July 21st, 2007

The Zombie

John "NO"

July 19 -  Back to that meeting held by the Wisconsin Arts Board.  Actually, the meeting was facilitated by ArtsBuild, an organization set up basically to help connect artists with meaningful art-employment.  It was held at Prairie du Chien's City Hall, in the same community room where I talked to, and drew cartoons for, a large bunch of kids about a month ago.  Back then, it was an ice-cold, air-conditioned vault.  At this meeting, however, the thermostats were turned up to 80 degrees!  It was a sauna!  Look; I sweat like the proverbial pig when it's 60 degrees, so you can only imagine how bad it was for me in a hothouse like that!  I even had to take off my glasses because they kept steaming up!  Streams of sweat were shooting off of me like a porcupine's quills (yes, I know that porcupines don't really do that...I was just trying to illustrate a point).  It was very embarrassing.  Well, it was sort of embarrassing.  It might have been worse, but it helped that I knew most of the people at the meeting...and that they were all sweaty, too.  Many Official Friends of WOMP were there, including Millie Garside, Cathy Nelson, and Cary Kann.  Cary and I were among the few men there (five?) of a group of about twenty in total.  ArtsBuild representative, Heidi Dyas-McBeth, started the meeting with a greeting and an introduction of Mark Fraire, of the Wisconsin Arts Board.  He gave an informal, but very informative, overview of the Board's grant programs for artists.  I took copious notes, punctuated by scribbles of the occasional grimacing demon, alien overlord, or 12th President of The United States (look it up).  Although extremely interesting, and so approachably laid out, it became pretty obvious pretty quickly that it all had very little to do with me.  Meant for "real" artists, these grants go to playwrights, sculptors, dance troupes, etc., not cartoonists.  Even my Fallfire art contest would be excluded because, well...because it's just not "good enough."  And that's OK.  I went to the meeting in hopes that things wouldn't be exactly what I had expected, and confirmed, them to be (optimistic pessimism again).  After the meeting, I had a moment to speak to representatives of some of the local arts-minded organizations in attendance.  While one (PdC Downtown Revitalization) sought me out directly (not surprising, since I had just drawn a cartoon of muskrat on a speeding SeaDoo for them...don't ask), the others looked at me like I was an alien with the Bird Flu.  To see the "who the heck do you think you are" in their faces as I explained, well, who I think I am...that was priceless.  It reminded me of two very important facts about my life as a cartoonist/artist/whatever.  Fact One - Virtually everything, and I mean everything, on this Earth is set up to oppose me.  That sounds a bit paranoid, I know, but hear me out.  Basically, as with this fruitless meeting (of an actual Wisconsin Arts Board), I am constantly up against a world of "NO" when I am trying to find some reason, any reason, for "Yes."  NO time.  NO money.  NO interest.  NO need. NO support (that's where the modifier "virtually" comes in...thanks to you).  NO self-confidence.  NO education (again, virtually).  NO hope?  NO, NO, NO.  In fact, as far as I can tell, the only constant "Yes" in my "career" has been "Yes, I get better with time."  Not a lot.  Not even "good enough," apparently, but I do get better.  Hmm.  I guess that there is one more, basic "Yes" underlying everything; "Yes, I like to draw cartoons!"  Fact Two - It is very difficult for me to promote myself.  That sounds a little disingenuous when written in my personal web-site's blog, but it is VERY true, nonetheless.  While I may have a hard time presenting myself as anything but the mumbling, sweaty guy in the ridiculous fedora, I had no problem zealously praising Cary as I introduced him to the people for whom I'd drawn a "river-rat" on a jet-ski.  They were looking to have a mural painted downtown, and I knew that Cary was their man...not me.  I know my limitations.  My stuff is for reproduction.  It's meant to be held and read and worn and seen in more intimate circumstances.  I many ways, I'm not ready for the scale of something like a real mural.  Even if I were, I'd be the last one to know, and the last one to tell others that I was.  Strangely, this actually brings me back around to this month's "...Of The Day" feature, comic book editors.  My lack of self-promotional wherewithal has been with me since childhood.  I liked doing the artwork, but I had a hard time letting anyone know what I'd done.  By the time I was sixteen, I knew that I wanted to give a comics career a try, but I recognized that I needed someone to help me with the whole, unseemly "look at me, world" thing.  As my friend, Bill Waite, and I began planning a collaborative Summer comic book project (the now infamous Premium Comics #1), I explained my promo-problem.  Bill, ever the genius, suggested that I just make up an imaginary agent who could unabashedly sing my praises on paper while I remained merely the innocent artiste behind the work.  Brilliant!  As luck would have it, I'd been toying with a literary pseudonym since I was a Freshman, so I even had a name and "character" to use; John Woe!  So, Woe became the "Editor" of Premium Comics #1.  He introduced the talented artists, set the tone, and even provided a short back-up story featuring himself as a comedic, Film Noir inspired private eye.  What I could not bring myself to whisper, John Woe shouted through a megaphone.  Further, it was John Woe who purchased the fabled two copies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 through the mail, John Woe who garnered a $400.00 scholarship for a story featuring himself masquerading as Mickey Mouse at a cartoon convention (an idea John Woe stole directly from the original Sam's Strip, by the way), and John Woe who caught the critical eye of Joe Kubert as he looked at my portfolio when deciding whether or not to accept me in his school.  Eventually, Woe became less of an alter ego that I was trying to pass off as real, and more of just another of the (doomed?) cartoon characters of The World of Monkey, but, for a few years, he was the best "editor" I could have had.  He knew who I thought my audience was, he understood what I was trying to say with my artwork, and he had no problem telling everyone how much fun my stuff was supposed to be.  Today, I have to find that balance between John Mundt, curmudgeonly hermit, and John Woe, lunatic cheerleader.  In many ways, Woe is the "Esquire" at the end of my name; just a little something extra to get me noticed, and keep me going in a world full of "NO."  Well, here's another favorite, your Comic Book Editor of The Day - Roy Thomas!


The Zombie

Bench marks

July 20 -  I spoke too soon about how McGregor, Iowa, got the worst of the crazy rains a few nights ago.  Their sister-town, Marquette (which is the one at the other end of the Mississippi bridge that leaves Prairie du Chien for Iowa) was hit with a flash flood a block away from, and completely independent of, the mighty river itself.  The WOMP Staff and I took a tour of the damage, which was centered around a geographical feature locally known as The Bench.  The damage was nearly inconceivable!  These poor people, our friends and neighbors, were trying to clean up and get back to some kind of normal after walls of water over ten feet high suddenly flooded an area that is normally quite high and dry (just behind the local gambling boat's entrance/restaurant/showroom building).  Literally within minutes, homes were swamped to the windows, cars were completely underwater (including an entire old-style van!), a historic cave-turned-storage-shed was pretty much destroyed, and lives changed forever.  When people talk about the need for flood insurance, this is exactly why.  The Bench is a sort of "sub-hill," which stands at about three-quarters the height of the surrounding, U-shaped bluffs.  The homes on the upper portion of The Bench were OK, but those in the "trough" around the edges of the little hill were socked.  It's hard to imagine that kind of precipitation in such a short period of time.  And now it's gone.  Not even a puddle remains.  Instead, a milky yellow-tan residue of mud covers everything from eight-foot-tall sunflowers and street signs to couches and televisions and beds and toys and everything else that once filled homes and now lines curbs.  Thankfully, no one was injured in all of this (as far as is being reported, at least).  It could have been pretty deadly, especially since the storm dumped that rain exactly from sundown to sunup, when most people sleep.  Hopefully, folks over there will have the help they need to get their lives back together.  I'll keep my eye on that, just in case there may be something that I might do to help.  Now, here is another favorite Comic Book Editor of The Day - Marv Wolfman!