Friday, October 3, 2008
The above is a sample story from my book: Dirtbags, Mallchicks and Motorbikes.
You can read another story from the book here: That's My Baby
I wrote a forward and afterword to the book, but finally decided to exclude them. Too many words, in the end, I wanted the book to be more about the pictures. Anyway, for the curious, here is the text:
Autobiography never seemed appropriate to my situation.
In order to distance myself, I gave myself a new name. Kelvin, a measurement of heat, was etched out in chalk at the front of my chemistry class. I took it on as my new identity in the pretend movie that was my life. The thought came to me that maybe I should start taking notes just in case something did happen. The scrawl on the blackboard no longer mattered to me. It was easy to copy that from someone else. Instead, I turned to a new piece of loose leaf in my binder. I jotted down the title "Experiments in Heat" on a blank piece of paper.
Kelvin, was a small depressed kid with tired eyes. He was the first of many characters that began to occupy my notebook during my senior year. Other types included "the bear". He was a rugged, dirty, rebellious teen who often came to school drunk or high on philosophy; my archetypal dirtbag. There was also Heather Ray, the school tennis champ, who was perpetually disappointing her parents. And lastly, there were the mallchicks, a culmination of all the chatty, popular, cheerleaders that peeked my interest as mysteries that I'd never be able to solve.
The characters, crudely drawn, were a reflection of myself and my odd suburban high school surroundings. I was proud of my work. So proud in fact, that college seemed of little importance now. Surely, it was now my fate to become a famous cartoonist. My head was in the clouds.
When I did go to college, Kelvin became the boy who disappeared. He was a character that didn't seem able to survive past adolescence. I was growing up and trying to put my insecurities behind me. The boy with sad eyes was gone. Still, I was escaping. I dreamed of running away, buying a motorcycle and going off into the wild. Instead, comics became my secret rebellion.
The following stories are the end result of over ten years of work. From doodles, to comic strips, to mini-comics and various other experiments in heat, I finally came to a style that is as I had originally imagined it. Make what you will of this book. You won't find my original character, Kelvin, in these stories. Instead, if you look hard enough, or if you care to, you'll find evidence of an even stranger one. Me.
I didn't know what my problem was. Too many times I had been told by my teachers that I had potential, if only I applied myself. While students around me were busy solving an algebra equation, I sat doodling in the back. Staring out the window, I could make out a dirty couple smoking pot beyond the football field. They looked like they were in love. I felt disappointed. I wasn't sure whether or not I wanted to fit in or drop out. I couldn't seem to do either.
I cut class to attend the various therapy sessions my high school offered. Substance Abuse Group and the Children of Divorced Parents Club sounded better than Math class. I wanted to see someone cry. Maybe I could be their friend. No such luck. During the meetings, I was quiet. These kids had more substantial dilemmas than me. I listened to their confessions as if I was observing an afterschool special. Mostly, I was amused but still in search of something more romantic.
I was sick of sitting in the cafeteria by myself. I eyed a long-haired acne-ridden loner who had an Elfquest patch on his backpack. He interested me but when I heard rumors that he had scored a perfect 1600 on his SATs, I suddenly felt intimidated. I opted for a place outside, watching the girl's tennis team practice. It seemed forbidden.
After I quit the track team, my social life seemed to go downhill. In a sense, I was still running. My pace slowed toward this destination unknown in hopes of reaching some invisible goal. I graduated from High School early, but this was no real achievement. I'd disappeared from my peers and made hardly an impression.
It was during this in-between time that I was still unburdened by adult responsibilities. I'd take long drives on the Long Island Expressway after midnight. I'd roam the aisles of the 24 hour supermarket and make photocopied zines at the copy shop. I developed crushes on girls that worked at cafes and bookshops.
My rationalization of my pathetic social life was that I was an outsider, a rebel without a cause. I identified more with Sal Mineo than James Dean. Seeking an entrance into my teenage technicolor fantasy, I secured a job at a planetarium. Instead of switchblade fights, I became engulfed in a world of geeky sci-fi and children's entertainment. I started to think that even my heroes needed to be more obscure.
I needed to distance myself. My escape was through the library. I became addicted to checking out old paperbacks with gaudy, neon covers. I immersed myself in the books of Paul Zindel and somehow this made up for all of my lack of experience. His novel, Confessions of A Teenage Baboon, was tragic. But it was a lovely, exciting tragedy with a plot and characters that made my heart race. I wanted to know people like this. I didn't.
Later, I found a closer connection to the cartoonist turned writer Kin Platt. I had always been interested in comic book history. When I discovered that the creator of Supermouse had gone on to scribe controversial young adult novels, I was intrigued. The psycho-sexual world of his books Flames Going Out and Dudley Cornflower were almost parodies of the teenage fiction that I had devoured. The far-out humor in his books resulted from an over-the-top pile up of tragedies that bordered on being exploitation. I put his work on the pedestal as high art. And I still do.
With this new found obsession, I would find the hero I had been looking for. One of Platt's books, The Boy Who Could Make Himself Disappear, had been made into a film. I needed to see it. Never released on VHS or DVD, it became impossible to find. So I opted for seeing another movie that featured the film's star actor, Scott Jacoby. Rivals (1972) seemed to fit directly into the oeuvre of weird 1970's mental breakdowns that I had visualized when reading Platt's books. To my delight, I would continue seeking out films that Scott appeared in. Whatever role he played, he was habitually cast as the teenage outsider. Scott immediately became my cult icon, because his acting career pretty much ended after his late teens. He would remain for me the ideal of a sensitive, aggressively estranged relic and embodiment of my teenage dilemma. The story in this book titled Motorbikes, is loosely based on my favorite Scott appearance in an episode of the TV show Marcus Welby MD.
I feel the need to explain myself. Why did these random non-experiences and diversions of my youth become my inspiration? I'm sure my teachers would be disappointed. They'd tell me that my stories need to be longer or have happier endings. Or perhaps they'd question what exactly these stories are or where they fit in. Perhaps they don't fit in. That is why I've seen the need to create them. In the comics format I love. A medium that often has difficulty being categorized. This is not a graphic novel, nor a poem or a song. For me, the process has been a problem solved. And one that I've enjoyed far more than even the most complicated question on a standardized test. For if life is truly like a multiple choice question, then all of the above, as an answer, is probably incorrect. I'm over it.