Saturday, December 26, 2009

Going to Denmark

Back on the 4th of January.


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Running down the memories, wrapped up in desire

I spent this morning listening to Secrecy and playing Solitare Mahjong. I don't know if the reader has spent time with any variation of this computer gaming staple, if they have they might agree it's pretty conductive as a backdrop for active thinking because it engages on a very shallow level, requires calculation of a couple moves ahead at best. It's no Go game, but it's not mind-numbing either like Peggle or whatever. Secrecy were a pretty emotional band (really worth a blog post in themselves) and although I'm familiar with the lyrics to both Raging Romance and Art In Motion, they're often vague enough that subconsciously my own emotional experience fills in the ambiguous space. Their singer in particular, does this half-step note ascending plead with his voice a lot that holds some teenage angst connotation for me.

So here I was in relative solitude, brain and heart activated, what could ever come bubbling in the conscious surface than my own woeful adolescence? Perhaps another factor that contributed was that I awoke this morning from the common recurring semi-nightmare of being back in high-school, going through finals (badly). Come to think of it that's probably the catalyst for what I came to think about and not the music+game combo. I probably put on Secrecy exactly because of the dream. Trying to sort out subconscious-to-conscious causal paths is complicated. Anyway, this is a post about a girl. Due warning that I'm going to be pretty honest below and if you have a heart it probably is going to remind you of your own teenage heartbreaks and do you really want to have a melancholy morning?

Fair enough.

I think I was fourteen or so, I was taking English after school. I was a bad student in school but very good in English due to an early fascination with heavy metal and adventure games. English held my interest long enough to learn, unlike most other subjects, basically. So in the English classroom was my only chance to academically gloat. I now realize most of my classmates disliked me for it though they were quiet about it. I can now see why, it's pretty embarrassing to see an awkward teenage introvert desperately grab his chance to show off, must have been pretty overbearing. A common post-facto realization I have about myself is that I'm overbearing.

So I was the classroom know-it-all for once in my life and this - I theorize in retrospect - had the uncommon side-effect of getting this girl to be interested in me.

We talked a lot before and after class, she was very enthusiastic about getting to know me to which I adapted surprisingly quickly (introvert kids do not necessarily lack a big ego). I wrote her *a lot* of heavy metal mixtapes because though CD burners existed back in ancient 1998 I didn't have one. She showed enough enthusiasm for me to keep on doing it. She was trying, I realize, to cut out a small space in her reality for me by adopting some of my music taste which should have tipped me off that she was interested in me for reasons other than my record collection. Were I more experienced in these matters I'd have caught up but hey give me a break, I was fourteen.

This went on for close to a year I think, perhaps more. In any case it was thereabout that a mutual acquaintance told me that she knew for a fact that our mutual friend wanted to be more than a friend to me. It rocked my world. Up to that point it hadn't entered my young mind that such a very attractive girl would be into me. The reader might remember how at an innocent age when they looked at beautiful people they didn't connect that with their nascent lust, that's how it was for me, I realized just how beautiful she was and how I'd like to get together with her in the space of the few seconds after being informed that she was interested in me.

The rest of this story demonstrates how whatever Gods that may be are cruel masters.

As it was explained to me much later the common friend that had informed me about her interest had also told her about it and she freaked out because she was into - or in a semi-relationship with - this other guy about whom all I remember was that he had a small motorbike and was a 'bad boy' so he had me at a startling disadvantage. She didn't want to risk ruining our friendship or whatever, I don't think I'll ever understand this rationale, I've had sex with all my close friends and it's always worked out great! Anyway, what happened was that as I was trying to make my gentle (some would say weak-ass) advances she shut me down in the severest way, which, dear readers and humans, is not found in the finality of a confrontation (wish I were so lucky) but instead in constant evasion. She left just enough room for us to keep on being friends but not enough for me to ask her out, it was a pretty confusing guessing game for young Helm and what was most confusing of all was this feeling of mounting anger inside me. I can since summon this feeling at any time I think about that situation and it's a hollow orb in my chest that pulls inwardly my sanguine humour leaving me exhausted but manic. Manic to DESTROY.

What I felt before that when considering my interpersonal prospects was a sort of resignation. I felt like an ugly child and even uglier teenager (thin, hairy, pretty awful acne too, and earlier than most of my friends!) so I had devised fortifications to shield me from disappointment: I didn't even try to get anywhere with girls. The anger was new and it had to do with how - I realize now - my emotions had been toyed with, being constantly offered something and then once I reached for it, pulling it away mockingly. At the time I couldn't internalize this anger, I got pretty passive-aggressive with her, to the point where I straight out stopped talking to her/avoided her. There were some lapses where we'd start talking again and I'd get passive-aggressive again, and the more psycho I got the more she became cold, though never decisively frostbitten, like the Sphinx she offered riddles and I always had to torment myself for the answers. It took me a long time to understand the mechanics of mutual attraction and the memories are pretty embarrassing, but what it comes down to is she - like most women I've discussed their relationships with - had mistaken emotional fortifications against the chance of a relationship as self-assuredness, and she was attracted to this guy that had his own world-view, his own tastes, his own desires and dreams and wasn't afraid of anything. This guy wasn't me, though. As my weaknesses unfolded in front of her she was gradually appalled. There was a quiet violence, a horrible manipulation to get what I wanted and for her to get what she wanted instead, whose truth crystallized in me only through masochistic later-life repetitions of this same situation. Hopefully I think I've broken out of that loop for the last few years.

You might think how a girl not having a relationship with me isn't such a big deal and how your own memories of actual relationships that failed must be way harsher. It's not that simple, it wasn't that we didn't have a relationship, we did. We just skipped from friendship and then courtship, straight to the painful breakup without the good stuff in between. No acceptance, no safety, no stability, just alternating scalding hot showers of promises and freezing dips into the pools of denial. Afterwards I learned that her best friend had, when she deferred to her on what to do about the choice between myself and 'bad boy', told her to adopt the avoidance routine so she could have both; Thanks a lot for a hellish summer, her friend.

Well at some point English class ended, I got my couple of Proficiencies and she didn't and had to stay on, hah! take that! . . . We lost touch and I went on to have my heart ruined by a string of other women, but the first one will always be special.

I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had segued from pre-teenage innocence straight to the emotional stability found in being accepted and loved during these years and although the anger was internalized (and used for good!) until it wasn't needed anymore, I don't think the deeper wound will ever go away. I'm still paranoid in any relationship (sexual or otherwise) that I've outstayed my welcome, that I'm being a burden. I do not trace all of it back to that situation when I was 14-15, but it certainly didn't help. And it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy also because when you think that way, you extrude doubt and fear when you should be all about self-assuredness and capacity. I ran into a pretty bad combo after this and it culminated with me giving up on sexuality and emotionality (or as Robot-Helm would have said *hrrhk* IN-STICT *kkrk*) on the whole for 3 years, but that's a completely different story.

Adversity shapes the psyche in positive ways also. I try to be sympathetic for anyone who is being deprived of what they'd like to have and especially of the bitterness and anger that prolonged denial creates. The only way for such a selfish animal like the human to allow other people's heartache to touch them is if their own heart is spacious. The world is cutting and carving little pieces out of it, the sooner one comes to terms with what they're left to work with, the better.


Monday, December 21, 2009

ZX page 28: Urban Folklore

I finished this literally 5 minutes ago, I wanted to be done with it yesterday but I went to a live show and couldn't get home in time to do the 12-5 o clock shift. Anyway, it's still Monday! It was a fun page to do, I tried various things, hope I pulled them off (like the 'inking commentary' on the last three panels).

I must say I'll be glad to never have to draw that vespa scooter for more than one or two panels ever again, though.

If any of you not-Greeks are wondering, the tree has lots of bubble gum pressed on it. I don't know if people do this in other countries, I'm hoping not. It's a peculiar bit of urban folklore in Athens, though. Bored commuters might explain it, or I don't know...

Oh by the way, next week there won't be a comic, or the week after, that's my Christmas vacations. Going to Denmark. I'll post something from now to Sunday (day I leave) to remind and also hopefully the post will have merit in itself.



Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Comic theory?

Hey I am Black Thing. I was wondering if anyone had any questions about comic theory, how comics are made, 'the process' as the say. I've often observed my human while he's making his comics instead of feeding me wonderful meats (I prefer smoked ham) so I thought I'd ask if the other humans that read this have any specific questions I can help with. If I help you, my human will have more time to do other things than talk to you, like perhaps, feed me more or subordinate his toes to my hunting mastery. I think I understand comics better than my human because I don't make them myself. Leave notes on this post and I'll make a list and hopefully return in the future while the human is sleeping.

Keep in mind that I'm not an expert, as you can see I can't even read superhero comics straight.


Monday, December 14, 2009

Blogger is making me grumpy.

Delicious reader "tsoureki" (Brioche in greek) commented on an old entry with the following:

"What is the functionality of adopting a fully deterministic point of view as far as free will is concerned? People usually act automatically but you make conscious effort not to act automatically. Of course you believe that this decision of yours is predefined but wouldn't you end up in the same behavior(s) you currently demonstrate in your life if you pretended that you act freely on some level? Also, how do you define chance?"

Blogger turns out, doesn't have built-in comment search, so I had to go through Google Custom Search and browse my own blog for the word "determinism" for 30 minutes before I could even fish out the comment. So now if you don't mind I'll take a whole blog post to reply to your query, tsoureki, just to justify all the time I spent looking for it.

(It's becoming increasingly apparent that I might have to switch from blogger at some point)

For other readers interested in this conversation, I urge to read the comment backlog in the Small Shames post linked in the foreword.

Well, tsoureki, to answer as straightforwardly as I can, there is no practical functionality for adopting any sort of a priori worldview like existentialism or determinism or whatever else because - half of the point is - you'll end up doing what your machine was made to do anyway. That is, interface with vast complex structures in order to survive, create, kill, and eventually die. It's very often that thinkers on the issue of Free Will convey this: it doesn't practically matter if you think your actions are predetermined or not, you're still doing what you're doing, right?

So on that level there is no function. On another level there is, though, it has to do with how I, as a semi-conscious being, look at my own mechanism and categorize the processes it's going through. From a free will point of view the focus is constantly on the rational, conscious, surface-thought part of the machine, the one we give a name to and say it's a human being. There is this feeling for Free Will thinkers that the subconscious is something like a dirty little secret, to be swept under the biochemical rug because nobody wants to face up to it. And one can see why, it's the part of the machine that makes us do all these illogical, impulsive and often really morally wrong things. So, a free will adopter will have effectively cut himself in half, given all the import on the part of himself he's proud of and vilified his other half, hidden it away and marginalized its importance. Urges are only there to be contained by the higher, rational being that is called "Nick" or "Jane".

From a deterministic point of view the machine is one single thing, consciousness and subconsciousness are reacquainted and a more holistic sense of self is introduced, one where you're allowed to face up to that you don't know why you do what you do and that you have desires that you cannot rationalize even. Determinism is then useful for psychological wellbeing. To be allowed to be a whole person again, to accept everything that's going on inside, to try to gently internalize the whole situation that is the "I", your fingernails as much as your brain, your volition as much as your intention.

So in your scenario above between the one that is acting automatically and fighting it and the other who is acting automatically and is aware of disparity between his conscious rationalizations and his subconscious volitions, the end actions will be automatic still. But ask yourself, which of the two stands a chance to be more psychologically equipped to deal with the fallout of awful actions?

Free Will vs Determinism isn't a debate that has to do with what we're going to do tomorrow. It's about how to come to terms with what we'll inevitably do tomorrow. It's about assessment of guilt, regret, crystallized memory of everything that has gone wrong. It's about giving up on these dysfunctional concepts of causality that lead us to constantly search for whom to blame. It's about a reassessment of core components of common language. It's about finding a way to let it go and just exist, like a cat on a bed licking its fur until it doesn't feel like it anymore or like a tree swaying in the wind without any 'because' at all.



ZX Page 27: Editing

Memories go left and right and curve into themselves, they go nowhere. Skipped beats, regrets, reminders, what to do next time around, what, something different? Headless rudder left to subterranean winds. But a smart machine inside remembers the most important rule, it'll will take everything and make it neat, linear. Make it make less sense, that's what it takes for it to make any sense at all. Hold the line, hold your breath, suffocate the sounds, clip clip clip it off on the hotel floor, draw a map and take us there.


Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Say yes to everything

art by me and Dave Stoner

Here's an interesting opinion piece by one Dave Eggers. I don't know who this man is or what he has contributed to the cultural landscape (probably because I'm Greek) but the piece stands on its own and it got me thinking. These thoughts I typed in on my computer and it is said that the reckless and brave may search for them below.

A noble adventurer you are!

So, the impression I get from this is that Dave Eggers is a happy man. He must have found a degree of contentment in the positive feedback loops that are built into his daily life. The phenomenon he describes (the mental trap of 'keeping it real' and being venomously disappointed in those that don't) I believe occurs first and hardest during one's puberty for the primary reason that that period is characterized the most by inner turmoil and cognitive dissonance between what one desires the world to be and what others pressure one to accept is.

I haven't met anyone that doesn't have some knee-jerk reaction against what they perceive as missteps from the true path in the lives and careers of their favorite artists. I believe that most of all this happens because that distant failure acts as a reminder of our own very proximal shortcomings in adhering to what usually is a strict moral code. A code not borne out of practicality but from a necessary interpretation of causality. This happens because that happened and that's bad. Our morality is based on simplifications and generalizations and that's not the space in which real human beings live.

Humans live in the ambiguity of constantly shifting and complex situations, where the true way is dim and even if one manages to follow it it doesn't always feel as good as one would expect it to be. That's where Dave Eggers lives but Dave Eggers is a happy man because he's successful, and I don't mean this in the strict financial sense, he is successful because he has made sense of his environment and function and has perhaps achieved a degree of inward pacification just through constant, busy reinforcement of positive routines. He can do a little bad (hang out with Puff Daddy) because he's doing a lot of good, is what he's working towards with listing his charity work. I get the impression that Dave Eggers is a huge workaholic also.

For those of us that haven't found our place yet, his words, while admirable, are more distant. His rationalization of how doing is living and not doing and complaining is poison rings true (as many "it's all MY fault" sentiments do) but is no less far away for it. Existential ennui leads to strings of smaller disappointments because second-guessing and dissecting small happenings and paralyzing/analyzing is what people without a work they enjoy and a social place in the world that respects them etc end up do for a living. Well get a job, Dave Eggers might say, say yes to all the things you say no he might continue. Some people don't get asked anything they could say no to, though.

People bitch because they're unhappy, is what I'm getting at, and while Eggers is taking a stand for his own sense of self-worth with the above text, victimizing the complainers doesn't help in understanding. He builds a straw-man, a very comfortable and common one in fact; the disaffected youth who's preoccupied with tearing down his idols and marginalizes a large part of that experience as 'poison'. He doesn't touch on what makes one like that at all. Is there perhaps a social system, a dynamic that creates disaffected youth, is perhaps the modern world not good for one's psyche? This aspect, the difficult aspect of the discussion isn't touched on, instead he explains how saying yes to meeting Puff Daddy is a good thing, otherwise he wouldnt've met Puff Daddy and he's a curious man. It's a sentiment we can all share, wouldn't we rather fulfill our curiosities instead of not? But is life this playground of curiosities to be fulfilled? Is it perhaps also a constant battle for (psychological besides physical) survival where if you misspent your time and effort you might have screwed up everything for good? Not everyone has risen above like Dave Eggers, I mean.

People are unhappy because the world is a suffocating place and not everybody will happen on the blessed circumstance where talent, ambition and luck converge to get a them their comfortable niche. I appreciate Dave Eggers' sentiment and his positivity and I'm glad that he's not successful and also disappointed anymore. if I ever get to where he is I hope I'll be saying similar things. But home is far away right now, and there's doubts and harsh judgments and self-loathing still that cannot be ameliorated with the suggested 'be positive!' mantras. Willpower will not make me a happier man, it is mostly, depressingly, luck that will. Until then I'll make what I make and complain about how this or that isn't true and has disappointed me sometimes, it's not poison in itself, it's a reflection of a world that disappoints. Sometimes when the world doesn't come knocking with beautiful, curious opportunities, the only way to keep sane is to knock on the world oneself.



Monday, December 7, 2009

ZX Page 26: Blink

This page took a long time but I've pretty happy with it. Happy with how the visual language bits I'm using communicate and happy with the overall page balance. As far as what's going on in the story, I guess tension is going to be mounting steadily from no on to the end. If you thought the first 15 pages or so of the comic were kinda light, well, now you'll see what they served as groundwork for.

Keep reading and also, keep talking.



Sunday, December 6, 2009

this expression

I don't know what it means.

Seriously, now.

Often I struggle with conveying emotions through faces in my own comics. I can tell you, it's probably the most difficult part of making a comic - about the human condition, at least. I'm sure it's easier to convey CONSTANT MURDEROUS RAGE if you are making some sort of fighting comic or whatever. Imagine that, a main character who is constantly drawn like this:

oh, wait.

Anyway, jokes aside, drawing faces conveying human emotions is pretty easy if you're doing primary emotions, more difficult if you're doing mixed emotions. People feel mixed emotions much more than they feel primary emotions. If you're making a comic about human situations, you'll have to come to terms with how to convey mixed emotions eventually. I'm struggling, for one.

A common crutch of the artist is to adopt a stylization of the human face early and consistently so that they don't have to draw very realistic facial emotions. A lot of manga artists do that, like the one above. Very concerned with stylization and 'coolness', they adopt common tropes of how to convey emotional information without actually referencing reality. Think of the manga sweat-drop on the side of the face, and then think how difficult it actually is to draw an embarrassed face realistically. First time you saw sweat-drop trope in an anime or manga you probably didn't realize what it was supposed to mean, but with repetition and context you grew to understand that visual language. Same with the top image, if you look at it from outside the cultural and aesthetic context it looks absolutely emotionally impenetrable, if anything it looks like she's having a stroke. The artist has tried to convey a mixed emotion by piling on lots of manga visual cues/cliches of primary emotions and the end result isn't just conflicted, it's brain damage. Reddened cheeks, sweat drops, 'tude eyebrows, oval mouth, tooth in the corner. A good reminder to always access the visual tropes one employs.

Oh, if you're curious the manga this is from, go on and read it there. I can't recommend it because I haven't read more than 21 pages of it and I probably won't, but the plot summary of it is hilarious enough to share. Some demon is trapped on the protagonist's balls and a little devil girl wants to make him ejaculate so the demon can be freed to destroy the world. He wants to get laid (naturally, men are base animals without any compunctions about fornicating with occult entities) but at the same time he doesn't want to destroy the world. Ontology and asceticism collide! Comedy (I guess) ensues.

Oh and since we're on the subject (we really are not) here's a photoshop of Nick's cat, Hitler, who serves as the inspiration of same-named cat in my comic:

Back tomorrow with a new page of comics.