Saturday, December 28, 2013

Another newsroom falls.

This is the newsroom of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, being dismantled last week. The remaining staff, which was reduced by 30 percent when corporate HQ changed the paper to a 3-days-a-week publication, is moving to smaller digs in a rented space elsewhere. You can read all about this HERE if you care to. Most of the Plain Dealer Building is to be rented out to other businesses. The newsroom here will be the home of a digital-first media company that Corporate HQ is counting on to be the future of journalism. Here's one of their stories; help a staffer name her cat.


I worked at the Plain Dealer at one time, as an art director and back-up political cartoonist. It wasn't in the building above. That's only about 15 years old, built at great expense! It was in the old building, where several thousand people worked. The place teemed with life. Pressman covered in ink were in the basement. Teamsters massed outside in the loading dock. The newsroom had probably 400 people working there. 

I really try not to blog about the sad state of newspapers often, because it's so incredibly depressing to me, and newspaper bankruptcies, fire sales and closings are coming so fast these days that it would soon become monotonous. Besides, I know none of you care that much. You're reading a blog, after all, not a newspaper.

But I've been a newspaperman most of my life. Reading the paper was a big part of my daily routine. It's where I first discovered comix. It was the old cliche scenario: the young twerp spread out on the living room floor with the Sunday Comics section before him, reading every one. Even Dondi. I formed my own neighborhood newspaper. Wrote every article (top story: Backderf kid has street's largest Hot Wheels collection) and filled it, of course, with comix.  I worked on the school paper in high school. Then for The Lantern at Ohio State, where I attended on a journalism scholarship, and launched my career. By that time, I read five or six papers a day. 

I'm not a newspaperman any more. Papers have no use for me or what I do. That's ok. Given their sorry state, to be blunt, I've outgrown them.  But I still lament their passing. We're losing something important here. In a few years, when you get all your news from Nancy Grace rants and Buzzfeed slideshows, you'll understand what.

About half of The Lantern newsroom, 1981. Yep, those are typewriters. We were on
the cusp of the digital revolution, which, to be honest, sucked most of the
vitality out of newspapers.  They lost their soul when thundering typewriters 
were silenced.

Young cartoonist twerp (right) in The Evening Times newsroom, 1985.

Cartoon for the Plain Dealer, 1987.

Staff of the Akron beacon Journal in 1988, just before they won another Pulitzer.
This is about half the newsroom, not including those who were out on
assignment or the large night staff.

Someone reading the Cleveland Edition, 1990. Yeah. people used to read newspapers. In public!

I helped start this paper in 1993, and was its visual personality for seven years,
until it was sold to a cutthroat corporate media company and I bailed.

I was looking over my newspaper resume the other day. Here it is, from beginning to end, in the space of 30 years. These are just my base papers. The total number of newspapers my work has run in tops 200 easy. Most of them aren't in any better shape than the ones below.

The Evening Times– merged with the morning Palm Beach Post and was closed.

The Palm Beach Post– corporate owners laid off or bought out half the staff, sold the press and rents out half the building.

Cleveland Plain Dealer– see above. 

Cleveland Edition– went bankrupt and closed.

Akron Beacon Journal– staff has been cut by 3/4s, press is being sold and is looking to rent the building.

Cleveland Free Times– merged with a competing weekly and was closed.

Cleveland Scene– has just been sold for the 4th time in 15 years, staff has been cut to a handful and circulation has been slashed from 100,000 to 20,000. 

That list pretty much sums up what's become of the industry, no? Glad I'm no longer a newspaperman, that's for damn sure. But it makes me very, very sad nonetheless.

When PR&TP was released, Cleveland Scene did a cover story about it. Two years later
a new regime cut me loose. It was the start of my graphic novel career and the end of
my newspaper one.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Al Goldstein and Screw magazine.

Al Goldstein, the insane, combative, perverse, legendary publisher of Screw Magazine has died at age 77.

Why should you care? Well, you probably don't, but Goldstein played a role in comix history. He was one of the porno-warriors of the Sexual Revolution. He was a finger, usually a middle finger, to the eye of "respectable" America. By his count, he was arrested over 20 times. In the Seventies, in particular, he took free expression about as far as it could be dragged. He was the Lenny Bruce of publishing, and ever bit as volatile and self-destructive. Hugh Hefner thought he was scum. Larry Flynt got more publicity. Both attained far greater wealth. But Goldstein was the real deal and Screw was his masterpiece. A weekly newsprint tabloid that covered any and all things sex. It was the sleazy extreme of porn, found only behind the swinging "Adults Only" doors in newsstands. It was hardcore XXX with a brain, but still sporting a boner. 

Screw's manifesto was “We will apologize for nothing. We will uncover the entire world of sex. We will be the Consumer Reports of sex.” It's a promise he kept. It's not as if I was a fan of the mag, or admire Goldstein in any way. I just have a grudging appreciation for someone who takes an unpopular, even dangerous, stand. Whether he believed he was pursuing a greater good, or was simply a sleazy pervert wrapping himself in the Bill of Rights, or was just plain nuts, is beside the point. 

The NY Times writes of Goldstein "Apart from Screw, Mr. Goldstein’s most notorious creation was Al Goldstein himself, a cartoonishly vituperative amalgam of borscht belt comic, free-range social critic and sex-obsessed loser who seemed to embody a moment in New York City’s cultural history: the sleaze and decay of Times Square in the 1960s and ‘70s. A bundle of insatiable neuroses and appetites (he once weighed around 350 pounds), Mr. Goldstein used and abused the bully pulpit of his magazine and, later, his late-night public-access cable show, “Midnight Blue,” to curse his countless enemies, among them the Nixon administration, an Italian restaurant that omitted garlic from its spaghetti sauce, himself and, most troubling to his defenders, his own family."

Goldstein closed Screw in 2003 after publishing over 1,000 issues, declaring the internet had bankrupted him. He spent the rest of his life in and out of Bellvue, sometimes homeless. To the surprise of no one, he essentially rotted away. It's the price a social revolutionary usually pays.

From a comix standpoint, however, he was one of the good guys. Screw covers featured a who's who of underground comix: Spain Rodiguez, Danny Hellman, Kim Deitch, Wally Wood, Paul Kirchner, even Robert Crumb. Goldstein, unlike Hefner, a failed cartoonist who meddled constantly with cartoonists' work (he made Harvey Kurtzman miserable), was reportedly great to work for. He'd print anything and his checks always arrived promptly. You'd be surprised how often the latter wasn't the case, even with "legit" publications. In truth, he didn't give a shit about the covers. But he had the sense to hire art directors who did. At the very least, he appreciated that the covers sold his magazine. That's more than most publishers.

One of his art directors, Steven Heller,  recalls  in the NY Times what it was like to work for Goldstein.

Cartoonist Danny Hellman has put together a great blog of Screw covers.

I never tried to land a Screw assignment. Certainly my stuff wouldn't have been much interest in the Eighties, when I was struggling to find my style and voice, but I could have made an attempt in the Nineties. I wish I had. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Merry Christmas from 1985!

A couple things about this piece. 1. what a rotten cartoon! 2. This is a drawing of my "office" which was in the basement of the newspaper building where I was employed at the time, in an unused corner near a giant, antique stat camera that hadn't been used in 20 years.

Since I was the first (and only) cartoonist The Evening Times in West Palm Beach, FL, ever had, no one had a place for me to work when I was hired. So I got an empty desk in the art dept, which serviced both the morning and afternoon papers, both owned by the same conglomerate. The artists drew mostly the morning paper, since The Evening Times was dying, like all p.m. dailies.

All the artists at that time were bible-clutchers. Real lobotomized-by-Jesus types. One in particular insisted on playing Christian talk radio all… fucking… day... long. Jim and Tammy Fay Bakker, Pat Robertson, some low-end ranters who were even worse! One day, two of them got in a heated argument about some issue, and began yelling scripture to each other. It went on all day! Young and stupid as I was, and never having encountered anything like this before, it never dawned on me to complain to HR. My pleas to turn to a music station, even elevator muzak, were rebuffed. The fucker refused to listen with headphones. ALL had to hear the word! Finally I could stand no more and one evening after everyone left, I dragged my board down to the bowels of the building into what would charitably be described as a "storage area." A better description would be "a giant pile of discarded shit." Rolls of newsprint, drums of unknown chemicals, bundles of 5-year-old papers.... and me. I shoved away some debris to make room near the one electrical outlet (pictured here).

It was peaceful down there. Just me and the Palmetto bugs, giant brown cockroaches who outnumber human Floridians about 10,000 to 1, who would ocassionally sprint across my drawing table. I'd stab them with my exacto knife. Some critter, presumably a rat, ate my lunch one day when I was at a meeting.

Eventually, turnover being what it was at the low-paying paper, most of the artists moved on, save the most lobotomized one. The new hires were as horrified at the aural assault as I was, and they too fled down into my sanctuary. We all drew while listening to punk rock and jazz and reveled in our hedonistic ways. Soon only the bible-clutcher was left in the actual art department. One board and an empty room! Then some manager finally figured out what was going on, probably yelling "Where the fuck all are the artists?", ordered the radio turned off and everyone back to their department. But I got to stay in the basement.

Devout artist quit shortly after. He stopped speaking to me after I moved out! Guess he was hoping to convert me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Kids, It Still Sucks.

The only interest I ever had in Rock Hall inductions was that Kiss hilariously was blown off, year after year. Because you know the loathsome Gene Simmons wanted it SO bad. 

Then the Hall instituted fan voting this year to decide these things, so I knew the delusional, middle-aged Kiss Army would rectify this great "injustice" and sure enough that's what happened. Kiss in a landslide. Now we get to see Simmons pontificating from the dias, hamburger grease oozing out of every orifice.  

Oh. And Kiss still sucks. Epically hard. Here they are battling the Bugaloos and Sigmund Seamonster in the classic Kiss vs. the Phantom of the Park. This scene should play in continuous loop behind them as they make their acceptance speeches.

The rest of this list is one of the lamest ever, even by Rock Hall standards. Nirvana, sure, although I was never much of a fan. Hall & Oates are the kings of earworm soul schlock and responsible for some of the vilest songs that polluted the radiowaves in the early 80s. Peter Gabriel is an overrated bore, even by prog rock standards. He's proof that EVERYone gets into the Rock Hall eventually. Isn't it bad enough that genesis is already there? You want prog represented, then Yes and Rick Wakeman in his wizard hat are a far worthier choice! Or really go long and induct Hawkwind! Linda Rondstadt? Great pipes. Sang mostly cover tunes. Fail. Cat Stevens? Are you fucking kidding me? At least there's no disco acts this year. Oops. Except for Kiss! Who can forget their disco classic I Was Made For Lovin' You? What? You have?  

The best we can hope for is that fists fly between Frehley, Criss, Stanley and Simmons. There hasn't been a good onstage blow-up since Elvis Costello flipped off Bruce Moore. Instead they'll probably announce their 35th reunion tour.

I would however, be totally behind inducting Mini Kiss. 

Why do I care? Well, I don't really. Except here in the Cleve, we're inundated with this shit every year, so I allow myself a robust annual bitch.

End of rant. Now I can go back to totally ignoring the Rock Hall.

Oh. And Kiss still sucks.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Oh dear God...

…check out this photo of a newsstand in 1942, especially the comic book racks on the left and right! It blows up, so hit your enlarge key.

To hell with the Action Pants (below). For Christmas I want a TARDIS, a coffee can full of 1940 dimes and a couple big-ass shopping bags!

On my Xmas List!

My Action Zone craves some Action Pants!

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Punk Rock & Trailer Parks Item-of-the-Month

Cheetah Chrome shows you how to play Sonic Reducer. Now how friggin cool is THAT?

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Good PBS Piece on Yours Truly

This was originally done for the Cleveland PBS affiliate, right when My Friend Dahmer debuted in March 2012. In fact, much of the interview was conducted in the William Busta Gallery in downtown Cleveland, where I held the official book launch, in conjunction with a gallery show that featured original pages, sketches and artifacts. It was a great show. Seems like a million years ago!

But the interview has now popped up in an arts show for the Las vegas PBS affiliate, who thoughtfully posted it on Youtube, so I can share it with you here. It's one of the better interviews I filmed, I think. The creepy music is a little melodramatic, but otherwise they did a nice job with it. You get a glimpse of the attic studio where I created this book, too.

My bit starts at the 18:00 mark.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Support your local businesses!

OK, the big boxes had their day, and, as usual it was a sickening display. Black Friday Death Count charts this year's mayhem:

Today belongs to the sane. It's Small Business Saturday. Get your ass out there and support your local merchants, instead of the billionaire creeps who want to strip us of everything.

Don't forget, my fellow Clevelanders, I'll be at Mac's Backs Books in Clevo Hts. from 3-4 today, signing books. Mac's has an entire day-long slate of authors and signings. It's Cleveland's best bookstore, and the Coventry District is chock full of wonderful small merchants. That's where you should be doing your shopping. I know I will be!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Derf art for sale at Genghis Con!

This Sunday, I'll be at The Genghis Con indy comix fest in Cleveland. For you locals, it's at the Beachland Ballroom from 2 to 7 pm. THis show is in its 5th year and I've been part of it since the beginning. We're hoping to build more of a cohesive, vibrant comix scene here in Cleveland, home of Siegel & Shuster, Havery Pekar, Brian Michael Bends, Bill Watterson, Brian Azzarello and many other A-list creators. 

To that end, and as an enticement to pull in folks to the con, I'm offering a series of original drawings, all done of the back of comic book backer boards, for the ridiculous price of $30 each! That's right, original Derfs for $30! These are one-of-a-kind pieces. I've drawn up characters from all my books, for example Joey and Wendy from Punk Rock & Trailer Parks up top. And have created a series of Ghoulardi Finks, featuring a mash-up of Cleveland's beloved horror movie host in some Big Daddy Roth hotrods. The ones here are just a few of the 20 or so I'll have for sale. They won't last long. In addition, I'll do pieces on request while at the con, although I'll be under a time constraint, obviously. Each pieces takes me a half hour or so, so do the math. 

These aren't available by mail order, and I won't reserve anything. You want em? Come to Genghis Con and get em! Doors open at 2 pm.

Small Biz Saturday

For all all you Cleves, I'll be at Mac's Backs Books in Cleveland Hts. tomorrow on Small Biz Saturday, from 3-4, signing books. Bring your previously purchase books and I'll sign those, too! As long as you browse a while in the city's finest indie bookstore. This was Harvey Pekar's home base, and it's mine, too. When I first moved to the city way back in 1986, I bought my new copies of Weirdo and Hup here.

See you there.

Fan photos

Selfies with books. Fans have sent me dozens of these, posing with a new copy of MFD. Yeah, it's a little odd, but very flattering and fun... a lot better than photos of someone's f-ing dinner… especially when put together in a gallery like, well, this one.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

More My Friend Dahmer News!

Even more great news. My Friend Dahmer has been picked as a Sélection Officielle for the upcoming  Angouleme 2014 comix festival in France! This is Europe's largest celebration of all things comix. It's a big deal.

Happily, I'll be attending the Angouleme, courtesy of my beloved French publisher Éditions çà et là. The French edition of Punk Rock & Trailer Parks will also be out by that time.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Vote for My Friend Dahmer….. in France!

My Friend Dahmer…. or, rather, Mon Ami Dahmer… is up for another book prize in France. 

You can vote for it in the Priz de la BD FNAC.

Just select the "Je Vote" button underneath the cover. At the bottom of the page add your email, and in the field to the right type in the number of people you think will vote in the contest. I put 5000 and it was happy with that. Then hit the the "votre" button and viola!

Help a brother out and vote.

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Ohio State Cartoon Museum

Some thoughts on the grand opening of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum at Ohio State University this past weekend.

As I wrote a few posts down, I'm a graduate of Ohio State, part of its great tradition of comix creators, stretching all the way back to Milton Caniff. The Cartoon Museum is woven into my career, more than any other pro except for Jeff Smith, whose beginnings mirror my own.  It had just been founded when I started at the school, initially as the Milton Caniff Cartoon Reading Room. Caniff donated his art and papers to the university, which was frankly lukewarm about the gift (like all large universities, it prefers cold hard cash from illustrious alum), but two small classrooms were converted on a little-traveled side hall in the Journalism Building to house the collection. Curator Lucy Caswell was put in charge, under the umbrella of the OSU Libraries. Few knew of its existence. 

I started at Ohio State shortly after. I was a journalism major and walked by that door with the intriguing sign "Milton Caniff Reading Room" every day. Finally on a whim I veered right, turned the knob and walked in. There was Lucy behind a desk with a smile and a greeting. I introduced myself and was stunned she knew who I was and knew of my then embryonic work. At that point, I had done a number of cartoon ads for the OSU Bookstore chain, which were plastered all over campus, but done only two or three political cartoons for the school paper, The Lantern, all of which were frankly godawful. It was the start of my most treasured mentor-student relationship. 

I soon became the main political cartoonist for The Lantern and my comix career was launched. Over the next three year (and beyond) Lucy was my most valued confidant, a vital pillar of support from a faculty that was largely ambivalent (and ultimately antagonistic) toward me and my cartoons. She listened patiently to my complaints and fears and frustrations. She gently prodded me forward and celebrated my triumphs. She introduced me to working professionals.  I and a couple other students nagged her into offering her first comics history class. I harangued several Lantern staffers, including my future wife,  into signing up for the course so we had enough of a roster to get it on the schedule. This last tale btw elicits more looks of awe from fellow comix creators than my work does! She even got me an interview with Milton Caniff for a term paper I wrote for the class!  I shamelessly brag of my connection to Lucy, and have for years. 

And over the next three decades, Lucy Caswell built this modest collection into the world's largest cartoon museum and research institution. The museum moved to larger digs in the bizarre Wexner Center when that deconstructionist masterpiece was built. Typical, the university higher ups stuck the museum in the basement, accessible only by a back door. The academic snobs at my alma mater had yet to acknowledge comix as a legitimate art form, nor did they have the slightest clue what Lucy was steadily building here. That finally changed with the arrival of some fresh blood and open minds in the faculty, and with some huge green donations from Charles Schutz's widow and massive donations of original art when competing museums closed their doors.

FInally, a new museum space was green lighted. Dilapidated Sullivant Hall, where I snoozed through several classes in its auditorium with famously soft seats, was selected as its new home. Right at the main entrance to campus. At last my alma mater has recognized what an incredible institution it has. It is quite a facility. And the opening show, Treasures of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum, is, for comix fans, simply the greatest collection of comix art I have ever seen. Puddles of drool were everywhere as pros and fans stared in open-mouthed wonder at the original art on display. Pardon my crappy photos, taken with my antiquated third-string camera (the first two were casualties of the My Friend Dahmer book tour and have yet to be replaced), but here's just a small sampling of what awaits visitors:

An entire case of Spirit pages by Will Eisner!
FDR as imagined by Basil Wolverton!

The original drawings for Wionsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaur, the first animated cartoon. Amazing.
Chester Gould's drawing table! Every Dick Tracy strip he ever drew was done on this surface. The vandal here was tased by librarians and hauled away by security moments after this shot was taken.

A huge Yellow Kid original, hand-colored by Outcault himself, from 1905. The Yellow fucking Kid!!!
An oil-colored Krazy Kat!

The pivotal scene by Denny O'Neill and Neal Adams in GL/GA #78, the book that introduced social issues to mainstream comics for the first time. A personal fave when I was a young comix dork.

What the hell is THAT doing here????? 
That's just a small sample of what this show contains. If you're a comix fan, DON'T miss the chance to see it.