a LA MANO HISTORY, part 1
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.