Come On (Up or) Down

January 7th, 2021

I’m about to get that kind of honest where it’s hard to look a person in the eyes after. If that sounds like your idea of a good time, slide into this booth next to me and let’s talk.

With everything that’s happened over the past year, and especially after losing my mom, I can’t see a future. I close my eyes real hard and I don’t see weeks or months or years ahead. It’s hard to explain, but it just feels like a lot of ends are happening all at once.

And living through endings makes you constantly aware that you have one coming, too. If you imagine all of time rolled out like a mat — like how you know physical space to be — then you’ve actually already died and just haven’t reached that point in space-time yet. And every time I get a headache, or I feel a stomach cramp, or I forget a name, it fills me with anxiety and dread that maybe that’s all she wrote for me.

I see people taking breaks from social media, and that is great. Self-care is vital to a healthy existence, and boundaries are important. But the thing I keep thinking about is: why aren’t we making social media a place we don’t need a break from? Why are we not making it better? I feel like the internet chases all the best people away, like a coyote with bad grammar and digital teeth. There has to be humanity here, and balance.

So I’ll make you a deal, as far as making this whole social media thing better.

I’ll be real with you.

I’ll be compassionate for you.

I will find joy with you.

I will listen to you.

I’ll hear you when you call me out.

I’ll be there to support you.

I will try to make you smile.

And the most difficult one for me…

I will try to find hope and see a future with you.

I don’t know what young me is thinking about in this photo. Probably girls or Pokemon cards. But I do know he was always thinking about the future. He was always dreaming and building and laughing and his imagination had no bounds. He saw the world with new eyes daily, which is one of the only parts of his I know I still have.

Death may always be just behind door number one, but I have to keep reminding myself that there is always something behind the curtain, too.

Let’s stay in this game show together.

Land of the

January 6th, 2021

I’ve been real good at staying apolitical as of late, but I feel like I’ve lost a little of my punk rock attitude and we’ve all been getting along too well. So let’s get to it, friends!

What is happening in Washington right now is just about as anti-American and anti-democratic (as in the idea of democracy, not the party) as anything I can imagine.

I extend my love and compassion to Donald Trump as far as he is a fellow human being on this planet. Apart from that, I think he is a despicable, narcissistic sociopath who objectively does not tell the truth (objectively meaning that there is actual proof he lies).

So what did I do when he became president four years ago? Was I upset? Yeah. Very. Did I complain? You bet. But did I discredit the actual system that our entire democracy is built on because I was in an inexplicable kind of love with a man I have never met?

No. I did not do that.

And that is what is happening now.

I had to deal with the fact that more voters in this country thought like him than think like me. I sorely wish the people in this country cared about one another as much as they cared about one dude who doesn’t care about them at all. I watch these people in D.C. literally scaling walls who were, just months ago, berating folks fighting in the streets for human rights. Like, the actual rights for human beings just to be.

I don’t want to be dramatic, but all of this points to the end of democracy. Truth is the base, and if we’ve reached the point that there is no truth — there are no objective facts, what you believe is more important than what is true — then there is no democracy.

Maybe the end isn’t fire and brimstone and apocalypse. Maybe it’s a bunch of folks in red hats who can’t accept the truth or the fact that they failed at something.

And that’s too bad. It’s too bad that conspiracies and hatred have eclipsed compassion, logic and decency. It’s too bad we’re proving to the world that our ideals as a nation are unattainable. It’s too bad we’ve lost our moral compass, and dived deep into immoral territory, like ignoring science and ridiculing that and those we don’t understand or are different from us.

It’s too bad.

I fully expect backlash from this. But I started with power chords, and I will be playing them until I’m dead.

The Jazz of Physics

January 4th, 2021

I devoured this book in two days.

You guys, if I haven’t told you, I’ve been having trouble with faith and hope and happiness and stuff, and The Jazz of Physics was exactly what I needed.

Like, exactly.

I have so much to talk to you about. I have so many words and so much art and way too many feelings to share with you.

I can’t wait.

“The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it’s comprehensible.”

– Albert Einstein

2020: A Lesson, A Curriculum, An Education

December 31st, 2020

It is fair to say that this year sucked.

It is damn fair.

And it is a truth that we will have wasted our time if we decide to learn nothing from it.

So, with that in mind, here is some of what I learned.

– I learned not only is tomorrow not promised, but the promise we thought we were given is more complex in its wording. Many of us lost something we were never in fear of losing or didn’t even know we could lose in the first place. Loss itself became a more abstract concept in 2020.

– I learned that in serious times, of darkness and grief, compassion and humor are more important than just about anything.

– I learned that faith is fluid — it can move from here to there, it can overwhelm you, it can dry entirely up — and I learned where faith comes from. How that has affected me as a person can not be overstated.

– I learned that a large amount of people will put what they personally believe over actual, objective truth, and this makes human beings a uniquely dangerous species.

– I learned that I will always be, somewhere, the “new guy,” no matter how long I have been on this planet.

– I learned that we affect others much more than we know, and far more often than we are told. There are people out there who have barely spoken to a word to you who think about you in a way that positively affects their life every day.

– I learned that some people will absolutely put money, politics, the race they believe they are, and the faith they believe to be right before other humans, and that realization will never break my heart softly or less deeply.

– I learned that some people will always put humans first, and that is the definition of hope.

– I learned that the long game (2+ years with The Weirdos) and brief moments (a week with Theia) both have their important lessons to teach, and that a successful life is built on both. We cannot be indefinitely, infinitely working on a thing, because then it won’t ever be a thing; but taking your time on something reaps its own kind of rewards.

– I learned that the internet is a brilliant wonder and a desolate death pit, most often simultaneously.

– I learned that spending more time with a dog will diminish your love for them zero percent and will, in fact, grow it to a size that is unrecognizable numerically.

And, finally, I learned that even remembering one lesson from this year opens a link to a list of more lessons, which becomes a web that, like Charlotte’s, is an intricate portrait of everything we were and were not this year, often, paradoxically, at the same time.

I love you all, and I sincerely hope only the best for you. Not for 2021. But for today.

Best Comics of 2020

December 30th, 2020

Continuing my theme of naming the greatest things of the year (as opposed to the most depressing or most defeating), I have to put my stamp on the medium closest to my heart: comic books.

I’ve said it a million times, and I’ll say it a million more: comic books have saved my life. On countless occasions. This year was no different, and there was a book for everyone.

With no further ado, here’s my list of the work that touched my heart, tickled my funny bone, got me hot and/or bothered (hello, Faithless!), expanded my mind and gave me hope, in the way only comics can. I’ve expanded my thoughts on select books.

*Adventureman

*Amazing Spider-Man: This does not earn a place simply by having one of the best characters in existence; Nick Spencer clearly knows Peter Parker, and this book does an excellent job of juggling the facets of his life.

*Bang!

*Black Hammer/Justice League: This is your reminder to read Black Hammer.

*Daredevil: Chip’s run has been an instant classic, issue after issue.

*Death Metal

*Decorum: After a “wtf?” start, Hickman pulls out the stops and ties the threads together in the last pair of issues of the volume. Worth the build.

*The Devil’s Red Bride: I bought the first issue because I’m a big fan of John Bivens. I’m still on this ride because this is masterful storytelling and I am hooked by her bloody blade.

*Empyre: Crossover events are tricky. You get sucked (or suckered) into them without knowing their overall quality, and we’ve been blessed with both Empyre and Death Metal this year.

*Faithless II: The artsiest, oddest, horniest book on the shelves. Always a dark pleasure.

*Far Sector

*Fire Power

*The Immortal Hulk

*King of Nowhere: So unbelievably trippy and believably real.

*All Marvels-Related Series (Marvel, Marvels: X, Marvels: Snapshots): These are just a delight, every time. It’s always something different and unexpected and, due to the talent involved, consistently great or better.

*Mighty Morphin Power Rangers/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The most fun I had reading anything this year; far better than it had any right to be. I will recommend this to any and every fan of a certain age.

*TMNT: The Last Ronin

*Monstress: One of my favorite books just keeps getting deeper and darker — and better and richer for it.

*Olympia: A love letter to comics and one of the freshest breaths of air I took this year.

*The Other History of the DC Universe: I continue my education in a medium too few suspect of genuine things to teach.

*Post Americana

*The Question: The Deaths of Vic Sage

*Second Coming: What do Jesus and Superman have to teach one another? The brilliant Mark Russell is one of the best writers in any universe.

*Seven Secrets

*Stillwater: The best TV show not on TV.

*Strange Adventures: I will follow Tom King anywhere.

*True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys: Anthem

*Vampire: The Masquerade

*The Weirdos Volume I: A masterpiece. All kidding aside, I am very proud of this book and the years-long journey it’s taken me on.

*All X-Titles: I have read every. single. issue. since Dawn of X and enjoyed every. single. one. No joke. They are all good. This is my list. I don’t have to explain myself to you.

*The Returns of American Vampire & Sweet Tooth: Welcome back.

You can read one of these, but really, just go read any book. Right now. Put down your phone.

Intentions.

December 23rd, 2020

People complain about social media all the time, and I often wonder what those same people bring to it.

A few days ago, someone let me know they talked to their mom because they read a post I made.

A few weeks ago, a person I know celebrated a year of sobriety, and they had reached out to me back when they were still struggling, because they knew what I had been through and asked if I thought they could do it, too. (Spoiler alert: I absolutely thought they could.)

This week alone, I’ve talked to four people in various writing stages about how they, too, could publish a book.

These kind of interactions don’t come by mistake. They happen because I try to be intentional and honest and I sincerely try to love the people who end up reading what I write.

The next time you find yourself lamenting the wasteland that is the internet, take a moment in your despair to ask yourself: what am I bringing to all this?

Because maybe you’re expecting more than you give.

Screenshot

December 21st, 2020

In the social media app Snapchat, what you send disappears after it’s been opened. Like the top-secret messages that self-destruct after reading in Mission: Impossible.

There is a loophole, though. You can save a screenshot of anything you can see on your phone, including in Snapchat.

And that’s what my mom did.

It didn’t matter what was sent.

“Good morning, mom!”

*Mom took a screenshot!*

A photo of Marvel.

*Mom took a screenshot!*

Something I sketched.

*Mom took a screenshot!*

A meme my mom most certainly did not understand.

*Mom took a screenshot!*

It was something we joked about and sometimes really wondered about — why would she feel the need to save everything, every word, every image, every piece of our lives?

And then you start making connections.

She saved it all. Before Snapchat. All my old artwork, that I desperately wanted to throw away because it was so embarrassing, she held onto like precious silks. She filed my young words like it was work in the Library of Congress. I remember I wrote a paper for psychology about how I was equal parts her and my dad, and she shed real tears when we tore the house apart looking for it.

And it wasn’t just me.

It was our entire family. She kept any parts of us we allowed ourselves to shed, and she held them close while admiring what came out of the cocoons. She took pictures all the time, before it was easy to take pictures. As her life is being looked through now, there are a ton of photos and recipes and things we didn’t know she screenshot but she did. My dad told me that on those empty pages at the end of books, she filled them up with her handwriting.

And I’m ashamed I was ever annoyed by a single screenshot, because I would do pretty much anything to be notified of that one more time. I would give anything to see her save a part of me.

My mom taught me that saving things is a way we can save ourselves.

I’m trying hard, I swear.

Flip: Special Edition

December 18th, 2020

“Write drunk, edit sober.”

In my twenties, I was master of the former. For a while now, though, I’ve been living by the latter.

In that spirit, I wanted to revisit my second novella, Flip, with fresh eyes. I didn’t want to change the story, but I wanted to clean, clarify and filter any waste I had missed. I also wanted to put the book back into print (as it’s been sold out for years and is my most requested paperback).

So I present to you Flip: Special Edition.

I had an out-of-body experience doing this. If you know anything about Flip, you know it’s about dreams. If you know even more about Flip, then you know it’s also about loss. And as a person who’s dealing with it in a deep way right now, I wasn’t sure if what I wrote then would resonate with me now.

Boy, did it ever. (Chapter 2 made me openly sob when I read it again. In a good way.)

The new paperback is larger (6″ x 9″, the same size and material as Theia). It includes a new foreword, written by yours truly. I put this novella out seven years ago this month, and the fact that it’s still a thing I get asked about is very cool. (The Faribault Daily News said at the time in its cover review: “Moments of brilliance make a short read like ‘Flip’ worthwhile . . . Sometimes, Vogen unexpectedly breaks out beautiful, almost poetic, language at just the right moment.”)

I was obsessed with dreams and loss before writing it, and my fascination has only grown and intensified since.

Whether you’ve read it once or twice or not at all, I hope you pick it up now. It’s a real trip. And if it’s successful, I may revisit other work in the same vein.

Flip: Special Edition is available on Amazon now and will be in my store in the coming weeks. All my love.

America Hearts Criminals

December 18th, 2020

America loves criminals — as long as they have the right color skin and their subjective ideals align.

This post has been a long time coming, but better late than never.

I’ve heard, too many times, this era being compared to prohibition. Besides being an absolutely baseless and embarrassing comparison, it reminded me of something: people think the bootleggers and gangsters were the good guys.

Spoiler alert: they were all criminals, despite their intoxicating lingo and impeccable fashion sense.

“But the laws are unjust!” is a rallying cry for those under actual persecution and an excuse for selfish folk who need justification for their bad and illegal behavior.

It’s funny: bank robbers are objectively bad, right? Stealing is wrong? Please explain to me why there is a celebration called Jesse James Day, and try to include logic.

A recent hot topic has really displayed the hypocrisy of our sordid affair with the “right” kind of bad people; let’s talk about Alibi Drinkery in Lakeville.

You have certain people calling these law-breakers legitimate heroes. You know what really riles those same people up, though? Mention that one of the co-owners literally tried to murder police officers in September:

Owner of Lakeville bar that reopened in defiance of COVID-19 restrictions charged in September with attempted murder of copsĀ 

They’ll tell you, “Nah, that has nothing to do with the matter at hand.”

Conversely, when George Floyd was murdered without a proper trial (much less a complete arrest), his criminal record was immediately dug up and presented like a charcuterie board for those who had to justify that kind of criminal’s death.

That kind of criminal.

I wrote about anger yesterday and I’m trying to not write this while having that feeling, but I do.

In Ta-Nehisi Coates’s brilliant Between The World And Me, he writes: “[They] are quoting Martin Luther King and exulting nonviolence for the weak and the biggest guns for the strong.”

America loves criminals — the right kind, the strong kind, the kind that you see yourself inside. All others are outsiders and terrorists, despite committing the exact same crimes.

You Wouldn’t Like Me

December 17th, 2020

Let’s talk about anger.

In a recent post, I mentioned that I think about the Hulk a lot, and it’s true. The Hulk is a perfect metaphor, for the people we can become and the ugly traits we can inhabit. The Hulk asks: is the ugliness our base truth? Are our worst impulses and instincts who we really are?

I hope not.

I have long had issues with anger. I think the roots are deep and tangled, but it’s a part of my construction that requires me to constantly examine the colors of the wires. I’ve had to learn the who’s and why’s and how’s of my temper, and how to cut those feelings off from the starters and reroute them to more efficient emotions.

It is not easy.

I’ve learned that the hardest way in 2020. I use words like “disappointment,” as in “so many human beings are disappointing me this year,” when I actually feel anger. I describe how I feel as “sad” or “shocked,” when I’m really angry. I keep trying to paint my pain in different colors, but when it comes down to it: the Hulk is green. The Hulk is always green. Even when the Hulk is gray or red — he is green.

I just read an article about the Tom Cruise blow-out (Google it) in which the author had to begrudgingly admit something: he GOT IT. The writer understood why Tom Cruise lost his mind, because this year the writer has been losing his mind, like I have been losing mine, and instead of being numb to it like we have been expected to be, Tom Cruise expressed the core feeling that so many of us want but hide inside our humanity: anger.

He went overboard and he used naughty words and he really let those crew members have it and that is the impulse that is vibrating in this country right now. We want to yell. We want to scream. We want to stomp our feet.

So then what are we? If we tell ourselves not to yell or scream or stomp our feet, which one is our truth? Is it the humanity that stops us and keeps us trying to find commonalities and connection with other people? Or is it the anger, that ugliness we hide, that finds itself manifesting and sprouting in different ways?

It grows on sarcastic commentary, in passive-aggressive missives, in frustrated, compassionate pleas. It inspires a wealth of other ugly feelings, like guilt and shame and despair.

The Hulk asks: which one are we?

And the smartest thing he does is let us figure that out.