Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Everybody’s Rockin’

Catch up with the first incarnation of the series by following this link

Subscribe to the second volume of The Hurting Gazette, a free weekly newsletter available here, right now. Sign up today and catch up with the archives - subsequent weeks feature writing about Tina Turner, Heaven 17, the Cars, and Steely Dan. This week’s newsletter, when it ships tomorrow, will have a brand new essay about Jimi Hendrix. 

And remember, the newsletter also has all my links, anime recommendations, new fiction, Udder Madness updates, and even reader mail. It’s a blast. If that’s not enough, remember I got a Patreon too, because it is dark and the wolves are out there.

3. Bananarama - “Only Your Love”

Perhaps the greatest gift I gave myself across my fraught mid-thirties was an abiding love for Bananarama. On the precipice of a crossroads, vexed by the awareness of a looming dark night of the soul I saw a Bananarama record in the store. And my goodness, but don’t those ladies look like they’re having a good time!

It’s easy music to love, in small doses. Like cake frosting, almost. You think because it’s sweet it doesn’t have weight, but listen enough and you’ll hear. You get sick if you gorge. There’s a totalizing energy, the greater sum of those three voices singing in perfect unison atop a just slightly more ahead of the curve aesthetic than you might think. If you hadn’t been specifically looking. Somehow these women have absolutely impeccable punk credentials. Paul Cook gave them a place to live when they were living at the WCA, and that place to live just happened to be above the Sex Pistol’s old rehearsal space. If you know anything at all about Bananarama, it might just be that factoid. They named themselves after a line in a Roxy Music song. What if the post-punkers started a girl group?


And then there’s this number, “Only Your Love.” Released 1990. Produced by the bassist of Killing Joke, I shit you not. 


This absolutely unorthodox group of people somehow came together in an intentional parody of the girl group form and made it stick. First album, 1983’s Deep Sea Skiving, has a different mood entirely. It’s closer to that engagement with post punk than you might remember. Their first ever single was in Swahili - “Aie a Mwana.” Cover of a disco song from Belgium by a pan-African combo - Black Blood. That was 1981. Think about that in the context of what was happening musically at the time, what was being played on the charts, at least on that side of the pond. I’d rather listen to Bananarama than Public Image, Ltd. any day of the week.


And you can certainly say they sanded some of those edges off to achieve international pop stardom. No one disputes that. But the interesting thing is, even if came to sound just a bit more in tune with pop radio than the college chart, the group never quite lost the understanding that they were originally pressed from a different ore. Their music was confident, not without a hint of sass. They traveled in a pack and knew how to talk shit. Their presence as a trio of equals on the front of the stage cast an impressive profile in an era and a space dominated by solo pop divas.


So, first thing that jumps out at you about the track - doesn’t just jump out, absolutely throttles you - is that sample. Yep, jumps right out - “Loaded,” by Primal Scream. And you might hear the Stone Roses, “Fools Gold,” too. (“Funky Drummer is in there, as well, but you’d probably have an easier time finding a song from 1990 that didn’t have “Funky Drummer.”) “Only Your Love” was recorded in March of 1990 - “Fools Gold” dropped in late Fall of 1989, “Loaded” in February of ‘90. Of course the guy from Killing Joke was paying attention to what was, improbably, at that moment both very popular and very good. The guy from Killing Joke was a producer, incidentally, working under the name Youth, known to the government as Martin Glover.


Unfortunately, the fact that this song sounded so absolutely contemporary to an interesting moment in the pop history of the UK meant that the group was as good as saying goodbye to the American pop charts. Indeed, this song wasn’t even released as a single in the United States. The group would continue to have success in their native lands, but less so. 


In hindsight the inflection point was probably the change in personnel. The group started as a trio, forming in September 1980. I’m precisely as old as Bananarama. Sara Dallin and Karen Woodward knew each other first, then met Siobhan Fahey after they loved to London from Bristol. That’s where they fell in with one another, met Paul Cook, and began their improbable rise. The original trio was together eight years, after which point Fahey left. She later resurfaced as Shakespeare’s Sister. Dallin and Woodward found a replacement, Jacquie O’Sullivan, who lasted three years, through the recording of the Pop Life album for which this was recorded. O’Sullivan left after that, and ceding to the inevitable Bananarama have been a duo ever since, and as well never again troubled the conscience of the American listener.  


So was Pop Life a departure? Definitely. They were saying goodbye to the production team of Stock Aitken Waterman that had produced many the hits from their mid-80s commercial zenith. Eurobeat, such as it was, didn’t conquer the States but had a respectable run on the charts, thanks to the likes of Bananarama, as well as Kylie Minogue’s first American eruption. The “SAW” team were responsible for Rick Astley’s career, or at least the recording of that song you’ve heard so many more times than you ever expected. But, even as Eurobeat was a minority proposition in the States, it was still a legible sound. Going back to your roots, so to speak, checking back in to contemporary British post-punk with a trip to Madchester, that was not something that stood a ghost of a chance of stirring a pulse in the United States. The Stone Roses were a college band over here, for their sins. Music like that wasn’t getting played on the radio in this country.


My goodness, though, but that was definitely our loss. I don’t know if “Only Your Love” is even the best song on the album. Don’t get me wrong, “Only Your Love” comes out of those speakers like a house on fire, but “Tripping on Your Love” is a masterpiece. The girl group goes acid house, pure pop confection. One of the best dance pop songs of its era - sadly a fizzle in the UK, where the album as a while generally seemed to underperform. That single was released in 1991, and for once actually did better in the States, at least on the dance charts. It’s a great dance song, for what it’s worth. 


As pop songs go, “Only Your Love” is a real kick in the chops. Because, yes, I was being coy earlier, but it really does lead with that sample, right up front, big as shit. That takes chutzpah. It wasn’t the first song to get by with some chutzpah, the window was just at that moment beginning to close on that interesting moment when people were somehow sampling whatever the hell they wanted - KLF blazing the pop charts with the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” will do by way of example. That moment did not last very long, as most groups anywhere near as big as The Rolling Stones clamped down on the kind of casually transformative sampling that enabled Bananarama and the bassist from Killing Joke to sample “Sympathy for the Devil” for the pop charts, even down to those ragged “woo woos” we all know so well. They added a little piano, like a lot of dance songs are the time, just sort of going off in the background. There’s a breakdown towards the end where the group could easily have stuck some kind of guest rap, which was the move in 1990 on both sides of the Atlantic. Hell, they did it themselves on “Tripping on Your Love.” But no, they fill out the song with attitudinal taunts of “na na na na na na na,” a saucy call-and-response.


As a memory of a moment “Only Your Love” is a pop song that could only have ever existed at one place and in one time, the product of a band that may have been strained internally but still had an ear for a hook and the enormous swag to sell it. I believe the kids call it “rizz.” Go to your computers, right now, and watch the video for “Only Your Love.” That’s rizz, right there. 


Admittedly, three women in unison isn’t always the easiest sound to pull off. Familiarity with their catalog reveals a few instances where the approach struggled. But that’s no different than any band built around a certain kind of vocal style, just like like the Bee-Gees and their confounding male falsetto. Sometimes it doesn’t work, but when it works, well, damn. “Only Your Love” is the audio equivalent of getting hit by a train, if that train just happened to be conducted by three gorgeous women who probably weren’t taking the whole enterprise as seriously as you might think. That’s the only way the train ever left the station in the first place, after all. Tie me to the tracks.

Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Everybody’s Rockin’

Howdy, folks! We here at The Hurting are extraordinarily proud to once again embark on regular updates, beginning with the return of an old chestnut - Everybody’s Rockin’. (You can catch up with the first incarnation of the series by following this link.) The feature has been revived for the occasion of the second volume of The Hurting Gazette, a free weekly newsletter available here, right now. Sign up today and catch up with the archives - subsequent weeks feature writing about Bananarama, Tina Turner, and Heaven 17. This week’s newsletter, when it ships tomorrow, will have a brand new essay about The Cars. 

New installments of Everybody’s Rockin’ will appear here about a month after they appear in the newsletter, so if you like what you see here you can always go catch up on the newsletter archive. And remember, the newsletter also has all my links, anime recommendations, new installments of Jacqueline Thousand, Udder Madness updates, and even reader mail. It’s a blast. If that’s not enough, remember I got a Patreon too, because it’s a cold world, baby.

Phil Collins - “Sussudio”

Do you like Phil Collins? I’m serious. It’s a serious question.

I happen to like Phil Collins. Now, I should specify, I think Phil with Genesis is preferable, and I have a further preference for the 80s material. I’ve heard the early Genesis, yes, with and without Peter Gabriel. I have the box set, somewhere in the infinity of storage lockers. But, for all the prog bands that found chart success as pop acts in the 1980s - a surprisingly large list! Genesis always seemed the least grudging. They seemed to rather like writing songs for the radio, when they got around to it. 


In hindsight a natural progression. In the beginning they were certainly prog. And not just any prog, but among the very best, the utmost arch, with ambitions more pertaining to art school than Tolkien. Early Genesis had the advantage of being the incubator for Peter Gabriel. Despite both Peter Gabriel and Genesis enjoying extensive chart success in the decade after they broke up, their music together was the least outwardly commercial of their respective careers. And yet, after splitting, both parties gradually began to incorporate pop hooks and concision into their repertoire. “Solsbury Hill” hit the airwaves in 1977, Genesis’ “Follow You Follow Me” in 1978. A rare example of lead singer departing a band and both parties going in a poppier direction, just separately. In both cases their gradual blossoming as short form songwriters seemed freeing, in a way it rarely seems for established artists. You can argue the results, perhaps, but there’s no getting around the fact that Invisible Touch and So were released about a month apart in 1986. Both monumentally successful in an era defined by monumental successes, and proven as enduring as anything else from that era. And let’s not forget, Mike + the Mechanics also got in a few good licks in those very profitable years. They charted with a really spooky number, “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground).” Genuinely eerie. It feels very contemporary, if a little on the nose for the present moment.


In any event - what a remarkable group left turn for the arty bunch who did The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway!


Now, I liked Genesis the moment I heard them - this would have been the mid-80s, around Invisible Touch. Is that the first example of my tastes veering significantly from my parents? They didn’t hate Genesis, I just think they wondered why I did. They hadn’t cared one whit for prog, neither of them, and raised me listening to the music they did, simply by virtue of them being adults and having access to the car stereo. On reflection I don’t think my mother found Phil Collins’ voice a pleasant sensation. She quite liked Peter Gabriel, and so did I for that matter. But she didn’t care for Genesis. 


And if she didn’t care for Genesis you can just imagine what she thought of Phil Collins solo. Truth be told, I hadn’t given the solo material much airing myself. It doesn’t have the best reputation, in hindsight. Or at least, it didn’t - I realize I’m speaking in present tense by way of decades’-old critical consensus that may have itself evolved in the years since last I looked. It’s probable that the poptimists already rehabilitated our boy. 


“Sussudio” came out in 1985. Collins wouldn’t release another solo album until 1989, three years from Invisible Touch. Not that any lag time should have mattered. No Jacket Required sold twelve million copies, just in the United States. . . . But Seriously “only” sold four.


So - first of all, it’s not why we’re here necessarily, but “Take Me Home”? That’s a jam, right there. That’s what I got stuck in my head, prior to making the conscious choice to go listening to Collins’ hits. In hindsight, very contemporary of its era. In terms of the kind of club music being played in the clubs, or even college radio at that time, it’s not incompetent. It’s actually really good. Even if you hate the guy, you have to acknowledge: hand to the Bible, “Take Me Home” is a jam. How the hell did a guy like that figure it out?


How, indeed! And you’d not be wrong for thinking him about the most unlikely candidate to provide serious competition for the likes of Michael Jackson and Madonna, during both of their commercial heydays. To say nothing of Prince, to whom Collins surely owed very much, as “Sussudio” demonstrates. In hindsight it seems like it must have been some kind of fluke of nature. At a certain moment in time a chemical reaction occurred in the brain of Phil Collins, mild mannered British musician, whereat he figured out precisely how to make a song he knew was going to get played on the radio and sell a lot of records. There’s a pleasantly workmanlike quality to those eighties records, perhaps also mistaken for insincere. Honestly, I think there has to be more than a little bit of awareness on his part as to that fact. Anyone that good at making a product that other people would find ingratiating enough to bring into their lives must also on some level cherish a small degree of contempt for that same audience. I learned that from Stan Lee. 


Solo Phil doesn’t care about producing something you’re going to want, or that you think you want. He figured out the trick to jumping straight to making something people like. Just that eagerness to please, leaping over preference to reflex, is disconcerting for many, I believe. Not everyone likes the sound of Phil Collins voice, so the fact that he proved uniquely gifted at writing very memorable songs is the source of no small enmity.


To be fair, I partially inherited this bias from a comic book. “Sussudio” is a punchline in Ambush Bug, specifically Son of Ambush Bug #1, where the song proves foul enough to flush the title character out of a bar. It’s a memorable gag. They’re right, of course. If you don’t like Phil Collins, it is a terrible song. Getting an annoying song stuck in your head is considered by many a fate worse than death. I’m pretty sure that’s why my mom never cared for him.


Now, me, I like Phil Collins. But even I had to peel back my ears to give this one a fresh airing. Did you know who did the horns for that song? If you already know, this isn’t for you, but I’m willing to bet at least a few of you don’t. They’re not programmed. They might sound programmed because they were both precise and very powerful, compressed to sound percussive coming out of cheap speakers. But that’s not a synthesizer, that’s the motherfucking Fenix Horns. You know, from motherfucking Earth, Wind, and Fire. Collins was working with a guy named David Frank, who would go on to have a discography as long as your arm in the world of R&B. Played synthesizers and keyboards. An extraordinarily talented support crew. 


But that 909 is credited to Collins. He knew how to drum and he also very clearly knew how to program a drum, which isn’t something you see very often. He knew what a beat should sound like. 


The song itself is about as much of a trifle as you could ever expect to see - there’s a girl that’s been on this guy’s mind, you see. He thinks about her all the time. Etc. You know the score. Her name is “Sussudio.” Of course, that’s probably not her real name. Probably just a cutesy nickname he has for someone who he knows very well, but who, we are told, doesn’t even know his name. 


All very unexceptional, as these things go. The stuff of rock & roll - no, the stuff of popular music since the dawn of time. I love a girl, she doesn’t love me, oldest story in the book.

What’s maybe not so expected is the willingness to play the schmuck. Sadly not an active participant in his own desires. A familiar and common, if under-discussed area of humiliation. Straight men aren’t supposed to know about yearning fruitlessly. That’s a secret. For lesbians.


Another treatment of a similar sensation - “Anything She Does,” from Invisible Touch. One of a handful of pop songs to touch on man’s relationship to their favorite pin-up model, a topic of no small pathos for many reasons profound and pathetic. A good song, a rocker on an album stuffed to the brim with good songs.


And that’s where we’re left with Mr. Collins. A guy who put out albums stuffed to the brim with good songs at a fair clip for many years. Just knew how to do it, just like you or I might know how to trim a hedge or bake a chicken. Someone who played drums for a prog band in the early 70s. Genesis wasn’t his first band. He wasn’t even the first drummer Genesis had. He had to audition for the gig. Can you imagine such a thing! Such is history, to pivot on such formalities. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2023

Everybody’s Rockin’

Howdy, folks! We here at The Hurting are extraordinarily proud to once again embark on regular updates, beginning with the return of an old chestnut - Everybody’s Rockin’. (You can catch up with the first incarnation of the series by following this link.) The feature has been revived for the occasion of the second volume of The Hurting Gazette, a free weekly newsletter available here, right now. Sign up today and catch up with the archives - subsequent weeks feature writing about Phil Collins, Bananarama, and Tina Turner. This week’s newsletter, when it ships tomorrow, will have a brand new essay about Heaven 17. 

So, we’ve already got a nice stockpile. New installments of Everybody’s Rockin’ will appear here about a month after they appear in the newsletter, so if you like what you see here you can always go catch up on the newsletter archive. And remember, the newsletter also has all my links, anime recommendations, new installments of Jacqueline Thousand, Udder Madness updates, and even reader mail. It’s a blast. If that’s not enough, remember I got a Patreon too, and much like the city, it cries for vengeance. 

Introduction; The Bee-Gees - “Jive Talkin’”

I have spent my life for many years in vacation from myself, a sorely lamentable set of circumstances that restricted my every choice and deed for half a decade. What’s more, this period of struggle was itself preceded by an era of intellectual rigor and subsequent nervous breakdown that left me in little shape to read anything or listen to any music other than what I already knew well.


The situation was, in essence, that the portion of my brain responsible for processing new sensations was almost completely quiescent, as I simply didn’t have the emotional or intellectual bandwidth to concentrate on anything whatsoever. I didn’t even read very many comics during the period, only whatever I wrote about for the Journal. As the period continued, I gradually began to stir my faculties, enough for at least a renewed engagement with comics. It was, I reasoned, that factor in my life in which I had so far achieved the most lasting success. I have a bit of notoriety, a steady gig that actually pays a little, the goodwill of a fair percentage of the community. Those aren’t things to take for granted. Whatever I build from this point forward, if anything, has to be on that foundation.

However, I have lived many lives. 


In another time and another place I wrote a great deal about music. In truth, I believe I wrote too much about music, because I burnt out by writing as much as I did. I burnt a lot of bridges when I flamed out of music writing. No defense. Simply fell apart in a lot of arenas of my life around that time. Not a good time in my life, in hindsight. Music writing had become a burden, but literally everything had become a burden. That’s when I left the Journal, as well.


Once upon a time I greatly enjoyed it. I was knowledgeable about some things, could do my research on others. Learned an incredible amount about music by being open minded at a semi-professional level. But I did too much of it. It made me hate a lot of things about music. 


I do miss getting free stuff, not going to lie. But I’m sure it’s all digital these days. I’m still on a great many music promotions mailing lists that never update or purge, however, so every now and again I get a sneak of something I enjoy. A nice little present from another time in my life, perhaps. 


(They never purge: I’m still on promo lists, I’m pretty sure, dating back to when I did college radio. I haven’t done college radio in almost twenty years. It was a big part of my life for a surprisingly long period of time, and frankly I do miss it.) 


Over the subsequent years I continued to write about music, but never new music, and only on my blog. I don’t know how many of my readers cared about me talking about Daft Punk’s Homework - twice! I was so out of it I wrote the same article twice, years apart! But that I did. Wrote a whole booklet’s worth of essays about They Might Be Giant’s premillennial output - it’s available as an ebook on the ol’ Patreon - Whistling in the Dark - A (Very) Short Book About They Might Be Giants. Wrote about Fleetwood Mac and Fatboy Slim. 


I also started a series. It actually made it to four whole essays, which - long time readers of the blog should remember - was a rarity for me. I always trailed off from ambitious essay series I’d start. I’m sure it was frustrating for readers - how do you think it felt for me? But I made it through four essays under the rubric Everybody’s Rockin’. Wrote about Nine Inch Nails, The Beatles, Pavement, Kanye - it was another world, in so many ways, believe me! But, that notwithstanding, I really enjoyed writing those essays and had every intention of doing more, but for the fact that they were written during a period of my life in which I had no ability to follow through on anything at all. 


And as these years have progressed I have moved further away from a steady engagement with new music. That’s not who I ever wanted to be. But I simply didn’t have it in me to do anything else. It was a source of great unease at the time, to be frank - I remember admonishing myself, that I really needed to listen to newer music than the same old stuff. But it apparently takes effort to learn new things. The bandwidth was full.  


But I know that has to change, and I’ve been taking steps to reengage. I find I don’t have a lot of occasion to listen to music, but I should probably change that. I never wear my headphones in this house. I need to be aware of what the cats are doing at all times for so long as Rodger treats his poor brother like open sport, is the truth of the matter.


It was in this spirit that, on a particular peevish errand one bitter hot morning I found myself flipping to the Essential Bee-Gees playlist. Now, as a rule, I can’t stand the Bee-Gees. I’m sorry if that renders me a cultureless cretin in your eyes, I just don’t find their voices pleasant. Their brand of male falsetto strikes me almost like a bird call. Someone upset that poor bird.


And yet, the other day I happened to hear a song - a song which, I assure you, I had heard many times before in my life, even if rarely registering it over the level of supermarket loudspeaker, or the occasional afternoon’s dive on the oldie’s station - called “Jive Talkin’.” And let me tell you something about this song - hear it once, and you’re gone. You have that drumbeat in your head for the rest of the day, and that inconceivable keyboard fake outro. The most asinine little melody that you probably know by heart. Because, even if you hate the Bee-Gees, you have heard that song and that keyboard outro many, many times in your life.


Anyway. I was just trying to give myself something to think about other than the aforementioned peevish errand. So I pulled up the song and actually listened to it. For real listened to it. And you know, it really is a little miracle. You think it’s a slick disco number, because you’ve only heard it over shitty supermarket speakers, or not for years otherwise. But if you listen to the song, for real, it’s not overproduced at all. It’s not a slick disco song. It’s a funk song. Stripped down, too. Whatever the hell those boys are singing about, the drummer’s getting it done. I just checked and its a man named Dennis Byron. Welsh fellow. I guess they know how to funk in Wales. 


It’s actually kind of simple, when you break it down. Not a lot of frills. Clean, of course, but that just meant you could hear everything pretty well. Got a kind of nasty baseline, in a polite sort of way. If you’re not careful, you might mistake the opening percussive guitar for Stevie Ray Vaughan’s intro to “Modern Love” eight years later. Can’t say Bowie didn’t nick a trick himself. The sound James Murphy devoted his life to trying to replicate in a laboratory.


But then, there’re those weird dudes. The brothers. An uncanny bunch. Knew from a young age, apparently, that they were going to be professional musicians, and set about a lifetime of chasing trends. I say that with affection, mind. Trend chasing has a bad rap, but only because its usually a sign of desperation or inauthenticity, a break from the norm as opposed to the whole deal. It usually doesn’t work. But the thing about chasing a trend is sometimes you can actually catch it. The Bee-Gee’s made a long and fruitful career out of trying to figure out what people wanted to hear. No bones about it, heart on their sleeve they wanted to get their albums played on the radio and to sell records and all that jazz. Very authentically ingratiating about wanting to be popular. That doesn’t make them cool, just makes them people who wrote a handful of songs you know by heart even if you hate them with a burning passion. That’s not nothing. And it doesn’t mean they haven’t also been residents of the uncanny valley since before anyone knew what the uncanny valley was. 


When was the last time you listened to “New York Mining Disaster 1941”? That’s a weird song! Dark and sparse, for its time. You can hear Mark E. Smith clearing his throat in the parking lot. From an album described as the Bee-Gee’s Sgt Pepper. The Bee-Gee’s were around long enough to have done a Sgt. Pepper. Then they spent some time in the wilderness after their 60s success, and got hungry for a hit. They went from that depressing jangle-folk with sort of a nervy undercurrent to a pretty funky dance band in the space of about eight years. To do that, and not fall on your face takes agility and ability both, I have to acknowledge even if I am lukewarm on many of the results. There’s something almost refreshing about that attitude towards music: oh, yes, we just want to make something people are going to like. Lots of people, not just whoever liked our last thing. What are people listening to now? 


To be fair, by 1975 there weren’t many people interested in what the Bee-Gees were doing. They weren’t clicking with anyone, until they went to America and discovered The Meters. But they did, and it worked. Wouldn’t probably have worked for anyone else, but somehow it worked for them. 


I found myself returning to another song as well, a weird choice but a melody that got lodged in my brain. This despite it being not very good: “You Win Again.” You probably don’t remember it. Very representative early 90s adult contemporary, in most respects. Gloopy synthesizers up the wazoo.


There’s never been a time for adult contemporary like the 1990s. All the old rock stars from previous decades graduated to generic soft rock pop records that sold like crazy. There were some younger acts in there, too, but it was still squarely aimed for the middle-age demographic. Bowie, for all his many achievements, never had a big adult contemporary hit. Never even strayed a toe in that direction, even though he almost certainly could have made a lot of bank on an album that sounded like everything else on the radio. Occasionally a real gem snuck through, of course, even given those strictures. “Constant Craving” got played on a lot of adult contemporary stations. In terms of production and ubiquity, if not subject matter, it was an exemplar of the form.


I couldn’t tell you what “You Win Again” is about - the boys sound like they’re having a very one-sided conversation. And yet somehow that melody just lopes through your head like a baby elephant. It’s the damnedest thing. Doesn’t look like it did that well in America, but they did still chart a couple more hits in the coming years. On records that sound very contemporary to their times, for better or for worse. Oh look, the music boys are back.

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

What’s in Tegan’s Storage Locker?

Tegan’s Storage Locker

The following essay was written earlier this year, ostensibly to commemorate the launch of my TikTok channel, and first saw print serialized over the first five issues of my new weekly newsletter, Volume 2 of The Hurting Gazette. The first volume was a digital magazine released through my blog across most of 2018, to an absolute chorus of crickets. The new volume has met with a significantly stronger response out of the gate, thank goodness. Every week sees the release of a raft of new writing from me, and you can have it all, along with links to everything I do, delivered fresh to your mailbox every week. New issue should be going out Wednesday this week, lord willing and the creek don’t rise. 

As always, if you like any of my writing, the best way to help is by subscribing to my Patreon. There’s a veritable ton of older material hiding behind the paywall - you’ll find a brief laundry list below. Still, my best and most favorite writing is always whatever I’m working on now. 


Howdy, folks. My name is Tegan O’Neil, and I’ve been writing about comic books in one outlet or another for over twenty years. I’ve written about comics for longer than I’ve done anything else. You might have stumbled across The Hurting at some point - it’s still here, although these days it’s mostly where I put links to stuff. I’ve been published on and off in the pages of The Comics Journal since 2002. I’ve been part of multiple Eisner-winning teams of people writing about comics - in 2017, with the Onion’s AV Club, and again the next year, 2018, with the Journal’s website, I have an interview with the author printed in the backmatter of the paperback of Abraham Josephine Riesmen’s biography of Stan Lee. (There’s even an extended version of that chat you can read right here, that at least a couple of you probably haven’t seen yet.) Most recently, some of you might even know me from TikTok, where I launched the channel Tegan Reads A Comic Book at the tail end of 2022. 

Now, believe it or not, those videos were in the works for about a year and a half before the channel even started. That’s right, dear readers - and I address here especially those loyal readers among you who have followed me for years, and even decades - a video channel had been on the drawing board for a very long time. The nature of the channel doesn’t really allow for any digressions about process or history, so here’s a more organized summation of thoughts regarding the last few years of my life, leading to the present moment. 

I always appreciated when the first or second issue of a new series came with a nice long essay in the back about the origin of the book. Even if it was half smoke being blown up our skirts, it still went a great deal towards personalizing the creators and bringing us readers closer to the world of the book. So too, hopefully, here as well. 

So - how did we end up here, together, today? Well, therein lies a tale. 

I’ve been buying comic books since I was two years old - the first one I remember being an issue of Batman my parents got me on a long car trip. From that moment on, I remember buying them frequently - or, asking for them to bought, as I was still very young. Now, of course when I was really young they had to compete with stuff like He-Man and the Transformers - but, when I found out they were making Transformers comic books, well. It was all over for me then. I know it’s a similar story for a lot of people my age. I wasn’t allowed to buy GI Joe, on account of it glorifying the military-industrial complex (though I did watch the cartoon, and caught up with the Marvel series as an adult, which of course turned out to be far more nuanced than my parents could have credited back in the Reagan 80s). But between those two venerable Hasbro franchises I was only one of a legion of kids who found themselves incidentally transformed into Marvel Zombies, due to the infinitely transferable phenomenon of brand loyalty. 

Right after that Gladstone began reprinting the work of Floyd Gottfredson, and especially Carl Barks - actual good comics to go alongside the Transformers and other various toy books which clogged the racks of the newsstands I frequented around Lake Tahoe. Shout out to the 7/11 at Carnelian Bay, right around the corner from my childhood home - I think it’s still there today, was last time I drove through. Of course, they haven’t sold comic books in 7/11 since at least the turn of the century, if not much earlier. 

Anyway. My story in that respect isn’t unique - if you’re in your forties and still read comics, chances are very good you went through similar rites of passage. We’re the generation that saw Optimus Prime die twice, after all - once, indelibly, on movie screens, and again, rather less indelibly, in the pages of the 24th issue of the Marvel Comics series. You never forget the first time a comic book instills you with blinding rage. 

Fast forward a few years to me as an adult. Again, maybe this is a familiar story: I left home, first for college and then, soon thereafter, for parts unknown - but my massive comic book collection was left behind with my parents. And here’s where the story gets interesting. Because, I didn’t see my comic book collection for over two decades, and in fact, I believed it lost for many years. My family had settled in the far reaches of Northern California, and that was where I attended middle school and graduated high school. So far, so good. But. My parents did not stay in the Mount Shasta area. A couple years after I left they moved southwards. That meant they moved my comic books without me, which was in hindsight above and beyond the call of duty for them, considering just how massive the collection had become. Well over a solid decade of allowance and lawn mowing and holiday money, congealed into many multiple cardboard long boxes. 

But, they didn’t put the collection in their new house. No. They rented out a storage unit for a number of items that didn’t fit in a house without a garage - skis and old toys and magazines and Christmas decorations - but, most significantly, those boxes of comics. And there they sat, for a very long time. Much longer than I could ever reasonably have expected. 

Somewhere along the line we fell behind on payments for the storage unit. Money was tight as often as not for my parents in that period, by then they were long retired and lived on a fixed income. I helped them when I could, but I was in college myself for much of it, having returned to get my degree much later. At some point the responsibility of paying for the unit passed to me. I was at that point living all the way across the country, in Massachusetts for almost ten years. Money was tight there, as well. Somehow or other, between my parents and myself, the ball was fumbled and the payments stopped. My life was fraught and busy, I think by then I had returned to school. I had various relationships and bad jobs, and even though I was still regularly reading comics, I wasn’t buying very many of them. Thankfully, one of the advantages of being a critic is that I had access  to comics to read even in thin times, people just sent them to me, or more often now, give me links. 

But - what I didn’t have was money to pay for the storage unit. So - they were gone. For years. Out of sight, out of mind.

What all was in the locker?
You know how it works. If you stop paying for a storage unit you can’t expect but to see it pop up on an episode of Storage Wars down the line. And, frankly, at the time - I went through a significant period of mourning, when I believed those comics to be gone. I said goodbye to them. And I worked through those feelings of attachment and loss - I thought that I came out the other side of the experience with a greater appreciation both for what I still had and with less of a need to own and collect things. Losing my childhood comic book collection, through no one’s fault but my own, was a growth experience that hurt like hell at the time but which made me a better person. 

And then, of course, many years later, after I had been through this and come out the other side, I received a letter from the storage place asking me if I was ever going to pay any of the back rent on the damn locker. You can just imagine my surprise, not unmixed with a slight degree of consternation at having to pay many thousands of dollars of back rent. But: I had said goodbye to those comic books in good faith, believing they were lost to time. And then, turned out they weren’t so lost after all. They came back to me and that felt significant. I wasn’t going to lose them again, even as it would still be many years before we were actually reunited. 

So, even though I still didn’t have a lot of money, I somehow managed to pay down that debt, and have remained in more or less good stead with the storage place ever since. The funny part here, however, is that the comics still had adventures without me. I received a letter from the storage place somewhere along the line that they had backed one of their own trucks into the unit my parents had initially rented, so they had to move all our stuff themselves, into another unit. So, ultimately both my parents and the people who own the storage place had to move my massive comic book collection. I have never actually had to move it myself, which seems a neat trick.

As for me - well. After six years of grad school I was completely burnt out, burnt out and exhausted. It’s a sequence of events I’ve discussed at length elsewhere so I won’t belabor the point here. It just so happened that this also coincided with a downturn in the health for both of my parents. So, I went from teaching college to taking care of them, pretty much full-time. Another aspect of this period is that I went from being intensely involved with comics - reading most of everything released in the American mainstream and much beyond, week after week for many years, as was more or less my job while I was working for the AV Club - to reading almost nothing at all. 

Reading comics that way - reading so many comics that way, week after week for years, not out of joy or desire but out of obligation, because it was my job - well, it made me resent comics. Reading them almost exclusively on a computer screen for years at a time made me hate the medium. One of the better aspects of living on a farm in the middle of nowhere with my parents for a few years was choosing only to read what my editor sent me - which ended up sometimes being only two or three comics a month, total. During that period I came to call my reading habits “slow comics” - a joke, basically, which I nevertheless came to appreciate, because it was during this time that I set about in earnest to reengage with the medium to which I had ostensibly dedicated most of my life. 

I wrote a column for the Journal’s website, from 2018 to the middle of 2019, called “Ice Cream for Bedwetters,” which, again, I will say I believed in the moment to be a great name for a column. It was a memorable laugh line in 2017’s Logan movie that actually did tie-in with the themes I wanted to discuss during that very personal run of essays - learning to read comics again, basically. Getting in touch with what I enjoyed about the medium, looking past those years as a professional critic, decades of becoming cynical and jaundiced about every aspect of the hobby. I think over the course of those essays I really did begin to rekindle my joy and affection for the medium - I’m proud of those pieces, and of the book they form. Enough that I still hope to see it printed up one of these days, even if I end up doing it myself. 

It was also during the early days of this period that the four of us won the Eisner for the AV Club - Oliver Sava, our editor, along with Caitlin Rosberg, Shea Hennum, and myself. Talented folks who I am proud to consider my friends. Considering the subsequent half decade I had, that award and those associations gave me a great deal of comfort during a period when things weren’t going so great. As much as I was enjoying the gradual process of reengaging with comics, the context for my life was that my father had received a very bad diagnosis - we we were initially told Parkinson’s although more recent developments led to a more likely diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. And that was my reality for the next three years of my life, taking care of both of my parents during my dad’s slow but sure decline. 

Now, this is a massively depressing part of the story, no way around it. Long time readers might remember long periods of silence interspersed by bursts of productively from roughly 2019 through the next three years. I didn’t write much of anything through most of 2020. After that singularly enervating year - enervating for a number of reasons, some of which you all experienced alongside me, in addition to my own private struggles - I rallied in 2021. That year saw the advent of the so-called Summer of Tegan, during which I overcame grisly personal circumstances to produce around 80,000 words of comic book criticism in the space of about six months. A little longer than a summer, as a matter of fact, but this is comics and you should never let the facts get in the way of a good cover blurb. I started another book during that period - I mean, I’ve written a lot of books in the last few years, but specifically on the subject of comics, I started a book about Rogue that was intended as a kind of reading guide for the character and much of the last forty years of X-Men comics in general. That book is still unfinished - the first quarter or so is done, but hopefully, if you’re one of the folks waiting for me to pick up that baton again, the delay makes a little bit more sense now. Soon! I promise. 

Now, eventually all these threads converged towards the second half of 2021, with me straining mightily to maintain my momentum across an exhausting period where, in addition to writing that aforementioned 80,000 words of criticism, I was also providing round the clock care for my dad and my mom both. She wasn’t sick, yet, just run down. As was I. The writing I produced that year was for my own sense of pride as much as anything else, but all that work did the job and pushed me back into being fully invested again. The problem was, once I finished, I didn’t really know where to go from there. I wrapped up with an epic review of Simon Hanselmann’s Crisis Zone, the completion of which actually spanned a period of time in which I was hospitalized for what I later discovered was a hernia. So - I didn’t have it in me to continue at the fever pitch, or really any pitch at all. Paradoxically, even though I was back in the game, I was still spent.   

So I yielded to the flow of events, took my mother’s lead, and started watching a lot of YouTube. She moved over to YouTube for her primary TV when she figured out she could get better news and science and history programming than anything on the regular cable. Which, frankly, surprised me - I was never a big YouTube watcher, because I had assumed it was all just right wing propaganda and people yelling about video games. Well, there is a lot of both of those things, but to my surprise, they also had international news, and lectures from the world’s premiere universities - and yes, even comic book content. So, being mostly exhausted from running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I sat back and learned quite a bit. It was here that I finally found the missing piece that I’d been looking for - after the extended burnout it took years of hard dedicated work to rekindle my affection for comics, my desire to read them, my desire to write about them - but it wasn’t until I saw other people talking about them, showing them off, actually touching physical copies of the books instead of just leafing through digital files on a tablet - that I finally wanted to go back to the store myself. So, at the tail end of 2021, I did just that.

And, as I said earlier, the idea of a “pivot to video” had been percolating for a while before that. In the later half of ‘21 and the early months of ‘22, I devoted myself to learning the ins and outs of video production on my phone. I didn’t have the wherewithal to write much of anything at that period, and I certainly didn’t have the stability to begin broadcasting, but I did have well over an hour every day during which I walked the dog and was able to read about video on my phone. That’s when I learned how to use iMovies to edit footage, however rudimentary my skills. Doing a long circuit every day around the same farm made for a pretty predictable walk, so there was plenty of time for research. I produced at least a couple dozen sample videos, in my room - learning how to light, and how to mic, and how to talk on video - all of which took some time. I shared the results with only a couple people, but they can attest, there were full-length videos extant well over two years ago. Imagine my frustration to be ready to go, and yet unable to really start because - again, my days and my nights when I wasn’t reading comics and figuring out how to take videos were still devoted to caring for a man who didn’t always recognize me anymore. 

The Hurting began in the Winter of 2004 - the website celebrated it’s nineteenth birthday earlier this year, such as it is, but it’s basically my brand now. I’ve felt guilty for years that I haven’t been in a place to be able to resume daily blogging. I miss it. I miss having an outlet to talk about comic books that isn’t Twitter. That service has its definitely pluses, but as we’ve seen the past year it’s also become a much less stable place, especially for anyone trying to make their living through online promotion. Producing videos enabled me to return to doing what I enjoy most in this world - yakking about old comics for the entertainment of whoever feels like showing up and joining the fun. 

Because, I’m not just a comic book critic - I’ve worn many hats in my life. I was on the radio for half a decade in my twenties. I taught college for six years. Now, videos about old comic books aren’t quite criticism, and making TikTok videos isn’t quite broadcasting, and talking about comic book history and art theory on that forum isn’t precisely teaching - but they have elements of all those things. Seems a natural progression, from that perspective. 

With that said, producing videos - producing any kind of videos - entails a hell of a lot more work than “just” writing essays and posting them to my blog. The worst part of blogging for me was always dealing with pictures - all of which had to be tracked down and uploaded individually, a process which was never not a hassle and which grew progressively more taxing the more I wanted to talk about art. Videos are the perfect answer to that problem: if I want to talk about art in a video I can simply point at it with my finger. Now, of course, there’s a lot more that isn’t easier about the format. Which is why, hopefully, the videos lead to more remunerative feedback from a larger audience.  

Because yes, as much as I enjoy doing them, I’m also not investing all this time and effort merely out of the goodness of my heart. I have a Patreon, and as much as I appreciate every single person who has supported me over the last six years that I’ve had it, it’s nevertheless a small group I’d like to see grow. To that end I had goals for the channel - modest goals, I promise, but goals nonetheless, benchmarks I wanted to reach in order to make this considerable effort pay off. In terms of viewership on TikTok, I long since passed my initial benchmarks to continue with the process. I’d like to see steady growth for the Patreon, which hasn’t materialized even as the channel grows apace. Quite frustrating, in all honesty, to work harder than I had in at least a decade and be still unable to move that needle. I live a quiet life and my needs are few, and I’d like to grow the percentage of my income that comes directly from comic books. 

Because, if we’re being frank, we all know there’s not a lot of money in writing about comic books online. There’s not really any money in doing it anywhere for any venue. As much as I am genuinely thankful for every venue that does pay, we all know it’s just not enough to provide more than a little bit of mad money. And I say that knowing full well I’ve probably passed up opportunities for better gigs and slightly better pay - but “slightly better” is relative in this industry, and in any event those gigs don’t exist anymore. Imagine my surprise to come online and find people talking about comics and making money doing so. Again, not as much as anyone would like, but more money than can be made  sitting in front of the keyboard and diligently tapping on the keys. 

Now, I’ve been talking about comics, professionally, since 2002. I’ve been dong it online since 2004. That makes me incredibly old in internet years, I fully recognize. But I have adapted to the times. I started a TikTok for that very reason - it’s not a medium I felt myself naturally drawn to, but if there’s one theme I’ve picked up from the various writing communities on which I eavesdrop, it’s that any presence on TikTok, even half-hearted, reaps enormous dividends in terms of getting your name and your material in front of new people. I started doing daily reviews of new comics on my Twitter, and realized there was a market for just that thing. Sure enough, “Tegan Reads A Comic Book” has met a warm reception and continues to grow.

Although it may not have seemed like it at first, TikTok ultimately enabled me to return to daily blogging. I’m engaged and energized by writing about comics and sharing that enthusiasm. That part of it, at least, is pure joy.

Room full of comics

Now, I’m not just a critic. I’ve been trying to make a go of it as a writer, full-stop, for a good long while. I went through life changes around 2016 that led me to reevaluate what I wanted to be, what I wanted to do with my life. What I really wanted, more than anything, what I always wanted, was just to be a writer. I spent the better part of a decade trying - most of my twenties - before returning to academia with my tail between my legs. (I’ve written about that demoralizing process before.) But that basically meant ignoring what I really wanted, and that’s about the least healthy thing for a body you can imagine. Frankly, it can be deadly. 

So, I’ve written quite a bit in my life, and especially these last few years. If you already know this stuff you can skip ahead, true believers - but for the sake for those new to the party: In the first place, I’ve spent the last few years compiling some of my older writing, into volumes available as inducement for joining my Patreon and supporting my ongoing efforts. There’s still and always an introductory anthology of my criticism available for free download on my Patreon - it’s called The Putative Hurting. All killer, no filler, just the hits from across twenty years. It’s a smaller version of The Portable Hurting, a more exhaustive look at my back pages, which also has more original material in the form of extended annotations and biographical notes. These in turn compliment a couple older anthologies - The Hurting Sampler and The Hurting Reliquary - also still available on the Patreon. 

Over the last few years I also wrote a few books of autobiographical criticism - I already mentioned the “Ice Cream for Bedwetters” column, the collected edition of which will be called Salting the Wounds and is actually the third volume in a series beginning with Tomorrow Is Always The Best Day Of My Life, and continuing through to Galaxy of Zeroes. (Those projects can be read via the links on the left side of the blog.) In a perfect world they’d sit snug next to one another in a fat slipcase, but in lieu of that you can envision the slipcase in your mind-palace. 

The latter is ostensibly built around Star Wars - but if you’d like a more focused collection of my Star Wars writing, without so much in the way of biographical or philosophical interludes, I can recommend The Republic is Crumbling, an anthology of the best of my writing on the subject. Now, before you ask the next obvious question, I’m currently completely estranged from that franchise, which was a pretty big focus of mine for much of my life. Let’s just say that Rise of Skywalker left a bad taste in my mouth and I haven’t seen anything produced since I saw that film in the theaters. Not a damn thing. I know I’ll go back, because those movies are in my blood as much as anything in comics, but I’m still not over that movie. I’m planning to remain mad about it probably for a considerable amount of time yet. 

There’s also a small book about They Might Be Giants on there - I actually wrote about music for years on another website, but hadn’t in a long time. Now, I am happy to report that this drought, at least, is over: I’m writing about music again, in the form of new installments of an old essay series from the blog, Everybody’s Rockin,’ presented in the pages of my new weekly newsletter, technically speaking Volume 2 of another old series, The Hurting Gazette. I’m going to be posting those new essays in this space, beginning next week. 

Now, as much as I enjoy criticism, and would love to have those books published eventually, I know full well they’re still niche items. I’m not going to make my fame in publishing with anthologies of old blog posts. To that effect, in 2018 I buckled down and started work on something that was at least in theory designed to be more readily commercial: I started writing fantasy, and began a series of books called The Array. The first six and a half of which are done, and also available behind the paywall of the Patreon. I put a lot of thought into how to write something that would sell, so of course I’ve been trying to sell them for over five years and not had a jot of success. 

It is the greatest ongoing frustration of my life that I have yet to find a receptive audience for a series of books that was designed to be as ingratiating and commercial as possible. It’d be one thing if they were purposefully obscurantist by design. But no, they’re my best good-faith attempt at accessibility. And I can’t pay people to read them. I’m still working at it - every week, pretty much without fail, for years (with a few gaps during the lowest periods of taking care of my parents when I wasn’t doing any writing work), I have sent out two or three or four queries, all of which have been rejected. But I’m still at it. Just got another rejection this morning (as of this writing), but I’m still at it. 

Because, ultimately, I have made many of the decisions in my life on the principle that the easiest way to break into comics is as a prose writer. The problem is, I got stuck at the part that entails breaking in as a prose writer. That was what I spent most of my twenties doing - and to be fair, I wasn’t a very good writer in my twenties. I wrote three or four books of bad cod realism, the kind of books an angry young person writes when they haven’t been to enough therapy. Given that it’s frankly a blessing I didn’t break in when I was 27. If I had had any success on the back of those immature, malformed books, I would almost certainly not still be any kind of writer today. In the fullness of hard-won experience I can say it was a blessing to fail when and how I did.

But, that failure nevertheless left scars, which is why I didn’t write any fiction for ten years. And  also why, when I did return to fiction, I had less than any interest in writing realism or naturalism or quote-unquote “literary” fiction - I spent my time in grad school studying primarily early twentieth century transatlantic modernism, and if there’s one thing I can say about that mode of fiction it’s that it doesn’t have much of a constituency in the early twenty-first century.

Ultimately my ongoing failure to sell my writing remains the spur that pushes me forward. If I had already met with success, I almost certainly would never have started a TikTok in the attempt to spread my name that way. I remain profoundly unsatisfied with my career, but that dissatisfaction is nevertheless what gets me out of bed in the morning. I see myself as a failure in absolute terms, but I’m not out of the game until I’m dead. Hope springs eternal. 

Anyway, you might be thinking - for someone whose ostensible long-term goal since the turn of the century has been to work in comics, you sure haven’t done a lot to make that goal a reality. Really only have yourself to blame there, hoss. To which I can only say, I know. I’ve lived a strange life relative to most people, and at multiple junctures I’ve made bad decisions based on faulty incentives and poor long term planning. I recognize that. But there’s nothing else really for it.

I still really want to write for the comics. Perhaps that a shameful admission for anyone who’s been at it as long as I have, whose seen as much as I have, who knows how the sausage is made about as well as anyone who hasn’t actually been in the factory. All that did nothing to dissuade me. I’m writing scripts now, teaching myself how to do it if nothing else - so far I’ve got five issues of The Journey of Jacqueline Thousand in the can, no artist, no publisher, not even a nibble of interest. But they’re there, and the first four issues are even free to read, right here, for anyone who wants to check it out. I’m not just flapping my wings to no effect, I’m trying my damndest to create movement through initiative.

The first filming rig

Since 2019 I’ve thought a lot about Tom Spurgeon. He died that year, at the age of 50. He was the editor at the Journal when I started reading. We weren’t close - at all - but I can genuinely say what he accomplished over his life has influenced me more than just about any other writer. I thought about that a lot when I was first thinking about wanting to make the pivot into video - he was 36 years old when he began The Comics Reporter, significantly younger than I am now. The only thing we really had in common is that the Journal was central to our professional identities, and he was able to take that experience and use it as a springboard to accomplish great things in this field. I don’t feel as if I’ve built anything at all of value yet, not in the way he was able to give and give back to the medium and the community in a sustained fashion. I want to build something of value, something of significance. The TikTok channel maybe isn’t the final culmination of that desire, but it is a stepping stone on the way. 

In a perfect world the channel would have launched sometime in the middle of 2022, but that wasn’t in the cards. What happened instead is that my parents were forced to leave their home of seventeen years - I mentioned before that we lived on a farm, well, the farm changed hands and they didn’t need tenants in their farmhouse anymore. Now, we managed to stave that off for a good while, owing mostly to my dad’s health. We finally found a placement for him towards the end of the year. But it wasn’t any kind of clean win. If I wrote it in a book it would be pilloried for being a hackneyed development - but here we are. Partway through the year, when my mom and I were deep in the hunt for a new place too live, she started to cough. She was having trouble breathing. Eventually she went to the hospital.

All these years we had trudged forward for my dad’s benefit, consoling ourselves with the certainty that things would be better, that we would have time to relax once we managed to find a place for him to be taken care of. Catch up on our Star Trek. Because we weren’t up to it. We exhausted ourselves because there were no other options for him, and no other options for us. We provided him round the clock care long past the point when we had the ability to give him a good quality of life, and long after it had seriously affected our own quality of life, and our own health. It took a long time - the better part of a year after we made that fateful call - for them to find a placement. But by then my mom had been to the hospital. Received a chest X-ray and a rather definitive diagnosis. Lifelong smoker, on and off, nothing to be done. And from that point it was a quick slide down a steep hill - she received her diagnosis at the end of August and by the end of December she was gone. She died two days short of our final day at the old house, when I was in the middle of the most crucial time of the move, prior to being homeless by the first of the year.

She was given a longer prognosis than she eventually lasted. It’s the damnedest thing - she just disappeared one day, from right in front of my eyes. Once day she was there, and the next she wasn’t. Our last time together we spent watching some Star Trek, pretty much our favorite thing to do as a family since as far back as I remember. She read a couple comic books - looked over the Gil Kane Jungle Book, delighted to see such a resolutely loyal adaptation. Leafed through Sienkiewicz’s Shadow. Really enjoyed an issue of Gunslinger Spawn I picked up on a whim. We watched a lot of Comic Tropes, she thought he was quite amusing. I know I should have spent more of the last month before the move packing, so I wasn’t so rushed - but I also knew there just wasn’t going to be as much time as we’d hoped.

She was proud of me and of everything I did. In all brutal honesty I’ve regarded myself as a failure for a very long time. She didn’t think of me as a failure but it nonetheless hurts that she saw me fail so many times, with victories few and far between. I would have liked to succeed within her earshot.

I have in the past, bragged in a very self-deprecating manner, that moving is something I’m very good at. And I am, objectively speaking: I’ve moved so many times and in so many different circumstances that I really don’t get that upset at the prospect. I get focused, I get it done. It’s a system all its own. I suppose that was probably hubris, because this was the most difficult move of my life, and I once loaded a full size hot tub onto the back of a trailer with my ex-wife. Just my ex-wife, mind - honestly, thinking back on it now, I’m still impressed we were able to do that. But having your mom die during a move is, well, it’s rather an overwhelming experience, I’m going to be completely honest. In truth, I think having two such traumatic and exhausting events right on top of each other, after only having found placement for my dad in a facility for Alzheimer’s patients a handful of weeks earlier, somehow instilled a disassociated equilibrium across the actual events. There was too much going on for me to react to any of it. 

So, because the rental market is fucked literally everywhere I spent the first month of 2023 living in a Motel 6 while my aunt and I tracked down housing. With a few more animals than strictly allowed by the by-laws of the Motel 6 company. Although, I should also add, I lost two pets during that month as well, the dog so old she was unable to walk anymore without my holding up her back legs, and my own beloved 16-years-old cat succumbing to a stroke. In hindsight, it seems almost comical just how much tragedy was packed into such a small period of time. But it was also during that brief nightmarish season in hell that I finished the most recent volume of The Array, entitled Hell-World - fittingly, a horror story, all the misery and recrimination and fear of that miserable time, and a lifetime on top of it, wrapped up in a harrowing narrative. Took me three years to write the first 1/4 of that book, three weeks to write the final 3/4. A capstone to the worst days of my life. Purgative. Hopefully also scary! 

But that’s all done now. I’m living in a new apartment with my mother’s cats, mourning yes, but hopefully also living as bit. My mother saw early drafts of the channel, videos recorded in my room in the house on the almond farm. She liked what she saw. She thought it was a good idea, a good next step for my career. She liked listening to me talk about comic books, just as much in my early forties as when I was eight and bringing home paper sacks full of Marvel from the 7/11. Hopefully you like listening to me talk about comic books, too, because that’s what we’re going to be doing, hopefully for the foreseeable future. I even started a podcast, with my very good friend Claire Napier. On the subject of Top Cow, of all things. She just happened to be at my side, figuratively speaking, as I absorbed some of the hardest blows of my life, during those last hellish months on the almond farm. It’s nice to be able to build something new, for a change, and with a friend.   


Thanks for listening. Today and for as long as you’ll have me, I’ll be here. 

PS - For those who stuck with it this long, have a surprise

Sunrise on the almond farm