Cartooning Like You Mean It

Cartooning, Teaching & Living – by Tom Hart

Archive for the ‘Art, Music, etc’ Category

Images that Sing; Kiki and Herb Again

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There is this moment I think about all the time from The Young Ones. The Young Ones was an ensemble comedy TV show from the early 1980s on BBC about 4 horrible college students living together in squalor who hate each other. Vivian, the house “punk” has devised a trick involving a fake finger and a kitchen knife. The other three roomates are hollering amongst themselves, while Vivian is shouting over them, trying to get their attention, wildly brandishing his kitchen knife, screaming “Watch my trick you bastards!”

That’s it. That’s the moment. For some reason, this image resonates with me, sings in me, stops me in my tracks and makes me smile sometimes. I don’t know why. I don’t need to know why.

But if I think I about it, I understand: It echos my need for attention, and my glee in silly grotesqueries, and my delight in being brazen and especially in demanding that you want something from people. Something about those qualities make me love this moment- this dramatized, actualized, manifestation of those themes in my life. I am haunted by the Jon Lewis image above for the same reason, I think.

In fact, when I look at the last 2 1/2 years of my comic output, I now realize this was the governing theme: trying to be heard. No wonder these images speak to me so much.

We all experience images from narratives this way. There are always moments that sticks with us, for reasons we may uncover later.

I asked a couple friends for their “images that sing” and here’s what I heard.

One friend says he always remembers a moment from a 40s-era Dick Tracy comic strip, where The Brow is being squashed by a Spike Machine. The brow is desperately crying: “Oww. Somebody stop the spike machine.” Another friend said that an image from the movie The Shining always haunts her, of the Shelly Duval character dragging a knocked down out Jack Nicholson character down the hall and locking him into a food closet.

The first image is about pain, oppression, helplessness, and a desire for connection. The second, about empowerment after feeling victimized by someone you love.


I’ve heard that people think it’s dangerous to analyze such connections, and that there’s a magic in not knowing how certain connections work. I don’t buy it. First: emotion will always work faster than analysis. Second: there will always be new things to be moved by. Third: let yourself be moved by the understanding, too.

Look at Kiki and Herb. Kiki and Herb are a faux-torch song duo who perform as if they are on a reunion tour of sorts. Their supposed heyday was decades before and now Kiki; damaged, drunken, spiteful and absolutely, desperately human sits on the piano basically dying, telling old stories and singing cover songs.

They perform a version of the 80’s hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” which is quite moving, a little funny, and desperate. The final minute or so of the song is monstrously powerful. A crescendo has been building for minutes, Kiki is now riffing on the original’s “turn around bright eyes” motif. Kiki is quoting The Byrds, Joni Mitchell and louder and louder, she ends by screaming, yowling Yeats poetry (with Herb like a lost sailor shouting his background parts into the storm of Kiki’s desperation) “The falcon cannont hear the falconer… Surely the second coming is at hand…”, riffing more, “Turn around…. turn around… don’t turn your back on me… don’t turn your back on Kiki!!! Kiki loves you! Kiki needs you! Kiki would die for you!!!”

All this crazy manic energy has just coalesced, and you realize, the decades old “turn around” of the pop hit has been transmutated. Now its a plea: “Turn around, come back. TURN AROUND, STAND STILL AND BE LOVED BY ME GODDAMIT.”

Kiki -and if anyone is a falcon who can’t hear the falconer, it’s her- is crying for you to believe in her transformation, her second coming. She is turning and turning, and transforming and transforming, watching you walk away, but she won’t have it .TURN AROUND! TURN AROUND! The song ends with her demanding to have her love accepted. DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON ME! KIKI WOULD DIE FOR YOU!

It took me dozens of listens to this song at full volume to realize all this. It gets more powerful each time I hear it, and the more I decode, the more it moves me to tears…

And of course, this moment too, is about being heard, like most of the moments that are moving me right now.

What are your Images That Sing? What are they about? Pay attention to those, like anything you attend to, it will grow. More will appear, and they will strengthen your own work. DON’T TURN YOUR BACK ON ME!

Written by hutchowen

March 29, 2009 at 6:50 pm

Quotes from John Gardner’s Art of Fiction

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Rereading John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction as I create “Cartooning Like You Mean It.” Realizing now that this was one of the main influences in my designs to write the thing: theory, craft and exercises all wrapped under one cover. Here’s some notes from within, with my reflections (in italics…)

P 47 “Poe frees Kafka to write: “One day Gregor Samsa awoke to discover that he had been changed into a large cockroach.” ”

Gardner’s point being that Poe frees us from needing to know WHY things happen (his example being The Cask of Amontillado)- freeing us cartoonists to stretch reality, to imagine impossible realities. Did Poe free McCay to imagine a boy whose very sneeze could overturn elephants, or Herriman to imagine a brick-throwing mouse? Did Bosch’s nightmare creatures have anything to do with it- did Odilon Redon free our line medium to explore its fantasies? Words and pictures, fiction, etching and painting. All these entangled histories in our comix world.

P47 cont.- “By the selection and arrangement of the materials of his fiction, the writer give us not the truth about the world and how things come about but an image of himself, “a portrait of the artist”- or perhaps nothing more than an interesting construction, an object for our study and amusement.”

My feeling is that no one defines for the young artist what art is for. This is a good approximation above. We create to communicate with our audience -in back and forth dialectic and poetic, psychological, metaphysical discourse- what it is to be who we are. And at other times, we create for others an object for study and amusement. This different kind of creation is no less a gift to our readers, but is best done as mindfully as possible.

P 52 – “Particles of the action, “event ideas” such as kidnapping, pursuit of the elusive loved one…; or particles that go to make up character, such as obesity… In isolation, each element has relatively limited meaning; in juxtaposition to one another, the elements become more significant, forming abstractions of a kind- higher units of poetic thought.”

I like “higher units of poetic thought”. This is what people whose literal readings of art never are comfortable with. Not knowing, not having concrete words for the deep meanings in art or in their spirits…

P 55- “What the logical progress of an argument is to non-fiction, event-sequence is to fiction. “

But what is it in comix? Show me one thing- it’s not one thing. These two things “logical progress” and “event-sequence” are found in comix, but so too poetic, visual connection, etc.

P 79-  “As for fiction, in any case, it seems fair to argue that, since no narrative beyond a certain length can hold interest without some such profluence as a causal relation of events,…no narrative except a very short one can escape real-world relevance. ”

I’ve been interested in the subject all my career. Where can you locate the answers to this question in comix?  How long can a piece be before it NEEDS human drama? How little might it need?  What are the limits of “real-world relevance”? How can we both honor and evade it?

P 80— “Good-heartedness and sincerity are no substitute for rigorous pursuit of the fictional process.”

I read this after a discussion with a table full of writers lamenting the trend towards memoir in publishing right now. Gardner would no doubt agree that the trend represents a lack of need for artistry, and a cheapening of the human imagination. I agreed, and countered sadly that the average reader doesn’t care about craft as much as the people at that table. Weirdly, Gardner almost validates this a few pages later (but I no doubt feel he would stress an knowledge of technique to allow one the ability to accomplish the below.)

P 93 – “All the ordinary, decent-hearted  reader will ask is that the transformation be astonishing and interesting and that the story in some way appear to make sense…”

P 185 “Successful novel-length fictions can be organized in numerous ways: energetically, that is, by a sequence of causally related events; juxtapositionally, when the novel’s parts have symbolic or thematic relationship but no flowing development through cause and effect; or lyrically, that is, by some essentially musical principle- one thinks, for example, of the novels of Marcel Proust or Virginia Woolf.”

“The lyrical novel is the most difficult to talk about… The form lends itself to psychological narrative, imitating the play of the wandering or dreaming mind (especially the mind troubled by one or more traumatic experiences)… ”

P 192  – “It is this quality of the novel, its built in need to return and repeat, that forms the physical basis of the novel’s chief glory, its resonant close. … What moves us is not just that characters, images, and events get some form of recapitulation or recall: We are moved by the increasing connectedness of things, ultimately a connectedness of values.”

P 193 –  “To achieve such an effect, the writer must rise above his physical plot to an understanding of all his plot’s elements and their relationships, including those that are inexpressible.”

Written by hutchowen

January 20, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Drama vs. Poetry Part 2

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Drama vs. Poetry Part 2

(This post seems to have been written and unposted. It dovetails well with my recent post about The Linefield, so I’m posting it now.

I recently saw The Day I Became A Woman, an Iranian film by Marzieh Meshkini (written by her father, Mohsen Meshkini), a film in the three parts on the theme of womanhood in rural Iran. This and another play I saw the same week, Top Girls, by Caryl Churchill both remind me of my initial instincts as a storyteller, or as a non-storyteller, let’s say.

The Day I Became A Woman features three separate stories, with the gentlest of “story arcs” in them at all. In part 1, “Hava”, a young girl conspires during her last hour as a child (before she turns 9) to play in the dirt with her male friends. After she turns 9, she must don the chador, and hide from male attention. Indeed, the entire section involves Hava playing her last hour away. Part 2, “Ahoo” features a woman in a bicycle race. Her angry husband rides up on horseback, demanding she put a stop to her evil ways. He divorces her (while still on horseback), and her older family members and then members of her tribe all  ride up to her demanding, requesting she return to her man. Finally, in the distant final shot,  her brothers come and put a stop to her pedaling, and take her away. Part 3 “Hoora”, an old woman buys a bunch of furniture and appliances she never had, arranges them on the beach before putting them and herself all out to see on makeshift boats.

When I began writing stories, or when I began consciously doing so anyway, after “Hutch Owen’s Working Hard” I wanted as LITTLE STORY AS POSSIBLE. What I wanted was character, poetry, poetic image, images, internal surprises.

I found it!

I found it!

I tried my hardest to chase this dream in New Hat, and The Sands. In New Hat from 1994, also a three part story, my main concerns were contrasting rhythms and formal structures, and crashing sequences of narrative which may or may not relate to the others. Part 1 of this book was the most like this movie, I think: a man gives a last diatribe before being stoned to death, and then we see a local daydreaming belltower operator rise up and do his job. it’s probably my most successful small piece of storytelling. It meant little specifically, but raised lots of emotions legitimately and put them all in the same frame.

The Day I Became A Woman doesn’t feature the same range of simplistic emotion; instead it features more human characters, deeper insights to the human heart and the societal mind, both things I was shooting for.

A continuum all these works vacillate on is Drama vs Poetry. Drama is the manipulation of characters and events in opposition with each other. In its most extreme, it is superficial and distancing: tired action movies about good guys and bad guys. In it’s best examples, characters are deeply drawn and communicate, questioning and exploring the themes of the drama both in their behaviors and thoughts.

Poetry I would argue is the single image designed to provoke or evoke other impressions and ideas in the mind and inner eye of the audience. Poetic image is created using the images of our society: people, places, and time etc. At its most extreme and superficial, it is cloying, simplistic, Hallmark cards and childish posters. At its most astute, it uses hints of drama to offer up enough action, enough motion and opposition between the characters and other elements to suggest worlds within the audience and to allow meditative space within them.

I have spent most of my career thinking of this continuum, and have spent most of time WAAAY believing in the far end, toward the poetic.

I was never the kid in rock bands, never the kid reading or writing sci-fi. I was spending my adolescence in the bath tub listening to Brian Eno’s Ambient music and traipsing around the woods trying to resonate with what I found there. In one wooded area around me, there was an old living room chair, rotten and stained. I never once imagined who might have put it there. I never thought til now that there might be a story behind it, that there could be long dramas behind the decision to abandon this furniture, and the action of getting it there might have been something one could image, watch or engage with. All I wanted to do was allow it to make me feel something.

The simpleton’s response to the world: how does it make me feel?

So my earliest stories and sketches were light on drama-as little as I could get away with, with as few specifics as possible. This was often unsuccessful, as you could guess.

Learning the tools of dramatic storytelling has been fun but a lot of work. The instincts were never within me very well.  Every correct dramatic instinct I did have was stolen from Star Wars (see “Hutch Owen’s Working Hard.”) As I began to learn the tools, I tried to create stories and characters that were unique, with believable inner struggles and outer problems. (I was maybe most successful with this “The Road to Self.”, though Banks/Eubanks was a valiant try.)

Still, I believed that this was all training to go back to attempting to create the poetic image, the story that exists outside of specific narrative, and in a an internal landscape in the viewer.  But I still tried to learn the tools of drama, and to this day I tell my students to write over the top. To imagine the murder, the betrayal, the villain, and then to write down if need be. To tone down the drama once the extremes have been entertained and rejected.

I forget who drew this

And some 10 years or so since beginning this experiment (I would say since I closed the book on The Sands – wildly unsuccessful, though fun) I have yet to reattempt the piece where poetic image is the main core of the story.

Artists who do this well: Tsuge, first and foremost, though his peer Yoshihiro Tatsumi does it well also. In  Western comics, I always though Anders Nilson was getting there (though I haven’t finished his Big Questions). Ben Katchor, obviously, Ron Rege, Chris Ware. As others come to mind, I’ll post them here.

I have dozens of notebooks and boxes of index cards all vibrating with the potential to be that next poetic comic. So what am I doing doing comic strips?

Soon or maybe never: Part II. What I am doing doing comic strips, Top Girls, and how form can be the poetry. And note to younger self: why on earth wouldn’t “poetic image” involve DRAWING?

Written by hutchowen

January 13, 2009 at 2:40 pm

Navigating a Linefield

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The Linefield is a word I have been looking for for 20 years.  I’m using it partially to  describe the visual mark making and image making that gives much of a comix’s feeling to the reader. It’s not the “art!” If I hear one more person commend “the art” in a comic I’m going to key somebody’s car. Art is a word that encompasses much more than the visual conveyance of ideas, which is usually what people mean when they say it.

The linefield is much closer to what they mean.  It’s the drawings of the character and character of the drawings, but it’s also the reading and navigating experience, and it’s the soul of the creator poking through to the material world like buds and weeds through a sidewalk. Shards of the creator’s intention and confusion (because who isn’t confused just being alive?) making it’s way to wall, papyrus, cloth, paper, screen.

The linefield, while visual, isn’t just describing the visuals. It’s also the complete synergy of mark-making with narrative intent, whether it be dramatic or reflective. More about that below.

In fact, I don’t know entirely what linefield means. I think in the case of a word used to describe an emotional and subterranean action you are involved in, you are perhaps better off not being able to entirely nail it down.  (Like a sufi chasing the meaning of Allah, I have been chasing the linefield and I never find it, I never look it in the face, I just like it when it and I are close by. )

Ben Jones' Thaz- "story?" "art?"

Ben Jones' Thaz- would you separate "the art" and "the story" here?

Why do we create art at all? Partially because our senses are wrong, our perceptions are limited. We need art to refocus what we see, and allow us to create other pathways to experience our world. The linefield is that new pathway. It describes a visual record of a creative experience incorporating elements of drama, poetry, mark-making, dance, acting, imagining, crying, celebrating and just about every verb a human is capable of.  But in our medium, comix, and for the sake of this exploration, I want to focus on the first three as helping us define the linefield: mark-making, drama and the poetic reflection.

The mark-making in a comic is what has traditionally been called “the art.” (I’m keying that teal Buick right now.) It’s a simple word to define. We call it style, drawing, etc. It often combines the ability of the artist to convey our concrete world into 2-dimensional representations,  with a sense of exaggeration or emphasis that distorts to a psychological and emotional effect.

Drama and poetic reflection (shorten the latter to “poetry”) I think are the two poles of what has traditionally been called “the story.” (That will really get me on a tear. Separate “art” from “story” and I’ll key anything in sight.) Drama refers to the dynamic tensions between personalities in opposition. Characters wanting something different. Poetry, for me in this instance (because the word is extremely malleable), refers to the impulse to reflect deeply and slowly and to allow space for reflection. It tends to hamper drama unless that reflection is being used to inform dramatic decisions (see Hamlet.)  (And for more on “poetry in comics” see my post here.) (And more tomorrow, too.)

Somewhere mashed around these three ideas, lies the linefield. You can’t talk about one with the other two, and maybe it’s best to discuss all three at the same time.

In my favorite comics, and even many I don’t enjoy reading but respect, the linefield can be a powerful new manifestation in my ordinary world. Gary Panter has one of the most powerful linefields you will see. In his best work, you ARE Jimbo, walking his denuded landscape, navigating the hatches and lines of his apocalyptic, commercial, anti-commercial, historical limbos. The linefield in Jim Woodring’s comix shimmer and constantly spin off into new characters and visions. E.C. Segar’s comix did something similar; sweat, desire and ferocity spinning and shaking off from the linefield into weird compact myths about giant birds and witches, injustice and hamburgers.

The list could and will go on and on. The best artists in this medium have made marks and drama and poetic reflection their own. I’ll explore those creators in time,  but I want to start with a look at the linefields of Yoshiharu Tsuge, Ron Rege and Jack Kirby.

Tomorrow, an old unpublished post furthering drama vs. poetry, then later in the week, Tsuge, Rege, Kirby.

Written by hutchowen

January 11, 2009 at 1:31 pm

Cartooning Like You Mean It

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In 2009, I am dedicating this blog to “Cartooning Like You Mean It.”

It is about the art of cartooning as a method of self-expression, a way to figure yourself out and untie your own knots (Leonard Cohen), a way of cartooning stories characters, situations and stories as if they was burning to get out of you and you didn’t even know til you noticed the cinders.

“The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.” – William Butler Yeats

(To which I would add: “Or Mars.”)

This is about burning off your influences- the unconscious styles and other people’s languages that you’ve inadvertently stolen from while learning- and getting your own soul out there on the paper in ink, color, lines, scratches and wiggles.

Herzog- “ My belief is that these dreams are yours as well. And the only distinction between me and you is that I can articulate them… It is my duty because this might be the inner chronicle of what we are, and we have to articulate ourselves–otherwise we would be cows in the field.”

You are your own earthly project. You are some sort of bizarre combination of individual sensations, reactions and history, explosions and whispers. Don’t use someone else’s language. This is about finding, forging and refining your own unique voice, story and code.

It’s about getting your stories out that are inspired by your own experiences, passions and lifeforce.

But even more importantly, letting that lifeforce emerge from your own creation. Reversing the cycle, letting your work create you. Discovering the depths of your self through surprising yourself through work.

Brian Eno, from his diaries: “What part of myself have I discovered now?”

You must allow yourself to be surprised. You have to allow yourself to not know what will come next, to not be always in control, to not plan everything. This is cosmic stuff- can you allow the spaces of your spirit to be filled with something unexpected?

Milan Kundera: The novel is a counter to the “noisy foolishness of human certainty”

Don’t be certain. Be open and be curious. Arm yourself with pens and brushes and a knowledge of story structure and visual techniques. Read these books:

Drawing Words and Writing Pictures by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
The Empty Space by Peter Brook
Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain by Betty Edwards
What It Is by Lynda Barry
On Directing Film by David Mamet
Story by Robert McKee

And then set out.

(images from Vaughn Bodes RIVERMEAT.)

Written by hutchowen

January 5, 2009 at 1:52 pm

Best movies seen and best books read in 2008

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Best movies seen and best books read in 2008

Having a terrible memory, I enlisted my MacBook and Microsoft MS Excel in a partnership to assist me in recording all the media I explored in 2008. So MY Best-Of-2008 list reflects whatever the hell I saw or read in depth in 2008, regardless of year of creation.

Here’s the rundown.

  • Movies seen: 75
  • Books read: roughly 22 (some left unfinished, some smaller, etc.)
  • Short stories read: roughly 36, but I often forget to log them.
  • I wish it could include the amazing songs I encountered this year, but Emusic makes that far too difficult. Let’s make a special mention of Little Richard’s “I Don’t Know What You Got” which makes me cry,


Movies in detail.
Top 10 (11) movies:

  1. NIGHT OF THE IGUANA – John Huston’s adaptation of Tennessee Williams. Richard Burton creating William Shatner’s entire career in two hours. Eva Gardner AMAZING. Shirtless maraca-waving boy toys. THIS FILM HAS EVERYTHING!!! Read about it here
  2. DEVILS AT THE DOORSTEP – Does anyone else know this movie exists? It’s nearly perfect.Wiki link here.
  3. THE EDGE OF HEAVEN – Fatih Akin’s newest, about 6 characters bouncing between Germany and Turkey. Leela and I saw it 3 times. Akin, along with Almodovar, and John Cameron Mitchell have the biggest hearts of directors currently working.
  4. ELECTRA – Leela and I went on a Greek tragedy binge, seeing all the Michael Cacoyannis adaptations and me watching the Pasolini/Maria Callas MEDEA and listening to the Cherubini/Maria Callas opera.
  5. DIVING BELL AND THE BUTTERFLY – Just beautiful.
  6. PERSEPOLIS – I walked away thinking THIS was the version of this story that needed to be told. I’m a fan enough of Marjane Satrapi’s book, but she’s not a terrific artist, not a strong stylist and not much of a craftsperson. This movie, I suppose due to the smart help she marshaled, is a cohesive, glorious telling of her story.
  7. TARKAN VS THE VIKINGS – Corny Turkish adventure film. Everyone wearing Technicolor fake fur, a giant octopus and hot chicks!
  8. THE DAY I BECAME A WOMAN – Blogged about this wonderful Iranian film here.
  9. VIVRE SA VIE – Goddard, Anna Karina.
  10. 4 MONTHS, 3 WEEKS AND 8 DAYS – Powerful Romanian film about a desperate woman’s attempt to get an abortion
  11. LOLA MONTEZ – Wild bio pic told with framing device of a circus.



  • Stupid, but I liked it anyway: SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. Another Tennessee Williams over the top bunch of junk
  • Craziest small budget time travelling movie everyone talk about – PRIMER
  • John Cameron Mitchell is real – SHORTBUS
  • Charming small time movie about falafel cart owner in Queens. MAN PUSH CART. I’m dying to see his new movie, CHOP SHOP
  • Argued into seeing and loved it: THREE BURIALS OF MELQUEADOS ESTRADA
  • This movie sucks and don’t let anyone tell you differently: SHOWGIRLS
  • Finally saw some of the DECALAOGUE
  • Best visual compostions: MILDRED PIERCE
  • Best silent film with a drunken pig scene: SUNRISE, Murnau
  • Best new boyfriend: MAD MEN. Sopranos sits with me like a bad relationship. I should have NEVER gotten involved with him! WHY DID I THINK HE LOVED ME? He was such an asshole and I only have bad feelings about that whole thing now. MAD MEN is different. He loves me like I need to be loved. The finale to Season 1 is devastating.

Some seen and loved again:

  • RAN

Hated and everyone loved:

  • TELL NO ONE- Are you kidding me? Rich white guy goes to the ghetto to enlist his homies to help find his lost wife, who is rocking out to U2 in cyberspace. Ech. Here’s what I wrote in my notes at the time: “way too convaluted! Too Scooby Doo in the end, with a grand, enormous explanation to wrap it all together (and introduce new plot points, etc.bleh)”
  • EYES WIDE SHUT- I hate this more the more I think about it, though the first half is powerful. Raw feelings between couples portrayed pretty realistically, but then Tom Cruise winds up in The Temple of Doom and it just gets ridiculous. I want to be talked into at least liking this film, but it’s not going to happen.



Books read (exempting graphic novels). These were all great so I list them all:

  • The Blind Assassin Margaret Atwood (brilliant)
  • Surfacing Margaret Atwood (wild and wonderful)
  • The Western Cannon and How To Read and Why Harold Bloom
  • 100 Years of Solitude Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Brothers Karamazov Dosteyevsky (didn’t finish)
  • Notebooks to Brother Karamazov
  • The Nonexistent Knight Italo Calvino
  • Don Quixote Cervantes (didn’t finish, read about half)
  • Crescent Diana Abu-Jaber
  • The Language of Baklava Diana Abu-Jaber
  • 1001 Arabian Nights Various Arabs, Turks and Persians
  • The Search Naquib Mahfouz
  • She’s Not There Jenny Boylan
  • The Road Cormac Mccarthy
  • Master of Reality John Darnielle
  • Lolita Vladimir Nabokov
  • The Dead (Dubliners) James Joyce
  • Odeipus at Colonus Sophocles (gorgeous)
  • Pale Fire Vladimir Nabokov
  • Last Things Jenny Offill
  • Martian Chronicles Ray Bradbury
  • The Sound and The Fury William Faulkner

The story here is discovering the classics. Harold Bloom argued me into Surfacing, which rarely gets mentioned in discussions about Atwood. Surfacing was my favorite book of 2008- wild, probing, weird, sad; until Lolita came along in August. Where was Lolita in my life before this? I feel like artistically, my creative brain will break down into B.L. and P.L.

Other themes, ideas and questions: Pale Fire is almost as good as Lolita, but more cerebral and sillier. Two great memoirs: She’s Not There and The Language of Baklava. The latter of which has probably informed Margo’s and my new comic strip.

I read 100 Years of Solitude and The Sound and The Fury for book clubs I never joined. What was I thinking trying to read The Sound and The Fury with no help?? I’m reading As I Lay Dying as 2009 begins. I found myself reading it recently in a Kings County Hosptial Emergency Room bed. Always full of irony, I am, even post-epileptic seizure…

Roughly 36 short stories, including a few by John Cheever, Raymond Carver, Annie Proulx, Margaret Atwood and "The Vane Sisters" and "Signs and Symbols" by Vladimir Nabokov (the latter introduced and read by Mary Gaitskill on the New Yorker website)

Written by hutchowen

January 1, 2009 at 3:15 pm

KGB Comix Reading

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Sarah at KGB ReadingWell, this year’s Post-Thanksgiving KGB Reading was a giant success, standing room only, IF THAT. We turned people away, the readers were mere inches from the audience. Here’s two photos, of Sarah Glidden and Matthew Thurber reading. With the depression looming, this will be a night we all remember as one of the best in recent years. A NIGHT TO REMEMBER!

Matthew Thurber at KGB

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December 4, 2008 at 3:16 am

To all my friends searching for happiness

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To all my friends searching for happiness, success in love, career, life, listen to Kiki:
Love is a battlefield.

Be arrogant, rather than self-denigrating. Be furious and be disciplined.

Take solace in music. Find music to sing along to. That’s why songs have choruses. Our struggle is your struggle. Love is a battlefield. Nothing is new. Be lovely and typical. Penetrate it. Go through it. (Katabasis.)

Arrogance will get you farther than self-hatred. The darkness will deepen your work, but fight to be rid of it anyway.

You will never be completely free of the anger and resentment and hurt. But try to wrestle it off, anyway, through art and practice.

Life is a battlefield. Art is a battlefield.

Connect with the struggle and the suffering, and deepen your practice. Art is your practice. Like a martial art, like meditation or chanting, like breathing. Breathing is your battlefield. (Just ask Arjuna.)

Cut yourself open, untangle the knots (-Leonard Cohen). Art presents you to the world, opens you for the world. Art gifts you to the world.

You have to commit to it, for a higher purpose- but that’s what you’re here for.

Kiki and Herb: Kiki is a raw, desperate, hurting, somewhat (or mostly) ugly Child of God. She deserves your love. Do you? Don’t you? Oh less ugly ones?

Don’t turn your back on me.
Don’t turn your back on Kiki.
Kiki Loves You!
Kiki Needs You!
Kiki would die for you!

Written by hutchowen

November 21, 2008 at 4:57 am

Giant Kirby images posted on Flickr

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Being so inspired by this stream of “retronomoapeya” (above), I posted my first photostream to flickr, a batch of giant JAck Kirby croppings I made a while back:
Go for it!

Written by hutchowen

September 28, 2008 at 2:25 pm

John Darnielle’s Master of Reality (33 1/3 series)

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I recently wrote a combination review of Dan Clowes’ Caricature (10 years late), Osamu Tezuka’s Apollo’s Song and John Darnielle’s Master of Reality. Look for it in Picturebox’s COMICS COMICS next issue, but here’s some out of context excerpts about Darnielle’s book, which brought to me to tears over coffee in a sunny cafe in Gainesville.


Darnielle’s prose book marks the first work of fiction as a part of the 33 1/3 series of non-fiction books deconstructing or reporting on the making of various famous rock and jazz albums. Darnielle’s book takes as its catalyst and focal point Black Sabbath’s 3rd album, Master of Reality. The story is told in diary form by Roger Painter, lost soul locked up in a juvenile mental ward, trying desperately to communicate to his one seeming reasonably accessible therapist what hearing his heavy metal tapes would do for him. But the ward has locked up his tapes in the nurse’s station (and Roger can SEE them, he knows they are there, and he just wants to listen to them!) In his diary entries to Gary, he pleads to hear his tapes again, specifically Master of Reality, and he attempts to write, in depth, what that music means for him: “So it’s like me and the band are in a hidden cave and they are telling me horror stories and if I even try to tell someone about it there is no way they could understand, because they don’t even know there is a cave…”


Darnielle’s Roger Painter would never say like Rodger Young does, “I was mesmerized by its threadbare earnestness.” These characters are left alone with their thoughts too much and seem to prefer it; they have created comforting, if isolating, shelters there.

Roger is the opposite: he’s dying to evade his own thoughts and the hospital won’t let him. He’s left to hear his own madness constantly. He has no recourse or ability to explore his hatred, no one to hear his opinions and none of the perverse tools the Clowes characters have to wrestle it around. “What I need in my life is to be liberated into feeling bad… What I need is a place where I can spray anger in sparks like a gnarled piece of electrical cable. Just be mad at stuff and soak in the helplessness.”


John Darnielle is best known as the sole (usually) member of the Mountain Goats, and has written, played and sung hundreds of short, fiery songs. His strength as a rock and roll performer has been the percussive force of his sometimes amateurish guitar playing, the ability to tell stories in song about emotionally mangled people, and his need to force those songs out of his lungs. He addresses as his themes the explosive power of mistrusting intimacy, and the grace, beauty and (again) explosive clarity that opening your senses and heart can sometimes offer. He’s at his strongest when his songs address the fact that you can completely love and hate at the same time.

This is the message Roger Painter in Master of Reality was trying to offer to his therapists, and according to Roger, the same message Ozzy is trying to send to his listeners in “After Forever”: “I spent hours every day trying to get you to let me listen to some guy sending me the exact same message that Blue Cross was paying you to sell me all day.”


Darnielle’s Master of Reality uses a similar narrative strategy. Divided into two parts, we hear from Roger Painter at 16 and then again 10 years later. The changes he documents are profound: in the beginning he is desperate for one thing- his tapes, which were never given to him. In the end, he is able to reflect -somewhat unclearly, very angrily and very high- on his experiences and how it has created his current situation. He’s not happy about it, but he can see it.

Weirdly, Darnielle’s Roger Painter is arguably a better person for having gone through all this misery. Deprived and forced to articulate himself to the world, he has become smarter, kinder, more able to see reality and to pierce non-reality. His teenage years were sacrificed, but he has grown emotionally and spiritually stronger: he’s still furious and mangled but he’s less broken. Darnielle know this, and so does Roger, who voices it:

It was like I had a secret that only people who couldn’t do anything to help me could understand… In a way it was you and everybody like you who put the final binding signature on my contract with Black Sabbath. You sealed the deal. Now when I hear them I hear you disappearing into the meaningless passed. [sic.] Too high to write anymore. Still angry. Can’t go back… [ed- add one sentence. Look up.]

Darnielle’s shattering, white-hot understanding of what it is to know what you need but not be allowed near it is so humane and explosive that I can’t imagine reading it and not sobbing for the void of compassionless humanity the book reveals.

Written by hutchowen

September 18, 2008 at 4:36 pm