Monday, December 30, 2013

The Cat Whisperer

I just finished editing down an hour's worth of John P. interviews I'd been saving. It's the first interview I did with him when I started this project. Part one took place on Ruby Hill, a park a few miles south of Denver, and then part two took place at my house.

It's amazing how much John pours out in just an hour. I think I caught him on a grumpy day where he was feeling particularly chatty. I didn't know him too well at that point, and was certainly still getting the hang of how to interview people on the spot. As such, I ended up asking some pretty blunt (even bordering on rude) questions, which John answered with honesty and grace.

He speaks candidly about OCD, his health issues, his feelings of being a weirdo without a place in society, depression, and -- in a lengthy session that won't make it into the final project -- how comics are distributed.

Below is a happy little outtake from when I was getting the gear set up at my house. If you've ever spent any time with John, you know he loves animals, and in particular, cats. It's not crazy to suggest that he views them as being at least equal, and possibly superior to, humans.

We had had a lengthy day of filming, and as I mentioned, John was feeling a bit crabby, so I think by this time he felt much more comfortable chatting with our kitty than he did discussing his life with me. This is another thing that isn't likely to make it into the film, but I think it demonstrates an important side of John.


Sunday, December 29, 2013

A movie, eh?

I promised there would be updates on the John P. project, still tentatively titled 'Root Hog or Die', so here's one. Below is a short except I'm putting up to sate any remaining appetites. Really this clip is intended as a bit of a joke. 

John P. has an intense set of food allergies which he mitigates by eating a very specific diet, with certain types of food available to him on certain days. This diet can also mean a different caloric intake on different days. On this particular day, he was on a low calorie day, and was pretty cranky. He was also drinking a Dr. Pepper made with real sugar. On this trip John drank his first soda in years and years, but I can't remember if this was that one, or if this was his second or third. 

We had spent the previous day with Jeff Zenick chatting mini comics and zines. I taped a lot of the conversation and it was a good day. The next day, I went for a jog around J-ville, and then we drove up to a comic shop which was supposed to open at eleven. By 12:30, they still weren't open, and we were really annoyed, so John decided to treat himself with a soda. 

The soda in question had been sitting in the car ages and was warm as hell, so I asked John if he wanted me to grab him a glass with ice to make the soda a little tastier. This was the response. 

So, what's up with the movie? Well, I'm in hardcore editing mode. I've whittled most of the interviews and such down so that I have usable footage & quotes from each. I'm working on the John P. talks and the 'B-Roll' stuff (us driving, etc.) now, which is pretty fun and exciting. 

My hope is to have it finished in the next couple months, then spend a bit of the late spring/early summer doing any post production work, DVD transfer, figure out what the hell to do, and then debut it at SPX, probably not formally, but around the edges. 

So, that's the plan/hope. Cheers, and thanks for reading. 

Friday, December 27, 2013

Why Don't People Read the GOOD STUFF?

It's about 6:30am and I've been up for about an hour and a half. Had a weird dream that I was castrated and my genitals had to be rebuilt so that I could conceive another child. What the hell was that about? Anyway, couldn't get back to sleep after that.

I came across part II of Zak Sally's 'History of La Mano' over at his blog. If you don't know Zak, you should. I really really love his comics. They're dark and weird, they're sloppy and perfect, they're wordy and sparse, all at the same time.

When I read Cormac McCarthy, it takes months to finish a book because I want to get everything out of every sentence. I pick it up, read a paragraph, I put it down. I come back to it a week later. It's the same with Zak's comics. I find it hard to just tear through one of his comics, the way I do with so many other creators. I want to really soak up every panel, every word, every stray ink speck, because the guy packs a wallop.

You know the expression, 'leave it all on the field'? I really don't care for football, but Jesus H., Zak leaves every ounce on the page, holding nothing back.

Here's the thing, though. Nobody reads this guy's stuff. His incredible collection, 'Like a Dog' is currently ranked at 1,952,838 in Books on Amazon. How is that even possible? He's published by Fantagraphics, he gets amazing reviews, he does stuff for TCJ, did great work at Mome, gets nominated for awards, and is a legitimate, long-term player in indie comics.

And, not unlike the first 27 years of Cormac McCarthy's career, nobody's buying it. Blood Meridian -- arguably McCarthy's greatest work and considered one of the greatest American novels of the 21st century, couldn't even sell through it's first print run of a scant 5,000 copies. A bunch of copies were remaindered and sold for $1.99, and that was perhaps the best-selling of his first five novels. He too won accolades, was praised effusively by critics, but that didn't translate into sales (until 1992's 'All the Pretty Horses' that is).

Zak's a lot like that. 'Like a Dog' is currently the highest ranking of his books on Amazon. His other books, 'Recidivist' and Vols 1 & 2 of the incredible 'Sammy the Mouse' all languish well below the two million mark for sales on Amazon.

While it's infuriating to see such a talented guy go unsupported, it's all the more so because he's not just talented, he has a really unique voice and sensibility. I'm just glad he's a tenacious mother who'll never quit. Otherwise, I could see him hanging up his brushes for good.

So, the question remains, why the hell am I one of seemingly two hundred people who love Zak's comics? At first I went to our similarities. We're roughly the same age, both love comics, both love the cold, like the same music, have similar punk rock ideologies. How could I not love this dude? Plus, he's an incredible musician, is a comics printer and publisher, and a seemingly really good dad. Oh, and he lives in Minneapolis, perhaps the greatest city around.

To test this theory, I gave my fifteen year old comics loving niece a stack of his comics as a gift. She's into the good stuff -- for her last birthday, I commissioned John P. to draw her a mouse with some cheese which she went ape over. But I thought, could this teenage girl dig Zak's stuff? She LOVED IT.  I gave her a stack with some Chris Ware, Jason, Marjane Satrapi, Gabrielle Bell, and others, and it was 'Recidivist' and 'Like a Dog' that she kept raving about.

So, then I got a new theory -- I'm a process guy. One of my favorite things in music is liner notes on a record. I love knowing how things are made. Where did this idea come from and so forth. And the same is true of comics. I love knowing what materials were used, I love seeing artists' studio spaces, I love original art, and sketchbooks.

Zak's the same. The end of 'Like a Dog' comes with ten pages of context, ephemera, stories, and context that -- for me -- really help shape the stories. Knowing the background for me always makes the stories richer and the reading better.

And, let's be honest, Zak LOVES to talk about that stuff. This is not a slam or a tease, I love artists who really get into the background.

This may also explain why so many other artists love/respect Zak's work -- generally it's the insiders who want to know how the sausage is made.

In the late '80's, Rolling Stone did a cover story on R.E.M. in which Peter Buck said, 'we're the acceptable edge of the unacceptable stuff', which didn't make a lot of sense to 12-year old me. I just thought they were weird and neat. Stipe wore dresses on stage, they talked shit about Reagan, what's not to love? For a kid growing up in backwater America, pre-internet, R.E.M. counted as interesting and/or experimental. It took me years, however, to really get into bands like The Minutement, Mission of Burma, or other bands that were a little more challenging than R.E.M.

What I realize now is, in every 'movement' there will be those artists who make a collective idea palatable to the masses. This is not a bad thing. In the independent comics community (very very loosely described) you have folks like Chris Ware, who most folks can read and get into. It's sad, beautiful and totally accessible work for someone willing to give it half a chance.

Zak's work is also sad and beautiful, but it's sorrow is a little deeper, a little darker. Perhaps it's as simple as geography. Zak puts to paper the grim desolation that exists in places like North Dakota and Minnesota. The oppressive dark, the long winter, the places where there's no escape, except perhaps some relief brought by booze. Contrast that to Ware's Chicago. A place that's depressing, sure, but a place where you can escape from. O'Hare can fly you away. Lake Michigan, like an ocean represents departure and travel. Movie houses, plays, concerts, all the benefits of a city exist in Ware's work, but are painfully absent from Zak's.

As a kid who grew up in a town of 900 with winters so grey and long they seemed to last forever, I really identify with Zak's reference points far more than almost any other cartoonist. My niece, by the way, is growing up just one town over from where I grew up. Maybe that's why she was so psyched to get Sammy Vol. 2 this year.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Guess who's back.

I'm going to forego any apologies for a nearly three year lapse in any updates. Let's assume apologies have been both given and received.

My aim here is to collapse the various elements of my life into one place. It turns out, I have a lot of stuff going on. For the record, yes, I'm still working on the King-Cat/John P. documentary. I'm decently far along, and believe it will be released (whatever that means) in 2014.

My wife and I also had a baby this year, Oscar, who's a charming young man at ten months of age.

In the spring of 2011, I resumed my life/career as an activist  by running for the Denver city council and losing. This lead to my current employment at a fairly well known environmental organization, managing a fairly large project team which requires significant travel.

I still co-own Kilgore Books & Comics in Denver, thought my resumed career caused a relocation from Denver --> Washington, DC in September of 20132. My partner Luke and I split responsibilities so that he's in charge of the shop in Denver, and I take the point on our comics publishing venture.

In July of this year, we moved our little family from the 'way too expensive' District of Columbia to the wilds of suburbia in a land called......College Park Maryland.

Oh, and I got elected to the Board of Directors for the Small Press Expo. Congrats, Dan.

So, it's been a busy couple years, my beard has begun turning grey, and I find myself with amazingly little free time. Sadly, I've largely given up screen printing endeavors and much music playing, beyond screwing around on the guitar with Oscar.

I found myself trying to have specific outlets for things -- this blog for the documentary, another for writing about comics, another (in my head) for writing about being a dad, Facebook for kid pictures, a zine for both fatherhood and comic interests.

Meanwhile, I keep trolling Craigslist, looking for a cheap but functioning printer so that I can live out my secret fantasy of becoming Zak Sally.

Oh yeah, I keep buying pens and notebooks and pretending I might some day be a cartoonist.

So, tonight I decided to just say to heck with it, and dump all my weird projects here. We'll see what happens with it.

To start, I've gotten pretty obsessed with collecting original comic art. Over the course of the winter, I got in touch with and bought some pages from Seth, and he sent along the nicest set of ephemera you could imagine.

Here's a little sample that includes his very old (no longer in use) 'Pencil Art Association' certificate: