Some book signings are good because customers are lined up out the door and the store owner sells enough copies to pay the rent for the month. Others are good because interesting people show up and have time to talk. More salon than signing, they’re good reminders of why we do the work.
We signed copies of Networked at Leef Smith’s Mission Comics and Art in San Francisco a few days ago. We weren’t expecting a big crowd, not on a gorgeous Sunday afternoon with the Giants in the playoffs, not the day after the Mission District had spent itself on the literary bacchanal of LitCrawl. But the people who came carved out the time to sit around and talk: people connected to the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Human Rights Data Analysis Group, a student of Mark’s at the Academy of Art, the publisher of an arts magazine who grew up on Gerry’s comics for DC and Malibu, a young comics artist showing his sketchbook, a video game designer, and a local writer and journalist named Sona Avakian who may or may not write about us for the SF Examiner.
Leef’s store is an airy and nicely lit space, an art gallery as well as a comics shop, one of the nicest places to sit around and talk in the Mission District as an Indian summer afternoon turned to evening. We talked about art and superheroes and social networks and privacy laws and old comic book artists and generational changes and Guatemala and Chad and digital drawings and nonprofits versus for-profits and Cleveland sports and elections and video games. Leef sold a few copies of Networked and gave away some free comics. Mark did a pen and ink drawing of Batman. Gerry signed some old copies of Guy Gardner. Then some of us went for Indian food and learned that the Giants had come from behind in the ninth inning to win game three.
And that, as much as sales figures and lines out the door, is reason enough to write and draw.
We’ll be doing another signing on Saturday the 16th, at Dr. Comics and Mr. Games in Oakland. No idea who’ll show up or what we’ll talk about, but we’re looking forward.
We’ll be doing two signings for Networked: Carabella on the Run. The first, Sunday Oct. 10 from 5:00-8:00 PM, is at Mission Comics and Art in San Francisco. Mission is a relatively new entry in the retail community, a combination comics shop and art gallery right off Valencia Street, the main hipster artery of Northern California, and it’s already becoming well known for its music gigs, art openings and literary readings. Check them out here: http://www.missioncomicsandart.com/
Six days later, from 2:00-5:00 PM on Saturday Oct. 16, we’ll be across the bay at Dr. Comics and Mr. Games in Oakland. In some ways Dr. Comics is the opposite of Mission, a venerable citizen of the quiet, classy Piedmont neighborhood that sells not comics and cutting-edge art but comics and board games. But it’s legendary for its comprehensive selection and that great rarity in comics shops, a pleasant and helpful staff. You can read people raving about them on Yelp: http://www.yelp.com/biz/dr-comics-and-mr-games-oakland
We’re looking forward to doing both—and hope to see you at one or the other!
The Gerry half of Markgerry today…
I was sitting at a bar and grill on Michigan Avenue, eating a blue-cheese loaded iceberg wedge and drinking a basil-infused gimlet, taking notes in my little Moleskine notebook while the guide to the Chicago Art Institute that I’d been using as a bookmark lay on the table next to it. In small-talking the waiter I said I was from San Francisco and I’d come to Chicago because my son was attending G-Fest, a convention for Godzilla fans. We shared a smile: oh, those crazy kids, ha ha ha. Overall, I was doing a very good impersonation of an adult.
But ten days later I was at the San Diego Comic Con, and I wasn’t with my son. True, I had a graphic novel to promote, Networked, one that sprang from a web comic commissioned by a nonprofit advocacy group. I could try to pretend that that’s the only reason I was at Comic Con, but that wouldn’t explain the twenty-six straight years I’d been there before this one.
I get why my son loves Godzilla. And it’s not just that he’s huge and destructive and free of the constrictions of society and all those other virtues I wrote about in a book called Killing Monsters. It’s also the simple fact that he’s junk.
He’s chuckled at by the rest of the world, and Nicky is part of a select group who understand that there’s something valuable in that junk, who can tell you why the guy who directed Mothra is better than the guy who directed Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster and why YMSF makes more accurate vinyl monster toys (or “figures,” if you will) than Bandai and how the composer of the best Godzilla soundtracks consciously combined Western symphonic music with Japanese folk ballads and why the American Godzilla movie really sucks.
I was that way with comics before they had a cachet, when comic cons drew only a few thousand obsessive guys and a few dozen embarrassed girlfriends. I liked discovering artistry in a medium completely dismissed by the world at large. I liked being able to take one look at a comic book page and recognize the artist, and somehow it meant more that hardly anyone beyond the confines of that convention center would even know his name.
It wasn’t just about finding a community and setting myself apart, either, although those were both part of it. It was also about coming to rescue of the junk. It was about saving great junk from the garbage and telling those obscure artists and writers that someone noticed. And it was about discovering gems that lay right under the noses of the mavens of culture but that they could never recognize.
Even as writing graphic novels has developed a weird sort of prestige, even as I find myself writing stories with serious intents, I never want to lose touch with the passion for junk culture that helped me fall in love with this medium in the first place. I want the freedom and whimsicality and creative latitude that junk does best flowing through everything I write. I want to see Networked in the quarter box on the floor. Okay, not literally. But I want to see it in the quarter box of my soul.
It’s in the plot really
Mark of mark & Gerry
So I’d rather read an adventure story which is what Networked is, but it has some “issues” in it. If you’d like to see what the issues are check out the Wall Street Journal. Me I’m having issues with all the talk of issues…
The Mark half
The Gerry half of Markgerry writing this time…
They say once you get comics in your blood you can never get them out. I wrote a lot of comics from the late ‘80s well into the ‘90s, then started shifting toward nonfiction books and screenplays. After the Pokemon newspaper strip in 2000 I stopped writing comics entirely. But ten years later, here I am again.
In my case, what pulled me back was a bit more substantial than just something in my blood. The mistake I made when I left comics was not severing all my social ties with them. I kept talking to Mark Badger, one of my favorite collaborators from my DC days, thinking it was safe to talk about innocuous subjects like kids and politics and our respective careers.
Mark was mostly teaching and coding then, but he fiddled with comics occasionally, some for small publishers and some for political groups. For a couple of years I was writing a book about comics called Men of Tomorrow, so of course we talked about the old medium. We’d even say occasionally it would be fun to play with some of our old ideas, like that Haunted Man thing we did for Dark Horse, although that usually felt like just one of those nostalgic things old friends say.
Then Mark started doing work for a nonprofit group called Privacy Activism. First they hired him to do the art on an interactive game on their website, and after he impressed them with that they started talking about a web comic to encourage high school kids to start thinking about issues like online privacy in their own lives. But Mark didn’t feel like writing it himself, so he asked me if I’d like to play. The work would be light, he said. Just an ongoing comic strip, nothing ambitious.
But as soon as I started thinking in panels and balloons, the old fever kicked in. The story got longer, the characters got more interesting. “Hey, we could turn this into a graphic novel,” we said. And suddenly there’s no staying out anymore.
Creating comics as everyone knows, is the integration of words and pictures. The craft of putting words and pictures on the page to tell a story sometimes takes more then one person. Of course comics grow out of the sweatshops of the lower East Side and the factory mentality so no one person is responsible for the ongoing flow of comics you usually see. In the corporate “comics biz” writers dominate, mainly because they can edit and write since neither involves much time. It takes time to draw a page and artists are usually looked on as dumb laborers.
But that’s the jaded old person view of comics, when I was young and naive and starting out in 1985., I thought making comics was more like this-
This is a back up story from Fantastic Four Annual 5 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. I must have been about ten when I read this in color. It’s probably when I decided to grow up and draw funny books for a living. This really wasn’t far off from the games and stories my friends and I made up on our porches in Cleveland Heights.
I was introduced to Gerard Jones over the phone, that pre-internet mode of communication. He had made a name for himself by making fun of fanboys and the biz in a print magazine, another ancient mode of communication. We talked plot a little bit, and then some football, then some politics, a little jazz, a little more jazz, even modern art . When we started about doing comics with Paul Klee imagery and superheroes, I think I had finally found someone who had the right ideas about comics.
We didn’t smoke cigars or fight with swords, but coffee and plotting and talking was the bond. So for the pleasure of working together, the careful thinking he’s revealed in his actual books, Men of Tomorrow and Killing Monsters he really was the first guy I thought of when it came to creating a graphic novel for Privacy Activism. Because I knew that it was a weird project and it was going to be lots of coffee to clarify it so we started drinking and talking and processing; what is privacy?