Sunday, March 3, 2013

My name's Nate and I'm a comic book fan

I have a confession to make. At age 33, I'm an unabashed fan of comic books. It's not something I talk about openly unless I'm in the company of people I know won't judge me, which surprisingly (considering the epic success of Iron Man, the Avengers, Batman, the Walking Dead and others) is still the clear majority of those in my social circle.

Over the last few years Ali and I started this amazing family tradition of driving down Charlotte Pike on Saturday mornings so she can shop at thrift stores and I can sift through the comic shelves at Great Escape.

Ali uses the opportunity to find designer fashions she can re-sell through Lucy and Lloyd and I use the opportunity to live out an obsession that escaped me for a variety of reasons as a kid.

I'd always been intrigued with comics but I was more into sports and music, and my family was on a fairly strict budget, so there wasn't spare money for something at the bottom of my pass-time totem pole. Sure I would read comics from time to time in the book store or at a friend's house, but I would rather spend my occasional allowance money on baseball cards or CDs than comic books.

I don't know if my perspective is different as an adult, but it seems like the overall quality of comics has improved dramatically over the last few decades. Comics have inspired some of the most successful movies and television shows in the last 10 years, and the quality of the writing frequently dwarfs that of best-selling young adult offerings that also seem to appeal to older adults (like Twilight, Harry Potter and Hunger Games).

Probably the main graphic novel that sparked my adulthood interest in comics as Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn. The story is about a young man and his monkey who are the only male species to survive a cataclysmic event. I know so many people who watched Lost in these marathon sessions on DVD, because each episode had a sense of mystery and a cliffhanger at the end that just pulled you along to the next one.

Y was kinda like that. It was just as intense, just as full of sci-fi intrigue. Vaughn actually parlayed his success on Y to a writing job on Lost. Over the last few years, no comic has come close to touching this epic novel.

More recently, I've started reading Vaughn's new indie book Saga, a sort mix between Star Wars' intergalactic adventure vibe and a young adult drama about relationships and new parenthood. This book was practically geared toward nerdy new dads like me, and of all the books I have read regularly, this is probably the best-drawn.

One book that I would definitely recommend to my friends who are skeptical of whether they'd like comics in their early 30s, but trust my judgment for books and TV shows would be Mind Mgmt by Matt Kindt. The book is about a flight of people who arrive to their destination to find all of them have lost their memory, except for one passenger. It's up to a young true crime novelist to untangle the mystery, and if this book doesn't become a movie or series like Walking Dead, I'll eat my face.

My favorite mainstream comic is definitely Daredevil, pictured above, which I also think would work really well as a TV series. The most recent version, which won the 2012 Eisner Award, the comic version of the Oscar, has Daredevil's alter-ego trying to revive his troubled career as an attorney by stepping away from the courtroom and instead teaching clients how to represent their own cases. The action sequences is pure action-movie goodness as Daredevil's comicbook success has completely squashed the epic failure of the movie. In fact I wonder if any comic has a better stable of writers in its archives than Daredevil - Lee, Miller, Brubaker, Waid.

And most recently, I've started reading new Swamp Thing, which is a mix of horror, superhero, and sci fi comics all rolled into one somewhat confusing, but ultimately deliciously trippy package.

Finally, the book I am collecting most religiously lately is the Goon, which is written and drawn by Nashville artist Eric Powel. The Goon feels like 1920s noir with a side of zombie horror, only it is genuinely hilarious. The art is impeccable, but the thing that separates the Goon, which has also won several Eisner Awards, is it is genuinely creative and unique. A kickstarter effort to turn the book into a film was successful last year and Hollywood heavyweights like David Fincher and Paul Giamatti are on board to help the project. Here's hoping it gets off the ground.

So if you are like me and were always curious about comic books (or graphic novels as those who are embarrassed to say they read comic books call them), there are a few suggestions to check out. And if you happen by Great Escape on Saturday mornings, come say hey and lemme know what you're reading these days....

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Favorite Music of 2012

Since I created this blog a few years ago, I've had an ongoing tradition of sharing with my friends my favorite music from the previous year. With renewed efforts to keep my blog alive, I thought what better way than returning to that tradition.

Favorite album: Celebration Rock by the Japandroids
Adulthood does strange things to a guy's musical tastes. Last year I watched Cameron Crowe's documentary about Pearl Jam's remarkable and essential career.

I connected so deeply with the movie, because Pearl Jam's songs were the songs of my own youth. And, yet, I find myself listening to Pearl Jam pretty infrequently these days. My taste has changed. When Elderly Woman, or Rearview Mirror comes up on shuffle, I am taken back to where I was in my life when those songs were popular. Nerdy, awkward, surrounded by a fantastic, but small group of friends. Life changes so little.

One of the reasons music means so much to me is because it truly does soundtrack our lives. When I hear Scar Tissue, or Peacebone, I remember those songs because I was listening to the Chili Peppers a lot when I went to college, and to Animal Collective when I started dating Ali.

My favorite album of 2012 was Japandroids' the House that Heaven Built because 1. it was memorable enough that I will always remember what my life was like last year as I listened to it repeatedly and 2. it reminds me of a better version of the punk bands I listened to so earnestly when I was half my current age.

The album is loud, and catchy, and makes you want to listen to it while catching up with old friends at a party - something I felt like I was able to do last year. It also makes you want to roll the windows down and just drive with the stereo blaring, and carrying you in no particular direction.

Indie music seems to value testosterone so little these days, and in some ways that's a good thing. But this is a guys' album about getting drunk, and laid, or remembering a long-ago time when doing those things was such a great achievement. I'd recommend this album to anyone, but I especially recommend it to my best old friends, who I'm sure will know exactly what I'm talking about the first time they give it a spin.

Favorite song: Wildest Moments by Jessie Ware
For a song with so many layers - dark, sexy, catchy, dancey - Jessie Ware sure made a simple video for my favorite track of 2012. The video is simply her singing the song into the camera, while she spins around like a record, rotating into the viewer's line of sight and out as if she's standing on a turntable.

The song is called Wildest Moments, but the beat is controlled and simple, like her video. It's the lyrics that pulled me in and made it my favorite song of last year.

Favorite concert: M83 at Marathon Music Works
At 33, I am pretty measured these days about which artists are worthy of dragging myself out of the friendly confines of my living room, and my Netflix queue in order to spend my hard-earned cash just to venture all the way downtown and suffer ungodly hipsters, overhyped food trucks and long bar lines.

But, M83 was worth every penny Ali and I paid for out ticket. Even the smelly pervert who sometimes blocked our view of the stage couldn't ruin it for me.

The band played a straight-forward set for nearly 2 hours, rarely stopping in between songs for idle chitchat. Just a rush of danceable shoegaze pop. It sounded like a danceclub symphony, and by the end Ali and I agreed it was one of the best shows we'd seen together.

Favorite music moment: The Carmonas at the Basement
So Nashville has a music scene that is alternately phony, pretentious, shallow and out-of-touch. It's hard to sift through it all and find artists with soul, and it's even more difficult for those artists to catch attention and stand out in the crowd.

What are the record labels that run this scene thinking these days, I have no idea. I see so many great musicians passed over, and so many bland ones get noticed.

It seems unfair that talent isn't simply enough for the deserving to get attention. Sometimes, bands take their message straight to the people. Last year the Carmonas played a gig at the venerable  Basement, and they shared the stage with a variety of bands who came to see more than just them. One group of fans was there to see a nauseatingly cutsey pop duo that struck me as a cross between Hansen and Bieber, and an undefinable something else that made me want to harm something. There was a local songwriter backed by a full band including a harp (a harp!!) who left a pretty positive impression on me, until he stepped away from the mic and played his most popular song on just a ukulele. And there was a family band, that played good old fashioned simple rock n roll.

At one point during their set, the Carmonas had a mixture of each of these bands' fans sitting in captivation. The audience heard their music without any filters, and without anything prompting them to believe this was good music. Most of the crowd had never heard them before. And to see the audience so captivated in songs I'd heard since their infancy, in such a special venue, well it was an unforgettable moment for me.

Other albums I listened to a lot this year: Animal Collective, Alabama Shakes, the Walkmen, the Shins, Sleigh Bells, Spiritualized.

I also spent a good amount of my time catching up on a North Carolina band called Spider Bags, who I highly recommend to people who think they might trust a recommendation from me.

Hey 2013 is already shaping up to be a great year in music. We have tickets to see Animal Collective in March, Frightened Rabbit is coming later in the month, Local Natives have already put out a record and rumor has it My Bloody Valentine may finally put out a followup to the impossible-to-follow Loveless.

Spider Bags: 

Jessie Ware: 



Reviving this blog

Last September, the guy launching wrote me to ask if there was a conflict between this blog and his website.

Because this blog had fizzled out in the preceding months, I told him there wasn't a conflict and I would likely change my blog name. In truth, I thought seriously about pulling the plug on this blog altogether.

After a day of work in the newsroom, I've found it difficult to take the time to write my selfish drivel about music, or the Packers, or movies or my life in general. But as the months have passed I've had a change of heart. Writing about that selfish drivel has always been somewhat important to me and there are at least four people who follow this blog (Sam, Landon, Ali, AC, hello to you), so I'm going to try to revive it.

Ali says it's important to keep writing for fun, something I once did on a daily basis. I'm a full-time husband and father, and sometimes investigative reporter. Writing for pure fun can seem frivolous. Plus I have started to use the iPad as my primary computer, and it is definitely not a writing friendly device.

Anyhow, with sincerest apologies to the second Nate in Nashville, I am going to try to get this thing humming again.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Packers Draft Preview

I've read the countless amateur NFL Draft sites, digested Milwaukee Journal Sentinel legend Bob McGinn's first batch of draft previews, even purchased Mel Kiper's draft report for the first time in many years, all in an effort to get a handle on who the Packers might target in this year's draft.

The one x-factor that research can never account for is general manager Ted Thompson's creative approach to building his roster. The Packers followed up a Super Bowl title with a 15-win season, including setting the record for most consecutive wins. You'd think Thompson would concentrate on maintaining a championship caliber roster, perhaps by plugging the team's surprising number of holes in free agency. Nope. Instead, Thompson has let one Pro Bowl player (Scott Wells), possibly two regular starters (Ryan Grant and Erik Walden) and a key backup (Matt Flynn) depart in free agency.

Though Thompson did make a rare move by signing an unrestricted free agent in Jeff Saturday to start at center, the Packers enter the draft with as many as three holes in their starting lineup if we presume that Pro Bowl safety Nick Collins' career is finished because of his neck injury. So once again the Packers will seek to improve by developing their own young players and adding competition through the draft. This year, Green Bay has 12 draft choices, which if I'm not mistaken, is the second most in the entire league. That means the Packers once again figure to have one of the youngest rosters in the league.

But it also makes this year's draft, especially the first three rounds, especially intriguing. It would appear to fans like me as if Thompson has the ammunition with so many extra draft choices to package a few picks together so he can trade up and take a player to fill a hole. But with so many starting positions -- defensive end, right outside linebacker, safety -- unfilled, it might make even more sense to hold on to the 12 picks. The more draft choices you have, the better yoru odds of coming with a few surefire contributors in your draft.

The Packers largest single need in order to remain a contending team is to improve their pitiful pass defense, which was one of the worst in NFL history last season. How did the defense go from leading the Packers to a Super Bowl title to setting records for futility? A number of factors, not the least of which was the record breaking offense, which gave the team huge leads week after week and forced opponents to chuck the ball a lot as they tried to play catch up. But there was also the fruitless pass rush, which produced just 27 sacks, Collins' injury, a nagging shoulder injury to Tramon Williams and the regressed play of nickel back Sam Shields. This feels more like a draft for an 8-8 team than a 15-2 team.

According to my research, the draft shapes up nicely to meet the Packers' needs at defensive end and outside linebacker, and not so great with their needs at safety and backup quarterback. It seems that as many as 10 players could be drafted by the Packers in round one to start at outside linebacker opposite Clay Matthews. Here is a brief summary of those players based on my amateur research of draft sites, professional Packers media coverage and my own uneducated opinion of how they might fit on Green Bay's roster.

1. Melvin Ingram, South Carolina, probably the best edge rusher in the draft and the one player I think it would be worth coupling draft picks together for a trade up. Ingram's college highlights indicate he is best prepared to play in space and create havoc as a 3-4 OLB.

2. Shea McClellin, Boise State, a rugged farm boy who has the advantage of having been used in a variety of ways for the Broncos, which must appeal to defensive coordinator Dom Capers who likes to get creative with such versatile players. A month ago, his name was not really in the conversation but now there is serious question as to whether he'll be there at 28, so again, he may be an option for a trade up.

3. Courtney Upshaw, Alabama, sort of the inverse of McClellin, is a guy everybody knew a lot about since he was a star at Bama, but now is inexplicably sliding down draft boards. He's tough, also versatile, and would seem like an every down player, because he can hold the point of attack against the run and create pass rush with his great strength. He's sliding, and I have a feeling he could be the pick if Green Bay stays at 28.

4. Vinny Curry, Marshall, if the previous three players are gone I wouldn't be at all surprised if Curry is the pick. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel had a story about him this week that said something to the effect of, "Curry could be Packers first round pick," so there's that. He plays his ass off, had a great college career and is super athletic, but some teams question whether he is best suited for a 3-4 OLB, so the question with him might be scheme not talent.

5. Whitney Mercilus, Illinois, was a "one-year wonder" at Illinois, but in that one year he led the nation in sacks with 16 and forced nine turnovers. He also seems to have the "fluidity" of movement you hear scouts say is needed for a 3-4 OLB. Packers fans remember preseason wonder Vic So'oto, who lacked that same attribute. He also seems hungry to succeed because he wants to provide for his parents, who are Haitian immigrants.

6. Donta Hightower, Alabama, I'm a little stumped on Hightower being continually mentioned as a possibility because he was a middle linebacker in college and Green Bay has three starting-caliber players at middle linebacker already. Having said that, Hightower was lined up outside and would seem to be talented enough to make the position switch. I'm not sure I would be comfortable teaching a guy a new position when there is such a clear need for an immediate upgrade. Now there are several other players on this list that were college defensive ends who would also be moving to a new position, but their main concentration was still rushing the pass rusher, whereas Hightower was only occasionally asked to do so for the Crimson Tide.

7. Nick Perry, USC, was an accomplished college player, who excelled at rushing the passer. I might have him ranked higher as a possibility except that he flat out said he didn't want to have to stand up and play OLB in the pros, so that has to hurt his stock for a team like the Packers who would ask him to do just that.

8. Andre Branch, Clemson, is a guy who I feel like is ranked a little lower than he deserves because people have bad memories of Clemson's pitiful Orange Bowl blowout loss to West Virginia. What the hell was that about? He could sneak into the first round and it wouldn't be shocking, but it would seem like 28 is just a tad too high for him.

9. Chandler Jones, Syracuse, is another guy who would be rated higher based solely on athletic ability, but again he appears to be best suited as a 4-3 defensive end. I wonder if he would be a good fit for the Bears? He has one brother in the NFL and another is a UFC champ, so he's got the blood lines. He also had a knee injury concern last season, which is always scary *coughs* Justin Harrell *coughs*

10. Bruce Irvin, West Virginia, would probably not be worthy of a first round selection, but could just maybe be there in the second round. He might be the best pure pass rusher of this group, but he's a little small and he's never played 3-4 OLB.

11. Ronnell Lewis, Oklahoma, is tough, athletic and a talented pass rusher, but he had huge problems in the classroom and his coaches were rumored to have told him to go ahead and skip his senior season to go pro. I don't view that as a very good sign.

Two possibilities after the first round: Johnathan Massaquoi, Troy, who was a pass rushing force as a junior and then asked to play the run and drop into coverage more as a senior, so he may be well equipped to play OLB in Capers scheme. Olivier Vernon, Miami, never lived up to his high school recruiting status, and then got caught in the Hurricanes most recent absurd scandal, but he could be had for pennies on the dollar and could translate into a 3rd or 4th round steal.


If the Packers don't go OLB in round one, because there just isn't great value at 28, and there is a good chance they could still get a good player in a later round, then here are the possibilities:

1. Derek Wolfe, defensive end, Cincinnati, is one of my favorite players in the draft and right now four days out, I hope he's the Packers pick. While we debate the poor college production of some first round talents, Wolfe notched 20 tackles for loss last season and was named Big East player of the year. He is strong at the point of attack and might be the best 5-technique defensive end who would fit Green Bay's 3-4 scheme. Ever since Cullen Jenkins left, there's been a huge void at this position for Green Bay and Wolfe seems like a guy who would be an immediate and immense upgrade. Kiper absolutely loves this guy, which is either a good or a bad thing depending on your perspective, but I think the facts support his high opinion. Wolfe would look great in green and gold.

2. Harrison Smith, safety, Notre Dame, could be a solid choice. The Packers have need at safety because of Collins' likely retirement and Smith has the size, speed and experience to start right away. He didn't create many turnovers in college, but last year's fill in starter Charlie Peprah was among the league leaders at safety with five interceptions and yet he was still a liability in coverage. I'd rather have a guy who tackles well and can match up with tight ends, but doesn't catch the ball all the time, than a sticky-fingered safety who can't cover at all.

3. Dontari Poe, defensive tackle, Memphis would be an option in a trade up, or if he happens to fall on draft day which seems possible. Poe is enormous, fast, and the strongest player in the draft. He didn't produce up to his size and strength in college, but he does play hard and seems coachable. I would not be at all disappointed if he was the pick and the Packers went with a massive starting 3 of Poe, BJ Raji and Ryan Pickett up front, yielding to pass russ specialists like Anthony Hargrove, and occupying blockers for the linebackers to make more plays. I could really envision this pick and would be pleased if it came together.


So there are my first round possibilities. I rank the team's needs as: 1. OLB, 2. DE, 3. safety, 4. cornerback, 5. running back, 6. backup quarterback, 7. center, 8. fullback.

I feel like some of those needs could be met if the young players already on the roster improve this offseason, and the recent trend for the Packers has been for that to happen. I look at TJ Lang, Desmond Bishop, Jordy Nelson and Marshall Newhouse as guys who have gotten better and stepped up when opportunity arose. If the Packers bank on other young players like Devon House, MD Jennings, Jamari Lattimore and Graham Harrell stepping up similarly this offseason, then there would be fewer holes on the roster and perhaps more leeway to package draft choices together to trade up for the right guy, like Ingram or Poe. Otherwise I'm happy if Thompson stays at 28 to pick someone like Wolfe and then turns to OLB in the second or third rounds.

Friday, January 13, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions: Divisional Round

Patriots over Broncos
I do think Denver is building a winning team, but not because of its quarterback. The Broncos have a talented defense a very good head coach in John Fox. The jury is still out on Tim Tebow, but his banged-up team has no chance in this one. I believe this is the kind of game that could have Tebow's most ardent supporters questioning their faith.
Patriots 35, Broncos 6

Ravens over Texans
Surely there's no way a third-string rookie quarterback could lead his team into Baltimore and beat the mighty Ravens, so I'm inclined to believe T.J. Yates and the Texans will get thumped. And yet, with their strong defense and ability to run the ball, I wonder if the Texans could be one Joe Flacco implosion away from shocking the football world. I'll take the Ravens in a close game over the Texans.
Ravens 15, Texans 14

Saints over 49ers
I do not understand why the Saints are only a 4 point favorite. The 49ers have such a poor offense, it won't matter if their defense keeps it close. In the end Drew Brees will make enough plays to ensure the Saints win by at least a touchdown.
Saints 31, 49ers 14

Packers over Giants
The Giants have a lot going for them. Their pass rush is ferocious. They're running the ball better than any team in the playoffs. And their recent history includes a stunning win over the Packers in Lambeau Field. And yet, I don't see enough ammunition to keep pace with Aaron Rodgers. I believe this is the game where we'll find out what the Packers are made of. Either their defense will betray their historic offense and the sparkling 15-1 record and 19-game winning streak will be quickly forgotten. Or a blowout will show doubters that this is a Packers team that could go down in history as an all-time great. My guess is the ball-hawking secondary makes a few plays and the Lambeau mystique, which frankly has faded since the late 90s, returns to give the Packers a convincing win.
Packers 40, Giants 21

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

NFL Playoff Predictions: Wild Card

It would be hard to root this week for the Detroit Lions, who have quietly made themselves into one of the league's most unlikable teams, which is no small feat considering the Lions have been off the radar for decades. But this week, I will be cheering for the Lions, because like many other Packers fans I view the New Orleans Saints as Green Bay's most dangerous potential opponent.

Other than that, I'm pretty much indifferent about the Wild Card round, though it does strike me that there are more "undeserving" playoff teams this season than usual.

Saints over Lions
In a massive blowout

Giants over Falcons
In an extremely close game, maybe one that goes to overtime

Texans over Bengals
Because Houston is at home and its running game wins the day

Steelers over Broncos
But I think that's as far as the Steelers can go without Mendenhall