Comic Books

Comic Books (RW17)

Many of John's friends like Merlin, Dan and Hodgman read superhero comics which is not something John enjoys. Instead he grew up during the era of alternative comics. A lot of them were narrations of regular people's lives, like American Splendor or Dirty Plotte, created by a generation of young cartoonists who hated the existing comics and did cinéma vérité. John has a pretty extensive collection that he never talks about and that he bought pretty carefully and enthusiasticly during the 1990:s. It affected him very strongly when he was young. It felt like the movie Slacker, except it was comic books. John loved the different styles and the story telling, because it reflected human life.

There is such a preponderance of fantasy and magic powers, mutants, zombies, whole universes of the fantastical that never grabbed him, not even when he was a kid. In the 1970:s Spider-Man was very sarcastic. He was a teenager with a girlfriend and was very flippant. John would pick Archie Comics over Spiderman or Batman, because at least it was about real teenage problems. John's favorite magazine was Mad Magazine. Cracked was sub-par. He switched over to National Lampoon later. One of John's alternative comics was Drinky Crow, featuring an often drunk crow and an Irish monkey. The artist was Tony Millionaire and John once bought the original art of one of the strips. John is even friends with some of those artists, like Ed Brubacker or Julie Doucet.

Comic Books (RW80)

In the past there was an auto part store right in the center of Capitol Hill that was run by two Hippie brothers. One of them was really skinny and looked exactly like Freewheelin' Franklin and the other one was big and stout and looked exatly like Fat Freddie, two of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, not far off the guys in The Banana Splits. The name of the third Freak Brother was Phineas Phreak, who does not look anything like the other two. That comic was a big influence on John as a teen. It is an alternative comic, or alt-comic. John gets a lot of flak from his nerd bretheren for not having read Marvel Comics as a kid. Instead he consumed alt-comics at a crazy pace in the form of

Dan has read the National Lampoon as well, it was amazing! John's mom was not afraid of John seeing boobs. She understood that he was sophisticated and she felt like it was okay for him to be participating in a culture that was more adult than kid. National Lampoon was college humor, a lot of it was gross-out, and a lot of it was pretty sophisticated for a 10-12 year old. It had a shaping effect! The Freak Brothers were all about drugs and thwarting the cops, like The Three Stooges. Trots and Bonnie by Shary Flenniken was a good National Lampoon comic. They were super-influential! John would buy these comics at head shops, like 4 for $1. They were 1960:s and 1970:s Hippie comics and by the time John was sneaking into pawn shops and head shops in the early 1980:s, he could find them on fire sale in a shoe box because nobody was into them at the time.

John doesn't know why he was so into that culture. At one of the places they had a blow-up punching bag of Richard Nixon. It was meant to sit on the floor, but instead of punching it, you were supposed to kick it as you walked through the house and it would flop over and fly through the air. It was called "Kick Tricky Dick". Because nobody cared about Richard Nixon anymore in 1981 it was on sale for $0,99 and John just had to have it without knowing why. Obviously his family was opposed to Nixon, but John wasn't mad at him and he didn't need to kick him, so the doll just kind of sat there.

John's difficulty of connecting with Japanese Culture (RW41)

John never gravitated toward Japanese culture and he does feel he was missing some crucial component. Anime, little sexy babies, robots and monsters who destroyed the Earth never resonated with him although Anime in particular really does resonate with other people. This excluded John somewhat and made him feel like an outsider who missed out on an opportunity to connect with other people his age or a little younger. He doesn’t like those gaps of understanding between him and anybody else and he wants to feel why it matters to them, but he was never able to when it comes to that stuff.

The only exception was Speed Racer, but John doesn’t know how to account for it. Part of it might have been the bad dubbing that was beneath his dignity. There were Star Blazers, Battle of the Planets, and Space Pirate Captain Harlock, but John missed all of it. He sees it on the Internet as memes, Merlin or John Hodgman throw these things at him, saying that only 1980s kids will get this, but John has no idea what it is.

A lot of kids were interested in Ninja stuff during the Bruce Lee era, but that seemed like something for the other kids who also read comic books about Ninja things. Like a lot of cultural phenomena over the years, John just watched it all go down. He could see why it was appealing to other kids, but he was so focused on war movies and in particular on World War II war movies that there wasn’t any room for Ninjas for John. He only watched the TV-show Kung Fu which was quite pacifistic.

John liked Ekira, but Dan was not so into her because he was into giant robots called Mecha and if it was not about that, he was out. John had the protoversion of those. Dan says that it is not too late for John to get into it and suggests that the princess from Battle of the Planets could draw him in, but exaggerated body shapes never connected with John either, which is why he didn’t get into Superhero comics, not even at the age where all you want to see is boobs.

John tried to get into Anime many times because he does like cartoon porn. It stared with finding old Playboy magazines where the comic strips were all cartoon porn and it really connected with him. Little Annie Fanny ran over multiple pages in every Playboy issue throughout the 1970s. She was always getting into scrapes and ”Oopsy daisy!” all her clothes came off. It was done in an Archie or MAD Magazine comic style and John was very addicted to MAD Magazine. MAD often went right up to the line of being dirty without going over while Little Annie Fanny started at the line and went considerably over. It primed John for cartoonish depictions of sex fun and there was a lot of stuff like that in the 1980s! The Freak Brothers were a big influence on him and right around Omaha the Sex Cat it tipped over into Anime and John really tried, but it didn’t ring his bell.

John has a similar problem with Mexico or Central America and is not able to latch onto anything culturally that speaks to him. He fumbles around trying to find something that connects or resonates with him, but he doesn’t grab on. For whatever reason in the Czech Republic everything connects with him!

John thinks Cosplay is amazing! When he goes to Comic-Cons the only thing he is interested in are the costumes that people put together. They should just have Costume-Con!

Dan selling comic books and his Star Wars posters (RW81)

The watches Dan sold in September of 2017 went back into the stream and to the next guy who will maybe keep them for a few years. It was the same with the comic books that he had collected since High Schools and had schlepped around all over the place. He thought he was going to read them again or his kids might want them, but both were not the case. Their digital versions don’t take up any space in the closet, so he finally took them to the Austin Books and Comics and ”sold them” for barely any money. Now somewhere else is enjoying them! The most expensive comic book Dan had for sale was Albedo No 2 from November 1984, the first appearance of Usagi Yojimbo, a samurai rabit and very long-running comic by Stan Sakai. He had done the lettering in Groo and then went on to do Usagi Yojimbo. Dan’s Albedo No 2 had a CGC-grading of 9,6, which was unheard of. He had bought it in an auction online and it was not cheap, but it was the thing he had always wanted. After a few years he realized it was just sitting in a box in his closet, not being enjoyed. He sold it on eBay and made around $1000-$1500 from it.

There is a company in Austin called Mondo. They do really cool T-shirts, posters and other things like that. They had a special engagement at the Alamo Drafthouse showing the first three original Star Wars movies (for example here) and they released a series of authorized movie posters along with it, designed by the amazing artist Olly Moss. It is very rare that LucasFilm would even allow something like this to go on, let alone have special new posters and merchandise made for it. You couldn’t just go to the site and buy them, but they had a crazy system where they would announce on Twitter as soon as they were available. It was notorious that the Mondo stuff would sell out almost instantaneously and they had maybe only 300 of those posters. There are a lot of Star Wars people out there who wanted to get their hands on one! Dan took it as a challenge to try to get them by automating things. He wrote a Ruby script that would check the page every second if it had changed and notify him. Dan got all three posters! They are sequentially numbered which is apparently a big deal. He paid maybe $300 and they are selling now for $4000-$5000 for the set, so he is now planning on selling them. They are just sitting in the closet of his house!

John loves that Dan is gaming so many systems and he wishes that he could do it a little bit better, because he is not in the game of writing scripts about anything.

The downfall of children’s TV shows (RW106)

John's culture while growing up was other people’s culture because TV was a very limited beam. The history of everything was basically on TV all the time. It could just as easily be something from the 1930s as something from the 1960s or 1970s. The shows from when Dan was a kid were Gilligan’s Island, Mr Ed, Gomer Pyle, Hogan’s Heroes and Dennis the Menace. The late movie on TV might have been a Bob Hope movie. Those shows were from the early/mid 1970s, but Dan and John were also watching cartoons from the 1940s. A couple of websites are collecting these (example) and whenever Dan wants to show his kids what he watched when he was their age, he will find a Bugs Bunny cartoon. The Tom & Jerry cartoons are great and they talk about the one where Jerry is living inside the piano, Tom is performing a piano concerto and there is a little war going on between the two of them. It is a brilliant cartoon, it is completely fun, they found it captivating and they loved it. Some stuff is eternal!

John was still a teenager in the 1980s and the cartoons that were new at the time were pandering and on the cusp of being bad. It is part of the Scrappy-Doo phenomenon: Someone along the line up in entertainment thought that they needed to put infantile child characters into everything in order to appeal to children. They thought that all these kids who had been forced to sit at the dinner table and listen to their parents talk about politics and how they were going to pay the bills really wanted a character on screen that they could empathize with, a character who was a child or had child-like needs. All of a sudden these characters popped up that were an adult’s idea of how a child’s mind worked.

Scooby-Doo show was a perfect television show. Every episode was a mystery: The squad had some encounter with some kind of ghost or ghoul trying to run some little old lady out of her big house on the hill, and they were going to the get to the bottom of it. Scooby and Shaggy got scared, they ran, they knocked something over and in the end it was revealed that the ghoul was actually the property developer who said ”If it wasn’t for you, darn kids, I would have gotten away with it!” Everybody laughed and it was over. At some point Scrappy-Doo appeared, a young Scooby dog who sucks and is a shitty little person. Now he is playing a major role in every episode and garbages it up. Obviously this was somebody’s idea of what kids want!

It was not just that they were modernizing the show. They didn’t just add Davy Jones, but it was insulting! They added a little kid proxy, a thing you saw a lot in the 1970s. Happy Days for example turned to garbage when Chachi arrived. In the 1980s there were TV-shows designed around a precocious little kid, like Silver Spoons with Ricky Schroder. The Facts of Life was about teenagers. Diff'rent Strokes was a great TV-show, because the star of the show was extremely charismatic and funny. Shows from the 1970s with kids in them were about the parents and the family dynamic. The kids were the stars, but it was always in the context of how families worked. By the 1980s it was starting to be kids that say the darnedest things.

When we think about the comic strip Garfield, we think about it as being corny and lame, but it was actually pretty sharp in the early days. Then it introduced the character of Nermal, the world’s cutest kitten, who was a very sarcastic editorial of this tendency. Garfield was a very popular strip at the time and all of a sudden Nermal is laid out on the table, like ”Seriously? Are we really doing this?” and Nermal is like ”Shut up, fat man!”, turns around and gives everybody the big eyes. It was a super-trenchant commentary on pop culture that you wouldn’t think you were going to get from Garfield. At some point in the 1980s, the Saturday morning cartoons turned into Muppet Babies. What the fuck is a Muppet Baby? Muppets are already babies! It was so insulting!

Everything designed for kids went in that direction and John doesn’t think that it was just naked capitalism at work. Starting in the 1960s and especially hardcore in the 1970s, there was a lot of work being done on child psychology and what children need. The Children’s Television Workshop was a result of people trying to apply child psychology to television and they did a spectacular job! In 1968 they concluded that you can talk to children about real things and that they have the attention span to sit and watch a thing for a while, but then you need to move on and you can make learning fun. Those are pretty universal and non-controversial ideas. By the 1980s they were followed by universities theorizing about how children’s minds work. It became this intellectual fad of insisting that kids wanted to identify with the character on screen and if you want to appeal to 4-year olds, the character needs to be 4, which is the whole idea behind Elmo, the absolute daemon agent of destruction, the Damian of all children’s entertainment.

Comic books (RL165)

One time in August of 2015 when John came to his office, a graphic novel called ”The Divine” by Ryan Consbruck was waiting for him as a gift. According to the author the book was good for Roderick on the Line because it has Viet Cong, owls, a bomb technician and some mysticism. It was a very thoughtful gift!

Jade Gordon’s (?) fantastic beginning to a graphic novel is still pregnant with possibility, but it would have to be 7000 pages. They could crowdsource it and everybody could make a page, like American Splendor. People would get mad at him and he would stop drawing his comic book, but then somebody else would start in their place. John really loved his work! Merlin knows him (Harvey Pekar) from Letterman where he was a special standout amongst the early Letterman standouts. Merlin thinks that he genuinely hated Dave and it was not just a bit like it was for Charles Grodin. He hated being there and there is a lot to hate about Dave. There is so much hate in the world!

All of Dennis Eichhorn's work is a collaboration with other artists, meaning that his comic books have no unifying artist. They are autobiographical comics, but over the course of multiple volumes you get all these different people’s take on what he looks like and how the world looks like. The art becomes like another character. In the most common case, one person is writing the script and another person, maybe even in another country, is doing the drawings. This does not even include the people who ink it and color it. It is an amazing process!

John is a man made almost entirely of comics. He was a kid in comics, he was a pre-teen in comics, he was a teen in comics, but he always felt askew and out of the gang. He didn’t like the comics that other kids liked and he couldn’t find anybody to share the comics he did like. There was not a single other 11-year old who liked Trots and Bonnie by Shary Flenniken, while John was starved for it and wanted every bit of it that he could find. He had even asked the author one time if she would send him a drawing. The comic was published in the National Lampoon which 11-year-olds should not have access to. While John was into The Lord of the Rings like anyone else, he could not find a single other kid that had ever even heard of the National Lampoon, let alone cared about it.

Comics saved John’s life just as much as they saved anybody else’s life! He just could not abide superheroes! He was buried under acres and acres of comics and when he popped up under that pile waving some mysterious thing he’d found, he could not find a single other kid to share it with. Part of it was living in Alaska and John might have found some other weirdo had he lived in Ohio. In fact, every weirdo he knows is from Ohio! People from Florida or Texas are not really weirdos, but they are cool normal people who are just doing some weird stuff. John has one friend from Florida who is pretty fucking weird, but it comes down to that his dad was really weird and he has been working it off his whole life. If you dig down into the weird people in Texas, California and Florida, they turn out to be just regular people, while the people from Ohio seem really regular, but if you dig down inside of them, they are thinking about having sex with an octopus or something worse.

Scott Simpson (?) had made a pretty good case about what it is like to live in the middle of Pennsylvania and to be into a certain kind of Hair Metal. He had talked about how weird stuff gets in the suburbs in the middle of Pennsylvania. Merlin instantly understood what he meant, even though in his case it was Florida. If you are California, Florida or Texas-weird, you will find a community of other weirdos who can help you recalibrate how you should do your weirdness, but in Ohio you have to be weird on your own even though you are surrounded by people. You have to draw the blinds and think your weird thoughts. The first time John heard Guided by Voices, he knew that there was a tool-shed behind that guy's house that he never wants to go in because there will be nipples drying on hooks. Make your own culture! DIY!

There are some comic book artists that John still wishes he could sit down with, like Dennis Eichhorn or Julie Doucet, but John is not sure what he would say to them. He was friends and coffee-shop-pals with Ed Brubaker while Ed lived in Seattle and he suspects that Ed liked John’s girlfriend at the time. One day on a hot summer day they were sitting around in a café, Ed was wearing a Levi’s vest with the sleeves cut off, looking pretty cool, and they were both flirting with the coffee shop barista. John noticed that Ed was wearing a shoulder holster with a gun under his vest, which was not customary at the time, but when John quizzed him on it he didn’t really want to talk about it. The vest was not enough of a cover to wear a shoulder holster, it was very much like wearing a black bra under a thin white T-shirt: You want people to notice that you are wearing it! It was the pre-Fedora era in the early 1990s and they were all trying stuff out and asking themselves who they were going to be. In 1992 you couldn’t walk around Seattle wearing a Fedora, you just couldn’t do it! But a shoulder-holster: maybe? Ed is very well regarded, and he arguably made one of the best Captain Americas ever. Outside of superheroes he did Fatale and Velvet which are really good. Both are noir-ish things. Back in the old days he did Lowlife comics. Merlin imagines it must be pretty rough to work for Marvel comics.

Jason Lutes is also great! He drew a Harvey Danger T-Shirt for them once and he did a long-running graphic novel called Jar of Fools. A lot of the early stuff took place in the same café where John had spent every minute of his early 20s and the barista character featuring in that café is a very good rendition of a gal that John was really close with. It was a comic that was drawn in realtime in and about John’s actual world. There is a fantasy magic element to it that made it a different kind of thing. Back when John was in his early 20s it was a big deal when you are ”living inside of the art”. If somebody you knew was on the radio or if your neighborhood was mentioned in the paper, you would talk about it for a week. Then of course Jimmy Corrigan by Chris Ware.

In the same way John always makes fun of music people and has obviously many strong things to say about music. He is completely mad about music, but had always been just outside the alternative mainstream. John and Merlin were always going to be alternative people, but the question was if you would be in the stream or outside of the stream. John always dreamt of being in the heart of the alt-aesthetic and his taste was right in the center. He thought that all the things that were cool were cool and all the things that were uncool were uncool. He was always going to be an alternative culture person, but he also thought that alternative culture was stupid. Merlin finds it remarkable how difficult it was back in the day to engage with anything that wasn’t in the mainstream or even to find out what your options were. Merlin thought that Rolling Stone magazine felt a bit radical for the time and eventually it would become Maximumrocknroll, a zine that you can get more or less nationally. You had to have a rabbi to make a tape for you that was explaining what your options even were.

The alternative culture of the Baby Boomers, like Freak Brothers or La Vie Magazine didn’t belong to John’s generation because they were too young. John would discover a pile of magazines with naked pictures in them but there would also be a lot of cultural stuff like comics. Even the stereo reviews in La Vie Magazine were interesting. It was before Lad Magazines had digressed to just ebbing advertising. The HiFi-reviews in one of those 1970:s men’s magazines were really well written, contentious, and argumentative. The 1970s vision of the future was that cultured, cool and intelligent people would be smoking pot and would spend their money on their stereo systems and their clothes. Pre-war-on-drugs and pre-AIDS that seemed like the future. People in the 1970s often did not realize how much it still was the 1960s in a lot of ways and how much like the 1980s it was becoming at the same time. As a 10-year-old, John was initially just excited to get pictures of naked ladies, but 80% of those magazines were articles and if you sit with them long enough you start reading the articles. John didn’t even know how to masturbate, he just wanted the naked ladies because they were denied him. That stuff wasn’t meant for him, but more for people who were 22.

When Punk Rock arrived, it was completely revolutionary and scary, but compelling at the same time. Punk wasn’t the first time he heard about Prog or whatever else. It was just so lame to be a kid and he wishes he could go back and put himself in a bubble. It was insufferable! The older you get, the more you have time to evaluate what made it horrible. For a long time you would think that if only you had had more information or more exposure to things, it would have been better, but Merlin now thinks that he just would have had different problems and would have been screwed up in a different way. That is the dirty little secret of being between the ages of 11 and 17: It has to be a mess!

Comic books (RL299)

At the end of July of 2018, John was going through his eclectic collection of comic books that probably doesn’t qualify as a collection to anyone else because it has no theme and no through-line. Nothing in it is valuable, but it is just a bunch of weird comic books. John makes a lot of jimjam about comic books and nerds, but he got an entire 4-shelf bookcase of comic books, some early versions of trade paperbacks and graphic novels.

There were some comic book artists in Seattle who went off to fame and fortune and John has some of their early works, like Jason Lutes, but also a lot of Haunted Tank comic books (John said Ghost Tank), a few Dirty Plotte by Julie Doucet, and lots and lots of old MAD Magazines and National Lampoons. There were even stand-alone Fat Freddy’s Cat comics that weren’t just Sergio Aragonés' sidebars. John has four of those half-size comics and he doesn’t even know where they came from. There are a lot of Underground Comix, like Zap Comix and he has Zap #1 which is worth a lot of money.

When John got interested in comics in the 1980s, most of the good stuff was from the 1970s. Everybody at the time agreed that the kind of underground comedy he liked was on its last legs and not as good as it used to be. John liked all the guys from The Harvard Lampoon, which had also boobies in it, or Trots and Bonnie. John contacted the woman who drew it (Shary Flenniken) and asked her to sell him an original artwork, but she never replied to him, probably because there was a market for original comic art. He also wrote a letter to Lynn Johnston, the author of For Better or For Worse where the characters were aging and she sent him a nice drawing.

They talk about people putting comics in plastic bags, but John never interacted with comics culture in that way. Some of his stuff came that way and when he is done reading it he puts it back in its little folder because he doesn’t want to get yelled at. John was working at a News Stand between 1995/6-1999 after the big crash of the comic book market and he remembers McSweeney’s #1 sitting in his hot little hands. John saw the first Grand Royal come in and he saw Might come and go. It was the era of raw art and new art magazines about raw vision and outside artists. All the British pop magazines were blowing up and it went from a time where there ware just Mojo and Q to where Uncut had arrived. John read 40 magazines a day and he should have kept some of that stuff rather than just reading it, but then he would have had a lot more bookshelves.

John's dad wanting to buy him a couple of comic books (RL268)

One time John was in Hawaii with his dad at a time when Maui didn’t have paved roads. They went into some little store that had a rack of comic books. There hadn’t been any comic books anywhere else in Hawaii and his dad allowed him to have a couple of comics, so he brought three up to the cash register and his dad said ”No, I said a couple! Three is a few! Now you can have zero!” John remembers it because it was harsh! He remembers everything about this long car ride with his dad, because it solidified this moment where he had three comic books in his hand, he was already at the cash register and those three comic books just went away because he didn’t parse the difference between a couple and a few!

The Comics Code (RL186)

Merlin’s daughter was looking at one of his X-Men posters and asked about the Comics Code which she had seen on old comics before. Merlin tried to explain it with his meager understanding of it. It came from a book from the mid 1950s by a demagogue who was saying that comics were destroying their children, mainly going after war comics, crime comics or EC comics, the Tales from the Crypt. John loved those! They looked beautiful and they still stand the test of time.

It seems like whenever a president or a head of state showed up in a comic, it was always a weird hero that you wish would go away as fast as he could. There is an Avengers with David Letterman in it that is pretty weird. Famously, Captain America was always punching Hitler in the face (see here) which you could get a pass on, but then Quentin Tarantino interpreted it all the way with Japanese girls and swords. There was a time before the rating system in movies came along where you had to create media that was utterly inoffensive to anyone, including a toddler.

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