Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Punk Rock & Trailer Parks shirt!

The fine folks at Birdcage Bottom Books were so taken with my con drawings of punk stars that they rushed a Joey shirt into production. This one is a real beaut. Only $15 each! $17 for you huskier types that need an XXL. Pre-orders being taken now to ship the end of Feb. Come and get em HERE

Here's a detail of the image.

On this day, a long time ago...

On this day in 1986, the Challenger space shuttle blew up.

I was living and working in Palm Beach, FL, at the time, in my first newspaper job at a crappy, little daily, The Evening Times. I was also newly married, having made an honest woman out of my girlfriend of three years a couple months earlier. 

A dozen or so space geeks watched the periodic Kennedy Space Center launches from the roof of the building. The space shuttles were going up regularly then. This was the 10th trip to space for the Challenger. They also launched satellites from Kennedy, although those weren't as spectacular. It was only about 100 miles to the north, so you could easily watch them with the naked eye or a pair of binoculars. 

The Challenger launched a little after 11:30 am. The Evening Times was (obviously) an afternoon paper, so the deadline for my cartoon was earlier that morning. I was working on the next cartoon, which wouldn't run for two days since I only did MWF cartoons, and also spending part of the day hand coloring the daily comics pages for both The Evening Times and the larger morning paper, The Palm Beach Post, both owned by the same media conglomerate. It was an extra bullshit job duty used to justify my hire. I was the first cartoonist the Evening Times ever had. I started as a freelancer, then got hired on after two years. I would also be their last cartoonist. 

So I had time to kill, and space launches were cool, even if they weren't the huge deal they once were. It was late taking off that day, and had been delayed for days for various reasons, but when word came, all who were interested went upstairs. There was the usual chatter when the pillar of smoke rose upward. "There it goes!" A few of the newsroom geeks had never missed a launch, stretching all the way back to Gemini. If you've never seen one live, space launches are amazing to watch. 

Then that ball of smoke and that evil looking twin plume. 

We stood there in stunned silence. Then somebody yelled "SHIIIIIIIIT!!!"  and that jolted us all into action. Everyone sprinted for the roof door, scrambling to squeeze through all at once like a Three Stooges scene and thundered down the stairs to the newsroom. THE SHUTTLE EXPLODED!! THE SHUTTLE EXPLODED!! Any of you who have worked in newsroom can envision how the place burst into frantic activity. Reporters and photos racing around, editors screaming. 

But me, I had nothing to do! My deadline had passed. The Evening Times would put out an extra edition that day, but they weren't re-doing the editorial page, just the front page and there wasn't enough time to re-draw a cartoon. There's nothing worse than an obit cartoon anyways. What would I draw? The astronauts as angels! Uncle Sam crying? Those cartoons are always incredibly lame and are inevitably variations of the great Bill Mauldin one after JFK's assassination: The Lincoln Memorial with his head buried in his hands. Just look up the post 9-11 political cartoons to see why the genre is dead. 

Eventually, I went back upstairs and stared at that slowly dissipating plume for awhile. Alone. 

A bad day. It pales in comparison to 9-11, of course, and indeed has been somewhat nudged from out collective memory because of that awful day the Towers fell. But it's the only time I was an eyewitness to history, so it sticks with me.

Especially since that next cartoon I drew got me fired! I wish I still had a copy of it. It was a bug-eyed tv newsman screaming something into the camera and cutting live to someone who once stood in a grocery store line with one of the dead astronauts. (or something like that). It was a riff about the idiotic round-the-clock coverage of the disaster, even though there was nothing new to report. Given what tv news would become, it was pretty damn spot on! 

But the editor didn't see it that way. He had the offending cartoon pulled off the paste-up sheet in the composing room. It never saw print. This dude had only been on the job about six months and hated my stuff from day one. This cartoon was the last straw, for some reason. I think he objected to me besmirching the news business. Wonder if he felt the same way a decade later when FoxNews and CNN and rightwing radio were spewing out noxious garbage 24/7? 

He summoned me to his throne room and fired me on the spot for "general tastelessness." And so ended my political cartoon career.

I didn't save much from this period. I was very raw and hadn't yet found my style or my voice. I was no prodigy. I wandered in the wilderness for pretty much the whole Eighties trying to find my path. The Evening Times cartoons were pretty rotten, but not in the way the douchebag editor thought. They weren't nearly controversial enough! Here's one, drawn a little before the one that got me sacked. Not a bad gag but hard to even recognize as my work, no? It would, in fact, still be another three years of labor before the lightbulb flickered on and I became the Derf you all know and "love." 

So I have many old feelings and memories that clang together from this day long ago.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Whew. And I'm off!

Made it.

This past month has been a mad dash to the finish line. I leave tomorrow for a month-long book tour of France and Belgium. This, of course, necessitated that I finish all of February's CITY strips before I board the plane, since I won't have the time, or frankly the desire, to draw them on the road. Ground out the final one last night.

Unfortunately, in case you missed the earlier post, THE BARON OF PROSPECT AVE. webcomic will be on sabbatical while I'm gone. Can't be helped. 

Before the before-mentioned mad dash, I had a crushing workload since August. In case you missed that earlier post, I was working 7-days-a-week on the TRASHED book proposal, which was just picked up by Abrams. (there is also a 2nd proposal, but I've shelved that for the moment). So it's been crazy since…. gulp… last summer! And now it's over. And ya know, I'm a bit jumpy just sitting around the house today. It seems like I should be working. I'm twitchy as I write this. Jesus.

Before I leave, thought I'd share yet another project I've been intermittently working on, The Punk Rock & Trailer Parks Punk Star Series. I drew quite a few of these (on the back of comic book backer boards) to sell at Cleveland's Genghis Con in November. The originals sold like hot cakes. I have an upcoming show in Paris, at the awesome comix store BD Super-Heroes, and the owner requested some for show. Here they are:

I'll be doing variations of these for sale at future cons, and probably selling them on my soon-to-be-upgraded webstore. Each pen & ink original is (now) drawn on 9x12 bristol. Ready to frame and hang in the bathroom of your choice. I draw a mean Wendy O. Williams, too, but I'm informed the French don't really know who she is. 

Friday, January 24, 2014

History Channel interview

A fan has helpfully posted my History Channel interview on Youtube. Can't post the video here, for some reason, so you'll have to go HERE

I don't do much tv and refuse most requests. This show is a good example why. They interviewed me for an hour and used a minute of footage. I wasn't familiar with this show, America's Book of Secrets, but it's just the sort of documentary mush that you find on cable tv. 

It was a nightmare of an interview. My publisher's PR director begged me to do it. But History Channel would only put me up for one night in NYC for the shoot…. and then booked me a flight that went Cleveland/ f-ing Atlanta!/ NYC, with a 3-hour layover! So an hour flight to NYC took 7 HOURS! Each way!! I told them to forget it. More pleading. Finally, I agreed, but was NOT a happy interviewee, as you can see from my even-grumpier-than-usual demeanor. The shoot was down in the financial district, too, a week after Superstorm Sandy had flooded the area. Suitably apocalyptic. The drawing board here is a prop. Nice old board though.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Angoulême Int'l Comic Fest schedule

If any of you out there are attending the Angoulême Int'l Comic Fest, here's my schedule.

All signings will be at the Editions çà et là booth, Stand N39, Espace Nouveau Monde, place New York

Thursday, January 30
14h-15h30 : Talk & presentation for high school students
16h-18h : Signing

Friday, January 31
10h-13h : Signing
15h-15h30 : Talk Official Selection, Espace Sélection Officielle Cultura
17h-19h : Signing

Saturday, February 1
10h-13h : Signing
17h-20h : Signing

Sunday, February 2
10h-13h : Signing
16h-17h30 : Award ceremony Angoulême festival

The LA Reader archive

My latest acquisition.  Copies of the Los Angeles Reader from 1996! Attractively arranged on the shag rug in my studio, that I salvaged from my teenage room when my mother (at last) redecorated it. 

That's two down and one to go. Scored a box of Chicago Readers last Fall. Still looking for a complete copy of the NY Press. I've been on a mission to pump up my archive, so I've been seeking out copies of some of my favorite weeklies, all containing my strip, of course. I used to get 20 papers mailed to me every week (I had to tip my mailman like crazy) but I'd just tear out the page with my cartoon and toss the rest. But these issues are such wonderful artifacts of the era, that I regretted not saving some. Thus my quest. It's proven harder than expected. Who, after all, saves a 20-year-old free weekly?

The LA Reader was founded in 1978 by the owners of the Chicago Reader. But unlike the corporate media chains that have totally taken over what's left of the weekly genre, the Chicago hippie owners provided guidance and inspiration, but let the staff of The LA Reader operate independently. All the Reader papers were wonderful, with terrific writing, amazing photography and… best of all… cartoons! These 1996 issues are near the end. The biggest one is a mere 60 pages. But they ran SIX cartoons!

Very early LIfe in Hell

The LA Reader was the first home base of Matt Groening's Life in Hell, after it began as a self-published comic book and had a brief stint in an LA zine. He was also an asst. editor and music critic at the paper. The LA Reader also launched filmmaker David Lynch's Angriest Dog in the World, quite possibly the worst weekly strip ever produced. Love his films. Hated his strip. It featured the exact same drawing every week. The editor once told me he ran it more as a joke than anything. He mused that Lynch was almost daring them to drop it with each ever-more-lame strip. "Take him up on that dare," I advised. The joke was mostly on all the struggling real cartoonists out there who would have killed to be in an LA paper. The LA Reader picked up The City in 1992, and ran it until the paper was closed.

It's a sad tale. The dominant LA paper was the LA Weekly, which was a slick publication that was part of the Village Voice chain, which was, at that time, owned by dog food billionaire Leonard Stern. It was a fine paper, flush with cash. I guess in LA you call a billionaire's newspaper "alternative." The big rival of the Village Voice chain was the New Times chain of Phoenix, which owned a dozen or so papers and was known in the industry as The Evil Empire for it's cut-throat tactics. Without warning in 1998, New Times swooped in and bought The LA Reader, fired everyone, about 35 staffers and another 30 freelance contributors by my count of the masthead, and closed the paper.  In it's place, New Times started their own publication, The LA New Times. It was a decent paper, one that also ran my strip, but the forced demise of The LA Reader was a total waste. I'm not even sure why they bought it. I guess just to eliminate a competitor. The LA New Times only lasted six years before closing.

The last check I received from The LA Reader was huge, many times what I was owed! I called the editor up, because I didn't feel right just waltzing off with payment I wasn't owed. It was his last week on the job and he was pretty much alone in an empty office that was soon to be vacated. He laughed at my confession. Turns out New Times had given him a big wad to pay off all the freelancers and settle the paper's accounts. It was way more than needed, so  the editor just divvied it up among  his loyal freelancers rather than return money to New Times. "Screw the fuckers," he told me. It was the only time in the history of my newspaper career that I was given extra money. The norm was that papers screwed me.

I'm still looking for a couple copies of the NY Press. If anyone has some, I'll trade an original City strip of your choosing! Email me here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

OK. I suck. I freely admit it.

Groan. The internet really sucks today. 

Or, to put it more accurately, I really suck at the internet today.

First, I pissed off some comic shop owners here in Cleveland with a Facebook post. Didn't mean to, but did so none the less. So I've been trying to patch things up with them. 

Then Comic Book Resources, a popular forum, picked up my blog post a few down about my "One man crusade against slabbing."  Flaming bags of shirt have been lobbed at me from all directions all day from CGC fans. 

Look, if people are actually going the read the crap I post here I'm going to have to stop!

Plucked off the intertube. Only an 8.5. Bummer.

Friday, January 17, 2014

The Next Book!

Earlier today I reached agreement with Abrams Books, publisher of My Friend Dahmer, for my next big graphic novel. I'll be revisiting my Trashed characters, and spinning their adventures into a projected 288-page graphic novel!

As regular readers here know, I first returned to my garbage truck franchise with the Trashed Webcomic, which ran in weekly installments in 2010 and 2011. I put it on the shelf at the end of the second long episode to concentrate on wrapping up My Friend Dahmer, but the plan was to go back to it with a new episodes when I was done promoting MFD and my schedule eased up. But MFD was an international hit and the book tour never seemed to stopped! My return to Trashed kept getting pushed back, much to the annoyance of many of you loyal readers.

This past summer, I took down most of the Trashed Webcomic, announced it was permanently retired and instead unveiled an entirely new webcomic, The Baron of Prospect Ave. What I couldn't reveal at the time was that Abrams had approached me about turning the Trashed Webcomic into a full-fledged graphic novel! I already had a couple new episodes written at that point, with the intention of starting the project up anew this past summer. So those became part of the new book. I spent the remainder of 2013 writing and drawing. 

Now, sure, it may seem like an odd choice for a follow-up to MFD, but, let's face it, I'm never going to top that book. There's no point in even trying! I always knew that MFD would be my best-known work, if I could only convince someone to publish it (and if I could teach myself how to write and draw this graphic novel stuff, which admittedly took awhile). As much as anything, that's why I put out a couple entirely different books first, just so I'd have a body of work prior to MFD. And from my perspective, it's better to have a best-known work than to not have one, so it's not like I'm complaining! Trashed is right in my wheelhouse: another raucous, Rustbelt Epic chock full of smalltown weirdoes and stomach-churning comedy. Of all my work, I think Trashed is the most universally beloved. Obviously, I love it too, since I keep going back to it.

This, friends, is the dream scenario for any webcomic. Do good work, and interest a publisher in releasing it as a book. The idea is to make this, tentatively titled The Big Book of Trashed, both a compelling tale of young losers and a detailed examination of our nation of garbage, the vast, secret process of what happens to the shit we throw away every day. Did you know if you took the trash Americans produce in just a single year, we could form a bumper-to-bumper line of full garbage trucks that would stretch all the way to the moon!  That's just one year!

It won't be memoir, like my first Trashed stories. It'll be fiction based on experience, like the webcomic. Not that it matters. Readers always think my stuff is real no matter how many times I tell them it's not. I've had people tell me they remember talking to Otto from Punk Rock & Trailer Parks at the Akron punk club! I'll also be moving this story to the late Nineties, too. Gotta get out of the Seventies, man. 

It's a chance to get this franchise in front of a big audience. SLG did a nice job with the little 50-pager I put out way back in 2002, but the potential with this release is exciting, especially now that MFD has booted me up from total obscurity to the lofty status of a B-minus lister.

There's still a portion of the Trashed Webcomic, which won't be used in the book, if you want to whet your appetite.

And after Trashed, my plan is to go back to something dark. 

Trashed will come out Fall 2015. 

European Book Tour 2014

For those of in France, if any of you are out there reading this drivel, here's the schedule for my fast-approaching tour with my beloved publisher Éditions çà et là.

Feb. 4: à Millepages BD, Vincennes

Feb. 5: Philippe le libraire, Paris 

Feb 6: au Grand Nulle Part, Rouen

Feb. 8: à la librairie Bulle, Le Mans

Feb. 10: BD Net Nation, Paris 

Feb. 11: Multi BD, Bruxelles

Feb. 12: Gibert Joseph, Paris

Feb. 13: La Cour des Miracle, Caen

Feb. 14: Univers BD, Paris 

Feb. 15: Bachi-Bouzouk, Pau

Feb. 17: Book in Bar, Aix en Provence

Feb. 18: La Réserve à Bulles, Marseille

Feb. 19: Esprit BD, Clermont-Ferrand

As previously announced, Mon Ami Dahmer has been chosen as a Sélection Officielle at the 'Angoulême festivalThis is the Cannes of comix. It's a huge honor and puts it up for the Grand Prize.  I won't win, of course, but at least for once I won't be losing to Chris Ware! He's not nominated, because his book hasn't been translated yet. Ho.

There will also be a signing and gallery show of PR&TP original art at BD Super-Heroes in Paris in March. And, I just found out today, I'll be back in France in early May for more signings and another book fest!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

My one-man crusade against slabbing

As a comix creator, I consider it my moral duty to buy CGC books and then free them from their plastic coffins.

CGC (Certified Guaranty Company) was created in 2000. It describes itself as an "impartial third-party" that examines comic books, assigns them a numeric grade and then seals them in a hard plastic case. It's known as "slabbing" to comics fans. It's considered essential by collectors of "investment comics," those rare or key books you see auctioned off for six (or even seven) figures. CGC gives such books a universally recognized grade, ensures there's no funny business, like unreported restoration, and then seals them up nice and secure in a protective case. CGC books tend to fetch much higher prices than "raw" books.

CGC came about because big dealers found themselves suddenly atop a collectors market that was plummeting downward. All hobbies are fucked up, of course, but the comic book hobby more than most. When the Overstreet Guide first came out, virtually all collectors thought it was a joke. It was a great reference book, but the prices were crazy, well above the going rate at cons. Within a decade, however, the Overstreet price became the price of books. Dealers used it as an excuse to jack up prices, and keep jacking up prices. Every year, a new Overstreet came out to great anticipation, and every dealer marked up his collectible books 5 percent above, or below, the new Guide price.

The inherent flaw in the Guide price was that it was determined by taking a broad poll of big dealers nationwide, sort of a market survey, and then averaging out their reports. In other words, those with a vested interest in seeing prices go up were the very ones determining whether prices went up. In the Eighties, prices of comic books skyrocketed. Rarer books became unaffordable to the average collector. Sometimes these books weren't even rare, just desirable. 

My favorite example of this craziness is Fantastic Four #48, the first appearance of Galactus and the Silver Surfer. A classic book. A great book. But a rare book? Nope. There were probably 400,000 of these printed. Many many copies survive, and many in high grade. But despite its lack of scarcity, a NM copy will have a $1,000 price tag on it! FF #47, also a great book and virtually identical in availability, fetches a fraction of that. I bought a NM copy of #48 in 1978 for $15. I sold it in the late Eighties, during my first big sell off, for many times that. I'll never own a copy again. I have a complete run of FFs from #40 through #102, the peak of the Kirby era, but I've filled in #48 with a later Marvel's Greatest Comics reprint from the Seventies. 

And then came the intertube, and it all changed. Just like that, the supply and demand formula was flipped on its head. It was now collectors who controlled the supply. We didn't need to buy from, or sell to, dealers. We could sell to each other on Ebay! Prices went through the floor. Dealers freaked out as suddenly their stock lost half its value. Sure, it was a completely fabricated value, but THEY didn't see it that way! 1995-2000 was an amazing time as a collector. I re-built my collection. Yeah, Ebay was a rough and tumble place then. Once you learned a few precautions, you didn't get ripped off much, and the bargains were worth the risk.  

Then CGC was created. This was a way for dealers to cater to the "investor." Who are these people? Dunno. Yuppies, douchebags, whoever. People who only collect a number. They collect just to possess, not to enjoy the book itself. Obviously so, since they'll never read the damn thing! CGC books are, to them, no different than pork belly stocks. They chart the rising or falling market, and sell when they can maximize their investment. It's sickening really.

Who's behind CGC? Hard to say, really. It's a very secretive organization. You have to be a "member" to submit a book for slabbing, either a dealer yourself, or pay a $40 annual membership fee to be part of the CGC Collectors Society. Then you pay $25 and up to have each book graded and slabbed! There's little info on the CGC site about the organization, and not much to be found elsewhere. One of the five original CGC founders was uber-dealer Jerry Weist, now deceased, who convinced Sotheby's to hold its first rare comic book auction. It's a fair guess the other four were similar big time dealers. 

CGC also refuses to explain its 25-point scale for grading. The general consensus is that it is more stringent than traditional Overstreet grading. I don't buy that, although there are certainly plenty of people selling books on Ebay who haven't a clue how to grade comics. If I can look at a nice big scan, I can usually ascertain the grade myself. 

Full disclosure: I unwittingly stumbled into the first CGC feeding frenzy. When I first stopped buying comics in 1980, after a decade of clearing the spinner rack every week, I had over 15,000 books. From 1976 on, these were NM books. I'd read them once, maybe twice, popped them in a bag and filed them in a long box. They weren't very good books in the late Bronze Age. I read them, I dunno, out of force of habit I suppose, and in the hope the occasional book would trigger the same thrill that comics did when I first started reading them. That's something that became rarer and rarer. But to give up comic books, that would have created a huge hole that I frankly didn't know how to fill. From 1978 on, I began winnowing down my weekly purchases, until by 1980 I was down to maybe three titles a month. Then I started making comics…. and dating girls (these things are not unrelated) and I just said screw it and stopped visiting the comic book shop. I didn't buy a another comic book for 15 years!  These long boxes eventually wandered down to my parents' basement, where they stayed, cool and dry, for two decades. Finally, I agreed to get rid of them and silence my mother's complaints about all those comic books hogging up space in her basement. When I pulled them out, most were hermetically sealed in the bags– the air had been squeezed out. These books were drop dead newsstand mint. Even so, they had little value. They weren't rare. Guide price for most were a couple bucks, tops. 

But when I posted them on Ebay in late 2000 and early 2001, I was stunned by the prices they fetched. A copy of, say, Spider-man #160, with a Guide value of maybe $3 in NM, sold for over $30! Over and over this happened. What was going on here? Turns out it was CGC fanatics, who were sending in raw books by the truckload in the early days of CGC in the hope of getting a 9.8 grade! It was all about that little number. Didn't matter to them that it was a worthless, late Bronze Age, piece-of-crap book that no one really wanted. CGC, in a deliciously cruel twist, generated a big windfall for me, which in turn, allowed me to buy a lot of raw books that I regretted selling in the Eighties and wanted to re-acquire. So I could read them again. Fitting, huh?

Here's another curious twist. I won the FF #84 at the top for $15 on Ebay! I never pay Guide, of course. Hell, my only copy of Overstreet is 18 years old. I keep it as a reference only. But the 1987 Guide value of this books is $32. I'm guessing it's $60 at least now. But, you see, slab collectors aren't looking for "mere" 9.2 books. They consider this a low grade! They want a 9.6 or 9.8. So a book like this can fall between the cracks. CGC collectors don't want it. Raw comics collectors never troll CGC auctions. Bingo. A great book for a cheap price! 

So what's my beef with CGC? 

Simple. Seal a comic book in plastic and it can never be read again! You can look at the front and back cover. Big thrill there. For someone who has devoted his life to making comics, and who takes several years to painstakingly craft each one…. to be FUCKING READ!…. this is an abomination. For baseball cards, fine. because you can still read everything on the card. With a comic book, 90 percent of the contents are lost forever!  Most of these "collectors" wouldn't know the difference between Wally Wood and Wally Walrus. They're just collecting a number. It's an affront to everything I hold dear.

It sickens me when I go to New York City Comicon and see a dealer with a wall of slabbed books. I want to attack the display with a hammer.

I'm guessing that wouldn't be a good idea.

End of rant.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Coolest thing you'll see today

Lucius poster

Fresh off the board. Here's a tour poster for Lucius, one of the hottest bands going right now according to Rolling Stone and others in the music press. 

The sketch.

The inked drawing. Color was added with Photoshop.

Here's a video from the band. Incredible vocals, and a very striking look. It was a fun project. Not sure if the poster will be available for sale by the band. I'll post info if that happens.

And live. Very tight. Well worth checking out.

Friday, January 10, 2014

A letter

Some of you lament that I don't post my nasty letters much anymore. Just had this troll bomb dumped on my Facebook page:

You're just another asshole sitting high on your double standard. Want to talk about making money off the backs of the suffering? You are a complete and total fucking asshole who got his fame on the coattails of a serial killer which I am sure you wrote so that you could donate a percentage of the profits to a fund for families whose sons were victims of that asshole. Im sick of your insufferable arrogance and shocking stupidity. I'm done with you. I'll be sure to tell everyone I know not to buy your book because you are an asshole. God knows your art didn't bring you fame.

Mason Speed

So which is it, Mas? I got fame on serial killer coattails or I don't have any fame at all? Can't have it both ways! I picture you going door to door on your block and screaming at your neighbors, bug-eyed and sweating,  not to buy "this asshole's book!"

Baron addendum

Just learned that I'll be leaving on the European book tour earlier than I thought. So the next installment of the Baron of Prospect Ave. will be the last one until I return at the end of February. Sorry to leave everyone hanging, but I have to crap out all of February's City strips in the next two weeks! I've been dealing with a brutal workload for six months now (the reasons will become clear soon) and, to be honest, I'm pretty tired of it. This trip couldn't come at a better time. I'm beat.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

It's cold and we're all gonna DIE!

Local schools canceled. Sun is shining. No snow. The whole damn eastern half of the country shut down by TVnews Dual-Doppler Douchebags who have sent everyone into a panic with predictions of a wintery doom. You're all worthless and weak. Now drop and give me 20! 

Here's a photo from my senior year at Dahmer High in 1978 as we trudged off the bus in a fucking blizzard to attend class.

For us Cleves (those old enough to remember, that is) all winters are judged by the Winter of 1978. And all pale in comparison. Mainly thanks the the Great Blizzard aka The Cleveland Superbomb. 

This was long before all this dual-doppler nonsense, so the entire region was caught flat-footed. These days, the tv weather dorks freak out at every system that moves in, even though the result is typically a dusting of snow so said weather dorks look like idiots the next day, having predicted a snowy apocalypse. But in 1978 it was the opposite, and the blizzard slammed into Cleveland like a surprise attack from Alberta. A massive low pressure system, along with a record-setting barometer plunge, stalled over Lake Erie. It was basically a white hurricane  that just kept rotating over the Lake, recharging itself with snow as it did so, so it was Lake Effect after Lake Effect, a non-stop snow machine that went on for days. Along with 60 mph winds that blew people off their feet and deadly wind-chill. We had 10-foot-high drifts on our street!

Thousands were trapped downtown. The highways were parking lots of stranded cars. Only those who fled early when they suspected this was the big one, escaped. We were at school and were dismissed into a whiteout! 5,000 National Guard troops were dispatched to rescue people, since cops and fireman were stranded, too. Seventies cars were shit in the snow. Those big, rear-drive gashogs could only skid and slide and spin their wheels, even with snow tires and chains. That's right, we put chains on our tires. Only the Guard's massive combat vehicles could move through the streets.

The Old Man actually planned to go to work the next day (oh, that Depression-era protestant work ethic!) so my brother and I were booted out the door at 6 am to shovel out the 50-yard-long driveway. We got nowhere. We'd come in to warm up, because it was bitterly cold, and the Old Man would glare at us like we were slackers. That's ALL the farther you two have gotten? Eventually he came out to supervise and crack the whip. Only then did he realize what carnage had dropped from the clouds when he saw the huge drift we had run into halfway out. We had shoveled a tunnel through the drift that we could walk through. We were both 6-foot! The Old Man waded farther out to the street, saw the massive, unplowed drifts that stretched as far as the eye could see, waded back and grumbled for us to "forget it." 

We missed a week of school. Every snow day we had. Trapped in my house with my parents and squirrelly little brother. We were sent outside periodically to keep clearing the driveway, which took days. Also had to shovel a path to the dog run, and a small area for the dog to take a shit. I was bored stiff. This was before cable TV or even VCRs. We had six tv channels that showed nothing but housewife fare like One Life to Live or Mike Douglas or Match Game 78. I Locked myself in my room behind a pile of comix. Finally a National Guard bulldozer cleared our street. And there were a couple MORE blizzards after that one! On the plus side, the Old Man sprung for a plowing service for the first time.

Six days after the blizzard, a semi trailer was discovered on I-271, south of my hometown, completely buried in a massive drift. The truck had stalled in the blizzard and was swallowed whole! The driver was still inside!! He survived on an electric cab heater and pop and candy. There's the truck above, half freed. Look at that drift. It must be 20 feet deep!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Crumb on Others

Stumbled across this the other day and wound up spending an hour reading it. On Robert Crumb's official site there is a seven-part interview where he is asked his opinion on movers and shakers from politics, art, comic , music, you name it. He responds with his usual brutally honest contrarianism.

A few examples:

GARRY TRUDEAU "I never could get interested in that comic strip. What’s it called? I can’t remember the name of it. I could never read one of his strips to the end. Those sleepy-eyed characters, I just found the drawing style so annoying I couldn’t even read it."

PETE SEEGER "He's a saint. Pete Seeger's a fucking saint, but I never found his music very interesting."

MICHELANGELO "The guy is just like glorifying the male body. It's all about writhing, muscular male bodies. And even the women, they have male bodies with tits pasted on. The guy's not into women, you can tell. "

GRATEFUL DEAD "I never paid any attention to their music. As far as I was concerned it was a big nothin'. "

ANDY WARHOL "He had a clever little schtick, but highly overrated, as far as I’m concerned.

TRINA ROBBINS" Jesus what a pain in the ass she was. She hates my guts."

Friday, January 3, 2014

Some news

I'll have some big news soon. 2014 promises to be a good year.

I'll be splitting on another European book tour in February. Gotta bust my ass until then so I can get a month's worth of strips done before I leave. I'll be a featured guest at the Angouleme International Comics Fest, where Mon Ami Dahmer is up for the grand prize. I'll also be there for the release of Punk Rock et Mobile Homes. It'll be a blast all around. 

Mi Amigo Dahmer is about to be released, as well. But I've heard barely a peep from the Spanish publisher. The Spanish economy is in the toilet, so I doubt they'll be bringing me over. I'd make the suggestion to piggyback on to the end of the French trip, but three weeks on the road is plenty! I'm sure it'll be a blast, but it's quite exhausting. 

So… early warning… I'll be taking a February sabbatical from The Baron of Prospect Ave. I could bust my ass on that and work ahead, too, but the whole point of that project is to have fun making comix again. My comic strip is a total chore now, and graphic novels are serious business with brutal deadlines. The Baron is a way for me to relax and enjoy the process and the unfolding story. A labor of love. Hopefully, the result will be something worthwhile, maybe even exceptional. It's a different way of creating for me, to let the story wander where it will. I just read that Chester Gould worked this way on Dick Tracy!

The Baron is a free read. So you really have no reason to bitch.

Suspicious character tries out Chester Gould's drawing table at
the Ohio State Cartoon Museum.

I'm thinking about Gould's method  because I got a couple of the gorgeous IDW Dick Tracy collections for Christmas. 1944-1948, Gould's peak. The Mole, Flathead, Mumbles…. great stuff. It was all downhill from there, of course, as Gould became obsessed with B.O. Plenty and then all that wacky Moonmaid shit in the Sixties (when Tracy suddenly sprouted a groovy set of burns). Tracy became weird, and not in a good way. And, of course, Gould became a rightwing ideologue. Not that he wasn't in the Forties, mind, but it didn't seep into the stories as much. Outside of the Tracy and his fellow cops flaunting several Amendments with regularity. But apparently, Gould's storytelling method got him in hot water from time to time when he lost track of the plot or concocted a ridiculous (even by Tracy standards) climax, which typically was Tracy escaping from some dastardly trap and the villain's grisly bllet-ridden end. But, according to the (very interesting) intro essays in these Tracy volumes, a Chicago Tribune editor was so outraged at one particularly nonsensical Gould plot twist, he ordered him to re-do a week's worth of strips! This was back in the era when big newspapers had big-time cartoonists like Gould on their payroll, which was the case with the Trib. Gould was the top cartoonist in the world at that point, with a merchandising empire and a film franchise, but here's an editor ordering him around like a schoolboy. Hilarious. Hard to believe Gould didn't tell him to shove it and walk out. It was a different time. And a very different biz.

But I digress.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New "Baron of Prospect Ave." webisode!

The latest webisode of The Baron of Prospect Ave. is up. The tour of Kay's Books continues, with a foray into the "back room" on the second floor. The infamous porn room.

With the death of Al Goldstein (see the post further down) the mastermind behind the infamous Screw magazine, I've been thinking a lot about the "Golden Age of Porn" era of the Seventies and Eighties and the part it played in urban undergrounds. Not porn itself... I'm not drawing an Eros Comic book here!… but how the porn economy played into the book biz. Let me expound.

Kay's Books was renowned for its porn selection. Many who worked there suspect it was how the bookstore made most of its profits. Book lovers around town all joked about it, and still do. This massive, wondrous place with over 1 million books may well have been funded out of one small, unmarked room, squirreled in the back of the second floor. Now this is all long before the intertube, of course, aka the biggest XXX bookstore ever created by man. Back in the olden times I depict in The Baron, horndogs had to work a little harder to get their porn fix, seek it out and purchase it by (ahem) hand. There were lots of newsstands and tobacco shops and drugstores around the city that also stocked porn, usually behind the counter, if it was mainstream girlie mags like Playboy and Oui. If the porn selection was large, or consisted of nastier stuff, these establishments had "a back room."

These back rooms were a common part of the urban landscape. They were everywhere. Commonly, they were behind swinging saloon doors, like I picture (above) in this scene from Punk Rock & Trailer Parks. All the newsstands and paperback stores that I shopped at when I was younger had back rooms. As I was browsing sci-fi paperbacks, I'd watch a steady stream of men zip in and out those doors, trying to blend into the store clientele as quickly as possible before they were ID-ed as pervs . Often there was a separate cash register in the back room where clients could pay for sleaze unobserved. Kay's had a register on the second floor, just outside its back room. 

Kay's had every "mainstream" porn mag that was published. The latest issues took up an entire rack along a wall  and unsold issues from previous months were bagged up and sold in discount packs. A three-pack of tittes! The hardcore stuff, however, was kept in a separate small storeroom and was retrieved and sold only on request. My sources tell me there was a lot of this XXX product sold. There were many regular porn clients, and the clerks who ran the porn section knew them and knew their preferences, so material of interest was set aside for particular steady clients.There was one regular, for example, who "loved girls with big ones!"  It was all about moving stock at Kay's, no matter what the stock. To be known as "a buyer" got you special attention from the staff. 

Additionally, there was a huge archive section of old, pervy, softcore stuff stretching back to the Fifties, particularly paperback sleaze fiction and the old Irving Klaw bondage stuff, a lot of it featuring Betty Page! Fifteen years earlier, selling this material was risky business that attracted the attention of the law, but by 1980 it was considered quaint, naughty retro. This was the wondrous thing about Kay's. They carried all the new releases, but had a staggering about of old stock. This was possible in the era before corporate big boxes. Nothing was ever thrown away. You could find virtually anything there, and it wasn't considered "collectible" in those days. It was simply old stock, all priced to move. It was the last era that was the case. A decade later, the price of this stuff shot up. I'd often buy old sci-fi mags from the Fifties, or detective paperbacks from the Forties, stuff that had been on the shelves for decades. Sometimes you'd pull a book from the top of a shelf and it would fall apart in your hands, the glue having turned to dust. Needless to say, you quickly shoved it back in the shelf before Mrs. Kay saw it!

Cleveland was, believe it or not, the center of the porn industry when the events here in The Baron of Prospect Ave. unfold. Oh sure, all the porn was made in New York City and Hollywood, but the guy who bankrolled it all was a Clevelander, the legendary Reuben Sturman.  Never heard of him? Not a surprise. This is the dude that single-handedly created the porn industry!

Sturman started as a teenage comic book distributor in 1948, selling bundles of comix out of his car to drug stores and newsstands around Cleveland's east side in the Fifties. By the end of the Fifties he owned a successful magazine distribution operation, a sleazy business that always had mob ties. He branched out into dirty mags in the Sixties. He was one of the first to realize there was huge money in hardcore porn. By 1970, he started opening porn shops in big cities all around the US. He invented the peep booth, where pervs could pleasure themselves in peace behind a locked door, without getting nabbed by the vice squad, like they were in regular theaters. The booths reportedly were insanely profitable (no one is sure how profitable) and revolutionized the porn industry. Sturman manufactured the things, with their coin-operated screens, and leased them to porn shops everywhere. The number of XXX films exploded, mainly to stock the peep booths. Later he pioneered the porn videotape boom, correctly predicting it to be a future goldmine.  Here in Clevo,  he had a huge, porn warehouse in midtown, a largely uninhabited swath of the city, surrounded by ghetto. I knew some folks who worked there, and it was a porn ancestor of Amazon. Magazine, books, films, sex toys, you name it, all stacked on shelves and ready to be shipped on demand. 

Sturman was extremely reclusive, unlike Hugh Hefner and Larry Flynt. Few knew his name. He never gave interviews or allowed his photo to be taken. He was a secret kingpin atop a secret economy worth billions. He became insanely rich, and bought protection. Cleveland's government and police have always been corrupt, so we can assume there were many who were on Sturman's payroll. The powerful Cleveland Mafia never crossed him, and Sturman was never targeted in the car-bomb mob wars, so obviously there was an alliance there, as well. Sturman reportedly paid huge kickbacks to the Gambino crime family in New York City.

So all around Cleveland, there were porn shops. A few were quite garish and did nothing to hide what they were, but most were like Kay's Books; back room porn dealers. The authorities looked the other way, since Mrs. Kay wasn't filling her front window with porn. Out of sight, out of mind, as far as the politicians were concerned. 

There are even rumors that Mrs. Kay and Sturman were an item at one time! Mrs. Kay was a formidable and intimidating battleaxe when I frequented Kay's, but she was reported to be quite a looker when she younger and she and Sturman both hailed from the same Jewish section of the city. But I'll probably never nail down the true story there, if there is one.

Eventually, the Feds nailed Sturman. Not for obscenity, although they tried. He beat every obscenity rap. He fell the same way Capone did. he didn't pay his taxes! Sturman loathed the government for its persecution of him and Sturman was evading taxes on a monumental scale. It's the only known case were the Swiss forked over information on secret accounts to US prosecutors! The Kochs and our other Wall St. masters can stash their ill-gotten gains there without fear, but the porn king was another story. Make of that what you will. His eventual fall was an incredible story, one we covered in depth in the alt-press here in Cleveland. He paid off a jury, tried to buy a judge, had henchmen firebomb porn shops owned by those he felt had betrayed him, escaped from prison and spent six weeks on the lam!  Sturman died in prison in 1997. He claimed he was penniless at the end, but who knows? There are probably millions collecting dust in a Caymen Island account.

I've had a helluva a time finding photo reference for these back rooms. Not surprisingly I suppose. They're all long gone now. There's one Cleveland newsstand left that has a back room, but the dude that runs it can charitably be described as nuts, so I don't think he'd take kindly to me taking reference photos. It was a great newsstand at one time, one I shopped at regularly for zines and offbeat publications back in the Nineties. It was run out of its original location on a main drag because the back room attracted protests from family-values types and headline-seeking politicians. I can't believe it's still open, not just because back rooms are so outmoded, but because newsstands themselves have all gone the way of the dinosaur. In fact, it may well be the last newsstand in the city, where once they were over 100.  But I think I've gathered enough reference online. I drew a peep booth in PR&TP and that was the most difficult of all to find reference for.  There just weren't any photos of these things, for obvious reasons. I'm assuming they're all long gone, too, replaced by the intertube. I finally found one fuzzy photo after weeks of searching that enabled me to draw a booth. Yes, I'm happy to report I never set foot, or any other part, in one so I had no clue what they looked like. 

This is it. The only photo of a vintage peep booth I was able to find.

I plan to work some of this into The Baron of Prospect Ave. But for now, it'll just be limited to a quick glimpse of the back room on the second floor, and to Boner Bill.