Kramers Tour Diary
Sunday, December 14, 2008
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.
Labels: Bill Boichel, Budai, David Mazzucchelli, Frank Santoro, great comics stores, Jacob Ciocci, Jim Rugg, Kevin Huizenga, Matthew Thurber, Moebius, Pat Boyette, Pham, Pittsburgh, Ron Regé Jr., Sammy Harkham, Tom Scioli, Unicorn Mountain