Archive for December, 2008

Kramers Tour Diary 2 Electric Bugaloo


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Wednesday, December 24, 2008


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NEW YORK REPORT

Thurber and I drove up together from Pittsburgh. The rest of the gang was in a big van that Kevin drove like a maniac. After the stop at the diner, we drove along route 22 thru Pennsylvania and up to Altoona. Got on I-80, which winds through the Appalachians, really pretty deep focus views with snows, and drove and drove. I remember we stopped at some super small town’s sprawling grocery store, and the lot of us wandered the store looking for something or other. But that was it. No exciting road adventures. Just a jaunt to the big city.

Matthew is a great conversationalist. Good with word play. We talked a lot about wanting to do more zines. Something public that one could print cheaply, small editions of 300 or so. Selling them on a website. Collecting the good stuff later in a cheap trade or giving it away online. Who knows? Who cares! Just make work. Back to basics. Both of us had pamphlet comic books go the way of the dodo. We were brainstorming. Thurber driving. Dunkin Donuts in Stroudsburg.

I had soup with some friends on 2nd ave and the went over to Matthew’s place to crash. He and Kevin were looking through old sketchbooks and drinking beer. Kevin’s got these amazing lists and diagrams of what he’s planning for some sequences. Ideas for comic book titles, random thoughts or observations, notes to self. The usual sketchbook stuff but sharply focused and clear. A distinct voice speaking. All beautifully, economically drawn or written.

Matthew showed us some new 1-800-MICE pages. I wish I could make such remarkably funny drawings as Thurber. The characters are so real to me like Jim Woodring’s characters are real, how they inhabit a space all their own. But beyond that, Thurber’s making these slapstick Dada talkies that just cut like a Buñuel movie. They’re great scenes strung together, great comics.

Then it was Saturday morning, bright December sun and light dusting of snow. Cats on fire escapes. Brooklyn. Thurber and I got up early and headed into Manhattan. He went to work. I went to see missed friends. Kevin said something about finding a diner or somewhere to draw. The signing was at four or five. We all barely had time eat before it was time to meet the throngs of Kramers fans out there.

I wish. I guess New York is always kind of a pie in the face. Meaning I can’t help but get my hopes up for any opening or signing or whatever I have here. I always hope all my friends will come, I hope there will be new people excited about the same things I’m excited about. Y’know, ahem, the heart of Saturday night. In New York. But in New York, there are a thousand things going on the same night. You’re lucky if you can get most of your friends from different worlds in the same room.

Desert Island in Williamsburg, Brooklyn is an awesome book store. They have a couch and a cool old portable record player. Gabe Fowler, the owner is always flippin’ a fat platter. Oh, and they sell comics, and these new things called “graphic novels”, and lots other cool stuff. When I got there at 5:30 the signing had already been going on for an hour. There were so many of us it was like some ’70s jam rock band with twelve members playing a small party. I remember standing there watching Adrian Tomine, Kim Deitch, Ben Katchor, Sammy Harkham, and Matthew Thurber all “signing” at once, drawing on the limited-edition prints that come with the book (if you buy it from Buenaventura or through certain stores). It was a little overwhelming to say the least. Or intimidating. One or the other. Or both.

I mean, I’ve met Ben Katchor a few times. But, um, it’s Ben Katchor. I always think, “What do I say? What do I say?” Talk about Nabokov? The soup place on Second Avenue?

So, the store got 25 copies of the books and they were all pre-sold. In theory Sammy was to bring more along, but Buenaventura was selling through their advance shipment so fast they could barely keep up, it was nuts. Most customers, according to Gabe, wanted the book signed by all the artists but they had to come to the signing and do it themselves; the staff (Gabe, Keri and Lindsay) weren’t going to pass around 25 giant books to get signed. It was tough enough getting all the prints signed. It was a good idea but what ended up happening is that only a few of the pre-order customers came in to get their book signed. And they, Gabe said, came in early, picked up their book before all the signers were around, and asked when their signed print would be ready. Since the signers weren’t all there yet and all the prints weren’t doodled on, the pre-order customers hung around for a bit then split, content to pick up their print later.

So, we, the signers all just jammed on the prints, not on the books. And, well, it was kind of weird. Fun, but weird. More like a craft party than an opening or a signing where there is a direct connection between reader and maker. I think people there to meet the makers were a little shy to interrupt someone like Kim Deitch when he’s drawing. I’d been to other signings at Desert Island and they were really happening, really loose. But this night was just kind of low key and stoic.

The traffic jam of cartoonists (John Pham, James McShane, Ron Rege, Adrian Tomine, Ben Katchor, Jonathan Bennett, Kim Deitch, Gabrielle Bell, David Heatley, Matthew Thurber, Jesse McManus, Sammy Harkham, Kevin Huizenga, and myself), no one having their book “personalized”, AND the fact that there were no books to be bought by someone walking in off the street made the whole thing kind of odd. Fun, but odd.

Don’t get me wrong, people were laughing and carrying on, and y’know, it’s cool to sit next to Kevin Huizenga and watch Yakov smile ear to ear while having all his Huizenga comic books signed. It’s cool to rap with Gabrielle Bell and talk to Randy Chang, but I see them all the time. In New York at least. It felt more like a small party for all the New York alt-comix people, which is awesome, but I secretly hoped that it would be packed with “new” comics fans eager to check out this amazing book they’d read about somewheres. I’m beginning to think that this “new” audience for comics and graphic novels that is often trumpeted by the mainstream press doesn’t actually exist or at least doesn’t come to events like this. It’s always the same people. Great people, but still the same people. It’s fun but that sheer excitement on the faces of fans in Pittsburgh was absent on the New York stop.

Oh, and my showdown with David Heatley was pretty anti-climatic. I saw him come in say hello to Adrian Tomine and then check out the store copy of the book over near where I was standing. We shook hands, said hello. That was it.

Mark Newgarden, Dan Nadel, Dash Shaw, my friend Reid Paley, and I went and had a drink afterwards, totally unawares that there was a party for the event that we were missing. Luckily, Sammy called looking for us and soon we found it. Down by the elevated tracks of the J train, Bill K. and Austin English and a bunch of other folks have this unbelievably swell loft apartment. One of those dream New York apartments that has enough room to fit 50 people comfortably. The atmosphere I was hoping for at the signing was in full effect. It was loose and more like the other events at Desert Island.

I stood around and talked, got a little drunk, I can’t really remember. It was fun seeing the non-locals mixing with the locals outside events like signings or festivals. Fun watching Sammy and Dan argue. Fun to realize that the people assembled are some of the few artists, writers, makers of things, promoters of things that I really care about. One of those times when I stumble home without cursing the world.

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C.F. Makes It Big!


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Tuesday, December 23, 2008


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Our man (er, one of them) in Providence, C.F., has finally made the big time. Here is his interview in Vice. I like this interview for how business-like it is. I never get to talk to him that way, so for me it’s revealing and good.

I also want to present my very own Top Five of 2008:

Top Five Hilariously Dumb-Awesome Comics Frank Pushed On Me This Year:

1) Slash Maraud “It’s a complete set! Paul GuLAAACY!”
2) Kick-Ass “C’mon man, it’s AWEsome!”
3) Random issue of The Shadow “It’s the MARSHALL ROGERS issue, dude!”
4) Robotech (Something unintelligible)
5) Marvel Fanfare #40 (“It’s all Mazzuchelli! It’s his loose, arty style!”)

Bonus number: The Bill Sienkiewicz New Mutants issues!

And that’s my list for the year.

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Not Comics 3 (or, Christmas in July)


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Monday, December 22, 2008


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How did I never think to check Paper Rad‘s YouTube favorites before now? I should’ve done that a million years ago. Thanks, Bounty Farmer. (The video embedded there is even better, really.)

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Dept. of Psychiatry


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Friday, December 19, 2008


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I know everyone’s excited about Punisher: War Zone Watchmen, but this is the comic I’d really like to see adapted into a movie. (Click to enlarge.)

Actually, it would present even greater adaptation problems than Watchmen does, but no need to get into that now. (And yes, I’m aware of The Jazz Singer. Why do you ask?)

(The above cartoon nicked from O. Soglow‘s excellent out-of-print collection Pretty Pictures, by the way.)

Also, a few links:

1. A David Heatley interview, for Frank’s reading pleasure.

2. Charles Hatfield has written the most in-depth review of The Goddess of War I’ve seen to date.

3. Probably 90% of Comics Comics readers have already heard this, but Sammy Harkham (perhaps best known as a CC cover artist) gave a predictably great interview to Inkstuds.

4. Not many of you will find it as train-wreck entertaining as I do, but I can’t keep myself from linking to The Comics Journal‘s go-to superhero guy Tom Crippen, and his hilariously prolonged quest [more (!) here, here, and here] to get other people to read and explicate an essay by the legendary Donald Phelps for him. (I won’t speculate on why Crippen can’t read it himself.) No real point here. I just want to feed the beast so it keeps running, though a wiser man than I has advised me against it. In any case, the whole saga captures the recent flavor of the Journal quite nicely.

[UPDATE: No one has said anything to me about it, but upon reflection I think that posting #4 was a little juvenile. In my defense, I value Phelps's writing a lot, and I didn't like the way Crippen and his blogmate Noah Berlatsky were treating such an accomplished guy with so little of the respect he's earned. I mean, it's not like they didn't deserve being slammed. But still. Bill Randall and Jon Hastings both displayed a lot more maturity and reasonableness in their responses. Anyway: lesson learned, and new leaf turned. Merry Christmas, everybody!]

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Kramers Tour Diary


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Sunday, December 14, 2008


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KRAMERS ERGOT #7 TOUR DIARY
PITTSBURGH PA
FRANK SANTORO

The Pittsburgh stop on the Kramers tour was pretty awesome. Well, I mean, for me, it was just a thrill to see Pittsburgh represented on this tour. Bill Boichel, Copacetic Comics owner and comics guru, put the whole thing together over at this great bar called Brillobox. We had a Storeyville signing there last year and it went pretty well. So we figured why not go two for two? Sammy was like, “Why not do it at the Copacetic store?”

“Dude, the store can only manage like five people at a time. It’s as big as your kitchen.”

So, imagine a second floor bar with a big open floor and a stage at one end and a bar at the other. Wood paneling and Christmas lights and horror movies on the screen above the stage. The main bar is downstairs, so the upstairs isn’t crowded with tables and that let us spread out and accommodate the giant Kramers books. Plus Bill set up a bunch of local guys like Jim Rugg, Tom Scioli, the Unicorn Mountain and Encyclopedia Destructica crews, the master Budai, and myself. A family affair. I brought my Cold Heat zines and my boxes of back issues carefully selected for the discerning comics fan. Anyone need a Brendan McCarthy Paradax set? I got ’em cheap!

It didn’t feel awkward, like signings or openings usually do. We all just kind of stood around, sat around. John Pham and Ron Regé went to get pizza across the street. Thurber found his way from the bus depot and made it all the way from NY. Sammy and Kevin were already signing books. My dad was there. It was easy.

Slowly friends were showing up. Folks seemed really excited actually, nice. A vague air of respectability in Pittsburgh actually goes a long way. Hard to explain. We’ve been in a recession since ’82, the rest of the country is just catching up with us. So, like when something good actually materializes here, we enjoy it as best we can. There were kids who I never see smile smile. It was pleasant.

I think Bill pre-sold like 20 copies and, I think, every person who bought one came to the signing. It was pretty steady. Not the tables tho’—Kevin scowled a few times cuz I kept reaching for french fries and shaking the thin table. Whoops, sorry Kev! There was a personal connection between maker and reader, the readers, like I said, being genuinely thrilled to be meeting the likes of Kevin, Sammy, Regé, and John Pham, all of whom hadn’t been to Pittsburgh before. Jacob Ciocci, Matthew Thurber, and I are always around it seems, ha ha. We got respect, but damn, people totally stutter in front of Kevin. It’s kind of sweet.

That was the big difference between the Pittsburgh signing and the New York one. In New York, the books were mostly pre-sold, but New York being New York not everyone showed up to have their book personalized. I’ll get to that later (there being way more to the story), but I just want to point out that this kind of excitement, this book and tour like this does a lot for places like Pittsburgh. Totally different receptions by the general fans. There were plenty of folks in New York, don’t get me wrong, who were excited by the book and the makers in attendance, but it’s so much more reserved. It’s not the only event in town that night worth going to, y’know?

Regé split to hang with Jacob at his house around the corner from the bar. The rest of us went to find some decent grub and wound up at a busy college hangout that serves Mexican food. It was fun to see my comics friends, peers, who I usually only see at the same cons and festivals now hanging out in my town, doing something new. They can now appreciate how hard it is to get a good meal in around here after midnight.

Later we nerded out at my house a little bit when I busted out the stack of old comics. Most of them had never seen that Charlton “Children of Doom” one-shot by Pat Boyette. “Did you know it was drawn only slightly larger than the final print size and had these black-and-white panels in order to save time? It was drawn in like two weeks.”

Thurber and Sammy stayed up smoking cigarettes and talking most of the night on the back porch. I could hear them complaining about art supplies. The rest of us hit the hay.

The next morning I made coffee and eggs for everyone. We went and picked up Bill Boichel and then Regé and headed over to Copacetic Comics. I really wanted everyone to see the store before we left.

We all crowded inside and Kevin starting asking about old Captain Easy reprints: did Bill have any? I think he ended up buying the Speak of the Devil collection. Bill told Sammy about the Proper Box sets of CDs from England that are super-affordable collections of great jazz. Thurber bought that Gahan Wilson Classics Illustrated edition of The Raven. That’s it, the usual comic book banter. Bill just has so much good stuff stuffed into such a small space it is pretty amazing—and fun to watch people digging the store for the first time.

I’ll spare everyone the giant tangent riff that comes to mind, but it goes something like this: Bill Boichel was in his late teens and early 20s when he started doing shows, running comic conventions. Then he set up his first store in a run-down mill town part of Pittsburgh and that store saved my life. Now, twenty years later, something like this tour comes to town literally because he created this outpost in the first place. Twenty copies pre-sold? Of a hundred dollar book that could be bought somewhere else online cheaper? That’s a loyal customer base. That’s a business. And remember, this is Pittsburgh, not L.A.

Then we got on the road and headed to New York, Friday a.m. post-rush hour. It was a perfect sunny, snowy winter morning. There’s a great diner on Route 22 outside of town. It was Regé’s birthday, and he’d missed breakfast, so we decided to stop and have a good meal before we were deep in the Pennsylvania mountains with even fewer options.

We went to this little chrome railroad car, Dean’s Diner. We all squeezed into a corner booth and I realized how “L.A.” Regé and Sammy looked, how “NY” Thurber and I looked, and how we were a bunch of knucklehead cartoonists sitting in a diner along with hunters in camouflage and the like. Two hunters in fact, only three arms between them, tho’. Next to them, an old guy who looked like a mechanic in coveralls. Then three waitresses in powder blue uniforms and us, the cartoonists. Six of us. Talking about Moebius and Mazzucchelli’s respective line weights. Did you know Moebius drew straight in ink without pencils underneath? And Mazzucchelli did his layouts for Year One slightly smaller than the printed comic so he could see how his line would reduce?
Ah, finally. I’ve found some real friends in this life, ha ha.

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(Not) Comics


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Sunday, December 14, 2008


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Attention peoples:

Because I know Comics Comics is full of discerning readers of visual stuff, I want to point you all to a brand new PictureBox book: Overspray. Check out Norman’s blog about the subject of airbrush art. It’s a great, great read. For fans of imagery and illustration, this book is a must, in my humble opinion. It doesn’t fit into a NYC-centric vision of conceptual illustration or ephemera. But, perceived “depth” or “importance” in illustration has, for the last 30 odd years been calculated along the Steinberg/Push Pin conceptual illustration axis. I love this stuff, but there’s room for more. To me, what we’re dealing with when talking about the Overspray guys is astounding feats of image making. You sink into the images and explore their visual worlds. Things like Charlie’s Levi’s Splash image, or Lloyd’s Rod Stewart cover are unforgettably powerful IMAGES. They’re not tricked-out ideas, a la Glaser, but they are forceful and communicative. And the surfaces are compelling. Unlike so much concept-based illustration, these surfaces add a layer of meaning: the sheen, the sheer thickness of them gives them a life of their own. What they have is presence — something so much illustration lacks. This is more in the vein of contemporary work like Murakami or even Matthew Barney. Or, on a comics level, they harken to Richard Corben, Moebius, Macedo, and other late 70s/early 80s fantasy artists that we at CC love. Plus, there are some awesome images from Tron, which Peter Lloyd helped design. And, I think it could be argued that the Overspray work is more relevant to contemporary visual culture and 90% of the history of illustration. That’s not really an argument for its quality, but certainly if you take one look at magazines like XLR8R, galleries like Deitch Projects, artists like Jim Shaw, and on and on, you see that Overspray contains a huge chunk of stunningly relevant ideas. So, check it out! You’ll be very happy you did. Ok, promotion over.

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st(r)utter


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Wednesday, December 10, 2008


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Um, I’d, ah, really love to review this comic from the golden age of black and white alternative comics, but I, uh, think that this is enough. The pages inside are just painful. Funny, in a retarded comics way but… painful.

Found it today in the quarter bin at a store somewhere in Pennsylvania, driving back from NYC and the Kramers Ergot signing at Desert Island last Saturday. I’m trying to shape up my tour diary into something readable. Kevin Huizenga, Ron Regé, Sammy Harkham, Matthew Thurber, John Pham, and me all eating a late breakfast in a rural diner was a sight. Especially for the outfitted deer hunter a few booths away with one arm. He kept staring at us. Maybe he was a comics fan. Anyways, bear with me. Crazy week.

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