A wretched staleness in the air. Lost souls strewn about. And it’s all played up for laughs! Welcome to the wonderful world of cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. I really admire Tom’s style, in person and in his comics. Tom is a very likable and professional gent. So, it’s a unique treat to then read his comics featuring Tom’s vile and hateful alter ego. I reviewed a couple of issues of his Scorched Earth comics. You can read that here. This new collection, published by Kilgore Books, that came out this year simply goes by the same running title and contains a fine mix of old and new material. You will want to seek this out.
Tom Van Deusen’s aim is to satirize the oily underbelly of hipsterdom with a neo-underground sensibility. His characters traffic in a Robert Crumb-like netherworld where hedonism and arrogance commingle. Like Crumb, Van Deusen is both fascinated and repulsed by the hipster zeitgeist. Van Deusen’s alter ego, Tom, struggles to connect with a woman who is willing to sleep with anyone…except him. She’ll even sleep with his doppelgänger but not the original. Tom can’t even get a handle on the e-cigarette craze that all the “cool kids” have latched onto. For Tom, vaping does not involve a slim little gadget delivering dramatic puffs of vapor. No, for Tom, it involves a monstrous contraption that looks like an iron lung.
Hanging out at Glo’s Diner
One of the best bits in the book takes place at Glo’s Diner, located in what is the Capitol Hill district of Seattle, a densely populated area and a counterculture mecca. I curated art shows at Glo’s Diner for five years and presented work from local cartoonists including David Lasky, Ellen Forney, Jennifer Daydreamer, Farel Dalrymple, and myself. It is a small space. The food is okay. But there is something about that peculiar little oily spoon that reads authentic. It’s great to see a cartoonist of Van Deusen’s caliber pick up on that. He takes his time to capture the place’s true dimensions and spirit.
Full page excerpt from SCORCHED EARTH
The not so sweet young things remain out of reach for sad sack Tom. He remains on the fringes of the fashionable fringe element. The beauty of it all is that Van Deusen dares to keep vigil, take notes, and then pile it all into a blender and create some very funny comics.
Visit Tom here, find his comics at Poochie Press right here and find this recent collection of SCORCHED EARTH at Kilgore Books & Comics right here.
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
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 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”
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.
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.
If you earnestly wear a “Mean People Suck” t-shirt, then something is wrong with you and this comic is not for you. However, if you ironically wear a “Mean People Suck” trucker hat, then we’re in business. By the way, do mean people suck? Yes, and Tom Van Deusen should know as his main character, Tom (not literally Mr. Van Deusen, of course) is quite a mean-spirited cuss. Anyway, getting back to what I was saying, if you take things too seriously and too literally, then you will ruin an otherwise fine ole time reading the first two issues of “Scorched Earth.”
So, we follow the exploits of a sad sack character who is having a lot of trouble functioning in society, the work place, simple exchanges of just about any kind. You get the picture, right? Van Deusen sure does. He draws up quite a repulsive fellow. And he runs with that as far as he can for his aims at effective dark humor. Given that he’s a young horny guy, our sad sack repeatedly blunders in matters of mating. For this guy, an attractive young woman would be fine but he finds they sure aren’t as easy as ordering a pizza. Once he’s fed up with his date, he is just as likely to disappear as he is to hang on.
In one disturbing/hilarious scene, Tom’s date steps into a port-o-potty. The date has not gone well and, instead of spending another minute with her, he tips over the potty and walks away. The timing is impeccable and inspires a chuckle. The scene is shocking. And it shows that, for Tom, women are literally disposable. But, heck, all of humanity is compost as far as he’s concerned.
There’s an undeniable tension here as we have a cartoon Tom that can’t help but refer back on some level to the cartoonist Tom. You can break this down many ways: it’s an opportunity for the real Tom to behave badly and provoke the reader; it’s an opportunity for the real Tom to comment on such bad behavior; the cartoon Tom can stand-in for human frailty; and, at the end of the day, it’s simply a fiction referring back to its creator. Quite a lot to juggle for Van Deusen–and also be funny. These are dynamics that, no doubt, Crumb was masterful with. And Van Deusen appears to be up to the challenge.
Panel from Scorched Earth #1
There’s always room for another character that you love to hate. In this case, you have a classic fool. Van Deusen seems to be on the right track with balancing hateful actions with just the right level of humor. Crumb made a career out of stoking the fires of dark humor to the point where he brought the red hot blaze so close as to burn. Van Deusen has set up camp. We’ll see how far he takes his own fires.
Yes, you too can now own the first two issues of the comics I’ve just reviewed, “Scorched Earth.” Find each 24-page comic book and other fine items at Poochie Press right here.
Cover to the print issue of Tom Van Deusen’s most excellent EAT EAT EAT
“Eat Eat Eat” is a very funny comic by cartoonist Tom Van Deusen. That may not be readily apparent for some readers, I suppose. If you haven’t (or have?) been exposed to Robert Crumb, for instance. But, you know, for a lot of folks, this is going to be a laugh riot. Let me delve into this one further because it merits close attention. As I began to say, the content is, well, weird.
So, yeah, some people could potentially think they’re in for some typical gross out session. But, no, no, it’s not that. This is well-timed wry humor with a touch of the poet. That is to say that it does not collapse under the weight of heavily-used underground comix tropes. Many a cartoonist, and comics reviewer, have allowed themselves to get too caught up in what is thought to be fashionable scat. But you show some restraint and respect for craft and you end up moving forward.
Van Deusen knows how to make the most of the little details. He knows how to draw bared teeth to maximum effect. Each instance is mercilessly depicted with precision and gusto. And elicits a giggle. He also knows how to wring out humor from lettering for all it’s worth. Who knew how funny it could be to read his various hand-written renderings of “Later.” You know, a brief break in the action similar to “Meanwhile.” He loves to devote a full panel for each of his uses of “Later.”
Okay, I think we know where we stand now. It’s not so much gross out humor as absurdist humor that we find in this comic. Our hero is just a sad sack looking to get lucky. In this case, lucky in love. Lucky with the ladies. Our sad sack is NOT a ladies’ man but that doesn’t stop him. And when he does land a date with a cutie, he proves to her and all the world how underserving he is to have set foot outdoors in the first place.
Turns out, push comes to shove, forget the ladies, he’d much rather make out with a giant bag of popcorn. Wonderful surreal humor. Is it any wonder that I was reading this as I waited to see some improv comedy? It’s good stuff–and good for you. I read the rest during my visit to the chiropractor. I highly recommend that you read this as they crack you back into shape.
I had the treat of reading the collected webcomic work to EAT EAT EAT that makes for a powerful work in comics, all in one neat 24-page book. You really need to get yourself a copy, even if you’ve already read the webcomic. You can find out how to get your copy here. Ah, and there’s more comics by Tom Van Deusen, all part of his Poochie Press. We’ll cover another title in another post.
And be sure to check out the EAT EAT EAT webcomic at Studygroup right here.