Black Holes and Revelations

When I started this blog, it just seemed like a necessary move to kickstart my “web presence” in the wake of publishing my first book. I don’t tend this little thoughtspew garden as frequently as I assumed I would, because I am prone to sloth by nature and because I have a LOT of other shit to do most every day. Sitting down to journal is a luxury from a past life. I had forgotten how much I used to do it until I cracked open a trunkload of my old spiral diaries and faux-leather-bound notebooks , vigorously and desperately maintained from the mid- ’80s through the late ’90s, a wild minddump of my (pedestrian, suburban, naively whitebread, hopelessly adolescent) innermost feelings, scraps of poetry, false starts at novels and short stories and scripts, and my most significant creative outlet until I started writing in genuine earnest and eventually getting paid for it sometimes.

What surprised me, and in equal parts heartened and frustrated me as well, was that much of the writing, in spite of the sometimes pathetic, navel-gazing, fear-stunted subject matter, was actually pretty good, especially for a guy in his 20s. Heartening because I know that writing is hopelessly entwined with the strands of my very DNA, and frustrating because I didn’t have the werewithal, back in those long-lost floundering days, to see things through to completion and start making my mark in some small way when I burned with that youthful energy and helpless need to find a way to connect with the world. When I had all the time in the world with me and ahead of me. And there’s that part of me that can’t help pondering, however uselessly, how different my life might have been if I had just knuckled fucking down and done it. But then I remember how much I genuinely like, even love, my life as it is now and realize that it’s all okay, and I can forgive myself my mistakes and lapses and not let them freeze and paralyze me in place the way they evidently did when I was young. Because I still have all the time in the world, even if I do have less of it.

I don’t know why I stopped journaling, except maybe I felt less desperate and started looking out more than in, or maybe my laziness just manifested in some new way, but honestly, what is a blog but a journal for the whole world to see (well, let’s be realistic–for the few dozen of you who might even bother to read this). The fact is, I’m supposed to be journaling as part of my sixth step in recovery, but I’m not sure I’m ready to bore, disturb, or frighten you all with a litany of my defects of character.

But I do recognize that my entries here, from the first one, have functioned as a kind of confessional self-appraisal blended–with little to no nuance–with my pop cultural obsessions. So as I continue to focus and figure out what I’m doing here, I figure I’ll just stumble forward in that direction, and I’ll either alternate or find unusual, hopefully interesting, frequently hamfisted ways of confronting my recovery while continuing to talk about my process as a writer, what I’m putting out in the world–or attempting to– creatively, and espousing the genuine virtues of comics, graphic novels, science fiction adventure, superpeople and capepunkers.

There will be the aforementioned navel-gazing, the requisite “what to watch/read/listen to” suggestions, the occasional shameless plugs for my books when they’re on sale or on the verge of publication, and whatever else crosses my fevered, frenzied, sometimes inspired, often dog-tired brain.

And this being October, I might as well suggest some horror shit for you people to investigate at your leisure.

I probably don’t have to tell most of you that the “Walking Dead” premiere was as good an episode as that show has done–fast-paced, probably a little slim on genuine character beats except for Tyreese and Carol, but filled with action that bordered perilously and brilliantly close to cinematic. Also shied ferociously away from that show’s tendency to drag things out when it comes to settings and certain main characters’ old tendency to spend more time talking than surviving. This one managed to be brutal, tense, and had me cheering for Rick in a way that I have been since he bit that son-of-a-bitch’s throat out. I was worried he was on the verge of becoming Jack from “Lost,” but Sheriff Grimes is really coming into his own. And it even managed to end on a warm, upbeat note in a way this show almost never allows for, with all of our heroes finally together and moving as one. I hope they can maintain this kind of confidence in both narrative and character going forward. This show might finally be ready to become great.

walking-dead-season-5-debut

Speaking of WD, I started reading “Outcast” by the creator himself, Robert Kirkman, and artist Paul Azaceta and I gotta say, so far, so great. It’s about a lost soul with an apparent gift for exorcising demons, which is a good thing because they seem to be popping up pretty much everywhere in his world. Terrific art and intriguing characters. Definitely worth  a look.

outcast_1

And finally, because I do have some of that other shit to do today, if you’re looking for some supremely weird and at times darkly funny low-budget horror, you could do worse than “The Banshee Chapter,” currently streaming on Netflix.

the-banshee-chapter

This caught my interest when I learned that Ted “Buffalo Bill” Levine from “Silence of the Lambs” and the amazing adenoidal voice and too many memorable character roles to count, was one of the stars. Only when I started watching did I realize that he was playing a Hunter S. Thompson analog (with savory dollops of Philip K. Dick mixed into the sauce) in a story about ill-advised MKUltra experiments involving a powerful psychedelic drug that opens a doorway to a very dark, Lovecraftian dimension. There are some “found footage” elements but it doesn’t stay stuck in that subgenre rut. It’s not easy to follow, but it’s fun to try and fathom what the fuck is going on. The acting is solid and Levine is amazing. Creep yourself out.

HST

And while this probably deserves to be a post all on its own, this weekend marks the third (fucking unbelievable) anniversary of the unexpected, tragic passing of my brother Michael. I have more thoughts and feelings around this than I can hope to process here or anywhere, but suffice to say he was special, wildly important to me and my family, and while I’ve found a place for my grief over the passing years, I still get frustrated, furious, and sloppily sad whenever it occurs to me (almost daily, really) that I will never get to share anything new with him ever again, and that he won’t be there to comfort me when the other inevitable tragedies of time befall me and the rest of my family. And while I was writing this post, this song came up on my iTunes. It’s a song that made me think of my siblings–for obvious reasons–from the first time I ever heard it, and I insisted it be played at his funeral as my way of saying goodbye. It’s called “Orange Sky” by Alexi Murdoch and I only recommend clicking if you’re in the mood to weep.

Advertisements

Infinite Midlife Crisis

If I were to try and trace the beginnings of my midlife crisis–such as it’s been–I imagine I could source its origins back to early 2008, when I was deeply unemployed and desperately depressed enough to seek help via a depression study I heard about in a radio ad. I’d been in a deep funk for months, the kind of constant emotional turmoil and pain that was reminiscent of the darkest depths of heartbreak I’d experienced at the crash-and-burn of romantic entanglements, or the bleak apocalyptic despair that inexplicably overwhelmed me during my first semester at college, when my personal uncertainties about the future manifested in the certainty that mankind as a species was doomed. A chronic self-medicator, I’d eschewed therapy and prescribed chemical assistance for the depression that had been my bane for most of my existence, from at least adolescence onward.

That depression, which the octogenarian head of the study would later refer to as “profound,” consisted of some fairly straightforward talk-therapy sessions, some very “Parallax View” computer memory tests, a little bit of cognitive conditioning, one of the scariest blood draws I ever experienced in my life (the slightly daffy, possibly incompetent nurse couldn’t seem to locate any of my admittedly pale veins, and I doubt GPS tracking would have helped her), and the administration of a drug that may or may not have been akin to Lexapro. It was a blind study, and of course no one could tell me if I was in the control group or the experimental group, so I had to take it on faith that I was actually getting help in that regard. I drew my own conclusions when, within two weeks, I started to feel like a human being and not a shambling meatbag full of simmering anxiety, swampy self-pity, bitter resentments and societal rage all swirling in my personal shame spiral.

Equally important, my wife noticed too, which was fantastic because my moods were not exactly contributing to harmony in the homestead, as you can imagine. Our son was a toddler at the time and my inner lethargy and emotional muck-wallowing meant I could barely see past the tip of my dick, much less offer any meaningful parental assistance. So in the nick of time, and while I had the time, thanks to unemployment, I took some action–mildly absurd action, it felt at the time, but at least a research study seemed like an interesting thing to do–and managed to rescue myself from ennui and maybe oblivion in the bargain.

There were still plenty of challenges to come–shitty jobs and worse bosses (but at least I was working again), personal setbacks, life shit, plus while things got easier at home, they didn’t suddenly become perfect. Magic pills they may have seemed, but even magic takes effort to keep working. I’ve remained on medication ever since, and fortunately I react well to what I’m on–no noticeable side effects and no recurrence of major depression, which is a big deal considering that in those early years I was still augmenting the meds with alcohol and drugs, self-medicating my mid-life away.

I suppose phase two of this crisis made itself known in earnest around 2010, when I was deep into popping a constant stream of unprescribed (at least to me) painkillers while simultaneously rekindling my long-shelved love of funnybooks. I’ve written a bit about this before, but I blame Ed Brubaker, particularly his Sleeper, Incognito and Captain America, in re-igniting this fire, to the degree that I began reworking a straightforward but stagnating (and still not quite finished) scifi novel I was writing into a superhero-stuffed opus involving Nazi scientists, atomic-powered sex goddesses, human-ape hybrids, ultrasecret agents and all manner of mid-20th-century craziness (gimme a couple more years and a few more books in between and I promise you it’s on its way).

The drug and alcohol abuse went the way of the dinosaur, but the reborn passion for comics didn’t. Good timing, too, because somewhere in there my wife bought me a Kindle and I discovered the joys of comixology and digital comics in general (if you’re a Luddite print-freak who takes issue with this, I respect that, but I still selectively collect when I can, and I only got so much shelf space). Not to mention the fact that Marvel’s complete takeover of Summer blockbuster cinema also coincided with all this, and suddenly my deep middle ages are a pretty incredible time to be a fan of well-made escapist entertainment.

Don’t get me wrong–I still enjoy serious grounded arthouse drama onscreen and on the tube and on the printed or computerized page–but if I have to be honest, 40-something me seems to crave, desire and appreciate the indulgent fun of alternate realities and costumed crusades more than adolescent me ever did. Which makes sense, seeing as I’m more or less the same age as a lot of my favorite creators of this material.

I’m also fortunate that, in creating and publishing my own superhero-centric fiction, I’ve discovered a whole vast narrative prose subgenre, much of it of great quality and sophistication. From Austin Grossman’s “Soon I Will Be Invincible” to Mike Leon’s “Kill Kill Kill” to Casey Glander’s Gailsone series and on and on, there is just a wealth of this stuff to be found on Amazon and elsewhere at very affordable prices and it’s a shit-ton of quick-reading fun that covers a lot of ground, from balls-out satire to sharply human drama to blood-soaked action.

And then there’s TV. I mean, seriously, just between Arrow and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. alone it is truly a great time to be a fan of this stuff, weekly doses of genuine comic book awesomeness beamed straight into my eyes for free! And if you’re a true Marvel fan who checked out on S.H.I.E.L.D. in the early, pre-Winter Soldier portion of its first season, I strongly urge you to give it another shot because not only did it come screaming to life after that shot in the arm in the back half of last season, it’s come roaring out of the gate in season two with a kind of confidence in its characters and storytelling that makes it seem like everyone on staff over there started taking the creative equivalent of supersoldier serum over the Summer. Seriously, last year Arrow was my favorite piece of pure entertainment on the idiot box, but so far this year S.H.I.E.L.D. is just crushing everything in its storytelling path. But I digress.

I guess my point, if I have one, is that there are certainly worse ways to “suffer” a midlife crisis. My life is better than it’s ever been. I’m writing, I’m creating, I’m being a better husband and father than I ever thought I could, and in between, I spend a lot more time with superheroes than I do with drug dealers.

So my Bukowski and Hunter Thompson-worshipping/emulating days are behind me. I’m not going to buy a Harley, have a tawdry affair, go on a wild bender, quit my job and run off to an ashram. Or at least, I won’t as long as I can keep getting my superhero fix.

Order a Hard Copy of “The Eternity Conundrum” from Budget Press!

The Eternity Conundrum Final Final

Hey all! New pub from Budget Press! What happens when you’re in the middle of destroying the planet and you find out your wife is pregnant? In this prequel to The Villain’s Sidekick, Stephen T. Brophy combines action, humor, and a little bit of heart to give proof that supervillian’s are people too. Buy now! $3.00 hard copy – 99 cents e-copy!

http://www.angelfire.com/ca/bpress/eternity.html