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Playing the Phonogram

Phonogram1This post was a long time coming. The moment that “One More Time” teaser came out in 2012, it was just a matter of when the swan song would begin playing in my head. I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d play it, but now that Phonogram will play silent forever, I think it’s time I put this out. This is more of a last serenade, just a friendly tune of an attempt in showing my appreciation for the work Gillen/McKelvie and others have done. So, time to put the needle on the vinyl, get this LP going.

Now What You’ve Done, Beetlebum, Get Nothing Done

Months before I started reading Phonogram I had medical issues that destroyed my writing habits.  Before that I had a good amount of comic scripts and short story scraps that I were worth exploring, but my brain was annihilated by strong brain medication and underlying fear. It was the beginning of what would become a rather terrible time, and I wanted the words in my head out of them and onto paper to serve as a catharsis, but try as I might, the words coming out of me were shit. I look back at it now and I realized I could have been stronger, but I’m still glad I was weaker, or else I probably wouldn’t come back to this familiar path.

You Won’t Find It By Yourself, You’re Gonna Need Some Help

Comics, my everlasting redeemer, brought me back. It wasn’t Phonogram immediately, however. Another writer who in the past works as a totemic symbol got me going – Warren Ellis. I finally read Planetary, which I had not read before, and the fact it was heavily referential served well for the road ahead. There was something about the fact that the resident hacker, who went by the name of The Drummer, could produce links to the occult.  It’s an odd stretch to connect his breed of abilities to phonomancy, but comics and sympathetic magic can work that way.

Magic By Any Other Definition Of The Word

Yes, about sympathetic magic. Simply put, it is magic performed when its effect resembles Britannia1its cause – “like produces like.” Music is my shamanic totem, voodoo doll, and haunted weapon that connects to the arcane.   When there’s a song that plays, one that fills my ears and endorphins drown my brain, things get metaphysical. I feel like I can read the face of everyone in the club’s crowd, or harness male aggression into audio witchcraft.  The moments I’m alone in my room and the music is set to ignorant levels, I feel like I’m in true sonic santero mode and sing like Freddie goddamned Mercury. And then, I find that there was a book toying with that very concept? It’s like someone was telling me from the ether, whispering “Here Garay, is the grimoire you have been asking for all your life.” How could I refuse that mystic offer?

We Are Now For Your Inspiration, Soundtrack To The Times

I’ll admit this immediately – before I immersed into Rue Britannia my knowledge of Britpop was very rudimentary. It went only as far as a documentary I stumbled on the TV years ago, “Live Forever – The Rise And Fall of Britpop.”

Kohl1It was still not enough. From the get-go the shameless, arrogant David Kohl at first did not serve as an easy teacher of the musical lore of 90s British music. But that didn’t stop me from reading. It was the way Kieron Gillen described Kohl’s obsession to Britpop, and Jamie McKelvie’s depictions of phonomancy that made the story come alive. The expressions on the way McKelvie drew faces –  Kohl’s shit-eating grins, the faces of Britannia, etc. –  as Gillen waxed poetic on magic/music were ace. It read like parts of conversations I’ve had before, or wish I had.  Phonogram was simultaneously impenetrable and accessible, an indie rock band telling you it’s better than you but holding your hand with simple hooks that stick to your ribs.

Rue Britannia was important to me because it validated an attempt at writing, at least in some form. I may not have known a goddamn thing about Kenickie, or Kula Shaker, or a shit-ton of other things in that first arc, but it was in a world where I could feel my obsession for music, or recalling an old scene, and capturing the other-worldliness of it. And if that can be done, if you can make the occult from the mundane, then anything is possible.

GLOSSARY
[Yes, I’m doing a glossary, I’m putting references in this post, why wouldn’t I? Deal with it.]
Story Of A Charmed Man – Modified play on “story of a charmless man,” from the song “A Charmless Man” by Blur. Yes, I was gonna make a Britpop reference out of the motherfuckin’ gate.
“One More Time” – Opening song of Daft Punk’s Discovery album. I shouldn’t have to put this here, they play this song at weddings now.
“Now what you done, Beetlebum…” – First song from Blur’s self-titled album. My favorite song by the band.  I believe it’s about heroin.
“You won’t find it in yourself…” – Part of the chorus to “Come On Let’s Go” by Broadcast. They were a really good neo-psychedelia band. It’s a shame the lead singer died.
Warren Ellis – Writer of comics and novels. Most known for Transmetropolitan, The Authority, Crooked Little Vein, and others. His work can been seen in movies like Red and inspired parts of Iron Man 3.
Planetary – Seminal Warren Ellis comic, a story of archaeologists of the weird. Each issue is a great send-up to pop culture references.
Magic by any other definition of the word – David Kohl says this in Phonogram: Rue Britannia #1. Right after he uses his powers to get into a club.
Santero – Name for practitioner of Santeria, the predominant Latin American form of witchcraft.
Freddie Mercury – Lead singer of Queen. If you don’t know who that is to begin with…well, you need Jesus, or the Devil, or Stephen Hawking to save you, kid.
We are now for your inspiration… – Part of lyrics to“Nightlife” by Kenickie. I kinda fucks with this song, although not with the band.
Britpop – Mid-90s British rock/pop. Really British mid-90s rock/pop. Influenced by the history of  guitar music from their beloved kingdom. Bands include Oasis, Blur, Elastica, Pulp, etc.
Kenickie – British pop punk band. “Iggy Pop’s atom bomb and Dusty Springfield’s Hiroshima’s eye shadow”, as David Kohl says in Rue Britannia.
Kula Shaker – Late Britpop band. I’m pretty sure the only thing they made of consequence stateside was their cover of “Hush”. In agreement with Gillen, they’re kinda basura.

 

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1,2,3,4 Parts on The Wicked + The Divine

I made it a point to wait until a few issues before I posted anything on this comic. I of course, am thoroughly enjoying it as I have all Gillen/McKelvie joints, and this modern pantheon drama hits many things, simultaneously, that I will perhaps go into detail in future posts. For the time being, here is a small ramble. 1-2-3-4.

WicDivSnap

I

Godhood is a violent prospect. The life/death cycle, avatar-esque nature of deities across all mythologies (Greek, Egyptian, Mesosamerican, etc.) come down to one thing – the wonder is as bloody as it is holy.  There is the primordial chaos of Tiamat, the fratricide of Cronos and his children, and Odin ripping an eye out for wisdom.  It makes sense that the cold open of The Wicked + The Divine is a destructive one. It is a modern creation myth, an Enûma Eliš of sorts, not because Gillen and Mckelvie are making modern versions of dragons and monsters but because they want to let you know this is how it will be. In the faces of the four Jazz-Age young gods – resolute, nonchalant, excited, and hesitant – they prepare for a cataclysmic end. It is a small microcosm of what will come to pass in all stories. The light of creation does not come peacefully in Gillen/McKelvie’s story, but in fire and destruction. This is also true in Ananke’s transformation of Lucifer . If Laura were to become a god at some point during the series, which is doubtful,  her transformation will be just as rough.

And honestly,  how bad is the construction of your modern gods – your cherished musicians, artists and writers? Consider the myriad abuse, drugs, poverty and mental difficulties. Consider that Philip K. Dick was constantly broke, paranoid, and had hallucinatory episodes. You have Van Gogh, of course, along with Basquiat who even with all his fame in life still had a crippling heroin addiction. The concept of the life/death of the WicDiv gods is an interesting 27 Club of sorts that will be interesting to see unfold as the story progresses.

II

The millennial updates of the gods in WicDiv is intriguing to me from many points, one of them my lapsed South American Catholic one. Latin American Catholicism is a mix of saints with orishas, relics mixed with the roots of the land. Even witchcraft has connection to the cross.  My connection vis-à-vis WicDiv  comes through the Lord of Lies, The Adversary, Apollyon, The Lightbringer, etc. etc. Lucifer is a very powerful character to Catholics – even my brother, who also does not follow the faith as much anymore, has a tattoo of the devil getting his ass kicked by St. Michael the Archangel.

Thin White DukeOne must wonder in the world of the comic what would be on the backs of her followers when they take off their white suits. Would it be a giant graphic of the morning star sigil, or will it be Luci standing in a pose similar to Bowie in his Thin White Duke era, grinning as she stands over a dead angel in the pits of hell? If you were a follower of Luci, what would be tattooed on yours? That simple morningstar, perhaps an unchained Lucifer from an idea you came up with in the middle of a coke binge one night? If it was a theoretical me, given that my shift comes from recovering Catholic to believer in a sartorial sinful goddess, my tat would be…well, I don’t know. It will come to me in time.

III

The Morrigan/Baphomet scene feeds all those parts of your body when you go into an underground show. There were two shows I had been to that came to mind when I read that scene. The first was in a warehouse in New Jersey where a DJ was playing house music and a man put up sheet rock as a makeshift bar/lounge. The drinks were horrible of course but the crowd was fun. As always, things ended abruptly the moment red-and-blue lights made their appearance from the windows outside. The second show was a more peculiar setting – a Chinatown dim sum restaurant closed for the night – but the DJ was more exciting. Crystal Castle’s Alice Glass was headlining, and of course everyone was sweating out their water/booze/drugs in anticipation for her to come out. And when she did it was well worth it.

MorBaphThose two moments fit Baphomet and Morrigan. Baphomet is that dingy warehouse, the pounding music as energy leading to something ominous. While getting caught by the five-o is not as dire as death-by-phantasms, the prospect still gets your heart racing as you make your way past decades-old rebar and crumbling brick. Morrigan is seeing Glass jump over the knobs and sound system to stand over the crowd (took a photo of it here on a crappy phone camera), becoming the lord as she always does at a show lit only by tea candles and two party lights. A dark goddess playing whatever the hell she wanted, everyone thinking she was perfect, and the crowd loving every second of it.

IV

BaalKanyeSo 2010 was a fun year for music for me. Two of my favorite albums were Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy  and Daft Punk’s Tron: Legacy  score. WicDiv’s  Baal and Woden are avatars of my 2010 music love. Baal’s red suit and the mural in its Michelangelo-esque glory – which was an amazing synthesis of McKelvie and Nathan Fairbairn –  is undeniably  MBDTF-era Kanye.

 As for Woden, not only is he wearing a Guy-Manuel de Homnem-inspired helmet, but the rest of his suit and that of his valkyrie come straight from The Grid. All he is missing is a light-cycle in that panel to really seal the image. This continues with the rest of the gods. Amaterasu’s aesthetic is in full Florence Welch, flame-red hair and long gowns suiting her. Baphomet mirrors an early Andrew Eldritch, shirtless and wearing a black leather jacket and sunglasses just like in the “This Corrosion” music video:

The Morrigan is a three-part goddess all connected to her Celtic roots, but the primary one is a Kate Bush/Lorde ultra-goth hybrid of the dark. Sekhmet appears to have a Sky Ferreira/Grimes look to her. The most enigmatic of all is Ananke, who has no easy or modern pop cultural frame of reference to work with. She is necessity personified, sure, but I imagine from an aesthetic perspective what was necessary to make her.

As the story progresses I think I may come up with more WicDiv posts. For the time being, I’ll continue counting, and snapping, and counting and snapping…

I’m the West at What I Do, and what I Do Is Pretty Nice

I mentioned the Kanye+Comics tumblog created by Chris Haley, artist for Let’s Be Friends Again, a while back. I said that I’d create some myself. Well, here are the ones I’ve made and are now up on the site along with other great mash-ups.

The first two came out like crap. I hadn’t used Photoshop in a while

Lyrics: We Don’t Care
Art: Clayton Crain

Lyrics: The New Workout Plan
Art: Erin Gallagher

Here’s where I step it up.

Lyrics: Gone (Ft. Cam’ron and Consequence)
Artist: Espeng


Lyrics: Get Em High
Artist: Steve Dillon

This is the latest one so far. I’ll put up more later.


Lyrics: School Spirit
Artist: Unknown

Death Bar Weekend Update


The double-edged sword of this weekend really knocked down my expectations of writing this weekend. My Sunday didn’t help me pound out as much words to meet my (now in hindsight overambitious) 1500 word goal.  Saturday’s event  took out a large chunk of my time and a need for decompression afterwards. However, it was so inspiring that I’ll be writing about it tonight, practicing my outlining before writing  the real post tomorrow. The increase in the count are split by the following:

350 words cleaning up the Mexicans in Space story. I’m still trying to sure the climax fits the story’s title.

736 words on expanding and then writing a post on the Amerasian girls I’ve known. That probably won’t make it into publication just yet.

Mo’ Mashups, Mo’ Problems

Kanye West, despite what you may think of  his personality or rapping skills (he’s at about a 5 out of 10 in my MC-O-Meter), does make for good internet memes. Our newest Kanyeme  is Kanye + Comics from Chris Haley of  Let’s Be Friend’s Again fame,  which combines lines from Yeezy’s tracks with panels and images from comic books. It’s surprisingly effective as can be seen from this example:

My favorite though?

(And yes, I know that my title references Ma$e, Diddy, and Biggie Smalls and not Ye, but I’m working on my own Yeezy + Comics right now, so stuff it.)

Whitey On the Blue Area of the Moon: Comics and Racism

It’s pretty sad that the death of a character like Ryan Choi from The Atom had to happen to bring this up, but now many fans and writers alike are starting to come up with a very important question: why are the minorities always getting shafted in comic books? The Atom is not an A-list DC superhero, but Choi, for many, brought a refreshing take on a character that most fans didn’t care much about.  This was the beginning point of  Chris Sims’ article on how regressing to old school characters is bringing an unintentional whitewashing of the DCU.

Thing is, he’s not the only case: Jaime Reyes, the current Blue Beetle, has already lost his comic run and will most likely get screwed over in the future in order for original Blue Beetle Ted Kord to get his moment, despite the fact that the Kord Beetle’s comic sales were abysmal unless he got shoved into another book. Add to that the unnecessary racial tension between the characters Jason Rausch and Ronnie Raymond in Brightest Day, along with  fan responses to Dwayne McDuffie’s JLA roster a few years back, and you see how there is no love for minority characters.

It’s not just in DC, either. Ryan Mullenix at Bleeding Cool made a list of what has happened to many of the minority characters in comics, and it’s not pretty. i09 also jumped into the fray,  with comments from Marvel’s Tom Brevoort and Boom! Comics’ Mark Waid basically saying because the readership of comics  mostly comprised of Caucasians, most of the characters are going to follow that suit as well.

First off, it’s fair to say that DC is not actively being racist, they are just merely far too wrapped up in the nostalgia of the Silver Age to realize how the “good ol’ days” were mostly made up of white guys. With so many compelling, popular characters of different backgrounds created since then, it seems like a horrible misstep to just wipe them out for the sake of shock value or for whatever grand scheme it is they’re working on. They should also remember that a lot of us are from a generation that  grew up with characters like Kyle Rayner (who is also a minority character, I found out) and for us it’s mind-boggling to see him get sent to the back burner just to bring back Hal Jordan, who despite all the great work Geoff Johns’ run has done for him, is still not terribly that interesting a character.

Comic books are such an odd medium, as massive world-shattering events happen just for the sake of fixing the status quo. You’d think they would use it to make some real progress, but lately it just feels like they are  trying so hard to appease an older generation.  I get that now that it’s their time to write the stories they want  to bring back the characters they grew up with, but I don’t see how this helps your already dwindling sales.  The people they’re catering to are a shrinking older comic fan base. Shouldn’t they be trying to get the kids back into this? And as for Brevoort’s comments, as a Latino comic nerd I actually find it insulting that they don’t give a crap about us. What, just because Spider-Man is white I’m gonna not read him? It’s that marginalizing of potential minority fans who could be a boon to the industry if they just tried to reach out that’s really frustrating to me.

The truth here is that race isn’t everything, especially in a genre where one of the most widely known characters is a refugee immigrant who has adapted to the American way of a life and is serving his duty as a citizen by saving them from a bald big business lunatic. And Junot Diaz said it best himself when he equated being a Hispanic nerd to being like a mutant fit for Professor X’s school.  Comics can tell stories of the universal human experience, regardless if you’re black, Asian, Latino, or white. Please, comic heads, don’t ruin this by pushing things back to the 60s and 70s. Those times are over, move on.