I'm a comic book character!

Comics, Review, Travel

Last night I was reading Gabrielle Bell‘s latest Lucky (vol. 2, number 1), and suddenly, there I was: a character in the story! This scene takes place as we were driving back from SPX 2006. It all seemed very familiar to me, but since Gabrielle had changed everyone’s names, it wasn’t until this panel (page 7, panel 5) that I realized it was me at the wheel! (For completeness’ sake, that’s joanreilly in the front passenger seat, and Gabrielle, Karen Sneider as “Edith”, and Jon Lewis [left to right] in the back. I’m not gonna tell you who “Julien” really is.) That was a fun D.C.-NYC trip: Karen kept us in stitches the whole way. IMHO, she’s one of the funniest people on earth — and her comix are the cat’s meow.

Lucky vol. 2,  no. 1, p. 7, panel 5

P.S. I really enjoyed that issue of Lucky (even tho’ Gabrielle drew me wearing a collared shirt, which almost never happens in real life). Gabrielle is quickly rising up the ranks to become a “top-tier” cartoonist. Her work is so delicate and understated, yet packs such a punch. Like great short fiction. The second story in this issue, “My Affliction,” is a wonderful, poignant, surrealist classic. And I love how Gabrielle had D&Q produce the book in essentially the same way she put together her minis when she was self-publishing Lucky for all those years.

NY Comic-Con = Bleaugh


I hate to be a hater, BUT I THOUGHT THE NEW YORK COMIC-CON SUCKED! I’ve written approvingly of the con in the past, but it’s been steadily going downhill, and this past weekend was its nadir. When they started the show in 2006, they made a concerted effort to attract alternative and “literary” publishers and cartoonists, which they balanced with an understandably mostly mainstream vibe, and I appreciated the influx of potential new readers.

But then last year, the show began seriously tilting toward the same superhero/manga/gaming/merchandising thrust of the other mega-cons like San Diego and Chicago; and this year, it was full-bore. In 2007, although it was a bit of a pain squeezing through the crowds, I was still able to see friends and compatriots like Chris Staros of Top Shelf, Sheila Keenan at Scholastic, Mark Siegel at First Second, and the like; this year, I couldn’t find any of them. (I know, I know, Sheila is no longer with Scholastic, but you get the point.) Granted, I showed up with Phoebe at about 1 pm on Saturday, which was probably the craziest time, but it was a madhouse, a zoo, a freak show, a … you get the drift. I can’t say enough how unpleasant it is to be jostled, squeezed, and b.o.-bombarded by hordes of Star Wars stormtroopers, flabby “superheroes,” and wannabe Suicide Girls!

I saw a small Fantagraphics table, but absolutely no other representatives of —  or cartoonists from — the alternative industry. Even the Vertigo booth (they were kind enough to provide me a free pass due to my work on American Splendor) was so packed and chaotic, that I didn’t dare venture in there to say hi to editors Jonathan Vankin and Mark Doyle. (I did spot

, signing copies of Shooting War, and briefly spoke to

before he did a panel, but that was really it in terms of folks I knew.) I guess after last year, there was a general consensus by folks with non-mainstream agendas to skip this show. I wish I had gotten the memo!

To me, nothing at the show really was about comics, about great stories, exciting art, innovative uses of the form. It’s all flash, marketing, cross-branding, and perpetuating the most crass, adolescent, and stupefying elements of genre content. For all I know, the panels may have been interesting and enlightening, but after all, there’s only so much programing you can fill with peaens to Battlestar Galactica and tributes of the death of Captain America. (I did hear that the ACT-I-VATE panel on Friday went well, which I’m thrilled about.) And the place was such a circus, that even if I had seen, say an editor I knew, it was no environment in which to review a project or discus possible new ones.

So now I know I can skip this show in the future and stick to indy-centered cons like SPX and MoCCA. If nothing else, the experience reminds me why those kind of shows (and APE, and SPACE, and Stumptown, etc.), were created, and how anachronistic (and insulting!) cons like this one are in terms of their portrayal of the comics industry as a whole.

Alternative Media Expo '08 Report


My little weekend trip to New Orleans was a great success. Things didn’t start out auspiciously, though, as I awoke Friday to five inches of snow on the ground. But after sitting on the plane for ninety minutes and then undergoing a thirty-minute de-icing procedure, my flight did manage to take off. The 60- and 70-degree weather of NOLA was a nice respite from the chilly winter temps I left behind.

The Alternative Media Expo was a huge triumph for show organizer/my host/A.D. character Leo McGovern/antigravity_no. The Expo’s new location at the Contemporary Arts Center warehouse was tailor-made for the show, which boasted over 80 exhibitors and an attendance twice its previous high-mark, with over 650 paid attendees. As opposed to a typically indy comix show, the Expo was an intriguing mix of cartoonists and comics retailers (one of whom, Beth’s Books, had a great collection of alternative GNs, including some of my stuff!), zinesters, self-published authors, Etsy craftspeople, painters, video artists, and filmmakers. NOLA’s tattooed, pierced hipster contingent was in full effect, both behind the tables and in the aisles. Local cartoonist Caesar Meadows’s work really impressed me, with his humorous handmade minis delivered in unexpected ways: mini-CDs, gumball machines, and packs of cards, just to name a few.

As “special guest,” I had pride of place at the show, with a table all to myself right where the crowd came in. Many folks were alerted to A.D. by last week’s Gambit cover story, and I met all sorts of people who’ve been following the project. People kept thanking me for telling their story, and all I could do was thank them in return for being patient with my occasional well-meaning storytelling gaffes. I heard many hurricane stories, which just reminded me once again how A.D. is just scratching the surface, and how many stories there are to be told.

I was overwhelmed when a student at Loyola told me she was studying A.D. in her class on the graphic novel, and also by a teacher at the University of New Orleans who informed me that she was using A.D. as a model for her nonfiction comics class! Some of the Katrina-related comics from that class are online at www.c327.com/comic; I’ll be adding a link to them on the A.D. resource area soon. Caesar Meadows is also working on a Katrina-related comic, which I will definitely add as a resource on the A.D. site when he gets it uploaded to a stable URL.

Besides promoting A.D. with free handouts we printed up for the show, I sold a good number of my books, including Katrina Came Calling, A Few Perfect Hours, both issues of The Vagabonds, and even a couple copies of Titans of Finance. I was concerned that locals might be offended by K.C.C., but to the contrary people seemed intrigued by an outsider’s perspective on the storm and its aftermath. I ended up selling all the copies I had brought with me. I also picked up a copy of NOLA local Michael Bevis’s hurricane survival tale, And God Looked Away: A Katrina Journal (self-published through Lulu.com), which I definitely look forward to reading.

One funny note: On two occasions, upon seeing the 9-11: Emergency Relief book I brought with me, someone inquired if there was “anything in there about what really happened with the Twin Towers? You know, with the flurry of insider trading that took place, and reports of the firemen hearing explosions in the basement,” etc., etc. They could see I had no patience for their conspiracy theories, however, and quickly lost interest and walked away.

Leo & his girlfriend (and A.D. character as well) Michelle were terrific hosts, driving me all around and making sure I had a good time after the Expo. Along with fellow out-of-town guest (and talented cartoonist in his own right, tobycraig, who also makes a couple of cameos in A.D.), we hit some great eating spots: muffaletta at Wit’s End, Wasabi in the Marigny, coffee at Fair Grinds, brunch and delicious fresh-squeezed OJ at Surrey’s on Magazine Street, gelato at Brocato’s, and fried chicken and peas at Mandina’s (both in Mid-City). I didn’t make it to the French Quarter this trip, but I even got beignets at the Café du Monde in Metairie on the way to the airport.

We even got to take in the Oscars at a friend’s place, watching on DVR delay and skipping through the commercials and boring speeches on a giant flatscreen TV. In fact, everywhere I went I was confronted by these 50”– 60” monstrosities. To me, New Orleans’ new monicker is Flatscreen City! When I mentioned this to my hosts, they laughed about this being my FEMA money at work!

Overall, New Orleans seems much livelier than it was a year ago, and the inhabitants’ moods seem much more upbeat. Of course, I didn’t tour through the Ninth Ward or Gentilly, but there was a marked difference in the overall sense of fear and menace. And the streets of Mid-City were visibly much more populated than last January.

I topped off the trip with some great video interviews with Leo and fellow A.D. character Denise, who is back in New Orleans after a two-plus-year exile in Baton Rouge. We’ll be posting those interviews on the A.D. site in no time. Leo & Denise met in person for the first time, and now Leo has had the occasion to meet all the other A.D. characters except Kevin, who’s still at school out in Ohio at Oberlin (my alma mater!).

My flight back was delay free, and I got home just in time to give Phoebe her bottle and tuck her in bed. Now it’s on to finishing A.D. chapter 10!

Caesar (left) and Toby (right) amongst others, greet the crowds

Michelle helps Leo count receipts (note the flatscreen TV)

Sushi @ Wasabi’s in the Marigny

"A.D." hits NOLA!


Leo McGovernCheck out this week’s Gambit Weekly (New Orleans’ alternative weekly) cover story for a feature on the Alternative Media Expo, created and run by none other than A.D.‘s very own Leo McGovern (a.k.a.

 ). I’ll be down in NOLA this weekend as a “special guest” of the Expo, and the GW piece devotes a large chunk to A.D. and Leo’s role in it.

The Expo is happening this Saturday, Feb. 23, from noon–7 pm, at the Warehouse at the Contemporary Arts Center (900 Camp Street), New Orleans, Louisiana. For those of you in the Crescent City, there’s no better deal for your $5 than the Expo: comics, zines, fashion, photography, film, arts, and crafts — over 80 exhibitors! So swing by to say hi, pick up a signed A.D. giveaway, and check out what the Expo has to offer.

Besides attending the Expo, I’ll be using my weekend visit to gather more material for future chapters, meet up with whichever “characters” are in town, eat some great food, listen to some live music, and the like.

More info about the Expo here and here (which also features a great spoof of the classic Charles Atlas “Hey Skinny” or “The Insult That Made a Man Out of Mac!” ad).

(By the way, did you know I did a version of the “Mac” ad once too? Yep, as an assignment for Fortune Small Business (FSB) magazine. It’s kind of obscure, but here it is anyway. Someday, I’d like to see someone collect all the parodies, pastiches, tributes, and homages to that one ad. This Gene Kannenberg piece is the closes thing I could find.)

[Cross-posted to


Alternative-ly, I'll be @ the New York Comic-Con


The First annual New York Comic-Con is invading the Javits Center this weekend, and I’ll be there along with selected other Alternative Comics artists: man_size, bertozzi, Sam Henderson, Jon Lewis, Karen Sneider, Bishakh Som, Sara Varon, Gabrielle Bell, etc. In fact, because publisher indymag can’t make it, I’ll be running the Alternative Comics booth, pimping not just my own stuff but the whole line.

I don’t know what to expect from this con, but I infer that they’re trying to ape the San Diego con in terms of mass market appeal. Personally, I DETEST mainstream conventions (which is why I appreciate SPX and MoCCA so muchly). In fact, I’m still meaning to write up a little something on the horror that was the last con I attended, Big Apple, back in November. But I digress.

If anyone is available to help me out at the Alternative booth during the con, in terms of meeting & greeting, handling sales, etc., I’ll make sure it’s worth your while in free merch.

Here’s my design for the giant (7-1/2 foot x 10 foot) booth backdrop at the show:

Image hosting by Photobucket

Pekar, Spain, Dino, Josh Hit the Big Apple


Look for me at the Big Apple Con on Sunday (Nov. 20). Along with artists Spain Rodriguez and Dean Haspiel, and of course the man himself, Harvey Pekar, I’ll be part of the 3pm panel: Meet the Creators of American Splendor. I swore off mainstream cons years ago, but the’re attempting to expand their base by inviting more indy/underground creators, so… Big Apple Con Comic Book, Art & Toy Show, Fri.–Sun., Penn Plaza Pavilion, 401 Seventh Ave (33rd St.), NYC, $15.

SPX program cover

Illustration, Work

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThrough a series of coincidences, I got invited to draw the cover for this year’s SPX program. Seeing that Harvey Pekar will be a special guest at this year’s show, SPX Executive Director Steve Conley thought a Pekar theme would be appropriate.

I talked it over with Harvey, and he suggested showing himself at the show, with me, man_size, and Ed Piskor, all artists of his who will also be in attendance. Harv is saying, “Wow, after all the great things Dean and Josh have been tellin’ me about this expo, and now I’m here finally — as a guest with his own booth no less.” Pekar also suggested having me, man_size, and Piskor coming up with our own lines of dialogue.

Given Harvey’s line, I felt my obligation as the artist was to:

a.) promote Harvey being at the show
b.) Promote SPX itself

Thus, my sketch showed a line of eager fans in front of Harvey at his booth as he signs copies of his books, DVDs, etc. Behind him we see other exhibitors, fans, cartoonists, etc, in the Versailles Room. Showing the American Splendor artists (me, man_size, & Piskor) didn’t seem as important, and took away from the other two important elements above.

So I decided to render us artists as bobble-head dolls! man_size is perched on a pile of The Quitter, the new book he’s got coming out this fall, Piskor is on a pile of Macedonias, the book he’s working on, and my bobblehead doll is situated in front of the Best of American Splendor book, which features a number of pieces with my art. I think it’s a funny conceit, and a sly allusion to the Harvey Pekar bobblehead dolls which were part of the promotion of the American Splendor movie. (I own one myself.)

I left space for each of us bobbleheads to have a line of thought- balloon dialogue, but personally I thought that took away from the concept. Having the dolls talking was just a little too symbolic and surreal. After talking it over with Steve and man_size we decided to keep the bobbleheads mum, so I was happy to scrap that. Neither man_size nor Ed had come up with lines of dialogue anyway!

So there you have it. I finished drawing the actual cover yesterday and am coloring it today. There are a lot of people in the background scenes — see if you recognize any familiar faces.

MoCCA 2005!


The 3rd annual MoCCA Arts Festival returns to the Puck Building in NYC this weekend, June 11–12. I’ll be there at tables A49 – A50 with the Alternative Comics crowd, hopefully sporting copies of a new mini-comic, The Vagabonds 1.5: The Collaboration Issue. I’ll also be selling and signing copies of A Few Perfect Hours.

Also: Check out the June/July 2005 issue of Hadassah magazine for a profile of the international Jewish cartoonist community, everyone from Tomer & Asaf Hanukah, to Joann Sfar, to Vittorio Giardino, to Will Eisner, to Peter Kuper, to, well, yours truly.