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Wednesday
Jul072010

DJ gig: FORMA Design.Build

I played music at the showroom opening of FORMA Design.Build, a very cool home design studio specializing in custom, hand-made work in the European style. The event was open to the public and a lot of fun, with lots of cool things to look at, including the photography of Gusmano Cesaretti. The showroom is right next to Silverlake's popular Red Lion tavern, so there was a lot of hipster foot traffic mixed in with the highfalutin-types. Probably 100 people at the most.

A great success i think, and the patrons and management complimented me several times for my selections, which was a relief because I was just playing whatever I felt like that might also fit the ambience. As you'll see in the setlist below, I definitely indulged myself.

Click to enlarge

Setlist 

  1. Underworld - Ansum
  2. Saint Etienne - How We Used to Live
  3. Moloko - Familiar Feeling (Martin Buttrich Remix)
  4. Annie - Greatest Hit
  5. Goldfrapp - A&E (Maps Instrumental)
  6. Mylo - Valley of the Dolls
  7. The Prodigy - 3 Kilos
  8. Underworld - Oich Oich (Lemonworld Jam)
  9. The Chemical Brothers - The Boxer (DFA Version)
  10. M.I.A. - Paper Planes (DFA Remix)
  11. Daft Punk - Fresh
  12. Underworld - Cups (Salt City Orchestra's Version)
  13. Primal Scream - Autobahn 66
  14. Röyksopp - Happy Up Here
  15. Mylo - Emotion 98.6
  16. New Order - Thieves Like Us (Instrumental)
  17. Beck - Diamond Dogs
  18. Meat Beat Manifesto - Everything Counts
  19. The Rolling Stones - You Can't Always Get What You Want (Soulwax Remix)
  20. Underworld - Jumbo
  21. Moby - Porcelain
  22. Saint Etienne - Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Andrew Weatherall Mix)
  23. Saint Etienne - Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Beta Version)
  24. Mylo - Guilty of Love
  25. Underworld - Dirty Epic (Dirty Guitar Mix)
  26. Daft Punk - Voyager
  27. Leftfield - Release the Dubs
  28. New Order - Regret (New Order Mix)
  29. Saint Etienne - Hug My Soul
  30. David Byrne & Fatboy Slim featuring Nellie McKay - How Are You?  
  31. The Chemical Brothers - Das Spiegel
  32. Pet Shop Boys - Flamboyant (Scissor Sisters Silhouettes & Shadows Mix)
  33. Scissor Sisters - Running Out
  34. Antônio Carlos Jobim - Insensátez
  35. Underworld - Banstyle (Jam Version from Everything, Everything DVD-ROM)
Wednesday
Jun092010

A Grendel primer

Created in the 1980s by Matt Wagner, Grendel is more of a primal force of nature than a specific, individual character. Beginning with the brilliant and seductive yet ruthless and sociopathic killer Hunter Rose and concluding with the invincible cyborg Grendel-Prime, Wagner explores the nature of violence itself in an ambitious, sophisticated and bloody narrative that spans centuries into the future.

The very long and non-linear publishing history of the Grendel saga has made it daunting for new readers to discover the grim world of Wagner’s creation, which is a shame because it is incredibly compelling and genuinely beautiful. My hope is that this post will help curious parties find their ways into the world of Grendel and avail themselves of the great graphic literature that Dark Horse has seen fit to reprint lovingly in a number of recent volumes.

Many Grendel readers will have their own versions of this roadmap, but this is the one that makes the most sense to me, and the one that puts the best of Wagner’s work up front.

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com1. Grendel: Devil by the Deed

The beginning, the end, and the one Grendel book all readers must own. Hunter Rose is an unmatched genius, best-selling novelist, olympic-level athlete, charismatic socialite, and, secretly, the legendary masked crime lord Grendel. An easy description would be: imagine if Batman was a villain. Like Bruce Wayne, Rose is so rich that he could set fire to his ill-gotten gains, it doesn't matter. All that does matter is Grendel's relentless quest to utterly dominate every single person in New York. Grendel knows all. He sees all. He cannot be stopped.

Devil by the Deed tells the story of Hunter Rose in 48 of the most beautiful pages I've ever seen. Wagner's story is classic  -- all subsequently published Hunter Rose stories take place between the events of this most critical volume -- but the gorgeous art deco illustrations are reasons enough to read this book. I can't say it enough, Devil by the Deed is beautiful. 

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com2. Grendel: Black, White, & Red

While actually produced about 20 years after Devil by the Deed, the Black, White, & Red volume comes next chronologically. Hunter Rose is the most essential component of the Grendel mythos and, in my view, the most engaging character. More so than with any of the subsequent Grendel vessels, Wagner gets so deeply into Rose's head that the villain almost becomes real. If you're like me, you will wait until the middle of the night to read Hunter Rose stories and fully immerse yourself in his dark and horrible world of aggression and blood. But should you choose to go on to the legacy characters and their incredible tales, the more you understand about Rose, the greater the sense of dread will you feel in the later stories.

Black, White, & Red features many short stories of Hunter Rose and his bloody empire, each one illustrated by a different luminarie of the comic book medium. Such artists include: John Paul Leon (Earth X), Tim Sale (Batman: The Long Halloween), Duncan Fegredo (Hellboy), D'Israeli (Lazarus Churchyard), Ho Che Anderson (Young Hoods in Love), C. Scott Morse (Soulwind), Bernie Mireault (Dr. Robot), Paul Chadwick (Concrete), Tim Bradstreet (Maximum Black), David Mack (Kabuki), Guy Davis (Sandman Mystery Theatre), the Pander Brothers (Secret Broadcast), Stan Shaw (Sunglasses After Dark), Jay Geldhof (The Lost), Teddy Kristiansen (House of Secrets), Jason Pearson (Body Bags), Woodrow Phoenix (Sugar Buzz), Troy Nixey (Trout), Chris Sprouse (Supreme), and Dean Motter (Mister X). 


Click to buy on Amazon.com3. Grendel: Red, White, & Black

Black, White, & Red was released to much acclaim and earned a number of Will Eisner Awards, the comics industry's equivalent of the Oscars. Red, White, & Black continues that award-winning format and features new Hunter Rose stories illustrated by Zander Cannon, Andy Kuhn, Ashley Wood, Tom Fowler, Mike Huddleston, Cliff Chiang, John K. Snyder, and more, including Wagner himself. 

Both Black, White, & Red and Red, White, & Black are currently out-of-print, but they can still be found inexpensively on Amazon.com and on the shelves in many comics stores. 

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com4. Grendel: Behold the Devil

Hunter Rose continued to rack up Eisner nominations in Behold the Devil, the first Grendel story in ten years entirely drawn by Wagner.  A complete epic in one volume, Behold the Devil follows the original Grendel through a period of his life so traumatic that he ripped the associated pages from his journal -- which, within the world of the Grendel mythos, is how anyone knows anything about Hunter Rose and his true, terrifying nature. In the story, which is set early in Rose's criminal career, Grendel's identity comes under close examination by a driven detective and an intuitive reporter, forcing the Devil to take drastic measures that go against everything he thought he was. 

The latest project in the Grendel saga, I finished reading Behold the Devil in one sitting only last night, and it was this most excellent book that inspired me to compile this information.

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com5. Grendel: Devil Child

Chronologically the first story to take place after Rose's demise and the only one on this list not written by Matt Wagner, Devil Child is a painfully close look at the destruction of little Stacy Palumbo, Hunter Rose's adopted daughter, in the aftermath of Grendel's sensational unmasking. Not for the faint of heart, Devil Child is perhaps the most grounded and realistic story in the Grendel pantheon, exploring the consequences of mixing violence and trauma with love and devotion. The book is expertly written by longtime Grendel editor Diana Schutz and illustrated by superstar Batman artist Tim Sale with Teddy Kristiansen, and it is gorgeous.

Devil Child is out-of-print but still available cheaply on Amazon.com and in many comics stores.

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com6. Grendel: Devil's Legacy

In the mythos of Grendel, Devil by the Deed is the name of a book by Christine Spar, daughter of Stacy Palumbo, that tells the story of Hunter Rose as gleaned through his journals as well as police reports, press clippings and the author's own personal knowledge of events. Devil's Legacy is the story of Christine Spar and her succumbing to the spirit of Grendel. The solicitation copy on Dark Horse's website describes this story much better than I could: 

The author of the definitive account of Grendel's life, Spar is living the life of a minor celebrity, but that's all about to change. The very subject which propelled her to success is about to drag her into a dark pit of despair and anger. Soon Spar's life of metropolitan leisure will be eclipsed by that which sleeps within her, the bitter blade of Grendel and the desire for brutal balance: an eye for an eye, a death for a death. Along the way, she will find tragic love, take many lives, suffer a badly battered body, and take on the old foe of her adoptive grandfather, Hunter Rose. 

I must confess I am not a fan of the illustrations in Devil's Legacy. The Pander Bros. artwork is certainly skillful and absolutely unique, but it just doesn't appeal to my sensibilities, especially with my being such a fan of Wagner's art deco stylings. 

Devil's Legacy is out-of-print but still available cheaply on Amazon.com and in many comics stores.

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com7. Grendel: The Devil Inside

Vexingly, I have not read this one! And it's in print! Here is the description from Dark Horse: 

The spirit of Grendel seethes in the mind of everyone it encounters. A touch of death, of fear, of anger infects all, gripping at the soul, and wreaking havoc on the lives of those in its path. In this now-classic chapter of the Grendel saga, we return to Brian Li Sung, a once-successful Broadway stage manager who became Grendel after losing the love of his life--the granddaughter of the original Grendel, Hunter Rose. Now down and out, living in the slums of Brooklyn, Li Sung struggles as an off-off-off-Broadway stage manager by day; by night, he stews in the hatred and violence that is Grendel, and becomes a cold-blooded killer. When old friends can't help him, and the city can no longer cope with this scourge of destruction, it's up to one desperate cop to stop the murderous rampage, or die trying. 

Sounds pretty good!

 

Click here to buy on Amazon.com8. Grendel: Devil Tales

Written and drawn by Matt Wagner, the tales contained in this volume are Hunter Rose stories told in the future by the last policeman to have any personal knowledge of the Grendel cases. The art and storytelling in Devil Tales is very experimental and not just in the visual sense; Wagner also redefines what the Grendel series can be. Up until this point, the spirit or essence of Grendel -- which is to say, the primal forces of violence and aggression themselves -- have manifested in one person in a mask and then moved on to another. In Devil Tales, we see that force infect multiple people at once, setting the stage for years of stories to come.  

Devil Tales is currently out-of-print. Used copies are not hard to find but they can be somewhat expensive, around 20 dollars or more. As I said, I consider all the Hunter Rose material to be essential, especially that drawn by Wagner himself, so I think it's worth buying. 

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com9. Grendel: God and the Devil

This is where my expertise ends, I'm afraid. I have purchased God and the Devil, which has been described as Wagner's magnum opus, and intend to read it soon. I'm reliably informed that from here on out, the Grendel mythos goes off the proverbial chain, so I'm looking forward to reading it -- especially because all this material is currently in print and easily available.

From Dark Horse:

In the centuries since the mask of Grendel was last seen, humanity's survived a third World War, the fall of Western Civilization, and the rise of an all-powerful church state. But when the depraved Pope Innocent XLII begins construction of a new church tower hiding a powerful and deadly secret, two men will rise against the church's corruption. One is Orion Assante, a man determined to expose the Pope for who he really is. The other is a mysterious figure wearing the all-too-familiar face of Grendel!

Grendel: God and the Devil masterfully interweaves sanity with madness, churches with corporations, and good with evil in one of the most stunning and prophetic stories of modern comics.

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com10. Grendel: Devil's Reign

From Dark Horse:

The year is 2530, and the corrupt Church, Vatican Ouest, has fallen, spreading upheaval across North America, along with an infestation of vampires. In this new world, Ex-COP leader Pellon Cross is still at large, devil-possessed Eppy Thatcher is missing, and Orion Assante is on an ambitious quest to restore order to the continent and gain legitimate power. But will Orion attain his goals before threats from overseas change the rules in this game for power?

Grendel: Devil's Reign is a groundbreaking synthesis of politics, war, religion, and the devil created by two of the top talents in comics!

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com11. Grendel: War Child

From Dark Horse:

Matt Wagner's Eisner Award-winning tale of the post-holocaust Grendel-ruled planet in ruins remains vital and entertaining. The Grendel-Khan, Orion Assante, is dead, leaving his only son as heir, a political pawn for the Khan's widow. The passing of the Khan, the military ruler of the earth, left the world warrior society in fragments, the once-controlled planet shattered into rival clans and apocalyptic zombies. But the Khan left a paladin behind to protect his only son from political ping-pong, a half-man, half-machine weapon of ultimate destruction: Grendel-Prime! Upon kidnapping the rightful heir from his mother's "protection," Prime begins a high-speed chase, ending the lives of many and ultimately deciding the fate of the tattered world. As it did when first printed, Grendel: War Child features dynamic pencils by Patrick McEown and dynamic colors by Bernie Mireault.

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com12. Grendel: Past Prime (Illustrated novel)

From Dark Horse:

Matt Wagner's award-winning comics series takes on new life as an illustrated prose novel, written by acclaimed wordsmith Greg Rucka, renowned for his popular crime novels featuring detective Atticus Kodiak (Keeper, Finder, Smoker). The ranks of Grendel warriors have now disintegrated into leaderless anarchy, but a savior exists, and one lone Grendel seeks the key to restoring the empire--and she won't take no for an answer. Writer Greg Rucka (Whiteout) tells this compelling story of Susan Veraghen's search for Grendel-Prime. With 50 striking pen-and-ink illustrations and a stunning cover painting by Grendel creator Matt Wagner, Grendel: Past Prime is fast-paced, hard-edged adventure laced with thematic depth and visual firepower.

 

Click to buy on Amazon.com13. Grendel: Devil Quest

From Dark Horse:

In seven chapters, all written and lusciously painted by Wagner, the deadly cyborg Grendel-Prime pursues the past with singular purpose, even while the decadent and decaying world he has forsaken hunts him for reasons of its own. With each chapter a twisted relation to the children's rhyme, "Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief, doctor, lawyer, Indian chief," this tightly crafted work is an essential piece of the Grendel canon, and a tie-in to Wagner's popular Batman/Grendel series.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

Click to buy on Amazon.comBatman/Grendel

This volume collects the two Batman/Grendel crossover series written and drawn by Matt Wagner. They are both canonical as far as Grendel is concerned, and they are both fucking awesome. The first one, where Batman meets Hunter Rose, is possibly one of the best Batman stories produced by anybody, for reasons both obvious and subtle. The second story finds the cyborg Grendel-Prime time traveling to Gotham City to retrieve the skull of Hunter Rose, no matter the cost. 

 

 

Click to buy on Amazon.comGrendel Cycle

This is the book you buy if you can't find any of the previous stories. Unfortunately, Grendel Cycle is also out of print!

Grendel Cycle is basically a sourcebook for the mythos of Grendel, summarizing the major movements of the epic alongside new artwork by the series' key collaborators. The book is extremely helpful and worth seeking out, especially for the eight-page Grendel primer by Wagner, which is one of my all-time favorite bits of comic book storytelling. 

 

 

Click to buy on Amazon.comGrendel Archives

Before Wagner tightened the focus on the Grendel concept in Devil by the Deed, he created some little black-and-white Grendel comics in the form of now-defunct publisher Comico's Primer #2 and Grendel #1-3. These stories are the first appearances of Hunter Rose as well as Wagner's first published work. Not necessarily canonical, the material reprinted in Grendel Archives is quite good despite its relative unsophistication, and serious Grendel fans will enjoy watching the creator and character take their first steps together.

Friday
May282010

Sound + Vision 2

Sound + Vision combines two of my favorite things: sharing music and taking photos. Included with each photo is a streaming song that I thought worked well with the image. If you enjoy that track, I hope you'll purchase it cheaply with the helpful Amazon link.

♫ Waves, Waves, Waves

Click to read more ...

Friday
Feb192010

Medical bills: Believe the hype

About six years ago I was a scarcely employed 24-year old without health insurance. One night, quite completely out of the blue, my back went out. I was lying in bed watching television and my back just stopped working. I couldn't move my neck or arms, sit up or bend over, nothing.  Fortunately I was not alone and my friend helped me into the car and took me to the ER at Los Angeles' famous Cedar-Sinai Medical Center.

I was there for about an hour; they gave me an X-ray; the diagnosis was a muscle spasm; the cure was Ibuprofen. 

This is the bill I received:

Central Services: $305.82
Laboratory: $962.60
Electrocardiogram: $507.58
Imaging: $1,214.77
Pharmacy: $287.27
Emergency dept: $806.57
CT Scan: $2810.69
Self-administered drugs (this must be the little paper cup the pills come in): $15.47
Thoracic spine, AP & LAT w/ Swimmers (I have no idea what any of this means): $91.00
Chest, single view: $61.00
CTA Chest: $287.00
Urinalysis: $11.75
Hematocrit/hemaglobin: $16.00
Blood CT & DIFF ER (I dunno what this is, either): $16.00
Pro Time Rou (Nope, sorry): $18.25
Chemical Group 1: $36.75

Total: $7,448.52

I never paid that bill, I just filled out a form that said I was destitute and that they'd just have to deal with it. In order to obtain that form, I had to spend hours on the phone and then go back to the Medical Center and find a very small office which was the only place the form could be obtained.

Cut to six years later: I've been really sick for the last couple of days. Normally I just tough it out (read: whine, cry, hide, etc.) until I feel better, but as I've just started a new job and had to miss two days in the first week, responsibility compels me to treat this with more seriousness.

Having only acquired health insurance in the last year or two and being in relatively good health, I never got around to choosing a regular doctor. The physician I've since researched and want to visit can't see me until Wednesday of next week, which is out of the question. On a friend's recommendation, I'm going to a local Urgent Care facility. I've never been to such a place, but my understanding is that you walk in and wait your turn, kind of like the situation in an Emergency Room. 

I have pretty good health insurance now and I'm not in any pain, really, so it will be interesting to see how today's experience compares to that of six years ago. 

UPDATE

My Urgent Care experience was relatively orgasmic. The office was in Beverly Hills with a lovely waiting room and friendly/sassy receptionist. It was the end of their day and the doctor was preparing to leave, but the receptionist helped me get seen almost immediately. The doctor was a cool, middle-aged Iranian dude who listened to everything I had to say, asked questions, and gave me some advice along with a prescription for something that'll fix me right up. He was a total pro and very friendly so I will definitely see him again just as a general practitioner. With my Blue Shield insurance, the visit was just $35.00.

The doctor sent me to a nearby mom-and-pop pharmacist to pick up  my prescription. Again, with my Blue Shield insurance, the drugs cost $3.00. 

Total: $38.00.

Seriously, after contemplating that bill, the rush of endorphins I experienced was probably strong enough to cure the plague. 

Thursday
Feb112010

Au revoir, Phonogram...

While I haven't yet read the final issue of Phonogram: The Singles Club (on sale now!), that it's meant to be the final issue of the entire Phonogram series has compelled me to talk a little about my experience with the book.

I honestly can't remember how I became friends with creators Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie, but I knew going in that Phonogram was going to be a special book for me because we all came from a similar place, spiritually speaking. The first series, Rue Britannia, was inspired by British music and, in particular, the psychic fallout of a certain kind of British music. If you know me, you know I am very into that sort of stuff, both the music itself and the idea of music's influence on or reflection of our lives. 

In my former capacity as an editor and writer for CBR, I tried to present Phonogram to the mainstream comics audience as directly but as comprehensibly as possible. I have to say, it wasn't easy and I'll tell you why: 

Writing the first massive article (there was a second), I kept thinking back to a long conversation I had with Gillen. He was in town on a video game junket (back when he did that sort of thing) and was housed at a ridiculous Sunset Strip hotel. We drank cocktails by the pool and talked about Phonogram while gorgeous, bikini-clad tattoo girls passed by every few seconds. It seemed strange to have such an uncommonly substantive conversation about such an uncommonly substantive black-and-white indie comic book against the backdrop of cliché Hollywood meaninglessness. But then again, we were surrounded by the sort of beautiful people so expertly drawn by McKelvie. 

We talked that day about the codified language of the book and how it would mean something important to some people and mean absolutely nothing to others. While I'm sure Gillen was referring to the musical and cultural references that became Phonogram's calling card, I think the kind of uncomfortable tonal juxtaposition we were experiencing around us is something that's in music, and so it is also in Phonogram. Practically every scene in the whole series has one thing happening while something else is happening, whether in terms of narrative or dialogue or art or the music references or whatever. It's the layering, that's the real codified language of the book -- that it's really like music, maybe even more than it is like a comic book, and that's something rather hard to explain to a lot of readers. 

Indeed, Phonogram had a tough go of it in the Direct Market. But I don't know how much better it would have done financially even it were properly ordered. Phonogram is a difficult book. It demands your full attention and it demands that you bring more to it than you may have at your immediate disposal. What for most comic books is subtext, Phonogram makes text. All the emotions, all the themes, those are right out in front.

But as I told Kieron there by the pool -- and this was really easy for me to say since I got paid whether or not Jamie and Kieron ever did -- I think it's worth alienating even the majority of readers if it means profoundly affecting the minority. Yes, that codified language will probably mean nothing to a lot of people,  but for other people, as Matt Fraction's passionate eulogy for Phonogram demonstrates, that codified language will mean everything

Like the music of The Smiths and New Order and Jarvis Cocker, Phonogram's tunes are pretty, shiny and catchy in the form of McKelvie's lovely artwork, but the lyrics are often sad, dark or confusing -- but sometimes very funny as well. That's how I think of Phonogram, as a musical project. Rue Britannia is the debut album. It's raw, it's brash, it's possibly too ambitious for its own good, but what it lacks in polish it makes up for in authenticity and attitude. It was a new taste, something you could actually relate to, and it left you hungry for more. The Singles Club is the expensively produced follow-up. It's bigger, more colorful, more sophisticated, and features more guest musicians (or DJs, as the case may be) and more layering of new influences. It sees the band focus more tightly on the direction they want to pursue.

The third album? Gillen & McKelvie say it will never be, but I am not so sure. Phonogram is in Kieron's blood. Whatever else he does in his increasingly impressive career, Phonogram will always be there because Phonogram is how he thinks. Trust me, I've read some scripts, that book is his brain on paper. Unless Kieron gets a new brain or just stops listening to music altogether, I don't see how he could not write more Phonogram. And Jamie will continue to be awesome and become even more awesome, so awesome that he'll one day be rich enough to eat shit for a year and draw another series of Phonogram. I am a betting man but I suck at it so I'm not going to put money on this, but I will be surprised if we don't see more Phonogram one day. Reunion tours are inevitable.

As for me, what I've taken most from Phonogram, besides some great characters and artwork, is a kind of spiritual vocabulary; a new way to talk about the music I love: phonomancing. When I remember Dorm Parent Andrew Leeson coming in to make sure I was studying and instead talking to me about David Bowie every week for year, affecting the way I'd think about music and art forever, that was phonomancing. When I see a girl dancing at the Ruby club in Hollywood, going into some kind of frenzy in the climactic chorus of her favorite song, I know it's phonomancing. When I find myself driving around the country for alone for months with nothing but an iPod and all the music and lyrics synchronize with every piece of existence I encounter and guide me where to go next, I can call that phonomancing. 

I'm also very pleased to have been a sort of "friend of the band" during this whole process; to have myself photographed and drawn into the book; to have read some of the scripts; to have seen the color tests; to have been asked what I think about a trade paperback cover; and to have put Seth Bingo on the front page of CBR, pointing right at the readers, if only for a couple of hours.

Finally, I just want to say it's incredibly admirable and inspiring that Kieron and Jamie launched their comics careers with something so personal, done their way. Well done, guys.