Issue #1

I Think He Looked Down Your Dress

I'm taking a cold medicine that has something in it called Schizonepeta. Is that good for me?

So, let's get this shit over fast: this column is my work journal for the year 2002. My name is Matt Fraction, and I'm starting to write comics professionally. The first books with my name on them came out at the tail end of 2001 and this year I should have an actual output polluting the shelves of your Local Comic Shop.

Then again, this here's a real fickle medium, so who really knows?

As of this writing, there remains one final issue of Double Take (from FUNK-O-TRON press and the inimitable Robert Kirkman-- inimitable quite literally, because he's from Kentucky which is really sort of the Scotland of the American South; thus he's practically incomprehensible), which features everyone's favorite-well, almost 1300 of you, anyway-super ape spy Rex Mantooth; some time later will see my contribution to Night Radio, an anthology masterminded by Warren Ellis to showcase new writers from Avatar Press, and then my first Original Graphic Novel Last of the Independents from Larry Young's superlative publishing house AiT/Planet Lar later this year, to be drawn by Kieron "I draw Avengers and, when no one's looking, boobies" Dwyer.

I will assume that, if more gigs happen, then there will be Things I Can't Talk About, too. I have no idea how that's gonna work with a work journal format. Poorly, I'll guess, but who knows? I can be like Kerouac, and I'll write about my friends and books with completely fake names for no discernable reason other than to be clever, and then when it's all over I'll have to publish a key so it'll all make sense.

Which it wont, because I will be a horribly overrated alcoholic with delusions of Proust-level grandeur and I'll die in my mom's living room, fat and alone.

I'm also extremely self-conscious of the fact that people will be reading this. I don't like talking about myself. Or even worse, I DO like talking about myself and refuse to admit it. Oh, the faux humility...

I'm kind of a nutjob. Fuck it.

This is a document of my first year in comics. Hi.

About to board the fourteenth plane I'll have been on in the last month; fear my mad intra-continental dating skillz. Going to New York to visit Kelly Sue, of course, and we're going to be hitting Joe Quesada's 40th birthday bash tomorrow night. I'm told that it's invite-only and Kel's listed, so there you go.

Today's the first day in a week that I've felt even remotely 'well' after getting air-fluenza from being trapped in that Atlanta snowstorm airport shutdown clusterfuck of holiday misery last week. What's it called when you feel like someone's shat in your lungs, baked your eyes, replaced your thoughtpeach with a worm and you've grown thumbtacks where your tonsils used to be?

I had that.

I did get 'em to move me up to the bulkhead though, and thus completes 50% of my traveling knowledge. The other half is never check a bag. Live like a castaway with your kit packed and get the fuck in and then get the fuck out as quick as you can.

[Lee, with Hat]Oh, right-sick. I got fuck all comics work done this week. Did some Artbomb stuff, hurrah, and the intro-well, two intros, actually, as the first one was rejected-for Larry Young's upcoming True Facts collection. The rejected one was about bear semen. The accepted one... well, isn't. Got nothing done on ANODYNE (my part of the Night Radio anthology) and sketched out a scene for Big Hat. That's all, that's it. Couldn't keep a thought in my head for more than five minutes.

Plane's boarding now. Fuck you St. Louis.

God help me. So there was a woman I found stupid, so monumentally stupid that I was actually glaring at her after each and every stupid thing she said (which was often and at everything she said, which consisted largely of repeating whatever loudspeaker announcements had just been made). I was dreaming about driving her eyes into her skull with my thumbs.

Now it's sorta looking like she might be mildly retarded.

I'm going to hell. Life goes on.

Airports are the opposite of Los Angeles. In LA, I was so full of contempt and cynicism that I made sure in every meeting I took (with another cat from my company MK12) I looked as if I'd just come from sleeping under a pier. As a result people treated me very well. They were all dressed to impress; I looked like I needed spare change and some tough love. Best I could figure was if I looked like shit, then I must not CARE how I look and therefore must be SOMEONE (Bellboy in elevator: "So, are you a director or a producer?"). And client meetings were great to take, too, because we were treated like eccentric boy wonders. "Funky," as one middle aged producer-type described us as. Whatever. It was fun.

In airports, if you're young and well dressed, you're treated well, inexplicably. At least I am. Maybe I've just got traveler's luck on my side today. I'm too young looking and just scruffy enough not to be some business-class jackass, and yet I'm dressed like I could be. Kind of. I am being treated well. Accommodated, some might say. Apparently, traveling with a backpack full of t-shirts and condoms is not the dead giveaway I presumed.

So I'm writing a western called Big Hat -or- How The West Was Won and What It Got Us. The name (aside from the song title ripped off from REM) comes from a thing DC and I used to talk about (that he and this guy Jim used to fantasize about), which was leaving film school, disappearing into Mexico, and anonymously making 'Big Hat' movies. Big hat. BIG HAT! Say it, motherfucker. Say it.

[Lee, with Hat, again]Lee Van Cleef always had the best hats in westerns, you ever notice that? One day I'm gonna open a goddamn haberdashery called VAN CLEEF'S. We will offer Hats. For MEN. To get inside, you'll have to hold your fist over a candle-flame for sixty seconds like G. Gordon Liddy. Once there, you will find a startling array of hats. All black. All for MEN. Even the women's hats. They too shall be for MEN.

Anyway, Big Hat should be done by now and I've barely even started. It's a western and the through-line and spine all landed in my head at once. That's where I'm at now, trying to figure out What It All Means, but it's really just a stalling tactic. I know, algebraically, most of the beats I need to hit and that should be enough for me to get moving on, and yet-nothing. Well, I wrote the bit where the gambler gets shot, which leads into the father/son thing in the street.

What's tripping me up is that I don't want to write fucking Silverado or Young Guns-a western that's vapid and vacant of anything other than bits from other westerns you've seen a million times over. And, I know, okay, it's a genre piece-a pastiche is really sorta all you get. I don't want to write anything that's just perfunctory, you know?

This is not to say I'm expecting to have Unforgiven waiting inside of me to come out, because I don't. I just don't want it to come off like some fucking Syd Field exercise.

The Western IS a milieu of images and ideas and scenarios-- but that's not necessarily bad. I'd like to think, in my more pretentious moments where I sit alone in a corner scribbling away in my little notebook about the retarded and the contents of my backpack, that westerns are SO ingrained in our national-- hell, international-- mythology that its symbols exist in our collective subconscious innately, waiting to be used the proper way, waiting to be assembled into the right sequence and elevate the genre into being something more than just the sum of its parts.

Maybe this is because I feel like I should actually start saying something, in light of my comics output to date? Talking Ape Guy, that's me. Ah, the delusions of pretentious grandeur start here...

Look at something like Dead Man, which I liked as a film but dislike as a western. All the ideas and symbols were there, but the story was SO not the point that we were forced to endure bits like the scene where, after the two bounty hunters were gunned down (halo of hay and twigs radiating around their bodies), someone finds the bodies and says something like "Looks like a goddamn religious painting."

I know. We get it.

But then Lance Henrickson shows up and steps on that one corpse's head, so that's alright. I wish Lance Henrickson was on a fucking stamp, or a coin. I wish Lance Henrickson was the 51st state, had his own flag, his own quarter. Screw Guam.

We're trying on dresses for the Thing. Okay, I'm not trying on anything, I'm sitting with the bags and a bottle of water while horrible, chirpy and burpy club music is being inflicted upon on me over invisible loudspeakers while Kel's in the dressing room.

I'm looking at some of the women in this store and-- no.

My girl is small. Tiny, even. Clothes from this particular place look great on her. But some of the women shopping here have-no. Honey, no. It's just not gonna work. Ever. I'm sorry. Put the low-rider stretch pants back on the rack and go home. It's just gonna make you feel worse about yourself if you buy it.

Someone should update Shampoo only make it where it's a guy working in a place like this, surrounded by chirpy music and lithe women (largely, anyway) eager to wear next to nothing and pay well for the privilege and they all sleep with the guy. None of the boyfriends or husbands ever suspect the guy, because what kind of hetero male would work in an upscale woman's boutique?

Hetero men are fucking stupid.

[Hat, with Lee]The thing about comics is that they don't allow for passive consumers. I mean 'consumer' in an observer-way, and not in a purchaser-way because, let's face it, comics allow for nothing BUT passivity as far as that's concerned. What I mean is that as opposed to film, where you're presented with someone else's sensibilities of timing and rhythm, comics put it entirely in the lap of the reader. Take five minutes or five hours to scan a page or a whole book, it's wholly up to you. Even in Manga where decompression is the rule, and in theory it should take longer to read, it all falls on the reader to decide how fast they wish to process the information.

I remember reading an interview with Frank Miller once and he was sort of negating the comics/film thing; I recall the conceit he used was breaking the axis works in comics but not in film (thereby disproving, I guess, the comparison). The axis gets broke all the damn time in movies. Look at Michael Bay, right? I think the grammars are nigh identical, but the key difference is there's no passivity in comics. You can lay it all out in front of your audience and hope they give it the proper attention, but it's the same at its core-it's words and pictures in a sequence that the audience imposes their point of view upon.

So exactly what you lay out there is all you can do. You don't have music, or presentation, or anything else to aid you. You write it, right? The best you can, you get it all down, you get someone to draw it up the way you planned it and fucking pray, I guess, that it all comes off alright.

The proper attention is, of course, a unique and unqualifiable thing. But there's gotta be more than just surface, right?

Three dresses, none right. Off to the next store.

What I Know About Dressing Up for an Event: try to look as though it's the third Event of the night you've attended, or better yet, that you've not slept since the day before, as you've had SO many Events to attend that there simply hasn't been the time to get home and change.

This "look" allows for a dress shirt to be un-tucked and a tie to be totally absent if not just untied.

I don't know how to tie a tie.

This strategy helps cover for that embarrassing gap in my education.

This is the only way to travel. Bleary-eyed, weary and angry, smelling like my girl. It's dark and we're weaving through Brooklyn blindly. I think my driver just had a heart attack. He made a funny sound, and then dug through the glove box for a bottle of pills. He grips the steering wheel harder and swerves us off, then back on, to the road as we swing around the curve at 57 MPH. It's 5:38 AM and I am listening to the sound of my own demise.

Apparently, I'll die to the Strokes song BARELY LEGAL. Good to know.

Fellas: there is a difference between Joyce Leslie and Layne Bryant. You would do well to learn them.

The Gothy Lady comes up to me and asks for a light. The bar is loud and crowded and no one can really talk to anyone. Oh, sure, I say; find my lighter, light her supergirly cigarette. Next time, she scolds, try not to look so bored.

I wanted to say that I was afraid she was going to read me poetry.

Cosmic Coincidence Theory: my life has, at certain points, been saturated completely by coincidence. The world I live in is very, very small. From the utterly trivial-riffing on a washed up sitcom star we'd not thought of in years to hearing, the next day, it was that self-same star's birthday-to the big and weird:

We're at Quesada's thing, and we're talking with Darick and Meredith Robertson. Meredith is, as it turns out, from Kansas City (my current stomping grounds). Her father runs the poetry department in the building we're looking at holding the wedding in.

Also, my former boss' wife from my days as Retail Superman at Heroes Aren't Hard to Find in Charlotte, NC, was at the Birthday Bash. It was through Heroes that I first met Quesada, when he was a guest at our convention. She was there for no reason I found credibly explicable. She was just... there.

Coincidence usually follows me around, but it's been particularly thick lately; it's become meta-coincidental, actually, where on top of whatever synchronicities are noticed, the fact that there are so fucking many of them become coincidental in and of themselves.

It occurs so often that I've chosen to analyze the events for any sort of deeper meaning, a tarot-esque message from the unseen world, subconscious lay lines attempting finding connections between random components. Usually, I can, and usually, it helps. If I look hard enough, I can find connections and patterns and hints towards... well, towards whatever. My life is odd.

I guess it all goes back to symbols.

So, the big time scoop from Joe Quesada's big 40th Birthday bash:

I have seen your comics heroes, yes. And I have seen them dance.

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