On “Binky Brown”

Reading about this groundbreaking undergrounder in Hillary Chute’s Why Comics? reminds me of the time I first came across it (I believe it was the second printing) in a Missoula “head shop.” The cover alone was “WHAAAAAAT?” This will fill you in on its history and significance.

I couldn’t believe this comic — every page was a revelation (as well as disturbing) that touched on society, the sexes, religion, growing up, and of course psychological disorder of the OCD type. It’s a bit like Elvis — it’s impossible to convey the jolt of surprise as one encountered “Binky Brown” when it was new.

I was on the inexperienced and naive side myself. I was certain Justin Green was going to become a prolific comix genius. For a long time I thought of him with a twinge of disappointment. Older and at least a couple (white) hairs wiser, I now see what an unrepeatable performance “Binky Brown” was. But hey — lots of artists have long and large careers without producing even one masterpiece. I bought the fancy 2009 reprint and thought Green’s work deserved every bit of the celebration.

The Alien God

Those with less faith in God tend to have more in Aliens. I came to the conclusion, back when I was regularly writing about pseudo-science, particularly extraterrestrial encounters, that the believers were more alt-religious than anything else. Which meant it was a topic where you weren’t going to change very many minds.

But something seems a bit off about this essay. As I noted yesterday talking about the story of Gef!, there was obviously a lot of superstitious belief when people were plenty more religious. I will agree that there’s clearly been a rise in superstitions with scientific veneers in the last century. (I like to say that the three great myths of our time are “U.F.O., E.S.P. and W.M.D.” — hawhaw.) And all are clearly intertwined in a search for meaning beyond the mundane.

30 Years Ago Today, On the Summer Solstice of ’87

… Donna and I wanted to get married because the day fell on a Sunday and would be easy to always remember. And would always feature the longest potential sunshine of the year. But our selected minister had a commitment to a weekly sermon on the radio (!!) and so couldn’t do it until the next day. So we were married on a Monday — thirty years ago tomorrow.

Roma Holiday #4: Pleasant Surprises

(1) We got what I would call an ideal viewing of the Sistine Chapel.

We had long been warned to start a Vatican tour as early as possible and zip right to the Chapel in order not to be distracted and even overwhelmed by a sea of crowds. We went with the 7:30 AM tour done by The Roman Guy and indeed did motor pretty much right into the Sistine Zone. I expected the  groups to be as small and scattered as they were, but I worried that we would be more or less hustled through the room. Instead (though our guide said she was not allowed to say much, she would answer questions — I noticed a couple other guides kinda ignored the silencio requirement) we got absolutely enough time for a full examination. And no question, it’s a pinnacle of human achievement.

Three sub-points and I’ll move on. I’ve always thought “God Separating the Light From the Darkness” looked oddly murky and unfinished (even in the cleaned reproductions I had seen). Observing the work itself, it was plain Michelangelo intended this deliberately. The primal origin is the murkiest moment in the history of the universe — and I think every religion as well as science would agree on this truth. Next, no matter how many dozens and dozens of times I have scanned the “Final Judgement” I never appreciated how horrible and emotionally tempestuous is the figure of Minos. Nightmare.

Minos

Finally my favorite non-Michelangelo work in the Sistine is on the right of the back wall. Shows angels chasing demons away from the corpse (and soul) of Moses, who had a very sordid set of later years, of course. Very demony demons (as I say, you can tell when the artist believes) and a knockout presentation of the principle that the good you do can redeem the bad. I flopped attempts to track down who painted it.

(2) The modern art we saw offered serious competition in wonderfulness to the classical masters.

(And my biggest complaint is that you could do a well-researched visit to Rome and hear next to nothing about the Modern treasures.) The Time Out of Joint exhibition was a thorough treat — well, a few dull rooms — and we would say a must. One of the best aspects is that, while there are themed sections, there’s no right or wrong way to put together your path through the building. Just make sure you take in everything. The Hercules in the link, btw, is the only 19th century mythology-themed statue that rivaled the glory-years works. The others were warnings about how trapped in a wondrous past a country’s traditions could become. And even this Herk is an obscure if intense moment I had to look up to remember.

The Botero retrospective was a surprise treat among surprise treats. We got in during a special-discount late-hours session on Saturday and enjoyed a crowd with more art-devoted locals than usual. Particularly strong on showing how turning pre-existing themes into you own language is potent. The blow-my-heart-and-brains section was the one on circus performers. Only gripe: 80-year-old Botero oversaw the selections himself and chose to present his work as a bit more above politics than it is. Even one of these would have made it a perfect survey.

(3) Food and taste cheerys.

We had forgotten that not just eggs but milk — and cheese and ice cream and yogurt etc. — was richer and more complex in Europe than in the US. I yearn for one of those yogurt and fruit snacks to this minute. Also, sticking rigidly to my new eating schedule felt half deranged and half impossible. Especially as I caved on carbs for unforgettable pasta and even bread sometimes, I worried. We were quite active — walked at least two miles or more every day — I was sure I would gain.

Stepped on the scale the day after we returned: not a single pound added. Joy oh joy. The only change I’m going to make in my routine is to be a tiny bit more forgiving about an occasional slice of bread that seduces me. Should be offset by my reluctance to settle for the lesser pasta hereabouts.

Eternal question: where has Italian wild boar been all my life? Over there, waiting for me to flip out over it.

(4) The stunning clarity of the cleaned-off artwork banished all regret at taking so long to visit the Eternal City.

The freshened stone and canvas and even paper are what to see. An indisputable argument was the Coliseum — where you almost wish they would leave the grime-removal incomplete since the compare-and-contrast was so fascinating.

Speaking of the Coliseum, another pleasant surprise was the extensive temporary display that traced the history of the giant structure in reproductions and reconstructions, including representations in paintings and illustrations.

There was yet still more, but I’m outta poop.

Worlds At Once: Guillermo Del Toro at LACMA

Great hunks of the objects presented in this article are currently on display at a special exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. And we spent a whole afternoon checking it out. Absolutely overwhelming.

I was amazed how much our fascinations overlapped — esp. up until the start of high school when I was equally obsessed with becoming a painter/comic-book artist and a fantasy writer. (My mother refused to let me take the one art class Park Senior High offered — because “artists starve” — but she couldn’t prevent me from taking English.)

Shortly after I began exploring the, yes, labyrinthine arrangements of rooms and themes, I fell into multiple simultaneous states and experiences:

I was awake and asleep. I relived the dream when I was eight where a giant rattlesnake was coiled in our shower stall and the most hideous creature my imagination ever created blocked my escape into the hall. I was watching TV shows and films that scared me so much I shivered and cried. I was being bitten by the monkey in the rock shop. I was so deep into comics in the sunny corner of my bedroom they felt like films unreeling before me. My father slammed the car door on my hand. I saw a shadow man dancing for many minutes at the foot of my bed. I saw whimsical, slightly scary creatures that nobody else could see scramble across floors and up walls. I poured over stills from horror movies that I longed to view. The 7th Voyage of Sinbad changed my life. Dinosaurs were the perfect obsession because they were monsters that had been real and were hiding somewhere in this current Earth. I was feeding hay to a hippo in a circus that came to town. I was looking at the carcass of a dead sheep as my father skinned it. I encountered Abominable Snowmen: Legend Come To Life. I saw the headlines that a second murder-suicide had happened in our little town in the space of 18 months. I flowed through the hallucinations caused by raw ether when my tonsils were cut out in first grade that prepared me for every drug illusion of my life.

I witnessed a collector who thrilled and gratified my heart.

Like they say, a must-see.