Monday, November 23, 2009

Texas Capitol

Since I wasn't in a huge hurry to get home, I decided to stop by the State Capitol building in downtown Austin. I hadn't actually been inside the building since I was maybe 7 years old or somesuch. It's quite the impressive edifice.

Six flags over Texas! Not the amusement park. Can you name them?

This is the Texas Senate chamber.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

John Krasinski

The day after the Crumb event I went back to the bookstore that I had been to the night before because John Krasinski from The Office was making an appearance. I figured since I was in town, why not? He was in town to promote a movie he directed, Brief Interviews With Hideous Men, which is based on a David Foster Wallace book of the same name. He read a few passages from the book, took questions from the audience, and then he signed postcards advertising the film.

There were tons of people there. And about 90% of them were women. I had no idea, but apparently JK is considered to be quite the hunk. It might've been a great place to pick up women if I had any semblance of game. But I don't.

Mr. Krasinski seems like a pretty good dude. He was funny, and it was apparent that this film was a labor of love for him. In the signing line, he was enthusiastic and shook hands & engaged in small talk with everyone in line. And it was a big line. I guess his appearance worked, because now I want to see the movie.


Friday, November 20, 2009

How Last Friday Night Went Bad

I mentioned that there was some pre-show drama before the Crumb event – here is the story.

I left work early so I could make the 3 hour drive to Austin, have time to check into my hotel and get something to eat, and still make it to the event that night. Everything was running on schedule, and I got to the venue about 25 minutes before the 8PM start. It was at this point that I started making some mistakes that would lead to my disappointment.

I had read that there were going to be a limited number of signed copies of Crumb’s new book available at the event. I definitely wanted to get one if I could, but I didn’t want to skip dinner to arrive early or pay through the nose for one, so I guess my thought was “if I get one, great, if not, thems the breaks”. So when I arrived, I figured they would either be long gone or I would still be able to get one if I went straight to where they were selling them.

The website for the venue seemed to indicate that they didn’t allow cameras at their events. I wondered how strict they were going to be, so I went up to the entrance, sans camera, to see if they were checking people for them. They weren’t, so I walked back to my car to get my point & shoot and stuck it in the front of my jeans under my untucked shirt. (As it turned out, this was a total waste of time because they were pretty serious inside about not taking pictures and I ended up not risking even trying to take any).

I walked back to the venue, tried to look casual, and I got in no problem. It was now only about 10 minutes before 8, so my first order of business was to try and locate the book table. There was a table set up on the right side of the lobby that was serving as a will call pickup area. There was another set of tables set up on the left side of the lobby. I didn’t see any signs or anything, and I thought it was another will call area. Since I had to go to the restroom, I thought I would see if I saw the book table on my way there. Nope. When I came back out I once again went looking for the table. I walked to the other side of the venue and still didn’t see it. Maybe they had already packed up?

It was then that I realized that the tables on the left side of the main lobby were the book selling area. I tried to work my way up to see if I could tell what they had and how much they were selling them for. They had sheets of paper taped to the surface of the table with the titles available & their prices. Holy shit – they were selling signed copies of Genesis for $27.50! The cover price is $24.95. I never dreamed they would be that cheap. I have a signed hardback of a Crumb book that was released in 1998 that I paid $50 for when it came out.

The setup of the table was a little confusing to me. When I see a table (or counter) selling stuff, my natural inclination is that the line flows from the table straight back. You know, like when you buy merch at a concert or a corny dog at the fair. So I got behind a couple of people standing in front of the table. At this point one of the people behind the table asked someone else behind the table how many of something (I didn’t catch what) were left, and the guy said 4. Ruh r oh. The woman in front of me asked for a copy of Genesis, and then it became clear to me that that was what they only had 4 more of. Ruh roh 2! Then it became clear to me that they were expecting the line to flow left to right in front of the table – person 1 took your order, person 2 took your payment, and person 3 gave you a wristband so you could pick up your book after the show. Ruh roh 3!

So I moved over to the left of the table and got in line with a queasy feeling developing in my stomach. There were now 2 people in front of me, and I heard the guy say there were 2 books left. “Please let the guy in front of me be a Spiegelman fan, please let the guy in front of me be a Spiegelman fan” He bought the last copy of Genesis. SHIIIIIT!!!! I actually did say “Son of a BITCH!” out loud. With disappointment I ordered a copy of the singed Spiegelman book they had.

I gotta tell ya – it was a huge kick in the nuts to miss out on that book. I think the thing that made it so bad was that I just barely missed getting one. If they had sold out an hour earlier it would’ve been much easier to take. To think that I did all that screwing around – going back to get my camera, going to the restroom, not checking out the lobby more thoroughly the first time – and still only missed it by that much made it a very bitter pill for me to swallow. Not exactly the frame of mind I wanted to be in as I entered the theater. I did my best to swallow that giant burrito of disappointment and enjoy the show, and I was mostly able to while it was going on.

After the show was kind of tough again, since that was when everyone picked up their books. I went through the line to get my Spiegelman book, and I had to pass right by that box of Crumb books that was sitting there for those with the right wristband. Ugh. I (jokingly, in a dark humor kind of way) thought about grabbing someone’s copy and running like crazy. You know, kind of a Seinfeld/marble rye scenario. I would’ve paid someone $100 for one, but I only had $20 in cash.

My last hope was to go to the bookstore that was responsible for selling them to see if they put aside a few to sell there. They didn’t. A worker mentioned that he had seen one in the back, but it wouldn’t be signed. I told him “That’s OK, don’t worry about it”, but he went and got it and handed it to me anyway. I figured if I was stuck with an unsigned copy I’d save $10 by buying it on Amazon. Only later did I find out that Amazon (and just about everyone else) is currently sold out of it. In fact, Amazon says there’s a 1 to 3 month wait! I forlornly went over to the graphic novel section hoping that maybe, just maybe, there were some signed copies that the employees didn’t know about (of course there weren’t).

As I was standing there with the book the employee had given me, a couple that was standing next to me asked “where did you get that?” I told them that it was a random one found in the back. They had been at the presentation too and presumably missed out on the book there as well. When I saw their disappointment at my reply I (admittedly not knowing the scarcity of even unsigned copies) asked them if they wanted it. They asked if I was sure, and I said “yep” and handed it to them. They seemed so happy, which in retrospect makes me glad. I was able to find one online from an Amazon marketplace-type site, I just hope I actually receive it.

I really have no one but myself to blame, although I do think the bookstore could have done a better job. Like making it easier to figure out where their table was, how the line worked, and limiting people to one copy per person. But them’s the breaks, you know? Sometimes you eat the b’ar, and sometimes, well, he eats you. Don’t get me wrong - I know that if this is the biggest problem I have in life, then things are actually pretty good.


Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Crumb, Spiegelman, and Mouly

The Crumb/Spiegelman event was pretty good, despite some pre and post show personal drama, which I will be whining/writing about in another post.

The stage setup consisted of a trio of comfy-looking living-room-type chairs, a table with a MacBook on it, and a large screen to the rear. I had a pretty good view since I was dead center in the 8th row. I had snuck my point & shoot camera in hoping to snap a couple of shots, but the response to a guy in the row in front of me kept me from attempting to do so. Someone who worked there said something to this guy as he was futzing with a small video camera before the show, after which he stowed it for good. I also didn’t see anyone with an i-phone try to snap any photos. So I didn’t either, which will be deeply ironic when you read about my pre show drama.

At about 8 or 9 minutes past the scheduled 8PM start time, an announcer kicked off the proceedings by introducing the participants, who all walked out together. The format of the presentation would be a “conversation” with both Art Spiegelman and Robert Crumb, hosted/facilitated by Francoise Mouly. Mouly is an artist & designer who co-founded the influential RAW comics anthology magazine with Art Spiegelman and is the art editor of The New Yorker. She is also Art Spiegelman’s wife.

It was strange to see Crumb looking a bit older and with a beard. I still picture him as he appeared in the documentary. Mouly sat in the middle chair, with Crumb on her right and Spiegelman on her left. Spiegelman asked if we minded if he smoked, which I didn’t since I couldn’t smell it, and he lit a number of cigarettes throughout the evening.

The conversation began with Mouly touching upon some of the details that were covered in the Crumb film, such as how he became interested in comics and how his brother Charles influenced him. Both Crumb and Spiegelman were influenced by Mad Magazine as kids, in particular the work of Harvey Kurtzman, with whom Crumb would later work. They both shared some recollections of Kurtzman, as well as Hugh Hefner (whom Kurtzman had worked with). Crumb mentioned that his drawing style was in some ways a reaction to the minimalist style of drawing that was popular in comics in the early ‘60s, such as Peanuts. Crumb and Spiegelman both mentioned that although they were both really into comics as kids, neither of them were into superhero comics. They both gravitated more towards Disney-style comics that frequently featured animals or titles like Richie Rich.

I thought one of the more interesting things mentioned was what life in France was like for Crumb. As seen at the end of the documentary “Crumb”, Crumb and his family moved to France in 1991. He said that he likes it there, but even after living there for so long he still doesn’t speak the language, and he makes no attempt to understand or comment on French culture. He mentioned that he doesn’t have a lot of friends there - “maybe one or two”. When Mouly asked him why he moved there, he mentioned that his wife Aline “comes from a long line of salespeople” and that she talked him into it eventually. Crumb and Mouly made note of the fact that they went in opposite directions, with her going from France to the U.S.

A good bit of time was spent talking about Crumb’s latest project – an illustrated version of all 50 chapters of the King James Version of Genesis. The text of the book is straight out of the Bible, and the drawings are not intended to be humorous or taken as a joke. Crumb attempted to illustrate the words in a straight up fashion, but as you might expect these are not the sanitized drawings of say Adam & Eve that you might see in Sunday School. There’s a lot of sex & violence in Genesis, which Crumb doesn’t shy away from portraying. This realistic portrayal of source material that is often romanticized in the popular imagination is what makes this project interesting to me.

It took Crumb 4 years to complete the book. He mentioned that he thought it might take 1 and a half to 2 years when he started. As such, he unequivocally stated that he would not be illustrating any other books of the Bible. He mentioned that he did all of the drawings in pen, and that he wished he had used a brush because it would have been much easier - “All that cross hatching is a pain in the ass!” He dedicated the book to his wife Aline, who rented a cabin in the mountains of France so that Crumb could work in solitude for the final 2 years of the project. Crumb’s love for his wife came through in several of his answers, and I must say that was somewhat touching to me. He doesn’t exactly seem like a romantic, but he genuinely seems to love her deeply.

Crumb used screen shots from several movies as references for drawing clothing, buildings, and even food preparation techniques in the book. Some of the movies that the screen shots came from were D.W. Griffith’s “Intolerance”, “The 10 Commandments”, and “The Last Temptation of Christ”, with “Intolerance” being perhaps most important. He said that these photos were invaluable to him in completing this book, and it really shows in the detail present in Crumb’s drawings. He is a very detail-oriented artist, and this latest work is no exception. If you’ve seen the documentary, you know that Crumb likes to get his mundane details accurate, like with his reference photos of telephone poles and electrical lines that he has used as background in many of his drawings.

Another part that I found interesting is that Crumb did a small portrait of each of the people that is mentioned in the “Begat” portion of chapter 5. You know, the part where it says “And so and so begat so and so” seemingly ad infinitum. A couple of pages of this section were projected on the screen, and you could see that each small portrait was a distinct and unique image. Mouly asked Crumb why he did this, and he said “I didn’t want people to skip over the ‘begats’”.

Mouly showed images of several New Yorker covers, with a particular focus on ones done by Crumb, Spiegelman, and covers that generated controversy such as the 1993 cover that depicted a Hasidic Jew kissing a black woman in the wake of the Crown Heights riot (in which a Hasidic Jewish man who hit some black children in a car accident was beaten and robbed when he left his vehicle to try and help the children he had hit) and the Obama “terrorist fist jab” cover from 2008. Some time was also spent discussing the article and images that Spiegelman produced in response to the controversy over the Muhammed cartoons that appeared in a Danish newspaper in 2006.

At the end of the main presentation, time was allotted for audience members to ask questions. The majority of the questions were targeted to Crumb, which he answered in his typical acerbic style. When someone asked the notoriously reclusive Crumb why he decided to go on this 5 city tour to promote Genesis, he replied that he “was railroaded into it” by the publisher, and that he was very happy to be going home the next day. Someone asked all the participants whether they thought there were certain images that should not be drawn, and Crumb jokingly said that now that he has drawn images of pretty much any depraved act known to man, he thinks they shouldn’t be allowed anymore.

I didn’t know much about Mouly and Spiegelman before seeing this presentation, but it is obvious to me now why they made a good fit with Crumb. All three of these artists have produced controversial work and strongly believe in their right to do so. I thought it was an interesting evening, and I am interested in seeking out more of their work.


Sunday, November 15, 2009

Be A Pepper

I don't have time to write too much about this weekend right now, so I'll just post a quick photo. I stumbled across this neon sign last night as I was driving home. It's a sign from the Dr. Pepper Museum in Waco, Texas. I'm a sucker for a great neon sign.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Remodeling On A Budget

I saw this sign a couple of weeks ago, and I thought it was brilliant. Apparently this gas station used to be a Phillips 66, but it isn't any longer. Instead of replacing the old sign, the owners decided to just 'X' out the old one. I'm not sure why they chose to just cross out the '66' part instead of putting one big 'X' over the whole thing, but there it is. Out of curiosity, would you buy anything at this place?

Tomorrow after work I'm heading down to Austin for this:

I hope it's going to be an interesting presentation. Crumb is one of my all-time favorite films, and I love his comic work. I can't wait to get my hands on his illustrated version of Genesis. I'm less familiar with Spiegelman's work. I know about Maus, but I haven't read it. I hope to rectify that soon.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Sunset 11-08-09

On Sunday evening I went to a nearby park. I thought there might be a decent sunset because there were some clouds around, but as the sun started to go down it didn't look like anything special was going to happen. I was actually in my car leaving the park when the sky turned to pink. I pulled my car over and got out so I could take a few shots.


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

State Fair Animals - Miscellaneous

OK, I'm finally wrapping up my State Fair animal series. It really was one of my favorite things about the Fair - a city slicker like me getting to see some animals up close. Some unusual, some not-so-unusual.

Check out the baby kangaroo's arm sticking out!

I was glad that it was sunny on my second trip. On my first trip it was on the cool side, and the mama kangaroo was huddled under a heat lamp. Obviously teh kangaroo likes teh heat.

I like the way the neck feathers look.

I'm obsessed with bison. I think it's because they're like a link to the past - they are essentially the same as they have been for thousands of years. And I'm also fascinated by the fact that they used to roam freely around here. It blows my mind that someone who lived around here 200 years ago could just see bison roaming around. What can I say, I'm weird.

I felt the bison's coat - it was so thick. I can see how it makes for great insulation in winter weather.

Highland cattle


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