A Life Lived in Comics Day 2: Bridgetown vs. Stumptown

by

All told, I’ve had some kind of job in comics for about five years. Before that, comics was the hobby that I didn’t want to screw up by making it a job. I wouldn’t say that I’ve done a great job of replacing it with a new hobby, but I have a few other interests that keep almost breaking the hobby ceiling.

Standup comedy comes close, aided by a summer job I had in 2004 that allowed me to listen to the radio all day, which is how I came to discover Marc Maron. He and reporter Mark Riley cohosted Morning Sedition, in retrospect the only program on Air America that transcended the station’s format. At once unafraid to call out the network’s other shows when they hewed too close to a party line and rude enough to be the only one that didn’t forget that President Reagan was a monster when covering his death, Morning Sedition was also the rare example on a supposedly funny network of a genuine comedy show. Its comedy bits, both political and absurdist, made me a fan who followed Maron to The Marc Maron Show, broadcast out of LA, where I was living at the time, and later to the WTF interview podcast, a burgeoning comedy nerd’s best friend.

People like Serenity, so maybe including this image and using it on the Facebook link will make people click. Besides, it’s kinda relavent, as this issue was written by a standup.

The worlds of standup and comics (or comics and comics, terms that I am dumb enough to have occasionally confused) turn out to have not-insubstantial crossover (see, for instance, Patton Oswalt), and WTF has featured cartoonists Peter Bagge and Bob Fingerman. Those interviews, both in early 2010, prompted me to send Maron a box of Dark Horse comics, earning the company a plug on the show. I noticed that a few other publishers caught on to the venue afterward, as the Dark Horse plug was soon followed by others.

Another more unfortunate overlap has been the scheduling of the Stumptown Comics Fest and the Bridgetown Comedy Fest (Portland has like three words it uses when naming things), which have been on the same weekend in recent years. This means I’ve missed most of Bridgetown the last few years, outside of the odd set at Bar of the Gods (sitting atop the cigarette machine with a buddy for a standing-room only performance by, naturally, Maron, the stage covered with umbrellas as the roof leaked water dangerously close to the amp setup). This year the fests are separated by two weeks, and it was my pleasure last night to catch a lineup of Canadian comics at the Mt. Tabor Theater, where Katie Crown did laps before starting her set and Lachlan Patterson implored the crowd to give him a standing ovation as his transition between each bit.

Afterward, the bus schedule wasn’t very favorable, so I went next door and paid my $5 to get into the Tanker for the open mic featuring performers from the show. The bar was packed with not just festival-goers but many comedians as well, coaxed one at a time onto the stage, several visibly plastered (and many more probably invisibly so), and it occurred to me that this was the standup world’s version of a con. Take away the stage and the scene in and around the bar wasn’t all that different from the Sheraton bar in Seattle two weeks ago when I attended the Emerald City Comic Con. I carpooled there and back with another Dark Horse assistant editor, stayed in the house of a local artist I met through the Wright Opinion, had dinners with writers I met that weekend, and spent a healthy chunk of the weekend in the buzzed company of the people I only see at cons. I was at the show unofficially, so my work-related responsibilities were minimal. The only time I spent at the Dark Horse booth was during Jeff Parker and Erika Moen’s signing for Bucko, and I did a bit of wrangling around a DH panel, but other than that I was a free agent.

It’s different when you work a booth or especially your own table, as there’s a performative aspect to hawking your or your company’s wares in a space where hundreds of others are competing for the exact same eyes and dollars as you are, but the experiences of being just another gawker at ECCC and at Bridgetown are pretty much the same.

I work in editorial and go into an office every day where over 100 other people also work, but I’ve been a freelancer working from home, and I know it’s a lonely thing. I imagine the work life of a standup is a lot like the work life of a cartoonist, even if it involves more time alone on the road than alone in one’s studio. A setting like Bridgetown must bring out a lot of competitiveness, but I also saw comics enjoying being around comics from beyond their own local scene, and several told stories from the stage about other comedians they had just met. For a medium so dependent on the single voice, it’s obviously still encouraging to spend time in the company of others who do the same thing.

Like comics, standup is an outsider form made by misfit artists who get paid, not well, to pull joy out of the messed-up parts of themselves (admittedly, I don’t know anything about cartoonist Benjamin Marra as a person, but I’m shallow enough that part of the appeal of his work is the feeling that I should be arrested on my way out of the store when I buy an issue of Night Business). Unlike when you go to a multiplex or turn on the TV or even attend live theater, standup comedy is direct, real, and unpredictable. Like the minicomics that make up an ever-larger part of my comics diet, the next moment can be shocking or raw or unexpectedly personal in a way that gatekeeper-based media is not.

When’s the last time a studio comedy or superhero comic really, genuinely surprised you? You might not see the plot points coming, but you never get the gut punch of something that just shouldn’t be happening in front of you the way that an outsider form like standup can deliver. These forms exist for their familiarity, not their surprises. Live standup is essentially the minicomics of the entertainment industry: people speaking directly an an audience with no outside filter, just their ability to connect and make people laugh at the bullshit of their lives, our lives. The people who are into it often turn hardcore, much like comics fans. Not coincidentally, live standup is not for everyone, and 99.9% of the time it is immensely less lucrative than gatekeeper-based media, but just like yesterday’s minicomics artists are tomorrow’s Architects, what people say and do in those small rooms for a handful of people is what we’ll be seeing in movies, in family-friendlier form, in a few years’ time.

Not entirely ready to go home after the laughter high, I stopped at the Virginia Cafe on my way home, where I struck up a conversation with a couple at the bar, which turned into shots and learning gin rummy. Not my normal thing, talking to strangers and accepting (or, for that matter, being offered) drinks, but Bridgetown left me with the same more sociable attitude as would any comics convention. Got home pretty late, and so today’s entry was mostly written at my usual tea place, where their huge and delicious Eggs Benedict fended off the hangover. Usually I’m there to work (lots of proofreading and solicitation copy happens there, and the staff have taken a mild, benevolent interest in my job), but today just this. Anyway, the plan tonight is to catch one of Bridgetown’s big closing shows with a Dark Horse editor, more meshing of comics and comics.

I’m not sure why I claimed yesterday I would talk about my Friday off. After writing a thousand words (yesterday, because I’m a cheater) that were only of interest to me, I can’t remember what I thought the relevance to comics was. But please write in if you want to hear about the history of my neighborhood or about the police stables and condos on the Willamette river. I do want to get into a small tour of my neighborhood as it relates to comics at some point (I’m walking distance from Floating World Comics, Tranquility Base, Periscope Studio, Sequential Art Gallery, and a few other things), but when it makes more sense to do so.

I think this was part of it: even when I’m not working, comics is never far away. Most of the people I know are people I’ve met through comics, though several of my very closest friends are from before, people who I am happy to say find what I do cool in the abstract, but don’t have very much day-to-day interest in it. Still, the first thing I did on my day off was write to a friend I met at last year’s APE while we waited in line together for an Adrian Tomine signing. At the same show she made a connection with Action Lab Comics, so among the topics in this exchange of emails was the Eisner nominations Action Lab had received and her increasing role there. I mean, we talk about normal-people things, too, but this is what’s on both of our minds a lot of the time.

Comics as a physical thing are also a daily reality, as I live in a small apartment with a cat named Dorrie and several hundred pounds of books and comics (previously addressed in The Fear of Being Crushed to Death by Comics—the shelves in the picture are even fuller now). As obsessed as I am with acquiring comics, I am equally fixated on getting rid of them (Want some random comics? Write to me.) I’ve made good money on eBay and haven’t had to pay money for anything at Powells in ages, but that’s at best held things steady; I certainly haven’t yet made it to the point where I don’t have stacks of books on the floor because there’s nowhere else for them to go. Sometimes I fantasize about just getting rid of every last one. Do you do that? Wouldn’t it be great, right up until the moment that you wanted to refer back to an issue of The Invisibles and it wasn’t there?

Anyway, in the past, I’ve made donations to Doernbecher Children’s hospital, and I like to leave random issues at bus stops, but my most reliable depository is my old high school, the Northwest Academy, where I took my first cartooning classes and years later taught a comics how-to class. I worry sometimes that I’m offloading a lot of stuff, but I’m told it’s all greatly appreciated. It could be that it’s an arty school, but the stacks I leave behind on visits get torn into pretty quickly by the middle and high school kids. This time it had been a while, so I had an especially large selection of Dark Horse, DC, Archie, and Boom comics to unload. Turns out it was an inservice day, so it’ll be until Monday before the crowds can descend, but the registrar, who is a pal, had her young son there, and he went straight for the Archies.

After that, the long walk and neighborhood history that was even more boring to people who aren’t me than what I actually just posted. It’s where the idea for all of this came from, though, so it has that working against it. Maybe this will get more interesting tomorrow. Speaking of:

Tomorrow: Last time I kept a diary it was drawn, and the character I made myself into was a loser. Also, whatever happens to me tomorrow, I guess. I hope not too much does, which is why I am a shitty diarist.

Plus: Your questions. If you ask some.

Why’m I doing this, again?


Images of Serenity © NBCUniversal. Or maybe 20th Century Fox. I’m not sure these days. But definitely not me, which is the main purpose of this notice. You probably don’t own it either, unless you are the correct one of the two entities I mentioned, so don’t steal.

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One Response to “A Life Lived in Comics Day 2: Bridgetown vs. Stumptown”

  1. Maka Says:

    Great to have your blog up and running again, Brendan. As one of the two (out of 5) followers who noticed your started blogging again, I would like to hear the history of your neighborhood and condos on the W. river. And free comics too, sent them my way. Lots of free random comics. :) Seriously, it’s great to read new The Wright Opinion posts. Peace, maka

    PS. I started reading 20th Century Boys because of your blog. That alone has made following your blog worth every penny. :)

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