so, about a month ago, i posted something on Facebook mentioning that i’m digging in for real on the comic book biography of Philip K Dick. i gotta say, i was pretty surprised at the response.
today at the studio i cracked 90 pages of roughly scripted pages; there are scenes and pages in rough pencil form here and there, a couple sequences that are pretty well etched in stone, and a few finished pages. here’s a couple snapshots of where it’s at:
at first i thought the book would be at least 200-250 pages… as it takes more shape, i’m now thinking it’ll be closer to 150-175 very dense pages.
this is a book i’ve been thinking about doing for… something like 18 years now (actually for a long time i thought i’d “write a film script for it someday”, and then realized that 1) it takes a sickening amount of time, money, contacts, etc to get a movie made, and i have very little/ none of any of those things 2) hollywood blows and 3) i’m a cartoonist, i can do it all myself). i have always, always known what a mammoth task it’d be when and if i really waded in, in a serious way. which is, i think, why it’s taken me so long to dig in and commit. because now that i’m in it– i was absolutely correct.
but, 5 or 6 years ago, i landed on how i would structure the thing, and a visual theme to hold the story together– and then things started clicking into place. i even went so far as to call agents and pitch it to an NYC publishing house. with the amount of work i knew i needed to do, what i was hoping for is some kind of advance that would enable me to devote all my time to it for a given period, so the damn thing wouldn’t stretch out over the next decade (see: Sammy The Mouse), with me somehow “finding time” between work and paying projects to get it done. it’s a really difficult way to get anything done. and let’s face it: if you know PKD, you know that you don’t dip your toe– you get in over your head or get the hell out. but the general consensus was “yeah– looks great. we’re interested. now script the whole thing and we’ll talk more.” which…that’s the double bind, no? i need $ to finish the thing, and i can’t get $ till i do all the work.
anyway. my take on Phil’s life/ the structure of the book is pretty simple: women.
PKD was married 5 times, and he was absolutely haunted for the entirety of his life by the death of his twin sister Jane (who died when they were 6 weeks old). Phil was utterly and absolutely adrift without a female presence in his life, and yet he could never quite…make it work. there was always something missing. i could go on and on about this, but that’s why i’m doing a book and not a blog post. in any case, the book is structured in chapters, based on the important women in his life (it starts with Jane, of course).
the visual treatment, i’m pretty proud of as well. the majority of the book is in black and white with washes; there is also a spot color pink, which serves a couple purposes– firstly, to represent PKD’s “theophany” in 1974, and also as a treatment of his concept of “orthogonal time”.
i’ve been urged by some smart friends to post process work from the book, as i work. as anyone who has ever looked at this (or the La Mano) site knows, i am terrible at posting. but as i said above, the response to a little FB post was kind of wonderful, in a lot of ways. firstly, it got me fired up to keep ploughing away at it. because, i’m doing it without a book deal. there is not a publisher lined up. i got to the point where i realized that was a bullshit excuse for not doing it, and that if i’m ever going to do this book i should put up or shut up and let the chips fall where they may. knowing that people out there are interested, and want to see this book…it’s a great motivator. secondly, it really organically drew some interesting stuff/ talk about PKD, and even gave me some new research avenues to go down (as if there weren’t enough of those already…), and people to talk to.
i’ll write about some of the research next time, maybe throw up a few more pages. i gotta go a cat just started screaming. someone hassle me if i stop posting. thank you.
(and yeah… “The Empire Never Ended” is one working title. but i’m leaning lately towards simply “Pink Light”)
the past couple of months have been a computer nightmare– site went down, emails, everything. rather than destroy my computer with a pickaxe and commit to a life in the woods (which, honestly, sounds pretty good), it’s all fixed. sort of. so now you can email me, order things from the La Mano site and i will actually be able to receive and fill those orders, take part in Conversation Gardening, hassle me, whatever.
so, i got the La Mano domain for 10 years a decade ago. looks like yesterday is when it expired (though i’ve received no notice as such and the holding has since been sold, apparently, to a company in Australia who will not answer my emails and whose “renew your domain” ON THEIR SITE is currently not working). the irony of the fact that this happened the MOMENT I PUBLISHED CONVERSATION GARDENING is not lost on me. I’m trying to get it worked out– in the meantime, feel free to email me at zak(at)lamano21.com and we’ll try to figure it out.
apologies, thanks, and best,
(authors note: this was ready to post last week, but then all things computer in my life went south, all at once. coincidence? well, yeah actually but it’s fun thinking it was The Invisible Hand Of Jeff Bezos)
so, there is all kinds of crazy shit going on in the world right now.
but, for the moment– this thing with Amazon.
it’s been ongoing for a while, but a bunch of it came to its most recent head this past year. my friend Anders Nilsen crafted this beautiful response, and called the project “Conversation Gardening”. i urge you to read the great little comic he did (part 1, part 2), explaining his viewpoint and reasoning behind the project. the concise explanation is this: Amazon is (and has been) attempting, through various means, to undermine and destroy the “conversation” of ideas between books (and the ideas contained in those books, as well as the creators of those ideas) and the people who read them.
so, in a very small way “Conversation Gardening” is about extending that conversation, rather than killing it like Amazon. in that spirit, he’s passing the idea along through other artists, and i’m happy and honored to take a turn, here.
it works like this:
1) you buy a book by me from me or a comic shop/ independent bookseller.
2) then you send me a piece of paper, in an envelope, with a question on it.
zak/ la mano
3) i draw my answer and we scan it and put it up so everyone can see it (thereby extending said conversation), then i send it back to you, and you get to keep it.
obviously, for me, there’s a 97% chance that you DID get it from me or a comic shop. only a couple of my books are available on Amazon. all my stuff (and a bunch of other fantastic artists’ work) is available at the La Mano site, if you feel like going there. and since i just put a new thing out, i’m extending this to the FIRST 15 I GET IN THE MAIL. if you already bought a Recidivist, that counts. if you’re buying one now, that counts as well. Eleanor Davis is doing this too at some point, and i wouldn’t blame you bit if you took her up on it, she’s an awesome lady and draws so good i want to cry.
and here’s the blog where Anders has been posting the drawings he’s been doing for this thing. we’ll post mine and presumably Eleanor’s too as we do them, just to keep them all in one spot.
that’s the short version. Again: i’m happy and proud to contribute to this. it’s been pissing me off for some time and Anders coming up with this deal provides a way to do something cool and positive in the way of a response. that’s it, you can stop there of you want.
but i’m going to keep going, here, because i want to add something to the conversation Anders started.
and what i want to add is this– this situation is not without its precedents, and its nuances. i’ve heard that there is a significant population of self-publishers who feel that Amazon has allowed them to make a living, and make it in a way that cuts out the middleman, i.e publishers (and the entire structure that goes along with it). and further, that this is a pretty revolutionary idea in terms of what “publishers” mean and represent: publishers as “gatekeepers”, and that this new model can put the writer’s art (and potential financial gain) in their own hands, rather than held within that NYC dominated literary culture; no one decides what “worthy” of being published or not– if you can build the readership, it’s worthy. and Amazon can provide a platform for that, with some authors.
if you’re reading this post, on MY blog, you probably know that there are parts of that argument that are very appealing to me.
but. there’s other parts that i seriously disagree with. there are publishers that i love and respect. lots and lots of them, actually. there are many, many bookstores that i love and respect.
maybe Amazon does facilitate a new openness and freedom on certain levels. that’s a good conversation to have, and i’m sure it’s true in some cases.
but what i know for certain, beyond that, is that Amazon as an entity behave like fuckheads, and the specific WAY they behave like fuckheads is, for me, What Is Wrong With The World.
and if you’re not in for the long haul, bail now, because this is where i’m not going to edit myself, on purpose.
for quite a while, i — like many people in the world– just accepted Amazon as “the way the world is going”, and their growing dominance of the sales of books/ replacement of the brick and mortar store as an unfortunate but natural result of “our digital age”. they were quick, easy and cheap. i love my bookstores, but realize most people don’t “love” them– they are just a place where you’ve got to go to buy books, by necessity. now that we have a way to facilitate that “transaction” without having to leave the comfort of your home, it stands to reason that many people are going to choose that option.
i will even say that for a while i thought “damn! this is so cheap! this is great!”.
and therein lies the problem. i slowly became aware of just how dominant they must be… they were undercutting retail prices to the degree that i–as someone who has been involved somewhat in the selling of books– began to sense that something was wrong, here (and i was right). obviously, they could sell at those prices because of volume–this new mode of operation must have had a CRAZY HUGE response. that’s how i reasoned it anyway. and that if that volume of books were being sold, it had to be good for authors and publishers as well, somewhere along the line. what i was blissfully unaware of is how they achieved that dominance.
my first Amazon-As-Shitheel moment came when i read an article some years ago about a premium they were offering– which was this: take a picture of the price of a book at a mom and pop/ independent store, and send it to Amazon. they will then reward you, the consumer, for buying it FROM THEM instead of the independent bookseller by giving you an extra 20% off.
i was stunned. that is some fucked up behavior. no-holds-barred dickheadedness of the first degree.
soon after, i did a signing at Minneapolis’ best independent bookstore, Magers and Quinn. my pal Jay worked there at the time and i asked him about that; he said in a very matter of fact way, “oh yeah. they are awful. unbelievable bullies. every bookstore knows that they are actively trying to run them out of business.”, and proceeded to give me some sense of how they conducted themselves within the book world. and the way he described it felt like a given, something he’d been dealing with for a good long while. it is not pretty, and you could most certainly read all about it in the book they (Amazon) tried to suppress for a while until people called them on it and they stopped.
it is perfectly clear that they are behaving exactly as every good capitalist organization should– don’t get some, or even a lot. get all of it. no market share is too large, or too complete.
and Amazon has made it very, very clear that their goal is not to be “the biggest”; they are that now and have been for some time. their goal is to utterly wipe out any and all competitors– big, small, medium, tiny. the way in which they go about this is ugly, and pernicious; they use that huge market share to bludgeon and muscle their way into your home and they have a clear and stated mandate to decimate competitive businesses whenever possible.
and let’s take me as an example– i’m not rich. between me and my wife, we do ok. we’ve recently clawed our way into “middle class”. i like books; it’s actually about the only thing i regularly spend money on. so, i want some book, probably some full color hardcover about some obscure cartoonist (ok actually it’s Alley Oop by V.T Hamlin. god i love me some Alley Oop.). it’s at the bookstore (well, comic store actually but same difference in this case) for retail, $75. ouch. i’ve got a friend here who owns a great, great comic store. obviously, i want to give him my business. my PERSONAL FRIEND, the SMALL BUSINESSMAN, who in both a personal and professional and ethical sense, i very much want to succeed and prosper, sometimes can give me a 10% discount. because he’s MY PERSONAL FRIEND. so now it’s $68 (add tax and its basically over $70 again, but still).
that book is on Amazon for $47. arrives right at my door in a week.
it makes a very easy decision–”buy book from friend. support friend’s business” pretty goddamn difficult. and, i’ll say it– political. CHOOSING to pay SIGNIFICANTLY MORE for something is…. not easy. we’ve been hardwired our entire lives to NOT do this. it’s downright UNAMERICAN. as i said, my family is doing…ok. but spending a third more on something i maybe shouldn’t even be buying in the first place (because “doing ok” doesn’t mean we actually have a savings account to speak of or any of that crazy stuff) feels just wrong. and i’ll cop to it– in leaner times 6ish years back, it was just an imperative (if i did it at all). i can barely afford $47, i can’t justify $75 on a non essential item. period. i’m not proud, but i ordered a few books from Amazon that way. but there’s my point– they HAD me. and maybe they have you, too. the lowest price? yeah , well, somebody pays, somewhere.
what is a normal store owner supposed to do in the face of that? match that price? that’s what he or she buys it for WHOLESALE. (ps– Amazon was hauled before court for these Monopolistic tactics, but they said “we’re not price controlling, we’re keeping prices LOW for consumers!”. and they won. assholes.)
they are doing that so that there will be no one left. and you better fucking believe that when there’s nobody left you’re not going to be getting the cheapest deal any more. you will be getting the only deal, and that deal will be every dime they can get out of you. THAT’S “the way things are”. is there anyone stupid or naive enough to believe differently?
and we accept that fuckheadedness as “just business” (ever notice how often “it’s just business” is just a justification for behaving like an asshole and exhibiting reprehensible ethics?). this is, obviously, a systemic problem that extends far beyond Amazon. it’s deeply, deeply troubling, and far smarter and more well-informed people than me are crafting much more reasoned and intelligent responses to this phenomenon. but Amazon makes a damn fine example of why and how things are so critically fucked up right now, economically (and by “economically” i mean– for PEOPLE. for HUMAN BEINGS. for sizable business entities, it’s going pretty damn good, i think.). and it also speaks to why so many thoughtful, sane people (and i aspire to count myself in that group, if possible) walk around in an apoplectic stupor all day in the face of this heinous bullshit.
and yes, i know; that is just the way things are. i’m not stupid, and i’m not a child.
my point is– do you LIKE it? are you ok with that? because yes, it is the way things are, and has been for a long damn time, but it also doesn’t change the fact that it totally blows. one fact does not negate the other.
me, i don’t like it at all.
i can’t wrap this up in a bow for you, me, or anyone.
this is books. but it’s also…take your pick. Amazon or not. and i don’t pretend that ME not shopping at Amazon, or that doing drawings for questions that nice folks send me in the mail is going to solve any of this.
i think we’re faced with this particular situation a hundred times a day, around very corner. sometimes we know it, a lot of the time we don’t. in this case, we do.
so i’m going to spend my money elsewhere, and do drawings for people, because it’s a cool thing to do. it’s why i like all this stuff in the first place. it’s just my tiny investment in a possible future where these douchebags don’t run the show.
well, i did. but its hidden and i think i’m going to keep it that way for a little while. this is NOT a bait and switch, i swear.
here’s what happened. for those of you who have purchased the thing; firstly– thank you. and secondly– you probably know by now that it takes some wrestling and digging to read it. but i explained all that elsewhere.
here’s the transparency part– while that difficulty in reading is almost entirely on purpose, and was my intent from the very beginning, i have to admit that on a couple pages, it went further than i wanted it to. the process bit me. i’d done test prints and all that, but… ink density and all those layers of riso ink….there’s spots where it doesn’t punch through.
as i said– i wanted a specific effect, and for it to be very difficult in spots. but not impossible. that was not my intent. i worked real hard on those words, and believe it or not, they’re meant to be read.
and so i cursed myself for a few days straight. and then i thought– it is what it is, what do i do with it? and all of a sudden i started to find it really…interesting. because HAVING to read it in another form to get the “missing” text…well heck i didn’t plan that but…when you think about it, it underlines the theme(s) of the whole book, and adds a layer that i hadn’t intended, and never would have considered had everything gone “perfectly”. so i decided i was going to put up a readable copy, for free. also because i just thought that’d be awesome.
but that wasn’t the only factor. it was also because i had to price it higher than i wanted ($20 is no small change. the zine guy in me thought that was a travesty, and the 43 year old man in me who spent 18 months on it told him to go to hell), and lastly– because i thought a free version would sort of lay bare the fact that… it’s fine to be reading it on a screen, that’s the “content”, but this thing is clearly a tactile object. that’s how it functions, that’s its intended form. the difference between the 2 would be so clear and distinct that it would almost be like two completely different books that contained exactly the same information.
and i think that is nuts. and really interesting. that the “easy” version is free, to any and everyone that wants to read it. but the object, the piece of art that’s HARD to read…that costs something. because you get to keep it. and because i worked like hell on it.
so, my awesome pal Bob helped me get the whole thing formatted and up in the virtual world. the text had been cleaned up so there was no funny business. it looks great, you can just READ it, easy peasy. all i had to do was tap a keyboard and that was that.
but then i freaked out and changed my mind.
here’s why: look, i’ve been really, really happy with the response to this thing. rather than a rousing chorus of “what the fuck” (which is what i expected), people seem to be really spending time with it, and taking it for what it is. wrestling with it and busting it apart. because you have to, to get anything out of it. that’s what i hoped to do, and it seems like that’s happening, and i couldn’t be more pleased about that fact.
and i realized– putting a “clean” easy version up would put an end to that, right away. there’d be no reason to battle it out with the thing. it very well could ruin the experience of the printed version, rather than add to it.
i mean– i wouldn’t. if i knew i could go online and just READ the thing without any hassle…when the thing got hard to read i’d try for a minute and then just say “screw this”. i just would. it’s human nature.
OR if you check it out and read it for free, and think “hey! i really like this and want the print version”, and then ordered it…the jig is up, you know? somebody already spilled the milk so it can’t help but be a letdown. you’d be robbed of how the thing is SUPPOSED to work. it’d just be this dead thing you got in the mail, rather than something you get to play with, and fall into for a while.
any of you who know me/ La Mano know that i am potentially the worst businessman in the world, and my “marketing” savvy is nonexistent. i’m not jacking anyone around. i thought it’d be really cool to let people read it for free, and then realized wait maybe that’s not so cool at all.
i am still going to put it up. just not… for a while. especially for all of you who bought one and have pages you just can’t read (and you want to).
i think i should let it play out a while.
sorry for the runaround.
thanks and best,
ps–anyone who wants to pipe up on this in the comments, whether you’ve seen/ bought the thing or not…i’d be real interested to hear your thoughts.
*with an $18 refund to anyone who felt ripped off by this move.
very nice interview up at my favorite comics site, The Comics Reporter. buried in there somewhere is the fact that i’ll be posting the entirety of RECIDIVIST IV online (for free) later this week. details to come.
unfortunately, i won’t be able to make Comic Arts Brooklyn (happening this weekend), which is usually really, really great: but the new Recidivist will. there will be 25 copies for sale, at the Uncivilized Books table.
if you’re in the area, go to the show. it’s amazing.
well, it’s done. you can order it here.
here’s what it is:
1) 56 pages, on a couple different paper stocks, printed in 8 colors on the Risograph, and then metallic silver on the offset press.
2) with a cd (a 21 minute noise/ drone thing i did)
3) written, drawn, printed, recorded, hand collated, stapled, and assembled by me.
i made XXX of them, and i am NOT MAKING ANY MORE.*
(+ $2.25 postage, but to make up for that, you will get a small 5 x 7″ 2-color riso print, each signed and numbered. these ONLY come with an order direct from me, and won’t be available anywhere else)
why started out with the idea that ‘i’ll just bang out a zine, quick and easy”, turned into the single most involved, complicated thing i’ve ever produced. 6 months turned into 18 months. i plan to not read it for a while, but right now– i feel great. it’s as naked a book as i’ve ever done, and it is one of the most absurd…objects i’ve ever seen.
and, i feel like that needs some explanation; because if you feel like you are ordering something normal, you need to know that you are not. if you engage this thing like you would any book you get at a store, you are going to be unhappy. this is a different deal– not a little bit, but all the way.
this book is NOT for everyone. if you are looking for a passive, easy reading experience, this is not it. that’s sort of what the book is about. there’s a reason the text is so difficult to read, there’s a reason a CD is included instead of a download code. and it’s not difficult for difficult’s sake– it really does have to do with the content of the book itself. do i think every book should be like this? hell no. but this one is.
if all this sounds like an apology, let me assure you; IT IS NOT AN APOLOGY.
seriously– there are significant portions of this thing that you can only read if you hold it up to the light at a really, really precise angle. i’ve never seen a book like that, and (mostly) i did that on purpose, for a specific reason. but make no mistake–it’s a pain in the ass. there is a very, very large group of people in the world who would regard reading a book like that as a pointless, ridiculous, and maddening endeavor. those are people who should NOT send me $20. you will be bummed and so will i. but if you reacted to that last sentence with “holy shit. are you kidding me? that sounds insane”, well, click that button i got something for you. because it’s 2014, and i really felt strongly about making something pointless, ridiculous, maddening, and beautiful. it’s about failure and obsolescence and fear and hope and why anyone in this day and age would spend time and energy making and disseminating obscure printed sheets of paper with stuff on it. and why that still matters, even if all signs point to the contrary.
you might like it, you might hate it; either is ok with me. but one thing is for absolutely certain: this is a very odd little object, and an object that can’t accurately be described as a zine, a book, a commercially produced item, or even a comic. it’s all those things, i guess, but also it’s not. to me, it feels like no one else would make something like this, the way i made it (i’ll do a post next week about HOW i made it). it doesn’t look like it’s trying to be something else, because it isn’t. most of the time, the form of “the thing” is just to contain the content, or the ideas inside. with this Recidivist, the form IS the content, and vice versa; they are not separate. i’m not trying to sound conceptual or academic, here: i’m saying that’s what happened.
it’s a pretty indicative document of what and who i am, and where i’ve ended up; from the content to the production to every damn thing you can name. so, it’s important to me that, by and large, that comes full circle; i made it, and given the nature of it, i’m the one who’s going to be selling it.
i’ll probably send some to the couple stores in the country that would like to have some, and John P’s Spit and a Half distro, and i might send some with some pals to sell at shows or what have you. but, basically, the way i want to sell these is to people, right here. me and you. this isn’t a Kickstarter and it’s not a plea for help. i’m not a salesman and this isn’t a product. if you want one, i want you to have one, and I’m gonna send it to you. it means i sent it to a real human being, and that’s the way i like it.
you get to a point where you are faced with the reality of quitting or doubling down. guess which one this is.
FAIR WARNING– please DO NOT send it back for any of these reasons:
it is physically difficult to read.
yup. there are literally MILLIONS of books that are very easy to read, physically. this is not one of them (but maybe if you get through it you can find out why). i’m not being snotty or catty. it’s just what happened. what the hell kind of person would spend a million hours making a book you can’t read? me, i guess. someone’s gotta do it.
some (or many) of the pages look weird, or blurry, or misregistered.
yes. you are correct. the riso has anywhere from a 16th to 1/8th inch variance on any given sheet, and when you are lining up 6 colors, each on a different pass, it’ll do that. you could look at this 2 ways:
1) that you don’t like it, and it looks weird.
2) it’s how it got made. and that is part of the deal. i could have had it printed professionally, BUT I DIDN’T. that’s what the book is about. it didn’t go through a bunch of peoples hands, in a bunch of different places/shops/countries to get made, it just went through mine: that’s what makes it what it is, and that ludicrous amount of labor is why i had to make it $20. you are not buying a book at the bookstore, you are buying something somebody made.
saying that every single copy is different from the others is not a stretch, it’s a fact. do you own many books like that? i don’t.
the CD sounds like a bunch of noise.
should i listen to it while i read the book/ comic/ whatever?
well, you sure could. i would ask that you listen to it pretty loud, as it seems to work best that way. but i’ll never know either way, so do whatever you’d like.
the ink sort of smudges and comes off in my hand.
yes, i know. welcome to Risography.
wait– i don’t know if this is a comic, or a zine, or a book, or what. what is this thing?
and that’s that.
thanks and best,
* i’m not saying how many i made, on purpose. sorry.
i’ve had conversations with folks that say “well, if it’s over X amount, it really can’t be regarded as a handmade object”. and i understand that impulse. i like that too.
how many did i make? well, i sold about 2500 of the last Recidivist. lets just say it’s way, WAY LESS than that.
i guess everyone agrees that if you personally MADE over a hundred of them, it’s no longer a handmade object, right? it’s something else then, so we don’t know what to call it. but maybe we should, because (as i’ve mentioned about 3 times by now) i wrote, drew, recorded, personally printed it EIGHTY THOUSAND TIMES and then hand assembled each one.
the psychology here is that “handmade” = scarcity; that you are buying ONE OF ONLY A VERY SMALL AMOUNT. that’s collector shit, that’s a fetish deal. is it that it’s handmade, or that you’re part of a small secret club? come on, be honest. what defines that? because i printed 72 different separations to make this book. that means, on average, that each page of the thing was run through the risograph 9 separate and distinct times (and at least once for the silver). that plus the folding, collating, stapling, sourcing and hauling around the paper, ordering ink and plates and supplies, stuffing each cd into a sleeve and gluing it in, never mind writing drawing and printing the thing. i mean, come on.
anyone who says this isn’t handmade because there’s more than 50 of them can, in this case, go fuck themselves.
recidivist vol IV up for sale tomorrow, on this site and at lamano21.com.
for real. look.
as of about 3 am last night.
3 am the previous night was folding and collating by hand, at the kitchen table, just like the good old days.
and the day before that was doing the final silver pass (with, as always, my good pal clint).
i’ll put it up for sale on the site next week, after i get some sleep. but i’ll tell you one thing: it is the strangest…object i’ve ever made. and that’s saying something. it is really and truly bonkers. i just finished it and it already feels like an artifact. every goddamn one of them is different (and the same).
i’m very proud of it. whatever it is i was trying to pull off, i believe i pulled it off.
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.
for the past week, i’ve been working like a maniac to get 20 or 30 copies of the new Recidivist done for SPX; and if nothing went seriously wrong, i was on track to do it. up until about 2 hours ago it was going to be 48 hours of nuts, but still doable. then something went wrong. then another thing. nothing serious, but enough to throw out the bathwater (the baby is fine). but look at me– i’m calm and collected. maybe even relieved. being an adult is great.
so, no books for SPX. that’s that. i was starting to do some dumb shit to hit that deadline, anyway. that’s the bad news. the good news is, this thing will be done and done and done by the end of the month. at which point you can order it from me.
did i say 8 colors? try TEN. i’ll put up a video, or something.
i have never seen anything like this thing i put together. both content and production wise, it is something else entirely. i hope it doesn’t make people cry.
i’ve learned my lesson on going to presale too early. with that said, i printed 20,000 impressions in 5 different colors on the riso this past weekend. it was pretty nuts. as many of my friends know– this new Recidivist started off as a “bang it out quick/ don’t think too hard” experiment.
it has since turned into the most complicated thing i’ve ever done, production-wise. see, look:
a couple of the strips are single color, a couple 2- color, and one of them is in 3 colors, all printed on the risograph. then the whole thing is going through the offset press for a pass of metallic silver. i did a count last night and so far i have done FORTY NINE passes through the machine, 1000 sheets each. and it’s going to have a cd in it…a noise/ drone piece i did that you can listen to (or not) while you’re reading the thing. i know, it’s…kind of over the top. 56 pages, printed in 8 colors. stapled not bound because that’s the way i want it (would have made my life a hell of a lot easier if i’d bound it, actually….).
as always, i didn’t set out to do something so involved. i just kept on having cool ideas, and i’m able to do them, so there you have it. with the way the world is going, why the fuck not. pretty sure you’ll never see another book (zine, actually…) like it. ever.
usually i regale with a epic story about how horrible the process was. not this time. it was fun.
(then again i haven’t done the offset part yet, so….)
there’s a slim chance ill be able to send some to SPX, (but that’s also what i said about CAKE 3 months ago). but the end of the tunnel is in sight now. when i can be sure it’s not a train, i’ll put these up for sale on the site (either $15 or $16, we’ll see).
i would think this is a great thing even if i WASN’T one of the guys starting it.
but i am.
the one i kicked out for CAKE. this one.
you can now buy it at the La Mano site for $14 (+ $3 postage and handling in the us). anywhere from 3 to 7 colors, depending. shipped in a tube and signed if you say so.
gonna put more stuff up soon, as well.
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.