Tag Archives: Comix

Review: KRAMERS ERGOT 9

From Steven Weissman's "Silver Medicine Horse"

From Steven Weissman’s “Silver Medicine Horse”

As I stated in my previous review for “The Outside Circle,” about an Aboriginal’s journey, you get to that point in the process where you say your work is more like A than B or C. In the case of the comics anthology, “Kramers Ergot,” it is, without a doubt, totally in the fine arts camp. This is where anything goes with subversion ruling the day. The shifts can be jarring but the payoffs can be great too.

It’s perfect timing for me to start off with the first entry to the latest KE, volume 9. We can do a little bit of comparing to my previous review dealing with Aboriginal people. “The Outside Circle” is a very sincere work with more of an earnest tone. Its goal is clarity of purpose and to deliver compelling facts much like a documentary. Steven Weissman has a different take in keeping with the goals of Kramers Ergot. In his story, the Native American character seems to have been stripped of any significance. He feels more like just a guy and flawed in a low-key sort of way. No great drama. This guy is a little jerk (a favorite comics trope): basically selfish and inconsiderate. The simplicity and Zen-like quality to this comic can be deceiving too. As we see, he might be on a quest, per se. But he is petty narrow-minded and that kills off any mystery. In the end, the animals will eventually pull rank on him. He is no hero but the story itself is magical. There is plenty of irony in this short work as opposed to a more earnest approach with the last book I reviewed.

Panels from Michael DeForge's "Computer"

Panels from Michael DeForge’s “Computer”

For something more in line with pushing the limits as far as you can go, we can turn to Michael DeForge‘s totally ironic, “Computer.” This is a commentary on gorging on the internet and too much social media. The computer and college student love each other and they engage in unabashed sex. The acts they engage in are joyous and depicted in a relatively tasteful manner. It is what it is. That’s the limits that DeForge seems most interested in pushing. And, sure enough, it will offend some readers and helps to place this book in a teen and up category. The artwork is spare and crisp. Each reader will need to make their own value judgment on this one. Is it too crass? But, then again, hasn’t the internet made us all more crass or crass-tolerant?

Panel from Gabrielle Bell's "Windows"

Panel from Gabrielle Bell’s “Windows”

Among the excerpts on display to works-in-progress are pages from “Windows” by Gabrielle Bell. And, all I can say here is that Bell keeps getting better and better. If someone could get Bell to take her comics and adapt them into a series on HBO, that would be something! Certainly, Bell loves the medium she’s working in already. But, I’m just saying. What makes Bell’s work resonate? I’d say it is all about its honesty and consistent vision. For those of you unfamiliar with Gabrielle Bell’s work, you can think of it as autobio with a touch of magical realism. In the case of “Windows,” we follow Bell and her mom as they shop for a tiny house. You know, a tiny house, they’re all the rage. And pretty darn inexpensive. I’d love a tiny house of my own! Well, imagine a really good episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and then tweak in more dry wit and there you have it. Bell’s drawing style is as droll as her writing and that is no easy feat.

From Dash Shaw's "Discipline"

Page from Dash Shaw’s “Discipline”

“Discipline,” by Dash Shaw, is another notable excerpt included here. Shaw and Bell, along with a number of other artists in this book, belong to the same tribe, as Peter Schjeldahl has put it regarding certain artists from a certain time and place. And, what I say about Bell, also holds true for Shaw albeit in a different sort of way special to him. I admire Dash Shaw’s uninhibited process, as I see it. He’s the kind of artist who will draw, and draw, and draw. And the sheer power of persistence will carry him over to a higher level. He’s imaginative, brave, and always interesting. From looking at the pages from “Discipline,” I like how the ambiguity keeps the reader at some distance. And I really like the more refined handling of the artwork compared to some work in the past. And, whatever Shaw is up to with a Civil War theme is okay by me!

Panel from Anya Davidson's "Hypatia's Last Hours"

Panel from Anya Davidson’s “Hypatia’s Last Hours”

Another challenging work is “Hypatia’s Last Hours,” by Anya Davidson, which could be disturbing for some readers but is certainly one of the most compelling pieces here. It is Alexandria, Egypt, circa 415 CE. We find Hypatia, a young woman who is trying her best to tutor Anaxis, a wayward and lusty young man. She leaves him frustrated and in a rush to present a lecture on the algebraic equations of Diophantus. But, before she gets too far, she is forcefully detained. She has been sentenced to death for crimes against the bishop. I admire Davidson’s simple rather geometric drawing style, and her use of bold primary colors. This is a story that quickly builds up to its dramatic and abrupt ending.

Panel from Matthew Thurber's "Kill Thurber"

Panel from Matthew Thurber’s “Kill Thurber”

One piece that comes across as quite refreshing, so full of a joie de vivre, is Matthew Thurber‘s “Kill Thurber,” a hilarious time travel jaunt. Yes, Matthew Thurber is sick and tired of being associated with James Thurber. Sure, it was cute at first, but it’s really a drag when you find yourself on sort of a similar career path. Then it really sucks! Why did there ever have to be a James Thurber in the first place?! And then, as fate would have it, Matthew Thurber stumbles upon a plot by the writers who once held court at the fabled Algonquin Round Table. You know the bunch. People like Dorothy Parker and S. J. Perelman. Well, they would all like to see Thurber dead too! Utterly hilarious and drawn in a wry and witty style. Hooray for Matthew Thurber, no relation to James Thurber.

Panels from John Pham's "Scared Silly"

Panels from John Pham’s “Scared Silly”

Another piece with a playful vibe is John Pham‘s “Scared Silly.” This piece follows two young friends, Kay and Jay, as they search for Kay’s “baby,” Bacne. It seems that the little one got lost in Holy Lake Cemetery. This is an excellent immersive narrative playing off more traditional comics storytelling. While invested with a lighthearted and whimsical quality, in the same spirit as the best comics of yesteryear, a dark wisdom prevails.

"The Kanibul Ball" by Lale Westvind

Panel from Lale Westvind’s “The Kanibul Ball”

We come full circle with “The Kanibul Ball,” by Lale Westvind, with a decidedly existential bent. This is neither earnest or ironic. It’s a fantastical hybrid. Really, quite beautiful. We follow a woman who seems, at first, of no significance, more like a kook who would use tin foil to pick up signals from Mars. But the kooks shall inherit the Earth, right? It turns out that she has tapped into something cosmic. We then jump to the frantic anticipation of a huge animal gathering that will result in an orgy of feasting upon each other’s flesh. Our main character, in turn, is engaging in a gathering of beings from various interstellar origins. They are all gathered to feast upon each other, mind, body, and soul. The goal is to share in each other’s pain. It is a goal beyond our heroine’s understanding. However, the animals seem to understand these dark secrets all too well.

Kramers Ergot 9

Kramers Ergot 9

This is a book full of A-list cartoonists. These are the sort of comics artists for whom it is a point of pride to be squarely in the alternative comics camp. That means comics that are an alternative to genre, especially the superhero genre. Would they be at all interested in a corporate gig? No, not in general but do give them a call. They are mostly interested in the art. For these cartoonists, I dare say, they can take the art for art’s sake credo as far, even further, than some other artists in other art forms are willing to go. It’s a fascinating time to be part of comics at this level as the whole shooting match, comics as art and comics art criticism, is still so relatively new and in flux. A lot of these cartoonists are willing to only ask for some legitimacy and maybe even a taste of immortality. That is where a book such as Kramers Ergot gains its strength and integrity.

“Kramers Ergot 9” is a 288-page hardcover, compiled by cartoonist Sammy Harkham, with black and white and full color pages. It is published by Fantagraphics Books.

2 Comments

Filed under Art, Art books, Comics, Gabrielle Bell, Kramers Ergot, Sammy Harkham

HOMETOWN HEROES in Seattle, April 8, 2016

Joshua Boulet, one of the many hometown heroes you will find at HOMETOWN HEROES

Joshua Boulet, one of the many hometown heroes you will find at HOMETOWN HEROES

I have always admired local artist Joshua Boulet. Check out this little feature I did on him a while back. I love his spirit and his style. So glad he is part of this awesome Seattle event, HOMETOWN HEROES, which celebrates the independent spirit in comics and other aspects of local Seattle culture. What’s wrong with that? Nothing at all! Party on! This is a FREE all ages event where pictures, music, lights, and words collide.

There is going to be a lot of heavy traffic in comics next week with Emerald City Comicon. So, add to the festivities by heading out to HOMETOWN HEROES.

When: April 8th, 2016
Where: 1927 Events – 3rd Avenue//Seattle
Time: 6:30-11pm

Featuring art and stories by//
80% Studios’ Dimi Macheras and Casey Silver
Jason T. Miles
Morgan J.K. Brown
Mark Allender
Mike McGhee
Syd Bee
Sail (Uselessarm)

with MORE to be revealed as we get closer to the event!

HOMETOWN HEROES is presented by Nemesis Enforcer and 80% Studios and is a unique opportunity to mix and mingle and learn about the vibrant Seattle underground comix scene. Maybe you’ll make a new friend. Maybe you’ll buy some cool art. The night is yours to enjoy and make the most of. As an added bonus, 80% Studios will be releasing the 5th issue of Seattle’s premiere local comic book anthology, Nemesis Enforcer.

For more details, visit our friends at HOMETOWN HEROES right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics, Comix, ECCC, Emerald City Comicon, Joshua Boulet, Seattle

Interview: Matt MacFarland and DARK PANTS

Matt McFarland's DARK PANTS comics series

Matt McFarland’s DARK PANTS comics series

Matt MacFarland is an interesting artist working in various mediums including comics. He is one of those hybrid artists who make for the best cartoonists. I am impressed with his comics and that initial interest led to this interview. Matt is a kindred spirit. That has a lot to do with us being a couple of cartoonists in the same boat, navigating still unchartered waters, which can often get pretty choppy.

Silkscreen print adapted from DARK PANTS #1 by Matt McFarland and Maggie Lomeli

Silkscreen print adapted from DARK PANTS #1 by Matt McFarland and Maggie Lomeli

Interviews can be organic and creative things in their own right. Sometimes they require the right balance. As I mentioned to Matt, I have done more interviews than I care to count but I always strive for them to be fun and insightful. I’m always hopeful of what may result. In the case of a young cartoonist finding his way like Matt, who already demonstrates a seasoned approach to his work, it’s really good to gather up some observations from him and add to our general understanding of where we are headed with the comics medium.

The focus here is a cartoonist as a fine artist and that usually means someone who does the whole thing alone just as you would if you were a painter. Matt is in a very good place as someone who has a traditional art education. I say this because Matt’s ongoing series, DARK PANTS, seems to me a fine example of going through the rigors of art critiques. I sense that the recurring theme of those dark pants is a hard-won motif. It is through these mysterious pants that various displaced characters in Matt’s story find some clarity and, most significantly, a sexual awakening.

What you will find instructive here is listening to a particular breed of cartoonist describe how he goes about building his particular work. This is the work of an alternative comics/indie cartoonist. This type of cartoonist often does not care for superhero or genre comics. And, as I say, they usually work alone. Alternative cartoonists do not concern themselves so much with whether or not their comics are legitimate art. They already know they are creating art. The ones that have taken their work in comics past a certain point, they most certainly know since they are employing the same methodology used with other art mediums. This is the sort of work I do. This is the sort of work Matt does.

Check out our conversation right below:

And be sure to visit Matt McFarland and keep up with DARK PANTS right here.

You can find DARK PANTS at these fine establishments:

Los Angeles, CA
MELTDOWN COMICS! (Hollywood)
Bookshow (Highland Park)
Cool Cats Comics and Cards (Culver City)
Comics vs. Toys (Eagle Rock, CA)
Los Angeles County Store (Silver Lake)
Mega City One (Hollywood)
The Pop Hop (Highland Park)
Stories Books and Cafe (Echo Park)

Austin, TX
Farewell Books
Tribe Comics

Seattle, WA
Zanadu Comics

Pittsburgh, PA
Copacetic Comics

And you can pick up a print and t-shirt right here.

1 Comment

Filed under Alternative Comics, Art, Comics, graphic novels, Independent Comics, Indie, Interviews, Los Angeles, Matt MacFarland, Meltdown Comics, Minicomics

Review: THE COMPLETE WIMMEN’S COMIX

The Complete Wimmen's Comix

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix

The sexual revolution. The war between the sexes. Just plain sex. It can get complicated, confusing, messy. In 1968, Robert Crumb and his merry men staked their claim to uninhibited expression in underground comix. Yeah, these guys had a few things to say. From their point of view, the establishment was totally out of whack and they had the antidote. Crumb would show us all, in his opinion, just how wild the id could run, no matter how offensive. A couple of years later, along comes Trina Robbins with another view, the view of the opposite sex, which proved a great counterbalance and reality check. For the first time, this groundbreaking work, from 1972 to 1992, is collected in “The Complete Wimmen’s Comix,” published by Fantagraphics Books.

The Complete Wimmen's Comix, published by Fantagraphics Books

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix, published by Fantagraphics Books

The topic of sex is endlessly fascinating, to be sure. What men like Robert Crumb seemed to envision was a “telling it like it is” approach. In similar fashion, Trina Robbins and her female compatriots were showing sex and related themes from a very different point of view, that of the opposite sex. Yes, there was more than one point of view! Who knew, right? Issues of abortion, male performance, and abandonment, had a voice within the pages of Wimmen’s Comix. While the groovy hippie guys may have thought they had it figured out, cartoonists like Lee Marrs demonstrated with great humor and insight that the groovy guys were just as likely to be ugly pigs as their buttoned-down mainstream male counterparts.

"All in a Day's Work" by Lee Marrs, 1972

“All in a Day’s Work” by Lee Marrs, 1972

From the first issue of Wimmen’s Comix, in 1972, there is “All in a Day’s Work” by Lee Marrs. A young woman enters the work force to find herself fending off abusive male co-workers and bosses. When she quits and starts a job at a co-op, the men turn out to be just as abusive. A few more twists and turns and the main character, an alter ego for Marrs, stands naked pleading, “What Can I Do?” In a piece nearly twenty years later, entitled, “Men & Women,” by Roberta Gregory, she sees a systemic problem. Gregory sees leading policy makers, both male and female, pollute the air with their own misinformation about men and women.

Roberta Gregory

“Men & Women” by Roberta Gregory, 1990

As Trina Robbins states in her introduction, the level of quality of comix from women steadily increased with the years. At first, there were only a few women cartoonists. Then, after the hiatus and subsequent return of the magazine in the ’80s, there were plenty of women cartoonists. And, now, it is a whole new world with more women cartoonists that ever before.

"Evolution" by Caryn Leschen, 1989

“Evolution” by Caryn Leschen, 1989

The roster of talent is breathtaking: Phoebe Gloeckner, Lynda Barry, Julie Doucet, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Caryn Leschen, Joyce Farmer, Alison Bechdel, Carol Tyler, Mary Fleener, and many more. In the end, these are great comics but they are also presenting a distinctive feminine viewpoint which makes all the difference. This collection is a must-read for students of the counterculture, women’s studies, and fans of great comix. It is a time capsule as well as a tribute to vital comics that retain their punch and relevance today.

"Mom Gets Sick" by Trina Robbins, 1991

“Mom Gets Sick” by Trina Robbins, 1991

The Complete Wimmen’s Comix is a two volume hardcover set, totaling 728 pages, black & white with some full color pages. For details, and how to purchase, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

6 Comments

Filed under Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Fantagraphics Books, Sex, trina robbins, Women

Review: DARK PANTS #1 and #2

I find artist Matt MacFarland quite the kindred spirit as he makes comics coming from a fine arts background. Think of it this way, most of us out there love a David Lynch movie because it has all those extra layers of ambiguity. Well, that’s Lynch’s fine arts background at play. Some of us cartoonists began as painters and/or hybrid artists working in various forms of expression: writing, drawing, film, acting, photography, and so on. When you take all that activity and bring it into comics, it can result in some mind-blowing art like MacFarland’s ongoing comics series, “Dark Pants.”

Reading DARK PANTS at Canter's Deli

Reading DARK PANTS at Canter’s Deli

What sets apart one alternative comic from another is this fine art sensibility. You don’t necessarily have to go to art school for it–but it helps. Imagine that, art school actually does have value! I kid you not. It is what you make of it. Here’s another comparison. Try to achieve the comedic chops of Tina Fey without ever joining an improv comedy troupe. It ain’t gonna happen. You need to flex comedic muscles you don’t even know you have–and you need to be around like-minded people in order to really stretch yourself. In time, with the help of others, you’ll realize how much you suck and what you need to do to improve. And so we find ourselves with this comic which unabashedly displays its motif, those dark pants.

Issues 1 and 2 of DARK PANTS

Issues 1 and 2 of DARK PANTS

Like Cinderella slipping her bare feet into glass slippers and transmogrifying into a regal beauty, there is something enthralling about a story of transformation. This is certainly not lost on MacFarland as he has one hard luck character after another in his series find a break from their routine when they happen upon a mysterious pair of tight black jeans. In the first issue of this comic, Diego, a drab little guy, becomes a hot lover when he buys these jeans at a thrift store and puts them on. But he soon finds that his newfound sex appeal is far more than he bargained for. By our second issue, the jeans have found their way into the hands of Milena, a lonely virgin who writes a sex column for her college paper. Once those jeans are on, she too is over her head.

Diego's story set on Miracle Mile, 1992

Diego’s story set on Miracle Mile, 1992

It’s interesting that both Diego and Milena were already struggling with their lives before they crossed paths with the sexy jeans. It just stands to reason that these jeans were just as likely to wreck, instead of enhance, their existence. But, who knows, maybe the right sort of loser, like the sort portrayed by Don Knotts or Jerry Lewis, would make the most of a cosmic makeover. So far, MacFarland’s characters are doomed, with or without sex, and that’s just as well for this humorous noir. This is a rare treat. I love MacFarland’s wit and vision.

Milena's story set in Glendale, 2002

Milena’s story set in Glendale, 2002

MacFarland has a very accessible style which goes well with his less commercial, and darker, vision. That said, the darker stuff is not always the less marketable. Overall, I see MacFarland’s work as assured with a refreshing approach and zest. It is a cartoony style that makes me think of ironic cartoonists from the ’90s like Ward Sutton and Michael Dugan. It is a sturdy yet elastic style that makes you think you could poke at the characters and reshape them a bit. With that in mind, it is a style that lends itself well to laughs and/or drifting in and out of reality. Our next victim of the traveling tight dark pants will be a kid named Philip in the upcoming third issue. I look forward to how things develop there.

To learn more, and to purchase comics, visit Matt MacFarlnd right here.

1 Comment

Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Humor, Independent Comics, Indie, Matt MacFarland, Minicomics, Noir

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery Celebrates 9th Anniversary: Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and More! Dec 12-13, 2015

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, in Seattle, celebrates its 9th anniversary in wild style with the Cheech Wizard Show, Mark Bodé, Laura Knetzger, and more! A festive holiday gala takes place Saturday, December 12, from 6:00 to 9:00 PM marking the debut of Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me featuring a fabulous show of tributes to the alluring art of the late Vaughn Bodé and a rare reunion of his extended family.

Big-Book-of-Me-Vaughn-Bode

The very first comic strip of Cheech the Wizard was drawn by Vaughn Bodé on a series of notebook pages in 1957. As the legend goes, the famous underground character came to Bodé as he contemplated a can of chee-chee nuts. Cheech the Wizard would go on to become a big player in underground comix celebrating sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. He was a Pogo for a mature audience with a similar whimsical quality masking a subversive humor. Which leads us to Cheech Wizard’s Book of Me which collects the best work of Vaughn Bodé along with a cavalcade of extras. The forward is by his son, Mark, who has carried on the tradition with his own take on Cheech and his pals.

Laura Knetzger

And if the holiday gala weren’t enough on Saturday, you are welcome to return on Sunday for a book release party for Laura Knetzger’s Bug Boys Volume I. That takes place from 1:00 to 3:00 PM.

Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery is located in Georgetown at 1201 S. Vale St. For more details, visit our friends at Fantagraphics right here.

Leave a comment

Filed under Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Fantagraphics Books, Laura Knetzger, The Sixties, Underground Comics, Vaughn Bodē

Short Run 2015: WHAT A SHOW!

The Short Run comics haul compiled by Henry Chamberlain and Jennifer Daydreamer

The Short Run comics haul compiled by Henry Chamberlain and Jennifer Daydreamer

I am going to do a quick recap for you of the Short Run Comix & Arts Festival that took place this Halloween at Seattle Center. We had such a great time. Jen and I are so happy. This year I was an exhibitor and got to debut a couple of comics. One was the printed result to my annual 24-Hour Comics Day marathon, entitled, “Hello Hello Hotel Hotel,” and the other is the first part of what will be full-length graphic novel and this one is entitled, “George’s Run.” I want folks to know me as the “George’s Run” guy. Yes, this one is significant. And for many reasons. As I was saying in my review of Bill Griffith’s “Invisible Ink,” the past has a way of slipping away and that’s mostly because few people are working to gain it back. I’m working here to gain back a lot of stuff and celebrate it, explore it, and just be inspired from it.

Here I am debuting George's Run at Short Run!

Here I am debuting George’s Run at Short Run!

Anyway, back to the show. There is nothing quite like Short Run in Seattle. It is truly a treasure to be grateful for. Here you have gathered in one place such a wide and varied assembling of great talent in comics and zines coupled with the zesty and substantial accompanying events that Short Run puts together in October, and throughout the year. I’m just honored to be part of it. And I don’t take it lightly at all. Every participant at Short Run is vital and I know that each and every contributor takes the role quite seriously. We’re all sharing in some awesome mutual respect and love.

Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center, 31 October 2015

Short Run at Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center, 31 October 2015

We all want to see underground comics make it more above ground and Short Run is leading the way. I found Short Run to have more of a broad audience as opposed to a niche audience that you would see at the Small Press Expo. This is just a general observation but I base it upon what I was observing and conversations I had at my table. I had folks who had never heard of “Logan’s Run,” or never seen an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” or never heard of “Adventure Time,” or never heard of 24-Hour Comics. That just tells me that we were seeing a pretty good amount of the general audience mixed in with the core audience–and that’s great.

A ghost from a Peanuts Halloween special checks out Short Run

A ghost from a Peanuts Halloween special checks out Short Run

You go to the Short Run main event at Seattle Center to make new discoveries. For someone like myself, it’s something of a reunion party as I get to catch up with a lot of old and new friends in the comics community. There is always something new, something just around the corner. I began with my tablemates for the day representing Section 8 magazine to the right of me and a compilation of the classic zine, Desperate Times, to the left of me. Here is a fun video just to give you a sense of the camaraderie that grows during an event like this. Here you will find Maire M. Masco, author of the zine compilation, “Desperate Times: The Summer of 1981,” and Tony Harris, owner/CEO, and Mike Peters, marketing/social media manager of Section 8 magazine:

Well, I have my haul of comics to go through. I see over twenty options for reviews. I will get to all of them one by one in the days, and weeks, ahead. There is much to cover as we make our way to end of the year. So, I will be reviewing a ton of stuff and keep coming back to titles that I picked up from Short Run.

Short Run pumpkins welcome visitors

Short Run pumpkins welcome visitors

Again, I cannot say enough how inspiring and joyful Short Run is for us creators and, surely, for everyone who stepped out and took in this jewel in the comics community. Visit our friends at Short Run right here.

7 Comments

Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Seattle, Short Run, Short Run Comix & Arts Festival, Underground Comics

Interview: Cartoonist Tom Van Deusen and working with Dennis Eichborn

Real Good Stuff #1

Real Good Stuff #1

Tom Van Deusen is a cartoonist based in Seattle who, along with several other cartoonists, started up the quarterly comics newspaper, Intruder. His work includes the comics, “Eat Eat Eat,” and “A Matter of Life and Death.” He was instrumental in bringing back the comics anthology work associated with writer Dennis Eichhorn and “Real Stuff.” Tom’s Poochie Press brought out two issues of “Real Good Stuff.” Subsequently, Last Gasp published, “Extra Good Stuff.” This was an opportunity to revisit previous collaborations as well as new ones between Mr. Eichborn and cartoonists.

Real Good Stuff #2

Real Good Stuff #2

Dennis P. Eichhorn died October 8, 2015. He was one of the autobio genre’s best-known luminaries. Once nominated for three Eisner Awards for his work in Real Stuff comix, Eichhorn also authored the Real Smut comix series, and self-published The Amazing Adventures of Ace International, Real Schmuck, and Northwest Cartoon Cookery in collaboration with Starhead Comix. A former senior editor of Seattle’s now-defunct Rocket Magazine, Eichhorn distingished himself as the creator of one of America’s most notable art tabloids, the Northwest EXTRA!, by editing and publishing 16 issues in the late 1980s.

Tom Van Deusen's art on the cover of Seattle Weekly

Tom Van Deusen’s art on the cover of Seattle Weekly

Tom Van Deusen loves to create art: words, pictures, and words & pictures. He dose it quite well and seemingly effortlessly. That is part of the appeal, for me, as I see him as someone who simply loves what he does.

Tom Van Deusen's "Space Duck"

Tom Van Deusen’s “Space Duck”

The image above is a good example. I was looking through items he’s posted and thought I’d ask him about the duck on the moon. Tom laughed and, almost apologetically but not quite, said that it goes back to his just drawing for the sake of drawing.

Tom has taken the comics bull by the horns and accomplished a lot in these last four years that he’s focused on comics. Although, truth be told, he’s been creating art for longer than that. Most notable for him has been his work with writer Dennis Eichborn. We talk about Eichhorn, the world of comics, and the world of an indie cartoonist. Aspiring cartoonists will often ask cartoonist vets about how to break into comics, if there’s some secret handshake involved, and Tom is a shining example of what’s really involved: a simple love for the work.

Henry Chamberlain: Tell us about your connection with Dennis Eichborn.

Tom Van Deusen: I met Dennis Eichhorn through Pat Moriarity, who is a great cartoonist and worked with Eichhorn on the original run of Real Stuff. I’m a big fan of his work as is my friend and fellow cartoonist, Max Clotfelter, and a whole lot of other cartoonists. Max had been keeping up with a sort of football blog that Dennis was doing. Actually, it was more of a newsletter that he’d email to friends. It was mostly about college football but it also included a fair amount of autobio work. And Max contacted Denny about maybe working together on creating comics. At that point, Eichhorn hadn’t formally published anything in about twenty years.

He had these great new stories and, from that, we asked him he’d be interested in working with a new generation of cartoonists. And Kaz knew him and wanted to work with him again as well. And he agreed. I had these ideas at the time of doing some small scale publishing work. I had self-published for a few years my own comics. So, we decided to do a Kickstarter. We drove over to Bremerton and met with Dennis. I think I only met with him four or five times. We had a very successful Kickstarter, almost doubled our goal.

We got to put out a 64-page double issue and worked with a lot of great cartoonists. Noah Van Sciver wanted to do one. We got cartoonist from the original Real Stuff, like John Hurley and Mary Fleener.

And from there, Dennis had all these other stories he hadn’t published and that led to a second collection that was picked up by Last Gasp. Distribution is really tough. And, for me with a full-time job and trying to create my own comics, getting this book published has been the hardest thing I’ve done so far. It was really lucky to get Last Gasp on board to publish the second volume.

HC: I loved that I got to pick up my copy of that second book at the Seattle ferry terminal, of all places.

TVD: Ha, what was it doing there?

HC: There’s a great story behind that. Dennis Eichhorn’s wife, Jane, let me know that she arranged to have it available at the newsstand there since that was her regular spot to pick up the Sunday New York Times for Dennis on her way back to Bremerton.

TVD: Oh, that’s great!

HC: I wanted to ask your take on underground comix.

TVD: Well, from the ’60s or ’70s, or more recent?

HC: Yes, it is era-based. Take your pick. How would you define it, overall, for people totally unfamiliar with this?

TVD: Anything that’s not mainstream. And mainstream usually means genre work. That’s work that’s never really interested me. Even growing up, I never read superhero comics. I was more into “Ren & Stimpy” and a bunch of other crazy cartoons coming out when I was a kid. When I finally started getting into alternative comics in college, I picked up Crumb and Chris Ware. I think that goes hand in hand. It’s work that isn’t genre…which is sort of a sad description since most things aren’t genre. Most things aren’t “superhero” and “action” outside of comics. But, for some reason, comics are so dominated by things that are more suitable for children. Underground comix are more suited for adults, although they don’t necessarily have to be.

Alternative comics can be anything. And, once I found that work, I was really excited that I’d found my calling. It took a long time. They’re kind of hard to find. Distribution is crumby. Unless you know about it, it’s kind of hard for people to stumble across. It deserves a wider audience. It shouldn’t have to be “underground.” In France, this is major media. It’s not something just for enthusiasts. In Japan, everyone reads comics.

HC: It’s good to hear you use the term “alternative comics,” which I find very useful. It’s “alternative” to market-driven mainstream comics.

TVD: Right.

HC: How would you describe the scene today? I mean, from your vantage point. You’ve got The Intruder.

TVD: Yeah, there’s a lot of stuff coming out. It’s amazing. It seems that I meet a new cartoonist every day. With the internet, cartoonists are coming out of the woodwork quicker than ever. And there’s all these festivals. That’s what brought about The Intruder. We’d been reading Smoke Signal, which came out of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics. We want to create something for Seattle. There’s a great comics community in Seattle and always has been. I met Max Clotfelter, Marc Palm, Ian Fitzgerald, and other cartoonists. We hung out a lot. We all drew comics. From there, we did a lot of jam comics. We did a lot of silly, usually scatalogical, comics. We started out with a free newspaper and people seemed to like it.

The only problem is that there’s no money in doing any of this. The problem is distribution. There’s only one distributor, Diamond. They are pretty much closed doors for the sort of comics I enjoy. It’s a bottleneck for small publishers. They exist because of Marvel and DC Comics.

HC: Well, we won’t put too fine point on it. They do have a small press section in their catalog.

TVD: They do have that.

HC: You had mentioned a graphic novel that you really enjoyed in another interview you gave. That was last year’s sleeper hit, “Arsene Schrauwen,” by Olivier Schrauwen, published by Fantagraphics Books. I can see you doing something like that down the road.

TVD: For now, I am focusing on short works. “EAT EAT EAT,” is my longest work at 25 pages and that took four years.

HC: And you enjoy doing comedy.

TVD: That’s how I got into comics, from doing these PowerPoint presentations.

HC: There was a group that did a lot of that some years back called, Slide Rule.

TVD: Oh, really, are they local?

HC: Yes, it was a group of cartoonists in Seattle. I was part of that scene. David Lasky was part of that scene. He could tell you about it.

TVD: I gravitate to that. I enjoy writing up skits. There’s a great comedy scene where I’m from, Buffalo, New York. Great friends of mine there: Matt Thompson, Pat Kewley, and Sarah Jane Barry.

HC: Well, I am impressed with all the things you’re doing. You may end up focusing on writing in the future. Who Knows. I wish you well. Thanks so much for your time.

TVD: Thank you, Henry

You can listen to the podcast below:

Be sure to visit Tom Van Deusen right here. And you can find Poochie Press Publications right here.

If you happen to be reading this on the same day it was posted, Halloween, and you’re in Seattle, go see Tom at Short Run.

Leave a comment

Filed under Alternative Comics, Comics, Comix, Dennis Eichhorn, Fantagraphics Books, Interviews, The Intruder, Tom Van Deusen

Review: ‘Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist’ by Bill Griffith

Searching through the past: the true story of Barbara Griffith emerges

Searching through the past: the true story of Barbara Griffith emerges

As if drawn with invisible ink, there are mountains of comics from yesteryear that, even if popular in their day, will never be read again. But once upon a time, cartoonists were bona fide celebrities. Today, of course, everything has splintered off. But we still have some of the good stuff that harkens back to a golden age. We have Bill Griffith’s legendary comic strip, Zippy the Pinhead. Mr. Griffith is an expert on comics many times over and a masterful storyteller. He takes all that and gives us his first long-form graphic story, “Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist.”

Cartoonist Bill Griffith channels Cartoonist Lawrence Lariar

Cartoonist Bill Griffith channels Cartoonist Lawrence Lariar

Griffith navigates us through the often murky world of pop culture’s past and puts it into unique context. The past easily holds onto its secrets all too often because no one bothers to ever try to pry them open. This is a book about prying open the past and revealing the most intriguing secrets, family secrets. Much in the spirit of Griffith’s surreal Zippy the Pinhead, the mundane here collides with the supposedly more colorful world of mass media. Add to that, a decidedly offbeat look at the world. I swear, I found Zippy creeping up when you least expected it. For instance, there’s a scene in a diner between Bill and his uncle, Al, and Al says, “You know what’s coming back?” Bill asks, “Salisbury steak?” “No,” Al says, “morse code!”

The K & W Cafeteria in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

The K & W Cafeteria in Winston-Salem, North Carolina

Check out the page above that I just made reference to with the morse code comment. Ah, such a thing of beauty! A perfect example of the Bill Griffith sensibility and I’m sort of just picking a page at random. It speaks to the very best spirit of underground comix which Bill Griffith came from. It articulates a worldview of someone finely tuned in to his feelings and observations. It is a very relatable view since we all feel we’re tuned in to the world around us. The idea is to create an expression of what one sees that touches on all the details of the moment and evokes a stream-of-consciousness. We see Griffith reacting to a quaint world of yesteryear still alive in the here and now. It’s a world where you can expect to order three different kinds of macaroni & cheese. Of course, the actual K&W Cafeteria doesn’t think of itself as out-of-date. It offers free Wi-Fi, after all. But, from Griffith’s perspective, it is a strange world to marvel over and that’s what we’re looking for!

Invisible-Ink-Bill-Griffith

You can imagine that Bill Griffith’s mother might have pretended she was writing with invisible ink in order to be as revealing as she was in her journals and related work. Whatever the case, we hear her loud in clear in this exploration of her inner life. Griffith synthesizes various artifacts to find a greater truth. When you go hunting for answers like this, you’re liable to get lost in your own issues with your parents. Griffith is no different in this regard. He is just like any of us trying to deal with the past and that is an excellent hook for readers. What makes this story extraordinary is that Bill Griffith has definitely met his match with his mother who gives his storytelling skills a run for their money. If truth is stranger than fiction, then this must be one hell of an example of that. It boggled the mind of Bill Griffith, one of the great mind-bogglers in comics.

“Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Love Affair With A Famous Cartoonist” is a 208-page black & white hardcover published by Fantagraphics Books. For more details, and to order, visit our friends at Fantagraphics Books right here.

2 Comments

Filed under Bill Griffith, Comics, Comix, Fantagraphics Books, Graphic Novel Reviews, graphic novels, Underground Comics, Zippy the Pinhead

Dennis Eichhorn Celebrated in one last collection of Extra Good Stuff

Cover art: "Dennis Eichborn presents life's work to Lawrence Ferlinghetti" by Pat Moriarity

Cover art: “Dennis Eichborn presents life’s work to Lawrence Ferlinghetti” by Pat Moriarity

I just picked up a copy of “Extra Good Stuff” at a newsstand in the Seattle ferry terminal. Odd place for it. I don’t think it has ever appeared there before or ever will again. But quite an appropriate spot for the work of Dennis Eichhorn, who reveled in the missteps and misfires of the absurdly banal people, places, and things of everyday existence.

Dennis Eichhorn passed away last week and I was at a loss as to what to say. He was the real deal. I guess that maybe part of me was waiting for a sign. It happened this weekend as I found myself at the ferry terminal. I was there to meet family. It’s a long story but I’ve ended up at the terminal quite often. I never find it to be an uplifting experience, quite the opposite. Perhaps it’s not as depressing as a bus terminal. But it’s a far cry from the sense of adventure you can get from a train terminal. So, it easily brings on a sigh when I set foot in it. And then to see that strange arrangement, an underground comic on the shelf alongside such fixtures as Men’s Fitness and Rolling Stone.

Back cover: "Lawrence Ferlinghetti" by Jim Blanchard

Back cover: “Lawrence Ferlinghetti” by Jim Blanchard

Well, I picked it up and I figured I’d share it with you and, along the way, I could say a few words about Dennis Eichhorn. He wrote about the unsavory and the weird. He retold fabulous misadventures and made brilliant/eccentric observations. For cartoonists wishing to align themselves with the bona fide underground, here was someone who could act as their Harvey Pekar. In fact, the Midwest had Harvey Pekar, and the Pacific Northwest had Dennis Eichhorn. For a cartoonist worth his or her salt, the idea is to channel the Eichhorn energy. It is best to have the artwork avoid getting too busy as to become needlessly cluttered. Ideally, however, you also want to have just the right amount of frenetic energy running throughout. Or do whatever you feel does justice to work compared to Jack Kerouac, Ken Kesey, and Charles Bukowski.

This comics anthology I just picked up, “Extra Good Stuff,” a collection of reprints and new work, is a play off of Eichhorn’s long-running adult-oriented autobiographical comic book series “Real Stuff.” Three pieces stood out to me, among a stellarly oddball exploration of sex, drugs, and other intoxicants. These are “It’s Good to be the King,” art by Tom Van Deusen; “Gold Dust Twins,” art by Noah Van Sciver; and “The Geriatric Comic,” art by David Collier. All three of these pieces follow a seemingly disjointed path that leads to a satisfying ending. I won’t say things are ever fully resolved in an Eichhorn story, but we come close. Each one finds our main character, Dennis Eichhorn, methodically taking measure of his surroundings.

From "It's Good to be the King," art by Tom Van Deusen

From “It’s Good to be the King,” art by Tom Van Deusen

We can focus for a moment on “It’s Good to be the King” which follows Eichhorn on one of his runs as an on-call medical courier. In just three pages, Van Deusen brings to life a deadened world. Much depends upon facial expression to pull this off. In the case of Van Deusen, it helps that he seems to closely identify with Eichhorn inasmuch as the character he draws for Eichhorn bears a striking resemblance to the character Van Deusen uses for his own stand-in in his own comics. This particular comic was highlighted recently on Boing Boing to announce this anthology. In fact, Boing Boing presented many of Eichborn’s Real Stuff pieces over the years. You can find Eichhorn’s work at Boing Boing right here. And you will find a thoughtful tribute by Tom Van Deusen at The Comics Journal right here.

It bears mentioning here that, as Tom points out in his tribute, there is a story in Extra Good Stuff, “What Next?,” art by R.L. Crabb, that recounts Eichborn in hospital for a cardioversion in 2010. He remembers being overwhelmed by the television tuned in to Fox News. It was from Fox News that he learned that Harvey Pekar had passed away at age 70. Eichborn would go on to die at age 70. And to add a grace note to this, R.L. Crabb commented on Tom’s tribute to say that Dennis Eichhorn passed away on October 8th, which happens to be the birthday of Harvey Pekar. That gives me pause and makes me wonder if maybe October 8th should be designated as “Comix Day.”

Extra Good Stuff is published by Last Gasp and I highly recommend that you seek it out. For those of you interested in what latter-day underground comix are like, this is a perfect primer. And maybe you’ll happen upon it much like I did, when you least expect it and need it most.

6 Comments

Filed under Alternative Comics, Boing Boing, Comics, Comix, Counterculture, Dennis Eichhorn, Last Gasp, Underground Comics