big shoes

lincoln unclenching

a few years back, my buddy barack got himself a fancy new house down in the district. i’d been meaning to get down there, have a look around, see where life and ambition had led my old friend since our days of knocking on doors and flyering for community board meetings, but you know how it is. and then last week i was in town on a travel job, put up in a fancy hotel on the hill with a few hours to myself, and figured i ought to have a look around.

the digs are spacious and stately but they don’t really suit him, or at least i hope they don’t. i sometimes wonder if he didn’t pick the place because he could, rather than because he liked it, and now he can’t figure out why he’s always humming that talking heads song to himself. but maybe that’s just me, preserving my fragile little truths.

barack’s house

the neighborhood is what you’d expect, lush and lifeless, epic and empty, rich in everything but neighbors. (those douchebags are the absolute worst. if you knew him like i do, you wouldn’t think he’d last five minutes in the same room with them before jumping out of his own skin. i bet he hates every minute of it. at least, i hope he does.)

but the real problem is a matter of scale. all the doors are twenty feet high, and you’d have to be a basketball player to even peek in a first-story window. i found myself scaling an endless set of marble stairs, each too deep for a single step, but not quite deep enough for too, and a bit too high for the comfort of human hamstrings, and broad enough to welcome an invading army. after four you break a sweat; after forty, you’re trying not to pant. after a hundred, you wonder who the hell this city is built for, anyway, and after a hundred million, you get your answer. it was built for abraham lincoln, all 28 restless feet of him, and his size-72 stone shoes and twitching half-ton fingertips. it was built for men six times as large as they were, who only ever spoke their most eloquent sentences, whose ambiguities and imperfections are forever buried down in their foundations, irrelevant and forgettable and forgotten.

maddie’s water

is this what became of our college pals, our old editors, our organizer friends? is this where they bought the ugly suits they wear in their facebook photos, where they met those wives, where they spawned those pink puffy aliens? is this what happens when we let loose our biggest freshwater fish into open waters? do they lose their way in the poorly-lighted depths? do the sharks devour them? does the salinity degrade their biological integrity?

or is our inability to understand the inevitable just a failure of metaphor?

maybe we send off our best and brightest as a selfless gift to “the people,” like a care package for a lost and lonely electorate. but the package never gets there in the condition we mailed it; it’s manhandled on trucks and in loading bays, busted open and hastily repaired, and the best bits are forever lost in transit.

most of the old gang falls into one of these camps, complaining either that the place, or the getting there, has changed the man. but i figure my friend is still the same soft hue in a less cohesive palette. up north he was that one sky blue brush stroke that made the whole composition sing; down here he’s just another glop in the muddy muddle.

because we’re all of us rendered in context: at best, we are as excellent as we have the opportunity to be. at worst, we’re as miserable as circumstances allow. and in a city built for behemoths, we can only aspire to be scurrying little rodents.

so maybe we should stop sending the ones we like to washington. maybe we should stop sending anyone at all. i don’t doubt the giants are all very happy here, but it’s no kind of a place for people.

madame secretary

the best laid sundays

paola, isaac’s bearded dragon

you’re looking at paola, our baby brother’s bearded dragon. we are, as yet, unable to properly capture her awesomeness. but we plan to keep trying.

of course, plans go awry:

the new book won’t be ready for s.p.x. this weekend, and we, in turn, won’t be exhibiting. it was supposed to be done a good while ago, but you know how rarely things do what they’re supposed to do. (take, for example, our eyes, which are supposed to focus on what is set before them, but which have, for several weeks now, stubbornly refused to do so.)

we’ll still be in bethesda for the weekend, roaming the floor like a civilian, spending money we don’t have, hanging out with the dashing gentlemen of table W18, and generally geeking out. we’ve actually never enjoyed these festivals quite so much as we did before they became venues for self-promotion, and we’re kind of excited. certainly, excitement is warranted.

furthermore: you’ve likely heard that mocca, in its infinite wisdom, has decided to move its annual festival to the same weekend as the stumptown comics fest. we don’t doubt they had their reasons. and whatever they are, we hate those reasons, as they have resulted in the cancellation of our annual spring excursion to portland. we are distraught, we are un-moored, we are lost and confused. but we’ll see you and your hazy bridges and your rainwashed streets and your endless supply of brilliant comics in 2013, we suppose.

that’s the plan, anyway.

paola, isaac’s bearded dragon

thunderbolts and lightning

lightning duck pin-up

the worst consequence of missing mecaf this year was forfeiting my spot alongside hugh tims, a delightful artist/self-publisher/gent who lives and draws and farms and teaches yoga and various martial arts in rural maine. ancillary perks foregone include the pleasure of his company, soaking in his wood-burning jacuzzi, and getting my hands on the new issue of lightning duck.

to my surprise and delight, lightning duck issue 2: day of the alien materialized in my mailbox last week. building on the playful carl-barks-meets-stan-lee adventure times of the debut issue, it introduces an enigmatic new villain, details several other invasive species found in the great state of maine, and includes a guest “pin-up” [ above ] drawn by an incredibly flattered me.

i was reared on fowl-based adventure comics, and twenty year ago, this was the sort of thing i expected to spend my adult life drawing. and it struck me as a good opportunity to learn from an admired peer; hugh’s characters are brilliantly, almost classically designed and uncannily expressive.

excited as i was to be asked, however, it proved a harrowing request to fulfill. my cautious fingers can’t keep up with hugh’s kinetic illustrations and bold linework. i fussed and fidgeted and erased and missed my deadline. fortunately, hugh was also behind schedule, and i managed to get him the page before the issue went to press.

seeing my simple homage tucked in among the pages of this most excellent comic, the stress and self-doubt announce themselves to be just an inevitable part of the process, and a small price to pay for the honor.

preliminary sketch below the fold.

the kingdom

Isaac beneath a shady palm

my dad and baby brother [ above ] took me to orlando, that immersive capitalist dystopia where the dream that every last inch of everywhere might someday come under private ownership has been very nearly realized, where each place is carefully crafted to advance the brand identity of its steward, and where the commons (to the extent to which any space here can be called public) are beset by an equal and opposite tragedy: the insidious tyranny of commercial concern.

this tyranny depends, as we’ve always been told it would, on a merciless assault upon our language. one sees a proliferation of terms like “downtown” and “city walk” and “center” and “studios” applied to lazy, undetailed, homogeneous plastic sculptures of those things, like playmobile playsets at a scale you can walk through. but magritte is never around when you need him, and there’s no one here to remind us that the representation of a thing is not the thing itself.

the word “kingdom” stands out as a descriptor that has been aptly applied. the unadulterated marketplace, we’ve been assured, is the ultimate antidote to authoritarianism, but in orlando we see that the old friends will meet up with each other around back when no one is paying attention.

yet we know (because we’ve been watching al-jazeera) that authoritarian control is, first and foremost, the control of information, of which all other domination is a byproduct. in orlando, the role of propagandist state media is played with unnerving willingness by a dedicated corps of parents, who after all, have just exchanged a metric ton of cash for unforgettable, intimate moments with their children, and so have an investment to protect. “ooh, look,” they urge their iphone-addled progeny as cinderella’s castle appears over the tree tops, trying heroically to induce the appropriate expression of child-like wonder.*

but children, god bless their snotty little noses and jammy little hands, are not easily led to anyone else’s notion of the proper conclusion. my seven-year-old brother isaac, when asked knowingly if perhaps he’d like to go do the star wars thing!!, reminded us of the ungodly heat, and offered the far more sensible suggestion the we go find a ride that would soak us with water before returning to the hotel pool.**

lovely little bird

all around us, the happiest place on earth filled with the red faces of parents whose children simply would not comply with their directives to be innocent of the world and easily amazed. it is, far and away, the most compelling exhibit on display in any theme park. (also, there are some lovely little birds to be seen, if you don’t mind dodging projectile excrement.)

we expect our children to replicate our own childhoods for us, so that we might watch them over again, but the little fuckers just won’t stick to the script. they like their own things and develop their own neuroses and we’re told we made them but they’re not quite what we would have made if we’d had it our way.

devoted readers (all both of you) know that i’m no great cheerleader for breeders or their product. and yet i found myself, in this topsy-turvey land of wonders, thanking the stars in their vast public domain for the children, our unwitting warriors, our last line of defense, the only hope for resistance against the hegemony of homogeneity.

*[ my father, to his credit, engages in no such futility; he quietly chooses activities he expects his children to enjoy, and waits for history to justify his decisions. when, in line for the “rock-n-rollercoaster,” my frightened 7-year-old brother announced his intention to kill our dad in the event that both survived, the latter calmly advised his son to wait until after the ride to make any definite plans. ]

**[ a pool, to be certain, is itself a flimsy, over-controlled replication of a more wonderful phenomenon, but it was not, at that moment, the flimsy replication he was supposed to be excited about, and in that fact i took some small comfort. ]

fish fountain

harold the cryptodire and other sundays

harold the cryptodire

you’re looking at our favorite proto-turtle, obviously.

girlcate and i went to visit (and christen) harold the cryptodire [ above ], and also this fine duck, at the american museum of natural history, the closest thing we have to a graveyard for lost species, the least inappropriate place to pay our respects. Intent as we are, with our twitter feeds and flickr streams and readerless blogs and 720p-video-capturing telephones, on preserving every last detail of our idiotic little lives, we don’t seem to have much time left over to preserve any trace of our neighbors. i can only hope we turn out, in retrospect, to have been a lot more interesting and valuable than it appears we are.

those of you who made it out to mecaf last month may have noticed we didn’t. we’re sorry we missed you. you especially, maine.

we found ourselves on something of a roll, and didn’t want to take the time away from drawing. the good news is there may well be some new work to take on the road this fall. we’ll be hitting three shows in as many states in the period of a month for our…

2011 bi-coastal autumnal
wandering haystack comicstravaganza tour

or whatever.

SPX flyer by Craig Thompson

first, we’re headed down to d.c. with chicago’s neil “sock-monster” brideau and portland, oregon’s matt “the matter” ocasio, both of whom, i have it on good authority, will be debuting awesome new books. but it’s a secret, so don’t tell anybody:

saturday & sunday,
september 10th & 11th, 2011

11 a.m. – 7 p.m. & noon – 6 p.m., respectively
bethesda north marriot convention center
5701 marinelli road
bethesda, md 20852

two weeks later we’ll be making our first trip to boston in many years for the second edition of last year’s joyously-received massachusetts independent comics expo (as represented here by jason viola‘s masterfully minimal flyer):

MICE flyer by Jason Viola

saturday, september 24th, 2011
10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

and the week after that, we’re headed back to san francisco (with northern california native girlcate in tow) for the always-overwhelming alternative press expo. i’ll be tabling with prodigal bay area daughter l.a. haenes, who’ll be offering her readers a choice between p.g. and triple-x adaptations of classic russian literature (not to mention “pornoscrabble,” my unfamiliarity with which does not diminish my eagerness to play), and hopefully in the general vicinity of josh shalek, reid psaltis, and who can get enough of matt ocasio?

saturday & sunday, october 1st & 2nd, 2011
The Concourse
635 8th Street
San Francisco

in summation: good friends, good times, and suitcase full of whatever this turns out to be:

old town primary inks