Here at Comics Grinder, we not only love pop culture but we dig deeper–all the way to its roots. With musician Randy Bowles, I have a friend who can share insights into the Sixties from a unique perspective. As a co-founder of Yakima, Washington’s Velvet Illusions (1966-67), Bowles found himself in a catbird seat to view and participate in his generation’s journey through identity, rebellion, and so much more. It was the beginning of a career in music that would take him in many directions.
Randy Bowles of the Velvet Illusions
Ultimately, Randy Bowles carved a niche for himself in folk music and he’s remained active in that, and general storytelling, ever since. You can enjoy his special brand of insight at his WordPress blog right here. We became friends through the WordPress community and it just goes to show you yet another benefit of being part of WordPress.
The Velvet Illusions (1966-67)
Getting back to Randy, an important thing to know is that he was in this cool band, The Velvet Illusions, and then he went on to other cool bands and his own solo work. As for Velvet Illusions, listen for yourself and you’ll find a fun and steady beat. Here they are singing the Velvet Illusions theme:
In our recent chat, we discuss the Sixties for a bit and mainly focus on fashion. Bowles provides some insight on the passions and interests of the Sixties generation: what was homegrown versus what was manufactured to sell to a mainstream audience.
Randy Bowles is a good guy. I look forward to sharing more with you in the future!
It was a hive of activity at Washington Hall in Seattle, on November 15, 2014 for the annual Short Run Seattle Comix & Art Festival. Comic arts festivals continue to gain ground as interest and demand grows for independent comics. Here in Seattle, Short Run has proven to be the leading venue to connect creators with the public. Now in its third year, the festival offers a dazzling selection of work by some of the best talents in the U.S. and beyond.
John Porcellino, Short Run, 15 November 2014
I had the pleasure of chatting with Short Run’s Guest of Honor, John Porcellino, and he was quite gracious. My partner, Jennifer Daydreamer, and I had gotten to see an advance copy of the documentary on his life and career, “Root Hog or Die.” Jennifer asked if it had been planned to have the documentary and John’s new book, “Hospital Suite,” come out at the same time. And John explained that the documentary had been years in the making and it was a wonderful coincidence to have these two separate projects join together into a tour. “The documentary is an extension of the book,” said John. I’d go farther to say it’s an extension of King-Cat Comics, as if it took on another life as a film. Well, more to talk about at a later date. I asked John for some recommendations from his Spit and a Half distribution catalog and I’ll be reviewing them shortly.
Mark Campos, Short Run, 15 November 2014
Among other friends we got to catch up with were Mark Campos and David Lasky, both longtime Seattle cartoonists. I have recent work by Mark that I’ll be sharing with you soon too.
David Lasky, Short Run, 15 November 2014
David Lasky, as many of you know, is the co-author, with Frank M. Young, of “The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song.” I saw that the book was part of a series of Short Run raffle items. Well, you don’t need to enter a raffle to get your copy of this unique history of the legendary country music icons. You can find it right here.
From “Skulptura?” by Pat Moriarity
I also got a fun treat by another beloved Pacific Northwest cartoonist, Pat Moriarity. He had told me about a limited edition mini-comic he had created just for this year’s Short Run. In “Skulptura?” an artist attempts to find his muse. And I also got to chat with Eroyn Franklin, organizer of Short Run, with Kelly Froh and Janice Headley. She was a pleasure to talk with. I asked her about her upcoming comic, “Dirt Bag.” And it is coming along nicely. There was a preview at Short Run that I missed finding. I also should have gotten there early as the early birds got a goodie bag of comix. Well, maybe next year.
In closing, what can I say, Short Run was a rousing success. If you’re in Seattle this time next year, make plans to attend. It’s a comix and art festival and a whole lot more as you’ll see on their site.
If you’re looking for some good all-ages comics that teens, and anyone for that matter, can relate to then “The Woods” is an excellent choice. Everything in a teenager’s life can seem like it could trigger the end of the world. And then, one day, that world literally ends. That’s the premise of “The Woods,” a new comic by Boom! Studios.
“How I Made The World” is a Xeric Award-winning comic that follows the misadventures of Liz, a college student and aspiring writer. From her vantage point, just about everything in her life is epic. And so we begin in this first issue with not just a midterm art project deadline on the horizon. No, this is fodder for our first big story, “The Monster.”
Talk about girls in trouble. Two current films tackle the subject in very different ways: Sofia Coppola’s “The Bling Ring” and David Wnendt’s “Combat Girls.” While these two films are miles apart, they also share some distinct similarities. In both cases, these are stories of young women adrift. When you are lost, you just might grab at anything that will make your life work, whether it’s joining a gang of thieves or joining a gang of skinheads. What we expect to see is these girls wise up as soon as possible. In both of these films, the young women must do what they do and let the consequences follow.
“The Bling Ring” is now in theaters. “Combat Girls” becomes available on DVD, VOD and Digital Download for the first time ever on July 9.
THE BLING RING
Emma Watson and Katie Chang in “The Bling Ring”
Let’s start with Sofia Coppola’s latest excursion into disconnected youth. Each of her films seems like a light and delicate soufflé. They are a treat, no doubt. But you always wonder, since “The Virgin Suicides,” if they might fall flat or require an added bit of indulgence. Ultimately, you leave savoring your meal, don’t you? That’s the thing to keep in mind. Like Wes Anderson films, there are certain ingredients that go into the mix and it’s best to be patient and see what happens.
A few years ago, a band of bratty kids from the San Fernando Valley went on a crime spree breaking into the homes of Hollywood bratties like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan. They were ultimately caught and their story was immortalized in an article published by Vanity Fair. All this raw material was just waiting to become the material for a Sofia Coppola movie. All the characters in this story defy any sympathy. And that’s the point of this story.
While the subject and the story may seem light, the overall effect of this film is actually pretty potent. A story like this one that subverts the conventional path to redemption is not at all shallow. It reminds me a bit of Gus Van Sant’s 1995 “To Die For,” starring Nicole Kidman, as an aspiring TV personality who will kill to gain the spotlight. While these girls aren’t killers, they are well on their way.
Rebecca, the ringleader, played by Katie Chang, is the most unlikely of leaders, ready to betray her friends and easily distracted. Nicki, played by Emma Watson, is a fine example of the rest of the gang in her ability to disconnect from reality. She does such a good job of it that she manages to create a good distance between the crime and herself. She ends up serving very little time and, in the end, it’s like it never happened, just a growing experience on her way to becoming an upstanding leader of society. I has to be said that Emma Watson “steals” the show in her role.
While the girls in “The Bling Ring” are not exactly rewarded for their bad behavior, they find the consequences to be minor at best. It’s almost like it leaves them hungering for yet a bigger thrill. Perhaps, years from now, that will be the material for another Sofia Coppola movie.
“The Bling Ring” is now in theaters. DVD Release Date is estimated to be November, 2013.
Alina Levshin and Jella Haase in “Combat Girls”
When we first see the band of hooligans take over a train and dominate the passangers, for a fleeting moment, they appear capable of anything. The posturing, the thumping and hypnotic music in the background, and the wild aggression make for quite a scene. But we quickly see they are cowards and only capable of inflicting pain. Director David Wnendt is a rising star and “Combat Girls” is his breakout film in the United States.
This film takes a more traditional route to redemption but does it with such a palpable urgency. This is a remarkably elegant and artful film, considering its rough subject. It is so lean and well paced that it casts you under its spell of intrigue, that rises to the level of Hitchcock. You may not be expecting so much going on in one film but this one is working on many levels.
Lost youth. The sins of a nation and its people. The burden of the past. Director David Wnendt’s goal, much like Sofia Coppola’s in “The Bling Ring,” is to speak on many factors all at once. As much as the past is the past, it haunts us and, given a chance, it will, like a virus, attach itself to new hosts. The legacy of Nazi Germany becomes the burden shouldered by two young women, one rich and one poor. The poor one, Marisa, played by Alina Levshin, is entrenched in all the rituals and life of the neo-Nazi: her boyfriend, her friends, her whole life. At 20, she is looking forward to nothing else.
For Svenja, at 15, she has many advantages open to her. She excels in school and has a bright future amid an upscale background. However, she has a creepy stepfather who dominates her life. He is so bent on having her quit smoking that he forces her to smoke a whole pack of cigarettes in his presence. As much as a lark than an outlet, Svenja takes up with one of the local skinheads. It’s only a matter of time before she has to prove her mettle to the relentlessly demanding Marisa.
And then there’s some twists of fate. First, Marisa’s thug boyfriend is hauled off to prison leaving Marisa untethered. This leads to the turning point in her life that happens abruptly but ends up having plenty of time to fester. Marisa has done something very bad but she doesn’t know to what extent. The only person who can provide her with any solace is her grandfather who is dying in hospital and has contributed far too much to Marisa’s fragmented life.
What happens next is extraordinary. Marisa, at still a young age, learns there is more to life than she has ever known before. It seems like it’s never to late to turn a page but, in Marisa’s case, the consequences of change may prove too severe.
Artsploitation’s release of COMBAT GIRLS will arrive on DVD, VOD and Digital Download for the first time ever on July 9, 2013. The DVD extras include an interview with Alina Levshin and an 8-page booklet.
“The Devastator” is the kind of quarterly humor magazine I had always thought of putting together back in college. My best friend and I did put out an issue of something that was a combination of his aspirations towards sytle and my aspirations towards wit. In a lot of ways, I see that tension, which can work really well, in the pages of this 56-page magazine. This is what people in search of stylish snark are really looking for and this mag pulls it off nicely.
In this issue, the theme is “Indie” and what that means. It will mean something different to each new generation. But, as R. Sikoryak and Michael Smith’s parody of “American Splendor” makes clear, whatever batch of 18 to 35-year-olds you belong to, you can be just as clueless as the one that came before.
I’m from the Gen X batch and, as is fully documented, we are a good-natured but uniquely alienated group, always demanding authenticity from others. Same darn thing can be said for the latest crop. In “Stat Attack!” by Lesley Tsina, a mock survey of college radio listeners reveals that the most compelling reason to tune in to college radio is to “fight the powers that be.” In Noah Van Sciver’s comic elegy to those who haunt indie bookstores, again, some things never change. That same baby soft cutie with her fingers crumpling up the ends of her sweater is still not going to give you the time of day. But the weirdo covered in aluminum foil will stick to you like glue. Such is the life of the young artist with a shit job.
How better to soothe the pain than to be a poseur? This activity is explored by Micki Grover and Matt Taylor in “Barry’s Time Machine,” where it’s not good enough to know all the names of obscure techno bands but you need to hop into a time machine and literally be the first to “discover” Nikola Tesla, right after his birth, and be the first to declare dinosaurs are cool. For an even closer look, we get a detailed analysis of the many, yet limited, facial expressions of the hipster. You can find that in “Ace of Face,” by Amanda Meadows, with art by Bryan Wolfson (see above).
And if you look way above, you see the cover art by Andy Ristaino, the lead designer on Pendleton Ward’s “Adventure Time,” seen on Cartoon Network. I feel it necessary to give that long description because what Andy Ristaino and Pendleton Ward, and all the other great talent that bring you the animated adventures of Jake, a magical talking dog, and Finn, the human boy, are saying something important. They’re talking about a whole new generation of chill people (no haters allowed) who are sensitive and enlightened souls. These are the grandchildren of John Lennon. And the brothers and sisters of Michael Cera. They’re flower people without the flowers, since flowers have feelings too.
I think that sentiment carries over significantly to something like “The Devastator.” It’s got a vibe like “National Lampoon” and “The Onion,” which is a good thing and makes sense, but it’s definitely cultivating its own unique laid back voice. It has tapped into the all the good stuff coming from the punk and zine scene from yesteryear and found itself quite relevant and much needed. Sweetness is cool and sweet, especially when sprinkled with just the right dash of sarcasm.
You can get your copy of “The Devastator #6” starting on October 16 for only $8. Save with a subscription by getting four quarterly issues for $30. Visit our friends at The Devastator.