Sunday, August 23, 2015

Q&A: PETER DEMAKOS of BLIMP ROCK



You like to stay in and sip herbal tea, to eat a strong variety of chips and play dancing games of Twister on Friday nights with a few grounded pals. Who doesn’t? But you’re motivated and seriously plugged into the thrilling grid of the upward corporate world as well. You’re not stingy with your business acumen. You portion it out like a suddenly relocated bag of late get-together salty vins. Your strategies are tangy yet full of deeply crystallized grit. Who is going to give the mild party PowerPoint presentation, if you don’t, you always expertly syngerject? Who is going to keep our soiree in line with our long-term business goals, you tell us all on the sunken crumb couch of capitalistic repose.

Still, on profitable occasion a Friday on the town calls out to you like a spark in a hydrogen-powered dream, like a whirring guitar riff from the old future of rock. Business and pleasure blur like a clean burning fuel of buoyant propulsion. And so you doubly dream. And your dreams get lofty, so lofty that they hover over iconic bodies of water cradling mixed drinks, so efficiently afloat that their merger requires the smooth lift of a summer’s festive blimp to take purchase. You don’t need to land, dear dream-investor. You needn’t reengineer the general thrust of your ambitiously relaxed plans. Just float down to the eBar this Friday at 9pm, after all of your meetings have run long into an industrious dinner of fine chips and table wine. Blimp Rock is raising your dream one well-costed spark after the next with a vinyl/video release in the well-researched name of quiet combustion. Blimp Rock is setting down with their songs of staying-in and cheering up to make some dollars for their dreams.


 - Brad de Roo, who should mention that, stalwart Captain of Industry, Wax Mannequin will join the Blimp Rock crew in having a gas. 


For those unfortunate souls who don't have a bit of blimp in their lives, could you succinctly explain the historical origins, name etymology, musical mythology, aerodynamic specifications, long-term fiscal outlook, PowerPoint fluency, and floating motivations of Blimp Rock?

 
Thank you so much for that 7 part question! For the sake of avoiding a blimp-sized paragraph, I will break it down.

Historical Origins: Blimp Rock is a band hired to raise money for a music festival in a blimp floating over Lake Ontario through album and merchandise sales. On behalf of parent corporation Blimp Rock Enterprises, we are hoping to raise the $700 000 required for the festival to be fully realized.

Musical Mythology: Blimp Rock writes simple tunes that hearken back to a simpler era – a time when hydrogen was loved and not feared for its combustible properties. Our new album Sophomore Slump features songs about boys who cry during movies, conflict resolution over stolen pizza and a tribute to homebodies called “Let’s All Stay In Tonight.” Essentially, we are trying to capture the odd sides and emotional ends of real life while raising venture capital.

Aerodynamic Specifications: The blimp for Blimp Rock Live (name of the festival) will be quite well rounded. It will feature 1) Wood Paneling 2) Fancy Mix Drinks and 3) The Finest Cover Bands. We are also currently working on a plan to expand the number of fire exits from 0 to 1.


Long Term Fiscal Outlook: Due to unforeseen economic sluggishness in the music industry, Blimp Rock has yet to meet its goal. However, given that we are now only $-2100 in debt to various payday loan companies, it is safe to say that we are closer to our goal than ever before.

PowerPoint Fluency: In today's modern business era, PowerPoint has usurped English as the first language of business, and it is for that reason that our live show is accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation on our marketing plan for the aforementioned festival.

Floating Motivations: Listening to a cover band while sipping on a mix drink and leaning against wood paneling 2500 feet above Lake Ontario. 



You've Blimped the eBar in Guelph before. Would you ever consider taking this metaphor into literal territory and converting the whole Bookshelf complex of bookstore, cinema, bar, and restaurant into a Blimp passenger deck? What movie would you show on your inaugural flight? Where would you dock it? Could so much culture actually take to the Guelph air? 

 
Thank you for your 4 part question on converting the Bookshelf into a blimp! We would most definitely consider such a project. Though most modern blimps only have a capacity of 14 people and 1000 pounds, I’m guessing the Bookshelf has more than enough extra cash to research how to fit all of its ventures in a 40x40 blimp gondola. As for the film, I think it would have to be “Around The World By Zeppelin” which is the story of the first airship to circum-navigate the globe in 1929. The logical place to dock the blimp would be The Co-operators building at 130 Macdonnell given its stature; and perhaps they would cut us a deal on insurance in exchange for the publicity (their first quote was surprisingly high). And yes, there is already so much culture on Guelph’s ground level, it’s only a matter of time before it wafts upwards. 




The lyrics of your Blimp torch songs (a sentimentally explosive genre to many) are full of absurdist understatement, satire, and whimsical narrative. How much do you employ literary effects or modes in the Office of Blimp? Do any particular lyricists or writers pilot your wordy airship? Often The Blimp Rock Live Experience, as I am contractually obligated to rebrand it, features presentations of Blimp Rock's business savvy M.O.? Do you see lyrics as distinct from presentation notes or scripts or other combinations of words? Or does voice (in the literary sense) have a wide-ranging, genre-hovering flight path? 

 
Thank you for your 5 part question of the intersection of literary devices and corporate strategy! Literary effects I often use include rhyme, irony and hiding sentimental messages under a safety blanket of jokes. A literary mode I’ve recently been into is contradiction. Sophomore Slump opens up with a song called “Will It Ever?” that questions whether you can ever live up to profound first time experiences. The next track “Sophomore Slump” is a line-by-line contradiction of that song that champions trying things again. In reality, I think both songs have elements of truth to them and neither is correct. Too many lyricists pilot my ship to list here, however, my current favourite lyrics go to Richard Laviolette’s song “Snailhouse” from the Community Theatre album. And yes! In full embrace of the First Rule Of Business, our show opens with a PowerPoint on our blimp festival, however it only works its way into 2 of our songs (“Blimp Rock Live” and “Blimp Rock Live 2”), so if blimps aren’t your thing, we’ll sing about other stuff too. I think lyrics are distinct from presentation notes and scripts in the sense that it is hard to work graphs and economic analysis into poetry (though we are working on it) however, there can be overlap in areas such as writing choruses and slogans and joke timing.

How important is storytelling to good Blimp-positive music and culture? 

 
Storytelling is massively important to Blimp-positive culture. We believe that we have been living in a Blimp-negative culture for much too long, as blimps are often being dismissed as unsafe, irrelevant or even a bad idea. We are trying to shift (or ‘spin’ as we say at the office) that conversation in a direction that redefines blimps in an exclusively positive way. Here’s a story for you: Did you know that blimp travel has become much safer since the days of the blimp that shall not be named? In fact, in the last 70 years, there have been just 17 blimp-related accidents, and only one exploded.

Since I balloon on about books all day at a bookstore, I am obliged to enter into a sudden multipart book-melee of questions. Luckily, I think of books as compact blimps of the mind, so moving through the barrage should not be too disaster-connotative for you. Here goes: 

 
a) If you could bring 5 books (excluding blimp manuals) onto a blimp during a free-float or a super-long circle to land, what would they be? 

 
- One! Hundred! Demons! by Lynda Barry

- Festival Man by Geoff Berner

- Fifth Business by Robertson Davies

- Just Kids by Patti Smith

- Buzz Marketing with Blogs for Dummies by Susannah Gardner

b) You’ve toured around a bit in Europe and Canada. What are your thoughts on travelogues, travel guides, and tour diaries? Have you ever considered penning any of the above? Do you have any favourites in the travel book catchall?

I am a fan of all three. I am interested in writing travelogues on some of Ontario’s overlooked hamlets. Places that may be suburban, small, isolated and trying to find out what people do for a good time. Recently we played in a small town called Maynooth and there’s a great hostel that hosts live bands. There was also a little bakery that exclusively sold different varieties of butter tarts and they were delicious. I was told people also like to hang out at the Legion there, which often hosts cover bands. Perhaps I could also pen a travelogue on seeking Ontario’s finest cover bands. No favourites in the catchall, though the Burning Hell song “Travel Writers” is a stand-out tune on the subject.

c) What are your thoughts on music writing? Do you enjoy music criticism and journalism? Do interviews irk or awe you? Are there any music-themed books you would kick out of your Blimp? 

 
Music writers have been very kind to me, though I don't anticipate that trend to continue. There's so much good music out there, it's slightly terrifying, and probably impossible for it to get the attention it deserves, which is a sad thing. I can understand the perspective of the music publications that only write about established bands as well as the bands that don't get written about. I like publications that put at least some priority on the former. I like interviewers like I like my people: weird and friendly. I don’t think I’ve read a music book I didn’t enjoy, but for the record, Festival Man by Geoff Berner would be wearing a seatbelt to ensure its place on board.


Maynooth tarts
This upcoming show is with Wax Mannequin. Here’s a guy who’s known to burn candles on his head and release many balloons into the air in a reckless fashion. Is he someone you’d permit to play your Blimp Festival or is a safety risk taken in the name of song? Do you have any dream headliners for your festival?

We are currently in negotiations with Wax and The Co-operators to figure out a way of making this work. There are a lot of logistics to sort out such as whether or not the Wax’s chrysalis (which the balloons are stored in) can fit on board, and how far Wax should play away from it to ensure that it doesn’t catch on fire. We are actually having a meeting on the 28th that should finalize the safety plan for a “Flaming Chrysalis Scenario”. As for a dream headliner, I think it goes without saying that re-uniting Sheezer 2500 ft. above Lake Ontario would be well worth the $700K.


Wax Mannequin
You’ll be coming to this show with some new vinyl and a video reel. Is there anything we should know about these corporate missives?

Yes, more details on both! The vinyl includes a fancy insert of the lyrics, and FAQ on our blimp festival and a download code. The video is for the song “My Mind Is A Shark” and it was animated by Parker Bryant who also made “Lake Ontario Lifeguards.” We’ll be screening the video right before we play.

Would you ever consider crowdsourcing or a TVO Can-rock telethon to get Blimp Rock Live off the ground? 

 
We would not consider crowdsourcing as we are highly confident in our current plan, however a TVO telethon would pique our interest. Perhaps I could also go on The Agenda and cross-promote my upcoming travelogue entitled “Requesting 'Bobcaygeon' in Bobcaygeon: The Cover Bands of Southern Ontario.”

If you were forced to depart your perceptual blimp to refuel, what questions would you ask yourself? 

 
1. How did we convince so many people to come to the eBar Aug. 28 that we were able to launch our blimp festival 45 years sooner than anticipated!?

2. How did we Wax the Co-operators to allow that paper-mache chrysalis on board?



Sunday, August 16, 2015

PICTURING THE AMERICAS: LANDSCAPE PAINTING FROM TIERRA DEL FUEGO TO THE ARCTIC




This August we had a wild and wonderful five day kayaking trip along the coast of Georgian Bay’s Franklin Island and then onward to the more remote McCoy’s. Two grandparents, two parents, two boys, nine and 11. Paddling over six hours a day allowed my mind to wander and I often found myself thinking that I was seeing the same sky, water, and rock that paddlers had seen 300 years ago. This made me, a floating fleck in the universe, feel a bit more immersed in the steady stream of history.

The day after I returned home I read an article featuring Joseph Boyden talking about the wonders of a book called Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra de Fuego to the Arctic. He was the guest lecturer of this show’s opening exhibit at the AGO. He described the book as a “bold and massive undertaking to cover two continents of art. Its breadth is phenomenal.” The exhibit encompasses the early nineteenth century to the early 20th – before the takeover of the wilderness by cottagers, companies, and other owners of the landscape. I knew that I had to have a copy.

A major aim of the exhibit was to show how the Americas are so connected. One of the earliest champions of South American art was the Prussian explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt. He was struck by how landscape artists in both North and South America were interested in protecting nature and able to push US Congress to create the National Park system. This was a huge influence in the creation of Parks Canada. In the era way before Instagram, paintings were brought in to Congress to impress on law makers the importance of preserving the earth’s beauty.

The chosen paintings are both stunning and interesting. They capture both the quality of light and the rituals and routines of daily life. The sections are not themed geographically but philosophically and each artist has an excellent introduction by someone immersed in the art. Of course Cornelius Krieghoff, Georgia O’Keeffe, Emily Carr, and David Milne are represented but so are many other artists that I have never heard of. I was particularly taken by the Uruguayan artists, Pedro Figari, José Cuneo Perinetti and Pedro Blanes Viale. Their work is definitely as compelling as any Monet or Van Gogh’s that I have seen in books or galleries.

This gathering of artists has inspired me to desire three things: go to the AGO exhibit, which runs until September 20; start planning our next kayaking trip, which next year will include another parent and grandchild; and who knows, maybe even think about taking a trip to Uruguay!


- Barb

Monday, August 10, 2015

REISSUE: OF WALKING IN ICE


Werner Herzog's legacy always seems to run the risk of being reduced to anecdote. Will he be better remembered for his work, or for the stories behind it? Herzog is famous for hypnotizing his cast, cooking and eating his own shoe on a bet with first-time documentarian Errol Morris, threatening to kill his lead actor, and pulling a boat over a mountain. But are these stories more interesting than the films that bred them? It's the difference between idea and deed; the former can be popped as easy as a pill, the latter makes for broader meal. To know Herzog mostly through rumour is to miss the deep edification of his filmmaking, the gutsy, borderless, vast interests that have produced so many tellable tidbits.

One such anecdote that has proceeded its source finds Werner Herzog trekking from Munich to Paris in the winter of 1974 to "save" the life of film historian Lotte Eisner. Though the reason this particular meal, the travelogue Of Walking in Ice, has been passed over in favour of the pill is because the source has been mostly out of print since it was first published in 1979. Thanks to University of Minnesota Press, the whole story can now be savoured.


Herzog and Eisner

Herzog defined New German Cinema along with the likes of Fassbinder, Wenders, and von Trotta. For this new generation of filmmakers, the grown children of of World War Two, Lotte Eisner was one of the few film critics who recognized the worth of these artists in a post-war global atmosphere still reluctant to praise or celebrate anything produce by Germany. "We, the new generation of filmmakers," Herzog says in his 1982 tribute to Eisner, included in this new edition, "are a fatherless generation. We are orphans. We have only grandfathers–Murnau, Lang, Pabst, the generation of the 1920... [Eisner's] books... all provided us with a bridge to our historical and cultural context. No one else will ever know what this means." When, at the end of 1974, Herzog got word that Eisner was dying, he wrote to tell her not to until he came to see her. Instead of rushing to his champion's side, Herzog set out on foot with only "a jacket, a compass, and a duffel bag with the necessities."

What follows, as it's recounted by Herzog – then 32 years old – reads like a dream. Herzog moves through pastures and villages, breaking into off-season vacation homes, sleeping in barns. At times, the reportage resembles the late fevered trudging in his film from two years earlier, Aguirre, the Wrath of God:
A ladies' bicycle, nearly brand new, was thrown into a brook; it occupied my thoughts for quite some time. A crime? The scene of a fight? Something provincial-sultry-dramatic has taken place here, I suspect. A bench painted red is half-covered with water. A cat has jumped up on the lantern above the front door of a house and doesn't dare move any further, feeling that she is too high above the ground. She gently sways with the lantern in the wind.
To reveal that Eisner lives to receive an exhausted Herzog, three weeks after he set out, won't spoil anything. The thought he delivers to her: "Together, I said, we shall boil fire and stop fish."

Aside from the anecdotes, Herzog is now probably best known in popular culture for the many impressions of his staid, severe Teutonic (Bavarian, to be specific) delivery. To a certain extent, the ribbing's deserved. Purple earnestness like Herzog's doesn't really exist anymore. His sometimes dour, hyperbolic view of the world – "Civilization is like a thin layer of ice upon a deep ocean of chaos..." – is easy to poke fun at. However, I'd argue that Herzog is as optimistic as he can sometimes seem risibly caustic. For Herzog, there seems to be as much magic as there is chaos in the world – though I suppose he might term that magic "ecstasy". As he has said, "In the fine arts, in music, literature, and cinema, it is possible to reach a deeper stratum of truth—a poetic, ecstatic truth, which is mysterious and can only be grasped with effort; one attains it through vision, style, and craft." 

Herzog, like many of his characters or subjects, seems to engage with the world in a way that foists his vision and will on it, with the purpose of actually altering it. It's this sort of optimistic temerity that breeds tall-seeming tales. "We would not permit her death," he says at the outset of his visit to Eisner, and his three week ramble feels like his process of damming that course. 

- Andrew


Wednesday, August 5, 2015

10 THINGS SHORTER THAN THE 2015 CANADIAN ELECTION

1. The Stanley Cup.

2. Reading all of Margaret Atwood's books back to back.

3. Growing a cherry tomato from nothing to edible glory.

4. The life of a worker bumblebee.
 

5. Listening to all of Leonard Cohen and Celine Dion's discographies, combined.

6. Ordering a double double from all 3,468 Tim Hortons locations in Canada.


7. How long Stephen King takes to write a novel. No, three novels.


8. Renewing your Canadian passport - by mail.

9. For ingredients to ferment and carbonate into delicious, refreshing beer.


10. Hiking up Mount Everest.


Here's to all of our patience for the 2015 Federal Election.


Wednesday, July 29, 2015

PRIMER: SEVEN DREAMS: A BOOK OF NORTH AMERICAN LANDSCAPES


Maybe some context first. When they first published, William T. Vollmann and David Foster Wallace seemed like epochal authors. Both men were young and prodigious, functioning with an intelligence and curiosity and humanity that doesn't come along often. Both Wallace's first novel, The Broom of the System, and Vollman's, You Bright and Risen Angels, were released in 1987, seeming to herald new swatch of literary stars. Wallace's next novel, Infinite Jest, came in 1996 and cemented the bandana-clad author as the complicated voice of a complicated generation. Following his death in 2008, Wallace has been further elevated – I'd say deservedly so – to a status of cultural, generational figurehead. For Vollmann, however – though has never stopped publishing, producing a body of work that could be used to construct a decent fort in your living room – his audience and legacy have seemed tenuous from the word go.

It's not a competition between the two authors, or even a comparison – though Wallace did speak about Vollmann's output encouraging a bit of an inferiority complex in him – but it's interesting to see where two guys who started beside each other wound up. Wallace's continued readership has a lot to do with his relationship with pop culture, I think. As highfalutin and confounding and dense as Wallace got, he was – to a certain extent – grappling with many of the aging slacker issues that the broader culture was engaged with. As indebted as he might have been to, say, Wittgenstein, Wallace was likewise indebted to pot and TV. Vollmann makes – has always made – for a harder sell. He probably hasn't owned a TV in a while and, drug-wise, was mostly notable for experimenting, journalistically, with smoking crack during his time spent in San Francisco's tenderloin district. Where Wallace was very much an author of his time, Vollmann has always been something of an anachronism.

Young Vollmann
Prostitution dominated Vollmann's interests early in his career, and much of his reputation in the 90s had to with the hybrid fiction/biography of his personal patronage. In some lights, the ethics of his projects might have seemed a bit dubious; there was a gonzo-ness to Vollmann's efforts, though a serious, earnest, gritty version. This hasn't really changed since the 80s. His earliest salvo was as a passionate-but-wrongheaded 22-year-old kid running away to join the Taliban in 1982, looking to help the mujahedeen fight the Soviets. Subsequent visits to war zones as a journalist led to the epochal publication of Vollmann's Rising Up and Rising Down, a seven volume, 3 350 word essay on the history and justifications of violence. In the past decade or so, Vollmann's interests have been as varied as poverty, rail riding, and Noh theatre. 

Each subject has been studied with a hard-to-come-by depth, whether that means jumping trains or being made up as a Noh performer – the latter process opening up to Vollmann a drag persona, documented in last year's The Book of Delores. This far flung perspicacity could also go a ways to explain why Vollmann never managed to capture and hold the attention of a broader readership while also holding a devote, fanatical reader base. Reading Vollmann with consistency, you find that, over his varied subject matter, he has been telling a larger, deeper story all along. All this time Vollmann has always been telling a story of a single reality that's both transient and immovable.



Vollmann's most consistent project, and the work will most likely turn out to be his legacy, he sketched at the outset of his career. Seven Dreams: A Book of North American Landscapes chronicles the incessantly disastrous and compulsively cruel interactions between white Europeans and the indigenous peoples of our North American continent. Exhaustively researched and impressively thorough, Vollmann's project was ambitions in declaration and, so far, has been triumphant in execution. Throughout the 90s, he completed four of his threatened seven installments. Thoughout the 2000s, what was beginning to seem like abandoned ambition, a promise made with the aplomb of youth, Vollmann has picked the Seven Dream back up fifteen years later with the Infinite Jest-sized The Dying Grass

The first "dream" was released in 1990. Set in the 10th century, The Ice-Shirt offers both a mythology of Norse transformations as well as a history of their encounters with the indigenous people, dubbed Skraelings, who they "discovered" in what is now Newfoundland. As Vollmann would go on to do with all the subsequent "dreams", he mingles events in the past with his study in the present. The second dream came out two yeas later, thick in a way that would become a running joke through Vollmann's career – each book seems to feature an apology to an editor, and a promise that the next book will be shorter. Fathers and Crows addressed the Jesuit tampering with the Huron and Iroquois. Doing press for The Orenda, Joseph Boyden often cited Fathers and Crows as a "big influence". Vollman then jumped his chronology, releasing the sixth dream, The Rifles, in 1994. This entry is much more contemporary, keeping close to the 90s, to Northern Canada and the removal of the Inuit from Inukjuak, Quebec to Resolute, Nunavut. Here Vollmann made himself especially present, travelling to the magnetic north to recreate the Franklin Expedition. The seven year pause between The Rifles and the third dream, Argall – the de-Disneyed story of Pocahontas – might be best explained by the fact Vollmann chose to narrate the book in Elizabethan English, a technique that makes room for both expansive poetic moments as well awkwardly purple spates full of linguistic duds. 

Vollmann is not a hand-holder. These dreams are dense and rewarding books which live up to their designations as dreams, shifting from past to present, from fact to feeling to opinion, with little narrative notice. Vollmann appears in the dreams as William the Blind, casting himself as a sort of inadequate dreamer, these texts – these histories – become sort of burdens he bears – or wears, rather, as Vollmann "dons" these histories like garments, or "shirts." The preface to The Ice-Shirt makes for a decent preface to the whole, and is worth quoting in full:
Should I dream one dream or seven? – Anyone would prefer a single afternoon fancy to grease his heels, so that easy wings might flower there, and then he could play between blue skies and rooftops, but as I could never fly, having put on the Ice-Shirt, the Crow-Shirt and the Poison-Shirt, there is no hope in frivolous ambition. Any shirt, be it of ever so many colors, is but a straightjacket, which is why I see no beauty, nor hear of any, except among the naked. The clouds are as hard as stones, and we all dream one black dream – I however, will now dream seven, to which correspond the Seven Ages of WINELAND THE GOOD. Each Age was worse than the one before, because we thought we must amend whatever we found, nothing of what was being reflected in the ice-mirrors of our ideas. Yet we were scarcely blameworthy, any more than the bacillli which attack and overcome a living body; for history has a purpose (If not, then there is nothing wrong with inventing one.), then our undermining of trees and tribes have been good for someting. – Be it so.
After a fifteen year hiatus – during which time he received the National Book Award and was awarded a five-year fellowship/grant from the Strauss Living Award that provides $50,000 a year, tax free – Vollmann is dreaming and donning again. The fifth dream, The Dying Grass: A Novel of the Nez Perce War, at nearly 1 400 pages, doesn't arrive so much as thunk. Plumbing the battle(s) between Plains Indians and the US Army that took place between June and October of 1877, Vollmann, as before, fleshes out a history always at risk of becoming lacuna. The Washington Post just called it "brilliant and alive" and "the reading experience of a lifetime." Kirkus Reviews declared it "stunning" "note-perfect incantation."

But will anyone read it?

Ambition and commitment like Vollmann's doesn't really exist anymore, a reality described by the marketplace as much as by culture. A disinterest in big books as well as a lingering post-9/11 mistrust of history viewed through anything but a plain lens doesn't augur well. The popular acceptance of Vollmann's peer – that is David Foster Wallace – has much to do with a dual acceptance of Wallace's themes as well as the author's increasingly ability to hone his nuanced expression of those themes in such a way that it could be more wideley understood. In 30 years, Vollmann hasn't much budged. The shame of that isn't literary so much as it is personal. Vollmann's dream so far has been as seminal and profound as it has laborious and troubling. But we shouldn't shy away, because the reality of it is that it's our reality. 

The beauty, violence, and largess that Vollmann renders in his work is ultimately our making; his dreams are made of the residue of our actions, the shirts he puts on the troubling fashions we'd rather leave in the past. While size and scope will always be a deterrent, I can't help but think that it's likewise a reluctance to both account for what we've done – I'm talking about "we" in the majestic plural – as well as engage with an account of that past that might have readers steer clear from Vollmann. But I take a certain comfort in knowing that whether or not he's read widely – or at all – Vollmann will not change and not slow down and probably won't publish that short book he's been promising since 1992.

- Andrew

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Q&A: DRAWN & QUARTERLY 25th ANNIVERSARY TOME




When, with a mouth full of Kensington Market arepa, I tell a comics-minded pal that I intend to interview Drawn and Quarterly: Twenty-five Years of Contemporary Cartooning, Comics, and Graphic Novels (Drawn and Quarterly), he looks at me like I've just torn a panel off of his favourite strip.

“You mean a review, right? You should get your critical terminology down.”

“No, I mean interview,” I say under a sarcastic tortilla chip crunch.

“Yuh,” he replies muffling the start of some whimsy with a giant chunk of empanada.

“D & Q 25, how’d you get such an impressively muscular physique? Are you aware of how well your 700 plus pages reset warped books, prop open windows to a nice summer breeze, crack beers?”

I would laugh a little, if not for the chokehold my plantain, cheese, and guac arepa, holds in the salisified sun of the Market. I would laugh, if not for the fact I'll be lugging the book around in my backpack for the rest of my visit.

Two weeks and 776 pages later, I sit on the tree-lined second story deck of a rented cottage overlooking a conversational frog-pond. I drink a few beachy beers from the Collingwood LCBO, and wait for
D & Q 25 to speak to me from across the wire café–type table. Surely, I am not posing the right questions to the yellow and black monolith propped up in its seat. My family has gone to the beach, and I’ve stayed behind with the seemingly impossible task of summarizing all of the interviews, appreciations, photos, new, rare, and classic comics generously loaded within. I feel as bookishly adrift as the asteroid-topping glass-globed library floating on the book's face. My glasses are fogged with the splattered space amoebas of sustained inner flight and cottage drunkenness. My lips almost recite my thoughts out of perseverance. How will I begin to connect the varied hard work of Peggy Burns, Tom Develin, Adrian Tomine, Kate Beaton, Art Speigelman, Tove Jansson, Ron Rege Jr, Joe Matt, Rutu Modon, Helge Dascher et al? Not to mention the appreciations penned by Margaret Atwood, Lee Henderson, Shelia Heti, Lemony Snickett, Jonathan Letham etc. Forget about the 100 pages of D & Q history and genealogy introducing the collection. I’m numb-tongued at the thought.

Everything else is talking. The frogs are bromping, birds twittering, trees whispering in the breeze like rain. I get into a few imaginatively renamed comics themed beers to break the ice in the heat. A Dominion Ale washes down a Chester Brune washes down a Lynda Barry Berry Lager. My chair squeaks woozy symphonic approval. If I can’t wrap my mind around the definitive history of Canada’s most beloved and globally influential comics publisher, at least I can get wrapped up in another easy sunny day, and pretend my beers have D & Q-themed names in some endless summer series of beautifully labeled delights. A review of this fine day is surely a simpler prospect, I glimmer. 


Then again, I sweat, how exactly does one get to the bottom of a day? I get to the bottom of a glass of what should be called Crisp Ale-iveros Founder’s Brew, and picture D & Q’s famously succinct founding Chief, Chris Oliveros, drinking Vintage Moomin Vin and having a long chat with the final proofs of the book lounging before me. A horsefly takes a chunk out of my daydream and my ears recalibrate through the booze with a deep suspicion of the elemental world. Microfocusing so, I hear a small scratchy voice (Is the fly repenting?). At first it’s a yawn really – a yawn like the soft rustling of pages.

“Aren’t you going to say something? Or at least offer me a drink?”

I am realistically gobsmacked. Each word cursors across my comprehension in a well-chosen font. The voice’s gender is indeterminate (perhaps, in keeping with D & Q’s vocal feminism) and has a quiet Canadian accent. It is world-weary and industrious, yet sensitively mid-party. Have I just entered into a Julie Doucet dreamworld? I look around like I don’t know who’s talking, playing it drunkenly, humanly cool. Some impatient fluttering is followed by the sight of D & Q 25’s orange ribbon marker caterpillar-hooking into one of the tables’ wired holes. Then with a cartoonish “heave-ho” the book ascends in ass-end up stutters, hops to my latest beer (Brewing Stories) and, marker uncoiled, slurps up my pint with a fiery thin tongue.



“I thought we were doing an interview here. All the names that are supposed to be collected inside of me seem to be getting interviews all over the place. You’ve joined the journalistic conga line on occasion, if I’ve heard correctly. I think it’s my turn to lead.”

“Wha.. ah what should I ask you?”

“Me?! I feel like I’ve said what I’m going to say. I’ve been told I’ve got 25 years of complementary thoughts, wills, grants, designs, and outputs on record in here.”

D & Q 25 taps what looks like the place a temple would be with the sopping ribbon.

“I want to know what you think. It’s not everyday I get to interview a reader.”

25 says this as though a cyborg meeting one of a large team of its creators.

Does reading amount to a form of creation? I nearly ask, but feel in over my head on all levels. It’s one thing for an object to take on personalities in the illustrations and narratives of lively comics, but it’s a very different one to be interviewed by the authoritative embodiment of this possibility in real, inebriated cottage time. I stare at the book until it is still and silent. I begin to drift off – waking life punts back and forth between the songs of frogs.

“Psst. Don’t shut up on me now. Let’s take this step by step here. Some of my siblings have had a chance to hear a bit about their receptions in the news while on display at Librarie D & Q and other busy independent bookstores. Unfortunately, we’re never really certain which one of us has been under review at any given time, in any given case. Readers don’t seem to distinguish between us. They mass us together in a single referent, like we don’t incorporate many autobiographies over our lives.”

As if subdividing from within, 25 springs a stack of folded pages into my hands. Is it a trick of woodsy light or are they bloodied at their torn margins?

“Look these over and we’ll ease into this thing.”

There are very positive 3 reviews of the anthology (NY Times, Montreal Review of Books, and The Guardian) folded around a short questionnaire.

“There won’t be any more beer until got I’ve my answers. My livelihood depends on it.”

I think of all the D & Q contributors who must have heard these editorial words over the past 25 years.

25 rehooks its ribbon marker on to the tabletop and flings itself over the edge of the deck. I don’t hear a punctuating splash (though the frogs have paused), so I presume this cosmopolitan anthology is going for a head-clearing hike along one of the property's well-managed trails or comparing the foliage in its illustrated pages (like specimens from Leanne Shapton’s
Native Trees of Canada) to what’s outside .

I immediately reenter the cottage to look for beer. I keep one eye trained on the rec room’s lone tall bookshelf until I get to the fridge. This book isn’t shit-talking. All of my perfectly chilled, soon to be comically renamed beers are gone. All of the coolers full of my siblings' drinks are gone too. Presumably, my family has taken them to the beach and I’ve consumed all of my beer. But I can’t be sure. I rack my memory and it just spins. I didn’t bring any of my other D & Q titles did I? I left
Poetry is Useless and Stroppy at home, right? The family party supplies cannot withstand the combined Dionysian forces of an existentially geared talking silhouette and the All-Star Schnauzer Band. Yes, I left them at home, but they’ve probably lifted my girlfriend’s visa and are hitting Guelph’s bar scene hard. Trapper’s washed down with Doogies washed down with Frank’s.

I really want another beer, but I am 20 km out of town. More importantly, I don’t want to piss this book off. The power with which it climbed and disembarked (out of inanimate-ness nonetheless!) leads me to conclude that I could be bludgeoned to death from atop a dusty cabinet or smothered in my suddenly boring dreams faster than I could chug a final brew. My family would find me resembling an inkily eviscerated panel by Seiichi Hoyoshi. I can’t expose them to such a gruesome discovery of subsequent literary danger.

Luckily, I’ve already read the reviews. I’ll incorporate them into my textual analysis in the answers or improv some jargony comments when the book and I reconvene. How do we reconvene? Do I let out a whistle? Do I cry: ”Oh 25, you wonderful book! Please bring back my beer. I’m ready to talk.”

I crumple into the mustiest couch (the fumes will keep me alert) and get down to it.

“ QUESTIONS ALL BOOKS OUGHT TO ASK A READER *

  1. What were the circumstances of my birth
  2. Who are my parents?
  3. Why was I made?
  4. Am I beautiful, honest, and good?
  5. Will I die? When?
  6. What does it mean to read?
  7. What will you do with me now that I’ve been read?
  8. Will there ever be a time when I am free?
  9. Will I have a family?
  10. Is there anything you’ve always wanted to ask a book, but were too afraid to ask – but would feel comfortable asking me?”

I drowsily think of my first answer. It’s finally time to get concise. I speak as I write.

“You were born in a small apartment in Montreal under humble circumstances. You were loved from the moment you were imagined...”

I awake to a weight on my chest and the smell of beer on the breath of freshly printed pages. My pen pendulums by the orange of a snaking tongue. The pen drops.

“Where’s the party?”

“Huh?” I respond, hands moving to absorb the intensity sure to be packed into the book's combined blows.

“You didn’t get very far, I will concede. But I was having a few G & T’s with some of the older books over there.”

The orange ribbon points to the tall lone bookshelf. Pulp and lit classics with, mostly of North American and European publication, bristle at their mention. With cocktails.

“And they seemed to say that if your pages contain all the questions for the readers and the writers alike, than you can probably take a pass on interviews for a bit. It’s time to celebrate! We’ll leave the mess for everyone else to clean up!’

25 pirouettes onto the coffee table and breaks into a convincing whip/nae nae.

“But wait, I want to ask you a question.”

25 stares me down.


- Brad, who does not expect that all 25s will act like his 25. You should bring one along on your next vacation to see how it experiences different locales and cultures and alcoholic beverages. Book clubs around these books could be an edifying time as well – they could be like long hoped for family reunions, even.

Brad de Roo: What the fuck did you do with all my beer?

D&Q 25: [We burst into laughter. 25 dabs photo-realistic tears from where’d you’d imagine some eyes.] 


Postscript: 

“Should we share a few?” I add.

Four hours later, my family returns from the beach, a couple coolers in tow. Barbara Gowdy’s Falling Angel’s and Hamlet and I are sitting cross-legged around our drinks on the floor, still giggling about Chester Brown’s ‘The Zombie Who Liked Arts’ comic which 25 flashed at us with an undead leer. 25 is in a cob-webby corner making out with The Norton Anthology of Canadian Literature in English. Al Purdy poems are slipping Michael De Forge comics the tongue. The rest of the party's getting down to frogsong and Kool and the Gang, giving interviews to each other about every damn thing.

“Brad, what are you doing?” – all of my family at once.

“I’m reading comics” 


* The questionnaire was probably transcribed by 25’s drinking buddy BK Munn. As 25 later told it: “When a few siblings and I were close enough on the Bookshelf D & Q 25 Anniversary display, we conspired to ask some of our cousins to help us find someone to represent our queries in the world. We’d see Seth and Marc Bell briefly eying our shelves over the years, but they merely tipped their hats and heads, being all too familiar with our entreaties. We chanced reaching out to a few regular customers to no effect. After one particularly deep sleep in the store (the eBar’s bass ceased to shake our spines earlier than usual and the day's book returns had halved the Can Lit section’s historic snores) we each awoke with a new page in us. In retrospect, we’d overheard many of our cartoonists and readers repeat these questions over and over in different incarnations. Many of the characters we house seem preoccupied with them as well. We often wonder if they collaborated to write this questionnaire to crystallize our collective self-understanding. But it could have easily been one of the store’s comics-minded patrons or staff. Our section is full of note-leaving, booknappings, and unrequited love, second only to the Erotica section”

Full disclosure: At this point in the celebrations, 25 had just smoked something with a dog-eared, camp-fire stained Complete Garfield, so recollections were getting a tad rambly and fantastical.

REVIEW: PUTINISM: RUSSIA AND ITS FUTURE WITH THE WEST



It isn’t any secret that Stephen Harper loves to spew invective against Vladimir Putin. But after reading Putinism by Walter Laqueur, I am struck by how much these two have in common. The first, and probably most important, is that they have both maintained their political success by reigning during an era of high priced oil. This, of course, is changing and so may their popularity. They also both love monuments and memorials. This can be read as a metaphor for big power chauvinism. They are exceedingly private and do not have many close advisors. And there’s also something very similar about the eyes. Enough said.

Laqueur’s fascination with Russia is obvious. He has written over 20 books and does an excellent job of explaining the Russian psyche through its chaotic history. In fact, this constant chaos is a clue to why the average Russian does not mind strong rulers. Angered by the lack of respect after WW2, the glory of the motherland was a hole that needed to be filled. In a 2013 poll when asked what was more important: to be seen as a respected super power or to have a high standard of living, 56% preferred the super power agenda. The Sochi Olympics and the Crimean situation certainly fed this need and help explain Putin’s 90% approval rating.

To be clear, I am not a fan of Vladimir Putin. I mean the guy is purported to have $160 million dollars in wrist watches. But Putinism has helped me understand why an agent from the KGB is now running Russia. Laqueur also does an interesting job of forecasting Russia’s future. They have a big problem with demographics. A Russian demographer says that the population will halve in the next 50 years as the birth rate has fallen from 1.9 in the 60’s to a recent 1.6. Its future has been described as a space without people. One solution is immigration, but xenophobia runs pretty deep. And then there are so many other fractious and volatile relationships - China, the EU, the United States, all of the Central Asian republics. Laqueur illuminates all of this with little fanfare. There is much to be recommended in this book. I think I’m even going to order one of his older ones.


- Barb