks and I absolutely love their Darth Vader theme.  There are ton of professional artists participating in this invite only drawing group.  New themes are selected weekly with sketches appearing each Friday.

There are tons of these groups on the internet and I look forward to discovering more of them. 

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Super Sweet Link: Seth's Interview with John Arcudi

Over on the Heroes Aren't Hard to Find blog, Seth just posted his interview with writer, John ArcudiArcudi will be a first time guest at this year's HeroesCon and has worked on great comic stories from B.P.R.D. to Major Bummer.  Seth and Arcudi discuss a range of topics from the various properties Arcudi has worked on to his process to what it's like to work with Mike Mignola

It's a really interesting read and I'm glad that they're doing the Guest Spotlights this year, especially for new guests.  I hope you'll take the time to pop on over and learn about Arcudi.  HeroesCon is shaping up to be even more of a kick ass con!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Upcoming Event: Fanaticon

On May 21, 2011, in Asheville, North Carolina, Fanaticon will be hosting their second convention.  I've only heard wonderful things about this event and I'm really looking forward to not only a weekend in Asheville before HeroesCon, but to all comic goodness this event promises. 

Fanaticon is a free event hosted at the Asheville Art Museum nestled in the lovely downtown area.  Fanaticon features a number of vendors, including Charlotte's own Heroes Aren't Hard to Find and lots of great artists, including some of my personal favorites, Sketch Charlotte members: Tom Davidson, Henry Eudy, and Eraklis "Herc" Petmezas as well as the gang from Wide Awake Press.  I hope there will be Huggles (shiny coins to be redeemed for cuddly bear hugs from WAP's own J. Chris Campbell-seriously, he gives some of the best hugs ever).  There will also be fan clubs in attendance, both of the Star Wars and Star Trek varieties.  Is it wrong of me to hope for some Fanboy type clashes between the two?

This year, a very special guest will be headlining Fanaticon, Gail Simone.  Simone is probably best known for her writing on Wonder Woman, and has also done runs of Birds of Prey and Secret Six.  She's a big score for such a new convention.

Fanaticon also does trading cards featuring art from those attending like our friend, Herc, as featured above.  There are ten cards which are available free at various locations in Asheville.  WAP will also be one of the trading card artists and we can't wait to see what their card looks like when it's released.

Fanaticon takes place at the Asheville Art Museum located at 2 South Park Square from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. 

Monday, April 18, 2011

Album Review - Robbie Robertson: How to Become Clairvoyant

As a longtime fan of The Band, I always look forward to hearing solo releases from the surviving members. Robbie Robertson, guitarist and chief lyricist of The Band hasn't released a solo album in over a decade, but if you're at all a fan of his first two solo records (his self-titled debut and 1991's Storyville), How to Become Clairvoyant should be to your liking. As a whole the album is a bit uneven to my ears, even after multiple listens. The high points mark some of Robertson's best work to date, but the lows make me wonder if Robertson piled up more filler than he should have in the past decade.

In terms of production, while the overall product isn't quite as ethereal as Daniel Lanois' work on Robertson's first solo record, there are definite echoes to his production values. This record, co-produced by Robertson and Marius de Vries, hearkens back to that 1987 offering without adding much to the equation. Some might see this as a criticism, but it lends some validity to the idea that Robertson knows what he wants his music to sound like on record. The downside is that the tightness of the album's rhythm section (bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Ian Thomas) seems rigid and antithetical to the organic rhythms of Robertson's old Band. I'm a firm believer that an artist should be allowed to grow and develop over time. An artist in his late 60's shouldn't be writing the same kinds of songs he did in his late 20's. That being said, much of How to Become Clairvoyant seems to favor the stiff idioms of pop music instead of the fluid rock and roll, blues, and roots music he made his name playing.

Part of the reason for this is undoubtedly the significant role that Eric Clapton played in the making of this album. Not only did he collaborate with Robertson on the writing of three of the tracks, but he appears on seven of them. As a guitarist, it's borderline blasphemy to criticize the one they call 'Slowhand.' He's rightly influenced more than a generation of guitarists, and his songs were a big part of my own music education and development. That said, Clapton is always at his best when he sticks to playing blues. Many of his contributions to How to Become Clairvoyant (especially the co-written Fear of Falling) seem too similar to his '80's and '90's pop music. Elsewhere, Clapton's love of The Band's music shines through on tracks like She's Not Mine and Won't Be Back, where both his guitar and vocal harmonies pay respect to Robertson's former glory.

To my ears, the low point of the album is Axman, a love letter to guitar players fallen and still standing. While I like the idea that he's paying tribute to guitar masters like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Duane Allman, and the three Kings (Albert, Freddie, and B.B.), the intention doesn't match the end result. Even an appearance from a modern legend-in-the-making, Tom Morello, can't salvage this song that means well but ends up falling flat.

At the end of the day, it's still hard for me to forget that Robbie Robertson has written some of the best songs to ever come of out North American Rock and Roll. On How to Become Clairvoyant, even if the album as a whole is uneven, there are moments of genuine songwriting greatness. When the Night Was Young is spare in the great way that r&b ballads were in the '60's and '70's. Subdued guitar work and solid vocal harmonies mesh nicely with Robertson's wistful reminiscence of his road-weary musical youth. And though there is a bit of cynicism in the longing, it doesn't sound angry, but thankful and reflective of a long, strange musical journey.

Building on the strength of When the Night Was Young is the album's highest peak, the autobiographical This Is Where I Get Off. Aside from delivering an earnest and emotional vocal and guitar performance, perhaps for the first time ever, this song presents Robertson's account of his leaving The Band. Commenting on the looming tragedy that he tried to avoid by leaving the group, the song sounds that much more poignant when you know the actual tragedies that occurred within The Band. Yet the song doesn't come across as someone trying to come to grips with his survivor's guilt. There is a sense that, difficult as it must have been, Robertson knows even now that he made the right choice. The world would surely be a better place had his former band-mates Richard Manuel and Rick Danko come to the same realization that Robertson found.

The bottom line is a little muddy to me. There are some really strong songs on this record, but if you come to this record hoping to hear Music From Big Pink part two, you might not like what you hear. Fans who followed Robertson's iconic songwriting and guitar playing into his solo career will likely have more to enjoy. For me, even though it's not the best album I've heard from Robertson, I'm glad he's continuing to write relevant music.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Measures of Waits Part Two: "Beat Out the Dustman"

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. The first part of the series can be found here.

Between 1983 and 1987 Tom Waits produced a highly respected trilogy of albums often called "The Frank Trilogy." In addition to these albums (Swordfishtrombones, Rain Dogs, and Frank's Wild Years), Waits toured a good bit alongside many of those albums' contributers, and even staged something of an opera based on those works, which resulted in a live album and film called Big Time. Oh, and he also acted in films like The Outsiders, Rumble Fish, and The Cotton Club. That's a lot of work done in a relatively short amount of time. But enough about the history lesson. Before digging in to what makes these works remain relevant, is should be noted that first and foremost, should you put on one of these records, the undeniable fact of this music is how utterly unique it sounds in relation to other works recorded during that time period. Compared to albums from Michael Jackson, Def Leppard, Madonna, and Prince, Waits' '80's work bears little resemblance to the production values and subject matters being tackled by so many mainstream artists of that time. Eschewing the commercial tendencies of his peers has always been a mark of Waits' work. What's important in looking at Waits' '80's albums in relation to other artists of that era is not to proclaim his artistic superiority (interpretation is entirely subjective), but to point out the stark difference and originality of Waits' music.

Original as it might be, there's still an issue about this era of Waits' music that's always nagged at me: Can we infer that the experimental elements of these albums are due to Waits' enjoyment of his newfound creative freedom (i.e. a new, open-minded record label), or are they indicative of Waits' unshackling himself from the binds of his influences? I guess in the end it's probably a little bit of both, among other things. It's also hard not to mention the grounding affect that a happy family life had on Waits' songwriting. Waits' wife, Kathleen Brennan, was and still remains a major component in his creative confidence. Having found stability undeniably wiped the chalk dust from Waits' slate. That foundation coupled with a record label that was willing to release his odd albums without much interference makes the transition between Waits' '70's troubadour into a bonafide avant garde junkyard operatic all the more noticeable. With the aid of Brennan's encouragement and edits, Waits brought in elements of Harry Partch-influenced percussion, European waltz, and the slinky guitar work of Marc Ribot. Ribot deserves an article all to himself, and maybe at some point I'll get around to writing it, but for now it's worth noting how he seamlessly melded his free jazz and punk leanings with Waits' inherently left of center elements in a way that didn't sacrifice the cracked melodicism that made those '80's albums so unique.

For all the aspects that make these albums so original, some fall into the trap of labeling them as being simply postmodern for the sake of being difficult. This music was crafted in the era of Reaganomics, so there's always the possibility that Waits was using his songs to reflect the fragmentation of the American society. But to categorize this music as being simply postmodern is to ignore the still very traditional threads woven throughout the work. There is a marked textural difference between Waits' '80's albums and his beat-influenced work of the '70's. All the same, it's hard to ignore the minimalist beauty of "Johnsburg, Illinois," a simple love song Waits wrote for Brennan. There's also "Train Song," a song that hearkens back to Waits' early restless anthems but with a greater appreciation for the foundation of home life. Elsewhere on the spoken word pieces "9th and Hennepin" and "Frank's Wild Years" Waits' humor and narrative deftness make him sound like he's finally grown into his singing and writing voice. Songs like "16 Shells from a 30.6" and "Singapore" signify the new Waits' sound, but others like "Time," "Innocent When You Dream," and "Anywhere I Lay My Head" show a more comfortable influence of blues, folk, gospel, and anthemic waltz. There's even a Keith Richards-aided take on country music with "Blind Love." These albums could be considered postmodern, but in a very real sense they represent Waits' acceptance of his own creativity within the varied frameworks of the American cultural landscape.

In studying Waits' music from the 1980's my opinion of it has clarified a bit. In my first encounters with the work I considered it to be too difficult to enjoy at times. The songs got lost in the textures. In reflecting on it now, I see these works as a sign that Waits had finally reached a point of maturity as a songwriter. Even now the album Rain Dogs stands out as a rare, fully developed record. As a result, the more operatic and theme-driven followup records Frank's Wild Years and the live album Big Time don't quite measure up to the standard set by Rain Dogs. A similar scenario took place for Waits in the '70's. After reaching such a high level on the album Small Change, the ones that followed seemed to lack something. This isn't to suggest laziness on Waits' part, only that Waits might be an artist who is self aware enough to know when a plateau has been reached. After Big Time it would be four years before he worked on another album. By the time the 1990's rolled around, Waits was finished with the second era of his music. He was a little older, considerably wiser, and ready to embark on yet another odd chapter in his life and work.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Artist Spotlight: Pat Lewis

I first stumbled upon Pat Lewis' work at SPX in 2010 when I spotted the back of a book featuring a rather jolly Devil. This Devil was sporting a black bow-tie and a grin of pure, naughty joy. I had to have this Devil or rather the book containing him. My search for the Devil lead me to Pat Lewis's table, where I purchased his trade Cragmore and recieved an adorable sketch of Pinky for my Pinky and The Brain sketchbook.

Cragmore is the story of a billionaire businessman that is a timely tale in our current environment of oblivious CEOs that happily sink companies while exiting with a golden parachute. No thoughts or worries about their employees that have mortgages to pay or families to feed. W.P. Cragmore is of that mold until a steel girder to the head causes a near death experience that sends him straight to hell. Modern medicine brings back a changed man, just not in the way we normally except from a redemption story. Cragmore is a fun read from Lewis' cartooning style of art to his subtle writing of a life lesson.

After expressing my love of Lewis' storytelling and art, I received The Claws Come Out for Christmas (Thanks Shawn and Adam!). Horror tales become funny and adorable in Lewis' hands. Claws contains tales of love gone wrong, vampires, zombies, and other things that go bump in the night. Claws also showcases Lewis' cheesecake art as is it is chock full of sassy, sexy ladies. I appreciate well done cheesecake and Lewis' is very satisfying (almost as much as a slice of actual cheesecake).

Lewis has a drawing style that I absolutely love. His art simply makes me happy. Like a warm blanket on a dreary day, his books make me feel good. There's something to be said for comics that tell a fun story and have such a pleasing style of art.

Pat Lewis will be at HeroesCon 2011. Look for him and his sassy ladies in Indie Island. Might I also suggest picking up a copy of Cragmore or The Claws Come Out while you're there? Check out more of his work at his website.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Rediscovering Childhood Books: Pippi in the South Seas

Recently, my cousin and I were digging through boxes of books at her mom's house and found several of my childhood favorites. The first one to re-read was Pippi in the South Seas by Astrid Lindgren. As a child I always loved Pippi Longstocking with her crazy red braids, mismatched clothing and disregard for adult supervision. I hoped I would still love Pippi as an adult, and found after re-reading that I have a new appreciation for the character. Lindgren's storytelling really holds up for me. Pippi is a character that springs off the page with vibrant personality and remains a shining example of what we want to be like as children. She lives on her own and there are rarely consequences for her actions. Realistic? No. Totally fun? Yes. In that, she captures the most ideal parts of our childhood: when imagination dominated and our biggest worries were notes sent home from school about our misbehavior.
I didn't remember how much art was in the book, as Pippi in the South Seas is not a picture book. Each chapter has a thumbnail ink sketch about the subject of the chapter and there are full page sketches scattered throughout the book. Perhaps it is the comics influence in my life, but these sketches are little gems. They capture the characters of the book very well, particularly Pippi and her pets, Mr. Nilsson the monkey and the horse. I would recommend Pippi and the South Seas to both children and adults. Children will appreciate the joy of Pippi in her cheerful defiance to living a typical life, and adults will appreciate the nostalgia of a childhood classic. After reading Pippi and rediscovering the art of this book, I've decided to make Pippi the theme of my next sketchbook. I can't wait to see what artists do with this super fun subject matter!

Friday, April 8, 2011

10 Desert Island Albums

We're rounding out our first ever "List Week" here at Exile with a rundown of 10 of my all-time favorite desert island albums you should own in your record collection. My actual list would be much longer, but here's a start. Also, these are in no particular order.

1) Thelonious Monk: Live at the It Club Complete: This is one I played over and over again during my college jazz days. Monk's music is rightly labeled as 'disjointed' and 'playful' by many listeners, but people forget how much his music joyfully swings. Check out this album's great take on classics like "Straight, No Chaser," "Well You Needn't," "'Round Midnight," "Blue Monk" and one of my personal favorites, "Bemsha Swing."

2) Willie Nelson: Teatro: This Willie album stands out among so many of his great ones for several reasons. One, it was recorded in an old Mexican movie theater turned recording studio. Two, it's got the amazing Emmylou Harris adding harmonies on most of the album's tracks. And most importantly to my ears, the album was produced by Daniel Lanois, widely respected for the atmospheres and textures he brings to sessions.

3) B.B. King: Indianola Mississippi Seeds: This is one of the records that made me pick up a guitar in the first place. I listened to the cassette version of this over and over and must've learned every lick on this record. In addition to B.B.'s inimitable vocals and guitar, guests like Joe Walsh, Carole King, and Leon Russell fill out the guitar work nicely. Also on this album is one of my all-time favorite lyrics: "Nobody loves me but my mother (and she could be jiving too)."

4) Bill Frisell: East-West: Frisell is hands down my favorite guitarist. On this two disc live album he demonstrates a deft use of loops and effects on the West disc, which features originals alongside covers of "Shenandoah," "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," and an emotional reading of Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." The East disc features more group improvisation in the jazz vein, with versions of "The Days of Wine and Roses" and "Goodnight Irene" as standouts.

5) Gillian Welch: Revival: Welch and collaborator David Rawlings have always found interesting ways of taking two voices and two guitars and making them sound much bigger than the sum of their parts. This mid-'90's album was produced by T-bone Burnett fits the mold of traditional music with poignant folk/bluegrass/gospel songs like "By the Mark," "Barroom Girls," and "Tear My Stillhouse Down."

6) Brian Eno: Before and After Science: I nearly added "Another Green World" instead of this one, but chose not too since this is the lesser known of the two. What I love about this album is that it does an admirable job of mixing Eno's various musical realms in one coherent package. There's pop in songs like "Backwater" and "Here He Comes," driving pieces like "King's Lead Hat," and the open ambient energy of songs like "Julie with. . .," "By this River," and "Spider and I." This one really gives you an idea of the many different facets of Eno's craft, maybe even more than some of his other albums.

7) Bonnie 'Prince' Billy and the Cairo Gang: The Wonder Show of the World: An album released last year is already among my favorites? While mega-bearded bard Will Oldham has released plenty of great albums over the years, this one stands out for the way it balances the sacred and profane, and joyousness with reflection. Not to mention, this band put on one of the most memorable concerts I saw in 2010.

8) The Band: Greatest Hits: Few artists can quite be summed up by a greatest hits collection quite like The Band can. It's worth checking out some of their individual albums (particularly their self titled second album masterpiece), but this is one of the rare 'best of' collections that really features all the best parts of this group. From pianist Richard Manuel's haunted falsettos to the ebullient three part harmonies of Manuel, Levon Helm, and Rick Danko. And while you expect songs like "The Weight" and "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" to be here, for me it's songs like "It Makes No Difference," "Ophelia," and "The Shape I'm In" that really illustrate why this group was and remains a true original in the history of rock and roll.

9) Marc Ribot y los Cubanos Postizos: You might not know his name, but you've likely encountered the guitar work of Marc Ribot before. He's been a respected studio musician for years beside artists like Elvis Costello, Tom Waits, and most recently on many recent T-bone Burnett-produced offerings. When he's recorded on his own he tends to focus more on things closer to jazz, which is fitting since he's long been associated with NYC jazz composer John Zorn. This particular record features Ribot covering many songs by Cuban composer Arsenio Rodriguez. While there is an undeniable energy present, Ribot still manages to add his jagged jazz and punk sensibilities to the proceedings.

10) The Meters: Funkify Your Life Anthology: If your knowledge of funk music starts and ends with James Brown, you owe it to yourself to find the music of the Meters. Coming out of the rich traditions of New Orleans in the late '60's and '70's, the Meters feature largely instrumental compositions that borrow from various traditions like soul, jazz, and blues. What sets them apart, however, is the telepathic way in which the four musicians work together. While organist Art Neville and guitarist Leo Nocentelli are legends in their own right, the main draw of this music for me has always been the rhythm section of bassist George Porter, Jr. and drummer Joseph "Zigaboo" Modeliste: syncopation and groove at its' most pure.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Internet Awesomeness!

In honor of our first ever "List Week" here on Exile, we decided to share a list of what we're currently loving about the internet. The list isn't in any particular order as it can be hard to rank this kind of awesomeness.

1. SkottieScott: This site has made our Daily Reads for a very good reason: awesome daily sketches by Skottie Young and Scott Morse. The subjects vary weekly from Batman villains to Harry Potter to Hellboy. The best part? All of these sketches are for sale!

2. Kickstand Kids: Are we slightly biased for this site knowing Chris Brunner and Rico Renzi? Perhaps, but that doesn't make the daily postings of their various works any less beautiful. Have you seen Chris' ladies and Rico's coloring? Their works speak volumes on its own. I just had to include Chris' Teen Wolf from this week as it is both fun and he totally schooled me on my lack of Teen Wolf knowledge.(Bonus selection: Rico started a tumblr page for his Batgirl collection and it is so much fun: Batgirl, Heck Yeah! )

3. The Gutters: A webcomic that pokes fun at the comic industry that has a rotating cast of talent from known artists to upcoming artists this is an amusing read with new comics every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Subjects include current and proposed story lines, office politics, and current news. A recent favorite of mine features the DC Heroines battling the most evil foe, Camel Toe, inspired by the release of photos of the tv's newest Wonder Woman costume.

4. Jerry Stanford on the Examiner: Need some information on the local Charlotte comics scene? You should check out Stan's articles on subjects varying from local artists to comic shops to comic supplies. Also, Seth was recently interviewed about how to determine the resale potential of your comics collection.

5. Robbi Rodriguez: Robbi is a recent find, thanks to one, Rico Renzi. Robbi's in the process of printing his creator owned Frankie, Get Your Gun Issue 1 and is sharing previews of this comic as well as warm up sketches. If you're lucky, he'll still be taking commissions for HeroesCon to help raise money for the printing FGYG. I will be sharing my commission here along with all the other loot I plan to pick up at HeroesCon this year.

6. Hotel Fred: This is Roger Langridge's site where in addition to seeing examples of his past art, he's recently been adding daily Mugwhump the Great posts. Roger's one of the sweetest and most talented cartoonists in the comics industry, and you should get to know his work if you haven't already.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Upcoming: Free Comic Book Day

Do you like comics? Do you like sketches by wonderful artists? Do you like getting both of those for free? If you answered yes, then you should check out your Local Comics Stores on May 7.

I will be spending my FCBD at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find. On the schedule for appearances at Heroes from 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm doing free sketches are:

-Chris Brunner
-Ian Flynn
-Sanford Green
-Cully Hammer
-Jason Latour
-Jackie Lewis
-Eraklis Petmezas
-Budd Root
-Bridgit Scheide
-Chris Schweizer
-Andy Smith
-Brian Stelfreeze
-Laura Martin
-Matt Wilson

There is a possibility that more artists will be appearing for your sketching pleasure. We will update as more artists are confirmed.

The titles for FCBD have been announced and there's a lot of great material to choose from this year. Here are a few of the titles I'm looking forward to:

  1. Loose Ends from 12 Gauge: Sharing a book with another 12 Gauge title, ICE, Loose Ends is a Southern crime story from three great guys currently residing in Charlotte, North Carolina: Jason Latour, Chris Brunner, and Rico Renzi.
  2. Captain America & Thor from Marvel: It's no secret that I loved the team of Roger Langridge and Chris Samnee on Thor the Mighty Avenger and I can't wait to see their latest effort. Loki has traveled to King Arthur's to cause problems for Merlin by stealing his magic. Merlin is able to trick Loki into giving some back and summons Captain America and Thor to help out.
  3. Top Shelf's Kids Club 2011: Top Shelf teams up a number of artists, including Owly's Andy Runton, to give us six all ages stories in one adorable book. The cover alone is bursting with cuteness!
  4. Darkwing Duck/Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers from Boom! Studios: Missed either of these awesome books the first time around, no worries! Boom! is republishing the first issues of both series in one great free book.
  5. Kung Fu Panda & Richie Rich from Ape Entertainment: A new animated favorite of mine combined with a childhood animated favorite plus a preview of an upcoming Strawberry Shortcake series! How do they fit some much greatness into one little book.
  6. Heroes Bonus Pick: Sketch Charlotte's FCBD Anthology: This anthology features contributions of original stories from a wide selection of Sketch Charlotte members including Eraklis Petmezas, Bridgit Scheide, Henry Eudy, Brandon Padgett, Chrissie Zullo, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Rich Barrett, Tom Davidson, John DaCosta, Jerry Stanford, and Julian Blake. Chrissie Zullo is pulling double duty with an original story and the cover! Sketch members Eraklis Petmezas and Bridgit Scheide will also be on hand for signings and sketches! And as proud members of Sketch Charlotte ourselves, Seth and I were happy to co-write the anthology's introduction.
In addition to the free books and sketches, you will find Seth out front with an awesomely jam-packed sale of discounted books and trades. His stocks have become legendary in recent years, so come raid them for great deals!

Heroes Aren't Hard to Find is located at 1957 E. 7th Street in Charlotte, North Carolina. The doors open at 10:00 am and free comics are available on a first come, first serve basis.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Seth's List of Favorite Comics to Re-Read

This week I'm taking away from my posts analyzing the music of Tom Waits to launch the first ever "List Week" here at Exile on Plain Street. We'll do these periodically and use them to let you know what we happen to be excited about in comics. Heather wrote a nice piece last week about how she's making a conscious effort to step outside of her reading comfort zone. As a lifelong reader and one who has spent five years on the retail side of things, I thought I'd focus my list on a few books that continue to sustain me in periods where I feel myself getting jaded with comics. They are, after all, supposed to be enjoyed. If you find you're reading lots of books you aren't enjoying, do something about it. There are always quality comics worth reading, sometimes you just have to hunt for them.

1) Marvel's Oz Books: I admit to having never paid much attention to the Oz books and films in my youth. This one's on my list because writer Eric Shanower and artist Skottie Young bring such pure energy to these stories that it's hard not to be pulled into them.

2) Ordinary Victories: This is a two volume graphic novel by French cartoonist Manu Larcenet. It follows a photographer as he matures from slacker pothead into a husband and father. At the same time you can see the protagonists growth in his art and how it changes with life experience.

3) Fred the Clown: A classic from Roger Langridge, this one gets repeat looks from me throughout the year. Langridge does a remarkable job of telling a pictorial history of comics while being hysterically funny. Who else but Langridge can be equally educating and entertaining?

4) Cages: This hefty tome from Dave McKean single-handedly kept me from giving up comics when I first read it in the mid- '90's. It's a book that touches on art, sex, spirituality, and more, without ever seeming to patronize its' audience. McKean's characteristic mastery of multiple visual mediums is paralleled by the literate story that makes you think he should be writing more often.

5) Perry Bible Fellowship Almanack: This book of 3 and 4 page strips is repeatedly laugh out loud funny and will continually impress you with how humor can continue to work in comics over multiple reads. Nicholas Gurewitch seems effortless with his humor, and that's a tough thing to accomplish in comics or any other medium.

There you have it, a few books that I've referred back to frequently over the past several years that have reminded me how much I love comics. Stay tuned for Wednesday's post when Heather will preview some of the great offerings at this year's Free Comic Book Day. On Friday, I'll discuss the recent popular issue of authenticity in art, and more importantly, go over some telltale signs that you might be dealing with a fradulent artist.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Heather's Resolution #1: My Reading List thus far

Until Buffy the Vampire Slayer made the leap from the small screen to the drawn page, my comics reading experience was limited to Archie digests I picked up at the grocery store as a teen. Between Buffy and Heroescon, I started reading more comics, but I tended to stick to comics involving adorable animals and female lead character. Taking part in the wonderful monthly discussion groups run by Andy Mansell for Heroes Aren't Hard To Find has helped me expand my reading and I decided for 2011 to make more of an effort to read outside my comfort zone.

  1. Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware: This was the January Discussion Group selection and a daunting read, at least in the beginning. I got a very mixed reaction when people found out I was reading this book. They either love the book or hate it for being the most depressing book they've ever picked up. Surprisingly, I enjoyed Jimmy Corrigan. Ware's art is beautiful and his inclusion of nature is a wonderful treat. I came away feeling hopeful rather than depressed.
  2. Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales and Juanjo Guarnido: A friend lent me this anamorphic crime noir hardcover. My non-graphic novel reading includes a lot of crime and suspense fiction so the subject matter of this book appealed to me. The art, particularly the cityscapes was absolutely gorgeous.
  3. Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon: Another Heroes Discussion Group selection. Wow, they made some good choices. Beautiful art and a beautiful story that's hard to discuss without potential spoilers. With that, the overarching message I took away was to value everyday for the joys and sorrows that we all experience.
  4. Ultimate Spider-Man by Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley: I haven't read a lot of superhero comics and I happen to find the first trade of this series on my brother's bookshelf. This is a fun series. Most of my Spider-Man experiences are limited to the movies and while I really like the Toby McGuire version of Spidey (outside of the third movie), I am really enjoying getting to know teenaged Peter Parker as he balances being a super hero with his high school life of bullying, dating, and being grounded.  I've knocked out three volumes in no time and looking forward to starting volume four.   
  5. Scenes from an Impending Marriage by Adrian Tomine: Originally written and drawn as a gift for his wedding guests, this little gem warmed by heart. Scenes gives the reader a peek into Tomine's life and what it's like for a normal loving couple to plan a wedding. For my complete review of this book, you can check it out at the Dollar Bin.
  6. Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale: Batman, the mob, and the usual Rogues Gallery mixed in with the Holiday Killer? Color me intrigued.  I read a lot of crime novels in my non-graphic reading and I enjoyed the mix of super heroes and villains in this story.  I also liked the "will they/won't they" vibe between Batman and Catwoman as well as their alter egos. 
In addition to the books above, I'm continuing to read Zatanna monthly.  For the most part, it's a monthly I look forward to as it has had a good storyline, although the art has been a little inconsistent as no one has settled into a long arc as the sequentials artist.  The covers on this one have been beautiful, especially Stephane Roux and Adam Hughes.  #11 was Adam's first cover in the series and I hope it won't be the last as it was gorgeous. 

I've also been reading the second Cinderella mini-series in single issues.  Last time I waited for the trade.  Cinderella's life as a spy is very entertaining, especially as we are introduced to a beloved childhood Fable who is now a ruthless assassin.  Chrissie Zullo's covers are topping her beautiful efforts on the first run. 

I've been very lucky to have generous, comic reading friends who have shared their collections with me.  The stack in the above photo is only part of the books I'm currently working my way through.  I'm still open for suggestions so feel free to share your recommendations in the comments.