Summah. Ovah!

Yeah, I’m bummed. But in the spirit of the season, I consumed plenty and feel great about it. Remember when you were a kid, and when school got back in session you had to write about what you did over the summer? Well, In no particular order:

Finally finished Ulysses.
Understood 75% of it thanks to Blamires’ The New Bloomsday Book.
Went to a game at Dodgers Stadium (Mets beat the Dodgers).
Watched Johan lose at the Metrodome twice.
Went to a Twins game with Tom Barnard and Nick Swardson. (Luxury suite, baby.)
Spent $50 on Halberstam’s The Breaks of the Game on eBay. (Great book, but stupid move–I paid a high death premium. After D.H. died, the price of Breaks, his out-of-print classic on the ’80 Trail Blazers, appreciated steeply, then dropped after a couple months.)
Wrote a story on a wheelchair softball team.
Swam in the Pacific.
Read The Road aloud. The entire thing. Try it.
Brought my girlfriend to and from the Marsh compound in Staples, Minnesota.
Visited the Picasso exhibit at the Walker.
Read the only compelling opinion on the Michael Vick case in the entire blogosphere.
Bought a new bicycle.
Finished dead last in my fantasy baseball league.
Drafted a promising fantasy football team (McNabb, QB, Addai, RB, R.Johnson, RB, Boldin, WR, Evans, WR, Gonzalez, TE/WR, Nedney, K, JAC, D).
Spent thousands on Marvel comic books. (My newest baby.)
Saw Nas, Elvis Costello, and Snoop at The Myth.
Found a first edition of Giacomo Joyce at Magers and Quinn.
Bought my first pair of Nike SBs.
Re-discovered the newly re-furbished Hidden Beach.
Consumed cheese-on-a-stick, an apple cider freeze, jumbo lemonade, corn-on-the-cob, gizmo sandwich, coconut-fried plantains, smelt fries, cheese curds, Schumacher’s pork chop, and a deep fried candy bar on-a-stick at the Fair.
Canceled cable.

Douglas Wolk’s “Reading Comics”

Just picked up Douglas Wolk’s Reading Comics, his informally didactic how-to book about criticizing comic books. It’s like being chastised by your older brother, but in a good way: “No, dude, Eric Carr was actually Kiss’ third drummer.” You blush with shame publicly, but are secretly grateful for the knowledge. I’m about halfway through, and I’ve already learned the distinction I drew between Marvel/D.C. and Image yesterday was a spurious one: Image was actually founded in 1992 by a group of disgruntled Marvel illustrators. So even though Phonogram looks like something more indie than X-Men because the superheroes inside haven’t been around since 1963, according to Wolk, it’s still a “mainstream comic book” not an “art comic book.”

My bad.

Anyway, so far, Reading Comics is a great book. Wolk’s definition of what it means to be “counter-culture” or “bohemian,” for instance, is a model of clarity; it reminded me of the scene where Ethan Hawke defines “irony” in Reality Bites. And this is right after Wolk casually references Kant. He’s so good it seems like he’s being smug, but he can’t help it if he knows everything, can he? I’ve actually kinda been waiting for a book like this: I’ve read The Great Comic Book Superheroes, Jules Feiffer’s funny 1965 essay on the so-called “Golden Age” of comic books, but to discover a guy like Wolk (and by discovering a guy like Wolk, you also automatically discover a legion of guys that are going ‘What, this doof didn’t know about Douglas Wolk?” Look, fuckers, The Believer is expensive, okay? It’s like the price of two comic books), alright, what was I talking about? Oh yeah…it’s like discovering that there are other people out there who put their Chris Ware right next to their Chris Claremont. Other people that saw American Splendor and wanted to know where to sign up, but then remembered what it was like to get a wedgie in the bathroom if you are seen with those guys.

So…I know I took 20 years off from reading comics, guys, but where have you been? I’ve been blogging about this shit all summer long. Was it just cause I was hanging out with the jocks all those years? C’mon. Let’s hang out.

Oasis vs. Blur vs. Marvel

I’ve been on a horrible comic book bender lately. It’s displaced music as the obsession that becalms and brings order to my agitated male reptilian brain. I wait for the Wednesday release of the new Silver Surfer comic in the same way I used to wait for the Tuesday release of the new Queens of the Stone Age album. My tastes are actually pretty equivalent: I like superhero comics in the same way I always favored bands fronted by bona fide rock stars. I would rather buy a Captain America over an indie McSweeney’s-style comic in the same way I used to seek out the new Strokes record over anything from a Canadian baroque-rock band.

So last week at my local comics store, when I came across Phonogram: Rue Britannia a black-and-white comic by Kieron Gillen/Jamie McElvie from Image, an indie publishing company, I picked it up and…put it down. And then picked it up again. At first glance, it really looks like an indie–characters that I’ve never heard of before that probably don’t have any superpowers–but on the cover, there was a pale, wan skinny chick lying unconscious on the Union Jack with a bloody trident sticking between her shoulder blades. Looked like the cover to a Pulp album. And the font on the cover reminded me somehow of a British music magazine or…there was just something Oasis-y about the whole thing.

So I bought it.

And yeah, it definitely has that indie-nerd thing going on. The anti-hero is a square-jawed British warlock named David Cole that seduces rocker chicks with his magic powers. His magic powers are pretty annoying though–he can meaningfully talk about the bands the chicks he’s hitting on listen to. He has “ohmigod, you totally get me” magic powers. (And I’ve actually witnessed these powers in real life; they are just as annoying in that realm, but sort of impressive in a “I can’t believe she’s buying this shit” sorta way. Not as impressive as say, the ability to run a mile in under a minute, or hit three A.I.M. terrorists with your vibranium shield and have it ricochet back to you, but…whatever.) And McElvie’s pencils are kind of indie too, but that’s mostly because of subject matter–club kids on the streets of Bristol. Because actually, the comic is drawn in a very clean, cartoony style–like a more realistic Yellow Submarine cartoon style–so it definitely strikes an interesting balance between hipster and superhero. So it’s pretty enough and David Cole is a charming-enough bastard that you stick with it through the first few pages.

It’s difficult to explain the metaphysical convolutions of the plot, but trust me, by the time Phonogram gets up to speed, and you’re reading along as Cole begins to use his powers for the sake of good instead of well, not the sake of evil, but maybe the sake of immorality (or wherever seducing rocker chicks falls on the sake of good-evil continuum, I guess) the whole thing begins to delve into what music actually means to people. In this case, specifically, what BritPop means to people, specifically because BritPop, as Cole is keenly aware of, never really meant anything to anyone. I mean, I was an Oasis fan (still am, but they haven’t put anything out in a grip), and I never listened to Oasis as part of any cause. Listening to Oasis was kind of an anti-cause–simply taking pleasure in the gigantic jerk off that is anthemic rock and roll. Yeah, maybe an insensitive reptilian male brain jerk off, but Phonogram explains the power in said insensitive reptilian male brain jerk off. (And it has the greatest Kula Shaker put down in the history of comic books.)

So yeah, if you know what Blur vs. Oasis was, or even if you were a Radiohead fan and never really got the appeal of Oasis, or even if you’re just a scenester or a former scenester, or even if you just find a lot of meaning in music, or meaning in any cultural obsession really, Phonogram is worth checking out.

Worthwhile Local and National Links

Popular Mechanics Editorial
City Pages
Lambert at the Rake
Platt at MSP
Minnesota Monitor
Flip survives the collapse from espn.com

Bridge Conspiracy Theories

Just got back from joining the downtown lunchtime bridge gawkers. Nobody can get closer than two blocks out. Pretty tight perimeter of cops and yellow tape. There is tape blocking off the Stone Arch Bridge so emergency personnel can cross back and forth, so hundreds of onlookers were congregating on the 3rd Ave. Bridge sidewalk, alongside the Mill Ruins, and on top of the tall mound in Gold Medal Park. The most popular vantage point was the Guthrie, with people waiting in line for the Endless Bridge, although the best spot was the large windows next to the entrance to the McGuire Proscenium Stage. Even from there, couldn’t see much with the tall trees obscuring most of the scene, just the crumpled green steel and the sheared off concrete on the East bank of the river.

I’m still an onlooker, listener, and watcher in this thing. We don’t even have an accurate death toll yet. None of my friends or family were drowned or crushed. But people that should know better are already pointing fingers and playing the blame game. Nick Coleman even took the opportunity to blame the Twins Stadium in his rushed out pop protest single, “No More Collapses.” Sure, it sounds a little familiar, but what did you expect from Nick? “Ohio”? Trust me, “No More Collapses” might strike some stale poses, but it’s a classic rock anthem with a chance to supplant Prince’s “Guitar” as the old guy on auto-pilot hit of the summer. Point is, I don’t want to fall behind; it’s time for Stephenhero to shake off the daze and put some odds up. Let’s really play the 35W bridge blame game, huh? Who has the most to lose? The most to win? Anyone need the action already? Pin the tail on the donkey, or the elephant, or the front office, or the news director, depending on how “media savvy” you are. And remember, if I’m a conspiracy theorist, you’re a coincidence theorist.

God 11/9
Republicans 7/2
Democrats 2/1
MNDOT 4/1
The Twins 10/1
Glen Taylor 40/1
MnSpeak 100/1
The City of Minneapolis 150/1
Star Tribune headline writers 200/1
Network news 1000/1
The Red Cross 10000/1
Homeland Security Breach 100000/1
ULF blast originating from Augsburg College 150,000/1
Kevin Garnett 1000000/1