Final date of tour – had a video interview, a live radio show and my layout workshop all on one day. Vancouver! What a way to go out – ain’t no half steppin’!
Writing this now in between the days. Driving off into the sunset. Or is that the dawn? I’ve been on the road for three weeks now. Pillar to post like I was fighting George the Animal Steele. Like Black Flag. Get in the van, Snoopy. Come on home.
If you are interested in my Correspondence Course please write me. And if you aren’t interested in my course, please tell someone who is – thanks! Applications due this Friday!
Drove up thru Friday rush hour traffic to the Fantagraphics offices. I wanted to see the ol’ warship in action and was not disappointed. Gary Groth shook my hand. So this is where it all happens, hunh? “This is the goddamn nervecenter” he assured me.
Jacq Cohen gave me the tour. Hi-fived Jason T. Miles. Said what’s up to Mike Baehr. Met Kristy Valenti and Mike Dean for the first time. Kim Thompson was proofing Peanuts colors and asked me what I thought. Was introduced to the production gang including Tony Ong. Saw the basement library where there seemed to be one of everything. Saw the submission pile where dreams go to die. Lots of great letters from the crank file posted on the fridge. “Haha, I know that guy.” (Note to aspiring cartoonists sending in submissions- don’t include clever cover letters that read like death threats or suicide notes!)
Jacq and Tony took me out. We went to a brew pub that had a Charles Burns beer. Or rather there was a beer that had different Burns labels. Very Seattle, I thought. I mentioned to Jacq and Tony that there may be a possibility that Mr. Burns from The Simpsons may have been based in part on Charles Burns. “He didn’t say no way when I asked him. You know they went to school together, right?”
Played pinball and then drove around in the rain looking for parking. Seattle is a big city and I hadn’t been there since before the grungey dotcom boom. It felt a little like San Francisco after it had it’s boombust period. I can’t put my finger on it but Seattle feels something like a concrete island from a J. G. Ballard novel. Giant highway overpasses, pockets of sleepy suburban cottages and a few blocks of city to walk around. “Isn’t this where Fallout Records was? I swear, top of a hill, right here.” Jacq and Tony just shrugged. Kids today, I swear.
My workshop was at the Fantagraphics Store. Run by legendary Larry Reid – who is basically a grown up version of “Stinky” from Hate – wait, I think he actually was Stinky, I mean the basis for him – Larry was kind enough to let me open for Jack Davis, who was appearing live via videophone in the Fanta Store. There was also a “funny valentine” group show. I was in that too. Somehow my drawing hung next to a Jack Davis original. On one hand – an amazing feeling. On the other hand, it makes me want give up drawing. Or try harder. Ahem.
I gotta admit I was the most nervous about this particular event because I knew there would be a different crowd. Would the Jack Davis fans go for my wingnut theories? I also knew Eric Reynolds was gonna be there. Eric is an old friend but also someone whom I wildly respect. I wanted to show off a little. Performance anxiety.
Fittingly, there is a record store – Georgetown Records – that shares the space with the Fanta Store – so when I launched into my bit about time signatures – I could feel them nodding like at a show. That egged me on. “When you are listening to a band live and are swaying to the beat – and then something happens and they lose the beat – you feel it. I feel a similar change when I read comic books that rearrange the timing of each page. It doesn’t flow. I feel like I’m reading a crazy math rock band comic book when each page has a new panel arrangement.”
Great questions from everyone there – more and more people kept crowding in – Eric stood up on a chair and asked me about the Tintin page I use as a handout. I told him that I looked at that Tintin page for over a decade and had no idea how harmonious it was until I diagrammed it. I’d learned how from Dorothea Rockburne, the great abstract painter, and on a whim decided to see if this comic “lined up” on the grid. Of course, it did, does, and it made me think about how time unfolds narratively. Meaning how the architecture of the page and live area create shapes that move the narrative through space evenly – like periodicity in music.
Also, this Tintin page is not a static grid – but a dynamic one because the panels are defined by the complex relationship of lines. Don’t think that “on the grid” means boring standard repeating grids.
Boring repeating grids are not so boring though. Something like Peanuts has a set time signature. Four panels, four beats. Have you seen the new Peanuts comics that are composed as standard comic book pages without a grid? The set timing signature is removed and the page has none of the precision of Schulz. The characters still “read” as Peanuts – but the time signature related to Schulz is removed and it is lifeless. I’m not saying the work is poor – just misguided. To me, it underscores how invisible all this may seem to makers, editors, publishers.
Soon it was over and there was Gary Groth going through my box of old comics. He stared intently at a ’70s Charlton comic. “Pat Boyette? You really sell these?” Gas money, Gary, gas money. But then Larry shuffled us out of there cuz he needed to get ready for the Jack Davis video conference. I felt like I was living in a comic book.
Thanks to everyone who came out. That was amazing. Thanks to Jacq Cohen and Tony Ong for showing me around. And extra special thanks to Eric for taking me later over to his Pittsburgh friends’ house – always great to meet strangers who know all of your old friends back home.
Robin McConnell’s house has this amazing library. He collects artists not comic books. Meaning he’ll take all his Alex Toth comics – each story usually razored out of an anthology comic – and bind them into a hardback book. He has tall shelves filled with different comics bound into handsome volumes with printed lettering on the spines. Some books bind whole comic book sets together like “Chester Brown – Yummy Fur – Underwater – Louis Riel”. And then on the inside is a sketch by Chester with a “thanks for doing this Robin” note. Amazing. What a library.
Writing this now – still in Vancouver – been here for five days talking comics nonstop with Robin and the great Brandon Graham. Once we even went over to see James Stokoe in his natural habitat. Stokoe was drawing Godzilla and watching Godzilla 2000 for atmosphere. I couldn’t make this shit up, folks. Welcome to Vancouver! One of the nights we even got James away from the drawing board. It was James Stokoe, Marley Zarcone, Brandon Graham, Emily Carroll, Kate Craig, Robin McConnell and me. Maybe this thing about no photos is a dumb rule.
Brandon Graham – as many Journal readers should know – has a sweet studio up in the clouds. There is a silver statue of a bear wearing sunglasses and making a hang loose handsign right across the street. At night, you can see that crazy lit up dome and the mountains that crest way above the skyscrapers downtown. The lights on the mountaintop hover like a spaceship above the clouds.
Sitting here watching Brandon work on his new book, Prophet. Pages for his other series, Multiple Warheads, stack up on the other desk. On top of those pages, currently rests Brandon’s advance copy of the King City collection that comes out next week. Brandon is about to blow up.
Brandon working means there are comics strewn all around the studio. Stacks of crap from the far flung corners of comicdom have been gathered ’round him in an effort to immerse himself in influence. We’ve been talking about going through one’s influences instead of around them. Trying to ignore what you like is a waste of time. It’s like cheating on yourself. If you wanna draw like Otomo, draw like Otomo. Or try to. “If you can at least halfway attempt an Otomo drawing, you’re gotta be pretty good anyway,” is Brandon’s expressed attitude.
Robin took me around the city to hit all the bookstores. Downtown Vancouver has at least three nice shops. One was packed to the gills like the Strand used to be in New York. Another had an amazing dollar comics bin that stretched to the next block. Robin knew all the spots and how to navigate the city. The sun was shining. People were nice. It felt like the future. Canada. They’re way ahead up here.
Another day we drove across the Lions Gate Bridge and went to North Vancouver. More secret spots to dig for treasure. Robin turned up some Metal Hurlants and some wacky French porn. Often the same thing. I found lots of bad black and white indy stuff that I’d never seen before – further convincing me of how regional comics scenes are – and how important it is to look for comics that might not have made it to the East Coast. More grist for the mill.
Thursday was the big day. Video interview, live radio show and a workshop all in one day. Last date of the tour and I was determined to make it count. It was a perfect way to go out.
Rainy morning. Brandon and I hit the bagel place to fuel up. Robin is doing these video Inkstuds now which I think is a nice progression from the radio – and I was happy to be asked. “No geometry talk – I wanna ask you about your art,” was Robin’s only demand. I obliged. I think it went well. When it is cobbled together I will throw a link up.
I felt pretty pumped after the interview – it’s a nice feeling when an interviewer has actually read every single one of your comics and knows what questions to ask. How do I know that Robin has every single one of my comics? Cuz he asked me to sign them all after the interview. Thanks Robin. That’s doing your research.
We all got some lunch and then headed over to the University of British Columbia’s campus for the live Inkstuds radio show. It was really fun to go into the studio and run around getting ready to be on the air live. Brandon and I were rehearsing all morning – like which Moebius story to talk about. Or which pens we use. Nyuk nyuk nyuk. Check it out here. One for the ages.
And then it was off to Lucky’s Comics for my workshop. Yet another amazing comic book store. Surprise! When I found out that Lucky’s has been in business for the last 17 years, I thought about how different scenes support such stores. Would a place like Lucky’s – where they appear to cater to the well informed alt comics fan – survive in New Mexico? No way. It’s all about the support system in comics. It’s the readers and the stores as much as it is the makers and publishers that create a scene.
Lucky’s has a nice little back room that was perfect for my workshop. People sat on the floor and along the walls and out into the front of the store. It was packed! Even ’90s comics favorites Colin Upton and Josue Menjivar were in attendance. I did my best to entertain but again another tough comics crowd. These people are serious about their comics! I saw a young woman in the back taking notes! My patented riff about how Gothic Cathedrals relate to comics got ‘em excited. And then Brandon chimed in with a good question about disharmony. “Is Paul Gulacy on the grid?” Cue laff track.
And the whole time I’ve been writing this – rainy Friday nite Vancouver – Brandon has been writing furiously. The rarest of all birds: the working cartoonist. Look, someone free of bitterness and happy with his life. Comics can destroy you or they can be the fountain of youth. So thankful for this tour and for it to end here on the mountaintop. UuuuuuknooooooOOOOOOW!
“This material is taken directly from my personal journals.”
Thank you Robin, Brandon, James, Marley, Gabe, Ben and everyone else in Vancouver. You all live in the future – thanks for showing it to me.
Brandon’s file copy of THB#4:
“Last month, at the Mid-Ohio Con, I had the following discussion with Don Simpson (author of Bizarre Heroes) and Jim Valentino (author of Shadowhawk and Vignettes). We were in Jim’s spacious hotel suite, soon to meet a group for dinner. The room was dimly lit, and the night’s view of Columbus was serene and warm. It set the tone for our conversation. Don sat, a palm resting on each arm of the deep cushioned chair he was fading into. Jim casually– Jim does everything casually– lit a cigarette. I forget the brand. I think it was Marlborough Red. He waved the match out.[...] Out of nowhere, Don asks, ‘So how long do you think Superheroes will last before it’s all over?’ Jim is walking over to the dresser. He shrugs. ‘Not more than a generation,’ he replies calmly. Don nods. Another silence and I break it. ‘What’ll take its place?'”
–Paul Pope, THB #4, 1995. This material is taken directly from my personal journals.
Stuff I found at Brandon’s house:
For James Stokoe – you gotta draw Godzilla better than this – that’s not GodzillaWTF!
File under Berkeley stop – I was all excited to get Mr. Clowes to sign my favorite cover. He said “Ugh, I hate that cover!”
Found this one with Robin one day:
Other Brandon gems: