Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Error Is In The Text: Material #1.

Ales Kot was kind to me at NYCC 2014. I believe that experience influences this review.

Mr. Kot has said he could write his new comic, Material, forever. I bought the first issue. I won't buy the second.

It's not that I want my money back, I felt entertained for a long enough duration of time that satisfies my desire for "THINGS THAT I MAY NOT HAVE SEEN" though a large amount of that entertainment was at the issue's expense.

It is my opinion that Mr. Kot's copious footnotes work against him, except in two instances that require the reader to know that footnotes exist and are to be expected. The footnotes condescend to the reader more often than they illuminate. (Throw 'em in the back, properly annotated, Mr. Kot, and you'll achieve your aims.) I'd argue they're not even footnotes, as there's no markers for them in the word balloons. It does not read as Mr. Kot being helpful or showing his work, it reads as Mr. Kot telling you he's very intelligent.

Wil Tempest's pencils in this issue are rough in the way that makes him the target of jokes, and deservedly so.* It is a terrible introduction to his work, and I heard this from people who have seen his art before and like him. His use of color and panel composition makes up for it. Mr. Tempest knows when to use a secondary color to highlight a particular character and to maintain the reader's eye. Which is good, because his backgrounds are abysmal. To be more charitable, Mr. Tempest has a strong grasp of storytelling, which is done no favors by his shoddy pencils.

There are four plots in Material, two of them worth following, and one of those is only if you squint.

-I'm from Chicago. The Horman Square story will probably be handled with care. It's also there that the most egregious "you have got to be fucking kidding me" footnote** appears. It concerns the abuse of a protestor.

-True to Wild Children, there is an incurious professor on a pedestal, ripe for an Ales Kot monologue to knock him off. His interlocutor this time around is a stretch even within the writer's bibliography.

-There is a plot which appears to be an excuse for Mr. Kot to tell the reader that he has seen 8 1/2 and Contempt.*** It contains a scene so flimsy it must be lampshaded. Watch 8 1/2 instead. ****, *****, ******, ********, *********

-The Guantanamo Bay plot resonated with me. It suggests a problem that is difficult to talk about and the dangers to the problem's resolution many. It is the strongest of the plots and the one that involves actual characters and not ambulatory vehicles for Mr. Kot's monologues.

I don't have much to say about the Material #1 that I haven't said about Wild Children. Mr. Kot remains precocious and reaches beyond his grasp. To finish the Warren Ellis line, good, that's how you grow.

There is an essay by Fiona Duncan in the back which earnestly extols the virtues of Franco Berardi (don't worry, the Wikipedia link is here: while unintentionally highlighting the low quality ********** of Mr. Tempest's pencils. In praise of the comic she's writing in, she says, "The students, save for the one who walk outs, are a sketchy mess." (The error is in the text, I've reproduced it.) Which is true for precisely one panel. Of the four panels the character is in, two of them that character is just as sketchy as the other students, he's merely colored brown and not that shade of light blue. In the third, he differs from the other students because he gets dots for eyes and a smiley face. *********** In the fourth, he gets a head shot.************ (I grabbed the first two pages from the CBR preview.)

I could argue, were I inclined*************, that the choice to be a sketchy mess was specifically chosen to non-verbally reinforce the professor's bored, jaundiced perspective and the student slowly making themselves known as a distinct person.************** I could also argue that Mr. Tempest's work is just as bad elsewhere in the comic and it detracts from the effectiveness of the story, which I do not believe can stand many more of these choices. His use of a different style, in a purple background, presumably to highlight lingering traumas is effective. He's better than this. So is Mr. Kot.

Perhaps something will come of Material, but I'm not optimistic. It is difficult to recommend this comic without massive qualifications. If you've taken an intro to film class, you're probably familiar enough with Mr. Kot's references to seek out other works by those authors you haven't already consumed. Buy those. If you still feel compelled to spend money on this comic, don't. Instead, donate to a local Narcotics Anonymous chapter. Or Southern Poverty Law Center. Or any organization that works with prisoners from Guantanamo Bay to get them reacclimated. Or any of the many charities doing great work on Chicago's south and west sides.

I believe Mr. Kot is sincere, which makes this review difficult. If Material #1 was a cynical exercise at our expense, I could be more dismissive. There is simply too much crammed into this comic to make it feel disingenuous. I feel compelled to write this not merely because of my inescapable ego, but because the comic required a reaction. We need authors like Mr. Kot and Mr. Tempest. We don't need Material. You don't, either. *************

*See also: "I spent more time on this comic than Wil Tempest did" -Anonymous reviewer

** See also: telling you to Google something is not worthy of a fucking footnote it actively insults the reader's intelligence not to mention, putting Horman Square in a footnote is redundant when the writer introduces the place in the very next panel

*** See also: He could have put it in a footnote

**** See also: Fuck this, I'm gonna read the Flash, there's a talking gorilla there with more personality than every single one of the characters in this particular plot without exception

***** See also: Plus, the guy who is drawing the gorilla is a goddamned professional that understands human faces and was paid well for his work (hyper capitalism!)

****** See also: hyper capitalism is my new safeword

******* See also: That and YOLO

******** See also: And Shelley

********* See also: I'm commenting on the text /within the text/? I'm being metatextual! HOW NOVEL


*********** See also: Footnote #1

************ See also: Quake II, I guess

************* See also: But I'm not!

************** See also: Actually, wait. This is a good storytelling shoring up either an inability to make a drawing of a human being look convincing or laziness or a deadline

*************** See also: Do you see how distracting and unhelpful this is now

Sunday, March 8, 2015


It was Brian Wood that got me to think about this directly again.

I don't know what your experiences are with this. I don't know what your experiences are with anything similar or more socially stigmatizing. If I offend you, it was not by design. Before I start, the usual prostration about how of all the ways in which our one life can be made more difficult, a stutter is preferable to many other things.

I stutter. It's not fun, but it's livable. My friends got used to it. Now, I run roughshod over the sentences I speak. I suppose it goes without typing that I allow myself to stutter obviously. (Some people hide it or get it ironed out. To each their own.)

Thanks to the stutter, I had to discover a vocal rhythm. That, I now believe, was the beginning of my "voice." When I'm on, my sentences sound, deliberately, a certain way. Lots of commas, some single word sentences. In other words, plenty of places where I can pause for dramatic effect or if the engine of my voice cuts out.

I learned a lot of things from managing the stutter, some good, some bad, most useful. If given a choice, I'd excise the stutter. I hate it, but the task is serenity.

If I sound frustrated, it's nervousness compounded by an actual and not figurative inability to speak my desires. Even when the words are right, I still can't vocalize them. The issue is not desire and fear intertwining to compel the speaker to choose to speak multiple words simultaneously, but having nothing come out at all.

It is as if all of the lubricant in the gears of your voice disappears without rhyme or warning. Or, most damningly, another impregnable syllable in the middle of the most unremarkable sentence.

The rest is merely embarrassing details: I have pride, the stutter doesn't allow it. Stuttering in front of people I'd like to stand up straight in front of is rough. I imagine pity in their looks, and I can't stand that. I doubt the stutter has cost me lovers or friends, but my mind uses it as an excuse to believe the worst. The stutter activates my shame, which more powerful than it should be.

I don't know if I've ever wrote about this. I imagine I must have, I've littered the internet with writing, but looking at the publish button feels fresh and relieving, so I suppose I haven't. How have you been, though?

For some reason, I don't find Elastica's "Stutter" terribly insulting. I think it's because I understand I believe the singer (Justine Frischmann) is talking about her boyfriend (Damon Albarn from Blur?) being tongue tied in her presence, which happens to everyone. That, and probably residual love for Phonogram. Anyway. Above image from

Sunday, February 22, 2015

When Blacklisted Grows, People Go

I thought they were gonna write longer songs. It's Blacklisted, though. It's never quite what you expect.

The return of Blacklisted feels spartan. No interviews. No teaser trailers. No touring. One assumes Deathwish Inc. co-owner Tre McCarthy cajoled the band into doing pre-order packages and a music video. "Oh, by the way," Blacklisted says, "here's a new full length. You might like it."

You know the story. Philly hardcore band does two full lengths worth of traditional mosh, loses a couple members, grows weird and mutates into something stranger and more compelling.

In between all of this, US tours, EU tours, Japan tours, everything falls apart. Blacklisted breaks up twice, once in a London Urban Outfitters. Vocalist George Hirsch attempts suicide (he talked about it at This Is Hell 2013 or 2014, I forget which), allegedly goes to prison and records an acoustic album under the name of a character from a book called Der Wehrwolf.

The previous Blacklisted release (So, You Are A Magician?) was about nine minutes long and three songs. When People Grow, People Go is 21 minutes and eleven songs. I get the impression of men returning to their boyhood love of the genre. The fast tempos and final cathartic seconds before the song cuts short are all here.

When People Grow, People Go is about the things you don't talk about. The sense that you're desperately stuffing your slimy, slippery intestines back into your stomach. The lyrics include:

-A friend's in prison for opiate addiction.
-The continued disintegration of Mr. Hirsch's relationships with friends or lovers.
-The many kaleidoscopic expectations of Mr. Hirsch as "guy in a hardcore band."
-His struggles with depression.

Unlike in No One Deserves To Be Here More Than Me, the venue of one minute plus hardcore feels like a more comfortable venue for the lyrics.

A step backwards perhaps, though that implies that the quality isn't there. It is. When People Grow, People Go still a traditional hardcore record more than anything else. The tracklist and song lengths don't lie, but it's shoegazey and grungy in spots and I remember those parts more than I remember Gossamer or Riptide. Though Riptide does have a really cool "maybe I'll break somebody's jaw" moment. Gossamer and Riptide are serviceable and perhaps good (many bands would be happy to author the songs), but are ultimately forgettable. Can George write another batch of lyrics regarding people gossiping about him? Sure. Do you really want to hear it? Nah.

Foreign Observer has the only guest and that's Nick from Cold World singing the title through a vocal effect that makes him sound distant. Speaking of equipment, if you have ever wondered what a proper hardcore band would sound like through major label recording equipment, producer Will Yip's Studio 4 answers the question here: massive and clear.

Everything has space in the mix, with special attention paid to the drums. Describing it analytically is a minefield since I understand very little about mixing and mastering, but the recording feels correct and the drums sound exquisite and sharp.

It is hard not to look into the lyrics. It is hard not to take Mr. Hirsch at his word. Turn In The Pike begins with "they will kill you for your dreams" but continues "so what I need / is for you to shake me / when I start to drift to sleep." Mr. Hirsch is a man who knows the price of dreams and the price of art, and he's honest enough to say that for him the price is too high.

"when creation fills my mouth / just break my teeth"

I have trust issues. I believe Mr. Hirsch does too. I celebrate (literally, I danced around my kitchen when I first heard Insularized) a new Blacklisted record because it feels like someone else who understands how much of a gamble intimacy and sex are, and what can be taken from the person on a losing bet.

The final track (also the title track) is an object lesson in being alive and male. You want to do it on your own, but you know you can't. And asking for help is cheating or it's impossible. "I couldn't just call your name/Too proud to reach out when I was dying…" If it feels like a dirge, well, it is. What I get out of Blacklisted records is the acknowledgment that all is not well and the nerve, only occasionally, to admit it in public.

When People Grow, People Go is a record about abuse, given and received. It's about moving past the abuse or moving away. It feels ugly. It feels true. It's the best record this year.

The first song from this record, and also my favorite. Maybe this should be the single. Between this and Foreign Observer, you might actually get people outside our genre to listen. But whatever. You're reading this, you know my tastes. Play loud.
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