I was reminded this morning by Bully's super-fun post about Ben Grimm's reading habits that a nice little holiday post might help to scare away all the witches and werewolves.*
Here, then, with a little bit of October color and a little larger than you'd see it in our Satisfactory Comics #7, is "The Graveyard of Forking Paths," one of our branching-comic homages to Jason Shiga, master of the mathematical comic. (Seriously, Shiga is one of the real genuises of the new generation of cartoonists; I heartily recommend his Meanwhile..., Hello World, and Knock Knock, as well as Fleep and Bookhunter, if you can get your hands on them. You can get some of his books at Global Hobo.)
You can, of course, click to enlarge this thumbnail; I hope you will. To read the comic, start in the upper left corner as usual, and follow any orange arrow you'd care to follow. (It's basically a sort of maze.)
Isn't that spooky? Why, even the "happy" ending is a little macabre!
Here's hoping you get plenty of candy in your plastic pumpkin tonight, and that the litlte rubber band on the back of your mask doesn't come unstapled while you're blocks away from home.
EXTRA BONUS: Here's a great costume idea:
*(More Halloweeny fun from the blogroll: Chris Sims has posted about a NSFW--and in fact NSFYCS**--story about witches, and Blockade Boy has shown us a bit of a Batman-vs.-werewolf fight.)
(** Not Safe For Your Continued Sanity, that is. Seriously, you may not wish to follow that link.)
I've been experimenting with alternative transportation lately, such as buses and cabs. Not so much because I'm deeply concerned about petroleum and climate change, but because I need to stop driving drunk.
I tried it out a few Fridays ago. Took the bus from my house to Benaroya Hall, where I was going to see Mozart's Requiem via a last-minute invite from my friend Tara. I tried to plan my route on the Metro Transit website, but it gave me a tangled web of bus stops, numbers, and vague street intersections, and I found myself wandering back and forth across the street with a puzzled, "unfrozen-Neanderthal-lost-in-New-York" expression on my face. It makes me wonder--if I, a supposedly intelligent, semi-educated intellectual-type, am having such a hard time figuring this out, how the HELL do the inbreds, schizophrenics, and lunatic drunks that make up most of the bus ridership ever figure it out? Is bus-knowledge just naturally hardwired into those unfortunate genes collecting algae on the bottom of the pool?
So, finally, I find the right bus, and get on it. I ask the driver if this bus goes to
I sit down, and within a couple stops, the seat next to me is filled by a cute girl listening to her iPod. Hey, this isn't so bad. A few stops later she exits, and is replaced by a catastrophically obese man whose body mass slowly squishes me against the wall as it spreads out to the sides of him like melting jello. He smells vaguely of nutmeg, which doesn't seem right, and confuses my senses. I minimize my breathing.
Eventually I reach my stop and arrive at Benaroya Hall. I realize that my previous impression of the Seattle Symphony crowd as being a fairly equal mix of formal and casual dress was slightly inaccurate, and I feel a little conspicuous. At least my hoodie is black. I meet
The "opening act" is a frilly, bouncy little number by Mozart that brings to mind flowers, powdered wigs, and schoolgirls in petticoats fighting about limes. When that bullshit finally ends there is an intermission, and since I haven't eaten anything all day and my stomach is growling like an open-string double-bass in rondo, I decide to make a dash for it and get some food.
I'm not about to stand in line with a bunch of suit-wearing richies to pay 20$ (no joke) for a plate of Wolfgang Puck food scooped out of a cafeteria-style warming vat, so I run down the street to Quiznos. It's closed. I run down the street to a Teriyaki place. Like many small Asian restaurants they turn out to be cash-only, since Eastern peoples are not particularly adept at operating credit card swiping machines. Although I hear the more industrialized areas of
Finally I end up at a 1950's themed diner, and order a "Rocket Burger Cowboy Deluxe". Meanwhile, back at the concert hall, the 20 minute intermission is rapidly coming to an end. I get my burger and jog the whole way back while stuffing chunks of burger into my face, but I'm too late. I walk in to find the lobby empty, and the ushers frowning at me while strains of the Requiem seep through the closed doors. I ask if there's any way I can still get in somewhere, and one of the ushers sternly escorts me to a seat in the very, very, back, back, far right corner, underneath the overhanging box seats. I feel strangely singled-out, like I'm the only unshaven 25 year-old shuffling into his seat in the middle of the chorale wearing jeans, sneakers, striped pirate shirt, and a hoodie with half a bacon-and-onion-rings burger bulging out of the pocket.
So I finally settle in and enjoy the symphony. It's dark and stirring, with a massive choir belting out ominous latin verses. Apparently Mozart had some balls after all. Maybe that's why he died in the middle of composing this piece, since sex-change operations probably weren't very safe in the 18th Century.
At one point, as a movement ends a woman gets up to leave. Just as she clears the last seat she trips on something and falls flat on her face in the middle of the aisle. Instead of rushing to her feet and fleeing in embarrassment she just huddles on the floor with her arms covering her head. A man gets up to help her and she staggers to her feet, turns on him and shoves out her hand like someone warding off a vampire with a crucifix. She loudly hisses, "Stay back! Stay back!" and then runs away. Never a dull moment at the Seattle Symphony. I think she was late for a demon-summoning.
The symphony ends and I catch a ride with
At one bus stop I encounter a large man wearing a jacket covered in buttons. I ask him if he knows what bus will take me to Ballard. He turns slowly and smiles down on me beatifically. "Yes," he says, "Of course." And he begins a homily covering every glorious detail of the public transit system, in such a flood of information that I can't possibly absorb anything useful. Eventually I manage to nod and thank my way out of the conversation. Later, browsing on the internet, I discover that the man I encountered was in fact a local street celebrity, known as The Button-Wearing Bus Expert. He has his own page on Seattlenotables.com. I had no idea I was in the presence of a legend.
Finally I catch a bus to Ballard. The moment I step aboard, a scraggly old man in the front seat points at me and declares, like the prophet Elijah declaring the arrival of the Christ: "Now this looks like a young man who can take it!" (Behold!)
I sit down and look him in the eye and say, "Yes, I can take it."
The lady next to me rolls her eyes and says, "We've been 'taking it' for hours…"
Apparently the old man is quite the storyteller. He's also a close friend of President Nixon. And a member of The Who.
I love the bus system.
Alas, other improvements were more laborious. Tier three, panel 1 is mostly redesigned away from the pencils I first posted, and I had to bust out some Pro White to add the magical "reins" in tier two, panel 2, where I had stupidly omitted them at first.
But never mind all that! A page is a page, and this one follows close on the heels of Isaac's page 7. We're closing in on the end. Will we make it? Only time—and Matt Madden, our next constrainer—will tell!
1. OUTBACK BUSH HAT - Not technically necessary for this trade, nevertheless a traditional element of the Lobster Trainer's ensemble
2. STEELY GAZE - Essential for "breaking" new lobsters, which are often wild and unruly and respond aggressively to signs of weakness or uncertainty. It is essential that the Lobster Trainer maintain firm eye contact at all times during these early phases of training, in order to establish dominance.
3. EYE PATCH - Although deeply rewarding, lobster training is by nature a hazardous profession.
4. DUCK CALL (unseen beneath scarf) - A whistle used to call or signal the lobster in various ways, both during training and in the home. A duck call is used because it is the type of call most similar to the lobster's own vocalization, since lobsters evolved from ducks.
6. LEATHER GLOVE - Protects the trainer's hands from minor lobster-related injuries, although it is a mostly ineffective defense against the lobster's actual claws, which can cut through steel.
7. HOOK HAND - Although deeply rewarding, lobster training is by nature a hazardous profession.
8. CONTROL ROD -Used to guide the domesticated lobster when walking it in public places. In this case the rod has been given red stripes to double as a "sight-impaired" indicator, as this particular lobster also serves as a seeing-eye animal for its partially-blinded trainer. This relationship is unique, as it is the first known case of a seeing-eye animal being the very same animal that caused the disability, but as pet lobsters continue to gain mainstream popularity, it will surely not be the last such case.
9. TRAINED LOBSTER, "PINCHE" - This fully domesticated lobster, dubbed "Pinche", is over 17 years old, and has been in its trainer's family since birth. Although generally mild-tempered and affectionate, Pinche, like all lobsters, is a powerful, mysterious animal, and must be treated with caution and respect, or serious harm may come to its human companions. Increasingly aware of this danger, the FAC has implemented a law requiring all lobster owners to carry a registered firearm at all times, to be used to destroy the lobster in the event that they lose control of their pet.
The good news is that we've just got three pages to go. (The bad news, of course, is that we have to wrap up the story somehow in those three pages and still satisfy our final set of constraints.)
Here's the way page seven seems to have turned out. Please click on the picture to enlarge it to legible size.
That kick to the jaw, by the way, is totally dedicated to Chris Sims of the Invincible Super-Blog.
You may also wish to compare the thumbnail of p. 7 with this slightly distorted version of Marcel Duchamp's most famous painting, Nude Descending a Staircase.
This version of Nude Descending is wider than the original, so that I could put it under my page and lightbox the layout of the painting directly. In fact, I was still doing that when I had inked every one of the figures on the page, to get little areas of light and dark to "match up," not that it matters. Not very much of the original comes through, in the end, but I hope that some of the kinetic, multiplanar chaos carries over. When I color this image, I'll try to stick to a yellowy earthtone palette, which should help make the swipe more noticeable. (That will probably also make the captions easier to find in amid all those lines.)
I have to say, it was fun to draw the figures a little larger this time.
The second tier fulfills the constraint wherein three panels must maintain a continuous image (Tom Motley described this, cinematically, as a "pan sequence"). The background may be too sketchy to make this effect plain, but the idea is that the shadow man is staggering to the right, becoming ever less shadowy, while we see all the continuous space he covers. And yes, the birdlike junkman and Kalbi do bridge panels, to reinforce the sense of movement and the passage of time as they watch the shadow man stumble.
The last panel, where Stepan and the shadow man fade into the shadow world, fulfills the constraint that one panel must lack panel borders.
Here's the text for the above panels:
Tier 1, Panel 1:
Caption: All at once, the shadowfolk all disappear with Arntham…
Tier 1, Panel 2:
Caption: All but one.
Stepan: Stay where you are!
Shadowman: Aaaa [no word balloon, just letters]
Tier 2, Panel 1:
Shadowman: Please… [wispy word balloon]
Tier 2, Panel 2:
Shadowman: …don’t trap me here… [overlapping word balloon edges]
Tier 2, Panel 3:
Shadowman: …I’m losing what I am! [normal word balloon]
Toadish Junkman: What’s happening to him?
Tier 3, Panel 1:
Stepan: I saw something similar with Arntham’s attacker. The longer I looked at him, the clearer he became…
Tier 3, Panel 2:
Shadowman: This place…it hems us in…fixes us, in form, in time, in space…
Tier 3, Panel 3:
Shadowman: And Arntham’s map would do the same!
Stepan: And that’s why you tried to kill him? So he couldn’t bind your home in place?
Tier 4, Panel 1:
Kalbi: And now they’ve got him over there! They’ll kill him for good!
Stepan: Maybe not. Shadow man…
Tier 4, Panel 2:
Stepan: You’re still bound to my will. But I will release you—if you take me to your home.
Tier 4, Panel 3:
No text as Stepan and the shadowman, in the same pose as in the previous panel, become shadow figures against a blank background in a space with no borders.
You know the drill, gang. Comments welcome!
Anyway, here's what happens on page 6.
I think that both of the requirements I got out of Ben Towle's constraints for these pages fit in pretty organically. It was fun to set up that end-of-the-page "reveal," in particular.
While I was inking this page, I started thinking of the junkmen as "The Chicken" and "The Egg." I wonder which one of them is named Mutt?
Anyway, let me know what you think; I'll probably ink p. 7 early next week, so please be sure to take a look at it and offer me any comments or suggestions you might have.
But I thought I'd post things as they are right now, because I'm planning to spend my time inking p. 6 tonight, and these digital photos of the pencilled pages seem to turn out better if I do them by daylight instead of lamplight.
Anyway, here's what I've got on p. 7. You can see that it's lettered, and (if you click to enlarge the image) you'll also see that I've revised my tentative script a little bit, mostly for the sake of naturalness. I've also spotted in a few of the darkest black areas on the page, but there will be a lot more ink in a lot of places before I'm done.
Looking at the image itself, you should be able to see Kalbi and the birdlike junkman in the top "row," fighting with barely delineated shadows, then Stepan and the toadlike junkman and finally Arntham in the lower "row." Plus lots and lots of extra lines, most of which will get cleaned up a lot in the inking process. But first I need to finish p. 6.
Let me know if you think this reads all right, or if any pencilling changes ought to be made before I set about to ink.
First, during the panel on “genre” in alternative comics, our pal Jon Lewis was talking about the period in one’s life when one powerfully wants to be taken seriously and therefore loudly denounces or eschews anything that’s not “serious.” Maybe this particular pupal stage is only experienced by a certain variety of nerd, but it’s definitely something I recognized in my own past personality.
At a certain point in your development, though, as Jon said, you start to feel secure enough in your own personality to allow yourself access to the unhip, the non-serious, the mainstream, and so forth. You can even enjoy some of it without irony.
I have a playlist on my iPod that I listen to sometimes on my way to work. This playlist is all ’80s pop songs that I thought were for idiots when I was in high school (and totally into the Talking Heads)—stuff like “Walking on Sunshine” or Wang Chung’s “Dance Hall Days.” They're actually really enjoyable songs. Now, my only embarrassment when I listen to them is that I was such a snob about them decades ago, when I was green in judgment. And there are certainly analogues from the world of comics.
Later, at the Ignatz afterparty, I was telling my friends from Partyka about the genre panel. There had been this moment on the panel when Gilbert Hernandez, talking about writing Birds of Prey for DC, was joking about how he’d been confused about Barbara Gordon being stuck in a wheelchair. (I’m paraphrasing here, but what he had said was something like, “You see, there was this issue of Superman where Lois Lane had a mermaid’s tail, and Superman learned how to be a surgeon so he could reattach her real legs; why can’t Superman just fix Batgirl’s legs?”) So, as I’m describing this and Shawn and Matt are chuckling, Sara Edward-Corbett goes, “You guys are such total nerds.” Or, anyway, words to that effect. I think she meant it kindly.
And I thought, you know, I’m okay with that. There are things about mainstream comics that don’t interest me one bit, and there’s a lot that I won’t bother reading, but I’m not going to deny that I have a segment of superhero “history” printed indelibly on my brain. (It’s a different segment than Gilbert Hernandez’s, I’m sure, but if anyone needs me to describe Kirby’s run on Kamandi or, God help me, the first dozen issues of Alpha Flight, I can probably do it.)
Come to think of it, I consider it kind of a compliment that one of my cartoonist friends asked me to remind him what Metron’s chair looks like, for a sketch he was doing this weekend.
I’m not even going to disallow the possibility that some unhip, mainstream stuff currently being printed would turn out to be enjoyable. I liked the first six issues of the Waid / Perez Brave and the Bold, for example. I can admit that.
Anyway, all of this has led me to think about why it is that I enjoyed this year’s SPX more than I did last year’s. I think it’s mostly because this year I took it a lot less seriously. I mean, I was a little nervous about the panel I moderated, and I was glad that it went well. I was honored to be the one to introduce Bill Griffith’s lecture. But on the show floor I was neither concerned about being cool nor worried at all about selling Satisfactory Comics. (I gave out a lot of postcards, and traded quite a few copies of #7, but I didn’t sell a single comic.) Basically, I was treating the convention floor as what it is, for me: a venue where I can pursue my minicomics hobby.
Also, I have a couple of notebooks that I’ve slowly been filling with sketches by other cartoonists, one book with monkeys and the other with robots. It’s a fanboy thing to do, and I recognize that; showing the books to someone always makes me feel uncomfortably geeky, and I feel like a dork when I ask someone to do a sketch for me. But I think I can admit to myself that the sketchbooks make me happy. The drawings (some by famous cartoonists and some by friends) are souvenirs, more than a collection, and a lot of them really do put a smile on my face.
Last year at SPX I asked Tony Millionaire to draw the frontispiece in my monkey sketchbook. This year, back toward the back of the book, Gilbert Hernandez:
I don’t think I should feel embarrassed to have asked for that.
This past weekend the Small Press Expo (SPX) took place in Bethesda, Maryland, not far from where I live now. I enjoyed visiting with friends and cartoonists who came down for the convention, including occasional SatCom collaborators Shawn Cheng, Tom K, Bill Kartalopoulos, Jon Lewis, Karen Sneider, and Ben Towle, not to mention my buddy Isaac himself. Smart and generous minicomics artists were in full effect!
But I also enjoyed the chance to talk for a while with some major artists of the reg'lar-sized comics variety, notably Gilbert Hernandez of Love and Rockets fame and Matt Wagner of Mage, Grendel, and assorted DC Comics fame. For a while now I have felt that I might not have stopped reading comics for ten years if the proprietors of my hometown nerd store had seen fit to recommend titles like L&R, Hate, and Eightball when I began to grow restless with Detective; my introduction to Beto's work was sadly belated. But at least I was reading Matt Wagner's work back then, and I think it has had a greater influence on my cartooning than I usually recognize.
My enthusiasm for Grendel was shared with my high-school pal David, and probably it was our short-lived effort to tell our own Grendel story that shifted my cartooning ambitions from comic strips to comic books (in the long run, a smart move for this cartoon hobbyist, as the outlets for amateur minicomics seem more accessible to me than those for amateur comic strips—at least since I won't be launching any comic-strip websites). In fact, David inked my pencils before Isaac ever did, though no more than a single page of Grendel accosting the reader with a plea to "Bring back the Primer"—Comico's erstwhile showcase for fledgling cartoonists, where Wagner himself launched Grendel twenty-five years ago.
Which brings me back to this weekend. Wagner attended SPX in part to promote a silver-anniversary book dedicated to the art of Grendel, and that gave me the chance to thank him, fanboyishly, for the stirring example of his comics on my impressionable young mind. And one of the impressions that Wagner made, even back then, was that steady work can improve one's skills dramatically. Compare the first few issues of Mage with the last, and you'll see a quick development in Wagner's confidence and command. He addresses this himself in the last paragraphs of the introduction to his newly-published Grendel Archives, containing the first few stories of his flagship antihero:
It is my sincerest wish that readers will find a certain inspiration in these pages and come to feel, as I do, that they stand as a true testament to the powerful potential of the creative spirit. Despite any negative response I might have encountered in the press, my own primal urge to express myself in this medium led my efforts onward and upward. I knew that if I opened my mind both to criticism and to craftsmanship, it would lead me to new perspectives and enable me to further develop my skills. It is in the act of making art that one truly becomes an artist.If Wagner comes off as slightly pretentious toward the end, there, I'm prepared to cut him some slack: tone can be hard to manage in prose, and by his own admission he's not great at writing ("—or at art; I'm great at putting them together," to quote him from a panel yesterday afternoon). In person, Wagner impressed me with his easy affability and lack of self-importance. If I have any quibbles with his encouraging declaration that the way to become an artist is simply to make art, it's that he throws up another roadblock when he says "[n]ever falter and never look back." I think that Isaac and I have both learned a lot from our errors and failures along the way, and we've learned from them in part by gritting our teeth and looking back at them, in all their embarrassing clumsiness. Not all of the useful criticism of our work has come from outside, after all. That said, Wagner's surely right that one shouldn't dwell overmuch on past shortcomings—not when there are still more comics to be made.
If I could do it, so can you.
Never falter and never look back.
Except to regard how far you’ve come.
And on that note, I will next post when I have some thumbnails to share for page 8 of Stepan's story!
Eventually the angle of the sun changes, revealing the 2-dimensionality of the scene, or I notice that the employee has not moved at all for several minutes despite being jolted around by the bumpy road, and I become aware that I'm looking at a clever illusion, and I feel somewhat let down and maybe even a little sheepish. But still, it's effective advertising. The illusion is not quite as successful when the image is printed on the back of a city transit bus instead of the company truck, however, because that makes me think, Hey! The hatch door on the back of that transit bus is open, all their drywalling tools are going to fall out--waaaait a minute.... and then I just get angry at the company for making me feel foolish. Damn you, company. I am smart. You tricked me.
Here's the script. Each paragraph is a new caption.
QUICKLY—ALMOST BEFORE I
BECOMES A CHAOTIC BLUR.
WE'RE OUTNUMBERED, BUT I
CAN'T SEE HOW MANY OF THE
SHADOWS ARE OUT THERE.
THE JUNKMEN HANDLE THEMSELVES WELL—
TOSSING SWORD-BLOWS AND KICKS OF ALL KINDS.
BUT THE SHADOWS
KEEP CLOSING IN.
I'M TRYING TO
CAST A SPELL—
BUT I DON'T HAVE
MANY THINGS AT HAND.
WHAT IS THE ESSENTIAL
NATURE OF A SALTCELLAR?
—OF A WHEEL?
—OF A GREEN BOX?
I GRAB THE REINS AND USE
THEM TO BIND ONE OF THE
SHADOWS TO MY WILL.
BUT I'M TOO LATE.
DESPITE OUR EFFORTS, TWO
SHADOWS GRAB ARNTHAM
AND HIS MAP—
—AND ABDUCT HIM INTO
THEIR INVISIBLE WORLD.
Now, at least, Mike knows what happens on p. 7, so he can start planning p. 8. And I'm packing in a lot more than three Duchamp references for Tom: the phrase "kicks of all kinds" is from a Duchamp title, as is "Green Box"; also, Duchamp apparently sometimes referred to himself as "the Salt-Seller" (Marcel Duchamp = Marchand du sel), so there's a pun in another one of my random objects...
... and there will be more references, at the visual level, for which you'll have to wait.
"These are simple, maybe even mundane," he says. "But when you put them together, they could be tricky. The pages so far are feeling a bit compressed, so let's let some air in...
"1. One of the two pages must be a single full page panel.
"2. At least one of the other panels must have no borders.
"3. At least one panel must have pictures instead of words in the speech or thought balloons.
"4. Three panels must link together to form a pan sequence (a continuous background chopped into panels). These panels needn't be adjacent.
"5. There must be three or more subtle allusions to the work of Marcel Duchamp."
Oh, he says they're simple, but in fact they combine in some pretty devious ways. Notice that if I choose #1 for my page (p. 7), I can't use #2 or #4, so I have to leave those for Mike, and I have to take #3 and #5 for myself. One choice is all I get!
I'd have a tiny bit more freedom if I took #2 and #4 for myself—I could choose which of #3 or #5 to foist on Mike—but I've got a plan for how to work the other combination.
...And if you look at my pencils for p. 6, you'll see that I've already built in a couple of allusions to Duchamp that I'll only have to repeat visually on p. 7. By the way, I have some really rough thumbnails for that one already, but I think I'm just going to jump to the pencils in my posts.
A couple of corrections are in order (stray or wobbly lines here and there, and I still need to suggest the "ring for service" label on the countertop sign in the first two panels). And having just seen a prime version of "the Bagge" by Peter Bagge himself, in the latest issue of Apocalypse Nerd, I am well aware that my distorted version of John the constable in panel 2 is woefully pedestrian. Sorry, Ben! Still, this version should suffice until the final clean-up before publication.
And really, we are planning to finish this, and not too far off our notional schedule, either. Isaac and I have both had a couple of very busy weeks, and this comics-making activity of ours is strictly extracurricular. But Isaac wisely factored in an extra week in our schedule when we started back in August, and now that the fall Jewish holidays are over I have a lot more working hours per week again—so I should be able to get things back on track once I see what's happening with page 7. (Wishful thinking? Wish me luck!)
But before we get there, Isaac's got to finish page 6—so I'll jump back to his just-posted pencils of that page to see if I can offer any useful comment. ("You come, too!" as Frost might have said, were he a blogging cartoonist...)
There are going to be a lot of spot blacks in this page, because it's set outside in the dark. If you see a little "x" floating in an otherwise empty field, that means the whole field will be black. (Probably I don't have to explain that convention to most of you reading this, but who knows? I want to be reader-friendly, even for the uninitiated.)
Please click on that image to make it legible, then let me have any critiques or suggestions you can come up with. I want to start lettering the page some time late today or early tomorrow, so I'll really appreciate speedy comments.
I wanted to make sure I knew what the junkmen look like, before I started putting them into my page, and I only had a single image of each one. So I drew a few quick doodles to get more familiar with them.
I think I would read a story where these guys were the stars.
Meanwhile, just to show that I haven't disappeared from the world, here's a little post. Earlier today, Bully, the Little Stuffed Bull, had an indecipherable captcha. (Those are the strings of letter that Blogger makes you type before you can put in a comment, for example: they're designed to thwart spam engines, not regular people.)
Well, Bully, I've got you beat. A few days ago, before I could comment, I was asked to type this:
My first thought was, "Is this something from On Beyond Zebra?"
Then I thought that first cluster of letters looked sort of like a Space Invader. Or maybe one of the Martians from Sesame Street. Yup yup yup yup yup.
UPDATE: Nope. Nope. Nope. I think maybe it was reminding me of some freaky letter M with eyeballs—I'm having a vague memory here, and it's giving me the creeps, actually. The closest I could get with a cursory look at the YouTube was this animation...
...but I think I'm remembering something else: an angrier M, yellow, a puppet of some kind? I'll keep looking.
I've always been a big fan of Corn Pops, or as they're now called, "Pops", having modernized by dropping that old fashioned "corn" from the title, and changing their tagline to "Big Yellow Taste!". I have no idea what "Yellow" is supposed to taste like, but Pops taste pretty good. So, I was delighted and curious when I saw "Chocolate Peanut Butter Pops" at my local Safeway. I brought home a box and immediately poured a bowl.
What's this? The Pops are not in their usual puffed corn kernel shape, they are all perfectly round spheres. This can't be a good sign. I take a bite, and instead of the soft, gently pliant crunch that I'm expecting, the spheres shatter between my teeth like little balls of peanut-buttery pumice. Apparently the addition of the chocolate peanut butter flavoring necessitated a complete alchemical change in the basic structure of the cereal, because what I was eating was not Pops at all, it was slightly larger-than-average Cocoa Puffs, or maybe even Captain Crunch---the ultra-crunchy polar opposite of sweet, gentle Pops! The antithesis! And I have the scarred gums to prove it.
How does Kellogg get away with a switch-up like this? Why would they call this cereal Pops, when it is so clearly not Pops? Now I'm waiting nervously for the day I open a bottle of "New, Improved Taste!" Pepsi only to find it filled with Lil' Smokies.
Terra's Spiced Sweet Potato Chips wisely add the word "spiced" so that you don't think these are "sweet chips", like those abominable cinnamon-and-sugar Sun Chips, which taste as if they took regular salty Sun Chips and just sprinkled cinnamon and sugar on top of the existing flavor powder. The resulting flavor, "Cinnamon Cheddar", is a bold culinary stroke, but like many bold culinary strokes, tastes like sun-dried vomit.
I open the black, stylishly understated bag of Terra's chips and am delighted by the chips' deep orange color. They look just like sweet potatoes look! I pop one in my mouth, and my first reaction is, "Wow! These chips taste good!" The contrast of rich, mellow, sweet-potato sweetness with the tangy, cilantro-laden spice is an exotic new sensation. But something is nagging at the back of my brain, a vague feeling of familiarity. The odor of the chips is teasing my memory, somehow bringing to mind images of walking the snaggly streets of downtown Seattle late at night. Intrigued, I crunch down on another handful and breathe deep. Then it hits me. Where have I smelled this odor before? This musky blend of sweet, sour, and tangy? On every downtown street corner, wafting from the layers of tattered rags and crusted sweatshirts that form the steaming mound of lost humanity that is the homeless man. The truth hits me like a bolt of sickly-sweet lightning. These chips smell like B.O! Exactly like B.O! Like the kind of B.O that has been cultivated and nurtured and fermented until it acquires the richness and complexity of a great and terrible wine.
The chips taste delicious. But I can't shake the olfactory associations with diseased armpits and shambling hobos. I hurl the bag away and run to the bathroom to deposit some Cinnamon Cheddar in the toilet.
"You Could've Had a V8".
I love the note of hopelessness and despair in this one.
It would seem advertising slogans have almost come full circle in their semantic tense. Back in the olden days, everything was an imperitive, telling you to do something, telling you, the consumer, what to consume and exactly how to consume it. You know, "Eat at Joes!" "Enjoy Coca Cola!" etc. Then came a softer, more sensitive era where this approach of direct action was deemed too agressive, so everything became a little more uncertain and switched over to questions. "Where Do You Want to Go Today?" "How Many Bars Do You Have?" "What Are You Gonna Love at Qdoba?" etc.
Now apparently we've given up on convincing and cajoling people, and settled on just a weary sigh of resignation and regret over their poor choices.
"You Could've Had a V8..."
What other slogans can we expect to come out of this new advertising trend?
"You Were In Much Better Hands With AllState." (Allstate)
"Still Happy With That PC?" (Apple)
"You Left Home Without It, Didn't You??" (American Express)
"Too bad you grew up. What Are You Like 30 Now?" (Toys R Us)
"Home Improvement Could Have Been Improved A Lot More, But We Tried." (Lowes)
"Remember How Well You Used to Be Able to Hear Me?" (Verizon)
My client in this morning's visit is a Mexican dad and his son. Dad mainly speaks Spanish but speaks English well enough to be conversational. And is he ever conversational… The guy is talking to me non-stop. He's talking to me as a write this. And what does he have to talk about? The following things, and nothing else: Fashion, Movies, and Cell Phones.
Every single visit, without fail, he will notice my shoes and start talking about Converse, how he likes this or that color, how they look great with a suit jacket when you go to the club, etc. It's the same conversation every visit, almost verbatim. He will then ask me about other brands of shoes, and I'll shrug and say "Sure". Next he moves to movies, and briefly touches on the latest major releases and whether or not they were awesome. Finally, we move to his favorite, Cell Phones. We discuss at great length the many merits of the iPhone, and various other new models I haven't heard of. Sometimes it veers into other electronics, iPods, laptops, etc, but usually we stay pretty firmly in the mall phone kiosk. I have become really adept at smiling and nodding.
Today, we had a slight variation on the motif. To be sure, it was still about mass-culture consumer goods, but today his big thing was about where those goods were manufactured. He was outraged to find that his new Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses were made in
For me, the sublime moment of this whole experience was when, later on, during a rare lull in the conversation, while I'm writing this blog and Dad is just sitting there looking at the wall, he suddenly, with no apparent context whatsoever, just blurts out, "Nike."I think now I finally grasp the idea of rampant and toxic consumerism. I've always kind of dismissed it as a scratching-post for over-caffeinated social critics eager for a target, but I'd never known anybody who was really part of the scene, never really had it shoved in my face. Having just sat through a 2 hour lesson in pop-culture-consumer obsession, I think I get it now. Sign me up for a 10 year subscription to Adbusters...