John Pham and Jon Vermilyea


Saturday, February 12, 2011

John Pham - handmade edition

When I was in L.A. I got to hang out with John Pham and Jon Vermilyea. Me and Regé drove with them to the beach. We got there right before sunset. Then we walked up to the Santa Monica Pier. Skeeball and funnel cakes!

It was nice to see John Pham in his element. I’ve usually hung out with him in the cold of winter & that seems all wrong for him. He’s from L.A. so he looked relaxed and right at home.

But somehow he had never been to the Santa Monica Pier. So he was happy to indulge the tourist in me. The four of us hung out in the arcade for a bit. Highlights included Pham on one of those dance machine stomp video games – and also me and Regé playing two player on the Terminator game. We both had laser rifles.

I had asked John to bring me a stack of his old comics. Bill Boichel is always after John for more copies of John’s famous sketchbook comic edition of Sublife. It has an incredible comic in it called something something John Cassavetes and Chris Ware diary. It more or less is a comic about processing art and life and the mirrored edge between the two – but specifically through reading Ware’s comics and watching Cassavetes’ movies. It’s truly great and something worth reprinting somewhere, someday. (Pham emailed me to say the Ware / Cassavetes diary was called “Substitute Life”. He told me he’s “not too proud of that one” and I told him he was crazy. To me, it’s a friggin masterpiece.)

Anyways, isn’t this another discographical thing? Like how many of you out there knew that John had this amazing comic before Sublife called Epoxy? He published three issues before he got a cease and desist order from the real Epoxy – the glue people. You know Epoxy the company, the people that made up the word, I guess. So he had to come up with a new title. And then he seems kind of shy about even talking about it, let alone talking about reprinting all that great early material.

And it is great early material. Somewhere Joe posted an image and wrote about Epoxy #1. John was doing this Otomo/Akira thing and it was pretty rad. This one dude in the comic could fuck you up with a handful of pennies. It was like a totally different drawing style than you would normally associate with John Pham. It shows a wide range of influence and ability. But it was also super labor intensive. You can see John’s style simplify over the run of the issues and in his sketchbook.

I like thinking about my friends like John as cartoonists who will have long, varied careers and who will have great early work that will someday be reprinted. As a fan, you can check in at any point in time – at any of the in print offerings that will provide a door, an “in” to a deeper appreciation of an artist’s whose work you admire. You might find all of the artist’s work you like, you might track it all down or you might not. I know friends who fight, for real, ha, over their comics and will not lend out rare copies of particular titles. (Dan’s ears are burning) But, for the most part if you wanna find some weird, obscure shit, you can track it down. And since most cartoonists have weird, obscure and shitty publishing histories it can be a fun game. Discographically speaking, I mean.

Jon Vermilyea, for example, already has a long and somewhat obscure publishing history. Let’s see if I can remember Jon’s “discography” off the top of my head. There was Critical Citadel, an anthology Jon appeared in with Ray Sohn and Panayiotis Terzis amongst others. He had a strip called Princes of Time. Then there was an entire Princes of Time newsprint edition. Around the same time he made this awesome silkscreen book of He-Man that was the hit of San Diego 2007. Then he did the first Cold Heat Special. Then he made a shit ton of silkscreen prints. Then started doing things for Mome. More Cold Heat Specials. A Simpsons comic. A Strange Tales volume two appearance. See? That’s already a lot and I’m sure I’m missing stuff. Why not go to Jon’s website and see how close to got to his actual publication history. I swear I didn’t look yet.

Me and Jon V at APE a couple of years ago

Okay, so the “point” is just that even though a comic book fan may only know of a particular cartoonist’s “main work” sometimes those main works are all over the place. Like Jon V doesn’t have just one title that he is known for. I’d go as far to say that he’s mostly known for his silkscreen prints. People go nuts for his prints at shows. I’ve seen it happen. Isn’t it funny how folks will buy a 40 dollar print – but if you fold that same print up into a comic book no one wants to pay 40 bux for it anymore? It’s weird. But Jon V understands this and so just makes prints and sometimes that becomes the focus, the way to make enough money at a show to pay for the table. Will there ever be a book of all of his prints? Maybe, maybe not. But the game is to collect the pieces of his publishing history that you like. Track things down. Steal zines you can’t find off your friends. It’s fun.

But wait, I forgot to tell you why Jon V was in California at all. He got a job working at Cartoon Network. And he had just arrived the week before I was visiting. So we were both surprised to see each other. Jon V and I go way back to the early days of Picturebox when Jon was working for Dan and I was sharing a studio with the Picturebox offices. I would drive Jon insane. He had the unlucky job of assembling my hand separated Cold Heat color separations on the computer. It was grueling work yet it somehow brought us closer together. We became pals cuz we got to hang out everyday in “the bullpen”. So I was thrilled to learn that Jon V had “loaded up the truck and moved from Tennessee” as the theme song goes.

He looked a little pale. It’s that New York winter. Drains all the life outta ya. But there Jon was, wading ankle deep in the Pacific – staring at the sunset. It’s nice to feel happy for your friends. And I was happy to see Jon in this new landscape. He’ll get a tan and all will be right in the world.

Hanging out with Jon V and John Pham made me think a little bit about how serialization is good for them – a way of building material for a collection. A way to build some stories and try some new shit out. They both work meticuluously and so I think the approach is really the only way they can work. Or else it’s gonna be years before they ever put books out. I wish there was an “online Mome” – an “online Kramers” – just some kind of an online anthology that paid. Instead it feels like we just give it away for free.

But now look at them, both working as animators in the big leagues. Real deadlines and real pressure – none of this it’s done when it’s done comic book type rules. They were talking about meetings and lunches. Serious stuff. I laughed because it made me think, “are any of us ever gonna make any money for just drawing comics? Are our comics just passports to working in tv or film?”

Not that there isn’t anything wrong with that. I am in no way begrudging them for working in animation. I’m extremely happy for them. Hell, I occasionally work in animation to pay the bills. But wouldn’t it be awesome if we, uh, indy guys could actually make some money by selling our own comics? I love all the doors that have been opened to me by comics, but it seems like there is just no money around. So the brain trust gets sucked away to bigger and better things – and Hey! that’s fine, I’m just saying wouldn’t it be cool if there were more comic book venues, more places “to play” as they say.

And what am I prepared to do about it you ask? Nothing. Just trying to rile you up a little. I’m the old man who just wants to complain that shit still ain’t changed really in twenty years. Comics aren’t for kids anymore! And whoa, didja maybe think that could be why we’re all outta work cuz maybe our industry caters to aging tastes and really ain’t keepin up wit da kids? None of us can just go draw for Richie Rich comics like Peter Kuper did when his avant garde indy comics weren’t paying the bills (true story – Peter Kuper’s used to ink Richie Rich). There aren’t jobs like that these days. That’s all I’m prepared to do – complain that there ain’t no paying jobs in this racket no more. At least in the old days, I coulda been an inker! (say it with a Marlon Brando accent – it’s funnier that way)

Sorry. Just trying to make you laugh. Anyways. John and Jon. I hears that at the Cartoon Network offices they were debating on how to address that there are two Johns working in the same department. Since John Pham has seniority, Jon Vermilyea was being referred to as “Jay Vee” – which is pretty funny. I wonder if it’ll stick.

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