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Saturday, May 31, 2008

Current musical obsessions

A couple weeks ago, Uzee and I slipped into Boston for a night to catch The Black Keys, a 2-piece blues/rock duo out of Akron, Ohio. I'm not ashamed to say that these people are probably my current favorite band, even if I discovered them late. I downloaded a couple songs off of a couple years ago, but never saw their records in Lahore--now that I'm temporarily in Mass., I've picked up just about their whole catalog. But in concert is where they truly rock the free world, as this clip perhaps demonstrates:

That clip wasn't one I took, but it does get the idea of the show (at the Orpheum, May 17 2008) across pretty well.

Tomorrow, we're heading down to Long Island--a place I've never been to--to see the one & only Bettye LaVette, a soul singer from the '60s who's undergone a real revival over the past few years, since she's started releasing records on the intriguing Anti- label. She can holler with the best of them, and in my admitted valueless opinion she blows the competition out of the water (including the revered Aretha, who really hasn't been doing much of interest for the the past, oh, 3o years). But don't take my word for it...

Bettye was born in 1946, which means she's 62 now... I can only hope I rock half as much when I'm her age.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Comic Books

After mentioning David Hajdu's book The Ten-Cent Scare last time, I thought I would briefly discuss some comics that I'm reading these days.

I've read comic books since seventh grade, which is what, 32 or 33 years ago. I read them through high school, Marvels mainly, then stopped in college when I became (ahem) serious, then picked up again in my late twenties (around 1990) and kept up for about five years. When I left for Morocco in 1995, I stopped, and only started again recently, as I'm in Massachusetts for a few months with a couple good shops nearby.

But man--stuff has changed since Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth (Jack Kirby's Planet of the Apes riff, with talking tigers, rats and seafood as well as monkeys) or even Frank Miller's Daredevil. When I left the country, Image was the hottest publisher going, with Spawn and Savage Dragon selling in big numbers (essentially, these were superhero books with a "dark" edge and/or some supernatural content to lend them an air of gritty seriousness). Make no mistake, there are still piles of superhero comics out there, but there's loads of other stuff too. The market has fragmented hugely, much like TV. Instead of three channels plus PBS, these days there are now hundreds of cable options, and in the same way, instead of Marvel and DC and a few undergrounds, there are now loads of small, independent publishers putting out quirky books. This is, I think, great, although I wonder if there are still one or two huge titles out there that everyone reads, more or less. Probably not, just as there's no longer a TV show like MASH or The Mary Tyler Moore Show that everyone watches, more or less. (I read somewhere that the only sitcom I watch, The Office, draws something like 9 million viewers. In the 70s, this would have gotten it cancelled; today, it's in its fourth season as a huge hit.)

But, comic books.

WASTELAND is an ongoing series written by Antony Johnson and drawn by Christopher J. Mitten. It's currently at issue 16 or thereabouts. As soon as I figure out what the hell's going on, I'll let you know. We are, apparently, about 100 years after some huge cataclysm called "The Big Wet," which destroyed civilization and left everything, paradoxically, a desert. A group of people abandon their town Providens and make their way to Newbegin, a fabled city somewhere to the west. There are zombie-like ghouls out there, and mysterious wanderers called Ruin Runners who live off the land, salvaging trinkets to barter at the towns, and a group of priests--mutants maybe?--who have their own elaborate set of rituals and theology. You'll notice I've barely mentioned the story, partly because it's extremely intricate. The folks from Providens eventually make it to Newbegin, where various disasters ensue. Adding interest is the narrative strategy of concurrently telling different threads of the story from different times. This is what baffled me for a while; you'd see people X and Y doing something in Newbegin; then turn the page and there would be X talking to Z in Providens. A nifty way to restructure time and present a narrative in a nonlinear mode. But I wasn't ready for it; geez man, it's a fucking comic book.

The art is good, sometimes very good, and getting better. It's a black and white book.

NORTHLANDERS, written by Brian Wood and drawn by Davide Gianfelice, is a much more traditional book from a more traditional copany (DC/Vertigo). It's set a thousand years ago, and it's about this guy Sven who returns to his Viking home in the Orkneys or thereabouts to claim his heritage (his Dad used to run the place, now he's dead, evil uncle has stepped in, shades of Hamlet). We're 5 issues in and there's already been plenty of swordfights, moody landscapes and (gasp!) sex, and we're starting to get the lowdown on Sven's background, why he left home all those years ago and why he's come back now. There's a shape-changing witch, if I'm not mistaken, and various dark secrets from the past. It's lightweight stuff compared to Wasteland but it's a quick read with great full-color art (muted tones that well serve the twilight-y environs) and a certain endearing earnestness to it all.

PAX ROMANA, written and drawn by Jonathan Hickman, is my favorite book out there right now, maybe ever. There are only 2 issues out so run out right now and buy them. Talk about a premise: 50 years from now, the Catholic Church is in deep trouble, faced with dwindling congregations and competition from atheism and Islam. So the church does what any self-respecting religious organization would do: it invents a time machine and sends a platoon of genetically-altered Marines (good Catholics all of them) to A.D. 300, in time to prevent the split of the Holy Roman Empire, and then hang around the next several hundred years, specifically to knock off Mohammad before he can gain political influence. Any other unforeseen developments threatening to challenge the primacy of the Church are also open to intervention. Sadly for the holy fathers, the Marines sent back in time have a slightly... heterodox understanding of their mission. Once successfully transported back (with a certain amount of materiel) they do indee prevent the Empire's split. However, after that, things very quickly go to shit.

Hickman is a very text-dense writer; there's always plenty of conversation in his books, most of it well done; sometimes entire pages are devoted to type. It can taken an hour to read one of his books, a rarity these days. The artwork is killer too, and rewards lingering. If there's one book out there that demonstrates the potential of the form, as well as potential lived up to, this is it. He has another book called TRANSHUMAN, about genetic modification of human beings, which is lively too, though not quite as bleedin' warped.

Have fun, kids.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

The thing about having a blog... that there's a certain pressure to keep maintaining it, even if you don't have that much to say. Such is the situation in which I now find myself. I think maybe some people kepe blogs because they really really like to talk, chatter, spred the word on various things they care about, and so on; the blog is their forum, in a way. That's not really the case for me: I write all day long, more or less, so don't feel like I need a forum in which to write. The other thing is, the day-to-day life of a writer really isn't all that fascinating; you go somewhere quiet, sit around for most of the day writing stuff out in notebooks or on a computer, look at it again, write it over, type it up, write it over, set it aside, look at it later, write it over. I'm not complaining, by any stretch, just trying to explain why the lags between blog entries seems to be getting longer...

So anyway, that's what I've been doing--various projects which are now in various states of semi-done-ness, or barely-started-ness, or spilled-out-in-a-rush-ness. But there's not much I can really talk about yet, which maybe gives the impression that I'm not doing a great deal... when actually I'm doing about five things at once. Oh well.

Current read: The Ten-Cent Plague by David Hajdu. A history of early comic books, from the appearance in the early 1900s through the 1950s, when they came under increasing attack from various quarters, notably the Catholic Church and opportunistic politicians who wanted to be seen as enacting meaningful legislation agsinst social ills (juvenile delinquency paramount among them) without actually having to experience any of the side effects themselves--because none of them read comic books. It's an interesting window into 1950s America in all its McCarthyesque myopia, and the descriptions of book-burnings, orchestrated by numerous Catholic schools and presided over by the nuns, are quite chilling. (Contemporary commentators pointed out that the Nazis had orchestrated similar events 10 or 20 years earlier.) All in all it's a lively, readable book, appealing I think to anyone with any interest in this art form.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Been a while...

As my mom reminded me yesterday, it's been a while since I updated this blog. There's been plenty going on though, so allow me to update.

First, thanks to everyone who came out to Border's in Farmington on April 20. There were maybe 15 people there who came to pepper me with tough questions ("So... why was it backwards, anyway?") and I had a good time answering them. I had an even better time not reading from any of my books; reading is okay but I'd rather just have a conversation, which is what I did. People asked about movie and TV sceenwriting (which I haven't done, yet) and about my thoughts on the current state of the publishing industry... I met a gentleman who is keen to start a writing career, and another who is getting back to one he set aside in order to make some movies. Perhaps most bizarrely of all, I met a police officer named DAVID MAINE, who said he gets pages of results for me, every time he googles himself. He was kind enough to set his annoyance at this aside (I'm joking) and asked me to sign one of my books, which I did: "For the real David Maine..."

The following weekend I was in Newburyport, Mass., reading this time to a group of about 40 people who also asked interesting questions. Then I went over to listen to a cheery woman named Lauren Weinstein talk about how she makes comic books, which we're all calling "graphic novels" these days, but which are actually comic books. She's very bubbly and great fun to listen to, and her stuff is unique (take a look at Girl Stories on Amazon). In between my own reading and Lauren'd talk I met an old roommate from Oberlin College--yes, that reunion-23-years-later thing, with the formerly D'Artagnan-haired but now quite respectable-looking Eric. It was nice to see him, and to meet his partner Kim, and to sit around discussing screenplay ideas (he has a great one) and 9/11 conspiracy theories. He also inspired me to go home and put in some time on my own screenplay idea, which I've been doing since then, so thanks, Eric.

So at this point, there are no further publicity events on my horizon. This could change, so stay tuned. This could also change if someone reading this contacts me and requests an appearance somewhere... It's not guaranteed, but it's possible, especially for a festival-type event. So don't be shy.

In other news, it was 88 degrees in western Massachusetts a couple weeks ago. Yesterday it was 48. I don't know if this is global warming, or just global weirdness.