Saturday, January 31, 2009

From One Cold Midwestern City to Another

I won't be attending this (unless my schedule shifts radically), but I'll have a couple pieces here, and it promises to be a great show...

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Inauguration Nation

I'd been wanting to attend the inauguration since missing out any number of Obama-centric events, including his speech in Grant Park on November 4th. But I let myself fall under the naysayers' spell: the crowds will be so massive you’ll be crushed, the city will be impossible to get into or out of, you won’t be able to see anything at all. But on Monday morning, January 19th, I knew I had to try. I could feel that sting of regret creeping up, the sort that clings to you, embeds itself like a nasty mole you should really get removed. The true insanity of this decision was making it at noon the day before millions of people were supposed to descend on the city. And I was still a twelve hour drive away. And I don’t own a car.

But I’d made my mind up to get this to work if at all possible. Flights were ridiculously beyond my means, and airports would be bedlam anyway. Car rental was an option, but would take time to arrange and pick up. So I got on the phone to my sister, offered her the measly amount I had in my emaciated account to borrow her car for a couple days and drive it southward. She, being the stalwart little sister who happens to know how much the campaign and Obama’s election have meant to me, graciously agreed. I called my older sister in Maryland and told her I wanted to make the trek. Could she get me a train ticket? She knew a friend that had an extra one, leaving from another town. Great. I told her to buy it from her friend. I’d be there in twelve hours. I could almost hear her shaking her head as I hung up.

Mary, the aforementioned car owner and little sister extraordinaire, came by with the car. I'd finished packing in fifteen minutes, kissed my girlfriend goodbye, and jumped in the driver’s seat. I dropped my sister off back in her neighborhood and was on the highway.

I should thank the highway patrolmen of the Midwest for looking the other way. I ran the entire length of all highways at around eighty to eighty-five miles per hour. At times I sped directly past troopers. Either their radar guns weren’t working or they were enjoying a donut, because no one pulled me over.

The drive down passed by in a blink. Purpose-oriented long distance driving is the only way to go. The Midwest was slathered with soft white snow and I felt exceptionally thankful to be around to do anything I was doing at the moment. The sun set, the headlights came out, and in less than eleven hours I was pulling into my older sister’s driveway. I woke up her dog temporarily and then collapsed on the couch to catch three hours of sleep.

The next day, inauguration day, jumped into gear immediately. On fear of there being nothing but overcrowded portable toilets, my sister, mother and father, and I all consumed as little as possible for breakfast. Then I hopped in the car and drove to Halethorpe (which is a beautiful town to get lost in, as I did for a full twenty minutes), where I had been assured the parking lot would be full and insanity would be in full swing.

The lot was almost completely empty when I arrived at 7:30 for my 9:50 train.

Everyone was buzzing and chatty in the small mobile home ticket office. People were taking pictures and utilizing the last opportunity at a functioning toilet. Then the station cleared, as everyone there had tickets for a 7:58 train. I talked briefly with the few people left. One man had a proper ticket for the inauguration, as he knew someone on the transition team. One woman, a senior auditor for the Defense Contract Audit Agency, had flown in from California, by herself, unable to convince any friends to come along. Everyone had a story. Everyone was stopping just short hugging, there was such a feeling of camaraderie.

A train attendant burst into the station and asked, “Anybody want to go early?” I turned to the woman seated across from me. “You go ahead.” But the train attendant looked at me with confusion.

“How many people can go?” I asked.

“You can all go, come on,” he said, waving us out of the station. We shrugged at our good luck and how this was flying in the face of what we’d heard about ticketed seats on trains being sold out. We were on the train and in seats within a minute. The train took off less than a minute after that. And it was then, pulling away from the station on that bitter cold inauguration morning, seated next to the auditor from California, that I realized I'd forgotten my hat and gloves in the car.

I’d intended to go back to the car and grab them, seeing how I (originally) had a full two hours at my disposal, but in the rush to board the train early, I’d forgotten them entirely. And I really couldn’t have cared less. I didn’t much care if I made it to the mall or saw the inauguration. I just wanted to swim around in things. And this all seemed a perfect chaotic part of it.

My train rides into and out of the city were perfect bookends to the experience as a whole. On the way to Washington, I sat across from an elderly black woman who had been bringing student groups to inaugurations for decades. This was her first inauguration alone. “People are annoying," she said. "They said it’s too cold. They said it’s too far. But I’m not missing this one. This one I’m going to no matter how cold or far.” She said this with a low, gravely voice that assured me that none of her students ever got away with the slightest bit of mischief. She talked about waiting in line for six hours to view Kennedy lying in state. She said, “I waited six hours in that line, just to be there for a few seconds before they pushed us on. But you know, it was worth waiting in line six hours.” She looked down at her scarf. I didn’t care if I saw anything else that day. She had made the twelve hour drive well worth it.

Soon we were in the station and on exiting the train I started to get a hint of the crowd’s size. This was just a couple trains worth of people funneling into the station, but seas of people extending before us, well into the station, past the point of perception.

After searching everywhere in the mall-ish station, I managed to find and purchase some horribly overpriced (and clearly designed for a woman) gloves and a hat in a shoe store. Then it was out into the insanity.

I walked past the first row of portable toilets, past the first islands of street vendors hocking Obamerchandise. I walked past Forest Whitaker. All the elements were in place.

The first lesson this behemoth crowd had to teach me was not to get caught. Lines were everywhere, and were so swelled and amorphous that you could easily find yourself tightly lodged in one without realizing you were there to begin with. So I took to zipping in and out of masses, moving farther and farther away from the mall just to be able to move. Not that I missed out on any of the crowds or the mood of the moment. In fact, this is where the mood was most palpable. At the mall, it was just waiting and cold. Here it was motion, dancing, yelling, selling, laughing, and more selling. Here it was America, cranked up and wearing funny hats.

(My apologies for the shakiness of the quality of the videos here, but this was all taken with a rather petite digital camera).

After zigzagging down the length of most of the mall (though six blocks to the north of the mall proper), there seemed to be some give in a southward direction around 18th. So I bolted in that direction as unobtrusively as possible. It had already passed 10 o’clock (the slotted time for music and festivities to start) at this point. It had taken me almost an hour and a half to get this far.

Eventually, there was green. I could see it. I could see the Washington Monument (which was the moment I appreciated just how far I had walked from the station, realizing I had already walked beyond the Monument). A volunteer greeted me as if a spokesperson for Democracy Land at some patriot-themed amusement park. “Welcome! Welcome to the National Mall.”

Being only one person, it was simple enough for me to move through the crowd to get closer to the jumbotron, but eventually it was simply too compressed to navigate without being one of those jerks everyone wants to punch at the music festival. You know the type. Still, my first surrounding crowd was too sedate, too hip, and – let’s to be honest – too painfully white. This was sure to be a bit on the boring side. So I moved around a bit more until I landed in the middle of a young black family, a young pair of middle eastern girls, a seemingly psychotic elderly white man, and a stately elderly black couple. This was my crew. I stuck there.

The event itself was massive and thoroughly reported, so there’s no point recounting too many specifics. I just soaked up the crowd and bits of conversation. Cheney was booed, Bush was booed, though the loudest boos of all were surprisingly for Lieberman. Kerry was cheered, Gore received thunderous applause, and even the slightest glimpse of the Obama’s ran in close competition with the American appearance of the Beatles. Fashion critiques were made, catty remarks cast. Everything was good fun.

Then Biden was sworn in.

The elderly black man behind me said, “Dick Cheney isn’t Vice President any more.” It really did need to said aloud, it was so unbelievably relieving.

“It feels good doesn’t it?” I said back to him.

“One more to go,” he smiled in response.

Obama took to front stage, placed his hand on the Lincoln bible, and deferred to Chief Justice Roberts' mangling of the oath, one of the most clear cut demonstrations of Obama’s solidity as a statesman. Even in that moment, with all its history and weight, he listened to the person he was facing and refused to undercut another simply to serve himself.

Obama uttered the words, “So help me God.” The crowd erupted into screams, embraces. The elderly black woman behind me simply smiled and bowed her head. Her husband raised his voice, “It is done!” Then he looked to me and repeated, “It is done.” I just smiled and nodded, too choked up and too empty of worthy words to respond.

Some people started to leave, having witnessed what was inarguably the moment, but I – having hungered for a leader of our country who could actually speak and foster a love for language – wasn’t leaving before I heard the speech. And for all the criticism I heard afterward about the lack of lofty rhetoric, I have to say I think it was an amazing and perfectly crafted speech. Obama set precisely the right tone and did precisely what he needed to do. He is an empathetic pragmatist, and this came through abundantly.

After the speech, the crowds began the mass dispersal, clogging themselves into themselves, dancing, cheering, taking pictures, playing the music of one long exhalation of relief. It’s about time, the collective voice seemed to say, that we all breathed again.

It took me another hour and a half to get back to the train station, weaving through the celebrating crowds and street after closed street of feverishly squawking street vendors. (My favorite instances of city shut down were closed highways housing impromptu interviews and people walking dogs on exit ramps.)

When I arrived at the station, there was no movement. Everything was backed up. People were crushing in on the doors. People were chanting, yelling, screaming to be heard by the police on bullhorns. I was standing next to a woman in a wheel chair who was being jostled by overly agitated would-be travelers, and though the crowd was minuscule in comparison to that of the streets or the mall, this was the single occasion where I feared someone would be crushed or trampled. Given the joy of what seemed only seconds before, this had an ugly impatience to it.

The problem, as I learned from speaking with a police chief, was that there were so many people inside the station (many of whom had arrived hours before their trains were scheduled to leave and thus were simply sitting around the station) and around the doors, that the people coming off the arriving trains couldn’t get out of the building. So there was no one going in because no one could get out.

Eventually the police managed to convince the charged throng that they were simply trying to redirect the flow of people, to get those out that needed out, and those in that needed in. Once sufficient numbers of people took the lead, things began to flow and I miraculously made it on to the train I was supposed to be on, heading back to the Halethorpe station and my original gloves and hat. Mass hysteria, as usual, is an overrated sport.

I said that my train rides were perfect bookends: The second of these two bookends was six and a half (the half being of very serious importance at that age) year-old Theresia. With gaps from newly lost teeth, Theresia sat next to me and we talked the whole way. We talked about her love of Writing Workshop in her class, about her neighborhood near Queens in New York, about her dad (who is both goofy and silly, by her estimate), and about little dogs that don’t bite. We drew together in my sketchbook. I started a cat head, and she drew a rose. Her favorite color is pink, but all I had was a red pen. Red’s a nice color too, Theresia assured me. We both signed our last names, which we agreed had an awful lot of letters.

I began the trip into the city with an elderly black woman who spoke of viewing Kennedy’s slain body, and ended the trip seated by a child of mixed race (Theresia’s father is white, her mother is black) talking about roses that were nice regardless of the pen color. It was difficult not to read into this, about the transfer of power we’d all just witnessed, about the slow turning of painful pages in race and acceptance.

I thought of Theresia, of the street vendors, of the family from Chicago moving into a new home in Washington. I thought of them during my long drive back up to the north, through the snow and salt-washed roads of the Midwest.

I thought about all of us singing the national anthem on that public plot of grass.

For once, I sang along.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Inauguration Prelude

I'm still typing up my notes on my inauguration trip, but this video captures at least one of the major feelings of the event: high fives all around.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Kupperman Cometh

Hopefully this is a sign of things on the horizon... I just stumbled across what seems to be a fledgling Michael Kupperman blog.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Guardian's One Thousand Novels

I was honored to find out out that in the graphic novel section of their 1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read, The Guardian has selected The Three Paradoxes. (Thanks to the ever diligent Mike Baehr for the tip.)

Paradoxes Internationale

Though I've yet to see any of them, I've been made aware that the Italian, German, and Polish editions of The Three Paradoxes are now floating around in their respective languages' worlds. Collect them all. Find each edition's unique printing flubs.

Inauguration Marathon

At the last minute possible, I made the twelve hour drive down to Washington for the inauguration to be in all the insanity and energy surrounding the event. I posted various updates on my Facebook page during the trip, but I'll be writing up a more full report (with videos and photographs)and posting it here by tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

To Your Door Books

I'm honored to announce that I'll be doing the cover designs and illustrations for a new line of books, published by two of the hardest working people in the Chicago literary sphere.

The new venture from veteran independent publishers (and authors) Jonathan Messinger and Zach Dodson is under the banner of Paper Egg Books, and will be subscription-based book series, two books per year arriving in your mailbox. I just got the first book from Jonathan, and am looking forward to the series immensely. Subscription series like this have always made me happy: a sort of social club for the reclusive.

Read all the details about Paper Egg at their brand new site.

One. Hundred. Beasts!: Opening This Weekend

This Saturday, at Giant Robot in San Francisco, a massive showing of the work from Beasts! Book 2 will be opening. More than one hundred artists will have work to view and purchase, so if you're in the area, it sounds more than worth the time to stop by. All the details can be viewed at Giant Robot's site or at the Beasts! blog.

Schroeder's Accuracy

Thanks to my brother-in-law Dan for directing me to this great New York Times article detailing yet another impressive aspect of Charles Shulz and his painstakingly contemplated Peanuts universe.

Test Your Brains!

A gem from Chris Hayward and Nat Saundersfrom, via the blog of Robert Popper, one of the great minds behind Look Around You. Cheese? Correct!

Swimming Never Looked Better

O fortunate cable recipients (sadly I am not one of you): One of my favorite comedy enterprises ever, Look Around You, is coming to Adult Swim. Praise Tarvu!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Portfolio Facelift

After collecting digital dust for several years, I finally got around to updating my portfolio site with material from the last few years (and overhauling the interface to be less cumbersome). Feel free to click around, or just roll over the graphics really quickly, making a sort of strobe effect, creating a sad, silent dance party of one at your cubicle.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Gloop, Gleep, and All Things Shmoo

A couple posts ago I mentioned being influenced by Heinz Edelmann's work (mainly by his design for The Yellow Submarine, which destroyed my mind at a young age), but lately I find myself coming back to another influence: a simple bean shape, that of Gleep, Gloop, and the far more culutrally significant Shmoo.

It was my love for these characters that made my eyes bug out in southern France when I came across a child's bank in the shape of the cartoon character Barbapapa. I had no idea who the character was at that point, but I had to get the bank (though if memory serves, the vendor was asking a ridiculous price and I found an almost exact replica in Paris for far less). Barbapapa was a Shmoo with arms, but minus the legs. Or Gloop plus appendages and nostrils. However you choose to describe him, he was/is great.

There's something about the purity and simplicity in these little beans that just works (of course their simplified phallus shape can be picked apart by the armchair psychologist, but I'll leave that alone for the time being).

I find myself trying to decode what works about these characters and how far the shapes and simplicity can be pushed before that effectiveness drops off. Of course sometimes, as in the case of Dr. Huba and Mr. Moob, I'm happy to espouse an "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach.

(Or are those two more influenced by Captain Caveman? Who knows...)

This obsession with these bloated, bean-shaped characters connects somewhat tangentially to my love of McDonald's Grimace and my more recent infatuation with the world of James Jarvis' art and toys. Though I suppose they're steering more in the direction of eggplant or gumdrop shapes.

All of these obsessions and connections led to my interest the early 1970's Japanese children show Kure Kure Takora, (posted on Boing Boing recently). Though I was drawn in by the Shmoo-esque sidekick (or perhaps more accurately Barbapapa-esque, given that they are from the same time period (Barbapapa first being published in 1970)), there was a familiarity in the octopus protagonist itself. The familiarity with his design, I later realized, stemmed from a late nineteenth century toy design posted on BibliOdyssey. It's easy enough to believe that the design for the show's hero was inspired by that earlier toy design, though I don't have any hard evidence of a connection. Take a look at both, draw your own conspiracies.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Your Late Morning Chicken

Chickens chatting over coffee. From what I assume to be Aardman Animation for Saturn, a German electronics retailer.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Titles, More Titles, and Cereal

A few semi-related posts I've enjoyed recently: via Boing-Boing, links to a variety of title work for B and Sci-Fi Movies (one of which is above).

From Smashing magazine, a collection of 30 unforgettable movie openings (I haven't seen Lord of War, but had to agree it's an impressive title sequence... and I was glad to see that readers suggested To Kill a Mockingbird, one of my all time favorite opening sequences).

And to pick you up after watching that Lord of War opening: From the Aeron provides the typography and design of 100 cereal boxes.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Huge Suit Visits Germany

Starting tomorrow, and for the next seventeen weeks, I'll be contributing a weekly strip in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.The strip is in their "Tragic Strip" slot of their political section, and has been previously occupied by a slew of artists, including one of my major idols and influences, Heinz Edelmann. My contribution will feature Huge Suit (who made an appearance in Fantagraphics' 2006 Free Comic Book Day issue and is inarguably one of my more Heinz Edelmann-influenced characters). The strips aren't apparently going to be available online, but a clip is above.

The entire run is completely wordless (as is usual for strips running in that spot) and features a cast of five main characters, each narrative interlocking, each narrative shifted by a single encounter/intervention by that doughy overlord, Huge Suit. Each week, in addition to the current week's strip, the previous week's strip will run reduced toward the bottom of the page, so that hopefully the continuity of the overall story won't get too lost... though I'm trying to keep each strip relatively self-contained as a precaution.

If you're anywhere within the paper's reach, feel free to pick it up, collect them all, make a paper hat.