Saturday, July 19, 2014

Flying Over Water

I’ve never been rich. I mean, there was that one time we lived with one of my Mom’s boyfriends for a year and I went to a fancy school where you rinsed with fluoride before the Pledge of Allegiance and you didn’t have to say, “under God,” if you didn’t want to. But that was seventh grade and now I’m in my late thirties and I don’t have rich stuff.

You’d think, given my semi-frequent trips, that I must have some money socked away. Not really. For about 5 months last year, I worked a second job that paid me … like ludicrous amounts of money. Money that they really shouldn’t have been paying me. Even they eventually realized that and dropped me unceremoniously one day, saying, “We cannot afford to pay you this much money. We can’t.” I was riled then but months removed, I get it. I mean, it was paying me almost three times as much as my actual real job. I was lucky. Everyone had a good Christmas and I paid for literally all my 2014 Disney trips in advance.

But even without psycho second job, that’s how I manage my trips. My “vices” are Disney and Drive-By Truckers trips and Starbucks. That’s pretty much it. And Disney sounds expensive, but it’s one of those things where you can pay incrementally and it’s spread out so much that it’s not that bad. Case in point: I’m going to France next year. And yes, I’m seeing Paris and the Louvre and all the cultural stuff, but we all know I’m going there to see Disneyland Paris. I’m going next April. I’ve been paying for it since this summer. Slowly. Incrementally. Because that’s how you win the race.

I told you all that to tell you this: last year, I went on my first cruise ship. A Disney cruise ship: the Disney Dream. My friend Jeff lured me onboard with promises of a whole new Disney experience, and onboard karaoke, and it being warm in November, and the novelty of three different restaurants with the serving staff following us the whole time. I realized today that I never really talked about the cruise, which I really should have (and which I probably will, at some point), but the biggest change for me on the Kev and Jeff Cruise Extravaganza is that it was the first time I’ve ever really relaxed on vacation. You guys know me. I’m not one to chill. My entire life is one long Type A initiative to get things done. That includes my vacations. I have moments of calming down, but I like to plan! and experience! and make the most of every second! Usually that works out for me. Occasionally I forget to have food and go bonkers and my friends have to get me in the shade and give me peanuts so I stop being so dizzy. Those moments are rare(ish).

But the cruise … I mean, look, like I said, I’m not rich. Not even close. But because Disney lets me pay for stuff over time, I get to have these rich guy experiences. I climbed aboard a big boat, and it took me to remote islands and only like one or two times was I terrified that actual literal sea monsters were going to rise from the depths and wrap their tentacles around my stateroom and drag us down. (Also, at one point, Jeff and I journeyed to the front of the ship at night, and it was dark for miles in all directions, and Jeff said, “Can you imagine that this is the last thing the people on the Titanic saw? Just black water and then nothing.” Then I punched Jeff.)

During our time on the ship, Jeff and I were together almost constantly … and it turned out pretty awesome. Jeff and I have gone on buddy trips before and it’s always been awesome, but people rarely get to see me actually relaxed. Because of that, and because this was a first for both of us, and because when you look out on the placid Atlantic at night and the stars are bright above and so close, and everything in every direction is a beautiful mystery … well, it was a profound experience for me, and one I was so happy to be sharing with someone I like so much.

So when it came time for my traditional birthday tattoo, and Jeff was going to be around for it, it didn’t take me long to figure out what I wanted. I mean, sure, it’s a corporate logo, but who says logos can’t be beautiful? There was simplicity in the design, and if there’s a connecting thread in my tattoos, it’s that pop iconography is vital and important to me.

Besides which, it was going to be the last one I got from my rocktastic artist John, who was giving up the Boston life to go back to his native Michigan, just as Kelly the Wonder Tattooist had left to return to Texas years before. The folks at Chameleon just trade me on – my next guy is a man named Joe and I want nothing more for Christmas than my first ink with him. But John, who had done some of my most intricate art (Hardy/Arbuckle) and some of my most important (Dream Baby Dream) was moving on; an icon for a ship seemed apt.

It didn’t hurt, much. It didn’t take long. And it didn’t cost much. But tattoos tie you to two experiences – what the ink is about, and how the ink happens. Forever, this one little logo represents my amazing experience on the Disney Dream with one of my best friends, and my farewell to a great artist who put so much of his talent on my skin.

I set sail again next week. I can’t wait to get on board, and show this thing off.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

A Pictorial History of Me at Disney

It's Disneyland's 59th birthday today. Disney parks are twenty years and one day older than me, and I was always taught to respect my elders. So in the interest of that, I've decided to take a sweeping pictorial look at me in Disney parks. Nothing deep. Nothing major. Just a picture or two of all my trips there, from 2007 to 2014. Seven years going to Disney. It's been a wild ride.
My first ride on Splash Mountain ever! (May 2007)

Trip #2: Joe and I travel to WDW for the first time together! (October 2007)

My dear friends Brad and Kay came with me on my third trip. As you can tell, even though he's known me for decades, Brad is TERRIFIED OF ME.  :)  (This was also the trip I didn't tell anyone about and boy, did some folks get mad about that.) (May 2008)

Joe and I decided to do all Four Parks In One Day.  One E-ticket, one D-ticket, one headliner, and two meals spread out over the course of the day.  It was awesome.  We are never doing that again. (September 2008)

My love affair with Baloo begins! (December 2008)

I took my Mom to WDW for the first time ever. She was especially fond of the Rock & Rollercoaster. (February 2009)

I went to Disney World alone after I lost my job (yay severance package) and tried to cure my depression. It did not work. My saddest trip, but still not, like, horrible. (March 2009)

For our 10th anniversary, I took Shawn to WDW for the first time.  He enjoyed the shirts and the beverages the best. (May 2009)

I went to the last hurrah of the Adventurer's Club, dressed in my steampunk finery.  (September 2009)

My second Shawn trip, and my friend Marty's first. I got them both hooked, because Kevbots are like that. (January 2010)

My first trip ever to Disneyland. I went with my friend Josh and I met my friend (and future frequent Disney buddy) Paul (and his husband Steve) for the first time! (April 2010)

I took my Mom to Epcot. She was less impressed than me.  Joe and I met the Crew for the first time! (October 2010)

Paul, Joe, and I go to our first WDW Today Reunion, and I am WAY too excited about being inside the old Wonders of Life pavilion. (December 2010)

Joe and me and The Crew get drinky. (March 2011)

My second trip to Disneyland, and Paul came along! (May 2011)

I celebrated my 36th birthday at Disney World. In Florida. In mid-July.  I won't be doing that again.  But I still went to Typhoon Lagoon for the first time! (July 2011)

Disney World's 40th Anniversary! You were supposed to look like 1971.  I grew a pornstache but Paul REALLY committed. (October 2011)


Joe's and my first Osbourne Lights, and he's apparently going to murder me at Epcot.  Worse places to die, AM I RIGHT?! (December 2011)

Disneyland in August, with a whole bunch of Disney World friends (Doug and Kristen among them, here on the Matterhorn) and of course Paul!  Yay!  (August 2012)

Shawn, Marty, Joe, and I went to EPCOT 30, the 30th anniversary of EPCOT Center/EPCOT/Epcot. (October 2012)

My first Reunion with Jeff!  (December 2012)

Then we did a bro trip to WDW, just for kicks! (March 2013)

Jeff's first trip to Disneyland, and we took Scott!  (April 2013)

Gay Days, where I met Joey, Doug, and Robert, a new frequent Disney buddy! (June 2013) 


Jeff and I went on our first Disney Cruise, and after spent some time at the Wilderness Lodge with so many buddies!  Paul, Jeff, Marty, Joe, and I (and sometimes Robert) rocked that week.  (November 2103)

Paul, Jeff, and I stayed at the CONTEMPORARY and things went awesome. (April 2014)

For our 15th Disneyversary (IT'S A WORD), I took my friend Joe to Disneyland for the first time.  We had a blast.  (June 2014)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

After "Life With Archie"

The year was 2009. I was working on two major projects dealing with comic books – a chapbook called Drawn into Darkness, about Stephen King and his relationship with comics, and an entry on Tales from the Crypt and their publisher, E.C. Comics, for a comic book encyclopedia. I was covering horror comics (my first comic-book love), but I kept being dragged back into the world of Archie. King wrote a piece for the first Archie Americana collection that intrigued me, and I couldn’t escape the fact that the first publisher of Archie, Jon Goldwater, spearheaded the Comics Code (a self-imposed rule that restricted what comics could show and talk about), which effectively put E.C. Comics out of business.

I am often drawn to pop culture with deep history, especially if that pop culture is ongoing. That’s where my Disney thing comes from, not to mention my interest in things like the New York Times Bestseller List. The fact that Archie existed in the 1940s and keeps existing thrills me. I bought old collections and read pop histories of the company and the comic. Then I started buying the regular comics, like Archie and Betty & Veronica, hoping against hope that a new Josie & the Pussycats comic would launch soon. Man, I loved those cat ears.

Then a few interesting things happened. In 2010, a new comic called Life with Archie hit stores. It told two stories in two alternate future timelines: one in which Archie marries Betty, one in which he marries Veronica. The stories were fascinating. Pushing the Riverdale gang into young adulthood was only the beginning. They killed off Miss Grundy – in both storylines! Kevin Keller married a dude! Cheryl Blossom had cancer! Moose Mason became the mayor! And on. And on. It was a bit soapy, but that worked. For a long time, it was my absolute favorite comic. I looked forward to it every single month, to catch up with what my pals in Riverdale were up to, what predicaments they would find themselves in, and who they’d fall in and out of love with.

I loved the writing, which was a bit more sophisticated than that of the regular Archie books, and I loved the serialized nature of the story. Both those aspects filtered into the regular Archie books, which started doing miniseries and sci-fi and fantasy and pretty much anything they wanted. Kevin Keller had been introduced as the first gay Archie character, and he got his own comic. In one storyline, Archie fell in love with Valerie of Josie and the Pussycats, and they got married and had a child and it was all very cute. Afterlife With Archie, a remarkably mature and unsettling ongoing zombie story, debuted and captured me and a mass audience. I got a Moose Mason tattoo. And somewhere in there, I started … well, I started livetweeting the Archie comics, poking gentle fun at the characters and their crazy situations as I read them.

1950s Moose Tattoo

But never Life with Archie. That was sacred. That was my comic. And now it’s coming to an end.

Deaths of comic-book characters have been making headlines for awhile now. When I was in high school, the death of Superman was a big deal. More recently, Captain America’s death was all over the actual news. Those guys came back. And it’s not like Archie – the “regular universe” Archie – is really going anywhere. But an Archie, the one I liked the most, in the comic I liked the most, is dying. I knew that going into the issue, and I knew that he was going to die heroically. I was prepared. I was ready.

I was neither prepared nor ready.

For this penultimate issue, both alternate future universes – the Betty Universe and the Veronica Universe – merge. Pronouns proliferate. Archie is in love with her; he’s thinking about what she is doing. This is important, because we need to know that in any timeline, any story, any take, Archie Andrews is fundamentally the same: a good guy who loves his friends, his town, his life. The entire issue is a celebration of all that. He ruminates on the past, laments that he doesn’t often think about the future, and keeps running into the people in the present who help define him.

It works as both an elegy and an introduction, a significant balancing act writer Paul Kupperberg is more than up to handling. The death scene is as shocking and tragic as you might expect – more so, actually. This isn’t a super hero’s death. Archie’s just a guy, doing the right thing. The final panel, of an ice cream soda with three straws, knocked on its side, is heavy with both symbolism and history. A passing knowledge of the Archie comic immediately brings to mind that iconic image of Archie, Betty, and Veronica sharing a soda, all smiles. No one’s smiling now.

It’s a fitting end to this version of the character. The next issue, ONE YEAR LATER, will hopefully pick up the pieces and offer more reflection. We’re promised that “this is only the beginning” – a hopeful phrase whose importance has yet to be determined. For now, though, I’m going to read this issue again (and again), and say good-bye to the fictional friend I made four years ago. I’m sure going to miss him.