Forty miles east of San Francisco, at the base of Mt. Diablo, sprawls Concord, California. Literally once a cow (and orchard) town, it now has endless housing developments, shopping centers and even Cal State East Bay Extension (or something to that effect) among its over-grazed hills. Also: Christmas-display lights. Many of them. A small sampling from this Christmas Eve.
It's time for another edition of Tiny Totz Comix, which is great, because I only have two editions to choose from, and that makes for easy-street posting. This comic was never published so it's in the public eye for the first time, 17 years after I drew it. Their other adventure, "Puberty Shmewberty!" made it into Action Girl Comics, but editor Sarah Dyer rejected this one due to its Satanic theme. Action Girl was after all, for girls, not for smartass adults, like me. I like these Tiny Totz and perhaps I will continue their adventures. They've got moxie!
One thing I realize, all these years later, is that I drew these on standard 8 1/2"x11" paper—all 12 panels of it. That's a little insane. We're talking wee little tiny drawings here—not a lot of space for detail. But surely that was purposeful since I'm not very detail-oriented when it comes to my comics. And the tiny squares helped me develop the story best. I mean, these girls had adventures. And I wanted them to fit on one page so I would have a better chance to be published (in plenty of non-paying publications, of course).
I drew comics throughout the '90s, but these were some of my last. I had the burn-out. It has to be your main passion, comics, because as simple as they are, they're a lot of work. Still—what joy—like a tiny movie, but more old-fashioned. People have been drawing comics since the dawn of time, that's for sure.
Break it down: based on real teenagers I had known while growing up in the suburbs. They all had big purses, tight jeans, and really great hair. They were not known for their diplomatic ways with the younger crowd. My best friend's oldest sister had a book of etchings based on Dante's Inferno, full of horrifying visions of writhing, naked sinners, burning in lakes of fire, beheaded and/or stuck through with pitchforks. We assumed she was studying to be a witch, but perhaps she just liked extreme art history. I don't know—she lived by herself in the family pool-house, so you never can tell about that...
I cleaned out my garage this weekend and look what I found - the golden age of my comics career (such as it was). Throughout the 80s and 90s, I submitted comics to various fanzines throughout the nation. Sometimes I got published, and then I'd receive loads of submission copies to send to all my friends. It was a golden age, I tell ya! "Tiny Totz" was to be a series, but I only completed two of them. I have more scripts (I found my old journals too—my garage is chock full), so I might just take these up again.
The pals in Tiny Totz, Scooter Pye Mullman and Tinker Belle Vandermeier, were completely based on friendships I had growing up in the suburban 70s during the hands-off parenting era. We were the last of the baby boom and it was like The Island of the Wild Children in our rural cul-de-sac world. But the attitudes portrayed are all 90s-smartass, obviously. A cultural stew!
This episode, "Puberty Shmewberty!" appeared in the comic compilation, Action Girl #11, published by Sarah Dyer, probably in 1996. It was printed on paper because paper was still happening, and it looked like this.
But I'm going to break it down because this is the Internet, dammit. Click for bigsies.
Mail art! That's what's happening. Also, sitting on my butt, writing a lot, lately. Which is good. But when there's a lot of writing, there's not as much art. Here's what I managed to send by post in 2013.
La Sirena postcard made with new alcohol-based markers. Vibrant!
Birdie stencil - an early 2013 entry.
This is a hostile-garden scene, based on a creative writing project my friend Dee See and I are collaborating on.
I honestly don't know what this is. I get a lot of kitschy little calendars in the mail from nonprofits looking for funds. This calendar celebrated 12 months worth of saturated photos of the Cascade Mountains. I like to paint or collage on them at will (they make great gifts for New Year's). This is a sort of mountain-spirit project.
I made more. There's a lot of Cascades. This is the unfinished cover of an unfinished book of poetry and illustration from a re-purposed cardboard baby book.
Some more mountain spirits.
Mt. St. Helens' spirit looks pretty shaken up still. We used to live 40 miles away from this mountain and could see it on the way to the gym. I must have been beautiful before it blew its top.
This Narwhal was made from the inner workings of a broken self-inflating whoopee cushion. Those things never last.
He is ready to jump into his envelope and swim through the U.S. postal system.
Origami—it was wrapped in clear plastic, so when opened, it would somewhat "burst forth."
These are some paper dolls that Dee See kindly cut out and dressed once received. Characters based on our creative-writing project.
Some sun prints with old eyeglasses and jewelry. Character-based. I could do these all day.
Thanks to Dee See for the inspiration, steady flow of fabulous mail art, and photography of my work. I don't always remember to record what I make because I'm so excited to mail it off. There's something about art that has a destination...
Are you a middle-class latent romantic who grew up in the suburbs and came of age during the 80s? I've got the film for you: Adventureland. Even if you don't fall under all those categories, if you stumbled through early adulthood a few decades ago, Greg Mottola's film will provide many enjoyable moments. It's rare for a coming-of-age film to make wit, intelligence, and emotional attachment the basis for a romantic relationship, and the fact that this occurs in a broke-down amusement park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania makes it even more unusual.
Jesse Eisenberg is James, well-read undergrad and very awkward virgin, who's about to traipse across Europe with his well-appointed buddy before starting grad school at Columbia. Unfortunately, his dad suffers a job demotion and financially strapped, James has to take a last-minute summer job at Adventureland where the games are rigged, the employees are prematurely burned out, and the owners are full-on dorks.
Amidst thuggish amusement-park clientele and horndog ride operators, James meets smart, funny co-worker Em, played by naturally pretty Kristen Stewart, whose tendency to mope is well-used here. Despite her comparative worldliness when it comes to relationships, Em is drawn to the kindness in James and since she's young and just figuring out that she doesn't have to settle for assholes (good lesson), this potential pairing makes sense. There's chemistry, I tell you—both actors look genuinely happy in one another's company.
Plus, bonus—Martin Starr as Joel—the most sardonic Russian lit and Slavic languages double-major ever to grace the big screen. And now:
Joel demonstrates to James the wonder-world of amusement park flimflammery. If I were to start a new cruddy job (and I have, many times), I would want a funny and dark voice-of-reason like Joel to ease me into it.
Thanks to a big bag of weed James European-bound friend bequeathed before departure, James is everyone's new pal at Adventureland, leading to potential romance with Em, who's bound for NYU in the fall. Adventureland is a real intellectual think-tank.
Except for all the lunkheads, nauseous pre-teens, and park owners, Bobby and Paulette (Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig—weirdly hilarious, and strangely in tune with one another). Bobby's enthusiasm for all things Adventureland is like watching a cult-leader with a follower of one, his wife with the blank blue eyes.
Em drives an AMC Pacer, adding to the ambiance. The entire town could be so many places during the 80s. Old cars, bad clothes, unkempt appearances—we haven't changed much.
What a fine time for romance. This was a very depressed economic era for young people starting out. Jobs were crappy and low-paying and it didn't pick up for a long time. Screw Reagan and his followers.
The incomparable Martin Starr as Joel. The casual, hardcore partying of the era is well-represented in Adventureland. Nobody worried about addiction or health issues in general. It was good times, all the time. Also economically depressed. Could be a correlation.
Jesse Eisenberg can be a romantic lead. It's plausible.
There's not a lot of fancy camera-work, but I like this peep into opening an amusement park for a day of fun and money-making. Most movies about workplaces don't show much of the work getting done. Here's a brief glimpse of marginal existence on the job.
The arrival of Lisa P. sends carny hearts a-flutter. The rare film where the beauty is not always the focus of attention. It happens, just not in the movies so much.
Em, with her Buzzcocks, Lou Reed, and Aladdin Sane bedroom posters, is definitely the girl you want to be with.
James gives Em a mix-tape—the equivalent of his heart on a platter, surrounded by chocolates, flowers and affectionate note-cards in flower script. In this case, Lou Reed, Big Star, The Replacements and maybe some early Cure. James, Em's, and Adventureland's musical taste are impeccable.
Warning, out of all the fine songs on the soundtrack, Falco's Rock Me Amadeus is the one that will stick in your head for weeks afterward. James and Joel even comment on the sadistic nature of this in one of their scenes.
Let's hear it for the extras in Adventureland—brave wardrobe-challenged 80s-era background warriors.
The arcade is the perfect place to unwind and bond while talking gaming strategy.
Impromptu pot-smoking dates in abandoned carnival rides are full of youthful atmosphere without getting too nostalgic.
Bobby and Paulette really go for it at all times. The humor in this film is of the gentle variety, but these two manage to clown it up and still be believable employer kooks.
Hail, extra, in this tube-sock ensemble.
I love this sequence with Joel eating a corndog while Em and James connect during fireworks night. How many films focus sympathetically on the feelings of the third wheel? Later, he will try to impress a girl by lending her a book by his favorite author, Gogol, who, he pleasantly explains, burned all his manuscripts and then died a week later of self-starvation.
Oh yeah, there's Ryan Reynolds as Mike, who draws in the ladies by claiming he once played with Lou Reed. The thread of Lou Reed-worship running throughout is timely, given his sad passing recently. 1987-era Lou Reed was beloved for his Velvet Underground and early solo-career-cool. And it's easy to fall into that same feeling while watching the film.
Reynolds seems likable, but those beady eyes... Proceed with caution.
Don't be completely fooled by the trailer—it's not all wacky high-jinks. There's dysfunctional family problems causing subconscious strife and self-destructive behaviors among these not-quite-adult characters. That's what elevates this comedy into something more personal and "real."