FULL BLEED: THE MUSEUM IS FULL OF DEAD THINGS
I skipped out on ECCC last year. No particular reason, no big deal. Went pretty light on shows last year and that was in keeping with things. I was also trying to pull together a couple projects which just kinda crashed and burned and that’s not really encouraging. Of course, trying to show anyone new projects on the show floor is stupid. I mean, you can get it in front of your friends, but unless your friends are editors or publishers, not much traction is gonna come from it.
Flight up was fine except for a slow explosion of pain in my sinuses or upper jaw on the approach in. That was fun. Felt like a sorta Lovecraftian kinda bug thing just settled in and slowly turned in place, rubbing red tendrils of pain into the bone and flesh. Good start to things. Keeps you sharp.
ECCC is bonkers. It’s been bonkers for probably the last five-six years. Honestly about as big a show as I want to go to any more. I haven’t been at SDCC for more than ten years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Add to the giant crowds the whole metal detector and bag search thing, getting in and out is even less fun than it used to be. By the time I got to the floor at around 2pm, crowds were heavy, both up in the artist’s alley area and down on the main floor. Heavy enough that I had already planned on blowing off Saturday morning, given that if it was this bad now it was gonna be intolerable on Saturday. More on that later.
Spent most of the afternoon just catching up with folks in person as opposed to over digits. It’s a necessary self-care thing. Digits are fine and all, but no replacement for an actual life, you know? Sure, there’s a lot of jostling and getting crushed in crowds and trying to push past the line of stunned flesh that’s congealed around the Funko Pops booth and you’re in search of cheap comics or at least a bit of breathing room.
Then you turn a corner and come face to face with something like mortality. Ran into a friend who I’ve seen at shows basically forever since I’ve been coming to them up in NorCal. He seemed a little subdued, slow to stand after he’d called me over. His grip was strong but slow. He said “Yeah, so eight months ago, I had a stroke.” And that sort of thing hits you like a runaway Suburban. You absorb it and try to process it. Hey, he’s doing great after that. He’s a little slower, but still hanging in. Funny thing is he’s several years younger than me. Yeah, I don’t look my age. It’s all that sublimated rage and disappointment I suspect. Keeps the skin young, the hair dark, the eyes smoky and sputtering.
But still, mortality. Found out about a death in the family the following day. Can’t speak to that here too much. It's a strange situation, one where the family sub-group didn't want visitors or anything like that. But, just, yeah. Mortality is right there. All the time. Standing on a trap door, just that sometimes you get the message that it’s gonna snap open and sometimes it just rips right open and oh well. End of sermon.
I’m glad my friend is doing well and bounced back so quickly. It isn’t always like that.
Spent a while processing that as I walked the floor. Crowds didn’t seem as crushing then, or I could just slip past ‘em easier. Found a place selling interesting old comics for a buck apiece, flipped through stacks for twenty minutes or so, came out with five. Big spender. Still would rather spend that cash on junky old comics than a chapter of a story in comics today. But I’m a retrograde Neanderthal and if you’re gonna tell me a story in six chapters, I’m gonna buy the trade. I know. I’m killing comics. Besides, I like the junky stuff because it’s so ramshackle and wobbly sometimes. But other times that stuff just sings a song of pure crazy, nothing held back, just a pure frenzy of activity trying to beat that deadline and move onto the next gig. That’s not a feeling you get much today. Not in the bigs, anyways.
Spent a little time at my publisher’s table, selling copies of QUEEN OF NO TOMORROWS, but just a bit. Figured I’d use Saturday to do heavy selling, stay out of the traffic lanes and such. Because Saturday was gonna be insane, you know. It always is.
Went out on Friday to sushi with some friends. Drank a Pink Godzilla, which sure does sound like something more...unseemly than it proved to be. Lotsa fruit and gin. It was okay. The sushi and ramen was better. Back to the room to read up on evolutionary biology, stuff that would make Lovecraft spin hard enough in his grave to shed diamonds. Hey, our HPL, he had some interesting ideas but was kind of a basket of mess.
Saturday morning breakfast at Ludi’s. Spam and eggs and garlic fried rice. Nothing better. Drank coffee like a Dracula chugs down that O positive. As I’d already secretly decided not to go to the show as it opened immediately due to insane crowds, I made my way down to the Chihuly gallery, over by the Space Needle and the Gehry-designed MPOP (formerly the Experience Music Project, apparently). It was only a mile, past a string of bars and buildings waiting to be further gentrified, not such a bad walk.
And like the Gehry work that I know, the building was big on organic forms, sweeping but lashed out in overlapping metal plates. On the blobby side, not as elegant as say the Disney Concert Hall in LA, but still an interesting subject in the early morning light, particularly the section that was all formed out of bronze (as opposed to flat or glossy solid-colored plastic — which I didn’t get, honestly, but I’m not the designer.) took a lot of photos in the cool and bright morning light.
The Chihuly gallery would have given Lovecraft the shakes. It was almost all organic forms, creeping irregularity, no crenellations or even Edwardian severity to latch onto. I had a lot of fun there, just picking out curves and shapes to latch onto, color through glass onto textured walls. Very Carcosa but wonderful, which is the aesthetic I’m chasing around right now, at least on paper. I have to say that the work doesn’t come together very well out in the sunlight, not unlike neon. It’s all about light caught and refracting or glowing through the material, not just the global illumination outside.
Yeah, the show was open by now, but I was still in no hurry to get there. So I headed into the Museum of Pop Culture, having been recommended the sci-fi film prop collection. And it did not disappoint. Annotated scripts of ALIEN and BLADE RUNNER? They got that. miniatures from DUNE? Sure. The marked-up copy of DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP that Hampton Fancher used while adapting it to what would become BLADE RUNNER? Yikes. That’s not something you see every day.
The horror film exhibit was kinda cool, too. Though I did have to suffer through dunderheads saying stuff like “God, dude, I hate seeing it this close. You can see what it’s made of. Takes all the magic away.” And, my dudes, the magic can’t be taken away unless you give it away. The Gill Man from CREATURE OF THE BLACK LAGOON is just rubber, you dig? But it isn’t. Not in your head when you watch it. Just like say THE BIG SLEEP is only made of ink on a page, but you assemble it in your head to something totally different. So if you wanna say that you’re superior to this artwork and can keep it at a remove, well, go ahead. Just don’t expect me to stand beside you. As a kid, I read VFX magazines and behind the scenes books on all these movies obsessively. And you know what, it made the movies even BETTER. Because you knew in your rational brain that these were just ramshackle assemblies of plastic and wood, could only be shot from one angle else it fell apart, and it just doesn’t matter. STAR WARS was real even though I could talk your ear off about blue-screens and matte shots and animation armatures. So miss me with this stuff.
I will say, however, that when it comes to certain exhibits and approaches, knowing the behind the scenes changes everything. Take the Nirvana shrine that was set up, tracing the bands history from rural Washington to conquering the world as if it were destined. The history was sanitized and well-scrubbed, missing the essential component of grunge that made it work: utter stupidity. And I don’t mean that in the pejorative. I suppose a better word is innocence, or un-planned-ness. Nowhere did I see the quote from Cobain that “Nirvana is just the Knack for this decade.” Because that ruins the narrative, dig?
Now, sure, it was interesting to see the flyers and silkscreens and bashed-up guitars, the artifacts of the band. But you have to enjoy them as objects and not as things to be revered. I mean, good grief. Any time you put punk (I know, Nirvana wasn’t a punk band) or rock and roll or any fiery and consumptive youth moment into a shrine, you goddamn suck the life out of it. The museum is filled with dead things now. Reverence and rebellion don’t mix real well. Throw nostalgia into the mix and even crazier things happen. Suddenly shouts to tear down the system get preserved behind glass and set where they can’t be touched.
To be fair, I’ve gone out of my way to cop the look of a xeroxed flyer, because it was appropriate to the project at the time. But seeing handbills cranked out at Kinko’s become precious is jarring. The disposable turned irreplaceable. Ephemeral turned into history. Yeah, that’s how it always is. Maybe because this stuff, this period was within my recent-ish memory, the weirdness is increased. Again, not that I was a teenage punk rocker or grunge kid, but this stuff was of a time where I was plugged into the underground and then above ground. It doesn’t belong in a museum, but out where it can be enjoyed.
Live long enough to become the villain, right? I spent a bit of time thinking about how maybe some kids get dragged there by their well-meaning parents and then decide to make music that their parents goddamn hate, but other kids love. The cycle continues ‘cause it can’t do anything else. Meanwhile, more artifacts from the Paul Allen Family get taken out of storage and out on display. Rebellion becomes reverence.
I wasn’t able to square the circle of the giant projection screens putting up images of The Doors, backed up by studio musicians and only half the original membership up front alongside the museum shop with its selection of Nirvana and Bikini Kill t-shirts. Maybe there’s nothing to square, maybe this stuff just is.
Just like I wonder about what PKD would have thought of his somewhat-ascendancy into SF royalty, a thing which was definitely not coming towards the end of his life. Yes, he’d won big awards, but he was no Asimov or Clarke. Reality is weird. Institutions and enshrinement are weird processes.
I made my way back to the show finally, hitting the floor at about one or so. Sat at the table and tried to move copies of QONT and TOMORROW’S CTHULHU. Maybe even did some. Always glad to be of service. Trying not to talk myself into going up to Norwescon, but that’s another show with a receptive audience, one I haven’t hit yet. One my publisher will be at.
Oh, yeah, one weird thing. Saturday didn’t feel as crowded as Friday. Maybe the downstairs floor was, but artist’s alley wasn’t. It was busy, but not a crush. You could get around, and sure, there was still a line for coffee in the afternoon, but it was just, y’know, busy. Not insane. Makes me wonder about the show, honestly. This was the third day of the show, out of four. And it just wasn’t that heavy. Maybe it doesn’t need to be four days? I know, that’s madness.
There was a lot more stuff that went on beyond this, but these are the things that stuck with me. I got to see new work from friends, some things that haven’t been announced yet. So it wasn’t all mortality and illness and turnovers. There’s new work coming in all the time. Though I just wonder about the shape of the marketplace for it. But then I always have, mostly ‘cause I’ve never been an easy fit in there.
I felt like I was going to have a lot to add here after finishing the draft last night, but that wasn't the case. Left lots of stuff out, but kept the important stuff in.
I'll be back later this week, maybe to talk about FOG Con from two weeks back and to get you caught up on oddball links.