Issue #3

Sometimes, this is what happens when two writers e-mail each other:

An ongoing conversation behind closed doors, equal parts experience, opinion, critique, and outright rambling, THE BASEMENT TAPES are an attempt to present somewhat serious discussion about the somewhat serious business of comicbooks between two writers waist-deep in the perplexing and ever-evolving morass of their own careers.

San Diego Comic-Con International 2004. What more needs to be said? Some random impressions from two thoroughly bemused individuals…

CASEY: How bizarre is it that, even in this age of information where mountains of dirt make it onto the message boards, there's still that seedy underbelly of comic book culture that no one on the outside really knows about? I know ignorance can be bliss, but maybe fandom needs to know some of the shenanigans that really go on in our little creative community...

Of course, we all had the requisite blast in San Diego this year, but did the average fan realize the quality of smack you could score this year, right on the Con floor? One booth in particular was the epicenter of grand hallucinogenic experience, but how many people outside of our circles knew the password? This year it happened to be "Modok"... which I thought was kinda' obvious.

I witnessed the fish-fucking incident, by the way. What started as an innocent conversation about the extent of Aquaman's superpowers soon became a contest of wills behind the Marriott Hotel & Marina. Someone took it all the way. I won't name names, but he's on staff at one of the Big Two.

Despite the fact that I snuck out of town late Saturday night, it was absolutely the strangest San Diego I've been to yet (excepting my first one back in '95, where I bonded with a prostitute named "Irma" over the so-called "Continental" breakfast they were serving at the Comfort Inn that year... and of course there was the time in '97 when I saw a homeless woman bent over and pissing in the street outside of Horton Plaza). Wouldn't you agree? I mean, you were telling me about some heinous shit you saw...

FRACTION: Well, my two main objects d'arte this con season were the 80-Page Mashup Books and filling in the gaps in my Comics Pro sex tapes collection.

The Mashups--have you seen those? There's this whole little subsection of, like, fan-fiction remixers. They go out and buy those old DC 80-PAGE GIANTS or the thick MARVEL TREASURY books, whatever those old timey reprint things were called. Anyway, these guys (and girls) take them and literally remix them, they rewrite the dialogue within the speech balloons and cut and paste new imagery inside the panels... sometimes it's from other comics, sometimes it's photographs; I even got one that ended with the "main character" entering the convention center, and you could tell it had been, like, photographed digitally the day before. Like a realtime cut-and-paste blog, man. These guys would scrounge the quarter bins for visual stock by day and furiously manufacture their comics for sale at night. Fucking Weird.

A lot of them are just, like, hardcore sex fetish things but if you stick with 'em, you can see the re-authors getting sorta bored with Flash telling Sub-Mariner what he'd like to tickle with those little ankle-wings and they start, like, crafting an actual narrative. The strangest thing is that it's clearly autobiographical most of the time; suddenly characters and settings have very, Very specific names and… yeah, I dunno, it's like Harvey Pekar hijacked the lettering and was rewriting a Larry Clark story, played out in cut-and-paste four-color iconography and cheap motel amateur smut. I got seven or eight of them, all told.

On the sex tape front, I was able to score a 4th-gen boot of MISTER FISTER on DVR and one of the Klingon knife-dealers took my THEE MICHELLE GUN ELEPHANT bootlegs in trade for an MPEG-4 audio rip of SISTER FISTER-- I mean, it'd be cool if there was video too, but I knew the MISTER FISTER tapes so well that I can recognize the grunts and crying pretty clearly. It's great, at one point you-know-who starts to, very softly and very faintly, sing-hum John Barry's score from TIME AFTER TIME. I got COBBLEPOT GANGBANG, the one that happened during the field trip to the set of the second BATMAN movie; BALTIMORE BINGE (which isn't as good as you've heard it is, regardless of whomever is wearing the rabbit mask), I LIKE BLACK PLASTIC, and finally, finally, I got the CITIZEN KANE of Comics Pro Pr0n-- on an 8mm stag reel, no less-- the infamous THE LAST STOGIE.

CASEY: STOGIE has to be a benchmark in underground urban lore. Thank God it's actually true. You know, if you look in the mirror during the scene in the pool house, you can see a current WIZARD staff writer actually watching the festivities. Just calmly sitting there like he's watching a rerun of GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. Not even a smile on his face. And it sure as hell ain't who you'd expect it would be...

But, goddamn, I love those mashups...! I saw one where a 70's Kirby CAPTAIN AMERICA had been remixed and recut and the dialogue was all replaced with dialogue from Kubrick films. You haven't lived until you've seen Kirby Cap spouting lines from BARRY LYNDON. One of the purest comic books I've read in months. And I always seem to get them for free... like they just get handed to me in a crowd or at the booth and I can never actually talk to the gloriously sick fuckers who make these things.

FRACTION: Did you go to the cockfights?

CASEY: I went to one (hell, anything to get out of the sweatbox the convention center turned out to be this year!)... but everyone was saying that an unnamed DC employee had brought in a ringer to clean up the competition, so I bailed early. I like a level playing field, where talent can dominate. Truth is, I was still buzzing because I finally got my hands on the Dude's NEXUS animated promo. Vootie!

FRACTION: I was gonna ask if you caught that-the rigged cockfight, not the Dude toon-since I must've missed you in the crowds and the punching that followed. As I don't drink or get high anymore, I tend to remain fairly sharp through big weirdness like that night, so I can document it all... I have pure digital A/V of That Certain Fey Vertigo Boy juicing his fucking bird, man, I swear to God. I can't be certain as the PowerShot S410 I was using only has a 3x zoom, but it looked like Sir Broodsalot was, how shall we say, probing his bird's chances of winning before the colors flew.

But, shit, you bus a buncha uptight cityfolk down to TJ for a night and what do you think's gonna happen? Silk shirts be damned, in the heat of a Tijuana cockfight everyone goes savage until the twenties stop flying. Juiced bird or no, I covered me and Kel's hotel for the weekend at those fights, so Pouty can juice his bird all he wants. And from what I could tell, none of the piercings that got ripped got ripped too badly. I'm sure he'll be patched up in time for Chicago, anyway.

How did you do at the poker game?

CASEY: Well, there were two poker games this year. There's the infamous San Diego Denizen Money Grab, which I've successfully avoided for the past four years. But, of course, this year one of America's most endearing retailers finally came through with an idea he's been threatening for months... Downtown Homeless Poker. And he was right... the homeless will play for comic books. Even old Gold Key reprints. They really don't need too much convincing.

I'd say I broke even on that one. I lost a few STAR TREK's during the first few hands, but came back strong and walked away with a TWILIGHT ZONE issue with an early Frank Miller ink job!

FRACTION: See, you're smart, avoiding it. Of course, I say that as I've never been asked, but I know well enough when I'm being hustled and I think some of the guys in that room wait all year to win back what they lost the year prior. Anyway-- yes. If someone asks if you want to play for money, then the only smart bet you can make is that you're getting hustled.

You're right, though. It was a really weird year. It felt like the con itself was trying to make up for something the comics themselves were missing: a little sex, a little danger, a lot of strangeness...

CASEY: Or maybe for the fact that it's still called "COMIC-Con" is becoming something of a misnomer. The Lucas Pavilion on hallucinogenics can be an overwhelming experience indeed. That life-sized X-Wing, bay-bee! I mean, I was actually starting to believe that Seagle's "Big Penis" shirt was telling the truth…!

On the other hand, the fact that comic book culture has been driven a bit underground under the weight of the Other Media Onslaught means we can get back to our outlaw behavior. Hell, maybe someday it'll be expected. You know as well as I do that the Man Of Action-Comicraft/Active Images-AiT/PlanetLar triumvirate was the epicenter of bad behavior this year. That's the kind of experience we should all have at these bloated promo-fests...

FRACTION: Any time you give Larry Young booth number 2001, you're gonna get what you deserve.

And what more could you ask for? Between Cat Face and the White King (my favorite) and The Laurenn McKillah Poetry Smackdown and me getting to be on the IDW panel with Will Freakin' Eisner, I have no complaints. I love you, Nerd Prom, and next year will be even better.

Hey, here's something I noticed that wasn't a body-mod freak or a trannie in training, let me know what you thought. I heard a lot of the whispers coming from the corners (usually in response to "What are you working on?") that seemed to show some kind of confederacy, some kind of unity comics have lacked lately. People seem to want to get down into some real work again, Hollywood be damned, options be damned, DM be damned. Maybe it was me-- I mean, I certainly lurk in different circles than you, so I'd like to hear your take on it-- but it sounded like a lot of folks are mad as hell and aren't gonna take it anymore.

CASEY: I don't think I actually paid that much attention... or maybe I was incapable of paying attention. I know I was pretty tweaked out at the Oni party Thursday night, slobbering all over Andy Greenwald about his emo book. But let's just hope you weren't being sucked in by some insidious pose where people put up the "hard worker" front just to look a little less shallow than the next guy...

Then, again, I'm coming off a particularly drug-fueled experience that serves to merely numb the intense feelings of self-awareness I tend to take away from these things. So what the hell do I know...?

FRACTION: I don't know. And I have the pictures to prove it.

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