Hair Trigger

Last week was stressful; not due to one particular issue, just a confluence of work stress, personal issues, and maybe a dash or two of “enough with the winter already” irritation.

It got bad enough, pushing at my mind and demanding its focus, that I dug in a little harder with my meditation training and pushed back, forcing myself to put the various things in perspective and admit that everything will be fine. And then I felt better. But it’s funny how I had to go through a week or more of generalized, lower-level anxiety before the additional stress backed me into enough of a corner that I reached for that solution.

When we talk about mindfulness and staying focused while we meditate, we are essentially training our minds to have a hair trigger when it comes to putting problems in perspective and regaining equanimity. Building the reflex that promptly and effectively deals with discursive thoughts and real-world problems.

That in turn reminds me of one my favourite books of Buddhist lore, a collection of talks by the Korean zen master Seung Sahn entitled “Wanting Enlightenment is a Bad Idea.” It’s a great book. One of my favourite parts is his discussion of the concept of keeping such an open mind as we move through life that we don’t even form attachments to concepts, so that our honest answer to any question would be “I don’t know,” because you are not attached to any knowledge I suppose. He repeatedly advised maintaining this state of “don’t know mind” as the best outcome of a zen meditation practise, since he did not believe in attaining enlightenment, and as the title of his book implies, he felt that the pursuit of it could be detrimental.

I went to the library yesterday and signed out a few classic films and Norm MacDonald’s celebrated autobiography, which I look forward to starting tonight. It is incredibly already mid-April, which means I have three weeks to prepare for my first appearance back in good old Saint John at the Fog City Comic Con. I should just about make it.

Norm beckons. Check out two new episodes of Sunday Night in Cinema 3 and a new Insult. There will be a new Insult weekly on my Patreon page as well for a while. Thanks and have a great week!

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And A Dollar Short

Because I’m posting this a day later than I intended to. You know?

Last week was busy, but good. It was a long weekend so I drove to Saint John, hung out with my son, watched Black Panther, checked out a boardgame cafe, ate a donair. Pretty typical trip. That was followed by a fun recording session at the Central Library back in Halifax with my friend Alison, for a second podcast project. The remaining weekdays were spent sketching a new mini-comic and scanning the results.

Saturday was full of errands, and one of them took me to Clayton Park, where I visited the vintage game store. My son has my copy of Grand Theft Auto V for the PS3, so when I noticed a copy for $5 I had to pick it up. I spent the rest of my Saturday screwing with AI cops, riding the back of a flatbed train car and shooting down their helicopters.

On Sunday I went to see Annihilation, which is trippy as hell but also a really smart SF concept once they explain what is going on with “the shimmer”.  The visuals and the score are amazing. In that regard it reminds me of the Soderbergh remake of Solaris, which is in my top 10 of films, so yeah, I liked it.

The new couch is finally being delivered tomorrow morning apparently, and we can finish with moving our shit around and upsetting the cats. Except that Jack is visiting next week during his March break, but they’ll like that. And I am taking the week off, so I will probably spend some of that time catching up on creative projects and trying to put together the first episode of the aforementioned second podcast.

With the Olympics on television it seems like the main American cable networks ran as little new content as possible, so it gave me a chance to catch up on some things, like the last few episodes of The Walking Dead and Star Trek: Discovery. The first has been a well-oiled machine that I continue to watch, gratefully accepting its peculiar zen nutrients. The latter is like a drunken Viking, staggering around wrecking the place and creating a scene that no one will forget. I love it. It’s the best Trek to date, so far anyway.

All of this unusual activity put me “behind schedule” for the Sunday Night in Cinema 3 podcast, but the latest episode is up now for your enjoyment. I will also post my vocal warmup to my Patreon and I plan on posting a bunch of stuff there in March after a relatively quiet February. February is always so quick, isn’t it? 2-3 days less than the others doesn’t seem like it should feel like much of a difference, but it does.

Anyway. I won’t take any more of your time. But thanks for spending a little of it here. I appreciate it. Have a great week.

Jack Kirby, Goals, and Fear(lessness)

I had hoped to update this blog weekly for a while but it looks like I let things slide since November. Will things improve in 2018? Let’s find out.

It has been a pretty mild winter overall, apparently the least amount of snow here in Halifax in a long time. Nicole and I made it to Saint John for just under a week’s worth of holidays, with requisite (but too short) visits with friends and family.

I find myself testing the limits of my ability to process new levels of stress lately. Mostly with success. If nothing else, it has given me a chance to dust off my Buddhism, and refresh the principles that I am supposed to be using as a foundation for how I interact with the world. (That sounds grander than it actually is. For me, it’s just the importance of keeping things in perspective, and especially resisting knee-jerk fear reactions to things.)

Anyway. Stress. I feel like I am doing a decent job of going with the flow, which is a goal for me, and not getting anxious about deadlines, especially self-imposed ones. That said, I have also attempted to organize my many projects for this year so that I can jump from one to another, from relatively simple things that I can crank out frequently to more complicated things that will be one-offs. (I apologize for saying “crank out frequently,” it won’t happen again.)

Over the holidays I randomly caught an episode of the series Electric Dreams, based on Philip K. Dick’s short stories, and it made me think about his pink beam of alien(?) light, and how the world since he died feels increasingly like something he might have dreamed up. Sometimes I feel like I should go back and reread Phil’s books, and maybe one day I will. At this point I would rather catch up on the many unread books I have accumulated, plus my ever-growing list of library holds.

Speaking of books, I bought myself a bit of a present after Christmas – the omnibus edition of Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, which reprints all of his series of The New Gods, Mister Miracle, The Forever People, and Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen. I used to have all of the original issues of them except for Olsen but I sold them at one point years ago when I needed money. The new volume is pricey, but not compared to trying to collect the originals again, or even compared to buying trade collections. It is quite a trip to go through those stories again in linear order.

Part of the reason for that is the way that those old stories- clunky as they often are in their vernacular- are like a pair of heart paddles for someone at my age, who loves both Kirby and comics. Their energy, their imagination, and the way that they distill the man’s feelings about the art form, about young people, about war, and hope. The Anti-Life Equation that Darkeid sought could have been many things, but I always think of it in relation to fear. Kirby was fearless, and driven to keep making art that both brought him commercial success so he could take care of his family, but also pushed the boundaries of the art form where he had already tirelessly innovated by 1970.

Fear has been on my mind a lot lately. Fear of failure, fear of change, even fear of success. You would think that an old Buddhist would recognize the dangers of it more readily, but I still have to remind myself, and I still have to push myself to do some things that other people don’t even have to think about, like interacting with strangers. So, apart from the creative goals I have this year, my main personal goal is to stop allowing fear from playing a role in my day to day life. Easier said than done, of course, but I think it is achievable eventually.

 

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon

I’ve developed a fairly decent sense of restraint in my old age. Despite my ardent love of comics I will wait until a series is collected in trade paperback, or until I can find it at the library, or obtain it from my galley service. It’s not often that I glance through a book and immediately buy it because I must own it; but this is one of those books.

I had heard good things about it, of course, which is why I picked it up from the shelf in the first place. I knew that it had something to do with Buddhism, and that it had won lots of awards last year; but I hadn’t really properly seen it. And so last night, when I should have been working on my own comics, I devoured this one instead, and am better for it.

The Nao of Brown is the story of a young woman called Nao Brown; she is half-Japanese, half-British, and lives in London with a friend who is a nurse. Nao is a graphic designer in a bit of a downswing, recently dumped by her boyfriend and sacked from the job he had gotten her. She runs into an old friend from school who offers her a job in a geeky toy store that specializes in the kind of Japanese, anime-themed merchandise that Nao loves and knows about.

Nao has a Buddhist meditation practice and other strategies to help her combat her obsessive-compulsive disorder, which causes her to imagine violent things happening to others, especially those who are smaller than her (eg., children). Perhaps that is why she falls in love with Gregory, a burly appliance repairman who knows about Buddhism and Latin; but Gregory has issues of his own.

The Nao of Brown is not a perfect book, but it is so well-realized, from script to art to design. Like Blankets, Essex County, or Fun Home, it is an accomplished auteur piece that I would readily recommend to new readers or veterans alike.

Comics by Sam Alden

Sam Alden is the real deal. I first noticed his work sometime last year, when a link to his comic Eighth Grade made the rounds. Unfortunately I don’t keep up with Tumblr as much as I should, so it was only recently that I caught up on the wealth of material he has online, including standouts like The Farmer’s Dilemma, which made its print debut at this year’s Angouleme festival.

Alden has a good command of brush and ink illustration and a fine colour sense, but what strikes me about his work is how he combines these traditional tools with the fluidity of an infinite canvas. He seems to be fascinated with the forms of the natural world and man’s (or at least his own) relationship with them. I admire his technical skill as well as his willingness to explore his emotions.

For a guy in his early 20s, Alden has built an impressive body of work with the aesthetic and approach of a fine artist who happens to make comics. I hope we get to keep him for a while.

Last Days of an Immortal

Last Days of an Immortal by Gwen De Bonneval and Fabien Vehlmann is one of the most thought-provoking, interesting comics I have read in some time. Set in a future where humankind has evolved beyond violence (mostly) and is in contact with alien races, global law enforcement is composed of philosophers rather than truncheon-wielders. Thanks to advancements in medical science, humans can essentially live forever by transferring their consciousness into multiple identical bodies, with the only negative side effect being a loss of early memories if the minds are re-integrated.

One of the top Philosophical Police agents, Elijah, is called upon to mediate tensions between a couple of alien races; failure to do so could result in great destruction on Earth and off. At the same time, Elijah is disturbed and a little hurt that one of his oldest friends has decided to voluntarily end his own life without telling Elijah. As he investigates the root of the tension between the alien races, he comes to understand both the case and his relationships with greater clarity.

Last Days of an Immortal is an ingenious piece of writing wrapped in an imaginative art style that creates a vision of the future that is both contemporary and quaintly old-fashioned, as if a graphic novel had arrived from the era of Aldous Huxley. Long may it survive.

Tune by Derek Kirk Kim

Young Korean-American cartoonist Derek Kirk Kim won Eisner and Harvey awards for his debut graphic novel Same Difference, and collaborated with Gene Luen Yang on The Eternal Smile. He returns with Tune, the story of an art student called Andy Go who loves comics and drops out of school because he feels he is ready to work professionally. When his dream job does not materialize, his parents force him to look for any job, leading to an interview that seems to good to be true. Meanwhile, he accidentally discovers that the girl he had a crush on in art school is into him too; when the interview leads to a real job that involves some travel, he is torn between taking it to please his parents and staying to explore the potential relationship with his crush.

When I say the job involves some travel, here is where Kim throws the reader a curve: Andy is recruited as an exhibit in an intergalactic zoo, living in a cutaway reproduction of his family home. It’s a clever touch to put Andy into a situation that is alien and yet not so different from home, where his parents provided for him. His alien bosses supply all of his favourite foods, TV, video games; almost everything a young single man could want. His parents’ more traditional Korean values are sometimes played for laughs, such as their reaction when they learn that he will not be returning home for a while.

Like all of Kim’s work, I thoroughly enjoyed Tune and was sorry to read recently that he has decided to step away from drawing his own comics, concentrating instead on writing and filmmaking (Andy Go also appears in a parallel film project called Mythomania). The second volume of Tune, available online at tunecomic.com, was drawn by the equally fine cartoonist Les McClaine (The Middle Man, Jonny Crossbones). Kim has also revealed recently that he is not sure Tune will continue in comics form unless sales of this first collection are strong. I hope that they are, for everyone’s sake. The comics world needs all the Derek Kirk Kim it can get.