You’ve never heard of David Bowie or Duran Duran?!”

My babysitter stared at me like I’d just pissed on the floor after shitting the bed, all because we got to talking about music for some strange reason.  In a nutshell, she had professed her love for those two artists and I claimed, rightfully so, that I hadn’t heard of either of them.

In my defence, I was 9.  Now, had I heard of either David Bowie or Duran Duran at that age, it would have made me The Coolest Third Grader in the World. But I wasn’t a cool Third Grader; I was a Third Grader, whose sole concern was counting down the days until the next Star Wars hit theaters.  Hell, the fact I still needed a babysitter should have clued her in that I wasn’t up to date on what they were at the time calling New Wave.

I would be eventually. I write a comic book about music, the first issue and second issue of which are available right now (hint, hint).  But 1982?  No way no how did I know New Wave. I knew The Beatles, and ABBA, and Simon & Garfunkel, and Gordon Lightfoot, and The Carpenters, and the American Graffiti Soundtrack, because those were the 8-tracks my parents had in their station wagon.

State-of-the-art technology, said no-one ever.
State-of-the-art technology, said no-one ever.

Had I been 5 years older, chances are good I would have known Bowie and Duran Duran because 14 is the age when you start really getting into music. And sure enough 5 years later it was bands like U2, REM and The Pixies who were my Animotion-esque obsession.  But this wasn’t 1987 – this was 1982, and I had no clue about U2 or REM, who had just released their first albums, or The Pixies, who hadn’t even formed.  That said, were I five years older, chances are pretty good I wouldn’t have required a babysitter, and the conversation never would have happened, and I wouldn’t be writing this, and somewhere a snake would be eating its own tail.

Our babysitter lived next door. She was 17, and her name was Sheila (I think – the memory’s fuzzy). If I was to describe her now I’d say she looked like a 17 year old in 1982 would look. She must have been thrilled when we moved in, seeing me and my sister and thinking “score” because she introduced herself to my mom and said she babysat.  She saw a cash cow, not some dorky nine year-old who didn’t know David Bowie or Duran Duran.  So when I let the news drop, looking up from whatever Star Wars comic I was reading to say I was unfamiliar with the oeuvres of Misters David Robert Jones and Simon LeBon (and the brothers Rhodes*), Sheila (or was it Cheryl?) took it upon herself to educate me on the matter.

She left the house – actually left the house of the kids she was babysitting – went to her house and her room, took her stack of Bowie albums and the one and only Duran Duran album at the time (imaginatively titled Duran Duran), and charged back over to our house, asking where we were hiding our record player.

This was 1982. People had record players, maybe cassette players, and like my parents, an 8-track in the car.  Our record player was in the basement rec room (or “recreation room”, though to a 17 year old Bowie-Duran Duran fan that meant “where you keep the Bowie and Duran Duran records”, and to my parents it meant “that basement is a wreck with all the toys and crap everywhere, clean it you monsters”).  I have fond memories of that basement. Heck I have fond memories about that house, that street and that neighborhood. Like this memory, right?

State-of-the-art technology bla bla bla
State-of-the-art technology bla bla bla

Anyway, 1982.  We had a record player, and record albums, and Cheryl flipped through them out of what must have been morbid curiosity. She saw the American Graffiti Soundtrack, and The Shaft Soundtrack, and a Ray Charles Country & Western Album, and a Gordon Lightfoot album … I could sense her disappointment mount, like the disappointment you try to mask when at someone’s place and idly notice the Nickleback CD on the shelf and wonder if it was gifted to them, then notice the conspicuous lack of dust on the case and think “okay then”.

Anyway, Sheila (definitely not Cheryl now that I dwell on it) quit thumbing through our lame record collection, fired the record player up, pulled Duran Duran from its sleeve, and placed it reverentially on the turntable.  She flicked the switch and we watched the needle move over and drop onto the record. I prepared myself to have my mind blown.

It wasn’t.

Not that it was bad – the first track was “Girls on Film”, which everybody knows, and the second track was “Planet Earth”, which not as many know.  Now, if this had been Rio  things might have been different, because Rio had “Rio” and “Hungry like the Wolf” which are both great songs (and would come to define the early-mid 80s as much as MJ and Madge would).  But it was not Rio, it was Duran Duran by Duran Duran.

The object of someone's obsession
Wild boys

Anyway there was Sheila, bopping her head to “Girls on Film”, and looking at me to say “See? I was right, this is great, huh?” And I could only nod, semi-enthusiastically, as if saying; “Yeah they’re pretty good, can I please go to my room?”

No, I could not, because this was An Education in Modern Music from a 17 year old New Wave chick named Sheryl or something.  “Modern Music”, not “Modern Love”, which was a Bowie song that was released the following year, and is one of my favorite Bowie tunes.  We listened to the whole first side, and when she turned the player off and removed the record, I sensed freedom within my grasp.

“That was Duran Duran” she said. “Now let’s listen to some Bowie.

Sorry, but I couldn't resist
Sorry, David, I couldn’t resist …

Now this is where it gets hazier because I really couldn’t tell you which Bowie album she’d put on.  By this point Bowie was well into his career – 12 albums by this point in 1982.  So my guess is she started with his most recent, which was 1980’s Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps), which included “Ashes to Ashes” and “Fashion”. I couldn’t tell you if those were the ones I heard, because by now what’s her face was playing selected tracks, trying and failing to get much of a reaction from me other than “yeah he’s pretty good”.  She had a few albums with her, and spun tracks from those as well.  Again, the memory’s fuzzy, but I can imagine it would have been anything from Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, and possibly Diamond Dogs, because I remember hearing some “live” stuff (even though Diamond Dogs isn’t really a “live” album).  Again, it was all pretty good, but to a 9 year old, about as interesting as the Falklands War and Polish solidarity.

Believe me I wish I could say this was my musical awakening and I became the coolest 9 year-old in the world that day. But it wasn’t, and poor Sheila realized it was a losing battle.  She gathered her albums up and marched out of the basement, out of the house, back to her house to drop them off, then returned. By this point I’d gone to my room willingly, and I’m guessing Sheila went to see what my sister was up to because now (like then) I tend to forget I have a sister.

That was the last time Sheila (Cheryl? No, Sheila) attempted to educate me on Bowie or Duran Duran. She babysat us several more times, but she never brought up music, and I never brought it up either.  My parents let her and her other 17 year old Bowie and Duran Duran loving girlfriends use our backyard pool a few times, and I knew they were looking at me, thinking “stupid dork 9-year old doesn’t know Bowie. Or Duran Duran”.

Much later, on what would have been the last time Sheila babysat for us, I introduced her to the awesomeness that was Miami Vice. I had never seen an episode, but kids at school had, and with my parents away I knew I could lie to Sheila that they always let me watch it (because they didn’t).  She watched it with me, her eyes wide for a different reason entirely; “Your parents let you watch that sexual stuff?”   She was horrified, and I smiled a secret smile because here was something that I liked that she did not get. That made me cooler than her for that moment, like Miami Vice was cool in 1984.  Then it became uncool.  Then it was cancelled and Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas recorded albums which were terrible.

Yes, this was a thing that happened. It was the 80s.
Yes, this was a thing that happened. It was the 80s.

That was 1984.  Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” was huge that year. Return of the Jedi had come out the year before, but by then I was no longer into Star Wars. In fact that summer I sold my entire Star Wars collection at a garage sale, all for the then princely sum of $110.00.  I still kick myself for being that stupid.  Duran Duran was big in 1984 too, and Bowie had experienced something of a comeback (not his first, not his last either) with “Let’s Dance” and “Blue Jean” and “China Girl”.  I remained as uncool an 11 year old as I was an uncool 9 year old.

But in the years that followed, every time Duran Duran or Bowie came on the radio, I knew who they were because of Sheila. So in that way she did score a victory for babysitters everywhere, making a dorky 9 year-old aware of Bowie and Duran Duran.  And it wasn’t long before I started paying more atention to music, and girls, and girls who liked the same music I did.

A 17 year old girl in 1982 will turn 48 this year, but I’m guessing a lot of Duran Duran’s 1982 fans are still with them.  Maybe Sheila is among them, married with kids, but still in love with Duran Duran and David Bowie.  I like to think that on rare occasions she maybe remembers 1982 and the time she tried and failed to educate a 9 year old in all things New Wave.  I’d like her to know that I did eventually become a fan of both Bowie and Duran Duran, and own many of the albums she brought over that day three decades ago.  So it wasn’t a total loss, Sheila; I did learn, eventually.

Mixtape 2013

So this arrived:

See?  It's alive!
See? It’s alive! ALIIIIVE!

That’s right.  After a much longer than anticipated delay, Mixtape #2 is finally available for purchase at finer comic book stores everywhere.

Kind of.

What’s changed is that we are no longer going to solicit Mixtape through Diamond Direct, opting instead to go through Comic Flea Market, Indy Planet, and some other options.  This has been in the works for a while, but we wanted to make sure everything was sorted out before we made it official.  The galley proof of Mixtape #2 arrived last week, some minor changes to it have been implemented, and it’s up for sale right now on Indy Planet, found here.

Lookin' gooood.
Lookin’ gooood.  Lookin’ real good.

Now, that does mean that we’ve cancelled the orders on file for Mixtape #2 and #3, so if you have the book on backorder at your store or as part of your pull list, unfortunately you’re going to have to re-order it again.  But there’s an easy way to do that, that makes it easier on you and your local store.  Read on …

For me, the biggest concern has been that we get books to people who want them.  Fact is not everyone has easy access to a comic book store. One Mixtape fan lives in Iqaluit, N.W.T., and you can imagine how difficult it is for them to get a copy of the book.  Another lives in Oslo, and it took him several months to track down a copy of #1.  Plus, when people inevitably ask where they can get Mixtape #2, #3, #4 and so on like they did with #1, we can now point them in the direction best suited to their needs and location.

So, Mixtape #2 is available now, with #3 dropping in a few months.  We’re working on getting #1 reprinted so people who missed it can still get a copy, but there are still some available for purchase hereMixtape will also be available as non DRM’d digital downloads for Nook, Kindle, iPad and all standard eReaders.  You can download #1 now through Comics Plus.

Now that said, I have a favor to ask; if you’re willing to, please have your comic store order your books for you.  They can order Mixtape through Indy Planet and enjoy the same bulk discounts like they got through Diamond, starting with five copies.*

We’ve also priced Mixtape #2 slightly below cover as an added incentive for the stores.  We’re big supporters of local retailers, and their ordering and stocking of Mixtape helps spread word that the book exists. I know for a fact a lot of Mixtape’s readers discovered the book simply by seeing it on the shelf, picking it up, flipping through it, and adding it to their armload of books for that week. Plus, comic book stores are one of the last places you can still get that ‘record store experience’ and we’d all hate to see the local comic shop go the way records stores did.

We plan to get the remainder of Mixtape Vol. 1 (a.k.a.”Left of the Dial”) out in 2013.  Once that’s done, we’ll start work on Vol. 2 “Daydream Nation” which takes Jim, Lorelei, Terry, Noel, and Siobhan from the cloistered confines of Garrison Creek to the big bad world of college.  I’ve already scripted the first two stories in that arc, with the other three plotted.  The grand plan is for five, possibly six Mixtape arcs, and possibly a spin-off featuring further adventures of some seemingly minor characters, under the working title of “Cassingles”.

So that’s where we stand.

Getting Mixtape into stores in 2012 was a big challenge, but we feel this is the best way forward. You won’t see those big gaps between issues like you’ve seen so far.  As more details and options to acquire Mixtape become available, we’ll post them on TwitterFacebook, and here.

March, 2013
Coming soon = March, 2013

So that’s it.  Closing up shop here for the next couple weeks, but I’ll be back in January (assuming those Mayans were wrong about December 21st – in which case, nice knowing you).  Over the Christmas break I plan to – well, keep writing, actually.  Deadlines don’t take holidays.

And again, Mixtape wouldn’t be the success it is without the readers and fans who’ve stuck with us through this entire saga. 2012 was the opening act. 2013 is the main event.

*It’s since been pointed out the volume discount currently available through IndyPlanet is not quite the 50% discount comic book stores expect. We are working on getting that sorted and should have the info for that in January. Any comic shops interested in ordering books at a discount can contact me through mixtapecomic@gmail.com and when the details are set I can let you know. Thanks!

Anyone Got A Pencil?

Okay I’ll cut to the chase; Mixtape #2 will be delayed. The good news is this should only be a short one.  We’ve had to switch printers and that process has taken longer than we hoped, but the digital files are out the door, and as soon as they can give us a pub date we’ll share it here and on the Facebook page.

[There’s also the matter of Hurricane Sandy barreling up the East Coast. I live in NYC. Printer’s in Maryland. Expect delays there too.]

As frustrating as it is for you fans, it’s doubly so for yours truly.  Mixtape #1 arrived in stores in April, and here we are approaching November and #2 is still in the wings.  One thing I am going to work towards in 2013 is to ensure Mixtape arrives on a more consistent basis.  Fortunately we have great fans who’ve been incredibly supportive and understanding of the challenges of getting an indie book like ours out to stores.

Once I have the new pub. date, so will you.

A Real American Hero

I have a problem.  The problem is comic books.

I love them.

I love the feel of newsprint between my fingers and the way the pages smell, I love the way their spines show wear and tear; I love the imperfections.  Through my considerable ups and downs I’ve never stopped reading comic books.   Hell, I even love flipping through the letters pages of books I bought twenty plus years ago and read people’s letters on the previous issues.   I wonder what became of that  letter writer  Are they still reading comic books, or was it just a passing thing for them?  I even wrote a letter to a favorite comic book 25 years ago.  They never published it.  I did however review the trade collection of Alan Moore’s Jack the Ripper opus From Hell several years after that, and they did print an excerpt from that review on the dust jacket (look for it on the inside cover, below the guy from the Village Voice).

Point being, comic books weren’t a passing thing for me.  I still read them, though the numbers of books I keep up with are considerably fewer than they were at the height of my collecting. I pretty much stick to trade collections now, both for space and cost considerations, but also because I just know if I were to pick up a monthly book mid-way through I’d be spending pounds of dollars to get all the back issues.  As I sit typing this, all I need to do is cast a glance to my right and see three large shelves loaded with trade paperbacks and hardcover graphic novels to see the end result.

But what started me on this obsession?  Well, if you’re a collector, what started you? Ask any fan and they’ll tell you there was that one, that gateway comic that set them on the path to full blown fandom.  As for me, I could narrow it down with an absolute certainty;

If you were a boy growing up in the early-mid 80s, chances are pretty good you were, at least for a short period of time, a fan of G.I. Joe; surely the greatest ever Cold War era metaphor unleashed upon Reagan’s America.  Remember this was post Return of the Jedi; pre-teen boys were desperately looking for something to fill the void, and the Joes fit that bill.  G.I. Joe was America’s highly trained special missions force, whose mission was to defeat Cobra – a ruthless terrorist organization determined to rule the world (like Russia, get it?).  Of course they never defeated Cobra, because if they did you wouldn’t have the toy line, the cartoon, and the comic book series.  The characters are going strong even now; after a ten year hiatus they were re-launched largely to cater to the now middle-aged fan-base that fell in love with the characters back in the 80s.  For a really solid history of the 80s run, you’ll find it here.

I was a fan of the toys first, then when the first G.I. Joe Miniseries aired in fall of 1983, I became a fan of that too.  But I didn’t pick up my first G.I. Joe comic until I was visiting friends out west the following summer, all of whom had been collecting them for a while.  Here were stories and situations I hadn’t been experienced to, and characters who existed only in the comics.  I plunged on in, and discovered just what I had been missing.  The books were different from the cartoon – though still kid friendly they were more “adult”; people actually died in them.  They were also more grounded in reality than the cartoon.  You can credit the series writer Larry Hama, an ex-Viet Nam vet who brought a sense of military realism to a comic book that ended up being better than a book based on a toy line had any right to be.  In fact I’d rank the span of G.I. Joe #11 through #33 as some of the finest continuous comic book storytelling of the last 30 years.

[Someone was selling this on ebay for $2,400.00, which is more than I paid for the computer I’m currently typing on]

Despite the fact it was a book pretty much intended keep interest in the toy line active, Larry really brought his “A” game to storytelling.  He made Snake-Eyes, arguably the most popular character on the entire series and toy line, a Viet Nam vet like him, and his writing introduced me to that war that was ending just as my life was beginning.  Even in the face of adversity and Hasbro lobbing increasingly outlandish characters like Zartan, Dr. Mindbender and Serpentor into the fray, Larry ran with it; finding surprising depth in stock villainy and keeping the focus on the men and women in uniform who were the linchpin of the series.  He was even forced to bring the Transformers into the story at one point late in the game, and he heroically did.

Anyway, I bought the then most current issue of G.I. Joe (#28) and by the time I got back home I was on the hunt for more.  This meant journeying to a type of store I’d never set foot in before; a comic book shop.  See, I had discovered that there were stores that sold comic books exclusively (though many did and still do combine comics with movie and sports memorabilia). Thus began a ritual that me and my friends maintained for years, of taking the subway downtown and loading up on comics, music and horrible food.  I went to those shops, and began filling in the Joe collection, all while keeping up with the current issues.  I was aided by a couple cases where two books would be packaged in the same bag and sold at corner stores.  And before long, I had managed to grab all of the preceding issues, even a copy of #1 – in horrible condition no less – from a garage sale.

But there was one issue that was impossible to find anywhere.  That was the ever elusive issue #2.  You see, after its big splash debut, comic stores had underestimated demand, and ordered fewer copies of #2 than they should have (which remains standard practice even to this day with new books of unknown audience).  Then, when it became apparent that G.I. Joe was there to stay; presto — instant collector’s item.  Point of fact; G.I. Joe issues 2 through 4 were the Holy Grail as far as me and my friends were concerned. I had managed to find 3, 4 and 5 over several excursions, and I think I may have paid a princely (for 1984-85) sum of 10 dollars for them in total.  But #2?  Forget it –

So, we moved to North Carolina in the summer of 1985 (though I should point out this was not so I could find G.I. Joe #2).  On the plane ride down I had packed the entirety of my G.I. Joe comics into a briefcase my dad had given me (because we were staying in a hotel for a few weeks before we could move into our house – honest).  And one of the first things I did on arriving was to flip through the Yellow pages and seek out the local comic book stores.

There was one.  It was downtown.  I convinced my parents to take me there one afternoon.  They did, and walking through the doors with twenty dollars in hand and ready to do some damage, I saw it, bagged and boarded behind the counter; I saw GI. Joe #2.  My mind was blown. I had to know how much it was.

You can guess the next part.

It was 20 bucks.  For a comic book.

For a comic book?  My mother pointed out that I could buy close to twenty books for twenty dollars.  But I didn’t want twenty other books, I wanted that one.

So, then and there, in July of 1985, I spent the most money I ever had on a comic book up to that point, and it was the best twenty bucks I ever spent.  Because it represented the end of a search, because I had the complete set of G.I. Joe; and even though I stopped reading the book a couple years later I still have that complete run stored away here.  I even have a Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow battling it out on a bookshelf here.

It also marked a change in behavior for me.  During those teenage years and beyond, anytime I’d visit aunts and uncles and cousins or grandparents in several towns, I’d always seek out the local store just to browse the racks, maybe make some purchases, and just see what they’re like.  As we witness the sad decline of the local record shop, you realize the last reliable place to have that “record shop experience” is at the local comic book store.  You have your new releases, you have your back catalog, and you have surly staff judging you silently on your taste.

More than any comic book, G.I. Joe #2 made me a fan of comic books.  I wish it was something “cooler” like Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, but no, it was that G.I. Joe comic.  It was my gateway book; the one that set me on the path.  And while I’ve sold or gave away toys and games and many other things over the run of my life, I still have every comic book I ever bought.

I’m glad I did keep them too, because a couple years back at NYCC, I was wandering artist’s alley and actually saw Larry Hama at his table.  And I went home that night and rummaged through my long-boxes and dug out the same comic book I’d bought with my hard earned money twenty-five years before.  I returned the following day, and you can probably guess what happened next;

[That’s #2 cover artist Herb Trimpe’s sig. on the left. At that point pre-teen me lost his frickin’ mind]

I had to tell Larry too, how I hunted across two countries and two cities for it, how at the time it was the most money I’d spent on a comic book ever.  It was the most money I’d spent on comics at that point in my young life.

“I’m guessing you spent a lot more after it though,” he grinned.

Larry, you have no idea …


Some background.

Last year I was approached by a Fanzine in Spain about talking a little about RoboCop: Prime Directives. Turns out Robo was a big deal in Europe.  So I talked to writer/artist David Buceta about movies and comic books, and figured that was that.

A few months later David contacted me again, to ask if I might be interested in writing a brief 2-page story for the final issue of their ‘zine, that he would illustrate.  It could be anything I wanted.

So I though about it, and decided “sure, why not?”  Then I spent the next month and a half trying to decide what I would right.  It was embarassing, frankly; mister big-shot professional writer stuck on two measly pages.

But, as it turns out I had a story; I just had to wait for it to happen to me.

And so, without futher ado …