Goodbye, Rory Root

Rory Root in his element, SD Comic Con 2004. Photo from

Devastating news for the comics community: Rory Root is gone. The driving force behind Comic Relief died earlier today following complications from a hernia operation. Rory’s “comic bookstore” in Berkeley, CA is arguably the most important sequential arts hub in the country, housing a gasp-inducing variety of zines, art books, manga, indie magazines, self-published strips, trade paperbacks, and underground comix in addition to more mainstream fare.

Rory was a tireless promoter of all things weird and wonderful. His pure, unclouded love for the medium proved highly contagious. Ask anyone who ever spoke to him for more than five minutes and they’ll likely tell you Rory was the most kind and giving businessman they’ve ever met. The man’s knowledge was vast and he had an uncanny ability to read people. Once he’d sussed you out, he could almost always intuit what undiscovered title you’d most enjoy. He was known to give free books to newbies at his store. “Just bring it back if you don’t like it.” With that enthusiasm and generosity, he won untold legions of longterm customers.

The Comic Relief bookstore in Berkeley, CA. Photo by Allan Ferguson.

He championed underdogs, queers and iconoclasts in his store and on the web, went out of his way to support artists and writers he believed in, acted as a kind of Yenta for kindred spirits in the biz, and campaigned fiercely to get graphic novels into public libraries. In 1993, San Diego Con-goers were delighted to see Rory and his store receive the very first Will Eisner Spirit of Comics Retailer Award. No one, no one deserved that honor more than he did. Quoting Carl Horn over on Warren’s post of Rory’s passing: “There’s no reason a comics store can’t be a successful part of the community and a progressive cultural force–I saw it work with Comic Relief.”

Encountering Rory in his element at Con or in his shop always put a smile on my face. Although I only knew him in that context, I’m having trouble keeping it together, so I can’t imagine what his loved one are feeling right now. My condolences to his friends and family.

I’m sure they’re a bit overwhelmed over there at the moment, but I can’t think of a better way to honor Rory’s passing than to browse Comic Relief online or in person at some point in the near future. There is so much obscure beauty in that store that spoke to Rory Root, and through him. Pick up something you’ve never heard of before that speaks to you.

EDIT (5/20/08): Comic Relief just updated their site: “If you would like to make a contribution to the cause that Rory kept very close to his heart, you can make a donation to The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) in his name.”


Fetish Fashion Fuel

Image of Kumi by course instructor Allan Amato

Photographers in California! My friend Allan of Venus Wept Photography is going to be co-teaching an amazing photography workshop called “Fetish Fashion Fuel” this June in Lancaster, CA. There are a lot of things about this class that make me want to sign up. First of all, the models: Ulorin Vex and Kumi are flying in all the way from Europe, and Mosh is flying in from DC. Quite a rare eclipse!

Kumi, Vex, Mosh by Gilles Berquet, Alan Amato, & The Stuntkid

Then, there’s the location. One of workshop days happens at Club Ed. Named after its original caretaker, this location was originally a Hollywood set for the 1991 film Eye of the Storm. The set includes a circa-40s/50s American diner, gas station, autoparts store and motel with a pool – all in the middle the desert. And then there’s the wardrobe. Mother of London? Check. Antiseptic? Check. In total, there are 7 confirmed models, 2 instructors, and 15 students. Not a bad ratio! The course covers not only shooting, but also post-production in Photoshop. 6 seats are still available. All the details can be found here.

Is it pricey? Yes. The course is $995. Is it worth it? I think so. There are many workshops like this all over the country, but none of them offer such a unique mix of talent. I know Allan to be a generous teacher with impeccable lighting technique. I can’t wait to see the images that emerge from this adventure.

Decamps’ Wire-Heads

I love the low-tech cyberpunk styling of these images by Louis Decamps. No heavy digital editing here, instead it’s back to basics with lighting, wires and circuit boards we hold so dear.

The projections on the models’ faces suggest an imaginary environment; the glow of a lab, distant explosions, blue acid burn. The face paint and textures add to the storytelling aspect of this series, featured in issue 2 of Wound magazine.

I do question the series title’s I-Do-Ru reference: while awesome, its imagery seemed cleaner than these photos suggest. In any case, this is some crunchy eye candy!

Branding, From Your Mouth to God’s Ear

Companies spend billions of dollars each year trying to to create a positive image for their brand. Alas, there are times when no matter how many fancy campaigns you run, no matter how many experts you consult, a certain image is burned into the public’s mind forever. A new site called Brand Tags tries to distill that image for all to see.

Brand Tags is “a collective experiment in brand perception,” and it works like this: the site loads, a brand shows up, and you’re asked to type one word – the first word that comes to mind when you see the logo. The result is compiled with the rest of the answers and appears in a “tag cloud.” The more frequently a word gets typed by different people, the larger it appears, to some interesting effect. For example, here’s a slice of the tag cloud for Adobe:


As you can see above, opinion is divided. Many people tagged Adobe as “expensive” and “bloatware,” but overall the response indicated that people find Adobe’s products useful, although many wish there were alternatives. Here’s an example of a brand that received very little love on the site, Taco Bell:


Most of the results are hilarious, scathing and true. When I clicked on the tag cloud for MTV, one of the largest tags was “no music,” the rest of the tag cloud peppered with comments such as “outdated” and “obsolete.” One of the biggest tags on Pabst was “hipster,” in close proximity of “redneck.” Continental Airlines is jammed with tags like “crash,” “bad service” and “delays,” while Virgin Atlantic enjoys an overall positive response with tags like “fun,” “trendy” and “sex.” Calvin Klein’s black-and-white Kate Moss campaign from the 90s remains so strong in people’s minds that more tags reference it than any advertising they’ve done since. The American Apparel tag cloud includes the word “pedophile.” Google’s dominating positive perception has a dark undertow; along with a higher-than-usual amount of positive tags such as “useful,” “smart,” “awesome,” “everything” and even “god,” the large tags “big brother” and “world domination” appear ominously in the cloud. Boing Boing enjoys a very positive response; the largest negative tags read “what,” “huh” and “no idea.”

Similar studies of public brand perception have surfaced before, but never in such an elegant, accessible form. Seeing the cold, hard truth can touch a nerve, causing some advertisers to spend billions on attempts to improve their image. In 2003, McDonald’s almost sued Merriam-Webster for including the word McJob in the dictionary (a McJob is defined as “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement”). Merriam-Webster’s basic response was “hey, The People are using the word, we’re just cataloging it.” McDonald’s opted not to sue, but instead launched a now-forgotten campaign called McProspects. When learning of the campaign, author Douglas Coupland, who first coined the term McJob in his novel Generation X in 1991, penned a funny response. Did the campaign make any difference? Well, the McDonald’s tag cloud contains no references to McJobs. There are, however, plenty of references to obesity, grease, Super Size Me and McDeath.

To the site’s author, Noah Brier: thank you from the advertising industry for doing millions worth of market research for free. To advertisers: please don’t try to corrupt the site by adding tags that make your brand look more positive. Microsoft, don’t add “crashes” to the Firefox cloud. Greyhound, don’t add “smells nice” to your tag cloud. Who do you think you’re fooling? Coilhouse readers: Enjoy it this site while it lasts, because the advice above will surely be ignored.


Drum Roll Please…. Happy Birthday, Brian Viglione!

You’d think that a violinist and theremin wrangler would be more comfortable with the high-pitched, squeaky side of the musical spectrum than anything else, wouldn’t you? In my case, that just ain’t so. Turn down the treble, gimme BOOM, THUD, CRASH. Establish a strong pulse and make sure there’s plenty of low end. The deeper that connection with the rhythm section, the more blissed out I’m gonna be. Bang the drums.

I bring this up because May 16th is the whelping day of one of my favorite peeps in de’ whole wide world, Brian Viglione. He also happens to be one of my all-time favorite drummers.

Photo by Lauren Goldberg.

I first met da’ Vig and his brilliant partner in cabaret crime, Amanda Palmer, many years ago in the basement of some tiny Boston club. I’m not sure Brian was even of legal drinking age back then. My first time watching the Dresden Dolls perform (for an audience of maybe 15 people) I was thinking dang… that kid plays like the radioactive lovechild of Elvin Jones and Brendan Canty! How is that even possible?!

Amanda and Brian both seemed larger than life. I remember turning to one of my own bandmates and asking “is it just me, or does it feel like they should be playing a much bigger room?” Funny how things go…

Brian tearing it up at the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta, 2006. (The Dolls are playing a sold-out show at the Filmore in SF on Sunday. I’ll be joining them on a song. Really looking forward to it, as always. Whether they’re playing some dive bar, a swanky supper club, or opening for NIN, it’s always hugely satisfying to work with these guys.)

In honor of the birthday boy, in no particular order, here is some choice footage and brief blurbage of 20 (give or take a few… I sort of lost count) bliss-inducing percussionists who have, each in their own way, inspired me to be not a only a better musician, but a better human being. I know several of them are on Viggie’s list as well. Many happy returns, good buddy.

California High Court set to rule on gay marriage

Phyllis Lyon (left) and Del Martin, lesbian activists who have been together for over 50 years, embrace during their marriage ceremony at San Francisco City Hall in 2004. (Chronicle photo by Liz Mangelsdorf )

It’s a beautiful, balmy evening here in the east bay, but the mood in my neighborhood is uncharacteristically quiet, even somber. In a few hours, the California Supreme Court will publicly rule on the legality of this state’s ban on gay marriage. The tension is palpable.

In 2004, in a remarkable act of civil disobedience, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed thousands of gay and lesbian couples to wed before the courts stepped in and disallowed the marriage licenses. Debate has been raging ever since, with civil rights activists and SF city officials challenging the state family code law that restricts marriage to a man and a woman, and a SF trial judge declaring the ban unconstitutional. In 2006, a conflicted appeals court upheld the ban, stating that it should be up to voters or legislators to legalize same-sex marriages, rather than judges.

Conservative interest groups and the state attorney general are defending the ban, and the justices have remained divided. It could go either way. Regardless of what happens at 10am, Pacific Standard Time, it’s going to be a historic day.

Fingers crossed, everyone.

EDIT (12:15pm, 03/15/08): WOOOOOHOOOOOOO!!

New Geishas of Harajuku

“Harajuku girls are the new Geisha” is the name of this Flickr set belonging to photographer Ajpscs . I’m only completely in love with the image above – usually heavy photoshopping is a huge turnoff or me, but here is makes a kind of strange sense.

In the context of Geisha, whose snow-white face paint amplified Japan’s desire for artificial, impossible beauty, the Harajuku denizens’ makeup echoes the same. The over-saturation and airbrushing almost highlight the flaws in application, damaged hair and imperfect skin, making these images all the more human.

Images of Incandescence at the Edison Lounge

Lucent Dossier aerialist. Photo by Zoetica Ebb.

Incandescence \In`can*des”cence\, n.
A white heat, or the glowing or luminous whiteness of a body caused by intense heat.

As promised, the Coilhouse crew recently headed downtown to document Lucent Dossier‘s ongoing residency at the Edison. The sprawling Edwardian power plant-turned-nightclub was filled to the gills with a strange soup of carnies, stilt-walkers and Entourage types, and Lucent was in top form, performing continuously in various rooms to the delight and wonderment of all.

The Absinthe Fairy! Photo by Zoetica.

Zoetica managed to get some lovely shots of the action, as did Caroline over at the LAist. Incandescence occurs every other Wednesday night (including tomorrow night) for the foreseeable future. More photos and club info after the jump.

White on White: A Photographic Top 10


White is the color of innocence, chastity, napkins and polar bears. It also happens to be one of the most difficult colors to photograph because it’s so easy to overexpose. I’ve recently noted that though I’m obsessed with the look of white-on-white in photography, somehow in my own four years of taking pictures I’ve failed to do a single shoot with this color concept. The realization led me to do some research. What follows is a top-10 list of my favorite white-on-white images, compiled as reference for a future photographic project and for you to enjoy. Feel free to post your own white-on-white finds in the comments.

Tom Waits Unleashes P.E.H.D.T.S.C.K.J.M.B.A.

Just when you thought it wasn’t possible to adore this gentleman any more than you already do, here is Tom Waits holding court at a recent “live press conference” to inform the public of his upcoming Glitter & Doom tour:

Waits hasn’t announced any new recordings. Bloggers are speculating that the tour is in support of actress Scarlett Johansson’s album of Tom Waits covers, which comes out later this month, and which I am about as likely to purchase as Chester Cheetah is to burst forth from my chest cavity in a scabby, florescent orange flood of processed cheese while singing “Jockey Full of Burbon”. No offense.

Tom Waits’ Glitter & Doom Summer Tour:

6/17 – Phoenix, AZ @ Orpheum
06/18 – Phoenix, AZ @ Orpheum
06/20 – El Paso, TX @ Plaza
06/22 – Houston, TX @ Jones Hall
06/23 – Dallas, TX @ Palladium
06/25 – Tulsa, OK @ Brady Theatre
06/26 – St. Louis, MO @ Fox Theatre
06/28 – Columbus, OH @ Ohio Theatre
06/29 – Knoxville, TN @ Civic Theatre
07/01 – Jacksonville, FL @ Times Union Center Moran Theatre
07/02 – Mobile, AL @ Saenger Theatre
07/03 – Birmingham, AL @ Alabama Theatre
07/05 – Atlanta, GA @ Fox Theatre

(Via Blood Money/Alice alumna, Carla K.)