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.