Thursday, February 23, 2006 

Don't Mess With The DubleDog

Entered a $1 + 0.50 tourney tonight over at Pacific Poker and had the best table win of my life--beat out 33 other players to reach the final two, and was facing a dude who had $23,000 in chips to my $2,000--and I kicked his ass! Put him on tilt with a couple bad beats and a ton more bluffs even though he was five figures up on me, and won the whole tourney. "Barf1234" is ready to do just that right now...the latest victim of "DubleDog." (Sweet handle, huh? Took me a whole 0.3 seconds to come up with it.)

My winnings? Fourteen bucks. I plan to spend it on really cheap hookers and beer.

(Kids, if you're reading this, a "hooker" is another term for...uh...chicken fingers.)

(Honey, if you're reading this, I'll really use my winnings to take you to dinner...and this time, you go right ahead and get that large order'a fries. 'S'on me!)

Tuesday, February 21, 2006 

Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and a Chinese Democracy CD are standing at a crossroads...

I’m not gonna get sucked in again. I’m not. I’m not. I’m not…

…all right, I am. There are a lot of reports that Guns n’ Roses is finally going to release its ten-years-delayed album Chinese Democracy…and brother, I’m stoked. A buddy of mine sent me copies of some recently-leaked GnR tracks entitled “I.R.S.” and “T.W.A.T. (There Was A Time)”—and man, what a rush to hear ‘em. I can’t yet decide if they’re great songs—these two haven’t yet gone through final mixes, and the orchestral (yes, orchestral) arrangements are out of phase with the guitar solos and riffs. But still—this is some cool shit to hear.

I’ve had copies of some other tunes—“The Blues,” “Madagascar,” “Riyadh and the Bedouins,” “Silkworms,” and “Chinese Democracy”—for a few years now. (Live versions of them are freely available in the Downloads forum of mygnrforums.com.) Some are godawful, some—particularly the piano-driven “The Blues,” which echoes GnR’s epic “Estranged”—rank with the best second-tier Guns material. I’ll be interested to see how they sound mixed and mastered. The problem with that is, of course, that Axl Rose has never quite known where to stop when it comes to production—if Appetite for Destruction was the perfect pepperoni pizza, Use Your Illusion was that same pizza slathered with every ingredient in the restaurant, plus butter, cake icing, sprinkles, and red hots.

So how will Chinese Democracy be received? I can predict it—anybody under 35, or anybody in what was once called the alternative press, is going to hate it, calling it an arrogant, hubristic sonic mess. See, it’s my pet theory that most modern-day rock critics are comfortable with the fact that the “rock” heroes of today—your Ben Folds, your White Stripes, your Arcade Fire—are far more brains than brawn. They love the fact that David Lee Roth is a washout DJ; that most hair-metal bands are consigned to, at best, touring state fairs.

That’s why Velvet Revolver, made up of former Gunners and Stone Temple Pilots, scared the hell out of a lot of people—because they were both a popular success and a band that looked like they could whip your ass, steal your wallet, and nail your girlfriend (who, I guess, would by now be the mother of your children…but still.) Jack White, Julian Casablancas, Conor Oberst—extremely talented guys, but not exactly the type to strike fear in anybody. That’s left to the rappers these days. Axl Rose, of course, ain’t gonna scare anybody ever again, except for the waiters at a Golden Corral at closing time. (Yes, I made a hack fat-Axl joke. Shut up. Even Barry Bonds settles for a slap single now and then. Plus, check out my fat-Axl costume from Halloween last year. Badass, huh?)

Anyway, the GnR album will be significant not for what it is, but for what it represents. Will there be a rebirth of bands who can play straight-ahead rock without having to dress it up in rap clothes (Linkin Park, among so many others) or play it for ironic laughs (The Darkness)? If so—if Axl Rose inspires a new generation of bands to play damn good electro-Stones rock—then Chinese Democracy will have been well worth the wait.

--One other thing…while I was digging around in the GnR forums earlier tonight, I came across a Holy Grail I didn’t even know existed…a performance from 1990 at the Hollywood Palladium that featured members of GnR, Metallica, and Skid Row. This was friggin’ unbelievable—I wish I could have transmitted it back to my 20-year-old self, but it’s probably better that I didn’t, since that goofball would’ve played it nonstop for a couple weeks in a row. The recording quality is godawful—some clown with a camcorder—but it’s amazing for its archival value. It’s the heavy-metal equivalent of the Greatest Basketball Game Ever Played, back in 1992 when the Dream Team was practicing, and Jordan, Bird, Magic, Barkley, and six other legends shared a single Barcelona court. The GnR/Metallica/Skid Row set is only four songs long, and on all four, Metallica’s Lars Ulrich plays drums and GnR’s Slash and Duff play guitar. Skid Row’s Sebastian Bach sings GnR’s “You’re Crazy” and Metallica’s “For Whom The Bell Tolls;” it’s funny watching Slash try to figure his way through Metallica’s intricate guitar figures on the fly. Then Axl comes onstage and blows his way through Skid Row’s “Piece of Me.” This is Axl before he became a paranoid loon, so he’s still in good enough vocal form to blow Bach off the stage in Bach’s own song. Metallica’s James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett come onstage—Hetfield in full Cowardly Lion-diva mode—and the band fumbles its way through Metallica’s “Whiplash.” Bach doesn’t know all the words, and Slash is clearly watching Hetfield to learn the song as it’s being played. Axl comes back onstage and laughs at Hetfield, saying, “We tried to tell him nobody knew the song, but he thought it was Lumberjack Day.” Hetfield is wearing a flannel shirt, and never once gives Axl even a hint of attention. He then orders the band back into “Whiplash,” saying, “I’ll sing, ‘cause the other guy fucked it up.” The band rambles to a finish. It’s a half-hour-long mess, but man…for anybody who ever spun Appetite for Destruction or Master of Puppets until you could see through the CD, this is friggin’ gold.

Friday, February 17, 2006 

Random Musings At The End Of The Week

Couple random musings that don't really warrant a full post...

--Boy, there's nothing like a semi-funny story that allows you to use the words "misfiring Dick" in polite company to bring out the hack comedians, is there? Maybe my standard for Dick jokes is too high, but if you're going to take your shot--har, har--at making fun of the whole Cheney situation, you'd better bring something new to the table besides lame-ass double entendres. This whole scenario is one of those political Rorschach blots, where what you see depends entirely on which side of the aisle you inhabit. Let's be clear--the Vice President of the United States shot somebody in the fucking face, which makes it a national news story. However, said person was not a high-ranking government official, or--perish the thought--Osama bin Laden, making the story more Cheney-as-hunting-idiot and less all-the-Bushies-have-blood-on-their-hands-and-this-is-just-more-of-the-same. Both the administration and the media have royally screwed this one up--the jackass NBC journalist who whined that he wasn't informed is every bit as disgusting as the Texas Cheney crony who implied that it was the victim's fault he took a faceful of birdshot.

Me, I don't think I'd be making quite as much fun of Cheney as some folks are. He looks like he's taking names and planning to show up at the foot of some beds in the dead of night, carrying a serrated-edge hunting knife and a mean-ass vendetta.

--The NBA All-Star Game is this weekend. As one of the Three White Guys Who Still Follow The NBA, I'm stoked. Yes, All-Star games play to the worst instincts of the sports fan--zero team play, zero defense, all flash and dazzle--but so what? There's a reason nobody plays Princeton-style basketball anymore--it's boring as hell. (Spare me the lecture on fundamentals--you're right, it's a disgrace that players can't hit open jump shots every time down the floor. But that doesn't mean we need to rob the game of its above-the-rim element.) Go enjoy the All-Star game, and remember--the players can't rob you if they're on the court.

--A colleague of mine, Drew Melbourne, is publishing his first comic this spring through Dark Horse. Entitled ArchEnemies, it's going to be high-concept fun--what happens when a superhero and a supervillain share the same apartment? Check out some initial artwork and get details on how to order your copies by clicking here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006 

The Reeders Rite

So...if you're bored and looking for something to read, you can see the letters inspired by a recent article of mine in the William & Mary Alumni Magazine. The article, available by clicking here, documented how the admittedly apathetic William & Mary campus actually has a bit of a tradition for protest against the established order. Well sir, seems that there article picked at a couple of scabs--and some people who still have trouble recognizing that the only constant in life is change wrote in to the magazine in response. (It's in the "Perspectives on Protests" section at the bottom of the first page; I'm referred to as "James" because of an editing error in the original article.) The letter writers don't have a problem with the article per se; it's more a problem with those damn hippie liberals, those crazy kids who just won't get their hair cut and listen to Mom, Dad, and the Government. The guy who's several decades older than the protesters, I can understand, but the type who's a cranky conservative stick-in-the-mud at age 19 has always fascinated me. Words of advice, young conservatives: there'll be time to whine about feminazis, bedwetting liberals, tree-huggers, welfare queens and the sanctity of the Second Amendment later--spend your college days challenging authority so you can decide how you want to exert it when it's your turn. Turn off the Limbaugh and go bag yourself a liberal chick. (Why a lefty? Let's be honest here, folks--conservative college chicks are about as much fun in the sack as checking out a library book.)

So where were we? Oh, yeah--I'm available to speak at graduations. Bar mitzvahs, too! L'chaim!

Saturday, February 11, 2006 

Watching The Watchmen, Yet Again


“Dog carcass in alley this morning, tire tread on burst stomach.”

You out there in web-land read those words, and chances are, you either a) think I’ve gone nuts and begun channeling my inner goth, or b) you head straight for your bookshelf and grab your copy of Watchmen to reread it yet again.

I’m looking for b), though a) is always a possibility. The maggots, they are a’singing.

Anyway, last night I was trolling around for something to read, and I decided to pull Watchmen off the shelf. I’ve reread this landmark 1985 comic series by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons probably six or seven times, and each time it’s a revelation—I was up till about 3 this morning going through it.

And now, I’m going to expect you to do the same thing. If you’ve read Watchmen already—and anybody who’s bought a comic in the last twenty years should have—you have your own ideas on the greatness of this work. (I’ve never read or heard of anyone who hasn’t liked it, which qualifies as a walk-on-water miracle.) And if you’re one of my readers who visits here for the sportswriting or the obligation (okay, he’s my friend, I’ll put up with all this comic silliness…) –well, friend, I’m going to have you heading to Amazon right after you read this post.

Brief Watchmen synopsis: It’s 1985, and Richard Nixon is still president. There were superheroes in this world, but they were outlawed in 1977. (With the notable exception of those heroes in service of the U.S. government—one of whom helped Nixon win the Vietnam War, which explains his continued presidency.) Now, however, it seems the former heroes are being killed off—as the book opens, The Comedian, a rough-riding John Wayne-slash-John McClane type, is being hurled to his death right out his penthouse window. But who would kill him—who could kill him—and why?

From there, the book shows the “true” story of superheroes—the way that the people behind the masks could be every bit as fascistic, murderous, brutal, and deviant as any cross-section of humanity—only moreso, since they hold the reins of power. (The book’s epigram is from Juvenal’s Satires: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes”—literally, “Who watches the watchmen?”)

If the book ended there—showing the superheroes’ feet of clay—that would be revolutionary enough. Watchmen hit in 1985, a time in which we were far less cynical about not only our comic book heroes, but our leaders and the world around us in general. We were still able to write off Nixon as a lone crook, not a symptom; we hadn’t yet come to terms with the way Vietnam had affected us as a nation; and we were living in Reagan’s “shining city on the hill.” It was “morning in America,” and nobody wanted to think too much about what would happen when we cycled back around to nightfall.

Here at right is the first page, minimized--click on it for the full-size version. It's the interior monologue of the hero Rorschach--a guy who wears a Rorschach-blot mask and is so driven he makes Batman look like a stoned surfer dude. His musings come as the viewer sees the remains of The Comedian's fall. And in the very first page, it sets the themes that will run throughout the entire series. (In professor mode here: note that you've got at least four separate narrative and symbological motifs going here--the voiceover, the blood on the smiley pin, the two different kinds of foreshadowing in panel 3, and the counterpoint between the journal and the detective's lines. And this is just the first friggin' page.)

Watchmen uses superheroes as a jumping-off point (no pun intended, given the first page) to address these very issues, to show the other side of Spider-Man’s driving ethos: if great power does indeed bring great responsibility, the powerful get to determine exactly how that responsibility is executed. And while the superpower politics of the book are a bit dated—you couldn’t pull off a climax like Watchmen has in the current U.S.-versus-terrorists climate—the idea of the powerful abusing their power—even if they believe they’re doing right—is one that never goes out of style. (You don’t need me to connect the dots any more than that, do you?)

From a creative perspective, Watchmen is an unqualified triumph. Quite simply, this book justifies why comics exist. You’ve got multiple spiraling narratives, history interwoven with fantasy, prose writing at the end of each book illuminating the story told beforehand, images serving as both underline and ironic counterpoint, symbols moving through both visual and narrative language to create what Moore called an “under-language”—not quite visual, not quite verbal, but using elements of both to achieve a new form of communication.

For instance, consider the famous splotch-on-the-smiley-face image that’s the centerpiece of the book. In the very first panel of the book, we see a smiley-face button with a droplet of blood on it—and you don’t need to work too hard to figure the implications of that symbol.

Both the smiley face and the splotch repeat throughout the book, at the most unexpected moments—on a radar screen, as a smear on a headlight, as a ketchup stain on a t-shirt, and as a geologic arrangement on Mars (left)—which I was amazed to find is actually based on a real location (right, courtesy NASA).

(Incidentally, right after college, I worked at a TGI Friday’s-type restaurant—you know, the kind that wants you to have all the wacky “flash” (kooky buttons and such) on your uniform. They gave me some sample “flash” to use, one of which was a smiley-face button. I promptly dripped a thin droplet of ketchup onto it. Anybody who smiled and nodded at the joke got a free dessert, anybody who said, ‘Say, you spilled something there’ got—well, I’ll leave it to your imagination.)

This is where movies—and, though I hate to admit it, novels—fall short. Both lack a key component to communicate the multifaceted essence of Watchmen. And that’s why I always meet the news of a Watchmen movie with serious reservations. Hollywood has filed off every edge from Moore’s previous books—From Hell and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen—and the fate of V for Vendetta, hitting theaters this spring, is yet to be determined. The idea that Watchmen would likely be chewed into some goofy “twilight of the superheroes” story just disappoints me on so many levels.

Each time I read the book, I get something new out of it. The first time, it was a cool end-times-for-superheroes tale. The next time, I could admire the intricate plotting. The next time, I appreciated the fractured hyperreality of a world where too much information ends up dumbing us down, not enlightening us. The next time, it was the political subtext. And this time, with thoughts of form and design on my mind, I read it with an eye to the way Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons physically construct the book. Every image in the book recurs throughout, and payoffs from one don’t happen until issues later. In the most famous example, the very last panel of the entire book is a complete payoff for everything that went before. I can’t explain it any more without giving spoilers, except to note that in that one panel, visual and verbal and “underlanguage” motifs all combine to illuminate and justify the entire work.

I’m not a fan of criticizing for the sake of criticizing, but I do need to point out a couple flaws in Watchmen. First off, you can’t really read it for the character development. There really ain’t too much here. The characters are who they are throughout; there’s no real intrinsic change in them. Which, in this case, is not a criticism at all—like Warren Ellis, Moore is a writer of ideas, not of people. Moore’s characters serve as mouthpieces for ideals, and there’s nothing wrong with that. At the end of the book, you’re left not imagining who you’d be in this world, but who you’d believe.

The medium itself presents a barrier—by using superheroes as its mode of entry, it sets up an inherent barrier to a large segment of potential readership. You don’t need to know who, say, Gwen Stacy was to read this, but you do need to have a sense of what comics were like in the “Golden Age” (post-WWII, when good and evil were—in the popular imagination, at least—absolute, quantifiable concepts) to get the full measure of what’s going on initially. Once you get past that hurdle—probably by issue 3—you’re fine…and ready to be scared out of your mind.

Watchmen absolutely demands repeated readings—and rewards them. If you’ve never read Watchmen—particularly if you’ve never read much in the way of comics—go find a copy of the book and read it. It’s at most libraries, or can be had on ebay for less than ten bucks. Trust me—you will never look at comics the same way again.

Postscript: A couple years back, somethingawful.com did a photoshop contest where contestants "rewrote" Watchmen--sometimes with wet-your-pants-funny results. Here's a couple choice ones (click to enlarge):

































See the rest by clicking here. Turning the medium's finest product into a series of fart jokes...The Comedian would've loved it.

Thursday, February 09, 2006 

Closing The Books On Sundown: Arizona...For Now

So my three-issue comic Sundown: Arizona has reached its conclusion, and I couldn't be happier. Sure, the total numbers sold were below what I would have liked to see, but the book was an unqualified success by indie standards, and even accounting for the expected dropoff in orders between issues 1 and 2 (retailers always order tons of any #1 issue on the chance it'll be a hit, then cut those orders by a large percentage for the rest of the series), the book sold quite well. More importantly, from a creative perspective, it was EXACTLY the story I wanted to tell...every word of that came out exactly the way I wanted it to. I'm not sure how many more chances I'll have to get that kind of completely unfettered output--publicity and notoriety bring more editorial "oversight."

By the way, I've heard from more than a few folks that they had trouble finding either the second or third issue. The delay that arose from switching out artists put #2 WAY behind schedule, and the vagaries of the printing process meant that #3 showed up seven weeks after #2 even though they went to the printer four weeks apart. So if you haven't found either one, go to the Arcana Store and pick yourself up some copies.

And I've got an idea in mind for a sequel--once you finish #3, you'll notice I've left dangling a plot thread the size of that sea rope that lashes ships to docks. Unfortunately, my artist on #2 and #3, Jason Ossman, has decided to trade the oh-so-reliable world of comics art for a real job in the financial industry. (Something about having a family or some such.) So any aspiring artists out there are welcome to send their samples my way, and maybe you can be the guy to illustrate SUNDOWN: ...Manhattan? Miami? Compton? Who knows?

Anyway, one of the coolest aspects of the series was that I got the chance to see how many different artists would render my creations, thanks to a pinup contest I ran in the back of the book. Here are the best entries I received--the astute among you will note that two of these guys are now working partners of mine. (Hmmmm...it's almost as if I planned that competition to get a look at more artists.) From left to right, we've got: pinup runner-up contest winner Jeremy Bennison (now working with me on XL); a pinup by the exceptional Mark Winters; and an unused first page by Ryan Bodenheim; and pinup contest winner Martin Morazzo (now working with me on THE NETWORK). Not bad, huh? Click on each pic to get a full-size version suitable for wallpaper or scaring the neighborhood kids.


Wednesday, February 08, 2006 

Super Bowl? They shoulda called it the STUPOR Bowl! Hyuck hyuck!...aw, kill me now. Please.

So I’ve had sports on my mind a lot lately. In the last week, I’ve cranked out a bunch of sports articles—a big piece on Atlanta’s 790 the Zone radio station for Atlanta magazine, a column for ChopTalk on spring training, a piece for Richmond magazine on former Richmond Braves (written expressly so my mom could have something to show off to her friends in Richmond), a piece for Bluff on poker-playing ballplayers, and a future cover story for ChopTalk on the Braves who’ve stayed in Atlanta—Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and John Smoltz—despite all the lures from, say, Yankee Stadium. It’s one of those this-is-a-good-job weeks—I’ve gotten to hang out in the tiny batting cage under Turner Field, and tonight at dinner I had this conversation when my cell rang:

Me: I gotta take this.
Annie: Who is it?
Me: Aw, just one of the Red Sox.
Annie: Stop trying to act all casual. And sit down. It's dinner time.
Me: ...I guess he can go to voice mail.

So, Gabe Kapler, if you’re reading this…sorry. My wife ain’t a Sox fan.

Anyway, along with all my own sports work, I kicked back on the Unofficial American Holiday and watched the…wait, who was playing in the Super Bowl again? The Steelers, yeah, but…who else? Some blue team, right? I just read that this Super Bowl drew 90 million viewers, and was the most watched program since 1996. (Yeah, even more than Nick n’ Jessica Entertain the Troops.) And I’ve gotta ask—was everyone else as over this whole Super Bowl thing as I am?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the game. I love ANY championship—hell, any playoff game. I actually start taking an interest in hockey once the playoffs roll around in August or whatever. And I’ll always lay a few bets on the game—this year, I lost 3 of 5 prop bets to Riley and ended up out fifty cents. And yes, the hype has overwhelmed the game pretty much ever since the days of the first Steel Curtain. But the masses have always cottoned to the whole Super Bowl Experience thing, lapping up the commercials and gleefully buying into the hype.

Not this year, though. This year was the year that EVERYBODY seemed to figure out that a massive event whose entire existence depends on asserting just how massive it is actually has the mass of cotton candy. After two years of three-point wins (some dynasty, Patriots), we had the typical Super Bowl crapfest, where one team buckles under the pressure and makes the entire country wonder how the hell they ended up here. (Atlanta in 1998, anyone?) And the ads long ago swallowed their tail, focusing far more on scoring high on opinion polls than on pushing product. But this year, everybody—sportscasters, teams, advertisers, fans—everybody seemed to be going through the motions before, during, and after the game. (Hey, did you know the Rolling Stones are old? No, really! And Jerome Bettis—did you know he’s from Detroit? Oh, the irony of it all!) Nobody seemed that interested in the ads, nobody seemed to care much about the game, and three months from now, I'd be surprised if half those 90 million could name both teams that played in the game.

There are certain moments, certain tipping points in media history, after which we don’t ever perceive the medium in the same way. The Nixon-Kennedy debates, Who Shot J.R.?, the assault on Baghdad in Gulf War I, the O.J. verdict—these were instants where we as television viewers were changed, where we lost some sort of innocence, whether real or feigned. It’s a bit obscene to compare a football game to a war—though it’s certainly done often enough—but I’ve got this strange feeling that Super Bowl XL represented one of those media tipping points. We all saw the hype for the farce it was—and we won’t get fooled again.

Unless the Falcons make it there next year. Then I’m gonna lap XLI up with a soup ladle.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006 

Wait, the Super Bowl is a FOOTBALL game?

So Super Bowl Sunday is approaching, and with it acres (or, on the Internet, gigabytes) of ranting about the minutiae of The Game, the city of Detroit, the significance of our Unofficial National Holiday, et cetera. Last year, I wrote a blow-by-blow live blog of the game (no permalink, scroll all the way down) for the Chicago Sports Review; I probably won't do that this year, but you never know.

Here are a couple of enjoyable articles about The Greatest Day Of The Year:

--One of the most annoying aspects of Super Bowl week is how pudgy jackass sportswriters love ripping on the host city. It happened in Atlanta a few years back--heavens to betsy, there was actually winter weather--and people whined all week. And the game itself? Well, it just happened to be one of the two or three best ever--the one where the Rams beat the Titans by six inches. Detroit Free Press columnist Michael Rosenberg has prepared this handy list for idiot sportswriters intent on criticizing his city. Nice opening salvo, Michael.

--Chuck Klosterman is one of my favorite writers, though I can certainly understand why so many people loathe him. He filters pretty much every experience he has through his own navel, but sometimes he uses deconstructionist techniques to brilliant effect--as in his ongoing Super Bowl Media Week blog for ESPN.com. The opening bit trying to figure out how Hines Ward can continue to insist that the Steelers continue to be disrepsected even though they're favored by four points is brilliant...and the rest of the blog follows suit.

By the way, I say Steelers by three.

Bio

Jay Busbee runs Yahoo! Sports' NASCAR Blog From The Marbles, Atlanta Magazine's Atlanta sports blog Right Down Peachtree, and the Southern sports/humor blog Sports Gone South. He also writes for damn near anybody who'll throw him a buck and a byline, and he's at work on the books The Quiet Dynasty: The History Of The Atlanta Braves' Championship Run (2009, Sports Publishing LLC) and God Is A Bulldog: Georgia, Florida, And The Greatest Play In College Football History (2010, Sports Publishing LLC). Click below for more info on his novels, articles, and comics.
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