During a recent visit to Portland, Oregon, I interviewed Jason Leivian, who runs Floating World Comics, one of the best comic book shops you could hope for. This is a comic book shop taken up to the level of a curatorial experience with everything neatly organized in different categories.
Floating World Comics holds the distinction of being one of few comic book shops that also functions as a publisher. During this interview, my goal was to bring out all that is special about Floating World Comics, and Jason Leivian proved to be a most excellent host. I hope you enjoy the video interview below:
I’ve come back with some choice titles published by FWC and we will be taking a look at them in the coming days.
When in Portland, or whenever you wish to find something exceptional in comics online, be sure to visit Floating World Comics.
Every art form has its dark, morose, and melancholic aspect. Comics, despite the ingrained comedy in its very name, is a truly dark art much of the time. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. What can you say when you’re feelin’ glum, chum? See ya in the funny papers! One of the best examples of the tragicomic in comics can be found in the work of legendary cartoonist Bill Griffith. Considering a lot of the surreal and loopy stuff that Griffith has depicted over the years, he always manages to not lay it on too thick, finding just the right balance. He is certainly just the right artist to tackle the life and times of one of the strangest and most celebrated of weary souls, Schlitzie the Pinhead. In Nobody’s Fool, published by Abrams, Mr. Griffith has achieved a crowning achievement in the comics medium.
Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead
There’s a unique experience that creators have, particularly writers of one form or another, that provides the loopy sensation of having your creation come to life. Yes, there’s is definitely something behind the idea of having your characters take on lives of their own. This notion comes to mind when contemplating Mr. Griffith’s journey with the inspiration for his legendary comic strip, the cool and sardonic Zippy The Pinhead. Where Zippy, the weirdo in a mumu, will forever be the epitome of deadpan irony, the actual source for Zippy is quite a different story. Schlitzie the Pinhead was quite literally a circus freak. In 1963, Griffith, a young struggling artist, caught a screening of the 1932 cult classic, Freaks, directed by Tod Browning, in which Schlitzie played a modest but memorable role. After viewing Schlitzie on screen, the imagery stuck in Griffith’s mind and quickly morphed into a comics avatar. All these years later, Griffith is able to reconcile the original Zippy with his own work and pay tribute to Schlitzie.
Zippy The Pinhead by Bill Griffith
The Many Names of Schlitzie The Pinhead
This is one of those remarkable graphic novels that truly takes your breathe away. It shares a space with the best that the comics medium has to offer. It’s a utterly original and distinctive work of art inextricably linked to one legendary talent. The detail and dedication involved to make this happen is comparable, say, to your favorite movie up for an Academy Award. Yes, it’s that big of a deal. The amounts of hours put in, all the little details, are staggering to think about. Griffith dug deep, doing his research and going back to interview as many individuals as he could find associated with the celebrated circus freak. And what did he find? Well, part of the charm of a book like this is simply the journey itself. Griffith is careful to modulate how much of himself he directly places into the narrative. But, in the end, he’s as much a key player as anyone else in the book. We find him connecting the dots along the way and, ultimately, we have a key sequence with him viewing and processing that infamous and misunderstood film, Freaks.
All it took was some red hots.
Griffith spares no expense, as it were, in fully depicting the life and times of Schlitzie the Pinhead. For a cartoonist who gave us, Zippy, an icon of irony, the irony must not be lost on Griffith for devoting so much time and effort to Schlitzie, a prime example of an utterly simple soul. When you dig deep into the life of Schlitzie, it breaks one’s heart to find such an overwhelming nothingness. Schlitize enjoyed, or tolerated, performing for big crowds. But, truth be told, he mostly enjoyed washing dishes and eating fried chicken. Ah, but in the hands of a masterful cartoonist, profound beauty can be found in the darkest of places.
Nobody’s Fool: The Life and Times of Schlitzie the Pinhead is a 256-page hardcover published by Abrams ComicArts, to be released March 19, 2019. For more details, visit Abrams right here.
If you live in or plan to be around the New York metro area, then consider visiting the Scott Eder Gallery for an in depth look at a variety of notable underground cartoonists from the sixties. This includes a number of names that are common to the comics community along with a number that will be newly discovered gems for gallery visitors. The show is entitled, THE ALTERNATIVE UNDERGROUND: Foot Soldiers in the Revolution that Forever Changed Comics and runs from Feb 1 thru March 9, 2019. The opening reception is Friday, Feb. 1, 2019, 5-9 PM. Scott Eder Gallery is located at 888 Newark Avenue, #525, Jersey City, New Jersey in the Mana Contemporary Arts Complex. From New York City, you can easily reach it from the PATH train.
Mickey Rat Comix by Robert Armstrong
What If? by Joel Beck
Women at Work!!! by Daniel Clyne
Pro Junior by Dave Dozier
Smile by Jim Mitchell
Rev. Jeremiah Moses by Grass Green
Jesus Learns a Thing or Two by Frank Stack
Trina Robbins self-portrait
More details from Scott Eder Gallery:
When the Underground Comix movement is discussed, R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, and Gilbert Shelton come quickly to mind. But the revolutionary break from mainstream comic books in the late ‘60s, leading to graphic novels and today’s vital independent scene, was comprised of numerous other artists. Many seldom get their due. Scott Eder Gallery is proud to present some of the largely unsung pioneers like Joel Beck and Frank Stack, both of whose comix significantly predated ZAP. Other featured artists are Bob Armstrong (Mickey Rat), Sharon Rudahl, (Wimmens Comix), Dan Clyne (Hungry Chuck Biscuits), Wendel Pugh (Googiewaumer), Mike Roberts (Bizarre Sex), and other foot soldiers active in the broad and groundbreaking underground comix scene. Discover or rediscover the idiosyncratic styles of more than twenty outspoken and bold cartoonists whose work remains surprising fresh a half century after the psychedelic fervor and anti-war chants swirling around their era have faded away.
Interview with gallery owner Scott Eder:
If you’re interested in comics or would like to take the opportunity to see firsthand some of the exciting trailblazing art that has influenced today’s boom in indie comics, then be sure to visit Scott Eder Gallery.
Time for Small Press Expo, September 15-16! SPX, created in 1994, is the cornerstone to the comics community. It is at the forefront in promoting and providing support. Each year, more than 4,000 cartoonists and comics enthusiasts gather in Bethesda Maryland for North America’s premiere independent cartooning and comic arts festival. Let the latest news speak for itself. This is from a press release that just came out:
“Small Press Expo announced that it will immediately make available $20,000 and also launch a legal aid fundraising vehicle to support members of the SPX community who are currently facing a defamation lawsuit. The fundraising vehicle, administered by SPX, and created in consultation with the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, will be established for the purposes of defraying the cost of legal representation for the eleven members of the independent comics community named as defendants in the ongoing lawsuit.”
So, yeah, it’s September and that can only mean one thing for die-hard indie comics fans: Small Press Expo! Yes, indeed, each year Bethesda Maryland suddenly becomes, for one weekend, the lightning rod for some of the most cutting-edge comics. If you’re in the area the weekend of September 15-16, then come out to this event and check out some awesome alt-comics.
Now, I must admit that, although I’ve gone and I’ve participated in numerous comics festivals and events as a journalist and as a comics creator, I have never gone to Small Press Expo. Some folks there will have heard of me and some know me from years back. But that doesn’t change the fact that I’m new to SPX. So, I hope to do my best to provide some stellar coverage to this most venerable and respected gathering. Small Press Expo is where much of the indie comics scene gained traction and it remains the jewel in the crown.
So, say hello if you see me and we make eye contact or somehow slip into conversation. We’ll figure it out. Or say hello here at Comics Grinder. If you’re a creator, let me know what you’re up to and maybe we can set up an interview or I can plan to review your work. I don’t exactly expect an avalanche of responses– but I always end up making a decent number of connections at these events. I understand that things will get hectic and maybe you’re shy to begin with. I understand– and I can only focus on so much myself. The main thing is to have fun and to always strive for authenticity. The rest works itself out.
The full press release on the Legal Aid Fund for Cartoonists follows:
“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere,” by Hillary Chute, published by HarperCollins, is a highly informative, accessible, and delightful look at the evolution of comics, with the primary focus on American comics. As the title suggests, what used to be strictly an underground thing has now emerged virtually everywhere. Chute’s goal is to unpack that phenomenon. She goes about it with great enthusiasm and clearly makes a significant contribution to the ongoing writing about comics. This is a must-read for anyone interested in pop culture, comics, and art in general.
Zap Comix #1, 1968
Okay, so comics are everywhere. Who, for instance, are the characters gracing the cover to this book? Chute, a natural teacher, is so glad you asked. She will come right out and tell you who and then explain the interconnections. First of all, this is Maggie and Hopey, lead characters in what is understood by many to be the greatest ongoing comic of them all, “Love and Rockets,” by the Hernandez Brothers. Where did this comic come from? How does it fit in with other comics? Why is this comic significant? Ah, for that matter, you may shout out, “Why Comics?!” Chute is happy to answer all your questions and much more. Well, this comic is part of a second wave of underground comics in the ’80s. And this comic is a response to a lot of things, including a lack of diversity in mainstream comics. But, before that, there was the original wave of underground comics in the Sixties led by R. Crumb and his Zap Comix. And, as many a conversation on the comics convention floor on zines and mini-comics will attest, even today’s superhero comics genre all began as indie comics by two teenagers, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster.
Page excerpt from Art Spiegelman’s MAUS
Chute’s search for patterns in the making of comics leads her to some of the most celebrated trailblazers, notably Art Spiegelman. Chute was the associate editor of “MetaMaus,” the definitive companion to Spiegelman’s “Maus,” and she has a great deal of insight to share. Chute guides the reader from Spiegelman, in his youth in San Francisco to his subsequent work in earnest. It was in 1972 that Justin Green, author of the first autobio comic, “Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary,” invited Spiegelman to contribute to a comics anthology. The only stipulation was that the work had to feature anthropomorphic animal characters. And so began Spiegelman’s first steps toward the work in comics most people are aware of, “Maus.” Chute then follows Spiegelman’s progress as he reaches great heights of creativity. Here below, Chute describes how Spiegelman plays with the fluidity of time:
“Spiegelman creates a physical connection between panels set in the past and panels set in the present, linking them, as in panels in which Art’s cigarette smoke is figured as the smoke coming out of an Auschwitz crematorium chimney directly below it on the page. But in others, he exploits the language of comics–the convention that each panel represents a distinct moment of time–to make two different time periods literally intertwine. We see this in the striking page in which Vladek, Art, and Françoise–herself a character in ‘Maus’–converse in the Catskills during a summer visit to Vladek’s bungalow. On their way to the supermarket in the car, Art changes the topic from his stepmother, Mala, to Auschwitz, asking his father about a prisoner revolt. The last panel of the page, in which Vladek describes its fallout, is its largest: as the family car weaves through dense rural roads, the legs of four Jewish girls hanged in Auschwitz after the revolt–witnessed firsthand by Vladek–suddenly appear dangling from the trees. The 1940s and the ’70s collapse, as Spiegelman shows, wordlessly, how the traumatic past lives on in the present.”
Page excerpt from Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS
Much in the same way that the 1951 landmark coming-of-age novel, “The Catcher in the Rye,” by J.D. Salinger, became the template for aspiring young novelists, so too did “Maus” serve as a guide for cartoonists on the rise. Observe how Marjane Satrapi’s “Persepolis,” first published in 2000, follows a similar format and technique as Spiegelman’s landmark work. Certainly, Satrapi’s work is wonderfully original. That said, it does follow certain style and content choices first established by leading artists such as Spiegelman. Chute is not making this particular argument but she does lay out the characteristics of what has become accepted in a work by an independent cartoonist: the work is honest, personal, and usually autobiographical; the work is all done by hand, including the borders and lettering, with a less polished finish than mainstream comics; and the work is usually done by one person. In that sense, Satrapi is following in a tradition begun by such artists as Crumb and Spiegelman.
Panel excerpt from Chris Ware’s BUILDING STORIES
Another cartoonist who looms larger in Chute’s book is Chris Ware–and for good reason. The history of American comics is essentially Winsor McCay leading the start and Chris Ware leading the current state of affairs. And it is both of these cartoonists, and so many others in between, who seem to share Ware’s tragicomic point of view of being “well-appointed and feeling lonely.” Cartoonists are something of exotic birds to begin with–whether or not the public notices. But to really make one’s mark in comics, to resonate with critics and fans alike, is quite an achievement. One achieved by such cartoonists as Chris Ware, Charles Burns, and Gary Panter–all of whom would get their big breaks by appearing in Raw magazine, a comics anthology led by Art Spiegelman.
Gary Panter cover for Raw #2.1, 1989
Chute organzies her narrative within categories such as “Why Disaster?” and “Why Sex?” Each chapter category acts as an umbrella that covers a certain facet of comics. In the chapter, “Why Punk?” Chute describes the rise of two friends deeply involved with the punk movement: Matt Groening and Gary Panter, along with other relevant artists like Raymond Pettibon. As for Groening and Panter, they held to their punk ideals while also driven to succeed–“The Simpsons” for Groening; “Pee-wee’s Playhouse” for Panter. Chute makes sure to point out that Bart Simpson–the cartoon character everyone thinks they know–is, in fact, a sly reference (right down to the jaggedy crewcut) to Panter’s underground hero, Jimbo, the antithesis of the mainstream. And, as Chute’s title declares, comics have gone from the underground to everywhere in more ways than one.
Matt Groening holds up Bart Simpson and Gary Panter’s Jimbo
“Why Comics? From Underground to Everywhere” is a 464-page hardcover published by HarperCollins. For more details, visit HarperCollins right here.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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!
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.
As any card-carrying local artist and cartoonist should do, I went down to check out the indie comic show Exterminator City, part of Push/Pull Studio & Gallery here in the Phinney-Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle. Exterminator City is put together by Push/Pull member, Seth Goodkind, who is a local cartoonist and published illustrator.
Plenty of stellar talent including Allen Gladfelter, Adam Lynn, Megan Noel, Noel Franklin, Scott Faulkner, and Eli Tripoli, to name a few. Coming off the heels of my awesome time at Hempfest last weekend, it was perfect timing to meet up with Joshua Boulet. He’s a fine example of how cannabis and comics mix quite well. In this video interview, Joshua is kind enough to share his sketchbook. BTW, I picked up his “Draw Occupy Wall Street” which I will review in a future post!
“I MET TOMMY CHONG!” by Joshua Boulet
Here at Comics Grinder, we’ll keep exploring the interconnections between comics and cannabis as well as cannabis in general from time to time. You could say that both comics and cannabis remain somewhat misunderstood by the general public while also receiving a general thumbs up. That said, we can tackle both subjects thoughtfully and respectfully one post at a time.
Now, let’s focus on the venue for this comics event. Exterminator City was made possible by the Push/Pull Gallery. My heart goes out to them as both an artist and a curator. For many years, I curated art shows at Glo’s Diner with an emphasis on fringe art, specifically alternative comics. Well, Pull/Pull is ready to take things to a new level as they move toward a permanent home. With your help, Push/Pull will achieve its goal through its Kickstarter campaign, which closes on September 4, 2015, that you can visit right here.
Reviewing comics, particularly independent comics, is a labor of love that will thank you with sore eyes, a sore back, and a profound understanding of the road less travelled or some such malarkey. But find a good mini-comic, a really good one by some glorious weirdo, and all is forgiven and you’re good to go for another batch of reviews. And so it was said and so it was done. Christopher Green is one of those glorious weirdos. His mini-comic, “Real Work,” is a fine example of that.
Oh so many cartoonists of a certain ilk are toiling away with thoughts of perhaps making some sort of impact. They don’t dare to dream to be the next R. Crumb, or at least they tell their friends that. But, hey, some don’t have to dare to dream and just do it. Just doing it. Sounds so easy, doesn’t it?
There’s an effortless quality to what I see in this comic. Maybe it took him hours upon hours to create and then he redid the whole sucker all over again for good measure. Or maybe he cranked it out at one go. There are a number of choices that needed to be made, “problem-solving” tasks, if you will, that Green gets right, one way or another.
Green’s 12-page collection of comics is loopy auto-bio, fantasy, and artful silliness. We begin with observations on the surface to body mass ratio regarding a squirrel’s crash landing. A few more pages in, and we’re in the thick of a war between Alaska and Canada. This also involves the teleporting of souls.
Green has the confidence and skill to pull this zany stuff off. It may seem simple but he’s actually putting his surface to body mass calculations to good use. Adroit placement of objects, thoughtful composition, pleasing contrast, it all adds up nicely. Take, for instance, his two boys on a whimsical crime spree. They may be relatively crude little figures, but they’re well-defined, distinct, and full of life. Katzenjammer Kids underground comix style!
Consider one last example above: a page on exploring pagan rituals. On just one page, Green evokes a doomed relationship, a universal struggle, and then gives it all a tidy absurdist ending with a hilarious grace note to boot.
Christopher Green’s “Real Work” mini-comic was printed at the Sequential Artists Workshop, or SAW, in Gainesville, Florida. This is a vital center for learning the art of comics founded and led by cartoonists Tom Hart and Leela Corman. It is, no doubt, thanks to the great care to craft at SAW that Christopher’s color cover, with gold no less, looks as nice as it does. Be sure to visit SAW right here. Be sure to visit Christopher Green right here. And visit his store, Wall of Balloons, right here.