If I could go back in time 20 years, and tell my 24-year-old self that I’d be signing my own comics at Criminal Records in Atlanta’s Little 5 Points, I wouldn’t believe it. Mostly because at 24 I was incredulous about the feasibility of time travel.
I’ve guested at comic conventions before, but this was Criminal Records. They’ve had an almost mythical status since the 1990s, and their old location (it’s now Stratosphere Skateboards, another local business I highly recommend), which I visited often even before I lived here. It had cartoons drawn on the walls by Skip Williamson, Evan Dorkin and Bob Burden, just to name a few. I want to say Patty Leidy was up there too, but I’m going on memory here.
You see, if you were an independent comic book creator, you could count on Criminal Records to stock your stuff. They always had Baby Sue; shit, that’s where I found Blakkeh Sue. They had Jim Goad’s Shit Magnet, and ‘zines out the hoo-ha, at the peak of that medium’s popularity. Music would be playing, and never once would I feel compelled to utter “this shit sucks”. In fact, one time I walked in while Cut Chemist’s The Audience Is Listening was on, and bought it after the first track. Reliable music, reliable store. This is important to life.
See, the Little 5 Points region is centered around a literal nexus: a convergence of five streets. This means that human energy is constantly swirling at a locus point, fueled by people traveling on foot and in metal boxes, all routed along five radiating lines. You either respect this energy, like the people who maintain it and work with it, or you get your shit fucked up.
This is similar to what Hunter S. Thompson called “the Great Magnet”. There must be substantial positive energy to counterbalance the negative, for which we have stores like Crystal Blue, and the Hare Krishna temple down Ponce De Leon. I’ve already told you about the negative, which is in abundance around Findley Plaza, the rim of the epicenter. You probably saw on the news where the sniper shot the cop outside Zesto, or the pedestrian who shot the robber in front of Wish. Actually, that last one was kind of cool. But you get what I mean.
Back in 2001, I worked as a vendor rep for Nabisco, which placed me in a weird position; the company literally produced nothing I wouldn’t eat. This was the company that made the town I grew up in smell like heaven. Every single Nabisco product was delicious, even if stale. It was mind-boggling. If I damaged a box, I despaired at the utter waste. If an item ran out on my watch, I fell into depression. Once I dropped a huge case of Premium crackers on its corner from a high shelf, and I thought “just kill yourself, you maggot.”
My problem with working for Nabisco was identical to my problem working at music stores; it ain’t what I do for a living, and eventually, truth will out. The other Nabisco employees were princely and deserved advancement within the company, especially my boss. I was a surly creep ten years away from realizing a total inability to function before 9 am, who drew vulgar comics and abused drugs. I had a dank garage apartment, where my friend George and I pissed on a pile of John Hiatt LPs. We didn’t even know who he was! We just found them in an alley while heavily intoxicated!
After Nabisco, I went full-time artist, sink or swim. Atlanta, especially Little 5 Points, was absolutely the place to do so, thanks to the nexus of energy I’ve described to you. Over a hundred pages of comics a year, dude! You think I could crank that out in the ‘burbs, where any energy is smashed, like a wad of mercury under a mallet? I doubt it. I’m surprised I pulled it off anywhere, to be frank.
As a guest at Criminal Records’ Local Comic Shop Day, I got to soak in positive energy, for hours, like a portly king in a jacuzzi. I was exhaling it all evening. There was afterglow. It was a total blast, and I’m no stranger to these kind of things, even though it’s been a while.
I mean, here’s a picture from 2004 of myself and Justin Green.
Justin Green wrote Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary in 1972. The first autobiographical work in English-language comics. He is married to Carol Tyler, a fellow cartoonist of titanic ability and influence. Carol Tyler is a Master Cartoonist.
Here’s me with Kim Deitch.
Kim is the son of legendary animator Gene Deitch; that’s probably the least interesting thing I could tell you about him. He was one of the artists of Zap comix. He’s been married to Trina Robbins (Will Eisner Hall of Fame inductee) and animator Sally Cruikshank (not one to sneeze at; see the opening to Ruthless People, for example). He and his current wife Pam are arbiters of silent-film ephemera, and Kim’s comics are still going strong. Just before the above picture, I asked him about a project he’d teased in an issue of Blab, which I’ve had since junior high.
You can see the glow in the photos, right under the derpy hat I got for free at Media Play. It was tremendous to experience that kind of positive energy again. Plus I got a few sketches out of it. They work better than digits.
Of course it’s good, Sam Viviano is the art director. Ward Sutton was another name I recognized, and of course the wonderful Peter Kuper.
Hey- here’s me and Peter Kuper in 2004.
Sorry, no more name-dropping, back to the sketches. You see that grin, though? I was meeting Peter Kuper. Oh, and I’m technically taking a “selfie”, with a camera. It was easier than doing it with a smartphone, which wasn’t a widespread item yet. Anyway.
The guy’s name is Will Sheff and the article is titled “We Never Have To Be Alone“. Do yourself a gigantic favor and take a day to sponge up that piece, as well as the video of the performance. Read the article first. You’ll be astonished; as wild as Sheff makes the show sound, his description is nothing compared to the video. I’ve only watched it once, and I still recall the feelings of unease and terror brought on by the pedal steel player, who looked like Alan Moore on PCP. He sings a song about VD while gazing into the camera like a serial killer. He crawls under his instrument and almost scares his bandmates offstage with feral noise. The singer is missing an eye, and the guitarist barfs in his hand and lobs it over his shoulder. There are less than ten people in the audience.
I haven’t really had the shekels to get some new contact lenses; they tend to be expensive when you have astigmatism and 20/4500 vision. I’m wearing the same contacts that I was when arrested and jailed for 48 days in 2013. How do you maintain contact lenses in jail? If you’re legally blind, like me, you figure something the fuck out, that’s how.
I don’t know what the music was, though. I also don’t know how to draw piano keys from memory, which is dumb, because there was a Tori Amos box set shaped like piano keys directly behind me.
Oh, how I LOLed, all afternoon! There was “BUST” magazine, a bundle of half-assed contradictions and nonsense aimed at women, with fucking Rose MacGowan on the cover, head shorn, saying “I want to shatter the patriarchy”. Oh how I LOLed!!! Oh how I wished some girl overheard me!
Not far away was another magazine, this one with Amanda Palmer on the front, holding a sign that read “RADICAL EMPATHY is the only way to GENDER EQUALITY”. I didn’t recognize Palmer because she didn’t have fucked-up eyebrows in the picture. I know this person as Neil Gaiman’s spouse. I know Rose MacGowan as an actress who thought Grindhouse, Jawbreaker and blowing Marilyn Manson were good ideas.
I just told you about Trina Robbins and Carol Tyler. You want important feminist stuff? Look to them. Not attention whores.
Also on the rack, I saw what is apparently the final issue of Mental Floss, and a wad of toilet paper with Mick Jagger’s picture on it labeled “Rolling Stone”. On the matter of “trigger warnings”; consider Chekhov’s gun:
“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
If you offer a “trigger warning”, I will trigger you. If you don’t, I won’t. Think of me as a cocked hammer, and don’t lie about yourself to play the victim. Simple as that, folks. If you’re going to field-test your phony neuroses, I’m your worst-case scenario. I live to search and destroy that shit.
My greasy dago hair requires more ink than the Pilot G-2 I’d brought could provide. This brought the sketching to an abrupt halt. That’s how much of a lummox I am; “Gonna be sketchin’ all day, better just grab one used ball-point for the duration.” I do this every time. Dumb lummox.
This was the last one I scribbled out before the pen cacked. It’s my version of R. Crumb’s dartboard, from Zap (I think). It was a grand day overall for “Atlanta’s Own Cartoonist”, even still.
I was eye-level with the gluteal fold of a hundred or so ladies, but that probably had nothing to do with it.