Monday, January 26, 2009

I was a Teenage Monster Hunter

Artemus B. Googam, outside the famous Carnegie Library, soon to be his “house of shame”.

Perhaps it isn't quite accurate to say I was a teenage monster hunter, I was actually twenty-two years old, but all things considered, my goofy nature then being at its zenith, I was still close enough to the teenage years to credit myself with such a title. Besides, if you knew me in those days, I’d hardly need to argue the point.
The year was 1986. Somehow, I had talked the head children’s librarian at the respected Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh into letting me conduct a storytelling workshop before an audience of a few dozen kids and their parents, a slideshow dramatization of the imaginary escapades of professional monster hunter and portrait artist, Artemus B. Googam, a name inspired by Jack Kirby’s classic monster comics of the 50s and 60s. As a monster portrait artist, I’d first track down the mightily eccentric beasts and talk them into sitting for a sketch, the proof of which I would present to my audience, explaining how I caught up to my various subjects, showing photographs of me in the field, taken by my brother’s then-girlfriend, a student photography major. I thought it was a perfect set-up to inspire kids into creating their own monsters, going on to draw and write about their own, filling the public schools of the Greater Pittsburgh area with dozens of budding Jack and Jackie Kirbys. Little did I know the kids would be the ones eating me for lunch, not the colored pencil creatures I‘d drawn for them.
This being the era of Miami Vice and Crocodile Dundee, I modeled Artemus B. Googam on some unwise approximation of the two, no doubt with a dash of mid-period Duran Duran tossed into the mix. Attempting an Australian accent, I was quickly berated by the outspoken youth of the steel city, telling me how “phoney” I sounded.
Who knew library crowds could be so tough?
Still, I managed to withstand the impolite barrage. The parent’s attempts at quelling the adolescent near-riot only made me feel more pathetic. I desperately wanted to earn their respect, to inform them how I’d actually bicycled some forty miles on hilly country roads to get there, my monster-hunting gear in a backpack, my trademark monster-wrangling hat slung about my neck, but that would have only courted more ridicule. I mean, what kind of a monster hunter rides a bicycle?
Nevertheless, against these overwhelming odds, I somehow survived the ordeal, even the eventual should-have-seen-it-coming jamming of the projector, and sent the little creatures on their way, no doubt to liberate America from its creative complacency. I’m also happy to say that the librarian’s reputation was spared. She, in fact, has gone on to create a very popular series of children’s books. I won’t name which, as I wish to spare her any lingering embarrassment for having helped unleash Artemus B. Googam on the unsuspecting world.
Below are a few of the bleary photos of me in the rural wilds of Western Pennsylvania, doing my best to look convincing in my mix-and-match outfit, looking more Junior Samples than Paul Hogan. These are taken from decrepit, old scratched slides, thus the foreboding Blair Witch aesthetic at work. Following these is my actual show introduction, plus a few of the more successful of my monster portraits, the ones the rabble didn’t mock, along with their scripted descriptions.
Just imagine a squeaky-voiced bastardization of an Aussie drawl and you’ll get the picture. I’ll appreciate it if you’d hold your catcalls until the end of the post. Cheers, mate!

Artemus atop a haystack as the daylight disappears, searching for the dreaded Hayroll Troll.

Artemus in the field, literally, the field where Abner the Sort-of-a-Cow grazes.

Artemus up close, mugging, posturing for a replacement spot in A Flock of Seagulls, or maybe it was Dexy’s Midnight Runners.

G’day, folks, my name is Artemus B. Googam, but you kin call me Art, ‘cause that’s part o’ what I do. Ya see, I’m the world’s ONLY full-time professional MONSTER HUNTER!
Now, I want ya all ta understand that bein’ a hunter doesn’t necessarily man that I carry a gun, ‘cause I’ll tell ya right now I DON’T. (Boos from the crowd) That’s right, mates, I carry a SKETCHBOOK with me when I hunt me monsters and try ta convince ’em ta pose as I sketch ‘em.
That’s one TOUGH job, let me tell ya! Some monsters don’t have much patience for the ARTISTIC aspects of life, ya realize. But I didn’t spend most o’ my life learnin’ ta draw and readin’ up every book on monsters just ta let some impatient beast stop me, no way on a wallabee!
The most important thing that a good monster hunter needs is a big IMAGINATION! (snickers from audience – I think it was a parent) Yep, that’s right! Ya see, mates, ya gotta use yer MIND if ya wanna find those hairy, slimy, scaly critters. And ya gotta THINK like a monster too. And that can get pretty CRAZY. SO, let yer imaginations GO and I’ll show you some of the weird friends I made on my wranglin’ travels in the outback!

HILLY BILLY, the Graffiti Gremlin Huntin’ fer Hilly Billy is a real dangerous job because the house he lives in has more holes than swiss cheese. One wrong step an’ yer flat on yer back on the dusty floor of his messy home!

FRANK, the Forest BeastFrank hides in big holes he digs. The trees on top of his head look like regular trees, but then he jumps up and DIGREEADOO! yer on top of his bleedin’ head! He tries to shake you off an’ straight inta his big mouth, but if yer clever ya kin climb into on of his holes and get away. Frank snores very loudly at night an’ blows all the leaves from the forest. He considers himself a right ‘andsome beast and combs his vines each an’ every mornin’.

ROCKFACE, the Boasting Monster Rockface stands atop high cliffs of stone an;’ dares ya to climb up an’ touch him. “Feh, little people, you are too SMALL to come up HERE!” he boasts, laughin’, stones sprayin’ from his rocky mouth. Rockface has SUCH a big old head that he boasts twenty four hours a day, seven days a week!

ABNER, the Sort-of-a-CowAbner lives in green fields where cows are grazin’ fer feed. He fits in ‘cause he looks kinda like a cow but has a pointed tail and he barks like a dingo he does. He wears a golden ring inside a his mouth, which he bites on ta keep his teeth strong so’s he kin bite into the rocks that he eats with a litta pinch o’ thistle-seed. Abner often stands in tha middle of a herd and don’t nobody know he’s even there. He just barks away and the cows run off. He don’t mean to scare anyone, it’s just the way he is.

McCONNEL, the Mill MonsterMcConnel is often referred to as “Monty the Fish” by the local natives, due ta his resemblance to an old caretaker of the mill named Monty, who fell right inta the river a hundred years ago. He was standing in a boat, singin’ to his bride. Some say he comes clear outta the water at night to sing fer her still. “I don’t know whys I love ya like I do’s, I don’t knows why, I just do!”

The SPOTTED SNICKLEHe is a very tricky beast, one who often climbs to tha top of a high tree an’ sits there just snickerin’ about everything from ice cream cones ta toenails! If he sees you he’ll laugh so loud the ground’ll shake. His favorite food is peanut butter cookies. Ya all will know which tree by tha crumbs sittin’ around the trunk.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Last DJ on Earth

Created in the Spring of 1981, when I was seventeen, The Last DJ On Earth, billed on its cover as “The First-Ever Rock-Musical-Fantasy Comic Never Published!”, is one of my first fully-realized multi-page comics, featuring early attempts at traditional cartoon lettering and creating ruled panels and borders. The drawings were, in places, lightly indicated with pencil before being embellished with a fine-point felt-tip marker. The story and dialogue, as with my later comics, was created panel-by-panel, but hesitancy with the form led to a less off-the-cuff approach than that which informed later full-form efforts such as Bonus Comics #57 and the Jazz Scarecrow. Created on the heels of the summer-long run of my very first published cartooning, a comic strip entitled Flip Rhodun, which ran daily in the local paper, The Last DJ was an outgrowth of plot and characters meant for a second forty-week story arc in the daily strip and a continuation of that feature’s “big-nosed” style. It is essentially a tribute to my favorite musical group, The Beatles, notably many of the cartoony characters in their Abbey Road swansong, and an obvious nod to the animated film The Yellow Submarine. I was also heavily under the spell of George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass and Thirty Three & 1/3, whose popular single, Crackerbox Palace, led to the creation of the story’s Crackerjack Palace. The original art appears on standard letter-sized pieces of copy paper. My father kindly agreed to duplicate about half a dozen copies on the office copy machine at the factory where he worked. I believe these may have been distributed to family, and perhaps one or two friends. I still have in my possession one of the stapled copies.
Encouraged by having accomplished this early undertaking, I proceeded to begin a sequel, featuring characters based on Jefferson Airplane (Aeroplane Jefferson) and The Rolling Stones (The Rolling Bones), but the project was put aside after I’d created only three pages, which are included here as a postscript.