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The Day We Got The Band Back Together

by  in Comic News Comment
The Day We Got The Band Back Together

Katie Taylor smiled and said, “Before we go, I have one brief announcement.”

And she held up a copy of this book.

The Doodle Inc Cartooning Class Reunion Special, we ended up calling it. We were at the kickoff banquet for the Seattle YMCA’s annual Partners With Youth fundraising campaign, where the Y gathers its staff and volunteers and feeds them a nice meal and tries to get them motivated to get out there and raise some money.

Katie had asked my wife Julie and I to come, and to bring some of the finished books. I had picked them up from the bindery that very afternoon; there were five cases of comics in the car. We’d been listening to a bunch of go-get-em, rah-rah stuff from the head of the west Seattle YMCA, and several board members, and even the marketing woman who’d given me so much grief about the way the Y logo looked on our back cover house ad. But the lasagna had been surprisingly good.

Now, finally, it was Katie’s turn at the podium. “I hope, before you go tonight,that you get a chance to come by our table and look at this remarkable book our Cartooning Program put together,” Katie went on. “Greg Hatcher, who teaches up at Madison, is here tonight with his wife Julie–” She waved at us. Heads turned to stare.

Julie stood up and waved one of the comics. I flushed and nodded at the crowd.

“–and Greg got a bunch of the youth who graduated from the program to volunteer their time and their labor to make this book happen.”

I snorted. It sounded so easy when she put it like that. In reality, it had taken almost a year.

*

Originally I’d thought we were looking at about three months. Last March, after we’d had two different publishers come by the booth and offer us a shot at real publication at the Emerald City Con, I’d thought about it a lot. Almost nonstop for three days, in fact.

Finally, the Wednesday after the con, I’d driven up to school and found Katie in her office. “Have you got a few minutes?”

“Sure, for you,” Katie said. “Just let me tell Viet that it’s time to let the buses go.” She picked up a walkie-talkie and spoke a few words, then turned to give me her full attention. “Okay. Go.”

“I want to show you something.” I pulled out a book and put it on the desk.

It was the Cloudscape Comics anthology, Exploded View. Katie frowned for a moment, then brightened. “Weren’t these people our neighbors at the show?”

“Yeah. I bought this just to kind of say thank you for putting up with our craziness, though it is really cool. But here’s the thing. I want you to look at it as a physical object.” I picked it up and riffled through the pages. “It’s a bunch of black-and-white pages, digital output, with a color cover. You remember a couple of guys at the show were talking to us about publishing. The best deal was Quenton’s, a sixty-forty split, with us taking the sixty.”

Katie nodded, interested.

“Okay. Now I’m looking at this book, this Cloudscape thing, and I’m thinking, we could do this. We could publish it ourselves. Jana’s copier upstairs, the big one in the office, it will do halftones this good, and it’s hooked to the school computers.” I tapped the book again. “This is sixty-pound offset book paper, probably. You can get that downtown at Arvey’s, or I can, and I can pick it up under the printshop account for the wholesale price and it’d be for resale so there’s no sales tax. We run the inside pages on offset in black-and-white here, off your computer station to Jana’s machine. I know we can do it that way, when I was at the south Seattle printshop they had that same big ImageRunner Canon that Jana has, I used to run jobs just like this all the time. In fact, when the Cartooning program started, the first couple of years of ‘zines the kids did came off that machine, before they started to let me use the copier here at school. Nobody here ever uses it to do anything other than to output email copies and silly stuff like that, but I know how to really twist its tail, it’s capable of a lot more. It’s got a booklet function and everything, it’s designed for this kind of a project.”

Katie nodded. She was starting to look amused, but she was still interested.

I was really getting warmed up now. “We run the insides here at school, then we do a color cover on some kind of a magazine gloss stock, and I can get that done at the downtown shop and call in some favors, maybe even get it donated. Or worst case, just use my employee discount. The only thing we pay for really is the color on the cover and the bindery. If we stitch it– like a stapled magazine, I mean, not squarebound like this one– that’s cheap. Stapling a book is nothing, you drop the paper into the bins and hit the button. Or we do it ourselves, have a work party to get the books folded and collated and I’ll stitch them at home with the same machine I do the class books on.” I took a deep breath. “Here’s what I keep coming back to. We made eight hundred and change last weekend, just with teenage sketch artists and a cardboard box. Think what we could do with something to sell. I can get two hundred books– sixty to eighty pages– for next to nothing. The average black-and-white comic, thirty-two pages with a color cover, goes for two-fifty or three dollars, thereabouts. We sell ours– at double that page count, a nice magazine-sized book– for five dollars each. Two hundred of those, that’s a grand. And we’re not giving forty percent of it away to anyone. We keep it all. And it all goes to the program.”

Katie nodded, slowly. “I realized something while you were talking,” she said with a sly smile. “It’s Wednesday. You’re not even supposed to be here today, are you?”

I flushed. “No, there was early dismissal at Aki today, no class. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it and I thought I’d come pitch the idea.”

Katie laughed. “I love it. The kids are up for this?”

Now it was my turn to laugh. “Every year I have Cartooning grads who come back wanting to do a project. All I have to do is aim them. That’s all anyone was talking about at the con, ‘we should do something, let’s get the band back together.’ I know I could get everyone we had sketching last weekend to do something for us, and probably a couple more besides. Katrina, Rachel, Aja, Nadine, maybe Lindon. Probably Brianna and Amanda too. That’s seven right there. They each do five pages, slap a cover on it and that’s already over a standard comic’s thirty-two page count. But I bet they’d do more.”

Katie nodded. “Okay.”

“Okay? You’ll pass this idea upstairs?”

“No, okay let’s do it. I have a budget for this kind of thing,” she added, seeing my flabbergasted expression. “I can hide it in Cartooning if I have to, but I think this falls under the Partners With Youth fundraising program. Where are you thinking we’d sell it?”

“Everywhere. Comics shops, conventions, hell, we’ve got 22 Y branches in greater Seattle and we could put five or ten books in every one. Maybe even online, but I’m not sure how that would work.”

Katie laughed. “Everywhere is good. I love it. Let’s do it.”

That’s my boss, folks. Great budget meeting, or greatest budget meeting ever?

*

That was last March. Every Cartooning graduate I’d considered as a possible contributor had eagerly signed on, and David as well — he was both Brianna’s and Nadine’s instant response when I’d asked them, “Anyone else you can think of?” (The second they’d said it, I felt like an idiot. Of course, David. He’d been one of my few students who’d gone on to do his own comics in high school and college.)

And Amanda’s friend Stephanie, another talented Cartooning graduate, had also taken part, coming to meetings and making suggestions. Steph is a fine artist in her own right, but she’s terrible with deadlines and really more of a poster and design person than a comics storyteller. I’d hoped to at least get some pin-up pages from her, because her stuff really is gorgeous, but it ended up not happening.

Nevertheless, writing the acknowledgments page, I’d given Steph a mention, which made Katrina raise an eyebrow when she saw it. “But Stephie never actually submitted anything,” she said. “I was bugging her to at least let us use something off her DeviantArt page or something like that, but I never got it.”

“She came to all the studio meetings, she put in time.” I grinned. “And you’re forgetting Steph’s real job. She makes Amanda work.”

“Oh, yeah. Okay.” Katrina nodded. “Now it makes sense.”

*

Assembling the interiors hadn’t been bad at all. Most of that, I’d had since September. Almost everyone had contributed more than five pages’ worth, as I’d suspected would be the case. We ended up with 64 pages and a cover, and I’d actually had to cut some stuff to make the page count come out right.

Over and over, the kids (I shouldn’t call them kids, really they are all young adults now, but they still seem like kids in comparison to a hoary old ancient like me) had gone above and beyond. Brianna had been emailing her pages in even during the two weeks she was in southern California to attend her grandfather’s funeral. David had driven down to Seattle from Bellingham to come to a planning session. And of course all of them had put in hours of unpaid labor on the project itself… sure, they were supporting the program, but I suspect a lot of them were in it just for the sheer pleasure of getting to work together on a comic again.

Getting the band back together, I’d told Katie. And honestly, that’s what it felt like. It really was like old times — the best of the old times. Of course, I’d had to nudge and cajole and even growl a little once in a while, but that was like old times too.

The truth is, Katrina’s work habits haven’t changed since the seventh grade. Nor Amanda’s. But, the same as they did then, they pulled it out and gave me something breathtaking at the last possible minute.

I can’t really point fingers. My work habits are also pretty much the same as they were in high school, long concentrated bursts of time fueled by gallons of coffee, except I use a computer now instead of a battered portable typewriter.

And, same as when I was doing ‘zine fiction in college, I still get to work with amazingly talented people.

*

That all took a long time to write out, but it flashed through my mind at the banquet in the space of a few seconds. At the podium, Katie was still talking. “His TA, Katrina, put in over twenty-five hours, alone.”

Oohs and ahhs from the crowd. I guess that was a lot for their volunteers. The truth of the matter was that the twenty-five was only what Katrina had signed for at school, in order to get college credit.

It was much closer to three hundred hours. Katrina had been my strong right arm for most of the project. She handled a great deal of the digital pre-press work overall, including coordinating with many of the other contributors and designing the cover. She’d also been the one to figure out a fix for Brianna’s pages to get the halftones to come out right, to phone other grads to cajole them into getting their pages in…. all while she was trying to graduate from high school and doubling up with community college classes as well.

Katrina also, whether she realized it or not, was often a calming influence on me when I was ranting about stuff– like trying to get the back cover ad (explaining that the book was a benefit for the after-school arts program) pulled together and all the grief I was getting from the YMCA marketing department about approving the copy and the logo and God knows what-all else. (Example: “I don’t think we should say ‘…also benefits countless other programs.’ Someone could count them. Maybe it should be ‘many’ programs?”)

I ended up giving Katrina a co-editor credit and making sure she got a special mention in the acknowledgments, which isn’t nearly enough, but it was something. And Brianna had done a heroic job coloring the cover at the last minute when Katrina had to fall out because of another commitment that weekend, and CBR’s own Brandon Hanvey gave up part of his Super Bowl Sunday to get the logo dropped in and the whole thing back to me so we could print covers on Monday and bind on Tuesday, just in time for the banquet on Wednesday. I know I’ve cut deadlines closer but I can’t think when.

Applause. Katie was done talking and that was apparently it for the evening’s program. Suddenly our table was being swarmed by interested and eager YMCA staffers wanting to see a copy of the book, and quite a few bought one, even.

*

And now you can, too.

We were budgeted for two hundred books, but I called in some favors from friends in the printing business and we actually managed a finished print run of two hundred and eighty. I made sure that the contributing grads got their copies, and we have roughly two hundred set aside for Emerald City Con in a couple of weeks.

That leaves about fifty extra. I got permission to sell them online (PayPal only, sorry) for the cover price of five dollars, plus an additional two dollars for postage and shipping. (If it’s more than two dollars to get one to you, Julie and I will pick up the difference.) So it’s seven dollars total. If you would like one, send an email to DoodleIncYMCA (at) gmail.com telling us how many you’d like and where to send them. (Note: That is NOT the PayPal account address, don’t try to send money directly. Just email us and we’ll send a reply telling you how to order.)

Honestly, if we just sell the fifty I’ll be happy… but this is kind of a trial balloon for a more long-term plan, to see if it would be viable to set up an online shop for a second printing. We’ll see how it goes. I can tell you it’s for a good cause, and I think you will be amazed at the quality of the work. These young people aren’t just ‘kid’s table’ good. They’re professional-quality good. Check out more samples here if you are curious. (And the print job turned out well too.)

Of course, if you come to Emerald City Con you can buy one at our booth. That way you skip paying postage (and you can get it signed– we’ve got most of the contributors lined up to take a shift signing and sketching.) But if you can’t make it to the con, well, this is your chance to get a cool-looking comic at a reasonable price AND support keeping art in the schools.

End of shameless plug. See you next week.

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