HiLobrow was launched — by Matthew Battles and Joshua Glenn — in the spring of 2009. Peggy Nelson became the website’s first Artist in Residence in December of that year; in 2010, she became HiLobrow’s Arts Editor. At the end of 2010, TIME named HiLobrow one of the Ten Best Blogs of the Year. In 2011, we kicked ass again — serializing two original novels, publishing the widely acclaimed KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM series, and much more.
During this past year, we weren’t able to dedicate the same time or resources to HiLobrow. At the end of 2011, Matthew Battles left us for Harvard’s metaLAB. Josh and Peggy were preoccupied, in 2012, with their own day jobs — and with various non-HiLobrow projects. For example, Josh published two books (UNBORED and Significant Objects). Also, our two advertisers went out of business! That said… in 2012, HiLobrow still kicked ass.
Here are a few highlights.
The HiLoBooks Radium Age Science Fiction series (both the serialized posts on HiLobrow and the paperback editions), and the HiLo Heroes series of posts, comprised the vast majority of HiLobrow’s 2012 posts… so let’s start there.
- In 2012, HiLobrow’s contributors — Peggy Nelson, Lynn Peril, Alix Lambert, Gary Panter, Luc Sante, Jerrold Freitag, Jess Bruder, Devin McKinney, Tom Nealon, Mark Kingwell, Catherynne M. Valente, Tor Aarestad, Brian Berger, Barbara Bogaev, Franklin Bruno, Tucker Cummings, Suzanne Fischer, Mike Fleisch, Amanda French, Norman Hathaway, Adam McGovern, Jacob Mikanowski, Dan Nadel, William Nericcio, David Smay, Chris Spurgeon, and Robert Wringham — wrote a whopping 175 posts in our ongoing HiLo Heroes series. Josh, who is the HiLo Heroes series editor, wants to say how grateful he is to our contributors, who have suggested and written about an amazing crew of past and present high-, low-, and nobrow icons — including Lee Miller (shown), Eva Hesse, Dian Fossey, Sergei Eisenstein, John Lydon, Muriel Spark, Joris-Karl Huysmans, Grace Jones, Frank Frazetta, Rihanna, David Foster Wallace, Pierre Mac Orlan, Mark E. Smith, Vita Sackville-West, Guy Peellaert, Bronislaw Malinowski, Mahalia Jackson, June and Jennifer Gibbons, Karl Kraus, Jaroslav Hasek, Ai Weiwei, Rosario Castellanos, Suzi Quatro, June Carter Cash, P.T. Barnum, Geza Roheim, Eddie Cochran, Claude Cahun, Marie Curie, King Kong Bundy, and Karen O.
- In 2012, HiLobrow launched HiLoBooks — a publishing imprint dedicated to reissuing lost novels from the era of science fiction that Josh has named the genre’s Radium Age (1904–33). Josh is the series editor; Richard Nash made HiLoBooks possible; and Matthew Battles helped get things rolling. Here is the HiLoBooks homepage. We serialized and then published — in gorgeous paperback editions — the following five titles: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague (Introduction by Matthew Battles; PURCHASE NOW) | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail and “As Easy as A.B.C.” (Introduction by Matthew De Abaitua, Afterword by Bruce Sterling; PURCHASE NOW) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt (Introduction by Joshua Glenn, Afterword by Gordon Dahlquist; PURCHASE NOW) | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook (Introduction by James Parker; PURCHASE NOW) | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins (Introduction by Tom Hodgkinson; PURCHASE NOW).
- HiLoBooks has received some nice press: “We’re extremely excited that the incredible pop culture website HiLobrow is launching its own publishing line, HiLoBooks, to bring us fascinating new serialized fiction and reintroduce the world to the scifi novels of the Radium Age,” wrote io9.com editor Annalee Newitz. “Less academic in orientation [than Wesleyan’s “Early Classics of Science Fiction” series] but no less welcome in its efforts at critical salvage, HiLoBooks’s “Radium Age Science Fiction” series, which debuted this year, covers a relatively neglected period in the genre’s history — the three decades between the classic scientific romances of Wells in the late 1890s and the mature pulp era of the 1930s,” chimed in The Los Angeles Review of Books. And Neil Gaiman tweeted: “Look. RADIUM AGE stories coming back into print!”
- In 2012, we also published Jack London’s crashed-spaceship story “The Red One“; plus a few Radium Age science fiction poems. In 2013, we’ll publish another five titles — including William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land (Introduction by Erik Davis; PURCHASE NOW) and J.D. Beresford’s Goslings (Introduction by Astra Taylor).
What else did HiLobrow pull off in 2012? Here are a few of the accomplishments of which we’re proudest.
- In 2012 HiLobrow re-visioned its Artist-in-Residence program (which is directed by Peggy Nelson) to provide a virtual studio for participants Chris Rossi, Vijay Balakrishnan, Alix Lambert, and Mike Fleisch. In addition to blogging and posting experiments and ideas, artists were paired up and asked to bracket their residencies with two versions of an Exquisite Corpse, the Surrealist parlor game. The initial EQ was topic-at-large; while the final EQ was assigned according to themes that had arisen during the AiR residency. Materials ranged from screenplays, photographs, drawings, and sound work, and results were provocative, amusing, poignant, and irreverent; there were accidents. Happily!
- Exquisite Corpse #1: Low-Priority Hero
Chris Rossi, writing, sound, vocals; Vijay Balakrishnan, photography; Peggy Nelson, editing. Low Priority Hero is an audio graphic novel by Chris Rossi; an LA Noir of hard shadows and ambiguous light. The photographs are from Vijay Balakrishnan’s ongoing photographic dérives, at once eloquently personal, and stochastically urban: New York considering, through a soft cell of self.
- Exquisite Corpse #2: Movies, Numbers, Cities
Chris Rossi, writing; Vijay Balakrishnan, writing, photography; Peggy Nelson, editing. I love to watch them change the billboards. Cars… lite beer… cigarettes… the state lottery, some crap-ass new movie. Every few weeks… a different dream.
- Exquisite Corpse #3: Bob&Lila meet Martha
Mike Fleisch, writing, sound, vocals; Alix Lambert, drawings; Peggy Nelson, editing. Interviews with Julia Roberts and Don DeLillo, and their characters, voiced by OSX software, gather around the storied and taxidermied presence and absence of the last passenger pigeon.
- Exquisite Corpse #4: Animals, Time, Rights & Wrongdoing
Mike Fleisch, writing, photography; Alix Lambert, writing, photography; Peggy Nelson, editing. Point is this: the subtleties of human communication are shifting from eyebrow furrows and larynx modulation to asterisks and emoticon choices. Now, I am 7.2 years old, and I will raise and socialize any resulting offspring without assistance. Here, darling, get a good deep breath of this. Now count to ten. Okay, breathe. Now say something. Come on, say something, sugar.
Rummage around in our full Artists-in-residence archive.
- This summer, Josh edited a series of 25 posts — KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM — by 25 terrific writers, each one analyzing a single Captain Kirk scene from the Star Trek canon. POSTS IN THIS SERIES: Justice or vengeance? by Dafna Pleban | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss by Mark Kingwell | “KHAAAAAN!” by Nick Abadzis | “No kill I” by Stephen Burt | Kirk browbeats NOMAD by Greg Rowland | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock by Zack Handlen | The joke is on Kirk by Peggy Nelson | Kirk vs. Decker by Kevin Church | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk by Enrique Ramirez | Captain Camelot by Adam Mcgovern | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee by Flourish Klink | Federation exceptionalism by David Smay | Wizard fight by Amanda LaPergola | A million things you can’t have by Steve Schneider | Debating in a vacuum by Joshua Glenn | Klingon diplomacy by Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons | “We… the PEOPLE” by Trav S.D. | Brinksmanship on the brink by Matthew Battles | Captain Smirk by Annie Nocenti | Sisko meets Kirk by Ian W. Hill | Noninterference policy by Gabby Nicasio | Kirk’s countdown by Peter Bebergal | Kirk’s ghost by Matt Glaser | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn by Joe Alterio | How Spock wins by Annalee Newitz
- In 2012, we continued to publish awe-inspiring original fiction and comics. Highlights include: “The Firefly,” TG Gibbons’s prize-winning entry in our PULP HERO MICRO-FICTION CONTEST | A nine-part excerpt from The Song of Otto, a graphic novel written by Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and drawn by Frank Fiorentino | “boulevard_of_broken_code,” Adam McGovern and Paolo Leandri’s eagerly awaited new IDORU JONES comic (NB: McGovern also contributed several HILO HERO items, a KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM post, a eulogy for Ray Bradbury, and reviews of Annie Nocenti’s new Green Arrow and Catwoman comics. Thanks, Adam!)
- According to our recent list of All-Time Top 25 HiLobrow Posts, two 2012 posts in particular made the traffic needle jump. One of these was DISCOMINIMALISM, in which longtime contributor Franklin Bruno demonstrated the mind-bending effect of playing Terry Riley’s pioneering minimalist composition “In C” (1964) simultaneously with French disco star Marc Cerrone’s 1975 hit “Love in C Minor.” The other was GUY FAWKES MASK-OLOGY, by first-time contributor Molly Sauter (whom Josh met at SXSW this year). Molly traced the semiotic import of one of Occupy Wall Street’s most striking signifiers through the lulzy culture of Anonymous to Alan Moore’s graphic novel V for Vendetta and beyond that to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. In doing so, she thoughtfully explicated the evolving culture of digital activism for those of us on the outside looking in.
Let’s take a break from celebrating HiLobrow’s contributors, for a moment, in order to celebrate our own Arts Editor. In 2012, Peggy Nelson published the following outtasite posts, among many others. We asked her to write ’em up.
- You Talk Some TV?
As NTSC & PAL, I collaborated with Jimmy Kipple Sound to create Meet the New Flesh, Same As the Old Flesh, a sound suite to commemorate the passing of the analogue TV signal and the digital switch. We considered the point of view of the aliens, who may be in receipt of our 20th century emanations long before they meet us, or long after we’re gone. Who knows what alien ears our media may massage light-years from now? In Meet The New Flesh, Same As The Old Flesh, NTSC & PAL daydream about the pulses of commerce, canned laughter & cheap melodrama rippling out into the solar system & beyond; picking & flicking through the archival backwash of broadcast media as it fades & diminishes into cosmic irrelevance & sublime-banal mystery. These last bits of broadcast signal our signoff from prime time deep space. Listen up: We come in peace, to bring you terrific-tasting space dust.
- The Force was strong in both noise and signal this year.
“I love creating feedback – it’s one of my favorite sounds.“ I profiled sound artist Christine Sun Kim, a deaf artist who investigates the communicative effects of sound on objects, people, society, and other membranes. Her work is playful, exuberant, and wide-ranging, delighting in glial leaps as she connects the attributes of sound to painting, performance, dance, and social constructions.
I interviewed impresario and musician Marc Weidenbaum, whose open and Oulipo-inspired virtual society, Disquiet Junto, sponsors weekly compositional challenges in electronic music, and has successfully fomented a lively distributed community.
And listen here to some DJunto selections we featured in 2012.
We also noticed the noticers: new-radio podcaster Roman Mars highlighted found glitch as music, in a program about Chris Richards, pop music critic for the Washington Post, and his perspectives on squeaky escalators as ambient democracies; accidents, happy again. Just take the earbuds out, and listen to the found sound free jazz of the subway. Specifically, the screeches, whalesongs, drones and drubbing of slightly broken-down escalators. Ask not for whom the escalator squawks? Ask: it can be for thee.
- On animal planet, where there’s always more than is dreamt of in our documentary philosophies, a new analysis of cave drawings leads to… the original animated gif? Ospreys repurpose cell towers for excellent nests, interfering with reception, but perhaps they might offer a more flexible free-G solution? Artists in Venice converted surveillance cameras to spray-paint the ubiquitous pigeons, turning a nuisance into neon baroque, while an artist in the Netherlands taxidermied his cat (deceased), into a drone. The Orvillecopter, in which an ex-cat is repurposed as zeppelin. A former pet who was unfortunately run over by a car, this delirious manifestation of Derridian homophonic glee puts the taxi in taxidermy and the props in propeller.
- When Worlds Collide
The Martian Chronicles: Our real and virtual worlds are becoming ever-closer and more strange. This year saw the successful return of the Russian Parking Lot Martians, whose virtual journey we tracked eagerly from our armchairs, as well as the serious proposal that a one-way colonization trip to Mars be funded… by making it into a reality TV show.
Rolling in the Deep: Closer to conceptual home, but in a no less alien environment, James Cameron, blockbuster director of Titanic, Avatar, The Abyss, and other cutting-edge special effects vehicles, designed and piloted another special-effects vehicle to the bottom of the Marianas Trench, filming as he went. In 3D, of course.
- Sportcenter: Cyborg
Para-, Para-, Paralympics: Finally, with the London Paralympic Games, we continued our investigation of the cyborg, the essential incompleteness theorem of what it means to be human, and our always-on, always-mutating, augmentation effects. The athletes competing in London are winning more than medals; they are encouraging us to consider a different measure of man: better, faster, stronger; even if, in some sense always, incomplete. The paradox of the cyborg is that it’s not some kind of Terminator, metallic or nanotech, engineered past human into perfection. The cyborg is us, injured, yet inspired to think beyond the gap; and sometimes because of that gap, becoming stars.
John Hilgart, Erik Davis, Greg Rowland, Gary Panter, and Tom Nealon are five contributors without whom HiLobrow as you know it would not exist. Here’s what they accomplished for HiLobrow in 2012.
- In 2012, HiLobrow continued its rewarding collaboration with John Hilgart’s comic-book details blog 4CP. In the winter, we published the series SUBSUPERMEN, about which John says: “These panels are at the center of the discursive Venn diagram where pulp fiction heroes, radio heroes, and comic books converged. They’re concept pitches, delivered with ‘coming up next,’ ‘don’t touch that dial’ urgency.” In the spring and summer, we published series of 30 posts — BLOW UP YOUR COMICS — in which John showed us the panels and pages wherein some of 4CP’s most extraordinary details were discovered. And this fall, we’ve kicked off a new 4CP mini-series — THE ART OF 4CP.
- In 2012 Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis, Nomad Codes, [Led Zeppelin IV], and Visionary State, returned (after an extended hiatus) in order to complete his seven-part POP ARCANA series for HiLobrow. He did so with a two-part exegesis of the oeuvre of visionary Sixties artist Rick Griffin. PS: Earlier this year, HiLobrow published a ten-part series — NOMADBROW — reprinting some of Erik’s best uncollected writing.
- In addition to suggesting and sponsoring the KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM series (to which he also contributed), in 2012 Greg Rowland contributed a seven-part series — MY FIRST CRITICAL THEORY ABC — in which he introduced precocious children to Althusser, Benjamin, Cixous and 23 others… via nursery rhymes! Series illustrated by longtime HiLobrow contributor Joe Alterio.
- The renowned artist and cartoonist Gary Panter continued to explore his influences in an ongoing series of HiLo Hero items. In 2012, he generously celebrated: Cal Schenkel | Eduardo Paolozzi | Tod Dockstader | Yayoi Kusama | Walter Lantz | Richard Lindner | Shigeru Sugiura | Todd Rundgren | Yoshikazu Ebisu | Jim Nutt | Judy Henske
- One of HiLobrow’s most popular ongoing series is DE CONDIMENTIS, in which our friend Tom Nealon spelunks the secret history of condiments. Tom successfully resisted our pleas for new posts throughout the fall and spring… but in June, July, and August, he broke down and gave us three: Maple Syrup | Salad Dressing | Gravy. (PS: Tom contributed a hilarious feature on the world-historical import of condiments to Josh’s book UNBORED.)
Among Josh’s many 2012 HiLobrow posts, here are a few favorites. We asked him to write ’em up.
- In BIG MAL LIVES!, I investigated the possibility that Beatles road manager and bodyguard Malcolm “Big Mal” Evans did not — as was reported at the time — die in a blaze of police gunfire in 1976. Big Mal is alive and well!
- Having been invited to join a SXSW panel on “The Secrets and Surprises of DIY Promotion,” in SCHMOOZITSU, I reluctantly divulged the five secret “attitudes” undergirding the art and science of promoting my projects. I coined the term, from schmooze (Yiddish for “ingratiating small talk”) and jitsu (術, Japanese for “art, technique”), in 1999.
- I reprinted a few long-form essays published, in 2012, in various magazines. For example, I answered the question “What is Radium Age Science Fiction?” for BoingBoing; and also — from a different angle — for the British science journal Nature. In “War & Peace Games,” published in the journal Cabinet, I looked at the theme of tabletop wargames — and gaming generally — in the writings of H.G. Wells. And I reviewed Gary Panter’s Dal Tokyo, for The Comics Journal.
- I posted, sporadically, to the ongoing series SHOCKING BLOCKING — in which I analyze some of my favorite moments in the positioning or movement of actors in a movie. In 2012, I analyzed blocking in Blade Runner, Apocalypse Now, The Long Goodbye, The Fifth Element, The Bad News Bears, Raising Arizona, Young and Innocent, His Girl Friday, Buckaroo Banzai, Barbarella, Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, Bonnie and Clyde, The African Queen, Diary of a Chambermaid, and Dazed and Confused.
- I offered HiLobrow readers an A-to-Z peek at my books The Idler’s Glossary (2008) and The Wage Slave’s Glossary (2011). SEE: Alienation | Big Rock Candy Mountains | Corporation | Dawdle | Employee of the Month | Flazy | Greybearding | Hobo | Inemuri | Jack of All Trades | Knock Off Work | Lazy | Micawberish | Nobbing It | Onboarding | Pink Slip | Quitter | Robot | Stakhanovite | Time and Motion Study | Unemployment | Volupté | Wage Slavery | Xerox Subsidy | Yakuza | Zero Drag
- I reprinted the “Unbored Manifesto” — which I wrote for Unbored.net with UNBORED coauthor Elizabeth Foy Larsen — in a series of ten posts.
- I reprinted a few essays from my 1990s zine/journal, Hermenaut: “Campanile Free Fall,” by John Marr; “Zooming Through Space,” by Chris Fujiwara; “The Art of Being Uncomfortable,” by Lisa Carver; and “Apocalypse Already,” by Clarke Cooper. And I reprinted several installments from my 2002–2008 Boston Globe columns “The Examined Life” and “Brainiac.”
What else did HiLobrow accomplish in 2012?
- Matthew Battles edited “Notes on the Fourth Dimension,” a post in which Jon Crabb looked at how “the last gasp of Victorian spirituality infused cutting-edge science with a certain sense of old-school mysticism.” In particular, Crabb looks at the genesis and evolution of the notion of a “fourth dimension,” a new geometry, physically existing, and even possible to see and experience…
- We revealed an encoded Masonic message in an iPhone 4s ad.
- We published a nine-part series — called “Annotated Gif” — that featured comic book covers animated by the talented Kerry Callen.
- We published what we hope is only the first of many HiLobrow posts by Diana Kimball, whom we met at SXSW. In “Amateur Magical Thinking,” Diana revisited the early 20th century craze for amateur magic, asking what it was about pulling rabbits out of hats that so appealed to American men of the time.
- Our friend John Holbo, who blew our minds three years ago this month with “Sugarplum Squeampunk,” returned with a long profile and consideration of a forgotten midcentury gag cartoonist, in “Not Trash, Pop — The Cartoon Art of Susi.”
- Peter Bebergal, who in 2011 gave us a Q&A with Denis Kitchen, and who in 2012 contributed to our KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM series, permitted us to publish his long-form interview with visionary illustrator Arik Roper.
- We published a dozen stories — written by HiLobrow contributors — from Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker’s 2012 Significant Objects book (Fantagraphics).
- Our friend Gabe Boyer allowed us to excerpt a forthcoming memoir, in a ten-part series — that takes place in bedrooms across America — titled “Bedroom Theater.”
- Finally, we published new installments in various irregular series, including these: Skrullicism, LATF Hipster, Pluperfect PDA, Chess Match, A Rondel for HiLo Heroes, and Ceci Est Une Pipe.