i would think this is a great thing even if i WASN’T one of the guys starting it.
but i am.
i would think this is a great thing even if i WASN’T one of the guys starting it.
but i am.
i got 2 of them, and i’ll be selling them this weekend at CAKE:
yeah. I’m not sure how many colors it is. 5, maybe? (it’s a manipulation of the cover i did for the japanese edition of Brian Evenson’s Fugue State). virtually every print is different, and ‘ll be selling these, for money.
i did this drawing for a “ghost” anthology some years ago (after looking at a a lot of Charles Adams), and have always really liked it. now you can too.
so, the bad news: i had planned to premiere the new Recidivist at CAKE this year. i’ve been busting my ass, but it’s just not going to happen. in light of that i cancelled the La Mano table.
the good news is, i’m still going to CAKE. and while it’s not DONE, it’s pretty damn close. see?IMG_1354
so i’m going to have a pretty darn near copy of the final book, in all its insane glory. and i’ll be taking preorders, on the spot.
and then when all that is done, i’m sending the entire book through the offset press for a pass of metallic silver (this is what i’m not going to have time to complete, but I’m going to try to print a sample page before i leave for chicago). it also will come with a 25 minute sound piece i did for the book, in the form of a CD. it’s $15.
as fancy as all that sounds, its folded and stapled, like a zine. which is just how i want it. i swore i’d never do another Recidivist, but here i am. it sort of reads like…if Black Flag wrote songs about…love, instead of the other thing. you’ll see.
i’ll be doing a web direct sale on the book real soon: anyone who orders it from me direct gets a fancy riso print. but if you preorder the book at CAKE, the poster is yours on the spot. otherwise, they’ll be $10 or something and i’ll be selling those. i’ll also have some of these 7-color tour posters i did recently for the Cloud Nothings (but not many, so get em quick).
see you there,
we’ve been working on this for a couple of months now. Dan Ibarra is an old friend, and he is one of the 2 awesome sob’s behind Aesthetic Apparatus. not only are they some of my favorite designers around, they are also great guys, and we share a lot of the same ideas about how and why art gets made, and how you get it done. we spent many, MANY long hours talking about what kind of different educational models there could be for making art: not “designing” or “making comics”, but just the lifelong practice of needing to do stuff, regardless of the discipline you ascribe to. what would WE want from a program? what kind of things are common across the board for creative types, regardless of what stage their “career” is at (or even if they want a career) or how they apply that need to make stuff (commercially? not at all? somewhere in the middle?). we pulled as many of those ideas as we could into this summer program we’ve concocted, and tried to think of some ideas outside of the normal academic “we teach you, you learn” model. it is really really exciting. read the whole thing in the link.
LM005: DEAD RINGER
as i said: the Centaur book was something else, and something new. but the next project was, in some ways, La Mano’s crowning achievement. enter Jason T Miles.
my friendship with Jason– how we met, became friends, etc, is too convoluted to write about in here: it does give credence to the fact that there’s a bunch of weirdos that drank the same Kool-Aid as you somewhere down the line, and you’re eventually going to meet them when you go back to the well to get more. by and large, it’s a pretty goddamn great well.
Jason is one of the most uncompromising cartoonists i’ve ever met; he relentlessly pursues his vision of what he wants to do, seemingly without a single shred of concern regarding “what people will think of it”. he just does it, and he works his ass off at it. he’s fearless and he can’t sit still; he’s just constantly exploring– and exploring some territory that’s got very few people treading on it.
and, to be totally honest, i do not “get”everything he does ( he once wrote me a postcard saying “here’s my new book: all i ask is that you never say you ‘don’t get it’”. but….sometimes i really just don’t. SORRY MAN); i’m sometimes not sure what he was going for, or why he did what he did. but one thing i AM sure of, is that he is not bullshitting me– whatever direction he goes, whether i “get” it or not, there is no doubt in my mind that he is going there for a reason. and not some half-baked art school reason, a REAL reason, one that he’s considered and thought about. whether or not that reason is apparent to ME when i read it is sort of…not the point of Jason’s stuff. i’ve probably said it numerous times in this thing, but guess what everybody: not everything needs to be for everyone.
at some point Jason sent me “Dead Ringer”. it was super fucking odd; each page a single panel on 11x 17 paper, drawn with what looked to be a dying black marker. same dude in a baseball hat, in the same spot, on each page. sometimes he said things. when i was done reading it, my first reaction was…i don’t know what that was, but it was pretty amazing.
and then i had the same reaction as when Nate sent me Centaur: well, we’ve got to do this on La Mano. and Jason said “sure”. i’ll be honest: my thought was, this’ll be a little mini-comic with some extra paper/printing choices that’ll make it look special. but– as with every other La Mano project, it changed. i thought Jason just sent it to me in the big format because that’s the size he drew it at, and was intending for it to be smaller. it wasn’t, and he didn’t: i was surprised when he said he thought it should be BIG. it NEVER would’ve struck me to go that size with it, but as soon as he said it, it made total sense. i had this raw card stock (from guess where) sitting around and a stack of weird interior paper as well. i think Jason was even the one that found the fold/bind we used (ok, what i used, as i assembled them).
the printing on this was just a total nightmare; i’ve said that before (maybe every time?), but this time i’ve got proof: may of the pages suffered from severe set-off (when the back of the printed sheet gets a “ghost” image, due to the ink on the previous sheet not drying sufficiently), and my sheet counter was broken. also, the card stock was so thick it was causing the machine total conniption fits. i lost a LOT of sheets. a lot. what it all ended up meaning was that we intended to do a run of 500 of these, but the actual number that got made was closer to 250-300.
now, the glory of Twin Cities Paper is that it was so cheap; the downside of that is that they got whatever paper they got, and if you wanted more, you were often s.o.l. they didn’t have it, and what you got from them very well could’ve been discontinued since they got it.
and, that’s what happened with Dead Ringer. after those got made, there was no more stock. and honestly, it caused me such headaches that i probably wouldn’t have done more even if there WAS stock.
Jason and i hammered out a price. i think i wanted it to go for less, but– not for the first time– the nature of the thing was so weird we had nothing to go on or compare it to. so we called it $14. i am– and always have been– absolutely terrible with the psychology of pricing things.
why? because it’s bullshit, that’s why.
but… Dead Ringer is something else. i don’t even know what to call it: it was a zine. and a comic. but it was the size of an elephant, and the individual pages were so static that someone probably could’ve taken it for a print folio. but it wasn’t any of those things specifically, either. and it was made by hand (the process for putting each one of these together was that same amount of futzy craziness that went into assembling the William Schaff folio), so it had that quality, as well. it utterly occupied its own space as a….thing.
this was the La Mano project that garnered the most confusion, the most “what the FUCK”s. some people even hated it. but i know for a fact that there’s a contingent out there that felt like this was (and is) a very, very important book to them. as with every other thing Jason and i were better pals when it was done, and our collaboration yielded something neither of us would’ve done, left to our own lights.
you can’t buy one from me. they are gone. and that’s even sort of great, as well: in this day and age when everything is available at all times…this thing got done. either you got one or you didn’t, but in either case, that’s IT; you had your shot, people. there is no way you could replicate what this thing was in any other format, ever.
such a weird, awesome, singular thing. tip to tail.
LM006 FEAR OF SONG
what can i say. i made this record. back in part 2 or whatever, mentioned Low, and my 12 years in that band, and that the divorce was difficult, messy, and painful. there was the personal stuff, and that was what it was. but there was other, more troubling things; falling ass-backwards into being a working “professional” musician had really done a number on me, in ways it took me years to figure out. i’m again going to restrain myself from getting novelistic on the subject, but i could go on at great length about it. the most important part is that somehow when i left the band i hated making music.
for a solid year after i left the band, i listened to Led Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder exclusively (and usually the same 5 songs, at that). after a while, i realized that i needed to try to figure this out, a little: obviously, i don’t hate music. i love music. and i’d had parts and pieces of my own songs that had been kicking around for a decade or more; not unlike my comics, the idea of finishing those things sent me into a panic that i realized was…pretty fucked up, and i’d find myself doing some pretty absurd things to avoid finishing them. i’d been a part of making quite a few very good records at this point, so what the hell was making me so crazy?
i figured– you’re not a musician anymore; there are no stakes in this. time to get to the bottom of it. you cant live the rest of your life being terrified of this thing you love. so i went in the basement with a 4-track and looked that fucker right in the eye. and it was not fun. but eventually, he blinked.
and once i finished ONE song, i though ah what the hell and finished a bunch of them. and at some point, i also started enjoying it. eventually i called my very old pal Ben Durrant, who’d done an AMAZING job recording Andrew Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha and said “you wanna help me with this?”. and he did. at some very early juncture i decided that every note on this thing had to made/ played/ performed by me.
this should surprise no one.
at a certain point Sub Pop kindly floated me and Ben some cash…they were intrigued enough by the couple songs i sent that they wanted to see what else came from it. the only problem was, due to my life and Ben’s life, we had to work on it piecemeal and by the time it was “finished”, a lot of time had passed and i was sick to death of it and just wanted it DONE. so when it all wrapped up and i sent it to them, my pal/ good guy/ Sub Pop head honcho Jon Poneman said “well, i like some of it a lot, but some not as much. what i’d like to hear are more songs.” and i didn’t have any, and the idea of sitting on this thing for another year…. again, i just wanted it done; i’d figured out what i wanted to figure out. so i did a couple calls to some labels and they all passed on “Low’s ex-bass player who doesn’t want to tour or play rock clubs”. go figure. so i released it myself, on La Mano. same old same old– had the raw cd’s manufactured, then printed everything else on paper i’d scored at TCP, assembled and signed and numbered them. Sub Pop did a great little 7″, though– one song from the record and one i left off for some stupid reason (because it’s one of the best songs of the bunch), and also a “hidden” track Ben and i had created by stitching together my isolated vocal track freak-outs, creating 4 minutes of me screaming, yelling, swearing and completely losing my shit in glorious stereo (my wife, upon hearing the track said “oh my god. that is terrifying. you sound like someone who is clinically insane.” then “you’re not really going to release that, are you?”).
and my pal Mark Treehouse liked it a lot, and put out a beautiful, thick vinyl version of it (and that’s the Sub Pop single there, too).
both versions were printed mostly on the press, and hand assembled by me. also each one is signed and numbered. perhaps i have problems.
anyways, the thing sold like a box of dead light bulbs.
i’m not the greatest self-promotor in the world, and i generally have difficulty “selling” my own work to people, in any form. comics, i’ve grown a bit more comfortable with even liking my own work, and being able to say that sort of thing out loud. but with some years remove, i feel like… this record, along with the Deitch files, are the La Mano projects i feel maybe didn’t get the shake they ought to have. more on Deitch in the next part, but that one’s a slam dunk: IT’S KIM DEITCH.
i’m pretty much the last person to toot his own horn on stuff like this, and while i was making it, i did not have the objectivity to assess the thing reasonably other than a gut sense that some of it was working pretty darn well– enough to keep going, anyway. but with some remove, now… it’s a solid record. some of it is pretty goddamn good, actually. a little closer to the bone than i’d like, in retrospect, but…that’s why you do things like make a record in your basement. it certainly wasn’t safe, i’ll tell you that much.
i don’t even want to start on the current state of music right now. you don’t want that.
next up, Sammy and Deitch. then a big wrap up. it’s taking a while, huh?
i’ll take a break in the “action” from the La Mano history (which i’ve vowed will be completed by the end of this month) to rave for a moment about something i’ve been listening to pretty obsessively: The Disintegration Loops.
some of you know the story, some don’t. i didn’t.
the story is this: minimalist/ avant composer William Basinski pulls out some old tape loops he made in the 80′s– i think i heard it was just pulled from easy listening music; determines that the life of these loops are nearing an end, so begins transferring/ recording them onto cd’s. he fires one up hits record, and goes and does something. comes back in a while and notices the loops sound different. then notices that the iron oxide is slowly eroding and degrading with each progressive loop, gathering in a little pile next to the tape head. the tape is dying, the music is dying, and he’s recording its death. and it’s very, very beautiful. some loops take an hour to fall apart, some 20 minutes.
he continues with the tapes; he’s living in NYC, and during this time (apologies if i’m not getting the timeline correct) the twin towers fall.
i read a review of the Disintegration Loops on Pitchfork, where it receives the highest marks and is discussed like something everyone already knows about. not me. sounds interesting, and worth checking out, but let’s face it: this sounds like a one trick pony, something academic and “interesting”. something you’d stroke your chin about and say “hm” (which is fine; there’s music and art i like along those lines, that provide more a kick in the head than the gut).
upon listening, this stuff is anything but academic. in fact, this is some of the most beautiful and affecting music i’ve heard in my life: it’s haunting, wonderful, sad and triumphant, all at the same time. i can’t accurately describe what makes these sounds…what they are. there’s no real reason that, essentially, the same 3-second loop playing for 20 minutes should have any real emotional depth at all, much less anything this powerful.
this work makes me proud to be a human being, in (again) some way that i can’t explain. and i think i’d feel that way even if i DIDN’T know the context in which they were created. but i do, and now you do too.
my pal Jeremy put out this elegant, gorgeous box set on his label, Temporary Residence. you should buy it from him as soon as possible (in all honesty, i first heard these Loops on Spotify, and then they were taken off, to which i say: well done. we don’t have time for the Spotify conversation right now, though…). an incredible vinyl set, as well as a more inexpensive 5-cd set.
i want to put in a special recommendation for cartoonists/ artists on this one: listening to music while you work can be a real distraction– you (ok, i do, anyway…) claim it’s “background” but you end up actively listening to/engaging it, instead of…doing that with what you’re actually working on. the movements in the loops are so slow and organic that…it’s great stuff to work to. i don’t use the word “meditative” often, but i will here. you don’t listen to it so much as swim in it.
work on the new Recidivist had come to a grinding, painful, full stop in the past couple months. i got these in the mail, and that is over. consider that a testimonial, in more ways than one.
(and while i’m at it, Tim Hecker’s new record is unbelievable, too. totally different in tone to these Loops, but stunningly good. go buy it from Kranky)
the other thing about La Mano? it takes me about 10 times as long to get anything done as i think it will. i wanted this history wrapped up by the new year, and we’re barely halfway through. oh well. there’s something to be said for consistency.
ok, so here’s where things start to get weird.
LM003 PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN TRYING TO DRAW
by this point i’d cut my teeth a bit on the press to the point where i was ready to take something on. or, better said; to put myself in a position i could not weasel my way out of (this has actually proved to be a great tactic for me, in life). as with very other thing, the next project happened real organically: i’d been moonlighting with a pretty great minneapolis band called Kid Dakota, playing bass (made a record with them called The West is The Future that still holds up well, i think). Darren Jackson, the songwriter/ main guy, had a pal named Will Schaff, who was doing the art; i think will and i might’ve had some mutual friends as well, but anyway– Will’s scratchboard stuff completely floored me. and we met, and i liked him. it’s long since gone from me how we actually hashed it out, but what i said was “hey, you wanna do a limited edition portfolio with me, i’ll print em on my press? 10 images or so?” and he said sure yup. so we did it.
he’d just started doing the art for this small band called Okkervil River, too. they’re not small anymore.
when i was talking earlier about the zine days, “what is this thing, and what can i pull off?”, and how that was a sort of wonderful process…Will’s folio was the first time that happened on the “new” La Mano.
you are undoubtedly used to my asides by now, but this one i gotta get out there– probably the single biggest factor in La Mano outside of the press itself: Twin Cities Paper, at the corner of Central and Broadway (about 5 blocks from my studio). it was one of those old, nondescript places that you drive by a million times and never really notice. after a while i thought “well they’re just down the street, might as well see what they have.”
and…god, i miss them. i miss them so much. i walked in and within 10 minutes i realized i’d hit pay dirt: it was my dream come true. dusty old place that went on forever, in all directions. a brother and sister ran the place, having inherited it from their father. what it was, was a remaindered paper outlet. see, most regular sized to large print shops order paper in these enormous quantities for a given job, and would often end up with extra; not enough that they could do another large run with it, but too much to warehouse and keep on hand just in case. so they’d sell em to TCP, and TCP would sell it to scavengers like me, CHEAP. like, ridiculously cheap. considering that i was doing runs that were tiny compared to even a small print shop, it was like heaven. they had a room of just leftover cover stock, all this crazy shit that no one wanted (except me). after a while they got to know me and i got to know them, and they’d literally just let me climb around, digging stuff out of corners that’d been sitting for a decade, and they’d forgotten they even had. i’m saying all this because starting with Will’s portfolio, every single La Mano project was BASED on what i found at Twin Cities Paper, period.
i’d find some weird old black paper, and say “what is this stuff?” they’d say “i dunno. you want it for really cheap?”; cover stock for Will’s folio. railroad board special edition? TCP. interior stock and envelopes? cover and interior stock for Centaur? every single thing in Fear of Song, Sammy Book 1, and (especially) the Deitch files? never mind all the various posters, promo sheets, and… i could go on and on. it was ALL TWIN CITIES PAPER. and it GAVE me ideas– i’d find stuff, and think “god, i gotta do something with this, i wonder what?”
so: i knew what i had: this weird black textured cover stock. also some crazy off -white stuff, heavy enough for cover, but i’d use it for the prints inside. slowly but surely, the thing came together. hockey tape binding. here, for fun is the process involved in putting each of these things together:
1) hand cut window in on front panel, using this jig-thing made out of some metal duct sheeting: try not to cut off finger.
2) cloth hockey tape: tape together front and back cover.
3) grab (pre-signed and numbered) envelope, containing the 10 plates. using double-stick tape gun, eyeball where the “list of works” plate goes on the cover (actually the inside) of the envelope. lock that sucker down.
3) tape the envelope in BACKWARDS.
4) now flip it again, and tape in the “cover card” (which i had printed at a postcard printing place).
5) get hole punch, punch hole about 1/2 way down. put in reinforcement thingies and brass thumb thing. clip the corners because somehow the whole thing didn’t look right until i did that.
i’ve blocked a lot of the printing out of my memory, i think. i know i cursed myself for using the textured paper on the inside, because it caused a lot of problems getting hard blacks– trying to run the machine hot enough to get the coverage without losing all the detail punching past the texture of the paper. and the roller wheel on the delivery end kept picking up ink. but, this was my first brush with something i should have expected, but didn’t: that i was not a professional printer, and it was just going to be as good as i could get it. which was (and still is) very frustrating; not only learning to do it, but also learning on the fly what my, and my machine’s capabilities were. in a lot of cases, that meant going with something that, were i paying a print shop, i would have brought back to them and said “no. do this again”. it’s sort of a weird thing to wrap your head around– saying to yourself “god, this doesn’t look professional; it looks like some guy who didn’t know what he was doing did it by hand in his basement”. and then thinking– wait; that’s exactly what this IS.
but, it was the first full project i ran on Maisie. and when it was all put together, i was sort of in awe of what a beautiful little thing we’d done, Will and i. and here’s another thing that happened for the first (but thankfully not the last) time: i’d known Will sort of when we decided to do this, but not really well.
by the end of it, the guy was my friend. and that, people, is awesome. John p was my friend before we did Mosquito together, and i was just pleased that our friendship didn’t suffer at all in the process. and i guess if push came to shove i’d say i’m friends with the Recidivist guy on some level. but– if you think going through the process of doing something like this with someone isn’t a potential hornet’s nest, you are mistaken. but i liked Will MORE when all was said and done, and i think he kind of felt the same way. i wasn’t just some dude selling his stuff; we did this thing together, and we were both proud of it, warts and all.
i’ve only got 20 or so of these left. doing that much hands-on labor was…not what i’d planned, or expected; it was just the tail wagging the dog– you’ve got this and this and this and here’s another idea and now you gotta…wait a minute hold on, whoops it’s done. and it was then that i realized that this thing wasn’t really like anything i’d seen before. and it felt better than sending all the files to the printer on Mosquito (again, the irony there). way better.
LM004 WAIT, YOU’RE NOT A CENTAUR book/ cd
while on a “break” from Low (too much to get into here), i had the extreme honor of being asked to play bass for a US tour with one of my favorite bands of all time, The Dirty Three. they were old pals, and like i said– just an amazing, amazing band. Mick Turner (guitar player, who’s got a great new solo record out right now, by the way) had his own label, called Anchor and Hope. i saw that our opening act all through the west coast was something called Nate Denver’s Neck; when i asked Mick what the hell, he said “i put out his record. just wait, you’ll see‘”.
and i did. Nate would come out each night in a black cowl, with a cardboard bloody axe taped to the end of his guitar, wearing a scary death mask. he’d go onstage, all by himself, start up a cd that played some Wagner, then at the precise moment, would pull off the death mask to reveal his face– which was painted like a death mask. he’d then proceed to sing songs (some in death metal voice, some not) about how much he loved slayer, and an epic battle with his childhood teddy bear, and a ballerina who’d made a pact with satan. he also looked like a dude straight out of a modeling agency, and it seemed like he could probably do 100 pull-ups if you asked him (i found out later that this was, indeed, the case). the crowd was almost always deeply confused, but most nights he won them over because…this was no schtick: Nate meant every word.
over the course of the tour we got to be friends, and at the end of the tour, we said “let’s keep in touch”. and most of the time, when you’re in a touring band, that doesn’t happen. not on purpose; you just don’t, for whatever reason. but Nate and i did keep in touch. i can’t even remember the specifics. we just did. so, again, i can’t remember exactly how, but at some point Nate said to me “have i ever told you that i wrote a book of 50 stories of exactly 50 words apiece?” and i said no Nate, you did not tell me that. would you send it to me? and he said “why yes zak, i will”. and i thought, oh, this’ll be funny. about 5 pages in, i had this overwhelming feeling that this HAD TO come out on La Mano, and so i called Nate and told him so, and he said “i was hoping you’d say that”.
so, this was the first book that the whole La Mano idea really went into practice: i got all the paper from Twin Cities (as well as this metallic cover stock that usually sells for 20x what i paid for it), made the printing plates on this hopped-up/ modded HP laser printer, i even had an ancient right angle folder at the time:
(insanely loud and capable of crushing any and all hands within 50 feet of it, also did not work very well), so i folded all the printed sheets into 8 page signatures before delivering them to the bindery. in fact, the binding was the ONLY thing i didn’t do in-house on that book. pretty much every single element listed above gave me no end of trouble, but Centaur was exactly what i had in mind when i bought the press– it sort of looked like a normal book, but it wasn’t; it was just too wonky, somehow. add to this the cd taped into the back cover (each with an elephant hand-drawn by nate) and it stops being what you think it is pretty darn quick.
so Nate, being Nate, got Adam Jones from Tool to write the intro to the book. and when it was finally done, TOOL put up a little blurb on their site. TOOL, you see, is a very popular rock band. i’d done a print run of 700 on the book, and they were all but gone in a matter of 6 months ( i kept some aside for me and nate, but you can’t have them). pretty great. so i immediately went back to press, and did another run with the guts printed commercially (but i still did the cover, and taped in all the cd’s). spent a bunch of $ to save myself the time and headache, and to try to keep the ball rolling.
this was La mano’s first brush with death: after i repressed, La Mano stopped getting orders completely. i believe i had a stretch where i did not get a single order for FOUR MONTHS. and i don’t mean “on Nate’s book that i’d just repressed” i mean at all. in part one of this history thing (wait, part 2?) i said i rebooted La Mano thinking someday, somehow, maybe it’d be something i could eke a small living off of (i know–think big). this was my first hint that…maybe that wasn’t a realistic goal. and that maybe it wasn’t why i was doing it in the first place, regardless of what i was telling myself.
but, right, the book– this was also the moment of truth for me: the white covered version (on the left) is the first run, where i did everything. the printing is dodgy, the pages stick out all over the damn place on the book face (due to the aforementioned ancient right angle folder), the cd barely fits inside it.
the second version: perfectly printed, binding and folding and everything just exactly where and how it should be. the books are, for all purposes, exactly the same– the only difference being that one of them was produced under “professional” conditions, with all aspects hitting the accepted marks of quality and such.
and, there is no question whatsoever; not to me, not to nate, not to anyone. the first printing is absolutely superior. we can go on about the magical qualities of art and sweat and love and all that stuff, but to be honest i’ve always been wary of that kind of dippy romanticism. anyone who hold the 2 books in their hand and thinks the blue covered one is the more beautiful object… i couldn’t agree less. and don’t get me wrong– the blue one is still a NICE BOOK; it just looks and feels like many other nice books you’ve held in your hand. call it dippy romantic sweat talking if you want, but the fact is, the one made by hand; you can tell. you can feel on every level that somebody put some serious love into this, from conception to the physical object itself, that no part of this was taken for granted. no one was kicking out product. could you tell all those things specifically, if you knew nothing about it and picked it up cold?
no. and yes, absolutely. you would know that this book is something different than 99% of the books you’ve seen in your life. that’s not my opinion, it’s fact.
and it made me realize, maybe not even on a conscious level, that doing “normal” books was something i wasn’t really that interested in.
pretty sure i also realized (again, not consciously) that “normal” books are what sell, and what makes money.
anyway, between Will and Nate’s books, an aesthetic was coming into shape– i didn’t feel as much that “i” was doing it, as that it was just happening, led by the collaborations with these particular guys and what i had available to get it done. but i liked it a lot.
WAIT YOU’RE NOT A CENTAUR is one of the only books La Mano has done that…if you don’t enjoy it, we probably have nothing to talk about. i cannot imagine someone looking at the “Viking Whale and Consenting Bee” drawing and not laughing like hell. if you don’t like this book, there could very well be something wrong with you, in a way that makes me sad not happy.
and, as with Will, Nate and i were even tighter when the book was done. in fact, Nate is one of my favorite guys in the world to this day. i could tell stories about him til i was blue in the face, and i’m tempted to do exactly that. we did an acoustic bookstore tour together on the west coast in 2009, and…i shouldn’t even start. he’s honestly the closest thing i’ve ever met to a superhero; he could undoubtedly kick your ass in a heartbeat (the 100 pull-ups was no lie) but more than likely if you ever meet him he’ll be saving your life (particularly if you live in the LA area), because that’s what he does for a living. he is entirely in cahoots with the forces of good, on a cellular level. and he sort of shreds on guitar. and he’s got this weird thing where hummingbirds follow him around. i’m not sure they make em like nate much anymore. i wish they did.
he did a second book of 50 50 word stories last year, called HAUNTED ARMOR, and La Mano didn’t publish it, but i helped some. go buy it.
3 down, 2 to go.it’ll get real good at the end.
if we ended up last time with the how and why i started La Mano, this part would probably consist of “ok, then what?”.
and what happened then was i left california; i had a great job at a silkscreen shop, but i was quickly developing a nasty case of carpal tunnel, and my relationship had horrifically imploded: i found myself living in a warehouse in Jack London square, totally cut off from everyone and everything (except some rave kid named Froggy who soon showed up threatening the landlord with a gun). it was bad times.
so i left, and, through a pretty circuitous route, joined a band called Low, which is largely what my life revolved around for the following 12 years. recording, touring, etc. if i claimed before that…this whole world of comics and music was my WHOLE world, and the one i lived in, joining Low was doubling down on that idea (even if i didn’t know it at the time).
i’m not going to go on at too great of length about that stretch of time, because i did exactly that in all the “liner notes” for Like a Dog, a book collecting Recidivist #1, 2, and a lot of other assorted work from that time period. Fantagraphics graciously agreed to release that collection, and despite the fact that it tanked sales-wise (and elicited some real strong negative critical reactions…like the book was a personal insult to certain folks. and also, Nick Gazin from Vice, both of which entities can go fuck themselves six ways from sunday anyways…), i’m still really proud of that book.
so if you wanna read all that stuff, get it from the library or Fantagraphics (or send me $10 and i’ll send you a copy of that book).
but, i’m getting ahead of myself. the point here is, La Mano kept being a thing. Mr. Mike was always less, uh…comics-focussed than me, having healthy interests in other things too, like any sane individual (not that he IS; sane, i mean. have you seen this? or THIS? i told you he was stupid genius). i released 2 issues of Recidivist while i was in Low: completed one of them while crashing in the west coast, and another in Duluth (and Olympia, WA, and while on various tours). i was too self conscious to sell the books from stage at Low shows; and i also had a real hang-up about keeping that part of my life separate from Low; Low was a very austere…thing. at its best, the band had a real deep and specific effect on people. i didn’t take it lightly. my comics were not minimal or elegant or pretty (which is how a lot of people described Low); they were the opposite of that. my bandmates were also a devout Mormon couple– i mean, not hardliners or judgemental in a lot of ways, but…there was a worldview there, and i respected how they came at that. their lives had a code and a framework, mine was a desperate mess.
somewhere in there, and i can’t pinpoint it exactly, that little part of me left over from being a teenager needing some kind of “validation”, that slowly whittled away and became something else; something better. again, with the honesty part– i know even as late as the first Recidivist, i thought to myself, on some embarrassing level…someone will want to take this over from me; i won’t “have to” do this myself anymore.
it really turned into– “i want to do this. i love this”.
i love taking full responsibility for what this thing is, and how it made its way into the world; the good parts of it and the difficult parts, as well. i’m not passing off the pieces i don’t like to someone else: if this thing doesn’t get done, and done just the way i want it to be, then it’s on me.
but there’s also the part of it that’s– FIGURING IT OUT. everyone knows what a book looks like, or a comic, or a magazine. this is how it works, what it does, what it looks like. if you want to do that, there’s a template for you that’s ready to go– one that you’ve seen thousands of times. but, if with every new project, you’re starting from scratch with a different set of limitations and expectations, that’s when the fun starts to happen. not being able to afford to send it to the printer (or not feeling like the thing demands a “print run” that would necessitate that expense) opens up a whole different set of constraints. what about this cheap paper i scored from a warehouse sale 2 years ago? can i use that? and what size does that make the book? and can you use raw cardboard for the cover? because i know where to get that stuff. and what am i gonna do about binding? etc etc. all of a sudden the whole process gets creative, beyond creating the work that goes INSIDE, and you get invested in that element– and if you’re really thinking hard about that stuff, it starts to inform the work itself and vice versa.
this was a great part of making a ‘zine– what can i do with this? how should it look, and feel? it’s NOT a comic book, or a book, or a magazine, it’s something else, right off the bat. so what should it be? i’d become really in love with that whole thing, but i’d also started thinking– what if you applied that same thing to “regular” books?
and around that time, i heard of someone selling a printing press for $250. and my first thought was– well, you can learn this. my old pal clint had been in the printing industry since he got out of high school, working on machines just like this, and said “sure. you can figure it out”. and for $250, why not? it seemed like a real interesting and natural step from self-publishing zines: in fact, it’d be exactly like that process, but landing somewhere in between the 2. i figured: if i can teach myself to do this, i’ll save enormous amounts in printing costs, so why not try to do more “normal” books, that’ll undoubtedly feel more like zines because, essentially, it’ll still be this hands-on process, where you’re 100% involved. it’ll be a hybrid of a book and a zine and…man, that idea turned my crank to no end. still does. so i bought it– an AB Dick 360, and named her Maisie (after John P’s cat).
and, i’d been slowly compiling this list of books in my head that i WISHED existed, but didn’t. i can’t find it right now, though.
and it just so happened, everything changed right around then: under some pretty difficult circumstances, i had to leave Low. and at the exact moment that had to happen, i had just bought a house, got married, and was expecting my first child. so, the way i had earned a living for the previous decade, that was done. and that– being in a band– was all i had done for my adult life up to that point; that and comics. i didn’t go to college. the only thing i knew how to do was make art and music; i’d assumed from a pretty early age that that meant i was fucked in terms of making a living, in general. Low was a strange and surprising fluke in that regard. i joined Low because they were my friends, the music was really good, and…i was 22, who WOULDN’T? it wasn’t crazy money, but by the end we were doing pretty good, and my lifestyle (didn’t live anywhere, or spend money) meant i had socked away a nice chunk by the time i left.
anyway, i was facing down some real adult-type stuff. the timing was for shit. but i thought, well– this is it, end of excuses: do this for real. you made a living with music (starting at an age where longevity was the furthest thing from my mind) against most odds; this has always been what you said you wanted to do, so here we are and here it is. put up or shut up.
i thought– i’ll do La Mano. in between that and my own comics (and whatever else here and there), i can build something sustainable. not HUGE, just sustainable. that was my goal, right from the outset– it won’t be a big thing now, when i’m starting it, but if i keep putting out good stuff (ok, GREAT stuff), if i keep working and stay honest about it…it might work. and i was never talking SUCCESS, in the ways people think of it. i used to think– hell, if i can just build an audience of 4-5000 people, worldwide, who will buy something from me once a year, ill be ok. and considering i was coming off a stint in Low where we sold about 60,000 copies of a new record worldwide (i know. remember, this was pre-interweb), that didn’t seem like crazy, pie in the sky numbers.
as i said in part 1: ho ho ho.
i really thought, though, that i was doing 2 things: 1) trying to see what it was like to be a “real” publisher and maybe try to make some kind of meager living at it and 2) to see what happened, because it sounded pretty wonderful, as an idea.
i just thought: there’s a thing not being explored, here, and it’s really, really interesting to me: so let’s go.
LM001: DIARY OF A MOSQUITO ABATEMENT MAN
at that time, there were far, FAR less “boutique” publishers than there are now– and also, there was more of a division between “Comics” and “zines”: they were related and there was crossover, but, for instance, John was ”zine” guy: the normal comics world generally did not give a hoot about John’s work– in fact, some circles were downright antagonistic regarding his work, and what it did: it wasn’t even “indie comics”, like Hate or Eightball. it was just an anomaly, and paradoxically, was in a lot of ways more approachable for “normal” people that it was for the die-hard “comics” person. and at the time there had only been one “non-zine” collection of John’s stuff (Perfect Example, from the now defunct Highwater Books, since reprinted by Drawn and Quarterly). i thought it was high time for a collection of some King-Cat in a different light.
John is one of my closest friends, and has been for a long, long time now. sometimes with a friend that close it’s hard to pull back and be objective about the influence that person has had on your life. i’m glad i’m writing this, as it gives me an opportunity to do that: and John p and King-Cat (and his AMAZING book/ zine distro, Spit and a Half) had a HUGE part in changing the way i think about all of this. for those of you who don’t know (probably very few, if you are reading this), John’s been doing a zine called King-Cat since 1988; he’s just put out the 74th issue. it has always been a black and white zine, standard size. but in every sense, John, and his attitude toward what he does, has been an inspiration– both to me and many, many others.
i’m not real big on didactic, “confrontational” art, but john’s stuff always has been, in an almost invisible way– like he’s saying “this is what it is”. minimal, sometimes brutally “mundane”, it’s just about what life is made of: not framing or manipulating the facets of your life your in an attempt to make “a good story”, or tweaking it to make it more dramatic and palatable. it just is what it is, period. it took me a while to even understand what he was doing, with King-Cat: i’d never seen anything like it in comics, or anywhere else, really. and i’ll stand by that, after 25 years of reading john’s work. there is nothing like it. it’s about as punk as you get, in its own quiet, understated way: this is my life, warts and all — john’s not going to apologize or compromise what he wants to do. it’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. you can love Fleetwood Mac and Flipper equally, and anyone who says that’s not ok, or uncool, or whatever can go elsewhere. you just are who you are, and the only thing that counts is that you own it; whether or not someone thinks your stuff is “good” or “publishable” (which, in almost all cases, is less about whether the item in question is “good” than whether it will be able to sell and turn a profit. these things are not the same.) might be interesting and nice, but what it comes down to is: if you think it’s got worth, and you can do the work, and get behind it, none of that other junk matters. not really.
so, the earlier mention of “slowly changing my mind about wanting/ needing to get published ‘for real’ “. well, a lot of that solidifying for me came from my friendship with John Porcellino.
it took me a long time to do that. longer than most. but i think a lot of that was john, and King-Cat.
again– i could write a novel, just about my pal Johnny. hopefully someone will, soon. i love him dearly.
but he did that book with me, bless his heart. and it’s a great book (it won the “best comic collection” [or something that sounds like that] Ignatz that year, for what it’s worth).
ironically, this book would’ve been a shoe-in for printing on Maisie, but i’d started to discover that my learning curve of being a printer was steeper than i’d hoped. i just didn’t feel confident enough to print it myself, so this is the ONLY La Mano book that was done entirely out-of-shop (it was even [very nicely] designed by an outside source, Tom Devlin).
like i said: ironic.
LM002: RECIDIVIST (volume 3)
i’m a lot better at writing about other people’s stuff than i am my own. i think reading this book is still a pretty harrowing experience; making it certainly was. in a nutshell, i realized that…the kind of comics i was making were making me really unhappy. i didn’t know what to do about it. but i knew i had to figure out a way to change my relationship to this thing i claimed i loved, because it was a BAD relationship. so as the work developed, i realized that this…this was my kiss-off: i didn’t know what came next, but i wasn’t doing THIS anymore. and that’s really what the book is about.
originally, i wanted to package it with a cd– a “soundtrack” for the book of some kind. probably some sort of noise/drone thing that lasted for roughly the time it’d take someone to read the book, and relate to the stories. mood music. hence the square format of the book. but pretty early into “Animal Vomit” i realized that, shrunk down to cd size, it’d be totally unreadable. smaller type than chris ware tiny. and, considering i was 1/2 way through the book when it dawned on me, there was no changing that part of it– hence the square book.
this was the second book i’d planned to print on my own press, but as the art developed, it became clear that there was no way in hell the 360 could handle what the book needed, printing-wise: there was too much heavy black coverage, with too much detail. it would’ve been a nightmare, and still looked shitty. so, i farmed out the guts, but still did the covers on Maisie. and they looked pretty good: it was (and is) a snappy looking book.
it’s funny, because i sent the first 2 releases to R. Crumb, and got a pretty amazing (hand lettered!) note back from him: said he liked the John P book (but preferred John’s earlier, less refined art style), and even though mine had “obviously” much more in the way of design and drawing technique, it just turned him off. it was actually a great postcard: real honest, but not mean or anything.
but i remember thinking– “design chops? what?!? it looks like that ’cause all i could afford was black and white for the cover, and all i could think of was that one image, so i figured i’d throw in the textured paper thing so it wasn’t the most boring cover of all time!! i’ve never had any design training in my life!!!”.
but… i look at that book like– a girlfriend you’d had a bad relationship with, for a long time. you loved them, but it just was no good, and it ripped your heart out. but when you finally ended it, you knew it was the right thing to do, because you looked it all the way in the eye and didn’t blink. and when it was all over, it was done, and nothing you want to go back to. i view it as something i needed to do, and am proud of what i did, but am not going to look at any time soon.
recently i HAD to go back into it, a bit, and thought– well my goodness gracious: some of this is really fucking good.
the strange thing about it was, i was far from sure that it’d work– that i could really put some of that stuff behind me, and move on. both personally and as a cartoonist. but lo and behold, when i finished it, it was literally like a weight had been lifted. like i’d done my due diligence, and put to bed a certain…thing that i no longer had the tolerance for. and for the first time, it worked. pretty strange.
got nominated for a couple of “Eisner” awards, which is odd.
even stranger though, is that after saying “that is DONE. you don’t ever have to do those kind of comics again” here we are, 8 years after it came out (meaning 12 years after i started making it…), i’m doing a new Recidivist. because i WANT to, and for no other reason than that. as of this writing, i sort of stalled out at the halfway point, but the next big push is imminent, so i’ll be putting it out in 2014. it’ll look like a zine. i’ll print most of it. and it’s coming with a soundtrack.
thinking about the first 2 books on La Mano is strange to me now– they are the 2 books that feel the LEAST like “La Mano” books; i love em both, but they feel like books that, really, anyone could have put out. they look like normal books.
next installment is when things start to go off the rails.
in a good way.
please note: i am not editing.
i promised myself i’d do this, for that La Mano 21st anniversary sale and all that, so here it is. maybe it’ll be therapuetic, we’ll see. chances are it’ll get real long in the tooth. hang in there or don’t, i’ll never know the difference.
i wish i could just start at the beginning, but it’s somewhat difficult to determine where the beginning would be; my mom was transferring some old 16mm home moves about 8 years ago, and there’s this footage (silent, of course) of my sister’s birthday; she’s 2 years older than me, so i think it was her 6th birthday, making me 4. she’s opening presents, and one of them is some comic books; she makes a happy face and says thank you and starts opening the next one. i watched my 4 year old self pick up those comics, and all of a sudden, i was GONE. just somewhere else completely, in a half a second. you can see it happening– no more party, no more cake, i’m just completely zeroed in on these things. it’s kind of creepy, actually, how for whatever reason it’s there in me, hard wired. one could make the argument that i didn’t have much choice in the matter, but i hate that argument.
point is, i always loved comics. always. to this day, people ask me “how long have you been doing this?” and i say “forever”. and they chuckle and so do i but i’m not kidding, at all.
i had the normal trajectory for my generation: superhero stuff (mostly Marvel), then slowly losing interest in that whole deal. still loving comics, but not getting what i wanted out of them. i’ve told this story too many times (that might happen a lot during this), but at the moment i was about to give up, i ventured into the back room “smutty” section of the comic store, and picked up 2 comics: Love and Rockets #20 and Yummy Fur #1, and my life changed. it really was one of those moments– everything changed, right then and there. something i thought i knew about comics, but had never really seen with my own 2 eyes –that they were real art– that was now REAL. i had proof. you could do anything with them.
i think i should point out that Love and Rockets was, initially, self published by the Brothers Hernandez, and Yummy Fur #1 was a collection of Chester Brown’s zines of the same name. VERY different books, but the same basic idea: there isn’t anything like this, so i’ll just do it myself.
keep this in mind as we move forward.
pretty soon after that i (again, like a lot of cartoonists from my generation) discovered the copy machine, and started making my own zines. i think i was 13.
they were, of course, really bad. but it was (and still is) a real charge to have…a bunch of stuff, and within the hour, you have in your hand a little thing you can give someone. a magazine, whatever. it’s pretty magical (and i’m not a guy who uses the word “magical” often or lightly). so, after a bunch of these crappy little things, i grew up some more. i’d love to say that i was ALWAYS A SELF PUBLISHER GUY, DUDE, but that wouldn’t be true or in line with why i’m writing this in the first place; i wanted to be published by a “real” publisher; i wanted my own comic, like Eightball or Neat Stuff, and for me, that was the mark of validation, that your stuff was “good enough”. zines were neat and all, but i viewed them as just that: kind of “neat”, but not the real thing. you needed someone to TELL YOU you were the “real thing”, and until that time, you weren’t. not really. so i did stuff here and there, but my real goal was to get published for real.
it didn’t happen all at once, but that slowly (very slowly) changed. pretty much 180 degrees. we’ll get to that later.
around my mid-teens another thing happened, which was me discovering music. and, you know, i thought Jim Morrison was really cool and intense and deep. then i heard Joy Division, and saw Fugazi in–christ, ’88? (9:30 club, DC. i think they’d only been a band for a year or so, that first record wasn’t out yet. same as buying those comics: everything was different forever after that show).
there was this whole other world, a world that had as little as possible to do with what you saw on TV or movies or heard on the radio; it was its own self sufficient little ecosystem. and it wasn’t just music (although that was a big part of it); in the pre-internet world, you had no idea what was going on elsewhere– toledo or austin or wherever. you had this feeling like you and the other 20 people you knew were alone, on an island. through bands and zines and comics, you got a sense that there were other little pockets of oddballs, everywhere; and that they were making their own shit, whatever it might be. and that was exciting. all that has changed, now– you can find oddballs with the same niche interests as you in about 5 seconds flat. but 20 years ago, that wasn’t the case; and people built their own networks to get stuff out there. and the unspoken idea there was: this is just too weird or personal or loud or upsetting to even exist in any of the normal ways: i know that, and i’m doing it anyway. and because of that, i’m going to do it the way i WANT to, rather than the way i’m “supposed” to.
this extended from Touch and Go records to Factsheet 5, to the letter column in HATE, and Weirdo magazine, and…there were different circles, for sure, but at least to me, they seemed interconnected. and i’m in no way saying that there was some international club, and i filled out the application and then joined. it just happened.
john p said to me on the phone recently,”man, i have no idea about ANYTHING that happened in mainstream culture for the entire decade of the 90′s”, and i know exactly what he means. not in a snotty way, just– you didn’t need to. you had your own culture, and you were connected by (and to) it, and it was a good one. the word “scene” has a weird connotation now (and i probably wasn’t fond of it then, i can’t remember) but there was something to it.
i’ve got to stop with all that before this turns into a novel. all i can say is: that was my life. it’s where i lived, and what i did. i forged a bus pass and scammed my way onto busses cross country, largely because i’d read how my pal Aaron did it in his zine, Cometbus, and he made it sound easy and possibly fun (he was wrong).
what happened, eventually, was that i found myself in the Bay Area of california, with fuck-all. my pal Spanky had moved out there from minneapolis and was living in a punk house. and i took over his room for a while, then got in on an open space in an east oakland punk rock ware house (Blake from Jawbreaker had vacated his room, and a 16-year old kid named Derek– who would end up being in the Murder City Devils, Cave Singers, and a bunch of other stuff–had just moved in. Jux and Deb and ah hell i forget who else lived there. Paul Lee? anyway.) i put out a toxic mini comic called “BENZENE” and a couple minis, and then found a room in a garage (where i got scabies TWICE); somewhere in there, Jux had purchased a printing press that he was going to teach himself to use (he was OLD, back then–35!!). i immediately called him and said “let me be your apprentice; show me how to use this thing and i’ll work for you for free.”. he said “sure!”. i don’t even remember what kind of press it was, now, but one night i went down to the old warehouse while the thing was running, and after hanging out for a couple hours and being 100% bewildered while he explained and showed me how the thing worked (and also probably kind of drunk), i decided “jesus. there’s no way i could ever run one of these things.”
ho ho ho.
but while i mulled on that, my old/one of my best pals, Mr. Mike– the stupid genius behind one of the greatest zines of the 90′s, RUMP magazine, and i decided to do a split mini comic together about drinking too much (which both of us were doing, at the time). cross-country (he was still in minneapolis), flip book style. i mentioned the press, and that Jux could print it, and there you go. but, this wasn’t a normal zine, scammed copies from kinko’s…this was REAL PRINTING, so i thought…what the hell, it should be…a label. back then, this wasn’t a business plan or a marketing scheme (in fact, in a lot of ways both of those ideas were somewhat verboten within that community), but more of some sort of signifier, just saying “i’m doing this”. there was no chance whatsoever that it needed or was going to get “big”, that was the whole point really– it WASN’T, and you knew it, so fuck it. if you don’t get the joke, you don’t. have fun with Milli Vanilli or Tom Cruise or whatever.
so all out needed was a name. i’d by then become hooked up with Ms. Mitchelle Crisp. it was bonkers. we did a mini comic together, then shacked up, and we had one of those couple year, howlingly intense relationships that results from two young…man, i’d say “punk rockers” but we were just too off to be “real” punks. we were just nut jobs (and probably alcoholics). there’s a strip in Like A Dog that chronicles some of this craziness.
anyway, Mitchelle had a set of Loteria cards, and midwestern boy that i was (and am, really…) i’d never seen those before: i loved the drawings, and when i saw “the hand”, and it was #21 (legal drinking age, the age that you’re an “adult”), and in the little explanation thing, there was a connotation that it was “the hand of the criminal”, which was a good description of how i felt about my comics at the time, so it was perfect. i swung it by Mr. Mike and he said “sure, whatever”.
we got it together and Jux printed it (i think he charged me $200 for 500 copies), and that was the first La Mano thing.
here’s what it looked like:
and that was the first thing that ever happened on La Mano.
so that’s it for part 1. i’ll write about each of the La Mano releases individually….eventually.
if you’re wondering “when we’ll get to the La Mano stuff, why are you just writing about your life” then
a) you don’t know me very well, and
2) this IS “THE LA MANO STUFF”.
i didn’t MAKE you come here. i’ve heard there’s plenty of other junk on the internet to look at.