Archive for June, 2008

ABANDONED CARS

June 25, 2008

Published by Fantagraphics Books. Due in stores in August. Pre-order at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble.com, Borders.com, Subbooks.com, etc.

For those of you who are interested, Abandoned Cars will be premiering at the San Diego Comicon this July. I’ll be there on Thursday, Friday, Saturday & Sunday, sitting at the Fantagraphics table. Once I have the specific times, I’ll post them.

Abandoned Cars is my first collection of graphic short stories – the first in what I intend to build into a trilogy. Here’s what my publisher had to say about it:

“Abandoned Cars is Tim Lane’s first collection of graphic short stories, noir-ish narratives that are united by their exploration of the great American mythological drama by way of the desperate and haunted characters that populate its pages. Lane’s characters exist on the margins of society—alienated, floating in the void between hope and despair, confused but introspective. Some of them are experiencing the aftermath of an existential car crash—those surreal moments after a car accident, when time slows down and you’re trying to determine what just happened and how badly you’re hurt. Others have gone off the deep end, or were never anywhere but the deep end. Some are ridiculous, others dignified in their efforts to struggle to make sense of, and cope with, the absurdities, outrages, ghosts, and poisons in their lives.

The writing is straightforward, the stories mainstream but told in a pulpy idiom with an existential edge, often in the first person, reminiscent of David Goodis’s or Jim Thompson’s prose or of films like Pick-Up on South Street or Out of the Past. Visually, Lane’s drawing is in a realistic mode, reminiscent of Charles Burns, that heightens the tension in stories that veer between naturalism on the one hand and the comical, nightmarish, and hallucinatory on the other. Here, American culture is a thrift store and the characters are thrift store junkies living among the clutter. It’s an America depicted as a subdued and haunted Coney Island, made up of lost characters—boozing, brawling, haplessly shooting themselves in the face, and hopping freight trains in search of Elvis.

Abandoned Cars is an impressive debut of a major young American cartoonist.”

(Splash page: Spirit, Part One – Spirit is a three part graphic story documenting my first experience hopping freight trains. It’s the only story in the book that’s autobiographical. Although I prefer working with characters that I’ve invented, it was fun to include myself among the cast of characters that inhabit the landscape of the book.)

(Inside page: Spirit, Part One)

(Splash page: Cleveland)

(Manic Depressive from Another Planet, Part Two)

(Inside page: Spirit, Part Two – the point in the story when I have the honor of singing a delusional duet with the King of Rock & Roll himself)

(Inside page: Outing)

(Rockabillies: American Standard Cut-Out Collectible Series – In between graphic stories, there are a series of cut-out collectibles representing, I suppose, characters that populate the landscape of my mythological America. These characters are, incidentally, all real – in other words, they are not fictitious fabrications. Most of them first saw publication in a feature article in the St Louis alternative weekly newspaper, the Riverfront Times, which ran in the summer of 2006. They are an extension of a bigger project I’ve been playing around with for years – the creation of life size lawn ornament sculptures. The cut-outs are miniatures of the lawn ornament designs, and the miniatures are also available as lawn ornaments. I like the commercial, or “pop”, art aspect to lawn ornaments. Vehicles of artistic expression that are superficially regarded as low-brow or mass culture are, to me, very attractive. I feel very comfortable working with them (comics, of course, fit into this category). They are, on the surface, inoffensive and unintimidating. I think they’re also somewhat equalizing: They are a part of a cultural language we all understand, and no level of elevated academic/aesthetic knowledge is required for one to be able to “read” them. In this way, one can comment on society through it’s own language, making it accessible to everybody. That, to me, is important. And fun.)

(“Manic Depressive/Notes of a Second Class Citizen” vignette – In between the longer graphic stories are a series of “graphic vignettes” documenting the slow mental breakdown of an ostensibly anonymous character – anonymous, in that he never reveals his identity. He is, in fact, the same character as the one you’ll see in the Manic Depressive from Another Planet, Parts One & Two. This series was also first published as a series in the Riverfront Times, under the title “Notes of A Second Class Citizen”. The influence was Dostoyevski’s anonymous anti-hero in Notes from Underground – a book that has been one of my favorites since I was a teenager. But it is as much influenced by The Marx Brothers as it is Dostoyevski.)

(“Manic Depressive/Notes of a Second Class Citizen” vignette

(Splash page: Story of Stagger Lee: The only historical story in the book.)

Below are sketchbook drawings scribbled around 1994-1996, between the times I was living in Minneapolis, MN and San Francisco, Oakland, and El Cerrito, CA. I’m posting them because they are the first evidence of the work that would later become Abandoned Cars. While in Minneapolis, I was working as a bartender at a bar that was owned by a guy named Dick. The bar was a dive, completely. The characters depicted below are all influenced by my recollections of the nightly clientelle.

(Nobody’s Hero, drawn around 1994-95)

(Russ & Pip – these two guys were old high school friends whose strange habit it was to do the nightly rounds of neighborhood bars in each other’s company, slowly getting on each other’s nerves, until finally one of the two went too far with a snide comment or dismissive gesture. Next stop: out to the street or back alley to have it out. Nothing serious ever really came of it, although once “Russ” pulled “Pip” off his bar stool by pulling him from behind by the collar, sending Pip crashing to the ground headfirst – just dropped like a big sack of flour; did nothing to brace his fall. He cracked his head pretty good, and after being taken to an emergency room, his wife – and a real piece of work, she was – came looking for him (women were always looking for their husbands or ex-husbands or boyfriends or whatever. They were pretty close to the only female clientelle the bar regularly had) and when she found out what had happened, all she could do was bitch about the fact that Pip hadn’t fed or walked their dog.

(…And Stay Out!)

(Phil: The speech balloons on the left hand size of the panel are meant to be the voice of phil’s wife.)

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BELLIGERENT PIANO, EPISODE #2

June 25, 2008

The second installment of Belligerent Piano is published in the second issue of Happy Hour in America.

The second installment opens with Jackie renting a room at a cheap flophouse adjoining a dancehall called Ruby Ray’s Parisian Cabaret. This episode of the story introduces a few characters who are important to the first part of the Belligerent Piano story.

The dancehall is owned by Ruby Ray Palmyra, also known as the “Prom King”, a past-his-prime, one-time famous crooner from the late 1920’s & 1930’s. The basic model for Ruby Ray was Frank Sinatra (although Sinatra would’ve been much younger than Ray) in a kind of surreal, boozy, haunted carnivaleque “what if” worst case scenerio. In the late 1940’s and early 50’s, Sinatra’s popularity had declined dramatically (Sinatra later referred to those years as “all Mondays”, which I think is a great way to describe a stretch of bad luck). It wasn’t until he won an Academy Award in 1953 for his portrayal of Angelo Maggio in From Here to Eternity that his popularity rebounded. Ruby Ray is my take on what might’ve happened to Sinatra – or someone of his type – if his career had never recovered. Ray personifies a kind of self-aware decadence; a sentimental, tragic comedian in the form of an over-the-hill boy singer. As the Belligerent Piano story opens, Ruby Ray is on a European comeback tour (which ultimately flops). The illustration below depicts Ray in Paris “relaxing” after one of his performances.

(The Prom King in Paris, drawn around 1994-5)

Ray’s right-hand-man is Lyle, the caretaker of both the dancehall and the flophouse. Lyle is a Communist who fancies himself as an intellectual. He also frequently sees flying saucers and is completely, although reluctantly, in love with Ray.

Old Lobos – also referred to as “Old Injun” – is an ex-circus performer, a side-show knife thrower, who suffered a debilitating stroke. He’s one of the flophouse residents.

A third character is the Lobster Boy, another ex-carny, who occupies the room neighboring Jackie’s. He introduces himself shortly after Jackie’s arrival, and mysteriously warns the drifter that “none of this shit is real” and he’s “in to some strange things.”

Much of both BP episodes #1 and #2 are a combination of work drawn in 1994-5, then partially redrawn between 2001-5. I redrew certain parts of the story so many years later because, although I wanted to maintain it’s original look, I felt that, due to my inexperience illustrating comics, too much of it was subpar. All of the original second installment was drawn while I was living in San Francisco and Oakland, CA – which means, in some cases, drawn while sitting in a booth at a taqueria on Mission Street or at a little flophouse table next to a window overlooking Valencia Street – a window outside of which blinked and buzzed the neon sign advertising the dump: The King’s Motel (if I remember its name accurately); itself a scene, it would seem, out of the very story I was writing. I couldn’t have been happier (in a depressed sort of way). Nobody at the King’s Motel was ever up before noon. The guy who owned the place took my nightly $15 through a hole in the grating seperating us. The strung-out, emaciated lady at the end of the hall was always asking me for cigarettes: “Gotta cigarette for me today, Blondie?” I can still see her squinty smile. Wonder whatever happened to her.

This was research: Like a method actor living the life of a character. I did this sort of thing quite often for the sake of creating a sense of authenticity to Jack. It seemed like a worthwhile endeavor, although I discovered that, by doing so, I would remain seperated from him in the most critical way: Jackie’s aimlessness is his signature personality trait; I was behaving in an opposite fashion by seeking out experiences that would bring me nearer to understanding Jackie’s experience – it was, ultimately, my goal, my focus, my aim. Maybe you see the paradox. But I suppose that’s going too far. Looking back on it now, it seems I was chasing – or at least following in the footsteps of – a ghost.

Happy Hour in America is available upon request ($3.95)

BELLIGERENT PIANO, EPISODE #1

June 23, 2008

BELLIGERENT PIANO is like an old car to which I’m deeply attached but can’t seem to get running correctly, or in the right direction. It started as a simple exercise in character development, but has grown into something much more complex than my original aim. The first installment is featured in Happy Hour in America #1.

Episode #1 introduces the main character, Jackie No-name. It also introduces an event that serves to push the story into its intitial stages – a burglary and a murder that take place at a warehouse owned by a certain W.D. Quelt. Belligerent Piano is, in part, an homage to all of the crime comics, hardboiled fiction, and film noir movies that have captured my attention since I was a kid. What I wanted to do with BP was combine the sensibility of 1940’s era crime comics, and more specifically something of what I remembered of Will Eisner’s The Spirit, with a surreality influenced by my own ideas of American mythology. When I first started working on the story, when I was in my early twenties, I was very much feeling the post-college hang-over of taking my artistic and literary aspirations and interests too seriously, and wanted to return to comics – something I hadn’t really thought much about since I was fourteen or fifteen. The first big influence on me was the Spirit. While I was growing up, Kitchen Sink Press had been reprinting Eisner’s work from the 1940’s, and while most of my friends read Daredevil or the X-Men, I really couldn’t get enough of Eisner’s classic hero. Incidentally, none of those friends understood my fascination with the old crime fighter. I guess the era from which the Spirit originated was too far removed for them, but I’ve always had an inexplicable affinity to eras that are several generations removed from my own. At the same time, old issues of EC’s Crime and Shock Suspenstories were being rereleased, as well. That stuff was also very influencial – specifically the work of Johnny Craig and Al Feldstein – both of whom, along with Jack Cole, played a role in the development of my graphic, “comic book” style.

I mention all of this because, with Belligerent Piano, I wanted to get back to something that would be creatively “fun”, and where imagination could run wild. The landscape of Belligerent Piano isn’t quite America in the late 1940’s, but instead my mythical idea of America in the late 1940’s – it’s meant to be more dreamlike than real – a sort of artistic understanding with myself that, since I could never travel to the that era, it could only be visited through imagination. And I suspect that the way I created it has less to do with what it was actually like, and more to do with how I wish it could’ve been. My intension was – and is – to create a mythological, cinematic 1940’s rather than a realistic one. In other words, the 1940’s of my dreams.

…so, the story begins with a murder and a burglary – both cliches among the cliches of 1940’s crime comics and B-grade pulp fiction. And I wanted to embrace all of that: Dopey cops, sinister bad guys, bizarre and mishapen small time crooks, losers, and thugs; bombshell sirens, all of it. Even a semi-amnesiatic, morally ambiguous protagonist; an ex-soldier, an aimless drifter who doesn’t know his own name – the result of an undisclosed injury he endured during World War II.

Episode #1 finds our protagonist, Jackie, hopping a freight train out of an unknown city, ostensibly to escape pursuit from a silhouetted character standing under a bridge. A telling dream occurs after he falls asleep, in which the introduction to him is broadened and some foreshadowing occurs.

The next morning, he’s shaken from this dream by an insane, one-eyed vagrant who throws him off the train. Eventually he hitchhikes into the town of Circus City, where the Quelt Co. warehouse had been burglarized the night before.

Each of the main characters in BP were initially meant to serve some kind of mythological significance, the more unique to American culture the better. BP was the stage onto which I first conceived of playing out my personal take on the Great American Mythological Drama. Jackie represents the drifter, the aimless wanderer. Making him an amnesiac was meant to speak metaphorically to the cultural importance that Americans are, in general, arguably less interested in their pasts – geneologies, cultural heritages, etc. – than are other cultures. Or, as in many cases, “aware” of their own histories. America, after all, has always represented the place one could come in order to recreate themselves, start over, forge a new identity, forget the past; the country where one wouldn’t be limited because of the societal position into which they were born. In this way, Jackie represents that side of the American mind. Kind of.

And it’s at this point where the story began to go vertical rather than horizontal – upward instead of forward. Jackie became something much more meaningful to me than the story itself. Over time, I started to think of him as a myth, and that myth broadened in all directions. The supplementary pamplet MYTH OF JACK, and its corresponding CD of spoken word sketches and “folk songs” – much of which stems from the text of the first installment of the story – is dedicated to, and proof of, that broadening myth.

(cover: Myth of Jack)

(inside illustration: Myth of Jack. At the time I began working on this project, an exhibit of the illuminated works of William Blake was on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I went several times and, although I was already familiar with Blake’s work, had never been so moved by it.)

(inside page illustration: Myth of Jack)

(2 page spread from Myth of Jack)

(Text from Myth of Jack: “HE WAS A MYTH” – all text original except for the final lines, “he had no friends or connections; he was a myth”, from Thomas Wolfe’s “Look Homeward, Angel”, a passage that, to me, sums up Jackie’s persona perfectly.)

Physically and (to a somewhat lesser degree) tempermentally, Jackie has always appeared to me as something between Harrison Ford in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and Jean-Paul Belmondo in Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless (hence the everpresent cigarette). The anonymous quality to Jackie No-name stems from two things: John Doe – Jack being another name for John – and Clint Eastwood’s iconic portrayal of the Man with No Name in Sergio Leone’s trilogy honoring American westerns. The heavy shadows under Jackie’s eyes – his “mask”, so to speak – which is meant to be his signature facial characteristic (along with the cigarette) is my humble tribute to Eisner’s Spirit.

The above-mentioned influences were all dreamed up over fifteen years ago. How much of it still pertains is hard to say. Hopefully Jackie becomes his own man, rises above his influences. I’m not sure, don’t know if it matters

I mention all of the background influences to Jackie reluctantly out of concern that it might shape the first-time viewer’s image of him too much. I hope you see him however you want to see him. On the other hand, I thought it might be interesting for you to imagine how I see him as well.

Happy Hour in America #1 ($3.95), the Myth of Jack pamphlet ($2.00) and the Myth of Jack CD (2.00) are available upon request.

SMOKE MY FUTURE

June 21, 2008

SMOKE MY FUTURE

A surreal red light shone on the painted head of a doll. The doll’s head sat on a windowsill, its features were facing outward, as if on display. There was violin music playing from inside the room, sounding muffled and maudlin.  Beneath the window, the woman lumbered stiffly up the staircase, nursing one leg and leaning heavily on the rail, which creaked under her wieght.

“Your future’s in my pipe,” she said, “I’m smoking your future,” and she smiled while drawing deeply on her pipe.

“That’s how it is,” she continued, “I smoke everybody’s future. Everybody that walks by. If I see them or not.  It don’t matter.”

She stopped to inspect me for a moment. Her expression became roguish. I half expected her to wink.  I tried to watch the trail of my future plume from her pipe, but it was a breezy night and the wind blew away any evidence of my future’s remains.

“See,” she said, “You have no more future. I smoked it.”

C TRAIN INCIDENT

June 21, 2008

C TRAIN INCIDENT

Although the woman was ranting, there was something dignified about her. Maybe that’s what seemed so chilling about the experience. She looked like someone’s grandmother or aunt. Not like someone gone mad.

“How could you let her go like this?” the woman yelled. “How could you pay no attention to her needs? You are selfish! Selfish!”

Everyone on the subway was quiet. The old woman was addressing an apparition. There was a pause, as if the recipient of her question was being allowed to respond.

“I know all that!” she yelled disgustedly, “I know all that! You’ve said it a thousand times!”

Then she spoke excitedly in Spanish, which I couldn’t understand. Her small body trembled with rage, yet she tried to remain composed.

“You coward!” she screamed, “To only come to me like this! Coward!”

Then the train stopped and the doors opened and several people quickly deboarded.

THE OLDTIMER

June 21, 2008

THE OLDTIMER

“God bless you,” the old man said, “God bless you,” and he wiped the tears from his eyes.  The tears weren’t motivated by emotion, however.  They were caused by the level of his intoxication.

He had immigrated to America from Croatia in 1959, but his accent was still heavy and evident in his every word.  He raised his glass to click against mine.  He was very happy with me.  I was the guy who didn’t think he looked his age, which was seventy-one.  And he didn’t look his age.  He had more hair than I do, and most of it was still black.  For almost forty years, he had worked as a longshoreman, loading crates on the docks of Manhattan and Brooklyn every day.  Seven years ago, he retired.  “My mind does not want to retire,” he admitted, “but my body can tolerate work no more.”

“How old are you?” he asked me.

“Thirty-one.”

“God bless you,” he said, raising his glass. “My age is very different,” he continued,” I cross myself every morning,” and he indicated the gesture.  “Everyday is lucky. Every day is not what to be expected.  For you, they are expected.  But not so with me.  You understand?” He smiled easily. There was something very familiar about him.  He was one of those people whose face immediately compels you to like them.  I had never really understood what people meant when they described someone’s face as “honest”.  Now, I did.  As he tried for the third time to light his cigarette, I finally realized why he seemed familiar: He looked like Robert Mitchum.

“What was it like in New York in 1959?” I asked.

“Aah!” he smiled, slapping the table, “Very different!  In 1959, a subway token was only fifteen cents. A pack of cigarettes was twenty-five cents.”

We were at Rudy’s on 44th street.   I’d been waiting for a friend when I fell into conversation with the Croatian immigrant. When my friend finally arrived, I went to shake the old man’s hand and noticed for the first time that it had been badly crushed. There was nothing left but his middle finger.

FIVE HOMELESS MEN

June 21, 2008

FIVE HOMELESS MEN

There were four of them sitting outside the door of the Chase Manhattan bank.  It was one of those absurdly humid nights, and Jack speculated that they were trying to get the cool air coming through the building door.  The fifth one was sprawled out in the middle of the sidewalk, blocking the subway entrance.

“Jeez,” I said, “he looks dead.”

Jack snorted a wordless comment.

“Maybe he is dead.”

“What else are you gonna do on a night like this?” Jack asked rhetorically, but I wasn’t sure what he meant.

“Do you mean, what else are you gonna do on a night like this other than die?” I asked, “or other than look dead.”

All five of the group seemed far away, as if in a different dimension.  It felt like we were viewing them through a sheet of glass at the Smithsonian.  None of the five moved at all. They were imprisoned under the lamplight like dead flies.

The one man lay in a very vulnerable position. The four others slumbered in what looked like a great deal of pain.  Their faces slid downward, their broken features twisted, as if gravity had played a bitter trick on them.  The scene reminded me of the image in Goya’s Los Caprichos, in which these miserable people are sleeping in a similar fashion.

“Sleep is the only happiness for the wretched,” I said, quoting Goya.

Jack snorted a wordless comment.

NEW YORK AVENUE

June 21, 2008

NEW YORK AVENUE

The night before, someone had been shot on New York Avenue.  John stood by the iron fence, leaning heavily on the railing, nursing the weak leg that had grown decrepit. Once, he ran a traffic light and was taken from his car and beaten by two cops who left him on the curb.  That was in 1982.  He woke up feeling the pain in his legs and back, and the pain had never left, so now, when John walks, he walks with a cane.  And walks very slowly.

The police ribbon stretched between fixtures down the street. We could see strips of it flapping in the wind.

“Do you know if the guy lived?” I asked John.

“Don’t know,” he said slowly, situating his cap by its brim, “Don’t know nothing about it ‘cept it woke me up.”

I imagined a body lying face down on the ground, bleeding al l over the place under the street light.  I wondered if it hurt to get shot.

“I don’t understand why we can’t love one another instead of all this,” John said, gesturing toward the police ribbons, “Don’t they know that God is watching us?”

John was a very religious man.

I remembered a movie, where the effect of a bullet wound to the stomach was illustrated in graphic, visual detail.  The movie described how the intestines immediately filled up with mucus.

“Probably died,” I speculated.

“You never know.  Some people get shot in the head and live.  I heard of one guy got a pole stuck through his head and lived.  Came out his jaw, man.”

“It’s such a pity,” John continued. He had a thick Caribbean accent; “I wonder what God would say.  I don’t think that this is what He had in mind when He made us.”

OLIVER REVISITED

June 21, 2008

OLIVER REVISITED

He was a Stanford dropout who claimed to have been a serious gymnast at one time. Now, he waited tables at a restaurant, the name of which he never mentioned.

Doug and I had fallen into a light-hearted conversation with a couple of girls at the bar. We were talking about movies when Oliver suddenly appeared, chiming in with his opinions on cinema. Nothing about his appearance seemed unnatural. My first impression of him was that he was a lonely guy, anxious to engage in conversation with strangers. Nothing was wrong with that.

We were debating whether it would be better to be Han Solo or Luke Skywalker when Oliver said, “I think R2-D2 was really the Jedi Master,” That’s how he introduced himself. The idea was so foreign, it seemed nearly plausible.

“That just might work,” I said, welcoming him into our conversation.

Kat, the friendly twenty-five year old who lived on Staten Island, changed the subject somewhat, describing her attraction to comedians, such as Adam Sandler. Doug sat back on his barstool, his arms folded across his chest reflectively: He was seriously considering the Solo vs. Skywalker question. Not even Wendy, the other girl, showing off the pierced skin between her respect-worthy breasts could pry his mind from this debate. His brain worked on the issue long after it had left the attention of the rest of us.

Kat leaned against the bar counter, then animatedly broke into a wild and complicated flurry of gesticulations. They were meant to somehow emphasize the importance of her words, all of which I have since forgotten. She was a very exaggerated girl – something of a hip-hop styled gadfly. But also, unfortunately, one of those whose words easily dissipate into the wind shortly after having been uttered.

She leaned heavily against Oliver. He had met his friend.

THREE BABOONS

June 21, 2008

THREE BABOONS

The three of them leaned against the bar, posturing as fine examples of erudition and taste.

“There,” the one said definitively, and nodded.

Three years ago, he had established an advertising agency, which proved to be profitable at a time when others were folding in droves.  He was a shrewd man, many believed.  He knew people, understood their character.  Call it a knack.  His word meant a good deal to the other two, although neither would admit it.

“Yes. That one.  She’d do it,” he continued.

The others looked toward the end of the bar, trying to determine whom their friend had indicated while remaining disinterested, in a tasteful way.

“That one? The one with that fake shit in her hair?” the third asked disgustedly, exercising his expert facility for descriptive articulation, “Like hell she would.”

The third one had been born wealthy.  Therefore, the others respected his opinion intuitively, although neither would admit it, without really knowing why.

“She’ll do it,” the first reiterated, “Guaranteed.  She’ll do it.” There was something funny about the way he said ‘guaranteed’, like he was chewing on ice, and it hurt.

“I dunno, man,” the second said, “Maybe one.  But not all three of us.”

“Shut the fuck up,” the first said, eloquently,  “I know my business.”

The second, a millionaire by the time he was thirty, believed he deserved more respect than that.

“You shut up, fucker,” the millionaire retorted contemptuously, “There’s a little hussy who works for me who’s just like that one.  All show, but prude as shit. Trust me, she won’t do it.”

“Shut up,” the first repeated, then ambitiously began writing his proposal on a paper coaster.  He would send her a drink with the coaster note under it, a trick he had learned in a James Bond movie.  He would show them how well he knew character.