TCAF ramble


Sunday, May 17, 2009


The drive from NYC to Toronto was fun. Dan, Dash, the books, and me. I drove most of the way. It’s a hoof, for sure. Basically ten hours when it’s all said and done. Dan’s a decent navigator, but he likes those Google directions, and I prefer Ye Olde Atlas, so a few times we goofed and missed a turn. For the most part we found our way and got there in one piece. Dan backed into the gas station and crunched the bumper a bit in Buffalo. So, y’know, the usual drive to a con for me and Dan.

Dash is whatchacall a good conversationalist, so he and Dan riffed on all things comics most of the way. The future of print magazines, new subscription models, online comics, animated shorts, oh yah—Dash has these new short animation pieces that he showed me and Dan on his iPod. All hand drawn by him and Jane Sabrowski they look fantastically modern, fresh. Dash sees no distinction really between comics and animation. It felt like reading a solid short comic story. Only two minutes long but just shimmering with a very particular pacing. Remarkable detail and movement.

Dan’s finishing up his second Art Out Of Time book and we talked about John Stanley. Somehow that led to Trevor Von Eeden. Lay-outs. That’s the connection. Comic book page lay-outs. John Stanley horror comics and their page designs. Thriller and how it was DC’s “art” comic. Crazy art by Von Eeden colored by Lynn Varley. And how DC’s other “art” comic at the time, Ronin, was also colored by Varley. Everyone knew she was the secret to Miller’s successful visual breakthrough (don’t laff) on Ronin, but she was also the real reason why early Von Eeden is so good. And then, after Ronin, she mostly only worked with Miller. Things that make you go hmm…..

John Stanley, Lynn Varley. These were the important matters of the day. Then it was Steranko. And Mazzucchelli. Dash did an interview with Mazz for an upcoming Comics Journal. They talked about Steranko.

Dan’s curating a Mazz show for MoCCA. I still haven’t read Asterios Polyp. Dash didn’t know that Richmond Lewis colored Iron Wolf by Mignola and Chaykin. Chaykin! Chaykin was into Steranko. That led us back to Photoshop and animation. Chaykin should do animation. I could do all the backgrounds. Dash would color it. Chaykin would just have to draw the figures over my lay-outs. Cody Starbuck 3000.

Then we were there, we made it, Friday night. This year’s TCAF was in the big Reference Library in Toronto. I was skeptical of the new venue but it turned out to be perfect. We dropped our books off. Checked into the hotel. Went and got burgers. Walked around, got a drink. Dan tried not to smoke cigarettes.


I spent almost all day Saturday behind the table, pricing my “curated back issues” for the discerning Toronto crowd. In other cities my back issues cause a riot. But in a town that boasts one of the best comics shops in the world—The Beguiling—most of the TCAF attendees were like, “Oh yah, I have all these…” I was shocked. “What? You have Dennis The Menace Goes To Mexico?”

Somebody was rifling through my sets when he pulled out Gilbert Hernandez’s Speak Of The Devil and pointed to the “hype-up” sticker I affixed to the bag. “Is this really the GREATEST MINI-SERIES EVER?”

I was ready to deliver my best fastball sales pitch when the gentleman stopped me and introduced himself. “Hey Frank, it’s Robin McConnell.” Whew. I was getting ready to go off like some used car salesman loudmouth, ha ha. And I thought I had recognized his voice, he of Inkstuds fame, but i didn’t have a moment to register it all. In all the rush to set up the PictureBox table and arrange our wares, I’d almost forgotten about the panel discussion we we doing in the early afternoon that Saturday.

The panel was basically about how old mainstream comics from the last 30 years had a lot of influence on how alt comics were formed. More or less. I think, really, Robin and I wanted to just throw the ball around in front of a crowd. So we got some other folks who are equally comics-crazy to join us: Dash Shaw, Dustin Harbin, and Robert Dayton.

Robin moderated the panel. But I hi-jacked it early on and spent maybe a little too much time trying to guess if the audience had really read all the stuff we were riffing on: Ditko, ’70s Kirby, Steranko. I think my fellow panelists were being polite and just let me TRY and explain why mid-70’s Kirby is important to me as an artist. Once I just spoke “normally” and let someone else talk, the panel occasionally assumed some sense of order. Dustin tried to be a voice of reason. When the audience jumped in was when it really went somewhere. It was fun, anyways.

[UPDATE FROM TIM: You can listen to the panel here.]

(I think at this point I’ll leave the panel description to anybody but me. Please feel free to add your voice in the comments. I’m completely unreliable recalling whatever it was I was ranting on about—and even listening to the mp3 Robin sent me hasn’t helped. Ask Dash. Ask Robert Dayton. But don’t ask Dustin. Or Bill K. (Just kidding, geez…))

Back at the table, business was brisk. I sold a Dennis The Menace to a little girl for 3 bux. She seemed happy. Even Dan was happy. He was only grumpy cuz it was pretty hot in the room we were in once it filled up. It was packed for most of the day. I barely walked the floor to see friends cuz of the traffic at our table. We did okay. I was selling Cold Heat sets at an unexpected clip. People were actually bringing their copies of Storeyille from home to be signed. Saturday just blew by. It was great.


The bar was packed so we had to go upstairs on the enclosed roof. It was loud. Dan hobnobbed with Mr. Oliveros and Mr. Tomine.

Gabrielle Bell, Dash, and I made of list of comics we’d like to “cover”—like we would re-mix a Crumb story or something. But it was just an excuse to ask Gabrielle to collaborate on a Cold Heat Special. She said “maybe” and laughed. I tried to flatter her by telling her that she had nice angles in her artwork. “Maybe.” I tried to compliment her color sense and that we could exploit her mastery by doing a full color offset job for the project. “Maybe.” I tried to buy her a beer. “Maybe.”

Dash has these ideas about re-mixing comics, like “covering” well known comics and just using it like a melody. Just riffing on it. Like sampling, but not. And he also has these interesting ideas about imitating TV formats. Wait, that sounds too literal. It’s more like trying to distill the melodrama out of the narrative. Boil it down. He showed me this Blind Date comic he did where he riffed on the reality dating show and used the format of the show to underpin the arc of the story or episode. Boy meets Girl, Boy loses Girl, you know what I mean. It was a short story, but it really made me think about how one could build comics more informally, how things like TV and YouTube have shaped our sense of narrative. After all, it’s the snippet of story, action, drama, that we like to experience in these other mediums, this instant unfolding. Dash didn’t bother with too much set up at all in the story, it’s all there, programmed into our heads already. So the focus was on the boiled down back and forth between the characters and their movement through space and time. It FELT like a 15-minute episode of a show and not a comic that I read in 3 minutes.

Back at the hotel, Dan asked me if I had seen Seth‘s new book. I hadn’t. Holy shit, Batman. George Sprott is a stunningly beautiful book.


Got a slow start. Everyone was doing the slightly hungover shuffle. Went and had a coffee with fellow Pittsburgher Erin Griffin. Surprisingly, many coffee shops in Toronto have never heard of soy milk. Maybe I was mumbling.

Dash and I put some of our Cold Heat Special #3’s together. Dan realized I had “borrowed” the stapler from the PictureBox office back at SPX last year. “Hey, that’s where the stapler went!”

Walked the floor a bit. Talked shop with Brett Warnock. Said hello to Nate Powell. Stopped by Alvin Buenaventura‘s table. Said hi to Jessica over at D&Q. Stood in line to get a George Sprott book from Seth. The D&Q table was like a warship at battle. There was a line that stretched out the door for Tatsumi.

Met lots of people read Comics Comics who said they thought I’d be a jerk in person. That’s always nice to hear. I think. Sold some Shaky Kane and Brendan McCarthy comics to Tom K.

Tom K is one of my favorite cartoonists these days. His sense of space is impeccable. No surprise then to learn that he went to architecture school. So we stood around riffing on the Golden Section and how most artists and architects just take all that (knowledge and irrationality and measure and magic) for granted. Tom also has discerning taste in back issues and browsed my back issues for a good twenty minutes. I asked Tom about his MOME comics and if they were going to be collected. He said his recent move to Minneapolis (a year ago now, actually) has impeded his progress slightly on cranking out the comics. And everyone still thinks he lives in New York.

Dan had a panel late in the afternoon. There were still a lot of people milling around. Met plenty of nice people who wanted to talk about old comics. Jim Rugg came by and got a copy of Nemoto‘s Monster Men.

Then the show was over. And then Dan realized we could make it to The Beguiling before it closed. So we packed up quick and raced over there. We couldn’t let another TCAF go by without actually seeing this awesome store that we’ve always heard so much about. And, man, it really is an awesome store. Dash found a whole set of Mai The Psychic Girl for a song. I found a set of Star*Reach. And a set of Trevor Von Eeden’s Black Canary. Dan unearthed some rare Real Deal comics. We were in heaven. And our finds fueled a whole ‘nother round of riffing on old comics at dinner.

That’s what I love about TCAF, that there’s an opportunity to really share ideas and talk at length about comics. I mean, I talk about comics all the time anyways and at other festivals but when everyone gets together like this in a comics-hospitable environment like Toronto, man, there is like none of the guilt that goes along with some comics gatherings, that “What am I doing here?” feeling. So somehow the urge to just keep talking shop and imagining some bright future for alt/art comics sticks around. And the conversations go on for days essentially. Like I started to feel like Dan, Dash, and I were in a Chester Brown comic where he walks around town and goes to bookstores with Seth and Joe Matt and they’re all riffing on comics and art. It was pleasantly surreal. And genuinely enjoyable. We had a great time. TCAF is something special.

[UPDATE FROM TIM: Inkstuds posted the audio from the “Post-Kirby” panel Frank was on here.]

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13 Responses to “TCAF ramble”
  1. Evan says:

    To this day Steranko’s work leaves me cold, if not frigid. I’ve had heated conversations with friends who love love love them some Steranko and they point out all these design elements and layouts and things that just do nothing for me. And then they say stuff like “you had to be there when he was first on the scene” and yadda yadda yadda. I dunno. I wasn’t there when Crockett Johnson was “on the scene” but I dig his work just fine. Ditto tons of other old dead cartoonists. I find Steranko’s work self-involved, self-congratulatory and deadly dull, when not unintentionally laughable in regards to the writing. Glad he liked Ian Fleming and Spillane and Chandler and hot chicks and pop art when the other Marvel guys were still working their 50’s serial tropes. Whatever. He still channeled too much Stan the Man, and the worst of the above-mentioned influences. He was a King Geek amongst Knave Geeks, he showed off, and he dazzled folks with silliness and stories about escaping communists with magic or whatever the hell. Seeing Nick Fury hang modern 60’s art on hos walls crack me up, as does a guy who goes by “Steranko”. In a nutshell: Marvel put out six self-portraits by artists at one point. Five were drawings of the artists amongst their characters drawn for marvel. Steranko’s self portrait was two shots of himself in dreams, self-absorbed contemplation of how cool he was. Imagine anyone putting that up on their wall other than a young Gary Groth? Bonus dislike: try eating with the man at your table. Mein Gott. I thought I could talk, he goes and goes like a wind-up monkey while the food jockeys for position with the words. Chew, Steranko, then talk. And it was almost all about…STERANKO. Gah. A cult of personality and he’s a not just the club president, but a member.

    Blast me to bits. Everyone here is smarter than me. I probably shouldn’t have posted this…I think I’m just upset that I had to miss TCAF. But when I hear “Steranko”, it’s a “slowly I turned” moment for me. I just don’t get it and never will.

  2. Inkstuds says:

    I seem to remember that it was Girl Crazy that I was dissing.

  3. Dan Nadel says:

    Damn, Evan, we should make you a co-editor of this "rag"! Now that's what I call a post. I couldn't agree more about Steranko the persona — "King Geek amongst Knave Geeks" pretty much says it all. But for some reason even that dynamic is interesting to me, maybe because I wasn't there and don't relate to it at all, and maybe because that geek/geek relationship produced so much work I like looking at (if not reading). Or maybe it's just anthropological.

    But yeah, given how wide ranging your taste and knowledge is, if you're not convinced by now, nothing I say will change that. You're too well informed. Seriously.
    Me, I find his storytelling wonderfully fluid, and am delighted that panel design is more important to him than anatomy. And as a total fiend for commercialized versions of "pop art" I love what he did with the stuff — cramming all those "groovy" visuals into one comic, like an excited…. well, like an excited geek. But yeah, if even our friend Mazzucchelli hasn't convinced you I sure as shit can't.

    Meanwhile, onto more important things like: Can't you tell us dirt on… I dunno… more 80s b&w comics?

  4. flycliches says:

    damn i would watch cody starbuck 3000 in an instant.

  5. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever read a serious defense of Steranko. Most defenses of Steranko — including my own — read exactly like the middle two-thirds of Evan’s post followed immediately by “And that’s why Steranko is clearly awesome.”

  6. Anonymous says:

    That idea about covering or remixing other comics is a great one. There’s a Euro-cartoonist who did a book where he remixed his drawings into George Grosz work – the cover looked like a boxing poster! and didn’t someone do a book that was a crazy abstract remix of a Maakies strip?

    It’s like painters doing paintings “after” someone.

  7. Evan says:

    Dan –
    I know you’re kidding, but it’s useless, no organization will have me. Or should. I’ve been fired multiple times from two comic shops, one McDonalds, ejected from several public schools, banished from an SVA after-school animation class, I’ve helped kill zines, comics, anthologies and decent conversations. I’m Hawkeye without the dazzling talent, getting tossed or quitting and wasting precious panels and pissing folks off over nonsense. And snarking on my betters, like STERANKO. I have the sneaking suspicion my wife is an LMD and that’s the only reason she tolerates me. I like talking with you guys, though, another reason I wish we had been able to attend TCAF. Great show.

    Anyway, I’ll try not to gum up your site again as I have been the past two days. Steranko’s not one of those guys I get into bar arguments about and try to passionately convince anyone he or she is a total loss or they’re “wrong” for liking his work. He has real merit for a lot smart/talented people, and he’s intrigued and delighted a host of folks. He’s no Deserved Whipping Boy Liefeld or anything of that ilk. Would that I had his influence and importance, if not his ability to spin a yarn about escape artistry and card tricks. I think it’s more than fine that his drawing skills are not the strongest, and I do appreciate what he attempts to do and when he did most of this attempting. I just don’t like it. I respect his bringing his own sensibilities to play in his genre and commercial work, but ultimately, he’s a pretty shallow creator, his work was pure synthesis, and sometimes I wonder how he would have fared without the personal chutzpah and sense of hip. He’s still wearing that haircut, is it knocking anyone over, other than literally, these days? He liked Kirby and Eisner and Wood and he also was a swingin’ hepcat who was in with the now. Okay. But that’s not enough for me, especially when his writing was not much better than a Roy Thomas with more crime pulps than Howard barbarian crap and a better record collection. Yeah, David Mazzucchelli has tried to get me to see reason, I don’t believe he’s blind to Steranko’s weaknesses at all, but he believes in STERANKO, the work, not the myth. I can’t. And that is why David stopped talking to me, that and the crack I made about Arvell Jones. As with God (no, not Kirby, that other one), sometimes I dearly want to believe, but for this one lonely reader, Steranko goes in the Neal Adams file marked “goofball”. Although I’d take Steranko comics over the King of Tortured Expressions/Self-Important Puffery/Layouts That Give The Writer and Script the Middle Finger/ Crank Science Whiz and Skateman coordinator anyday. Well, maybe not Skateman, which deserves all the attention it gets. Anyway. That’s another subject, and this isn’t my home base, so I’ll stop typing and get back to my piddling ” who the fuck are you, little man, to besmirch the greats?” low-rent funnybook work. Or as one person put it at Wonder Con when I made a crack about Bob Kane, “How many legends have you created?”. None, of course. Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson refuse to work with me to create my own legends based on cribbing from other people’s work, so I’m shit outta luck there. And creating legends is what it’s all about, this I understand.

    But one point you made is well taken, Steranko is fascinating in many ways as a person/persona and phenomenon. I’d rather see a documentary on Steranko than read his work. And he has supposedly pulled some nutty stunts, walking around conventions with female handlers admonishing attendees to not to speak or make eye contact with Steranko, etc (man, I hope that’s even partially true). That’s kind of awesome, and sometimes that seeps into his comics, but I don’t laugh the same at the seeps, the Steranko character is his best creation. I wish we had more bona fide characters like him walking the con floors, rather than bona fide goofs dressed up as characters.

    Anyway, yeah, how about that 70’s Kirby, anyway? Mad Bomb, baby. Boom.

    And I can talk 80’s glut comics until the bill collectors come home. Reagan’s Raiders…Those Crazy Peckerheads…Jim Nastics…

    Goodbye, I take my leave of you now, lest I overstay my barging in.

  8. Bob says:

    “[Lynn Varley] was also the real reason why early Von Eeden is so good”

    You know, she colored a handful of Von Eeden stories, her one issue of THRILLER was in the middle of the run, and I’d bet you if I showed you a page from each of the first seven issues you couldn’t tell me which was colored by Varley.

    So I’m going to take a wild guess that Trevor Von Eeden had roughly about a million times more to do with why his work of that era is good than Lynn Varley did.

  9. Frank Santoro says:

    No, I can definitely tell when Varley colors Von Eeden, thanks.

  10. Anonymous says:

    Word that I think is “cool,” and like to repeat over and over again…”riffing.” I’m impressed!

  11. Mark P Hensel says:

    Man Kirby’s 2001 was so amazing, thanks for reminding me of that! I’ll have to go dig thru my back issues and read some of those now. How did Kirby go from the Monolith to Comicsville?

  12. Mark P Hensel says:

    Also I’m with Frank on the need for more visual comics criticism. I look at Maus and there’s one really visual thing in it, having anthropomorphic animals representing nationalities/ethnicities – all we get is one heavy-handed visual metaphor? When I compare Maus or Persepolis or even Louis Riel to David B.’s Epileptic, there’s a world of difference in terms of how the cartoonists use their images to complement their words. Things don’t have to be so damn literal and straight-forward!

  13. Rob Clough says:

    When I was a kid, I couldn’t appreciate Kirby’s 70s stuff. I was mad that it was interrupting the Steve Englehart Captain America and Don McGregor Black Panther.

    Then I got over that when I was a little older and realized how truly insanely inspired it was. His dialogue doesn’t sound remotely like the way people talk, and it was obvious he was trying to make it hipper to appeal to the kids, man, but that’s why I love it now.

    Especially since one almost gets the sense that he was holding back in the 60s and couldn’t wait to REALLY unleash his ideas. The Black Panther series is one long, weird psychedelic time-travel trip. His Cap series combined spirit of 76 stuff, the Red Skull and even threw in a romance saga worthy of his 50s work.

    2001 and the Eternals are even trippier. I love the early Machine Man issues as well. It was truly an age where there was very little editorial interference at Marvel–and even if there was, Kirby was writer/editor on all of his books.

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