Updated weakly.

John P. has a PATREON.


Thursday, April 7, 2016

DENVER and MY "COME TO JESUS" MOMENT

Hey gang,

It's been a million years since I posted here. Just running out of energy I guess. Which will likely be the theme of this post.

Been working on King-Cat 76, and got so much done in January that I went ahead and inked the indicia page with a "February" publishing date. Ha! I got exactly nothing done in the month of February. March rolled around, and all I could think about was how I was supposed to go to Denver for the inaugural DINK show at the end of the month, and how there was going to be a blizzard that weekend, because in Colorado there's ALWAYS a blizzard the last week of March.

So, I tricked my bestie Noah Van Sciver into flying into Milwaukee so we could drive out together. Sure enough the day before we left 15" of snow fell on the Front Range and was moving east at quite a clip. So we got in the car and drove towards it. It turned out fine, but a lotta people freaked out.

Here's a pic of me and Noah having a steak brunch just before heading out on the road.

Where's all the blizzard at?

Noah sketching in bed at the Howard Johnson's in Lincoln, NE.

This was my breakfast/lunch, outside of Denver. You may not be able to tell, but that serving of guacamole is approximately one tablespoon. Thus begins our descent into madness.

Thursday Night we had a "meet and greet" at our beloved Kilgore Books, where I mostly hid in the corner. I was already brutally tired from two days of driving and not eating well. Back in the day, when I occasionally worked a Sunday shift at Kilgore, I made some of these Shelf Markers. Here's US History.

And they still have my window sign up!

View of Denver from Jason and Angie's place, where I caught a last minute couch ride Thursday night.

DINK was held at what was once known as the El Jebel Ballroom. During the many years I lived in Denver this remarkable building was continuously boarded up, but I always heard old-timers describe the ornate impossibilities it held within. Having walked past it hundreds of times, only imagining the jewels inside, it was pretty great to not only finally get to go in, but to go inside because there was a comics show taking place!

View from the mezzanine, during setup hours.



All of this "wallpaper," which covered every square inch of space, is actually HANDPAINTED. Imagine that, and try to determine the precise moment this country took a long walk off a short pier.

Saturday night was the first annual DINKy Awards, and I was getting a very nice "Industry Achievement Award." At the event where my old pal Jason Heller interviewed me before the awards, a handful of people showed up. When we began, there were maybe three people in attendance. The absurdity of the moment prompted me to rig up some alternative nameplates for the interview.

Here's the award. Again, I thought it was ironic that I got such a special award at a show where I sold maybe nine copies of King-Cat, but such is comics.

Saturday night, walking past the Capitol Building.

Visiting Denver was rough for me. I lived there off and on for 12 years or so, from the time downtown had an 80% vacancy rate in its apartment units, to the arrival of Medical Marijuana in 2010. By that time the rents had become impossible for me to deal with. Now of course, it's only gotten worse. All every single Denverite I spoke to over the weekend, who hadn't had the good luck or resources to buy property at some point, could talk about was how sad they were that they were going to have to find a new city to live in.

The city itself has given itself over to pot and blogging. Now I'm not a teetotaler (sorta) and I do believe pot causes about as much damage as alcohol, and that shit's legal, but there was no denying the downward spiral Denver has taken since legalization. I'm sure in terms of tourism and money and real estate values things are great. In terms of a decent city where regular people can live and work, I was heartbroken to see what's happened.

So maybe this stuff was getting to me. A cranky week on the road with poor sleep, exhaustion, bad food, incredible stress. When we got back home I dropped Noah off at O'Hare and slept for two days before crawling out of bed to finally face my responsibilities. After a classroom talk in Madison that Wednesday night, I went to bed and woke up in the morning with intense pain and swelling in my right ear. If you've read The Hospital Suite or Diary of a Mosquito Abatement Man or Map of My Heart, you know about my struggles with Hyperacusis. This felt similar, but different. The pain continued to grow worse, and by Saturday night I had started to lose hearing in the ear. Sunday morning when I woke up I was completely deaf on the right side.

At my exam Monday, the audiologist looked grim. With this amount of hearing loss, the likelihood of a full recovery was slim, he said. I was put on Prednisone for swelling and Valtrax in case the problems were viral in nature. But it could be anything. It could have been caused by a mild stroke, a tumor pressing on the nerve, MS, or it might be one of those things where I may never know what happened. We shall see.

Day by day there has been some improvement. I can hear faint sounds now when I touch my ear. I've been seeing an acupuncturist, and she's hopeful I will improve. And I am too. I don't want to jump the gun. Many cases like mine resolve themselves within a few weeks. But when I tried to listen to my favorite Carpenters album with one ear, I felt a wave of fear and sadness roll over me.

I've been through enough stuff in my life to know it's not the end of the world. Hell, Brian Wilson wrote Pet Sounds with one ear, right? And I may very well come through this all right (I hope!). But the whole thing feels like a "Come to Jesus" moment for me.

Since 2007, right after Maisie died, I've been hauling ass around this country, attending every comics show and zine show and book signing and etc I could do. It was fun, and it helped me overcome the decade of isolation I felt during the really bad OCD years. But a few years back I started to notice the toll it all was talking on me. I couldn't spring back like I used to. I was tired all the time. Beyond tired. When I was setting up the Spit and a Half table in Denver all I could keep thinking was "I'm getting too old for this."

Each year I tell myself this is the year I'm going to cut back on travel, and each year before I know it I'm scheduled for 10 or 12 shows. I remember last year, when my pal the amazing cartoonist (and fellow Road Dawg) Nate Powell got shingles following the SPACE show in Columbus. His Facebook post about it, and how it made him realize he could no longer keep up the pace he was on, affected me deeply at the time. I've now had the same type of experience.

Last week with some sadness, but to be honest, some relief, I canceled my SPACE visit, as well as a trip to Durham for what I'm sure will be an awesome event: Zine Machine. I just can't do it anymore. Maybe in a year or two I'll be rested up and feel different. I will still attend CAKE and Chicago Zine Fest and the other more local shows (Madison, Milwaukee), and the day before I lost my hearing I paid for my SPX 2016 table, so I'll likely be at that show (we're hoping to debut the Jenny Zervakis collection there!).

Meanwhile I'm going to try to stay home and draw, volunteer at the Bird Banding Station, spend time with my family, and concentrate on healing up, on the things that lower my stress level rather than add to it.

King-Cat 76 is almost done. It should ship in May. If you have a subscription and have moved since last time (May 2015), please drop me a line with your new address. Additionally, I have four pages for KC 77 already drawn and inked! I'm hoping to pull off a release of that one before the end of the year. I'd love to get back on a two-issue per year schedule.

Some raw pages for King-Cat #76.

I don't want to end on a total downer, but the last few months have been heartbreaking. Steph and I have seen the death of her stepmom, our beloved cat Ninny, Alvin Buenaventura, Jess Johnson, and there are more family related traumas going on behind the scenes. We're getting older. Let's take care of ourselves and each other. I love you all.

Prince Ninny (2006-2016)

Princess Michi, the Secret Cat, who's just getting to know everybody.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

2016: YEAR IN PREVIEW



Hi folks,

It's 2016, and things are set to really kick into gear... I have high hopes for a productive year. For a long time, the unpredictability of my living situations led to me getting less work done that I would have liked, but now I find myself in Domestic Bliss: two dogs, two cats, a backyard with lots of birdfeeders, a stable, loving relationship with a wonderful woman... it's been great! So I'm really hoping to get back to a two per year schedule with King-Cat. KC #76 is already well on its way to publication (likely in February sometime), and that will give me plenty of room to get #77 out in the fall. Additionally, I'm finally going to be publishing my South Beloit Journal, a three month span of daily diary strips from 2011 (a few were excerpted in King-Cat 72).

Even bigger news is that this summer will see the release of Spit and a Half's first book form publication, a 200+ page collection of Jenny Zervakis' seminal Strange Growths comics. This is something I've wanted to do since 1997, and the time is finally here!

I'll be travelling some in 2016 too, but truthfully, I'm hoping to wind down the amount of road time I've been putting in over the past seven years or so. As I get older, it's begun to really wear on me. With the upgraded Spit and a Half distro site, it's now easier than ever to get tons of great comics delivered to your doorstep, so I'm hoping that will pick up some of the slack from me not travelling as much.

And finally, after a lot of soul searching and hand wringing, I'd like to announce the debut of my Patreon page. Patreon is a web platform that allows fans of an artist's work to make small, regular, monthly donations to help support that work. Mine is set up with a number of levels, where contributors receive anything from a simple "thank you" to an ongoing subscription program. There will also be an exclusive monthly e-newsletter for Patreon supporters, The Boney Island Observer, featuring chit chat, comics, photos, samples of work in progress, and up to the minute Groundhog news, delivered straight to your inbox.

I realize times are tight, but if you find yourself in a situation where you can afford to donate something, it would be greatly appreciated. As you no doubt know, comics and underground publishing are still mostly labors of love. Your support goes a long way towards keeping all this going.

Thanks! I'll see you around...
LOVE John P.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

2015 YEAR IN REVIEW


So, there is still plenty of time left in 2015 for wonderful, terrible stuff to happen, but in the world of comics, things every year start to wind down about now. CAB was a few weeks ago, Milwaukee Zine Fest was last weekend [historically my last (and favorite) show each year]. The publishers are dropping their final holiday-hoped releases on us. So, time to pause and reflect.


I feel like I was on the road non-stop this year, but actually I did a few less shows than usual. That goes to show you how many festivals there are now. Tom Spurgeon at The Comics Reporter reflected recently on the unavoidable scheduling conflicts coming up nowadays, with two, sometimes three competing shows all scheduled for the same weekend sometimes. C'est la guerre.

I LOVE shows. I rarely feel more alive than I do while behind the Spit and a Half table putting great comix directly into the hands of readers. But the ceaseless travelling wearies. In a practical sense an artist or a publisher travelling great distances, paying for a table, paying for lodging, food, gas etc all to sell a comic book to someone is not exactly the most efficient way of doing business. But what else do we have? Aside from our handful of generous, open-minded retail outlets, from Desert Island in Brooklyn, to Copacetic in Pittsburgh, to Quimby's in Chicago, to Seite Books in LA, the general comics shop market continues to remain ignorant or even downright hostile to "Art Comics." Most people looking for unusual or challenging or non-sexist comics fled the comics shops a generation or two ago, but nothing substantial has risen up since to cater to those folks. So the shows fill a gap in the market.

Let me pause to suggest that good old-fashioned mailorder is maybe the best way to get these comics if you can't make it to the shows, or don't want to wait for a show to pick up a new title. I'm biased of course. I've run the Spit and a Half distro off and on for over 20 years now. One of my biggest accomplishments this year was bringing the website into the 20th Century (!) (Thank you Fran López!) with a cart, automated postage calculator, online checkout, etc, and the results have been great. More customers come through all the time, but I would say my total business is still about a third of what it was in the 90's, when mailorder was generally the only way to get these comics. I think and hope the distro will continue to grow as more people find out about it. (And of course there are plenty of other comix mailorder distros out there-- see the sidebar on my site.)



Looking back I feel like I barely got anything done this year.  I'm STILL adding books to the distro site that I picked up at SPX or earlier, and all the travelling left little time or energy for drawing. When I really think about it though, over the course of the past year and a half I drew almost 300 pages of comics (producing both The Hospital Suite and King-Cat #75) -- still, the creative work seemed to get swallowed by the busy work this year.

I do have a head start on #76 and hope to have it out "early"-ish in 2016. I'll be travelling a bunch in 2016 too, but I'm trying to visit some of the shows and cities I've missed in recent years. We'll see how it all goes.

Anyhow, thanks to everyone who came out to signings, picked up a King-Cat somewhere along the line, visited my table at shows, and so on. Once the tired fog clears from my eyes, I realize what an amazing time for comics we live in. Here's to next year!

-John P.


Thursday, October 29, 2015

FOR THE LOVE OF COMICS



A few days ago my good friend Noah Van Sciver posted his advice for young cartoonists, and it hit a nerve with a lot of people.  You can find his post here.  My name was mentioned in the essay, so I thought I would add a few thoughts of my own, in addition to what Noah said (which I'm in agreement with).

One thing I would say is that comics is still a small enough world that if you have talent, and cultivate that talent seriously, and find a unique voice and style, people will notice. There's no secret handshake or special gimmick you need to come up with. Just do good work, keep doing good work, and keep trying to improve. And be patient.

Don't let some imaginary perfect genius idea, that will take years to develop, keep you from doing hard, consistent work on what you have at hand right now. Just start somewhere and keep going.

Also, for the record, not ALL professional cartoonists have some "secret" means of supporting themselves. Many do it by working in illustration, web design, animation, making sandwiches at Panera Bread. But the number of cartoonists in the US that survive purely off "comics" is very very small. (I'm talking about people making personal, idiosyncratic art-comics, not genre stuff for big publishers.)

And: There is no shame and should be no sneering towards those with underlying financial support. Artists have had patrons and underlying support since forever. The larger problem is that on the surface comics seems like a "real" industry: there are well-attended comics festivals all over the country, awards given, NY Times Bestseller lists, and on and on. Looking at it from the outside it seems like "Yeah, this is something to get involved in!" The trick is that despite all that, the vast majority of people making their living solely from art-comics in this country work their asses off and still live in poverty.

For me personally, I didn't have a secret safety net, I just learned over time how to be comfortable surviving on $8000 a year. But when I got into comics I had no illusions about what I was facing. And I made that choice. And I wouldn't trade it for anything else.

Friday, October 9, 2015

EXTRA SPX NOTES, ETC.


Photo of John P. at SPX, by Phoebe Gloeckner

After filing my post-SPX/STL report last week, I realized I hadn't given full attention there to my time at SPX, probably the biggest show of the year for most, so I thought I would add in some additional comments.

First of all, don't get me wrong. SPX was a weird show for many of us, but it was also, at least for me, a great show. I had my best SPX ever this year, narrowly edging out 2012 in terms of sales. This is especially exciting because at a show like SPX, where many of my distribution clients are exhibiting (I don't overlap by selling their work at my table), I'm often down to bringing the more obscure items in my stock list. This year I focused on a bunch of French and Belgian imports, recent publications from the Latvian publisher KUŠConundrum and Pow Pow titles from Canada, and so on. And people responded. I even sold an untranslated copy of Nylso's Jérôme et la Route!

From a personal angle, I sold plenty of copies of my newest zine, King-Cat #75, and met a lot of wonderful readers and artists. I had great conversations with buddies Noah Van SciverMelissa MendesRob Kirby, and even Dylan Horrocks, who I finally got to meet in person!!!

So what did I mean when I said last week, "SPX is no longer the show we once knew"? I don't even know exactly, I'm still trying to put it all together. I was talking to Bill Kartalopoulos when he was at my table, and was trying to explain how I choose what books to bring to what show. Having done enough shows I do have a feel for the crowds at each one. Some crowds are looking for the weirdest, most out there stuff; others are more middle of the road. (I don't do the shows where people are looking for superheroes, or digital prints of Star Trek characters anymore.) Some crowds are looking for nicely produced book editions, some are looking for low-budget zines. With SPX, I really was at a loss for what to expect. What's clear is that it's no longer strictly what you would call an "Art Comics Show". (Was it ever? My memory fails me, but it did feel more like that in the past.) There are tons of webcomics artists exhibiting now, with their own set of aesthetics and creative goals. There are lots of very young artists exhibiting, who also have different sets of goals and approaches. The politics are different (in approach, if not in essence). But us traditional (?) (!) Art Comics creators were still there in force, we're just more diluted, spread out more in the sea of banners and comics.

Again, as I took pains to say in my last post, this isn't a bad thing. It's good! Comics has grown so much, so quickly, that now there are a zillion different people coming at it from a zillion different angles. But it does make it kind of hard for old-timers to keep up. I say old-timers with my tongue in cheek a little, but damn, let's face it, a lot of us are pushing 50 now, not to mention those fogies like the Hernandezes and Cloweses.

As many have pointed out, comics are in a real Golden Age. Many of the greatest comics ever made are being made right now. There's no shortage of amazing work available, from photocopied zines to lush hardcover books (to, I am told, webcomics, though I admit almost complete ignorance of that scene) and beyond. I've been in comics since the number of good, challenging, literary cartoonists could be counted on two hands, through the rise of the self-published revolution, the emergence of the Graphic Novel ™, the internet, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and whatever's next. Some of us are in it for the long haul, and I guess what we need to keep in mind is that above it all, it comes down to the work. Platforms, festivals, methods come and go. We ride those things out, keep our heads down, and try to create the best work we can; put it out into the world however we choose, and continue to hope for that human connection.

John P.

- - -

PS: The latest Comics Books Are Burning in Hell podcast discusses many of these points better than I can, and is well worth the listen for those interested.

Friday, October 2, 2015

SPX and STL 2015


Jim Rugg's cat Kirby helps staple zines for SPX.

Well, I had promised myself I would only do one long-distance comics convention this year, and gave that slot to TCAF, but it turned out King-Cat #75 was nominated for an Ignatz Award, and Noah Van Sciver was a Special Guest at this year's SPX.  So I decided to go at the last minute.  I made plans to get to Pittsburgh Thursday night and stay with my old pal Jim Rugg and his family.

Aw! This is moments after he slashed me so hard I still have a gash.

Friday we got up and drove to Denny's so I could get my free Grand Slam (It was my 47th birthday). Then we headed over to Ed Piskor's to pick him up for the drive to the show.  I got to not only pee in his bathroom, but managed to check out his ink-encrusted studio. Inspiring!

Where the Magic™ Happens: Ed Piskor's drawing table.

South Central Pennsylvania

The ever-present psychedelic SPX carpeting.

Amazingly there was no traffic, and we made it into Bethesda earlier than I ever have before.  Which meant I got to say a few quick 'hi's", take a shower, and go to bed early.  Late in the night, Noah stumbled into the room and we shot the breeze into the wee hours.


If there was one thing old people took away from this year's SPX it's that this is no longer the show we once knew.  I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it's a good thing, but for some of us it's also a weird thing.  To the generation before mine, the Clowes's, the Hernandez's, the Wares, these shows didn't mean a lick.  (Not a diss, it's just -- there weren't shows like SPX when they were developing, so I think they had less of a connection once they started).  Cartoonists of my generation also came up before the alt-convention circuit began, but in a way we have a special connection to these shows.  We helped build and develop them, helped build and develop the structure that underlies the current alt-comics community.  So maybe we're the first generation of alt-cartoonists to see that infrastructure pull away from us, to change away from us.  Again, not a bad thing. Comics is growing by leaps and bounds, and there are whole worlds of comics and comics artists that have sprung up now that we are not necessarily party to, close to. That's understandable. But I think for those of us who worked hard to develop this world, there are some emotional juggernaughts for us to run, as we get older and try to understand our current place in that world, as it evolves.

As weird as I felt Saturday (brought on no doubt by a few days of lack of sleep and decent food), on Sunday I entered a kind of almost hallucinatory euphoria (brought on no doubt by a few days of lack of sleep and decent food).  The last hours of a con are often a whirlwind for me, as I coordinate with artists and publishers to pick up new work for the distro.  As each person walked up to my table with another box of amazing comics, I regained my footing, and remembered what this is all about.  For me, at least, comics is as much about art as it is about making connections with people, supporting and encouraging artists to go deep, find themselves, and stay true to what they find.  I felt that connection so strongly Sunday that I almost wept.

We drove back to Pittsburgh Sunday night and on Monday morning Kirby was packed and ready to go to Beloit to meet his cousins.

In Chicago Monday evening I got lost in my own hometown and ended up confused in the Loop.  This is the corner of State and Van Buren.  Where are all the people?  They're walking their dogs at that new mall on Roosevelt Road.

At SPX I caught the dreaded Con Crud, and by Monday night I was sick as a dog.  I basically slept Tuesday and Wednesday straight through, only forcing myself out of bed to unpack the car and repack it for my next trip, to St. Louis.



Thursday night I spoke to a group of 40-50 students and faculty at Washington University (where my St. Louis host, the amazing cartoonist Tim Lane teaches), plus a few civilians.  After the lecture we showed the King-Cat movie and one by one the audience slunk out.  I kept director Dan Stafford updated on their departures via text, until there was only one person left in the audience.  Would he make it all the way through?  Hey! Not only did he make it through, but he was practically trembling with excitement afterwards. His name was Viktor, from Belarus, who had left the USSR in the 1980's.  He had never read my comics or even heard of them, but he loved the movie so much he implored us to try to show it around the former Soviet Union.  He said over there the view of America is diamond heists, explosions, gun shootouts, because that's all they ever see, via the movies.  He said, though, that was not the "real America," but that Dan's film actually depicted his experience of America, and Americans.  Wow.

It's an old cliché, that if some project just reaches one person, then it was all worth it. I believe that to be true, and this screening was just more proof of it for me.  The whole thing was for Viktor.  I thanked him, and gave him a copy of the Maisie issue, and walked out of the auditorium high as a kite.


My host Tim Lane working on an illustration of Ross Macdonald for The Baffler.

Friday I had the day off.  Tim had illustration work to do, and it occurred to me that I had a comfy couch, a sweet dog, and a houseful of comics at my disposal.  So I sat there and caught up on Terry and the Pirates, Spain Rodriguez, and re-read The Death Ray.  And blew my nose.

Jo Jo, my couchmate for Friday.


Saturday was the 2nd Annual St. Louis Small Press Expo (I do think they need to change the name, it's too confusing), held at the beautifully refurbished downtown library.  From the minute I walked in the door, the show was pumping.  The only time I was able to get away from my table was to pee a few times and feed the parking meter, and for a well-attended panel/conversation I did in the downstairs auditorium with Tim.

The few instances I had a spare moment, I ran over to one of the tables in my vicinity to check out the wares. All kinds of cool stuff: comics, zines, magazines, prints, you name it.  All super high quality and interesting. I had no idea what to expect of the show, but I can say it blew whatever kind of expectations I may have had out of the water.  Sales were about as good as one day of SPX in Bethesda.





Scenes from the STL SPEx venue.

Tim Lane is one of the most talented, unique, and sadly undersung cartoonists working today, so it was heartening to see he had a line of fans at his table all day long.


Afterwards I packed up and drove home to Beloit, exhausted and sick, but stoked on comics, and zines, and people.

The bridge back into Illinois.

Ol' Man River

(Ninny, back at home, Midnight.)

* * *

Many thanks to Jim Rugg, Natalie, Kirby, Noah Van Sciver, Dan Stafford, Stephanie, Tim Lane, Angela, Jo Jo, and Nick Kuntz for support and hospitality!

Monday, September 14, 2015

FALL TRAVELS: SPX and Beyond



So, gearing up for the last big splash of 2015.  Fall is a major time for comics shows, and here's where I'll be:

Sat./Sun. September 19-20
SPX, Besthesda, MD
Table I-9, with Noah Van Sciver and Kilgore Books
King-Cat #75 is up for an Ignatz!

Thursday September 24
Lecture and Film Screening
Washington University, St. Louis MO
6:30 PM, Open to the Public

Saturday September 26
St. Louis Small Press Expo
Central Branch, STL Public Library

Thursday October 29
Slideshow and Q+A
Madison, WI
Rainbow Books Co-op
(Tentative)

Saturday October 31
Madison Print and Resist
Madison Public Library (Downtown)

Saturday November 14
Milwaukee Zine Fest
Falcon Bowl, Riverwest, MKE

* * *

After that I'm gonna hunker down and get the new King-Cat done. See you soon!

John P.