Wednesday, December 31, 2014

It's been a helluva year

Maybe my best year. Started off with my first trip to the Angoulême Comix Fest, where I won  one of the coveted prizes, for Mon Ami Dahmer, came home and signed a book deal for a new Trashed, and the year hasn't let up since. 

Here's hoping 2015, mine and yours, are just as good. 

To get it off to a fabulous start, here's a recent discovery. You can find just about the complete Russ Meyer filmography on Youtube! Hurry up and watch them before they're taken down. Enjoy!

Supervixens (1975)

Up! (1976)

Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! (1965)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Look What I Got for Christmas!

Christmas present to me. Three issues of Stars & Stripes, two from early 1944, and one from 1945, a special "Germany Surrenders" extra. All with Bill Mauldin Willie & Joe cartoons! People who follow my musings know what a huge Mauldin fan I am.

The two from 1944 are Mediterranean Editions, published out of the Italian S&S office in Naples, which served as Mauldin's base, since he was a soldier assigned to the 45th division there. Both issues are just before the Anzio invasion. The landing was a boondoggle and Allied forces were pinned by 100,000 Germans who held the high ground and shelled them continuously for months. There were 44,000 casualties until the Allies finally broke out in May. For Mauldin, though, who commuted back and forth to Anzio from Naples in his famous personal jeep, it provided tons of material. "If you liked ironies," he said, "that beachhead was a cartoonist's goldmine."

Note the crappy printing, using whatever supplies and ink could be scrounged up. Something Mauldin writes about in detail in his autobiography The Brass Ring. It's fun to look at these things, knowing that Mauldin personally babied them through the press run. 

The May 8, 1945, extra was printed at the Times of London! It's on thick paper, almost a magazine weight. Obviously meant as a keepsake. Or perhaps the editors were so overjoyed that the Nazis threw in the towel, they just decided to damn the expense.

But it's the cartoon that's remarkable. It's on Page 2, as usual, even though Willie & Joe was the most popular feature in the paper.  Usually, the Mauldin cartoon ran by itself, but here the editors, as editors are wont to do, decided to bundle them all together, since they all deal with the German surrender. Dick Wingert's Hubert, on top, was a lame gag panel that, believe it or not, lived on as an even lamer syndicated feature for another 50 years. On the bottom is Private Breger by Dave Breger, another gag panel, best known for coining the phrase "G.I. Joe." It, too, inexplicably lived on as the syndicated Mister Breger until 1970. Both are described as "popular" with the troops, but are today obscure and forgotten. They were pretty obscure as syndicated features, too. 

However, I like the contrast with the Mauldin cartoon, scanned here from my Fantagraphics box. Hubert and Breger both offer mild gags that are head-shaking examples of lameness, especially given the scale of the news of Germany's surrender. This is the best Wingert and Breger could come up with? Mauldin, however, gives the G.I. reader a dose of his classic 
cynicism. Yeah, sure it's over. Wonderful. You can still get killed, boys. Note also the "Th' hell with it..." Remember, this is the goody-two-shoes Forties, when a "gosh darn it" was considered risqué for newspaper publication. Mauldin had the chutzpah, and the status, to get this expletive by both editors and army censors, on the biggest day of Stars & Stripes' publication history! 

The following day, Mauldin opened his copy of Stars & Stripes and was stunned to read he had won the Pulitzer Prize for cartooning.

This May 8 cartoon was also the last great Mauldin wartime cartoon. He spent the remaining two months of his hitch scribbling cartoons about exhausted soldiers waiting to ship home. He grew ever more frustrated with his work and felt he had "lost it" now that the fighting was over. But looking back now, those cartoons reflect the everyday reality of his dogface audience: the big celebration, then months of red tape and boredom. My old man, a sailor on the battleship USS Arkansas, cooled his heels for 8 weeks on the Treasure Island base off San Francisco, because the Navy lost his discharge papers. They also cut off his pay, since he officially didn't exist. That's a Bill Mauldin cartoon right there! 

Mauldin returned, classified A1, along with generals and diplomats, and was mustered out in June. Up Front, his first  cartoon collection released by a major stateside publisher, hit the stores a month later. Heavily censored by the Army, which still maintained that power while the war raged on in the Pacific, to remove the most cutting content, it nonetheless immediately shot to the top of the bestseller list. I discovered a copy of this tome at my tiny local library in my hometown when I was 13. This began my lifelong appreciation of Mauldin.

The above cartoon is a great example of why I consider Mauldin the greatest "underground" cartoonist. Not only did he create something completely unique and groundbreaking, cartoons that stretched the limits of the genre, he was also the first cartoon "voice of his generation." But he operated, obviously, under far harsher conditions than Crumb or Groening or any of the others who attained similar status. Not only was he at war, still a mere Sergeant despite his fame, he had to deal with a military bureaucracy that wanted to crush him. This is a guy who got chewed out in person by Gen. Patton and held his ground! Crumb, as much as I admire him, would have been wheeled out of there on a stretcher and probably never published again! 

The famous quote: "There'll never be another Bill Mauldin. The Pentagon won't let it happen."

Monday, December 22, 2014

Poor Stan Lee Says No One Cares About Stan Lee.

Stan Lee is mad. Because no one cares about Stan Lee! 

"This burns me up!," rants Smilin' Stan.  "No one ever asks me, 'tell me about yourself.' All they want to know about is my characters!"

It's tongue-in-cheek, of course. But the part there that isn't answers Stan's own question. "Your" characters, you glory-hogging gasbag?

You mean the characters created by Kirby and Ditko that you shamelessly took full credit for? The ones  you lied about creating in a series of autobiographies,  at lecture after lecture, in a billion appearances and interviews you've give over the past 50 years? And if some fanboy is paying $50 at a Wizard World Con to have you scribble your name on his copy of Amazing Spider-man #100, he has to ask about your wife and kids first? Haha, what a great joke! Every time Stan opens his mouth I want to pee on his shoes. Excelsior!

Fans, according to Stan here, only ask about the books. "Hey Stan, in the X-men #52, howcum you wrote this...." he brays, citing a typical question.

Guess what, Stan? You didn't write X-men #52. Arnold Drake did! You just can't help yourself, can you?

Here's his full rant, if you can stand to listen to him:

Not un-coincidentally, here's a letter, undated, that was hand-written and signed by Jack Kirby. This was just posted on the Kirby Museum site, for obvious reasons. The Kirby Family, of course, just scored a major victory in a decades-long battle to get Jack the credit he deserves, credit long denied him by Stan and his followers, and by a succession of corporate overlords who have owned Marvel for the past 40 years.
At long last Kirby will get the credit he deserves. By everyone except Stan, of course, who will croak on and on about "his" characters until he, well, croaks.

Here's the transcript:
Captain America
Formulated in 1939 by myself + Joe Simon in Joe’s apartment _ submitted to “Atlas”
Fantastic Four – Hulk – Spiderman – Thor – Sgt. Fury
When I arrived at Marvel in 1959, it was closing shop that very afternoon, according to what was related to me by “Stan Lee”.
The comic book dept. was another victim of the Dr. Wertham negative cycle + definitely was following in the wake of EC Comics, “The Gaines Publishing House”.
In order to keep working I suggested to Stan Lee that to initiate a new line of Super Heroes, he submit my ideas to Martin Goodman the publisher of Marvel.
The line that I came up with was
“Fantastic Four” a team of Super Heroes
“The Hulk” – which was a spin off of a single story I did for Marvel
“Spiderman” grew from a different script called “The Silver Spider” which was written by Joe Simon’s brother-in-law, Jack Oleck, who is now deceased.
Joe was out of the field at that time + I utilized the “Silver Spider” script to create a single new character. This was given for development to Steve Ditko after I drew the first cover with the original costume.
Thor quickly followed + was fleshed out with the character of the original legend.
Sgt. Fury a mixture of the “Dirty Dozen”, James Bond + my own war experiences became another successful book.
I created many costumes for new “Super Heroes” such as Iron Man, Ant Man + created all related characters such as “Silver Surfer” Galactus – The Inhumans + many more which are included in the enclosed list.
To insure sales, I also did the writing which I not credited for as Stan Lee wrote the credits for all of the books which I did not control because of his relationship with the publisher Martin Goodman.
This was later changed to “Produced by Stan Lee & Jack Kirby” in some of the books.
There were no scripts. I created the characters + wrote the stories in my own home + merely brought them into the office each month.
FF published 1961
– Jack Kirby

Thursday, December 18, 2014

New Otto cover!

Here's the cover, which I just finished,  for the Éditions çà et là 10th anniversary catalog, which will be available at the Angoulême Festival, a little over a month from now.  Éditions çà et là is my French publisher who have successfully turned Mon Ami Dahmer and Punk Rock et Mobile Homes into bestsellers in that comix-crazed country. 

French fans have particularly taken to Otto, and this is easily the most delightful surprise of my career. So publisher Serge asked me if I could do an Otto for his upcoming catalog. Unfortunately, I was way too swamped to do something from scratch, but offered this piece, originally the first cover concept  for Punk Rock & Trailer Parks and later used as a poster for a benefit for SLG Publishing. I proposed altering it for the catalog cover and throwing some color on it and Serge loved the idea. Came out pretty well, although I, of course, wound up spending as much time on it as I would have on an image made from scratch!  

Here's the original b&w piece for the SLG benefit. I drew this from scratch, off the original pencil sketch:

And here's the original (unpublished) cover, below, which isn't very good at all.

And, going all the way back to 2007, this is my very first character sketch of Otto. I hadn't even started the book yet. AT that point, the working title was The Baron. Guess the lesson here is: never give up on a good drawing!

If you're going to Angoulême, you can grab a copy of the catalog there. Otherwise, it'll be damn near impossible to procure it.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

From all of us here at Derfcity HQ


My new Facebook image.

So after 8 years, Facebook banned my page, without warning. I was right in the middle of typing a post when.... blip. Gone. Just like that, 4,000 contacts and 8 years of content went poof. The reason, according to the Facebook auto-help? "Derf Backderf" sounds like a fake name. 

Which, of course, it is. My given birth name is John. Only my mother calls me that. I always hated the name, especially after a long list of toilet nicknames were swapped for it on the mean asphalt jungle of Richfield Elementary. When I got  to college I ditched it, like I did virtually all of my unhappy previous life, and became Derf. All my friends call me that, my wife uses it, as does everyone who knows me either personally or professionally and, of course, my fans only know me by that moniker.

But that's not good enough for Facebook. There's a Library of Congress file on "Derf Backderf," but it sounds funny to Zuckerberg and company so the page is gone, apparently never to return. Facebook demands scans of government-issued ID, like a driver license, birth certificate or passport with "Derf Backderf" on it, to restore the page. First of all, send them copies of my IDs? Should I just go ahead an cc random Nigerian thieves or wait for the inevitable Facebook hack? Yeah, that's not happening. Secondly, I freely admit it's not my birth name. So what? Is everyone named Chip or Buffy going to get the heave-ho? Well, ok, that would probably be an improvement, but you get my point.

So I started over. If you Facebook, look for "John Backderf" and that's me. 

I know, I know, I shouldn't bother with the damn thing at all. Sure, I do Twitter, and please follow me there. I don't bother with Tumblr, although I have an account and may start posting stuff there, or any of the fly-by-night sites you damn kids with your bongo music favor. I like how a Facebook page is designed, especially for photos. Everyone says it's worthless now, just all middle-aged housewives looking to flirt with old high school classmates, but y'know I haven't found that to be the case. I've made book deals via Facebook! It's paid off for me, and a lot of the comix guys have a big presence there. But I was too Facebook heavy. Lesson fucking learned! From here on, my Facebook page is just a repeat of what I post here, and on Twitter. In fact, look for a LOT More blog posts here.

The downside is the high asshole factor. The racist rants, the rightwing screeds, the comix fan pages where any deviation from the established dogma, whatever that is, brings a legion of trolls to life. Gawd, there's a Jack Kirby fan page that is a goddam nightmare  The boring, crazy friends who post the same fucking thing on every fucking thread. The constant bitch, bitch, bitch about every fucking thing. Starting over, as big a pain as that is, is at least a good way to clear out some of the losers. 

I tossed one troll last week. I'm fairly tolerant, but this guy was a total rage-filled psycho. He threatened that he was going to "turn me in to Facebook" just before I blocked him and, hey, looks he might have. The timing is suspicious.

Facebook has apparently pulled this stunt on others. Punk historian Legs McNeil lost his personal page. Then there was the recent kerfuffle over drag queens using stage names on their pages. Facebook relented on that one. Bestselling authors who dare to use pen names? Sorry. What Facebook wants is for people like me to set up a fan page. problem is Facebook fan pages are a total waste of time. If you want them to show up in people's feeds, which is the point of Facebook, you have to pay. Yeah, think I'll just use Twitter for that.

So if you're using a pen name or secret identity on Facebook, be prepared. And yes, I'm talking to you, Bono!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Digital Comix Shopping Mayhem!

Digital comix for Christmas? You betcha!

Punk Rock & Trailer Parks can be downloaded on Comixology for $8.99.

True Stories: Volume One is also on Comixology for $1.99!

And My Friend Dahmer is there, as well. $9.99.

Heck, even Mon Ami Dahmer is there! $16.99.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Genghis Con!

And then, to wrap up a gala weekend of indy comix, the big Genghis Con comix fest is Sunday, Nov. 30 from 2 to 7 pm!

The festivities kick off there evening before at Cleveland's fabulous Mahall Lanes for a kick-off party. There's food, beer and retro bowling! And screenings of documentaries about Cleveland poster man extraordinaire, John G (who drew these posters here) and indy comix hero John Porcellino. I'll be dropping in at some point.

And then Sunday, the con itself, in our new venue, the Screw Factory aka the Lake Erie Building! Local Cleves know it well as the home of an anthill of galleries and art studios and home to several popular art shows. It is one cool space. We outgrew our first home, the legendary Beachland Ballroom. It's a great lineup this year, with several big indy names coming in: the before mentioned Porcellino, Frank Santaro from Pittsburgh, NYC's Gregory Benton, as well as a who's who of Ohio talent, like Kevin Czap, Liz Valasco, Nix Comics, and, of course, yours truly.

And for those westsiders too lazy to schlep across town for my eastside signings, here's your chance to grab my books for Christmas. 

Best of all.... Genghis Con is FREE! Yep. No admission charge. Spend that money on comix instead!

Upcoming signings.

I emerge from my hole to support indy bookstores with TWO signings

I'll be at Loganberry Books in Cleveland's Larchmere District on Black Friday, from 3 to 5. Gorgeous store, as you locals well know.

And on Saturday, Indies First Day, I'll be at Mac's Backs on Coventry from 11am -12pm. 

So if you're looking to get signed copies of my books, including the new True Stories Volume One, this would be the weekend to do it.

Please please PLEASE shop your local merchants, especially your local bookstores.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

PR&TP now on Comixology!

Those of you who haven't been able to track down a copy of my first graphic novel, big news! The fine folks at Comixology have added it to their digital catalog! You can download it right now and be reading it in mere seconds! AND it's only $8.99! What are you waiting for?

PR&TP is a hit in Europe, which is just about the most gratifying thing that's happened to me, because it didn't sell much in the US, despite glowing reviews. But it's a bestseller in France. That's the benefit of following My Friend Dahmer, rather than preceding it. But I'd really like more people to read it, because I'm fond of Otto and Co. and very proud of this book. 

Download it HERE

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Not Dead Yet

Me & Sheryl, on the Seine, 2013

My darling wife heard a piece on NPR about the biggest regrets people have on their death beds. As women do, she obsessed over this for days as she compiled her own mental list. She asked me for mine. I didn't hesitate. If I dropped over dead tomorrow, I answered, my only regret after this past eleven years I've had, would be that I didn't have more time to do more!

Why eleven years? Because on this very day in 2003, I finished treatment for cancer. On that grey day in November when I walked out of the Radiology Department in the basement of University Hospitals for the final time, I was exhausted, sporting a half dozen ghastly 12-inch scars and missing a few chunks of my body, battered and roasted to a crisp, but happy. I'd made it. 

Cancer messes with your head. I always thought I'd live to a ripe old age like my grandfather, who lived to 105 (his brother lived to 108!), but my body started to fall apart at age 35  like a Chevy Vega. On that November 18th, I was determined to make the most out of whatever time I had left. 

Here's what I've done in those eleven years:

My original concept for Punk Rock & Trailer Parks, 2007. That was the working title early on. 

Taking a break from working on Punk Rock & Trailer Parks to crank out a City strip, 2008

My Friend Dahmer arrives, fresh from the printing plant, 2012!

•Wrote and drew three graphic novels, two webcomics and 600 comic strips.

•Spent another decade with that incredible woman I conned into dating me when we were just kids at Ohio State.

•Published five mini-comics, a bunch of short stories for various anthology books and True Stories: Volume One,  with three more volumes on the way.

240 freshly inked pages of Trashed, my next book, due in Fall 2015. Plus a pile of Band-aid finger pads for my drawing hand and a funeral pyre of spent Microns.

•Watched my son, who was 8 when I got sick, grow up, graduate high school and make his first halting steps into the world. My daughter, who was a quiet 4 year old who nervously sucked her fingers and clutched a stuffed animal, as she burrowed into my chest while I lay on the couch after a chemo,  is now a smart and beautiful (albeit complicated) high school sophomore.

•Won a Robert F. Kennedy Award, an Angoulême Prize, another French book prize, and was nominated for Harvey, Ignatz and Reuben Awards, and yet another French book prize.

Received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cleveland Writers & Poets League (which subsequently folded) and was inducted into my high school's Hall of Fame. Donated papers and originals to the Ohio State Cartoon Museum for the Derf Collection, and had my books added to the Library of Congress collection and the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame library.

Signed 500 books at my first TCAF and 300 books at the Strand Bookstore in New York. Befriended dozens of amazing comix creators. Spent an evening in a bar with Jules Feiffer as he regaled me and a couple others with tales of an era when cartoonists strode the earth like giants.

Had books translated into French, Spanish, German, Dutch and Korean, signed a film option.

•Talked about my work multiple times on National Public Radio, on French National Radio, on the BBC and the CBC and Australian National Radio, to Slate and Salon, to the Times of London and Le Monde and Frankfurter Allgemeine and El Mundo, to CNN and MSNBC. And at comicons, book festivals and comix fests, both here and abroad. Did my first, and hopefully only, radio interview drunk in Arras, France, as the host plied me with flagons of powerful French beer.

•Stripped the ugly aluminum siding off my house and restored the original cedar shingles, turning the ugliest house on the block into one of the nicest. Took 5 years.

•Took the family on vacation to a lovely lakeside lodge in Ontario, the place where 10-year-old me first fell in love with comix. First time I'd been back in 30 years and found it magically unchanged. As I sat in an Adirondack chair with my feet in the water, the idea for my first graphic novel came to me in an inspirational flash. Like I said, the place is magic.

•Said goodbye to my dog, Penny, who curled up beside me on the couch as I recovered from chemo treatments, and added two other dogs, Maggie and Reilly, to the family.

Clearing out my teenage room, 2014. The hippie-trippy wall mural I drew at 14 remained behind.

•Laid my Dad to rest and moved my Mom out of her house of 40 years.

•Did three book tours in France and Belgium, and prepping for a 4th, as well as a Dutch tour. Took Sheryl to Paris twice, and my daughter once. Sat at a cafe along the Seine, sipping wine on a sunny Spring day. Awoke to the Bells of Paris on Easter Sunday. Spent afternoons at the Louvre, the Pompadou and Musee D'orsay, walked the ramparts in Marseilles, climbed the bell tower of Notre Dame and drew a couple thousand dedications for fans. Had a gallery show at the Librarie Super Heros in Paris and signed books in a medieval turret in Caen. 

A cafe along the Siene.

Dedication in the French Punk Rock & Trailer Parks.

Gallery show at the legendary Librarie Super Heros in Paris.

Hanging out in a cafe with comix colleagues Frank Santaro and Dash Shaw.

As Warren Zevon wisely said as he was nearing the end of his battle with terminal cancer, "Enjoy every sandwich." 

Not dead yet! Pass me another sandwich.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stuff I Dig: Tom Daniel's Hot Rod Models

Daniel is the creative genius behind some of the wackiest hot rods ever made.  At the top of the list, of course, is the Red Baron (above).

Daniel started designing cars as a teenager, a real prodigy. While still in art school, Rod & Custom magazine hired him to draw fanciful hot rods, a feature which quickly became the most popular feature in the mag. Then he hired on with GM as a legit car designer. But his wife didn't like Detroit, so they soon moved back to SoCal. He found design jobs in aviation and even in the space program, and in his spare time picked up his gig with Rod & Custom again.

It was then that the folks at Monogram Models took notice and hired him to design some model kits. His first was The Beer Wagon in 1967 (above), which Monogram later changed to the ROOT Beer Wagon, having eventually realizing that marketing a bozze-laden hot rod to 8 year olds was problematic. His second was The Red Baron in 1968 (below). Both sold millions. The Baron is probably the most famous hot rod model ever made. They made it into an actual car, which still tours around to car shows.

Between 1968 and 1975, the golden age of the model craze, Daniel designed 75 kits for Monogram. Man, this guy had the best job in the world!

The Tijuana Taxi.

The S'cool Bus.

The Boot Hill Express.

TV producers took notice, too, and Daniel designed the Munsters Hearse, as well as Grandpa Munster's Dragula.

Mattel bought a some of his more popular designs and made them into Hot Wheels. 1969's Red Baron (below) was the biggest selling Hot Wheel of all time, with an estimated 1 million of the little cars sold.  

For a budding artist, the boyhood me was a lousy model builder. My models often wound up as a ball of glue with paint slopped all over it.... or hurled in frustration at the bedroom wall. But I always displayed the boxes! They were cooler than the models anyways. Daniel kits weren't that challenging, luckily, so they turned out better then most. 

My favorite, no surprise, is the Garbage Truck (above), transformed by Daniel  into a surf rod. 

The designs got progressively weirder, but we kids gobbled them up. It didn't get any weirder than 1969's Rommel's Rod (below) a souped up German halftrack with a a skeletal Rommel in the driver's seat! At least Daniel left off the swastikas. Naturally, my eyes bugged out of my head when I saw this box in the toy store. A few minutes of desperate pleading and it was mine.  

Then came 1970, and while on vacation at a lakeside lodge in Canada, I bought a copy of Fantastic Four #102 on a whim. Just like that, my Hot Wheels and Tom Daniel models were mothballed and I gave my life completely to comix.

Just as well. Modeller dorks are even weirder than comix dorks!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

My Friend Dahmer-- it's always weird

Just gave a talk at a library in suburban Akron. Nice turnout. Always like to take care of librarians who ask me to speak. 

This one was particularly strange. It was the Fairlawn branch, and the far west outskirts of the Rubber City... and directly across the street from the Summit Mall, the mall where I wandered for endless hours as a bored teenager, and, of course, where Dahmer's Command Performance took place.

I had some time to kill before the talk, so I wandered around the mall a bit. It's been almost 40 years since my mallrat days, but the mall hasn't changed all that much. The mall cinema, where I first saw Star Wars, is long gone. As is Woolworth's where I bought the black Chuck Taylors I still wear. So is the Booklein Newsstand, where I bought my monthly National Lampoon and Heavy Metal and Creem. But there's still an Orange Julius and a Spencer Gifts and a Goodyear Tire store! The smell of new tires always reminds me of the Summit Mall (it's the Rubber City, baby!). All that was missing was the Hammond Organ salesman, playing crappy muzak renditions of popular tunes. It's an unsettling stroll, because the memories always come back. Yeah, this is the spot where Dahmer had his epileptic fit. Here's the spot where he spit out the wheat germ sample. 

On the opposite side of the mall is West Market Street, a dull commercial strip where carloads of local teens crusied an endless loop from the Sky-way Drive-in burger joint (which I depicted in Punk Rock & Trailer Parks) to the Montrose Drive-in Theater and back. It's also the spot--- and I could see it from the window of the library, where Dahmer picked up a hitchhiking Steven Hicks, the tragic young man who became the first of Dahmer's 17 victims.

It's the epicenter of my bibliography! 

Talk went well. I stopped at Sky-way for a burger before the long ride back to Cleveland.