Saturday, April 9, 2011

Burnt Eyes

Afterschool Special was created in a point of turmoil. To be completely honest, I had given up the idea of making of graphic novel. My previous efforts had reaped few rewards. I was looking to possibly go off in a new direction or drop-out. In 2010, comics seemed a hopeless medium to me. Even my heroes seemed to be struggling unfairly. I told myself it would be unwise to suffer the same fate.

I had pieces of a new project, notes jotted down in sketchbooks that never quite seemed to fit together. A friend had mentioned to me something about a comics artist residency, maybe the first of its kind. On a whim I applied and was accepted. This gave me the motivation to pull my thoughts together and give it one last go.

The first color piece in this book was written in 2009 on The Long Island Railroad. I originally imagined this as an angry spoken word performance that I might recite at an open mic night a la Jimmy Reardon. So to quote a young River Phoenix: "I'm desperate!"

The theme of driving has been a sentiment that has persisted with me since I first started drawing comics. In fact, one of my earliest mini-comics from way back in 1998 was titled Drive and is quite similar in mood. I have always associated driving with the following: overpopulation, a lack of control, escapism and sexuality.

On the onset of puberty, I was in a terrible car accident where I was lucky enough to only suffer from a mild concussion. Still, years later, I am haunted by dreams of gas pedals getting stuck in overdrive and steering wheels that refuse to function properly. As a teenager, I looked forward to driving because it seemed like it would open up a world of possibility in terms of meeting girls. I had this idea that life with a car would be something akin to scenes culled from TV shows such as The Wonder Years that I grew up with. Driving would enable me to cruise the strip, visit drive-ins and head up to the elusive make-out point. Unfortunately, I was living in the past. What I got instead were traffic jams and the realization that the destinations of my youth had been replaced by generic chains and franchises.

In 2008, I had been living in Boston for three years and spent many an hour stuck in traffic while driving to work. I wondered if there was a way out, a chance to change, to become something different than what was expected of me, what I was born into. Looking out my window, I'd always wonder about those surrounding me in their adjacent vehicles. Often it was business men in suits. They always looked unhappy to me. With my fear of getting old, I wondered if this was my fate. And it scared me. I wanted out. This isn't so much a criticism of the previous generation or my parents, whom I love very much. Instead, it's the desire to transform while feeling trapped or fear of the inevitable. If only the fire could be extinguished and I could stare with bright open eyes once again.

My brief stint in Florida at the end of 2010 was the first time I had been surrounded by other creative people in years. Thankfully, that gave me the push I needed to continue drawing. Instead of returning home, I got in a car generously given to me by my dad and headed off into the unknown. This time, I thought driving would lead me to a better place. I was in search of freedom and the American Dream. Instead I ended up in Arizona, more lost than ever.

When I finished drawing these pages, I was broke and unemployed. It seemed like the final thing to do was to sell the car (sorry Dad). The money helped me stay footloose for a while in California. Eventually, I ended up on my own again. Back in Arizona, I settled into a job not so different than the one I had left in Boston and in a suburb full of old people not so drastically different than the one I had rebelled from in my youth. Some things had changed though. I now had a bicycle and a book that no one wanted to publish. You do what you can with what you have. You move forward from there.

When I tell people I've drawn some comics/books, they inevitably ask me what the work is about. I always feel it's quite difficult to explain so I shy away from answering. But it's really quite simple. These comics are about loneliness.

I'm ready to move on.

February, 2012

Afterschool Special will be released as a book in the summer of 2012.
This project has been funded via a Kickstarter campaign.
More details and ordering info to follow soon.

Friday, March 18, 2011

They call her EASY

This is the chapter where I have two characters walking around and talking. This could be really boring, visually, in comics and something I try to avoid: "Talking Heads". In order to make it more interesting, I tried to give this a sense of place. I actually used the High School near where I lived in Arlington, MA as a reference as well as my friend Lara's neighborhood, Winchester. Ultimately though, this is supposed to reflect my own Long Island High School that I attended in the mid 1990's as well as the neighborhood I grew up in (Plainview). Each of these chapters has references to my own personal obsessions. In the case of this chapter, it's one of my favorite books entitled Is Kissing A Girl Who Smokes Like Licking an Ashtray, published in 1992. I used the name Biff because it's the name of the main character in Randy's novel. Also, I made him a handball player because in Powell's novel, Biff always carries around a super bouncer ball.

The tile of this chapter, They Call Her Easy, is a song I like that Rex Smith sings on his first album. Rex Smith was the star of one of the best teen made-for-tv movies ever: Sooner or Later. This film by Bruce and Carole Hart was also a young adult book series with two sequels (novels only) written by the same authors.

The color cover here is a reference to the best 80's teen slasher pic: Slumber Party Massacre 2, which I've written a bit about here.

Are You In The House Alone?

This is my tribute to 80's slasher movie set-ups that have been used over and over again. It's The Babysitter who gets a phone call from "a breather". In this case, it's an in-joke between the two characters to show that they immediately get each other. The movie stills on the tv screen are from Slumber Party Massacre 1 and 2. Both are movies that I enjoy, although I do admit to being a lot more obsessed with the latter. I think the "driller killer" interest started after seeing De Palma's Body Double on late night tv when I was a kid. It's a ridiculous effect and was used often in the 80's, but exaggerated to absurdity and great effect in SPM 2.

The house that the babysitter inhabits was based on an apartment I was living in at the time in Jamaica Plain, MA. I photographed my girlfriend and used those pictures as reference to give this sequence a more cinematic horror movie, predatory/voyeuristic feel with various angles that I have not previously used in the creation of my comics.

We live in a nostalgic culture now, where there are few original works and we are constantly referencing things from the past. I don't always like that, but I'm not sure if it can be helped at this point. The writer I admire who uses this brilliantly is Kevin Williamson. I was a fan of his TV show Dawson's Creek and later his movies including the SCREAM series which was his own witty and always timely commentary on the slasher movie genre.

The title of this chapter is also a reference to the book by Richard Peck that was made into a made-for-tv movie starring Kathleen Beller and Robin Mattson.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Balls To The Wall

The song referenced here is Balls To The Wall by Accept which I often heard on MTV while growing up and the lyrics puzzled me as a kid. Later I learned that these hard-hitting metal lines were not written by any of the band members, but by their producer, who happened to be a woman. I love this sort of back handed unexpected feminism, probably the same reason I am such a fan of Deborah Brocks's Slumber Party Massacre movie.

This sequence comes from memories of three friends I had while I was in 9th grade. The first friend's mom smoked pot in the living room and his stepfather threw his stereo out the window. The second friend and I once chucked some tennis balls stolen from a public court at a security guard while perched atop a warehouse. And the third friend sprayed graffiti all over his neighborhood leading up to his house. I always knew how to get there on my bike without using a map. So that's where this comes from.

...this story continues here.