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Older than I used to be, and Now I’m Getting Older

Older than I used to be, and Now I’m Getting Older published on No Comments on Older than I used to be, and Now I’m Getting Older

It was my birthday this week and as I pass further into the realm of not as young as I used to be towards no longer a spring chicken, I thought I would take this opportunity to reflect on the nature of comedy. Because it’s a thin line between comedy and tragedy. Or so the saying goes. I don’t remember laughing a lot during Romeo and Juliet.

As a regular reader (I hope) of what I’m doing here, you may have noticed that I have the style of humor that I like to think of as classic. You can call it corny if you like. I love a good pun and I could never understand why Stephan Pastis felt compelled to put those self flagellating final panels in Pearls Before Swine where Rat felt the need to pulverize his author every time he felt the bounds of clever wit had been transgressed. But then, that’s probably why you’ve heard of Stephan Pastis and I’m uh… not in that league. Here’s a thought though: By having a character confront the author is it railing in the face of God? Am I so responsibility averse that I don’t use recurring characters for fear that they gain sentience and kill me in my sleep? That’s crazy. Of course not. Stop looking at me!

So… classic comedy. I am lucky (?) enough to have been raised pre reality television. If anything, I like to think that my general ennui/malaise towards life can be attributed to Punky Brewster, the Golden Girls and Cheers. Great as those characters were, the shows were not character driven. They put the situation in situation comedy. I thought when I grew up I would have all kinds of hilarious hijinks where I was mistaken for foreign dignitaries and business scions. Where I would have casual encounters with celebrities where I learned a great Life Lesson when we passed for thirty seconds in the hall. Where I faked my way into great jobs and made wonderfully anecdotal mistakes while fudging my way to competency.

Then reality tv came along. Sure, it was sort of there all along but it didn’t REALLY take off until I was already in college. Then we got to see survivors face their fear factor in the real world under the eyes of big brother. Of course, having to eat a pile of worms or run a footrace over a pile of craggy ankle beckoning rocks is about as likely for most of us as casual celebrity encounters. Despite that, reality tv became the new reality. Our relationships (to this old biddy) feel more complicated and dramatic than they used to be. Our conversations more rhetorical. That’s when I realized that somehow a funny thing had happened to us. Less funny haha than funny tragic (it’s tragic cos it’s true!). The more that we escape into fiction, the better we understand what is real. The more we tried to replicate (regulate?) reality, the more we hyperinflated those things that are fake. Art’s a funny thing, isn’t it? What happens when life imitates crap? Anyways, I think I’ll go infiltrate a strangers’ high school reunion. Time to put the wacky back in this whack job.

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The More Things Change…

The More Things Change… published on No Comments on The More Things Change…

…the more they really change. Can we agree that 2016 has been a really weird year?

gothic
Yup. This weird.

 

I’ll start by saying that cartooning is something that I enjoy. A lot. I’m not the best in the world at it, but have you seen what Garry Trudeau’s early work looks like? Have you seen what Scott Adams looks like now? I will get better. It’s a promise from me to you and, more importantly, from me to me.

Speaking of Scott Adams, I don’t know how many of you noticed this piece he wrote regarding this hellstorm of an election, but he has formally endorsed Donald Trump after stating that he knows nothing about the issues but that he does know that Hillary’s supporters are bullies.

As a certain type of successful white man, he then goes on to talk about how his books are now being downgraded on Amazon as a result of his political uncorrectness (I know it’s incorrectness but I’m fighting back against PC thugs telling me how to wurd). Writers are speaking out against him motivated only by a desire to diminish his authority because of course that and jealousy are the only reason that any writer ever writes about another writer.

A Graveyard Smash
And we all know jealousy makes monsters of us all.

 

This is honestly the kind of writing I would expect from the apologist balladeer of the crappy workplace (my two cents are ‘it’s funny because it’s true!’ is the same logic that gave us Hogans Heroes).

Contrast this with something that I read recently in the book Only What’s Necessary: Charles M. Schulz and the Art of Peanuts. I would go so far as to say Charles Schulz was the most commercially influential cartoonist in American history. All of the plushies, lunch boxes, coffee mugs and assorted desiderata (I love that word so much) of all the cartoonists working today might approach the level that Snoopy and the gang reached. I assume so, without bothering to research- but it feels right doesn’t it?

In this book there is s0me correspondence between Schulz and a teacher named Harriet Glickman. Harriet very kindly writes Schulz and tells him his comic is so wonderfully received and influential, could he please see his way to add a black character to help with integration? Schulz, again very kindly, writes back that he wouldn’t dare as he would be afraid to come across as condescending to people of color. He writes back and forth with some of Harriet’s black friends expressing his concerns, they share with him some of theirs and eventually Peanuts sees the introduction of Franklin, its’ first black character.

My point? Success comes with privileges and responsibilities, just like being a spider powered superhero. Fifty years ago there was a cartoonist so beloved that he probably could have been president himself who modestly and circumspectly approached the controversial issues of the day- and to be fair I did get a whiff of the protection of his commercial interests at play. Fast forward to today and a niche cartoonist whose niche is not politics and who claims to know little of the issues asks us to upvote his books on the interwebs as a political statement.

I don’t judge or claim to understand either of these men because I have walked nowhere in their shoes. To that end I would like to propose that a well endowed ivy league school give me a LOT of money from their sociology department (first dibs to Princeton so I can meet Paul Krugman) and I promise to fully document all the effects overnight success imposes on a bleeding heart liberal. I look forward to discussing my views on the capital gains tax with you.

Frugally,

Martin

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We Could be Heroes…

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A few years back Utah was determined to be the nerdiest state in America based on Facebook posts and their contents. I live approximately a 4 minute walk from ground zero of the Salt Lake Comic-con and I’ll testify. Not like at the big churchy building across the street, where I’m not allowed to do that. Anyways, off-topic. I’m rambling.

My point is everywhere else I have visited or lived I am considered a hardcore nerd. I know many people here who believe the same thing. But those are people who don’t know the other people I know here. The real nerds. The ones who argued when the list came out that the nerd criteria and method of data gathering lacked empirical validity. The ones who model what commitment, enthusiasm, creativity and camaraderie can accomplish. And the alphas of those nerds are the cosplayers. The hundreds of hours that go into a costume are truly mind boggling. Not to mention the positive self image. I can’t even get away from using facebook avatars that look like this:

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So I will never understand those that laugh at these grownups playing dress up. They must not be not aware of groups like Heroic, who perform good deeds for charity and delight children and adults throughout Utah as the walking avatars of beloved fictional characters. Or the Mandalorian Mercs– an international group of Star Wars cosplayers who perform charity for underprivileged families while counterintuitively dressing as bounty hunters. (Side note- this is where I display my casual rather than deeply embedded nerddom by admitting that I don’t know if all Mandalorians are bounty hunters or if I’m racially profiling. If this is the case, I apologize for my insensitivity #notallmandalorians)

I’m not sure if it was evident before, so let me state explicitly that I do in fact have a point. Back during SLC Nerd in 2013 someone took a truly epic pic of Batman of Heroic riding off with a Mandalorian from the Krayt clan. It was a great pic, but the background was asphalt. Boring asphalt. So I made it into this: 554598_310070115727188_1569278052_nIt just felt better. I’d like to do it again. If this is the sort of thing you’d like to see more of, I’d like to invite all of our cosplay heroes to send me anything you have that you just know could be epic with a push. I can’t promise to get to everything, but once or twice a week at least I’d like to share these inspirational moments. And a big shout out to our heroes above for their kind permission in letting me put this out there.

 

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Spooktober

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I thought I would take a break from all the real world craziness today and take a cue from many of my friends by gearing up for Halloween with some scary movies. Not scary like  Bridget Jones’s Baby. I’m not that brave and I want to sleep again in 2016. More like Rosemary’s Baby, who yeah- you don’t want to sit next to in a classroom, but you’re never going to have to provide Rosemary with a list of food allergies before going to her apartment for a vegan sleepover/spa treatment. Full disclosure: I don’t actually know anything about Bridget Jones.

I thought I would start out with the Lovely Bones, by director Peter Jackson. It’s more suspenseful than scary and in true Peter Jackson fashion, the cinematography is lush and distinct. But of course, all of that takes a backseat to the performances. I have to say that I thought it was a great breakout performance from genre newcomer DeForest Kelley. Particularly in light of the fact that he had died ten years prior to the release of this film.

bones

Whose heart wasn’t in their throat when Stanley Tucci chased Bones out of underground treehouse (groundhouse day- remember this for later) into that field and then the Enterprise couldn’t get a lock on him and he had that final tearful moment when he knew he would never see Spock again? Goosebumps, people. Goosebumps. I would recommend this movie without reservation to anyone in need of a good fright fest or some catharsis. But as well conceived and executed as it was, I’m not sure how necessary that lesser known sequel was.

bones2

Maybe Butterfly Effect 2 necessary? Anyways, honestly you should watch The Lovely Bones and tell me what you think.

Spookily Yours,

Martin

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Cha cha cha Changes…

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I hope you can forgive me if I get a little confessional today. I’ll try to keep it light.

So five days ago I tied the knot with unemployment. We had been flirting with each other for years, but we just couldn’t contain ourselves anymore. We were meant to be. This is my cute and not too heavy way of saying I was laid off.

Blaah!

I want to make it clear that this situation was not at all my situation. My boss was ok. The job was… ok. Really really really really boring but ok. It was also very very easy, which led to my improving how it was done to the point that my company could reduce my department of three’s headcount by a third. Ironic, yes?

Which now puts me in the position of assessing step two. What to do with life now? In the past, I have tried very hard to do the things that I was told needed to be done to provide a secure future for myself. Notably absent among those options was that of being an artist- the one and only thing I have *ever* wanted to be. I went to college and got a history degree before I found out I didn’t much feel like being a teacher and the options for using a history degree are pretty small.

From there I got a job in a call center because first jobs are usually in call center, fast food places or a grocery store. That’s what you do, right? I then went to law school to get further than five miles from where I had come of age. I still wanted to be an artist and when I sat down and figured out how much it would cost for my ideal studio, I didn’t see that coming as a result of being an artist. So I was going to be a crusading lawyer who fixed the system from the inside and used my ample salary to have a nice studio.

After graduating I figured out how little I wanted to be a lawyer and how really really broken I felt the judicial system to be. So… no legal career and a student loan debt that is ironically what I thought it would have cost for the studio I wanted in the first place.

Then… back to the call centers because let’s face it- once you set your foot on a career path, that’s the path you are going to follow for the rest of your life. My ex-employers, with the best of intentions, have signed me up for a transition service to help me find another job ASAP. By which they mean a job using the skills you have used to get your other jobs to get a job just like this job. And I hated those jobs. All of them. Repetition here would be insanity.

Bosch, no.

So… knowing that there is no security, and tired of chasing it, I’m going all in. I spent 30 years being told you can’t make a living as an artist, and since it’s kind of apparent I can’t make a living doing anything else- I’m doing what I should have done in 1994. I’m gonna be an artist. If you’re anywhere in the world and you have art needs, hit me up. If you live in Salt Lake City and need your dog walked or something, hit me up for that too. Thanks for letting me vent interwebs friends and I’m looking forward to sharing this adventure with you all.

Love and fearfully excited hugs,

Martin

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Grouchy at the World

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Recently I took one of those online quizzes that are so fascinating (because ultimately the subject is me and who isn’t totally fascinated by themselves?). This particular one informed me that of all the Sesame Street characters, I was Oscar the Grouch.

I don’t really mind this, nor am I that surprised. Oscar was always my favorite as a kid. Inspired by this netvalation (it’s like a revelation you get through an ethernet cable), I decided to watch I am Big Bird: The Carol Spinney Story. Because Carol has played not only Big Bird for longer than I have been alive, but he’s also The Man Behind the Grouch.

I now have to say that Carol has been added to my list of personal heroes, along with people like Mahatma Gandhi and John Lennon. Not just extraordinary, but extraordinary for having endured extreme human cruelty and emerged a kinder, better person than most of us. After an abusive childhood and a terrible first marriage, he met the love of his life and then after Jim Henson he met his  current wife (ba dum bump; in fact he and his wife are adorably in love onscreen and one of the most delightful parts of this film).

What I found striking about his time at Sesame Street is that Carol is a man apart from the other performers. This is true in both the physical and the emotional sense. Muppet performers crouch beneath a stage together to perform, but due to the nature of Big Bird and Oscar, Carol has to perform inside what is essentially a bright yellow isolation chamber or from behind a trashcan. There’s a kind of camaraderie between the puppeteers from which he is perpetually and continually absent. So absent that he spent his first year at the Muppet Studios thinking about quitting every day. And if you’re tempted to forget how massive the Muppet group can be, just look at the size of the crowd on this 1985 album (do not look for this; this is made up). That is a big group from which to be excluded.

kertallica

 

Despite his self doubt and his sadness, he powered through his early challenges in the context of the show to become one of the most beloved performers in the world. He pushed the idea of Big Bird being essentially a big kid so he could be the voice through which the youngest viewers explored the biggest concepts. He came up with the idea of Oscar being grouchy but not cruel so he could be deserving of empathy and kindness even if he didn’t always display it himself. He’s living proof that success is not incompatible with class and kindness and according to my netvalatory experience, I would apparently not be the person I am today without him (hear that parents? It’s not your fault- TV raises your kids). For all of this and more, I want to thank the world for putting Carol Spinney in it.

You don’t have to tell me. I know how to get to Sesame Street.

Grouchily,

Martin

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Mensch

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There’s a wonderful word among our Jewish friends that refers to someone that would give you the shirt off their back. Or drive you to an abyss even if it was way out of their way. That person is a mensch. It basically means not a saint, but a stand-up kind of guy.

Then there are the ubermensch, brought to us by wacky funster Friedrich Nietzsche (as in Nietzsche is Peachy! – little known slogan for his overlooked run for Kiwanis Treasurer in 1892). An ubermensch is beyond human, above human- “better than you” is the shorthand.

abyss

Whether Nietzsche intended it or not, the Ubermensch concept was seized upon by white supremacists and eugenics advocates. Some pretty awful things were based upon this concept in the 1930s. That’s right, I’m talking about Action Comics and that Superman guy. I think there was some other stuff too, but the specifics evade me at the moment.

We’ve come to expect a high degree of invulnerability and strength from our leaders that’s not to be found among real people. But if you actually run across someone that has those qualities to the degree of which we demand, is superdickery.com not the inevitable result? To be better than human is to be inhuman. I can’t speak for all of you, but I can use all the empathy I can get.

I feel this to be a particularly timely message especially to my American friends as we have an election coming up soon. You may have heard something about it in the news. Now I’m not saying either ticket or party represents this:

dr-seuss-how-the-grinch-stole-christmas

But I do believe there is a ticket that represents this:

ticket

I’m begging you, my fellow humanists, let’s not let 2016 be the Rise of the Supermen. Let’s make this the Year of the Mensch.

Civilly yours,

Martin

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Comicrowd

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So here I sit in my living room, about two blocks from ground zero of the Salt Lake City Comincon and contemplating my hermitage this weekend. You’ll forgive me for not attending, I’m sure. It’s just that Martin hates a crowd (but likes third person pretension from time to time).

Given the away from crowd time I am taking this weekend, it gives me some time to ponder the nature of Comicon itself and the pop culture explosion we’ve all witnessed in the past two decades(ish). I’ve mentioned my dislike of crowds to a few people and they largely agree but then get all judgmental on the con people, who are having some innocent fun in a way that strikes me as a uniquely Utah sort of thing. We here know how to get our Nerd on. And we know how to judge people for getting their Nerd on, which is less Utah and more just the world being on the mean side. (Mean Side of the Moon- it’s not dark, it’s just snarky).

And I wondered when it was that imagination became the province of being “kids’ stuff”.  At first my inclination was to go people used to be more open about these things, but then I decided that didn’t work because what we call “make believe” today we called “religion” yesterday. People in the past my not have been more open to all things made up, but just might have had different ideas about the way things worked.

Or maybe they didn’t. We weren’t there. We don’t know how the people who actually made the myths that made the world actually thought. Maybe they knew they were speaking in elaborate metaphor. Maybe they had some ideas about the pacifying nature of rhetoric.

godcon
Sumeria 3000 B.C. – Mesopotamians gather for the first cosplay event.

But I have an “or” as well. It’s ALSO possible that people are starting to look at pop culture a lot differently these days. Maybe it seems a little more… plausible than it has in the past and the lines a little more blurry. There are people in the world right now who patrol our streets in costumes and do good deeds. Our comics and movies have “characters” in them like Thor and Hercules who embody the same values now that our ancestors admired a thousand years ago and that’s timeless and when I think of it, kind of beautiful.

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Enkidu getting his likeness chiseled with Anubis.

 

Legacies change, but they link in a chain instead of floating disembodied in space (like the Silver Surfer), each story cycling through obscurity and dominance from one generation to the next, taking root in our childhoods for us in turn to pass on to our children.

zoro
“Look, mom! I’m Zoroaster!”

I guess what I’m trying to say is when you pass a cosplayer on the street, try to cut them a little slack. They may seem everywhere today, but a ComiChameleon will come and go.

They come and go oh oh oh.

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