Con Report: SPX 2010

Well it’s finally happened. We all knew it would some day. There came a time on Saturday at SPX where the crowd was so butt-rubbingly, San Diego Comic-Con-ishly close that it wasn’t fun to walk the isles. Anecdotally, I’ve not heard either way whether this late afternoon crowd surge translated into a late afternoon money surge, but it sure was fun to see.

After grabbing some much-needed sleep on the plane and navigating the Metro, I arrived at the convention center around 11 am or so on Saturday.  If you’d arrived then, drunk such that you vision were blurred much like an unfocused camera phone, here’s what you would have seen at SPX:

I once again attended this year as a “civilian” and didn’t get a table. Despite the fact that the giant box of unsold Amelia Earhart: This Broad Ocean books in my cabinet seemed to call out to me naggingly at times, I really do have a much better time at these things if I’m able to wander around and buy stuff and actually attend some panels. Before I started laying down my hard-earned cash, though, I took a quick walk-around to get a handle on what was out there on the tables. I was delighted to see a minimum of non-comics “art objects”–things my pal Adam Casey refers to collectively as “silk screened pizza boxes.”

Lunch was had at the nearby Vegetable Garden restaurant, which has decent relatively-cheap vegetarian fare. It was nearly vacant for lunch but I heard later that it was mobbed for dinner and contributed to a number of folks I know missing the Ignatz ceremony.  I ran into buddy James Sturm there picking up some take-out and was glad to have a few minutes to chit-chat with him while not in the chaos of the show itself.

Returning to the show, I went on a hog-wild (mostly) mini-comics buying binge. This year’s earlier show aligned with my birthday, which is a dangerous convergence since it means my bank account is pretty flush with gift money that really should be spent on more sensible things than funnybooks. But to Hell with that, I say.  I entered with $85.00 cash and it was quickly converted into this:

So here’s what that stuff is (left to right, top to bottom):

  • There Must Be More: The Search for Bigfoot’s Box – JP Coovert
  • Phase 7 #15 – Alec Longstreth
  • Life of Vice #1 – Robin Enrico
  • The Bad-Ventures of Bobo Backslack- Jon Chad
  • Bikeman #1 – Jon Chad
  • Henry and Glen Forever – Tom Neely
  • Adrift – JP Coovert
  • Book Comic – Phil McAndrew
  • Paranormal Hipsters – ?
  • Adele Blanc-Sec – Jacques Tardi
  • Drop Target #1 – Alec Longstreth and Jon Chad
  • Too Far – (Anthology) Ed. Joe Lambert
  • Beard – Pranas
  • Dan Clowes: Conversations – (Interviews) Ed. Isaac Cates & Ken Parille
  • Trugglemat – Neil Brideau
  • Why Did I Put this Town on my Face? – Matt Wiegle
  • Daily Catch – (CCS Anthology)
  • Courtships of Ms. Smith – Alexis Frederick-Frost
  • Mermin #1 – Joey Weiser
  • Duncan the Wonder Dog – Adam Hines

Neither the Duncan the Wonder Dog book nor the Tardi book came out of my cash till since both Fanta and Adhouse were accepting credit cards.  I was blown away to see Chris Pitzer at Adhouse use some crazy iPhone swipe app/device to process payments.  This new credit card-accepting thing has apparently made me violate my long-held “minis only” policy at small press shows.  Oh well…

Hopefully I’ll have time to do some write-ups of some of this stuff, but so far just flipping through stuff, I was really impressed by how completely Alexis Frederick Frost has changed his style in this new stuff.  I talked to him on the floor a bit and he said he’s switched entirely from brush to Gpen nibs.  I’ve done that too for Oyster War; why doesn’t my stuff look as good as his, dammit?!  I also read Drop Target, a pinball zine, over breakfast this morning. I wasn’t surprised to find that Alec Longstreth had cranked out a pinball book since last time I was up in White River Junction he was clearly on a trajectory to develop a pinball obsession. This is a zine of the old school variety and it was making me wax nostalgic for the Factsheet Five days of yore.  It’s a great read whether you’re interested in pinball or not.

At this point, I was out of cash, but had spotted a few more things I wanted to buy, so I wandered into the hotel lobby to get some cash. This was a silly thing to do since (as in past years) the ATM was broken. This is a regular problem with the Marriott at SPX and really needs to be addressed. Most folks with tables at the show can accept only cash and if the show is going to be in some parking lot wasteland then the hosting facility needs to have a ready-for-prime-time ATM.

Fortunately, I was grousing about this to J. Chris Campbell and he offered me a quick cash infusion which sent me back out on the floor to pick up a few more books that I’d eyeballed:

  • Diary Comics #1 – Dustin Harbin (with great hobo sketch by Dustin!)
  • Dharbin #2 – Dustin Harbin
  • Seven More Days of Not Getting Eaten – Matt Wiegle
  • Wiegle for Tarzan – Matt Wiegle
  • The Numbers of the Beasts – Shawn Cheng

I only attended two panels on Saturday but both were great. The first was the “Focus on James Sturm” panel. I’ve known James for a while and figured I was familiar enough with his “bit” that I’d be able to hear 30 minutes of his panel and then bow out for the Dan Clowes panel.  I found myself, though, surprisingly engaged in James’s talk. I’ve made a mental note to investigate cartoonist Mark Alan Stamaty who James mentions as a major influence–someone I’ve never heard him talk about before. Other artists and writers he discussed as being influences on Market Day were Richard Ford, Raphael Soyer and Lionel Reese (sp?). The Clowes panel had more interesting ideas floating around than I could really wrap my brain around in the alloted hour and I can only hope that whomever was filming the discussion will be magnanimous enough to upload the whole thing to YouTube or Vimeo for all to see and contemplate.

I managed, after a quick dinner, to get a “standing room only” seat for the Ignatz awards. You can get accounts of the ceremony from any number of sources, but I’ll just reiterate what others have said: Liz Bailie did a fantastic job as host, and the awards lived up to their reputation as the shortest ceremony around. probably clocking in at less than an hour.

The post-Ignatz party was the usual affair: expensive beer that no one could afford and a chocolate fruit “waterfall” that no one should really be eating from beyond the first 20 minutes it’s been put out. I wouldn’t swear to the beer prices from years past, but this year’s eight dollars for a Budweiser seemed to me to be squarely in the “highway robbery” realm. If I wanted to got to a small press event in a city with eight dollar beers, I’d go to freakin’ MoCCA! People seemed to find “workarounds” for this though, as with escaped mental patient/comics writer Chris Reilly here who cashed in four drink tickets obtained from god-knows-where:

For obvious reasons, my recollections of the evening become less clear the later things get, but I really enjoyed hanging out with (and I’m most assuredly forgetting people) Adam and Shawn Daughhetee of Heroes Con and Dollar Bin, Roger Langridge, Mike Rhode, Richard Thompson, J. Chris Campbell, Kevin Brownstein, James Sturm, Tom De Haven, and many many others who were subjected to my drunken comics ramblings.

After a quick 30 minutes of cardio at the hotel gym the next morning, I continued my personal tradition of a Sunday morning crab cakes Benedict at the Silver Diner then finally arrived back home in Winston early afternoon via USAir. I loved being at SPX, but now I really look forward to evenings sitting on my screen porch reading all my purchases in the gradually-cooling end of summer air.


Captain Easy, Soldier of Fortune: The Complete Sunday Newspaper Strips Vol. 1

I just finished reading the first volume of the Fantagraphics collected Captain Easy Sunday strips. I’ve been a big Roy Crane fan for a while, but I was mainly interested in the black and white Wash Tubbs dailies. For whatever reason, I’ve always been really fond of the duotone board technique he used for those strips and you can see me shamelessly ripping off paying homage to Crane throughout my first book, Farewell, Georgia. Although NBM had reprinted the Wash Tubbs dailies a while back, the print quality was quite poor and didn’t accurately reproduce the the duotone shading from the original strips. I was therefore somewhat disappointed when I first heard that Fantagraphics would be starting their Crane reprint series not with the dailies, but with the color Sunday Captain Easy strips. (Captain Easy was a character who appeared in the original Wash Tubbs strip and eventually took over the story, becoming its lead character and starring in his own Sunday series.)Before now my interest in Roy Crane had been mainly aesthetic; the black and white Wash Tubbs strips are truly things of beauty, but the stories are for the most part unremarkable. My sit-down read of this Captain Easy volume is really the first time I’ve devoted much time to actually digesting the narrative of Crane’s work–and the first time I’ve really read and enjoyed an “adventure” strip (unless you count Segar’s Popeye).

When I’ve mentioned to folks how much I’ve been enjoying this book, the usual response is, “You really should read Terry and the Pirates.”  And, indeed, I probably should go back and re-read Caniff; I’ve never read a sizable chunk of Terry and the Pirates start to finish–at least not in recent memory.

Comparing Easy vs. Terry side by side wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense since the former is really the progenitor of the latter. Aesthetically, though, there is a certain lightness to Easy that isn’t present in the technically beautiful but somewhat staid artwork of Terry and the Pirates.  For all that stunning chiaroscuro of  Caniff’s work, Crane seems to my eyes to be a cartoonist drawing cartoons, whereas Caniff hits me as a cartoonist drawing little, still movies (if that makes any sense). Although certainly not the draftsman that Caniff was, Crane is a cartoonist much more of the medium.

Another thing that I really enjoyed about this book was seeing a soon-to-be-standard comics genre really finding its feet as the strip progresses.  Sometimes all pistons are firing (as in the strip’s many great escape sequences) and sometimes things fall on their faces (like the extended and not very funny sequence of Easy calling Pippy everything buy “Pippy”) but I really love seeing Crane  poking around and exploring the possibilities of using a comic strip to tell a fairly straight-ahead adventure story.  Nowhere is this struggle more evident on the visual level than with Crane’s drawings of animals.  Even when he’s abandoned the goofy/cartoony Wash Tubbs-esque character designs for his human characters in favor of the square-jawed Easy template that set the standard for everything that came after it, his animals are still really goofy-looking:

A final observation: this may be complete coincidence, but I often found myself struck by similarities between Captain Easy and the Indiana Jones films. There’s of course just his general square-jawed, grizzled, squinty appearance which is quite similar to Harrison Ford’s look in the movies, but also some specific sequences–for instance one in which Easy and his companion are offered a starving village’s last bits of good food in an attempt to woo him to their cause.


Sketchbook 9/4

I’ve been doing some of these “girls’ hair” warm-up exercises that John K. posted over at his blog a while back. I’m not wholly happy with them–I think I’m concentrating too much on detail to the detriment of overall form–but I’ll maybe attempt another batch of them soon.


The Mystic Yak

A while back, cartoonist/teacher Andrew Wales was nice enough to send me a big stack of issues of his series, Eclectic Comics. I thoroughly enjoyed the books and am a bit ashamed that it’s taken me so long to drum up a “thank you” sketch to send his way.  Here (with some very quick digital color) is my version of Andrew’s character, the Mystic Yak.  In my version, I’ve cast him as Plato from the well-known Raphael fresco, The School of Athens.


Process: Oyster War pg. 20 Start to Finish

Well, here’s the finished colored version of pg. 20 of Oyster War that I’ve been posting intermittently at various stages of completion.  If I had to do it over again, I’d probably have picked a different page from this chapter to highlight since this page wound up using mostly literal color, not the more expressive/narrative color that I find much more interesting. At any rate, here’s the finished page, along with reposted inks, pencils and thumbnail pages so you can see the whole process start to finish:


Sketchbook 8/26

I haven’t posted anything from my sketchbook recently, so here’re some hands from the current issues of TIME and Vanity Fair.


Proposals: Out with the Old, In with the New

While there are a few (like maybe one or two) editors who’ve not definitively responded to the Count of Monte Cristo graphic novel proposal I’d been working on a month or two ago, it looks like it’s time to consider it officially dead in the water–or at least, “shelved” for the time being.  I’m continuing to work on Oyster War as time allows, but I’m also starting work on another GN proposal based on an idea (albeit a pretty vague one) that I’ve been kicking around for a while: a GN about a line cook who’s a touring musician on the weekends.  Things culinary are hot, hot, hot in the prose publishing world, but the domestic comics world hasn’t really touched much on food and cooking as a subject. There are, though, several excellent cooking Manga that have been pretty influential in pushing me this direction: mainly Oishinbo, but also things like Antique Bakery and Iron Wok.  I’m not going to divulge too much until I’ve got things more sorted out story-wise, but I decided to move ahead with this as a proposal–instead of any number of other things that I’ve got gestating at the moment–mainly because I finally figured out a way to interconnect the culinary and musical portions of the story.

Now, if you know anything about me personally, you know that I worked in kitchens throughout the 90s and was in fact a touring musician on the weekends.  This is not a coincidence.  Rest assured, those of you who knew me then, this is a work of fiction. I can’t help, though, but to draw on some of my own experiences from that period as I start putting this together.  I am, though, designing the characters in the band as deliberate visual homages to the guys that I played music with back in those halcyon days.  I imagine that by the time ink hits paper to do some test pages they’ll look a lot less similar to anyone “real life,” but I’m using them as a starting point.  In the preliminary character designs above you can see the main character (nameless at the moment, designated in my notes only as “H.P.” for “hero/protagonist”) on the left in chef gear and then in his street clothes, and his bandmates to the right.  I can see now that I’ve got them all together that I really need to rework the two guys with dark hair so that they’re not so similar in basic shape.

Tentatively, the book’s called “In The Weeds,” a phrase that you will know if you’ve ever worked in a restaurant.


I’m a “Character” in Today’s NY Times

My friend (and screenwriter) Angus MacLachlan has a short article in the “Lives” section of today’s New York Times. It’s a true story that takes place in our neighborhood (Angus lives around the corner from me) and the pictured chair lived in my studio for about a year between the events detailed in the story, although it was green then and smelled vaguely of dog pee.

Angus had sent me an early draft of this story in which he’d changed my name to “Dan Toole.”  I requested a rewrite with that altered it to “Dr. Magnus R. Steele” but apparently the Times requires writers to use real names for this feature, so it’s back to “Ben Towle” here.  They even had a fact checker call apparently. (This fact check guy must have been on a smoke break during the buildup to the Iraq War.  [Zing!!!]) Anyway, here’s the article.


Oyster War Page Progress: Inks

As mentioned a few posts back, I’ve picked a page from the current chapter of Oyster War to post progress on as it moves to completion.  I’ve now got that particular page inked, so here it is:

As with most everything I draw, this page looked a lot more impressive in my brain, but I still think it turned out reasonably well.  I’ve got three more pages to ink and then I’m going to start coloring this chapter.  For reference, here’s the pencils of this same page:


Local “Comic Book Reading Room”

Notice anything unusual about the image on the cover of our local monthly rag?  I sure didn’t.  I gave it a cursory flip-through and then left it on the coffee table.  My two year old daughter, though, is apparently far more observant than I; she looked at it and then presented it back to me with an emphatic, “Look, Daddy.  It’s TinTin and his little dog Snowy!”  Sure enough, in the back right corner of the room is some kind of weird stand-thing, and in it is a book with TinTin and Snowy on the cover.

I have no idea what that particular book is, but you can see just below it a French edition of The Blue Lotus.  Sitting on the table front and center is the Essex County collection by Jeff Lemire. According to the picture credit, this some local person’s “comic book reading room.”  Now I’m really intrigued.  Winston-Salem’s not that big a place and most of the graphic novel-reading types here are known to one another.  Anyway, now check out the bookshelf in the back and you can see that it’s stocked with some pretty good GNs.  Here’s the ones I think I recognize from the spine:

1) Footnotes in Gaza – Joe Sacco

2) Volumes of Black Jack? – Osamu Tezuka

3) Volumes of the D&Q Yoshihiro Tatsumi collections

4) Black Hole? – Charles Burns

5) Asterios Polyp – David Mazzucchelli

6) Maybe Acme Novelty Library #14 – Chris Ware

7) More TinTin?

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