Posts Tagged ‘blog: musings’.

Remembering Ray Bradbury

Ray Bradbury passed away the other week. He was one of the first writers I had a cognizant appreciation of as a writer, as someone who deliberately made choices as to which words should go in which order to achieve a desired effect. My first art mentor, John Arthur, introduced me and my fellow students to Ray at an impressionable age, and we idolized him. I devoured Fahrenheit 451 and The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man, although as time went on I choked a bit on some of his other short stories — the language was so thick. I blame myself, however, not Ray.

John took us to see Ray speak at a signing — it must have been about 1999 or so. I brought a friend’s copy of Fahrenheit 451 and my mom’s battered The Illustrated Man. When it was my turn to have my books signed, all I could stammer out was “You…uh…write very good.”

And that’s the picture up above: he smacked my face with his hand and said “Thank God!”

He signed both my books with an exclamation mark: “Ray Bradbury!” This was, shall we say, an instructive moment for me. I haven’t seen evidence that he signs his name like that often — I wish I could scan those books and show you how he did that day, but the Illustrated Man is somewhere in my mom’s house and the friend whose 451 I’d held onto for months suddenly became very interested in getting it back once I’d had it signed. Here’s a similar example I found online:

Anyway, the weird energy imparted by that exclamation mark in the signature stayed with me.

It’s after midnight as I write this. I’ve always felt comfortable at night; my own writing seems to come more easily at night. I remembered an old journal entry, just now, and looked it up and found the following:

Ray’s words crackle like ball lightning, never settling, dancing alight each concept, daring you to comprehend before they press on into the night. I’m listening to Something Wicked This Way Comes on CD, in my car, and when I concentrate and listen it’s like standing in a waterfall, weight pouring on me, trying to drink, feeling heavy and elated together.

Oddly, it’s very easy to get distracted from this book, sitting in traffic, realizing suddenly that I’ve been thinking about the chemical composition of jet contrails and a paragraph’s gone by and I’ve missed it. The words are oil-slick, loose and wriggling, and they have to be clutched and examined and tasted, or they slide off and flip away.

When I listen, they crush me, steamrolling with imagery. When I glance away, they pass by; but I glance quickly after and think back and still see the faint afterimage behind my lids. I hear the ringing echo and feel the warmth left in the air from their presence, like Montag in Fahrenheit 451. Even when I don’t hear them, they pass through me, speaking directly to my dreams. I drive, late on an empty freeway:

“Three in the morning,” thought Charles Halloway, seated on the edge of his bed, “why did the train come at that hour?”

For, he thought, it’s a special hour; women never awake, then, do they? They sleep the sleep of babes and children. But men, in middle age: they know that hour well. Oh, God!

Midnight’s not bad; you wake, and go back to sleep. One or two’s not bad; you toss, but sleep again. Five or six in the morning; there’s hope, for dawn’s just under the horizon.

But three, now, Christ. Three A.M.

Doctors say the body’s at low tide then. The soul is out, the blood moves slow; you’re the closest to dead you’ll ever be, save dying. Sleep is a patch of death. But three in the morn, full, wide-eyed staring, is living death. You dream with your eyes open. God, if you had strength to rise up, you’d slaughter your half-dreams with buckshot; but no, you lie, pinned to a deep well-bottom that’s bone dry.

You write very good, Ray. Thanks for everything.

An Alphabet Question

(Letters by Stack)

When I was a kid learning the alphabet I believed that certain letters were “weird letters.” In the same way that letters could be divided into consonants or vowels, or single-syllable and multi-syllable (everything else vs. W), I believed that letters could be divided into regular letters and weird letters.

I don’t know what the criterion for labeling letters “weird” was. It might have had something to do with rarity — my weird letters are mostly the ones with high Scrabble points.

I didn’t think much of it until one day when I visited my cousins. I was probably around eight or nine, and my cousin made an offhand reference to J as a “weird letter.” In that instant I thought: Is this common knowledge? Are the weird letters an actual thing that everybody knows about?

Since then I’ve never heard a reference to any canonical set of weird letters, nor have I kept the torch alive. But for the record, my weird letters were:

Weird: J K Q V X Z
Kind of weird: G W Y

So here are my questions for you:

1. Does this make any sense? Is there a logic to it that my child brain sensed that I can’t make heads or tails of now?

2. Did anybody else think anything remotely similar?

3. What’s a weird way that you made sense of the world as a child?

Leave a comment with your thoughts!

Nine Years of Wondermark

Those of you with Wondermark Calendars may have noted that earlier this week marked the ninth birthday of Wondermark. Huzzah!

Nine years ago, in 2003, I was working the night shift at an advertising agency. One day, after reading Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics (and having consumed a fair amount of “Get Your War On” and “Red Meat”), I sat down in the apartment I shared with my girlfriend, opened a book of clip-art, and thought “I wonder if you could make comics out of these?” (I think I made ten the first day, and twenty in the first week.)

Nine years later, the girlfriend is now my wife, the clip-art book has led to a collection of 50+ volumes of Victorian newspapers and magazines, I’ve published seven books, and I have a studio dedicated to this nonsense. I guess the central question — “is this possible?” — has become rhetorical by this point as well. But I hope I never lose that curiosity — constantly asking myself “What could this become?”

Thanks for hanging out with me! I’ll be around for a while yet — I’m always the last to go home.


– David !

Verb Day 2012

Saturday I mean Sunday was March 4th, or as we know it, Verb Day! On one of the only dates that’s also an imperative, usually families and communities get together to make up new verbs. The official U.S. national verb this year was “scraddling,” defined by a ceremonial Act of Congress as:

scraddle (v): to rub a part of the body against an object in such a way as to scratch an itch

You probably saw the Chancellor of the National Verb Council make her speech calling for parents to begin using the word with their children “so that a new generation will grow up never knowing a world without the joy of scraddling,” and of course President Obama released a statement urging “Americans of every race, color, and creed to come together, scraddle against the obstacles before us, and keep America strong.”

I’m happy with scraddling — I’ll take whatever new verbs I can get, in this economy — but I’d also like to draw your attention to a verb I myself coined in 2004, when Wondermark was still pretty new:

Our research department took an informal survey of 10,032 Americans and Western Europeans, asking them a variety of questions including their emotional reaction to this news item. The survey also included “dummy” questions designed to disguise the true nature of the survey, so as to weed out “prampters”, or respondents who concoct bogus answers for sport (“prampting”).

The dummy questions included such irrelevant gems as “What criteria do you use when deciding which brand of mung beans to purchase?” and “Did ‘moral values’ play a role in deciding who you would vote for in the Presidential election?”

You may recall that ‘moral values’ was the media-cycled phrase of the hour in the Bush/Kerry election, the way ‘hope and change’ was in 2008 and ‘create jobs’ is today. So this bit was surely very funny at the time. But the point is: prampting, or to prampt.

A portmanteau of prompt and prank (and with a meaning along the lines of to prank when prompted), I’ve always liked ‘prampting’ and think it should come into wider use. I don’t know how common the actual practice of prampting is in the world, but when I consider it, I’m reminded of something that happened to me back in high school.

My two best friends and I had a nonsense sort of club or secret society, and although it didn’t do anything or serve any purpose at all besides having an elaborate, 100-move secret handshake, I loved concocting the trappings of a legitimate entity — things like business cards, letterhead, company memos and so on. We had nothing to say in the memos, but we had the letterhead if ever we needed it.

In eleventh grade we decided to pass out applications to some of our other friends, to officially initiate them into the club. It was a very elaborate application, four or five pages long as I recall, and we insisted that people fill it out fully (and then return it to one of us charter members, who would have to initial each page in colored ink to prevent forgery). It was all quite serious, and probably a bit rude because we only passed out applications to the people we liked, but whatever, it was high school.

Anyway, as we started to get applications back, I began to realize that some of the people filled out the application as a joke, putting funny answers instead of real ones. I remember, in particular, an answer given by one person whom we were keen on making an official member of the club:

Q: What do you typically eat for lunch?
A: Nothing. I am sustained by sex alone.

Not only was this answer vaguely scandalous to us dorks, we also had to deal with the issue of the application not being taken seriously. We’d gone to all this trouble to write up and pass out elaborate applications for our fake club that didn’t do anything and was all a joke, and these people didn’t stay deadpan with us. They cracked and called it out as a joke.

This sparked long, fevered internal discussions about whether we should accept this applicant into the club after this flagrant disrespect for our wholly invented and irrelevant process. Eventually, the reasoned response seemed to be to ask the applicant to redo her application, and in retrospect, this made us look even more like the biggest dorks possible. That is the power of prampting.

Have you any tales of prampting? Or, did your family make up any verbs of your own this weekend? Tell us in the comments!

2011 Errata

Flickr photo by Nick Webb

Once every year, my crack team of ombudsfolk compiles a humiliating list of all the factual inaccuracies in the previous twelve months’ comics. With my apologies for any confusion or distress these errors may have caused, please find corrections below.

#696; The Chilling Case of Were-Cat
The prefix “were-“, as in werewolf, is Old English for ‘man’ — so something referred to as “were-cat” would in fact be expected to be some sort of man/cat creature, and not strictly a cat (or even a cat/cat).

#690; In which a Tag is Utterly Obscured
The action performed by the subject did not, in fact, make the situation ‘much better’.

#739; Hoppily Ever After
Howard never actually made an overt promise to sweep Etta off of her feet; it was just something she assumed in the heat of the marshy, froggy makeout session.

#742; In which is dug a Passage
The final word balloon contains a typographical error. It should instead read “Only of demon-simulated porn of you”. It should then have been followed by a second, smaller word balloon reading simply “Handsome”

#733; Big News
The Bugle actually initially misidentified Iowa governor Terry Branstad as “Terry Crews”.

#771; Accounting by Network
The guy on the left in Panel 1 is supposed to look even crazier.

#776; In which Toothpaste is made
A torque wrench is a tool to measure how much rotational force is being applied, for example to a bolt or nut. Its only utility in conjunction with a vise might be to measure in foot-pounds precisely how powerfully the vise handle is being tightened. This does not unilaterally rule out its usefulness in the toothpaste scenario, but if the aim is to apply as much force as possible to the vise handle, a simple hollow pipe, used to extend the handle’s leverage, might be of even greater use.

#763; In which an Infatuation shatters
Gax has not been impersonating Amanda from the very beginning, only for the last eleven years.

Wondermark regrets the errors.

2008 Errata
2009 Errata