Wednesday, December 24, 2008
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.