Jonathan here. I have to give Portland credit. No matter how long you spend in this city, there's always another nook to explore, a niche you haven't embraced, an experience you haven't had. Here's a city that I've spent most of my life in (and a good chunk of that has been spent as an independent graphic novel fan) and yet tonight was the first time I'd ever been to Comics Underground.
Comics Underground is an event held roughly four or five times a year, at the Jack London Bar (which is literally underground, hah hah). It was started and is organized by Alison Hallett and Erik Henriksen, two editors at the Portland Mercury (these two pretend like they just happen to like comics, but I secretly suspect they love them). There was a palpable fervor in the air when I entered the underground, an energy running through the packed room that had an almost carnival quality: it made me feel like I was about to be shown what was behind door number three—I was about to be shown something different.
And different it was. If you've ever thought of comic writers and artists as shy, introverted people, then this would be the event to prove you wrong. It turns out that the main gimmick behind Comics Underground is that the artists essentially do live performances of their artwork, complete with simulated sound effects, a couple props, and (of course) the artwork flashed up on a giant projector.
In short: it was weird and awesome and completely unexpected and very Portland and I can't wait to go to another one.
Jeannette Langmead was first up, presenting a menagerie of work, most of which can be seen on her website "Cats Are Gross." Jeannette's presentation was hilarious, jumping seamlessly from comics about being jobless in Japan (after the company that hired her went bankrupt) to having doggy-style sex with Michelangelo (the Ninja Turtle, not the painter), and finally to penuses erupting from under eyeballs (based on what actually happens to some poor molusk in nature, I kid you not). Probably the fan-favorite moment was when Jeanette played footage of the 1990's "Coming Out of their Shell" musical tour. No. Seriously. This existed. I remember this. Though I had forgotten until Jeanette reminded me... so, um, thanks for that? Probably my favorite thing about Jeannette had to do with her art and her self-representation in it. Jeannette portrays herself in her comics exactly as she is in person. She hasn't transformed herself into a busty goddess who beats up supervillains or has giant anime eyes. She's normal in her comics, and funny and tough and wonderful. I went home and immediately read most of the work on her website, and found that her work deals with subjects like looks, social groups, and little addictions. These aren't presented as problems, but just as something that we face every day. It shows me that, behind all of her humor, is a strong social statement about how we think about ourselves, and I plan on continuing to read her work to get more of that message.
Next up was Zack Soto, known mostly for his comic The Secret Voice, which he acted out tonight in rare form. Zack I've heard of before, in conjunction with giving artists a voice. Zack started Study Group Comics, which is a webcomic site that seeks to give indie artists a venue. It's a cool way of reading comics, too, as most of the comics don't run with a page-to-page format but rather use a scroll method, where you scroll down through the artwork. It's a unique way of doing things and an interesting reading experience that I highly recommend you check out. Aside from that, the whole idea of the site is a great initiative, and Zack has followed it up this year with the Lineworks convention, a new comics event in April, which will showcase local artists and creatives (we'll be attending!) And see, that's AWESOME. Anyone who is giving as much thought as Zack is to creating places where new artists can be seen and appreciated is doing something right in the world.
The final show was a showstopper, a three man (and one woman) reading event featuring Douglas Wolk's Judge Dredd: Mega-City Two mini-series—and Wolk himself. Wolk is my favorite kind of writer, the kind who is not afraid to do an extremely accurate impersonation of a Judge's police scanner in front of a live audience. Wolk was joined by three others whose names I didn't catch, but I believe two were artist Ulises Farinas and colorist Ryan Hill (the woman I'm not sure on). Regardless, the voice acting was superb, like watching a Saturday morning cartoon from the good ol' days (I mean the 80's). Wolk took over a couple of the remaining voices in tonight's reading, though the real prize goes to his writing ability. It's almost cliché for me to call Wolk a good writer (the man has written for the New York Times, Rolling Stone, has won both a Harvey and an Eisner) but I can't say enough how perfect his Dredd mini-series is. In just the small sample we got, it was evident this is a wonderful take on the fish-out-of-water template. The short: Dredd finds himself working in the falsely utopian Mega-City Two. If Mega-City One is New York post-apocalypse, then Mega-City Two is Los Angeles NOW. Dredd is assigned a film crew instead of a police unit, and runs around trying to bag criminals with a woefully ineffective teddy-bear gun, under orders of a High Judge who is best known for his role in the autobiographical mini-series Bulletproof. Dredd's main reaction to all of this, besides disgust, is increasing rage and violence. It's great, less like fish-out-of-water and more like shark-out-of-water. If only the movies had been like this, Dredd would be a household name.
Overall, tonight's Comics Underground event served as a great reminder that Portland is a town that loves comics. But even more than that, the artists who performed tonight showed that it's a town whose comics love the fans. Portland is a great place to a be a comic book fan, and that's mainly due to the fact that people like Jeanette, Zack, and Douglas have kept themselves accessible and willing to get down and dirty with readers. A huge thanks to Erik and Alison for providing a time and place for it all to happen.
If you haven’t been read aloud to in a while and if you love comics, then tonight’s event with Matt Wagner at Floating World would have been as magical for you as it was for us.
Max here, reporting in on the aftermath of another wonderful Portland comics event. For Eisner Appreciation week, the folks at Floating World Comics hosted comic legend Matt Wagner. The night began with Wagner reading along to the projected pages of the relatively short but powerful Mortal Combat, a piece from Eisner’s compilation Invisible People.
Lined up in front of our narrator like huddled schoolchildren, the crowd watched Wagner as closely as they did the transitioning images on the screen. While not an orator by trade, Wagner did a great job affecting the different characters and voices of the story, seamlessly transitioning to and from the visceral affectations of Eisner’s lost, broken, and tragic-comic characters. The quiet setting and subdued atmosphere lent itself perfectly to the intimacy of Eisner’s work and allowed Wagner’s dynamic personality to lead us through the heart-and-ground breaking narrative.
“The Spirit was the first Eisner comic I ever bought,” Wagner explained after the reading. “It was up on the top shelf of the magazine rack, just out of my reach—which made it seem naughty and dangerous.” Wagner says that what drew him to Eisner’s work, specifically The Spirit, was its departure from the classic trope of the superhero. The Comics Code Authority of America was, during Wagner’s childhood in the 60s and 70s, the most staunch censorship organization in American media. “Eisner was trying to escape the Comics Code,” Wagner said. “He created characters that were dramatic but humane as well. There is a sense of consequence for Eisner’s characters. That heroes suffer for their bravery was a new concept for comics of the time.”
Wagner reminisced (as he drew an original piece of art to be raffled off at the end of the event) about an early The Spirit comic he read that had a profound impact on him as a boy. The story, as Wagner tells it, starts with the local police force in a stand-off with a cornered serial killer in an abandoned warehouse. “This guy is conducting a study in murder, shooting people from his window and gauging the reactions of passerbys and the police. He’s writing about the effects on his typewriter. This was no Dr. Doom—this guy was scary.” The Spirit arrives and hatches a plan to climb up on the roof and burst in and thwart the villain. While attempting to crash through the skylight, the police—finally pushed too far by the mad-man—open fire and their stray bullets riddle The Spirit’s legs. After crashing into the warehouse and defeating the bad guy, The Spirit is seen next issue recovering in a hospital. The diagnosis is not good; he is on crutches and hobbling along the hallways of the hospital, while the doctor’s notes read something to the effect of “bone infection spreading” and “shrapnel in the legs will likely result in amputation.” Wagner recollected his reaction to the moment with four words: “my fucking head exploded!”
It’s a proclamation about Eisner’s work that Eisner would no doubt have greatly appreciated. Eisner’s greatest wish was to see others, especially young artists, inspired to break boundaries in the comic world. As Wagner put it, “If Jack Kirby was the comic book world’s Michelangelo… then Will Eisner was our Leonardo, a creator involved with insight and innovation, and exploring the inner depths of the human heart.”
While Wagner is perhaps best known for the long-running and influential Grendel, it’s his self-acknowledging work Mage which introduced Team Dahlia to his method of storytelling. And on that note, we managed to get some good news from Matt: he has not given up plans of completing the Mage trilogy, responding with a wholehearted “Oh god yes,” when Jon asked him about its future.
A big thanks to Floating World Comics for hosting the event and to the great crowd of thoughtful and engaged participants who were present. Also a huge thank you to Matt Wagner for the amazing drawing of The Spirit (Jon won the drawing in a raffle). Photos of the event can be found on our Facebook page and Twitter feed.
Before doing the art for Dahlia, we wrote its 300 page script. When doing this, we had to make a decision about how these characters would talk. This week's Steampunk Moment video is about our decision to NOT use Victorian-era language in Dahlia.
Panel 1 spreads across the top of both pages. A huge steam engine pulling six cars chugs along wide tracks which stretch out into the vast expanse of the American West. Thick smoke pours out of the stack. The landscape is classic Western movie, wild, vast, untamed and epic landscape. The train is larger and wider than what a “normal train” would look like for the time period. The train is a mixture of practicality and pointless oppulence. For instance, it is armored, but the armor is also ornately gilded, engraved with the floral patterns you might see on a silk print shirt of an effeminate gunfighter.
Union transport on special assignment from Illionois to Oregon
Special escort: Joseph Eversteene
Pinkerton agents “DeVries” to assist
These panels are on 34:
Panel 2. Interior of train car. Union soldiers fill the train, all of them in uniform and openly wielding large steam-powered semi-automatic rifles. It’s an anachronistic looking scene, with the modern-weapon-weilding soldiers occupying these fancy archaic Victorian train chairs.
Panel 3-5: Highlights on soldiers. Some of the soldiers are asleep, some of them smoke or read books. It’s hot inside the car, men are sweating and look a little miserable.
These are on page 35
Panel 6: Two soldiers stand at attention outside a closed door. This panel is more prominent than the others, maybe on the right side of the page, taking up a chunk of the page. Dialog comes from behind the door.
NATHAN : (OP)
Have you ever worked with Pinkerton’s before, Mr. Eversteene?
Bonus points if you know what the music is from.