THE COOLEST MOMENT EVER
"Okay James, here's the million dollar question.... what's the coolest thing to ever happen in your store?"
The question was posed to me by Dave Hawksworth, my Diamond Regional Field Rep a few weeks back. Hawksworth was in town doing his usual gig, making sure I was happy with the service the company was providing me, answering any questions I might have, and making sure that I was pumping up the orders on the primo books while he was at it. Dave's been pimping the comic books since the pre-boom years of the direct market working for Capital City Distribution for several years and finally winding up as Diamond's Regional Sales Rep for yours truly and several thousands of miles worth of comic retailers all over the left coast.
Aside from the usual sales and customer services aspects of his gig, which he is indeed quite good at (where I was concerned anyway), Hawksworth's job contained another aspect to it as well... cheerleading. As far as Diamond is concerned he's the number one rah-rah man on the coast for retailers and although he doesn't come equipped with a skirt and pom-poms like the football team's cheer squad, there can be no doubt that in the secret world of funnybook retailing he's the one running the pep rally. You got concerns about damages routed through Memphis? No problem, he's got the answer! You want to know about Free Comic Book Day and how it's being promoted nationally? No problem, he's got the answer! You want to know where that fat check Brian Hibbs scored you in that class action lawsuit against Marvel is? No problem, he's got the answer! You want to know why Manga is booming and what books are lighting up the charts? No problem, he's got the answer! You got questions about your discount? No problem, he's got the answer! You want to know what indy books have been generating dollars for the other stores in the area? No problem, he's got the answer! You're worried because Dreamwave went down the toilet taking all those sales-rich Transformers titles with them? No problem, he's got the answer! When Hawksworth does his job he candidly answers any questions you might have, eliviates any fears, and pumps you and your orders up in the classiest, friendliest manner possible,
Hawksworth knows how to cheerlead on your ass.
Anyone who reads this column will know that I don't actually require any kind of pep rally whatsoever to get my blood pumping about running in the funnybook field and to get me racing into the end zone with the cream of the four-colored best. I fucking love what I do. So, while it's obviously something you can tell Hawksworth's gotten pretty damn good at in the course of decades worth of rallying behind the team, whether it's winning or losing, to be honest, that aspect of his job is a little lost on me. So on his recent trip to the Isotope, after ensuring my orders were up on a few select items and selling me a few hundred dollars worth of graphic novels he had samples of, he skipped the usual pep talk and proceeded to whip out the digital camera, saying "You want to do a profile on the shop?"
He was talking about the last page of Diamond Dateline, a monthly industry newsletter which is read primarily by retailers and comic publishers which is published by mega-distributor itself. That last page is always a look at one of Diamond's thousands of accounts, full of photos of the current state of comic retailing and those retailers behind the counters running the registers. A profile of the Isotope? Yeah sure, I'm game, whatta ya want to know? I've done what feels like hundreds of interviews in the three and a half years I've been in business (and I'm always happy to do one more!) so the majority of the questions were things that were simplicity itself to answer. The usual who, what, when, where, and whys.
And then we came around to that million-dollar question... what is the coolest thing to ever happen in my store? That one stopped me for a minute. My mind raced through the possibilities. What is the coolest thing to ever happen at a shop known for not only planned, but also for completely random cool shit? How do you pick a best moment out of three and a half years of best moments? What is the one thing that, condensed down to its fundamental elements, stands out as the greatest thing to ever happen since I became part of this industry?
Depending upon who you ask there's a number of different answers to that question, really.
It's easy to give a quick nod to the Brian K. Vaughan Voter Registration event the Isotope threw last summer, which not only got a lot of people registered to do their civic duty but bestowed upon "Ex Machina" and the Isotope the greater glory of a write up in Time Magazine. Vaughan told me later that his father finally thought that he might be doing something worthwhile with all this "comics stuff" when he read that Time Magazine article. Now that's a cool thing, getting to throw a kick ass bash, doing a little socially conscious good, garnering some nation-wide media attention... and when you top it all off with getting some skeptical parents to give a talented individual a little credit for his risky career choices, that's fucking great. Other folks who have been around the scene for a while now would point to the totally random drunken founding of the Comic Rockstars Toiletseat Museum by Brian Wood as the coolest moment in Isotope history. The ever-growing museum collection of original work on toiletseats by comic creators from all over the planet remains one of the most popular attractions at the shop to comic fans and non-comic fans alike and is one of those things that is truly distinctively Isotope. Depending on how well their egos sustained the beat down, still others would claim that 2004's Ed Brubaker Armwrestlathon was the coolest moment at the Isotope, and shit yes, it was a fucking great time watching Ed lay the smackdown on his fans for 13 1/2 hours. And, of course, who could deny that the legendary Warren Ellis Scotch Tasting was one of the greatest moments in the history of Isotope in-stores? Anytime you combine some of the best comics, one of the comic industry's most talented writers and thousands of dollars of excellent single malt scotch whisky, you know it's going to be a great time.
And we're just scratching the surface here... hell, just yesterday morning I had one of those totally random moments of utter coolness that happens every so often that makes you sit up and say "damn, my life rocks"... and also makes your Comic Pimp column late. This time was the arrival of Steve and Misery from Illicit Streetwear in New Zealand. A damn, damn good time. (For more tangental ranting on this awesome good time, see the end of this column!) And as cool as all that was, and as much as I appreciate all the love our kiwi friends bestowed upon us... it still isn't the coolest moment in the history of the shop.
Yeah, all that was fun and all that was completely cool shit... but none of those even come close to the coolest moment. For me, the answer to the million dollar question was clear after a moment's reflection on the myriad of choices... The Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. Hands down. What could be better than creating an award that makes a difference to those creators out there laboring in the trenches of an under-appreaciated, often overlooked segment of the industry?
When the Isotope Award was born back in the first few days of 2003, it brought with it no small amount of contention and dispute. Who the fuck did I think I was to just start up my own awards ceremony? Who was going to give two shits who won anyway? With the abysmal distribution nationwide for mini-comics, even if you won would anybody ever see your book? Wasn't the whole point here to just give this fucking thing to our friends so we could pat our buddies on the back and talk about how nifty we are? Was anyone going to care if you've been honored by one comic shop in California? Aren't there enough awards in the comic industry anyway without someone adding another? And really... who gives a crap about mini-comics, anyway?
But here we are, two years and two extremely talented Isotope Award winners later and it's clear that there is not only a place in the industry for this award, but a genuine interest in those who have been honored by it. I couldn't be prouder of the quality of the submissions we've received and I feel truly fortunate to have met both Josh Cotter and Rob Osborne. And considering they hail from Kansas City and Phoenix respectively, it's pretty apparent to me that I probably wouldn't have been exposed to their works for a long time.
Mini-comics are the basement tapes of the comic industry. This often overlooked segment of our industry is where the medium is stripped down to it's bare essentials and where innovation, effort and imagination are as crucial to creation as is paper and ink. This is where the future of our industry is cutting their teeth and refining their skills today. And mini-comics are an utterly important part of the industry to recognize and appreciate. And that's why I created the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics, to celebrate and show my respect for the sweat, toil, and raw talent these creators put into being the writers, artist, publishers and distributors of their own creations. To sing the praises of those that are walking the walk for no other reason than because they want to make comics so badly that they aren't going to let production costs, distribution issues, or popular recognition and respect stop them.
These are the people making comics on the bleeding edge.
So when I created the Isotope Award, I wanted it to be the award that I felt mini-comic creators deserved. Unique, beautiful, and radically different from most other awards. With most distinctions, like the Oscars or the Grammys, you win the award, you get up on stage and say your piece... and, well, that's the end of it. You get off the stage, shake a few hands maybe, and then you take your trophy or your wall plaque and you go home. Maybe when Rolling Stone does the write-up on your next flick they'll call you an Oscar winning actor, and maybe Entertainment Tonight will get a picture of your Grammy winning band on the red carpet, and probably you'll get paid better for your next gig... but really, just like most awards in the comic industry, once you're given your trophy and made your speech that's the end of the award's responsibility to you.
Winning the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics isn't like winning an Oscar or a Grammy. It's more like winning the American Idol Competition or the Miss America Pageant. Because once you're done giving a speech, shaking a few hands, and taking home your trophy, the Isotope does just what the Miss America Pageant does... and that is making sure people keep hearing about you and your work all year long. For twelve months our judges hunt down those shops who might be interested in stocking your work, and they find those columnists and reviewers who appreciate the mini-comic artform and get your work in their hands, and they help get you in touch with those few distributors who carry mini-comics to help you get your book into the most stores possible, and they get your work under the noses of those publishers who are interested in finding new creators to work with, and they do whatever they can to ensure that the Isotope Award can do something for you. For twelve months the winner of the Isotope Award is our Miss America, and we're going to treat you like you're just as beautiful and talented.
And unless you've been living in a cave and forsaking all media over the past years, I don't have a doubt in my mind that you have heard of our winner's names and probably have been exposed to their work as well, Rob "1000 Steps to World Domination" Osborne and Josh "Skyscrapers of the Midwest" Cotter. Both have taken the ball and made a b-line directly for the endzone. It's no secret that I'm incredibly proud of what these two talented individuals have been able to achieve since winning the Isotope Award... and just in case you haven't had your fill of hearing about these two gentlemen's work, I'm going to tell you about them again!
Rob Osborne, the 2003 Isotope Award winner, has been quoted as saying, "winning this award completely blew the doors of the comic industry open for me." And it certainly has! Since winning the Isotope Award, Rob Osborne's "1000 Steps to World Domination" was re-published last October in greatly expanded format as a graphic novel by AIT-PlanetLar, has been featured on hundreds of comic news and review sites, was glorified on several best of 2004 lists, was given it's righteous due by the American Library Association's Booklist and Variety Magazine, and has been featured several times in one of most well-read newspapers in the entire country. Of "1000 Steps" AIT-PlanetLar publisher Larry Young pointed out, "when Rob Osborne's '1000 Steps to World Domination' was anointed with the very first Isotope Award for Excellence in Minicomics, I knew it was something special and signed up Rob nearly on the spot." And Osborne continues to march forward toward his worldwide comic domination goal, with his recently announced next step... another original graphic novel. "Sunset City" from AIT-PlanetLar later in 2005.
1000 STEPS TO WORLD DOMINATION
136 B&W pages for $12.95
And 2004's Isotope Award winner, Josh Cotter, is fast on Rob's heels. Cotter said "winning the Isotope has changed a lot of things for me... primarily with going from making comics that not many people other than my wife and parents were reading to getting published (by AdHouse Books) within just a matter of months of receiving the award." That Josh is all love, just like I am for him and his work. I was down at San Diego Comic Con with a fistful of copies of Cotter's mini and a mission to get as many people seeing Josh's work as possible, when I heard the excellent news that "Skyscrapers of the Midwest" was going to see glorious re-printing and international distribution from another of the industry's best publishers, AdHouse Books. Since this first double-sized reprint issue hit stores earlier this year, Cotter is already being hailed as "one of the next great talents" by Fanboy Radio, and his work has been overwhelmingly acclaimed by fans and critics alike. It brings a proud tear to my eye to see "Skyscrapers of the Midwest" praised as a "must read" and "something to watch" by Broken Frontier and Ninthart respectively. And Josh is just getting warmed up, with regular strips running in the Kansas City Star and his next issue of "Skyscrapers" arriving in shops this June.
SKYSCRAPERS OF THE MIDWEST #1
from AdHouse Books
56 B&W pages for $5.00
So... how does another mini-comic hopeful get a chance to join this gallery of champions?
The only fee for entry to this competition is five copies of your mini-comic sent to Isotope's Special Projects Director Kirsten Baldock at the Isotope address (1653 Noriega St San Francisco, CA 94122) before the March 15th deadline. As is tradition, the award will be given out at a grand ceremony during APE AFTERMATH at the Isotope in conjunction with San Francisco's ALTERNATIVE PRESS EXPO San Francisco's APE convention has been a forum for small and independent publishers in the industry for many years. Because of the nature of this award, the winner will be contacted in advance and must be present at the Isotope at 9 PM on Friday, April 9th for the award presentation ceremony.
I'd love to see your minis, send them in and help us make the "coolest moment in Isotope history" even cooler!
THE COOLEST MOMENT THIS WEEKEND
For those who were wondering when we were going to get around to talking about why this column was late this week and wanted to know more about that visit from Steve and Misery from Illicit Streetwear in New Zealand, now is the time:
Illicit is one of my favorite t-shirt companies on the entire fucking planet, producing an ever-expanding range of hot shit from New Zealand artists like Martin Emond and Simon Morse. Over the nine years they've been in business, Illicit has continued to bring their unique retail vision alive with the addition of a tattoo parlor and most recently a boutique dedicated to dolling up ladies in stylish gear and sexy shoes. Although I hadn't met either before, I knew Steve, the Illicit mainman, and I had written back and forth in email on several occasions and I was well aware of the former graphitti artist and mistress of all that is cutesy kitsch, Misery, from her glorious designs and Illicit fashions.
Dedicated Comic Pimp readers will remember my tribute to Illicit founder and "White Trash" artist Martin Emond last year shortly after his death. Although he may have left us, his friends, family, and fans, we know that somewhere Marty is rocking out in Paradise City with his snakeskin boots kicked up and his bottle of Nighttrain kicked back. For those of you who haven't read my thoughts about this brilliant painter, comic book and tattoo flash artist, throw up your goats for Martin Fuckin' Emond and check it out here.
Had I known Steve and Misery were coming in yesterday I would most certainly have rolled out the red carpet for them, but they didn't seem to mind the lack of pomp and circumstance in the least. We got talking about places to check out in the city while they were here in SF, swapped a few small business stories, got chatting about circus shows, punk rock bands, tattoo parlors, and original art. All the while Misery took control of the Isotope's drafting table and anointed the Comic Rockstars Toiletseat Museum with a lid of her own design.
While Misery was laying the fine lines down on the spooky hydrocephalic cutie with sausage puppy action, Steve blew my mind with an armful of Illicit posters he'd schlepped halfway across the world for me, including one signed by Emond himself. If that wasn't enough to make a man's day, Steve one-upped himself by producing one of Emond's huge black sketchbooks jam packed with Marty's original sketches, notes, and rough pencils for drawings I had known for years. If ever there was a moment in fanboy heaven, this was surely one of them. I spent a long, long time going through that sketchbook, but there was so much in it that I could have looked at that thing every day for the rest of my life and still not caught every line and nuance that Emond has poured onto those pages while he was alive.
Fortunately I had my camera with me and snapped off a couple hundred shots of those glorious, glorious pages before prying the sketchbook from my own fingers and returning it to the person it was intended for. I can't thank Steve enough for carrying that massive thing halfway around the fucking planet to share it with me, and so, in the spirit in which Steve shared this work with me, I'm sharing it with all of you. For you fellow Martin Emond fans out there this is something I couldn't be happier to show you, although photos just can't do the work justice. Thank you Marty for what you brought to the world while you were here. You're one in a million, babe, you're a shooting star.