I Dreamt That I Was Dreaming

I dreamt that I was dreaming.

I dreamt that I was dreaming that I was a man in a chicken cart. I had brown hair and a little brown mustache, and I made people meals of chicken and rice and salad that they brought back to their desks to eat.

I dreamt that I was dreaming that I was a man in a chicken cart who was in a band. It was either the Police or the Who or Led Zeppelin, I wasn’t sure which, but I had to get out. But I was trapped in the chicken cart.

I dreamt that I was dreaming.

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Get Out of My Dreams and Back Onto the Screen

Do you ever feel like your head is being colonized by Hollywood? Last night I had a fever dream which started out like The Big Chill, featured an interior exactly like Harrison Ford’s Chicago hideout in The Fugitive, and starred a character from David Milch‘s failed series John From Cincinnati — which I have never seen!

Some New Kind of Slaughter

Some New Kind of Slaughter: Lost in the Flood (and How We Found Home Again): Diluvian Myths from Around The World, from Archaia Studios Press, is now out. Given my connection to a certain diluvian story, creators A. David Lewis & mpMann asked me to write the foreword to the book, which I did. Here it is:

For me, it all began with the 2004 Asian tsunami. Horrified by the huge loss of life, I was also fascinated by the imagery, by the idea that life-giving water could bring such epic death and destruction. I remember trolling the Internet for video from the tsunami, watching YouTube clips over and over again. What was most mesmerizing about what I saw was not that the water came in crashing waves, but rather that it seemed to surge from below, to inexorably grow deeper and deeper, like some nightmare from which you couldn’t wake. And that was exactly it — the tsunami, the flooding, the very themes of water and drowning, were like dreams, a nightmare millions of helpless people shared that late-December night in 2004.

Some New Kind of SLAUGHTERLess than a year later, when Hurricane Katrina struck the U.S. Gulf Coast, I experienced the same morbid fascination with the storm surge and the flooding of New Orleans. This time, however, I was moved to action. For whatever reason, I woke from my waterlogged reverie and volunteered with the Red Cross. Almost before I knew it, I was in the Gulf Coast, providing emergency relief to those left behind. Walking through the rubble of Biloxi, Mississippi, and listening to the clients’ survival stories made the experience all too real, but the rising waters still haunted my dreams. Perhaps they always will.

So for me at least, mpMann and A. David Lewis’s Some New Kind of Slaughter is especially resonant. Mainly through the visions of the ancient Sumerian king Ziusudra, adrift on his great ark, Mann and Lewis take the reader on a dreamlike tour through the world’s great flood myths. From Babylonia to the Nile Delta, from the Chinese tales of Da Yu to the Native American Menomines, and from modern-day eco-warriors to the Old Testament, we see how these disparate creation and destruction myths share themes of divine punishment, visionary pariahs, and… turtles? Even the familiar story of Noah comes to life in unexpected ways.

Humor leavens the tales. The ancient stories, cultures, and names go down easy via Lewis’s characters’ naturalistic, witty dialogue. And Mann’s beautiful, painterly art completely meshes with the story. The expert weaving of word and image is augmented by the landscape-style alignment of the pages, a device that would seem gimmicky in other contexts, but here reinforces the hallucinatory narrative.

Reading this book reminded me of my youthful backpacking days. Traveling through Southeast Asia and Central Europe, I read author Gore Vidal’s series of historical novels tracing the exploits of one family through American history. Completely captivated by Vidal’s unique vision and his gleeful assault on our cultural myths, when I returned home I sought out the primary sources, reading up on events I hadn’t thought about since high school. I thoroughly enjoyed that journey, and will always be grateful to Vidal for his expert use of the art of fiction to teach fact. Some New Kind of Slaughter does the exact same thing.

The human instinct to tell stories — to make sense of the senseless, to impose order on what seems like the capricious whims of nature — is timeless. What began with poems around a fire, or ancient symbols on cracked parchment, comes to us now in the form of viral video and the pages of the graphic novel. Like a dream shared across cultures and history, Some New Kind of Slaughter ties our modern present to the ancient and/or biblical past. It is a triumphant demonstration that the graphic novel may be the future’s best teaching tool.

“Thriller” Redux

I was at a huge outdoor arena — possibly the Rose Bowl — for Michael Jackson’s public funeral. The stands were packed, and Phoebe and I were way down at the bottom of the stage. They wheeled in the body on a hospital gurney, covered by a thin sheet, and it ended up parked right next to our location. Looking at the corpse laying there under the sheet I had a premonition… and in the next second it came true. Michael moved, his hands came up and lifted off the sheet, and he sat up! I realized the whole thing — his "death," the tributes, the wall-to-wall news coverage — was a huge publicity stunt, a device to build interest for his new 50-show London concert series.

The crowd freaked, a mixture of cries of joy and rage. Underneath the sheet, Michael was dressed to perfection, in a white suit and white fedora. But he looked different: his skin was dark again, how he looked in the early 1980s. He reached up to remove this latest mask, but it wouldn’t come off. It was his "new" face. A mask of death and renewed life.

Michael looked around at the crowd and smiled. "Now I know how you really feel about me, what you think of me." He paused as the shouts, hoots, and whistles rained down on him. "Sounds like some of you wish I was still dead!" He jumped off the gurney and pirouetted onto the stage, as the music came on. It was electric.

Phoebe scrambled up on to the empty hospital gurney and started toddling uncertainly along it, performing an awkward dance to the music. I ran over to her to stop, to save her from hurting herself.

Dream Come True

For years I had this recurring dream where I would be walking down the street and come across a huge stash of comics sitting in boxes on the sidewalk. In my dream, I never got to open the boxes and see what was inside, but I envisioned them filled with great old books to complete my collection or at least sell for a tidy sum.

So imagine my disbelief when Victor, my building superintendent, pulled me aside the other day. He took me into his storage space in the basement and showed me box after box overflowing with comics! Turns out they had been left to him by a couple of vacating tenants over the years, and he had just gotten the bright idea of trying to sell them. Even though I’ve lived in the building for over seven years, he never knew I was a cartoonist until fairly recently, so when he found out, he figured I was the guy to show them to. Now I love Victor; he’s a great super and he always goes out of his way to help out Sari and I. So I agreed to go through the boxes and see what was what.

It took me a week or so of hour-long visits, but eventually I went through the thousands of books, culling what I thought had some re-sale value. (I’m sort of touch with that market from selling books from my collection over the years.) Sadly, the vast majority of the comics were crappy ’90s Marvel and Image books, published during the speculator rage when supply way outpaced demand. But I did find a mother lode of vintage 1970s Marvels, going back to the era of 25-cent books. Most of the comics were in awful condition, having been read multiple times and never bagged or boarded. Even so, there were a couple of gems, including the first appearance of The Punisher in Amazing Spider-Man #129, the first appearance of Gambit in X-Men #266, and a nearly complete run of Claremont/Byrne/Austin X-Men.

I took the books with “potential” up to my apartment, and spent some hours here or there over the last few weeks putting them up on eBay. I also invested in some comics boxes and bags and boards. When all was said and done, I netted Victor over $300 (the Punisher Spider-Man alone sold for over $100!). Victor was thrilled when I brought him the cash the other day, and I’ve been getting to enjoy reading old comics, and filling some gaps in my old collection (mostly Byrne and George Pérez books). And I still have a bunch of books left to sell, when I get around to it. Who says dreams don’t come true?

comics!

Hothead

It was late on a foggy night, and I was walking west on 42nd Street toward Times Square. Ahead of me, crossing the intersection, I saw a black man with his hair was on fire! Kneeling on the ground in front of him was a white guy, vomiting on the street in shock, fear, and revulsion. I started running toward them, desperately thinking what I could do to help. All I had in my hand was a half-empty water bottle. As I got closer, I saw that the guy on fire was patting and slapping at his head, trying to put out the flames. By the time I arrived on the scene, he had succeeded in putting them out. Incredibly, his face seemed hardly the worse for wear. Despite the smoke and ash, he seemed unhurt.

Just as I noticed this, I spotted something odd about him. He was wearing a big wool sweater, which seemed to be covering more than just his body. Underneath the sweater it was lumpy and misshapen — almost like there were dried leaves stuck in there. Suddenly, the leaves — or whatever — began to smolder, and then spark. His head and shoulders burst into flame again!

And still all I had was that half-empty water bottle.