So, a year or two ago, Tony Millionaire tells us, "I've have over 500 portraits of people on my computer. Let's make a book!" We say, "Sure!" (Because this is what you do when Tony Millionaire says, "Let's Make a Book!")
We schedule the book for the end of 2011, and this spring we start to have a conversation about it between myself, Tony and Jacob Covey (designer and co-editor). Tony sends us about 500 files that he's pulled from his hard drive. Jacob and I start going through them. We soon discover that this book is going to be more of a challenge than we initially expected. For one thing, about 100 of the files were duplicates, so we really only had about 400 portraits, and "400 Portraits" didn't have nearly the ring to it as a title.
Furthermore, almost none of the files include the name of the person depicted. Most were clearly named by Tony at the end of a long night, after a six or 12-pack, a job well done and the name no longer relevant to him. So we have files with names like "ghosthippy.tif," "evil.tif," "actscoolfucksinterns.tif," "prettyboy.tif," "crazybaldasshole.tif," "meathead.tif," as well as more than a few that appeared to be named by his forehead as he passed out: "dhfuhkjDZKh.tif," "cmnxz≈mz vas.tif," etc.
Tony has neither the time nor inclination to try and identify the names. He suggests making the book a giant puzzle for readers. Jacob and I resist. Jacob and I encourage Tony to flesh out the book with some essays about drawing, his process, etc. Tony resists. Stalemate!
Eventually, I enlist an army of interns to help me identify the portraits and after a few weeks of highly scientific research and renaming the files so Jacob can work with them easily, and after Tony digs up another 100 portraits (actually well over 100 -- by the time it was all said and done we actually had to cut a few dozen images to keep it to 500) and also sits down and writes a series of brilliant essays for the book just to shut Jacob and I up, we were on our way. (Seriously, Tony's "85%" theory about humankind is worth the price of admission alone.)
After a few weeks of nightly back-and-forths between the three of us, which mostly consisted of random insults and vulgarities mixed with parenting advice from Uncle Tony and lots of talk about our daughters (all three of us have daughters -- no sons -- and all of them appear in the book in one form or another; Jacob's wife even gave birth to his second daughter, Maren, during production!), we had a book.
I couldn't be happier with the result. Tony emailed us after he got his advance copy last week and said, "This is the best book ever made." I agree.
Last week, Philip Nel -- my co-editor on our forthcoming Barnaby series , announced that his long-awaited bio of Barnaby (and Harold and the Purple Crayon) creator Crockett Johnson and his wife Ruth Krauss (the towering figure of children's lit responsible for such classics as The Carrot Seed, A Hole is to Dig, I Can Fly and so many others) finally has a title.
Nel's bio of Johnson & Krauss will be published next June by the University Press of Mississippi , and we're aiming to release our own Barnaby Vol. 1 simultaneously. It's going to be a great summer for Johnson fans.
I took no pictures at APE this year save for the one above, of my pal Dan Shahin in his homemade Rory Root t-shirt (with Root's face comprised of a mosaic of hundreds of comic book covers). If I was to only take one photo, this strikes me as a perfectly appropriate one, as APE always reminds me of Rory, and his memory loomed large over the show for me (I wore my old Comic Relief t-shirt on Saturday in my own small attempt to honor the big guy).
This was the first APE I've attended since Rory passed away in 2008, and it didn't feel the same without him. Rory was a champion of the small press, a man with an omnivorous appetitie for the medium who could always be counted on to take a chance on a self-published mini that many other retailers would likely never make shelf space for. Comic Relief was a mecca for fans of cartooning, and its presence at APE always struck me as a vital component in the physiology of the show; no matter how few copies of your book you sold on the floor over APE weekend, if it was good, you could count on Rory to buy a few at the end of Sunday and help you leave on a high note.
Of course, APE was also missing another towering figure of the scene: Dylan Williams (who once worked at Comic Relief). Thankfully, Sparkplug Comics *was* there, honoring Dylan's memory in the one way I suspect he would approve: by selling and promoting good comics.
With that in mind, and for fear of sounding a bit maudlin, it really did feel to me that this year's APE was defined by who wasn't there as much as who was.
That said, my APE weekend was fun, and somehow a success despite the fact that attendance was invariably, adversely affected by gorgeous weather and a massive free concert in Golden Gate Park over the weekend. I enjoyed the company of many pals -- Richard Sala, Daniel & Erika Clowes, Adrian Tomine, Mario Hernandez, Jim Blanchard, J.R. Williams, Leslie Stein, John Pham, Terry Zwigoff, Martin Cendreda, Dan Nadel, Matthew Thurber, Renée French, Mark Kalesniko, Calvin Reid, Brett Warnock, Tom Devlin, Esther Pearl Watson, and many others -- and met a few new ones. That's all I could ask for, short of selling a ton of books, and things went well on that front. GANGES #4, POGO Vol. 1, OIL & WATER, MOME 22 and MARK TWAIN'S AUTOBIOGRAPHY 1910-2010 were amongst the books that flew off the tables by the end of the weekend.
I also came home with an entire suitcase full of books and minicomics, most of which I've only begun to wade thru and a roundup of which would require more time and effort than I'm willing to do right now. But I'm especially keen to dive into Jesse Moynihan's FORMING and Matthew Thurber's 1-800-MICE, which seemed to my eyes to be the books of the show.
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