Marc Alan Fishman: Have Your CAKE and Eat It
So I was considering going on a long-rant/love-letter to the WWE, whose Summer Slam pay-per-view and Monday Night Raw this week were just fantastic. I was going to highlight how no other company producing week-to-week content for an audience of millions has the balls they do when it comes to allowing their villains to complete terrible acts without retribution for months on end. I was going to ramble on about how for the first time in the history of the company a truly undersized, under-utilized hero has emerged due entirely to his in-ring ability. But then I realized that while ComicMix is a pop-culture blog and news site… Comic is in the damned title. I might be better served bitching about something comic related. Which brings me to last night.
I attended a ‘Drink-And-Draw’ at a local(ish) watering hole. First and foremost? I was elated to learn just how many south-suburban Chicago comic book artists there actually were. Drinks were drunk. Poutines were consumed. Drawings were rendered. Conversations were had. I was lucky enough to flank my end of the table along with my frenemy Dan Dougherty (who I should mention has just released the second book in his Touching Evil series which could sit next to Revival for book-you-should-be-reading right now), and Wesley Wong, colorist to the stars.
Later on in the evening, Jon Michael Lennon, a compatriot, comic maker, and long-standing pal-at-the-cons moved a chair down to our end of the table, and we got to chit-chatting. Amongst the topics that came up was attending various sized shows. I then lamented that I wasn’t a fan of juried shows. Specifically the recent CAKE (Chicago Alternative Comics Expo) con that Unshaven was unceremoniously denied entrance to for the second year in a row. Jon was quick to chime in. “Yeah. I didn’t get into the [expletive deleted] show either. And I was like, seriously? Have you seen my stuff? Man… [expletive deleted] them.” I’m paraphrasing, mind you.
Jon was right. As he’d go on to explain, he’d found out from those folks within the jury/selection committee/hipster d-bags who get off on being a figure of authority… that they weren’t looking to bring in a local artists whose purpose was ‘mostly to make money’, as far as he could ascertain. I’ll get back to that in a minute.
The thing is, I know that Unshaven Comics is an indie brand. We put 200+ hours into every book to publish. We print in Lansing, IL, 10 minutes away from our homes. We sell only at conventions, and have to-date moved a whopping 10 books via our webstore, and those were to friends and family who simply can’t get to us. That being said? Our books are (now) all-ages, and envelop a style more attune to what might be considered traditional. I was, to-a-point OK with not being considered indie-enough for CAKE. If anything? I interpreted our denial e-mail to be a sign we were too mainstream for their con. Screw it, I guess we’re just knocking down DC and Marvel’s door any day now!
In stark contrast, Jon Michael Lennon and his Cheese Lord Comic imprint could not yell Indie any louder. His art style mixes influences of Robert Crumb and Daniel Clowes. His stories have given my nightmares daydreams. He is a boundary-pushing, down-trodden Harvey Pekar with an imagination that falls somewhere between Francis Bacon and actual bacon. I’m not doing him justice enough. Suffice to say: his work (specifically the Product of Society series he’s been self-publishing for years, as well as a handful of other short works in various other collections) are of the ilk that to me are akin definitively with alternative/indie/whatever-non-conformist label you’d ever give. I mean if you think a comic that questions the size of Jesus Christ’s penis is mainstream than maybe you and I should meet and get coffee.
Now, the idea that CAKE didn’t include Jon or Unshaven Comics, or dozens of other local folks I knew who also did not make it into the creamy filling of their convention resting on our collective desire to earn money for our wares…is perhaps a bit weak. If it is, in fact, true? Well, I’d never submit an application to them again, and I’d freely and happily do everything in my power to sway the masses from ever going to the show in the first place. More likely though, is that this ‘juried’ convention wanted to include those artists whose name and art style follow closer to the hip-and-with-it crowd of horned-rimmed readers who know names like Chris Ware, but couldn’t tell a Kirby from a Crumb.
The fact is that art is subjective. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. It’s how boy bands sell billions of albums, and singer-songwriters are left recording on youtube for pennies. For whatever reason, I’ve never had a problem with a fine-art gallery having a jury for a themed show. But a comic convention never crossed my mind as being a place where lines are drawn (natch) between what constitutes show-worthy and not. Comics have long been considered by the zeitgeist to be all-encompassing kitsch. The trails blazed by Crumb, Clowes, and their brethren seemed to dampen that universal lumping of our medium.
Call it a bit of black on black crime here kiddos, but I see a show like CAKE with its collection of like-minded creators to prove that within even this extremely small, extremely tight community of artists and creators… there’s still an undercurrent of ‘good and bad’ which leaves me with a bitter taste in my mouth. Comics to me is all-inclusive. Juried shows, by-and-large, only breed seclusion. And if that is the case? Then I’m right where Jon is:
[Expletive deleted] them.
SUNDAY: John Ostrander
MONDAY: Mindy Newell