Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Greetings from the road.

The Angoulême Festival. 

A few random thoughts  from the road.

I’m halfway into my 5-week tour of France and Belgium. I’m writing this from a Brussels hotel. A cold, driving rain is, unfortunately, keeping me from enjoying the city today, before I hop a train back to Paris this afternoon. This is my 12th trip to France since Mon Ami Dahmer was released here in 2014. As my wife says, I'm living a charmed life.

To sum up so far, I appeared at my third (straight) Angoulême Comics Festival and am now skipping all over the country for signings and interviews. Angoulême was exhausting, frankly. I signed at my publisher's booth for six or seven hours a day, four days in a row. It's great meeting fans, don't get me wrong, and I had a big line right up to the closing bell. The tradition here is a dedicace, a drawing on the title page of every book. It's great for the fans, but that's a LOT of drawing. I didn't even try to keep count.

One of my nicer dedicaces.

The many screw ups of the Angoulême Fest bureaucrats made it something of a bummer affair. Maybe because I started on such a high note, winning a prize for My Friend Dahmer at my first Angoulême, but they get a little worse every year. Last year it was mere weeks after the Charlie Hebdo massacre and this year, well... a round-up of the disastrous awards ceremony, where a French shockjock handed out fake awards to humiliated comix creators and then mocked and insulted them is HERE. I've commented on this at length on social media. Suffice it to say I've never seen such a nauseating, cruel trick pulled on creators. French comix folk are FURIOUS, horrified and ashamed. I wasn't even involved in the ceremony and people have been apologizing to me at every stop!

• Every French comics shop has at least three people working in it, no matter how small. And they all appear to get along splendidly. They are happy places. So are the surviving US shops, although we all well remember the creepy stores run by swindling assholes. The difference is the French shops are thriving. There is no Amazon here. France outlaws book discounts greater than 20%, a move made to cut off Amazon at the gate, prevent its  infamous predatory capitalism and protect French bookstores. As a result, Paris alone has over 400 independent bookstores, and almost 100 comic book shops! Socialism works!

• Yesterday evening was laundry night. O, the glamorous life of a traveling author! There’s a 24/7 laundromat conveniently located right across the street from my Paris hotel. Right in the middle of the spin cycle, a fuse blew and the laundromat went dead and dark. I was left with an armload of dripping clothes at midnight, and with a morning train to Brussels. Thank God for a friendly hotel clerk and their industrial clothes dryer!

• The Paris Metro cops have checkpoints in station all over the city. Don’t have a ticket? Fifty euro fine on the spot. They even have credit card devices to process the fine right there. It’s a total money grab, and it’s a mob scene of stern-faced cops and angry, yelling passengers. I always keep my ticket in my back pocket and just wave it at them. They look disappointed as I march on.

• French trains knock me out, especially the fast intercity ones. I don’t know if it’s the rocking motion or the weak train coffee, but I sleep like the dead. Great way to catch up on snooze time. 

• The Metro station I was in this morning smelled like baking bread, thanks to the bakery in the lobby. A slight improvement over the smell of stale pee one enjoys at a Cleveland train stop.

• At Angoulême my publisher, Editions Çá et Lá, brings in a dozen creators from all over the world. A highlight of these trips is hanging out with old friends and making new ones. The week after the fest, we all spend in Paris doing signings and interviews. We stay in the same hotel, share meals and hang out at a legendary comics shop across the street, or at a nice corner cafe next door. All of my colleagues have gone home now. It’s sad bidding them farewell. 

In Le Troc comics shop (and tea house) in Paris. Peter Kuper works on a sketch, as
(from left) Gregory Benton, Tom Daly, Joshua Cotter and
Swedish creator Henrik Lange relax.

• On the plus side, it looks like I dodged the Angoulême Plague that felled many of my fellow scribblers. Angoulême was packed and the sound of hacking and coughing filled the air, along with germs. Add to that, the custom of cheek kissing and bugs spread like wildfire here. You can easily understand how the Black Death wiped out half the country.

• I’ve met a few French garbagemen who want signed copies of Trashed. One told me he coaxed everyone on his crew to read it, too and some of them “have never read a book in their life.” One garbageman used to work at the comics shop in Toulone, on France's southern coast! He left “to make more money.” I, of course, left the garbage biz for the same reason (among others, as readers of Trashed know), so we passed going in opposite comix-garbage directions!

• Every shop owner wants to give me a free book as a token of appreciation. I don’t get squat at US signings, so that’s great, except with 20-some signings, my bag will weigh as much as a Buick.

I eat meals like this every day! Fuck off!!

• Dining out here is a national tradition, and dinners last HOURS. A round of drinks, followed by three (or sometimes four) courses, then coffee and perhaps ANOTHER round of drinks. Everything is fabulous, of course, and my various hosts take great care in picking their favorite local eateries, places no tourist would find. The French are all clean platers, too, right down to wiping up every ounce of sauce with bread. I seldom finish, which gets me disappointed looks. I don’t know how they do it! They’re all pretty trim, too. The benefit of good ingredients and great cooking, I guess. 

• Comic creators are treated like visiting rock stars here. Everyone is SO glad to see you, and there’s a superfan or two at every signing. One woman practically burst into tears when I handed her my finished dedicace! It’s great fun. I have no explanation why my books have resonated here, while other (far better) American books have not. My publisher, Serge, will chalk that up to the brilliance of the publisher. I won’t dispute that. I lucked out landing at Çà et Là.  And I just found out I’ll be back in Sept. for a big book festival, plus possible additional trips to Amsterdam and Denmark. It’s all completely unexpected. I walk around Paris smiling to myself. I simply can’t believe this has happened to me, especially after 20 years toiling in weekly newspapers. I enjoyed my time in that genre, don’t get me wrong, but lavish... or even unlavish... benefits of any kind were unthinkable. Once in awhile a weekly editor would buy me a beer, that's about it. Half the time I got stuck with the tab!

More from the road on the next rainy day.

New Baron of Prospect Ave. page posted!

The saga continues HERE

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Gen X funnies

This week's Retro Derf from 1992, which I just posted on Gocomics, is a fun one that I only recently uncovered in my files.

This is the debut of Generation X in my strip! The term had only recently been coined a few months earlier, in Douglass Coupland's book, Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture. Before this, the new wave of twentysomethings traveling downwind of the great cultural fart of the Baby Boom HAD no name.
Popular culture moved a bit slower in the days before the Electric Intertube. Most didn't even have laptops in 1992– Mac's first Powerbook had just been released– or even home computers, for that matter. Mobile didn't exist. Heck, I don't think I had even purchased my first Mac yet!  The Electric Intertube was there, but it was mostly limited to universities and brainiac computer geeks, who accessed it via snail-like 14k dial-up modems through clunky online portals like AOL or Compuserve. The counter culture, and there actually was one in 1992, wholly separate from the mainstream, spread through self-published zines and alt-weekly newspapers, both of which were in their golden ages. I was heavily invested in the latter, obviously. It was a fun time to be making comix! And I made them "old school." No Photoshop, no desktop publishing, just a pen and a piece of paper. 

But the term "Generation X" didn't catch on right away. As I recall, the first reaction was: why would I want to be named after Billy Idol's first band? But catch on it eventually did.

The streetscape here, by the way,  is Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, which was the epicenter of of the local Gen X counterculture and also of Cleveland comics. I had just moved to the Heights after buying the house I would live in for the next decade, site of the infamous "unheated attic studio" where I made the comix that would make first my name. Harvey Pekar lived in a brownstone at the end of the block pictured here. Brian Michael Bendis, who grew up nearby, was still in town. You could bump into both at the Arabica coffee house on Coventry, where I'd spend every morning swilling the infamously bad brew and writing in my sketchbook as I watched a cluster of Xers play hacky-sack in the courtyard outside.
So this strip here kicked off the Gen X humor that would fuel the strip throughout its Nineties peak.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Finally! The return of The Baron of Prospect Ave.

My webcomic is active again! Sorry that took a little longer than planned.

I started The Baron of Prospect Ave. webcomic in Fall 2014, got a dozen pages up, and then had to put it on sabbatical in early 2015 when I realized the deadline for Trashed was going to be a killer. I planned to pick it up again later that fall, once Trashed was in the can, but I was so whipped from 14-hour days, I just couldn't muster up much enthusiasm for a free webcomic. Then came the crazy Fall book tour which took me from San Francisco to Miami to Paris and many points in between. It never seemed to end.

But I'm ready to fire it up again and post more of the further adventures of the Baron. And I'm happy to report that this project is now being funded with a generous Cultural Workforce arts grant! Here in greater Cleveland we fund our arts with grants to 40 artists every year, thanks to our nicotine addicts. I applied, almost on a lark to be perfectly honest, and was one of those selected. Even better, THREE of the 40 are comics creators! That's a great acknowledgement of the storied comics history of Cleveland. It's great to be a part of it and I'm flattered and proud.

There are a few changes in the story you should be aware of. I've re-done the opener, added a few pages, so you'll want to start from the beginning. I'll be adding a couple big splash pages down the road, too, but I just don't have time to punch those out before I leave for Angoulême.

And that's another thing. I'll be touring in France and Belgium for five weeks. I've got a few new pages of the story ready to post, so I'll do that from abroad. If I can. My webhost might be a little pissy about uploading files from outside the US. Blogger here certainly is. Last time I tried to do some posts from abroad, it wasn't allowed. No way to know until I'm there, so fingers crossed. When I return, I can be a little more productive. A new page every two weeks is the plan. I'll post here and on Twitter and Facebook whenever a new page goes up.

I have the whole first chapter written. Beyond that, very little. I originally looked at this as a storytelling experiment, more freeform than the method I use to make a book, where everything is tightly written before I start drawing. I just wanted something I could have fun with and work on a little at a time on the side. Well, turns out I'm not really comfortable with that. Guess I'm just not a freeform kinda guy.   I'll use my downtime in France to write the rest of it, probably sitting in a corner cafe in Paris. That should be fun. Just like Hemingway! Life is good, man.

One other change. I waffled on how to finish these pages. Punk Rock & Trailer Parks was, of course, just b&w pen work. No washes, no spot color, like My Friend Dahmer and Trashed respectively. I originally added some grey tones, but I've changed my mind on that. I don't want to get bogged down in file prep at this stage, so I'm just going to leave them b&w for now, just like PR&TP. Down the road, this will eventually see print and I'll add some tone. Frankly, I'll probably add full color. I've been inching my way in that direction anyways. But for now, just b&w.

As for the ultimate plan here? Well, like I wrote, it'll be printed at some point. Trashed started as a webcomic, too, for those of you who remember. I only got two episodes posted before Abrams grabbed it and had me finish it for them. My French publisher is already nagging me about The Baron, since Punk Rock & Trailer Parks was a surprise (to me, anyways) hit over there. But this is very much a side project, a labor of love. I'm just planning to have fun with it and not worry about commercial considerations. And since I'm getting paid for it up front thanks to the arts grant, how cool is that?

So enjoy.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

French Book Tour 2016

Here's the details on the upcoming tour of France and Belgium.

January 29, 30, 31, February 1
Festival International de la Bande Dessinée d'Angoulême

Tuesday, February 2
175, rue Saint-Martin
75003 PARIS

Wednesday, February 3
FNAC la Défense 
2 place de la Défense

Bulles en Vrac 
9 rue de Mirbel
75005 PARIS

Thursday, February 4
La Cour des miracles 
51 Rue Froide
14000 CAEN

Friday, February 5
7 Rue Latapie
64000 PAU

Saturday, February 6
Librairie Falba 
5, place Puget
83000 TOULON

Monday, February 8
Multi BD 
Boulevard Anspach 122

Tuesday, February 9
La Dimension Fantastique 
106 Rue la Fayette
75010 PARIS

Wednesday, February 10
Fnac Montparnasse 
136 rue de Rennes
75006 PARIS

Thursday, February 11
Usage du monde 
32 Rue de La Jonquière
75017 PARIS

Friday, February 12
21 rue de l’Église

Saturday, February 13
La Parenthèse 
19 Cour des Arts
54000 NANCY

Monday, February 15
Fnac Toison D'or 
Av. de la Toison d'Or 17

Tuesday, February 16
Gibert Joseph St-Michel 
26 boulevard Saint-Michel
75006 PARIS

Wednesday, February 17
BD Net Bastille 
26 rue de Charonne
75011 PARIS

Thursday, February 18
Bd Anspach 100

Friday, February 19
81 rue du Commerce
37000 TOURS

Saturday, February 20
Folie d'Encre 
9 Avenue de la Résistance 

Gibert Joseph Barbès 
15 Boulevard Barbès
75018 PARIS

Monday, February 22
Au grand Nulle part 
102 Rue du Général Leclerc
76000 ROUEN

Tuesday, February 23
Le Merle Moqueur 
51 rue de Bagnolet
75020 PARIS

Wednesday, February 24
Cap Nord 
4 Rue des Balances
62000 ARRAS

Thursday, February 25
Le Migou 
27 Rue Dessoles
32000 AUCH

Friday, February 26
BD Fugue Café 
11 rue Sainte Ursule

Saturday, February 27
5 Place Antonin Poncet
690020 LYON

Friday, December 25, 2015

New addition to the webstore. Signed books!

I've teamed up with my favorite local indie bookstore to sell copies of Trashed and My Friend Dahmer with original drawings on the title page. The Trashed copies have a variety of characters in various poses. The MFDs have a nice sketch of Dahmer.

I've added drawings to several boxes of books, hardback and softback, and will be replenishing the supply as they sell. The friendly staff at Mac's will happily take your order and ship your books to you. Best of all, you'll pay nothing extra for these. That's right. Cover price!

The latest batch, above. I threw on a little spot color with marker.

I get a lot of requests for signed books, but I have no interest in running a mail order biz out of my studio, so this is a great solution, and one that helps a great indie bookstore, too.

Unfortunately, Punk Rock & Trailer Parks isn't available from Mac's. The only place to buy copies anymore is on Amazon. Purchase link is to the right of this column. To get PR&TP signed with a drawing, well, you'll just have to wait for a signing or con in your town, I'm afraid.

Mac's has set up a handy online shopping page HERE

Trashed Item-of-the-month

On the set of A Christmas Story. Darren McGavin, the Old Man, and Mike.

Here's a TRASHED trivia item for Christmas.

As you know, Trashed is fictional, but pieces of it are real, based on my own experience as a garbageman as a young man, in 1979 and 1980. Here's something you
don't know. My real-life partner on the truck-- named Mike in the book, named Mike in real life, too-- was in the beloved classic film, A Christmas Story!

It was winter break 1982. Mike was home from Ohio University. I was at Ohio State. My time on the truck was over by the end of 1980, when I started at OSU. Mike, however, worked at the Service Dept. an additional year. Unlike the book, I left first. I didn't come home anymore for breaks. Instead, I spent that time with my girlfriend, who had already graduated and lived and worked in Battle Creek, Michigan. Horrible place. The air reeked of toasted corn flakes from the cereal factories. I was also deeply involved with the school newspaper, The Lantern, and our breaks were short since we had to be on the job a week early to gear up for the first week of publication once the semester began. By Christmas 1982, my comics career was well underway and I was drawing political cartoons for The Lantern, as well as working as a reporter or photographer, depending on the semester. In December 1982, I was gearing up to be a fulltime reporter and political cartoonist once school started again in January 1983.

But the real impetus for staying away from my hometown was there was NO WAY I was getting back on that garbage truck again, which would have been my likely fate, since part time jobs over break were tough to find. I had already worked trash over a previous Christmas break. That was enough.

Mike in Trashed (in Dutch!)

Guess Mike felt the same way. He was home, and the break at Ohio U stretched SIX WEEKS at that time, from Thanksgiving all the way to the new year. He was determined to find other work. He was leafing through the classified ads in the Cleveland paper one day when he saw a mysterious ad: "Major movie. Extras needed." Curious, he called the number listed. He was told the only requirement was you had to be on call 24 hours a day. The only instructions were for when and where to show up, and how to dress. In vintage clothes.
"You had to go through costuming or could bring your own. I brought my own," Mike says, explaining that he borrowed his Dad's 1939 overcoat.

Ralphie's house, on Cleveland's hardscrabble near West Side, is now a very successful tourist attraction! 
That movie, of course, was the beloved Christmas classic, A Christmas Story. The filming took place in various locations around Cleveland, passed off as writer Jean Shepherd's fictional Rustbelt hometown of Holman, Indiana. 

For the next several weeks, Mike would spend most nights as an extra in a movie, the identity and storyline of which remained shrouded in mystery. Mike recalls he thought the film was utter nonsense. He particularly recalls watching them film Ralphie's fantasy scene, where he's picking off bad guys in his backyard. "What the hell IS this?," he thought.  "It looks terrible!"

Mike has always been a collector of odd antiques and family heirlooms. His boyhood room was full of strange artifacts. One of his hobbies was old cars. At this time, he had a Thirties sedan he tooled around town in. When he noticed the film was a period piece, he mentioned the car, and they hired him as a driving extra, one of several old-car buffs who simulate traffic in the film. He's driving in one of the opening scenes, as Ralphie is staring through HIgbee's front window at the Red Ryder BB gun. Higbee's was the real downtown Cleveland department store (it's now, alas, a casino). Another scene Mike was in was the one where the Old Man has a flat tire after getting the Christmas tree. That was filmed in the desolate Flats, Cleveland's industrial pit along the Cuyahoga River, where all the steel mills are. Mike was instructed to drive back and forth through the scene, hour after hour, all night long. He remembers it was a white-knuckle drive, on an icy, pot-hole-littered road, with few street lights and crew and actors mere feet from the passing cars. Mike was terrified he was going to run over Darren McGavin! The scene took an entire week to film.

Most of the filming took place at night, with production wrapping up at 3 am, so the street could be cleared by rush hour. December 1982 was bitterly cold. There was no snow that month. All the snow in the film was placed there with snow machines! Mike mostly stood around the set for hours, trying to stay warm and waiting to be called for a few minutes of filming. Then, when the set closed for the night, he would have the long, 20-mile drive back to our hometown, in his clunker car, and collapse in bed at dawn. Only at age 22!

There's Mike, behind the shrub!

But Mike had one big moment, the iconic Leg Lamp scene. When the Old Man is taking in the view from the street– "Oh, you should see what it looks like from here!"– a crowd gathers behind him to gawk. There's Mike, former garbageman, looking over his shoulder! I remember the first time I saw the film, I bellowed in recognition when I saw his face.

More trivia. A Christmas Story bombed. MGM thought it was a dog and dumped it in theaters at Thanksgiving 1983. It was gone by Christmas. The NY Times critic Vincent Canby savaged it! "There are a number of small, unexpectedly funny moments in ''A Christmas Story,'' but you have to possess the stamina of a pearl diver to find them." Ouch!

The following year, however, it popped up on heavy rotation on cable tv. In the early days of cable, the movie channels ran the same five movies in a continuous loop all month long and, since virtually everyone hacked the primitive cable boxes (with a paper clip!) to gain free access to those pay channels, you'd find yourself watching these films over and over. This turned box office disappointments like Road Warrior and Fast Times at Ridgemont High into cable hits.  And that's how fans found A Christmas Story. Then Ted Turner bought the rights and started the 24-hour marathons on TNT and TBS, which have grown into a Christmas Day tradition.

Now a college prof in Indiana, this scene has made Mike an annual Christmas celebrity on campus. All because he didn't want to be a garbageman anymore!