Archive for the 'Self-Indulgent Nonsense' Category

The lost “Sea Captain” video.

This Sunday I’m heading down to California for a few weeks of barely-earned vacation, which means – sorry, rock-n-roll history enthusiasts – it’ll be at least a month before I get the video from our performance at the Mendel onto YouTube.

Meanwhile, here’s something else you can watch. On a visit to Vancouver back in 2008 I spent a couple days hanging out with an old friend, artist Ray Statham. I should also mention that at the time, I had a beard that I was thinking of shaving off. Naturally we thought – let’s shave Michael and make a music video!

Big beard, little beard, no beard.

So I spent a couple days peg-legging around the North Shore while Ray followed me with a camera, chortling. I returned to Saskatoon; time passed; enough for me to grow an entirely new and even handsomer beard. Meanwhile I thought the video had been lost forever. But not long ago Ray turned up a copy and mailed it my way…

More about that Mendel gig.

Panic time! We’re just two weeks away from our performance at the Mendel Art Gallery and we’re frantically assembling our set.

Here’s what’s happening. On January 16 a bunch of musicians, dancers, actors, and other flaky characters (under the non-flaky leadership of Carrie Catherine) will be taking over the Mendel for a pageant of wonder and whatzitry which we’re calling (for reasons still mysterious) LUGO.

It will be a jumble. Each performer will bring his or her own drum, metaphorical or in some cases literal, and at 8:30 PM we’ll all start banging away at once. At times it will be a riot of spontaneous creative expression. At other times it will get quiet and everyone will be encouraged to focus their attention on one thing for a few minutes at a time.

The band known as Sea Water Bliss will occupy one of those quiet interludes. We’ll be performing our Song of Syracuse, the story of the Athenian siege of Syracuse during the Peloponnesian War. As some context is necessary, we’ll be using reversible cardboard panels and cutouts (manipulated by longtime Sea Water Bliss associates Troy Mamer and Steve Barss) to help move the story along. We’ll try our damnedest to keep the whole shebang down to eight or nine minutes.

Right now Troy and Steve and I are deep in cutting-and-pasting mode. Steve’s basement looks like a bomb went off in a box factory, and between us we’ve inhaled several tumours worth of spray adhesive. Meanwhile Andrew and I are figuring out how to shift smoothly between 4/4 and 3/4 time. Luckily I’m taking the next couple weeks off, so I expect I’ll have time to get everything wrapped up, and maybe finally get my hair cut, too.

Anyway, if you’re in Saskatoon on the 16th, you should come to the show. If Thucydides isn’t your bag there’ll be lots of other entertainment on display, some of it bound to suit you. Seeya at the Mendel, art goons and history nerds!


Truth at 0.25 frames per second.

Here’s the recipe. You film a bunch of footage of your band playing a song. Then you edit that footage into a music video – actually, several overlapping music videos. Convert the videos to a series of still images (3500 in all), print them, and collect them in a dozen binders.

Cajole a bunch of your friends into driving to a bar in a nearby small town for a “birthday party”. Prop the binders up in front of a camera and, with some help from your friends, flip through the pages at the steady rate of four seconds per page. This will take approximately two hours and forty minutes, assuming everything goes perfectly; if it doesn’t, more like four hours. (After a couple hours, most of your friends will leave.)

Speed up the video and synch it to the song. Voila! You’ve got…well, uh, something like…


Update, Mar 24 2010: A guy from the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo interviewed me about this video for the paper’s website. I’m pretty sure I explained our process far less clearly in the interview than I did in the above blog post, but anyway you can watch it here.

Flipapalooza & LUGO.

FlipapaloozaHere’s what’s happening with the band. A few days ago Andrew and I filmed some footage for our upcoming time-lapse binder video shoot. I’m in the process of breaking the video into thousands of still black-and-white images like the one on the left, which will be printed and assembled into binders. This Saturday we’ll prop the binders in front of a camera and flip through the pages at the rate of four seconds per page. Then when the video is sped up, if I’ve done my math correctly, the flipping pages will synch up with our song Clowns.

The flipapalooza will kick off at around 8 PM on Saturday Nov. 28th in the back room at Sig’s Place in Vonda, forty minutes east of Saskatoon. If you’re in the area, please feel free to drop by. If you ask nicely we might even let you flip a binder for us.

LUGO! (…whatever that means.)

I’ve also signed us up for an “arts happening” in January at the Mendel Art Gallery. Local folksy girl Carrie Catherine is organizing this shindig, which is called LUGO.

The provenance of the word “lugo” has not been explained to us, but it seems to summon images of an Italian street festival, which isn’t too far off the mark. In addition to music, Lugo will include video, drama, dance, and all things artsy and fartsy. I’m not sure yet exactly what kind of casserole Andrew and I will be bringing to this pot-luck, but you can be sure that it will be lumpy.


Dream journal: The vending machine.

I’m wandering through a shopping mall with Bender, the robot from Futurama, who at some point changes without explanation into my friend Stu, currently residing in Austria. Bender-Stu spies a vending machine that dispenses toy battleships and decides he wants one. The machine has four chunky buttons depicting four progressively more elaborate and expensive models of battleship. Bender-Stu chooses the most expensive one, priced at forty-two dollars. He feeds three twenty-dollar bills into the machine.

The machine whirs and trembles and a toy battleship clatters down into the dispensing tray, along with eighteen bucks of change in loonies and toonies. The battleship is about a foot long, made of cast iron and die-molded plastic, with googly eyes glued on either side of the bridge. Before we can remove it from the tray, a strange man walks up, reaches between us, grabs the battleship, and bolts.

Bender-Stu, who by this time has morphed permanently into Stu, takes off after the thief. I hesitate. Should I join the chase? There’s still eighteen bucks sitting in the vending machine, and I don’t want to abandon it. Moreover I don’t really expect Stu to catch the guy. Still, I have a niggling sense of cowardice as I scrape the coins one by one from the shallow dispensing tray.

Another stranger approaches. “Your friend is asking for you,” he says, pointing. Coins clinking in my jacket pockets, I jog through the mall in the direction of the chase. Stu is lying in the middle of the corridor. “You bailed on me,” he says, as I pull him to his feet. He has no injuries but he’s been roughed up.

“I’m sorry,” I say, “I wasn’t sure what to do.” There’s no point trying to explain. I scoop a handful of coins from my left and then my right pocket into his cupped hands.


Previous dream journals have featured Barnaby Rudge, Tom Cruise, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the novels of Thomas Hardy.

The Sexy Mathematics origin story.

Our hero slogs home from a hard day on the software assembly line...In 2006, my band recorded a CD. We spent the better part of a year and the price of a decent used car, and at the end of the tortuous process I took the six boxes of completed CDs and piled them up into a little pyramid in the middle of my living room floor. “Now what?” I said.

Three and a half of those boxes are still in my possession, tucked into a corner of my hall closet. The truth is, we never really thought about what we would do with the CDs once we’d finished making them. I guess we figured we’d sell them to somebody. But since the recording of our CD coincided with the effective end of our public performing career, it became increasingly difficult to find customers. If it weren’t for the popularity of a few animated cartoons I posted on YouTube, we wouldn’t have sold a single disc to anyone outside our immediate families and friends.

I work with a guy named Chris whose band, Sexy Mathematics, just finished recording their first EP. Unlike me, Chris isn’t willing to hang onto his boxes of CDs forever. He has a plan for unloading them. The first step of his plan was to come to me. “Hey, you’re in the marketing biz,” he said. “Would you write some promotional copy for our press kit?”

“Pshh, that sounds boring,” I said. “Why don’t I make you a promotional comic instead?”

So that’s what I did. Oddly, this is far more work than I ever undertook to promote my own band. It’s easier, somehow, to motivate myself to do things like this for other people than it is to do them for myself.

Perhaps someday I’ll create a promotional comic for the band known as Sea Water Bliss. But probably not. I hate repeating myself.

The Origin of Sexy Mathematics

The Origin of Sexy Mathematics

My new thing.

Windows 7 Launch PartyI haven’t been blogging much since summer began. Every time I finish a book or see a movie I’ll try and come up with something to say about it, but usually I decide after a few paragraphs that whatever point I’m trying to make is too trite or muddled to bother putting into words. This is a self-defeating atttitude for a blogger to have, obviously. Isn’t the primary symptom of the modern neurosis the conviction that every stray thought you have is worthy of broadcast, preferably at top volume? Am I cured of modernity?

Not likely, because here I am tapping away, having decided to once again break my rule against pimping for the company that employs me. Please direct your gaze to my other blog, which I maintain in my capacity as marketing weenie for a local internet startup, and where yesterday I posted a brief comic-style ad poking fun at Microsoft’s new “Windows 7 Launch Party” video campaign. Esoteric, I know. The ad turned out pretty well, although it was a rush job – I conceived and assembled it over a single Sunday, one eye cocked on the scurrying zeitgeist. When I posted the ad Monday morning the zeitgeist gave it a brief glance, then squeezed under a loose floorboard and was gone.

Lately at my job I’ve drifted away from animation. It pains me, but I can’t blame my employers for concluding that the investment of time in any single cartoon far outweighs the likely return. But it turns out that a lot of the skills I’ve been honing in the animation realm are easily transferable to the medium of comics. Now that I’ve overcome the psychological obstacle of not knowing how to draw – that is, I’ve learned to live with the guilt of accepting payment for doing something that by rights I shouldn’t be doing at all – I might experiment a bit more with non-moving cartoons. They offer fewer technical obstacles – I don’t have to worry about sound synchronisation or frame rates or video compression – which means I can devote more of my attention to the actual drawing, Or, in my case, the tracing.


Tiny humiliations.


I’m in a local convenience store buying a single-serving carton of milk. The clerk silently rings through my milk and the total appears on a little display next to the cash register. I glance at the total and give the guy a toonie. As he counts the change into my hand he says, “Dime and two pennies.”

Ordinarily I don’t pay attention to small change, but the clerk’s unusual choice of words makes me pause. “Shouldn’t that be a penny and two dimes?” I say.

The clerk looks at me blankly. “No…” he says, and hits a series of buttons on the cash register, causing the receipt to print out and the total to reappear on the little screen. I look at the screen. $1.79, it reads.

He’s squinting at the printed receipt. “No, $1.88, that’s right,” he says.

“But your screen says $1.79.”

He leans across the counter so that he can see the display. “No, that’s the subtotal,” he says. “The total after tax is down here, in red.”

He’s right. The total is bright red and in a much larger font, but somehow I’d missed it. “Sorry,” I mutter, and lug my single-serving carton of milk toward the door.


I’m in the little drugstore downstairs, buying a few groceries and renting a movie. It’s late in the evening and there are no other customers, but there are two people behind the counter. One is an attractive girl in her late teens. The other is a woman in her sixties.

I shop here all the time, so both women know me by sight. As the computer prints out the receipt that I’ll have to sign in order to rent the movie, the older woman makes small talk with me. Then, silently, someone farts.

When I catch a whiff of it I stop in the middle of a word and my eyes bug out. But I don’t say anything. Neither do the two women. We just stand there smiling at each other, holding our breath, wondering who did it.

If a stranger walked into the store at this moment and smelled the fart, sizing up the three possible perpetrators, there’s no doubt as to whom he would mentally assign responsibility. With my beard and shaggy hair and generally rumpled appearance I’m by far the likeliest farter.

Knowing that I’m innocent, I pin the blame on the next likeliest farter – the old woman. But the attractive teenage girl (assuming that she didn’t do it) has no way of knowing that I’m innocent. She’s going to pin the blame on me.

As I sign the receipt I’m thinking, now every time I come into the store this good-looking girl is going to think of me as that disgusting slob who couldn’t wait thirty seconds to get outside before uncorking this monumental fart.

Still holding my breath, I tuck the DVD and groceries under my arm and head for fresh air, silently cursing the old woman.


This anecdote can best be explained with the help of a diagram.

Door Holding Obligations

The situation I’m describing takes place at the door to my apartment building, but the diagram applies to any door through which large numbers of mutual strangers pass. The diagram defines your obligations if you pass through the door first and someone is coming up behind you.

If the follower is in zone A, you’re expected to hold the door open for him or her. If the follower is in zone C, there is no such requirement – in fact, it would look odd if you were to stand there holding the door waiting for the follower to catch up.

(Obviously the distances involved vary, depending on the amount of foot traffic, whether or not the door has a lock, whether or not the follower is carrying groceries, and so forth.)

This story concerns zone B, which is the awkward area where it’s unclear whether you’re expected to hold the door or not. I reached the door just as one of my neighbours was getting out of her car on the far side of the parking lot. As I passed through I glanced back and saw that she was on the further edge of zone B – that is, she was just barely within the range where she might reasonably expect me to hold the door for her. I hesitated.

Then I thought, in the time I’m waiting for her to catch up, I can cross the lobby to my mailbox and check my mail, and be back to the door in time to open it for her. So I stepped inside and let the door fall closed.

Then I realised that I was being unrealistic. There was no way I could fish the key out of my pocket and unlock, open, close, and re-lock the mailbox, in the five seconds remaining before my neighbour arrived at the door. Shaking my head at my own stupidity, I turned around and opened the door. My neighbour passed through and gave me a “thank you” and a funny look.

From her point of view it must have looked like I’d deliberately decided to close the door in her face, reconsidered, and with a shake of my head, reluctantly reversed myself.

Even if I were the kind of person who struck up random weird conversations with my neighbours, there’s no way I could have explained my ill-considered feint toward the mailbox. So I just nodded and let her pass.

Things could have turned out worse. At least I came back and opened the door.


Dream journal: Swimming to Filmbodia.

I’m visiting a small Southeast Asian nation which has lately recovered from a civil war and genocide. I’m friends with a local husband-and-wife filmmaking team who are currently in post-production on a film documenting the national tragedy. I meet them in an outdoor cafĂ© near the airport, where they describe the government interference they’ve endured trying to get their new film made.

“I thought things were much more open here now,” I say.

“It’s easy for you Westerners,” says the wife. “Here the government sees its citizens as machines for breeding more tiny factory workers.”

As it happens, I’m a writer who moonlights as an actor in Hollywood pictures. Not long ago I wrote and starred in a Killing Fields-like dramatisation of the country’s recent history, called (for some reason) O Canada. My filmmaking friends haven’t seen my movie and they ask me to describe it.

“It’s hard to explain,” I say. “I play myself, a writer, and the movie is full of these postmodern games where I comment on events in the movie as they’re happening. Then there are these kind of recursive feedback loops where I comment on my own commentary.”

“But,” I continue, “I’m not sure if my commentaries were sincere or whether I was just writing to mimic a preconceived idea of what constitutes an ‘art’ film.”

I ask my friends what the budget is on their new movie. “$279 million,” the wife tells me.

“Wow,” I say. “Most Hollywood productions are less than half that.”

“Yes,” she says. “And I bet they’re a lot more fun to work on, too. Like that Hollywood classic, Barnaby Rudge. Two months on a ship in the South Seas, and what funny jokes!” She smiles at the memory of it. I smile too. For some reason I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve never seen (or read) Barnaby Rudge.


Previous dream journals have featured Tom Cruise, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and the novels of Thomas Hardy.

Cartoon news.

I won’t keep you long. This is just a quick update to announce:

I just finished a new promotional cartoon for my employers. Ordinarily I don’t use this blog to talk about work-related stuff, but I happen to be fairly proud of this cartoon. Maybe it’s just cos I like the music (by Louis Armstrong, with a little Bix Beiderbecke over the closing credits).

MyFrontSteps presents “Goin’ Viral”

Meanwhile, a nice Aussie fella named Derek recently interviewed me for his crossword / Scrabble website Why would a site for word nerds want to interview me? Because last year I brought an unsung genius named Garson Hampfield to the attention of the crossword community. You can read more, and watch the cartoon, here:

Michael A. Charles interviewed on


Michael A. Charles is a writer, animator, and musician currently living in the Vancouver area. He used to be the singer and guitarist for the band known as Sea Water Bliss.

You can find a selection of his cartoons, music videos, and ads on the Gallery page.

Michael isn't on LinkedIn or Facebook or Twitter and won't be on whatever comes along next. If you need to reach him here's his contact info.

Garson Hampfield, Crossword Inker