Quarantine Binge: The wonderful world of webcomics

VISUAL ART WRITTEN WORD COVID-19

webcomics collage

Perhaps you’re finding that you have watched all the TV and movies that you can and you’ve read all your books. What to do? I suggest the eminently bingeable genre of webcomics, which are pretty much just like regular comics but just posted online. For free.

Even if you generally don't read comics and graphic novels, I suggest looking through a few webcomics and seeing if you like them -- most are very different from traditional superhero comics. And, hey, this pandemic is leading a lot of people to try something new. I tried savory oatmeal because I ran out of bagels and found out that it was great, so maybe you’ll get sucked into the fantastic art and stories that these comics have to offer.

You can split webcomics into roughly two categories: daily strips and graphic novels. Certainly, there are a lot of comics that don’t fit into either category, but a lot of popular webcomics like XKCD, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Strange Planet, and Dinosaur Comics feature one-pagers frequently. These are like popcorn and you can easily spend a day or two reading the massive backlog of these comics. But the comics I’m going to feature here are mostly of the graphic novel variety. They are long stories in which each page contributes to an over-arching plot. 

This is just a teeny sampling of the webcomics out there and those linked below are my personal favorites. When it comes to webcomics, there really is something for everyone and a growing diversity amongst stories and creators. Comic artists are generally very generous about promoting each others' work, so if you find an artist you like, see whose work they recommend. 

Also, blanket advisory: with a few exceptions, all of these comics deal with mature themes. If you are in the (very understandable) mood for mindless fluff, this is not the list for you. But if you want to find some stories full of complex characters, adventures, ethical dilemmas, and amazing art, any comic listed here is a great place to start.  If a comic sounds intriguing but you’re worried about disturbing content, you may want to do a bit of research about it first.

The link to each comic goes to the first page of the story.

Jared Van Eck's meditative "The Motions of Stillness" film captures a snowy April day in Ann Arbor

FILM & VIDEO INTERVIEW

Jared Van Eck

I hate winter. Especially Michigan winters. Gray, muddy, relentless ugliness.

But in the hands of Jared Van Eck, a recent Michigan winter day was turned into beautiful art.

Actually, it wasn't even winter -- see the word "relentless" up there -- it was on April 15, 2020, when the snow visited us again.

Van Eck, who's the technical director for the Michigan Theater Foundation, grabbed his fiancée's iPhone 11 Pro Max and a gimbal on that day, went to a west-side Ann Arbor nature preserve, and filmed the snow falling on fields, trees, and a pond. He edited the footage together, added some subtle effects, and composed a dreamy score on his iPad using the Cubasis and Korg Gadget apps.

The result is The Motions of Stillness, a lovely black-and-white, 60-minute meditation on nature.

The film is available to view for $3 via the Michigan Theater's virtual screening room or free for members.

I asked Van Eck about the inspiration for the project, his soundtrack, and some of his influences.

Ann Arbor's Chien-An Yuan produces music, photography, and design steeped in contrasts

MUSIC INTERVIEW

Chien-an Yuan

Self-portrait courtesy of Chien-An Yuan.

Chien-An Yuan's art -- be it music, photography, or design -- immerses your eyes and ears in a world that feels at once orderly and hazy, referential and singular, dark and light. Contrasts are this Ann Arbor artist's forté.

Yuan also runs the 1473 label, which is filled with deep-listening tones that can fill a room with a strange and beautiful ambiance, but most of the music works even better with over-the-ear headphones so you can immerse your brain in mind-expanding sound-art.

1473 has released 15 records so far -- including Yuan's Teeth Marks on the Everett, which features five piano improvisations run through effects and then reassembled in post-production. You can find more of Yuan's music, DJ mixes, photography, design, and his multimedia collaboration IS/LANDS (which was performed at AADL last year) on his website, chienanyuan.com.

We talked to Yuan about his work and his track recommendations for diving into 1473's world of sound.

A compilation of recent music by Washtenaw County artists for Bandcamp Friday

MUSIC

Bandcamp - Michigan

As Spotify continues to put a minuscule amount of its earned money toward the revenue stream it comes from -- musicians -- Bandcamp has promoted days where the company waves its sales fees so that 100% of the money goes to artists and labels. 

Through midnight Pacific Time today, you have a chance to help musicians whose income has been impacted by COVID-19 -- and many of the records labels and artists are then forwarding the money to social causes.

The previous Washtenaw County artists list we put together for the March edition of Bandcamp's fee-waiving day is here.

We've also been documenting new music from Washtenaw musicians during the time of quarantine, and many of those releases are on Bandcamp:
Volume one is here.
Volume two is here.
Volume three is here.
Volume four is here.
Volume five is here.
Volume six is here.
Volume seven here.
Volume eight is here.

New releases are coming quickly with artists being at home and having access to recording gear, so we weren't able to feature every Bandcamp release we came across only because the music can't stop, won't stop -- but this blog post has to end, so apologies in advance. But you can check out all the releases with Ann Arbor or Ypsilanti tags here and here, along with our quickly curated list below:

U-M Men's Glee Club-commissioned "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" has renewed urgency

MUSIC

Seven Last Words of the Unarmed creators

At top, a video still of "Seven Words of the Unarmed" performance by U-M Men's Glee Club, courtesy Chris McElroy, Michigan Media. Bottom left to right: Dr. Eugene Rogers, photo by Myra Klarman; composer Joel Thompson, photo by Laura Emiko Solti.

The names have changed, but the song remains the same.

Nearly five years ago the Men's Glee Club at the University of Michigan debuted a performance of "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" by Atlanta-based composer Joel Thompson, written to honor seven people killed at the hands of the police: Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Kenneth Chamberlain, Amadou Diallo, and John Crawford.

But with the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, and Breonna Taylor as recent reminders of police brutality, "Seven Last Words of the Unarmed" has renewed urgency. 

Dr. Eugene Rogers, who commissioned the work when he was director of the Men's Glee Club, has been working on compiling educational resources that complement the composition's focus, and now that material is available at sevenlastwords.org.

The Great Michigan Online Art Fair looks to help creators "uncancel" their livelihoods

VISUAL ART PREVIEW INTERVIEW

The Great Michigan Art Fair landing page

Brian Walline's work is instantly recognizable. The Ann Arbor artist creates Michigan scenes in the style of vintage travel posters, using bright colors and bold typography to convey a deep love for his home state.

While Walline takes freelance commissions -- he did the art for AADL's 2019 Summer Game -- a significant part of his income is derived from tabling at art shows across Michigan. But most of the major art shows for the summer have been canceled, and since they all take a while to organize, it's unlikely any will attempt to reopen even in a modified fashion that's in line with the current phase 4 guidelines for the way businesses can operate.

With his fellow artists in mind, Walline took it upon himself to create The Great Michigan Online Art Fair as a virtual way for creators to display their wares in a playful, interactive environment.

"We are trying to uncancel our livelihoods," Walline writes on the art fair's website.

Artists and vendors can apply to be a part of The Great Michigan Online Art Fair through 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, June 7. The site will host 31 artists and 16 vendors between June 15 and July 13, and the art fair is also accepting sponsorships.

We emailed with Walline about his creation of The Great Michigan Online Art Fair:

New Washtenaw music in the time of quarantine: Volume 8

MUSIC

Washtenaw Music During Quarantine Volume 8

Another round of new releases from Washtenaw County musicians in the age of quarantine. (Visit our mini-guide on livestreams by local artists here.)

Volume one is here.

Volume two is here.

Volume three is here.

Volume four is here.

Volume five is here.

Volume six is here.

Volume seven here.

Volume eight is below and features music/mixes from Dr. Pete Larson and his Cytotoxic Nyatiti Band, Mike List, JTC (Tadd Mullinex), Mike C, Gray Scot (Child Sleep), MEMCO members, Hannah Baiardi, Little Traps, Kirsten Carey, King Micah the Infamous, Charles Trees, Sean Curtis Patrick, and Mark Lansing and His Strange Brotherhood.

Enduring the quarantine one cell-phone game at a time

PULP LIFE COVID-19

cell phone game collage

There are infinite ways we’re coping with the global pandemic -- forcing our bodies and brains to do the things we want them to (or think they should do), or giving in to surprising and unexpected forces with predictable or weird or wonderful results.

For me, some of these things include:

Social media -- and a few physical letters -- showing me what’s outside my six-foot radius. A lot of bread. Some smoked meats. Walks and nature. More bread. Needlepoint, knitting, running, lifting heavy things, a few bike rides, pets. Light drinking, heavy drinking, loud music, total silence.

You know what your body and brain have asked for in the past and what you’ve given into and given it. Pre-pandemic, my body frequently wanted tasty treats and caffeine -- and frequently got it, so why would I curb those habits now?

But my brain was also asking for something unexpected to fill the downtime between working from home, parenting some kids, staying six feet away from other breathing things I’m not directly responsible for, and eating bags of chips:

Cell-phone games.

The roll call of cell-phone games I’ve played in the past dates back to Snake on my old flip phone -- but it’s a short list. Some Angry Birds. Some poker app I downloaded after reading a Colson Whitehead poker book. Desert Golfing (recommend!).

That’s it. Cell phone games aren’t in my DNA the way regular video games are, so why is it that my brain waited eight days into quarantine to get me clicking and downloading and clicking some more? 

WCBN station ID promos by Sun Ra, Dexter Gordon, Dewey Redman, and other jazz greats surface online

MUSIC

Johnny Griffin at Hill Auditorium, 1978

The uncropped version of the photo of Johnny Griffin that ran with the rampaging review of his 1978 concert at Hill Auditorium. Photo by Larry E. Wright/The Ann Arbor News.

The best thing about WCBN is the music, obvs. Nearly every time I tune into 88.3 FM, I hear something that catches my ear, or is new to me and makes me want to dig deeper, or reminds me of a band I forgot about.

The second best thing about WCBN is the vintage station ID promos. (Sorry, sports-talk guys. I'm sure your show is fab.)

Some of the clips feature the DJs doing skit-like or audio collage promos, but many are voiced by a multitude of musicians, both famous and not-so, telling you that when they're in Ann Arbor, they listen to WCBN.

But as far as I know, the only place to hear these small gems is to listen to the station -- until now.

Patrick Shawl uploaded eight WCBN station ID promos to Soundcloud featuring some major jazz artists: Sun Ra, Dewey Redman, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Jimmy Heath, Percy Heath, George Cables, and Stanley Cowell. None of these clips are wacky, or even in the upper echelon of some of the WCBN promos I've heard, but they sent me down a rabbit hole in an attempt to ID the IDs.

There's no notation of the years these were recorded, or at what shows, but some sleuthing turned up clues and it seems like many of them were taped at the 1978 Ann Arbor Jazz Festival, which Sun Ra and His Solar Arkestra played on September 23:

Third Place Living: Marcia Bricker Halperin's photo exhibit "NYC's Vanished Cafeterias: 1975-1985"

VISUAL ART REVIEW

marcia-bricker-halperin-dubrows-1975

The first thing that jumps to mind when I think about New York City cafeterias is Edward Hopper's 1942 painting Nighthawks. In addition to its masterful capturing of manmade lights and nighttime shadows, many interpret the painting as a portrait of big-city loneliness. "The four anonymous and uncommunicative night owls seem as separate and remote from the viewer as they are from one another," states the proprietor of the fansite edwardhopper.net. But to me, it looks like the counter clerk is speaking with the couple, who may have had a great night out on the town based on the way they're smartly dressed, leaving the man with his back to viewers as the lone lonely one -- though the painter referred to him as "dark sinister" in his notes for the painting, not lonely.

These sorts of varied interpretations about what people are doing in eateries went through my mind as I viewed photographer Marcia Bricker Halperin's NYC's Vanished Cafeterias: 1975-1985 exhibition.

Halperin's work was on display at the University of Michigan's Lane Hall Gallery when COVID-19 closed down everything. Organized by The Institute for Research on Women and Gender, the Women’s Studies Department, the Jean and Samuel Frankel Center for Judaic Studies, and the Department of American Culture, it was originally scheduled to run January 16 to July 31, but the exhibit has moved online. The 17 black-and-white photos in the physical exhibit are interspersed with shots of the gallery setting and text panels for the online version, 

While the name NYC's Vanished Cafeterias indicates Halperin went all over the city to photograph, the Brooklyn native shot at two locations, both part of the small, family-run Dubrow's chain. (She has also shot eateries in other places, such as Miami's Concord Cafeteria, not associated with Dubrow's.) As the Institute for Research on Women and Gender website states: