Love Set

photo by Emily Esperanza at Her Environment #3

I often make art about sex and sexuality. I tend to come at it from an awkward angle (absurdism, as in Dirty Birds; horror, as in Go Down; non-human fetish, as in House Fuck and Cat Tongue) to slow down the shock value, or cover my ass, perhaps? Regardless I'm not often forthright when it comes to the dirty stuff. But I love dirty stuff, and it inspires me, and the more confident I become in my creative voice the less shits I give about letting it all hang out. So I wrote some songs about lust, frustration, and longing. I put together three pieces and called it a Love Set. I performed it first at Her Environment #3, and soon after, at Helltrap Nightmare #4, both in Chicago.

Here are the parts, polished for the internet:

Pervert in the Workplace is about being a human in an office environment, in a service environment, in an academic environment, really in any environment where the collective is oriented towards production, and regards propriety as essential to success. In this setting, the exhibition of any strong emotion apart from loyalty and enthusiasm is usually frowned upon, meaning natural and inevitable feelings like anger, despair, and lust are unwelcome and sometimes cause for dismissal. Every lyric in this chant feels familiar to me. Most have been said by me or to me. Sometimes I think I'm so good at hiding my feelings in a professional setting that I'll end up sucking everyone around me into a bottomless pit of nihilistic resentment - if not everyone, then at least the object of my envy or desire.
Don't get sentimental
There's no room for that here, there's just no room for that here
Don't get sentimental or you'll be labeled mental
I used to want to fuck my boss but now I'm the one in charge
Whether or not you are aware, the customer is watching you
Business like. Positive. (high five / thumbs up / take charge)
Protect your heart
What do I do with all these feelings?
I'll bury them in you
What do I do with all these feelings?
I'll bury them with you
I'll bury you, my boo
I'll lead you to your doom
I'll leave you there, entombed.

Oiling the Weaponry is an erotic poem (and breathy soundscape) about intense, sustained sexual desire and lack of climax. This feverish state of cumulative arousal can be both ecstatic and maddening, especially when combined with romantic negotiations. Do I sound removed enough? Reading this piece makes me real nervous.
I hold more inside my body than fits inside a body
so I'm swollen, like a fat dick
at attention, hot, thick
full of blood
building tension
in my hard head and my soft skin
a tunnel with a tight hole, clenching
a trap door
I'm fenced in
Why don't you trigger the latch
take stock, finger my clasp
I walk a fine line
A tight wire, up high
A trip wire
one false step and I'll plunge inside
get all wet
Where does a wave go when it cannot crest?
The waves within me hard pressed
surging against my dense flesh
The wash of brine creeps higher yet
Each time a salty stain is left
Stains are caking down my legs
my clothes are all a sloppy mess
I'm soaked through, like a hot compress
my bones too
better yet
my armature
it's come unglued
It's sediment
My blood has pooled
The pressure's out
I'm under you
in seizures, screaming
I see you squeezing a clotted cloth over my open mouth
juice comes out
I need it
I push you down
I bite your neck
I suck it out
We're not just friends
I leave a mark
your gooseflesh marred
The earthquake starts.
The pilot lights and bombs are dropped
The fire builds and can't be stopped
I'm oiling the weaponry
My hose is long and full of grease
I wait too long to douse the flame
my body burns
it's all the same

Somewhere is a beautiful song written by Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim in 1957 for West Side Story. I love musicals and this one has been really important to me (especially in seventh grade, shout out to Zella). In the movie, Maria sings it to Tony as he's dying in her arms. This song is so sad, dreamy, and romantic, a soaring illustration of impossible longing. It's appropriate for all kinds of situations. It's both optimistic and non-committal. It can be sung to an individual or a demographic. This rendition with the held tones (on choice words such as open, wait, time, and hold) is intended to evoke in its building the same sensation of fantasy and suspension the lyrics promise. It felt like a fitting way to end the set.

I'm still unsure of my abilities as a musician, which is why, as I venture into this territory, I continue to put finger quotes around the words 'music' and 'song' when referring to my own work. All of the above were composed solely on my vocal effect loop pedal. I hope to add some more complex tools soon. Maybe you'll see a post in the near future with a similar opening sentiment, but in regards to freedom of musical as opposed to sexual expression. I want both.

photo by Ryan Greenlee at Her Environment #3


remember / this / feeling

I recently gave a talk in a classroom where I focused on my interest in liminality, or liminal space. Briefly, liminal space is the time between states of being, between one solid idea and the next. Any ritual experience transpires in liminality. Any transformative experience requires liminal space. I bring up this point because it is a common thread throughout all of the work I do: creating narratives, writing speeches, teaching, entertaining, overwhelming with light and sound: activities which induce or require liminality in order to be successful.

About ten days ago I orchestrated the largest showcase of my work to date at Conversations at the Edge, a weekly screening and lecture series curated by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (where I studied) and hosted by the Gene Siskel Film Center (where I work). It went very, very well. It sold out. People had a really, really good time, from reports.

The three videos above were conceived as interstitials, intended to knit together the three disparate performance pieces that made up the bulk of the show. They were written and performed explicitly for that experience - although now I am quite pleased to have some short digital work I can toss about indiscriminately, in contrast to the arduous, precious distribution and projection of analog films which is my typical burden.

You can see in my notes the development of these liminal videos. I began with a sense of what I wanted to accomplish, and an assessment of the tools at my disposal. (Skills in leading trance, an intern with access to DSLRs, metallic makeup bought on a whim from Kryolan, etc.) I listed the intents of my three performances, and hypothesized the best directions for transitioning from one to the next. I listed out all of the activities I could imagine an audience acquiescing to at the behest of a pre-recorded video.

I wrote three scripts, spoke them out loud to make sure they lasted about three minutes, then traveled to the Magic Hedge (my Chicago place of power) and recorded myself speaking, in three different environments. remember was recorded on a pier; this was recorded within shrubbery; feeling was recorded in a dirt footpath stone tunnel.

I edited the recordings and then performed along to them while my utterly fantastic intern Hannah Kim recorded my hand motions in front of a black velvet backdrop. Pro tip: applying an opaque layer of makeup to hands and forearms takes a considerable amount of time.

So how did it go? These videos were well received, and helped facilitate seamless transitions between performances during the show, providing uninterrupted liminality. They gave me time to take a breath, collect my thoughts, and change costumes between pieces. My audience responded eagerly to every instruction. I could hear people giggling when they were instructed to grab their crotches. You can listen to the live recording of this by playing the track below. I love it.


Cat Tongue

This comic is called Cat Tongue, and was just printed in The Lifted Brow, which is a superb "attack journal" from Australia. This is the first comic that I ever drew for performance first, and print second.

Here's how it looks printed in The Lifted Brow. I am so pleased! You should definitely check out this publication and subscribe if you like experimental fiction and pointed commentary.

Hey, look, my name is on the cover!

Cat Tongue is a story that came to me over a long period of time, and one that bundles several passions neatly together: lesbianism, power tools, beastial fantasy, hallucinatory psychedelia, and of course, color separation. It is also a conceptual follow-up to Go Down, the first (Cat Tongue being the second) in a projected trilogy of comics about female sexuality and oral fixation.

I drew Cat Tongue for performance at the last Brain Frame. I performed it last. It was the last Brain Frame performance ever. (I'm performing it again this month, scroll down for info.) Here's the video:

In this performance, there are three rear-projection screens. The two on either side are illuminated by 16mm film loops. The center screen shows a shifting, CMY color-separated animations of the panels advancing. I am using my trusty vocal effect loop pedal, in combination with an audio feed from one of the 16mm projectors, which is broadcasting the sound of sprocket holes running through an optical sound reader. I am manipulating these two audio inputs (vocal and mechanical) to accompany the hallucinatory narrative. In this performance, analog film machinery = wood shop power tools. When my characters lick the saw and drill, I stand and lick the 16mm projectors.

I drew this comic in about four days, which is remarkable considering I had to draw each page four times. I had to draw each page four times because I needed each color layer to stand on its own as a compelling image, and match imperfectly with its corresponding layers, in order for the separation animation to feel organic and complete.

I began by drawing the machines. Because they are an object of fantasy, they needed to have a different feeling, a different line than the organic materials (flesh, clothing, wood). I staged a photo shoot in an actual wood shop with two friends willing to model. (I captured the 16mm film that would loop in my performance during this shoot, as well.) Drawing on these reference photos and some machine manuals I have, I illustrated all the metal with clean lines, rulers, and high contrast shine and shadow. I penciled in the figures around them. Here's what my base layer page looks like:

Next, I drew three complete pages on top of each base layer, illustrating the cyan, magenta, and yellow parts of the scene. I used a brush pen and tracing paper. I drew each color layer without referencing the others, only the base page and pencil sketches.

I developed a schema to organize the colors consistently. For example: the jeans and overalls would only be illustrated on the cyan page. The shirts would only appear in the yellow layer. The white woman's freckles would only appear in magenta; her goggles, cyan. Here's a comparison of the color layers of two panels on page 3:

To complete the image, I scanned and aligned each layer in Photoshop (you can see my little triplet registration marks on the base page above). I added the machine drawings to all three color layers, so that in the fleeting instances that the animation aligned, the machines would become crisp and black while the rest of the image would continue to appear in flux.

Preparing this comic for print was a novel challenge. I ended up manipulating the text much more than I do in the video animation, for legibility. It was a delight to attempt to replicate the feeling of the cat-transformation on the printed page, by exploding the panels and totally destroying the previous implication of gutters (and thus, time).

I'll be performing Cat Tongue for a second time on April 21st at the Gene Siskel Film Center, as part of my Conversations at the Edge show. This show is a big deal: I'll be enacting three different pieces, one of which is a brand new performative-comix-reading, as well as debuting three short videos. You should come. Buy tickets here.


Magic Chats

I am a radio host now. I started my own show, back in October 2015, at the invitation of my friends over at Lumpen Radio, a brand new wavelength soon to be actually broadcasting out of an actual radio tower in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago. If you're in the area, tattoo WLPN 105.5 FM onto the back of your mind's eyelid please.

Magic Chats is a weekly interview show. I invite a different guest every episode to bring in some sounds that move them. We listen to the sounds (usually music; sometimes film clips, field recordings, text, etc) together, and then talk about it. I ask my guests what the sound means to them, how it makes them feel, where and when they heard it, and ultimately, what place that magical feeling has in their life. We often end up talking about spirituality, but not necessarily.

Every show begins with a Magic Moment. Listeners write in to magic.chats [at] gmail.com with a song that moves them and a written description of how or why. I play the song and read their story. Do you have a Magic Moment you'd like to share? Please send it to me! I need more!

Every show ends with the Mystery of the Week. This is one big, open-ended question inspired by the preceding interview. I collect responses to the MOTW on Facebook and via email, and read them back at the end of the following episode, before announcing the new question. You can find out and reply to the Mystery of the Week on the Magic Chats Facebook page. Please 'like' the page!

You can subscribe to Magic Chats on iTunes. Please rate and review! I have no idea how many people enjoy this labor of love (yet).

My plan is to record and release ten episodes per season. At the time I write this, seven episodes are complete and available, and four more interviews are waiting to be edited.

I started Magic Chats as one strategy in a broader effort to be more open about my own magical nature. The unseen has always been a huge part of my life, the way I relate to the world, and what I look for in others. The last Brain Frame marked the first moment I began to consciously incorporate ritual into my public performances. Magic Chats is a way for me to explore how a wide variety of individuals understand the inexplicable. It has been deeply fascinating and rewarding to conduct these interviews, edit and annotate them afterwards, and release them to be heard.

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Elsewhere: I wrote about my five favorite internet videos as the February guest curator at Video Video Zine. I'll be presenting them live on Sunday, February 21st at 8pm, at Giron Books, (upstairs) 2141 W 21st St. More info and full screening details can be found on the Facebook event. FREE!


Performing Papa Neon

Max asked me to perform at the end of September, during the occasion of Patrick Kyle, Michael DeForge, and Simon Hanselmann's book tour. He asked me right after Brain Frame ended, in early August. He was setting up a show for Patrick and Michael's band Creep Highway. He wanted me to perform a new comic.

I accepted, with reservations. I tried to cancel at the cusp of September, but Max wouldn't let me. I thought it would be good for me to have a small project on the horizon but as the date neared I balked. I had no idea what to do. I had been out of town, off social media, hiding from as many people as possible. I was overwhelmed with grief for Brain Frame. I felt very alienated and angry at my community, for absorbing the energy I exerted upon it, all those years.

Photos thanks to Jenna Caravello

I decided to read Papa Neon, a 2-page, 24-panel comic I completed in May for the second season of Believed Behavior. The compilation was released on newsprint at CAKE 2014, and is available in full online (along with the four other comics in the issue) in grid or single-panel view. It's an interesting, highly constricted framework that was difficult to compose within last spring. Papa Neon proved even more difficult to translate to performance, especially in such an emotionally raw state.

I chose to read Papa Neon (and to an extent I wrote Papa Neon) because it's a happy story. It's about two blind men: a father teaching his son how to create neon signs: the family business. It's about pride, love, and synesthesia. It's about all of the qualities of light, and the power of the sun (son).

I wrote pages and pages of notes, trying to reconcile where I was (darkness) with where I wanted to be (light, aligned with the comic). I settled on some material decisions. I wanted to create fire, to burn up my bad feelings. I considered 'blinding' myself and making a play of literal vs. astral vision with the audience. I decided to dress in cutoffs only, like the boy in the comic. It became clear to me that my only option, all that I had to offer, was brutal honesty.

The script kept changing, up until the day of the show. I practiced my lines in the car on my way there. I assembled my fire sun-moat at Yards, as musicians gathered for sound check and early audience members arrived. I asked Lillie to run the slideshow, allowing ten seconds for each slide. We didn't have time to practice. I wrote notes on my hand. I didn't know what sounds I would make in between spoken segments. I could only trust myself to perform with conviction. It was a ritual, for healing, and I needed it to work.

Jenna generously documented the piece, but the video is missing my proper introduction. Here is what I said, and started to scream, before the footage begins:


By my usual standards, this performance was a mess. The projections were backwards, the screen was all stained (with fog juice, ah my life), the timing was off, the sounds were too loud, the ending was undeveloped, only one tube fluoresced. I didn't care. I couldn't care, and I still don't. This was the best performance experience I've had to date.

One friend called it "shocking and spiritual." Others told me how good it made them feel; how much it helped, or made, them process; about their need to stay seated and silent in its wake. A young man shared his inner monologue: "When you had us in the mud, I was thinking, 'I'm alright. I like myself. I can do this.'" Later performers thanked me for getting them pumped up. I was treated to some head-explosion pantomimes.

The ritual worked. I felt incredible for the rest of the week. I went out every night, delighted to be among friends. I felt free and recharged. It was fucking awesome to perform in a show without having to organize that same show. I look forward to more.

I was shocked by how easy it was to take over my audience. Granted, it was the perfect venue: a noise show at an apartment gallery, full of artists ready for anything. I had always assumed my role onstage to be one of projection, not absorption. This experience taught me: it's a spectrum. Or a circle. I demanded presence and vulnerability from my audience, instead of offering it to them, and in the end, health rose up in all of us.


Brain Frame Is Over

Three months and three days ago, Brain Frame ended. I think it's safe to say that I've recovered. I have some perspective. My grieving has passed. I've been so slow to upload documentation - the final videos are going up on the website this week - because only now does it feel delightful, not depressing, to review. Here's an incredible montage of the entire Finale, by Burton Bilharz:

The Finale was better than I could have imagined. The notes and drawings left by friends and strangers in my yearbook (passed around Thalia Hall with tape reading "BOSS BOOK / PLEASE SIGN") are ridiculously, overwhelmingly kind. The mere thought of them stirs the stuff in my ribcage. Onstage, I wore overalls, safety goggles, a plain t-shirt, and sneakers I bought at a Payless in San Francisco when I was seventeen. I didn't wash my hair or wear makeup, at least until my surprise transformation at the end of the show into a golden outfit tailor-made by Ellen Nielsen.

I was dressed for the performance of my new comic Cat Tongue, but I was also dressed down for honesty. Amid mounting spectacle, I felt most comfortable representing myself as a mechanic. Above all, for me, Brain Frame was work. It was enormous work.

It was also ritual. Especially the last show. I talk a little bit about that in this great article by Sierra Nicole Rhoden. I took cues from the large public rituals in which I used to participate while growing up in the Bay Area, specifically the Spiral Dance. The altars at the Brain Frame Finale honored the death of the show and predicted the future of its celebrants. The poster was a re-imagining of the Death card in the Ryder-Waite Tarot, a symbol for change and rebirth. My introduction in the Yearbook attempts to inspire further exploration. I spoke to the audience more plainly than ever before. I talked about the potential in performative comics readings. I invited people to email me for support, advice. My intention was to release the spirit of Brain Frame, for everyone to take home in their hearts, and have it grow there.

All photos in this post by Gillian Fry

Then I went home, all hollowed out. My family did another ritual for me, privately. I went out of town for a while. I looked for other things to fill myself up, or tried to stay empty. I lost track of time, and realized that Brain Frame had been my clock. I struggled to relax around friends, without a collaboration between us. I realized that I am not the boss of every conversation. I remembered how much I like reading books. I built new shelves and cleaned up in my office for the first time in two years. I performed a new comic at a noise show. I performed in a wrestling match. I got flown to New York to show parts of my film. I got flown to Los Angeles to perform Go Down. I started my first full year as Lead Artist of the Teen Creative Agency. I picked up extra work as an Artist Guide at the MCA. I started writing in my blog again...


Llama Man Memories

Here's another new comic, about my first performance of Night City at Brain Frame 2, my first time bringing Llama Man to the stage. This page will be published in the Brain Frame Yearbook.

At the Yearbook party last week, I observed how popular it was to page through the print proof. People would grab a copy and sit in the corner for 20 minutes, myriad expressions flickering over their faces. Someone told me "I could read this for days." Another, a close friend and repeat Brain Frame performer, admitted that he hadn't been planning on buying the book. "$25 is a chunk of change," he said, "even for something I knew would be so nice." Extending his hands, he continued, "but then I saw it and you know, I really got that same feeling that I did in high school. This isn't just some thing I've participated in off and on. This is my community. These are my friends. This is the last three years of my life, and it's beautiful, and I realized that I need it, so I just bought one."

In three days, on Monday, July 7th, we need to buy all the books we can to have them ready at the last show. This means that if you want a book, you need to buy it now. I can't afford much overhead for purchasing extras - a shame, since I know seeing the book in person is the most effective advertisement.

This effort is 150% selfless. Each book costs $5 more to make than the price of sale (ever wonder why your high school book cost $60?). I still need to raise $2,223 by Monday. Anything that doesn't come from pre-sales will come out of my pocket. Please, put faith in your future (and your past) and buy a book this weekend.

Click here to pre-order a Brain Frame Yearbook or
Click here to buy an ad in the back of the book or
DONATE to help us make this happen. Thank you!


Recent Days (Closure)

Right out of school, a month before starting Brain Frame, in the cosmic summer of 2011, I began this autobiographic comic called Recent Days. I performed some of it at the first Brain Frame, and some more at the first anniversary (BF7). I got to around seventy pages before abandoning the book. Here, finally, the story finds closure. This 2-page spread will be printed in the Brain Frame Yearbook, released this August at our third anniversary (BF19) and final show.

Please pre-order a Brain Frame Yearbook or
Buy an ad in the back of the book or
DONATE to help us make this happen. We need to raise $7750 by July 1st. Pressure's on and coffers are slim.


The Brain Frame Yearbook

Let me tell you about the Brain Frame Yearbook.

First of all, it's really a yearbook. We've made much ado, rightfully, about the fact that it will be a hardbound, leatherette, foil embossed ledger. There are portraits and autograph pages and photos and superlatives.

Second of all, it's way, way more than a yearbook. The portrait pages include everyone who's ever performed at, accompanied, documented, and staffed Brain Frame - just shy of 200 individuals. They're all self-portraits, ranging from actual repurposed yearbook photos to photoshopped snapshots to drawn images.

The bulk of the book revisits every Brain Frame event from the past three years (29 in all) chronologically. Every pre-show promo blurb I wrote for Facebook; every detailed performance summary for Tumblr (each one a single sentence, a secret challenge to myself instituted around the time of BF3); every poster lies in these pages. Also photographs, captioned of course, as well as personal content from a vast and varied cross section of Brain Frame community members.

Some people have remembered Brain Frame in original comics. Some have written essays, poems, or "letters to the editor." All of these writings include illustration by yet another set of generous, talented, diverse artists.

Nate Beaty's comic about Brain Frame 3

There's more. A few humorous 'op-ed' pieces (also illustrated); a three part special feature on poster process (A Toast To Posters: with your host, the Poster Ghost); a spread of my costumes (not my idea); the winners of the Brain Frame Superlatives illustrated by Kevin Budnik; a Brain Frame Phrenology page by Jamie Davida Lee; a maze; some quizzes; "Oofo Fakts" scattered throughout; and lots and lots of little drawings in the margins.

Clay Hickson's illustration for Brain Frame 12

Let's pause for a minute. Can you believe it? We started collecting material for this book a month ago. I insist you recognize the unwavering and exhaustive support of my intern Lillie West. She is martyring herself in an email prison for the cause.

Lillie and I and the rest of the Yearbook Club: Ben Bertin, Gillian Fry, Christine Lai, Carter Lodwick, Emma Rand, Brad Rohloff, and Nicki Yowell, have been meeting 2-5 times every week to get this done, and slaving away in between. We have to finish by the first of July - this weekend I'm not going to sleep. None of us are making money. We're all buying our own books.

In order to print to our standards, each 160-page, half color, half B&W book will cost $25.93 to make. We're selling them for $25. Pre-sales are live now, and essential to our success. CLICK HERE to reserve your yearbook.

Why? Because it's worth it. Because the whole point is celebrating and embracing the community that has flourished around Brain Frame, and I recognize that this community is not made up of wealthy people. We're hoping to make up the costs through DONATIONS (please donate if you can please please) and ad sales. You can buy an ad NOW for your business, or to commemorate the accomplishments of your loved ones (or enemies). We need ad copy by July 1st! CLICK HERE to buy an ad.

Why else? Because let's face it, Brain Frame is important. Over the past three years, I've changed a lot. The show has changed more, and the comics scene - the very definition of comics - with it. This has been an unprecedented outpouring of multidisciplinary experimentation and engagement with the sequential medium, rooted in communal respect and ecstatic ritual. People are moved. I can say this now - I could never say this before - because it has been told to me, over and over, in the artwork that makes up this as-yet-hypothetical Yearbook. Help me. Solidify this. Partake.
One of many Yearbook Drawing Parties



This drawing was commissioned by Halle Butler, intended to become the cover for her first novel, Jillian. The finished copy was to be printed in B&W with gold overlay, filling in the monster spots and pupils, in homage to this cover illustration for Grendel. Here's a digital mockup of the complete design. Imagine the book's spine meeting the right elbow of the crouching monster.

Halle and I met over a year ago to discuss themes and generate ideas. Halle is a good friend; she performed one of the funniest Brain Frame readings ever and we've worked on several films together. She co-wrote Crimes Against Humanity, the feature in which I recently starred. Her work is deceptively mundane, cruel, and hilarious. Jillian is about two miserable female coworkers. As described online:
Halle Butler's debut explores how two people use self-deception and hostility to deal with their lives. Megan, a bitter young medical secretary, takes a break from her overwhelming feelings of social rejection by keeping track of the disgusting habits of her co-worker, Jillian. Meanwhile, Jillian's misguided "go for it!" attitude leads her towards a series of unadvisable decisions.
We settled on two monsters, one lactating and wailing in pain, the other defensive and furious. I sketched several options, carefully considering what should be most visible on the book's spine.

After settling on a composition, I invited Robin Hustle over to model with me. We had a good time contorting our faces and bodies for the camera. Hilarious nude photo shoots are a favorite pastime.

Defining musculature through imagined fur is difficult! It took a long time just to get the poses right. (That crouching pose? Actually impossible.) Once I had the bodies plotted and spots blocked in I began shaping their sub-structures, including genitalia.

I used five different pencils. A 2B mechanical and four wooden pencils, 3-6B. These are the same pencils I use to draw Possession Scenes. When I showed the drawing in progress to Jeremy he said, "Is that your face?"

The completed cover, while treasured by Halle and myself, has proven problematic. The original distributor, Love Symbol Press, dissolved while plans for the book were in progress. Halle pushed her successive distributer, Cubside Splendor, hard to publish this cover, but they declined. Maybe someday, my monsters will see the light. If you saw this book on the shelf, would you scream, or buy it, or both?