Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ten-In-One Part One: My Pal The Aggressively Gay White Supremacist With Supplemental Dentation

Just for giggles I threw some chee-z color down under the sketch I posted yesterday. After all, if I post without an image the Earth will be thrown out of orbit and spiral into the sun.

I've been up since two, which means I've gotten less than twelve hours of sleep in the last three days, so I've decided to let myself have a lazy day. I'll see if I like Saturn's Children by Charlie Stross, an anime-culture influenced pastiche of Heinlein's dirty-old-man period. Robot porn by a Scottish tech freak, gamer, and socialist? Sounds... eeeeenteresting. I've loved some Stross, been unmoved by others. We'll see.

But I've been working so hard that I've ignored the blog for a little while now. How about a real post, something amusing -- a set of brief glimpses into my past. Now from time to time you'll hear the phrase 'weirdness magnet.' I am here to assure you that the phenomenon is real, and I will offer you four stories from my life that suggest that I'm a grade-A weirdness magnet.

Anyone with the tiniest smidgen of critical acumen knows that even the cleverest lyrics for popular music are not fucking poetry. They almost never read well on the page. So the following is gonna come off a little dorky... Here are the lyrics for one of the songs we did for The Dizzy Toilet Devil's first album. It's one of the few untainted by our departed asshole guitarist, but alas -- Bile Langschodt is too embarassed by his vocals to let me post an MP3... Anyway.


He's trying to get his arm on my shoulder
he's got a little extra jaw in his mouth
he says he likes coloreds when they don't get an attitude
his lover was black when he lived down south

Why is my life such a goddamned freak show?
Why do these people want to talk to me?
There's an attraction normal folks can never know
I'm marked in a way that normal people can't see

She walks right up to me on the street
she ought to be black but she's oozy and pink
she says, "Do you believe in morticians?
They fuck corpses, boy, what do you think?"


His arm is stiff and pink like a birthday candle
he chews on the scars and it makes a funny noise
he tells me he's no child molester
he just likes to hypnotize teenage boys


A sweet young woman sits right down beside me
she's holding her bundled up pride and joy
the baby starts to play with the hair on my leg
I see his little baby hands, the kid is a lobster boy

(Chorus and out)

First Verse

I'll always think of this dude as the aggresively gay white supremacist with supplemental dentation. (I can find a box to put anyone in.) It's funny -- I went through my teen years and early twenties assuming that if a guy hit on me in a serious fashion I'd probably freak out, but it turned out not to be the case.

In my mid-twenties I found out that serious exercise gets you high and leaves you tired enough to sleep, so I got hooked on the gym. I got to the point where I was having to add weights to the Universal and Nautilii.

(I should have switched to free weights but I didn't want to have fucking anything to do with the ex-cons and steroid freaks who do occupied that part of the gym. They were radioactive with assholery, and it would have just been a matter of time before some gland-munching juice freak pissed me off and I'd have gotten my head torn off in the ensuing scuffle.)

What I'm saying is that there was an extended period in my life where I was an impressive physical specimen. Gay guys started hitting on me on a semi-regular basis. Most of the time I didn't even notice because I am pathetically sexually naive...

Honestly, I think about this and I imagine how I would have felt about these situations if I hadn't been a comfortably violence-positive behemoth. I don't know why women aren't shooting guys left and fucking right, I swear to god.

(Interestingly, the two women who used those kinds of unsubtle tactics got me. Hell, one of them still has me.)

I was riding on Golden Gate transit, going from school in Santa Rosa to my girlfriend's house in San Francisco (I caught the bus outside school and it took me right to the foot of the hill her house was on. There were some weird fate issues in that relationship...) and this dude comes up and sits next to me and initiates a converation.

As he talks, he keeps slipping his arm up around my shoulders. I listen, I talk, and I patiently keep taking his arm off of my shoulders. Over and over again. I don't know why I didn't get pissed off -- I suspect it was because I didn't feel even vaguely threatened.

(Actually, it was because being openly and violently hated at school and alternately touch-starved and beaten at home has left me with the funkiest old set of personal boundaries. I accept stuff I hate and flee stuff I like. And have a desperate thirst for attention, as you may have noticed. But that's a whole other can of slimy disgusting worms... and I'm a lot better now.)

There was something weird about his speech, a slight slur that I'd never heard before. He asks me what my ethnicity is...

"Pretty much your standard white trash. We've been in the US since the pilgrims hit dirt and we still don't have any money."

And he gets pissed.

"I hate that... that... Saying white trash is racist! (I agree with him but as white trash I get to say it and fuck you.) I once went to this store down in Los Angeles that this colored (!) couple ran called Poor White Trash and it was filled with all these horrible statuettes and framed cartoons making fun of white people and they thought it was funny! I hate it when black people have an attitude!"

Please remember that he's putting his arm on my shoulder and I'm taking it off. Putting it on, taking it off. Putting it on, taking it off.

So at that point he must have seen something in my face because he got sheepish and apologetic.

"Listen, I'm no racist. I like colored people when they know their place. I mean, I had a black lover when I lived in the South."

Oh, brother. I don't think I've ever run across a finer specimen of a self-damning protestation of innocence. I wanted to mount it and hang it over the fireplace.

Anyway, that's when I get a look at the inside of his mouth. He had two rows of teeth! Man, that dude was quite a cake in the first place but that was some intense frosting. It looked as if he had a baby-sized extra jaw nestled inside the regular one. And for the rest of the ride I couldn't keep my eyes off of his choppers.

I remember thinking to myself, "Pay attention to this guy -- he'll teach you a lesson about humans you will get nowhere else."

This ran a little longer than I expected. Cool -- I'll get four posts out of this idea.

So tomorrow I'll tell you all about the diseased corpse-fucker lady who actually got this song rolling.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Someone's All High On The Smell Of Himself...

Drawn after Breenbergh's The Great Rock. Yeah, I remember when I could draw. Those days will come again, I swear it!

So I've mentioned in previous posts that you can track my moods by the frequency of my blog posts. Well, I've missed a couple of days and I want to say that I've been swell.

("There are only two American contributions to the English language, swell and lousy. I think swell is lousy but lousy is swell." I can't remember who wrote that.)

I have been revising like a ring-tailed son of a bitch, and in addition I've been putting the polishes on the new issue of Swill. I've got a preliminary printing and that wiggy new technique I developed for turning photos and scans into straight-up black and white art suitable for reproduction? It worked the way I hoped it would rather than the way I thought it would -- it generates finer detail than you can get by photographing pen and ink work. Virgil Finlay and Hannes Bok would have fucking gone nuts for this shit. (Not my pieces, the technique.)

I'm also thirteen chapters into the fourth draft of volume one of the novel and eight chapters into the fifth draft. It turns out that by working this way -- editing the third draft as fast as I can and then editing again based on writer's group critiques -- I'm starting to get a sense of the whole novel at one time. It's a very strange visceral sensation and one that is quite pleasing.

Got to say, I'm currently at the high point of the ego roller coaster. Right now I'm very happy with the novel. It doesn't slow down -- there is no sag. The dramatic arc isn't an arc -- it just goes up and up.

I've also undergone a recent jump in my prose skills.

(Just for the record, this blog is where I let it all hang out and get way funky -- this is the place for dashes and italics and parenthesis and vocabulary exercises and obscure references and typographical errors and run-on motherfucking sentences. My real prose is cool, taut, flexible, and lean, disciplined yet expressive, simple in form and complex in thought. Someday I'll write something in that prose...)

Anyway. In my crazed revision frenzy, I've found a new sensitivity to what readers need to read as compared to what I write. Part of this is because ol' Rob has been giving it to me hammer and tongs on the subject of passive voice, and I've been listening.

The other part of it is (and I really should be ashamed to say this) Twitter. I've taken to writing down my smart-ass remarks and then editing them until I can say what I mean in 140 characters or less. This has been an incredible exercise in learning how to write clearly, directly, and economically. (Again, don't judge my writing by the blog -- those three words are totally unconnected with what I do here.)

I dunno. Seems like the world is going to hell and my position in life is getting kind of precarious -- but creatively, I'm doing better than I ever have. Fuck it; I feel good and I'm going to enjoy it until I hit the downslope.

Sayonara, motherfuckers!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

In Which, With The Assistance Of Good Luck, The Oaf Gives Himself A Present

Behold -- the hollow-body tenor basselele!

So over the last couple of weeks I got into Viable Paradise, finished the current batch of Swillistrations, and sold my soul. It seemed to me that somebody around here deserved a treat.

This is my treat.

As a broke-ass compulsive reader with a strong taste for the obscure and eclectic, I've long been a devotee of the yard sale. The missus is constantly on the hunt for planters and pots. As a result, one of our shared hobbies is looking up yard sales on Craigslist and driving around the Bay Area.

Weekend before last we wound up at a warehouse sale in Oakland. At first I thought this was a typical antiques warehouse; then I noticed the display case full of pop-culture images of the devil.

And then I stepped into the central hallway and saw the huge warehouse wall covered in guitars. These weren't ordinary guitars; the owner had given them to artists who had modified them. Most were obviously unplayable; a few were so tempting they brought a sweat of cupidity to my brow even though I'm terrified of six-stringed instruments.

But down in one corner, hidden behind a cabinet, I spotted what looked like a baritone ukulele. A very nice baritone ukulele. It was naked; no strings or tuning machines. Still, it called to me.

Now I've got a baritone ukulele. It's pretty sweet; it was made in the forties. I can play a few chords; my version of Let's Talk Dirty In Hawaiian is coming along quite nicely. But for years I've been longing for an instrument that would be tuned in the same pattern as a bass only an octave up. I've talked about doing that with a banjo or a tenor guitar.

Or a baritone ukulele...

So I get ahold of the owner and mention that I'm interested in cheap but playable ukuleles. He takes me to his office and shows me a couple of beat-up old specimens. One of 'em looks kind of cute. He asks me how much I'd pay for it...

My brow furrows as I consider my (truly pathetic) economic state. And I say, "Well, if you could let it go for five bucks I'll take it."

He looks at me very seriously and considers. "Yeah, sure," he says, and hands it to me. "So where's this instrument you wanted to look at?"

I show him and he just grins. "No one's spotted that one before," he says. The thing's been there for years. He fetches it down, points at the detailing -- the pearl inlays on the rosewood fretboard, the black and white stripes on the inside lip of the sound hole. I tap the mahogany body; the sound is sweet.

"How much do you want for it?" I ask.

He looks at me seriously again. "Fifty bucks."

"That sounds --"

At this point the missus grabs me and hisses me into silence. She takes the instrument out of my hands and points it at the guy who's selling it. "How about twenty?"

"Listen, lady," he says with a fair bit of volume in his voice. "I'm giving your husband a bargain because I can tell he has money issues and I know he's going to fix this and play it. Anyone else who came in here? I'd say three hundred and they'd pay it and they'd know they got a bargain!"

"I'll take it," I said, and the missus and I drift off to look around some more.

Then the guy comes back. "Listen, I'm sorry, I'm a little manic today with the sale and all. I'll tell you, though, later on you're going to hear him playing that and you'll say, 'well, that guy was an asshole but he sold my husband a good instrument for a good price.' Tell you what, I'll throw in the other uke for free."

When we're in the car, just as I'm about to roast her for the way she thrust herself into the situation and pissing off someone who was really nice to me, she cut me off at the pass. "See? I got you a free ukulele!"

(Tragic note; in transit the ukulele's top separated from the rest of the body. It's unplayable.)

So yesterday I took it in to the Fifth String and bought some tuning machines and was reassured that I had a nice little instrument at a bargain price. Took it home and started to string it. Since I wanted it to be strung E-A-D-G, like a bass, I used acoustic guitar strings.

Alas, the E string and the nylon G string were too thick to fit in the slots in the nut. I needed a file. Something narrow, preferably with the file only on one side and not on the bottom so I could widen the slots without deepening them. I asked the missus if she had any files left over from her jewelry-making days. No such luck. I'd have to make a trip to the hardware store...

... waitaminnit. Let's try the file on the toenail clippers I keep in the studio!


So I start to play, cursing the way new strings refuse to keep in tune. And I quickly noticed something unfortunate.

This type of tuning is a real pain in the ass so far as making chords is concerned. I knew that going in; I wanted the instrument for picking more than for strumming. But the nylon G string sounded dull and muddy next to the three wire-wound strings.


Hold on. My baritone uke has nylon strings for the B and E, but the D and G strings are wound. And I have a set of baritone ukulele strings...

And sure enough, the baritone uke G string does the job just fine.

It is a wonderful little instrument, at least by my plebian standards. A bit of a twist to the neck but that don't bother me none. And my, it sounds nice, loud and sweet and clear. Good wood, my friends, good wood. Even the missus noticed the quality of the tone.

It'll take me a while to get my fingers used to the spacing. I'm still a bit clumsy. But this will, hopefully, enable me to start playing some lead in addition to the bass and drum programming. I want to be able to use all those cool effects that guitarists get.

And so I am now the proud owner of what I believe to be the world's only hollow-body tenor basselele. And I am having fun with it.


Monday, July 13, 2009

One Of The Many Reasons I Intend To Destroy The Diamond Industry

I swear, my last words are probably going to be, "You know what I've always really wanted to do? Adventure cartooning."

"In a world full of parking lots, every parking lot filled with broken glass, who needs diamonds?"

So there's this look. I can describe it -- eyes narrowed from below by the curl in an upper lip, corners of the lower lip going down so the lip itself protrudes slightly, etc, etc. But until you've felt the look, you don't know the look.

I've gotten that look twice in my life. I have pissed people off, I have made a fucking fool of myself on more than one occasion, but this look -- I got the look because of who I am. It wasn't my behavior that earned me the look, it was my nature.

I need a to loop out a little so that you can understand what I'm talking about. When I was a kid my parents would periodically drag me out into the world and force me to sit through concerts and ball games and so on and so forth. With my eyes there was no way to determine what those faint signs of motion in the distance signified. They may as well have been a swarm of gnats. The resultant exquisite boredom no doubt contributed to the greasy scum of resentment that floats on top of my cauldron of hate.

Thankfully, our culture provided me with an anodyne -- the paperback. When I figured out that life was far more bearable as long as I had a couple of books at hand, everything went a lot more smoothly for me. Whatever those idiots on the stage or field were doing, I had the option of a taking a quick trip to Hyboria or Callisto.

The irony is that as soon as I figured out how to survive those ordeals intact, my parents stopped subjecting me to them. Go figure.

So a few years back we lost a widely-loved member of our extended family, and as a result we saw a lot of people I grew up with at her wake. One of 'em -- someone I used to babysit -- was talking about his son.

"It's so wonderful having a little guy in the house. I've got a built-in pal. We can go to the races and the A's games and..."

This is when I get nervous and glance around the room to locate the potential threat. It's my dad.

He's giving me that look. You could cook a schwarma with the radiant resentment coming out of his eyebones.

Dude was pissed! And he blamed me! Because I hadn't been a little guy or a built-in pal. I had been completely inadequate to his needs due to my fundamental nature and he only realized it when he found out that a perfect son existed.

Life's a bitch, you know?

Another time I was sitting on the couch watching the tube and this commercial comes on. It's a diamond commercial with no dialog, just dramatic cello music playing in the background, filmed in warm black and white to give it that Klassy quality you find in artsy advertising. It showed a man and a woman at various stages of their lives and each major dramatic beat was punctuated by the man giving the woman some diamond jewelry.

This pissed me off no end. I immediately thought of the fact that diamonds are ugly and they aren't particularly rare, that their commercial value is maintained by what is effectively a conspiracy, that the conspiracy in question makes use of slave labor, and that the whole thing is so fucking manipulative, it makes every married couple in America complicit in a hideous form of bloody-handed racism -- faint wisps of steam are beginning to emerge from my ears and I turn to the missus to vent my rage at this horrible machine that has gripped the world in its diamond jaws --

And I shut up.

Because she's giving me that look.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Before And After: The Watcher

That's it; all done. I even fixed a tailpiece that looked like crap. I am burnt, my back is killing me, I'm mean and stinky. But I'm done. I may have to move some of the illustrations around -- gonna want to talk to Rob about that.

Tomorrow I'm gonna work on the novel. I've got a minor bit to add to the first chapter, the second chapter has a fairly painful bit of remembering/rewriting, and then it's gravy.

Now it's time to go terrorize the missus, grandson, and dogs. And maybe have a bit of supper.

Tell you what, though. This issue is gonna be a visual fucking feast. I guarantee.

Before And After: Whispers



Almost done... Almost done. I once got called in on a TV show proposal that went haywire. (The show wasn't produced, but one of the people who called me in said that I kept the creators from looking like idiots...) Anyway, one of the other people working on it was a Peruvian illustrator, who wrote an email I'll always remember.

You think I am lazy but I am not lazy. I have been working day and night. I have worked my back to the chair!

That's what I've been doing. I've been working my back to the chair.

Before And After: The Reservoir

This one was tricky... it's a very different image from the others. It's all a single modified inkblot -- and this is only half the full image. The original is full color.

Before And After: The Tribulator


... and after. You see why I have to redo these?

There's Some Kind Of Electromagnetic Energy Coming From The End Of The Tunnel

The fish is actually a beetle, two butterflies, and the skull of a skunk. It took a bit of work to make it all come together. This kind of fine-line black-and-white doesn't come off that well on screen -- I like it now but it won't really come to life until it's printed. I'm pleased by the composition, though. You can tell that I've spend a few hours poring over Japanese nature prints.

I've hit the point where I no longer have any idea what to call this stuff. Is it drawing? Collage? Photography?

So here's the last of the illustrations...

... and now I have to go back and redo the first illustrations, which now look like crap next to the more recent ones. Right now I'm thinking that they'll be dead easy and won't require any serious work to fix. I'm wrong, of course, but I'll post a series of before and after images as the day goes on.

Wish me luck.