The White Canary

The White CanaryI envisioned this superhero as a Japanese manga kind of hero; a woman superhero.  When I was in Japan, I’d notice that it was mostly men with their faces buried in manga  stories.  Titles like the ever-popular, Tetsuo, seemed to be the norm.  However, my friends who are Japanese women assure me that women read them as well and are just as fanatical about comics as the men are.  It took Americans a long time to realize comics as literature.  Art Speigelman’s Maus seems to be the tipping point.  It was the literature that made me most feel the gravity of the Holocaust; my doorway into that dark chapter of the last century.  I didn’t grow up with anyone who’d been directly affected by the pogroms of Europe except my friend, Joseph Hasiewicz, the marvelous painter who was the father of my best friend.  He never much spoke of this to us.  Speigelman’s book made the Holocaust real for those of us who grew up culturally removed from the suffering  of the Jews, gypsies, Poles, Italians, Czechs and others who were slaughtered by Nazi Germany. Speigelman did the second generation of Americans born after World War II an immense and humanizing service.

The Superhero comics were always at odds with what I believed as a young man — Might makes right– violence can only be disarmed with greater violence– things like that.

This is why my superheros are not super.  The White Canary cannot even fly or sing; she just looks good.  She’s in this game for the outfits–the couture of superhero-ness.    This is the beginning and end of her story.  One of the reasons I never became a comics artist is that I am an ADD guy and I’m too easily distracted.  I once started a comic book about a dog called “The Passenger” and it would have just followed his life from story to story.  I say, “would have,” because I abandoned it after the third page.  I wanted to draw something else. . .something new.

My friend, Daniel Ferarra, who I, on occasion, publish projects with, makes fun of me mercilessly when we wlk through New York.  We will be in the middle of a conversation and I will become distracted by something in a store window and stop and look,  At this point, Dan will make monkey gestures and say, in his most infantile voice, “Tony see something. Shiny! Ooooh!”  The bastard. But he’s not wrong.  This reason, and  bourbon, are why I no longer drive.

Years ago, when I was still a test pilot for Jack Daniels, I was a manifestly dangerous driver because I would stare at everything but the road.  Birds, flashing lights, bouncing tits, neon signs, strange people walking down the street. . .you name it;  it was all more interesting to me than the rules of the road.

I loved reading comics as a kid because on every other page something cool was happening.  It was the perfect narrative for an easily distracted child like me.

I still like reading crime fiction and stories with lots of action.  I love shoot ’em-up movies where lots of shit blows up.  All of these things remind me of the insanely action-filled comics I read as a kid.

I loved the comic novel, WATCHMEN, written by Alan Moore and one character in particular, Rorschach, a menacing vigilante in a fedora and and ever-changing ink-blot for a face.  It is a tale of the dystopian future, or it was.  Set in the ’80s, Richard Nixon is still President and there is a cadre of monumentally fucked-up superheros who’ve failed to save society from itself.  It is a cynical, funny, bile-laden tale that affirms the dark thought that a society gets as much evil as it deserves.  It is one of the greatest thisngs I’ve ever read.

This new superhero, with no super powers is called “The White Canary.”  she is only pretty and well-dressed and sometimes, this is triumph enough.

Published in: on June 8, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Girl of the Falling Planets,

Girl Of The Falling Planets

I’ve written a lot of love poems.  This one is kind of a love poem for Japan or, more specifically, Tokyo.  It is seductive and full of secrets . . . like a woman.  It is probably a metaphor that would perplex most Japanese ñ a very male-dominated society.  The women I spoke to in Japan seemed sadly resigned to, at some point in their lives, becoming part of a man’s life as almost chattel.  Some of the young women, who worked at the hotel I stayed at, told me that their mothers and their fathers encouraged them to find a man, rather than pursue an education or a business of their own.  The encouraging thing in these conversations was that the women bristled at these thoughts.  One young woman, Sayaka, made it clear that her parents were going to have to realize that it was a new Japan; that the cultural revolution, acted out between young and old, had already happened, albeit quietly.  The young men did not desire to be salary-men and the young women wanted lives, careers and businesses of their own.  It is ironic to view this very old culture and think it has taken this long for young women to liberate themselves from old patriarchal customs and expectations.  Of course, many young women in Japan looked to American women as symbolic of the empowerment one can achieve in the new Japan.  The image of the passive and quiet Asian woman is a quickly disappearing stereotype.

In Japanese art there is no small amount of erotic content; the woodcuts and paintings of artists like Hiroshige and Kuniyoshi are full of geishas and courtesans.  Manga is full of some of the most brutal porn you’ll ever see, replete with rape-fantasy storylines that are degrading and sadly very common.  For centuries, women have very often been sex objects in Japanese art.  There are young women artists in Japan who are turning these paradigms on their head.  Mariko Mori, who seamlessly cobbles together Eastern myths and Western cultural motifs, often makes videos and photographs using herself, more often than not, as a goddess.  Work like hers points to a newly realized “Girl Power” that emboldens other young women artists.  She is a big deal–a real role model to young Japanese women . . . a woman in control of her own art and her own image . . . a woman who owns herself.

I also found out that the cherry blossom season of spring in Japan is a time when many young men propose marriage.  It is a beautiful time of year when the blossoms are in full roar and the parks are full of bright, gauzy whites and pinks, plum wine and music.  It is a lovely thing in a lovely city.  This one is for Tokyo.

Published in: on November 16, 2009 at 3:18 pm  Comments (2)  
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Tokyo Diary–Ameyoko Market

They don’t want to be salarymen.  The 4 or 5 young men I am standing with are tattooed, nattily-dressed punker types with gangster hats and highlighted hair.  We are standing at the entrance of the Ameyoko market where you can by everything from big-eyed, cartoony redfish, to primrose-colored Ramones T-shirts, to epicurean green tea.  It is a bit of the new economy’s Wild West, with guys hawking everything out loud , specially the fish guys, who pick up their catch every morning from Tsukiji market.

These young men want none of the  stoic and sober countenance of the quiet, brief-case carrying commuters they eye walking briskly toward the trains.  They walked up and started asking me about my tattoos and we, as best we could, talked about what they were up to.  One young man with a DMX T-Shirt told me he was an aspiring rapper, and his first love was American hip-hop and rap acts like 50- Cent and Snoop Dogg.  He even did a bit of Snoop for me; “Snoop upside, Snoop upside,  Snoop upside  yo head. . .”  Seeing this from an earnest Japanese teenager is screamingly funny, and even he thinks so.  The other guys weren’t sure about what they wanted.  As much as they understood what I was getting at.

I showed them a book of some of my work and via the miracle of pantomime, we were able to communicate.  These guys all love Scarface.  I know this because when I told them my name was “Tony,” they started saying “Tony Montana. . .Say hello to my lil friend. . .bang, bang, bang.”  When I told them I was from Chicago, they said “Al Capone,” to which I nodded and replied “Fuckin’ A. . .except now we call him Mayor Daley.”

I got a lot out of talking with these kids.  In some ways they want to be like us.  In other ways, they’re rightly appalled by us.  One of them went to great pains to show his dismay at the reports of people showing up to our President’s speeches with guns.  This idea  gives him the idea that we are crazy.  And they are aware  of the racism cloaked in much of the anti-Obama sentiment.  Outside of our borders, I thought, maybe people are able to see this better than we, ourselves do and perhaps able to take a longer view of us.

These guys are also bat-shit for comics and were trying to ask me why I didn’t do comics.  I tried to explain that this was what I’d wanted to do as a kid.  In this culture it is not unusual for grown men to read and buy comics and Manga.  In fact,  it is a bumper industry over here and sometimes the fans dress like the Manga characters and get together in the parks.  Get on any train and you see men reading comics.  The comic stores in Chiyoda are always full of mostly men and boys and they  wait with baited breath for each new installment.

The market here is almost impossible to describe as it sells everything.  A young man with a shaved head and a Drop-Kick Murphy’s T-shirt is hawking styrofoam cooler after cooler of eel’s, remora,and baby octopus.  Two stalls down there is an older women offering seaweed and kelp; next to her is a guy with knock-off Dolce & Gabana products.  There is no rhyme or reason to how this thing works, but it is wonderful and I realize that for about a week, I’ve not been chained to my cell phone or e-mail, and I have the luxury of watching like a fly on the wall; granted a 6’3″, 250 pound fly (it’s not like I go un-noticed), but nobody knows me here and beyond my freakish large size, nobody pays me much attention and I am able to use my eyes and ears and decode what is going on around me in my own way and on my own time.  I don’t know that I completely get Japan, but I like it.  There is a dreaminess about it that I respond to and a lot of this population often seeks its own world to disappear into.   Nobody understands this desire like I do.

There is a term used to describe certain elements of Japanese art called “the Floating World.”  It was often used to describe narrative art in this country over the last few centuries and it is thought that a great much of Japanese comics and manga come out of this  tradition.  It is not unlike how European whites describe some Latin-American writing as “magical realism.”  The two are not unlike each other.   There is a real world feeling of that in this country; that amid the salarymen and a culture that seems to adhere to almost arcanely comformist behavior; there is a wild imagination woven into the human experience.

Published in: on September 7, 2009 at 11:33 am  Leave a Comment  
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