Posts Tagged ‘blog: essays’.

‘The defense attorney’s presentation featured a clipart Sherlock Holmes’

I had jury duty earlier this week! It was a bit of a roller coaster. I was assigned to a trial which was over very quickly, but still had a lot of interesting elements.

You can read the entire sordid account here!

I grew up in San Bernardino.

up over car

Above: My dad, quoted in the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram, 1959. When Dad emigrated to America, he could have settled anywhere, really. He ended up in San Bernardino, where he built himself a business and a family and ran both with equal vigor for 50 years.

(Don’t worry — this isn’t going to be a Serious Political Post. Not really.)

Most likely you’ve heard the news this week from San Bernardino, California. A pair of jerks killed a bunch of probably real nice people. What a terrible, terrible event.

Lots of impassioned people are spilling gigaflops of pixel ink on the Big Issues raised by this mass shooting, the largest in…well, a short while.

Political points will be scored by people decrying their opponents for milking the event for political points.

People who already hate certain things (such as Muslims, or guns, or, like me, arguing on the Internet) will discover, folded into their perceptions of this event, newly colorful reasons to hate that same thing even more righteously.

I want to talk about the town. I was born and raised in San Bernardino. I lived there for 18 years, until I moved away to college. My mom and my sisters and their families live there now.

There — that little tiny intake of breath that I heard. If we were speaking face-to-face, I’d hear it clearly. What should I say? Is everything all right? I’m so sorry.

My family is fine. According to Facebook, some friends of friends may or may not have known some of the people affected. (The same is probably true of lots of different news events.)

I, personally (and thankfully), require no special sympathy or attention.

San Bernardino, though, could use some.

It’s had it pretty rough. It’s an old town, founded in the late 1800s, a gateway between the urban sprawl of Los Angeles and the desolate California desert.

It’s got two Rs in its name; it’s not San “Bernadino.” Get your hashtags right, people! Especially news organizations that should know better!

It was a three-industry town: The Santa Fe railroad had headquarters in San Bernardino for many years, and there was the Kaiser Steel mill, and there was Norton Air Force Base, onetime home to dozens of now-obsolete C-141 Starlifters.

All three vanished during my adolescence. The railroad moved its headquarters elsewhere; the steel mill closed; and the base was shuttered. A lot of the people I went to high school with couldn’t wait to leave, and many of us did.

San Bernardino today is the palm-tree edition of the desolate Rust Belt factory town, seasoned with inner-city gang culture overflowing from Los Angeles and meth culture tumbling down from the desert.

Hugely expensive pension liabilities caused the city to declare bankruptcy a few years back, hurting city services, and sky-high unemployment and illegal drug traffic feed off and nourish each other.

So… I’ve never been entirely proud to say I was from San Bernardino. There are nice areas, sure; and around half the people are employed, which is good. My high school had (and continues to have) some good programs.

But at least I had the luxury of knowing that if I said where I was from, people might not know those terrible things about it.

“It’s the home of the very first McDonald’s restaurant,” I could say instead, or if the person is old I could say “Route 66 goes through the center of town,” or if the person looks cool I might say “If you’re going up to Big Bear to ski, you should stop and get a burrito at Rosa Maria’s on Sierra Way.”

Now, I fear that San Bernardino has entered the miserable fraternity of places known only as killing sites, like Sandy Hook, or Newtown, or Aurora.

In college, I had some friends from Littleton, Colorado. They had gone to Columbine High. They had already graduated and moved away when the shooting happened, and had had no involvement with it whatsoever.

Still, it was weird: I couldn’t imagine them having had a normal high school experience, because, you know, they’d gone to Columbine.

How many people will have that weird reaction now to San Bernardino? To the prospect of visiting, or buying property, or going to school, or doing business with my family and friends in San Bernardino? “That San Bernardino?”

I heard one of San Bernardino’s former mayors on the radio today. “We’re a town in transition,” he said wearily, and then, to make the perfunctory point: “I’d say we’re in recovery.”

The shooters’ victims are the fallen men and women. Let nothing take away from that horror, or their families’ grief.

But the shots went on to hit wider targets, too. I’m from San Bernardino. Yes, we must all now add, that San Bernardino.

Exciting. Different. Right.

I saw this truck on the highway the other day. I don’t know what it was carrying — probably cameras and broadcasting equipment — but it was covered in ads for the local Fox afternoon show. It’s a blurry picture, taken with the camera balanced on my steering wheel in what was probably the safest move happening within 50 yards. So it’s a bit hard to read, but at the top it says “EXCITING. DIFFERENT. FRESH.”

None of those words mean anything. I mean, the dictionary gives definitions for them, but I’m left scratching my head wondering how any of them could possibly apply to a local Fox afternoon show. What is exciting about it? What in the world could possibly be different about it? Is it an hour or so of recycled headlines, celebrity trivia, animal-shelter stories, and vacuous banter? Oh, it is? How fresh!

Having worked in marketing for many years, I have a particular sore spot for ad copy that attempts to be arresting by simply stating adjectives without context. You might as well say “Good!” and just leave it at that. A smiling man in a suit and time-lapse photography of a street are hardly shattering the boundaries of “fresh,” I think we can all agree, but the saddest part about this ad is that someone looked at the creative brief for what the copy was supposed to be like — “exciting, different, fresh” — and then just used those words instead.

And why not? Who is watching a news show at five in the afternoon? People without jobs? Stay-at-home parents? Retired people? In the eyes of marketers, none of these audiences justify breaking any boundaries to court. So the safest approach is to create a veneer of excitement. A better word would be “activity.” In practice this means lots of graphics that swoop in and around and clang together with sound effects, and perhaps one of the female hosts wears a low-cut top. There is no reason at all to attempt anything fundamentally daring, such as ignoring a celebrity scandal. For outrage must be feigned at all costs! But certainly let’s all play-act at being renegades.

Then I saw the side of the truck.

“Expect the Unexpected.”

Okay. When I turn on the television at five in the afternoon, I will expect the hosts to stare blankly into the camera. Then, one by one, I will expect them to open their mouths and release an ink-black cloud of locusts. The locusts will swarm the studio and systematically devour the sets, the backdrops, the desk and the seat cushions, while the hosts begin to sing in an ancient language, a song from when the earth was still large and dark. It will be a song of growth, of transition, as the locusts continue to turn painted chipboard and thin wooden paneling into so much biological waste. When the locusts finally fall silent, the fading bars of the song having stilled their wings at last, the hosts will slough their loosening skin and become beings of pure light, gathering the locusts into a cyclone of energy and gravity, compressing their chitinous bodies into a perfect sphere of unimaginable mass. I will expect them to build a pyre for this sphere out of the ruins of their studio, and as it begins to smolder with a pale purple flame, I will expect these luminous creatures to shimmer, slowly and at a frequency difficult for the cameras to detect, into the fiftieth dimension. For the briefest of instants — barely a thirtieth of a second — we will glimpse past the horizon of human understanding, before we are all wrenched back to the present like being dropped heavily from a rope into a pit of warm pudding. For the perfect silence of a minute and a half, filtered evening sunlight will illuminate a miasma of dust motes slowly settling to the floor of the vacant studio. The purple sphere will darken as all humankind ponders the mysteries that have been revealed to them for an instant and then taken back forever. Then, and only then, will there be an extremely loud commercial for Tempur-Pedic mattresses.

Introducing: Junk Me Harder

Over at Tweet Me Harder, my co-host Kris Straub and I have launched a new blog feature we’re calling Junk Me Harder. Inspired by a bit of conversation from TMH Episode 31, Junk Me Harder aims to examine, dissect, and review junk mail in a manner that’ll be familiar to readers of my (now-concluded) series The Comic Strip Doctor. Here’s a taste of Junk Me Harder:

We’ve all experienced the thrill of receiving mail followed by the crushing sadness of realizing it’s junk mail. Marketers are no dummies, however; they want to prolong the former reaction and forestall the latter for as long as possible — preferably until after you have returned the enclosed paperwork and applied for credit from their company. Thus they go to great lengths to make their missives appear “official”, as if dispatched from some Agency of Import or Bureau of Relevance sequestered deep in the bowels of the International Government Totally A Real Thing. […]

“UPDATE BASED ON CURRENT ANALYSIS” — an overreliance on thesauri and subsets of a previous phrase’s definition seem to be the hallmarks of junk mail copy. Has anyone provided an update based on outdated information? Hearsay? Is this intended to put the recipient at ease, knowing that Discover® did not fill an envelope with raw data on reams of copier paper for the customer to interpret? That, hopefully, it has been analyzed for the purposes of a fully-current update?


Fake rubber stamp reading “IMPORTANT”: imagine a Discover® financial adviser, having carefully considered and personally chosen You, the Preferred Customer, as a candidate for this special offer, stuffing and sealing this envelope with satisfaction. “I hope this offer comes at a good time for this Preferred Customer,” he sighs, inclining a wrist to check a fancy watch below a rolled-up sleeve. “I hope they understand the importance of this information.” Then, taking another long, hard look at the envelope, already emblazoned by stripe and slogan, he rummages through a desk drawer, fingering through a collection of rubber stamps. “Aha!” he crows. Casually but firmly, he presses the stamp onto the kraft-paper surface, leaving the outlined word IMPORTANT shining in red ink in the dim, after-hours light. “That,” he thinks, “should do the trick.”

Can you plausibly imagine this scenario? No? That’s ‘cause it didn’t happen.


Read the full entry here!

And we are also soliciting your hilarious junk mail. Really! Send it to us for review! Mailing instructions are at the link. You can also feel free to subscribe to the TMH blog or follow TMH on Twitter to be sure of never missing an update.

BONUS LINK: If you’re jonesin’ for more of my ramblings, you should also know that I write most of the missives on the TopatoCo house blog! In between the talk about all the cool stuff we’re doing at TopatoCo, I try to be kind of entertaining as well. It’s a good thing to keep an eye on ’cause I’ve got some pretty cool plans for it soon!

How to Make a Calendar, Part 5

Now Put A Bow On It

Continued from Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3 / Part 4

Although the printing is complete, and the room no longer smells like denatured alcohol & paint thinner (except for the splash I’ve added to my coffee for a little pick-me-up), there’s a bit more to be done before the calendars are Formally Finished. Once the covers are signed and numbered, all the cards are collated into sets and double-checked to make sure nobody’s getting two Augusts or getting shorted a February. Although I do want to sow a sense of existential ennui among the populace at large, we now have too many external calendar systems for any minor rebellion here to be tremendously effective, and I will save my efforts in that realm for more grandiose schemes.

Last year, we collated the cards by setting the stacks around a table and then continually circling the table over and over, picking up a card from each successive stack like it was the world’s most obsessive comic-convention freebie table. That was a very dizzy way to do things. This year we just kinda put them in a long row and then walked down the row a bunch of times.

With the cards collated, they’re then SEALED FOR YOUR PROTECTION into little capsule units that can be thrust headlong into our shipping workflow:

And these, along with the easels if desired, are what customers get! We spent the full day yesterday packaging and shipping, and I’m pleased to announce both that: all pending pre-orders have been sent, and all new orders are shipping out immediately. As of this writing, less than two dozen copies remain. Please, if you’ve been on the fence about ordering, don’t delay — I’d hate for you to miss out. UPDATE: You guys are too much. They are all gone!

(I will also be a little sheepish here and say that if they sell out while I’m asleep tonight, and I’m unable to update the store in time, please forgive me if I have to write an apologetic email. Hopefully this won’t happen.) ack

That buzzkill aside! I am so tremendously pleased with how this whole process has gone that I can hardly tell you. (Though you cannot fault me for trying.) Whether you buy a calendar or not, whether this has inspired you to make anything creative of your own or not, whether you’re even the least bit interested in this process or not, I hope you take one key thing away from this entire, long-winded story. I’ll put it on its own line and bold it so you’re sure not to miss it:

You can make something from nothing.

Let me repeat that. You can make something from nothing. The Wondermark Calendar is not a model kit that we assembled from directions. It’s not a box of LEGO® brand interlocking building blocks that we dumped onto the floor and then very precisely made into a spaceship. The LEGO® brand interlocking building blocks that we used were paper and ink. Any meaning that they have been given is meaning that we have fabricated.

You can do this too. I’m not saying you should necessarily make a calendar, or start hunting eBay for a GOCCO, or anything so specific — I’m saying that the tools and the effort and the materials and the sweat that went into our project are nothing my wife and I have a monopoly on. They are not hard to fathom nor out of reach. It just takes work: exposing yourself to ideas, swishing them around with other ideas and original notions, being a bit of a perfectionist at times, and just working at it. I know I’m never so satisfied with my job as when I sit down and make things that used to not exist.


I’m going to stop there; you can run with that ball anywhere you like, or leave it be, as you prefer. I just think it’s neat that there was nothing and then I had some cockamamie idea and figured out where to buy paper and stuff and then, a bunch of man-hours and problem-solving later, there is something. This is a thing we wrestled into existence. If you buy one of our things, you will be getting a tidy little package made of paper, ink, brass, and force of will.

If this calendar stays in your house, in the most quiet stillness of an afternoon when everything is at an ebb — if you get very close, close enough to see the fibers and detect the thin mounding of the ink over the paper — and if you hold your breath and if your refrigerator isn’t on and if the pets are all napping and nobody’s trying to email you right then —

— If the rest of the world is silent, and if the light catches it just perfectly right, I do believe you will see this thing’s heartbeat.

Thanks very much for all your kind attention this week, and for your wonderfully flattering patronage. While I was writing this, I went back and checked and it looks like one more has sold. I am serious. Get one now, if ever. UPDATE: They are gone, compadre. Wowsers.

That being said, I understand that this isn’t for everyone, and to those folks, sorry for hammering on this point all week. Thank you, regardless — I will make other things, on other days, for free most of the time, and presumably you will be able to share in those. It’s been a fun week but it ain’t over yet so now I am going to go to bed.