A portrait of the artist as a young punk.

A portrait of the artist as a (very midwestern) young punk.

As I write this, I’m about halfway through a master’s program in art history. And for the most part, I like it a lot. I like being exposed to new art and new ways of thinking and being able to get into deep discussions with smart people about works of art and lesser-known artists.

There is a side of it I don’t like, though – one that doesn’t come up in class too often, but dominates when I’m talking to people outside the program about it. If I mention that I’m studying art history, people naturally seem to want to jump to talking about classifications. Is Van Gogh impressionist or post-impressionist? Is Frank Gehry a deconstructionist architect?

I know there’s some value to that kind of discussion, but I think it’s minimal. It’s more interesting to talk about Frank Gehry’s architecture itself than whether it fits into an arbitrary category (a category made up, in this case, retroactively for a museum exhibit, borrowing a really unrelated term from lit theory). And more importantly, these discussions remind me of another ongoing argument that’s been annoying me for years: is Motorhead’s “Ace of Spades” a punk song?

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So, the desire to transform Husker Du songs in weird acoustic ways just seems to be this year’s obsession (see the last post, ferinstance).  As threatened there, I’ve gone further down this road. Here are rough mixes of ganked-up versions of Celebrated Summer (yeah, again, but with more thought into the arrangement on this one) and Powerline. These mixes aren’t final at all, but they’re good representations of works in progress. There will probably be more of these, and for that I apologize.

Maybe my apology should take the form of an acoustic cover of I Apologize.

Celebrated Summer

Powerline

08. February 2015 · 1 comment · Categories: Music

A while ago, I gave one of my favorite Husker Du songs the Leo Kottke treatment:

I might end up doing some more of these. God knows I know a lot of Husker songs.

A couple of friends have asked me about the nuts and bolts of how I put a Nowhere Band strip together; I’m in kind of a dead spot as I recover from a vacation and wait for class to start, so I thought now would be a good time to do a quick walkthrough of the process. So (click on all pictures to embiggen):

1-scriptSTEP 1 : SCRIPT

Naturally, I start with a script. Actually, that’s not true. I start with a vague idea that gets jotted down in a notebook or a google doc, and then fluffed out to a badly-written paragraph with chunks of dialogue embedded, and then on to a full-on script.

My scripts are pretty minimal (and casual as far as spelling and grammar and those niceties), since I’m just writing for myself and I’ve already internalized all kinds of strip conventions about locations, expressions, gestures, and such. At this point, it’d be really weird to write a script for someone else to draw. I should try it some time.

The hardest thing in the script stage is making sure lines of dialogue don’t get too long to fit gracefully into balloons. I can get pretty wordy – I still basically think of myself as a writer who sort of knows how to draw – so this is a challenge.

1-redlineSTEP 2 : REDLINE

This is the worst step; in any sort of creative work, the hardest part is sitting down and facing a blank piece of paper, and that’s what’s going on here. Everything after this point is basically a form of editing and refinement, cleaning up or enhancing something that already exists. Here, I’m wrestling something into existence. Mornings when I wake up and have to go downstairs and do redlines are the times I’m most tempted to sleep in or volunteer to walk the dog on Rebecca’s day of the rotation.

Anyway: I start out by laying out the panel grid in red pencil (doing this stage in red makes it easy to remove all of this rough early work in Photoshop once the strip’s scanned). The script’ll tell me how many panels I need (I try to keep it around 5, give or take a couple, but different strips need different lengths). Relative panel size usually comes down to a function of how much dialog is in a given panel (remember, I get wordy), how big a thing or space needs to be shown, or how many characters appear.

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This is one of the first long-form comics I ever drew, back when I was pretty clearly just beginning to learn how to draw. It’s an adaption of an excellent essay / short story by Twin Cities music writer Jim Walsh, who was nice enough to let me take his words out for a spin. Resurrected because Fleetwood Mac seems to be having some kind of goddamned renaissance.

Rumours-01
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The_Replacements_-_Tim_coverThe other night, while cooking dinner, I listened to the Replacements’ Tim. It’s one of those weird cases where Tim’s been one of my favorite albums for decades, but between the march of time, the constant ingress of new music, and my slow disengagement from the practice of listening to albums straight through, it’s actually been years since I’d listened to the whole thing straight through.

Now, I can’t claim to be unique in being a middle-aged white guy in south Minneapolis who has Tim in his Pantheon of Great Albums. The conventional wisdom with the Replacements has always been that the 3-album sequence of Let It Be, Tim, and Pleased to Meet Me represent the band’s apex. I never quiiiite agreed with that (I think Hootenanny’s more fun than Let It Be), but it’s definitely been a settled matter in my head for a very long time that Tim was one of the best albums by one of my all-time favorite bands.

So it was really weird to be cutting vegetables, drinking a beer, and thinking that Tim actually kind of drags in a lot of spots. There are great songs, for sure, and the album works really well as Bob Stinson’s last stand. Buuuut. “Hold My Life” never really did sit well with me as the rockin’ opener to a rockin’ album. And the production here is terrible all the way through, even if a Ramone was doing the production.

And hey- isn’t “Here Comes a Regular,” while an undeniably great song, kind of self-pitying? Westerberg’s singing this elegy to his own life, when the Replacements were notoriously self-sabotaging. That’s… it’s not the end of the world, it doesn’t ruin the song, but it does really color the whole Replacements thing. Self-destruction isn’t as fun when paired with self-pity.

So as my spaghetti sauce simmered, I recognized that, at least in this case, you can’t really go home again to music that you loved when you were younger. Listening to Tim as a 39-year-old homeowning cartoonist just inevitably creates different associations than approaching the album as a 25-year-old bass player in a shitty apartment in St. Paul who’s convinced that music semistardom is right around the corner as soon as the correct mix of onstage drunkenness and energy gets worked out. I still do love Tim in particular and the Replacements in general, but it’s changed.

I’ve long believed (this is the one useful thing that I got out of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) that art actually happens at the intersection of the work and the person experiencing it. If I’m a different person now than I was 15 years ago (and I’m pretty comfortable making that statement) then there’s a different thing going on when the person interacts with the work.
I don’t know. I try not to view everything through the lens of the past. But then again, as we get older, past is one thing we steadily have more of.

nwb-panels

OK.

I’ve been talking on and on all summer about wrapping up Nowhere Band this year. The idea was pretty simple: I’m turning 40 at the end of the year, and on some level it felt weird to me to think about continuing to do a strip about dudes in a band after I’d turned 40. Especially since it’s been a good 3 years since I’ve had an active band going. There was a bunch of burnout involved as well, much of it centered around a bunch of rules I’ve imposed on myself.

But now that I’ve thought things over and life has calmed down a bit, I think I’m going to keep the strip going. Part of what convinced me was the abrupt realization that some of my favorite comics are Jaime Hernandez’ ongoing run; he obviously didn’t feel weird about making comics about aging punks as he whizzed past 40, so why should I? Also, I recognized that lots of the things that were bothering me were completely self-inflicted. Tired of fighting with Photoshop in the coloring stage? You can always go back to black and white for a while. Feeling pressed by self-imposed posting deadlines? Who gives a shit? It’ll come out when it comes out. Don’t want every story to center on the band? Fine, they all have outside lives, tell some stories there.

The truth is that I do love the strip. Somehow, sneakily, it seems to have become my life’s work. I can live with that. I didn’t mean for it to be when I started out… but at least for now it feels like that’s where things are. I guess that gives some shape to my 20s- I wasn’t wasting my time in half-assed bands, I was gathering material. You always wish more people read a strip when you put this much work into it, but I love the readers that I have. people whose tastes and worldviews I respect tell me they like it; that means a ton to me.

So I think I’m going to keep going. I might structure things so that stories or even sections of life have clear starts and ends, but that’s the sort of thing that’s easy to say you’re going to do and then forget. So we’ll see. And I’m sure that there will be breaks and hiatuses at points as I work on prose stuff or other comics. But for the time being, Nowhere Band’s going to chug on. Even if (gasp) the Awesome Boys don’t, necessarily.

doc-001_final

Here’s a comic strip I worked up, kind of a prototype for a thing I might pursue after I finish Nowhere Band (which should be some time this year, unless I change my mind). I think this thing would mutate a little more if it actually went into production, but if nothing else I’ve got a pretty big google doc full of script ideas…

And yeah, inspired by Charles Schulz, of course.

Updated: I did indeed change my mind.

I don’t even know why I did this, but I did this:

Catonia-Lends-A-Hand

I’ll probably write a bit more about this later, but I wanted to note that I’ve got a longish essay up over on Slate about my younger infatuation and then partial disillusionment with the work of Tom Robbins. I like the piece a lot, and I’ve wound up having a bunch of interesting conversations about it on Twitter and that other, shittier, social media platform.