All I Want(ed) for Christmas

All I Want(ed) for Christmas

It had been some time, maybe a year or two, since I last looked at "The Secret Santa," an essay that I wrote in the fall of 2006. This week, just a few days before Christmas, I pulled it out and read it again.

Not having seen the work in such a long time, it was great to read it again with fresh eyes and fresh perspective. I honestly think that it's one of the finest pieces that I've ever written.

Considering the subject matter, too, it's also one of the most important things that I've ever written.

There are a number of reasons why I hadn't looked at the essay in a long while. By the time it was done, the essay had come to symbolize many things, not the least of which was a significant sense of creative accomplishment ... and a mind-numbing sense of frustration.

I actually went through a depression when I finished the work.

For about two months, most of my nights and weekends -- basically the time that wasn't spent at my soul sucking day job -- had been devoted to the text. Lots of web searches, lots of reading, and lots of translating text from Spanish, Italian, even Russian websites.

And I loved it.

Before long, though, it felt as if I was splitting myself in two, constantly moving between the mental highs of a creative state at night time, and the mental lows of robotic repetition performed while at the day job.

And each night, while walking home from work I would find myself muttering variations of: "This is no fucking way to live," and "I can't keep living like this," and "Why do I have to live this way?"

I wanted to end it all, that ceaseless pattern of repetition; the peeling myself out of the desk chair in the wee hours of the morning, the going to bed and waking up just a few hours later, the getting in the shower, the getting dressed, the figuring out what to take to eat for lunch, the walking into work, the sitting at the desk, the logging into the computer and phone, and the answering calls with the scripted line:

"Thank you for calling ______. This is ______. How can I help you?"

I won't go into any of the dark details. But suffice it to say that due to the kinds of thoughts that I started having each night while walking home, I made an appointment to see a psychiatrist. I knew that it wasn't healthy to be thinking the way I was ... as often as I was.

It only took a one hour session, though, for me to realize that psychotherapy was going to be a waste of my time, and the insurance company's money. Talking to a shrink wasn't going to help me with what I was feeling every night -- not as quickly as I needed anyway.

What I really needed was a reality check. And so -- just as I have done for so many other people -- I gave myself one.

Sure, I thought. I had written something special, something extraordinary. Something groundbreaking. But I also had to acknowledge that the work created in my private time represented only a portion of my existence.

The other significant portion consisted of the work done sitting in a pod at a computer in a call center. That too was my reality -- a significant part of my reality. As mundane as it was, that's what was keeping the rent paid, the lights on, and food in the refrigerator.

Sure, my fortunes could all change one day. But those were the cards I was holding at the time. The cards that I'm still holding.

Anyway, after coming to grips with my ever more humbling situation, I decided that I needed to distance myself from "The Secret Santa," and anything else I was working on that caused me to think so far outside the box, and set me up with expectations that didn't come to fruition.

I should probably mention now that after sending out a few inquiry letters to magazines and a few websites, the essay was fairly close to being printed in a magazine called Trumpet, a nationally distributed religious publication out of Chicago, my hometown.

Coincidentally, it was a magazine that was published by the church that my mother, father, sister and an aunt back in Chicago all attended. At the time, then Senator Barack Obama and his wife Michelle were also members.

Yes, that church.

Unfortunately, though, like several magazines since, the Trumpet fell on financial hard times and suspended publication. Since then I haven't sent out any more inquiry letters regarding the essay.

Each year, though, around the month of September, I find myself thinking about sending out a few more inquiry letters. But then I don't.

Maybe the work is still just a little ahead of it's time. Maybe I'm still waiting for the rest of the world to catch up. Or maybe it's just not as groundbreaking as I think. (Yeah, right.)

Whatever the case, I'm proud of the work that went into crafting this essay. Of all the things I've produced, it's still the one that I would most like to see presented to a larger audience. I still think that it will happen one day.

In the meantime, I have formatted the text into a nice 20-page zine. One with a color cover and three pages of color illustrations inside.

Unlike my other zines, though, I don't think that I'm going to be making The Secret Santa available for purchase. Instead, maybe next year I'll just mail 'em out to family and friends as a 20-page Christmas card.

Feliz Navidad.


Octopussy Review in NPR #6

Kung Fu Grip! Special #1: Octopussy

When I wrote up a really cool zine called KUNG FU GRIP! back in issue #4, St. Paco, the creator of it, was going on zine hiatus and he did. When I recently heard from him I got the impression that he was going to publish again. Then before I know it I get this awesome OCTOPUSSY zine. It has the same look and style as KFG! And some similarities: amazing graffiti art, perzine style, the front cover parody of a Marvel comic. It's got that 70s vibe with old school ad pages for the Josie and the Pussycats Hostess Fruit Pie ad and an actual Sea Monkeys ad. A profile of 18th century wood block artist Katsushika Hokusai reprints some of his art including the color centerfold of an octopus performing cunnilingus on a Japanese maiden. That in fact is the motif of this zine: sexy women and octopi. The octopus woman on the cover, woman with octopus on the back cover, the girl in the "stripper haiku" pages with the octopus tattoo. What an insanely original and creative idea. This zine seems to have been made with such care and skill, it was meant to be a high quality work of art.

– Randy, Narcolepsy Press Review #6


Octopussy Review by Stuart Stratu

Octopussy #1

56 pages, $3.50 from Paco D. Taylor, 7730 East Broadway #925, Tucson AZ 85710, USA + stpaco(at)gmail.com

A quick flip through this zine and I knew it was a good one.

First up, Paco's confession that after a shitty break-up he distracted himself from the pain with booze and strip clubs. He wrote 18 stripper haikus which follow. Here's one of 'em:


Then four pages of graffiti art - really cool and wild stuff. [The] art collective Cum* from Ghent, Belgium covered that town's streets with their porno graffiti then got so renowned on the internet that their work became in-demand at real actual art galleries. This stuff is more explicit than the street stuff.

There's a section on Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) - it has been estimated that around 35,000 paintings, drawings, prints, and illustrated books were made by Hokusai during his lifetime. And it's pretty cool that he ranged so widely with his subject matter that Paco could select four of his works featuring octopi to fit the zine title. (There's an awesome colour centrefold of Hokusai's 'Octopi and Shelldiver'.)

There's a great piece about a cool girl, Erika, that Paco met through MySpace and formed a unique, long-distance friendship with. He sent her his zine, which revealed personal stuff about him, and in turn she sent him photos of herself and her bare ass, and other saucy type snaps. But! She had a boyfriend! I'm not gonna reveal what happened when she invited Paco to stay with them, so now you'll definitely need to order the zine! Heh heh.

Anyway, next up is a photo series of India's 'Kama Sutra Temple' (Kandariya Mahadeva) "adorned both inside and out with a mind-blowing assortment of eroticized sandstone figures."

Cool zine. I'll be looking forward to Paco's second issue.

– Stuart Stratu, Blackguard


Scott Pilgrim vs. the audience...er, "World"

'Scott Pilgrim vs. the World'

So...I finally saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World last night. I really shouldn't say "finally," though, since it wasn't at all on my list of movies to see. The pickings, however, were pretty slim at Redbox last night.

Amusingly, the tag line for the film is "An epic of epic epicness." After seeing the film, I found it really ironic, because in terms of its audience appeal, this film was an epic FAIL of epic epicness.

Now, I didn't see the 2000 film Alexander, which -- with a $155 million dollar budget -- was supposed to have been pretty friggin' epic. Like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, though, Alexander was an epic box office fail. Not having seen the latter, I'm not quite sure why it bombed. But I've seen Pilgrim and I know why this $60 million dollar movie failed: It appeals to no one.

Okay, of course it appeals to someone. But it's a very limited pool...or a very limited gene pool, if you will.

First of all, I'm sure that it appeals to the people who read the comic. The book has a justifiably devoted following; I've read one issue of Scott Pilgrim that I got on Free Comic Book Day a few years back and it was kinda' cool to see some of that issue reflected in the movie.

Secondly, it may appeal to the people of Canada, the home base of Bryan Lee O'Malley, the creator of the Scott Pilgrim comic book. There are lots of references to that mythical land of the North.

Thirdly, it must appeal to those people who liked movies like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz. At the bottom of one of the promotional posters it reads: "From the director of Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz."

And lastly, but most importantly, it appeals to Generation-X, Generation-Y and Generation-Z white males, Jewish guys (white ones), Gay guys (white ones) and Asians (non-white ones). I say this because those are the only human groups I saw on screen for the entire 108-minutes of this incestuous Hollywood fantasy-action-comedy.

Oh, and speaking of Hollywood incest, there are Seinfeld TV show references in the movie. Whatever the fuck the Seinfeld TV show has to do with the world of Scott Pilgrim, I cannot say. But I'm sure that fans of the show got dill pickle-sized hard-ons when they heard the oh-so-familiar music cues and the canned laugh tracks from the once mystifyingly-popular NBC show.

Even more mystifying (but not really) was the Hollywood decision to cast Michael Cera as the comic book's leading ladies' man. I mean, come. the. fuck. on. Not even in a testosterone-drenched comic book fantasy would this scrawny, alto-voiced actor have PYTs (pretty young thangs) like those seen in this flick throwing pussy at him.

I mean, there's nothing even subtly Freudian about the intentions of this film. Seeing women -- one of whom is Asian, I might add -- fighting over a guy like Cera is like watching a twenty-something's version of one of Woodly Allen's middle-aged wet dreams.

Saints alive! I could go on and on ripping this movie a new one, but I want to say that most of my beef with the film is over what it could have been. It was shot well and directed fairly well. It had good (although redundant) special effects. It could have been better, meaning actually good, if the director and the producers weren't so damned busy pleasuring themselves at the expense of an audience.

You know, come to think of it, "Scott Pilgrim vs. the World" really is an apt title for this inbred fantasy world where the guys are white, the chicks are Asian, and the only music that anyone listens to is rock & roll. If Canada itself is actually anything like this, please remind me to never go there, because -- like the intended audience of this small-minded film -- I will probably cease to exist.

Grade: D


Revisiting Alfons Mucha

The Paper Dragon Press Edition of Mucha's Historical Paintings of the Slavic Nations was finished earlier this week. I just have to say that it looks even better printed than I thought it would.

That said, I also want to say that I love technology and I love computers. And you can say whatever you will about the impending death of print, and the joy of reading e-books and pdf files on your iPad, Kindle, or whatever-the-fuck newfangled doodad you use.

When it comes down to it, nothing beats the beautiful intimacy of words and pictures on paper. And reprinting this little booklet just drives that point home even further for me.


Reprinting Alfons Mucha

When I was a student of graphic design several years ago, one of the artists whose work made a significant impact on my ideas as a designer was Alfons-Marie Mucha (1860-1939), the Czech-born master of the art nouveau style. This was a guy who could seemingly design a wall mural as easily as he could illustrate a cigarette ad.

And for a student who was interested in graffiti art murals as much as typography and page layout, Mucha seemed to me like the designer's designer.

It isn't obvious in any way, but some of what I learned from studying Mucha all those years ago shows up in my work even today. In fact, the sticker art gallery in KFG!3 is a nod to an infamous design portfolio that Mucha produced in 1902 called the "Art Nouveu Style Book."

Two or so year ago, while combing through archives of out of print books, I came across a digitized copy of a rare booklet produced in 1921 called "The Historical Paintings of the Slavic Nations." It was made in conjunction with an exhibition of Mucha's paintings under that same title which were shown that year at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Brooklyn Museum.

According to the book's indicia, only five-thousand copies were printed. Heaven only knows how many copies have survived to the present day, but if I had to guess, I would say only a few. As far as I can tell, the book has never been reprinted.

Well, that is until now.

Factoring in my deep appreciation of Mucha's work, the small production size, and also its connection to the Art Institute of Chicago (a place I came to know intimately even before deciding to major in graphic design) a reprint of this booklet seemed like a perfect fit for my one-man production house.

And so, having found myself between projects, I started work on a reprint version of the book last night. Before crashing out a little after 5AM, the first the first half of the book was done. The other half will get tackled later tonight.

Some necessary design alterations had to be made for the cover, which featured only an illustration by Mucha, and was printed on brown card stock (below). Some of the beautiful art nouveau text from page five of the book was altered and formatted to provide a fitting new cover (top).

In addition to Count Dante's "World's Deadliest Fighting Secrets," which I reprinted in 2007, Mucha's "Historical Paintings of the Slavic Nations" is another book that I felt compelled to resurrect from obscurity. And like the former, it's something that I'm proud to see in an expanding list of KFG/Paper Dragon Press publications.

So sayeth:

St. Paco