THE KRAKEN BUSTERS is a new podcast project I have going, telling the story of the somehow-mostly-forgotten conflict between the United States and an ocean full of angry sea monsters just after World War 2.
If you like Mike Duncan and Dan Carlin but wish their work had more giant squids and octopi, well, this is the show for you.
New episodes come out weekly. You can find the show at all of the usual podcast outlets, or stream it directly from the site.
Every morning, I get up, consult the twitter feed of the Iowa City Police Log, and draw a one-panel cartoon based on it. This started out as a get-through-the-winter whim and has turned into a get-through-a-pandemic-hellscape coping mechanism. The resulting comics get posted to a Twitter thread and to my Instagram feed, in both cases paired with their inciting Police Log entry.
People seem to be pretty into these, which is great! TPT, Minnesota’s Public Television station, even did a short piece on them, where I talk about my process, my motivations, and the sort-of-intentional larger political point of the strips in an era where we as a society are rethinking the way police departments should be constituted. They also put KEITH PILLE – CARTOONIST on the screen, so I guess despite endless questions about my artistic identity, now I know: I’m a cartoonist.
On one hand, I’m pretty tired of Star Wars as an omnipresent cultural phenomenon that’s now going to be marketed to death every year for the rest of our lives, and the behavior of hardcore Star Wars fandom often makes me want to poke my eyes out with chopsticks.
But on the other hand, the Star Wars movies are as close to a cultural lingua franca as we’ve got these days. Everybody knows them, everybody understands references to them, and so they make good universally-accessible subjects for critical thought. And for me, well, I was born in 1974, grew up watching the original trilogy, and then spent my early brain-tuning years obsessing over the movies like any late-80s/early 90s nerd; the critical faculties that I use now to argue about the role of science in the paintings of Thomas Eakins or the use of autobiographical comics as vehicles for the assertion of female identity, well, that all got started in thinking about how the first chunk of IV is pretty much a Western and why Han and Lando share so many of the same lines in V. Thinking about Star Wars is how I got started thinking about culture to begin with, so really, I’m just sort of coming home by thinking about it some more.
So the Department of Star Wars Studies is my catchall name for a recurring thing I’ll be doing where I poke and prod at Star Wars stuff and try to apply some of that fancy critical thought to a bunch of movies that usually feature a walking dog who flies spaceships.
WICKET DON’T SURF
In 1983, George Lucas quietly entered the shit-stirrer hall of fame. The United States was still trying to figure out how to deal with the end of the Vietnam War, and was in fact about to kick off a decade of (retrospectively terrifying) cultural freakout about it. And in that milieu Lucas tricked the entire country into paying to go into theaters and root for thinly-veiled stand-ins for the Viet Cong.
I mean, think about it. In the last act of Return of the Jedi, the Empire has forces stationed on Endor, a place known for rough terrain filled with thick vegetation that impedes conventional open-field tactics and rewards hit-and-run ambushes. Imperial troops, with armor, laser blasters, speeder bikes, and various armored walkers (which are impractical but really cool-looking) have vastly more firepower and conventional training than the local insurgency they’re trying to put down, but the Ewoks overwhelm this superior conventional force with their guerilla tactics and knowledge of the local terrain. This is barely subtext; it’d be hard for it to be any more blatant. The parallels couldn’t be more clear, down to the fact that American forces suffered greatly in Vietnam from being built around theoretical open-field tank battles with Soviet forces on the plains of Europe; tanks don’t look as cool as AT-STs, but they’re clearly filling the same role of having their battlefield usefulness blunted by thick foliage and resourceful guerilla fighters.
You just have to be amazed at the politics of this. If the Ewoks are thinly-veiled stand-ins for the Viet Cong, what about the other side of that analogy? The Empire is the US. With the timing of this, there’s a curious historical hiccup: Return of the Jedi was released in May of 1983; Ronald Reagan first referred to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire” in March of 1983. So it’s not possible that Lucas was specifically tweaking Reagan’s usage with his US-Empire conflation, nor that Reagan was directly responding to it. But one of the strengths of Star Wars is that it is built out of easily-applied analogies, and both men were no doubt looking at bigger-picture parallels that were obvious to them (or their speechwriters, in Reagan’s case).
(this is an updated version of a piece I originally wrote in 2004; it was updated again in September of 2016. Hopefully it will not need to be updated yet again for a while)
1. 1978 Dodge Warlock pickup
Period of use: December 1990- early 1991 Comments: customized for racing on the dirt tracks of rural Oklahoma; idled at 35 mph, requiring constant use of the brakes while driving. Famous throughout Blair, Nebraska for glasspack mufflers which allowed the truck to be heard over a mile away and for gas mileage below 10 mpg. Lacked rearview mirrors of any sort. Eventual fate: sold due to constant mechanical problems of varying magnitude, shortly before a massive systemwide collapse left it looking like Sheriff Buford T. Justice’s car at the end of Smokey and the Bandit.
2. 1982 AMC Spirit
Period of Use: early 1991- March 1993 Comments: one of the curiously large “compacts” of the early 80s. Much-beloved and far more reliable than the truck, although hardly free of mechanical trouble (the driveshaft fell off during one drive to Omaha; the clutch burned out on a country road). At one point my father installed a dashboard 8-track, against which I railed vigorously. Eventual fate: retired from service after chunk of transmission housing broke off and fell into clutch assembly.
So, the desire to transform Husker Du songs in weird acoustic ways just seems to be this year’s obsession (see the last post, ferinstance). As threatened there, I’ve gone further down this road. Here are rough mixes of ganked-up versions of Celebrated Summer (yeah, again, but with more thought into the arrangement on this one) and Powerline. These mixes aren’t final at all, but they’re good representations of works in progress. There will probably be more of these, and for that I apologize.
Maybe my apology should take the form of an acoustic cover of I Apologize.
Publisher’s Statement, from Chain-Fighting Prospectus #1
by Roger Ehrman, Publisher*
I’m sure we all have a few cherished memories from the glorious days of chain-fighting in our youth. For me, it’s something of a toss-up between two extremes. On one hand, there’s the big-league memory of the day in 1963 when prohibitive underdog Joe Oberg stared into the cameras and guaranteed a victory over Tiny Wallace, and then broke out all of the champ’s teeth on the second swing of his anchor-chain. Stirring, indeed, but equally golden in my mind are all of the Sunday afternoons when I went with my father out behind the Amoco on the outskirts of Mason City to watch the amateur chain-fights; certainly not as glamorous, but it taught this young man a great many lessons on how a man faces pain. And in that light, I think I can be forgiven for waxing a bit sentimental.
There are those who say that chain-fighting has fallen from those hallowed days, that the cable TV deal and the Snap-On Tools sponsorship have robbed the sport of something essential. These purists are certainly entitled to their opinions, but I feel that they are missing the point. Chain-fighting is about two men, eight feet of linked metal, and the raw will to compete; nothing more, nothing less, and no TV deal will change that.
Chain-fighting is as vital and energetic today as it ever has been. Indeed, I would argue that chain-fighting is poised to enter a new, golden age as we begin the Twenty-First Century. Witness the revolution sweeping the sport in the wake of Magnus Thorsson’s groundbreaking two-handed swing technique. Or the team at Stanford investigating the introduction of ringside epidurals. Or the wave of exciting new chain materials– including ceramics– coming out of Japan, truly stretching the boundaries of what chain-fighting is and can be. I am firmly convinced that, for those of us in the happy fraternity of link-swingers, the road ahead has never been brighter.
The comic project I did back in 2007 immediately before starting Nowhere Band. I think this was a good script, but my art skillz were clearly still a work in progress. Note that I borrowed a couple of character designs for NWB.
In response to requests from recent graduates who felt that their studies here did not properly prepare them for the realities of the working world for writers in the current market, the Department of English is pleased to announce the following slate of new classes for the Spring semester (registration preference will be given to seniors nearing graduation):
ENGL 304: TV RECAPS
(optional lab: ENGL 305, Snarky TV Livetweeting)
Episode-by-episode recaps of popular television shows are one of the hottest – some would say the only – growth sectors for young writers entering the market. In this class, students will receive hands-on instruction in the delicate art of writing 1500-word recaps of TV episodes to post to entertainment websites to attract search engines and spur long, heated discussions in the comments. Special attention will be paid to identifying and coining derisive nicknames for “good” and “bad” characters on reality shows, and to working up witty in-text rejoinders to things said onscreen.
In the optional lab, students will gain practice tweeting sarcastic responses to TV shows as they air, with emphasis on making up catch hashtags. #RequiredTextDuckDynasty