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Flashback Friday

by  in Comic News Comment
Flashback Friday

One thing leads to the next, I guess.

So I did this podcast that led to a further reminiscence that led to my old friend Joe sending me this amazing package of stuff that he’s kept for over thirty years. It’s too cool not to share, but you need some background first.

I’ve said before that my adolescence was a weird, jangled time for me– well, it is for everyone, I suppose, that’s practically the defining characteristic of adolescence. But where most of my high school peers worried about dating and getting a driver’s license and who was scoring the dope for the weekend, our posse of driven, nerdy outcasts and introverts fretted over Art. Who was good and who wasn’t, which ones were really Out There Proving It and which ones were ‘posers,’ who’d sold out and who was still worthy of trust. Writers, artists, musicians– we watched them all and judged them mercilessly. We loved all sorts of obscure things… movies like Fantastic Planet and The Monitors, the art of Roger Dean and Rodney Matthews, bands like The Tubes and King Crimson. When punk rock started to happen we were all over that, it felt as though the Clash and the Pistols were speaking directly to us. Although for the most part we were far too shy and self-conscious to really dress the part.

We were terrible snobs, really. If you think comics fans today are hard on people who liked Rob Liefeld’s Captain America, you should have heard us sneering at kids who liked disco. We exulted in our secret knowledge of the Really Good Stuff… while at the same time, we were deeply frustrated that so few of our peers seemed to GET IT. (The inherent contradiction in the fact that if more kids did end up liking what we liked, it would then become “popular” and possibly result in an ethical quandary over whether or not it was still okay for US to like it? Well, honestly… most of our stuff was so obscure that issue never came up. Although when the Tubes eventually hit big with “She’s A Beauty” we did sort of sigh over how seeing them play live had been much cooler back in the old “White Punks on Dope” days.)

More than anything else, though, we wanted to make our own stuff. Joe was a guitarist. Marion was a painter and sculptor. Todd was a photographer. Heather and Anne-Marie did theater. And so on.

And me? I drew. I produced endless sketches and comics and cartoons, most of them really vicious lampoons of people at school we didn’t like, or bizarre flights of fantasy like Mr. Spock getting busted by the INS or… well, sometimes even I couldn’t tell you where the stuff was coming from.

And I wrote. I had an old Royal manual typewriter that I used to produce stories and long letters and rants… oh God, the rants. I often used school assignments as a flimsy excuse to improvise savagely eloquent dissertations about Art and Repression and the Ongoing Collapse of Truth In Our Culture, and really, who cares about Ethan Frome when you have all THAT to contend with?

In college, somewhere like San Francisco, we would have been the cool kids. But in our high school, nestled in the pastureland just outside the Stepfordesque bedroom suburb of Lake Oswego, Oregon…. we were just weird.

The adults in our lives were mostly bemused. My mother clucked and tutted at our various blasphemies, Joe’s mother indulged our craziness and gave us our privacy, and Marion’s mother fed us. Every so often one or another of our teachers would make an effort to engage us: “You have so much potential.” Yeah, and we sure weren’t wasting it carrying water for The Man.

One of those outreach efforts resulted in us doing a ‘zine, my senior year of high school, that we somehow persuaded the school authorities to bankroll. I’m not going to go through it all again– I wrote that story up here, for those that want to catch up– but the point is, last week’s reminiscing reminded my old friend Joe, who lives down in Eugene these days (and still plays music; you can find him jamming with blues guitarist Henry Cooper every so often at the VFW Hall, tell him Greg sent you) that he had a bunch of those old cartoons, and copies of our ‘zine, that he had been meaning to send me for, oh, thirty years now.

The cartoons and writing are mostly embarrassing, and of little interest to anyone outside of the Lakeridge High School class of ’79… but the ‘zine actually kinda holds up, considering how young we all were and how crude our equipment was. Bear in mind this is long before the days of computer graphics or desktop publishing of any kind. The text was mostly set in type by the local newspaper that also did commercial printing, and the art was either photostats made from original art or from photographic negatives (ask your parents, kids.) I pasted all of it onto sheets of graph paper and did the borders with a Castell mechanical pen, the whole eight pages in one fevered weeknight before we had to get it to the printer. I had that kind of energy in high school.

Here’s the cover.

That’s all hand-lettering. Our friend Marion did both the illustration and the main logos, and I did the rest. It wasn’t by choice– I’d forgotten to have the text typeset, and improvised the best I could. The graph paper helped, but I had a whole new respect for comic book letterers afterward. That shit is HARD.

Page two. I wrote all of this, with input from Joe. I was the nominal editor and really was trying to set a tone. I wanted the ‘zine to be inclusive, and was determined to try and get as many different kinds of things in there as I could. The way Joe and I envisioned it, we’d kind of figure out what we wanted– art, stories, poetry, whatever– and then recruit students who could do that. Our only real mandate, something we said over and over, was “just something people would actually goddamn READ,” as opposed to the incredibly stuffy arts section in the Yearbook or the hated school paper.

The staff photo is Joe, Janet, me, and Marion. And Todd, our photographer, is in the mirror. Janet was a friend of mine from the debate team. I’d recruited her to help transcribe interviews– we had two, and it was all I could do to get one of them done, and she volunteered to help with the other. She also was really good at talking me down from my tree whenever I’d get too manic or outraged, which happened fairly often.

Page three. This interview was actually one of my favorite things in the issue, but it was massively overshadowed by the ‘controversy’ over the other things we had in there. Peter Montgomery was an actor who was touring the high schools with a one-man production of Oedipus the King— he used the traditional masks, holding one out at arm’s length while wearing another and doing different voices for each, and it was really very effective. Our adviser Mr. McCormick suggested we interview him and it sounded good to us. So we raced down to the auditorium just as Peter was leaving and persuaded him to sit down with us.

Looking back on this, I really have no idea how Joe and I talked so many people into just giving us so many different things– especially, the hours of unpaid time. (To this day, I feel a guilty twinge whenever I think about the pages and pages of interview transcription Janet did for us that never got used. I had to cut everything down ruthlessly to make it fit, even at our relatively tiny type size.)

But Mr. Montgomery was wonderful. He instantly settled in and gave us a great hour of really thoughtful stuff, and a few weeks later Joe, Todd, and I drove up to his house in Raleigh Hills and he posed for the photos, in and out of costume. I was irked that we didn’t have the masks in the photo as well but we were already imposing so I didn’t want to push it. Mr. Montgomery had them packed away somewhere inconvenient or something, so we settled for the robe. His wife gave us cookies, even. They were lovely people. I wish I knew what became of him; I hope he had a long and happy career in classical theater, somewhere.

Then we had fiction. I was determined there would be fiction and that it would be something with an actual plot, something that moved. None of that contemplative, pseudo-Thoreau, fallen-leaves-and-heartache crap we always got in the yearbook.

Unfortunately, we had no submissions– and I hit up all the student writers I knew. Finally, in a burst of anxiety and frustration, I pounded this effort out in an afternoon at Joe’s house. He had an electric typewriter, which fueled me… it was so much faster than my crappy old Royal. I did a polish at home–mostly taking out excessive swearing– and here it is.

The illustration is another last-minute improv with the Castell pen. Me trying to channel Jim Steranko; I was hugely influenced by his graphics on Weird Heroes and MediaScene. The writing… well, hell, I was barely seventeen and apart from the anger and the adolescent angst, I was just discovering things like Dangerous Visions and Philip K. Dick. In particular, I had fallen completely in love with Logan’s Run— the original novel, that is, and its headlong pulpy momentum and abrupt transitions. I’m afraid a fair amount of this came from that… the repressive government, the chase plot, the harsh transitions set off in a different typeface. It’s painfully obvious now. I swear I wasn’t intending to rip it off. But you pretty much echo whoever you think is cool when you are starting out.

The illustration is Marion, again. I actually was writing the whole thing just to get to that picture, it was a huge penciled piece he had that I was determined to use somehow. Shooting a grayscale stat of it really hurt it, but you can sort of see it, I guess.

I used a pen name because I really, really wanted to put other people’s fiction in the thing, not mine, and I wanted that demonstrated in the first issue as a clear statement of purpose. If we’d gotten ANY kind of submission I would have run it. But we didn’t, so I stepped in. Nobody knew “Simon Sedgwick” was me except Joe and Janet, but most people who knew us weren’t fooled.

This was what got us in the most trouble. Some parents were offended– a LOT– by the opening scene, with the robot. Both the swearing (and this was after I’d cleaned it up, plus Mr. McCormick had okayed it, so I was furious) and the atheist sentiment. That was what got me sent to the principal’s office. But I was ready for him– SO ready! He would feel my rage. Bring it on, fascist oppressor of the people! Let’s do ten rounds on censorship and the arts! Get those parents down here!

But Mr. Schell’s heart really wasn’t in it. We talked a little about awareness of audience sensibilities and then he let me go. He didn’t even ask me to give up the real name of “Simon Sedgwick.”

The other thing that got us some flak was the interview with the Tutu Band. I really wanted some kind of a feature about rock music and Joe knew Bruce from the guitar shop, so he set it up. It went on for most of an evening down at the old Elephant and Castle in downtown Portland, back before they remodeled and got all upscale. (Yes, I got the name wrong in the article and yes, I’m still embarrassed.) Place is long gone now, I gather. But that evening was tremendous fun. The guys killed a pitcher of beer between them, while Joe and I drank coffee and peppered them with questions. Janet, bless her, transcribed it all.

I still am kind of annoyed that we never got to print the second half. It was hilarious, and Joe and I were delighted at the thought of printing more of this beered-up snotty social commentary in a school publication. But we just ran out of room. The poem and illustration were both from a girl who was dating a guy in my art class. I was bound and determined to have some kind of poetry in there and Rose was our only submission– I think I actually asked her for something, and she supplied her own drawing, as well.

And we closed out with “Gallery,” which I wanted to be a regular feature– just a place for student drawings and paintings. These are all stats of stuff we found in the art room.

I realized at the last minute that we needed permissions to print this and spent a manic lunch hour running all over the cafeteria getting verbal okays from all the artists. They were all surprised but flattered, and blessedly, agreeable. Wendy, especially, was amazed– “That thing with the bottles? Really? Sure, I guess.”

And there you have it. My first published anything anywhere. Sadly, our first issue was also our last. We’d blown a giant hole in the school’s journalism budget with all our typesetting and stats, and the student newspaper staff were not terribly pleased that McCormick’s two problem children had somehow siphoned off an entire regular issue’s worth of money for this other…. thing.

We had other stuff going anyway. I had commitments for speech and debate, and just putting this first issue together had been exhausting; I wasn’t terribly enthusiastic at the prospect of doing it all again. Joe and I had both discovered girls that would actually voluntarily spend time with us, too, and anyway we were about to graduate. All those things together made it not really worth pursuing to try and get one more issue out, and it had been made clear the project began and ended with us in any case. No one would carry on after we left.

But it was fun to do, and I think of the experience often today when I watch my own students put their books together. Seeing Katrina fight her way through trying to get Drawn In to press, or Lindon badgering her cartooning students to make a deadline, or my high school Young Authors having a binding party to get their book out in time for the Emerald City Comic-Con, invariably gives me vivid flashbacks to that time spent putting Visions together. The technology changes, but the manic atmosphere in the room is exactly the same.

*

I’ve lost touch with most of these folks. You can find videos of the TuTu Band on YouTube. Marion I haven’t seen in a couple of decades, but I’m pretty sure he’s probably doing art of some kind, somewhere, at least as a hobby. Todd I have no idea. Likewise with most of our contributors. I do talk to Joe and Janet though.

Looking back, it strikes me how much is really the same when you scrape off the dust of age. Janet, now married and with a teenage daughter, is still a voice of reason. Joe still plays music. I still write and draw, occasionally even for money. The Tubes are still touring, and we still go see them when they’re in town. (Julie has become quite fond of them.) And we still get loudly opinionated about who’s doing Real Art and who’s just phoning it in.

But the good part? We don’t have to do any of it in high school any more. That makes all the difference.

See you next week.

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