All posts by keithpille

The Iowa City Police Log

Every morning, I get up, consult the twitter feed of the Iowa City Police Log, and draw a one-panel cartoon based on it. This started out as a get-through-the-winter whim and has turned into a get-through-a-pandemic-hellscape coping mechanism. The resulting comics get posted to a Twitter thread and to my Instagram feed, in both cases paired with their inciting Police Log entry.

People seem to be pretty into these, which is great! TPT, Minnesota’s Public Television station, even did a short piece on them, where I talk about my process, my motivations, and the sort-of-intentional larger political point of the strips in an era where we as a society are rethinking the way police departments should be constituted. They also put KEITH PILLE – CARTOONIST on the screen, so I guess despite endless questions about my artistic identity, now I know: I’m a cartoonist.

PSA With Guitar

cover art by Rebecca Collins

MP3s

Spotify

So I recorded an EP of acoustic country covers of Clash songs (technically Clash and Clash-associated songs, since two of them are songs the Clash themselves were covering). I’m really proud of it. I’d like you to take a listen at one of the links above, and if you feel like downloading the MP3s, please feel free.

I started out the year planning on recording an Awesome Boys* album, but the plan was for it to be all noise rock, continuing the sound of the EP I recorded in 2019. But as the work started on that in February, I realized that my musical mood was shifting back towards country-rock (no doubt affected by all the time talking about Uncle Tupelo for We’ve Been Had). And then the pandemic hit, and the world full-on caught on fire, and I just couldn’t escape the feeling that we were living in Strummer Times. And that was just when the pandemic kicked off; in May, when Minneapolis burst into flames after a police killing and took the rest of the country with it, it seemed even more applicable. The first verse of “Know Your Rights” could be about George Floyd, for fuck’s sake. So the idea of an EP of country-style Clash covers gained a foothold in my brain and just kept taking up more and more space.

Uncharacteristically for me, I spent about a month rehearsing and working out arrangements for the songs I picked (my neighbor must have gotten so tired of hearing me work on “Straight to Hell” on my front porch). And I decided early on that I’d need to edit some of the lyrics. Which felt sacrilegious, given that Joe Strummer was a towering figure and I’m just a guy, but some of the words are so specific to his life and outlook that they didn’t work for me. Or, in the case of the second verse of “Know Your Rights,” the dystopian situation described by the Clash in 1982 is actually too supportive and generous to sound bad in the dystopian situation of 2020.

I spent about a week in early July recording basic tracks in my home studio setup, and then another few weeks mixing. My starting point for the target sound was the way Peter Buck produced Uncle Tupelo on March 16-20, 1992, but I wound up wandering a bit from that, especially because covid quarantine meant that I had to do all of this myself instead of being able to organically have a band vibe develop.

For cover art, my wife, Rebecca Collins, is a great collage artist who had recently started exploring punk-aesthetic collages. So it seemed like a natural thing to ask her to make a cover. We talked a bunch about what I wanted it to evoke: the Midwest, menace, humor, death. her results speak for themselves; and now we own several cut-up vintage copies of Guns and Ammo.

So, yeah. Check it out, and I hope you like it! Some day when live music is a thing again, I’d love to perform these live.

*You might point out that it’s confusing and stupid for me to record music in the real world and attribute it to The Awesome Boys when that’s the name of the fake band in my old webcomic that I always insisted wasn’t autobiographical. And you’d probably be right. But it seemed funny in 2011 and at this point I’m just kind of used to it.

The Nowhere Band Restoration Project

So for ten years, from 2007-2017, I made a webcomic called Nowhere Band that was about life as it’s really lived in a music scene: a series of misadventures that are great and fun and affirming and frustrating and maddening and which, ultimately, don’t end with fame and fortune. I wanted it to be as emotionally real as possible. I always felt like I did a pretty good job with that, and got some outside validation on that front, both from individual readers (who I always loved hearing from) and from Minneapolis media outlets like MPR News and City Pages.

As the years went on (and the art and general cartooning craft got better), the strip moved from being about people in a band to being about people who used to be in a band and maybe kind of still were but weren’t sure. Which I think is also a headspace worth exploring, since that’s where we all wind up! But in 2017, after several hundred installments, I ended the strip because 1) I was far enough removed from band activity at that point that I felt like I was running out of material, 2) I was getting ready to finish grad school and knew that my thesis project was going to eat up all possible cartooning time, and 3) since November of 2016, the strip had increasingly just been swallowed by the dread of living in Trump’s America. So I gave myself the gift of writing the strip towards a conscious, planned ending instead of just letting it peter out the way a lot of webcomics do (and the way it nearly had a couple of times previously).

Continue reading The Nowhere Band Restoration Project

Art Is My Middle Name

pictured: the artist

…is a free newsletter I’m starting as a birthday gift to myself. Each installment will be a short-to-medium thought about art, working with a very broad definition of art: visual arts, comics, movies, music, literature, god knows what else; and covering both appreciating art, art history, art theory, making art, all that. Sometimes focusing on individual works of art or artists; sometimes wandering all over the place. I can’t promise structure or high-quality copy-editing, but I can promise fun (and a bare minimum of one post a month). And although I hope this’ll still be fun and interesting for my pals from the world of academic art history, I want to aim this more at people who like to appreciate art and culture but haven’t spent a bunch of time in seminars talking theory.

SO SIGN UP OVER AT SUBSTACK! I’m in the process of working through my mountain of ideas for posts, and I’ll start sending them out once there’s a moderately-sized pool of subscribers.

QUICK NOTE IN APRIL 2020: I’ve added a separate page for this project, which includes a full index of all of the newsletters so far. Check it out!

SOME TOPIC IDEAS THAT MIGHT MAKE IT INTO THE NEWSLETTER:

  • Kurt Vonnegut’s Bluebeard vs. Mary Gabriel’s Ninth Street Women on telling the story of the Abstract Expressionists
  • Pablo Picasso, Asshole
  • What do people mean when they jabber about Postmodernism?
  • So let’s talk about ugly condo buildings
  • You’re probably qualified to say that you have refined taste
  • Kehinde Wiley makes Jacques-Louis David retroactively worthwhile
  • Disney is choking the life out of our culture
  • So let’s talk about auteurist comics
  • Lynda Barry’s Making Comics is a godsend
  • David Bowie’s big final accidental performance art piece

AGAINST DAD ROCK

I hate Dad Rock. Not the music, at least not categorically; I love it and hate it at more or less the same rate that I love and hate all of the other imaginary categories of music. No, it’s the term I hate.

You’ve heard the term, right? Basically means safe, nonthreatening rock (mostly) that appeals mostly to people over 35-ish. When I first heard the term, it meant the “classic rock” that my generation’s boomer parents were always listening to: Pink Floyd, Steely Dan, the Beatles, the Stones, Van Morrison, you know the drill. As Gen X has gotten gray and paunchy, I’ve started hearing Wilco, the New Pornographers, and the Mountain Goats get put into the file.

Some of that is music I like, a lot of it is music I hate, but the label bugs me either way. Part of it is the specific choice of modifier: “dad.” I don’t have kids, I’m not going to have kids, and I’m irked at the intrusion of child-having status as a qualifier in a situation where it doesn’t apply. But really, that’s not the problem; again, it’s not really the music that I love that’s getting the label (I was a Wilco superfan when I was younger, but I drifted away from them around 2007; coincidentally, around the time they started getting labeled as dad rock).

Continue reading AGAINST DAD ROCK

Welfare Music

Disc 2 Track 1

In 1994, Brian Henneman (probably) could have joined Wilco as it phoenixed it way out of the ashes of Uncle Tupelo. He chose not to (assuming it was actually a viable choice), and why not? His own band was really taking off.

The Brooklyn Side sounds exactly like what it is: a natural continuation of The Bottle Rockets, but with more budget to spend on studio time and better gear. Recorded at Coyote Recording Studio in Brooklyn (the album’s title appears to come from the climactic line of “Sunday Sports,” but there’s kind of a chicken-and-egg question lurking here) in 1994, Brooklyn catches the band in the same form as their first album, just a bit more polished and better produced. The collection of demos on the combined reissue makes it sound like many of the songs come from the same creative burst that populated the first album.

Continue reading Welfare Music

FRANKLIN, CHARLES SCHULZ’S ACCIDENTAL TOKEN

It always hurts to talk about when one of your heroes fails, but that’s what I’m out to do here. Charles Schulz is one of the great figures in comics; Charles Schulz sometimes fell on his ass. He did here. Acting with well-documented good intentions, he tried to do a good thing, and slid into what could most charitably be called mixed success. By introducing Franklin, a black character, into his immensely popular comic strip Peanuts, Charles Schulz wanted to harness his cultural power and use it to send a positive social message about racial harmony. He explicitly wanted to integrate his strip in a way that wasn’t demeaning or insulting. Thirty years later, though, Franklin was considered one of the prime exemplars of tokenism, a perception that has only grown as time has continued to pass.

Peanuts in 1968 was a cultural juggernaut, appearing in well over 2500 newspapers. In an era when newspaper comics carried a cultural weight nearly unimaginable today, Schulz was at the very top of the profession, giving him one of the most visible platforms in the country to trumpet any message he chose.

For the most part, Schulz avoided politics in the strip, instead examining emotional and existential humor.

Jan. 7, 1972
Continue reading FRANKLIN, CHARLES SCHULZ’S ACCIDENTAL TOKEN

The 2020 Birds of the World Printable Calendar

Last October, I inadvertently participated in Inktober by drawing a bunch of funny birds, like the ruby-throated hoverbro or the barre chord owl. Then the drawings sat in my sketchbook, unused and forgotten. Until! Until a friend asked me to make her a calendar, and I remembered that I had a buttload of drawings just sitting around doing nothing. A little bit of photoshop fussing, et voila:

I combined the calendar into a single PDF, printable on regular office 8.5×11″ paper. Feel free to download, print, and let your boss contribute 13 sheets of paper towards making your cube more fun in 2020!

Click (or maybe right-click and save as; find what works in your browser!) to download the Keith Pille 2020 Birds of the World Calendar. Or cut out the middleman and go to http://www.keithpille.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/bird-calendar.pdf

Interlude: A.M. (Wilco)

Disc x Tracks 1-13

To make one logistical element clear: I haven’t been able to nail down the order of events in 1994 involving the recording of Wilco’s A.M. and the Bottle Rockets’ The Brooklyn Side. I know they both happened in 1994, and I know that the A.M. sessions ran roughly from June through August, and that the Brooklyn Side sessions happened some time that year; could have been before, could have been after. I’m choosing to wedge A.M. in between the first two Bottle Rockets albums, but that might not be accurate, and certainly doesn’t reflect the release order.

Anyway: for Bottle Rockets fans, A.M. represents a portal to an alternate universe that briefly opened in 1994. Uncle Tupelo had broken up, with most of the 1994 lineup of the band staying clustered around Jeff Tweedy. To get the new enterprise off the ground, Tweedy reached out to his friend and former almost-bandmate Henneman to play lead guitar on Wilco’s first effort as the band found its feet. Henneman stepped in and left his mark all over the record.

Continue reading Interlude: A.M. (Wilco)

TOM CLANCY AND THE DUBIOUS COMFORT OF BOOMER DADS

I’ve had a rough year. I had two dogs die, my house has needed some expensive repairs, and my habit of closely following the news has turned into daily exposure to toxic waste. We all crave simple comforts in difficult times, and I’ve fallen back into an old habit: when I’m in the mood to read comforting trash, I reach for Tom Clancy. And after the current bender, I think we should talk about him a little.

Uh, Dad, you’re not mad, are you?

Right now, through time and space, I can hear the question you’re asking yourself: why do I care about the work of some hack writer of right-wing airport trash who’s been dead for a decade? And that’s a good question, one I’ve been wrestling with inside my head for a while now. I have a few solid answers: first, because the work of said dead right-wing hack writer really does provide a perfect encapsulation of one of the dominant forces in our dyspeptic, sliding-through-disasters-towards-even-greater-disasters political system, and to understand that is to understand another corner of the current ongoing shitshow. Tom Clancy’s books are by, of, and for Boomer Dads, and if understanding the mind of the Boomer Dad isn’t sufficient to understanding what the hell is happening in this country, I think it’s at least necessary.

Continue reading TOM CLANCY AND THE DUBIOUS COMFORT OF BOOMER DADS