Required Viewing.

Filmed in the UK in 1977 & 1978, this film contains an overview of the bands that were fairly well known at the time, and starting to get recognition outside of their friends and their local scenes.  Definitely slanted, and more from the perspective of scenesters and friends of friends, the BBC try to make sense of this youth culture the only way they know how: by making an hour long documentary about it.  Most likely the first film made to cover this ground.  Well worth watching.


Everything & Nothing
Everything & Nothing

Inspired by the incredible accessibility of all the data all the time, I often spend my lunch wikislogging through the internet as a way to entertain myself while I eat.  It’s a bad habit, I’m sure, but there is something appealing about following where the links take me, so that I can read about obscure TV Shows, senators that were the first to do some such thing or other in a state I can’t remember, and when certain countys were incorporated for the first time.  I rationalize the behavior by explaining that, at least, I’m not adding another show to my growing list of televisual responsibilities, or that at least I’m not spending money on comics to read while I eat.  But the truth of the matter is that I like to be entertained, and find the world around me endlessly fascinating, so much so that I can’t stand loosing the time I could be reading merely so I can ingest sustenance.

Wikislogging is a bit like wikiracing, except that when I first started doing this, wikiracing hadn’t yet been coined, and I never used “wikislogging” until after I first heard about “wikiracing.”  Where wikiracing is often competitive, and players are often looking for speed or least number of clicks in terms of the paths they choose to follow, wikislogging is a solo endeavor, involves using the “random article” button liberally, and following many tangents and tributaries as interest warrants.  I like to employ new tabs often, when I come across something I’d like to read later, but am far too engrossed in the current article to follow that link just yet.  Basically, I let Wikipedia’s random algorithm and my own odd interests create the strangest and least-organized reading experience I can possible muster.

What is fascinating is that this past time really has become more like slogging as time goes on, only because there are so many Wikipedia articles these days that 99% of the things you find are stubs for towns, obscure political figures, an arbitrary year in history, and a host of other things that seem extremely dry, and often a waste of bandwidth.  When I first started doing this, in 2006 or so, I remember having a very high hit ratio when it came to finding interesting articles.  These days, I need to click random far too often.  In many ways, I can see this hobby having a very distinct shelf-life.  Before long, there will just be too many articles accessible.  So much of what we’ll find on Wikipedia will be referents that point to things in the real world, in an attempt to document them all, that essays and articles that analyze these real world things will be lost in the noise.

If only you could remember how to search for them properly.


Vital Purchases

Continuing our theme of College Life, I am about to bust wide open the retail world of the student with a suggestion that will probably sound insane: more than tuition, books, “fees” (an ever-changing – and ever increasing – value in the equation of school) and food, you can survive your entire college career through purchasing only three things.  You only have to buy these things once, and they should last you the entire time you are in school.  These are the only expenses that are absolutely required, and should not be “skimped” on.  You need good, high quality products that will last you at least four to six years, possibly longer, and most importantly, things that are durable.  They will be beaten to shit by the time you graduate.

The relationship between money and students, and that of material goods and students, is a very tenuous one.  If you’re like me, and you were already poor before you started going to school, then the idea of living on a very tight budget is not new.  It is easy, when you start adding up the costs and fees that goes into even the first term at school, to eliminate any and all unnecessary expenses.  Goodbye cable, goodbye subscriptions to Hellboy and Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and that case of Ginger Ale that you were drinking every month is now a mere can or two when all is said and done.  You soon learn to make huge bags of potatoes and rice last for months, and every dollar becomes a useful commodity that must be considered before being spent.  In a lot of ways, going to school is like a very quick economics course for people who are terrible at budgeting money.  You either learn quickly, or you end up dropping out and getting a job instead.

However, there are three essential items that you need that are invaluable to every student.  These may seem like no brainers, but I was consistently shocked by the number of students who were missing one or two of these three things.  My recommendation, before the first day of class, is to get these items instead of your books.  You can always copy pages of a book you don’t have from the library or a classmate, but you can’t miraculously cause these items to show up without cold hard cash.  While you are in school, you will end up spending a lot of your college funding on things completely unrelated to school (see: beer).  But before you do, you must buy:

1960's Rucksack, Available At Most Army Surplus Stores
1960’s Rucksack, Available At Most Army Surplus Stores

1.) A Bag Of Some Kind.  While backpacks and whatnot are not exactly uncommon College Student purchases, it often astounded me to see people with cheap or stylish bags, that ultimately last no longer than your interests in the Communication Program your school offers.  This is a bag that you will need to fill, to the brim, every day you go to campus.  It will contain a ridiculous number of heavy books, a pieced-together lunch wrapped in some sort of protection, various writing implements / rulers / calculators / erasers / etc, something to write on, your gym clothes, a sweater or coat, and everything else that you can’t bear to part with for more than a couple hours.  Regardless of your best intentions, you will live out of this bag the entire time you are in school.  Cheapness and stylishness will not do you any good when your bag splits open after a few weeks of use, or when you realize your bag is exactly one book smaller than you need it to be when you’re trying to rush out and catch a bus.  Considering all of these, any bag that you purchase for school must be large, sturdy, have a number of pockets and compartments for storage, and must last you several years.  A messenger bag, or something custom-made that you bought on Regretsy, will look great when you meet up with your friends at a bar after school.  But for the day-to-day functions of being a student, you will need something a little more reliable to get you through.

Music Soothes The Savage Student
Music Soothes The Savage Student

02.) Some Device For Listening Purposes.  Weather you are a commuter, someone who lives on campus, or just someone trying to ignore your fellow students as you curse and rush between classes, you will need to invest in some kind of technology that helps entertain you during these moments.  There are a number of reasons.  If you have substantial travel time between home and school, there is only so much reading you can do before you will either go crazy or will need to pay attention to the road to prevent a major accident.  Listening to music is not only relaxing, but offers a good distraction from your studies that you are mostly likely freaking out about, depending how far into the term / how close midterms or finals may be.  Not only does music offer you an excellent way to regain focus, momentarily relax, and in many cases put a huge smile on your face, but it gives you a chance to mentally “break” from the work you’re doing in class.  Additionally, there is a tremendous amount of down-time being a student.  Regardless of the schedule you plan, the homework you may have to do, and the usual everyday elements of being immersed in an institution, there will be large blocks of time that you will need to find things to do.  Having something to listen to in these moments may be the difference between “Very stressful day, need booze now!” and “Dude, Cee Lo fuckin’ rules, I’m totally ready to ace this French final.”  While iPods are the currency of hand-held listening devices these days, and win out in the “durability” category (in my experience), there are hundreds of other products on the market that work just as well at a much more reasonable price (durability, of course, may not be part of the price point).  Shop around; there are incredibly deals to be had for the truly patient.  These days cassette Walkmen and Discmen are incredibly affordable, and for the price of a high-end .mp3 player, you could very well buy a crate of these and trade them out every month or so as they break down.  So long as you have access to music, your day will be almost 95% better, guaranteed.

You Need This.  Really.
You Need This. Really.

03.) A Thermos & A Water Bottle.  This one took me a while to figure out.  If you drink warm or cold beverages throughout your day, or are the kind of person that brings soups with you for lunch, then you absolutely need both of these items.  It is entirely true that water is free and plentiful on nearly every College Campus, and furthermore, coffee is in no shortage regardless of where you happen to be standing anywhere in the United States.  However, your body will soon thank you when you start carrying a water bottle, if for no other reason than the fact that you will will now have endless opportunities to meet new people in restrooms, and by allowing you to study harder and feel less like crap when you have to bang out a paper in the two-hours before class.  Usually, you can score a free water bottle (go for metal if possible) during the first weeks of each school year, as various orientations and whatnot often hand them out for free.  In terms of a thermos, I cannot stress how wonderfully useful this item is.  Before I got one, I spent an inordinate amount of money on coffee, and while very happy while doing so, I kept thinking I was getting ripped off.  And, usually, half-way through a cup of something I bought on campus, it would go cold, and suddenly you could taste exactly how much you got ripped off.  Buying a thermos changed all of that; I had delicious, home-made, warm coffee all day long.  Afterward, there was not a single day I did not use it.  I highly recommend the Stanley Brand of thermos.  I initially bought a very chintzy, off-brand thermos, and while it was functional, it would leak, it didn’t keep the coffee particularly warm, and became dented very quickly.  Pouring coffee became a challenge that could result in you, and everything around you, getting soaked.  The following year I bought a Stanley, and it served me flawlessly until I graduated.  Stanley is not only a company that has been around since 1913 (and has thus worked out all the kinks in their product), but offer replacement parts in the event that you loose the lid or break the stopper (which happened to me).  The replacement parts are reasonably priced, and will increase the longevity of your thermos for years and years.  While Stanley is not paying me to say this, both my father and myself swear by the product, and it becomes incredibly useful on camping trips, too.  Plus, you can feel good about not contributing to landfill waste and whatnot, which can sometimes impress the ladies and seems terribly important to a lot of people on any given campus.

There were other items and devices that I did use during college, some of which served me incredibly well during the terms that I used them.  But these three things wound up being used daily during the entire time I attended school, and quickly became absolutely necessary to my success as a student.  I can make no claims as to improved grades, obtaining student government positions, impressing faculty, or anything that will actually lead to you getting As and getting laid.  But I can say that with these three items, you will always be prepared for every situation a student regularly finds themselves in, and that can go a long way in the economy of life.

No Restroom For The Weary

I'll Take Door Number Three
I’ll Take Door Number Three

College Life offers you many chances to experience things that are either entirely new, entirely familiar, or entirely uncomfortable, often all during the same 60 minute interval.  Having spent many long hours on a College Campus – with the expressed purpose of pursuing an actual degree – I found myself in a number of situations where I needed to find a solution to a recurring problem.  It isn’t that being a student is particularly hard, and most certainly any advice that I could give isn’t isolated wisdom that can only be gained from a College Guru like myself.  Over time, just about anyone who pays attention to the world around them will be able to solve these particular conundrums on their own.  Still, this advice is meant mostly to capture my experience, some things that I learned that I did not expect, and how you can use these experiences to your benefit the next time you find yourself in College, pursuing your own degree.

Eventually, no matter how well you try to plan around it, you will need to use a public restroom on a college campus.  There is just no way around it; as a student, you will find yourself in the same collection of buildings for up to 16 hours a day, for years on end.  Unless you can afford it, chances are you don’t live nearby, either.  So, short of marking the fringes of the campus as part of your territory to ward off predators, you will need to drop your pants in a tiled room full of strangers and stranger smells.

As we all know, public restrooms are disgusting in ways that science is only just now starting to understand.  Entire college’s have been granted research money to look into the problem, and appropriately, since students follow research money, those schools tend to have VERY bad bathrooms.  But on any campus, you can count on some constants when it comes to commodes.  Any bathroom found on the ground floor of a building, particularly ones that are near entrances or exits, will absolutely be beyond use.  Conversely, a bathroom found on the top floor of any building, inaccessible by elevator, and requires the furthest amount of walking possible, will appear to be more or less unused by modern man.  Bathrooms that exist between these two points will be in varying degrees of disrepair, more or less on a spectrum that ranges from “unholy” to “unused.”

Given this relationship between “filth” and “distance you must travel within a building,” a certain amount of math is required to calculate how far will be “good enough” to handle your business.  Obviously, there are a lot of X Factors that can affect your decisions, not the least of which are limited to: “location of building,” “location of your next class,” “how bad do you have to go,” “how heavy is your bag,” “is this a pit stop or will you be spending a little time on the throne,” “how many floors can you walk in your current condition,” and “are you carrying a coffee beverage with you at the moment you need to go.”  All of these elements are at play in this math-room equation, and like any kind of fact-based science, you’ll either need to hire a fellow student to do it for you, or practice doing it quite a bit until you fine-tune the formula.

Modern campuses have a number of unisex bathrooms, and due to thousands of years of previously existing gender politics, we can reap the benefits in the form of locks that appear on the doors.  While unisex bathrooms are not common, even on big campuses, there are usually a handful of them scattered throughout.  Usually, these kinds of bathrooms exist because a student group has been campaigning for them for quite some time.  Because of that, administrators put these rooms in the most inconvenient locations imaginable.  These rooms, while not exactly cleaner, offer a little more privacy, and are worth seeking out, or at least being aware of in emergencies.

Any administrative building, human resources department, presidential office, and any place that students ignore or avoid because you can’t smoke pot or watch girls from there, have much cleaner bathrooms by default.  (These offices actually have things like “janitors.”)  Whenever possible, try to plan your bathroom trips around these buildings, even if you have to develop bullshit excuses for going to these out-of-the-way locales.  After a shitty class, it is often necessary to unload in a room with air-freshener, guaranteed TP, and the sounds of suits and ties discussing policies that act as the perfect bowel loosener.

As you will be spending a lot of time on campus, I recommend spending an afternoon locating bathrooms that are the right combination of clean, near where you need to be, regularly stocked but less used than others.  This is time consuming at first, but ultimately will save you a lot of time.  It is also good to have a reserve list of “Plan B” facilities for a number of reasons.  Most likely, because you are on a College Campus, at any given moment there are a number of students who all need to use the bathroom at the same time, and thus every stall and urinal are already being used.  Having a few back-up plans that are also nearby can become a necessity.  Any school staff who have been on campus for longer than a few months have often done all of this legwork for you.  I suggest watching administrators and professors, and follow them.  They have often located bathrooms that are isolated, clean, and relatively unused on a daily basis.  If it is good enough for a fussy and insane person with a PHD who can’t remember further back than 15 minutes, let alone to the days of when they themselves were first in College, then it should be perfect for someone who still has full control over their faculties.

While this may work at home, I do not recommend reading material while perching on porcelain at school.  Usually, these are hit and run missions anyway.  You have been spending most of your day studying, reading, digesting, and otherwise considering lots of information, anyway.  While reading on the throne might seem relaxing, what you really need to to clear your mind as well as your body before your next class.  If anything, I recommend the campus paper, as it not only makes an excellent laxative, but can come in handy if you happen to run out of toilet paper.

The law of averages and statistics dictate that it is unlikely that this term’s perfect bathroom will continue to be so the entire time you are a student.  Be willing to do some legwork every three or four months, to re-evaluate the relative pros and cons of different facilities, to see what has and hasn’t changed over time.  Some people may discover your secret, but that also means that other locations are being depended on less as this new one is being used.  Do not be afraid to adjust your plans as needed.  It will not take long before this process is fairly automatic.  By the end of your tenure as student, you’ll have become an expert bathroom locating, along with bar locating, drug locating, and hopefully, the focus of your Major.

As with many things, the modern world has offered people the opportunity to turn the most mundane and pointless daily human exercise into an exquisite art with nuances and complex theories that can only be mastered by the truly dedicated, and fortunately for us, taking a shit in public has risen to just such a level.  There are many skills that you can develop while in school, and many of them will pay off in the years to come.  Don’t let a lack of workplace-relevant skills get you in the end.

Doody now for the future!

In The Garage

From This...
From This…

As someone who collects extremely heavy, space-consuming media I have always had a very tenuous relationship with the spaces I end up inhabiting.  Inevitably, what I look for is comfort for my belongings, and a small space to lay myself down at night.  This has led to some very ridiculous living arrangements, and often at the expense of my own – or my roommates’ – discomfort.  Just so I could have a place to keep all my comics.  While I must admit that I have never been at the Hoarderslevel of stuff-ownership, I have noticed a downward trend in the number of friends who return calls whenever I have to move.

...To This
…To This

In December I finally moved in with my girlfriend, and this meant a complete reconsideration of things, and the spaces they take up.  She was already settled into a nice two-bedroom apartment, small for the most part, but with enough space for the two of us to live comfortably.

Minus my stuff, that is.

While we did accommodate some space for some of my records, a small box of books, and several handfuls of comics,  it was decided that there was just no room in the apartment for all of my stuff.  The remaining things I owned stayed “in storage” – boxed up in a friend’s basement – and the rest of my records went to another friend’s house down the street.

There was a garage when I moved in, and it did have some stuff in it already.  My girlfriend used the Garage in much the same way that a teenager uses a closet: if something is in the way, and doesn’t need to be in your way right now, put it in the Garage – anywhere, it doesn’t matter – and the problem is solved.  I only added to the problem when I moved in and thus just threw other things that were now in the way into The Garage, and just shut the door.

There was always talk about taking care of The Garage, as if it were an illness that we couldn’t afford to treat just yet, but someday.  Winter made it easy to avoid the chore, and by then we were already into the habit of putting things in there and forgetting about them.  Our friend’s down the street even started doing the same thing with their books, which only drove me crazy, as now this space was taken up with other people’s books, while mine languished away in someone else’s basement.

The growing problem of The Garage began to weigh on me in ways I had not predicted, and soon I began to have irrational fears about The Garage.  Somehow, The Garage would catch fire and burn the entire complex down.  Somehow, there would be a water leak, which would cause the landlord to need to go in, and they would find something in The Garage that could somehow lead to eviction, like pornography, or worse, a huge messy Garage that looks like a fire hazard.  (To be fair, The Garage was so messy that I would have evicted myself.)  Soon, The Garage began to lurk and loom in my mind like a monster from a Stephen King book, never seen directly, but always there, ready to pounce and fill you with dread.

I first encountered this phenomena when I moved into my first house with a basement.  I was so excited to have a place to store everything I owned comfortably that I was nearly overwhelmed.  It just seemed like too much.  During the first week I meticulously organized and stored everything, but very quickly I just began throwing things downstairs when it wasn’t being occupied by a roommate.  Soon, the same concerns about flooding and water damage and whatnot began creep up.  By the time I moved out I was convinced that when I meet homeowners, the look on their faces has everything to do with what’s being neglected in their basement / attic / garage.

So, apropos of nothing, I randomly went to The Garage, cleaned it from top to bottom, created new space in which I could store and sort things, and then returned to my usual day.

It’s a relief, that’s for sure.  All day today I’ve had this sense of accomplishment, as if to say, “Yeah, there’s all sorts of shit that I need to sort out that is pretty embarrassing for a middle aged man to admit, but at least my Garage in cleaned and well managed.”  When I went to the library earlier, I didn’t go through the usual checklist of, “What did I forget to do?”  Because the thing I’ve been forgetting to do for months now has finally been done, and can be crossed off the mental list with a sign or relief.

Of course, The Garage is like anything else in our lives.  It’s a continual work in progress.  Just because you exercised once doesn’t mean that you are “in shape,” and that you never have to do it again.  But it is nice to realize that if I need peace of mind and something to help anchor me, I probably just need to clean out The Garage, in all of its metaphoric glory.

Writing Log 1

Today I wrote an outline for a script that may wind up in the radio show.

And I wrote a small script for a comic strip using “Andrew” from “Rock Stars For Roommates,” which parallels my recent situation at work.

I decided that if I’m not going to post something to the blog, that I need to at least keep some sort of record of the writing I did in pace of it.  I’d rather not go a day without writing something, so I can get back into the habit.  I’ve decided that on these kinds of entries, and I can get personal, provided I don’t intend to let people read it.  But the items I want to write for public consumption must be fiction, or essays of some kind.  Personal essays, yes.  But something interesting, and not specific to only me.

Anything emotional needs to be cloaked in fiction.  Even just barely, if need be.

Lubed Up

2006 Crosley
2007 Crosley

In 2007 I picked up this Crosley (minus the JJCnV record) for a pretty reasonable price.  I wasn’t quite in a position to buy a stereo, and I really wanted to listen to my records, so I bought it on an impulse.  It worked like a charm, and while the fidelity of something like this wasn’t fantastic, it wasn’t terrible, either.  This is by no means a vintage machine, but aside from a power cord, volume, and tone, there are no other components.  You pull the arm back, and it starts rotating the platter.  When it gets to the end, it stops.  You can buy replacement needles for it pretty easily, but this is not a fancy piece of equipment.  It gets the job done, and quite while I might add.

However, a few years ago I lived in a house where we spent a lot of time in the kitchen, and thus listened to this Crosley quite a bit.  I lasted through having beer and flour spilled all over it, and one roommate who insisted that he could only listen to music at full volume, in spite of the distortion.  By the time we all split ways from that place, the Crosley had seen better days.  Even a new needle wasn’t quite helping it be its best.

And here’s why: as you would increase the volume, the sound would begin to crackle and distort randomly.  Sometimes you could finagle it into a position where it sounded fine, but if you moved it too suddenly, the sound would short out, and you could barely hear anything.  I took it apart to make sure that the speakers were not blown, and that there wasn’t flour in the components, but when I took it apart, aside from very basis mechanical pieces, there was nothing for the flour to muck up.  The single point of failure was the volume knob itself, and upon taking apart the Crosley, I had figured out why: the volume was controlled by a very simple potentiometer.

A Potentiometer
A Potentiometer

You’ve probably seen these before.  They are very common in electronic devices.  Without getting into too much detail as to how they work: imagine our Crosley.  It has a signal – the volume – that’s running so long as the needle is on a record, and the platter is spinning.  Now, without a potentiometer, the signal is at maximum.  In order to allow us to control it, a potentiometer like this is added.  As we move the dial, we can control the amount of the signal that gets through to the speakers.  Potentiometer’s have literally thousands of uses in electronics, and in my Crosley, since there are so fun components, it is essentially the last remaining point of failure in this device.  It must be old and full of flour, and just needs to be replaced.  As my Crosley is well past its warrantee – and I’m sure “kitchen use” would fall outside of it – I had been waiting for an opportunity to hit up a much more electronically inclined friend to replace it for me, with the promise of beer and companionship.

The Crosley sat, largely unused, save for those occasions when my annoyance threshold was just high enough that I could stand listening to the crackle.  Periodically, when I would have friends over, I would play an album, and then tell the sad story of how I just need to get the potentiometer replaced.  Until my buddy Trevor made a very simple, and amazing suggestion: oil.

Apparently, over time, a potentiometer like this one will gather dust.  The signal that gets through as you turn the dial works based on forming contacts around the dial.  When dust gets in there, the contacts are disrupted, and prevent the dial from working properly.  This is why, when a device like this is at full volume, you might get no sound whatsoever.  Other times, you’ll get deafening crackles, but no signal.  However, the dust problem can be flushed out with the addition of a few drops of oil.

After I procured the oil, finished my chores, and had a spare evening, I set about oiling my Crosley.  Within minutes, it was working perfectly.  Not more crackle, and no more lamenting that I can’t listen to my records.

It does sound like I could use a new needle, and the speakers have seen better days.  But I can listen to the new JJCnV record while I make dinner, and that’s all I really care about.

The Last Reader On Earth

Kamandi Issue #1
Kamandi Issue #1

It would be absolutely insane to try and make the assertion that Kamandi was one of Jack Kirby‘s greatest comics, or even the greatest comic that he did for DC in the ’70’s.  They didn’t call Jack “The King” for nothin’; his work essentially led to the creation of the Marvel Universe with Stan Lee, and has already cemented him as one of the most important comics writers and artists of all time.  Even when you look at only his work for DC, where he retreated after Marvel screwed him one too many time, his Fourth World books are tremendous in terms of scope and quality, and discounting those titles, The Demon is still a force to be reckoned with.  Simple name recognition probably says it best: of all of Jack’s characters involved in DC’s various relaunches in recent years, Kamandi is the only one that has yet to see print again on a monthly basis.1

My own experiences as a fan have been handicapped from the beginning.  Having been born only three short years before the series was canceled, it wasn’t until I was a young teen that I even heard of the character, and still a few more years before I found a single back-issue that was within my price range.  To complicate matters, there was some dispute as to the validity of the character in terms of continuity2, and other visions of the future directly contradicted the one Kamandi presented.3  Not only was it hard to find the source material, but his position within the larger framework of comics seemed to be in doubt.  It was very easy, both as a reader and a creator, to let Kamandi fall by the wayside.

Even the creation and introduction of the character seems difficult to believe.  The first issue of Kamandi – released in 1972 – is uncannily like a very successful film series that began a few short years before, Planet of The Apes.  Marvel Comics, as it turned out, beat DC to the punch in securing the rights to the film, and DC wanted something to rush something to the marketplace before Marvel could get their book launched.  One of Jack’s Fourth World books, The Forever People, had just been canceled, freeing him up to work on a new book of some kind.  DC’s dictum to Jack was to do a book like POTA, and at first glance, it’s hard to suggest that he didn’t.  Kamandi lives in a world set in the future, we see a destroyed Statue Of Liberty, and inside there are various races of intelligent, talking animals that run the world.  We even meet someone in an 20th Century astronaut suit.  Is this even a story that The King can drag out for nearly 40 issues without feeling as if it is far too much of a rehash of things that have already been done?

Yes, as it turns out, and the reason being is that the story was already something that Jack had done before… in 1956.  At that time, Kirby was working for Harvey Comics, and produced a story called “The Last Enemy” that involved an astronaut who returns to Earth only to find much time has passed, and animals – not humans – run the planet.  Around the same time he also produced a regular strip called “Kamandi of the Caves,” both of which he combined to create the version of Kamandi that we know and love now.  Jack went back and forth in terms of how familiar he was with Pierre Boulle‘s novel (published in 1963), or the POTA film at the time he wrote Kamandi4.  But what is clear is that both were familiar with each other, and both used each other’s work as jumping off points for their own particular visions of the future.

Case in point: Kamandi #1.  True, we see the Statue of Liberty, but where that was the final image of POTA, Kirby opens his story this way, with Kamandi paddling his raft in the opposite direction as quickly as possible.  Kirby is telling us that where ever POTA may have gone, we’re going further.  And quickly, too.  The Kamandi stories move at near-lightning speed, preventing us from even meeting the person that raised Kamandi before they are killed.  In no time he’s traveling to other lands, meeting other races and survivors, and trying to make sense of this scarred and destroyed land that bears only the slightest resemblance to the world we know.  There are relics and references to our world, but as far as their relationship to the story at large, we might as well not even pay attention.  In much the same way that good Super-Hero needn’t refer to the rest of their fictional universe but when appropriate, do, Kamandi does not rely on what came before it, but rather, merely presents adventure governed only by the rules a post-apocalyptic world can offer.  By 1974 Marvel’s Planet of The Apes book came out, to coincide the new line of toys, a TV show, and animated series, that would launch all within a year.  By then, Kamandi had been running for nearly 20 issues.

As with anything that Kirby touched, the story does not end here.  Jack eventually left DC and went to work for animation studios in the late ’70’s / early ’80’s, while Kamandi was handed off to other writers, and eventually canceled.  It was at Ruby-Spears Productions, a subsidiary of Hanna-Barbara, where Jack was asked to produce some POTA concept art for a series that would proceed the animated series that had already been produced in 1975.  While the concept art never developed into anything we saw on screen, it was this arrangement that led to Jack designing characters and backgrounds for several Ruby-Spears animations, including the much revered Thundarr The Barbarian, created by Steve Gerber (another ex-Marvel genius), and written by Mark Evanier, who worked with Jack on the Fourth World books.  While Thundarr and Kamandi are very much their own creations, their similarities run deep, and yet again, it was Kirby who had a hand in shaping our modern-day visions of the future.

In my own Kirby-like way, I was re-introduced to Kamandi by accident.  I was going to meet a friend, when I received a message saying that they couldn’t join me.  Quite a ways from home, and with very little on my agenda, I popped into a library to see if there was anything around that would catch my eye.  To my astonishment I found an old and dusty “Archives Edition” of the first 10 issues of Kamandi, collected for the first time in 2005, which had probably been languishing away on the shelf ever since.  Aside from the librarians that handled the book, it appeared that almost no one had read it.  A lost relic from a world that used to exist had found its way into my hands.  I ran home and immediately to my secret bunker, and began reading stories that I had always heard about, but had never had a chance to read.

Until now.

Explosions.  Talking animals.  Current technology masquerading as ancient relics.  Barbarian-like gladiatorial fight scenes.  Nuclear paranoia.  The downfall of modern society, where our human mistakes are repeated by animals time and time again.

Seriously, what’s not to love?

(Note: DC has recently published Vol. 1 of a new Kamandi reprint series, based on the popularity of other Kirby reprint editions that have come out recently.  The OMAC book was incredibly successful, and his entire run on Kamandi – many issues of which have not been available since their original print runs in the ’70’s – should be available in two Volumes by the end of this year.)

1 While there have been several references to, and attempts to bring back, Kamandi since the original series was canceled in 1978, most often these attempts are spearheaded by Grant Morrison, who is a nerd for characters like this, and rarely do they lead to regular appearances, as with every other Kirby Property that DC owns.

2 There is only one explicit DC Universe reference within the Kirby-penned issues, and that one is left up to interpretation as to its authenticity.  Editors and future writers had tried to tie this character explicitly to another Kirby property, OMAC, with varying degrees of success, leading to much confusion among fans and readers.  

3 Another, less post-apocalyptic  future had already been established in the pages of The Legion Of Super-Heroes.

4 Jack claimed that he had not seen Planet of The Apes at the time, and only had a passing familiarity with the story when he was told to work on this project.  Later, he claimed that he had seen it and was aware of what they had done, and was himself trying to do something else closer to the work he’d done in the past (that was, very likely, the inspiration for the film in the first place).  Personally, I believe the later.

Digital Sculpting

Paragraph by Paragraph
Paragraph by Paragraph

I spent a good part of the morning reviewing much of the material I’ve written for the internet over the last several years.  In the mid 90’s, when I was still connecting to the web via dial-up, I had made a few websites that contained original writing, but like ‘zines themselves, languished away unseen.  In the year 2000 I tried this again, having transplanted myself to Portland, and having an interest in HTML.  But is was sometime in 2002 that I really started keeping a blog, for real.  I remember the reason, too: that I could use the format to produce more writing on a near-daily basis, so I could stay limber, and possibly produce material that I could edit and use in a ‘zine.  Naively, I was still thinking that blogging wouldn’t take, that I would run with it for a while, and then give up.

And yes, that would happen.  Quite often.  Long breaks between posts, followed by re-committing myself to a highly formal daily process.  I would use new interfaces, skip between doing the code myself and using some service.  I would fluctuate between highly personal and extremely formal, searching for a tone that was mine.  In looking at the posts I’d assembled, I noticed that writing for the web – like writing ‘zines – has a unique form that must be refined over time.  The more blogs you read, the more you begin to find what works and what doesn’t.

Of course, you would also have to convince yourself that you have some kind of audience, too.  In looking at previous iterations of this blog, I find it interesting that I assume I have a large number of readers that follow the blog closely.  Compensation?  Most certainly, but also a sort of confidence, too, perhaps.  The idealism of youth.  I’m sure you can say that there is a difference between that which is written under immediate public scrutiny vs. that which is written over time, left to ferment and develop at its own pace.  Perhaps, more than anything, I was able to convince myself that I did have readers, so I could try writing in that affected kind of way.  In a way, I just like to pretend.

Over time, like most blogs and bloggers, a lot of my content contained an incredible amount of personal content, both specific and symbolic, in efforts to purge and vent about things that most people never asked about.  While I do not deny that those elements have been a huge part of this thing over time, with hindsight I have moved those items to a journal, where they are not in danger of being seen by anyone by me.  The best history is re-written after the fact anyway.

There are some entries that I really liked.  There were others I didn’t.  There were times where I wished I had done x, then it turned out that I did do x, just not until after I’d done y first.  There were other times where I realized I left out the best part, and other times where I was so afraid to elaborate, that I would just include only the best part.  I could usually tell the times that I was doing all (or some) of this on purpose, but it was those magical entry where I no longer could tell why I had written it, because it actually just worked well on its own, those are the ones I like the best.

Anyway, we’ve streamlined things, reduced and improved, and added a little flair when possible.  The tags keep related items together, but the whole things ebbs and flows based on my own particular whims.  We’ll see how long I can keep this one up.

Three weeks, maybe?


Radio The Way It Should Be Done

I (Heart & <3) Ben Blacker
I (Heart & <3) Ben Blacker

As we begin to weave our way into the Golden Age of podcasting, two things remain abundantly clear:

1.) More and More people include podcasts among the kinds of media they consume on a daily basis

2.) The People who are the best at producing podcasts make shows that they would like to hear themselves.

Neither of these points are shocking, or even revelatory in any way.  Newspapers went through a very slow but similar evolution over time, gaining more and more readers, and being created in a way to reflect the creators own desires.  The same can be said for radio and television.  This is merely the process through which media gains the respect needed to be considered a legitimate outlet.  Which, of course, brings us to the very crux of all of this to begin with: none of this was the case six years ago, when podcasting still seemed like the future, something that “wasn’t quite there yet.”  By 2007, you were already behind the curve if you didn’t include a podcast now and then in you list of things you Liked on a public social media site, and now, as genuine digital networks are beginning to flourish while terrestrial stations shrug their heads and licence off a few more minutes per hour to an insurance company.  Six years is an incredibly short period of time to make the transition from Obscure to Source Of Daily Entertainment.

And that, to me, is fantastic.

Not only has podcasting finally delivered the promise that radio seemed to make in the late ’60’s and ’70’s (media belongs to the people, dude!), but it’s allowing entire genres to develop, and others to return, in ways that commercial radio could never allow.  It’s not just that podcasting could outperform radio in terms of cost, but by virtue of the much wider reach that the entire Inter-Web has to offer, nearly any show can develop and blossom as they reach a devoted web community provided they actually can deliver in terms of content.  Even shows with poor production quality can hit a home-run provided the hosts are funny, the subjects interesting, and the overall show carries a certain element of fun.

Nerdist Industries, brainchild of Chris Hardwick, has been extremely adept when it comes to keeping things fun.  And one person that seems to have internalized the notion is Ben Blacker, the host of both Nerdist Writers Panel, and writer of The Thrilling Adventure Hour, both excellent examples of the possibilities of podcasting.

The Thrilling Adventure Hour is a podcast based around edited highlights of recordings of live performances of the titular stage show.   Ben Blacker works with a troupe of actors – The Workjuice Players – to produce audio theater “in the style of old time radio” where they offer supernatural thrillers, cowboy space adventures, sixties-style superhero parody, and everything else in-between.  Using foley artists and music to flesh out the experience, this show not only reflects the sensibilities of old-fashioned narrative audio theater, but the modern sensibilities that they infuse this product with offer a level of playfulness that actual old time radio never managed to allow.  (With the possible exceptions of Groucho Marx, or Abbott & Costello.)  While something like this would languish on traditional radio in spite of a wide range of guests the show regularly features, in the world of podcasting it can thrive.

In many ways, Nerdist Writer’s Panel is the opposite of TAH.  Ben Blacker hosts this show, instead of writing it.  The show features discussion panels with a variety of writers from various fields, instead of offering a dramatized version of a story Ben has written.  In fact, where TAH is the final product of Ben’s writing process, NWP offers Ben a chance to discuss the craft of writing with peers, in a fairly informal manner.  While the guests can often make or break the draw of any show, Ben Blacker manages to keep the show focused, keep the guests on track, and to keep the conversation ever focused on the subject at hand: the art of writing.  As someone who fancies himself interested in word craft and word play, this show is endlessly fascinating, to the point where I’m interested in listening to people talk about TV shows that I have never seen – nor do I want to – and yet I’m attentively listening to how they broke the pilot episode.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Nerdist Industries has, in many ways, done things right: they grew their fanbase out of things that they themselves would find interesting.  Case in point: the format of many of these shows.  Out of financial necessity, many podcasts these days are live recordings of conversations that happen with the hosts and guests, often done in one take, and with little production or editing afterward.  And, in many cases, “conversation” is being kind.  Bullshit is what it really comes down to.  A group of people get together and bullshit about all sorts of crap.  And record it.  And post it on the internet.

While this might seems like “bargain basement” in terms of production values, the fact of the matter is that the kinds of people these shows are aimed at are people who love to sit around and have these exact same kind of bullshit sessions.  Podcasts, through evolution, created the conversational talk show, a form of bullshit that is so relate-able and identifiable that it is very easy to be drawn to these kinds of conversations.  We would be having them ourselves if we weren’t commuting, or sitting at our desks, or if our friends weren’t already at work, or if we weren’t already somehow impaired from being able to spew our own bullshit.  Instead, we like to fill that time with other people having those kinds of conversations instead.

Nerdist Industries has also recently launched a fantastic YouTube Channel that’s not only an extension of the other great things that Nerdist offers, but also has vintage Kids In The Hall clips, among other things.  However, my money is now on the Writer’s Panel shows, of which there are at least 20 more that I haven’t yet heard.

There’s nothing like an iPod full of podcasts to make any day feel right.

Facebook Post: 2012-07-10T15:11:15

As I receive a much needed haircut, here is our weekly radio report. We’ve got tracks by: Captain Beefheart, Artless Motives, Armando Iannucci, DFL, Thee Headcoats, Professor Longhair, and a host of others for a very hairy broadcast. Available for stream or download.

Facebook Post: 2012-07-04T10:00:55

Nothing means everything, everything’s permitted
Nothing is forbiden, so anything goes

I was born to be an attorney
I was born to pedal cars
I’ll make hay while the sun shines
Then I’ll end behind bars

Let’s go home and bury the children
In the cellar with my wife
They were all insured for millions
Now we’ll do just what we like

I was born to live on credit
You know my Visa’s solid gold
Master card is my religion
I’ve got a mortage on my soul

They say that hell awaits all sinners
But haven’t got us yet

Something is wrong in the heartland
There’s an evil that creeps across this land
But they say God accepts all sinners
So why should we give a damn

I were born out of love eternal
But now I do the devil’s work
If there’s a God up there in heaven
He must be one big fucking jerk

Facebook Post: 2012-07-04T08:17:46

Happy Holidays! Here is the first of two Fourth Of July retrocasts from our radio archives: first up, a show that dates back to 2007, when I conduct live interviews with people who are actually in attendance at a real July Fourth BBQ. I also play lots of music. Available for stream or download.

Facebook Post: 2012-07-04T07:07:32

And if you’re still in the mood for more, why not join us for a Fourth of July Picnic, hosted by myself and Negativland? There’s plenty of great music: The United States of America, Johnny Punchclock, Mojo Nixon, Galaxie 500, Sousa’s Marching Band, Paul Williams, and kiisu d’salyss. There’s nothing better than to indulge in some good old American food and explosions. Available for stream or download.

Facebook Post: 2012-07-03T05:59:06

As I nervously prepare for my trip to the dentist later, here are some Dental Jams. This show features Lard, Teeth Collection, Rodan, The Ax, Melvins, The Queers, Half Eye, and a host of others. Download or stream it today. (May cause slight bleeding around the gums.)

Facebook Post: 2012-07-01T22:14:10

I keep myself awake at night
I try to stop, but I can’t fight
That voice that whispers ceaselessly
The one that only talks to me
It tells me what I have to fear
It spits its venom in my ear
It calculates and carefully
Enumerates its strategies
Round and round its loves and hates
It endlessly reiterates
It never stops, I’ve never heard
The silence of that final word

But I’ve got to stop talking, I can’t stop talking
There is no stopping a brain that keeps talking
I know it’s not healthy, I know it’s not true
I don’t even know who I’m talking to
But I can’t stop talking, I’ve got to stop talking
All night and all day I have something to say
I drone on and on, though I know it’s not true
I’ve got to stop talking, I’m not talking to you

The truth around my tongue is curled
A chain of words that binds the world
In a fever, all I see
Is captured in my commentary
The why, the who, the where, the when
Let me repeat them all again
And then again my voice will sing
The praises of it’s babbling
The arguments that I dissect
Are lucid, cogent and correct
And if you foolishly object
I’ll cram each word back down you neck

If I’m the talker, here’s the thing –
Just who the hell is listening?
And if I am not tongue but ears
Then who’s voice is it that I hear?
I swallow, choke, and clear my throat
Here comes another anecdote
A narrative of restlessness
Of what’s been done and what is next
Does it love me, does it not?
Will this seduction never stop?
Hear the clacking parrot’s beak
That speaks and speaks and speaks and speaks…