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Oct 2003 / sights and sounds :: email this story to a friend

I Went to the Comic Show and All I Got Was This Lousy Column
By Thomas Crone

St. Louis Comic Art Show
City Museum, September 27

Christina Ricci With a stunning push of publicity in the weeks preceding this show, I couldn't help but assume that a goodly crowd would be on hand for this one. And, true, there were plenty of people here. Mostly young people. Mostly young, white people. The boys in impossibly tight, ironic shirts; the girls in impossibly tight, ironic shirts and eye-opening schoolgirl outfits. Some might assume comic geeks to be more along the "Star Trek" kind of geek lines, in garb befitting their favorite animated characters. Nope, not even close. Here, the men dress like Weezer, the women like extras from the movie "Ghost World." Actually, they do dress like the characters in the comix. Cool.

Unwittingly, I wore my ever-beckoning "Wes Craven's The New Nightmare" tee, and I felt that every eye in the place glanced across those words at some point in my half-hour stay in the City Museum's Vault Room. It gave me a sense of immense, if fleeting power: this t-shirt, not the inhabitant of it, was desired by 90% of the room. Aw, yeah.

I digress.

Anyway, the artists were at The Show. Sitting behind tables heaped with their anthologies, compilations and series installments, their mini-comics, excerpts and original pencil-and-inks. If no one stood at their table, they looked up with a certain range of emotions: desperation, "please buy my comic"; social paranoia, "I like to draw, but not to interact with the public"; financial gain, "my cheapest one-sheet is a mere 50 cents!" Okay, that's stereotyping, but that's the whole fun of going to a comix show, stereotyping.

Some familiar faces were on hand, so I quizzed them for information on what I should do to blend in a little better, and to find some titles of interest. But mostly to blend in. After all, I've bought a small collection of comix — maybe 20 to 30 titles, over time — but don't consider myself versed in the art, at all. And thrown into this pressure-cooker of whimsical zines, I quickly went from swimming to drowning.

Jerome Gaynor, a longtime local illustrator, was sitting behind his table, his daughter doing some drawing next to him. He advised visiting the table selling "It Lives," as it's "one of my favorites right now." And another table a couple down, "with the pretty girl from Brooklyn. She's one of the few women here." I went to the booths, but didn't buy anything. The girl from Brooklyn was pretty, but she looked over when I approached the table and I grew flummoxed. True story.

Pee-Wee Byron Kerman from the RFT was on-hand, snapping up half the stock within a few minutes of arriving. Byron claimed that in the few minutes he was there that he hadn't discerned any favorites, but that I might want to try checking in "with some of the famous" artists, because there'd be something happening near their tables. Maybe that would be my entry point. I did try. What the heck would I say to a famous comix artist, even the guy who designed the sets of "Pee-Wee's Playhouse"? I mean, I couldn't just say something to him! So, I didn't.

Gregg Bynum, the manager of Beatnik Bob's in the City Museum, was shuffling through the last aisle. He's an artist, himself, and was also laden down with new titles. But he'd "only been through this aisle" and couldn't direct me to any single table to start, save for a couple of guys who did the cover of the RFT a few weeks back and were "funny guys." I weighed my options and opted against that, too.

I went to Beatnik Bob's, instead. "Batman" was playing on the movie screen and I planned on watching a few minutes with a Moon Pie in hand. Every time I go to Beatnik Bob's, I buy a Moon Pie. But they were out. This was jarring. I whined to Gregg, with no effect. "We might have some later today. Stick around and they might get here." Aagghh!

I wandered back through the hall, filled with comix, their illustrators and their fans. This subculture was one in which I should feel a degree of kinship. I like the form well enough. These people weren't mean or rude; if anything, they suffer from a certain jarring cuteness and glibness. I thought of buying a button for my shoulder bag, but couldn't decide on a design, despite the less-than-a-dollar price. I couldn't buy a comic, because I'd have to stand near the artist and that's just weird.

So I left.

I realized, quite alarmed, that I'd just suffered from a social meltdown in a room full of comix collectors. And where that puts me in the nerd ranks, well, I don't even want to think about it.

Maybe I'll draw a crude rendition of the scenario, making a few photocopies for friends...

Thomas Crone is really quite charming, once you get past that shy exterior.

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