order of oddfish cover

The Order of Oddfish

cap

These Are My People

September 22, 2010

To the left: A deliciously detailed armored ostrich. It’s Ethelred, Jo’s mount from The Order of Odd-Fish! Yet another piece from April’s Order of Odd-Fish fan art show—a piece that, to my shame, I haven’t yet featured on the blog. (I swear, I’ll get to them all soon . . . )

To the right: Zach Dodson, brother of Seth Dodson (who helped me last week in my Audrey Niffenegger impersonation). Zach’s the artist behind the ostrich, and he’s also the co-owner of Featherproof, a terrific Chicago publisher that puts out books by the likes of Brian Costello, Amelia Gray, Blake Butler, Christian TeBordo, and more.

You may remember Zach as “Tex-Mex Party Mix,” one of the battling costumed dancers at our Dome of Doom dance party back in April. He’s the one with the cowboy hat and the mustache on his forehead:

Zach, Seth, and Mike Renaud host Chicago’s Show ‘n Tell Show, a live talk show “where the guests are dynamic designers, photographers, illustrators and poster-makers.” It’s a fantastic idea—the design equivalent of “readings” for writers, but instead of reading stories, designers show off their work and chat about how they did it. Zach and Mike play more or less themselves, but Seth dresses up in a flower-print housedress and wig to play the Spokesmom (“the spokesmodel who is also your mom”), whose function is to react to the designers with the kinds of things your mom would probably say.

If you’re making an opening credits sequence for a show about design, it had better be well-designed. The Show ‘n Tell Show opening credits sequence, by Optimus, doesn’t disappoint—a jaw-dropping Muppets / Terry Gilliam / moon-man musical happening—seriously, this is a must-watch:

The other day I attended a Featherproof release party for Lindsay Hunter‘s fierce, foul collection of short stories, Daddy’s. Lindsay and Mary Hamilton (whose similarly brilliant, award-winning chapbook We Know What We Are just came out in July) run my favorite reading series in town, Quickies, in which “each reader has four minutes to read a complete work of prose. No poetry. No excerpts. No cheating.” If you read for over four minutes, Lindsay and Mary whistle you off the stage; if you persist, they physically remove you.

(Needless to say, when I read at Quickies back in 2008, I played to lose. It was a keen pleasure to be “physically removed.” I don’t understand why more contestants don’t take this route.)

At the last Quickies, all the readers (as a surprise to Lindsay) wrote and read a story in Lindsay Hunter style. Lindsay seemed both mortified and thrilled to hear imitations of her prose style and explosively vulgar delivery paraded before her. One of my favorites was by fellow writer Jac Jemc, who, as it happens, also did art for the Order of Odd-Fish art show—pages from Jo’s father’s secret message to her, written in a code of colors, here executed in embroidery:

This is one of the pieces I heard the most praise for. I love it; it’s hanging in my apartment. Is there something a little weird about hanging up fan art from your own book in your house? Whatever, I do it. And this piece stands up well enough on its own, as a kind of abstract thing, that I can get away with it.

What other shenanigans are happening in Chicago? How about Shame That Tune:

Shame That Tune is the brainchild of the aforementioned Brian Costello and Abraham Levithan (of the band Baby Teeth fame). I was a contestant on this strangely compelling game show just two weeks ago. The premise behind the show, from their website:

On “Shame That Tune,” there are three contestants. Each will first spin a “Wheel of Fortune”-style wheel, divided into musical sub-genres (e.g., “Bob Dylan’s Christian Phase,” “Keith Richards solo,” “Led Zeppelin III”). The contestant then tells an embarrassing anecdote, no more than three minutes in length (timed by a giant LED clock), from their high-school or junior-high diary. Costello then interviews the contestant for exactly five minutes while Levitan composes, on the spot, a song about the embarrassing anecdote, in the style of the musical sub-genre that came up on the wheel. The winner is determined by applause based on audience response to his/her story and the resulting song.

Abraham is a masterful and hilarious on-the-spot composer, with an instantly appealing, slightly disquieting unctuous-but-creepy stage manner when he’s at the piano. He gazes at the audience in a lazily flirty, borderline slimy way as he effortlessly composes and performs songs on the spot. I first saw him do this at the late, great Dollar Store reading series he did with Jonathan Messinger, and it’s always a treat.

The ladyfriend of Abraham’s co-host, Brian Costello, is Sara Bassick, an old friend of mine. In keeping with the theme of this post, Sara also made something for the Order of Odd-Fish art show: these adorable Odd-Fish-themed buttons:

Picture 2

Thank you, Sara! I love these! When they were made available at the party, I was startled at how rapidly they were snatched up. I had to set some aside for the schools who toured the gallery the next week. Those kids loved them too. Another victory for Sara Bassick, a designer in her own right.

A certain bestselling novelist once said about being an artist in Chicago, “Chicago is great if you want freedom to do your thing without anyone interfering or noticing.”

I’m sure that novelist would agree that Chicago is great because not only do you have the “freedom to do your thing,” but also because there’s tons of opportunities to participate in “our thing.” I love how readily and generously artists, writers, and designers collaborate in Chicago . . . the Odd-Fish art show really brought it home for me. (I’ve already mentioned Megin Wardle’s scale model of Colonel Korsakov’s digestion, and Matt Mayes and Meghan Rutledge’s Belgian Prankster beer . . . )

“Without anyone interfering or noticing?” On the contrary, the thing I like best is how everyone interferes with and notices each other. I’m lucky to know them. Thank you!