You don't gotta be Superman to not see what's in front of you

T.A. Barnhart

I can think of a lot of super-powers I would dig having, beginning with flying and moving on to playing the mandolin like Sam Bush. Not going to happen, alas. The closest I come to a super-power is my ability to locate and recognize something amazing — months or years after other people are already hip to it. I am especially powerful when it comes to things like music:

Me: "Wow, that's a great band, who is it?"
Son: "Everclear."
Time: 2000, after "Wonderful" had been up and down the charts and the band had been producing hits for over five years.

Warren Zevon? I got my first Zevon album in 2003. He'd only been writing great music for nearly 30 years.

But it's not just music where I am able to wield my near-super-power. My gift extends in many directions. Neil Gaiman wrapped up Sandman in 1996; I "discovered" it at the Corvallis Library in 2002. Better late than never, I say, but jeez, I often feel like I did in junior high: so not one of the cool kids. (And does anyone really get over the shittiest parts of junior high? I think not.)

Well, super-friends, I've done it again. Stumbled upon an artist of unique and wonderful talent, a person who makes me go "Wow!" in that way that knocks me ludicrously sideways. Yet this person, while not Gaiman-famous and apparently not fabulously wealthy, has been known by her fans for quite some time. She is, I learn, well-respected in her field, the winner of awards and now the happy author of her first book. While, like most people, I enjoy wielding any super-power to which I have access, I am, nonetheless, disappointed I took this long to "discover" her. I am, of course, super-thrilled that my ignorance has been removed.

Erika Moen, creator of DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic DiaryThe first thing I gotta say about Erika Moen is that I dig anyone who relies on ads from Xena-related products to fund her website. Second, how come nobody told me about her before? Does no one recognize the scope of my powers? How relentlessly incapable I am of being hip to that which one needs to be hip if one is to be the least bit hip? Erika has been publishing "DAR: A Super Girly Top Secret Comic Diary" since 2003, and I love it. Now I love it, that is; before Saturday, I didn't know the damn thing existed. I guess that's what a good comic fest will do for you (never having attended any comic fest before, good or otherwise, so what do I know).

I did bust that particular cherry on Saturday; it's not quite Comic-Con, but there were a lot of cool, hard-working and very talented people at the Stumptown Comic Fest. My main goal was to hear Jeff Smith talk about Bone, another work of genius I discovered late but not too late (and I pride myself on being one of those who instantly recognize the role of Pogo in that strip; I am ashamed, however, to have missed the Don Martin homage in the main character's name: I grew up on MAD Magazine!) So I achieved my main goal of hearing Jeff (after first hearing Gail Simone, and I really gotta get some of her work). I then took three laps around the exhibition floor, wanting to buy something but not knowing what. Eventually, I narrowed my choice to a fantasy adventure produced by a woman from Seattle (Out for Souls and Cookies, demons without pensions) and DAR, a real-life adventure produced by a woman from Seattle and now living in Portland.

Funny how that works.

Go read DAR; stop, go read it right now! This post will wait. It's been to the bathroom, it has plenty of snacks, Internet access and a comfy seat. It'll still be here when you get back (god knows what kind of comments it might attract, but there's nothing you can do about that anyway). There are so many kinds of comedy in this world, and I've always been drawn to that which is honest, real and sympathetic (which is why I hate most sitcoms: they totally lack sympathy for those they mock). DAR is horribly honest; the recap of unpleasantries visited upon lovers in the act is pretty grim stuff that admits but one response: bust-outloud laughter.

Yes, I laughed out loud while reading DAR. Sometimes for the hilarity; sometimes for the need to release WTF tension. Erika engenders both in DAR. "OMG did she print that?" is a thought the flitted through my head repeatedly as I read through her entire site in one sitting (having already read her book just minutes earlier; I wanted it all). What amazes me is not that she rats herself out as she does; it's actually pretty easy to reveal all manner of horrendous personal secrets. (It's easy when it's right, that is; and when it's right, it's impossible not to reveal what needs to be said. Unless you're a cheat, lair and just plain shit-as-an-artist, as well as a human being.) What's hard is revealing things that involve and implicate others.

Like her husband. The guy is either a masochist, utterly clueless, or the recipient of amazing sex. Or perhaps he is overwhelming in love with Erika. Who, by the way, is queer. But, apparently, an ex-dyke. Yes, the world is a confusing place and "different strokes for different folks" means so much more than it did when I was her age, over half my life ago. But here's what matters: At 25, Erika Moen is holding nothing back (that I can tell). Not merely revealing all through her comics, but in living her life fully, no matter how much it surprises and challenges her. Had DAR been a series of funny life-events, I would have read and enjoyed it — and then moved on. But it is so much more. It's a life that's been lived in great depth and has so much more ahead.

Yes, that's right: I'm jealous.

But that's ok. I have good reasons to be jealous. I can't do this:


Erika can. I'd be insanely jealous if I didn't recognize that I can do some things pretty well myself. I have thought about the possibility that I am jealous of her (and anyone else) doing at 25 what I now know, at 52, that I should have been doing at 25. But despite my advanced years, my life is a long way from over. Honestly, I'm not so much jealous as inspired. Not to become a comic-strip artist, but to keep moving forward with those things I've been working on much too slowly, projects that will make me feel like my life hasn't been too much of a disappointment (to me). And who knows? Perhaps one of my projects will even allow me to seek the contributions of a local artist whose work I (now) so admire. You never know. In the meantime, please join me every Tuesday at DAR to see what Erika Moen shows of us her amazing view of life.

Believe me, that is one feat that takes no super-powers at all. Unless you're attempting it without a computer.

What comes to mind, as I think about "discovering" Erika or any of the wonderful artists I learn about is a question that strikes me as obvious: Who else am I missing? At times, I get lucky. I was in England when U2 was just getting started; I saw them play one of those shows up-and-coming bands happily play, a freebie act at a weekend outdoor (Christian) festival. Just a few years later, we were both in Portland, me in the audience and Bono scaling the lighting scaffolds in the old Paramount Theatre.

As I wandered the Stumptown Comic Fest, I saw so many wonderful, hopeful artists sitting at tables, displaying the work into which they had poured their hearts and souls (and probably most of their money). My own money being tight, I couldn't afford to indulge, and so I don't know who I passed on that I will one day regret not having made an investment of a few more bucks. Just how good is that work that I did not buy?

So, BlueOregonians, tell me: Who else am I missing that I have no business missing? Not just your favorites, but talents who are unique, special, life-altering? I would put Harlan Ellison on my list; too many people still don't know his brilliance (like, for instance, the Pulitzer Committee). Or Lalo, a brilliant vibist; Souad Massi, Algerian singer-songwriter now living in France. Have you seen FLCL (Fooly Cooly), the most incredible work ever done for television and possibly the only dubbed anime worth watching? But, please, tell me: what's new, brand new and below the radar and goddammit, t.a., you just cannot live without seeing/reading/listening to this absolutely mind-blowing work of life-changing genius!

What is it that I'm missing and will regret when my super-powers kick in and I discover him/her/them in 5 years?

From music to comics to ... whatever the hell turns you on: there's so much of it. On Saturday, I walked laps around the Stumptown exhibition floor because I had no way to decide what I needed to buy. You help me, and each other, decide. You're all going to visit DAR, check out FLCL from Netflix and buy a Lalo cd (from Portland's own CD Baby). But before you do, tell me:

What's my next great discovery? Who's my next Erika Moen?

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    oh...I thought maybe you had stumbled upon William Shatner.

  • Douglas K (unverified)

    Erika Moen is awesome!!! I discovered her mini-comics a couple years ago, and snapped up her book as soon as I saw it.

  • Erika Moen (unverified)

    Holy crap, thank you so much for such a wonderful review! Jeez, I'm gunna be floating all day :D

  • Eric Parker (unverified)

    I wonder if you could link her up with those crazies who make up the Firesign, THAT would be a good combo.

  • Asp3 (unverified)

    I found your post because of your mention of Harlan Ellison (my favorite author.) Thanks for intorducing me to DAR, I plan on reviewing the website when I get home from work.

    I'm 51 myself and I'm always discovering things I've missed for years. On the other hand I sometimes find things in their early stages and enjoy watching them evolve and/or cringe as they devolve.

    I think the best way to discover is to just be open and follow your passions. Find ways to bring more of what you love into your life. I also recommend letting go of your prejudices and trying things which you wouldn't normally try.

    My biggest passions in life are music, art and wine. I've found the best way to feed my musical cravings is to listen to It allows you to create stations based on seed artists and/or songs that play music that share qualities with the seed songs and/or artists. I've never had such a rich musical discovery tool before in my life and my body of music has expanded greatly because of listening to my stations there.

    I tend to like alternative rock and pop and generally avoid mainstream music. However in letting go of my prejudices I've found songs that I love by Britney Spears, Ashlee Simpson, Lindsay Lohan and others that mix well with the alternative groups I also continue to love.

    I also like to check out live music whenever I get a chance, but that doesn't happen too often these days.

    In the area of art, I try to go to as many open studios events as possible. I also like to visit the local museums and galleries to see exhibits from new and established artists. Also a local university (San Jose State University) has student galleries that change their work on a weekly basis so I check those out on Tuesday evenings when the shows open. I've seen some great new stuff that way. In addition the San Jose art community has First Fridays where galleries and museums are open on the first Friday evening of each month. A lot of very interesting artists display their work at these events.

    For wine I volunteer for two organizations, ZAP (Zinfandel Advocates and Producers) and Family Winemakers Of California and help them put on their wine events. As part of the deal I get to attend the events and have a chance to try wine that I'd never otherwise find and wouldn't be able to afford in many instances. I also do as much wine tasting as I can but its getting a lot more expensive than it used to be so I don't do that as often as I used to.

    So, continue to pursue what you love, be open to new things and keep your eyes open. You'll find plenty of things that are new to you, both things that you've been missing and others where you're an early adopter.

  • Three Slips And A Gulley (unverified)

    Alas, Barnhart is to Nietzsche as Marx fancies his relationship to Hegel. I think Zarathustra is rolling in his grave. The Nietzschian superman doesn't walk the perceptual tightrope described, he perceives that humans, as such, are the tightrope, and uses it to cross the chasm. But you're right. All behavior is down to perception. There is no objective reality. We are condemned to create everything, every moment in the universe. You describe well a kind of Heideggerian fallen-ness, where we accept new music, etc., as merely present at hand, rather than perceiving their ready to hand function for the other.

    Nice to know you've developed a taste for fish, but it really is better to learn to fish than ask for the name of everybody's favorite vendor and recipe. Those "great things" are not just sitting out there waiting to be discovered. They are the product of your consciousness. If they are great, it's because you've learned to make them so. You can do that with anything. THAT'S the process worth studying, not examples of it, imhe. It's not a new idea. No doubt it was Socrates' point, if he actually said "the unreflective life is not worth living". Not that being reflective automagically makes it worth living.

    One morning he (Zarathustra) arose with the dawn, stepped before the sun and spoke thus to it: “You great star! What would your happiness be if you had not those for whom you shine?"

    OK. Sahara Electric and anything done by On-u Sound.

    Hey, how 'bout the real news today ?

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    3 slips - dude, context is everything. get the right Superman (plus i hate headlines. i suck at headlines.)

    real news is so fucking depressing. the worlds is in the shits, man. we gotta have the good to keep going, and Erika is the good. i need more good. i get all the fucking news i can handle. i got a kid going to Iraq in a few months; you think i need more news?

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