I’ve been working on the East Coast Comicon for over a year — it’s the biggest event to date that I’ve ever run; 300 exhibitor booths, 10,000 attendees, 80 guest artists, a dinner Saturday night, guests flying in from all over the country and the U.K. So I’ve had my hands full — no complaints or excuses, but I just haven’t had much time to sit and draw. Really draw. I did a new cover for Rat Bastard #2, and I’ll post that here eventually, but I really haven’t been able to draw like I used to. So when I did try to draw, it was painful. No, really. Not physically, but it was agony trying to find the time, and then trying to crank something out. It’s not like turning on a faucet and the art just flows. It’s more like going back to the gym after being away for six months. It took me two weeks to come up with piece and get the likenesses down. It will be used for a poster with many other pop culture characters dressed as other pop culture characters. Hopefully I can continue now that I’ve cleaned all my encrusted Rapidographs and sharpened all my pencils.
Magazine illustrator Danny Hellman had offered to make a mermaid on the beach covered in tattoos, reading comics. The sketches were exactly the look I was hoping for and Hellman’s style is a favorite of mine. But he got really busy with some paying gigs, and I told him I’d jump in and bang something out. Being from the area, I knew Tillie was the character associated with Asbury Park since the old amusement park days. He can still be found on T-shirts, buildings, even tattoos (Rob Bruce has one on each arm). So I cast him as an Alfred E. Neuman poser, just as Alfred would do every month on the cover of MAD Magazine. It was a nod to our guest Al Jaffee, and to our collective humor about what we were doing — we were taking the piss out of the comic convention industry.
And there’s a 10 foot version hanging in Convention Hall.
Okay — some time has passed since Rob Bruce and I launched the Asbury Park Comicon. And at some point I’ll write more about what went into making it a reality. I could say it was a lot of work or it was hard, but there’s no way to measure that, and hard compared to what? We’d just come off of Hurricane Sandy — I think what the victims of the storm were going through was hard, what Rob and I went through was a challenge.
But with everything that life, nature, and city politics put in our way, we did reach May 30th, 2013 and the fans showed up. As did the talent. It was a glorious, if not frantic day. Friends from as far back as high school visited to wish me well (brought together through the magic of social media), as well as family, neighbors, old employees from my screen printing days, and the comics community.
We invited some great guests, some who’ve turned into friends. I especially had a great time with Ren & Stimpy co-creator Bob Camp and punk artist John Holmstom.
At one point at dinner with them, I laughed so hard I though shrimp would shoot out of my nostrils.
Other than that, the day was a blur with interviews, autographs, a costume contest judged by my neighborhood celebs Bryan Johnson, Mike Zapcic and Ming Chen of AMC-TV’s Comic Book Men, and Brian O’Halloran of the film Clerk’s.
Oh, yeah — and here’s MAD Magazine’s Al Jaffee a week after turning 95 with me on the Asbury Park boardwalk. When I originally invited him 6 months earlier, he said, “Cliff, I’ll be there if I’m still alive.” To which I replied “Me too, Al.” And a month later I was hit by a car. So never kid about that shit.
And it was Judie’s birthday and Laura Dardy made her a special gluten free cake!
I have a lot more to say about this event, with Allen Bellman, Danny Fingeroth, Herb Trimpe, Evan Dorkin Sarah Dyer, Jim Salicrup, and will ad to this soon.
Happy Birthday to my friend and mentor John van Hamersveld. While I have no great love for my years in Los Angeles (2000 to 2004), my time spent with John was something I will always be grateful for. In a town full of social climbers and fame addicted narcissistic idiots, John was a man of great wisdom and talent, a man who exuded a love of art and creativity.
There are few I can credit with actually changing my thinking, but John did that, though not through argument or constant rants, but by posing questions, almost as if talking to himself, sometimes just loud enough for me to hear. His subtle engagement about the politics of the time, the war, whole horrible state of the country chipped away at my A-political stance. I hadn’t voted in over a decade, but ever since I’ve moved back to New Jersey, I never missed an election.
I worked closely with John to restore images from his incredible career to print posters from a large format giclee printer I had in my studio in North Hollywood. He’d created some of the most iconic images of the 60’s and 70’s; album covers such as The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour, Rolling Stones “Exile On Main Street”, Kiss “Hotter Than Hell”, Beach Boys “Wild Honey”, Blondie “Eat To The Beat”, posters for The Velvet Underground, Hendrix, Cream, and possibly the greatest poster of all time: The Endless Summer.
We spent long hours together in my studio, and he told me stories about meeting the Beatles, photographing the Stones, hanging out with Dylan, and the death of Rick Griffin. But the best stories were about art, about creating images. I’d always felt schizophrenic in my desire to explore a variety of styles. But when I looked at John’s body of work, I realized it was quite healthy to go off in different directions and not repeat one’s self. I also learned to be okay with my dyslexia, John said it was our advantage to see things differently.
So thank you John, for the time we spent, for your profound influence on my thinking. And a very happy birthday.
A lot of people are still doing a lot of good for the people at the Jersey shore after Hurricane Sandy. The band P.O.D come to the rescue and I was asked to do this poster for the benefit. This is my first post since running Asbury Park Comicon — I’ve had a lot on my plate since that glorious day at Convention Hall back on March 29th, 2013. I’ll have a few thoughts and some photos, but first, I had to deliver this art and a whole bunch of other things needed to be dealt with to get Asbury Park Comicon 2014 rolling.
Some friends of mine out in L.A. are making a wild webisode show called Agent 88. It’s been described as “Quentin Tarentino meets Mr. Magoo.” They’ve asked me and other artists such as Jim Mahfood, Simon Bisley, Kevin Eastman, David Mack, and many other talented humans to each contribute a page for a book that will be printed by the folks at Heavy Metal Magine. Looks like a groundbreaking show for the Web. Check it out at www.agent88films.com.
Here at the Jersey Shore, we have so many concerned friends who care for wildlife, but the future Animal Rescue Hall of Famer (if there was such a thing) is my friend Alison Evans-Fragale. It’s not enough that her day gig is being a nurse, but in her spare time, she’s rescuing beached seals, dolphins, and anything else that swims, crawls or flies. So when she asked me to make a poster for a fundraiser for the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, I couldn’t refuse.
You may have heard David McCullough as the narrator on many of Ken Burns’ documentaries on PBS such as The Civil War, The Brooklyn Bridge, and many episodes of the American Experience. McCullough speaks like the voice of history, probably because he’s not just reading a script, but because he’s steeped in the material.
His latest endeavor, weighing in at 752 pages is titled The Greater Journey. It’s a collection of accounts of some the 19th Century’s greatest American artists, medical students, writers, thinkers, diplomats and scientist, who all were drawn to Paris for enlightenment. Such names as Mary Cassatt, Oliver WendelL Holmes, John Singer Sargent appear in their their formative years and go on to greatness. But my favorite was the story of the painter Samuel Morse, who invents the telegraph on a steamship voyage home from France.
Other great accounts are the horrors and stupidity of the Franco Prussian War and the surgery school that fed human remains to a cage full of dogs. Those were the good old days!
I don’t believe the proliferation of digital comics sold on tablets will destroy brick and mortar comic shops. I didn’t used to, but I’ve changed my belief on the subject of the demise of the comic shops. Comic shops are not record shops, which they’ve been compared to and may not suffer the same fate. Many experts and fans have predicted that as MP3s decimated the CD retail market, so too the comic shops will fall because of comic apps. While there are similarities in their shared participation in the digital revolution, they are also very different markets. For one, comics are a much smaller industry. CDs had become wildly overpriced and many consumers grew to despise the record industry, feeling no guilt in stealing music from greedy corporations. Here’s a few reasons why I feel comic shops won’t be wiped out by apps:
1. Use: Relatively few people own the tablets to read comics on apps. Up until just recently, a tablet cost a minimum of $500. With the introduction of the Kindle Fire, the price drops down to $200, but they’re not for everyone. They’re buggy, awkward, and only 7 inches, which is too small to comfortably read a comic compared to the iPad. It will be several years until the devices are ubiquitous and as elegant (if ever) as the iPad.
2. Price: comics on tablets are not cheap. Unlike, MP3s, they are not perceived as being fairly price. Unlike ebooks, they’re not cheaper than their physical version.
3. Portability and Ownership: Digital comics can’t be moved from one app to another. They can’t be shared, and we don’t really get to own them, again, unlike their cousins the ebook.
4. The Artifact: So much of the activity at comic conventions has to do with signings. Many comic shops also have signings. Physical books are required for these signings to create a documented interaction between the fan and the book’s creator. The artifact, in this case a comic book, becomes a cherished item, a memento of a moment shared between the fan and the artist. There is a bond with the creator that many fans experience, which never fades. It is a connection with someone they admire, and they will remember it and speak fondly of it over decades. They can reach for the artifact, and show it to friends or simply look upon it in a quiet moment by themselves and recall the events that led to them attaining the prized signature. There is no such interaction with an app based comic.
So what’s wrong with so many of America’s comic shops? For one, they’re not in the comics business, they’re in the super hero business. The super hero business is strangling the comics business. Most comic shops (not all) in America are focused disproportionately on super heroes. Believe it or not, there are many people who don’t give a rat’s ass about anything that Marvel and DC are publishing. There are a lot of people out there who’d rather read about history, humor, fantasy, crime, mystery, sci-fi, young adult, horror, romance etc. While Marvel and DC may touch upon those categories, their primary thrust is super powered, costumed characters.That leaves the vast majority of potential comic readers with little to no reason to ever enter a comic shop.
Recently, I visited two comic shops that had a very small percentage of comics about super heroes — and the shops were busy, packed, thriving. The owners were friendly, enthusiastic, talkative, helpful. They carried graphic novels, trade paperbacks, obscure comics, weird comics, funny comics, comics for kids, comics not suitable for kids, arty comics, mini comics, indie comics, hardcover collections, comics by local artists, comics from abroad… Wow! I’m speaking of course of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics and Bergen Street Comics – two very different stores in appearance, presentation, and offerings, but similar that they both operate under the assumption that super heroes are only a tiny portion of what the public wants when it comes to comics.
While there are many innovative comic retailers around the country, these are the creative ones I’ve recently seen firsthand. I’ve been in many of the old model: dirty, sloppy, poorly lit, with their narrow-intrest inventory, and the sweatpants-wearing retailers who believe showering is optional. These shops are the sad temples of the all-boy’s club of nerd world. The artform of comics has been monopolized and ghettoized by the dorks for the past 30 years. It’s exciting to see pro-active shopkeepers re-inventing comic retailing for a new era of expanded customer base. One where females feel welcomed in by an attentiveness to detail and variety of genres. Where nerds and normals can shop under the same roof. Where comics are treated as literature rather than collectables.
It is the Bergen Street’s and Desert Island’s who are cultivating a clientele for the comic shop of the future, where super heroes are only one category in a wide variety of comic book offerings. Along with a customer friendly environment, special events, and ever changing displays and stock, these places become much more than comic shops. They are a part of a community, dare I say a scene. Super hero comic book sales in shops will diminish, and the smart retailers won’t try to make up for it with T-shirts and toys, they will make up for it by selling more comics to more different types of shoppers.