Mixtape Goes MoCCA

So these arrived:

004

They’ll be for sale at MoCCA Fest this weekend, April 6-7 at the69th Regiment Armory at Lexington and 23rd street. I’ll be manning a table (F-193) all weekend, along with Ken Eppstein of Nix Comics. This’ll be my first time behind the table at any con, so it’s bound to be memorable.

So, if you’re planning on attending MoCCA Fest, please swing by and say “hi”.

(and maybe buy some comics too)

T.R.U.E.

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 …

The Real Thing

And there it is … on shelves as we speak.

I snapped this photo at Midtown Comics on Friday April 13th.  As I was lining up the shot someone picked a copy from the stack, looked at the cover, flipped through some pages, and added it to their armload of purchases for the week.

The cynic in me says “lucky me, happening upon the stack of Mixtape comics the very moment the one person who bought a copy at that store happened by.”  Of course, I got to that store after a couple delays, so the odds are good someone else bought a copy sometime between April 11 and 13.  Then again, on the 11th, I witnessed Forbidden Planet sell out of their last copy of Mixtape.  They’ve assured me more are on the way, so if you’re looking for a copy, and are NYC based, they’ll fix you up.

Did I mention this was all unexpected?

Diamond, the main comic book distributor told the publisher (who subsequently told me) the date of publication was April 18th.  I actually found out through a post on Twitter, where a fan wrote he was thrilled Mixtape #1 finally arrived.  Brendan, the book’s editor and co-publisher, found this out while ducking into the shop down the street from his offices, and was informed by the owner he had new book out this week and that said book was selling.

Hopefully this raises the bar on solicits for #2.  Second issues typically get a lower number, as the general consensus is that issue #1 is the collector’s item.  I also received the final pages for #3 last week, so we have that on the boards too.

[Regarding subsequent issues, I plan on announcing where we’re at with those soon.  We’ll be doing something cool in tandem with them, and as issues 4,5, and 6 are probably my favorite of the first arc, I’m as anxious as you to get them out the door]

To be frank, it’s a strange feeling, walking into your local comic book store like you have countless times before, and seeing YOUR BOOK on the shelf along with the other new releases.  A book you’ve been thinking and dreaming about for the last three and a half years; a book that, with its publication, finally gives me the right to call myself a comic book creator.  At least I think it does — feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.

So if you’ve been following my Mixtape antics, I’d appreciate you supporting the book and spreading the word about it.  Mixtape has always been a comic book for people who don’t normally buy comic books.  As I’ve said before, the characters in Mixtape don’t have super-powers.  They don’t fight zombies or date vampires or have crazy adventures.  The aim was to tell real stories about real people — people you or I could have known (or indeed may have known) in High School, no matter what your age is now, or what era you were a teen in.  So far I’ve received some nice comments about the book on its FB page.  One reader wrote “I felt like I was back in high school and I see my old friends in each character.” 
Another said “It more than lived up to the expectations. Memories have been kickstarted after reading issue one and I am currently playing 7″s on my floor from the 90’s.” 
That was really the goal with Mixtape.  To tell stories that prompt them to do stuff like that — drag out the old 7″s, dust off the boom box and those old cassettes, switch from the morning news on the commute to music. To unlock those memories we all bury, and discover we’ve spent the past twenty years or so running away from our teen years, only to wonder why we ran so fast and so far.

On a sidenote, I am talking with a couple local stores about doing a signing. If anybody has any suggestions please message me here.

Mental Floss

Working from home can make you go a little mental.  You see your spouse at the beginning and end of the day, but human interactions are few and far between.  People email you, mostly because they know you don’t like being interrupted mid sentence by a telephone call, but you’re pretty much on your own.  So, you need amusement and distraction to avoid becoming a total recluse and I realized I’d acquired a few distractions as of late that I wanted to share.

If you’ve seen the film Velvet Goldmine, you’re one of a select few.  It’s essentially a heavily fictionalized biography of David Bowie and his relationship with Iggy Pop at the height of the Glam rock era. Written and Directed by Todd Haynes (Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, I’m Not There), it starred Jonathan Rhys Meyers as David Bowie/Brian Slade, and Ewen MacGregor as Iggy Pop/Kurt Wild. They couldn’t call them Dave or Iggy because Bowie refused to give his blessing or permission for a bio-pic, and he also declined the use of any of his music (which is kind of important in a biopic about a musician).  So, what does one do?  Well in Haynes’ case, you hire Brian Eno and a bunch of his friends and write original music for Brian Slade, Kurt Wild and a host of others.  You record these songs and cut an album.  And you know what?  Said soundtrack album is pretty damn great.

I saw the move several years back, but caught it again on TCM shortly before we decided to cut our cable and go online for our film and TV content, and I ended up getting Placebo’s blistering version of T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy” stuck in my head.  So, I did what I always do when that happens; seek the album out.  And let me tell you it’s great.  really great.  great as in “you should really grab yourself a cop like, this minute.  But you can check outs some clips here, here and here.

 

We all seek refuge in memory and any way we can recapture or at least re-experience a time when life seemed simpler definitely explains the nostalgia industry of reunion tours, classic rock radio, and TV box sets.

But the decision to start buying The Complete Peanuts by Fantagraphics was more of an educational decision than a nostalgic one.  The goal is to reprint every comic strip in the Peanuts run, starting with 1951 (they’re up to 1980 right now), including the many hundreds never seen outside of their initial appearance in newspapers. Like any person of any age, you’ve experienced Charles M. Schulz’ work, in print and on television; despite his passing eleven years ago, the Peanuts characters remain ubiquitous, though not as much as they used to be.  There’s no shortage of critics who’ll say that the characters aren’t relevant to today’s teens and twenty-somethings, but to be blunt, teens and twenty-somethings aren’t as relevant as they like to think they are either (and I know, having been both at one point).

But reading the series chronologically has been a real eye-opener and effecting on a few levels. The first is to witness the growth of Schulz as an artist, to see him hit his stride in the late 1950s.  The 60s were probably the best period, where the strip became more surreal, Snoopy became the WW1 flying ace, Linus’ blanked became sentient (in a horror movie’ spoof that has to be seen to be believed, and Lucy evolved into a full-fledged sociopath.  What is also amazing is to see how tuned in Schulz was to the issues of the day; references to Viet Nam and the protest movement are ubiquitous – very much so for a “kid’s cartoon strip”.  But re-reading a strip or more ambitious weeks long arc again after 30 odd years have passed is a transporting experience.  You see, I remember being gifted with a box of Peanuts paperbacks from a couple cousins, remember tearing through them, and remember, for a time, hitting a variety of used bookstores where my parents would buy me an armful of paperbacks. I still have these originals, but hadn’t looked at them until Fantagraphics came along, and re-experiencing them means to re-experience memories of the first time I read them.  Moving into the 1970s strips, I have a context for the strips that appeared in my lifetime, and now have an appreciation for how ingrained the Peanuts characters were in popular culture by that point.  The other thing that strikes me about Peanuts is not so much the mains – Lucy,Linus, Snoopy and of course Charlie Brown – but the lesser ones who never caught on, or were marginalized as the series went on. Characters like Shermy, Violet, Patty, Roy, Franklin – supporting players in the main event.  If the iconic Peanuts characters were the kids seated at the popular table, the lesser ones were left on the outside looking in.  Like all childhood friendships, these formerly tightly knit characters drifted apart, as they do in life.

Shameless celebrity encounter story; back in 2004 my wife was publicist on John Sayles’ short story collection Dillinger in Hollywood, and coordinated an event for the legendary writer and director.  This led to him flying up for a day of media appearances, followed by “An Evening with John Sayles”  followed by a signing.  The boyfriend of the publicist gets certain fringe benefits, and in this case the fringe benefit was being one of a select few to have dinner with Mr. Sayles (and have a post event drink with him as well).  So I got to spend the evening with John Sayles, talking movies and politics and just jawing’.  My roommate attended with his car and was drafted into driving John (I hope I can call you that, John) to his hotel.  My now wife took in to get squared away and after an evening of drinks and talk, said roommate gave me a look I’ve never forgotten; a “Holy Crap I Just Spent the Evening with John Sayles” look.

If you haven’t seen any of John Sayles films, your loss is great;  Matewan, Eight Men Out, City of Hope, Lone Star, Passion Fish – they’re all essential (heck, Sayles also wrote Alligator, Piranha, Battle Beyond the Stars and The Howling).  But as we’re heading into the summer season, I can’t mention the amazing Mr. Sayles without urging everyone who reads this to click on this link and order your copy of A Moment In The Sun, his near 1000 page novel of life in America at the turn of the previous century.  Spanning 1898-2003, it’s a multi-character multi story opus that spans the Spanish American War, race riots, the Alaska gold rush, Presidential assassins, Yellow Journalism and so much more.

It’s also the best book I’ve read in memory.

In point of fact it could be one of the best I’ve ever read, and I’m only a third through it.  Sayles strength has always been character and this novel is a master class on voice that has served as a kick in the pants as I struggle to complete my own novel.  He’s set the bar ridiculously high, and I commend him for that, as well as for reminding us why he is one of the pre-eminent voices in American film and literature working today.  If you’re looking for that perfect summer read I can’t recommend it enough.

A tempest in a teacup developed here in NYC a month or so ago when a way too overpriced  and overrated Manhattan restaurant (one of several thousand) charged a patron five bucks for a Coca Cola.  The excuse was that it was a “Mexican” Coca Cola, and therefore more expensive than the conventional syrup and seltzer mix bars and restaurants usually serve.  No, this Mexican Coke was special (not because it contained actual cocaine), because it costs more to import, because it’s Mexican.

Now, the big diff between Mexican Coca Cola and American is that the former sweetens itself with pure cane sugar, not corn syrup.  Apparently it makes the flavor more genuine.  So naturally I was curious to try it.  But, I didn’t want to pay 5 bucks to some overpriced restaurant because he had to import the bottle from Chiapas or wherever and pay the bartender a premium to actually open the bottle (the glass bottle I might add) with a bottle opener.  I mean, for five clams a pop this stuff has to be pretty rare, right?

Turns out the market across the street sells Mexican Coca Cola for a buck fifty a bottle.  I bought one, popped it in the freezer to chill it down (this was a hot day if you must know), popped the cap and drank.  It was good.  It tasted like Coca Cola.  Well worth the buck fifty.  Five is definitely stretching it.

[Addendum; the “expensive imported Mexican Coca Cola said restauranteur procured with great difficulty?  Available by the case from the Costco at 118th Street for 20 bucks.]

Yes, It’s Degrassi and yeah, you may mock, but let me explain.

Mixtape, my 90s alternative rock comic is hitting finer comic shops everywhere this fall, thanks to the good folks at Ardden Entertainment.  This has of course required a lot of research as we’re talking about an era that’s already hit the 20 years mark.  This research means books and music and what archival concert performances I’ve been able to track down. So it was to my surprise one day in January when I logged into Hulu.com to clear some shows out of my cue when on the main page, they had a link to their recently acquired library of Degrassi High, seasons one and two.

Most of you are probably familiar, but for the uninitiated here’s a brief rundown.  Degrassi was a teen series produced and set in Canada.  Three series (The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High, and Degrassi High) that  spanned the early 80s to the early 90s, more or less following the same cast of characters from childhood, through junior high, and graduating high school.   Two decades removed, Degrassi has become probably the best  time capsule of Gen X angst. The fashions were hideous, the “Canajan” accents thick, but I didn’t care.  But watching it 20 plus years removed from the experience has been an eye opener.  I’ve come to appreciate it in all its cheesy charm — the hair, the fashions, the “acting” – and because it has become a time capsule of a city and era receding into history, much like the hairlines of Generation X.

Watching Degrassi 20 years removed I now know how my parents felt in the late 80s, watching old tv and music clips from the late 60s and wondering how so many years could have passed so quickly.  Life means change, but you can still visit your childhood, and can watch full eps of Degrassi Junior High on Youtube.

I Want To Live On an Abstract Plane

I make stuff up for a living.  It’s a good living (and this year may prove to be my best ever – details forthcoming) but I’ll admit it’s an odd existence.  Doing my job means creating a fictional world, populating it with fictional characters, and then making things happen.  I’ve written sci-fi and fantasy, horror and historical action, and am working on a novel set in 16th century Italy, and a comic book set in the 1990s.  These are places that don’t exist, and populated by characters that aren’t real.  Even a world set ostensibly in our reality is a fiction; I just finished a spec set in Greenwich Village and Lower Manhattan that is strongly based on real NY streets and buildings and events, but is still a story that happens only in my mind, and the minds of the people reading it.  The characters do not exist, the setting is real, but you can’t go into that world and inhabit in it.

It can be lonely, leaving these worlds behind, when I finish writing them, or when I take a break from them.  Immersing yourself in a fictional construct can be the best and worst thing about this job (well, that and the sporadic pay, lack of medical coverage, pension, benefits, sick days, vacation days … and so on).  When I’m really enjoying the time I spend in a fictional world, the crash back to reality indeed feels like a crash.  Take my Mixtape project; a story set in a small town in the early 1990s and based largely on my own life’s experiences.  I get sucked into the world and the time and the people and when I’m done, and return to 2011, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed I have to leave.  So I compensate for that momentary malaise by the act of decompression through art.  Like a deep sea diver returning to the surface, I have to equalize slowly to avoid getting the bends.  I do this the same way you do after a rough day at work.  You watch TV or a movie.  You play a video game, or read a book.

I bring this up because recently I’ve found the line between fiction and reality blurring.  Not in a Philip K. Dick crazy way (at least I hope not), but in the way a fiction can become reality.

As part of my work on Mixtape I’ve been reading comic books and graphic novels set in the same general (non-superhero) world, and if you’re a comic reader, you probably know the name Scott Pilgrim; a comic book by Bryan Lee O’Malley.  A movie adaptation his theaters last summer and promptly bombed (teaching Hollywood the oft-forgotten lesson that cult comic book = cult comic book movie).

There are people – devoted fans of the series – who make their pilgrimages to the various Pilgrim-related points of interest in the Pilgrim-verse.  They want to see “the real places” this fictional character inhabited.  This is not limited to Toronto either.  New York still runs a Sex and the City Tour, and you’ll find tours for Gossip Girl, Seinfeld and the Sopranos.  Lovers of The Catcher in the Rye will visit the same locations as Holden Caulfield, their aged and underlined copies of J.D. Salinger’s tome in hand.  Visitors to the MET will recall it as the setting of From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil. E. Frankweiler (and I’m sure at the height of that book’s popularity there were more than a few “sleepovers” organized.

People want that tangible connection to a story that moves them or inspires them.  The comfort that comes in reading or re-reading a book, or re-watching a film or TV series; those stories we return to over and over again provide comfort food for the soul.  Reading an old comic book becomes less about the story as it does about the whole package; the ads, the letters page – re-reading it carries you back to the first time you read it and the person you were when reading it.  Ditto with books, ditto with movies and TV shows; watching Twin Peaks on Hulu again gives me an appreciation for the show itself, but it also forces me to recall the first time watching it more than 20 (gasp!) years ago.  It’s the same reason we all have our favorite bands and favorite albums and songs; listening to them acts as something of a time machine.  I can’t listen to Nevermind or Bossanova or Doolittle without flashing back to Fall of 1991, Fall of 1990 and Summer of 1989 respectively.

All of this prompted me to ask some friends this question; what fictional world would you most want to take a vacation in?  More than a few mentioned the Star Wars galaxy or the milieu of Max Brooks’ World War Z.  Others think it would be cool to kick it around the Springfield USA of The Simpsons, visit the Duff Brewery, attend a pizza party at Wall E Weasel, and a summer trip to Mt. Splashmore.  My wife, without hesitation, picked Oz – but specifically the world of the L. Frank Baum books.  Not the 1939 movie.  Not the prison drama.  You can’t be the star of the story; you don’t get to be a Jedi or a bounty hunter, or wear the ruby slippers.  You can visit Tatooine or the Emerald City, or you can run for your life from the hordes of zombies rampaging through the world (maybe you get an “ejector seat” to blast you back to our reality in that case).  You would just be yourself, in that world, just like spending a week in Martinique doesn’t make you Bogart wooing Bacall and running weapons to the resistance.

For me, I’ll stay on home turf; put me in the NYC of the Marvel Universe circa the MARVELS series of the early 1990s.  Make me my ordinary self, writer extraordinaire, writing stories set in a New York without super-heroes.  Have my A-train downtown held in a station because Spider-Man is battling the Lizard at Columbus Circle.  Have lunch in Bryant Park interrupted by Juggernaut battling the Hulk.  Have the tech convention at the Javits Center interrupted by the Mandarin as he squares off with Iron Man.  Make me an ordinary man in a world of extraordinary beings, and see how I cope.  What is the impact of being a mere mortal in the face of actual living Gods —

Hang on …

That gives me a great idea for a story …