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tag: comics

Justin Green: First Contact

The start of a long collaboration

My old friend Justin Green died late last month. Obituaries have been appearing that begin to plumb the depths of his work, life, and influence: nytimes.com, chicagotribune.com, tcj.com, cbr.com, dailycartoonist.com. As I mentioned when the news broke of his passing, I was fortunate to live in the same town as him, Sacramento, California, in the early 1990s, which led to me editing a ton of comics that he produced for the pages of Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine. After I began to process the news of his death, I looked through an old file of documents from that period of time, and I found this copy I’d made of a letter I sent to him following our first phone conversation. Eventually he would decide to, rather than create a serial, produce a sequence of richly idiosyncratic and lovingly rendered biographies and anecdotes from musical history, which the publisher Last Gasp later collected in the book Musical Legends. The letter is from mid-November 1991. His first strip of many would appear in the March issue of Pulse! the following year.

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RIP, Justin Green (1945-2022)

A truly great American comics artist, and a dear friend

When we’re young, if we’re fortunate, terms like “heavy heart” and “heartbroken” are just that: language on the page, perhaps language overheard. As we age, those words take on meaning through experience. It is in that sense that I note the death of Justin Green, a great American comics creator, and also an old friend of mine.

Justin was one of the earliest comics memoirists, best known for his 1972 Binky Brown and the Holy Virgin Mary. I met him 20 years later, when I was a few years out of college. I’d moved to Sacramento, California, in 1989 to help edit the music magazine published by Tower Records, called Pulse!, and after a few years, I started to introduce comics that I edited. The first comic was by Adrian Tomine, still in high school at the time. His piece ran in the February 1992 issue of Pulse! It was the start of a monthly three-year collaboration that bridged him starting college at Berkeley.

The next issue, in March 1992, Justin Green debuted the first of what would end up being a decade straight of comics in the magazine. His first piece was about when Benny Goodman met Charlie Christian. He’d proceed over the years to tell stories about everybody from Leadbelly to Elvis Presley to Buddy Holly to Mezz Mezzrow. Like his friends and fellow cartoonists R. Crumb and Bob Armstrong, Justin favored old American music. This meant comics about John Philip Sousa, and Stephen Foster, and Fats Waller. Occasionally I could nudge him out of his comfort zone, especially when I wrote a piece for him, like the one I did about Philip Glass still driving a taxi cab after the premiere of Einstein on the Beach, or the one I did about an imaginary retirement home for old corporate mascots, as a means to tell a concise, not very serious story about the history of the 8-track cassette tape. These were later collected in a book, Musical Legends, published by Last Gasp. I left Pulse! in 1996, but continued to write and edit freelance for Tower. At some point after I left for San Francisco, where I still live, the talented editor Bill Forman began to also work with Justin on his comics. I continued to edit the Flipside comics that appeared on the last page of every issue. (These started with Peter Kuper in 1993 and ended with Jeff LeVine in 2002, the final issue of the magazine, for which I wrote the cover story, which was an interview with Missy Elliott. I’ve posted a semi-complete index of them.)

Like Adrian, Justin lived in Sacramento, which is where Tower was based. Technically Tower was in West Sacramento, but the original store was in Sacramento, and that’s where I lived. I first contacted both Justin and Adrian because they were local. This was before email was a norm, and back when fax machines were still a daily tool at the office. I wanted to work with local cartoonists, in order for us to be able to meet in person and go over the illustrations and shape the stories. I’d noticed Adrian lived in town because I saw his address in his self-published zine, Optic Nerve.

As for Justin, realizing he lived in town was a huge surprise. I had recently purchased the latest issue of Raw magazine. In each issue, on the table of contents, Raw listed the location of the various contributors. It was usually New York City, Paris, London — maybe Berkeley and Barcelona. And there in that issue, volume 2, number 3, was “Justin Green, Sacramento” — directly above Gary Panter, below whom was a collaboration between Alan Moore and Mark Beyer.

I first had coffee with Adrian at a local cafe, and I had no idea he was as young as he was until we met. (He later told me he mistakenly had thought I was wearing my Slayer t-shirt ironically.) I first visited Justin, who lived with his wife, the incredible comics artist Carol Tyler, and their then young daughter, Julia, at their home. I remember walking around back, where the house was protected by a discarded Colonel Sanders statue. Justin was as surprised at how young I was as I had been when I met Adrian. He talked me through his process, and then we began to discuss the sort of work he would do.

I’m very sad as I write this, and while memories are flooding back, they’re also straining against a lot of emotions. At this stage, I want to pause the reminiscence, or at least try to. His death is still very fresh — I just learned today when Carol announced it on Facebook — and the 30 years since I met him have collapsed on themselves in a way that is confusing and surprising to me. One thing I recalled today was that originally, Justin didn’t intend to do biographical sketches each month. His original idea was to tell the story of a fictional blues musician. We roughed out some concepts, but ended up going in another direction. We never revisted that fictional blues musician, and I haven’t thought of that character — still inchoate after all these years — in the longest time. It’s like he’s still there, half-formed in my imagination. It’s uncanny.

I miss Justin terribly. The last time we were in touch was in November of last year. I’m working on a project that might have enabled me to visit him in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he’d moved awhile back. He reported that he was in poor health, as well as having “the standard woes of a septuagenarian regarding energy levels, sore feet, occasional bouts of rage that verge on Tourette’s symptoms” — the latter something anyone who’s read Binky Brown would appreciate. He also sent me a recording of a song he was working on. Justin was concerned he just didn’t have the project in him, but still, he wrote, “If it’s really really really important to you that I sign on, I’ll give it a go.” I could tell this was not a good idea to push for, and I let him know I appreciated it. And that was the last we corresponded.

There’s much more I want to recount about what I learned from Justin, professionally and personally, and I want to share some examples of his comics. That will have to wait. I’m wiped out. I was young when we met, and now I’m older than he was then, a warp of time that my mind can’t quite make sense of. For many years I had a piece of paper on which he had written something that summed up his work ethic. It said, in as many words, that if you’re in your 20s you should be pulling one all-nighter a week. I don’t pull all-nighters anymore, but there’s still a lot of Justin in me, and I cherish every ounce of it.

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This Week in Sound: Reduce Distracting Bodily Noises

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the April 25, 2022, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

As always, if you find sonic news of interest, please share it with me, and (except with the most widespread of news items) I’ll credit you should I mention it here.

A story about the bullying of a cheerleader through the use of deep fakes expands into a cautionary discussion about voice privacy, ranging from cloned voices confirming million-dollar transfers, to the radio host’s voice being used to say read the script automatically. ➔ wbur.org

A 19-year study with 31,387 yields concerns about the correlation of noise pollution and mental health: “The study provides strong evidence of a negative mental health effect of perceived residential noise, and the results have implications for healthy home design and urban planning.” The research was undertaken in Australia. ➔ ajpmonline.org

We’re generally programmed, thanks to evolution, to be inured to the noises we ourselves produce, but Sennheiser apparently thinks it has one-upped Mother Nature with its new wireless earbuds: “the open ear adapters will help reduce distracting bodily noises such as footsteps or your heartbeat while still allowing you to hear the ambient sound of your surroundings.” ➔ whathifi.com

“The device is constantly listening to the sound of your voice, aiming to make you aware of ‘uuh’ fill words.” This is a gadget called “Mind the ‘Uuh,'” developed by by Benedikt Groß, Maik Groß and Thibault Durand. ➔ creativeapplications.net

The world’s first “bioplastic” vinyl record format has been introduced.clashmusic.com (via Nathan Moody)

A voice actor known for her screams (in Free Guy, Paranormal Activity, and Scream) on the less-than-inherently-safe nature of the gig: “We are like stunt people, doing the hard stuff that could be damaging to an actor’s voice or is out of their range.” ➔ theguardian.com (via Saga Söderback)

Religious leaders in India aren’t the only ones being hit by noise compliance crackdowns. In Noida, 17 DJs were addressed by police action. The regulations date to 1986: “The Act has defined ambient acceptable noise levels, silence zones, restrictions on the use of loudspeakers, horns, sound-emitting construction equipment, and bursting of crackers.” ➔ indianexpress.com

Sound Studies Review: An International Peer-Reviewed Music Journal is a new academic journal, edited by Mark A. Pottinger and Luca Lévi Sala of Manhattan College, and due to be published twice each year. “The main mission of the journal is to publish critical and engaging work at the intersection between musicology, music theory, audio technology, acoustical research, and media studies.” ➔ manhattan.edu

How about a script for an open source music machine that “does one thing — emitting a tone with a pitch that represents the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere”? ➔ duncangeere.com

“Privacy advocates say voice prints collected by smart home tools like Alexa and Google Nest could be used in police investigations with impunity unless biometric identifiers can be governed in at least the same way as other forms of evidence.” An update from Ireland. ➔ biometricupdate.com

Google’s Android mobile OS has been removing apps that record phone calls, focused on apps that use the accessibility settings as a work-around. ➔ gizmodo.com

And since you’ve made it this far in a lengthy issue, your reward is an index of 1,200 sound effects from Don Martin’s Mad Magazine comics, ranging from “AAAGH! EEEEEOOOW ACK! UGH UGH MMP AGH! AEEK!” (“Removal of a Deep Rooted Tooth”) through “SPLAZOOSH” (“Woman Pouring Water on Fire”) through “ZZZZZZZZZZZ” (“Three Girls Sleeping”). In a Hilobrow.com article on the archive, Peggy Nelson investigates and praises its “early internet” construction. ➔ madcoversite.com, hilobrow.com (Thanks, Peggy!)

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This Week in Sound: Comics, Construction, Illusions

A lightly annotated clipping service

These sound-studies highlights of the week are lightly adapted from the March 7, 2022, issue of the free Disquiet.com weekly email newsletter This Week in Sound (tinyletter.com/disquiet).

As always, if you find sonic news of interest, please share it with me, and (except with the most widespread of news items) I’ll credit you should I mention it here.

Si Spurrier and Matías Bergara have created a new comic book, Step by Bloody Step, that has no sound — no dialogue, and no sound effects. Spurrier, the series’ writer, makes the case that the absence of sound eliminates one of fantasy fiction’s crutches: “I think that the reader’s desire always gravitates towards detail. That’s why you end up with endless maps and encyclopedias and taxonomies and ancient histories, all of which don’t actually help you to tell the beating, throbbing, emotional heart of the story.” A lot of my favorite comics and graphic novels don’t use sound effects. (That said, some of my favorite comics have extraordinary sound effects, notably Michel Fiffe’s.) Dispensing also with dialogue entirely — not for a special standalone issue, but for the series as a whole — is next level, especially for a comic targeted at a popular audience. ➔ ew.com (Via Mike Rhode)

“Construction vehicles are equipped with new back-up alarm systems featuring multiple broadband frequencies, which replace the traditional ‘beep-beep’” — breaking municipal news from Montréal. ➔ montreal.ca (Thanks, Anne Bell)

Diana Deutsch, author of the book Musical Illusions and Phantom Words, is one of the subjects of the Unexplainable podcast episode on how sound becomes hearing, part of a six-episode Making Sense sequence. ➔ pod.link/unexplainable (Thanks, Alan Bland)

“Duvall Hecht, whose boredom at listening to music and news on the radio during his long daily commute in Southern California led him to start Books on Tape, which broadly commercialized the audiobook, died on Feb. 10 at his home in Costa Mesa, Calif.” And: “In 1975, Mr. Hecht was craving intellectual stimulation during his rush-hour commutes between his home in Newport Beach and his office in Los Angeles, where he worked in marketing for the investment banking firm Bateman Eichler, Hill Richards. At first he rested a reel-to-reel tape recorder on the seat beside him and played recordings of books that had been made for blind people.” ➔ nytimes.com

Pranay Parab of Gizmodo came up with eight ways to make Siri less annoying, among then: changing when Siri shares spoken responses, disabling “Hey, Siri,” and stopping Apple from listening to your interactions with Siri. ➔ gizmodo.com

The Twenty Thousand Hertz podcast explores the “signature, soothing voice” of painter Bob Ross.shorefire.com

David Haskell is the author of the new book Sounds Wild and Broken: Sonic Marvels, Evolution’s Creativity and the Crisis of Sensory Extinction. He spoke with KQED radio: “Haskell describes a global sonic landscape that’s threatened by human-induced habitat destruction and noise pollution and warns that by smothering the earth’s many voices, we’re not only imperiling species but losing our connection to the natural world.” ➔ kqed.org

“Underwater noise pollution is causing turtles to experience hearing loss that can last from minutes to days” — per Andria Salas, researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, in Massachusetts. ➔ phys.org

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1992 Flashback

And the start of my work with Justin Green

I started editing comics three decades ago this year, back in 1992. I don’t do it anywhere near as often as I used to, but I still do on occasion, and I read comics all the time. The first artist I worked with was Adrian Tomine. The second was Justin Green. Both became long-running collaborators in the pages of Tower Records’ Pulse! magazine. This weekend, while tidying up my office, I came upon this 1991 issue of Raw magazine, which is how I first met Justin. Each issue of Raw listed on its table of contents the home base of each artist, so it was always places like London, Paris, New York (back when New York was more likely to mean Manhattan than Brooklyn), Milan, Chicago, and so forth. And yet there, in volume two, number three, was Sacramento, California, which is where Justin lived, and where I happened to live at the time, as well, because it was the home base of Tower Records, where I’d started working in 1989 (after relocating from Brooklyn a year out of college). As with Adrian (also then a local, still in high school), I reached out to Justin to see if he wanted to talk about comics, and he ended up doing a lengthy series for Tower, Musical Legends, which Last Gasp collected into a paperback in 2004. Stumbling on this page after so many years brought back such a flood of memories, and also a distinct sense of how different media and communication were in 1992 — how location, and print, and correspondence differ from how they function today.

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