A little fan art of Conley Woods, from Magic: The Gathering and the enigmatic hip hop collective and sometimes podcast known only as "MTG Potpourri," granted most of its mysteriousness lies in its perennially irregular update schedule and lack of hip-hop-based activities. But never mind rando updates, today is about the Father of Cons, a veritable "Confather," if you will, and no doubt Conley would.
Conley Woods is of course that colorful jack of every trade, and is actually long rumored to have allegiances to several superlative secret societies after his brief but unconfirmed stint at the CIA under the codename "Agent Boats." But loose lips sink ships--even ships made of Woods! So what do we actually know of this weekend enthusiast? Well, everyone knows he is a Magician and some know he is an internationally competitive dancer, but few know about his intensely compact but outstanding career as a standup comedian. His rise to comedic heights is the stuff of legend, or perhaps more accurately urban legend, based on how little he addresses it nowadays, but he seems happy enough to have put it all away for the much quieter life of designing and playing games and dancing. Thus the question becomes: what ever happened to comedian Conley Woods? Well, like most things, it all starts in New Jersey.
Just kidding, nothing happens in New Jersey. It was New York. It's always New York. First, you should know that Conley Woods had done some standup throughout college, and in his first year after graduation, he made a point to test his mettle at every New York club that would have him. Naturally he started at the requisite ghettos of 3am spots performing to (against?) black-out drunks and the more than occasional hobo, but he eventually worked his way to being a go-to opener and middle in just a few short months.
It was then of course that life forced him to choose one direction in sync with whatever decision would keep him from being exiled in some rinky-dink O-Town, so he understandably decided to shift full attention to the more reliable career available in Magic. But because of how well he had done in comedy in such a relatively short time, it was only natural he'd keep that backstreet buoy floating in mind should he ever exhaust his Magical energies. And sure enough when he did tap out from Magic, he found himself floating back to the clubs.
But there was so much more to it than just talking at people in front of brick walls. He enjoyed another round of extremely rapid ascent, winning over crowds, club owners, and seedy Cellar dwellers alike, sure, but that led to a considerably shinier brass ring to reach for. If there were anything that might jeopardize his return to Magic, it was when he eventually found himself sitting in 30 Rockefeller Plaza, waiting to be seen for an audition for SNL. His big break.
Owing to all the buzz surrounding him, he was told he would be the very first guy up. Never one to play loose, Conley arrived an hour early just to be safe. But by 5pm, a good three hours later, some doubt began to creep in and he wondered if he had somehow gotten the date or time wrong. No, the lady at the front assured him, he was slated to be seen that day, just needed to take a seat and wait. In retrospect, nothing too alarming there, SNL is infamous for messing with auditioners' heads, and they were probably purposefully having him wait in order to disorient him cuz reasons. So he made the best of his wait time by mentally going over all his planned bits, characters, and impersonations, as well as what advice he'd received, as if he hadn't had these on loop since learning of his audition shot ten days prior (illiterate coupon guy, PTSD retired vet, White Barry White, just ignore them and plow ahead).
Most crucially, he took time to reflect on his then current hiatus from Magic and wage the usual tug of war between self-assurance and self-doubt as to where he was mentally, existentially, entropically, adverbially. He convinced himself that sitting there, in a limbo of being simultaneously early and late for an audition that he was realistically severely unlikely to get, based on how few people actually--
"Oh! Haha, my mistake, you're right," said the inappropriately peppy desk lady pointing at her computer, "says here you were supposed to be up first, like three hours ago! I guess you can go in next."
"I've been waiting here for like infinite hours."
"Yeah...I know," she said with just a enough pain in her voice to register that she was aware of how a human being might be off-put by these developments, but enough sustain to communicate the futility of any further distress. "Anyway, you're up! And don't worry if Lorne doesn't laugh, he never laughs." She walked over to the studio door nearby and gently motioned for him to head inside.
Conley Woods sat frozen in his seat to process the past few seconds before finally towering up to full six-foot-eight height to trudge slowly into Studio 8H, as if each effort-riddled step required some amount of thought. He could see it was almost pitch black inside the studio except for a spotlight on his mark. The tiny lady closed the door behind him. And then it was pitch black inside the studio except for a spotlight on his mark. "When you're ready, go ahead," a voice called out. And that's all we know about what happened that day.
Conley Woods doesn't talk about his SNL audition much, and always laughs it off instantly whenever it's brought up on Potpourri, so I guess it didn't go so great. I mean, he didn't get the gig, we know that, so perhaps it was that abrupt end of seemingly boundless momentum that took the wind out his sails. Surely he was thinking more fondly of Magic again by then anyway. So imagine my surprise when I saw an ad for a comedian who called himself "Boats" playing Shinjuku!
In Japan, most comedians go by wacky stage names, so the use of an alias wasn't too surprising, but typically acts perform Japanese standup via manzai, comedy duos, because Japanese people apparently have difficulty understanding the concept of someone musing humorously to himself. So that's what first caught my eye as peculiar--a solo comedian. Not unheard of, but think of how unusual it is to hear of a comedy duo in the US, it's like that. Anyway, I wasn't able to get out to the show, but I clipped the ad, and the review in the arts paper said it was great, but a little too close on US-centric references. Sure people speak English here, but we all lose touch with finer US intricacies over time.
Anyway, it was shortly after this micro tour (I think he played Osaka, too, as a part of a larger expat tour) when Conley Woods returned to Magic, so I can only assume he was just on the "meh, try Japan" plan some UStalent do as they sorta figure out what works for them. Maybe it was just a final hurrah from his frazzled manager, hit with the sudden notice that her star client wanted out and back into Magic. I'm not sure how smoothly that went over. But in any case, at least Conley Woods is back to more Magical pursuits, podcasting, and hopefully doing whatever makes himself happy. I guess sometimes it just takes a circuitous journey to find yourself.
The impetus was that I wanted to see if I could render skin and metal with this janky, limited pen, and to draw Ib's hat again, which I enjoyed the first time around.
Anyway, I screwed up on this, but I did learn from it. Even on the technical side of it, since the pen lock stopped working early on, so I had to figure out how to maneuver it color-stem by color-stem without the stem bending out from under the pressure of my fingers. So there's that.
Like a favorite song, I listen to this address, "Aliens, love -- where are they?," by Yalie John Hodgman '94, on occasion, which certainly inspired today's art. The rhythm and sentiment are just like one of my favorite albums, and it conjures something in me. It has that sense of strange-familiarity that I would get late at night alone in the JE Buttery at Yale, usually past Saturday Night Live and just drifting to sleep on the music channels that played all the weirdo unheard-of bands or the local New Haven community access stations running indie films.
Ordinarily, I was drawing whenever I didn't have to study, but I made a conscious effort to park in front of those public TVs, even during my summer session in Saybrook, primarily to invite these late night episodes of alienation to occur in the hopes I'd find something or someone out there to capture this weird energy with, but in the end I was just seeking that odd emotion of being an alien, a speck in the universe. Maybe I was hoping to use that feeling in art down the road, I didn't know for sure--the goal was just to experience it; I was content to figure out its use later, if ever or at all. I still can feel that decimating energy whenever I watch old SNLs or listen to certain bands late, late at night when everyone around here is asleep.
In my most recent listening of John Hodgman's talk, for the first time toward the end, the speech struck me with such a pang of sorrow. Maybe fear? Regret? Worry? I know I felt an absence. Or at least I did for a brief second.
A little fan art of Patrick Chapin, of Magimatical celebrity. I don't ever really play Constructed, but I love how passionate he is about Magic on his Top Level Podcast and in interviews, and I distinctly remember thinking before he had a podcast how great it would be just to be able to hear him talk about Magic at length on a regular basis. In fact, I listen mainly for his energy while I'm drawing, since I can't actually play Magic out here in the middle of Nowheremura, Japan. I guess in the same way I listen to Mark Rosewater's podcast to imagine what it must have been like during the early days of Magic or on the inside of the production side, I listen to Patrick Chapin to imagine what it must be like playing contemporary Magic. I don't know how sad that is, but meh.
In any case, Patrick Chapin is known for having an unconventional background, and I find inspiration in that. And he's not just a great ambassador of the game, but of humanity itself. Almost certainly the coolest example of that was when he made his controversial trip to the USSR earlier this year to represent the United States in "The Greatest Battle of the Cold War" as we approach the seventh decade of this seemingly endless standoff. Granted I currently live in Japan, but my heart still beats red, white, and blue, so it was an honor having him represent us in the face of General Secretary Pyotr Alexandrov.
What was so compelling was that Comrade Chapin was hot off a Worlds win in 2015, which of course the Soviet Union had boycotted after a perceived slight at the last Pro Tour of that year in October. There in Milwaukee Magic Grandmaster Dmitri Aristov cemented his status as undeniably one of the greatest players in the world with his third Pro Tour win--yes, the third PT win in as many years from the former Rookie of the Year who attained Grandmaster just two years into his career (a feat bested only by the now lamentably retired German Juggernaut)! Politics aside, some say he's maybe-possibly the current best player in the world. Politics not aside, General Secretary Alexandrov felt the Soviet player's decisive victory on US soil wasn't aptly celebrated by the "US-centric Magic media machine" and made a huge show of announcing the Soviet Union would boycott Worlds in December.
The boycott stung because, as is no secret, Hall of Fame Grandmaster Patrick Chapin had been dreaming of a Worlds victory for as long as the contest has existed and he has made it extremely clear that there is no greater feat in his mind than to beat the absolute best in the world for the title. This year in particular, he's had something of an implied rivalry with Dmitri Aristov, who is known for his brutally brazen proclamations whenever he does deign to issue statements in "that poor language," meaning English. Of course he chalks up his blustery tone to his "imperfect understanding" of nuanced English, though it's rumored his English is considerably stronger than he lets on, and regardless, the infamously stone-faced player certainly knows how to keep silent when he wants to. And yet Dmitri posted a series of quite dismissive and arguably offensive twoots in anticipation of the impending showdown with Chapin at Worlds 2015, before the Soviet government disappeared the posts mere seconds after Alexandrov's boycott announcement.
All year it had been the expectation that Chapin would be facing down Aristov at Worlds to "settle" the Cold War once and for all. General Secretary Alexandrov even intimated that he would not be opposed to having the set influence his willingness to sit down with President Obama for talks in his final year in office, given their mutual admiration of Magic and the oddly appropriate nature of the two Worlds front-runners being from each nation (both had already perfunctorily qualified pretty early in the year).
Needless to say, despite Wizards' PR "machine" lauding Chapin's long-sought Worlds win, the victory felt hollow to him (and the online Magic community, who definitely spoke more freely on the topic). In his annual year-in-review podcast, the usually quite upbeat Patrick Chapin confirmed his conflicted emotions after the Worlds 2015 win. Always diplomatic, he made it clear he "meant no disrespect to [his] Worlds opponents, who [he] obviously hold[s] in the highest regard." To put that a little more concretely, this "respectable" field included seven Grandmasters and five Hall of Famers, on top of the current PT scene's iron-clad ringers, prodigies, and winners.
But he (and countless commenters) wanted him to face precisely one guy come finals time. "Whatever we think about Aristov's country's politics, nobody can deny he is the guy to beat right now if you want any title to mean anything," he said, "and it's extremely disappointing a government official had to get in the way of something I've wanted personally and professionally for so long." He conceded to his longtime co-host Michael "Michael J." J. Flores that the victory "counts," but in the same way a mana-screwed victory counts. With a clear reluctance in his voice, he concluded, "it's a technical victory."
"The best kind of victory," Michael Flores noted, but Patrick didn't share the laugh.
What made that podcast episode break a million downloads, though, was just at the close of the show, when he announced he had privately petitioned for and successfully received official governmental permission to enter the Soviet Union (in the heart of Soviet January!) to challenge Aristov to a one-on-on, three-day marathon of TSP Solomon Draft, MMA Sealed, Vintage, Legacy, Modern, Black Magic (or "Sam Black's Format" for old-schoolers) and Standard. General Secretary Alexandrov could have easily denied Chapin entry into the USSR, but ever the stoic gamer (and retired Magic pro himself, just shy of Grandmaster), he couldn't deny the value of "educating" the West with "proper" Magic. Obviously there's been only extremely limited cultural exchange with the Soviet Union as tensions have escalated, and it's beyond remarkable that the government would permit the travel at all. Some papers criticized the clearance as inappropriate, especially given how many concessions the Kremlin demanded for the series to fire, while others applauded President Obama's commitment to sportsmanship in the face of any attempts to stack the odds.
Frustratingly, among the many the terms of the event were that "for the integrity of the games," it would be closed to most media (obviously the Soviet coverage was clearly biased and read like five-cent fiction, that's not a terribly radical claim at this point), and it is definitely a shame that basically nothing has emerged but that famous "Ice Grip" photograph of the players shaking hands to begin the "Cold War" series. They also insisted on strictly written coverage--literally Brian David-Marshall for the west with a legal pad and whatever pens he happened to have on hand at the time since security would not allow him out of their watch to pick up any more supplies. Gotta love that dedication to keeping their man safe from hostile Soviet Staples employees, which as we all know, are just covers for the Red Mafia. On the bright side, one cool result of all this was when BDM posted a twoot of his notes from the event, and there's a bunch of intermixed sections of blue and black handwriting, even faded ink towards the end of one pen's lifespan on Day Two, since he forgot his pen case in his hotel room. I think at one point he had to rely on just carving into his paper with penpoint after exhausting all his ink, and then running over that section with pencil like an engraving. Pretty resourceful.
But the most incredible loss was not being able to see recorded footage of the event because according to BDM, it was a grueling five-game nail-biter in each format, all coming down to Standard to settle the whole thing. No surprise in retrospect, but in his podcast before the trip, Chapin actually had predicted Standard would be the deciding factor of the event, and he also correctly suggested Limited might be "interesting." First of all, who knows if it was truly impossible to get even one non-Soviet person on the judging staff--none of whom had to be named since this was technically a casual event--but regardless, the judge-administered Limited pools remain a mar on the event, particularly the Sealed, as it seemed like the packs broke curiously well in the homefield player's favor. I thought it was interesting how the encyclopedic BDM caught that the interpreter they gave him was also Aristov's former PR agent, who had announced his retirement after Aristov's twoots got deleted--sorry, "disappeared"--presumably to be eligible to cover the showdown as an "objective, unaffiliated assistant," only to rescind his retirement and rejoin Aristov's staff literally the day after the Red version of the coverage went up...
Anyway, I was proud beyond words of how well Patrick Chapin represented the US and the competitive spirit and sportsmanship in general. He didn't even have to challenge Aristov at all--he won Worlds--let alone agree to all the surprise conditions they dropped on him after he landed. BDM himself noted that tension was extremely high at the event, "like the world was watching and weighing down on these two Grandmasters," and the staff seemed to be doing whatever they could to try to unsettle the US player. The "welcome dinner was fabulous and overflowing with meticulous, conscientious attention to detail down to the lush, Grixis-colored floral arrangements on Patrick's side of the massive dining table, with the Blue Orchids being the most prominent element," BDM wrote, but "the generosity ended after dessert." I would think this was some mind-gamesy stuff to rattle Patrick Chapin a little by lulling him into a false sense of comfort before slamming him with the cold shoulder soon after.
To be fair to Dmitri Aristov, none of the psych-out shenanigannery came from him, and General Secretary Alexandrov had claimed his own staff would be providing full support during the event. One telling example was when the interpreter said something in Russian after seeing Patrick Chapin rubbing his hands together before the Modern portion, which for some reason the interpreter took to mean Chapin was cold and wanted more heat in the room. That's fine, it was January in the USSR after all, but BDM says they cranked the heat until the players began sweating! Aristov had plenty of water, but it would take some twenty minutes before they would refill Patrick's tiny glass of (lukewarm) water! "Aristov had an insulated thermos of ice-cold water at all times, which itself was sweating as much as the US player, and staff made sure it was in constant full view on the Soviet side of the table." Also frustrating was how the interpreter would insist certain things were "not important" or otherwise fail to convey select information ("Golly, you mean Patrick wanted ice water and more than half of the cup filled? You don't say! No, you literally do not say.").
To his credit, BDM says, Patrick remained cordial but focused on the games throughout. He kept collected in his suit, but obviously the event was taking its toll from as early as Day One, the 0-2 Limited portion. The Soviet press was kind enough to release a photo of Patrick mid-game taken from the "Heat Wave" day, so the poor guy's drenched in sweat and probably masking some amount of frustration at how tough the packs came together for him. It seemed clear they wanted to get him started on the wrong foot.
But what stuck with me is how razor-sharp focused he is on the game in the photo. You can tell he's watching and considering everything; his expression is utter concentration, as if this were his Worlds finals. And I love (more so than usual) that he's still wearing his suit without a stitch loosened! Told there'd be no visual coverage, still wears a suit to show respect to his opponent and the game. You can even see a wide-eyed staffer in the background who's trying everything he can not to look like Patrick Chapin is not some living weapon of Magic artistry at work. The lone Logic Knot in the graveyard even tells you exactly which turn it was, based on BDM's report.
Anyway, regardless of whatever mindmoiling they or someone (*cough* Alexandrov *cough*) attempted, Hall of Fame World Champion Grandmaster Patrick Chapin went to the USSR for a couple games of Magic, crushed, and wore a suit the whole time. I have the Japan Times' story on the game but they always dump a bunch of text all over the images, which is supremely annoying. Fortunately my mom sent me a copy of the New York Times with the Ice Grip on the front page, which really does the image justice. And Colbert's episode on the series was hilarious (ah, the polar bear part!!).
And then on top of all that, despite the general quiet from the Kremlin after the event, aside from a nominal state congratulations to the victor (viktor?), apparently General Secretary Alexandrov is indeed scheduled to meet with President Obama. How about that! Yes, there have been meetings like this in the past, but considering how much they both revere Magic, I would think having such a US victory on Soviet grounds should do well to get talks rolling in a positive direction. One of the reasons I'm reluctant to go back to the US is how intense it has gotten there in recent years between the US and the USSR, but I'm optimistic Patrick Chapin has done something far greater here than merely win some casual games of Magic.
Fun Facts: I thought back to my editing handbook for rando and somewhat obscure-er editing marks.
Easter Eggs: I used some tragic, old (actual) emails for the "newsprint" background. Considered just running the text straight up, but thought might as well make them a little harder to read (I tend to write long emails). The background has an allusion to that Bill Hader story where Lorne Michaels asks him, "Why now?"
I super-seldom ever left campus during college, but I remember I got to go see him and his old band perform at a local(ish) club called The Space once or twice, and it was good times. I got to ride a car there and everything. By "and everything," I mean that's it, there was no winged pegasus or anything after the car. I don't know why I wrote that part. Just to fill the rhythm of the sentence, I guess.
But the car part, that's notable because I was rarely in cars all throughout college, even so today, though I've actually driven longer in Japan than I did in the US. But I haven't needed a car for years, and if I ever need to cover a long distance, the train usually does fine. So basically, it's a little weird being in a car, even worse because I still panic about which is the "right" side of the road. Plus since I scarcely see movies, I tend to freak out whenever I see video from inside Western cars, cuz I start thinking they're going to crash! And after all this time without a car, I remember one night I had to take a taxi and I actually found it pretty jarring: you mean just like that, this personal mini-train takes you and only you just where you wish to go? What luxury.
Howell was the first person I recall to describe New York as a "walking town," which didn't really register with me as a Californian, but now makes sense here in Japan. A lot of things in Japan don't make sense. For instance, Digirockermon sounds like a Digimon, but it isn't, I checked.
I'd been wanting to draw a fashionable fellow for a while, when I came across this photo, and it was just perfect. I freely admit I don't buy into the concept of male fashion, but I find a handful of people challenge that notion with their sheer style; submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this sketch, "Agent TJ Bank$$$."
Secret backstory: more than just a snappy dresser, this well-tailored Texan was actually my old classmate at Yale! I used to watch him perform music over the years, and he actually redid one of the classics from that era. But now that I think of it, he was actually one of the very last people I remember interacting with as an undergraduate--my gosh--what, almost six years ago to the day?
We were going for brunch during the senior send-off dealio, where you all regather on campus just before graduation. This was particularly important to me because after the term ended, all the dining halls closed, so the only food they'd give you was at the end of Senior Week (or whatever cute name we had for it)--a sweet, sweet free bagel brunch. I generally hate paying for food, so I was eating just once a day to conserve money during the week (not everyone is rich at Yale, a stereotype I encounter even out here in Japan) because I stayed on campus while mostly everyone else spent the week convivially at Myrtle Beach (or convivially inside hollowed-out buffalo carcasses at Myrtle Beach if you're in Skull and Bones). So what I'm saying is food was scarce on campus and I was looking forward to some sweet, sweet free bagels. Anyway, I'm skulking over to get those sweet, sweet free bagels and someone says something to me about being pumped for the sweet, sweet free bagels. It was TJ! I conjure an agreement and we part ways. The end!
Not a terribly exciting story, I know. But just that small gesture was memorable to me, believe it or not. I'm not exactly talkative in person, so I was kinda expecting to go for the free food(?) and hide out in a corner to wolf it down in silence so I could re-up on more freedom as soon and as often as possible until they ran out. But my great scheme was not to be. Caught in my last few minutes of that hiding-in-public maneuver I spent four years honing. But TJ was always a nice, gregarious dude.
I didn't know him (or anyone for that matter) super-super well, but I later found out he's really quite extraordinary, like something out of fiction. And that's probably the single coolest thing about Yale: just about everybody has some incredible history behind them, meanwhile they're just chomping away at stale baked goods on flimsy paper plates, just like everybody else. And obviously I don't put myself in that same ivy-laden league of extraordinary gentlepeople: I got into Yale just because I got above-perfect grades in high school and was really good at having dark skin. Zing!
Anyway, back to the sketch, as always, I tend to want to keep colors just to the clothes, but since this is a sketchbook, it's supposed to feel reckless and provoke a little distance from your comfort zone, so I decided to continue on and do full color. I wasn't sure if I'd stop here, so I snapped this photo just in case it all went south(er).
And then these were the live-ink lines. I've been doing a lot of digital-only stuff recently, but I love traditional so much, so I thought I'd get back to doing live-inks. But to my chagrin, after marathon days of stylus wrangling, I found pencil-free pen drawing tough, like I'd lost all the momentum I had built up, one of my chief reluctances towards going all-digital. I want to kill it on paper. I love paper. And I don't feel like I've "earned" digital yet, you know. So I did pages of studies to get back into the swing of where I was--the swing space, if you will--and when I saw this photo it felt like a good place to try something less forgiving than pose studies after I felt caught up-ish.
The occasion of this sketch at all is actually because I have a new sketchbook that I wanted to kick off. 7-11 was having another clearance on unsold little pocket notebooks (which conveniently resemble grid-encrusted sketchbooks, which I actually like because they force you to rend the preciousness from drawing), and I had just wrapped my last one, so the stars aligned, and for the first time in my life, I now own a pink "sketchbook," or as we say in Japan,
These were the main characters I was happy with in that old comic I wrote. Ko's main weapon is a celery stick, and Chika's is a toothbrush. The inspiration here was distinctly--what are the most useless weapons you could have?
I always seem to struggle with the "main" character (model outline visible on the right), though, particularly when it's a guy...everything just happens to him, but he's never an agent of anything.
Supporting characters end up driving everything, and the main character just becomes a MacGuffin.
Anyway, I took the costumes from fashion magazines and even what I'd see people wearing around town. But the story just didn't cook as much as I'd like, and in fact only the second part felt interesting, once we get past the sort of get-to-know-us stuff.