Friday, March 28, 2014

The White Middle Class Suburban Man book that never was

The working cover. Color courtesy of Photoshop 2.0!

Back in 2002, I was coming off the critical and modest commercial success of my debut graphic novel, Trashed #1 (well, not really a novel, since it was only 50 pages long), and had recently self-published the My Friend Dahmer comic book, which would garner even more attention. Both books, in fact, would be nominated for Eisner Awards. So I was feeling pretty good about myself and where my career was heading. My next project was to be a White Middle Class Suburban Man graphic novel, all original and a projected 150 pages.

Now at the time, the weekly papers where I made my living were starting to wobble, but were still going strong. Craigslist had just expanded from a few cities to nationwide and social media was in its infancy. Both those things would soon suck all the revenue (and the comix) out of weekly papers. The intertube was rapidly extending its reach into our lives, but was not yet all-pervasive. Hell, most of us still had dial-up modems in 2002! The cliff loomed ahead for weeklies, but few could see it at the time. I, however, did. I noticed by the end of the Nineties that twentysomethings weren't reading weekly papers anymore. At the local coffee shops, the college kids would walk right past the stack of papers in the doorway. For a business that was built on a 20-35 readership, that meant its doom was guaranteed. So I made the decision to start transitioning to books. 

The City began in 1990 with a revolving cast of characters. Twelve years later, I was down to just one, WMCSM, as the strip evolved (or devolved). The City had peaked, that I knew. I thought this character was the only shot I had at  bigger success. Books, maybe a comic franchise, the inevitable animated tv show, etc. 

So what happened to the WMCSM book? I got cancer, that's what, shortly after I started working on it in earnest. I spent all of 2003 in treatment and I had to shelve all projects outside of the strip. I simply didn't have the gas. This also killed my freelance illustration career, which likely would have dried up anyways. I was in aftercare for all of 2004 and 2005 and really just kind of forgot about books. When I finally recovered enough to tackle them again, the thought of doing a WMCSM book had no appeal at all anymore. I was tired of the satire thing and this felt like the same old, same old. It also had some bad karma. I can't even look at this stuff without remembering cancer. 

I had another germ of an idea, and that became Punk Rock & Trailer Parks. If I was going to break into graphic novels, I thought, I'll do a proper one, not just an expanded comic strip. It was the right move, as my late-career renaissance proves.

And no, I'll not re-visit this, so don't ask and/or plead. It's permanently shelved. I don't enjoy this kind of thing anymore, nor do I write or draw this way anymore. That window has slammed shut. As I've concentrated more and more on long narratives, I've completely lost my ability to write comic satires like this. I have no desire to go back. I had about 40 pages completed when I shelved it. Here's the opening scene, for your viewing pleasure.

Ad from the NY Times in 1942

Friday, March 21, 2014

PR&TP Item of the Month: The Dead Boys at The Bank!

These recently unearthed photos come from Rubber City punk archivist Jimi Imij, who supplied tons of reference material that enabled me to lovingly recreate The Bank and the Akron punk scene.  The general consensus of veteran Akron punksters is that it took place in 1978. The gig is not listed on the Dead Boys fan site, but that's unimportant, since that isn't a complete list. Hammer Damage, a popular Akron punk band, one of the many groups that failed to make it nationally like their predecessors, opened. 

The Boys were house regulars at CBGBs by this point. They formed in late 1975, out of the ashes of the sonic monster that was Rocket From the Tombs, the greatest punk you've never heard of. They played around Cleveland and Akron at the few venues that booked punk bands: The Crypt, the Viking Saloon and the Pirate's Cove. Then they split for New York and made their name. They returned to the Rubber City as heroes. 

They were touring in support of their first album, Young, Loud and Snotty, one of the classic punk LPs. Half the band was from Cleveland, half from Akron, and when they returned to the area they usually played in Cleveland venues, like the Agora, and made in-store appearances in Cleveland's far-superior record stores. In fact, their appearance at Drome Records in Cleveland Hts. resulted in the store losing its lease, after the Boys pulled down their pants, posed in the large front window and flashed horrified afternoon commuters. So visits to the Rubber City, despite the vibrant scene and the hometown lure, were rare.


Bass player Jeff Magnum

Jimmy Zero

Stiv again.

Here are the Dead Boys at their peak, performing Ain't It Fun.

Flyer for the Dead Boys back-to-back, sold out shows at The Bank the following year, in March 1980. By mid-summer of that year, they were done. After four years of relentless touring and gigs, and a contentious recording session that resulted in their disappointing second album, We Have Come For Your Children, the band broke up. Their last gig was in Santa Monica. 

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Video Funtime

Someone filmed me drawing a dédicace at one of my many stops in France. Watch a drawing of Johnny Ramone come together (quickly) to the Mekon's Where Were You? Good choice of tune.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Even NYC hipsters wear Derf shirts!

Two of my favorite book tour buddies, Gregory Benton and his gal Florence, model the new Joey shirt in the Bowery, at the corner of Joey Ramone Place. 

If you haven't stumbled across Gregory Benton's work yet, good God, you should!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Derf show in Paris

If you're in Paris sometime in the next month, from March 15 until April 5, stop by Librairie Super Héros, France's most famous comix shop and check out a gallery show of original art from Punk Rock et Mobile Homes. It's the first time I've offered pages from this book for sale, but the chance to have a show at the legendary Librairie Super Héros was not something I could pass up.  There are also  bonus unpublished portraits of punk rock stars, including the art for the new Joey shirt.

If you're going, and unfortunately I'm not (the show falls between visits to France for me) Librairie Super Héros is a block from the Pompidou Museum in central Paris.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The new Derf Store

The newly re-vamped Derf Store is up and running. Only books and the new t-shirts for now, but I'll be adding original art eventually, so stay tuned.

Since Amazon is so unreliable about stocking my older books, and since they are also evil incarnate, the book links run to the publishers' sites. If you must buy from Amazon, please, hit the link to Amazon Marketplace and buy your new or used copies there. At least those are real people, not a billionaire's robots.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Things I dig: Sci-fi Mags from the Fifties and Sixties

Lately I've been really getting into old postwar sci-fi mags. These cheap, newsprint digests are a treasure trove of legendary authors, great stories and wonderful art. The Golden Age of this genre was a little before my time, roughly 1946 to 1970. I started reading sci-fi and comix in 1970, when I was 10 years old, so I narrowly missed the end of it. I bought sci-fi digests from time to time throughout the Seventies, but they had faded considerably in quality, replaced by the more profitable and popular paperback book. There used to be spinner racks in stores, just for paperbacks, like there were for comic books.  The sci-fi digests, they were stuck on a wall shelf, if a newsstand or bookstore carried tham at all.  Curiously, many of the popular paperback collections were first published in these mags, ten or 20 years earlier.

I love the feel and look of the sci-fi digests. That, and the price. You can score these things really cheap and, if you know what you're looking for, can find some pretty significant work, in its first published form.

For example, here's a copy of Galaxy from 1951, with a cover story by Ray Bradbury. Bradbury was a prolific pulp writer at the time, but hadn't yet achieved the critical acclaim as one of the late-20th century's most important writers. Sci-fi was still considered junk fiction, of course.  So the only place writers like Bradbury or Philip K. Dick or Issaac Asimov could be published was in these magazines. They weren't getting big advances, or wined and dined by the literati. They were punching out dozens of stories a month, for $25 or $50 a piece. It was low pay, even for the time, certainly a pittance compared to the A-list authors like Norman Mailer et al, but if you were fast and in demand, a writer could make a living. By the Sixties, as the cultural and commercial status of sci-fi rose, it became a very good living. 

What makes this issue of Galaxy so special, is the Bradbury story, The Fireman. This fireman, sometime in the future, burns books. Yep, it's the first incarnation of Fahrenheit 451! A first printing of that book, published a few years later, will set you back a couple thou. I picked this mag up for $10! 

Here's another one. Analog from 1963. This was the premier sci-fi magazine of the era, and is still publishing today. It started as a pulp in 1930, called Astounding. It's the mag that brought the world the work of Asimov and Robert Heinlein.... and also the first Dianetics ravings of L. Ron Hubbard. We'll forgive that.

This issue features a new work by Frank Herbert, published in three parts, Dune World. Yeah, it's the first version of Dune

I love comparing and contrasting these early incarnations to the final ones. Bradbury's changed quite a bit. Herbert's didn't change much at all, simply grew in length. They're really cool artifacts to have. Each issue also is full of really interesting features: musings on the future of sci-fi, letters from fans, book reviews by prominent sic-fi authors. There are very few ads. These mags stayed alive through subscriptions and newsstand sales. Kay's Books, the legendary Cleveland bookstore that is the setting for my webcomic, The Baron of Prospect Ave., carried tons of these magazines. It's a world, and, alas, a career, that has all but disappeared.

It's amazing to think about. Communication was done by mail and phone call. I'm guessing most of the writers lived in or near New York, where all the mags were headquartered. Can you imagine being the editor when Frank Herbert called to pitch Dune? All that changed as Hollywood beckoned and sci-fi writers started making big bucks as screenwriters and moved to California. A lot of them, like Bradbury, still wrote for the mags, though. It must have been the editorial freedom, and the chance to work out ideas and concepts without interference. Think of it.  A classic Philip K. Dick or Robert Heinlein story arrives in the office mail in a fat envelope! Man. In it's purest form,hand typed , straight out of the imagination of creative geniuses and onto the paper you held in your hand. 

Dig also, the great covers and interior art. There were some big names, and quite a few comix guys, who worked regularly for sic-fi mags. Kelly Freas is probably the best known. Jeff Jones, who drew the cover for Fantastic, above, is another. National Lampoon fans will recognize him for his sexy, funny comic, Idyl, which was a regular feature throughout the Seventies heyday of NatLamp. These mags didn't pay artists much either, of course, but it was probably twice the slave wages Marvel and DC and the comic book companies were paying at the time. And the work was a lot easier. Must have been a great gig. Most of the artists toiled in relative obscurity, that was the downside. There wasn't the rabid fandom that comic book artists enjoyed, not that it  made a difference in their lot back in Sixties. Today, some comic book creators pull in six figures just doing cons. That wasn't the case then. By the Seventies, with the paperback era in full bloom, a lot of these guys made an even healthier living doing cover paintings. But they all started at the mags, so you can run across some real visual treasures.

Check it out. That's fun drawing! This is another keeper, a copy of Other Worlds from 1950, with a Bradbury story that would, years later, be included in his classic, The Martian Chronicles. This is especially satisfying to have, because Chronicles was the first sci-fi book I ever read. I picked it out of the Scholastic Books catalog they passed around at elementary school. I'm not sure if I'd even heard of Bradbury then. Maybe I had. Maybe I just fell for the short sales blurb. Maybe I just liked the title. In any case, it set me on my way. Years of comix and sci-fi and fantasy followed. It's not all I read (thank God) but it was the majority of it.

Last one. Like all dorks of the Seventies, I was huge into Robert E. Howard and Tolkien.  Howard's Conan stories had just been re-discovered and published with those amazing Frazetta covers. Lord of the Rings was also newly a smash hit, following the late-Sixties paperback release by Ballantine that turned a cult fave into a literary phenomenon. After I devoured all their respective bibliographies, all in paperback form, I looked around for more. Unfortunately, there wasn't much more, not much worthwhile anyways. Lots of knock-off junk mostly. An exception was the prolific Fritz Leiber and his wonderful sword & sorcery duo, Fafrhd and the Grey Mouser. These stories, 30 some, were collected in a paperback series, but they originally appeared in the mags, like Fantastic above, over the course of three decades! I loved the paperbacks, and that's where I first read them (all with Jeff Jones covers) but it's marvelous to see them in their original form.

A lot of times when I look over things like this, I feel like I missed out. Definitely missed a more colorful and exciting era in newspapers. I missed out on punk rock, too, because I just wasn't developed enough as a creator to be a contributor, only a fan. This is another one. I could've done this, drawn covers and illustrations, hell, maybe even written. Problem was, it didn't last long. The cool things never do.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Janet Greene's Odes for Teabaggers

Thanks to pal Ralph Carney for reminding me about Janet Greene, the rightwing folk singer dubbed the "anti-Baez" back in the Sixties. 

She bubbled up out of the conservative ooze of our own Cincinnati, known here in Ohio as  "Where Nazi Germany meets the Old South", and crooned hilariously irrational ballads like Commie Lies, Comrade's Lament and Poor Left Winger

She started on The Uncle Al Lewis Show in Cincy, a local kiddie program. When the station manager hit on her, she caused such a scene she was hauled away by the cops. She was acquitted in the subsequent trial, which made headlines in Cincy. She then became a ardent follower of the infamous Fred Schwarz, Red Baiter Supreme and head of the Christian Anti-Communism Crusade. Soon she was crooning at his rallies and was touted as a counter to the evil threat of Bob Dylan and the rest of the folk singing East Village Jews. After Goldwater's thumping by LBJ, her career rapidly fizzled.

In the late Sixties Greene moved to California and became a lounge singer. She's in her 70s and retired now, but still out there somewhere. Hard to believe she hasn't re-surfaced to play at a birthday party for one of Sarah Palin's kids, or at a Tea Party rally in rural Indiana.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Things I dig: The Sonics!

Couple days ago I saw legendary garage rock pioneers The Sonics at the Beachland Ballroom here in Clevo.

The Sonics are beloved by music dorks. Everyone from Springsteen to the Ramones to Jack White cites them as a huge influence. But they were largely unknown during their heyday. The were very popular in their native Washington State, and had a few regional hits (back when their were such things) in places like Pittsburgh, but barely made a blip on the national scene. The started as, literally, a garage band, while the guys were still in high school. They played weekend gigs around the Pacific Northwest for a few years while their lineup and sound solidified, then recorded their debut Here Are the Sonics in 1965. The band fell apart between 1966 and 1968, with members leaving to attend university or join other bands. Saxophonist Rob Lind became a fighter pilot in the Vietnam War! Their raw, scorching sound lived on in legend.

The various members all got on with their lives, got married, had kids, and grandkids, had long careers and retired. A few still played occasionally. The original line-up reunited briefly for a gig in 1972, but nothing more came of that.

Then a strange, wondrous thing happened. A few years back when neu-garage bands like the White Stripes and Black Keys became popular, people discovered the Sonics anew. Their discography was re-released. And their blistering cover of Have Love, Will Travel was used in, of all things, car ad in 2007. I remember first seeing that ad on the tube and thinking Holy Crap, is that....? It is!!

Apparently many others reacted the some way, because the call rose for the Sonics to play again. They did just that later that year, at the Cavestomp Garage Rock Festival in Brooklyn, with three of the five original members, now all pushing 70, and replacements on drums and bass. The drummer played with Dick Dale and the Supersuckers. The portly bass player, who also handles some of the vocals to give Gerry Roslie a break during the set, was with the Kingsmen.  They came onto the stage to raucous applause and proceeded the destroy the house. The Sonics had, incredibly, amazingly, lost nothing. All is right with the world, friends.

Now they're touring regularly and playing before packed houses wherever they stop. The Beachland... their first appearance in Cleveland EVER... was sold out, a mixture of aging garage rockers and 20-something hipsters and everything in between. This isn't one of those lame oldies concerts like you always see on PBS pledge week. This is mythic underground band finally enjoying the acclaim they deserve. Their set was all I hoped for. Some of their equipment blew up as they neared the end. It fucking blew up!  And the whole crowd grooved and jumped to an encore of Strychnine, Psycho and The WitchI haven't enjoyed a show this much in some time.

Guess I appreciate the novelty of this more than most, since, I too, am enjoying a late-career renaissance. I really can't think of another band that was away for this long and then came roaring back.