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Friday, May 20, 2011

BadBadBad, a "Transmedia Underground Novel," Has Frustratingly Brilliant Debut

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2011 at 9:30 AM

Burlesque and a bullhorn: Jesús Ángel García at the helm.
  • Burlesque and a bullhorn: Jesús Ángel García at the helm.
Jesús Ángel García had intended for the launch party of his underground novel BadBadBad to be a "transmedia" extravaganza that would change the notion of what a book launch could be. He didn't quite get there.

"This is a transmedia novel by a Luddite writer ... so we might have some issues," he said.

And issues there were. The Fivepoints Arthouse projector wouldn't acknowledge García's laptop for a while. There was supposed to be an album that went along with the book. (There is none yet.) There was supposed to be a movie, too. (Only certain sections have been completed.)

"I have a complicated relationship with technology," García said.

So what he ended up with was just a kickass book launch party -- the kind that opens with a woman passing around whiskey shots in Dixie cups from a platter. But he's working on it. And although "transmedia" might not be the clearest vision, whatever it ends up being just might be the future of literature -- if the damn projector will work (which it did eventually).

Here's how he describes it:

"The kids are really into the YouTube, but they don't read books. So I had the idea that I'd write a book and extend it over all these platforms, so that even if people don't read underground books they'd find the novel. It started out as a basically a publicity piece, and it just kept extending until the transmedia publicity was influencing the book in important ways. So this documentary about the themes of the book has really changed the way it developed."

A cynic could say that this is just a product placement infrastructure for one's own book, but for all the glitches, everything that happened last night seemed a lot more like "art" than "marketing."

What this looked like on a practical level was sometimes obscure: García preached through a bullhorn to the accompaniment of electric guitar licks in front of a video montage of burlesque.

"Where can a guy buy a condom at 2:30 a.m. in the Tenderloin?" asks Tony DuShane
  • "Where can a guy buy a condom at 2:30 a.m. in the Tenderloin?" asks Tony DuShane
Sometimes it was conventional, with guest reader Tony DuShane knocking the audience flat with a story about trying to find condoms in the Tenderloin at 2:30 a.m. because a twentysomething fan of his novel was in his new apartment, naked.

He'd just moved in, literally that day, and he had to ask a random stranger on the street where he could find a neighborhood store open at this time of night. The stranger recommended an adult video store, and then asked what the rush was.

DuShane explained that he wanted to have sex with the woman in his bed.

"Cool," the stranger said. "Can I photograph you?"

The music composed for BadBadBad (which García and guests were reduced to playing live) was catchy too. But the heart of BadBadBad's debut was the film -- or at least the portions of it that were available.

The documentary García intended to make contains interviews with San Franciscans, many of local literati such as Alia Volz, Andrew Dugas, Rajshree Chauhan, Matt Stewart, and Caitlin Myer (full disclosure: I know many of these people and am profoundly jealous of their success). The interviews are about the themes explored in BadBadBad. By the time the project is finished, it will be a five part movie. Two of those parts were ready last night: Fear, and Self-Destruction.

Fear was, well, fun. Old standbys like "Death," "Cancer," "Being buried alive," and "eaten by sharks" were certainly mentioned. But apparently San Francisco literary types are most afraid of failure. And snakes. Nothing terrifies us more than being told we're not special and didn't live up to our potential -- except venom sacs.

Self-Destruction took the seriously scary head-on.
  • Self-Destruction took the seriously scary head-on.
Self-Destruction, on the other hand, was downright disturbing. It started slowly for San Francisco, with people telling the camera about time spent doing lots of cocaine, or heroin, or getting in a series of bad relationships with abusive partners, or jumping off a two-story building, or -- wait, what was that last one?

By the time it got around to "my gangbang," the room was breathless. Except for spectator Evan Karp, who whispered, "I feel so much better about my life!" to the person next to him.

That's the kind of success you want, in any platform.

The question for García (aside from whether he can finish the damn thing) is whether this will play in Poughkeepsie. He threw the party as a way to raise money for BadBadBad's transmedia tour of 24 cities. That's an ambitious agenda logistically, let alone artistically. Will the elements come together? Will the first underground transmedia novel speak to the sticks as well as it does to an audience of friends-of-S.F. literati?

Jesús Ángel García: Self-admittedly "a little delusional."
  • Jesús Ángel García: Self-admittedly "a little delusional."
You can't know till you know, of course, but for all the complications, García sure seems like he's on to something.

"I feel like you have to have to be a little delusional to do anything, and I'm running on pure adrenaline," he said when asked about how the tour would work.

Spoken like a true visionary -- who isn't afraid of failure.

For more events in San Francisco this week and beyond, check out our calendar section.
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Benjamin Wachs


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