Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Blog Love Omega Glee 2012 Countdown Calendar!

Well, 2012, the year my novel Blog Love Omega Glee is set in will soon be here, which means a perfect opportunity for reading it is also here. Each chapter of the novel is set on a different day in 2012, so this will be the one time ever that a reader can read along day by day during the same year in which the novel is set. So if anyone out there is looking for a New Year's resolution, then please make it to read B.L.O.G. in 2012! But, whatever you end up doing, I hope you have a Happy New Year!

Monday, December 26, 2011

A Tale Of Two Giftcards

I received two giftcards for Christmas and decided to knock them out today before I forgot about them. I went to J.C. Penney and checked out, and the cashier said "Do you have one of the coupons?" I said, "No, what coupon?" She said, "I'll find one for you," and took $10 off the price. I thanked her and then bought some more stuff with the remainder on the giftcard.

Then I went to Kohl's. I didn't see anything that I particularly liked, so I just picked up a Barnes & Noble giftcard for the same amount and tried to check out (I had done this a couple of years ago), but the cashier and the assistant manager said the system wouldn't take the transaction because it wasn't for "merchandise". Call me old-fashioned, but if you're selling a product in your store, it's "merchandise." I left without buying anything. I guess one should beware of Kohl's gift cards. One never knows when they'll slap a "can only be redeemed for pants on the third Thursday of May" into the giftcard fine print either.

Guess which store I'll continue to shop at?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

Where's Ginsberg?

Q: What's worse? A big corporate publisher demanding outrageous licensing fees to publish a poem it controls or going ahead and publishing an anthology that purports to be of 20th century American poetry but doesn't include work by Allen Ginsberg (or Sylvia Plath, or Lorine Niedecker, and so forth) anyway?

A: Going ahead and publishing an anthology that purports to be of 20th century American poetry but doesn't include work by Allen Ginsberg (or Sylvia Plath, or Lorine Niedecker, and so forth) anyway.

Monday, November 14, 2011

What I Did On My Summer Vacation In Hell

My zine pal from Canada, Justin Chatwin, occasionally takes time out from running for parliament to run a cool blog called Message All. Recently, he asked me if I had any writing to share, and I dug around in the archives and found an unpublished short story. I had originally written it in 2001, but then September 11th happened and the world changed . . . er . . . maybe not. Actually I'm not sure how the little story ended up an orphan or why it wasn't published before. There's a good chance someone asked me for a story for their zine or something and then as often happens the zine never got published and by that point I had forgotten about the story. I stumbled across it a couple of years ago and liked it. Readers of The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus will recognize the plot of the story since it covers events also referenced in the novel. That's likely why the story never appeared before. It was written prior to the novel, but since the story covered similar events and the novel was published in 2002 in zine form, I shelved the story. It stands on its own though, which is why I offered it to Justin. I'm happy to see it finally be published. It's been waiting, enduring a decade of hibernation in my computer. When the story was initially posted on MessageAll, there were a couple of typos (the title was missing "Vacation" and the last line "hell"), but I expect Justin will take care of them. If you've noticed the weather getting nippy, then warm up with "What I Did On My Summer Vacation In Hell"!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Yeah, I Told You So

And, once again, as predicted, an American didn't win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer did. I am unfamiliar with his work, but that's one of the things I love about the Swedish Academy. They turn me on to new writers who are usually quite great (well, new to me anyway, Transtromer is 80 years old) such as Dario Fo. Congratulations, Mr. Transtromer! I look forward to reading your work. And, let's hope that one of these days, an American author proves me wrong, so that articles I wrote last decade still won't be relevant and American literature will once again be world class.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cheer Up Hacks! There’s Always Next Year!

As a followup to the essay that I wrote about about the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2004, I wrote the following for the now defunct Underground Literary Alliance website in 2005. After I wrote this essay, it got depressing to write basically the same essay every year so I stopped doing it until the Horace Engdahl kerfuffle broke out and I revisited the subject in 2009. Sadly, I suspect that it might be some time before these essays are irrelevant. We'll find out this year's winner tomorrow.

Last year, I wrote a Monday Report for the Underground Literary Alliance entitled “No Nobel For You, Yankee Doodler!” which argued that no American author should expect to win the world’s most prestigious literary prize since American literature was no longer worthy of world class consideration. In the face of British playwright Harold Pinter winning this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature, we could pretty much rerun that article again. But we won’t. We don’t want anyone to think we’re happy that contemporary American literature isn’t worthy of attention by anyone outside the USA anymore (hell, most of it isn’t even worthy of attention by anyone inside the USA anymore either--what we have is a regional literature, Manhattan literature, passed off as a national literature and that’s the crux of the problem). Instead, we want to propose a solution.

This year, things looked up for the Americans initially. Ladbrokes and literary bloggers had Joyce Carol Oates at 7-1 odds to win, Phillip Roth at 9-1, and Don DeLillo in the running as a White Noise dark horse. Alas, it was not to be. Those wacky 15 Swedes (there should be 18 in the Swedish Academy that decides the award but three members have quit in protest over the years, including this year’s well-publicized departure of Knut Ahnlund, who thought last year’s winner Elfriede Jelinek to be undeserving of the prize) apparently decided the matter based on literary quality instead of prolificacy (sorry, Oates), kicking historical figures in the nuts when they’re long dead and can’t defend their reputations (as Roth did to Charles Lindbergh in his last novel), and hype based on past glories (ah, DeLillo). But cheer up red, white, and blue hacks! You might not need ideas or have to be interesting or be able to tell a good story after all. It might be a good bet that the criticism that this year’s Nobels have a tinge of anti-Americanism (for example, Pinter correctly views the Iraq War essentially as an armed robbery/confidence scheme), may incline those Swedes to throw a mercy award to an American next year.

However, the Underground Literary Alliance would suggest that whining about Eurocentricism and anti-Americanism is not the best way to bring the Nobel Prize in Literature back to the land of the free (at least as free as the Patriot Act lets us be). Instead, we suggest that a better approach is for American writers to stop worrying about academic careers and pleasing corporate masters and instead start writing imaginative works full of interesting ideas that are socially relevant beyond the borders of New York City. I mean I like New York City and rich people as much as most Americans but that doesn’t mean our national literature has to be exclusively devoted to such topics (leave them to Bret Easton Ellis). Why not a novel about a plumber in Iowa? A grocery store clerk in Montana? A garage band in Ohio? (O.k., I already wrote a novel about the last topic but the first two suggestions remain unwritten as far as I know). Of course, one might have to leave an MFA program to experience life beyond the academy, but that’s all right. It’ll be good for you. And American literature.

Alas, until American literature becomes relevant again (even to fellow Americans), we might have to forego competing for the Nobels and leave them to more deserving writers such as Indonesian master Pramoedya Ananta Toer or Vietnamese novelist Duong Thu Huong. So, my fellow Americans eligible to nominate writers for the Prize, such as past laureate Toni Morrison and professors of literature, please don’t keep nominating our current crap writers. It’s embarrassing. Instead, just like in baseball--our national pastime remember?-- let’s focus on rebuilding for a few seasons instead. Let’s clear away the cutesy creeps like the McSweeneyites (at least to the margins of American literature from the center they currently occupy, presumably due to the intellectual bankruptcy of corporate publishers)! Let’s put the old fossils like Updike out to pasture (if they want to keep writing, that’s fine, but let’s stop pretending they still matter)! Let’s pay attention to the good academic writers such as Mark Winegardner even when they aren’t writing sequels to past classics (The Godfather Returns)! Let’s put the Beats, Kathy Acker, and other deserving writers into our official literary histories and anthologies! Let’s publish great writers from the underground and elsewhere, and not people whose only qualification is that they know (usually in the biblical sense) people in the publishing industry! Let’s tear our critics away from the corporate promo trough and have them look beyond what Rupert Murdoch and other beancounters think is good literature! And for Uncle Sam’s sake, instead of the great “hopes” of American literature bragging about never having read Don Quixote or Moby Dick, let’s take them out of the writing workshop and have them spend a few years reading the classics! O, yankee doodler dandy, let us be worthy of the great tradition of Poe and Melville, Dickinson and Twain, Whitman and Hughes, Hemingway and Faulkner, O’Connor and Wright, Miller and Wilson (R.I.P.), to just name a few, again!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

No Nobel For You, Yankee Doodler!

I wrote the following little essay for the now defunct Underground Literary Alliance website in 2004. Unfortunately, the essay is not as dated as it should be. This year's Nobel Prize in Literature announcement is scheduled for Thursday, so we'll see if this essay yet again holds true. Tomorrow I'll run another article, this one from 2005.

Every fall, literati worldwide look forward to the announcement of the winner of the prestigious Nobel Prize in Literature. This year’s laureate is Elfriede Jelinek, an Austrian novelist. It’s been over a decade since an American won the prize. The last was Toni Morrison in 1993. Now, seeing as how Americans are constantly reminded by their domestic media that the United States of America is the “world’s lone superpower” and that our culture “dominates the globe,” it may strike the remaining Americans who can think (apparently not a large number seeing as about half the voting population still holds the wrongheaded notion that George W. Bush is doing a good job as president--memo to morons, the only “good job” he’s doing is of ruining the country) that it is odd that more of our writers (since our American literature, like the rest of our culture, is surely the best in the world!) haven’t been chosen as worthy of the Nobel Prize, world-class authors, winners of the most prestigious prize in literature. Among those who ponder the situation, three likely explanations arise:

(1) The kinder, gentler hypothesis. There’s a lot of countries in the world, and a lot of writers in each country, so it’s reasonable that even the best country in the world (U! S! A! USA! USA!) can only hog so many awards. One a decade is the best we can hope for.

(2) The it’s a conspiracy hypothesis. The Swedish Academy, like the rest of “old Europe,” hates us Americans because we kick so much arse worldwide (why look what we did to Saddam, we’d eat Stockholm for lunch), so they unfairly promote European writers such as Jelinek and other riff-raffish cultural inferiors over the likes of such American supergeniuses as Don DeLillo, John Updike, Philip Roth, Louise Erdrich, and so on (even with the odds stacked against him, Thomas Pynchon’s still got money on him in Vegas to be the next American laureate though).

(3) The American literature sucks hypothesis. In a society where such influential and important authors as Kathy Acker, Charles Bukowski, William S. Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, and Henry Miller usually are missing entirely from the standard literary canon (e.g., The Norton Anthology of American Literature taught in college courses) in favor of blander, less interesting writers culled from pyramid scheme/academic welfare Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing programs (out of politeness, just like our esteemed leader W., we won’t name names but take a look at some of the writers who appear in those anthologies where the aforementioned authors should), and where contemporary writers of similar merit are almost completely ignored by large, creepy corporations who’d rather sign the latest reality television star (o.k., fuck it, we will name names here, Paris Hilton anyone?) to a book contract in order to make a quick, shortsighted buck (and then it’s decades in the remainders bin, with the next stop the landfill) rather than nurture quality writers whose works would continue to sell and make profits (and whose early editions would end up preserved in libraries and rare and used bookstores) for decades, what the fuck do you Americans expect? You get a literary culture completely bankrupt of world class work, and the Nobel Committees recognize that fact and go looking elsewhere.

The Underground Literary Alliance favors the third explanation. So much for the Great American Novel, eh? At this stage, we’d bloody settle for a good one, and even that’s not too likely, except in the underground, far beneath the average reader’s and the Nobel Committee’s notice.

Monday, October 3, 2011

2011 Nobel Prize In Literature

It's Nobel season again! The British bookies are calculating the odds for the literature prize. As usual, it probably won't be an American author. What I wrote a couple of years ago continues to be true. In fact, what I wrote back in 2004 and 2005 continues to be true so this week I'll be rerunning a couple of articles I wrote for the now defunct Underground Literary Alliance website. Pynchon's last novel was a hoot, but I doubt the Swedes will go for him and he's the USA's best shot. Sadly, this state of affairs likely will remain until American literature deals with some of the issues I pointed out. My pick for whom the Swedes will go for is Haruki Murakami, who I think is great, but I'd love to see Alan Moore or Duong Thu Huong win. We'll find out in a week or so!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Polish Zines

Polish zinester Michal Schneck has posted a chapter from my master's thesis on zines at his website which archives Polish zines. I don't know Polish but the site seems very cool! My chapter is in English currently but he's planning on translating it when he gets some free time. The master's thesis has been translated into Portuguese so it seems to have a knack for getting translated into languages that begin with P. Can Punjabi be far behind?

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Blog Love Omega Glee Ebook!

Blog Love Omega Glee eBook

It's out! The .epub and .pdf versions of Blog Love Omega Glee are done! I'm releasing them into the wild of the Internet. You can download them, share them, and, most of all, read them! You can download the files for free here. I'm leaving the serialized version up on the blog, but I've made minor changes (and hope I've caught all the typos) in the collected version and regard it as the definitive version of the novel. One fun way to read it is a chapter a day during the course of a year (especially 2012), or go for reading all 230,000 words or so in one lump! The files should work on most computers, ereaders, and tablets. If you like it, then please send me a donation at the PayPal link on the sidebar (or, in the zine tradition, trade books with me, or, if you live in a country that has such delicious candy bars as Topic, Big Turk, Lion, Fry's Turkish Delight, or Coffee Crisp, you can mail me one of those --email me for the current postal address). Enjoy! And please feel free to let me know what you think!

Monday, August 8, 2011

Zygote In My Fez Wrapup!

The poetry festival in Toldeo was a lot of fun! Thanks to everyone who put it together! The Toledo Blade wrote a nice article about it and published some photos from it.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Blog Love Omega Glee Live!

You've probably never said to yourself, "Why, goshdarnit, I'd love to have Wred Fright read to me some Blog Love Omega Glee live!", but admit it, it's a deep-buried desire of yours, and tomorrow in Toledo at the Zygote In My Fez Poetry Feztival your wish will come true! To celebrate the impending ebook release, I'll be reading a few chapters of the novel live. It's free! See you there!*

*If you can't make it to Toledo, then you can catch the action on Internet radio (see the Zygote link above for details).

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Future Of Publishing?

After The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus's initial publication as a series of seven zines, the novel was collected in a book by Out Your Backdoor/Underground Literary Alliance Press. After serializing Blog Love Omega Glee, I want to collect it as well. Since it was serialized electronically, it's fitting to have the collection be an ebook. It'll be out in a few days, and I'll be releasing it myself. I'm just going through the novel and fixing a few typos and whatnot (one nice thing about electronic publishing is that even if I or a reader find a typo down the road, I can still fix it by updating the file). I hadn't planned on self-publishing the collected version (I do enough of that with the serialized versions of my novels, or so I had thought), but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

The way I'm doing it might be a bit unusual though. I've cut out all the middlemen between writer and reader (ok, there's still the alphabet, the English language, and the computer and its software, so it isn't a perfect mindmeld). I'm releasing .epub and .pdf versions of the novel as freeware. Anyone can download them and anyone can pass them on to others. If someone likes what they've read, then I do ask for a donation (see the PayPal Donate button on the sidebar for how). I also ask that the novel not be adapted or transformed without my permission. People can even print it out but I ask that no copies be sold. By doing this, I'm hoping that the novel remains in circulation as long as people are interested in it, and I don't have to deal with the hassle of filling publication orders or working with an outside publisher. Instead, I can focus on writing.

Remembering that most experiments fail, we'll see how this experiment goes.

Blog Love Omega Glee Ebook On The Way!

Though the serialized version of my novel Blog Love Omega Glee is available on this site, I know that some people have been waiting for the collected edition. Well, it's in the works (in fact, if you are on my email list then you have access to a galley already)! I'll be publishing it as an ebook in .epub and .pdf formats so people should be able to read it on an iPad, Kindle, Nook, or even an old-fashioned computer! I'll discuss my publishing strategy (or lack thereof) in an upcoming post.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Zygote In My Fez Poetry Feztival

More details about the Zygote In My Fez Poetry Feztival in Toledo, Ohio USA this Saturday have emerged. I'm scheduled to read at 7:15 but given how underground lit events usually go it could be anytime between 4 and 10 p.m. If you're attending, best just to settle in and enjoy a plethora of poets!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Jelly Boy The Clown Needs Help!

Jelly Boy The Clown performed at The F Independent Literary Festival that I put together in the Cleveland, Ohio USA area back in 2006. He's kept clowning around in subsequent years, most recently appearing in sideshows at Coney Island and Time's Square in New York City. Sadly, he was burned and apparently suffered smoke inhalation in a housefire on July 2nd. He's in the hospital and expected to recover (a man that can swallow a sword is quite hardy), but he's going to need some help with his medical bills. Friends of his in the sideshow community have set up a donation fund. I wish Jelly a speedy recovery! Thanks to King Wenclas for spreading the word!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Big Toledo Reading Shindig!

The details are still sketchy, but I'll be participating in a big underground lit reading in Toledo, Ohio USA on August 6, 2011. It's sponsored by Red Fez and Zygote In My Coffee and at Collingwood Arts Center. It will start at 4 p.m. and, if it's like any other large reading I've attended, end when the last poet passes out from drinking. I'll pass on the details as they arrive, but so far the lineup looks good with Leopold McGinnis, Pat Simonelli, Lynn Alexander, Karl Koweski, and many more. Maybe we'll even get New Castle, Pennsylvania's second greatest contribution to the culture of the world (after Jack Cole, creator of Plastic Man), Ron Androla, to sail over from Pennsylvania to Ohio on Lake Erie for the event!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Rest In Peace Steve Kostecke

This week the world became a less interesting place.

Steve Kostecke is dead.

I don't know the details but I know it was too soon. Steve couldn't have been older than 45 or so. I met Steve a decade ago at The Underground Literary Alliance's Amato Opera House Show in New York City. It was one of his rare times on his native country's soil. He spent most of his adult life overseas, usually in Asia, seeking a freedom that he thought was extinguished in the USA. His travel adventures were documented in a series of travel zines. Over the years, I have read thousands of zines. Most of them I donated to libraries or gave away to other people. A select few I kept because I wanted to read them again someday.

I kept Steve's zines.

I hold in my hand a copy of Auslanders Raus!, which tells the story of Steve's time living in a tent in the woods in Germany while working at Burger King on an American military base.

Steve didn't write fiction. He didn't have to. His life was a novel.

It was a good read too for those of us who got to experience it secondhand through his zines. In addition to Auslanders Raus!, I also have Destination: Absolutely and Third World Blues, chronicles of his adventures in Asia and the South Pacific.

I was looking forward to reading more of Steve's zines someday.

Steve would probably say in response to that something like "That's what you get for looking forward instead of looking at where you are."

In any case, I'm glad I got to read the ones I did, and that I got to know Steve.

Most of my correspondence with Steve was via email, usually in the context of planning some Underground Literary Alliance (ULA) event or other undertaking. It was always interesting to see which Asian country Steve would be emailing from this time. He taught English and used the language as his ticket to explore Asia.

Steve was the editor of the ULA's group zine The Slush Pile and was hoping to publish a greatest hits collection from it as a book. The project was continually getting shelved due to infighting in the ULA (I lost track of Steve when I quit the group a few years back, though my exit had nothing to do with Steve; in fact, one member even accused Steve and I of being in league against him, something Steve and I had a good laugh over via email since we both liked that member and weren't in league against anybody), publisher difficulties, and even Steve's conscience (he pulled the book from one publisher because he thought the ULA and the publisher were a bad combination). With Steve's death, the long-delayed book is probably dead as well, since if he couldn't shepherd it through to publication, no one else could likely come close (arguments within the ULA could literally become barroom brawls--thank goodness, most were conducted safely via distant email).

I love self publishing but one hazard is that when the zinester or self-publisher dies, without an ongoing publisher to keep the work available, her or his work often passes as well. It would be great is Steve's zines could be more available, but at least some of his work is available on the blog Pat King and I edited for the ULA. You can read "Hi, I'm Jack" and "Decades Of Debauchery And The Human Animal", both by Steve to get a feel for his writing.

I'm sorry there will be no more of it, but at least his last work, a translation of Plato, is available (in fact, it just came out and I wondered if the news of Steve's death was just a hoax to help promote it, but that's just vain hope).

I was also happy to be published alongside Steve in the ULA's Books line, but Steve's zines are a better read than that book, so please don't judge his work based on it.

Steve, I'm sorry I never got to drink another beer with you, and to hear more of your wonderful stories in person. The next beer I drink will be raised in your honor. Cheers!

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

An Interview With Cartoonist Mark Justice

I've known Mark Justice since 1988 and I have enjoyed discussing cartoons and comics, among other things, with him over the years. In the past few years, Mark has started creating his own comics, at first employing his writing skills to create Grammar Man and Fanboy, and now expanding to drawing with his mini-comic Fun With Diabetes! from Eureka Comics!. I interviewed him recently about his cartooning.

1) What inspired you to make a comic about diabetes (besides the obvious catalyst of discovering you had the condition)? Why a comic though?

To answer, Fun With Diabetes first started as an idea I had for a stand-up routine. I was doing the Advanced Placement College Board reading last year, and the essays I read were about humorists, their roles, and how they were valued. I began thinking about what I would do if I were to make a stand-up routine. I thought, "begin with what you know," and since I became diabetic two years ago, I thought, "this might be fun."

What made the idea truly fun was that it was taboo, as most diseases are, but as SO many comics do politics and sex and gender roles, blah, blah, blah, I simply wanted to talk about having diabetes in a fun, biting way.

How it turned into a comic book started with my trip to SPACE (Small Press And Comics Expo) last year. I was amazed by the sheer amount of mini-comics out there, the creativity, the fun, at all levels of ability, from simple shapes to fully-painted pages. I can't draw to save my life, but I was inspired from SPACE that even I could draw simple shapes and tell a story. I can write. That's my ability. I knew that if I made a comic, the words would have to carry the brunt of the load, so I thought, "maybe it would be fun to do part of my stand-up routine about diabetes," and the idea was born.

I had a few really good punchlines, so I created the panels around a strong visual to go with those punchlines. "Strong" is a relative term, artistically, but when you see a panel of my pancreas in a wheelchair along with the line "I prefer pancreatic cripple," well, the reaction that I was shooting for is generally what I get.

This is my first mini-comic, and I'm happy with it. I'm working on more now, which is fun. I hope that my artwork improves with time, but I think I'll just have to be content to draw simple shapes and let my humor come through my writing. 

2) You've written comics before though, right?

Yes, I've written comics before. I've created a whole comics universe that I would love to see actualized some day. It's an homage to the Golden and Silver Age eras called The Golden Agers. I've got a large cast of characters and would really love to flesh them out into full stories.

I'm probably most proud of a comic I did that was published in 2005, called The Adventures of Grammar Man and Fanboy. It's really a grammar-teaching tool in the form of a comic book. I wrote the scripts, and an artists named Linda Ayala did the art. It covers four big issues with grammar with a lot of humor. It was inspired by the Adam West Batman series. When I wrote the dialogue for Grammar Man, I kept hearing it as if Adam West were saying it, which made it easy to capture that era and style. Fanboy was a smart-alecky me but sounded a lot more like Joe Pesci, haha!

Grammar Man has been very successful in helping kids learn grammar. Kids take a set of quizzes before reading Grammar Man and take the same set after reading. In an assessment of over 1000 quiz sets, scores went up 22% after reading Grammar Man. That's over 2 letter grades' worth of improvement, which is fantastic. I'd get notes from the kids, saying things like "I wish all my books were like this!" and "Grammar Man makes learning fun!" That makes me feel very proud.

3) Did comics interest you in reading when you were a kid?

Oh, yeah, I've loved comics for as long as I can remember. I've had them literally all my life. On the day I was born, my dad bought me issues of The Phantom, Mandrake the Magician, and Flash Gordon. I still have those very issues!

I've always been a reader, and I cannot separate my childhood from comics. I used to go every week and buy whatever I could with my allowance. I can't know for sure how many comics I've read, but it's got to be in the thousands, for sure.

Comics are wonderful in that they transport me to being a kid all over again. I can't help but feel like I'm 8 or 10 or 12 when I'm reading stuff from the 70s and early 80s. They're inextricably a part of my childhood and my life. I fantasize about not having to do anything but read comics all day. If I could read 15 comics a day, that be about 450 a month, almost 6000 a year. I can SO see myself doing just that for the rest of my life, hahaha!

4) Today's comics seem to be less accessible to kids.  Most of them are sold in comic book stores and to enter one of those one usually has to be into reading comics already.  Indeed, the average comic shop patron seems to be a middle-aged man.  One of the fears of the comic book industry is that their customers are getting older and older and they don't look likely to be replaced.  Perhaps online comics or graphic novels might change that, but I know that you're involved in an organization that connects kids with comics.  Can you tell us a little about the organization?

Before I answer your question, I'd like to chime in on your first point. I agree that comics are slowly getting to the point of "elite" culture in that you have only a few special places to get access to them. When I was a kid, every drug and convenience store had a spinning rack or two of comics. I'd go to two or three stores every week to buy my allowance's worth of comics. The way comics are distributed now, with only one or two major distributors--is it one, Diamond?-- well, that stranglehold is destroying readership. If comics are to see a resurgence in young readership, kids have to have easy access. Bring the comics back to the local stores. I bet sales would go up 15% in the first year.
Now, on to the ECBI. The Elyria Comic Book Initiative is a non-profit organization whose mission is threefold: get comics into kids' hands, promote literacy and creativity by teaching kids how to make their own comics, and create opportunities for writers and artists to be able to take their talent further--sort of a "comic book academy."

We do programs for after-school, during-school, library, and other settings. The ECBI will be two years old this Free Comic Book Day. We've done dozens of programs in grade, middle, and high schools; in libraries; and in alternative educational centers. Hundreds of kids have gone through our program.

Our program is designed to teach both story telling and art. We cover the whole story arc, beginning-middle-end, setting, character, plot, rising action, climax, conclusion, etc. We help them understand why they need to have all of these elements to tell a good story, and we also help them as they create their characters, as well, so we give them the tools to develop their characters' background, motivation, their powers and abilities, their weaknesses, and personality traits that make the characters seem like real people.

The art lessons help them understand that all comics are drawn from simple shapes and that no matter what level of their drawing ability, they can create a great comic. It's all very hands on.

Our first pilot programs were at a local middle school. We did three programs there. We had 20 kids start the first program. About 12 of those kids stayed for the second and third programs, all wanting to do more on their books, tell more stories, all of them becoming better artists and storytellers. It was wonderful to see how they grew not only in ability but in confidence.
One of the coolest things about all of this is that kids get excited about comics. We always bring a few long boxes of comics into whatever program we're doing so that the kids can look at and read them while they work on their comics. Most of the kids we've worked with have never read comic books, so a whole new world is opened to them. What is the greatest joy is in letting the kids take a few comics for themselves, to keep. They are so excited, and we are thrilled to share our love of comics with them. I'd like to think that we are helping create the next generation of comic readers, writers, and artists. Hello, Marvel, DC, Image? We'd love to work with you.

We are really excited with a few projects we have going on now. I'm not sure how much I can tell you, so all I'll say is that we're working with some local comic book industry professionals and will be creating a project together. It's all very cool, and I'm really thrilled to see where this goes over the next few years.

I have to conclude with letting everyone know that as the ECBI is a non-profit organization, any donations they make are tax-deductible. We gladly take comic books, art supplies, financial donations, and donations of time. If you'd like more information, please contact me at mark AT elyriacomicbookinitiative.org.

5) Any last words of wisdom?

I don't know about words of wisdom, but I did want to thank you for the opportunity to talk about Eureka!, the ECBI, and about comics, in general. I LOVE comic books. What I'd really like to see is for comics to come down in price, for them to be distributed in more places, for more and more kids to get into comics and fall in love with the medium. The love of comics can last a lifetime. Life wouldn't be as sweet without comics.

Friday, March 11, 2011

An Interview With Artist Michael Dee

I've known Mike Dee for a long time and he's been making art for as long as I've known him. I interviewed him about the sculpture I showed a picture of last week, as well as what else he's been up to lately.

1) What inspired your latest sculpture?
Following the Melted Hearts And Deadly Force show in September 2009, I became interested in increasing the scale of the Heartsmelt series and employing elements of architecture. Last summer, Plastics Make It Possible contacted me about doing a plastic Eiffel Tower or arc for the Philadelphia International Flower Show, which was really cool, because I had just started a new series of drawings of St. John's Wort flowers to go along with the ongoing Jacketed Hollow Point series. I am always excited to do more accessible public projects that will be viewed outside of the standard gallery setting such as gardens, store windows, building facades, and rooftops.

2) Where will the sculpture end up after the show?
The multi colored Lexan tubes and the PVC pipe connectors will be recycled locally in Philadelphia, while the neon will be shipped back to Los Angeles for future projects.

3) Do you like the finite nature of such sculptures? Is that part of their beauty that they don't last long? Do you approach such sculptures differently than more longer-lasting works?
I like the finite nature of these types of projects, because it becomes more about the experience, like seeing a band live, or going to watch an eclipse or meteor shower. You were there and you were engaged with the lights, sounds, and movements for a limited amount of time. People remember where they were and their enthusiasm. Longer lasting works of mine are generally produced at more of a human or home-related scale and don't involve complex interactive or hardware components. I've recently found that I like the immediacy of photography and drawing for producing archival works which reference the concepts and materials used in the installations and large sculptures

4) What are you working on now?
Right now I am working on a suite of drawings, a suite of photographs, and two interactive sculptures, as well as doing freelance photography of bands and playing fuzz bass in a new "punk rock" project. The newer art and music has taken on more of darker tone and recalls the earlier work that was produced in New York and Ohio. Between my job as a vis com professor and being a new homeowner I have been very busy since November.

5) That's a wrap! Any last words of wisdom?
I guess in the words of Augustus St. Gaudens and Jeff Koons: "To the beauty in simple things." But then again there is always Oscar Wilde and The Jesus And Mary Chain, "We may have been in the gutter, but we were looking up at the stars."

Watch Mike make a sculpture on this video!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Mike Dee's New Sculpture

My pal Mike Dee has graciously allowed me to post a pic of one of his new sculptures. It's pretty cool!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Story Opening Contest

King Wenclas is running a contest on his American Pop Lit blog. The contest is to determine who has the best opening lines of a short story. The rules aren't entirely clear but I'm pretty sure that the story has to be your own (for example, you can't turn in the opening of a Hemingway story) and something previously unpublished. I entered and so far I'm the only entrant which probably means I should shut up about the contest but it'd be more fun if others entered. It's free! C'mon, sharpen up those pencils!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Yip!: Seeing The Room In A Movie Theater

I've seen the movie The Room before but seeing it in a movie theater was even better. It was like being in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Usually I hate it when people talk during movies but The Room is a movie that is improved by audience participation. Its ineptness is its brilliance and the film can make me laugh harder than almost any other. Making people chuckle probably wasn't writer/director/star Tommy Wiseau's original goal, but since the film's newfound success as a cult comedy may help him finally recoup the money he lost on the film (and now probably then some) he seems to be taking things goodnaturedly and just says something to the effect that he doesn't care what people think of the film as long as they enjoy it.

And enjoy it I did!

Bring a plastic spoon if you go see it in the theater--don't ask why because you'll soon figure it out when you get there. And if you can attend the screening wearing a tuxedo and carrying a football so much the better.

*Yips are good things in case you didn't know!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yip!: Kill The Hippies At Bela Dubby On 11 February 2011

Yip!: I felt like I was in a 1980s punk rock music video when members of the Lakewood, Ohio USA police force started surrounding the little coffeehouse that Kill The Hippies, one of my favorite local bands, was playing. Fortunately, it wasn't us they were interested in. They just wanted us to stay inside while they raided an apartment across the street. I still have no idea what exactly was going on, but judging from the fact that a woman was escorted into the apartment afterward and it involved about ten police cars and twice that many officers I suspect it was some sort of domestic disturbance involving a gun (Unless someone dies, Cleveland media outlets generally don't care and won't cover such an incident except in a police blotter a week later or so maybe). Whatever the case, it was a kick to be locked inside and forced to listen to KTH while police with riot shields and semi-automatic rifles roamed outside. Not that I ever want to repeat the experience, but it was interesting. KTH seemed undisturbed so I would guess that they've played around cops with guns drawn before.

*Yips are good things in case you didn't know!

Monday, February 14, 2011


Professional wrestling is dead, right? Vince McMahon murdered it for the tax break. There are no more Masked Superstars from parts unknown and we all know that the “wild man” from the Sudan’s real name is Larry and that he owns a rib joint in Atlanta. All that’s left is the corporate angle: employee v. employer (us v. them). Of course, we can continue to wish for wardrobe malfunctions, but they have duct tape for that in 2011. And maybe there’ll be snuff matches in 2111, but that’s a long way to go for a whiff of the Real (that true fans of professional wrestling so desperately crave). You might ask: “Well, didn’t you know that professional wrestling was fake in 1979?”--And the answer would have been “yes,” but I wouldn’t have admitted it to anyone in a million years. It was part of the illusion as well as part of the fun.

Sometimes when I give a test back to my students, I’ll ask a professional wrestling trivia question for a prize. In the old days, the student would have to mind-meld with me to win the classic Dusty Rhodes trading card, but nowadays the answer to “What professional wrestler died of a Soma overdose” can be googled in less time than it took me to ask the question. (It was Louie Spicoli if you’re curious). As the semester progresses, my students will ask me to “walk like Ric Flair” or “talk like Superstar Graham” as a reward for saying something brilliant. To tell you the truth, I really don’t mind. I’m a bit of a ham, plus I feel more like a sports entertainer and less like a teacher with each passing year.

Professional wrestling has been my favorite “thing” since I was 5 years old. In 2nd grade, my friends and I would turn a card table upside down, attach twine to the legs, and have matches with our Johnny West action figures (and no one ever referred to them as dolls). In 6th grade, my friend Allen Gilbert and I made “Mid-Atlantic Tag-Team Championship” belts in his garage and wore them for the entire school year. We would have matches at recess with my mother serving as special referee and she would always cheat so that we would win. In college, my friends and I dressed in 3-piece suits and headed for the Richmond Coliseum to cheer on The Four Horsemen any time they were in town. To this day, I think it could be argued that my tastes in hair/facial hair can be traced back to how southern profession wrestlers were wearing their hair back in 1982.

So what is the psychological attraction of professional wrestling for me? Why did I beg my long-suffering parents to take me to over 150 matches (including family vacations to North Carolina and Florida) when I was a child? Why do I love professional wrestling?--Because when I was a kid, professional wrestlers were the only fat people on tv. I was overweight and insecure and the wrestlers were everything that I wanted to be (i.e., strong, smart, and cool). I was a fat kid and they were my only role models. What did I have in common with Thomas Jefferson or Abraham Lincoln? I wanted to be Dusty Rhodes (the self-proclaimed “chubby plumber’s son from Austin, Texas”). Dusty Rhodes weighed well over 300 pounds and spoke with a lisp, yet when he claimed to have “wined n’ dined with kings n’ queens” and to have “slept in alleys, ate pork n’ beans”. I desperately wanted to believe him.

With this in mind, I think the best tribute that I could do for the idols/icons of my youth is to assemble a top ten list of my favorite wrestlers. I guess I should warn you that I’m a mark for the old Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling (the one with Bob Caudle and David Crockett) and that even as a child, I thought that the WWE was corporate and choreographed. I also realize that the true fans of professional wrestling will want me to qualify my criteria for picking a top ten list as it relates to mic skills, popularity, and actual wrestling ability. Well, Pro Wrestling Illustrated always used to qualify their fan voting with the disclaimer, “If you could watch the matches of only one wrestler, who would it be?” and I think that definition will work just fine for me.

10) STAN HANSEN might be the only wrestler on the list that I never saw in person. As a kid, I read about the “the lariat” in the pages of Pro Wrestling Illustrated. And per the trappings of our post-modern culture, maybe it’s better that I know about Stan Hanson from reading about him in a wrestling pulp as opposed to friending him on Facebook. Did you know that he broke Bruno Sammartino’s neck? Did you know that he popped Big Van Vader’s eyeball right out of its socket and then Vader shoved it back in and kept wrestling? There was no internet or cable tv back-in-the-day either. I would tell you that I stayed up late reading about the brutality of Stan Hansen under the covers with a flashlight, but for the sake of my image, let’s pretend that I was rubbing one out instead.

9) RAVEN: Don’t tell any of my freaks, but part of my workout ritual at the gym is to break out Raven’s crucifixion pose while chanting “What about me?!” and “What about Raven?!” in the bathroom mirror between weightlifting sets. Of course, I realize that’s probably not what Scott “Raven” Levy had in mind when he began doing the Christ-on-the-cross pose, but I emulate him nonetheless. I guess I’m ultimately a sucker for 1990s teen angst as well, plus who else but Raven could have invented something called the “Clockwork Orange House of Fun” match? There was also a time around 1997 when Vince McMahon was in the process of selling out the entire wrestling world when it was quite refreshing to watch Raven hypnotize jobbers in Paul Heyman’s mom’s basement. Raven had previously told both Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff to “kiss his ass” too and that’s a nice boost for anyone’s wrestling resume. I guess you could call Raven my one guilty pleasure on this list.

8) CACTUS JACK MANSON: There was a time when I would have called Cactus Jack my favorite wrestler, but somewhere along the line, I think Mick Foley started reading too many of his own press clippings--either that or he sold out to the McMahons quicker than you can say “bang-bang”. Like if the corporate lawyers at Mickfoley.com ever read that I referred to him by his original moniker of “Manson,” they’d be in Iowa tomorrow putting a lien on my collection of professional action figures. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the oldschool Cactus Jack and everything that he stood for, but I’m not tuning in to The View next week to hear him read excerpts of his poetry--ok, I would, but I’d change the channel if Mr. Socko made an appearance. And conventional wrestling wisdom dictates that “sitting on a thumbtack in a bingo parlor don’t make you Ric Flair".

7) SUPERSTAR BILLY GRAHAM was the original, smack-talking, steroid freak and many other famous poseurs (Hulk Hogan, HHH, Scott Steiner, and Jesse Ventura to name just a few) owe their schtick to him. I only got to see Superstar Graham wrestle once (and his hip was brought to the ring in a separate suitcase), but he still lit up the Norfolk Scope. I’ve probably read 10-12 wrestler autobiographies and I would say that Superstar Graham’s Tangled Ropes (2007) is the best-written, especially if you’re the kind of reader who prefers steroid party stories over random wrestler brags about their sexual conquests. Also, if you run into Superstar Graham in 2011, please don’t tell him that he’s been the only constant in my celebrity dead pool since 2002.

6) HONORABLE MENTIONS (in alphabetical order): 1) KURT ANGLE is the last professional wrestler--oh, it’s true, it’s damn true. 2) OX BAKER was the first person that I ever saw give “the finger” (to an old lady in the crowd in the Madison County High School gym circa 1977). 3) BRUISER BRODY died like a man. 4) I have a crush on MICKIE JAMES. She’s my Facebook friend, but I’m not stalking her. 5) HEAD because everyone wants head. 6) CHIEF WAHOO MCDANIEL posed for a picture with me on his horse when I was six years old. 7) THE FABULOUS MOOLAH wrestled more matches in 4 weeks than John Cena wrestles in a year. 8) LORD WILLIAM REGAL deserves to be on everyone’s list for what he did to Bill Goldberg during “the streak”. 9) BARON VON RASCHKE was born in Nebraska---and dat is all da people need to know. 10) JOHNNY WEAVER hit on my mom one time at the popcorn stand on the varsity football field in Louisa.

5) TERRY FUNK: What do you want me to say about The Funker? That he suffered more for his art than any professional wrestler in the history of the business? Should I talk about the first barbed-wire match in history (with Dusty Rhodes) or about how he tried to suffocate Ric Flair with a plastic shopping bag? Should I talk about his IWA-Japan’s king-of-the-death-match series with Cactus Jack that ended with dynamite and an exploding ring? Terry Funk spent 43 years of his life in junior high school gyms, county fairgrounds, strip malls, and bingo halls and I bet The Funker might fight you tonight if you were in Amarillo and brave/dumb enough to walk through the gate at his Doublecross Ranch.

4) RODDY PIPER: There’s a framed wrestling poster in my childhood bedroom from 11/22/81--live from the Culpeper Junior High School gym. The main event was Ric Flair v. Greg Valentine for the United States title, but Johnny Weaver v. Roddy Piper stole the show. I was only 13-years-old, but I already knew that dudes didn’t wear dresses (or kilts) in Culpeper, VA on a Saturday night in 1981 (or 2011 for that matter). And Roddy Piper coming to the ring surrounded by a screaming mob that I’ll affectionately refer to as my “home people” was as electric as anything that I’ve ever witnessed in my entire life. I don’t remember who won the match that night, but I knew Rowdy Roddy Piper was destined to be a star. The dog collar match with Greg Valentine where Piper’s eardrum was shattered was impressive as well--and we drove all the way to Richmond to watch it on closed circuit tv. More recently, while Hulk Hogan was blathering on to Larry King about “Hulkamaniacs needing to buy his new grill”, Roddy Piper was calling for universal health care for all professional wrestlers.

3) JIMMY “BOOGIE-WOOGIE MAN” VALIANT may very well be the most REAL person on this list. And I realize that “real” is relative when it comes to professional wrestling, but I’m almost certain that Jimmy Valiant wasn’t just playing a trailer park hillbilly on tv. And if I could have any video that has ever existed, it would be the clip of a down and out, Boogie Man drinking Mad Dog 20/20 on the streets of Charlotte with a group of homeless people--you know, the one where Big Mama (Boogie’s old lady at the time) steps out of a limousine and calls out to him: “Hey Boogie Man, let’s go party!” Boogie’s response: “No, Big Mama, Boogie Man down. Boogie Man hurt.” You should also note that Vince McMahon didn’t fly in some off-Broadway actors to play the street people--the people were really homeless and I like to pretend that their pay for the day was a few more bottles of Mad Dog 20/20. And if this skit wasn’t “real”, I think it was about as close as professional wrestling will ever get. I actually met Jimmy Valiant at a mall in Blacksburg around 1993 when he was collecting money for juvenile diabetes. Our three-minute chat turned into a three hour conversation and after it was over, The Boogie Man gave me a free autographed poster and tee-shirt. I returned the favor by going back to my apartment and bringing back tee-shirts for Boogie and his new old lady, Angel (and Boogie refused to comment on what happened to Big Mama because Angel was always listening). Boogie also invited me to come down and try out for his wrestling school in Shawsville, but my mama said “no”.

2) “THE AMERICAN DREAM” DUSTY RHODES has “wined n’ dined with kings and queens/has slept in alleys, ate pork n’ beans/he’s the need you want, the want you need/he’ll make your back crack, your knees freeze, your liver quiver/if you don’t dig that mess, you got the wrong address/while everyone else is in the back room laughing and joking/Big Dust is out front, cookin’ and smokin’”. What can I say about the American Dream? I think he’d be #1 on my list if not for the fact that he spent most of my childhood in Florida instead of the Carolinas. In a nutshell, Dusty Rhodes made it ok for all of us to be fat. If you’ve never seen a picture of Dusty Rhodes, let me paint the picture: 330 lbs., kinky hair, a large, red birthmark on his stomach, and a speech impediment. And he grew up to live the American Dream. I’m not going to tell that I used a red magic marker to give myself a red, splotchy birthmark when I was in 6th grade, but I will you tell you that whenever I’m in a really good mood now and realize that no one is looking, I’ll take off my shirt and dance around the mirror like I was about to give someone The Dream’s patented bionic elbow.

1) “NATURE BOY” RIC FLAIR: Do you remember where you were when you heard the news that John Kennedy had been assassinated? Do you remember the first time that you heard the Beatles? Do you remember what you were doing on 9/11? Well, the first time I turned on the television in 1973, “Nature Boy” Ric Flair was on WTVR out of Richmond. And when I turned the tv off after his retirement speech in March 2008, I realized that there had never been a moment in my life that The Nature Boy hadn’t been a part of it. (Mercifully, Flair unretired in the spring of 2009 and is now a part of TNA Wrestling on Spike TV). And if I’m telling the truth, Ric Flair is Alpha and Omega to me. I don’t care about your politicians and I don’t care about your movie stars. I’m not ashamed to say that Ric Flair is the most important icon of my entire life. The Nature Boy was always there for me and always made me feel better about my life (if only for a little while). I hid under the table between my dad’s legs in that Raleigh restaurant in 1976 when Ric Flair and Greg Valentine (with rings on every finger) came in for lunch. I haven’t seen my Aunt Nora in 5 years, but the next time I see her (probably at someone’s funeral), I’ll ask for the story about the time Ric Flair ran over her mailbox in 1978 (She claims that he called her a “fat bitch” and she called him a “blonde-haired SOB” as she chased him down a Louisa County dirt road trying to get his license plate). Ric Flair is as much a part of my life now as he was in 1978. Case in point, whenever one of my students appears to be more interested in updating their Facebook status on their iPhone than listening to my lecture, I’ll kick into my Ric Flair impersonation (complete with strut) which goes a little something like this: “Facebook, I think I might go to Taco Bell for lunch----woooooo! Facebook, I think I might order a Beef Meximelt and a Coke----woooooo! I’m walking down the hall---woooooo! I’m opening the door---wooooo! I’m walking out to my car---woooooo!” And what do my students say when they see me in Taco Bell after class? They scream, “woooooo” and ask me to retell the story of the time that “The Nature Boy” Ric Flair ran over my Aunt Nora’s mailbox.

Crazy Carl is the author of Bloodreal and Fat On The Vine.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

That Old-Time Zine Religion

Now that the serialization of Blog Love Omega Glee is done (look for a collected edition this summer--probably as an ebook only though unless some print publisher has lost its mind and thinks that a long romance novel about conspiracy theorizing, professional wrestling, and coffee drinking is just what the now grown-up Harry Potter generation wants to read as young adults), this blog will head back to its zine roots and feature a variety of items, usually whatever catches my fancy. I'll also be running articles by other writers whose work I enjoy, similar to the Underground Literary Adventures blog Pat King and I used to edit a few years back.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Zeus And The Giant Iced Tea!

Despite the loss of a few beloved bookstores, this year is shaping up to be a good one for books. Leopold McGinnis has just released his second book of poetry. Called Zeus And The Giant Iced Tea, it's every bit as delightful as Poetaster, his previous poetry collection, but it's even better in one respect: The publisher is giving away the ebook for free! I don't know how long that will last, but I know a good deal when I see one. And when you read "The Muscle", you might find someone you know . . .

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Goodbye To GERM!

Germ Books and Gallery in Philadelphia was one of the stops on the book tour I did with Crazy Carl in 2007. It was a great store filled with fascinating books. If you were a reader interested in science fiction, occult, conspiracy theory, and underground literature, it was a little slice of heaven. I remember buying Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson's Illuminatus! there, and it was difficult to restrain myself to only buying one book (we were trying to travel light on the tour and not come back with more books--albeit different ones--than we set out with). I bear sad news though. The proprietor, David Williams, just announced that the store is closing at the end of the month, so if you live in Philly, go check it out while you still can. I'd like to thank David publicly for stocking my novel The Pornographic Flabbergasted Emus all these years! I'm sorry that another great bookstore will shortly be only a great memory. It's the age we live in though as a lot of culture goes online. So let's enjoy the great bookstores while we can because there won't be many left in the future.