since this is the post about the last 2 releases on La Mano, one would think that, after 12 months and 10,000 words (and counting), this would be the final installment. but, nope: there’s one more after this, leading up to some site revamping (including my taking down the “sale” prices, so take advantage of my sluggishness before its too late) and the release of Recidivist volume 4. anyway, what we have here are the last 2 La Mano releases, from 2011 and 2012 respectively.
i know i said the last thing was the crown jewel of La Mano, but this next one is too:
LMOO7: THE KIM DEITCH FILES
so, one time (in the mid nineties i guess?) when i was aimlessly wandering around and crashing on floors (and in bookstores) in NYC, i walked by some fancy-pantsy art gallery, and the doors were open and there looked to be a pretty serious art opening going on inside. i learned very early that art openings mean FREE FOOD and maybe booze, so i went in. i was really surprised to discover that it was a Robert Williams opening (also, free food); there was film crew there and all kinds of stuff. and i think he’s a great painter & cartoonist, so i was happy in a couple of ways.
I’m walking around, looking at the stuff. and i turn my head and there’s a knot of people and one of them looks like Kim Deitch. and i think “HOLY SHIT”. and even though i’ve had a few drinks i still walk up, real nervously, and sit there in a fanboy sweat until, finally, the woman with him (who now know to be his wife pam) says “uh, kim; i think this guy wants to talk to you.” and i say yeah, but “ARE YOU KIM DEITCH?!”
sure it’s embarrassing, but who wouldn’t. i mean, Robt Williams is great, but this is KIM FUCKING DEITCH.
so i talked to him a bit and he was nice and i even gave him one of my comics.
strangely, after that we became friends. i was in Low in those days, so we were going through and playing NYC at least once or twice a year, and i’d give a Kim a ring and he’d invite me over and show me what he was working on and we’d just hang out. and every time, it was pretty wonderful; not only that i got to see and paw over whatever he was working on, but just to witness the guy’s dedication and work ethic. and aside from that, he’s a really… generous guy. i don’t know how else to put it. generous of spirit. great stories, a lot of good advice about how to keep doing this comics thing.
Kim seems to be one of those guys: within comics, his body of work inspires considerable awe, with good reason. he’s slowly created this puzzle, this ongoing world that is constantly expanding. there’s nothing else like it. and, after a while, i thought it was sort of criminal that i was one of the only people seeing this whole other part of his work– these pencilled “story” pages that were 100% Kim, but completely different from what people “know” of his work. and so i pitched it to Kim and he said okay.
i cannot describe how honored i am that Kim did this with me. and i also cannot say how proud i am of the way this particular project ended up, in both its forms.
but this one, it was a hard lesson. and kind of a depressing one. look at this photo, circa december 2013:
those are unsold Deitch Files. this is not how things should be.
and look– it sold just fine. enough to make its money back and send Kim a couple ok checks; and for the people who love Kim’s work, i think they are all, to the one, happy i/we did this and happy with the result.
but on this one, i finally thought i’d GOT IT RIGHT: a smaller edition, 300ish of the “regular” and 110 of the “deluxe”. i honestly thought these would be sold out in 4 months. because it’s KIM DEITCH. he is a MASTER CARTOONIST. don’t ask me, ask Dan Clowes (i did, and he sent me a nice quote for the folio), ask Chris Ware (he bought a deluxe version from me), ask Crumb, ask Jaime Hernandez, ask Sammy Harkham for pete’s sakes…anyone who loves comics. 400 of these? they should sell in a heartbeat.
and, they didn’t. you know what that means? that means something is wrong. it sure as heck isn’t Kim’s work, and it’s not the folio i put out, because the former is top of the heap art with a capital A, and the latter is a pretty beautiful, hand printed and assembled expression of the former. so what the heck is going on here?
again, it sold pretty ok, and both Kim and myself are good with it, for all the reason mentioned above.
a big part of this sale/ history was to try and draw some attention to a couple La Mano things that i feel didn’t get the attention they deserve. #1 on that list would be the Deitch Files. but maybe that’s just the world we live in, you know? and that, folks, is the part of this that depresses me.
Kim’s body of work is an american fucking treasure.
LM008: SAMMY THE MOUSE BOOK 1
this one, too, is the culmination of everything.
Sammy The Mouse was the thing i decided to do after Recidivist #3. i wanted to do Tintin, not Waiting for Godot. and i toyed with the idea of doing Sammy as a pamphlet comic, on La Mano. small, cheap, 2 colors. but at that point i knew what it took to make and sell and distribute etc etc a comic, and the thought of all that filled me with dread. i just wanted to MAKE the comic, and let someone else deal with all the other stuff. someone GOOD at it.
and then i heard about the Ignatz line, being administered by an italian cartoonist named Igort, published simultaneously in 6 languages (and by Fantagraphics here in the US). 2 colors. gorgeous format. in the company of some astounding cartoonists. i pitched it and Igort took it. only thing is, like a lot of awesome, beautiful ideas, the timing was bad, or something. i don’t know what because the quality of that line overall was fantastic, but by the time the first issue of Sammy came out, all but 2 of the international publishers had jumped ship. and by the time i did issue 3, the writing was clearly on the wall. sad, it was a beautiful experiment.
but the question for me was: what now?
so, this was it: if i was ever going to do a book of my own stuff, fully printed etc etc by me, this was it. i had to do it.
anly problem was, but this time La Mano was not only broke, it was in the hole. and i’d learned some things. the sad truth is that my idea of “i’ll have my own printing press, so everything will be CHEAP” was not the reality i’d hoped it would be. i’ll say this now, because this is the place to do so– after i’d priced everything on my little book, doing everything myself, it was still more per book than quotes from Asia. JUST FOR MATERIALS, that’s without paying myself to print it. and this is me buying paper at 1/2 off closeout rates. rather than go into a long anti-capitalist screed here (which is actually what this situation warrants), i just want you to take a moment to think about that (i’ve certainly spent MANY moments with it). to me, that is a really chilling situation.
so, i’d heard about Kickstarter, and thought i’d give it a shot. and, thanks to a lot of folks, it worked out. i could try doing this thing without going into crazy debt. so i did.
pretty much everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. i’ve described printing on other books as nightmarish, and at the risk of sounding like the little boy who cried wolf, i can say with great conviction that all the other La Mano printing “nightmares” were like gentle naps compared to Sammy.
i honestly thought the machine was trying to kill me. i developed a pavlovian fear of my press: the thought of turning it on sent me into panic mode. because every damn time i turned it on something went haywire.
and i will also say with full conviction that there is nothing i have done in my life that is as frustrating as…when things aren’t going right, printing. there was not 2 weeks that went by where i did not find myself so angry and frustrated that i was just… broken. so angry i’d throw a trash can across the room. so angry that i was crying, because there was nothing to smash with my fists. now, you might say to yourself “SOUNDS LIKE YOU GOT SOME OTHER ISSUES GOING ON THERE, SONNY JIM”, and you could be right, but generally, NOT THESE ONES. i do not scream and cry and throw shit in my normal life, at all. but here i was, doing it on a regular basis, on a book that i could not screw up. because people had already paid for it.
there’s plenty of reasons for this but again, i’ll spare you the details (except for the ones that are funny). basically, even after all this time i was still an inexperienced printer. and also, i bought the “new” press for $500, and as it turns out, there were damn good reasons it was that cheap. the previous owners had run the thing into the dirt. so every time something went wrong, i would assume i was doing something that made the machine, say, start to pull sheets up into it, creating a pulpy mess that would take an hour to clean up and then do it again. it was my inexperience. but sometimes it WASN’T that, and there was something out of whack with the press. the problem was, i never knew which was which, for certain. and every time i thought it was one thing, it was the other. so, honestly– it took me 6 months of this shit to print that book.
and also, there was this: due to a pagination program glitch, 2 of my 14 signatures ended up being printed incorrectly (and i was too furious to notice it. TWICE): which means 1/7th of the book’s paper stock was gone. which would normally just be a NORMAL $$$ suck catastrophe, but the bigger problem was this: since i’d purchased all my stock at Twin Cities Paper, a) i’d bought everything they had and b) it was, again, a stock that had been discontinued. there WAS no more. actually i scoured the internet and found ONE PLACE, somewhere in ohio i think, that had a case of it, but that still didn’t make up for what i’d lost. so then i had to find a stock that looked close to what i’d been using, and that’s when the piano dropped: since i’d purchased stuff exclusively at TCP, i had no idea what paper cost “normally”. and i was shocked.
i could keep going, but i won’t. i will say that it put a fear of the press into me that i still have not shaken entirely. and when it was over, i could see that it…was not good for me; coming home to my wife and kids covered in ink and so pissed off i could barely speak for the remainder of the evening on a semi-regular basis…don’t matter the hows or whys of it, it’s just not how i want to be. and this, mind you, is after i’d been stone cold sober for some years. booze or printers ink, something that does that to your life can’t be good. and booze did not make me scream and cry and throw shit. i was a sultry, witty, sophisticated and charismatic drinker.
eventually, though, it got done. spent the Kickstarter $ and then some.
and i thought “good god: some guy writes, draws and publishes his own work, THEN DOES ALL THE PRODUCTION AND PRINTS THE WHOLE THING HIMSELF?”. that’s amazing. I think it’s amazing– who’s ever seen a book like that? i thought it was a real interesting thing; it’s a “mass produced” object, but still sort of follows the ideas of a zine, or some other hand made object. to me, that was (and is) a really cool idea.
but guess what– putting the book out at the table, at shows or whatever, you know what it looked like?
it just looked like a regular book that was…not normal; not what people are used to. it DOES feel like something somebody MADE, some of the printing is wonky as hell, and its just… not what people are expecting when the pick up a perfect-bound “trade paperback”. in short, it weirded people out. and i’d explain to them what it is and all that and they generally just looked at me like a crazy person. there’s a story in that book beyond the story in that book, and it takes some digging beyond the face of it to find to what that story is. And some folks were interested, but for the most part…as i said, it just looked like a normal book, but “off”, somehow.
and i’m not really the type to go “sell” that story, to say “look what i did, isn’t that special!?!”
somebody once made the comparison to the whole “artisan bread” deal– what the heck is going on with these, weird, lumpy, craggy looking things? where is my SLICED LOAF OF BREAD TO MAKE A PEANUT BUTTER SANDWICH WITH?
but, you know– that shit sometimes tastes real good.
and, one more interesting thing: the price point. i’ve always been depressed by the psychology of selling stuff: why is it $13.95 and not $14? because it’s a time-honored tradition of marketing and sales. it tricks your brain into thinking $13 instead of $14. we’re so used to it that it barely even registers. but, again, it’s just a slight of hand that, when you think about it, is really patronizing and unnecessary if you respect whoever’s buying your “product”. from the first La Mano release, i decided i wasn’t ever going to do that. it’s gonna be $13, or it’s $14. and i thought: cheap. who the heck doesn’t like cheap?
but Sammy was a 2-color perfect bound “Graphic Novel”, 104 pages, printed by the author. and it was $14. 104 page “graphic Novels” routinely sell for $16-$20. and i thought making it cheaper than that would be a cool thing, an act of good faith for all involved.
i hate to say it, but our brains are hard-wired for capitalism, and its a tricky thing to navigate. price something too high and it’s snooty and insulting. price it too LOW, and…it’s suspicious. it really is. my story about that is the Wipers CD box set that came out some years ago: first 3 Wipers records, with extra tracks. Greg Sage (the main Wipers guy) himself released it, and it was like the Sammy book– it looked like somebody without design/ marketing chops put it together…it looked odd. like some weirdo put it together. and it was stupid cheap, $18 or something. i remember picking it up at the record shop, then some part of me thought $18 for all these? looks weird. this must be some kind of fly by night scam deal, something must be dodgy here.
and then i got home and thought what the hell is wrong with me?
and eventually i went back and picked it up, and god i can’t tell you how i treasure that stuff. but yeah, the unexpectedly low price made me question the quality of it.
and i think that’s the case with the Sammy book: low price plus weird printing plus rough around the edges? with a zine, that’s part of the territory, part of the charm. a book, not so much.
i wasn’t thinking about any of this when i made it, of course. i just thought it was cool, and that that’d show through. and i’m not crying about it now. i’m just saying: it’s interesting. and it didn’t sell shit poorly or anything: it did ok.
oh yeah: the work? Sammy is now halfway completed. book 2 was released by may pal Tom K via Uncivilized books. somebody else printed it, which was great. i think it’s real good stuff.
the fact that i’m only halfway through the completed work, and 7 years have gone by…that is depressing. but fuck it, i’m not getting into that now.
next one is the wrap up.