Thursday, February 28, 2008


From what I hear, this cool site is growing rapidly among the graphic and industrial design contingent. Like Flickr, FFFFound is a community resource that allows users to post their photos, images, paintings, etc. to a public site. What makes it unique is that FFFFound uses a system of saved page histories that allows it to recommend new images just for you based on past preferences. It's a great way to get design inspiration or just browse for some unusually excellent images.

The image library at FFFFound is rich, extensive, and rapidly growing.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Clarion Alley

No trip to San Francisco is complete without a visit to the Clarion Alley Mural Project (CAMP). The mural project began in the early 1990's when a group of artists based in the Mission district commandeered the alley as a living canvas for their social justice themed murals. Since that time hundreds of murals have come and gone, some well documented and some long forgotten. These are a few of the dozens of murals that caught my eye this time around.

What a Con!

I spent six full hours at the San Francisco Wondercon on Saturday, immersing myself in the comic and sci-fi subculture. I got to fraternize with enthusiastic representatives from the worlds of Spiderman, Anime, Underground, X-Files, Hentai and Star Trek. I passed on getting my photo taken with the female body builders, but tried my hardest to engage Gumby in conversation. Disappointingly, he wouldn't budge from his position of strict silence.

Many folks were clad in outrageously elaborate costumes, doubtless representing hours upon hours of meticulous research in some parents' basement. There were also lots of guys wrapped in tinfoil and wearing sunglasses.

One pleasant surprise was the number of women in attendance. Expecting a full-on scene of pasty males, I was genuinely surprised by the number of female comics fans there, young and old. I had dinner with comics writer Cecil Castellucci who explained that many publishers have come to the realization that a majority of the reading public is female, and comic books are working to catch up by creating more titles by and for women. It's about time. Cecil writes the serial Plain Janes for DC Comics.

Incidentally, my trusty Canon camera was lifted from my car just before my visit, so the photos on this page are courtesy of my Con Companion, Nick DeMarco of Demarconia. Cheers Nick!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Comics? That's Not Funny

This weekend I'm off to Wondercon in San Francisco, billed as "Northern California's most popular comics and pop culture event." I'm going to spend some quality time with a cartoonist buddy who is trying to break into the sordid world of adult comix. While there I'll be sure to get an autograph from original Chewbacca Peter Mayhew, check out the Gumby seminar, and will naturally vote for my favorites in the Annual Wondercon Masquerade. It's been years since I've geeked out in quite this fashion, and I'm looking forward to it.

In somewhat related news, comic artist extraordinaire Charles Burns, a Seattle native, will be at the University Bookstore on February 26 to present the new paperback edition of his magnum opus "Black Hole." Black Hole is set in Seattle in the mid-70's, and tells of a horrible sexual disease infecting the city's teenagers. The illness isn't horrible like your standard V.D., but rather in that it causes mutations which vary from victim to victim. Characters find themselves with tails, with extra mouths, with webbing between their fingers, with rotting skin. And yet despite the monster movie grotesquenesses, it remains a touching story of sexual coming-of-age in which very human characters deal with the consequences of their pending adulthood. It took Burns more than 10 years to write the comic and it shows in the stunning design of each page and the intricacies of the plot.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Lost in the Stars

The evening of Feb. 20, this Wednesday, brings a total eclipse of the moon, visible from all parts of the Western Hemisphere, including all of North America. Here in the Pacific Northwest, the partial eclipse begins while the moon is still below the horizon, at 5:43 pm, so the moon will rise within a growing shadow. The total eclipse will last from 7:01 until 7:51 and will be completely visible, weather permitting. As an added bonus, Saturn is going to be dramatically visible just above and to the left of the moon's center.

A tremendous amount of additional information at the official NASA website.

Friday, February 15, 2008

New Adventures in Papier Mache

I stopped into the Suyama Space gallery in Belltown and was quite impressed by two major pieces of papier mache sculpture.

First and foremost, the huge interior of the space was filled with this mammoth work, "Seeps of Winter" by John Grade.

The incredibly ambitious piece was inspired by a trip to the northwest coast of Ireland, and a vision of the people who had died, preserved under the accumulating layers of bog. To get the shapes he sought Grade cast sections of ice, melting and distorting the ice casts with heat, then made a skin of paper pulp mixed with ingredients that make it water resistant to varying degrees. The paper was removed in sections, and then re-joined at the Suyama gallery. The result is haunting.

When the installation closes, Grade is taking Seeps of Winter to the base of a glacier in the North Cascades and will elevate it on a field of stakes. A blanket of snow will cover the form until spring when it will thaw and refreeze in daily cycles. The culminating result will also be shown. The show will be on display until April 18. Grade is scheduled for a major museum exhibition at the Bellevue Art Museum opening in August and a show at Davidson Contemporary in October, 2008.

Then, there was this huge head of John Wayne by artist Scott Fife, constructed of shredded cardboard, paper bulb, wood and wood screws. The crudeness of the materials belies the precision of the process. The trails of wood glue and the scars left by misplaced screws contribute to the grace of the result.

Puppeteers know the virtues of papier mache as a supremely versatile sculptural medium, but it's rare to see it so well represented in a fine art gallery.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Keep On Keeping On

The great Curtis Mayfield, soulful, sublime and selfless. For Blaine.

Monday, February 11, 2008

How Can This Be?

I just got the seriously shitty news that my friend Blaine Sizemore was struck by a car and killed over the weekend.

In addition to being a total sweetheart, Blaine was the drummer for Seattle bands Tiny Manhood and Dong II Dong. He had very recently relocated to West Virginia, and we barely had time to miss him before he was gone.

The two bands, plus friends, are planning a memorial show at the Rendezvous Jewel Box sometime soon. We will be drinking heavily until then. If you were a friend or fan of Blaine, watch this space for details of the shows. I hardly know what to say, this whole thing stinks.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Dead Baby Bicycle Film Festival

The dedicated bike riders, bike makers and bike-o-holics at Dead Baby Bikes are holding the 1st ever Dead Baby Bikes International Independent Film Festival on May 1st, where else but at the Underground Events Center. They have issued a call for any and all bike related films. According to the organizers they've already got a few great entries (including a "shot-by-shot remake of Easy Rider, but on bicycles" and some "shockingly inappropriate bike porn") but they want more.

They have way too much information on their mess of a website , but you should be able to find your way through it to submit your film. Like the Dead Babies say, "Ride fast, take chances."

And while we're waiting to see the films, here's a gorgeous piece of bicycle movie making from a New York City messenger race that's been circling around the internet for a few years. It's 7:00 long but I never get tired of watching it.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Sheldon Brown R.I.P.

Sheldon Brown, the internet's single most vital source of bicycle knowledge, died on Feb. 3.

Since 1997, Brown maintained a massive and famously accessible website which was a virtual compendium of bicycle knowledge and opinion. The hundreds of explanations and articles on the site ranged from the basic (how do brake cables work?) to the arcane (what is the ideal Pivot-Cable distance for cantilever brakes?), and covered such matters of opinion as the joy of fixed gear bikes and the utility of biopace chainrings. The articles were always written with a sense of humor and appreciation for the D.I.Y. bike mechanic. With very few exceptions, Brown encouraged the use of vintage and second-hand bike parts over newly bought pieces, and advocated for all bike riders to learn the rudiments of their machines and how to maintain them.

In addition to maintaining the website, Brown was the Parts Manager, Webmaster and general Tech Guru of Harris Cyclery, in West Newton, Massachusetts.

"I have always loved riding bicycles, especially for the feeling of freedom and self-sufficiency that they give." Sheldon Brown, 1944-2008

Much more complete remembrances of Brown here and here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

A Place to Call Your Own

Paul Pauper's Form/Space Atelier in Belltown has had a series of strong shows over the last few months, and is developing quite a powerful aesthetic. Recent displays have all focused on beautiful yet disorienting imaginary landscapes and metaphysical diagrams. With the gallery in the middle of Belltown, surrounded by buildings in progress which promise idealized homes or ever more unaffordable restaurants, one can't help but make the connection between the hollow promises of progress and Form/Space's cultivation of artwork that forcefully evokes places that don't exist.

The current show, up until March 2, features the paintings of Ryan Molenkamp, who is perhaps best known for his work as the security guard at the Frye Art Museum.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

And Speaking of Trains...

I found out last night that a fond friend is on her way to Colombia to perform at the IberoAmerican Theater Festival, billed as the largest theater festival in the world.

Sharing what little I knew about Colombia (mostly gleaned from the pages of 100 Years of Solitude) I remembered the tale of the amazing 1993 Mano Negra musical expedition. The Spanish punk band, in the full throes of their success at the time, commandeered an old freight train, which they rebaptised "l'Expreso de hielo" (the Ice Express) and embarked on a trip through rural Colombia on the country's rusting old railway lines. They ran the show like a circus, randomly arriving in small mountain towns and opening the box cars for side shows, freak shows and opening acts. The day-long spectacle would culminate in Mano Negra's famously riotous performances.

Midway through the tour, the band was joined by the journalist Ramon Chao (father of band members Manu and Antione Chao) who wrote the book "Un Train de glace et de feu" based on his observations of the ambitious journey. By all accounts, the "Ice Express" was an exhausting, often grueling, experience which ultimately led to the collapse of the band. I can only hope for something equally momentous for my theatrical pal.

Meanwhile, this is an excellent video of Mano Negra's biggest hit, "La Mala Vida."

All my heart to Pepita, who first told me about this Spanish punk experiment.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Rise of the Vollmann

William T. Vollmann is speaking at Seattle's University Bookstore on Monday night, February 4.

Vollmann is one of America's most prolific and ambitious writers, having written for many major publications and having picked up several major literary awards. Yet, he has always remained emotionally vulnerable, choosing to focus his works almost exclusively on the struggles of the marginal, poor, and forgotten. I first read him in 1991, just in time to catch up with his first three books. You Bright and Risen Angels is an epic Roman a clef in the vein of Thomas Pynchon's V; The Rainbow Stories is a series of short stories, tall tales and allegories featuring a staggering variety of punks, poets and demigods; Whores for Gloria is a sad and vital novel about the prostitutes of San Francisco's Tenderloin District. Since then he's published some 16 further books of fiction and reportage, written journalism for Harper's, Spin, Granta and the New York Times and won the National Book Award for his novel Europe Central. His productivity is legendary, and even more impressive is that somehow all of books seem so thoughtful and well researched. There's no way to keep up - he writes faster than most people read.

He'll be reading from his latest book (and his sixth major work published in the last 5 years), Riding Towards Everywhere, a study of the year he spent hopping freight trains across the country. Like so much of what he's written, it looks to be idealistic, provocative and painfully honest.