My old buddy/Hang Dai Editions partner/former Keyhole co-conspirator Dean Haspiel has just released Fear My Dear: A Billy Dogma Experience (Z2 Comics) and you must buy it! Completely remastered from the webcomic that ran online on ACT-I-VATE, it’s a gorgeous square-bound objet d’art. Dino asked me to write the book’s introduction, and I was honored to oblige: see how many phrases I copped directly from Billy, Jane, et al…
Friends, folks, and jackasses:
You are in for a treat: Dean Haspiel at the height of his powers. It’s all here: Dino’s spectacular storytelling, his gorgeous, stylish brushstrokes—and his iconic creation Billy Dogma in a way we’ve never seen him before: rebooted, stripped-down to his purest essence.
The original Billy was a philosopher for the 1990s, sounding off in his own unique way about the vagaries of fame, neighborliness, and the functional necessity of women’s hips. There’s a great moment in Fear My Dear when Billy pauses in the midst of furious action. He pauses, and he… thinks! Before he acts! It’s a first for the character, and it sparks a metamorphosis: the square-jawed philosopher transforms into a scruffy desert prophet. Billy Dogma 2.0 is all about the heart—and the hard lesson that “you don’t get to love when you love like you love.”
The primary object of Billy’s love, of course, is the spectacularly bespectacled Jane Legit. And In “Immortal,” the red-soaked opening story, Billy and Jane’s “war of woo” is played out—disastrously—on the mean streets of Trip City. (Billy and Jane are reality stars without the mediating authority of television.) And all the inhabitants of Trip City, from the beat cops to the regulars over at Lucy’s Bar, tell the tale. One of the great pleasures of all Billy Dogma stories is the language. Billy has always had the gift of gab—Jane too—and here we discover that apparently everyone in Trip City talks in the same lingo: part hard-boiled slang, part beat poetry. Thus we learn about “indulging a ruse,” “a lonely monster sans purpose,” and “steeping in seasons of cosmic love.” Sometimes your only option is to laugh and scratch your head at Dino’s unfathomable brilliance, but there’s no doubt it rings a cryptic coda.
From “Immortal” we segue into the golden-accented tones of the title story, as Billy embarks on a vision quest to (literally) get his head on straight. I won’t spoil the details of his heroic journey, but what emerges is Billy’s “secret origin:” Who is he? Where does he come from? What’s the deal with that Berserk Gun? Bite the bullet and take the bait—all shall be revealed.
Hopefully, your eyes are sensitive to feelings, because Fear My Dear is beautiful, funny, and guaranteed to make you go, “Awww”! I love Dino’s Billy Dogma tales precisely because they’re so completely different from my own work—fantastic, imagistic, and preoccupied by the BIG QUESTIONS. And after reading Fear My Dear, I bet you’ll love them too.
Fear My Dear is Dino’s most ambitious work to date. Harder than the hardest heart attack, it will spark the napalm in your apocalypse. So, sally forth, reader—it’s as easy as hopscotch!
To be fair to myself, as I mentioned at the top, there were a few things that have happened since 2006 that slowed the release of this issue. In addition to the “births” of Phoebe, A.D., and The Influencing Machine, there was the Knight-Wallace journalism fellowship at the University of Michigan, which ended just last year.
What with A.D. and The Influencing Machine, I’ve spent the last half-decade or so in the trade books arena, with publishers like Pantheon and W.W. Norton. As wonderful as it has been to work with those major players, I really missed the world of alternative comic books and indy shows. That’s another reason why I’m so excited to be joining forces with Dean Haspiel, Seth Kushner, and Gregory Benton at Hang Dai Editions.
What draws me to Hang Dai is the emphasis on creator-owned publications and personal interactions with readers. There was a great quote from an interview with the HDE guys that went like this: “You’ll get the books made by hand from the hands of their creators, which puts the ‘artist’ back in ‘comic arts’ and puts you, the reader, in a position to engage directly with creators.” I cut my teeth in this business through self-publishing, and it’s refreshing to go back to my DIY days.
As many know, my professional relationship with Dean goes back to Keyhole, the two-man anthology we produced in the mid-1990s. (We’ve actually been friends even longer than that—back to our high school days producing superhero comics!) So it’s awesome to join forces with Dino again; as well as with Gregory and Seth, who I’ve also known in the industry for quite a while. (Bleeding Cool did a nice little piece announcing my joining HDE right here.)
So come get a signed copy of The Vagabonds from me at MoCCA Fest. I’ll be at the Hang Dai table (F15/F16) on Sunday, April 6, all day long. The book is $5, and you get a free sketch in each copy you buy. (I’ll also have copies of The Vagabonds #1 & 2, and my other books, should you be looking for those.)
And I swear you won’t have to wait eight years for the next issue of The Vagabonds. In fact, I don’t think you’ll have to wait eight months—look for The Vagabonds #4 in September 2014 at SPX.
GRAPHIC NOVELS AND NON-NOVELS A reading/discussion/signing featuring Jessica Abel, Dean Haspiel (a.k.a. man_size ), and Gabrielle Bell. Moderated by comics historian Peter Sanderson.
In the first event presented jointly by NYU’s School of Continuing and Professional Studies and the literary venue KGB Bar, a panel of comics writers and artists will discuss graphic novels and what American Splendor writer Harvey Pekar has called "graphic non-novels" — memoirs in the form of book-length comics. (Other examples include Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.)
What, precisely, is involved in writing and drawing autobiography, or autobiographically-influenced fiction, and how does that compare with writing/drawing stories that are entirely fictional? What are the special challenges of collaborating on work that straddles fiction and non-? How does one teach — and how can one learn — the art of the graphic non-novel?
Friday, March 6, 2009 7:00pm – 9:00pm KGB Bar, 85 E. 4th Street, New York, NY
A segment on today’s “Brian Lehrer Show” about shopdropping (covertly placing one’s own merchandise on display in a store) reminded me of my own misadventures in this arena.
It was 1997 and I had just moved to San Francisco, to the Mission District. man_size and I were still doing Keyhole, and I soon began frequenting a local shop called Al’s Comics. (I think it’s in a new location now.) Al’s was a cool store: old-style in the sense that it was a sole-proprietorship, but funky in its selection and fairly supportive of indy comics. However, seeing that they didn’t carry Keyhole, I screwed up my courage and approached Al. I don’t know if he was in a bad mood that day, didn’t want to deal with ordering the book from the distributor catalog, or what, but he turned me down cold. That really bummed me out!
So I decided that the only thing to do was to go into Al’s store with a discrete selection of Keyholes(I think we had done four issues at that point) and rack them in with the other indies. Sure, this was giving the comics away for free, but I was convinced that all Keyhole needed was exposure — our little two-man anthology of autobio travel stories, super-psychedelic romance, true stories of the business world, and quirky vignettes deserved a place alongside Sandman and the X-Men (and certainly Hate and Eightball). Once the book was in place, I was convinced that demand for more would force Al into ordering Keyhole via the traditional route.
Doing the deed, however, was one of the most nerve-wracking experiences of my adult life. Ironically, in order to give away my book for free, I had to channel all the skills of my prepubescent shoplifting days: the nonchalant entrance, the pretend perusal of the new comics rack, the eyeing of the store employees to make sure I wasn’t being watched. And then the moment of truth, when I whipped out the Keyholes and stuck them in with the other alt-comix. Whew! The flop-sweat was practically flying off me. Mission accomplished, I bought a random comic to further throw off suspicion (more free money for Al), and quick-marched out of there. Back home, I was quite proud of my little black-ops maneuver.
That is, until a few days later, when I went back to Al’s for my weekly comics. The man himself stopped me at the door. “Hey, Josh. We found a bunch of your books in the comic rack. Did you leave those there?” I was totally busted! Thankfully, though, instead of really being mad, Al was charmed by the whole thing. He ended up keeping the Keyholes and I think he even paid me for them, at a generous 60-40 split.
Shopdroppers of the world unite! Who says un-crime doesn’t pay?
Starting today, man_size & I will begin serializing “Lionel’s Lament,” our unique two-man narrative corpse, on ACT-I-VATE. A new strip appears daily, Monday-Friday, as man-size & I trade episodes in the life of a frankly pathetic young man. Check it out now…
and I will be representing American Splendor at the Broadway branch of the QPL this Thursday. Host Michael Sherer will quiz us about working with writer Harvey Pekar on the series, and we’ll discuss the process of illustrating comics from script to finished product. The discussion will be accompanied by slides of comic art in various stages of completion, and a Q & A session will follow. Should be fun!
Thursday, August 24th at 6pm The Broadway Community Library Auditorium 40-20 Broadway, Long Island City, NY. [R or V to Steinway. Ride as close to the front of the train as possible. When you exit, just walk up the stairs closest to the front of the train. You’ll be on Steinway about half a block from where it intersects with Broadway. Walk up to Broadway, take a right, and the library is the building next to Rite-Aid.]
“Lionel’s Lament,” the ongoing experimental strip by myself and Dean Haspiel, is moving to Serializer.net. The groundbreaking subscriber web-comics site presents two simultaneous “Lionel” storylines — “Lionel AM” and “Lionel PM”. It’s available only on Serializer — tune in each Tuesday for the new episodes. What does the future hold for Lionel? Only time, myself, and Dean will tell…
In 1968, Robert Crumb patrolled the intersection of San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, selling copies of his comic Zap out of a baby carriage. On October 3, 2002, I stood on the corner of Broad and Wall Street in New York City, selling copies of my comic Titans of Finance out of a Nike sports bag. How times have changed.
But still, one thing remains the same: if you try hard enough, you can find your audience. I was there with hundreds of other folks for Ralph Nader’s “Crackdown on Corporate Crime” rally. Nader’s goal was to “focus attention on the vast array of corporate misdeeds and to propose sound remedies that will help shareholders, taxpayers, workers, and consumers tame the reckless and out-of control corporate bosses.” Nader was joined by such progressive luminaries as former NYC mayoral hopeful Mark Green, NY Green Party Gubernatorial Candidate Stanley Aronowitz, singer/songwriter Patti Smith, and talk show host Phil Donahue.
Needless to say, this was a perfect opportunity for me to hawk Titans, billed as “True Tales of Money & Business,” featuring stories of greed, betrayal and indictments, and starring folks like Revlon chairman (and ex-Marvel Comics owner) Ron Perelman, “Chainsaw” Al Dunlap, and bond trader Monroe Trout. As Pete Seeger says, “to everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose.” Last September, when the book came out, the last thing people wanted to read was business-world satire. After all, we had just seen thousands of Wall Streeters massacred in the fall of the World Trade Center. But, a year later, what with the Enron, WorldCom, Global Crossing, and Haliburton scandals leading the business news every day, there’s a built-in audience for what writer R. Walker & I have to say.
You see, despite Titans being favorably mentioned in the New York Times, Money magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Kiplinger’s and Fortune Small Business, we’ve had very limited sales, somewhere in the 1500-2000 range. Obviously, this is because the book targets those with an interest in the business world (and a good sense of humor) — not your typical comics specialty store customer. But Barnes & Noble won’t carry it because it fits neither of their rigid definitions of a book or a magazine, and how else to get eyeballs? Well, with Nader’s rally, I had finally found my audience.
The day was overcast, giving the tall downtown buildings a gray brooding presence as the crowds began to gather. A giant pink inflatable pig dominated the intersection in front of Federal Hall and the Stock Exchange. The police had set up barricades, sending demonstrators out in two directions away from the stage, yet still allowing passers-by to reach their destinations.
As rally organizers got things going and folks started to congregate for the speeches, people of all political stripes and agendas began to appear. There were your expected bands of Green Party student activists, the obligatory Socialist Worker flacks and miscellaneous single-issue protestors. As I donned my “costume” of suit, tie and sandwich board and prepared to enter the fray, I was joined by Pot Whore, a blond-wig-red-lipstick-wearing woman in a g-string and black bra. She bought the first copy, and I was on my way.
My buddy and fellow cartoonist volunteered to be my sidekick for the event, and I couldn’t have done it without him. As a freelancer who more often than not works in his underwear, I found the oppressive monkey suit (a $5 thrift store purchase from my college days) a real challenge to endure. But Dean kept me on topic, spied out the best venues for prospective sales and steered copies into the hands of interested buyers. My sales pitch stressed that Titans featured real stories of corporate CEOs, all taken from the business pages, hand-drawn by yours truly. People were intrigued by the sandwich board’s slogans and my verbal hawking and came over to see what I had to offer. Over 90% of them ended up buying a copy. Many people were excited to buy directly from the artist, and I even signed a copy and did a sketch for one middle-aged woman (using Dean’s broad back as a writing surface, natch). Always looking to do my part in the fight against corporate greed, I sold the book for $3.00 — 50 cents off the cover price.
What was wonderful about the rally was how diverse it was. I sold books to people you wouldn’t see in a comic shop in a hundred years: middle-aged working class black men, red diaper baby boomers, college-age radicals, and activist grandmas. In two hours time, I sold almost 40 copies, more than I’ve vended — total — at three separate comic conventions (Baltimore, MOCCA, and SPX). I love the idea of all those disparate people taking the book home and enjoying the fruits of my labors, having a laugh at some of the stories inside, and maybe even learning a thing or two about the business world.
At one point, Dean reached across the barricades to show Titans to some local stock traders, who were lounging outside the Exchange watching the rally. “Hey, number 273,” Dean yelled to one, “Check this out! You might like it.” “I wouldn’t wipe my ass with that shit,” the trader retorted before he stomped off in anger. Apparently, he didn’t approve of our implicit criticism of the hyper-capitalist system. Dean grinned and shrugged, and we immediately sold a few copies to some nearby observers.
My suit-and-tie outfit must have given me some kind of goofy look of authority because at one point a very well-dressed man approached me for help. It turned out he was Lebanese, newly arrived from the old country, and was anxious to meet his long-lost relative Ralph Nader! You see, his grandfather and Ralph’s father were brothers, and this man hoped I could arrange a family reunion. He even pulled out a beaten-up copy of the 1973 book, Citizen Nader, showing me a chronology of the Nader family which proved that Nader’s father had immigrated to the U.S. from Lebanon in 1912. I was touched by this family drama but admitted I had no special access to Nader. I encouraged him to try talking to Ralph after the rally, handed him a free copy of Titans, and sent him on his way.
Finally, the speeches over and the strains of Smith’s “People Have the Power” echoing away, the crowd started to disperse. Dean and I headed up Nassau Street to start the journey home to Brooklyn. I felt like I had achieved a small but significant victory. What had begun as a publicity stunt had mutated into a full-fledged “marketing success:” I had found my audience, and they had responded.
To top it off, as we left the Federal Hall/Stock Exchange area, Ralph Nader himself, with entourage, passed by. I pressed a copy of Titans into his hands and gave him a quick spiel. As we walked off in opposite directions, Dean looked back and remarked, “Hey, Nader’s reading the book — not listening to the guy talking to him anymore!”; What more could a humble cartoonist want?
Dean Haspiel & I have been working on a collaborative strip featuring our character Lionel, from the pages of Keyhole. Since last June, we’ve both drawn two panels each week of an ongoing story, featuring two storylines. Both stories take place in the same day in the life of Lionel, one in the morning as he wakes for a new day, and one in the evening as he comes home from work. After the events of September, we took some time off, but we’ve gone back to work in the last month or so, and the results of this ongoing experiment can be seen at the “Lionel’s Lament” website, hosted by Alternative Comics. The work is definitely not for kids, but we hope it has some merit. Time will tell; check it out and let us know what you think.