Poplife: Issue #28

Thu, August 15th, 2002 at 12:00am PDT

Comic Books
Matt Fraction, Columnist

DABBLER

POPLIFE is a collection of excerpts from my work journal. There is no specific form or function the column serves other than to allow the reader to see what my experience in my first year as a comics-writer is like. Some weeks I get work done, so I talk about work. Some weeks I don't get any work done, so I ramble incoherently. POPLIFE's purpose is to provide a glimpse behind the curtain of my specific process.

I'm not writing this for you, I'm writing this for me.

You're sitting in Melrose, a few blocks away from where you'll live in a few years, oddly enough. You've just spent more than you should've on books at Chicago Comics, all this great stuff you've heard about and read about but not actually read, and it's cold. Amanda's vanished, John's at work and you're waiting for him so you can ride the El back together to his ridiculously posh gold coast flop shack. You have to, actually, because you've spent your last cash on a French Dip. You take off the scarf wet with the footprints of freshly melted snowflakes and hunker down in a booth, cracking the spine on the first issue of FROM HELL. In the pile next to you are HATE, LIKE A VELVET GLOVE CAST IN IRON, MADMAN, and more.

You'll record this time in the first real comic you make in the months to follow. The books sitting next to your sandwich are to blame.

The night before, a waitress threatened to kill you-- but now it's Christmas morning. You've just read UNDERSTANDING COMICS cover to cover twice. Tonight, you'll grab Danyon and the two of you will smoke cigarettes and talk all about it.

[JAR OF FOOLS and Los Angeles.]
JAR OF FOOLS and Los Angeles.
Your girlfriend has packed you a survival kit inside of an old metal lunchbox. You're going to Los Angeles for a week and you hate everyone you're with, so you need it. Inside, buried beneath the M&Ms and salt and vinegar potato chips, is a copy of the second JAR OF FOOLS book, released suddenly for no other apparent reason other than you were going to Los Angeles and really wanted it to be there.

When you get back, she has platinum blonde hair and the two of you, DC and Dave, fresh from quitting their third-shift wait-staff jobs, drive to the coast to get smashed on Mai Tais while sitting in a veranda. You stand on both coasts in twenty-four hours.

The further south you drive, the warmer it gets. It's a hike from Charlotte to Orlando. It was chilly enough that you thought it was weird to buy a sack full of apples. Too cold for apples yet, but there you go. The further south you get, the further down the windows come. Shelton's driving; Freddie's asleep in the back of the van. Shelton's got the idea to make you his 'road man' leading up to the con, so this Orlando trip's a big deal. There's a lot you're supposed to pay attention to, but right now the only thing on your mind is the smell of the books as it twists around the fresh spring air. You stop at a gas station, still an hour or two away yet, and get coffee. The drive's starting to get to Shelton, so he asks you what kind of comics you want to write.

You kill the rest of the time telling him stories you make up on the fly.

Yes, apparently the Chester Brown of ED THE HAPPY CLOWN is the same Chester Brown of THE PLAYBOY. Who knew?

You're trying the best you can to explain to your dad what's so goddamn important about THESE particular comics, which are so much more expensive than the new ones that just came out. You're hardly old enough to understand what you'll be reading, but you fumfuh your way through explaining, somehow, that these books are IMPORTANT, that they're for GROWN UPS.

Dad takes mercy on you, he apparently can see it in your eyes or hear it in your voice. He buys the stack for you, well above what you had to spend. Close your eyes, you can remember the low-angle up on him, looking down at you and smiling. You're at an antique show in a mall somewhere.

You spend that afternoon on the couch with him eating chips and reading WATCHMEN for the first time. You finish one, it goes between you, he picks it up. This repeats until you've finished them all, and both of your thumbprints will stay on the back covers forever. He's irked you don't have all of the DARK KNIGHT books, because he was kinda liking those, too.

You've just finished reading MAUS, the first part of it. You're at your grandmother's house, it's the last summer you'll spend there. Your stomach hurts and you know it's because of the comic.

[Jim Woodring and New York.]
Jim Woodring and New York.
You're wandering around Hanley's while he and the boss chew the fat. You're gathering a huge stack of shit you've always wanted to check out, or missed the first time around, or whatever. Jim Woodring's stuff is a psychedelic revelation. Something on that trip does it. Maybe it's that you've finally got your hand to stop shaking when you draw, maybe it's all the traveling around and submersion in comics, maybe it's New York in the winter and the piles of Indian food you ate. The whole weekend feels like a vacation on Mars.

There's a moment, a definitive click. You're standing outside smoking a cigarette and you say to Shelton: Yeah, I'm gonna make comics. Balls out, it's just like that. Then you climb in the van and drive home.

You get a speeding ticket.

[Floyd Gottfredson and the Mouse.]
Floyd Gottfredson and the Mouse.
You're spending hours and hours and page after page trying to ape Floyd Gottfredson's Mickey Mouse style for no discernable reason other than it's just so beautiful to you. This pays off best while you and DC drive to his court hearing in Godonlyknows, Georgia, and you draw a shackled Mickey Mouse being drug off to Pokey while you wait for his case to be called.

You had to sneak the pen in.

Larry Young tells you to make sure you're home the morning of your 26th birthday, because Fed-Ex is coming by. Kelly Sue has come in for the weekend, and the two of you are making out when the doorbell rings.

He's delivered the script for LAST OF THE INDEPENDENTS, your first graphic novel-- to Kieron Dwyer (who will draw it), and Kieron has whipped up a birthday present for you:

[LOTI]

It's pretty great.

If you remember enough of THE WILD PARTY, you'll be able to woo women.

It works.

Crazy Quilt shoots Batman with his magic hat. Lowell, the surrogate grandfather that lives a few doors down from you has taken you to the grocery store with him and buys it for you. He has a dog named 'Taffy' that can flip Milk Bones off of her nose, into the air, and catch them. He teaches you to shoot a bow-and-arrow, too, but that doesn't stick as hard. It's all his fault, you're four or five and there's a crease in your brain forever.

The Science Teacher knows you're a comic nerd, so he mentions one day that he has some old ones if you'd like to see them. Sure, you say, and the next day he brings them in. Preserved perfectly in Saran Wrap (!!!) are pristine copies of ZAP COMIX #0, MR. NATURAL #1, THE FABULOUS FURRY FREAK BROTHERS #1, something by Spain, and an antho of some sort. He'd bought them when he first saw them in Haight-Asbury, years and years ago, read 'em once and wrapped 'em up.

They're all first prints, and you realize they're worth a small fortune. He'll sell 'em to you for five bucks, but you know if mom ever finds them she'll tear your eyes out. You decline politely, and wonder for years and years if he still has them.

Probably does.

You're at Perkins, the one where Cookie works. It's the summer you practically moved in there. You pick up that weird, small LOVE AND ROCKETS collection that has the 100 ROOMS stuff and some other Jaime bits in it. You read it, read it again, and again and again and again, then suddenly the sun's coming up and Cookie's going home.

You start filling notebooks.

[Jaime Hernandez and a million cups of coffee.]
Jaime Hernandez and a million cups of coffee.

Ricky digs up some old issues of RAW and practically gives them to you. They're huge, alien, exotic. Completely sexy and powerful, twenty years after they came out.

Mom's in the hospital. A friend of Dad's, the Italian guy that always slapped your face as a sign of affection, visits frequently. Since you've started picking them up from the hospital gift shop, he brings you comic books from every gas station he'd stopped at on the way between wherever he lives and your place. It adds up.

You pick up the Green Lantern oath around that time, which pays off when Julie Schwartz refuses to let you take him to the airport until you recite it for him.

Harold, whom you hated when you first met (and it was mutual), gives you a stack of beaten-all-to-hell ANIMAL MAN issues, the last six of Morrison's run, as a gift.

You wonder if Harold reads this column, and how he'd feel about you bringing up his recent CrossGen infatuation. If so, you also wonder if he's still gonna stand up with you at your wedding.

You're taking the train way the fuck out to Midway. Danyon is there and the two of you are milking every last moment of talk you can, as per usual at the end of your time spent together. He's going on and on and ON AND ON about his mutual shame and fascination with the Wildstorm books as of late. It's the continuity, he confesses. He likes that they all seem to fit together, even though most are terrible. You're familiar with Moore and Charest's WILDCATS but not much else from. He insists that even if you investigate nothing else, you should check out what this Ellis guy is doing with STORMWATCH. It's good, he says, and not just because Danyon is sick in the head. Check it out, he says. So you get back home and you do. You start to follow this Ellis guy's career; eventually you follow him online to his web forum.

You'll meet your wife there.

Of course, Danyon will already know her. Later, the two of you will marvel over this fact while you covet his 200pp composition notebook. You tell him you'll write about it for POPLIFE.

Nick tells you about a store that sells nothing but comics. You can't believe it, imagining he's talking about a newsstand or something, until you enter Dreamth (oh, that nameā€¦!) in Normal, Illinois one spring Saturday.

Wall after wall after wall of the damn things, all right there. They even sell bags to put them in.

Who knew?

Warren and Kieron and Kel get you thinking. You start with I'm not writing this for you. I'm writing this for me.

Discuss this column on the Poplife Forum or on the Matt Fraction Forum.

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