Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Death Thing cover art!


The one and only Dyer Wilk designed this, folks. I'm incredibly happy that Craig McNeely got him to design the cover. Death Thing will come out in April from Double Life Press

Monday, March 9, 2015

NEW YORKER CARTOON CAPTION CONTEST: BURNING CHEETOS EDITION

New Yorker cartoons are the only part of the New Yorker I ever read as a kid. I remember thinking, "Adults read this shit?" Now I know the truth. Adults pretend to read this shit.

Onward!

If we all hide under this table, the boss'll never know we forgot our chairs this morning. 

There's absolutely no reason for me to show you this room except for the fact that you should take notice of the woman being sawed in half. You're in my house. These are my rules. 

He saw my painting, sat on my rock, fucked my wife, and took my club. Now I don't know what I'm going to do. 


Wednesday, March 4, 2015

The Simpsons and How They Embiggened Me: Season 1, Episode 2

Bart the Genius (7G02)

Martin. He's one of my favorite characters and in this episode he's nearly fully conceived and executed the way he will continue to be for the series. No other character is dropped into life so fully formed on their first appearance. Homer, Marge, Bart, and Lisa take until the second season to become themselves but Martin is Martin.

He's also one of the best side characters in the series and I have a real-world parallel story to a Martin in my own upbringing.

Before you ever see Martin, though, you get to see the incredibly long opening sequence. According to the commentary, Matt Groening hadn't seen any current TV shows and assumed that long openings were par for the course. They weren't but his little accident gave us one of the most recognizable theme songs of TV. There are little things about the long opening sequence that stand out. Homer doesn't let out a scream when Marge nearly runs him over in the driveway. At the bus stop as Bart rides by a group of people, you notice one guy looks like Bart up to the spiky hair. It'll be interesting to see what season they get rid of that scene and replace those characters with characters from the Simpsons world. But more interesting is that this tells us that the spiky-hair rule hasn't been implemented yet.

At a certain point, the Simpsons' creative team decided that only the Simpsons could have spiky hair. All other characters in Springfield had to have normal hair. Once implemented, the only time I can think of the staff breaking that rule is when Bart and Lisa try to save the Itchy & Scratchy show but are beaten by Lester and Eliza. That's worth breaking the rule over.

Totally worth it.

Let's get back to season 1, episode 2. 

Homer is not yet super dumb at this point but we do get little glimmers of it. In the very first scene, we see Homer agonizing over his nonsense Scrabble tiles: O X I D I Z E. "How can you make a word with these lousy letters?" he says as he puts down Do


In an effort to get out of the game quickly, Bart makes up a word. We've all done this. And I've done this many times playing Scrabble with my great grandma, parents, and brothers. We couldn't ever pass off a fake word on GG. At least you can pronounce KWYJIBO, unlike OXIDIZE.



A few things to notice. The coloring looks awful. The house is a weird, spray painted pink that reminds me of what I thought cartoons looked like in Afghanistan based on my multiple viewings of Super Troopers. It looks kind of half-assed in certain scenes but the DVD contains a note from Matt Groening reminding us that they had no idea what they were doing during season 1.

Then we get our introduction to Martin. My-friggin'-favorite.

Bart Simpson and his gang, Milhouse and two other guys, are tagging the school walls with Principal Skinner saying, "I am a weiner." Martin, in all his glory, tattle-tales to Skinner and then chides Bart on his spelling of wiener. "The preferred spelling of wiener is w-i-e-n-e-r although w-e-i is an acceptable ethnic variant."



Holy cow, I just had a cow man. That line is so perfect. It very well may be the best damn line of the season. I don't know. I'm watching and writing this as I go so I'm sure I'll say that more than a hundred more times. But how many kids did you know like that growing up? It's very easy for me to think of and point at the kids I thought were little Martins but I'm sure, even in my adult life, I come across as a Martin. Martin is a perfect character. He is Comic Book Guy before the reality of life has crushed him.

I knew a Martin in third grade. My third grade teacher was also a lot like Edna Krabappel. I remember the anti-smoking message being drilled into us since we were in kindergarten so it was quite a scandal when Ms. Bledsoe came to school smelling like smoke. Ms. Bledsoe did treat me the same way Krabappel treats Bart in this episode. Bart is constantly in trouble and had to conform to preemptive measures to ensure he didn't cheat. I was a little shit in third grade, no doubt, but I had what I thought was a good friend. He was supposed to be a Milhouse but he ended up a goddamned Martin. He tattled on me constantly and Ms. Bledsoe even enlisted him to keep a tally of how many times I cussed at recess.

Look at me now, Ms. Bledsoe! I'm cussing and nobody gives a shit!

This is why I love Martin so much. He reminds Ms. Krabappel that Bart must face the window so that he's not tempted to cheat. The humiliation! Bart is so overwhelmed by his incompetence that, after a nightmare sequence, he falls out of his chair. Martin is already done with his test so Bart steals it, naturally. 

Homer and Marge are called into Skinner's office to be informed and pay for Bart's vandalism but in the nick of time, the school psychiatrist jumps in and reveals that Bart's IQ test reveals he's a genius. He asks Bart, "Are you bored? Are you frustrated?"

The answers are the same for a genius as they are for miscreant, of course. Bart doesn't even need to lie. Out of pride, Homer kisses Bart. Totally uncharacteristic of what we've come to know Homer to be. I wonder if that's the only onscreen kiss between father and son? We'll have to keep a running tally:

# OF TIMES HOMER HAS KISSED BART: 1

When Bart gets transferred to a new school, the teacher reveals a class full of kids who speak in palindromes and other weird, smarty-pants stuff. The teacher says, "When you're bored, you can read a book!" Bart gets bored and picks out a Radioactive Man comic book. The teacher says, "A comic book? How did this get in there? We used it last week as a prop in a film about illiteracy." Bart is not at home.

Homer's proud of Bart and asks him how his day was. Bart answers, "Os, os." Homer is confused but Bart reveals that it's just "So, so," backwards to which Homer is genuinely impressed. It's almost heartbreaking.

Here's another standout line when Marge reveals they're going to the opera. Homer says, "But I'm not genius! Why should I have to suffer?"

The pacing of this episode is very leisurely. When you juxtapose it to an episode of the Simpsons just two seasons later, it feels like it's totally out of place with what it became. But it's important to remember that nobody had done anything like this before on TV. People always compare the Simpsons to the Flintstones (The Simpsons surely owe the Flintstones a debt) but the Flintstones existed farther outside reality than the Simpsons ever did. The Simpsons was commentary and satire while the Flintstones were animated family hi jinx with a pre-historic backdrop. The realest the Flintstones ever got was when they were selling Winston cigarettes.


Milhouse's character surely evolves from the first season to the next. He's kind of a Bart-lite in these episodes. He's wise cracking and turdlike. He doesn't get established as a shy and goofy nerd just yet. Milhouse is also part of a group of Bart's friends, friends we don't ever see hanging out as often as they do in this episode. As the series progresses, Milhouse becomes Bart's only friend. He is also a foil to Bart whereas in these early episodes he mirrors Bart. 



The softness of Homer reaches its zenith when Homer and Bart play catch. The next day, Bart mixes acids and bases and blows up his chemistry lab getting him kicked out of school. He writes a proposal explaining why he wants to go back to his old school (to observe the normal kids) but gives up halfway through and writes a confession. The school psychiatrist is quick to point out that confession is spelled wrong. 

As Homer bathes Bart in turpentine, Bart reveals it was all a sham. He never was a genius. He just cheated but he hopes that the way their father-son relationship was when Homer thought he was a genius continues. Homer responds the only way we know how he will - with the words, "Why you little!" and a chase.  

Bart benefited in so many ways in his home life as his social life deteriorated. He was an outcast among the other kids but he was celebrated at home whereas he was celebrated as a bad ass at school and punished by his family (and other authority figures) at home. Bart entered bizarro land and found that he liked some of the respect and love that being good engendered. But it just wasn't his bag. 

Bart locks himself in his room as Homer bangs on the wall. Bart laughs as the camera fades. Just as much as he loved the attention his father showered on him, he loves driving him crazy, too. 

This episode marks the first time the chalkboard gag and the couch gag were used. 

Ha.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Simpsons and How They Embiggened Me: Season 1, Episode 1

Read the introduction to this series here.

A good friend of mine came to visit a few months back. He and I had written and collaborated on a lot of things as we grew up. He was a pioneer of the early "blog" days, back when the sites were known as E&N sites (everything and nothing). We got to talking about humor and what makes us laugh. He said the internet informs so much of our generation's humor, which is true, but I'd argue that the Simpsons has much more cultural weight over our senses of humor. I'd say that the Simpsons helped construct what we see as internet humor but I'm not smart enough to write about that shit.

Anyways, episode 1.


Simpsons Roasting On An Open Fire, 7G08

The first thing you notice is the super low voice of Homer Simpson. It's still Homer but it's crazy how much his voice has changed since the first season. I've started watching the newer episodes this season and I've found that many characters voices are going through slight changes. I can't put my finger on it but Moe and Mr. Burns's voices are slightly different. The voice actors age, the characters don't.

Why do I like this Simpsons episode so damn much? Why do I hold it up as the standard-bearer of all Christmas episodes?

It's simple. There's a hope against hope theme that pervades all of the early Simpsons and the very first episode displays that in full force.

Bart, with the best intentions, decides to get a tattoo of a heart with the word "Mother" in it. He imagines his mother loving it. He gets to please his mother and look like a tough guy. Every kid's dream. Of course, it doesn't go as planned. That's the first instance of hope against hope. Bart is trying to be his own person yet he knows a tattoo would displease his folks so what does he do? He chooses the least offensive tattoo he can. Not only is it the least offensive but it conveys his love for Marge. It doesn't turn out the way it was supposed to for Bart.



Homer won't be getting a Christmas bonus, Marge has to spend the Christmas money on removing Bart's tattoo, and just like that the Simpson Christmas sucks. Homer gets a job working as a mall Santa after Barney, the town drunk, drunkenly tells Homer they're hiring but they're selective. That's probably the best joke in the whole episode.



La-di-da, time goes on. Homer gets his paycheck after Bart tugs at his beard and discovers his dad is the mall Santa. "You must really love us to sink so low," he says. That's probably the best joke in the whole episode. Homer's paycheck is only $13 after taxes, training, Santa suit, beard rental, and Christmas club. It's over for Homer until Barney invites him to the dog racing track.



Barney wins, Homer loses the bet after going with his gut for the dog named Santa's Little Helper. Bart's declares that TV has misled him in hoping for a Christmas miracle to save Christmas.

This is the scene that gets me and this is the scene that has stayed with me for my whole damn life: Homer and Bart are rummaging through discarded betting receipts in the parking lot in hopes of finding a winner to save Christmas. Pretty damn pathetic.



The racetrack owner then kicks out Santa's Little Helper who runs into Homer's arms. Homer says, "He's a loser. He's pathetic. He's a Simpson." This, my friends, is what it's all about. They are losers, they are pathetic, yet they keep on going. Homer goes home thinking Christmas is ruined but as soon as the dog runs into the house with Bart, everything is all right.

Homer enlisting his son to look for a winning ticket in the parking lot after the race is more touching and more meaningful than George Bailey thinking about killing himself. Homer, knowing damn well nobody's thrown a winning ticket away, still goes through them with his son begging fate for a change of circumstances. He is forcing his son to take part in his display of defeat. The Simpsons is far from the fatalistic world that Matt Groening created with Futurama. The Simpsons fight the inevitable, no matter how pathetic, and still lose by the standards of their own expectations but they gain something greater.

They weren't trying to win the dog, they were trying to win money to buy presents. They never got the money. They failed. In Homer's refusal to see the reality of his failure, he stubbornly looks for a miracle. The miracle appears and he can't even recognize it. Bart has to recognize it for what it is. Bart was the one who said that TV failed him. It wasn't the ending our heroes worked for, it wasn't the ending the audience expected, but it was the ending that saved Christmas.

Looking back, I can't fathom a world in which the Simpsons got as much flack as they did. By today's standards, the Simpsons look downright Leave it to Beaver-y. It's all there, though. This is the first real glimpse of what the Simpsons would become - a realistic portrayal and unflinching satire of American society, pop culture, and family.



Homer is not yet over-the-top dumb. He's sweet, if not a little brusque and dense. It's clear he's not stupid. That stops being clear in glimmers around season 3 and more consistently after season 8.

Does anyone else think the tattoo artist is Comic Book Guy's brother? They look pretty damn similar.


















I guess everyone in the Simpsons look similar enough.

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Simpsons and How They Embiggened Me: Introduction

The Simpsons hold an interesting power over my life. While I grew up in a very strict form of Christianity (read: cult), I also had the benefit of having very young parents. Young and hip enough to enjoy and allow the Simpsons in their household but unhip enough to go to church every Saturday for what felt like hours on end.

Before the church service proper, the kids had to go to Bible class and learn how evil every other person we knew was evil. When Halloween came around, it was all about demonizing Halloween. When Christmas came around, it was all about the pagan roots and evil behind Christmas. When Easter came around, same idea. Holidays were lucky enough to be seasonal and only a target for ridicule a few weeks out of the year so my brother and I only felt guilty about celebrating Christmas with our Catholic family for a few days before and after. The Simpsons, though, were on every week on Thursday nights and, just as going to church was a ritual not to be forsook, watching the Simpsons was something that we would never forget.



I remember one Saturday pretty clearly. It was right around Halloween and I was just getting giddy about the Simpsons Halloween Special. They were always, and still are always, the best episodes of any given season. The volunteer Bible teacher said something derogatory about Halloween and then said something about the frivolous joys of the world like the Simpsons. I can't claim to remember his exact words but it was enough to put the fear of a jealous and angry God into me (quite different than the five fingered, football watching Lord of the Simpsons). 

Luckily, my brothers and I were undeterred by bullshit. The Simpsons was a duty. It was a must. Even though I wanted to be a Bart and idolized him, I knew I was more of a Lisa down to the damn saxophone. My brother was a natural Bart. He was an all-boy hell raiser but with a heart of gold.



This is crazy. This is pointless. This is stupid... probably, but this all started out with a semi-drunken conversation on the porch of a friend's house. For those that know me, I like to wade into controversial conversations. I like zero-sum arguments, not because they are right or anything but what is the fun in waddling in shades of grey when you can really irritate people with a position that is firm and unwavering. Now, I always tell my friends to not let me talk about politics. This was one of those nights so I made a statement that I was sure that everyone would agree with: "The first episode of the Simpsons is the best Christmas episode of anything ever."

Some asshole responded, "What about Peanuts?"

"What are you, seventy years old? No, the Simpsons."

"What about It's A Wonderful Life?"

"Good movie but only became popular because it wasn't copyrighted and some television station found they could play it for free over and over again on Christmas eve. Simpsons."

Things got heated. Punches were thrown. Feelings were hurt.

But I left correct. That is a luxury nobody else could walk home with. I also walked home with the burning idea to start buying Simpsons DVDs and reliving my childhood. I started spending too much so I said I'd write about every episode in some capacity for each season before I can buy another.



So, it begins.

Just to clear the air here: I like Peanuts as much as any other nerd, sure. I can appreciate Calvin & Hobbes and its impact on many lives. When I was a kid, though, growing up in a religion where the Simpsons were bad but kids were allowed to enjoy and consume Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes as wholesome alternatives, I created a bias against them. Those were comics for the goodie-goodies. Oh, well. Time has proven me wrong about them, especially about Calvin & Hobbes. Oh, well. Oh, well.