generation xeric

Jeff Smith invited me to participate as guest-blogger in a forum discussing the ’90s
self-publishing movement in comics and how it affected me. Here’s what I came up with:

01bone.jpg

BONE got me reading comics again. In high school, I’d rejected the nerdy obsessions
of my youth (comics, toys, rpgs) and replaced them with skateboarding and girls and
a watered-down rural version of grunge culture. A couple devoted buddies would drag
me to the comics store or lend me this or that; but in four years, BONE was the first book
to capture my attention. That lust brush line, animated timing, and playful interaction between
very real characters! (No need for me to convert readers of Jeff’s blog.) Soon after, I discovered
MADMAN — again the juicy brush line, along with the spiritual musings of an insecure Prometheus.

These books got me READING comics again, but it was a slightly different brand
of self-published comics that inspired me to MAKE my own.

The DIY ethic was infesting my 20 year old life — a scrappy blend of vegetarianism,
punk rock, dumpsterdiving, and disillusion with capitalist society. The “people’s media”
wasn’t books or magazines or the young internet, but zines and minicomics – hand-assembled
during late night Kinko’s sessions when you could bribe an employee for free copies with a six pack.
The drawing aesthetic and subject matter of these comics were most often intimate and raw,
like personal letters from the author. John Porcellino – creator of KING CAT – became our appointed
cult leader, and ran a distribution outfit for mincomics, zines, and seven-inches called SPIT & A HALF;
graciously distributing my own first attempts at comics and introducing me to an entire world of obscure creators.

02kingcat.jpg
This is where the Xeric foundation factors in.
I was of a generation that read NINJA TURTLES as a CHILD (even watched the ridiculous
animated version) and then was coming-of-age when Peter Laird began tithing to first-time
self publishers. (Note that the Xeric grant’s 1992 debut was nearly synchronized with Grunge.)

All my favorite mini-comic creators — David Lasky, Adrian Tomine, Megan Kelso, Jon Lewis — were
transitioning to “professional-style” Xeric-funded books. Because the Xeric was a one-time financial gift,
it lent itself to self-contained projects. For me, this is where the notion of “the graphic novel” first became
appealing – a comic book with a complete story – beginning to end – not stretched over years of soap-operatic serialization.

Foremost of these was Tom Hart’s HUTCH OWEN’S WORKING HARD. In only 53 pages, an entire energetic
epic unfurled. Something changed within you while reading it. It definitely inspired my first book CHUNKY RICE.
The grungey knit cap and snargley tooths of Solomon is a deliberate tribute (or rip-off) of dear ol’ Hutch.

03hutch.jpg

The other book that I poured over & over and sought to emulate was Walt Holcombe’s KING of PERSIA.
It’s so poetic and musical and heartbreaking that it moved me to tears. This is what I sought to create
– comics to make you weep! (And I suspect the Orientalist fancies of HABIBI were awakened by Walt’s book.)

04holcombe.jpg
Finally, Joe Chiappetta’s SILLY DADDY. His LONG GOOD-BYE was self-published without Xeric aid, but it
did package his mincomics into a 98 page booklet. These confessional diaries and anti-capitalist diatribes
read as direct translations from his heart. The sometimes crude drawing could suddenly betray Joe’s skill
as an attentive life-drawer. This rendering of little Maria still sends shivers through me.

05sillydaddy.jpg

In the 90s, the largest pocket of Xeric cartoonists were living in Seattle, Washington — they replaced
the corporate-opted music scene with their loud & energetic comics scene. Other than heartbreak, they
were what motivated me to leave my Wisconsin home for the great Northwest. At the last moment,
a friend convinced me that Portland, Oregon was the smaller, hipper, organic version of Seattle.

Ten years later, Portland itself has claimed stakes as the young cartoonists mecca. Busloads of energetic
minicomics-churning youngsters arrive each day, and I’m the “old school” — the hermetic, folk-artist crazy uncle
burdened with my self-imposed graphic novel exile. Seems I’ve fashioned myself after Dylan Horrocks’ TISCO GEORGE…

06tisco.jpg

… and I long for the days of of playfulness and community – before the pretention or presumptiousness
of the “graphic novel” — when photocopies were stolen from Kinko’s and lovingly hand-stapled by the author.

(art credits: 03 – Hutch Owen by Tom Hart, 04 – King of Persia by Walt Holcombe,
05 – Silly Daddy by Joe Chiappetta, 06 – Tisco George from Pickle #1 by Dylan Horrocks)

13 thoughts on “generation xeric

  1. “watered-down rural version of grunge culture” + “The DIY ethic was infesting my 20 year old life — a scrappy blend of vegetarianism,
    punk rock, dumpsterdiving, and disillusion with capitalist society” haha you just described my past!- thanks for this blogpost. i loved reading about what you read, and learning about new comic artists.

  2. Reading this reminds me a lot of my own journey back to myself. I think a great deal of our generation went through the same thing. I remember being 22 and seeing a bumper sticker that really shook me. “Remember what you wanted to be” reads this sticker on the back of an SUV in the parking lot of our local organic food store, shocking me into pulling out the pen and paper for the first time in many moons and getting words out of my head. I don’t think it a coincidence that I found you and Jeff’s work around the same time. Good blogging!

  3. That was a very interesting entry, with authors that have never been published in Spain and works that i will consider buying. What comics did you read before stopping reading comics? Did they influence yor work somehow?

  4. Nice post 🙂

    Lately I have been playing with the idea of putting one together but am struggling with my artistic limitations. I have always had a fascination with mini comics. I am completely in love with the diy ethic. I think it’s amazing to get something that has been hand stapled by the artist. There’s something to that that you can’t emulate.

    I would be interested to see some of your early attempts if you would ever be willing to share.

    Jason

  5. There’s a rash of 90s nostalgia going around (I mean, more than usual. Who doesn’t miss ’95?) Rob Sheffield’s book “Love Is A Mix Tape” had this nugget: “There’s a lot I miss about the nineties. It was an open, free time of possibilities, changes we thought were permanent. It seemed inconceivable that things would ever go back to the way they were in the eighties, when monsters were running the country and women were only allowed to play bass in indie-rock bands.”

    Maybe I’m naive, but maybe when we all wake up from this 8-year bad dream, some of the things that we all loved about the 90’s will pop up again, like independent art spreading out to larger groups of readers/viewers/listeners without the quality of that art getting shitty/depressing.

    Isn’t it possible that younger artists, writers, filmmakers can forgo bribing Kinko’s workers and go straight to online media to get their work out there? Granted, I personally think the internet is mostly good for posting videos of cat bloopers, but there’s possibility there. There’s newness there. (Also, you get to keep the sixpack.)

  6. Dear Craig,

    Here I am reading your wonderful blog while actually I should be writing an essay on the relationship between gender and race in the short stories of Zora Neale Hurston..

    I just cannot help it, I was thinking of the comic festival in Haarlem, and cannot believe that I missed you in 2006! I wished you could be there this year!

    Love your work, you are a huge inspiration!
    Enough sucking up, back to essay writing. 🙂
    Take care!

  7. Hey, I should be essay writting too!

    Except mine is on the birth of the “modern-era” of comics.

    I think I might use this blog post as a source.

    I love productive procrastination.

  8. hey craig,
    just found your blog tonight after having your sit bookmarked for ages. last time i was here you were nowhere to be found. glad you’re here now. you’re the best. keep on keepin on!
    with love from brooklyn,
    dm

  9. These go to 11.

    Craig, that is such a nice look back! And I love the King Cat you drew. And thanks for reminding me of Joe’s drawing of Maria. Whoa.

    I’ve been teaching comics to the kids of today, and man, are they gonna blow the lid off this popsickle stand. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next 10 years… Also, wow — nice to see Habibi is coming along! Rock out, mister.

  10. I realize this is no longer topical, however I fully appreciate that King Cat logo you drew is a throwback to the Powell Peralta “7 Ply” graphic that used to adorn the top of their decks so many decades ago. *sigh* Thanks for bringing me back.

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