Welcome to part the second of Comics Bulletin’s coverage of Comic Arts Brooklyn 2014. To find out how our two provincials, Daniel Elkin and Keith Silva, got to this point in their story there’s this. If you’re immune to the crushing weight of continuity or if you’re slumming and fancy yourself a bit of a post-modernist, than by all means read on!
KEITH SILVA: For the last eighteen months, Daniel Elkin and I have been like a couple of Boswell’s to cartoonist Derek Van Gieson’s Johnson … something seems off about that, lemme give it another go …
Since March of 2013, Daniel Elkin and I have been writing about the series Eel Mansions by cartoonist Derek Van Gieson. (Less punchy, but O.K.) Between the two of us I bet we’ve written ten thousand words on this idiosyncratic comic about Satanists, dipsomaniac cartoonists and veiled (and not so veiled) references to English rock stars. Eel Mansions has become our Life of Johnson and we its Boswells.
Back in early September, back when the phrase, ‘Kansas City Royals play for MLB crown’ rang as arbitrary and somewhat of a pipe dream there was similar talk Eel Mansions: Volume One would debut at CAB. For the first time all six Eel Mansions mini-comics — the ‘lost’ Eel Mansions, a rumored-to- be one-pager called ‘Smile My Ass, Muthafucka’ which was surreptitiously printed in SuperValu holiday circulars in 2011 remains at large and, as yet, uncollected — would be available in one collection and with French flaps no less. It also includes an introduction by Messrs. Elkin and Silva.
So when Elkin floats this idea about meeting in Brooklyn to attend CAB there was a glimmer on the periphery we would also be there for the Eel book’s debut and the opportunity to meet Van Gieson. Now, publishing (from my limited experience) is both a stern master and a harsh mistress. In other words, shit undoubtedly happens. The Eel book wasn’t done in time for CAB 2014. It’s cool, good things come to those who wait, no fine wine … etcetera, etcetera. The book may have slipped away (see what I did there?) but Van Gieson didn’t, the ink made flesh.
To meet someone one admires is often to be either disappointed or shortchanged. A grip and grin at a public event like a book signing or con or even a random encounter with a person known to you only from a distance is odd; and I can’t imagine how it feels for the other guy or girl. So when I got to shake hands with Van Gieson, a creator I admire and someone I’ve corresponded with on everything from movies to music to life in general, it felt less like admiration and more like friendship.
Derek Van Gieson is tall, six one or so. He’s quiet, unassuming and Daddy-o cool. He’s a guy you want to hang out with and talk with. And so we did. Without a book to promote, Van Gieson suggested we retire to quieter environs with fewer comics and more alcohol. And so we did. I’m sure some sage has said, ‘never go with a cartoonist to a second location let alone a bar!’ Neither Elkin nor I heeded this advice.
So we waited in warm mid-afternoon November sunshine outside the Lady of Mount Carmel Church with Van Gieson’s friend Mike, while Derek was finishing up some business inside.
As if the three of us were in some Coleridge poem, we met a wedding guest (of sorts), writer for the Comics Journal, Dominic Umile. You wanna talk cool? Umile is straight out of central casting’s you-must-be-this-cool-to-carry-this-messenger-bag-with-a-seatbelt-for-a-strap-cool. Elkin and I were supposed to meet Umile earlier. He was running late and couldn’t stay long at CAB. Our meeting with Dominic was quick, but memorable. I wish we could have shared a beer together. It was a few ticks past two o’clock.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent with friends. We drank over-priced beer at a bar, talked about comics and movies I have never heard of and some I only pretend to have seen. We talked Eel Mansions and why Mick Fleetwood ever agreed to wear that ridiculous get-up on the cover of ‘Rumors.’ We shopped for records and shared sandwiches and more (slightly-affordable) beer. We watched Deathdream with the volume turned down and ELO’s eponymous debut with its ‘baroque-and-roll’ sound turned up. We listened to the intro to Wizzard’s ‘Eddy and the Falcons’ … on vinyl. We did not go back to CAB which in my mind began its Brigadoon-like fade out.
Comics equals community, an odd lot for sure, people brought together by a shared faith that marks on a page, images and text, trumps (almost) all else. Critics of comics talk about prizing creators over characters to which I would add the caveat: people over products. I know I missed out on buying more stuff and meeting more people at CAB and likely even people as cool as Derek Van Gieson and that’s O.K. The internet is full of weirdos creating, talking and writing about comics. Slow down, Silva.
At some point in the evening, I turn to Elkin and ask, ‘Do you feel like we missed anything, you know, by leaving CAB early?’ Elkin smiles, spreads out his arms and says, ‘Miss what?’
DANIEL ELKIN: It had been bothering me for thousands of words. What was Derek Van Gieson’s deal with sandwiches anyway? I mean, every issue, each one of the six, mentioned sandwiches in some context (or rather, given the nature of Eel Mansions, no context at all).
Of course I had done my best with it. I put on my big boy critic pants and tried to bite off what he was doing. I’ll freely admit that, underneath my thickest of English Teacher paisley sweaters, I rubbed my belly by the fireplace to bring forth big words to obfuscate and mask my lack of confidence in my analysis.
After all, these are sandwiches we are talking about. If anyone should know about the literary possibilities and thematic opportunities of the sandwich, it’s this guy … me … the one who’s mother didn’t raise no coffee table. El rey de Sandwich. Le sandwich de patron. Shuí xǐhuān sānmíngzhì de jiāhuo (thank you, Google Translate).
So here, at last, having left the confines of CAB and now at a bar was the creator before me. Well, actually, next to me, bellied up as it were. I assume he was as tipsy as I; we had been drinking expensive beer after all. One can easily work the formula: time spent – wallet weight = total tipsy. One can hope, at least.
Finally, the moment arose. Large swig downed. I mustered the courage. “Okay, Derek, what’s the deal with the sandwiches?”
At this, a smile played across the face of this man, this artist, this creator whose work I had been following, contemplating, unpacking, and writing about for over year and a half. I felt for sure this was the kairotic moment between artist and audience — the connection between consignor and consignee — that juncture of pure expression where art becomes universal through true understanding. Get the gestalt, brother. Know what I mean?
Derek Van Geison — that magnificent bastard looks me in the eyes and replies, “Who doesn’t like a nice sandwich?”
And that was it. Nothing more needed to be said…
My arms outspread, “Miss what?”
People over products indeed, Silva. What makes a community-focused celebration like CAB that much more of a meaningful experience to provincials like us, compared to the crush and clusterfuck of, say, a San Diego Comic Con? It’s these sorts of moments; the opportunity to connect and step through that fifth wall implied by putting ideas and passions in panels.
We are an odd lot, us small press people (I’ll include us in the gang. I don’t think it’s too presumptuous). We operate in a tiny niche within a slightly larger niche of a niche subculture to begin with. Yea, sure, comics are more popular than they’ve been in a while and the proliferation of festivals such as CAB and TCAF and SPX and Autoptic and others are gathering momentum all over the place, but let’s not fool ourselves – we’re still outliers in the grand body of pop culture. And those of us who create in this realm often find ourselves at a loss trying to have conversations about the books we love or write about or create because … you know … it’s kinda’ weird and it’s comics … but it’s not comics as some people (civilians, mostly) traditionally think of them … and … geez … well…. ahem.
Comic Arts Brooklyn was a comics festival sure, but, more importantly (at least for us, I think), it was a place where we could unabashedly wonk and geek and ooooh and ahhhhh about something we love and connect with — the opportunity to BE with people you admire and get to know the artist as a person. Comics is a solitary gig, right? Here was an opportunity to step up and step out into all sorts of great prepositions. Here was an opportunity to be WITH and AMONG, for example.
Taking the road less traveled — going to Brooklyn, meeting up with old friends and new ones, walking the floor of CAB, and drinking the night away with fellows like Silva and Van Geison — it’s people over products — and that made all the difference.
Sure, we do our thing alone. We’re at our best, though, when we celebrate together.
Hey Silva, I hear that Autoptic is in August. There’s F.O.E.s in Minneapolis, too. And flights are cheap right now.
Daniel Elkin is an instigator, wears brown corduroy and enjoys a good sandwich. Follow: @DanielElkin
Keith Silva has a firm handshake, enjoys rail travel and abhors the oxford comma. Follow: @keithpmsilva
Derek Van Gieson’s Eel Mansions is available (for preorder) from Uncivilized Books