Hello. Welcome to the first proper issue of my newsletter. I have been tinkering with the format and screwing around with Markdown and just generally enjoying the experience of both knowing and not knowing what I'm doing, if that makes sense. I'm sure the Japanese have a word for that.
As I go over this now for a quick editing pass, I am surprised at how much I have enjoyed this last two weeks of just throwing thoughts into a bunch of sections. It weirdly feels the way that making paper zines used to feel for me in the 80s and 90s, writing effusively about whatever books and movies I was into at the moment, pasting in drawings and photos and collages. So it's been a good feeling in that sense, but it also makes me optimistic that I'll keep doing it, because I like to follow things that surprise me creatively and see where they lead.
It's been, and I say this very tentatively, a good couple of months. I had been feeling badly in several ways for much of 2018, but I slowly managed to make some changes that have improved most of the things I was feeling depressed about, and now I find myself feeling better overall, mentally and physically. I don't know if I've ever felt that way in the middle of February. So that's good.
One of the positive changes was to consolidate my debts. Another was to resume sitting zazen meditation. Another was to make more of an effort to worry only when absolutely necessary, which seems like it should be obvious, but.
I suppose this newsletter is one of the changes too, because it fulfills a lot of the desires that I had for communicating last year. It allows me to show behind the scenes stuff to people who care the most, without the worry of providing value in a Patreon. It functions as a blog but also can work as a progress tracker for myself.
Will it last? No, nothing lasts. But I like it, so I'll try to keep it going a while, and I hope you will come along. If there's something you think you would like to see in this newsletter, feel free to make suggestions.
Thanks for taking the time to subscribe and read this thing. I really do appreciate it and I would like to thank you with special exclusive (or at least unusual) things sometimes. And this is one of those times! If you are reading this now and you would like me to send you a custom signed postcard made out of a small piece of original art, email me or DM me on instagram with your mailing address and I will drop one in the mail to you! Free, anywhere the mail goes! I promise not to use your address for any other purpose!
Anyway. I have also decided that it would be useful to create a Secret Web Page Just For You that will list stuff like the newsletter-exclusive discount code(s) that I put together, favourite films/TV/music/podcasts/etc., and other things that I am likely to refer to often but don't want to paste in to every issue of this thing. Because it amuses me to make up acronyms, it will be called the Secret Newsletter Optional Wiki, or SNOW for short, and you can find it hiding in plain site (sorry) here:
It still needs some filling in but I should be able to do that soon.
I'm not really doing Twitter anymore. Too many interactions with creeps I don't know, depressing stuff, junk "news". There is very little fun or function left in Twitter for me. But I do like posting little jokes online somewhere, so for now I'm just going to stick them here whenever I have the urge. And maybe then I'll cut the ones that suck. Or I'll just say I did.
If you are in the Halifax Regional Municipality (or if you can get there sometimes) AND you make comics OR you want to make comics, I hope you will consider joining the new Meetup I have created. We will meet once a month or so to draw comics together, share knowledge, collaborate, and if I have anything to say about it, publish and share them.
Thanks to my wife and I both getting sick and taking time off, I think I have done more reading this month than I typically would. Plus I had the shame of late library books hanging over me, so I plowed through 4 Kids Walk Into A Bank and Phoenix: Resurrection. Both written by Matthew Rosenberg with art by Tyler Boss and Leinil Francis Yu, respectively. 4 Kids is brilliant, dark and hilarious stuff that fans of the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye title (or hip spins on film noir like Brick) would probably enjoy. I didn't enjoy Phoenix quite as much as the more recent New Mutants: Dead Souls, but I liked it, especially the time spent on practical dilemmas like how to use Cerebro when you don't have any telepaths around.
I also finally managed to read Sabrina by Rich Drnaso. It is the first graphic novel to list for a Man Booker Prize, apparently. It is quite good, I can see why people are excited about it and his work overall. I certainly plan to check out his earlier stuff. I'm still processing Sabrina - I'm confused about the ending, and a bit about its timeline. The art is off-putting, in the sense that it purposefuly keeps the reader at a particular distance, expanding the scope occasionally and then relentlessly zooming back in. It's an intense, worrying read about a missing woman, her troubled partner, and the culture of fear and fake news in the USA.
On the first sick day I finally finished UK author Non Pratt's YA novel of John Allison's Giant Days, which has evolved from a webcomic spinoff of his long-running Scary Go Round universe into a hilarious monthly comic. The YA novel is fun and captures the tone and oddness of Allison's world, but I must admit it is lacking something without the art. It reminds me a bit of the James Blish adaptations of Star Trek episodes that I read when I was a kid, without having seen much of the actual show yet.
On sick day 2 I caught up on some comics reading, including some of Jodorowsky and Moebius' The Incal, which I hadn't read in at least 20 years. I read them on my Nintendo Switch, oddly enough, in a comics app called Inky Pen. You pay $10 a month for access to a decent selection of comics from second tier American publishers. I don't know that I will stay subscribed for long but I should find enough of interest for a month, at least.
I also finally read Grass of Parnassus, a trippy and wonderful new webcomic by Kathryn and Stuart Immonen on a new Instagram account:
Instagram makes for an interesting platform for a digital comic; because of their algorithm you can't assume that you will see everything as it comes out, but in the case of this very random comic I'm not sure that matters.
I also took advantage of the sick days to catch up on the comical books from my pull list at Strange Adventures the last few weeks, including the latest issues of Exorsisters and The Wicked + The Divine, the first issue of the new Captain Marvel book by Kelly Thompson, and the first issue of a new DC series called Naomi. Also caught up on a new fantasy series called Isola, Marie Kondo's graphic novel version of her tidying up book, a collection of short comics by French cartoonist Blutch called Jazz, and the new trade collection of Proxima Centauri by Farel Dalyrimple.
I am starting to wonder if Kieron Gillen, who writes The Wicked + The Divine plus some well-regarded Star Wars books PLUS two pretty amazing new comics (Die and Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt), is the new Alan Moore, or Mark Waid, or Grant Morrison. Die is a brilliant and dark take on the fantasy of being pulled into a D&D universe; Peter Cannon is a straight up riff on Watchmen, and in one short issue I already find it more fascinating than any other post-Watchmen tribute or DC project (with the possible exception of that issue of The Question where he reads an issue of Watchmen and thinks about Rorschach).
The last thing I bought with my now-cancelled Amazon Prime: the Athletico Mince companion book by Bob Mortimer and Andy Dawson. Mince is one of my favourite podcasts and has been a big influence on my own projects, as has that whole school of recent, very absurd British comedy like Darkplace, The Mighty Boosh, Toast of London, and especially Snuff Box.
I highly recommend you sign up for the daily newsletter from The Creative Independent, which has been publishing interviews with interesting creative types every day for a little while now. Today's interview with musician Ben Pace about growing older as an independent artist hit pretty close to home:
Let’s get real: I’m a 40-year old white man with the musical tastes of a 70-year old, whose songs were once described as “Blink-182 meets Ben Folds,” which is tough but ultimately not inaccurate. I am not the next big thing. Blogs don’t really get much out of covering me. Social media is exhausting and besides, diapers need to be changed and dinner needs to be made.
Finally, a long and interesting interview with veteran director Steven Soderbergh on the 30th anniversary of the original Sundance darling, sex lies and videotape, and how the business of filmmaking and distribution have changed since then. I found it thanks to Warren Ellis' newsletter, which is an essential Sunday read for me and a probable influence on the kind of stuff you're going to see here.
I have a loose tradition so far this year of going to Saturday matinees of new releases while Nicole is at work (only for stuff she doesn't want to see, of course- but she is far less concerned about seeing stuff on the big screen than I am). I didn't go to a matinee this week, I elected to catch up on some work instead after the sick days, but I did go to one last week: Destroyer (3 stars), a solid revenge picture that follows the beats of Point Blank, but instead of Lee Marvin as a criminal bent on collecting what's his, it's Nicole Kidman channeling Gary Oldman in Romeo Is Bleeding. I enjoyed it, Kidman is always great and the rest of the cast including Sebastian Stan were right there with her. The story itself, despite the relative novelty of a female lead, is feeling a little worn in a world cinema where revenge pictures have become studio tentpoles.
We have been slowly rewatching all of the Marvel films as we approach the release date for Captain Marvel in March, and I am relieved to say that we have emerged from the last of the truly not-so-good ones (Thor 2), enjoying the likes of The Winter Soldier and Guardians 1 since. Many of the Phase 1 films are not holding up so well. C'est la vie.
I took Jack to see The Lego Movie 2 last Saturday and we decided to catch Into The Spider-Verse again while we were at it. That's a lot of laughs in one afternoon.
The TV watch list is largely unchanged after the holidays. Still very much enjoying the freshman season of the Magnum, PI reboot. The Good Place and Brooklyn Nine-Nine continue to shine. The Blacklist continues to be equally charming and ludicrous as its new season kicks off. Star Trek: Discovery is still delicious. I've caught up on a lot of Voltron while working overtime. And, Nicole has discovered a UK series called A Discovery of Witches, starring Matthew Good as a cold sexy vampire, which is pretty much her jam. (See also: Stoker, a criminally underseen slow-burn horror film by Chan-Wook Park.)
I'm only a few episodes in, but the Netflix adaptation of George R. R. Martin's SF-horror story Nightflyers is intense.
The TV series I am looking forward to the most every season is FX's Legion. Which reminds me, I have to finish watching the last season of Fargo.
I realized the other day that we are now well into February and I still have not completed my top and bottom 10 movies list for 2018. Nor have I looked very hard at the list of Oscar nominees. I think I have seen only 1 or 2 of this year's best picture nominees so far, but there are a few more I would like to see at some point.
The best film I saw last year was Into the Spider-Verse. It was the biggest pleasant surprise, it was moving, it was innovative, it was inclusive but not preachy, it was simply brilliant and it eclipses almost everything else I saw in theatres last year in my mind. But, that said, here are the lists for the sake of completeness:
The movies I loved the most from 2018: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse; films that brought strong new voices to tired old frameworks, like Black Panther, Eighth Grade, Crazy Rich Asians, and Love, Simon; films that were just insane fever dreams to watch, like Mandy, Annihilation, Hereditary, Suspiria, and You Were Never Really Here; and I always love a pleasant surprise, which 2018 gave us in the form of Aquaman and Bumblebee, the two most surprisingly good films of the year. Less surprising were Paul Feig's A Simple Favor or Marvel's Infinity War, both films almost elegant in their execution. Ant-Man 2 was fun.
I managed to avoid seeing many films that I actually hated this year, so that's good. There were lots of films like Jurassic World 2 or The Equalizer 2 or Pacific Rim 2 where you feel like you're just going through the motions. Lots of films that are self-consciously fun or wacky like Tag, The Meg, Predator, and Deadpool 2. The best of those was probably Blockers. Lots of what I call "adequate action" films, where story and character are kept to a minimum in favour of getting to the next set piece; we're talking Solo, Peppermint, Skyscraper, Robin Hood. Each entertaining in its way, but do I remember much about them that wasn't in the trailer? No.
Last month featured the minor technological victory of figuring out how to sync my files with Plex on my iPhone so I can listen to music I actually own without subscribing to anything or streaming anything. Pretty much the only thing I listen to for popular music right now is the Into The Spider-Verse soundtrack, and I don't see that changing anytime soon. I especially enjoy working out or running to it, so it's getting a lot of reinforcement with endorphins. Otherwise I have been listening to jazz, whatever the CBC is playing on Radio 2, and The Go! Team.
Other notable listens this week:
All those molecules of time you thought you'd shed forever:
Robyn Hitchcock, 1974. A song that's been on my mind a lot since the last American election.
On the tech front I am reasonably happy with how this old MacBook Pro is doing, but I am skeptical of its ability to handle some bigger projects. Thinking much more seriously lately about finally taking the plunge on an iPad Pro. We'll see.
If you see a to-do item in italics, that means it got worked on. If you see it in bold, that means it got done.
Top priority for writing at the moment is to complete and revise two short NaNoWriMo novels, which I intend to publish later this year as a sort of "Ace Double" style dime store pulp thing. The first is called The Prodigal, and it is basically a gender-flipped Jack Reacher novel set here in Nova Scotia.
The second is called 4 of a Kind, and it is essentially Lupin the 3rd fanfiction with an old west skin. It's one of my favourite things that I have written in prose. Both short novels are the first in their respective series. My hope is to produce one of these pulpy double novels every one or two years, assuming people enjoy them and I still enjoy doing them.
- finish revision of The Prodigal and lay out for print - finish conclusion of 4 of a Kind, revise it, and lay out for print - finish first draft of script for Triumph (a new long comic I'm working on - it's a working title too)
Tuesday I tried printing through hanky linen onto a blank playing card. Not the greatest results. I think I'll have to really thin the ink for printing on that surface. But so far, so good.
Thanks again for reading. I hope you're having a good month, and year, and life. See you in March.