TWICE over the course of this Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival weekend, there were tears standing in my eyes. Luckily, they didn’t quite fall, because when it rains, it pours. I’m now on my third week of being rained out of my home since Sandy hit New York and New Jersey. On Sunday, heading back to see if the lights were on (and they weren’t), I ran into Dustin Harbin and his lady friend, sitting with Michel Fiffe on Michel’s stoop. After explaining where I was headed, I was asked by Dustin, “And you guys did a comic show in the middle of all that?” Well, we did and we didn’t. Note the pronouns. This one divided us.
Michiel Budel, who is Dutch, surprised us the Tuesday before Saturday’s show with the news that he was flying in from Holland. Normally, this visit would be a most pleasant surprise, since we’ve only ever gotten to talk to Michiel by phone. With Kevin Czap’s guidance, we found his Slechtemeisjes online and it was love at first sight. We also came to adore Michiel over the phone. Nobody else puts as much thought into the Piranha franchise. We’ve had nothing but great luck with finding artists that fit the familial spirit of our company and the comics community in general.
The trick was that we actually print Michiel’s comics ourselves, and due to their popularity, they were sold out completely a few weeks ago. Michiel’s impending visit made it imperative for us to have books for him to sign at BCGF.
Our Windsor Terrace office has been a disorganized mess since we shut down our storage space and moved our stock from Queens, along with the Koyama Press books and assorted mini-comics we distribute. We figured all the books would fit, and they do, but not much else does. In some ways, it’s encouraging to think that all of the unsold Secret Acres and Koyama Press books in the United States fit into half of what would be a good sized bedroom (by New York standards, at least). It took some creative arranging just to get access to the printing equipment, which turned out to be on the fritz when we finally uncovered it to make more books. We’re still not sure how we printed Wayward Girls 2 for BCGF, but it happened some time around dawn on Friday, after which we scrambled to get a post up on this very blog.
Friday night at Matt Thurber‘s gallery, Tomato House, was the puppet show, Ishi’s Brain, based on the story of the same name from Eamon Espey’s new book, and our big BCGF debut, Songs of the Abyss. In the front of the house was a show for Michael McMillan, the man behind the sadly overlooked Terminal Comics. He’s something like eighty years old and his work is still futuristic. Accordingly, all the Gods of Comics were in attendance. We were introduced to a few, including Chris Ware, and we actually choked. It’s not often that we’re speechless. The Norwegian comics collective, Dongery, was also having a release party for their self-titled collection of the entirety of their zine work: a decade and a half of material which took four years just to get print-ready. It weighs in at several pounds and nearly 1500 pages, standing a foot tall in two volumes, one of material in English and the other in Norwegian, all in a slipcase. It is staggeringly beautiful and I kicked myself for not being able to buy it on the spot. An eighty-dollar book is still eighty dollars, and not cheap, but it was hard not to feel like a loser.
Those Arcade guys party a little too hard at any age, and right before we arrived, McMillan had collapsed and been taken off in an ambulance. There was a great deal of consternation in the house, coming to a decision whether or not to go on with the puppet show. We did. It was haunting, and a little scary, but a gorgeous and true adaptation of the comic. We’ve never seen anything we’ve published performed, and we were spellbound. As soon as it’s available, we’ll post pictures and video. It was a great moment for us, and hopefully for Eamon, despite everyone being so rattled earlier in the evening. When we finally remembered to turn our phones back on, there was a note from our own Mike Dawson, telling everyone that his son, Ewan Charles Dawson, was born happy and healthy, albeit powerless, in New Jersey. So we are proud Acres uncles once again.
Later that evening, at the SpaceFace and Oily Comics signing at Bergen Street Comics, it was announced that our second favorite Stone, namely Tucker, was being made a full partner at Bergen. We got home at four after a very late dinner or early breakfast with our man Edie Fake, of Gaylord Phoenix fame. I got maybe three hours of sleep before needing to jump in the car to get to the office to pack for the show and meet Barry and Edie before the doors opened on BCGF at noon. At 10:30, I was in tears for the first time that weekend, stuck in traffic behind emergency vehicles making their way over the Brooklyn Bridge in parade formation. Looking at the clock, there was no way I’d make it. Calls went unanswered because of cell outages. By the time I got to the office, I was in a complete panic, joined shortly thereafter by a decidedly less-panicked Barry and Edie.
We made it to the show exactly at noon, and rushed to get set up, while several very patient and polite customers watched our stupidity. By the time the car was parked, our setup looked like it had been put together with scotch tape by dehydrated freaks, which it had. We’d also forgotten a ton of books. There were at least a dozen people lined up to make nice with the artists and we were beta-testing our new iPad-enabled digital sales sheet, which kept losing its signal. Things were tense. I split and doubled back to the office to get the rest of the books. Sometime around two, we at least appeared to know what we were doing, but the pace of the show was relentless. There were no breaks, so we took turns relieving each other from the madness of the crowds, sneaking off to eat, to go outside, to get the fuck away.
Barry and I left the gang at the table and went to get pizza, maybe some of the best pizza in the city, which is up the block from the show. We ate in silence. This has been perhaps the worst and most difficult year of both of our personal lives, featuring abandonments, deaths and, just recently, devastating natural disaster. Throw in this kind of chaos, a panicked lack of preparation and days worth of unraveling, and you are looking at the kind of seething exhaustion and resentment that renders conversation impossible. We were having our best show ever, in many respects. Secret Acres is having a year so strong, it makes us feel schizophrenic when we step out of the hive mind and back into real life. Still, right then, it didn’t matter much. We were completely drained. We weren’t Secret Acres or the hive mind, we were just two guys eating pizza.
When I went back in, Tom Spurgeon, the Comics Reporter himself, pulled me aside and said he’d heard what happened to my neighborhood of Red Hook, that he was amazed I was at BCGF and that Secret Acres was up and running, let alone having such a great show. Before we took another step, my hero and probably yours, Annie Koyama, took hold of me and told me she’d been worrying for me, that she was livid at not being able to spend enough time with me on this trip, that she was proud of me for figuring out how to survive this most terrible of years.
Things like this kept happening through the end of the day. It’s hard not to feel worthless when you’re too far gone to speak to your better publishing half, or he’s too over your bullshit to break the ice, but it’s impossible not to feel cherished when the people you admire most in the world give you their affection and concern. It’s even more overpowering when people you don’t know come in great numbers in the same day to thank you for all you do. It’s what I offer as evidence of my double life, my insanity, and it’s the source of my hope.
At one point, before the after party, I was thinking I’d crash that night at Barry’s with Edie and Sam Gaskin. I thought I should get myself a t-shirt on the floor during a lull. The day before, I’d gone and gotten myself some clothes to wear to the show, since I couldn’t make it home. My new clothes were in the car. If I got a t-shirt at the show, I’d have a complete outfit to wear in the morning. There was never a lull, though.
The farthest I got was over to the Fantagraphics table. I’d been looking forward to being in the same room with Josh Simmons for months, hoping to get my copy of The Furry Trap signed. Of course, my book was at my powerless and unheated home, and I hadn’t been there in a week. I was happy to buy another, but my old pal, Jen Vaughn, gave me one, which Josh drew all over. We talked a bit. He came upstairs to our table to trade books, which was a big deal to me. I love his comics. They’re one of the few things in this world that both terrify me and get me, um, excited, to be polite.
My friend, Robin Nishio, one of Annie’s crew, found me and showed me a shirt this boutique in Brooklyn had made of one of his drawings. He called it “Tom of Eternia.” It was a street art version of a Tom of Finland style drawing of He-Man pulling a train on his enemies. Robin told me that one of them was for me. I’d never mentioned needing a t-shirt to him.
While we were talking, Sindre, part of the Dongery collective, brought me their beautiful book, which he insisted I should have. This scenario of giving happened again and again with other folks as the show was closing. That was the second time I had tears in my eyes over this weekend.
Standing in the after party, knowing that we had just set a single day’s sales record, watching Mickey Z, the Hottest Chick in the Game, get her ass kicked by Lale Westvwind and finally getting caught up with the kids and the old guard, and those folks who are my family in this, our little, wonderful corner of the world, I felt blessed. The Beat herself, Heidi MacDonald, was talking to me, and she said something interesting, as she often does. She said that five years ago even, we couldn’t have even imagined this; that this “comics thing” isn’t a trend. Comics are just the Thing now.
(Happy birthday, Ewan. I can’t wait to meet you.)
P.S. Next week, you get Barry’s take.