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Rally the Troops

IT IS A RARE THING for Secret Acres to be publishing someone who has a car that does not double as a residence. Such was the case with Mike Dawson, whose Troop 142 was finally going to escape the warehouse. Mike was transporting a couple of Panthers to SPX this year, which left yours trulies to deliver Sean Ford and Ken Dahl (aka Gabby Schulz) to Bethesda. At last year’s SPX, our publishing schedule was out of whack and we were missing both books we had planned to debut, namely I Will Bite You! and Gaylord Phoenix. This time around, I Will Bite You! and Gaylord Phoenix were up for four Ignatz Awards between them. We met Mike at last year’s SPX, and had just started carrying his minis. This year, we were delivering the Troop 142 graphic novel to the show, buoyed by a couple of fantastic advance reviews.

The first night at SPX, we left napping Sean and Gabby behind and dined with Mike and the Panthers: Alex Robinson (at SPX to celebrate the 10th anniversary of his Box Office Poison) and Tony Consiglio (the guy behind 110Per¢). We consumed 3,020 calories worth of shrimp pasta (single portion!) that would take longer to get out than it would to feel at home with these guys. Later, we hit the hotel bar terrace and watched the place fill up with cartoonists we love and admire. Sean, Gabby and Joe Lambert all wandered out to join us. The other seats at our table were quickly filled by the likes of Chuck Forsman, Melissa Mendes, CCS librarian Caitlin McGurk (still reeling from efforts to save the Schulz Library from flooding) and Tom Neely. Tom’s an LA guy, so we don’t see him too often and when we do, we are grateful for his company and try to trick him into sitting next to us. We held off purchasing his stunning new book, The Wolf, until we could get it directly from him. We talked to Tom about his DJ nights spinning 80′s hair metal and he told us how much he loves Curio Cabinet (it’s a very metal book) and caught us up on Sparkplug publisher Dylan Williams’ recovery, which sounded like it was going great. We’d expected as much, as Dylan had beaten cancer before. Last year, missing Dylan, we’d missed Sparkplug entirely. Tom was running the Sparkplug table this year, so it was a little less weird to be at SPX without Dylan.

Saturday morning we set up next to our neighbors, Picturebox and Fantagraphics. We picked up 1-800-MICE and the final MOME, and stood in line to get them signed. Matthew Thurber informed us that we were the first people ever to purchase 1-800-MICE, which was extra-gratifying as Matthew was probably the first person to pick up Curio Cabinet. Taking turns signing MOME was the aforementioned Chuck Forsman, whom we met years ago at CCS, Jim Rugg, who gave Joe that lovely quote on the back of I Will Bite You! and Joe himself. Meanwhile, Eamon Espey had arrived and we thought we had everything ready to go until Mike broke out his surprise HeroClix figures, which he planned to give away with Troop 142. Amazingly, people were buying Troop 142 anyway. They were buying everything else, too. Having a second table seemed to open up sales considerably.  By the end of the day, we were busy filling empty spaces on the tables like it was a shell game. We were having our best show ever, by far. Strangely, we didn’t sell a single copy of Gaylord Phoenix.

Since Gabby and super genius cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt both won Ignatz Awards after sipping Old Fashioneds in our room last year, we decided that it would work again as a good luck, pre-Ignatz ceremony, so we broke out the bitters and bourbon and invited folks to join us for some pizza. By the time we got upstairs, everyone heard that Dylan had died. It was excruciating trying to keep ourselves together, but we were together. Gabby had known Dylan the longest. He’d been zine pals with Dylan nearly twenty years ago. He credits Dylan for first making him feel like a cartoonist. When we brought this up, Gabby looked around and said, “Boy, am I glad I’m not nominated for an Ignatz tonight.” The look on Ignatz-nominee Joe Lambert’s face got someone to laugh and the spell was temporarily broken. We ate and drank like it was going to make everything okay for just as long as there was pizza, which it did. There was a knock at the door. It was Chris Pitzer and his Adhouse folks asking if anyone was hungry.  He led us back to his room, where we found Jim Rugg again, sitting silently with Mr. Dangerous, Paul Hornschemeier. We stole their pizza. They didn’t seem to mind at all. Better yet, they seemed to understand.

As usual, there was no room at the Ignatz Awards. Dustin Harbin had the impossible task of getting us all through the ceremony, of honoring the work of cartoonists who had just moments before learned that Dylan had died. To his credit, and our gratitude, Dustin did the impossible.

We watched Joe accept his award for Outstanding Collection, and for the first time, someone thanked us in their Ignatz acceptance speech. We saw a replay of the thanks when he accepted his award for Outstanding Artist.

It was strangely fitting that Craig Thompson, at the show with his enormous Habibi, announced that Edie Fake had won Outstanding Graphic Novel for Gaylord Phoenix. It was Craig who gave Theo Ellsworth a remarkable blurb for Capacity, our first SPX debut book. Distracted by our knowledge of what Dylan meant to Theo, it took a minute to remember that in Edie’s absence, we had to go to the podium to accept his award. We shook Craig’s hand and mumbled something incoherent about encouragement. When we called Edie after the ceremony, it was obvious from his voice that he had heard about Dylan. Long before we came along, Dylan was buying up Edie’s extra Gaylord minis and distributing them, and trading comics with him. He was offering any kind of support he could, because that’s what Dylan did for cartoonists.

After the Ignatz awards, on the terrace, we were talking to Eamon about Dylan and how at every single show, Dylan would threaten to poach him. Dylan was incapable of being subtle about this. As much as Dylan ever loved Edie and Theo and Gabby, clearly Wormdye was his favorite of our books. He made it known that if we ever had any trouble publishing Eamon, he’d be happy to take on that responsibility. Dylan even let us crowd Eamon and Sam Gaskin into his event at Desert Island, in 2008, which was our very first signing ever. We had to be careful about admiring Sparkplug artists in front of Dylan. The way Dylan saw it, the right thing to do would be to hand them over to us, allowing him to help out somebody else.

Around this time, we were wishing more than anything that our pal and Bodega publisher, Randy Chang was there, and the wish was immediately granted. Our first year at SPX, when we were debuting Capacity, we were on a panel with Dylan, Randy and Alvin Buenaventura (formerly of Buenaventura Press and now Pigeon Press, home of Lisa Hanawalt) on the rise of the new indie comics publishers. It was less of a panel and more of a conversation between all of us, though the audience didn’t seem to mind. We clearly had very little idea what were doing back then. Thankfully, we had Randy and Dylan to hold our hands through the panel, though we will never forget the look of disdain on Dylan’s face when we explained how to make the most of Amazon. For us, Amazon was a necessity. To Dylan, Amazon was a sales channel he couldn’t employ to sell comics with a clear conscience. We learned fast that Dylan would only do the right thing the right way. We reminded Randy about the panel later on that night, trying to guilt him back into the comics game.

Sunday at SPX was just like Saturday, but with bigger sales. We snuck downstairs to watch Mike on a panel about comics publishing. The Beat herself, Heidi MacDonald, elbowed us hard when we grumbled nervously that he’d say terrible things about us. She was correct, of course. Mike would never do that. Mike is the host with the most, and probably should have been moderating since the panel proceeded to fly off the rails.

Not long ago, Mike talked about having Dylan on his TCJ Talkies podcast, which got our gears turning, thinking about Dylan and what we’d hope Mike would discuss with him. Dylan is a fixture in our memory of Secret Acres’ beginnings. Early on in our existence, we would periodically meet up for dinner with Randy and Shannon O’Leary, a Sparkplug lady if ever there was, and have absurd conversations and bitching sessions with Dylan on speakerphone from Portland. He was the Charlie to our Angels, instructing us to choose the vegan option. We bounced publishing ideas off of Dylan and asked him for business advice at every turn. Secret Acres and Sparkplug shared a love of distinct comic voices, and most of our challenges were identical. It was an exciting time for us and we were grateful that Dylan treated us as peers even though we had no track record as publishers.

While that might sound like Dylan, we are pretty sure that the way we see Dylan in our minds is not the way the cartoonists he fostered see him. Looking at our notes for Mike, almost every question has to do with how tough Dylan was. The man was staunch, inflexible, intractable and there was no end to any argument ever. Mocking us for our use of Amazon at that panel was nothing. He once bailed on a plan to consolidate wholesale online catalogs in the wake of the Diamond minimums that were driving indie comics out of shops – but he did it to protect our mutual sales agent, Tony Shenton, from being crushed trying to manage all those different discounts. As if to make up for it, Dylan then sold our books for us. He was planning on skipping out on shows that didn’t measure up to his ideas of what comics should be, regardless of the sales it would cost him. He hated the idea of comics desperately trying to find an audience in the lowest common, mass media denominator and believed that the weirdos like the ones at SPX were growing in numbers that would keep comics vibrant. He always had to check that his calves were bigger than ours (they were not, thank you). During those dinners with Randy, we used to joke that since making comics is so hard and publishing them is so easy, the most equitable thing would be to stage indie comics publisher cage matches at conventions, purely for the amusement of the artists. It was fun for us to imagine the match-ups and to gauge the perceived strengths and weaknesses of the other publishers. Ultimately, we deemed the indie publisher cage match concept to be untenable specifically because of Dylan Williams. None of us would ever be able to best him or match his combat prowess. He was too tough.

Dylan is too much to miss. The truth is that Gabby was wrong. It was a good night to be nominated for an Ignatz. The best place for us to be the night Dylan Williams died was at SPX. We were surrounded by the best people on earth and we didn’t need to explain our loss to anyone. We are eternally grateful to all of our friends who were there, old friends and the ones we just met, and we are equally grateful to Dylan for being a big part of what we were all doing there in the first place. He was right about us weirdos. There are plenty of us and we can take care of each other.

Your Pals,

Barry & Leon

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RT @seanonlyskin: Shadows Hill 4 is printing now, debuting at @ripexpo next weekend! See, order, etc:…
- Tuesday Jul 29 - 2:00pm

RT @QuimbysBooks: Corinne Mucha reads from Get Over It tonight at 7pm!
- Friday Jul 25 - 9:20pm

@seanonlyskin But DUDE, it's CREATOR OWNED Thor with a PENIS, BRO!
- Wednesday Jul 23 - 10:22pm

RT @CAKEchicago: Photo: Corinne Mucha will be celebrating her new book, Get Over It! (Secret Acres) at Quimby’s Bookstore...…
- Wednesday Jul 23 - 9:26pm

@ryancecil PHEW. We're 2 old 2 code over here.
- Wednesday Jul 23 - 5:48pm


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Secret Acres
Facebook IconJuly 18, 2014 at 1:16 pm

The thing about Mike Dawson's newest graphic novel, Angie Bongiolatti, is that it's daunting at first glance but kind of impossible not to identify with its characters. Well, you could somehow not identify with them, and that's your right, but you'd probably be completely insane. Rob Kirby, writing for the Comics Journal, writes about Angie Biongiolatti so well, that he might just be the ideal reader for this one. He's sensitive, empathetic, politically conscious and he likes to party. He also nails Angie, the character, who can come across as enigmatic or aloof, but it's her faith and her clarity, as Rob puts it (and we're paraphrasing), that make her the best barometer ever for the most difficult of times and the craziest of people. The key, though, is Rob writing that he knows these folks and he's partied with them. It would have been a lot easier for Mike if he'd had an agenda when he drew these people. Yeah, we might have recognized the ideas, but maybe we wouldn't have recognized these people. Poor Rob! He's one of THEM! Thanks, TCJ, and Rob, especially. This was a really good one.

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Angie Bongiolatti | The Comics Journal

A varied group of twenty-somethings sort out political beliefs and interpersonal relationships in post 9/11 New York City.

Secret Acres
Facebook IconJuly 17, 2014 at 4:28 pm

Well, folks, Edie Fake has arrived! This newest LA native gets a very warm welcome indeed from Joshua Michael Demaree at the LA Review of Books. It's both a full-blown interview, a complete history and in depth review of Memory Palaces, Edie's latest and our first ever art book. If you're worried about Edie going Hollywod, go ahead and worry since Demaree has christened him a "flourishing celebrity." At least, he's a flourishing celebrity in the queer art world. There's some stuff in here that rarely gets discussed, including Edie's background as a video artist and the influence of that medium on his comics work. We even get a mention in the story of how we met Edie, which almost didn't happen. Plus, and this was news to us as well, Edie's return to Chicago (after "going feral") coincided with the death of Michael Jackson. But was it a coincidence? Thank you, Joshua, for all your super thoughtful work here (and for making another dream come true and writing up a Secret Acres book for the LA Review of Books). Go and read this very funny and very serious career retrospective right now!

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Joshua Michael Demaree on the career of Edie Fake.

Secret Acres
Facebook IconJuly 17, 2014 at 4:06 pm

We do realize it's all Corinne Mucha and all Get Over It! all over all the time these days, but we just had to share our joy over this latest rave from Joseph Erbentraut at the Huffington Post! Yes, that Huffington Post. Complete with an actual excerpt, Joseph gives a brief rundown of the rules regarding breakup recovery times, citing scientific studies and How I Met Your Mother, no less. We're not entirely sold on the sciences here, mostly because the science of love seems to make everyone feel bad for being insane. Let's face it, love is not just blind, but very stupid. As for HIMYM, we're playing catch up with that one, but their rule seems to fit pretty well. However, if you want the real, straight up survival guide to heartbreak, look no further than our Ms. Mucha. SHE KNOWS. Thanks, Joseph and HuffPo! Have a look at the link below.

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How Long It REALLY Takes To Get Over A Breakup

Once the romance fades and the relationship is over, how much time does it take to officially get over it? Science says a year and a half. One 2009 study suggested it takes nearly 18 months for divorcees to feel ready to move on after a split is f...

Secret Acres
Facebook IconJune 17, 2014 at 3:44 pm

Hooo boy... WELL. Corinne Mucha is not shy with the Philadelphia Inquirer, it seems. Tirdad Derakhshani, talking about Corinne's new book, Get Over It!, asks the ever important question when it comes to autobiocomics: did that REALLY happen? And, to quote Corinne, "I didn't add or make up anything." Really, one would hope that in the making of comics, the finest medium there is, about one's actual life, that the cartoonist behind them would be brutally honest. Get Over It! is surely that. Let's face it, heartbreak is ugly as love is beautiful. And who the hell would be able to identify with a clean breakup? Does that even happen? Our favorite part of this Inquirer inquiry is the origin story that sneaks its way in. No, Corinne wasn't super into Wolverine as a kid. She wanted to be a REAL artist. The comics all started by accident, it seems, in Rome. Like Rome, Italy. Also, speaking of the other half of the (not in) love story of Get Over It! you can get That Guy's reaction to the book here, too. In other words, you pretty much have to read this.

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Graphic novelist Corinne Mucha gets over her First Big Romance in 'Get Over It'

'I mean, I want to get married someday," Corinne Mucha's boyfriend told her, a few months after persuading her to give up her life on the East Coast and follow him to Chicago. "Just not to you."

Secret Acres
Facebook IconJune 16, 2014 at 3:52 pm

ICYMI, as the kids say, here at last (after some more technical difficulties - and, yes, between this and our Friday night love-in at Bergen Street Comics being rained out, we are having technical difficulties galore) is Tom Spurgeon, aka the Comics Reporter, doing his Sunday Interview thing with Mike Dawson. As we can attest, these interviews are a lot of work, and require a ton of thought, so count yourself lucky that Mike is a thoughtful guy. There's plenty of shoptalk here, lots of stuff on process and the like. Angie Bongiolatti, Mike's latest graphic novel from us, was a long time in coming. There are plenty of ideas in this book, though, in a sense, it's about one thing and a certain time and place and age in post-9/11 New York. There was a lot of experimentation involved in finding a style that would both corral and express the ideas and move the narrative along, too. After all this, there was a lightning quick turnaround, with Mike finishing the book in January and us getting books printed by April. Angie Bongiolatti is catching up with its audience about now. Meanwhile, Mike has been all over the place, on tumblr, on Slate, on TCJ Talkies, and Tom has Mike talking about the future quite a bit, too. If you like Big Questions for cartoonists, this is a good place to be. As for Angie Bongiolatti, well, ask Mike says, " I think people just sort of have to read it." So go read it!

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The Comics Reporter

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