Wednesday, November 26, 2014



Here we are gearing up again to re-invade BOTH Afghanistan and Iraq. War without end. Wonderful. 

Make me think back to the build up to war flowing 9-11. We invaded Afghanistan in October 2001, and when the Neocons fucked that up, we invaded Iraq on March 2003, and fucked that up even worse.

9-11 changed everything in our society, as you know, but the one thing no one has really talked much about, is how it effectively spelled the end of the American political cartoon.

Americans didn't invent the political cartoon, but we surely perfected it. Benjamin Franklin himself penned one of the earliest, the famous "Join or Die" Then came Thomas Nast, the greatest political cartoonist, well, ever. Not only did this guy invent the visual tropes that are still used today, the dude invented Santa Claus, for Chrissakes! Dr. Suess was a political cartoonist before he was a children's author, and a brilliant one. Bill Mauldin was the voice of his WW2 generation, the first cartoonist of ant genre to lay claim to that. Herblock helped topple McCarthy, then Nixon. 

I trace the end of this storied, once-important genre to 9-11. Political cartoons were on life support by then anyways, but the next two years pushed the genre over the edge.

When I left college in 1983 with big plans to be an important political cartoonist, most daily newspapers, except the very small rags (and even some of those!) had their own political cartoonist. A few months after graduation, I managed to land a low-paying gig at a paper in West Palm Beach, FL, that had never had a cartoonist before. But the editor always wanted one. Political cartoonists were a coveted prize by every editor in the country. 

But big changes were occurring then in the newspaper biz. Thanks to Ronnie Reagan gutting FCC rules, corporations were now free to buy up as many newspapers, radio stations and tv stations as they wanted– previously they had been prevented from owning too much in one market– and set about doing just that.... with gusto. In but a decade, virtually every family-owned newspaper was gobbled up by a large corporation. Mostly it was the idiot heirs of the original press barons who cashed in. The result was vibrant, locally owned newspapers became corporate product, run by out-of-town bean counters and marketers. They were profitable, thanks to corporate chicanery that put an end to two-paper towns and ensured a monopoly market, but man were they dull. When I worked for newspapers, we snidely called this corporate sameness the Dull-o-tron. Any and all provocative.... or, god forbid controversial... content was edited down into easily-digested pap. Because our Masters believed the readers were stupid, and because there was simply no profit in being provocative, or so the corner office types believed anyways.

As for political cartoons, they too were force fed through the Dull-o-tron. Corporate editors–usually ladder climbers brought in from out of town– had no interest in provocative cartoons. They wanted a political "gag of the day," they said nothing and certainly didn't generate dozens of angry phone calls. Why, that would disturb the editor's day or, God forbid, cut into his 2-hour business lunch! And left-wing politics? That was RIGHT OUT. Cartoonists hired after 1980 had to be right-leaning moderates with pro-business, anti-union beliefs. A socialist like Dr. Suess would never be hired in that era! Mainstream political cartoonists of the Eighties and Nineties liked to brag that they attacked "both sides" of the political spectrum, but it didn't play out that way. 

Stylistic differences also went through the Dull-o-tron. I remember reading an article in the Columbia Journalism Review way back in 1982 or 83, when I was still in college, that savaged the state of political cartooning, especially the stylistic sameness of current cartoons. They all used the same humor devices, they all drew the same, even lettered the same. The cartoonists howled. But the CJR article was dead on. Over the next 20 years, the only cartoonists that were hired by daily papers, or by the syndicates, had to conform to a certain type. They all wrote, drew the same, and used the same easy, lame gags. By 2000, a layman couldn't tell one from the other!

Those cartoonists who were doing things differently had to find another path. In the Eighties and Nineties this was either alternative weekly rags or indy comic books. 

The came 9-11, and the Corporate Masters of Media decided 

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.



Thursday, November 6, 2014

Watterson


The Angoulême Comix fest just unveiled this year's poster, by Bill Watterson, and his fans are all agog. Fun piece. I'll pick one up for myself when I'm at the fest in January. 

But, the story behind the poster is also getting lots of play in the comix press. Watterson was given the Grand Prize, which honors career achievement, at the last fest in January, the same fest where My Friend Dahmer also won a prize. He didn't show, or acknowledge the honor in any way, sticking to the recluse act that's been his thing ever since Calvin & Hobbes became a hit way back in the Eighties. At the award ceremony, which is a huge, wonderful event, Lee Salem, Watterson's editor at the Universal Press Syndicate, phoned in an acceptance speech. He didn't quote Watterson at all, not even a "Bill says thanks." As I recall, it was something odd like "I'm sure Bill feels quite honored." It was painfully obvious to everyone in the audience that Watterson either told him not to quote him, or maybe hadn't returned Salem's phone calls that he won the award! It was awkward. A lot of French reporters and fans asked me about it afterwards, me being a fellow American and all, and I could only shrug.

The tradition is the Grand Prize winner serves as sort of a grand marshal for the next year's fest, which would be the one this coming January. Apparently Watterson has told them to forget it and that this poster will be the extent of his participation. 

I don't fault the guy any of this. To be honest, I feel kind of bad for him, that he's so reclusive that he can't even go to Angoulême, which is the single greatest comix event I've ever attended and was one of the highlights of my life.  If I could re-live that week over and over, like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, I would. That would suck to be that paranoid about being seen, or being photographed or interviewed or whatever it is he's paranoid about. Mostly, to be perfectly blunt, I don't care, and I'm probably inviting a shitstorm of comments from his passionate fans with this post. What can I say? I'm a contrarian. 

I myself was fairly reclusive for years. I don't even know why, to be honest. I wasn't paranoid or anything, just anti-social, I guess. It's not like I had a legion of fans wanting to glom onto me, or had corporate types wanting to buy my characters to splash on lunchboxes and greeting cards. But when My Friend Dahmer came out, Joyce Brabner, Harvey Pekar's widow, took me to task. "Stop being such a recluse," she scolded. And that really shook me up! Was I recluse? I guess I was! And since then I've made a concerted effort to reach out to others in the comix community and meet and befriend other creators. And it's been great! I mean, I'm still kind of a social dope, but I realized, with Joyce's reprimand, that I was only hurting myself. But everyone has to make that decision on their own, and if Watterson wants to be left alone, fine, more power to him.

What irks me-- and, again, this is not directed at Watterson at all, so no one jump down my back that I'm bashing him, because it's not him saying these things-- is how his seclusion is somehow a purer state of being for a comix creator and isn't it all so admirable? I just foolishly got into it with a couple  Calvin & Hobbes fans on a comix board on this very topic: 

"Yeah, it’s pretty disgusting that he won’t exploit properties he created as marketing tools. And that he won’t give in and just do whatever people tell him too, even a festival as fabulous as this one. Standing by your own principles is a pretty gross concept in this day and age."

Apologies to Comicsbeat for stealing that comment. To which I say: O brother. My own comment, which generated this retort, was what I've expounded on here. Waterson's seclusion is his personal choice, but please don't wave it in my face and tell me I'm a crass capitalist sellout for going to France to pick up my award. And I'm getting tired of hearing from his fans and many in the comix press  and academia about what a saint he is because he's a recluse. He was the in the right place at the right time with the right shit, to quote Joe Strummer, but just because all the hard-working creators are out there doing interviews and tabling at every con and fest and meeting and greeting and tirelessly hawking their work doesn't make them lesser creators. I mean we can all agree that Jim Davis and his Garfield merchandising empire are completely nauseating and the comix equivalent of a McRib sandwich, but that's not what I'm talking about here. And yes, no one need flame me with a "you're not fit to wash Watterson's brushes" rebuttal. This isn't a personal attack on him. Like I wrote, I have no beef with the guy or any evidence that this attitude comes from him at all.

It's funny, because Steve Ditko is cut from the same cloth and the consensus among comix fans and scholars alike is that he's a total  whackjob. 

To be honest, I never read Calvin & Hobbes, because I wasn't reading comix, any comix, and certainly not mainstream newspaper comix, at all during that period. I know it was beautifully done and his many fans are convinced it's the single greatest comic strip ever made,  and I admire the guy for hanging it up rather than continuing on as an ever-more-pathetic zombie strip, like All Capp or Milton Caniff or Charles Schultz or just about everyone really. But I don't buy it that this places Watterson above those guys, as his fans often proclaim. It is simply what it is. He chose to end Calvin & Hobbes. Those other guys soldiered on virtually until the end of their lives. What we remember is the greatness of Terry & the Pirates and Peanuts at their peak, not the shaky-line final months.

I've never met Watterson, or heard a peep from him, over the years, nor have I tried to contact him myself, but we live quite close to each other. Watterson has lived in Chagrin Falls, a quaint and wealthy hamlet on the far eastern outskirts of metropolitan Cleveland, for decades. In fact, it was rumored he lived, for a short time a year or two back, right up the street from me in Cleveland Hts., in Harvey Pekar's old neighborhood.... and mine, for that matter! He wrote letters to the local paper (on topics other than comix) and used a Cleveland Hts. address. I pointed this out to several editors when I saw those printed letters. "You know who that is, right?" They didn't. Or that maybe that address was more subterfuge to throw stalkers off the scent, who knows? The local weekly rag famously tried to track him down in Chagrin Falls a few years prior, and then wrote a cover story about how they couldn't locate him but found a guy at the local bookstore who looked a lot like him and when the reporter approached, the manager of the store escorted him out. 

Our paths "crossed" in college, too. We were both drawing political cartoons at the same time for our respective school newspapers, me at Ohio State, he at Kenyon College, about 20 minutes up I-71 from Columbus. I kept an eye on him, as I did on all my college rivals with obvious talent, since I figured we'd be competing for the same jobs down the line. But both of us got sacked from our first jobs– Watterson at the Cincinnati Post, me at  the West Palm Beach Evening Times– and we each then left the field, never to return.

Hey, I would have liked to have seen the guy at Angoulême. I thought it was pretty cool that this prestigious European comix fest was giving two rubes from Ohio an award. Apparently, Watterson didn't share that thrill. I'm fucking thankful that I can enjoy moments like that. I'll be at Angoulême again this January and I can't wait!