Friday, January 23, 2015

Glitching through the night.

I recommend trying the game out first before reading.

My Dad loves to drive. When we would vacation in other states, my Dad would drive us there. He loves freedom of the road and seeing the landscape change around him. There was another reason why my Dad would drive us: Mom and I were not from the US and when we moved up here, we didn't know anything about the US. So to get us to see various parts of the US, and get a better understanding of it, he would drive. I gainhope d my appreciation for driving because of this. I also gained my love for night driving too.

When my Dad would drive, he would pull all-nighters, and I would do my damnedest to stay up with him. As I stayed up, I would see the highway around us slowly depopulate until there were barely any cars. At times, it was just me, him and a dark, alien landscape surrounding us. There were times in which the night would just blanket the landscape around us and we couldn't see anything; although those nights were few and far, they had a primordial feel to them.

During these late hours, I would be at my most peaceful and reflective. At times, I would enter this region where everything became nebulous and dreamlike; I loved it when I entered this region. The first thing I did when I got my license at 18 was to drive around Cincinnati in the dead of night, hoping to enter that region again.

I live in Sacramento now and I haven't nighted driven in almost four years. I don't know what stopped me. I've tried to find out, but I can't seem to find an answer. I miss going into that region, but when I get into the car, I freeze and go back inside my apartment.

One night while surfing for some games to play and I came across Glitchhickers. The terse descriptions on its page had intrigued me: a game that tried to capture those moments of night driving when reality slowly loosen its grips on you intrigued me.Their  trailer had a feeling of reality slowly unfolded in front of you. I secretly hoped this game would take me back to that region I haven't visited in a long time.

I downloaded the game and started it up

After the Unity screen faced, a lo-fi, droning guitar started playing with a slow-beating drumming in the background; it sounds like something you would hear in an early Shoegaze track. A glitching title screen pops-up, Glitchhikers. The title screen slowly fades away, as does the droning guitar and slow-beating drum.

I'm inside a car. The first thing that grabs me is the color palette: muted blues and purples mixed with grays, blacks, and whites. The colors give the landscape a feeling of being otherworldly; as if I'm no longer on Earth, but some far distant place that crudely resembles Earth. The low-polygon art style further enhances that feeling. Everything is low-key and underplayed; the only thing that stands out is the angular blood orange crescent moon that shows up a bit later. Even when the moon shows up, it oddly compliments the muted colors and low-polygon landscape.

A radio host comes in and out of my radio station. And it reminds me of the idiosyncratic local radio stations I came across during my drives through the US. It also brought up specific memory of this one station I came across while night driving around the country. The host was speaking in a monotone voice,  but there was a sense of what he's saying was urgent, as if he came across secret knowledge that the whole world needed to know.  As he continued, I heard things like ZOG, lizard people and other typical conspiracies "theories". I was instantly intrigued: I'm a sucker for such things. It slowly became a mashup of white supremacy ideas mixed with Cryptozoology, mysticism, and UFOs. I was enthralled at the many different ideas being thrown into the pot. Sadly, as quickly as he came on, he quickly faded like the radio host in the game.

I continue driving.

My character blinks and almost reflectively so do I: I realize I'm just as tired as my character, and that I, too, am entering that nebulous, dreamlike region my character has entered. I see the landscape around me slowly changing. I see myself in a daze, having an out-of-my-body experience. The game starts to get splotchy and glitchy, I'm taken back to this snowy night in Cincinnati. It was 2 am and I decide to drive around Cincinnati while it was snowing. As I drive, the falling snow starts to pick-up and I realize that I was going to be in a blizzard; I continue driving, though. I turn onto a road called Buffalo Ridge: a notoriously hilly, haunted road. A few minutes in, the snow falls more and more and my vision turns to sepia and is with filled with film grain. And I feel, no, I know, I slipped back into the past. I'm no longer in the present, but traveling through the past and Buffalo Ridge is the conduit. I continue driving through the past until the end of the road. I stop and see that I could turn left or do a U-turn and go back. I decided to do a U-turn and go back: everything is normal. I come back to the present, but not the present in my memory, but the present where I'm playing the game. I press E on my keyboard to turn my character's head to the right and I see someone is in the car with me.

I randomly pick-up a weird looking hitchhiker, and we talk about driving, life and the cruel things that happen during childhood. Just like the radio host in the game and in my memory: as quickly as she came, she quickly goes. And I feel terribly lonely. I know how it is to talk to yourself when you're night driving; to create characters out-of-nowhere so you don't feel as lonely. As I continue driving through the game, I continue to pick-up hitchhikers and have conversations about life, driving, existence, our universe, and spirituality. And just as we're about to get deeper into our conversation, they dissipate and I'm feeling terribly lonely again. 

But I continue driving and the landscape around me shifts even more: trees turn into ringed planets, the sky opens and stars fall and I see a bright-colored city in front of me. I'm given a choice: turn left to exit or stay on the right to continue driving.

I continue driving.

My character blinks again, and I think it's for the last time. And the screen turns black and I'm taken back into reality. I'm no longer in that nebulous, dreamlike region; my memories are no longer swirling around me. I'm back at my apartment. And I'm content: I got to visit that place I've missed for so long and I get an urge to go night driving.

I can see my car from my window. My keys are to the left of my keyboard. I let the credits roll. The game quits itself and I walk up to the window. I see my car and smile, but I don't go out. I walk to my couch, lay down and close my eyes and hope to get swept up again but I don't. So I just pick up a book and read.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Gliding through the past and future and hopefully back to the present. (Here Richard McGuire)

I've always had a fascination with space, land and the places we consider shelters. How the nooks, crannies, and rooms within our houses, apartments, and other shelters interacts with us; how we give meaning, history, and culture to those spaces we inhabit; how those areas can mean so many different things to different people; how emotions and memory can emerge from the space and land we live and interact with daily; how those interactions and history and emotions and memories have vibrations and are able to “talk” to future generations with/without them knowing it.

These thoughts would swirl in my head for hours. I would go on walks and drives around my area to see and explore the dilapidated buildings and imagine what they were like when they were being inhabited.  I would want to know its history. I would want to interact its previous inhabitants, experience what they experienced.

There was another way to experience this, and that was through reading. .

I read about the history of certain buildings that fascinated me. I read about plots of land that struck a certain chord with me. I read books that dealt with the same ideas and themes that swirled in my head:

Landscape & Memory: Simon Schama wrote about how human culture formed and changed the landscape around them, leaving a residue behind that continues to interact with future generations.

The Poetics of Space: Gaston Bachelard wrote about how the spaces of a house (corners, attic, basements) interact and change human memories, emotions, and interactions.

Space & Place: Yu-Fu Tuan wrote about how we—people—are able to form an attachment to the space they inhabit: our home, neighborhood, community and even our nation.

I read Tim Cresswell's Place which talked about a sense of place and human geography. I read Senses of Place edited by Steven Feld & Keith H. Basso, which collected a series of essays on place and space. I read any other book that could fill my intense curiosity on such a subject.

And then I read Richard McGuire's Here.


In 1989, an experimental comic anthology called Raw published--Vol. 2, #1--a comic called Here by McGuire. It was a six-page comic that showed us the history of a corner of a house. In a page, there would panels-within-panels that showed the previous occupants of that corner. McGuire, within a few pages and panels, was able to travel back-and-forth through time to show us the history of that corner.

Flash forward to 2014, and now McGuire has expanded that six page comic into a 300-page comic.

In the first version of Here, McGuire used a grid to tell the story. Now, in its current version, McGuire uses a more cinematic effect. Instead of using a grid, McGuire uses double-splash pages, and within these double splash pages, McGuire is able to use panels in the splash to show the generations of people and nature that occupied that space. 

There's a rhythm I pick-up when reading Here. It feels as if I were hopscotching from panel-to-panel, from page-to-page.  Each word bubble, each text within the word bubble, each panel, each time shift feels like they should be there, McGuire has meticulously placed everything within this comic so you never feel like stopping. So you're moving with the flow of time, just like the corner of the house and its generations did.

And I could talk about how McGuire's soft color palette gives the Here a feeling of how we would perceive the passage of time: we're seeing the residues of past lives. I could talk about how McGuire's line further enhances that feeling. But...  I think what I really want to talk about is how Here is special for me. Not because of the human, holistic approach that McGuire brought that most the books I've read on the subject lacked--at times. Not the craft that McGuire brought, but the heavy emotional attachment I gave to Here. It threw me back in time: a time where I was still living in Cincinnati at my old house I lived in for 23 years. 

When came across a page where the ceiling was leaking: I thought the drops of water hitting my head like and the big splotch of brownish water damaged spot over my bed that was directly under me. Every night I would stare at it and I would always afraid that it would burst of moldy water come out and drown me. It never happened, though.

When I came across a page of people verbally fighting through generations: I thought of all the years I fought with my parents. Me running through the house, getting away from my Mom or Dad or both because they were going to give me a whupping for misbehaving. Me screaming at them or almost getting into fists with my Dad.

When I came across the page where nature came through the window: I thought of when my parents lost the house; a house they raised me in, loved, fought, and that they thought were going to die in; a house they went back to a couple months later they found a new house to rent and saw what damage has been down to it; a house that was immaculately cleaned was now in disarray. People broke in and stole some pipes, busted up and painted the walls, and stole a beautiful stained-glass window which allowed the elements to come in and further destroy the house we lived in. This chaotic scene broke my Mom's heart and she broke down and cried. And when she saw me, she told me; it broke my heart and I broke down and cried.

I was in Cincinnati visiting my parents when I read Here. And when I finished Here, I was in a state of flux: past battling present. Cincinnati was in a state of flux itself. It felt like everything around me was in a state of flux--well, it usually is, but I was more attuned to it. So in this mindset, I decided to see my old house.

I wasn't too far from my old house. So I took the car keys and drove to my old house. I parked across from where I lived and was amazed by what I saw. I saw there was a fountain in the front yard, some animal statues in the front porch, and a white brick fence on the side of the house. I saw the trees I used to climb were now gone, cut down. I saw the mini-basketball area I used to play in, was now gone. The house's present was battling my past impressions of it. This was too much to take in, so I left and I drove.

I drove through Cincinnati. I visited my old haunts. I visited the places that used to fascinate me. I saw the past and present and future all intermingled. Everywhere I looked, I felt like I could see its residue,  its previous occupants I saw myself slipping into a time-slip. I saw myself taking in all of Cincinnati. It was too much for me to bear. So I drove back home and saw Here waiting for me on my bed. I took the comic, placed under my pillow and sleep.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Eel Mansions - Derek Van Gieson

It's 6 am and I've been up since late 4 am or early 5 am or some other ungodly early hour in the morning. I've just arrived at my apartment from dropping my girlfriend off at work, and I'm filled with a mysterious energy that I have no idea from where it originates. I go to my living room and see my chrome-colored laptop: the laptop is a constant reminder that I need to type up my review for Here by Richard McGuire.

Might as well use this mysterious energy to use.

I sit on my couch, grab my laptop, take out my notebook out of my backpack, which has my written review for Here. I get settled in and start typing my review. Not even a few minutes in, something in the corner of my eye that grabs my attention. I move my attention away from my laptop to get a better picture of what I glimpsed. I see a paperback whose cover has a collection of drawings of otherworldly faces. I read its title: Eel Mansions by Derek Van Gieson

Looking for a reason to procrastinate, I pick up Eel Mansions, close my laptop, get cozy on my couch and start reading.

I'm instantly hooked.

Eel Mansions by Derek Van Gieson is a hard comic to describe. A comic whose various interwoven narratives and meta-narratives are continually shifting and changing. A comic which is inhabited by cults, conspiracy theories, and theorists, government agents, Eldritch creatures, secret histories, occult knowledge, Moomin stand-ins talking about music, EC influenced comics that use abstractionist moral stories, drunk indie cartoonists trying to find their next drink. All this is working within the framework of the supernatural and noir genre.

Eel Mansions is also worked in another framework and that's the melodramatic soap opera world that's heavily reminiscent of Mark Frost's and David Lynch's Twin Peaks. It actually has the confidence that's seen in the pilot of Twin Peaks. What I mean by that is, when you first see Twin Peaks, it's characters and the world feels lived in and we, the viewer, got dropped in one day and it's up to us to navigate and understand this lived in world and it's history: Eel Mansions pulls aspect of Twin Peaks perfectly. Within Eel Mansions, we navigate the lived in-world through characters' dropping hints of their past history or putting the connections together or just coming to terms that there are some things we'll never know. There are other aspects that it Eel Mansions use from Twin Peaks: shifting from various modes of magical realism, supernatural, surrealism, and a cast of idiosyncratic characters.

It's really a testament to Van Gieson's writing ability that he's able to juggle all these things effortlessly. Van Gieson is able to shift through various different modes of writing and genres without ever relying on cliches and lazy tropes. Well, he does use those cliches, archetypes and tropes found within the genres he's working in, but he subverts them in a way that grounds them, makes them self-aware of who they are. All this is brought to life by Van Gieson's artwork.

Van Gieson's artwork lives in a world of blacks and whites and pseudo-grays and polka dots that give Van Gieson's characters and world a feeling of weariness; of living in a slump; of haunted pasts coming back to haunt its characters. The world in which Van Gieson's lines move from simple-angular, off-kilter shapes that can make his human characters express the most complex of emotions to finely-detailed, grotesque creatures that will make you your face scrunch up in disgust. There was never a moment within the comic did I feel that Van Gieson artwork was never on its A game.

I finish comic and the mysterious energy I had is now gone and I pass out.

And I dream.

And I dream of Eel Mansions.

I dream of toilets shifting and changing into Giger-esque illustrations; of Tove Jansson like grotesque creatures talking about music; of goat-mask wearing Satanic cults using guns on people; guns which are indistinguishable because of the impossible geometrical shapes they've morphed into; guns that turn the cult's victim's blood into chocolate; and I dream of an indie cartoonist growing weary of the questions from a french indie comic blogger.

And I wake up.

I see Eel Mansions is on my chest, and I know this is a comic that I will go back to time and time again because any comic that can dig itself that deep into my subconscious and make me dream of it is a comic worth re-visiting.