Friday, December 25, 2015

New addition to the webstore. Signed books!

I've teamed up with my favorite local indie bookstore to sell copies of Trashed and My Friend Dahmer with original drawings on the title page. The Trashed copies have a variety of characters in various poses. The MFDs have a nice sketch of Dahmer.

I've added drawings to several boxes of books, hardback and softback, and will be replenishing the supply as they sell. The friendly staff at Mac's will happily take your order and ship your books to you. Best of all, you'll pay nothing extra for these. That's right. Cover price!

The latest batch, above. I threw on a little spot color with marker.

I get a lot of requests for signed books, but I have no interest in running a mail order biz out of my studio, so this is a great solution, and one that helps a great indie bookstore, too.

Unfortunately, Punk Rock & Trailer Parks isn't available from Mac's. The only place to buy copies anymore is on Amazon. Purchase link is to the right of this column. To get PR&TP signed with a drawing, well, you'll just have to wait for a signing or con in your town, I'm afraid.

Mac's has set up a handy online shopping page HERE

Trashed Item-of-the-month

On the set of A Christmas Story. Darren McGavin, the Old Man, and Mike.

Here's a TRASHED trivia item for Christmas.

As you know, Trashed is fictional, but pieces of it are real, based on my own experience as a garbageman as a young man, in 1979 and 1980. Here's something you
don't know. My real-life partner on the truck-- named Mike in the book, named Mike in real life, too-- was in the beloved classic film, A Christmas Story!

It was winter break 1982. Mike was home from Ohio University. I was at Ohio State. My time on the truck was over by the end of 1980, when I started at OSU. Mike, however, worked at the Service Dept. an additional year. Unlike the book, I left first. I didn't come home anymore for breaks. Instead, I spent that time with my girlfriend, who had already graduated and lived and worked in Battle Creek, Michigan. Horrible place. The air reeked of toasted corn flakes from the cereal factories. I was also deeply involved with the school newspaper, The Lantern, and our breaks were short since we had to be on the job a week early to gear up for the first week of publication once the semester began. By Christmas 1982, my comics career was well underway and I was drawing political cartoons for The Lantern, as well as working as a reporter or photographer, depending on the semester. In December 1982, I was gearing up to be a fulltime reporter and political cartoonist once school started again in January 1983.

But the real impetus for staying away from my hometown was there was NO WAY I was getting back on that garbage truck again, which would have been my likely fate, since part time jobs over break were tough to find. I had already worked trash over a previous Christmas break. That was enough.

Mike in Trashed (in Dutch!)

Guess Mike felt the same way. He was home, and the break at Ohio U stretched SIX WEEKS at that time, from Thanksgiving all the way to the new year. He was determined to find other work. He was leafing through the classified ads in the Cleveland paper one day when he saw a mysterious ad: "Major movie. Extras needed." Curious, he called the number listed. He was told the only requirement was you had to be on call 24 hours a day. The only instructions were for when and where to show up, and how to dress. In vintage clothes.
"You had to go through costuming or could bring your own. I brought my own," Mike says, explaining that he borrowed his Dad's 1939 overcoat.

Ralphie's house, on Cleveland's hardscrabble near West Side, is now a very successful tourist attraction! 
That movie, of course, was the beloved Christmas classic, A Christmas Story. The filming took place in various locations around Cleveland, passed off as writer Jean Shepherd's fictional Rustbelt hometown of Holman, Indiana. 

For the next several weeks, Mike would spend most nights as an extra in a movie, the identity and storyline of which remained shrouded in mystery. Mike recalls he thought the film was utter nonsense. He particularly recalls watching them film Ralphie's fantasy scene, where he's picking off bad guys in his backyard. "What the hell IS this?," he thought.  "It looks terrible!"

Mike has always been a collector of odd antiques and family heirlooms. His boyhood room was full of strange artifacts. One of his hobbies was old cars. At this time, he had a Thirties sedan he tooled around town in. When he noticed the film was a period piece, he mentioned the car, and they hired him as a driving extra, one of several old-car buffs who simulate traffic in the film. He's driving in one of the opening scenes, as Ralphie is staring through HIgbee's front window at the Red Ryder BB gun. Higbee's was the real downtown Cleveland department store (it's now, alas, a casino). Another scene Mike was in was the one where the Old Man has a flat tire after getting the Christmas tree. That was filmed in the desolate Flats, Cleveland's industrial pit along the Cuyahoga River, where all the steel mills are. Mike was instructed to drive back and forth through the scene, hour after hour, all night long. He remembers it was a white-knuckle drive, on an icy, pot-hole-littered road, with few street lights and crew and actors mere feet from the passing cars. Mike was terrified he was going to run over Darren McGavin! The scene took an entire week to film.

Most of the filming took place at night, with production wrapping up at 3 am, so the street could be cleared by rush hour. December 1982 was bitterly cold. There was no snow that month. All the snow in the film was placed there with snow machines! Mike mostly stood around the set for hours, trying to stay warm and waiting to be called for a few minutes of filming. Then, when the set closed for the night, he would have the long, 20-mile drive back to our hometown, in his clunker car, and collapse in bed at dawn. Only at age 22!

There's Mike, behind the shrub!

But Mike had one big moment, the iconic Leg Lamp scene. When the Old Man is taking in the view from the street– "Oh, you should see what it looks like from here!"– a crowd gathers behind him to gawk. There's Mike, former garbageman, looking over his shoulder! I remember the first time I saw the film, I bellowed in recognition when I saw his face.

More trivia. A Christmas Story bombed. MGM thought it was a dog and dumped it in theaters at Thanksgiving 1983. It was gone by Christmas. The NY Times critic Vincent Canby savaged it! "There are a number of small, unexpectedly funny moments in ''A Christmas Story,'' but you have to possess the stamina of a pearl diver to find them." Ouch!

The following year, however, it popped up on heavy rotation on cable tv. In the early days of cable, the movie channels ran the same five movies in a continuous loop all month long and, since virtually everyone hacked the primitive cable boxes (with a paper clip!) to gain free access to those pay channels, you'd find yourself watching these films over and over. This turned box office disappointments like Road Warrior and Fast Times at Ridgemont High into cable hits.  And that's how fans found A Christmas Story. Then Ted Turner bought the rights and started the 24-hour marathons on TNT and TBS, which have grown into a Christmas Day tradition.

Now a college prof in Indiana, this scene has made Mike an annual Christmas celebrity on campus. All because he didn't want to be a garbageman anymore!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Washington Post throws its cartoonist under the Ted Cruz campaign bus.

Here's my take on the Ted Cruz cartoon controversy.

A squeamish editor at The Washington Post yanked this Ann Telnaes cartoon yesterday. It's an animated cartoon, so this is just a screenshot. In it's place, there is an editor's note by editorial page editor Fred Hiatt apologizing for the cartoon.

The cartoon depicted the loathsome Ted Cruz and his daughters as trained Christmas monkeys. Cruz, of course, having used his daughters in one of his cloying political ads, in this case showing our favorite Cultural Warrior reading them a Christmas story. 
Sadly, it's yet another example of newspapers losing their kahones when faced with a biting political cartoon. Telnaes has won the Pulitizer Prize, so she's no lightweight. She's syndicated, not on staff with the Post, although they may have some exclusive agreement with her, I'm not sure.
I know exactly what happened here. I've run into this sort of thing myself, many times. Editors only want a political giggle of the day, one that won't have them spending their otherwise sleepy mornings answering emails and phonecalls from outraged supporters of whoever is targeted in said cartoon. The editor saw this cartoon after it went up on the Post's website (and probably not before) and visions of Cruz faithful bombarding him with brickbats danced in his head.
Why should the Post care? In Teddy's case, does this editor really think any Cruz supporters are Post readers? Of course not! So all he's done is send the Post's liberal readers into a rage, for cow-towing to Cruz.
This kind of shit with political cartoons happens all the time, although usually not so publicly. Usually, such a cartoon would get spiked before it was published. Sadly, it's been like this for decades. These quavering corporate types have utterly decimated a once-vibrant cartoon genre. Thomas Nast wouldn't last a month at one of today's corporate "family" newspapers.

Political cartoons peaked during Watergate, when a who's who of greats savaged any and all: Paul Conrad, Pat Oliphant, Paul Szep, John Fischetti, Don Wright, Herblock, etc etc. But by the mid-Eighties, daily newspapers were being gobbled up by giant media chains and daily papers became monopoly publications, as competing papers were bought and closed. The edict from the board room was a daily newspaper now had to be all things to all readers. Strident opinion– well, strident LEFTwing opinion anyways– had to be muzzled. And especially those damn cartoons.

That set the stage for the current generation of editors, who were trained to appease, not offend. All the great cartoonists I listed above had died or retired (except Oliphant) by the end of the Nineties. The next generation of cartoonists were hired by the quavering corporate types.  Viciously funny cartoonists need not apply. When the downsizing frenzy hit the newspaper biz a year years later, these cartoonists were the first tossed over the side. And why not? After 30 years of editorial emasculation, most of those guys were pretty disposable, frankly. Almost all were drawing exactly the same way, telling the exact same gags. McCartoonists. We all recall the day after 9-11 when every cartoonist in America drew the exact same piece: the Statue of Liberty weeping into her hands as the Towers burned. That depressing display of groupthink marked the official end of political cartoons as an effective genre in this country. The quavering corporate types had won. 
Now, It's a general rule among cartoonists that politicians' kids are out of bounds, until they're adults or unless they do something incredibly stupid. Obama's kids, of course, have been savaged by online rightwing trolls, and the Bush twins were targets, too, but very seldom by cartoonists. As vicious as I was to Dubya, I can't recall ever putting his girls in a cartoon. Now... Teddy is wrapping himself in his family and sticking his kids in ads, so he really can't squawk much when satirists call him on it. But, of course, he is. Today he's howling in outrage and gleefully exploiting the now-yanked cartoon as evidence of the.... queue scary music... LIBERAL MEDIA! And the Tea Party types are lapping it up.
So, in other words, the Post editor walked face first into that one. All he did was give Ted a giant gift-wrapped media blast for Christmas, and throw a Pulitzer winner under the bus.

Well done.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Joe Strummer, 13 years gone.

Joe Strummer, thirteen years gone today. Died of a massive heart attack at age 50.
If you're unfamiliar with his late-career re-emergence as a solo artist, take a listen to this cut, the title song from his last album (while living), Global A-Go-Go, a piece of power, complexity and depth. That's what I lament as much as anything. We were robbed of so much new work from this man.
I told this story to a couple magazines after his death. In 2000, Strummer & the Mescalaros did their first (and last) US tour, stopping here in Cleveland on a bitterly cold November evening to play at the late, lamented Odeon. It was an amazing show. Strummer, once the angry young punk, bantered playfully with the crowd and appeared to be enjoying himself immensely. I knew he was playing Clash stuff on this tour...but halfway into the set, when his band tore into the opening bowel-shaking chords of "Safe European Home" it was still a transcendental moment. With a bellow of joy, I hurled my creaky 40-year-old body into the exploding mosh and gave myself up to the music like I was an orange-haired 20something again.
After that incredible show, I was walking to my car, to head to a nearby tavern and meet up with Akron friends who had driven separately. I passed the big tour bus parked outside the Odeon and there was Joe, leaning against the bus talking casually to a dozen fans.
"Thanks, Joe!," I shouted over their heads. A simple statement...which had so much more meaning than the simple literal interpretation. Layers and layers of meaning. It's a rare privilege to personally thank the voice of your generation.
He smiled and nodded. "You're welcome, mate."
He knew exactly what I was trying to say. It was the last time I saw him play.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Signed books for sale! With title page drawings!!

I've been getting tons of requests for signed books, but, frankly, I have no interest in running a mail order business here. So I've settled on a solution that benefits all. I've stocked up my favorite indie bookstore here in Cleveland, a store which serves as my home base (and was Harvey Pekar's before me), with a stockpile of signed copies of all my books. Not only signed copies, but copies with drawings on the title pages, too, what is known as a dedicace in France and Belgium.

These copies are available for cover price, as long as supplies last. That's right. No extra charge for the drawing. Mostly it's hardback copies of Trashed, but there's also some softbacks.... as well as copies of My Friend Dahmer, and a few of Punk Rock & Trailer Parks. Fifty or 60 total, I lost count. It's first come, first serve, so don't hesitate.

The bookstore is Mac's Backs and they happily do mail order. Call them at 216.321.2665 or place an order by email HERE

Monday, November 23, 2015

Stan Lee's failed comic strip "Says Who!"

Here's an interesting artifact I just stumbled across. This is a failed 1976 comic strip by none other than Marvel's Stan Lee, titled Says Who! It's a tepid ripoff of National Lampoon's popular Foto Funnies and (before that) the photo comics in Harvey Kurtzman's Help. 

Lee was technically the president of Marvel in 1976, but he had ceded the day-to-day operations to others and was really little more than a well-paid figurehead and company spokesman. His main job was pitching Marvel to Hollywood, resulting in a string of cheesy tv series, Saturday morning cartoons and godawful tv movies that were a far, far cry from the blockbuster films of today. Here's the worst one, a Capt. America tv movie from 1979. He also wrote the text in the bestselling Origins of Marvel Comics series (with the shameless credit hogging that got him in so much trouble later) and made a tidy living appearing before adoring fans at colleges and comicons. 

Say What! was distributed by the Register & Tribune Syndicate of Des Moines, Iowa, owned by a local press baron. Founded in 1922, the Register & Tribune Syndicate was most famous, comics wise, for Family Circus and Eisner's The Spirit. I can't find any info on Say What! at all. Did Stan pitch it to the syndicate, or did the syndicate approach Lee? Did he actually write this thing, or just attach his name to it? Unknown. I can't imagine he was scrounging up stock photos on his own time, which was fairly time consuming before the internet. I think it more likely an art director at the syndicate picked random photos from the syndicate files and then Lee wrote a gag to fit.

The strip itself is classic Stan, trying to appear edgy and hip, without really saying anything at all. There's not a single giggle in the bunch here. It's just hokey patter, but minus all the familiar "face fronts!" and "excelsiors!" that we Marvel readers lapped up. Keep in mind 1976 was also the year Saturday Night Live debuted and became a pop-cultural phenomenon, so edgy political satire was hot, but not, of course, in the staid daily press. Doonesbury was also at it's peak, and papers were leery of adding more political strips, since Trudeau was causing them so much grief with their conservative, aging readers.

Say What! is lame, but no worse than 90% of the crap on the daily comics page in the Seventies, which was the first of many dreary decades for daily strips. I'm guessing it failed, not only because it's not very good, but because a photo strip would have been very tough to reproduce in most newspapers, which were all using antiquated presses and technology that hadn't changed much in 50 years, and, in fact, actually got a bit worse as papers cut costs with cheaper plastic printing plates, before it improved exponentially with the digital revolution of the Eighties. 
Say What!, I conjecture, just wasn't worth the extra production work, especially since, well, it stinks. I can't find any info on when the strip began or ended. These samples are from October to December 1976. 

National Lampoon's Foto Funnies,
in contrast, was hilarious. 

As was Help magazine's photo comics, a decade earlier. This is the most famous one, art directed by Terry Gilliam and starring a young John Cleese!

Lee himself had a history with photo funnies. Marvel published several monster mags in the early Seventies in this vein. None of them lasted more than an issue or two. This is the is last attempt (I think) from 1972. It was hardly original. The many monster mags of the Sixties frequently did photo funnies, too.

The other problem with doing a topical strip in 1976 was the six-week lead time daily strips had at the time. It wasn't like today, when you draw a strip and post it the next day, or immediately. So news could, and did, change. Stan obviously didn't anticipate the GOP National Convention, held in August 1976, where Ford beat down a challenge from Reagan. Stan (or more likely, an editor at the syndicate) had to change the punchline of the strip below and mail out a correction. 

A few weeks after the last strip here, in January 1977, the Amazing Spider-man strip, 
which Stan wrote, was launched. It was also distributed by the Register & Tribune Syndicate and was an immediate hit. I'm guessing Says Who! was quietly retired at that point.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Want a signed copy of my books? Sure you do!

Just signed a large stack of books at Mac's Backs, Cleveland's finest indie bookstore. Most have neato title page drawings, just like I do for fans in Europe. Mac's has copies of Trashed, My Friend Dahmer and Punk Rock & Trailer Parks. And Mac's does mail order! I'll be keeping their stock supplied with these beauties, so if you can't make it to one of my signings, or I don't make it to your town, this is your best option.

There'll be a purchase link eventually, but until then just contact Macs by EMAIL or call 216-321-2665 and they'll arrange to ship it to you.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The TRASHED tour so far

Got a little breather here in the TRASHED book tour madness. The opening leg– the SPX fest in DC, France, the new CXC fest in Columbus, the official US book launch here in Cleveland, then Comics Arts Brooklyn– all flew by without a hitch. Loads of fun. This weekend I'm off to appear at the Miami Book Fest, then I'll wrap up the Fall events with the Genghis Con indy comix fest here in Clevo. After that, everything tails off for the holidays. Stores don't want to schedule events during the Christmas Rush, because they get increased crowds anyways. 

Most book promotion is mostly done online now. I guess the thinking is that's more bang for the buck. No travel expenses and you can reach a lot more people. A lot of stores don't even want to bother with live signings, stores in the US anyways. In Europe, they love signings. What I've noticed more and more here is that if I do a store signing, I'll have a large stack of books waiting for me at the counter, requests for signed books from people who couldn't, or I suspect just couldn't be bothered to, show up during the signing hours. Some times I'll sign more of these books than books for people who show up! It's weird. The signing is over, the shop is closing up, and I"m signing a stack of books for fans I'll never meet. Not much of a payoff for me, but at least the bookstore gets the sales. That's classic America. We can barely be bothered to leave our homes!

So TRASHED just came out here in the US two weeks ago. It's getting a nice amount of press. All the comix sites have written about it, and a few mainstream sites, like Publishers Weekly, which picked it as one of its recommended books of the week, and in Entertainment Weekly, of all places. A few newspapers have reviewed it, those few that still review books. It hasn't gotten the widespread press that MY FRIEND DAHMER enjoyed, but that was a given. That book had the built-in, tempting news peg that media simply couldn't resist. TRASHED? This is just another comic book in the minds of Big Media Inc.

On the radio at WRUW, Cleveland's finest college alternative.
Podcasting with Tech & Comix writer Brian Heater outside Comics Arts Brooklyn.

The reviews have been almost all glowing ones, which is nice. I figured they would be, not to sound like too big a fat head. My garbage stories have always been popular and more well liked than any of my other work, and TRASHED isn't as controversial as MY FRIEND DAHMER, which some parties simply couldn't accept.

I was hoping the New York Times would finally review one of my books, but it doesn't look like that will happen. I'm just not one of the anointed. The Times has never written a single word about MFD, which is on the American Library Association's 100 Greatest Graphic Novels list. The only time the Times wanted to talk to me was after the Charlie Hebdo murders, because I was one of the few American creators with a big presence in France. Oh well.

Line out the door at a Paris bookstore!

Speaking of France, the news from there couldn't be better! TRASHED was released in French a month earlier than the English version. My publisher in Paris was anxious to get it out with plenty of time to sell before Christmas. I guess their shopping season is slightly different than ours, which, of course, doesn't take off until Black Friday. TRASHED got HUGE coverage in the French media, which really surprised me, and shot up the charts. It's already in its 2nd printing! My publisher tells me its selling better, out of the gate, than MON AMI DAHMER (that title sounds so much classier in French, no?). Now, after I won the Angoulême Prize, sales of that book took off, but that's still promising news.

I'll be heading back to France in January, for Angoulême 2016, then staying for the entire month of February, traveling around France and Belgium for signings. No, I'm not particularly worried about terrorism any more than I'm worried about being caught in the crossfire of a gang shootout here in Cleveland.

Then, hopefully, I'll have more signings in as-yet-undetermined cities into the Spring. After that, it's back to work on the next book.  And, no, I haven't decided what that will be yet.

Pugnacious Marc Arsenault, poobah at Alternative Comics, publishers of True Stories.

Oh. One more thing to look forward to. The next volumes of TRUE STORIES, compiling the strips of the same name from THE CITY, will start coming out in Summer 2016. Be nice to see them on the shelves. Three more, I think, then probably a trade paperback that collects them all at the end.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Comics Arts Brooklyn this weekend!

To mark the "official" launch date of Trashed, I'll be a featured guest at the Comics Art Brooklyn fest this Sat. and Sun. 

Sat. is the expo, from 11 am to 7 pm. I'll be at the Desert Island Comics table pretty much all day. Look for my 8-foot-tall Joey Ramone banner. It's easy to spot. This is my only scheduled signing in NYC (I had an earlier one at Book Expo), so don't squander the opportunity. It's a fabulous show anyways. Well worth spending the day there.

Sun. the fest moves to a nearby location for seminars and talks. I'll be interviewed by comics scholar Karen Green of Columbia University at 4 pm. There'll be lots of visuals, including (ugh) rare early work that I seldom pull out of the flat files. 

I'm really looking forward to this show. Don't miss it!

Monday, November 2, 2015

Trashed is out Tuesday!!

FINALLY! The official US release date of Trashed is tomorrow, Nov. 3. Copies will start flying out of the warehouse at the crack of dawn. (OK, maybe not, but I like to think they will).

It only seems like this book has been out for months. It was released in France in late September, and is already in its 2nd printing! French critics have showered it with acclaim and its gotten a surprising amount of coverage in the press. Surprising, because I wondered how French fans would take to this very American tale. My Friend Dahmer and Punk Rock & Trailer Parks are oh-so American, as well, but the former has the universal appeal of an iconic fiend and the latter of punk rock. Trashed doesn't, or so I thought, have that kind of universal appeal. Well, I'm happy to report I was wrong about that!

And now, at last, the US launch. I'd prefer you got your copy from your favorite local indy bookstore, but if that option is not available to you, here's the Amazon link.

Do a guy a solid and pre-order today. In the wacky world of book publishing, pre-orders count as Day 1 sales and are used to figure bestseller lists right out of the gate. That's why all those books are flaunted as bestsellers before they're even released. It's important, because that starts the ball rolling.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Podcast fun!

Gil Roth interviewed me at the Columbus Crossroads Fest a couple weeks ago, about making comix and thriving as a creator in the Rustbelt. Great discussion. Listen to it HERE

Sunday, October 18, 2015

TRASHED tour update

With the official US release date fast approaching (Nov. 3), the book tour will be firing up again. Next up is Comics Art Brooklyn, Nov. 7 & 8, where I'll be a featured guest. On Saturday, Nov. 7, I'll be manning a table at the expo at the Mt. Carmel Gymnasium. Hopefully all day, but arrangements are not yet finalized.

On Sunday, Nov. 8, I'll be in conversation with the fabulous Karen Green, comix expert and curator of Columbia University's comics and cartoon collection, at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn, which is where all the Day 2 seminars take place. Don't have a time yet.

This will be followed by a few days in NYC. There'll be at least one additional signing.

I've been getting lots of "are you coming to (fill in the city name here) on this tour?" The answer is, probably not. My publisher prefers to focus on fests and cons, instead of the old different-city-a-night book tour. I have no problem with this, since those kinds of tours are brutal and not much fun at all.

If I do make a store appearance somewhere– and I may– those are events I arrange myself. Those are usually limited to stores in the Midwest, ones I can drive to. Because of this, I've never done any signings west of the Mississippi! Hey, I'd love to sign for fans in Portland or LA, but it's simply too expensive for, frankly, the payoff.

Which is another point. In the fast-changing world of book publishing and retail, store signings are becoming less and less of a thing. The reason? People just don't come out for these events anymore. In Europe, where bookstore culture is strong, and people actually hang out regularly at their favorite shop, I'll get 50 or 60 people at a signing with only minimal promotion. In the US, I'll beat the drum on social media for several weeks and be lucky to conjure up half that. Even stranger, US stores will have people reserve signed copies, but they don't want to come to the event, just to pick them up at their leisure! The result is I sign a big stack of books for invisible fans in a nearly empty store. It's weird, and not much of a payoff for me, since I enjoy meeting fans. Americans just don't want to leave their homes anymore. 

Here's something to think about though. I usually do a free title page drawing at signings, unless there's too many people in line. But that's only a reward for people who make the effort to turn out for the event. 

At fests and cons, on the other hand, you have hardcore fans showing up in droves. Obviously, these fans are getting more bang for their buck, with a number of creators at one venue. It's understandable why publishers favor them. Alas, most of these are in the eastern half of the country. West Coast cons are mostly of the Wizard World variety, and that ain't my scene.

That's a long-winded explanation on why I probably won't be signing in your town.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Cartoon Crossroads Columbus!

Dustin Harbin's poster. Had I been thinking clearly, I would had all the guests sign it. But, since I lost the damn thing while packing up anyways, guess it don't matter.

I’m back from my hectic opening leg of the Trashed book tour, a back-to-back-to-back tour schedule of SPX, a week of signings and interviews in France, then straight to the new CXC fest in Columbus. I thought I’d crawl home, exhausted, but it turned out to be just the opposite! In fact, my head is still reeling, especially from the CXC weekend. 

And it’s Cartoon Crossroads Columbus, the new show on the indy comix circuit,  I want to write about today. CXC is the brainchild of comics rockstar Jeff Smith, his wife and business partner Vijaya, and the founding curator, now retired, of the BIlly Ireland Cartoon Museum at Ohio State University, Lucy Caswell. These folks, more than any others, have put Columbus, Ohio, on the comics map, and now they're looking to make the city one of the biggest comics towns in the country. Their idea was to start a comic festival that will grow into one of the most important. After this so-called “soft launch” debut, I have no doubt it will achieve just that.

Weds. morning I'm relaxing on the bank of the Seine in the heart of Paris.
That evening, I'm in Columbus! Yeah, life is f-ing GOOD!

As many of you know, I’m a product of the Columbus comix scene. My cartoons were first published in the Ohio State Lantern. As were Jeff Smith’s first Bone efforts. Our Lantern careers overlapped, in fact. My last year was his first year on the paper, or so we figured. It was then that I met Lucy Caswell, who became a mentor. So when I was asked to participate in this debut CXC, my answer was an enthusiastic yes. I didn’t want to miss a minute of it, so I cut short my France trip and flew directly from Paris to Columbus to make it in time for the opening event. The schedule called for two days of seminars, Q&As and screenings at Ohio State University, then a one-day expo at a downtown venue (this will be expanded to a two-day expo in a much larger venue, starting next year). Jeff and Lucy used their star power and many connections to round up a list of guests that can only be described as epic: Art Spiegelman, Francoise Mouly, Lalo Alcaraz, Kate Beaton, Grace Ellis, Jaime Hernandez, Katie Skelly, Bill Griffith, Jeff Lemire, Craig Thompson, Dylan Horrocks…. holy crap! I assumed I was added to help put away chairs.


Always feels good to be back in C-bus, where it all began for me. 

I made it to the downtown hotel by 6 pm. Threw on some fresh deodorant and a new shirt and hopped the #2 bus. I stepped off to the familiar surroundings of campus. I never tire of visiting  the place that transformed me. Ohio State University, one of the nation's largest,  isn’t for everyone, and, to be honest, I probably wouldn’t choose it today were I 18 again, but in 1979 it was the perfect school for me. Everything good in my life I can trace to this school and that time. It’s where I began my career. It’s where I met my wife. My life would be dramatically different, and nowhere near as good, if not for Ohio State. So whenever I walk around campus, I just let the good karma wash over me in waves.

The opening event was a screening of rare Walter Lantz cartoons, hosted by animation historian Jerry Beck. As I strode into the lobby of the Wexner Center, I found a dozen pals from the comics world. Once the cartoons started, the jet lag kicked in. I made it through the first two, some crazy Oswald the Rabbit features I’d never seen before, fell asleep for five or six cartoons, then awoke just in time to catch the last two, both Tex Avery masterpieces from the later stage of his career. 

Bill Griffith chats with animation historian Jerry Beck. At the table in back I can make out Lucy Caswell, Jeff Lemire, Dylan Horrocks, Craig Thompson, and Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly.

Afterwards was a special dinner for the VIP guests, at a wonderful bistro in German Village, a quaint section of Columbus, of brick streets and lovely old houses. I can’t even recall who drove us there, that’s how punchy I was, but I soon snapped awake, for greeting me with an ear-to-ear smile and outstretched arms was my old friend and prof, Lucy Caswell. I could have chosen to sit next to an array of comix legends, but eating and chatting with Lucy was all I wanted to do. I always tried to make it down to Ohio State at least once a year, but those of you who know Lucy know the word “driven” was coined for her. Anything longer than a 10-minute chat and I felt like I was upsetting the entire comix world, so this opportunity, to shoot the breeze for an hour, is one I’ll always remember.

“I am so very proud of you and all you’ve accomplished,” she told me. I almost burst into tears! 

I toughed it out until midnight (keep in mind I was still on Paris time, so I’d been up for over 24 hours at this point) then went back to the hotel, fell into bed and slept the sleep of the dead.


L-R: Tom Spurgeon, Eric Reynolds, Jim Rugg, Chip Mosher.

This was slated as a day of seminars and tours at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Museum at Ohio State University, which everyone calls simply The Billy, and the neighboring Wexner Center for the Arts. I ran into Chip Mosher of Comixology and fellow creator and Angoulême cohort Gregory Benton in the hotel lobby, both wondering how they were going to get to campus. Some of the logistical details at the fest were still being ironed out, rides being a main issue. I wound up volunteering as an informal tourguide throughout the weekend and Chip, Greg and I took the Neil Ave. bus directly to campus. Thank God Columbus hasn't changed the bus routes in 30-plus years! The first seminar, scheduled for 9 am, was packed. Standing room only. Unfortunately, the auditorium in the Cartoon Museum was being used for a class, so the seminars got bumped to a smaller room. Feh. Where are Ohio State's priorities?  This first one was on “The Business of Comix” with a panel of Fantagraphics editor Eric Reynolds, creator and micro-publisher Jim Rugg and Mosher. Tom Spurgeon, of the Comics Reporter website and the festival director (he moved to Columbus for the gig!) was the moderator.

It was a great panel, more aimed at the up-and-coming creators, not an old warhorse like me. The only important point they left out, and I consider this a key to a successful comix career, is pick an affordable city as your home base! It's no longer a requirement to live in NYC or Seattle or San Francisco and, frankly, you're a fool if you do. Even hipster hotspots like Portland or Denver or Austin are expensive enough to make life hard. Pick a funky town with a tight comix scene like Columbus, or Cleveland or Pittsburgh, where rent is cheap. I should have raised my hand and brought this up, but I was in serious need of coffee.

A competing comix event was taking place on campus, the SOL-con, the Black & Brown Comics Festival. Jaime Hernandez and Lalo Alcaraz were the A-list guests. CXC partnered with this event.

Shooting the shit in the Wexner cafe (surprisingly good food for a campus joint) with L-R Gregory Benton, Chris Pitzer of Adhouse Books and Jim Rugg. The first of many such confabs.

After checking out SOL-con, I wandered down to the Wexner Cafe with a group of comix folk to grab a late breakfast. The conversation was so engaging, I wound up missing the next hour of seminars…. and subsequent conversations caused me to miss ALL the day’s seminars! I can’t say I felt any great loss, not because those seminars weren’t interesting, some of them sounded terrific, but just because those small conversations were so utterly fun and fascinating. We comix types don’t gather in one place very often, so when we do it’s a real treat for everyone. I hear Dylan Horrocks' seminar on writer's block was outstanding, and the second Business of Comix was also a winner, especially since webcartoonist Scott Kurtz used it as a public forum, once again, to settle his many, and mostly imaginary, scores. That kind of thing is always fun!

After breakfast, Frank Santaro and Chris Pitzer of Adhouse Books wanted to go bin diving. Ken Eppstein, a Columbus comix publisher who I’ve dubbed the Stan Lee of Columbus Comics (that really pisses him off!), suggested a nearby comix shop that had just gotten in a dozen boxes of virgin back issues. But Ken, who is more disciplined than the rest of us, didn’t want to miss the seminars, so I once again volunteered to be the guide. I walked a pack of comix folk a mile to the shop…. and it was closed! It was supposed to be open. We checked before setting out. Guess the owner slept in that day. Here he had a half dozen well-known creators staring forlornly through the window, ready to dig and buy. That pretty much sums up comic book shops, no? Hard to believe they’re all closing.

Frank Santaro and I (see reflection) lamenting.

So back to the Cartoon Museum. Immediately, I ran into Shena Wolf and John Glynn, the editors at Universal Press, the fine folks who post my retro City strips on . They wanted to caf up at the recommended Kafe Kerouac Coffeehouse, but were trying to figure out how to get there. Once again, I led the expedition. We ran into Dark Horse’s David Scroggy on the way, and since it was lunchtime, we eventually wound up at the classic Blue Danube Diner, north of campus.

Universal Press' Shena Wolf and John Glynn, and yours truly, at the Kafe Kerouac, a must stop if you're visiting Ohio State. They make a killer latte and have a $2 bottomless cup-o-joe. AND carry an array of indy comix! What's not to love?

Visiting campus these days is somewhat of a melancholy experience. The university, and its corporate partners, are hellbent on bulldozing the entire campus and its adjoining commercial district. They are pillaging and burning up and down High St., the lively commercial district that runs the length of campus’ eastern border, and is, or rather was, in my experience, the best part of Ohio State. Ten years ago, the university bought and bulldozed the South Campus bar district, which the bigshots long regarded as a “black eye” to the university, and replaced it with a soulless, half-empty shopping mall of chain stores and eateries, which, apparently is not a black eye. Now the bigshots are planning the same thing for the center of the High St. strip, right at the main entrance to campus. A number of iconic mom-and-pop operations, some which stretch back three decades to my era, are being forced out or have already closed. The result will be more dreary new buildings and more chain stores. Let’s brainwash our kids to bow before the corporate monolith! Only the North campus stretch has escaped. The Kafe Kerouac, which came along after my time but would have fit in beautifully, is a funky coffeehouse and used bookstore and serves as the unofficial salon of the Columbus comix scene. The nearby Blue Danube Diner was a favorite of mine. I’d often treat myself to Sunday breakfast there and spend hours swilling coffee over the newspapers and my sketchbook. Also of note, right across from the Danube, was the Monkey’s Retreat comix shop, which had an eye-popping stock of offbeat comix, back in the days when indy comix were just on the rise. It’s long gone, but it was Monkey’s Retreat that planted the seed in my mind for my own career, even if it took five years for that seed to germinate. Curiously, Jeff Smith, who followed me as a cartoonist for The Lantern, tells a similar tale! It was browsing at the Monkey’s Retreat and stumbling across an issue of Raw, where he got the idea to try Bone in comic book form. I was more a Weirdo man.

At the 'Nube. Shena, John (in motion) and David Scroggy.

Meanwhile, at the Danube, Scroggy regaled us all with tales of Pacific Comics, the publisher that kicked off the indy comics revolution back in the early 80s. Scroggy was the editor and brought the comix world Kirby’s last work, Capt. Victory and the Galactic Rangers, Dave Steven’s Rocketeer, and new work by Steve Ditko, Mike Grell and Sergio Aragones’ Groo the Wanderer. I wanted to know all about working with Kirby, and Scroggy had plenty of stories. I’ll save those for a later post.

Lunch took hours, and when I delivered the trio back to the Cartoon Museum, I ran into Dylan Horrocks, who had just finished up his seminar and was craving, of all things, donuts. Dylan, who I’ve long admired, I first met just a few weeks prior at SPX, and we spent a delightful, if sunstroked, afternoon walking the length of the National Mall together, after a VIP tour of the original comic art holdings at the Library of Congress. “I have to get donuts whenever I visit the states,” he said with a grin. “Do you know of a good donut shop?” Well, of course I did! I led him to the legendary Buckeye Donuts, another High St. landmark. We spent an hour there munching donuts and talking comix. 

Dylan Horrocks at Buckeye Donuts. Bliss achieved.

We made it back just in time for the Conversation with Bill Griffith at the Wex. Bill talked about Zippy and his experiences in San Francisco’s vibrant underground comics scene in the early Seventies, and about his new graphic novel Invisible Ink: My Mother's Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist. This was followed almost immediately by Jeff Smith in conversation with Kate Beaton and Craig Thompson. Beaton, in particular, was absolutely delightful, infectiously laughing at her own comments, which were indeed hilarious. It’s no mystery why her comic is so good! 

Then it was off to another VIP dinner, this at a tapas bar near the hotel. We were supposed to shuttled there by a fest volunteer, but none could be located, so the head curator of the Cartoon Museum, Jenny Robb, drove us there. Talk about a celebrity taxi! My wife met me at the restaurant, the first time we’d seen each other in three weeks, thanks to my tour in France. She was also a student of Lucy’s, like me a student in the very first History of Cartoons class that Lucy offered. In fact, several of us begged Sheryl, who was an editor at The Lantern,  to take the class, so we could meet the minimum roster size, or else the University would cancel it. She and I were not yet dating, so she had no real interest in cartoons, but she agreed.  The class is still being taught today. Sheryl's contribution to comix history!

My wife, Sheryl, and Lucy Caswell. 

Me and Bill Griffith!

The highlight of the evening? I found myself talking one-on-one for an hour with Bill Griffith! What a nice guy, which was no surprise since his rep as one is well known. We talked at length about process and comix history…. wow. I’m still feeling the buzz. What a great end to a great day!


Finally. Expo day!  The location was the funky, old Columbus Cultural Center for the Arts, a lovely red-sandstone, historical building in downtown Columbus. This was the “soft launch,” as the organizers  described it. In future years, the expo will expand to two days and move to a much larger venue, the new main library. The hope is the expo will soon be a mirror of TCAF in Toronto, which is also housed in the library. The seminar days were old hat for the Cartoon Museum. They’ve been holding a tri-annual festival for decades, sort of a comix academic summit. It was pretty wonky, but attracted dozens of star cartoonists, mostly from the comic strip and political cartoon world. The first occured a month after I graduated, and Lucy Caswell made sure I had access to every event and VIP gathering. Blew my mind, meeting Jules Feiffer, listening to Berke Breathed rant about his syndicate, and having Mike Peters gush over examples of my political cartoons. But an expo, with all the logistical hurdles, that’s a whole different challenge.

There was only room for about 50 tables, but the list of exhibitors was the equal of a major show. I didn’t doubt for a second this was going to be a home run, but Spurgeon and Lucy were plenty nervous as the opening bell approached and only half the exhibitors had shown. They were shaking their heads and talking about moving tables together to fill in the blank spaces. I told them to relax. This was indy comix standard operating procedure. Most of these folks could set up in five minutes, and normally did just that. And sure enough, at 11 am, all the tables were full. The doors opened and the fans poured in. 

J.t. Dockery

Jenny Robb, curator of the Cartoon Museum, and Chris Pitzer

The expo was packed all day long. There was a constant line at my table, which is a great problem to have, but it meant I had no time to wander and check out the wares of other exhibitors. This is my reality at every con now. Like I wrote, a nice problem to have. I like tabling. I know lots of folks don’t and many who rise to “special guest” status prefer to just sign for an hour or two. Me, I like manning a table for the whole fest. Maybe it’s because I came to this so late in life, and worked as a comix hermit for much of my career, especially during my comic strip years, that I now want to meet as many fans as I can in the time I have left. It's purely selfish on my part. 

The Giant Floating Heads of me and Tom Spurgeon.

I had two talks scheduled. The first was a one-on-one conversation with Tom Spurgeon, which I didn’t realize was even on the schedule until a volunteer mentioned it 15 minutes before the session! The room was packed. Standing room only, in fact. That I hadn’t prepared at all would have been a worry, if not for Spurgeon, who always does his homework and has such a breezy, conversational interview style that my total lack of prep was no problem at all. People told me later they really enjoyed it. The second was a podcast with Gil Roth, who also had done his homework and presented an entirely different set of questions. I’ll post the podcast here when he posts it. 

Art Spiegelman

Jeff Smith

With two hours devoted to interviews, the expo flew by. Before I knew it, it was 6 pm and time to tear down. The big finale of CXC was Jeff Smith in conversation with Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly before an overflow crowd at the Columbus College of Art and Design. It’s very impressive how so many civic entities have hopped on board. This is an indication that this festival will soon be one of the best and biggest in the country. You heard it here first. Move over SPX and MoCCA, here comes CXC! And, as a comix creator or fan, if this fest wasn’t on your radar, it sure as hell should be now! 

An after-party at a bar in the brewery district wrapped up the official events. The following morning as I was waiting in the lobby for Gregory Benton to come down for breakfast, Jeff Lemire, creator of Essex County, about to leave for the airport, walked up and introduced himself! This was my only beef with this epic weekend. There were so many amazing people in attendance, I simply didn’t have time to talk to them all, or to even meet some of the folks I badly wanted to. I didn’t talk to Art and Francois at all. Had only brief conversations with Jeff Smith and Craig Thompson, mainly because I couldn't tear myself away from other conversations. There simply weren’t enough hours in the day!

Outside the after party: Caitlin McGurk of the Cartoon Museum, Spurgeon and Jeff Smith. 

What a festival! Mark CXC on your 2016 calendar right now.