September 12, 2018

I Know Cool People: Raks Geek/Uptown Underground Closing

(Originally posted via my Facebook Author Page. Some edits made for clarity)

Right now, I'm feeling a definite loss. (And this is gonna be a *long* post)

Earlier today, Uptown Underground - a theater located on the north side of the city - announced that it was closing. Permanently. And I'll be honest, it hurts.

Part of it is my love of vintage theaters. Part of it is that I worked in Uptown when I was a research assistant for Harvard University. But a large part of it is that two of my friends, as well as various performers, are being affected.

I was introduced to Raks Geek via - we were both on the board of Chicago Nerd Social Club. She had encouraged everyone to attend a show, but somehow, I managed to be too busy. In fact, the only other contact I had with Raks Geek were scattershot, high-school-corridor-type conversations with Michi's friend Dawn.

But my first exposure to Raks came at a C2E2 afterparty - Dawn did a really cool fan dance in a TARDIS dress, Michi spin fluorescent spheres (the theater's fire code prohibited pyrotechnics), and Kamrah (another performer in the troupe) was a bandaged SILENT HILL nurse.

(It was good...but creeped the hell out of me. Not criticizing, because I respect the artist).
But in time, the Uptown Underground became a great way for me to connect with my fellow geeks...but also enabled me a bit of nostalgia. Feeling like I was the rough-and-tumble dude once again venturing into depths of Chicago to explore hidden treasures. It provided some sense of escape, community, and belonging. I was fortunate enough to attend Raks Inferno last week and celebrate Dawn's birthday - yes, she invited me. And I was honored to accept. There were no hidden warnings, no vibe that suggested that this would happen...but it did, and the loss is difficult to process.

For many performers, especially those from marginalized communities, the loss is even harder. It was sudden, abrupt, and seemingly forced. (No, I don't have the details, and I don't care - I only care about the people who are affected by this closure).

My point: I'm asking those of you who read this blog to help by spreading the word. I'm embedding a Twitter thread with booking/hiring information. It's the kindest, most compassionate act I can take - after all, artists and creatives deserve to do the work they enjoy and be compensated for it.

Consider this as a sad reminder that sometimes, a venue is more than a venue - it's a home for a community. And no one ever gets over losing a home.

August 14, 2018

Where Stories Come From: ALWAYS PUNCH NAZIS

One year ago, Nazis and white supremacists held their "Unite the Right" protest in Charlottesville. A young woman who was protesting against white supremacy was run over by one white supremacist; a black man was violently assaulted by a group of white supremacists.

Pals Ben Ferrari and Silas Dixon of Pilot Studios (who graciously invited me to review Longhunters and Carriers in the past) held an open call for an anthology called Always Punch Nazis, focusing on efforts to fight white supremacy and to serve as a fundraiser for a noble organization.

And when they put out a call for stories, I said "Hell, yes"...and cranked out a script in an hour and a half. It was a story called "One Bullet Too Many." and was a relatively easy script to write based on an idea for an unpublished Black Bat story for Excelsior Webcomics. Rather than the original premise of a big game hunter gone rogue, the story focused on a Nazi whose intentions were to clear the way for the "Master Race"...by any means necessary.

(Plus, I was engaged in writing my Black Bat novel for Pro Se Productions, and writing a then-classic Black Bat helped me stay "in the mood" when revamping him for the 21st century."

Admittedly, it's a simple story (after all, I only had six pages of art), but after cranking out the script...the right art team came together. Stuart Berryhill drew the *hell* out of this story from Kurt Belcher's breakdowns. Micah Myers did a great job of lettering, and the colorist (whose name escapes me right now) hit the right Batman: The Animated Series vibe that I wanted.

The only bummer is that Breitbart decided to jerk Pilot Studios around, claiming that their Always Punch Nazis Kickstarter violated their terms of service. Between this and Facebook preventing online advertising of my friend Dawn's recent fundraiser for immigration rights due to "political content", well...you might understand why I'm feeling outraged.

We're living in contentious times. Some people still don't want to see the pernicious and toxic role racism plays in American society. It's easy to adopt a philosophy that "both sides are equal"...but unfortunately, neutrality is no longer an option.

Both sides are not equal: one side wants to see the destruction and denigration of various groups due to skin color, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. The other side believes in the inherent dignity and worth of human beings.

As of this post, you have eight days to pre-order Always Punch Nazis via Kickstarter. It's a great opportunity to support a great indie comic anthology, but also make a stand against the forces of darkness.