“Must a name mean something?” Alice asked doubtfully.
“Of course it must,” Humpty Dumpty said with a short laugh; “my name means the shape I am – and a good handsome shape it is, too. With a name like yours, you might be any shape, almost.”
Through the Looking Glass, Lewis Carroll
There was a time in my life when it was my silent, constant partner. I didn’t know then what it was; this thing had no name, and no one had yet advised me to challenge it, to call it out from the shadows into the sunlight. It hid in the cold dark crevices of my psyche, curled around my thoughts and dreams like a boa constrictor, never letting go, an anonymous thing. I knew there was something wrong, but without a name to call it, I could not voice it. Without a name to call it, I could not control it. Without a name to call it, I could not reclaim my self.
Yesterday I went to a comic book store for the first time in a very, very long time.
What the hell does that have to do with my struggles with it? A good question. A legitimate question.
The first time I discovered a store dedicated to comics was way back in the early 80s, during the time when this anonymous thing lived with me day after day, week after week, month after month. I don’t remember purposely sniffing it out – IIRC I just happened to be stopped at a red light on Broadway in downtown Bayonne, New Jersey. The storefront caught my eye; the windows were full of comics and some other stuff, but then the light turned green and I continued along my way.
But for the few moments while I was waiting for the red to turn to green, the thing had let go of me, or, at least, had lessened its grip. It wasn’t an “uh-huh” moment…
But very soon afterwards I was in the store and I wasn’t feeling weird, or odd, or frightened or any of that remote, sad, heaviness of the thing-with-no name which I carried with me – well, not so much, anyhow…
Yeah, not to put it through too fine a sieve – and, yes, it’s 28 years later – I think what I was feeling was comfort.
I looked at all the covers of the comics and the colors and the artwork and all the heroes – Superman, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Green Lantern, The Legion Of Super-Heroes, and all the rest – and I felt better. Okay, not kick-up-your-heels-and-do-a-dance better, but yeah, definitely better. Probably, as my therapist would say, it had to do with being suddenly face-to-face with the little-girl-who-was-me; she who was excited, who was curious, who read comics by flashlight after Taps underneath the covers of my bunk at camp.
I remembered her.
I was her.
I don’t remember what else I bought that day, but I do remember buying Camelot 3000, the groundbreaking maxi-series by Mike W. Barr and Brian Bolland, which imagines the prophesized return of King Arthur and his Round Table when the Earth is threatened by an alien invasion in the year 3000 A.D. I have always loved the story of the once and future king; it is the classic hero’s journey, told over and over again in many myths and in many cultures, the tale of the individual who is challenged to walk through the gauntlet, to vanquish the enemy, to achieve peace and knowledge even if cost is dear.
I read that first issue of Camelot 3000, and while I was reading it I escaped the hell of my life. And I kept going back to the comic book store and I kept reading C3000, and I bought and read other comics. I even wrote a “Letter to the Editor” that appeared in an issue of Green Lantern.
It was finally, and properly, diagnosed and named in 1990 as clinical depression.
And yes, naming the monster gave me power.
But I still hate it. Because it never really goes away, y’know? Even with medication and therapy, it’s always there, teasing me. “I’m still here. I had you once. I can have you again.” And sometimes it does, for a little while. The past month, for instance. But I have named it, and so its power is not what it was. And then, too, sometimes I think…
If the monster had not taken hold of me, if I had not had to struggle and walk through the gauntlet, I would have never walked into that comic book store in 1982 and started reading comics again. I would have never sat down on a rainy Sunday and written Jenesis, the story that led me to Karen Berger and New Talent Showcase and all the wonderful things that followed it. I would have never written Lois Lane: When It Rains, God Is Crying, and never would have been able to understand the pain of Chalk Drawings (Wonder Woman #46), which I co-wrote with George Pérez. I would have never gone to conventions and met so many wonderful people – this means you, Mike, John, Kim, and Mary. And you, Martha. And you, Bob Greenberger. And Karen and Len and Marv and Mike Grell and Tom Brevoort and Trina Robbins and Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner and Marie Javins. And so many others, some of who are no longer with us – Dick Giordano and Gray Morrow and Don Heck and Mark Gruenwald…
I hate you, depression.
I hate you with a passion that frightens me. You have fucked up my life in too many goddamn ways.
I would not be here now without you.
I said once before, in a previous column, that nothing is wasted.
I miss bookstores. Being able to walk up and down the aisles, pulling out a title that sounds intriguing, perusing the dust jacket flap, sometimes sitting down on the floor and reading the first couple of pages…just killing a couple of hours lost in a bibliophile’s heaven.
Okay, bookstores aren’t entirely gone, but they are, as everyone knows, on the endangered list. My own first hint of this came about 15 years ago when the Borders in the Short Hills Mall closed up. It was astonishing—this was a bookstore that was always mobbed, no matter the time of day. Many, many people objected to the closing, and many, many people let the mall’s management know it; the customer service desk clerk told me, as I filled out the complaint form, that there were over 3,000 signatures in the first week alone protesting the shutdown, and demanding, if not the return of Borders, the opening of another book proprietor. I thought, and I’m sure many others thought, that the store closed because the management had raised its rent beyond what Borders was willing to pay. But now I think that I witnessed the beginning of the end. I knew for sure that bookstores were about to go the way of the dodo bird when I drove over to Hoboken one Sunday morning a few years ago to spend a few hours in the Barnes & Noble there to find that it was gone; I remember being shocked (“Holy shit!” I said out loud) because not only is that particular store is in a city with a university (Stevens Institute of Technology), but it is also home to the sort of population that publishers love and book stores crave—well-educated and upscale and readers.
I bring this up because I recently bought a book on Amazon that whetted my appetite, especially because it is the last work of the late, great Harvey Pekar, who was one of its editors. That book is [[[Yiddishkeit: Jewish Vernacular & The New Land]]]. According to the blurb on Amazon, which is lifted from the front flap of the book’s dust jacket:
Yiddish is everywhere. We hear words like nosh, schlep, and schmutz all the time, but how did they come to pepper American English, and how do we intuitively know their meaning?
Have I mentioned lately how much I like comic book stores? Even as more and more of my friends buy their comics digitally (and I buy more of my prose books digitally), I still like to get my comics in hard copy. I like to get them on Wednesdays when I can. I like to get a big stack and find a comfy chair.
And yet this morning, when I woke up with an uncharacteristic and bewildering tummy ache, I didn’t reach for a pile of singles to take with my to the bathroom, or to my comfy chair. Instead, I wanted to read original graphic novels.
So I was interested to read a conversation among comic shop retailers about how they like original graphic novels – or OGNs, as they call them.
If I might over-simplify, most don’t. I mean, they like them, but most of their business comes from customers like me, who buy single issues month after month. Some say that, even among their regular customers, the higher-priced items are bought online where the customer can get a bigger discount (often bigger than retailers gets from their distributors).
I get this. Stores find their customer base and then do their best to serve that base, providing the products they want and, with luck, also providing products they don’t know about but will love when they see them. A great store will look for ways to broaden its base, attracting more and more customers over time.
Perhaps I am inferring more than is intended, but I also sense that some of the retailers are saying that since OGNs don’t do well for them, that it is a waste of time for publishers to print them. And that kind of thinking makes me crazy.
When I worked at DC Comics in the 1990s, the marketing department spent a lot of time, money and effort working with the direct market. This makes sense, because it represented something like 85% of our sales. At the same time, to satisfy this market, we would often delay shipping books to other markets (that is, bookstores) so that comic book shops could have a month to six weeks to exclusively offer the product.
And this made me nuts.
I’d like to say it made me nuts for altruistic reasons, that I favored a free market or equal opportunity or something. Instead, my ire was selfish. It was hard to get critical attention for a book that wasn’t available in a bookstore.
Leaving the plight of publicists aside, however, there are lots of other reasons for publishers to offer OGNs. Comic book stores no longer serve every possible customer for graphic story. One retailer mentions Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, saying its a best seller for him, but not doing nearly as well as most collections. And yet, the longest line I saw at the Book Expo trade show this year was for Pope’s autograph, primarily booksellers and librarians.
Those markets also move a lot of books, frequently to an audience that wouldn’t go to a comic book store. Artists and writers (and publishers and publicists) should be encouraged to make money in every possible market available to them.
Which brings me to what I read today. I don’t think any of these are designed to be direct market bestsellers, but I bet they each have a sizable potential readership.
Rick Geary’s Madison Square Tragedy is the story of the murder of Sanford White by Henry Thaw, a story I was familiar with mostly because of Ragtime. Geary’s storytelling is straight-forward, full of detail that brings New York City in the early 1900s to life. With very few words but a deft use of faces and body language, he conveys the tensions among the high society of the time.
And then I reached for Harvey Pekar’s last book, Yiddishkeit, which is two years old but I’m just getting to it now. It’s a history of Yiddish culture going back to the Middle Ages, but my favorite parts are set in New York from the late 1800s to the present. There’s some chronological overlap with Geary’s book, but I don’t think any of the players knew each other. My knowledge of Yiddish comes from Lenny Bruce, Philip Roth, Sholom Alecheim and Isaac Bashevis Singer (whom Pekar loathes), but I loved this book. It reminded me that my people have a long tradition of fighting for social justice while arguing amongst themselves.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, my tummy is better but it’s snowing out and that comfy chair is calling. I’m going to check out the highly recommended Cursed Pirate Girl. With luck, I’ll also have a cat in my lap.
I guess they’re not kidding about this “dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return” business. After 1,699 issues and 42 years of publication, what began as the brainchild of 17-year-old Alan Light and, after a few earlier names was finally and best known as The Comics Buyer’s Guide – CBG for short – has reached its end.
I don’t think I ever paid for an issue of the paper but, thanks to the generosity of its publishers, I read a lot of them. When I was sitting behind various editorial desks CBG would appear in the mail once a week and when I had some spare time I’d page through it, reading this and that. It wasn’t a big part of my professional life, but it was nice.
Eventually, I did a short article for it. My idea was to make CBG’s readership aware of Harvey Pekar and his self-published and strange and unique comic book, American Splendor. Since Harvey didn’t truck in the usual comic book stuff, I thought that maybe CBG’s readers might be missing something that was unlike anything else on the market, something they’d like. I now wish I had a do-over. Though my intentions were pure, the piece I produced, I think, was patronizing, maybe because I didn’t, and don’t, know how to describe Harvey’s episodic autobiographies. He was an American original and his work doesn’t classify easily.
That regrettable bit of quasi-journalism printed and, one hopes, quickly forgotten, I no doubt thought I was done with CBG except for my weekly reading of it. But the best was yet to come. CBG played a small, but crucial, part in events that shaped the rest of my life. Cue organ chord.
Getting married is generally considered to be a life-shaper, no? And getting married to a teenage sweetheart you haven’t seen in 30 years, well…
To be brief: Marifran Reuter, nee McFarland, was teaching a parish school of religion in a St. Louis suburb. Talking to a student’s mom, she mentioned that she once dated a guy whose brother had the same name as the student’s father. Mom and teacher compared facts and, yes, the student’s dad was, indeed,the brother of the guy teacher had dated, long since moved to New York and working as a writer. Teach wrote writer a letter and, on the writer’s next midwestern visit, they met and talked until three in the morning. A bit later, during a phone conversation, Marifran told the writer that she’d be selling text books in Omaha during summer vacation. Uh-huh! So the writer, me, looked into CBG and found the name of a comic shop in Omaha. I called the shop and persuaded the proprietor to invite me for an autographing session on the June day that Marifran was hawking textbooks in the area. Then I called her and said that she wouldn’t believe what just happened – I had a gig in Omaha on the same day and why don’t we meet in Missouri and go together…
Would it have happened without CBG? I don’t know. But happen it did, and on a warm Nebraska night, we sat on a hillside and spoke the truth as we knew it and created the rest of our lives.
Dean Haspiel strikes me as a creator who’s constantly growing. He’s an artist, he’s a writer, he’s won an Emmy for TV design work, and in the last year he’s started up a new project, Trip City, a “Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon” with an eclectic mix of comics, stories, realism, sci-fi, and more. Now, don’t get me wrong – I obviously love superhero comics, and the people who create them, but I also love creators who can and do cross genres and try new things. Dean is clearly one of these.
While Dean is perhaps best known for his work with Harvey Pekar (e. g. American Splendor and The Quitter) and for his “last romantic anti-hero” Billy Dogma, his current project that’s caught my attention is Trip City, via the sample booklet Dean shared with me at Baltimore Comic Con. While there’s no denying I am hooked on the Internet and social media, I am admittedly also one of those people who still generally prefers reading a paper book when it comes to fiction and creative works; which means that having a paper selection of Trip City’s offerings to lure me to the content on the web is a smooth (and effective) move.
The booklet is a combination of short stories and comics from a variety of creators, and runs the gamut from tales of relationship heartbreak or zombie science to a whimsical “missed connection” ad. It’s definitely a “something for everyone” kind of collection, and while not every selection may strike every reader’s fancy, they’re all quality work (and I, personally, enjoyed them). The best part, of course, is that if you want to read more, you can easily hop over to the site, which hosts a large and varied collection of content, as well as a regular podcast [http://welcometotripcity.com/category/podcast/]. I’m definitely going to spend some time over there, I can tell.
Another cool thing about Dean is that he’s a natural storyteller and born conversationalist. This made for a fun interview when I chatted with him at Baltimore Comic Con. Read on to hear what he had to say!
Emily: Walt Simonson’s work on Thor was just honored at the Harvey Awards. I know you’ve worked with Walt. Tell me about working with him; and did you have some work in the award-winning collection?
Dean: In 1985, I was a senior in high school, at what was Music and Art, which got married to Art and Design and became LaGuardia High School in Manhattan; so I was in the first graduating class of LaGuardia High School. I had befriended Larry O’Neil, Denny O’Neil’s son, who was in school with me, and he would get wind from his father of when some of the local artists might need assistance. Larry went on to become a filmmaker; but at one point during our initial friendship he wanted to be a cartoonist, and he got a gig working for Howard Chaykin on American Flagg! Howard Chaykin shared a studio called Upstart Studios with Walter Simonson. At one point Frank Miller was in that studio, and Jim Starlin…it was this amazing studio. The studio at the time was Howard, Walter and Jim Sherman.
Down the hall, Bill Sienkiewicz set up a studio with Denys Cowan, and Michael Davis (fellow ComicMix columnist!), who was part of creating Milestone Media. Bill Sienkiewicz was looking for an assistant, and I got that gig. So I would work with Bill, and sometimes he wouldn’t be there but I’d come in anyway; so then I’d work in Upstart with those guys, until eventually I became a second assistant for Howard Chaykin. Larry and I both worked on his monthly book. While there, we got friendly with Walter, who would sometimes use me as an assistant as well, and if you know his run on Thor, at one point, Thor becomes a frog; which was so absurd that Walt was a little worried that it wouldn’t fly – but it totally flew. I remember that distinctly because I remember working on some of those stories. My artwork of that time would be more prevalent in Chaykin’s American Flagg!, because I actually drew the backgrounds with Larry on that book; but I did work with Walter.
The way Walter worked (and this was before Photoshop) was that he would do these amazing thumbnail layouts that he always wanted to try to keep the energy of, because when you initially draw something, that’s almost like the best version of that art; because after that you start to finesse it, and sometimes you can cripple it by overdrawing or over-rendering it, or tightening it up too much. And Walter’s style has a loosey-goosey kind of line and he does a beautiful thing with a crow quill pen and brush; so part of my job as his assistant was to take his thumbnail layouts, and use this machine called an Artograph to blow them up onto boards that he would then fully pencil or ink.
Knowing what he was trying to capture was actually harder to work on because you’re trying to be in his arm and his mind, and take his scribbles, and enlarge them onto the projector-sized paper; and I didn’t have the faculty for that. Not only was I not as good an artist as I hope I am today, but also you’re trying to draw like someone else, which is hard. And then of course he would mostly erase it and go on and do his own version. But it was very good training; and also I would fill in the blacks and erase pages and things like that.
But: yes, I did work on some of those famous Thors, and Walt is like a mentor to me. Because another thing that happens, when you work with guys like this for a year, is that it’s the best kind of school. It’s not like, “here’s how you draw a panel, or a page, or rule it” – you do it by example. You do it because you’re around people and you’re getting that energy, and you learn – that’s the only way really to learn these things. He and Howard Chaykin have been mentors to me since 1985. And he’s pulled pranks on me and stuff like that.
Emily: Oh, give us an example!
Dean: Here’s a famous prank. I kind of made a joke at the Harveys about the fact that some of the stuff I learned in their studio was about Warren Zevon and Van Morrison and the writing of Jim Thompson; and they’re the ones who introduced me to Akira, by Katsuhiro Otomo. Because at the time I was like, “It’s 1985, I’m into hip hop; I’m into Prince, I’m listening to what kids listen to.” And in the studio they had this record player, and they were always playing Van Morrison and Warren Zevon and this kind of rockabilly music, and I was like, “I don’t want to listen to this stuff, whatever.” At the time, okay? Now I’m older, I can appreciate it. So they allowed me and Larry to play one record each, and I was way into Prince, so I brought in a 45 of “Little Red Corvette.” So once in awhile they’d allow us to play our song, to be democratic.
One day while working with Howard and Larry on American Flagg!, Howard encourages me, “Hey Dean, why don’t you play that song you like? Play your Prince song.” So I put it on, and it starts playing, and I go back to my seat and I’m drawing. Suddenly I hear Walter’s chair slam against the floor, and he gets up, and he’s huffing and puffing. He’s really upset; and he’s like, “I fucking hate this song, this is bullshit.” And I’m thinking, “Oh my God, what’s happening?? This was sanctioned, why am I not allowed to play it?” And then he goes over to the record player, and I look up at him, and I see this raging – he looked like a monster; and if you know Walt Simonson, he’s the nicest guy in comics ever. I didn’t know who this was, and I got so scared, I turned away. I hear him yelling again about how he hates the song, and he takes the record needle, and he scratches it across the entire song, and I’m just hearing this ripping sound, and I actually start to get sick, and he takes it in his hands, and crumples the vinyl, and I’m thinking, “I’m dead,” or it’s not happening; like I go into shock.
And Walt says, “Dean, I have something for you.” And I’m thinking, “I don’t want anything!” I don’t know what’s going to happen next. And he brings over his portfolio, and he pulls out a 12-inch version of “Little Red Corvette”! And at one point I’d looked at Larry O’Neil and Howard Chaykin, and their faces were pressed against their art tables, because they were trying to stifle laughter, but I didn’t know that at the time. I thought they were afraid and cowering as well. And then everyone starts laughing; and I’m having heart palpitations – I want to vomit; but the thing that was cool was that it made me feel like I was part of the gang. You pull a prank on someone like that, and it means they’re okay, they’ve been green lit in a way…But the collector in me is a little pissed off that that 45 got destroyed!
Emily: Hah! I bet. Now, you’ve also worked with Harvey Pekar; tell me about that.
Dean: It took me awhile to finally do something with him. I would send him samples, and I think he thought I was probably too mainstream, because he wouldn’t react. I actually wrote and drew a two-page comic about it, called The American Dilemma, which I published. It was basically about me sending him my artwork, and feeling like by the fact that he didn’t respond, I was going through a scenario of paranoia about how he was rejecting me; so I published that, to show I could create an auto-biographical story about me and my feelings. It was with other comics that are auto-bio, which I did with Josh Neufeld. It was called Keyhole, and again: nothing. So now I’m publishing things about him and he’s not responding to that either; and I was kind of getting a little pissed off, to be frank.
Then a couple of years later I get a phone call from a guy who I thought was pretending to be Harvey Pekar and pulling a prank on me (because now I’ve had pranks in my life thanks to Walt Simonson!). So he says, “Hey, do you want to do a one-page comic?” And I’m like, “Is this really Harvey Pekar?” I’m starting to question him and who he is. And he says, “Come on man, don’t you want to make some bread?” And I’m like, “Now he’s lying; this guy is a bad Pekar; talking in his lingo and stuff.” And finally he tells me to fuck off and hangs up the phone. And I’m thinking, “How is that a funny prank, if it ends like that? Where’s the prank part?” So I start realizing, “Holy crap, that was probably Harvey Pekar.” And this was before caller ID. So I called up Josh Neufeld, and first of all I thought he’d been the caller, but he says, “No man, what are you talking about?” and then I tell him what happened, and he’s like, “That was Harvey!” So I said, “…can I please get his phone number, and I’ll call him back?”
I call him back, get him on the phone and apologize, and he says to me, “What can I do to prove to you that I’m really me?” And I say, “Can you give me that job that you’re offering?” And he did, and it started this relationship. At one point, I had only done one- or five-page stories with him, and then I’d been an assistant to a film producer named Ted Hope, and I knew Ted was a comics fan, because I’d see a lot of his comics and I would file his comics at times. Ted had a couple of scripts, and one of them was a defunct American Splendor script. So it occurred to me; I’ve worked with Harvey; it would be great to make an American Splendor movie; and I suggested it to Ted, who said, “I would love to try to do that.” So I said “I’ll talk to Harvey and hook you guys up to have a phone conversation.” They did, and a year-and-a-half later, it won the Best Picture at the Sundance Film Festival.
Because of that, Harvey wanted to thank me by doing something more substantial together, and that’s where The Quitter arrived. I’d pitched it to Vertigo; they wanted to start branching out and doing more indie stuff and autobiographical. So we did The Quitter together; and then I brought American Splendor over, because it had been at Dark Horse for awhile, but it wasn’t doing well, or they couldn’t produce or market it right. It was always a hard comic to sell anyway; it’s a particular kind of franchise. It’s not superheroes, it’s about a grumpy guy writing about the mundane things in life; like how much of a fan base can you have? You can hear about it, but does that mean you went and bought it? It’s a Catch-22. So I got two miniseries’ at Vertigo of American Splendor, that became collections, and we did a couple of other little things, and then unfortunately he passed away. He was a great guy to work with. As much as he had his curmudgeonly persona, he was a sweetheart; a mensch. He always looked out for his artists, and he was just a great guy.
Emily: You’ve done a lot of really cool things. What are you working on now?
Dean: Recently I drew Godzilla Legends #5 for IDW. I just drew a Mars Attacks Christmas story for the Mars Attacks holiday special, coming out in October; I wrote and drew a 12-page story for that, which takes place in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I’m doing a couple of little things right now, and I’m also working on the second season of The Five-Dimensional Adventures of Dirk Davies, a webcomic with Ben McCool over at Shifty Look. Namco Bandai is working with different houses to produce these comics at Shifty Look. We worked with Cryptozoic; they also produced The Lookouts which Ben just did, which is a new comic.
I’ve been doing Trip City, where I’ve been curating and creating content; it’s a Brooklyn-filtered literary arts salon online. We also have these paper curated anthologies just to give people a taste of what is online. It’s prose, some comics, multimedia and a bunch of other stuff. I have other things I want to flex, other things I want to do; not just draw comics. I was recently at Yaddo, which is a writers’/artists’ retreat in Saratoga Springs, NY, where I completed a feature-length screenplay, the first part of a novel, and a new comic book idea in 24 days.
I’ve been itching to do this stuff, and I had it in the back of my mind, so I went into the woods in a cabin, and did this and walked the dog. It’s the best thing – you should try it! I recommend it to anyone who can afford to do a retreat like that. I just did a print version of The Last Romantic Antihero, which isalso up at Trip City; but believe it or not, even if you give it away online, some people will only read it if you put it in their hand or create a different kind of delivery system. So I’m testing the waters with that.
Emily: What do you think today are the most effective ways to reach people with new material?
Dean: I think using the DIY tools that have been given to us, like Twitter and Facebook, is good. We’re all still figuring out how to navigate that, and when is it too much, or not enough – how and when to use it. Figure out a destination point where you put your stuff up, where you can link to something that’s all yours. Also, be communal. You can’t just be me-me-me-me; because after awhile, people get bored of that and who cares? So share what you like, show up to the party. Be informed, be aware. Luckily, I like a lot of other things much more than what I do. I love other people’s stuff, and promote that; and I don’t waste my time hating stuff. I hate stuff; but I’m not going to publish and promote that I hate something. That’s a waste of time. I sometimes feel like the Internet is made for hate, and I’m like, no, no, no; use it for good. So that’s what I promote.
Emily: There are always people looking to break in, or for tips on what to do in the industry to get noticed. Things have changed a lot from year-to-year. What would you tell people today?
Dean: Use the Internet. If you’re not Alan Moore… Listen, no one’s standing in line knocking on my door; I’ve got to let people know what I’m doing. What’s great about putting even ten images up with your name and a contact is that it works as a 24-7, 365 resume. It’s working for you while you sleep. You may get someone knocking on your door from that. And as important as it is to have something up that shows off your wares, also show up to the party and be part of the community. Find your people. You’re not going to love everybody, you’re not going to like everybody, and not everybody’s going to like you; but find your people, truck with your gang, and luckily you can do it virtually. You can do it from your basement or home.
Emily: I’ve heard some artists say DeviantArt is a good place to showcase work; if you don’t have your own website, do you think that’s an effective place? What do you think is helpful?
Dean: This will show my age a little bit. I don’t have a DeviantArt and I don’t have a Tumblr; and I hear about Tumblr and DeviantArt all the time. If I’m hearing about it – and I hear some of my favorite artists do get a lot of work through their DeviantArt pages – then it sounds like it’s probably a good idea to have that. You don’t have to have your own website. You’re part of a community when you’re on DeviantArt and Tumblr, as with Facebook and Twitter. You can curate who you know, and keep a public presence so people can stumble upon you. The key, though, is to respond to other people’s work; comment; spark a dialogue. Yes, I understand that it’s another job sometimes; but if you’re trying to engender work and get people to know you, you’ve got to get to know other people. That’s the only way it works.
Emily: A sentiment I totally agree with. Thanks, Dean, for sharing some amazing stories and your outlook with us!
Everyone, go check out Dean’s work and the new content over at Trip City. And until next time, readers: Servo Lectio!
TUESDAY AFTERNOON: Michael Davis Does Ralph Ellison
I haven’t been to a convention in a long, long time, but reading about some of the ComicMix crew’s sojourn to Baltimore (here and here) lit up my temporal lobe – that’s the part of the brain responsible for memory, for you non-biology majors out there. James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Captain, the engines canna take it” Scott of the U.S.S. Enterprise NCC-1701) in the “green room” at ICON spilling his coffee all over my new outfit and his gentlemanly response as he went to wipe my chest and then blushed, stopping himself just in time. London in 1986 – walking through London with Archie Goodwin, Mark Gruenwald, Louise and Walter Simonson. Meeting Neil Gaiman and John Wagner. Forgetting that I met John Higgins and then marrying him 17 years later. The British Museum. The Tower of London. Breakfast with Mike Grell and Tom DeFalco. Toronto: sitting on a panel with Chris Claremont. Chicago: Meeting Kim Yale and John Ostrander and Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar. Michael Davis in the audience lending support and trying to fluster me (“Number Nine. Number Nine.”) during the Women In Comics panel. Hanging out at the pool with a bunch of comics pros and getting such a great tan that my coworkers back home thought I had gone to the Caribbean for the weekend. Sitting next to Julie Schwartz at the DC booth. Being followed into the bathroom by a fan wanting an autograph.
Over at The League Of Women Bloggers on Facebook, I found out about a troll who has been sexually harassing and threatening women pros and their families on the net. As I said there, “I would like to know why it took Ron Marz and Mark Millar (and kudos to them for doing so) to take the asshole on. Having never been subjected to the troll’s attacks, I was ignorant until I read about it here. However, I will say that if I had been attacked like this, I would not have stayed quiet. (Anyone who knows me should not be surprised.) I would have taken him on, language for language, and if it had continued, I would have contacted the authorities. So, girlfriends, I do have to say…why didn’t anyone who was being attacked by this asshole not take him on? My graduate paper for school was ‘Horizontal, Lateral and Vertical Violence in Nursing.’ It’s a worldwide phenomenon in the field. What this trolling ogre has been doing is the same thing (and it occurs on the net in nursing, too.) And every peer review paper I read, every person I interviewed, said the same thing – those who are attacked in this manner must come forward. It’s the only way to stop it.”
Reading comics as a kid taught me the meaning of “invulnerable” and that the sun is 93,000, 000 miles from Earth. (Thanks for the editor’s notes, Julie!) It opened my mind to the infinite possibilities of “life out there” and the wonders of the universe. It taught me that guns are bad and life is precious. It taught me to love reading. I mentioned this to daughter Alix’s husband, Jeff, who is a professor in the City University of New York system and teaches remedial English, suggesting that he use comics as part of his syllabus. He’s looking into it. If he can get into his office. The key the administration doesn’t open the door. Ah, CUNY.
Conspiracy moment: It might be my writer’s brain, but can’t help having a suspicion that the release of The Innocence Of Muslims (the video that launched horrific demonstrations against the U.S., Israel, and the Western world all over the Middle East, Indonesia, and Malaysia, and resulted in the deaths of our Libyan ambassador and three others) was an act of Al Quada, especially as it occurred on September 11, and especially as Ayman al-Zawahiri, who took over as head of the terrorist organization, released a message on the net calling for an uprising. Laugh if you must, scoff if you will, but I won’t be surprised if the New York Times reports that a link was found by our intelligence agencies.
The Giants lost their opening game. They deserved to lose. They looked horrible. Their offensive line is non-existent. For this I missed Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic Convention?
Martha Thomases’ fashion police column last week made me want to see a spread featuring the very fashion-forward women of comics. Hey! New York Times! How ‘bout it?
La Shonah Tova, everybody! That’s a big Happy New Year to all of you!
Well, not when you’re working on your capstone project, the culmination of the past 18 months, the paper that will lead me to that walk down the aisle in mortarboard and gown to the hallowed, somber notes of Pomp and Circumstance. How did that get to be the graduation processional march anyway? Wait, I’m going to look it up. Tawk amongst yawselves….
This is what Wikipedia says: “The Pomp and Circumstances Marches, Op. 39” are a series of marches for orchestra composed by Sir Edward Elgar. In the United States, the Trio section,” Land of Hope and Glory” of March No. 1 is sometimes known simply as” Pomp and Circumstance” or as “The Graduation March,” and is played as the processional tune at virtually all high school and college graduation ceremonies. It was first played at such a ceremony on 28 June 1905, at Yale University, where Samuel Sanford, Professor of Music, invited his friend Elgar to attend commencement and receive an honorary Doctorate of Music. Elgar accepted, and Sanford made certain he was the star of the proceedings, engaging the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, the College Choir, the Glee Club, the music faculty members, and New York musicians to perform two parts from Elgar’s oratorio – “The Light of Life” and, as the graduates and officials marched out, “Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1.” Elgar repaid the compliment by dedicating the “Introduction and Allegro, Op. 47” at the first London Symphony Orchestra performance later that year. The tune soon became de rigueur at American graduations, used primarily as a processional at the opening of the ceremony, although it is still used now only as at Yale.”
Oy, the things you and I learn because of this column!
As I was saying, academic writing is not at all like writing fiction, or like writing this column – which could be fiction. Some of it, anyway. You’ll never know, will you? Academic writing is about rules that must not be broken under any circumstance, although I think that only God knows why. I’ve had arguments with several professors – before I learned better – about why academic writing must be so dry and impersonal and polysyllabic. In other words, b-o-r-i-n-g. “Look,” I said. “Doesn’t it make sense that if the writing’s engaging, fun, and inclusive of the audience, that audience will enjoy reading it, and if the audience enjoys reading it, then the audience will r-e-m-e-m-b-e-r it. As in, the audience will not need ten cups of coffee just to get through the abstract.”
“Ha-rumph!” said the professors, looking down their snoots. “Balderdash! Ms. Newell, we assume you want to pass this course.
”Yes, sir,” I said. “Yes, ma’am.”
In other words, just shut up and do what they say, Mindy. And I do. And my academic writing is damn good, if I do say so myself, even if those last two sentences would never get through the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, 6th Editon. Because they start with conjunctions.
But fiction writing – now that’s, as the doorman to the Emerald City said to Dorothy, a horse of a different color.
You can have fun when you’re writing fiction. Oh, there are rules about plot and structure and grammar. But those rules are easily broken. It’s about style. And style, baby? That’s the fun part. Style belongs to you. You, the author.
Raymond Chandler. Edna Ferber. Alan Moore. Toni Morrison. Ernest Hemingway. Anne McCaffrey. Brian K. Vaughn. Gail Simone. Neil Gaiman. Louise Simonson. Grant Morrison. Lynda Barry. Harvey Pekar. Mari Naomi. Frank Miller. Alison Bechdel. Each of these wonderful writers with their own style, their own voice. It’s one of the reasons, maybe the reason, why they are loved, why their books are snatched off shelves and downloaded onto e-readers.
Or maybe it’s not so fun. Maybe it’s hard, maybe it’s heartbreaking, maybe it’s terrifying, maybe it’s cathartic. Maybe you don’t really know where these words are coming from or why you have these ideas, but you only know that if you don’t get them out of your head or your soul and down on paper, someday they will eat at your guts and corrode your brain and destroy what’s left of your humanity.
Fiction as primal scream therapy.
Tuesday Morning: Michael Davis Continues With His Black Thing!
Tuesday Afternoon: Emily S. Whitten Reveals You, Too, Can Get Started!
The Avengers opens today. As near as I can tell from the Internets, I’m the last person in the world to see it. The New York Daily Newsreviewed it on Monday, since apparently everyone in the city has the option of going to a screening.
I hope to catch it this weekend, like a rube from the sticks.
Which brings me to the graphic story that has me most excited right now. Harvey Pekar’s Cleveland. Written by Harvey with fantastic art by Joseph Memnant, was just published by ZIP in collaboration with Top Shelf.
Cleveland, Ohio is a large, midwestern city, and, like many large midwestern cities, is a shadow of its former self. Unlike Chicago, it is not the City of Big Shoulders, nor is it the Hog Butcher of the World. It’s not like San Francisco, Miami or New York, a portal to the international scene. Cleveland is kind of schlubby, most famous these days for the fact that the Cuyahoga River caught fire… over a dozen times.
To me, Cleveland was the Big City. Growing up in Youngstown (about an hour and a half away), Cleveland to me was a place that was big where my town was small: the airport, the art museum, the library, the department stores. My father’s work took him more often to Pittsburgh (also about an hour and a half away), and he liked the Pirates and the Steelers. My mother liked the shopping better in Pittsburgh.
For me, there was no comparison. Cleveland was the city where Superman was born. Cleveland was the more rock’n’roll town, and had the best radio stations to prove it.
Pekar loved Cleveland for some of these reasons, and more. It’s his hometown, where he grew up and worked and married. He revels in the seemingly contradictory traditions of progressive politics, union membership, and racism.
The mix of history and personal reminiscence is both seamless and magical. Reading this book, you feel Cleveland as a place, not just a spot on a map, but a city where people live and work, dream and comfort each other. You root for the mass-transit system and the used book stores.
I was lucky enough to meet Harvey a few times, although never in Cleveland. I don’t have that chance anymore. Still, there’s a chance we might be able to keep more than his spirit in the city he loved. If you haven’t chipped in on this project, think about it. I’m told they could use more money.
Depending on who you ask, Franklin Delano Roosevelt is either a fantastic president or a menace.
Typically the focus on whether to call him good or bad hinges on your opinion of his New Deal economic program. Advocates say it was a helping hand in a time of need, especially after President Hoover exacerbated the troubles of the Great Depression. Opponents say that the New Deal was ineffective and that therefore it should be dismantled.
There are some who go farther, like when Father Coughlin called him “Franklin Double-Crossing Roosevelt” and others compared him to a dictator. One thing you can’t deny, though, is that being president during the Great Depression, World War II and pulling a country through both events successfully while paraplegic is pretty hardcore.
FDR and the New Deal For Beginners is a book aimed at teaching the unfamiliar and the amateur about just exactly what FDR was all about, and what the New Deal consisted of. If you’ve never heard of this man, this book will give you a great overview of his presidency, from his early life all the way through his last term. (more…)