FLYING BY THE SEAT OF YOUR PANTS
The clock is ticking.
Time truly is the great equalizer. It's a universal truth amongst us all that you just can't hold time in your hands. Regardless of your class, race, ideology, no matter who you may be or how much or little you may have accomplished there's not a damn thing you can do as that pool of life that you so desperately clutch in your palms pisses out between your fingers and runs down your arms, never to be recaptured. While you wait for that countdown clock that keeps you waking up every morning to inevitably tick your life down to zero, all you can hope to do is to inject each heartbeat with as much experience and meaning as your body will handle.
Seconds and minutes and hours are truly the most valuable currency of all, because time affords you life. And you're only going to get so much of it, so you'd better do what you can to get as much use out of that ever-fading wealth as you can. Because when last call is finally called no one ever wishes that they had pursued their dreams less. When looking back on one's life accomplishments nobody ever says "You know, I really wish I hadn't tried so hard to do everything that I wanted to do" or "God, I can't believe I wasted all that time pursuing my dreams."
Like I say, it's a universal truth.
I, myself, desperately want as much as I can get out of my time here as I can get. It gnaws at me while I lay awake in bed at night. My appetite for life is utterly enormous, voracious, insatiable, and there just simply isn't enough time in the world to get it all done. I'm plagued by a hunger to see all my plans through, but each day brings a new mad idea popping into my head to add to the list. I wake up each day and put my pants on one leg at a time, like everyone else does, and then I step out and grab life by the fucking throat and shake out as much living as I can get. Because I'll never regret having pursued my dreams. Which is why I'm here at the Isotope, carving my own personal comic book lounge utopia out of my corner of the comic industry. Which is why I'm writing this very column for CBR, sharing my knowledge and passion and message with all who tune in to read. Which is why I spend every moment of every day and every nearly sleepless night riding this wild ride that I've set in motion.
That's the trick about sucking every last drop of juice out of the moments of your life. Sometimes you're really, truly driving and other times you're just going through the motions, clicking the blinkers and turning the wheel the same way everybody else is, but inside you're screaming because you just can't wait until the thing shifts back into manual and you get to drive it again. It's all about popping the clutch and slamming the stickshift into gear at just the right moment, so that the engine roars and the seat presses up hard against your backside. And just like learning to drive a car, the more you practice squeezing time for every drop of precious life it can give you, the better you get at it.
You see, there's an art to flying by the seat of your pants.
Life is a mad, chaotic game where everything can go to glory or to shit in an instant. Plan all you like, but there's always something unexpected coming around the next bend that you couldn't have planned for in your wildest dreams. That's not a bad thing. That's the best thing there could possibly ever be. Because that's when life happens. Like it or not, you're going to end up dropped into a world of complete chaos again sooner or later, and if you can make flying by the seat of your pants an art, you can make that world of chaos into a world of crazy, wild fun. And that's when you're not just riding the carosel and watching that brass ring pass you by as you white-knuckle your fiberglass steed in fear of slipping off. Instead that's when you're perched masterfully atop that rising and falling horse, one foot firmly planted and the other dangling off into the abyss. Howling victoriously at the wind as you snatch up that brass ring and hold your shiny prize high above your head with a wild, ecstatic grin stretched ear to ear.
I've been doing some serious flying by the seat of my pants for years, and especially over the past few weeks. But what I've found is, if I'm doing it right, I can use the momentum and the chaos to my advantage. It's a glorious rhythm, like a shot of adrenalin straight to the heart, using that countdown clock to help make things happen for you. Time just keeps barreling forward and it feels like slow-motion as I'm setting up the dominos as fast as I can so that time will knock them down in just the right order as it flies by.
Long before I owned a comic shop I've always thrown crazy parties and shown my friends a good time. It's part of who I am and what I like to do with my time. When you're preparing for a chaotic, wildcard supernova like an in-store event, and I have been planning for four such events which will occur in rapid succession this month and next, you plan the best you can, set up the dominos to fall how you want, but know in the back of your mind that the row leading left may fall, while the path of dominos leading right may remain standing strong until the end. So you plan for that too, but in truth all you can do is keep lining up those dominos.
Domino 1: Turntables
I'm no DJ, but I've always enjoyed having them spinning at my events. Just seeing two turntables and a mixer set up is something of a thrill and instantly slaps you upside the head and says "It's party time, motherfucker." After hauling DJ equipment in and out of the Isotope on several occasions for past in-store events, it has long been at the top of my list to make tables a permanent fixture. With the sheer number of record spinning regulars that the Isotope has and a city full of world-class DJs, you never know when or who will be in mixing sounds and scratching on my collection of old school Grandmaster Flash singles when you walk in the front door of the Isotope. That x-factor unknown quality is exactly what I want for my business, providing even my most regular of regulars with the newness and something to remember everytime they come by. With the up-coming celebration of all things bargain-basement celluloid, the LESS THAN HERO Low-Rent Celebrity Bash coming up shortly and DJ SamSupa my scheduled spinner there was no time like the present. So two Numark TT1625 and a DM1001X later and the first of our dominos falls...
Domino 2: Travel Arrangements
When it comes to making travel arrangements I have a secret weapon in my pocket, and that's the Isotope's Special Projects Director Kirsten Baldock. I don't know how she does it, but Kirsten has an uncanny ability to sniff out the best deals in airline tickets I've ever seen. For my trip to the San Diego Comic Con I flew for $35, which cost me about half as much as I spent on cocktails in the San Francisco airport waiting to board. The next domino that needed to fall was making sure that the creators for all my events had a way to get to my shop. In particular, I was concerned about getting Tony Harris from Macon, Georgia to San Francisco in time for the EX MACHINA Election Day Party, which I think will be one of the coolest events in comics this year. And, of course, while I was at it I had to remember to remind both Brian K. Vaughn and Tony that they'll need to get absentee ballots for themselves, because if we're going to do it, we're going to do it right.
Domino 3: Star Search
At San Diego Comic Con this year I was told by a person who was obviously lacking vision, "You can only do the Isotope in San Francisco, in any other city a store like that would fail" which I think is total bullshit. In a free-market society you can have a successful business anywhere, provided you offer the consumers something that they can't get anywhere else, no matter if there's massive competition or if you invent an entirely new category yourself. I'm sure there were probably people who thought you also couldn't do a Starbucks outside of Seattle too (not that I equate my business with the hostile-takeover tactics of a Starbucks). Anyway, it got me thinking about what kind of things I could do that you truly couldn't do in a different city, and what kind of events are possible for no other reason than it is San Francisco. Hell, I afford the massive rents and costs of living gladly to have my shop in the city of San Francisco, I should do something that celebrates the high-weirdness patchwork of freaks and weirdos that only SF can provide. That's when Jason McNamara and I came up with the idea of the LESS THAN HERO Low-Rent Celebrity Bash.
LESS THAN HERO is a comic book about junkie superheroes, circuit boys, horrible roommates, unexplained phenomenon, loser skate punks, alcoholic co-workers, and backstabbing best friends in the city of San Francisco, the perfect foil for what I had planned. An event celebrating the bargain basement of the bargain basementest of SF's weirdo culture celebrities. A red carpet/velvet rope affair featuring the best and the worst of all the low-rent celebrities I could find. Domino number three had me scavenging in every dark corner of the internet, every trashy local magazine, and every dive bar for the craziest welfare celebrities that you'll ever have the pleasure to photograph, ogle and adore. It took several weeks but with a little persistence and a good sense of humor and I stocked my featured guest list full.
Domino 4: Broadcast News
No matter where you might fall on the political spectrum, or even if you've fallen off it, everyone knows that this is an important election this year. And that's why we've decided to throw an event on election day with Brian K. Vaughan and Tony Harris. With this presidential race shaping up to be such an oversized event in American politics, much too big for even a 72" TV, I knew we had to go extra-extra large in scale for our event. I've rented a digital projector in the past, but I knew it was time to bite the bullet and just buy one of the damn things, so my next step was to find and procure a digital projector that I can use to broadcast the election results larger than life on the Isotope window as they happen at the EX MACHINA Election Day Party. Much research and one eBay purchase later... and another domino falls.
Later that night I made myself a Meyers and tonic, set the projector up, hooked up my Playstation, and played me a little wall-sized Spider-Man 2. Good times!
Domino 5: Picking the Prom Suit
Joe Casey is a madman, an insane genius rock and roll madman. That, and the fact that he has written some of my absolute favorite comics, is why I like the guy so much. Because when insane genius rock and roll madmen and I get together to plan something we do it in insane rock and roll madman style. And come the first week of November we'll be rolling out what promises to be one of the most talked-about events of 2004 Joe Casey Presents: THE INTIMATES High School Prom. I don't know about you, but I didn't go to my prom, I took my girlfriend and went and saw some punk rock bands play in the basement of the local teen center instead. I certainly don't regret doing it because that was an amazing show, the signer from 10-96 smashed his face through a wall and did a bellyflop onto a cement floor off the speaker stack, but still... I knew that if I had an excuse to attend a tongue-in-cheek retro 80's prom event at a local bar or club I'd go. Joe Casey must have a similar story, because he knew what a brilliant idea he had in throwing a crazy Isotope prom in conjunction with the release of his new Wildstorm book THE INTIMATES.
And if you're going to go to prom... you're going to need to dress the part. Now as anyone who knows their cheesy 80's suits will tell you, it's a difficult balancing act to find just the right blend of tuxedo shirt ruffles, basic black elegance and powder blue attitude. But as everything else, that domino also eventually fell. So tell me, what are YOU planning to wear to this once-in-a-lifetime event?
Domino 6: Rolling out the Red Carpet
Ah, yes, rolling out the red carpet for everyone who attends our LESS THAN HERO Low-Rent Celebrity Bash is certainly a dream come true for me. As a perpetual and penultimate host I take great pleasure in making people who attend my various events feel special, but this time I get to really go all out to make them feel like superstars!
And let's face it, you can't make celebrities walk on the bare ground, even if they are low-rent! In order to make all those promises about a true red carpet experience come true, I put some cash on the table and got to work securing just the right amount of uber-plush red carpet and oh-so sexy velvet ropes that will make every single person attending feel like the low-rent star they know they are. After phoning and clicking my internet browser around to every movie theatre prop house in the nation, I finally found one who could provide the ropes I wanted at the price I was willing to pay for them. The carpet is from a company who specializes in nothing but red carpet for events that are probably a whole lot classier than mine, but who gives a fuck? If I'm going to feature celebrities, I'm going to treat them right.
Domino 7: Rob's Royal Welcome
The 2003 Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics winner Rob Osborne is going to be in town later this month and appearing at my little shop for World Domination Day, the launch event we're throwing to celebrate the release of the AIT-PlanetLar 1000 STEPS TO WORLD DOMINATION. Personally, I couldn't be happier to see Rob's full-size graphic novel (which contains a whole lot more than just his minis) coming out from a major publisher like AIT-PlanetLar. His comics mean alot to me, not just because Rob has done such an amazing job at carrying that mini-comic trophy like a true champ, but because 1000 STEPS always keeps me pumped up and focused. Whenever I'm feeling buried in work, or frustrated by all the bullshit negativity in the comic industry, I sit down and read some of Rob's work. Without fail, I always stand up afterwards ready to take on any and all challenges and to kick some fucking ass.
Knowing Rob was going to be in town for a couple days I arranged for a member of the Isotope family to act as Rob's personal chauffeur, because really, Napoleon never would've taken a cab.
Domino 8: Celebrity Wrangling
Once I assembled my cast of divas, circus freaks, and other fame-mongers for the LESS THAN HERO Low-Rent Celebrity Bash, I started the dreaded task of making sure the dates, times, and performances were all worked out. If there was any domino that had the hardest time going over, it was this one.
It's quite a collection of featured guest stars, but is definitely shaping up to being as unique as the book itself is. Featuring everyone from the delectable Ms. Monster and her posse of hard-drinking cable access superstars from SF's own high-shock horror Hel On Ice tv show, to San Francisco's greatest ventriloquist-lead hard-rockin' jugband and 2nd place winners in the 2003 California Jug-Off Hiroshi Hasegawa and the Poontang Wranglers, to the avant-experimental junkyard cabaret that is the high-tech freakshow of firebreathing, stilt-walking, and anthropomorphic robot-hobos of The Omni Circus, to Industrial Light & Magic digital effects artist who has worked on everything from "The Ring" to "Hidalgo" to "Star Wars" episodes one, two and three Zack Sherman (the Yoda lightsabre fight from Episode Two? Yep, Mister Sherman did that), to underground artist and wildman animator Lev whose bare-bones cartoon brilliance Tales of Mere Existence has been profiled by both Maximum Rock And Roll and Film Threat, and will be featured on Comedy Central's 2005 schedule, to Chris Odell, the founder of the multi-media music video documentarians Fractal Video, to the utterly cool creator of the first mainstream-syndicated comic strip featuring a gay lead character in America Jane's World indy comic writer/artist Paige Braddock, to San Francisco's only self-professed astronaut Larry, to the world-class yo-yo tricking antics of the one and only Yo-Yo King, to the cosmic space loveliness of space rocker Astrobabe, to Oakland's hottest old school funk and hip hop DJ DJ SamSupa, to one of the most popular low-rent celebrity guests of all Todd H... the guy whose ex-wife fucked Don Dokken!
It was just over a solid week that I spent wrangling these bargain basement superstars for this cheap-ass craptacular Entertainment Tonight. But as always, perseverence wins out and another domino does indeed eventually drop.
Domino 9: World Domination Propaganda
I don't consider myself a graphic designer, but I almost always make my own event flyers. Not that I mind when someone else designs a flyer for one of my events, in fact quite the opposite (Brian Wood has done several really awesome flyers for me in the past), but it simply has more to do with taking on a job and just getting shit done than it does with anything else. In general I've found that it takes a couple days to get someone else to make a flyer for me and in the same amount time I can bang out my own event flyer and have it printed, posted on line, and doing it's job of promoting the event. I know how soon I want that flyer, and I've got just enough skills to make it happen, so I just sit down and make it happen.
Perhaps a professional artist or designer could whip these flyer things out in an hour or two, but not me. I suffer for my art, and usually end up pretty happy with my results for it.
Domino 10: Pimping the Vote
Brian K Vaughn and I were very pleased with the number of people who registered to vote as part of last summer's Brian K Vaughn EX MACHINA Voter Registration Drive (which was written about in TIME Magazine, by the way), and the two of us have been tossing around ideas about how to entice people who registered during this event or were already registered to actually participate in this year's election. It took a while, but I think you'll like what we came up with.
Everyone who comes to the Isotope wearing their "I Voted" sticker or presenting an absentee ballot receipt will receive an exclusive CD jammed packed with EX MACHINA goodness. Want to read Brian's EX MACHINA scripts? Want to see what Tony Harris' studio looks like? Want to see how a page of EX MACHINA goes from breakdowns to pencils to inks to the complete full-color glory that you see on the printed page every month? Want to read exclusive interviews with the creative team? Well all that is going to be on this ultra-limited signed and numbered CD that we're giving away to folks who go out and do themselves proud and hit the poles and cast their vote. We're doing 200 copies for the in-store event and for those playing along at home we'll have 100 copies to give away on line (which you'll be hearing more about in a few short days when my press release hits)
So for domino ten Tony and I put our heads together and got to work making these things. This domino hasn't quite fallen yet, but the process is moving along rapidly, and we'll certainly have them ready to put in everyone's hands come November 2nd. If you didn't already have an excuse to make your voice heard in this year's election, you just got one!
Domino 11: 40 oz. Flyer
I was hoping originally to get a piece of art from LESS THAN HERO artist Tony Talbert (who wants you to know how good looking he is by the way) for this flyer, but we hit a time-constraint wall, so it was decided that we were just going to have to come up with something else. I wanted something iconic that expressed how lowbrow the event was intended to be and made you laugh when you saw it. The solution woke me up in the middle of the night. What was a better representative for this event than velvet ropes and 40oz malt liquor?
I spent nearly a day of my life trying to piece together those velvet ropes with a picture of a 40, but I ended up having to go down to the local 40oz store and buy one anyway to get exactly what I wanted. I might not be a professional designer, but I'm really happy with how this flyer came out. And yes, I drank that 40 while I was making it too.
Domino 12: Battling 80's DJs
And finally we get to watch the last of those falling dominos!
I may have skipped my prom, but I tell you, I know what kind of DJs I want spinning the tunage at a prom themed party. And what could be better than finding two of the San Francisco Bay Area's cheesiest 80's DJs and giving them an excuse to embark on a battle of corny synth leads, one hit wonders, and the classic cuts from huge hair early MTV heavy rotators?
Let me tell you, it wasn't hard finding a couple out of style wedding-quality DJs to come in and make their play for the title of greatest K-Tel collection hits of yesteryear DJ. I just demanded the devotion to the Greg Khin Band and the right DJs stepped up to the plate with a collection of crusty old records perfect for THE INTIMATES High School Prom. In case you were wondering I'm pretty sure one of them will have the 45 of Tommy Tutone's "867-5309" on hand too.
And there goes domino twelve...
After all that, I have to tell you the truth and say that's not really the end. In fact it's really just the beginning, I've got a whole stack of dominos that need to be lined up yet. INTIMATES artist Giuseppe Camuncol is working on a piece of original art for the flyer for our INTIMATES High School Prom, I'm about half-way through the official press release for the EX MACHINA Election Day Party with Brian K Vaughn and Tony Harris, I've scheduled an interview with my man Joe Casey about THE INTIMATES which will be appearing in this very column later this month, and I've got that EX MACHINA Election Day Party flyer I'll be finishing up today too.
But it's all under control; I do this kind of thing for a living. I know how to get everything done and make it look easy. I've got a pretty damn good idea just how hard you have to squeeze to get as much life out of a day as possible, and that's exactly what I plan on doing. But you always have to be ready for the chaos, and you can't ever plan when it's coming, because chaos is slave to no man. You just have to be ready to do a little flying by seat of your pants when it hits. All you can do is set up all the dominos you can and let time do the rest. When those amazingly random acts that fuck everything up come a-callin' you just got to sit back and revel in the sheer chaos, and thank yourself for getting such great front-row seats to watch it from.
And oh look... just as I'm polishing this column off and starting to feel like the master of all things domino, the chaos element comes into play once again. I just got the following email from Jason McNamara regarding the LESS THAN HERO Low-Rent Celebrity Bash:
Oh yeah, the Omni Circus guys want to have a topless woman on stilts and set her chest on fire. Your thoughts?
Okay. Here we go.....