Recorded Conversations: the (cultural) object of our affections

Welcome to “Recorded Conversations,” an occasional feature where all the Addison Recorder editors contribute their thoughts about a question, idea, or prompt. Everyone will chime in, and then we see where the conversation wanders. The question for this first Conversation was posed by Alex Bean:

Question: What cultural object (movie, music, show, book, play, whatever) do you find yourself coming back to again and again over the years?

I don’t really have a solid answer for this with a lot of detail, mostly because I’m drawn to about twenty different books or movies or albums or games at a time. My mood tends to be flighty, like the wind, and different pieces speak to me at different times because of that. It’s hard to nail anything completely down because the things that I identified with years ago mean different things to me now.

Jurassic Park was the first movie where I realized that I could be something with my life, whether it be a dinosaur or a paleontologist or a filmmaker or a writer. Sometimes I wish I could harness the passion that I felt about dinosaurs when I was five. To quote Paul Rudd in Knocked Up: “I wish I could feel as strongly about anything as kids feel about bubbles.” Insert (in place of bubbles) ‘dinosaurs’ and (in place of kids) ‘me as a five year old’ and you’ve got the general statement/problem of my entire life.

Five-year-old Travis is all OVER the latest study on whether dinosaurs were cold- or warm-blooded

The Lord of the Rings trilogy has been a central feature of my life since middle school — not because it was an escape from the hell that is growing up in a small Midwestern town, but because it was something that I could so strongly share with my mother. There is a trivia game that I was gifted by a friend concerning Lord of the Rings knowledge. While playing the game, we quickly discovered that my mom and I created an entirely unfair advantage when we were on the same team. The game would literally end on the first round because no one else would get one right and we would sweep on through everything. The stories of good and evil are something that I continually return to, and it reminds me deeply of the relationship with my mother that I have now lost.

To a similar extent, I am drawn not to culture/media, but to nature. A walk in the woods is as close as I have ever come to spiritual absolution, and I find myself craving wide open spaces free from the polluted, noisy cities that I have grown up near and around. Call it the spoiled life of a country boy, but I feel that there is something wrong with a  world where you look up into the sky but cannot see the stars due to light pollution. That’s why someday I figure to retire to a cabin in the middle of Wyoming or South Dakota or Arizona or the Upper Peninsula to just write and forget about society. (Chris McCandless is my homeboy)

Music has always been an important feature to me in my life. I grew up listening to a steady diet of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, learning to play instruments. I taught myself to play guitar by listening to Led Zeppelin’s albums over and over again, playing alongside and learning what it meant to be a musician. Even now, I strum away at my guitar when I’m feeling particularly irked or stressed or just in need of belting out Neil Young or Counting Crows after a long day of menial pay and no tangible results to witness. Any/all music seems to do the trick, but if I had to boil it down, my top five artists of all time are The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Counting Crows, Beck, and Nirvana.

With that in mind, how does one choose one object to return to over and over again?

Read the responses from the other editors: Bean, Andrew, and -J.

Observing the Observers Verbal Portraits from the Comics: Philosophy & Practice Conference, University of Chicago, May 2012

The writer needs to think as visually as the artist.

This is especially true in my chosen medium, but even without the presence of graphic narrative’s pictures, any serious writer needs to have characters visible in the mind’s eye. The close watching of human behaviors, physical qualities, and similar traits is a source of detail to borrow and inspiration to run with; the mere imagining of a single physical attribute may lead to a character’s entire backstory being formed.

It took me many years to learn how to pay attention to people, and it is a skill I am still honing, but I will always remember the moment when it became apparent to me how clearly the lesson had been learned. I was interviewing a friend of mine about her life to get some psychological insight for a project I had conceived… which is now, in part thanks to her, taking on new proportions. While taking notes, various aspects of her presence became more and more apparent with time: when her eyes would shift at some memories and glow at others. When she would pick at a small scab on her pristine white skin. And when how, deep in thought, she would finger her necklace. Suddenly, much richer and more textured creations came into my mind than had been imagined before.

The writer needs to be as visual as the artist.

Although for artists the significance level ratchets up. Observation of life and people is the foundation of their entire existence. In particular, the artists whose work has so greatly influenced me, my colleagues in the world of graphic narrative, whose portraiture skills, ranging from the ultra-realistic to the fancifully grotesque, have reinvented the comics world from the DC and Marvel tradition of heroes and action to gripping, emotional stories which break the rules of genre.

There is a lot to be written about the Comics: Philosophy & Practice conference held at the Logan Arts Center of the University of Chicago last month. The archives will preserve all what was said, but when I decided this was something I had to document from my point of view, the idea of truly looking at these luminaries, scrutinizing them a little as they scrutinize others, latched on to me hard.

What follows are my notes from the field.

[Read more…]