Culture

Things I Did Not Write About in 2014, Part 2

Photo by Ian Johnston.
Photo by Ian Johnston.

One of the things I truly regret as the Star‘s publisher is that I am the Star‘s publisher. I spend most of my time for the journal soliciting and editing other people’s work to keep everything rolling, when I’d much rather be writing. This has two consequences. As I mentioned last week, it leaves me unable to write about as many things as I should like. But it also leaves me unable to write about things that would, so to speak, fill in the gaps in our coverage.

I think we cover local politics and national issues fairly well. I think we cover the performing arts even better. Better still is our publication of poetry, fiction, and comics. But we do not get much writing about poetry, fiction, and comics. Critical writing about literature and visual art remain one of our weak areas that I would love to fix. I cannot fix it myself. It isn’t because I have no interest in such things myself–obviously I do. There simply isn’t enough time to do it all.

Here, however, are a couple of comics-related things I would have written about in 2014, had I more time, or more artificial limbs, or more clones–and a couple of thoughts on some performances, too.

***

Short Run — This year’s Short Run in November was a bit of chaos. Kelly Froh tells me that this year broke all previous attendance records, and having had to make my way through the teeming masses of people, I have no doubt she is right. The festival was stuffed to the gills with patrons and talent, so much that no one could possibly take it all in within a day.

Something else was different, too. This year the festival had a hint–just a hint–that it was reaching across the generation gap. The past Short Run events I’d been to were very much the province of youth. Not exactly a problem, but old bastards like me looked as out of place there as I feel at an Opeth concert. Last year there was a sort of obeisance in this direction, with members of the “old” alternative comix scene in Seattle like Jim Blanchard, but this year I actually saw more patrons themselves who were clearly past their hip, younger days. It was nice to see Donna Barr, Mark Campos, Pat Moriarity, and the legendary Jim Woodring together with Max Clotfelter, Sarah Rosenblatt, Theo Ellsworth, and the Nobrow Press folks. But it was even nicer to see readers that age. I’d probably have loved it even more if I had the chance to hear these people talk a little together and share their experiences in the world of comix, but Short Run has never shown any such interest in panel discussions. Somewhere in the alternate future there is a festival like Short Run which does have panels and demonstrations that are far superior to the dross at Comic-Con and its demon spawn ECCC, but I’ll probably never live in it. Pity, that.

***

The Intruder — I’ve written about The Intruder before. Since then they’ve received attention from The Comics Journal, City Arts, Seattle Weekly, and even the self-appointed scions of hipness at The Stranger. So I’ve let others tow the bandwagon, because I’m hardly clever enough to compete, nor intelligent enough to add anything. Nevertheless I’ve continued to read the paper, which has lost some voices and gained others. I continue to enjoy Aidan Fitzgerald’s excellent work. I am becoming a great fan of both Seth Goodkind and Joe Garber, thoroughly enjoying the contrast their sharp design sense brings to the normally chaotic proceedings in the tabloid–almost as far out as seeing Art Spiegelman or Dave McKean alongside S. Clay Wilson. Also, I’ve been greatly pleased to see David Lasky, John Ohannesian, and the great Bruce Bickford grace the Intruder pages. I still want to see more female artists in the tabloid, but that is an eternal concern in the world of comics.

Something that strikes me about the whole enterprise, though, after its thirteen episodes, is that there is still another direction to go. The Intruder pieces are all short. Even in their serial work Tom Van Deusen and Ben Horak keep the stories brief. The tabloid therefore often comes off as an American Illustration Showcase for the diversity of artists in Seattle. That is hardly a bad thing, but what is being showcased tends to be the artist’s visual style rather than thoughtful content. Without some space to lay out longer stories–and I don’t mean story in the sense of simple narrative–it is difficult for the artists to treat anything very deeply.

There’s a lot of talk about the comics boom in Seattle and about the “goopy style” and so on. But all the discussion is superficial. What unifies Seattle comics intellectually? What does this generation of artists think about beyond style? Do they think about anything deeply at all, or are they only concerned with creating empty visuals? Reading the local press, one would hardly find any answers. Reading the Intruder itself, one has only guesses. The Intruder itself may not be the place to establish those answers, the way that Zap established them for the first wave of American Underground Comix, or the way that RAW established them for the 1980s. But there has to be some place that does, or this so-called boom will simply bust as every Seattle boom quickly does.

***

Terre Haute — Robert Bergin is one of the finest young actors in Seattle, and I always see anything he is in. His intelligence and dedication are quite rare among actors, and those qualities lift his performances and sometimes even the productions in which he plays to a high level of art. Norman Newkirk, too, is an actor I highly admire. As expected, both are excellent in the production. Aaron Levin’s direction, too, makes sense with its firm choices and is brilliant in its clarity.

And then there’s Edmund White’s script. Two brilliant characters in the confined space of a jail, for which the Lalie theater space is perfectly evocative, talk intelligently about politics. One is a world-famous writer; the other, a “terrorist” on death row. Even though the end is predetermined, this is a fine dramatic set-up. The play clearly intends to be taken seriously. It is, however, in taking it seriously that its limitations become obvious. Good drama, like all good art, operates effectively on at least two levels. As Minor White used to ask of his photography students, “Sure it’s a picture of a tree, but what else is it?” I found myself asking this question about the other Mr. White’s play. Sure it’s a dialogue between two people in a prison, but what else is it?

I’d have liked to answer more confidently that it is also a play about human rights, the erosion of American freedom from self-induced fear, and a sharp reminder that not all so-called terrorists are brown people from an exotic land in the Orient but rather that we, as Americans, are much greater terrorists even against our own people. But that is not the play Mr. White has written. Instead he’s written a play like so many other American plays that reduce social politics to individual psychodrama. At the end of the play I felt very much as though the play’s author was interested more in the sexual attraction between the two characters as a purely sexual attraction: not as in Nabokov’s Lolita, where the sexual attraction is a metaphor for the seduction of Old World Europe by New World America, leading both ultimately to ruin; not as a caution about being seduced by sexy-sounding rhetoric bound up with ideas that promote unjustifiable slaughter; not as an exploration, even, of the old saw that there but for the grace of God go I–nothing of the sort. And while I’m certainly not against sexual attraction as the start of something much greater–that is, after all, the story of human life itself–I am definitely against it as the end of something much greater. Sure Terre Haute‘s drama is erotic and creepy, but what else is it? I think the answer to that is: not much.

***

Luna — José Amador gave a short preview of Anna-Lizette Conner’s piece back in March before it opened. I saw it in pieces at On the Boards and at BOOST over the span of a couple years, so I looked forward to seeing its final shape. Ever since I saw it (twice) I’ve been wanting to write something about it, but have found the piece eludes me in many ways. This isn’t a bad thing.

There’s been a sizable amount of overlap with performance and visual art in the past few years in Seattle, from the elaborate plans of SuttonBeresCuller to the exploratory work of K.T. Niehoff. Though it works with similar ideas, Luna isn’t on that scale. Partly this is limited by finances. Ms. Conner originally had a much larger, rather more expansive idea that she has whittled down to its current size. It’s still environmental, but instead of it being in the audience’s face, it is more at the audience’s feet; they pass through it at will, moving from one thing to the next at leisure. This places one at a kind of remove from the proceedings. They are watched rather than experienced, seen rather than felt.

I don’t think this is a problem. It simply makes it a different kind of event. The installation-like sections, each occupying its own chamber of the hall, are individually quite beautiful and their images are strong. The first room features Autumn Tselios moving dreamily among scraps of paper, each inscribed with broken dreams and frustrated desires, while another, headless woman sits in a corner with a music box dancer. In the second room, Ms. Conner herself dances–or rather tangles with Julia Cross beneath a web of wires in a dark, fog-filled room filled with other papers that hold written secrets. Cumulatively the images make an effective statement about dashed hopes, the dehumanization of the female body and through that body the female personality. This sets the mood for the dance proper, which is discontinuous from the installations. The three dancers join together in a series of trios interrupted by duets and solos that resembles something like three sisters growing up together, constantly in competition with each other, fighting each other, establishing their pecking order, often being plainly brutal to each other, yet still trying to hold on to love and tenderness as they grow into themselves.

Myself having six sisters, I found all of this readily accessible, and I’m sure anyone who’s ever seen three women together in any social situation has seen the same dynamics a hundred times. I found myself wondering what direction Ms. Conner would push her work next. Luna isn’t exactly durational. It isn’t exactly a dance installation. It isn’t exactly a pure movement piece. It has a lot of ideas that I duly wish to see Ms. Conner take up and explore, and I have no doubt she will.


Omar Willey was born at St. Frances Cabrini Hospital in Seattle and grew up near Lucky Market on Beacon Avenue. He believes Seattle is the greatest city on Earth and came to this conclusion by travelling much of the Earth. He is a junior member of Lesser Seattle and, as an oboist, does not blow his own trumpet. Contact him at omar [at] seattlestar [dot] net