Pulp Empire


Attentive readers of the Lowbrow Reader will light up at the name Paul S. Hirsch, whose sparkling essay in issue #9 offered a definitive account of Funnyman, the ill-fated crime-fighting comedian. Comic history fans can now rejoice further: This month, the wise-asses of University of Chicago Press introduce Dr. Hirsch’s landmark book, Pulp Empire: The Secret History of Comic Book Imperialism. Elegantly written and lavishly illustrated, the tome documents the author’s deep dive through the creepy archives of the United States government. Hirsch turns up some seedy stuff: pornography (naturally!) but also proof that the government, while busy castigating comic books, was simultaneously employing comics in a propaganda war against Nazis, Soviets and other mid-century miscreants. It’s a lurid, fascinating tale, narrated with pep and grace. What are you waiting for? Get thee to a bookstore—or more sordid sectors—and buy Pulp Empire at once!

Things I Like to Do When My Wife Is Out of Town

My wife and I have been together for almost a decade and it feels like we are cooped up in the house together more than ever. Last week she drove home to be with her family—a welcome break for both of us. Here’s what I’ve been doing to pass the time.

Letting the dishes pile up in the sink
Oops! The signature flourish of the bachelor pad coming back is 48 hours of detention for the Dansk.

Watching my favorite sports teams
Boy, would she get really bored with all of this basketball. Go Cougars!

Taking the top sheet off the bed
That thing always gets all bunched up under my feet. And let’s not even talk about making the bed the next morning. No thank you.

Smoking cigarettes
Yep. I went for it. And it was the first time in 11 years. Shhh. Our little secret.

Hiding the top sheets in the back of the closet
Hopefully she won’t find them when she gets home. They’re behind the VHS recordings of graduations and Christmases so I think I’m in the clear.

Having an extra glass of wine with dinner
Well, well, well: I don’t see anybody counting around here.

Binging Frasier
I liked it best until Daphne and Niles got together. But, to be honest, this has been mostly just to study what everyone’s sheet situation is.

Ordering pizza delivery
Why cook when you can have a delicious dinner delivered to your door? I’m not gonna lie, sometimes I eat it for two or even three meals in a row. Last night I even retrieved a top sheet from the closet and used it like it was a giant napkin.

Praying to the Egyptian god Anubis to forever banish the dreaded top sheet to the afterlife
Oh, brave and wise creators of ancient bedding: Hear my plea now as I beg for this horrible plague’s removal from each and every dwelling.

Burning all of our top sheets in effigy in the backyard
As I smoked another cigarette by moonlight and watched the tobacco burn to a nub, I realized that the solution to all of my problems was right there at my fingertips.

Gathering the burnt embers, smearing them under my eyes like war paint, hiding behind a rug display at Bloomingdale’s until the store closes and ridding the store of its entire top sheet collection in the dark of night
Some people call them flat sheets. Other folks say top sheets. The important thing is that they’re eradicated from our society forever.

Going to jail
No top sheets to speak of here.

Expert Print Shop

We have received some nice words about the latest Lowbrow Reader issue (no, please, that’s too generous; stop, you’re embarrassing us!). One compliment set on repeat is for the quality of the print job itself. This is an area of the publication that, of course, is out of our hands. As with all Lowbrow Reader issues going back to #5, the printing was handled by the mensches of New York City’s fabulous Expert Print Shop Inc., a quick bike ride from Lowbrow HQ.

Formerly known as G&P Printing, Expert Print Shop has retained the same staff and location, on Centre Street in the Soho/Chinatown nexus. The shop handles a range of jobs, from humble restaurant menus to fancy art magazines. And they put up with our nonsense—no small task! Have a print job? Check out Expert Print Shop (ask for Andy). Don’t have a print job? Well, come on—think up something, if only as a reason to visit the shop. Great projects have been started with far flimsier excuses.

Fashion Criticism: An Anthology

There have been books anthologizing the big hits of music criticism, film criticism, food criticism, and so much more. But fashion criticism? Not so much! What gives? (Surely, it has nothing at all to do with fashion’s association with women.) This week, this strange gap gets filled in high style with Bloomsbury’s publication of Fashion Criticism: An Anthology. The dapper book is edited by none other than Francesca Granata—Parsons professor, Fashion Projects editor, and—ahem—a Lowbrow Reader all-star contributor.

Thoroughly scholarly yet eminently readable, the book marks the first comprehensive anthology of English-language fashion writing, gathering essays from an avalanche of the bold-faced. A mere sampling of the book’s contributors: Susan Sontag, Eve Babitz (!), Guy Trebay, Hilton Als, Lynn Yaeger, Robin Givhan, Suzy Menkes, Cathy Horyn, and Oscar Wilde—who, Granata confides, was an absolute terror to work with. (Let’s just say that one person’s idea of a “great wit” is another’s “toxic microaggressor,” okay?) Set your gaze on the lovely cover, with a photograph by one Andy Warhol.

So run to your nearest bookstore and get your mitts on Fashion Criticism: An Anthology! (Or, if you really must, there’s always…you know.) Free on Wednesday, February 24? At 7pm, New York’s wonderful McNally Jackson will be hosting a (Zoom, obviously) conversation between Granata and one of the book’s knockout contributors, the fab New Yorker writer Judith Thurman. Register today—and, while you’re at it, don’t forget to buy a copy of the book for everybody you know.

You Gotta Be Kidding Me With These Drones, Nerds

“Another Defense Department official said that law enforcement agencies were planning for any number of possible events, some of them horrific. Worst-case scenarios include snipers targeting inauguration dignitaries, ‘suicide-type aircraft’ entering Washington’s restricted airspace and even remote-powered drones attacking the crowd.” – The New York Times

My fellow citizens: I stand here today, at this inaugural address, humbled by the trust you have placed in me. I am ready to take on the many challenges that await us as a nation.

I also stand here looking at all of these flying attack drones over my head. You gotta be kidding me with these things, nerds.

That we are in the midst of a once-in-a-generation war against a deadly virus is at the forefront of our minds. And, to be sure, it is also at the forefront of our minds that purchasing one of these rotorcrafts and then hovering it above a crowd means you are a complete and utter dork.

Go ahead and shoot those suckers down. Thanks.

Today I recognize that the challenges we face are real. These obstacles include the pandemic, an attack on our Capitol, record unemployment, racial injustice and stark political divisions.

One such challenge is not these cockamamie unmanned aerial vehicles, though. We have 20,000 United States National Guard troops and Lord knows how many members of the Secret Service present.

Oh, look. Down goes another drone.

We are still the greatest nation on Earth. We Americans are still full of creativity, innovation and energy. For instance: Think of all of the science and technology it must have taken to get the XL-56T spinning right over my head off the ground.

Ha, just kidding. I made that name up. I don’t know what they’re called because I am not a poindexter.

We are in the fight of our lives, but I know that if we are united, nothing can stand in our way.

And speaking of the fight of our lives, I used to fistfight a gang leader in east Wilmington named Corn Pop. Did you comic book–reading dweebs think I’d be afraid of your little helicopter toys? Are there supposed to be lasers or little ninja stars on these things?

In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson writes, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” We live by these words. And we die by these words.

He must not have been talking about people who fly drones, though. Burn.

Thank you. May God forever bless the United States of America. And may He bless you all.

Well. Maybe not “all.”

One-Liners IV

If you eat a lot of rosemary, you will have more recurring dreams. If you eat a lot of rosemary, you will have more recurring dreams.

I have a really stubbly beard. My beard is so stubbly, I had to type this joke with my tusks.

Do trees with body dysmorphic disorder think every bird is a woodpecker?

A dog walks into a bar and says, “Yelp!” The bartender says, “Good dog.”

What type of candy bar is fastest: pun size.

What type of woolly mammoth either loves or hates construction sites, I don’t know—and who cares?

Desert pro-tip: eh, what the heck, leave the oasis.

My rabbits are very feline: lately, they have been reading books meant for my dog.

What’s the least deadly part about my music? Well, there’s less arsenic in the flute—now.

How many 3-D printers did Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart use to invent the light bulb? Zero—and voila!

The universe is really big. Compared to what? I bet the universe thinks we’re really small.

Whoops, I almost fainted there—whew! That’s a joke, that counts as a joke.

I feel bad for dodo birds. I mean, you want to be physically strong for your size, but you also want to never go extinct.

What if all crime actually started as random security checks?
Q: Then why did the security checks exist?
A: Well, I don’t see any crime, do you?

Something you don’t want to hear on your driving test: “I’m not a driving-test proctor, if that’s even what they’re called—heh heh, what we’re called. I didn’t just say this.”

I’m a right-side-up guy: I fall asleep as soon as my feet hit the pillow.

I’m afraid of sharks. Jaws is my favorite movie—because it is about fear of sharks.

Someone with laryngitis thinking of a joke: “I am only going to say this zero times.”

A person who can talk but who can’t think: “I’m just thinking out loud.”

He lost a bet: Sonic the Hedgehog to serve human meat at my house.

If a tree falls in the desert—and that’s a pretty big “if”—does it make a sand?

There are not enough letters in the alphabet. I know what would solve the problem: more letters!

Patient: “Doctor, I have a favor to ask. Would my child-prodigy son be able to perform the operation? It would mean a lot to my wife. Whoops, wrong son! Billy that’s not a scalpel! (The anesthesia begins kicking in.) “I guess I should count down from beep… hey-o!” (patient flatlines.)

I practice negative psychology: I see that somebody’s at a +4 mood-wise, I try to get them down into the dumps, into the negative numbers, that kind of thing.

“This might give me an idea,” I thought.

I need a low-calorie flarf. Long story, but I eat my flarfs. You guessed right: I eat the flarf last.

You ever give yourself a little depression to take the edge off your anxiety?

You know, sometimes I think some people have the tip of the iceberg as the part of the iceberg that is underwater, and vice versa—and don’t get me started on this.

I invented a rat trap that really sticks to your hand.

I’m a glass-half-full sort of pessimist: you might tell me that I have “some cheese Danish on my nametag,” but the way I prefer to think about it is, “there’s a cheese Danish with my name on it.”

I always try to get what I want; and if I don’t get what I want, I just sour grapes it.

Ideas for the Cleveland Baseball Team Name

“Following years of protests from fans and Native American groups, the Cleveland Indians have decided to change their team name, moving away from a moniker that has long been criticized as racist.” – The New York Times

Naps: While this name—in honor of the Hall of Fame second baseman Napoleon “Nap” Lajoie—has been used for a Cleveland baseball club before, it also paints an accurate picture of what my grandfather would do in the sixth inning as his team was losing yet another game.

Pennys: My mother’s name is Penelope. She goes by Penny. Born in University Heights in 1951. It also doubles as a price point for how much a ticket should cost to see a game played by an organization that has not won a World Series since 1948.

Fellers: Not to be confused as an honorific for one of the best pitchers of all time, Bob Feller, this is instead the way my Cleveland-born, steel salesman grandfather would pronounce the word “fellow” after an encounter with another man.

Spiders: Another former name for the team. But for my family from Northeastern Ohio, this is mostly about the giant bugs that crawled out of the ravine next to the house on Lake Erie.

Lawn Mowers: Okay, Pop-Pop, I get it. Even on vacation, there are chores.

Rockers: Yes, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is in Cleveland. You will also find the rocking chair hall of fame about 45 minutes east in a living room in Madison, Ohio.

Stop Signs: Some have suggested that “Burning Rivers” be considered, a tongue-in-cheek jab at the Cuyahoga River’s tendency to inflame over the course of a century. Instead, here we tip our Chief Wahoo–less caps to that time that my cousin Will and I found a real, rusty Cleveland stop sign while we were swimming in the lake. (This name could also function as a guide for the third base coach as a sluggish Cleveland runner attempts to round the bag.)

Yankees: Because the Indians caused the family so much distress over the years, my hard-headed grandmother switched allegiances to another squad that, at the time, was in the same division. Her remarks of “at least they actually win” did not sit well with most of us—but, hey, she wasn’t wrong.

Aqua Sox: The Dantean script “abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” should be inscribed upon every Lake Erie beachfront sign marking hours and prohibited items. You’re going in barefooted? There are rusty stop signs in there, man.

Now Is the Time to Invent!

When the Lowbrow Reader debuted in the summer of 2001, the publication’s muses were clear: Billy Madison, Howard Stern, the Three Stooges, and other enlightened fare. But one of our primary influences had little to do with comedy: specifically, Puncture, a fabled indie-rock magazine that was published between 1982 and 2000. I began writing for Puncture in 1996, when I was a wee college student, and later moved to Portland, Oregon, to work for the magazine. When Puncture closed in 2000, I shipped off to New York City, began working at Time Out New York, and launched the Lowbrow Reader.

Of course, the comedy zine deviates from the much larger music magazine in a million different ways—Lowbrow is more Andrew Dice Clay, less Belle and Sebastian. Yet Puncture’s inspiration was monumental. Don’t believe it? See for yourself! This week, Verse Chorus Press is publishing a beautiful Puncture anthology, Now Is the Time to Invent! Reports from the Indie-Rock Revolution, 1986–2000. The lushly illustrated door stopper examines indie-rock through interviews and reviews torn from Puncture’s pages. It features the first-ever profiles of Sleater-Kinney and Guided by Voices; a pair of essays by Terri Sutton that helped light riot grrrl’s spark; and long takes on blue-chip indie artists including the Mekons, the Go-Betweens, Neutral Milk Hotel, Royal Trux, Beat Happening, the Magnetic Fields, Jonathan Richman, and more.

Along with Katherine Spielmann, Steve Connell, and J Neo Marvin, I am a very proud editor of the anthology. However, the book is overwhelmingly the work of the couple behind Puncture—Connell and, especially, Spielmann, who co-founded Puncture as a punk zine in 1982 and died in 2016. Now Is the Time to Invent! is long-in-the-works but well worth the wait, and not owning the book will be an embarrassing affront. Don’t let your bookshelf be caught on Zoom without it. Buy a copy for every room of your house AT ONCE!

Dum Ditty Dum

By now, it’s pretty clear that the Internet will never be the path to salvation. Print remains the future, okay? For one glimmering piece of evidence, see a recently hatched music publication that we heartily and unequivocally endorse: Dum Ditty Dum. Published in Chicago by Other Forms, Dum Ditty Dum is high concept and cerebral yet lucid and fun. In each issue, the editors examine a single day from the rock era, defined here as launching in 1950 and halting—much like democracy itself!—in the last few years. The day is generated at random, “to understand by inference the total set of ad-hoc forces operating at the spectrum of popular rock music in that single arbitrary moment.”

The new Dum Ditty Dum issue, #3, looks at November 7, 2012. Written by Eugene V. Booth, with Chris Kuck and Jack Henrie Fisher, DDD #3 examines its day’s hitmakers, in particular Kendrick Lamar. But it also addresses the avant-garde: The month marked the final tour of Peter Brötzmann’s Chicago Tentet, whose ashes get sorted via both essay and a sharp Q&A interview Booth conducted with the musician Fred Lonberg-Holm. Previous issues looked at October 28, 1977 and March 24, 1987. All DDD issues are designed with panache, crisply written, and blissfully individualistic. Don’t slack on this. Check out Dum Ditty Dum at once!

 

Help Fund B&H Dairy

If the Lowbrow Reader were to transform, for whatever strange reason, into a restaurant, we’d like to think it would become B&H Dairy, the storied Yiddish diner in the East Village. Hovering around 85-years-old, the petite dairy kosher restaurant is ground zero for Ashkenazi vegetarians; while Lowbrow HQ shipped over to the west side nearly two decades ago, the diner still seems like a home base of sorts. Read about B&H in Ben Katchor’s new banger, The Dairy Restaurant—and, if you are anywhere near St. Marks Place, read it over a bowl of matzo ball soup at the hallowed joint itself.

B&H has weathered some wild storms over the decades, including a gas explosion down the block that knocked it out for several months in 2015. (Bizarrely, this same explosion indirectly led to the permanent closure of our own neighborhood’s center of operations, La Taza de Oro.) Like nice small businesses the world over, and especially New York, B&H Dairy currently finds itself in a Covid-derived muddle. It needs your cash! Head to the diner and load up on challah and borscht—or funnel some funds to B&H via this handy GoFundMe page.

If the diabolic current officeholder somehow holds the White House in the fall, the United States of America, too, may get its own GoFundMe page. But in the meantime, be a mensch and unload your riches onto B&H Dairy, pronto!