Monday, July 26, 2010

Panels, Schmanels, Gimme Some Comics.

Nearly every year for the last ten years, I've almost dreaded the Con (that's San Diego Comic-Con International for all you G4 viewers out there). No longer was summer a time of anticipatory delights, but more worries about where I was gonna park. And nearly every year for the last ten years, my low expectations have been delightfully exceeded. This year was no different.

Because we're young ones! Bachelor boys!...oh, and girls.

I've been single for a good chunk of the year of Our Lord, 2010. And one thing that's been driven home for me more than ever before is that I suck at dating. Like, out loud. I'm not a hopeless case, mind; in fact, I've dated more women than the average bear, especially an average bear that collects comics and lives at his mom's. But for some reason, this year, it's really been driven home for me that Ted Bundy is a far more successful paramour than I've been lately.

As usual, comics save the day again. This time in the form of Amy Martin's self-published Bachelor Girl. Ms. Martin has a delightful style that was able to interrupt a rant I was giving to John, y'know, one of those things where you're all het up about something, but then you trail off because you see a kitten playing with an old sandwich sword or something.

I've been racking my brain all day for a comparison for her comics, and the best I can do is "If Peter Bagge had set out years ago to draw for The New Yorker." Not only does that not do Ms. Martin's stuff justice, it also overcomplicates a deceptively simple style that will throw you off a bit when she uses swear words (but throw you off in a good way). Whenever artists can pull a switcheroo like that, it's always good times--dig Sherry Flenniken's stuff if you don't believe me. Anyways, I hope I've been able to convey how much I like this book. Go to Amy Martin's website here and heap large amounts of praise on her. A quick glance in her Etsy store as of this writing reveals nothing to be found(!), but hopefully that will soon be remedied. Had I more cash to hand, I woulda bought more than just the one book.

Oh, speaking of which: Bachelor Girl #2 has a few strips and one-panel gags, but most of the book is taken up by the story "Kitchen Wares," in which our intrepid heroine attempts to purchase all of that tomfoolery that girls seem to like (here was my only typical dude reaction. It never interfered with my enjoyment of the story, but I've never even shelled out money for an actual dinner plate, so I dunno even know what a salad spreader is. Hell, I barely know what a fork is. Digression). Just when it seems like the ugly spectre of mid-nineties autobio comics is gonna rear its ugly head, the story takes a turn for the satirical. I don't wanna give too much away here; I'm just saying confessionals are boring, but when you can twine that into a fictional narrative that gets all silly but never loses sight of the story's reality, then you are banging on all cylinders. Again, I'm overcomplicating things. It was my minor in college.

Yeah, me and him go way back...

In 1994, I was still heavily enamored of superhero comics, but was beginning to really broaden my horizons with more of the indie stuff, which also blended nicely with the punk-rock ethos I was beginning to manifest as a young snot-nose. I was already pretty thick in the zinester scene at this point, and I decided I'd do a comics zine. It only ended up going for one issue, but it was still the precursor for this little bloggy before you. To me, the big-time Marvel and DC guys were rock stars, largely unapproachable. Plus, they had huge marketing machines behind them, so I couldn't see where they'd really need me on their press list. But not only were the indie guys more accessible, they were also putting out some great stuff that I was proud to spread the word about, even if it was pretty much only to my tiny little corner of the world. Anyways, that year, I wrote to a ton of artists and asked 'em if I could interview them for my zine. Not a one of them refused, unless they weren't gonna be there. And even then, those guys wrote me nice little notes thanking me for my interest, even Zippy the Pinhead's Bill Griffith. Bill Griffith! Each and every one of them were super-nice and really, really interesting to interview, including but not limited to Greg Hyland, Steve Remen, Daniel Clowes, Jeff Levine (where is that guy now?), and Sam Hurt. And it was very much a thrill for me at the tender age of seventeen to be hanging around these creative-type dudes who weren't much older than me, but were creating comics and had probably done things to girls, two things I could not yet lay claim to.

Of all of those interviews, the Evan Dorkin one made it into my punk zine, Frontal Lobotomy, but the main draw of the only issue of Spa Fon was the creator of Too Much Coffee Man, Shannon Wheeler.

I'm pretty sure I talked to Shannon a lot more than any of those other guys, the year before, and the years after, until my attention kinda wandered away from comics for a little while. I did see him at the Con in like '02 or '03, somewhere in there, but we only talked briefly. This year, I made sure to chat him up, and he did remember me after I reminded him how I used to go by "Jimmy the Callaway" back then (remember how clever we all thought we were in high school? If only we could remain that deluded...). The guy's stuff continues to be top-notch, and I really wish I woulda bought the preview of the condensed Bible he's working on, but I'll be sure not to miss it when it comes out (another digression: I also discoverd that Basil Wolverton has done a version of the Old Testament, and along with Crumb's Book of Genesis, there really seems to be a trend for comics Bibles these days, and as an avowed Satanist, I am pleased no end by this. My only regret is that Don Martin died before he could take on a project like this. If that's not proof of the non-existence of God, then I dunno what is).

Anyways, go to Shannon's site here and throw money at him. It was really good to see the guy again, even if I do suck for not seeing the Too Much Coffee Man opera while it was in town this week.

Stop me if you've heard this, wait, I mean, don't...

Another guy I unfortunately did not give any money to (yet) is José Cabrera, writer and artist of the web-strip Crying Macho Man. Even though I'm a deadbeat sad sack, Mr. Cabrera was a consummate gentlemen, probably the friendliest guy at the Con. He gave me and John a couple'a freebies, and I think John even bought a postcard off him. Crying Macho Man has a very similar humor to Robot Chicken, except that every annoying hipster douchebag you know hasn't discovered it yet (unless you count me), so they haven't ruined it for you. Get in on the ground floor, kids; another tip from your Uncle Jimmy.

Crying Macho Man is also great because it acts as a depository of jokes for its creator. Mr. Cabrera was telling us that he has trouble remembering jokes people tell him, so he draws them in order to do so. And it's really something seeing your favorite dirty jokes come to life on the printed page. On a personal level, I was also delighted to hear this, because a lot of my fiction comes about in a pretty similar way. So it's always refreshing to know others are in the same boat with you, creatively speaking. Not that that's all Crying Macho Man is, just reworkings of dirty jokes, but if that's not enough to rope you in, I'll also say it's the funniest web-strip since A Softer World. If that doesn't convince to swing by the site and drop something in the tip jar, then I have no use for you.

Uncle Sam and Uncle Ho

A lot of guys I know have a war they're into. World War II and the Civil War are fairly popular, but I've always been a Vietnam guy. So I've done a lot of reading up, not to where I'd consider myself a buff, but I have more than a passing interest. And the strangest thing I've learned is how dopey I am when it's come to this particular intellectual pursuit of mine. That is to say, it never occurred to me to explore the Vietnamese side of things until just a few years ago. I guess it's not a major surprise that I got kinda swept up in the whole video-game pyrotechnics and huge amounts of swearing that comes from the American side of things. But I am glad--relieved, even--that I've finally branched out some.

The very first purchase I made at the Con this year was from artist GB Tran. He had some really nice eye-catching artwork on display, and I was immediately enamored of the pro-NVA propaganda posters he had up. I asked if they were based on actual ones from the war, and he told me that they were in fact from his upcoming graphic novel, Vietnamerica, the story of his family's experience during the Vietnam War. He told me he's the youngest of his family and was born stateside, but his parents refused to discuss their experiences with him when he was younger. I told him I had a fairly similar situation with my dad, who did two tours in the 'Nam. My dad would abide my questions, but I don't think you could describe him as being candid about that time in his life. Unless I'm overreaching here, from talking with Mr. Tran, I gathered that we were about the same age and both had trouble relating to our parents in this regard because they would not open up this understandably uncomfortable chapter of their pasts. Mr. Tran told me, though, that by the time he got to be in his thirties, his parents began taking his questions more seriously, and this fed the fuel that lead to his forthcoming comic. I am very excited to read the book when it comes out early next year, as I am to frame and display the two prints I bought (for only fifteen bucks! A steal at any price!). Go check out GB Tran's site here and drink in the art that should make Joe Sacco slaver.

Man, crime really doesn't pay.

The last of my major finds this year is the work of Mr. Benton Jew, whom I embarrassed myself in front of by not recognizing his name immediately from his superior work on Marvel's Agents of Atlas, one of my favorites of the last couple years. Among other goodies, Mr. Jew had for sale a mini-comic called Art of Crime. Of course, I am a major sucker for all things crime (except I draw the line at my house being burgled), so I snatched it up. Lemme tell you: when a guy uses the old EC LeRoy lettering just for the indicia on the inside front cover, you're in good fucking hands. Continuing with that, the first story, "They're After Me!" feels like it was originally published in Crime SuspenStories. The second story is based on a script by the always top-shelf Scott Hampton, and then there are some lovely wanted poster pin-ups, which, as it turns out, also tell a story. Mr. Jew really shows off a breadth of material here within the same genre, which is really hard to for anybody to do well.

While I was busy going nuts over crime comics, Mr. Jew told me something quite provocative: apparently, editors are having trouble with crime comics. Everybody says they love 'em, but the sales numbers tell a different story. Or so it would seem. I mean, I know I buy a lot of 'em, and most of my no-account friends do as well. But I guess it doesn't really matter, because you should own Art of Crime anyways, whether or not the dopes at the Big Two (or is it the Big Five by now?) are hip to it. Go to Benton Jew's blog here and see if you can't buy a copy off him.

FLASH!--Jesus Christ, now I'm even more embarrassed: Benton Jew drew the cover to Screeching Weasel's goddamn Bark Like a Dog record, you guys! Fuck! If I had it together, I woulda brought it down for him to sign. Man! I knew I knew that guy's stuff. I suck.

So again, I am glad to be proven wrong: the Con is not just a big fat sell-out of a Hollywood ass-kissing marathon. I mean, there's no denying that it's largely become that. But again, comics rule over all. It continues to be the superior art form of modern civilized man, and no amount of middle-aged women swooning over the cast of Twilight is gonna change that. So do your part for the art form that loves us all so dearly and pile cash and adoration upon the creators listed above. And I'll see you all down at the Scottish Rite Center once this Comic-Con fad blows over.