27 March 2015

[comic] What We're Liking: Modest Medusa

This one is for all the mistfits out there, or anyone who loves one. I qualify two ways there, so I'm smitten, and it's not a modest thing.

It is a Modest thing, though, and as far as that goes, meet Modest:

Just your normal 5-year-old girl, really. Loves Pokemons, Nintendo, and is a confirmed Chocodile addict. She loves manga and when she finally goes to school, is bewildered at the lack of magical girls there.  She's apprehensive about the world around her, but takes it on because, when you're five years old, what else are you going to do? She's got a mother and a father from different worlds (Dad's a vampire, Mom's a giant snake), and she finds herself in an incidental family somewhere in a place that vaguely resembles southeast Portland.

She's also a medusa. Which explains the snakey hair.

The strip, eponymously named Modest Medusa, has been running for four years now, debuting in January 2011. It traces the perambulations (if a little girl with a snake-body can be said to have such things) of a 5-year-old medusa girl who stumbles from her world into ours, rooked over here by a pair of mean-girl mermaids, and enters the world of her accidental father figure - a comic version of the artist, Portlander Jake Richmond - through his toilet.

His apartment waterlogged, he moves to another room, and as Modest stays, a completely different life. It has to be seen to be believed. In the four short years of the comic's life, it has swung between adventures heroic, fantastic and fatal and dryly humorous and banal but always with the viewpoint of a little kid just trying to figure out where she's going to fit in. Just like other little kids, her arrival causes tragic disruption (though in ways at times quite hazardous for her new friends).

Where Modest Medusa really shines out, though, is in a subtheme that's quite unexpected … and that takes the form of the reaction of the world around her. Here, the comic operates on an evolved level, because while other characters in the world do see that she is, in fact, a snake girl with snakes for hair, they seem to be little bothered by it. Like the characters in the Pooh stories who accepted Eeyore for what he was and loved him without trying to change him, adults and kids regard her as a little girl - and with her particular talent for winning friends, she soon finds some sort of place.

Jake Richmond has made her a kind of a totem for those us who just don't feel like we belong exactly anywhere but won't let that stop us. She's a fully realized character who finds herself in a world she didn't make.

I don't know about anybody else, but that speaks to me. In Modest's world, the gaze of a medusa won't turn you to stone, but she might melt your heart just a little.

GET IT: The comic is available in toto for you to read at ModestMedusa.com, (Facebook for Jake Richmond so you can be updated every MWF) and can be found in bound, very well-done book format at The Sprightly Bean comic cafe (Facebook). Jake Richmond is also part of Patreon, the website that allows people to actively support comic artists by becoming regular patrons of the artist.

25 March 2015

[branding] On My First Pair of "Doc" Martens

It has come to pass, at this stage of the game, that I've been introduced to my first pair of Dr. Martens shoes. And since I started breaking them in, a surprisingly gentle process, I've been struck suddenly with a great many resonances with what I've learnt over time about style, reputation, and that god of our modern times, branding. 

The Shoes In Question. Dr Martens Icon 7B10 SSF.
Branding is all, it must be writ somewhere largely, more than likely in some latter-day design text. And, to a degree, it makes sense. More than ever, marketing doesn't just seem to mean getting things sold, it means survival. And Docs have survived, that's for certain - 50 years and more now.

What the brand signature of Docs contain, then, carries a lot of baggage. They've been everywhere … from the forefront of 60s British rock and roll (Pete Townshend made them famous and Tommy put them on the map, according to the legend) to the urban discontent of 70s and 80s era punks and skinheads – a signature of violence. Since then, they've ascended to the rarefied air of timeless fashion, it would seem. And now, non-ironically, characters from Adventure Time are rocking them.

Dr. Martens are as likely to be worn latterly as for reasons of style as well as for reasons of function. In several cities in America and around the world, Dr. Martins have boutique-style storefronts; Portland is one of them, with a store at the corner of NW 10th Ave. and W. Burnside Street, across the street from Powell's Books.

There's history there … you can shop in a space that once held the broadcast booth where the legendary KISN Good Guys held court, visibly from the street. A lot of commerce has gone that way.

For someone like me, the primary consideration in investing in a pair of Docs is quality and endurance. I prefer the workboot style – properly kept, in a sharp style and profile, goes with just about anything, and will take you everywhere. The well-done workboot, with its treaded, skid-resistant sole, should offer traction that will make the urban walker feel confident on and off the street. It's a real all-purpose style for someone who doesn't want to be bothered too much about it.

The Dr. Martens Icon 7B10 SSF gives me all that, and more there's the obvious appeal to quality. The manufacturer makes a pride of showing off the quality steps involved, and, if you come from a background of buying a pair of Payless Shoe Source shoes every couple of years, after thrashing the current pair, the high quality of the components are obvious after even the most causal perusal. Next to the famous air-cushioned soles of the Docs, the soles of the Payless shoes seem cheap plastic; the leather of the uppers is supple and feels good to the touch, as opposed to the cheaper, thinner leather of the others; the pull-strap on the back of the shoe seems designed with easy donning in mind, rather than simply put there for looks. Dr. Martens has learned lessons in fit, design and construction from the decades of serving workers of many lands (before it made its debut on the stage, Docs were favored by workers in heavy trades such as construction and postal work).

So, by now, Dr. Martens is all those things and more, an example of basic style that adapts to the whims of fashion and though it went on outings with thugs in its youth, it's grown up and gotten down to work, and if the message is sometimes a little mixed (we fancy our Docs were Made in England, as in the web site's screenshot - though mine were made in China, and Made In England applies to a subset of their styles) the accent on solid quality for the value (you'll be paying a lot for a good pair of Docs, but you'll presumably get at least as much back in function and use) keeps it a vital product, and all of that positive attribution makes it into the brand, and keeps it valuable.

If it keeps me out of the shoe store every two years, stays easy-to-wear, and stays looking good, then that'll aquit them with me. 

24 March 2015

[SJK] By The Way, I've Made A 2015 Portland Photo Calendar … And You Can Still Buy One

… and, in my best tradition of being late to the party …

Well, actually, it's been up for over a month now. Since I was on an effective blog hiatus, I didn't post it here, though I have been promoting it on my Facebook stream. I, still, after all this time, am something of a schlimihl (in a Benny Profane way) when it's come to my self-promotion over the years.

No matter. Despite my schlimihl-hood, my amateur photography is definitely of a much higher grade. Reviewing the calendar itself will tell anyone this, and to my tens of readers who've followed this blog over the time I've posted pictures to it know that there're some pretty personal and special views of my beloved town.

Here's a preview of the Portland-y goodness it contains:

This is all available now at a 15% discount. This is a good deal because about 15-20 percent of the year's gone, but you still get 100% of 2015 in it, and 100% of the photos.

It's available at Lulu, and I'd be thrilled to see a few more copies. If you're good on the calendar tip, I understand … how about sharing this if you are?

To purchase it, follow this link (There's also a purchase link in the preview above):


[pdx_photo] Some Recent Weather, With Added I-205 And Mount Hood

These two photos have already been seen by the people who follow me on the Book of Face, but as an open notebook of What I Is And Wherever It Is I Be Going, they belong as scrap here, as The Wife™ has pointed out (using different words but the intent is most clear).

I'm using reduced-res versions intended for web posting, so the date of the photos are up to recollections sake. The metadata seem to have been clobbered, somehow.

This lovely shot is another one from the stretch of NE 122nd Avenue, just south of Shaver Street. If there's a reason I've developed a staunch affinity for this patch of ground, a working farm now well within the urbanized precincts of Portland, I'd be selling it short; there are many. But just one is it offers a postcard-ready reveal of Mount Hood, and I've rattled on ad nauseam about how much I adore looking at that peak.

This was a January morning, one of those ones where I'd hoped that the cloud cover would just nick the summit so I could have my own photo of one of those sundial-shadows that we've seen over the past season, where fall was held over into winter. No luck there, but this is a satisfying consolation prize.

This one was more recent, toward the end of February, with a fog bank closed on the area somewhat south of SE Stark Street in the Mall 205 area. POV for this is the NE Glisan Street overpass on I-205.

The fun part of this is that way the perspective makes it appear as though the Burnside Street overpass (the one that is actually visible) is keeping the fogbank from settling on I-205. In reality, the fog drew a preternaturally-straight line along Stark Street (which is obscured b foreground objects), but it looks as though the fog-free area goes quite a ways back, thanks to Portland's obviously-unicorn-and-magical-girl-powered public works.

The distance to Burnside Street is about 1/4 of a mile. The fog is about 1/2 mile away (NE Glisan to SE Stark is 10 blocks, and there are 20 to the mile here).

[Liff] This Is How You Coffee Cup

This is an oooooooold warhorse.

It's been with me since the mid 80s. I got it, under some distressed circumstances, in Seattle. I think I've owned it now for about two decades.

Since I still aspire to authorhood, I'll relate a quip a friend of mine once evinced:

"Where is a writer when he doesn't have his coffee cup?
He's looking for his coffee cup."

You may replace he with she and writer with artist, as the context and circumstance dictate.

Here, friends, is that cup:

It's five inches high, and about five inches wide at the base. It's august volume holds about 21 ounces of liquid; back in the day, I was a much more avid coffee drinker, more of the two-fisted variety, who thought nothing of draining one or more Mr. Coffee-carafes' worth per day.

Today, where once I drank my coffee with unrestrained gusto, I more approach it with the constant sip. I will sometimes leave a few dregs of coffee in the bottom of the pot. But the mug is still with me.

You only really find one truly great one. The maker of this much, a California company called Bearly Surviving, apparently has gone out of business some time ago. Smaller versions of this same design are available only on places like eBay and from collectors. For a price. These big mamas, the 21-ouncers, are even harder to find than that.

Vanishingly rare. You can't replace 'em, you can only repair 'em.

But there is nothing I don't love about this cup, even though it be shattered and put together again. As a matter of fact, when, at last, it dropped to the floor and broke, I made sure every piece was accounted for and kept them … for a span of years. Eventually the right glue came along.

I don't worry too much about it leaching into the coffee … after all, I rarely fill it to the brim any more, and when I do, which isn't often, it doesn't stay that full for very long. Mmmmm, coffee.

The cracks are a badge of honor, of service, really. When something like this stays with you this long, it's more than a favorite. It goes beyond being a fetish, and even jumps over talisman.

By now, it's achieved totemic proportion. And you don't jettison that, friends, unless you have to.

Go ahead, have this quirk. You're an artist.  You're entitled.

23 March 2015

[PDX_art] Illustrator Vaughn Barker's Little Women

Vaughn Barker is a Portland illustrator who I'm privileged to say I've met in the flesh. He can be found behind the register at +Muse Art and Design where we've betimes also found his art on display. He's one of those people who are the committed illustrator I should have been but I can't envy him his talent. I do think he should be much more widely-known than he is.

Of course, he may well be. I have a history of being somewhat late-to-the-party. But the art I've seen hung in the store is masterfully done and inspiring to look at. What has me feeling antic inside, though, are his little women.

Peep this, folks:

She's a mail courier fearlessly ascending a rope latter to her transportation. Fierce and adorable, she's letting nothing stop her. What is her mission? Hers and hers alone to know, but I'd trust her to complete that. That sort of confidence is stopped by nothing or nobody.

It's a scan of the central part of the print you see there to the right. The titles of it is Special Delivery and it speaks warmly of a dieselpunk, 1930s/1940s atmosphere, pulp stories, adventurers and daring exploits. I look at this and my mind flashes to Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, the 'gee-whiz' sort of story that young guys and gals would read from magazines made of rough, brown paper with covers decorated with dramatically-colored paintings.

There's a sort of theory I subscribe to about the transmission of taste and style down through the decades. To us in America, the 1930s and 1940s, despite a back drop of depression, misery and war, somehow remain the height of fashion and style with this stereotypical American dash … the fedora … the trenchcoat … the smartly-dressed tough noir fellow, in those stories, even the plain girls were glamorous, even the old matrons were stylish. As you went on into the 1950s, style renewed itself and could go any direction; but through the 60s, 70s, and 80s, it just got more forgettable. So, even now, in the year 2015, if you want debonair style mixed with your adventure, you go back to the 1930s and 1940s.

Vaughn's art seems to be inflected with this sensibility. He has another series of beautiful works, in which warplanes fill the sky while a Valkyrie-like spirit seems to float amongst them. Those are dashing in and of themselves, and I highly recommend them. But, maybe it's my intensifying attraction toward all things 'toon, his little women really excite me. Built on an abbreviated canon, they exude fierceness, smarts, attitude, an unafraid personality, and are impossible not to fall in love with. Made of thick shapes and ovoid ovals, they are never the less as cute as they are formidable, and even a little bit sexy.

You just want to follow them, to see what happens to them next.

I should hope we see more of them.

You can visit Vaughn's website (and buy art prints) at http://www.vaughnbarker.com/. His alter-ego, Valentine Barker, she of the small women, holds court at her blog, http://www.chalkyheart.com. Vaughn's personal blog, The 'Stration Station, is http://strationstation.blogspot.com/

[PDX] Maxfield Parrish Light in Central Portland

I inaugurate here another attempt to shatter the ennui and start posting again on a regular basis. Reasons, reasons, reasons. But also a lot to say and sometimes one gets tied up trying to do it. But enough maundering. On to pictures.

There is a painting by Maxfield Parrish, called The Dinky Bird, which exemplifies what I'm going to rattle here about, that shows clouds lit by what looks like a setting sun, in the distance behind a castle. Kurt Vonnegut spoke of "Maxfield Parrish light" in The Sirens of Titan. And sometimes, in reality, the setting sun combines with enormous puffy cumulus, and rarefies them in just that exact way. And that's what we saw today on our perambulations.

Starts, as many of our wanderings do, from the corner of 10th and West Burnside. Powell's Books. You can't get more Portland than we do.

Actually, we'd come out of here after getting me new shoes. First pair of Dr. Martens, and it's because they're built to last. But we look down West Burnside toward the core of downtown, and here's what we see:

There's that "Maxfield Parrish light". It's plain what that guy was thinking when he painted those skies. Who wouldn't want to reproduce that, to bend weather to one's will?

The neat thing about sunsets like this is they seem to last forever. We crawled around the formerly-affordable areas of inner-eastside Portland, stopping at 7th and East Burnside to take the above picture. There are these buildings like the above, three or four of them in this section of East Burnside and one similar to it over at 28th and NE Glisan, which have these delightful arcade fa├žades, that will hopefully not be developed out of existence.

Here in Portland, I like to fancy, we tend to take our history a little more seriously and knowingly than other places. For now it seems to be thus.

The above picture was taken at about NE 10th and Flanders. The industrial buildings in front of us here are part of the United States Bakery … but locals know it as the Franz Bakery, where that great Northwest brand still is made every day.

In the lower center, there's a long sign which may not be terribly visible in this resolution, but you have the blue Franz oval, and below it the sign which reads off the company's august slogan,  "Flavor beyond  compare¨ . And that underline word is in red, as though to really impress upon you that, well, your views are your views, but if you compare that Franz flavor with anyone or anything else. you got trouble, fella. That's just not done here. Don't push it, chum.

And, as a close-out, here's the fading light making a delicate display as seen from the parking lot of the Goodwill Superstore at SE Grand and Caruthers. The Maxfield Parrish light is beginning to go, but seems somehow more grand and sweeping for all that.