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.