Thursday, November 30, 2006

The Perfect Market

Just today I cam across this piece about Oakland's Bulky Trash Day. I'd written it for my wife Serena's zine "Have You Seen the Dog Lately" a few years back. It seems to belong here. I hope you enjoy it.

People, let me tell you: I love Bulky Trash Day. For its simplicity, its efficiency, its punchy elegance (such an ‘80s word), its seamless nocturnal logic. Whaddya mean, you never heard of Bulky Trash Day? Where you been living?

Okay, it’s an Oakland thing. Other towns no doubt have it, but I live in Oakland, so I’ll tell you about Oakland Bulky Trash day. Each neighborhood gets a crack at it once a year. The garbage company, Waste Management, sends out a postcard to notify residents when Bulky Trash Day happens in their neck of the woods. Each household can put up to three cubic yards of extra trash out for pickup. Man, think of it: 9 foot long by 3 foot wide by 3 foot high! Got a few caskets hanging around that you don’t need? No problem! Just stash them by the curb on Bulky Trash Eve!

Yes, there are rules…you can’t put stuff out days ahead of time (fines!), and you can’t put out toxic stuff or funky stinky ass moldy living stuff. It’s more for your run of the mill rusty old half bikes, scary loose wire microwaves, 1988 vintage electronics in a hopeless state of disrepair, and of course super ugly olive green ripped vinyl college couches with three legs. You get the picture. The spicy items are there too…all the knick knacks you no longer need can be handily stuffed in the odd spaces left after you move your big chunks into place.

Yes, you say, it’s nice to clean house and get all this crap hauled away for free, but why is this maroon so damn excited about taking the garbage out? Can’t you see? There is a primitive beauty in my new holiday of BULKY TRASH EVE. The City of Oakland, through its agent Waste Management, creates a perfect roving nocturnal market. Our garbage day is Thursday so, for us, Bulky Trash Eve comes on Wednesday night. The excitement builds in late afternoon as you and your neighbors start hauling the booty out to the curb. Let the scavenging begin! See anything you like? Hey, is that a one-of-a-kind Dog Boy lamp in Mr. Nagamoto’s Bulky Trash pile?? It’s mine! As darkness falls, the parade of funky 30-year-old Chevy and Ford pickup trucks with wooden slat payload bed extensions troll up and down the street. They are predators looking for prey… who are these people? Will they fix that old refrigerator and put it in their house? Will they sell that beat up (huge) TV for $17 to some bizarre storefront on San Pablo Avenue? Will they have a big yard sale? Who knows, but they are the real pros… they are in early. They are scoring items that will be traded, sold, refurbished or cherished. They work fast—the trucks are bulging, bursting with loot as dusk falls, and the waves of bohemians and college students begin in earnest. Not quite as practical, they arrive on foot or in 12-year-old Honda Accords that don’t quite fit that stereo console into the trunk. But they are savvy enough to avoid paying for dishes, frying pans, kiddie pools, bar-b-que tools and a host of other household and/or tiki-lifestyle essentials.

I’m hoping by now you see how efficient and cool this is. It works for everybody! You can get a lot of crap out of your house, basement, yard, attic. Anything remotely useful has about an 87% change of getting snapped up. The giddy energy and nocturnal revel nature of the whole thing lends a festive, surreal air, almost like an obscure fiesta day in Mexico—something cool, spontaneous and weird is going down that has its own sublime internal logic. It’s a bit like the expectant mystery of Christmas Eve I felt when I was nine. This instant market/free exchange of goods disappears completely the next morning complements of the city garbage trucks.

We had our Bulky Trash Day on my street this past fall. It was my best yet. Not only did we get rid of the reviled red scare chair (ancient vinyl ripped up dirty greasy uncomfortable handed-down-from-Greed-Pig-Boss menace), but I dumped 20 old frames from my screen print business. People snapped this stuff up! But listen, here’s the best part! Serena and I had been trying to pawn our old computer off on someone for six months. Maybe some readers know how that goes. NOBODY WANTS OLD COMPUTER! Tweren’t a bad rig in its day (1998), but a 266 MHz chip, 6 GB hard drive computer just doesn’t make it in this high-powered era. That sucker was loaded with Photoshop, Pagemaker, Flash, Illustrator and Microsoft Office for starters! Not bad for free. Well, I took a Sharpie and wrote a list of the software on top of the beast, then set it out on the sidewalk with the printer and manuals (sorry, still using the monitor). That sucker was gone in a matter of minutes! I felt good about that, I really hope someone is getting some good use out of it.

A final note, Bulky Trash Day is not without some tragic endings. Like a few years back, we put our old couch out. That’ll be the first thing to go, right? Sad to say, the cushions were snapped right up, and who wants a couch without the cushions? Thus it was with horror and revulsion (okay, maybe a bit of fascinated glee) that I watched as the dusty old thang was crunched to splinters in the maw of the merciless garbage truck!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

What is Your Target Market?

How many times have I been asked this question? Usually it's when someone finds out I'm a cartoonist who creates graphic novels. Or maybe I'm trying to work some journalist or radio producer for an interview, and inevitably they ask the question, a sure indicator of how goddamn sharp and "with it" and savvy they are.

The question presumes I am creating a commodity rather than art. The question presumes that, naturally, my aim in creating comics is not self expression, rather it is to make a commodity and sell it for a profit. Period. Is not the ultimate motivation money? And are you not dumber than dirt if the motivation is not cold, hard cash?

It is true that I want to sell books. Lots of them. But for chrissakes, I do not now, nor have I ever had a target market! Besides myself, that is. Why the fuck would I spend my life drawing comics for some presumed audience for the sole purpose of making money? Where's the fun in that? Where is the ecstatic joy of discovery in that? If I want to make money, I'll have a real world job, or I'll create a real world business, like my custom T Shirt shop.

Anyone who asks that question wouldn't know real art if it came up to them and bit them in the ass. So... next time some unquestioning dupe of all encompassing consumer corporate commodification programming asks me: "What is your target market?", I'll have my answer ready:

"My target market is a group of free floating 100 foot long disembodied Moose peckers, hovering in the Maine woods just a few miles south of the Canadian border".

Monday, November 20, 2006

40 Hour Man to be reviewed in Boston Sunday Globe

Greetings Earthlings. My latest graphic novel, 40 Hour Man (with writer Stephen Beaupre) will be reviewed later this week in the Boston Sunday Globe on 11/26/06.

This means a lot to me; my comics work has been reviewed in any number of respectable weeklies (including the San Francisco Bay Guardian) and has even been written up in a feature article in the Boston Phoenix. 40 Hour Man itself has been reviewed in Booklist, which has certainly helped sales (library sales in particular). I've been both praised and slammed by The Comics Journal (this back in the day when that publication acknowledged my existence at all) a magazine that over it's history has provided a confusing mish-mash of egotistical rants as well as many glowing reviews of Fantagraphics titles (can you say "conflict of interest"?). Oh, and sometimes the Journal has produced some excellent, thoughtful writing on comics as an art form.

A Sunday Globe review is different, however. It's the first time I've had the singular distinction of being reviewed in a major daily newspaper. Only a handful of papers in the U.S. are more prestigious than the Globe--The NY Times and the Washington Post, of course. At this writing, the LA Times stands a bit tarnished from it's glory days under Otis Chandler, what with all the power struggles and budget busting there of late. The Chicago Tribune is maybe on a par with the Globe. The Wall Street Journal is up there with the Times and the Post, but it's a money rag, and a conservative bully pulpit. Still, please review 40 Hour Man, Wall Street Journal! USA Today? Don't make me laugh. That's not even a newspaper. I'm not sure what it is, no wait, I'm sure it's a bullshit propaganda rag, and it's big on sports. I'd love a review there too, by the way!

The Boston Globe is in a sense my home town rag. I never lived in Boston proper, but I did grow up in Massachusetts from the age of eight, until I split for the golden west at twenty three to seek my fortune. For all of New England, the Globe stands as the newspaper of record.

All in all, some few words will appear this Sunday in Boston about my latest book. I will sip coffee and smile. My good friend Beaupre and I will have a notch to add to our bonafides. Even if they deem to slam us, I'll glean something quoteable out of the piece to help me flog product!

Monday, October 09, 2006

James Baker: Senior Statesman and One Heck of an Experienced Election Thief.

Has anyone noticed of late, oil man/Republican operative James Baker, most recently seen slithering around the aftermath of the 2000 election (pulling strings for W.), has been making the talk show rounds lately? Must have a book out or something.

I guess the Republican image factory figures the electorate will see Baker lurching around, making pronouncements in his best election season corn-pone drawl, and they will forget to vote because they figure he’ll just help young W. and his gang of hoodlums steal another one?

Stay tuned to find out! And get your ass out and vote, at the very least.

The right likes to trot out old goons like Baker to lend their operation some patina of statesman like experience and probity and all that dark blue suit/red tye aura. But from where I sit, given his stumping for Bush in the aftermath of the 2000 election, James Baker is a fraud.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

NPR: Don't Believe Your Ears

Good old NPR is at it again, fulfilling their function as the soft sell propaganda arm of the Bush junta. Yes folks, there is a reason why the thinking person refers to NPR as National Propaganda Radio.

The formerly creditable network wasn't always a font of disinformation and soft sell propaganda pointed at the mushy center on behalf of right wing idealogues; the slippery slope to propaganda tool for the government started back with Newt Gangreen's "Contract on America" in the '94 mid-term elections. Once the Republicans got control of congress, the message was sent to then-centrist NPR in no uncertain terms: You're too fucking liberal, get with the program or lose your funding!

In the current moment, as we approach the 2006 mid-term election, I hear daily on "Morning Edition" some soft feature that casts some issue or politician in a light favorable to the ruling creep farm. Each morning, I drop my son off at Kindergarten and listen to "Morning Edition" on the way home, and almost daily, I just want to pull over and hurl when I hear the horseshit spewing out of my radio.

Today it was a feature on new treasury secretary Hank Paulson, what a good even keel guy he is, above politics as it were, why he's not even campaigning for Republicans this election! He'd much rather serve the taxpayer than the political arm of the white house! The message? The Bush Administration is changing! We care about you! We're in tune with the American public and your needs! Vote for us!

This was a typical feature, part of a comprehensive effort to spin all aspects of the national debate in favor of Republicans during this election season. A bit less typical, you still get blatant flag waving and right wing pro-war propaganda on occasion.

NPR is not a complete waste of time. There are still great shows like This American Life and Fresh Air, among others. But buyer beware--for quite a while now, the news you hear over NPR is part of a propaganda effort by the scumbag Bushies to convince you that they are OK. We know they are not.

You can't fool all the people all of the time. Not even Karl Rove.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

How Not to do Business

In the course of running my custom T Shirt printing business, I try to be honest and straightforward with my clients. This makes sense, as I can live with myself (for starters), but it engenders the true lifeblood of any business: New clients.

Here's how it works. You order T Shirts from me. I do a good job. You tell someone else who needs T Shirts, they come to me with confidence that I am not a schmuck who will rip them off. Recommendations bring in 75% of my new accounts, with marketing and advertising taking care of the rest. Any small business person will tell you a variation on this schema.

When I run into a business person who burns me, it upsets me. Yes, it pisses me off. But more important, I just want to slap them around and yell, "Can't you see you are just fucking yourself?" If someone burns me, I will not give them a recommendation. I may even do what I am about to do, tell the story of how they did it to me.

With good business communication, I generally can avoid rip offs. But I've run into a couple this summer. DHL (the shipping company) burned me by promising a refund after missing an overnight delivery. Then they refused the refund because "I had not notified them in writing within 14 days". Well, I did not know that was the policy until the refund was refused! Thanks DHL! You suck.

I'd been enthusiastically using DHL since last year when I moved my shop from Oakland to Portland. I recommended them to numerous friends. I was suckered by their marketing campaign promising great service.

Then, this June, they started missing shipping dates, and even held some shipments in their warehouses for no apparent reason. The bullshit about the refund was the last straw. What can I say? I switched back to Fed Ex ground. Works fine.

The sort of sleazy clay-footed corporate greed as exemplified by DHL is to be expected from big corporations. The lack of willingness to take responsibility for shitty work will add a few dollars here, a few pennies there to the bottom line; for many companies, this is the only measure of performance.

Within the corporate hierarchy, every cog is keen to cover their ass and do the bidding of their corporate overlords, who in turn are slave to the overarching corporate dictate to keep the stock price rising no matter who you fuck over. Again, the ultimate effect is that people do not trust big corporations, and are cynical about corporate public relations and advertising claims.

I expect better behavior than this from the small businesses I buy from, and sell to. Most of the time, if I hold up my end of the bargain, the other party does the same. Recently, I had an experience with a small business supplier that was pretty unfortunate. They ripped me off for about $1100.00 worth of their service, spoiling almost $500.00 of raw materials I supplied in the process.

Here’s the set up. I print thousands of T Shirts each year for a client who has a successful T Shirt store. About 1000 – 1200 of these are printed on Tye Dyed shirts. It is up to me to buy blank shirts, arrange for the tye dying, print the shirts and ship to the store.

I have used a variety of tye dyers over the past decade. One of the best I found, or so I thought, was Kerr’s Cotton Creations, located in Montana. I had used them four or five times for dying lots of about 300 shirts each time. Their colors were quite bright and vibrant, but I had to ride their asses a bit about my clients prime directive: “Bright, tight and no white”!

This meant that no white (the blank shirts were white before dying) could show through the dye job. Kerr’s had done OK on the “no white” request, but not great. Thus, I made a real point of emphasizing BRIGHT, TIGHT AND NO WHITE with each order. In truth, almost every tie dye shirt has a least a tiny bit of white showing through, and it is understood that it’s OK, as long as it’s kept to a minimum.

In June of 2006, I ordered a batch of 288 tie dyes from Kerr’s. I drop shipped white blank Ts to them. Just over a week later, the new shirts arrived. I was shocked when I opened the boxes. White streaks screamed through the dye job at me. I would say that 25 – 35% of the shirts were white. It was by a long shot the worst job Kerr’s had done for me.

I printed a batch and shipped them to my client, a mistake on my part. Looking back, I was a bit in shock about how bad the shirts looked, and I rationalized to myself something like this: “They can’t be that bad, I just have expectations that are too high.” But deep down, I knew—this was a batch of shitty tie dyes, and it was a bad decision on my part to try to pass them off on the store. I should have sent the shirts back immediately and asked that they replace the blanks and dye the job over. The store called me, pretty pissed off. I had to admit that I knew the shirts were not up to par. We worked out a solution where the batch of 90 or so shirts would be sold at a discount. I felt chagrined that I had attempted to use shirts that were clearly not up to par.

I called my contact at Kerr’s, to point out that this batch of tie dyes was not up to his usual standard of quality. The guy acted as if I was trying to sell him a shit sandwich, saying “no two batches are alike”. No shit, dude. I’ve been buying tie dyes for ten years. I know well that no two batches are alike. That is a very different matter than delivering shit work. What part of NO WHITE do you not understand? I asked for a refund, and was refused. I later email a request for a refund and got no reply.

I have learned over time in the shirt business to listen to complaints when they come in, and work to find a solution to client problems, even if it comes out of my pocket. Usually, a complaint has some reasonable aspect to it. Sure, I have had unreasonable complaints, but even then I prefer to communicate on a frank and honest level with the client.

Once I printed a process color job for a big regional baker of upscale breads. I thought it was one of the best process shirts I’d done. The owner called up and told me it was one of the worst shirts he’d ever seen. What could I say? He was entitled to his opinion, but I told him I thought it was a great shirt. This dude was a perfectionist, famous for driving people nuts with his demands. Lucky for me, that was the last I heard of him.

Back to Kerr’s, I was disheartened that this guy would hand me a line of bullshit like that. I’d given him at least 4 – 5,000 bucks worth of biz over maybe an eighteen month period, but he could not have cared less. Not only did he show me a complete lack of respect, but it’s just bad business. Can’t say I can recommend Kerr’s Cotton Creations at this juncture.

I'll let you know if that changes, you never know.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

I Don't Whack Cute Little Moles for Minimum Wage

Having a Job From Hell is a universal right of passage, and Manx Media wants to hear about yours. We are putting out the call for essays running 400 words about lousy jobs, with an emphasis on humor. Entries may be emailed to Manx Media.

Starting this September 15, Manx Media will publish two “Job From Hell” entries per week on its web site over a six-week period. Successful entries will receive a $20.00 check and a copy of 40 Hour Man.

Our Hell Job essay contest dovetails with the publication of 40 Hour Man, the new graphic novel by Stephen Beaupre and Steve Lafler about one working stiff’s journey into the minimum wage heart of the American Dream.

My true Job From Hell was right out of college--with my newly minted art degree, I nailed down a prestigious gig working on a loading dock at a cut rate department store for minimum wage.
One of the sales girls noticed a tiny mole scurrying about the lingerie department one fine winter afternoon (it was cold out there), and I was drafted to capture the it.
Once I caught the cute little guy, I admired his funny star shaped nose for a moment or two before releasing him in the field behind the shanty town mall that my store was located in.
Later that day, the boss asked me if I'd taken care of the mole.
"Sure enough I did" says I.
"How did you do it, did you drown him in the toilet?" he replied.
That was the last straw.
"I don't whack cute little moles for minimum wage" was my indignant retort, then I gave my two week notice.

It's no wonder I ended up working for myself! But I digress...
Any bold soul interested in submitting a Job From Hell essay, take a peek at the contest info page at Manx Media. Have fun and good luck.

Steve Lafler
Manx Media proprietor

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Manx Publishing party with the Wigbillies

Top: Wigbillies Paul Therrio and Mary Fleener get their groove on at the Casbah in San Diego on July 20.
Bottom: J.R. Williams plays his little electric and croons with the Wigbillies.

Thanks to all the bands who played our publishing party for 40 Hour Man at the Casbah on July 20 during Comic Con International: The Wigbillies, Thee Corsairs, The Creepy Creeps and Deadbolt.
A damn fine time was had by all! We got a few dozen alt comics geeks out there, and lots of stylish locals came out to see the great line up of talent.

Saturday, July 01, 2006


How and when did the word floater enter my personal vernacular?

Wanna cut someone down to size? Floater. Right to the point: Funny, mean and really shitty!

Hey floater! You’re a fucking floater, y’know that, ya bum?!

Maybe it’s being a dad now, an increased incidence of floaters floating in my general direction, as well as the more obscure cannon shot, loaf, schmludge, and so on.

Certain more conceptual phrases bring the image of a bowl full of floaters to my mind. Just say these few words here: “The Comics Industry”.

What do you see? Comics? An Industry? NO! Floaters, floaters, and even more floaters! FUCK!

That’s just one example. Point your head towards Washington D.C., hell I don’t have to tell you what word comes to mind. The Bush junta = FLOATERS!

C’mon George. C’mon Dick! C’mon Condi & Donald! I’d like a future and a world to come back to next time around, even this time around, so cut the shit. Aren’t any of you sumbitches parents? Think about it. Ya pack of Floaters.

That’s all for tonight folks.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Manx Media publishes 40 Hour Man

Here we are, fine with me! Yup, in my 26th year as a professional cartoonist, publisher and all around hell raiser, I am returning to the undignified, rough & tumble hell-hole of independent comics publishing. Just this week I have released 40 Hour Man, details to follow, but first:

A quick recap sports fans! I pumped out about ten books/comics in the first half of the '80s (mostly as Cat-Head Comics) before hoodwinking Fantagraphics into footing the printing bill for ten issues of my acid addled Dog Boy series.

Inevitably, the roof caved in, the bottom fell out and Cat-Head was back for another bravura run of like 35 comic books, magazines and even a couple graphic novels. WOW!

Uber comics enthusiast Brett Warnock of the fledgling Top Shelf syndicate took notice of my (ahem) brilliant BugHouse comics, and I signed on with them fine fellas for three full graphic novels of someone else paying the printing bills. Haleluiah!

Yet here we are agin, an old dog (that's me) with a new trick (Manx Media). Now I've gone and published 40 Hour Man with my old friend and fellow traveller Stephen Beaupre. Looks like he wrote the damn thing, and I drew it. For sure. It's fuckin' great, take my word for it. If you don't believe me, just read the damn press release, the guys that write these things never lie!

The press release, as it were:

Take this job and love it!

40 Hour Man

Written by Stephen Beaupre, Illustrated by Steve Lafler

Portland, Oregon. June 9, 2006.
Manx Media proudly announces the publication of 40 Hour Man, written by Stephen Beaupre and illustrated by Steve Lafler. This inaugural title from Manx Media is the chronicle of one working stiff’s journey into the minimum wage heart of the American Dream.

Is it a career or just a series of lame jobs? It’s all here—from doing time as a miniature golf lackey, to going bust in the internet boom. Beaupre recounts skirmishes with bad bosses, crazy co-workers, sex, drugs and polyester uniforms as he delineates his quest to find and hang onto a job he can live with. Lafler supplies visual hilarity with his Mad Magazine inspired, slap-happy artwork.

Stephen Beaupre is is best known to comic aficionados as the former co-publisher of the Cat-Head Comics imprint and editor of Buzzard, the 90's preeminent comic anthology. Post-comic pursuits include Beyond the Fringe, a long-running humor column featured in Worcester Magazine, and hard time in the Internet trench as writer/editor for popular online destinations such as Angelfire, Tripod, and

Steve Lafler is the cartoonist behind BugHouse, Baja and Scalawag (all from Top Shelf Productions), a trio of indigo toned graphic novels about bugs playing be-bop jazz.

Manx Media has signed a deal with Biblio Distribution to handle our book trade distribution. 40 Hour Man will be available to every last bookstore in American round bout October 1st. Until then, you can visit Manx Media to order you copy directly from us.

$18.00 USA, Graphic Novel, ISBN 0-9769690-0-9, 6” x 9” 248 pages.

Contact: Steve Lafler (503) 288-5980

That just about covers it.

Anyone who has read this far, rest assured I love you dearly and have your best interests in mind.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Art Comix: Distribution, Technology and the Future

On a recent visit to Bridge City Comics in the quickly gentrifying Mississippi Avenue hood in North Portland, I asked my four year old son Max if he would like me to buy him a comic book. Bugs Bunny, perhaps? Scooby Doo? Power Puff Girls?

“No thanks Dad, comics are for grown ups.” Laughing, I realized I walked right into that one.

It begs the question, where are we headed with comics? Do comic books have a future as an art medium, let alone as a commercial product? In an era when several conglomerates are vying to deliver movies to your cel phone, where do graphic novels fit in?

I’ve kept my eyes and ears open for clues as to the current and future viability of my chosen art form. Surely the future is bright; with the occasional New Yorker cartoon lampooning the ascendant popularity of the graphic novel, I feel moderately bullish that it’s possible to secure an audience. Certainly, I look more to movies like American Splendor and Ghost World as evidence that there is a public for decent cartooning than to the latest X-Men or Splooge Bat offering from Hollywood.

Truth is, nothing has ever stopped successive waves of kids from being incredibly excited about making comics. What’s more, nothing stops young artists from doing it their own way, packing their picture stories with their own cultural touchstones, the visual moments gleaned from the iconography encountered in the hyper wacked media landscape that is evolving around us. That’s a jumbled way of saying that comics as an art form constantly renews and reinvents itself.

It’s worth taking a look at the current state of distribution for comic books and magazines. Diamond Comics has a lock on “the industry”, as it were (when you hear someone refer to “the industry”, they are more likely to work for Image than to be a creative toiling in art comics). Even if you are doing limited edition comics with screen-printed covers, a Diamond order can underwrite a big part of your expenses; their market access is potent. But a monopoly is a monopoly no matter how you slice it; it’s been ten years since Diamond swallowed Capital City Distribution, the remaining major comics distributor.

Fortunately, we have the Global Hobo’s of the world, smart people creating and supporting a community dedicated to the flowering of comics as a means of personal expression, and to creating an exchange for such clever items as they appear. This is preferable to viewing or downloading comics on the web, I’m still very much interested in holding comics (and books, and magazines) in my hands as I read them.

With digital media proliferating like bunnies on steroids, is incumbent on each cartoonist to choose how to define themselves—are you a graphic novelist? Are you going to screen print your comics on Macy’s windows and cop cars in the middle of the night? How will you create and package your work, and how will it be distributed?

I love the example of Jeff Roysdon. Here is a guy who executes ingenious, witty paintings as a high level of craft; he produces strip and panel comics that appear in Vice, among other publications, and he is an insanely great Flash animator, the guy who always has a fresh idea. Here is someone who is not in the “comic book” world, applying his considerable energies and genius to a variety of mediums.

But what about movies being delivered to your Cel phone, let alone via DVDs, TV, theatres and downloads? Are comics being digitally distributed? Yes, yes and yes. The difference is that no one is getting rich off of digital comics as of yet (although I could be wrong on that).

My own mini vision as I am about to issue a new graphic novel is to work the web with generous excerpts from the book, letting the best part of the cat out of the bag for free. I guess it’s worth thinking about movies themselves too. No doubt some readers of this mag have put videos up on the web already. Meanwhile, loose canon investors are pouring their money into movies at a record clip, at least this season. Hollywood insiders snear at the newcomers, yet are happy to make deals and take their money. Not too many art cartoonists are going to run into a Hollywood deal, and many would not want to, but I for one am a big fan of Ghost World, what the hell, let’s see some more cool flicks like that! I note that I have yet to view Art School Confidential as of this writing; the critics are panning it, but I will make my own judgment.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Marketing—What Works Now (for me, anyway)

Having moved my business to Portland from Oakland some 11 months back, I was faced with the task of attracting some new clients. Granted, I brought my core clientele with me, but any business needs to continuously market itself, indeed it is essential to recreate a business daily to survive.

Wanting to create a high profile for my custom screen printing shop in my new location, I opted for a display ad contract with the leading local “Alternative Newsweekly”, Willamette Week. I know from experience that this type of advertising is expensive, and it is unrealistic to expect a dollar for dollar return on it, but I was confident that it would successfully present my new business name, logo and selling proposition to the local market.

I was not disappointed on any count; it was expensive. While I attracted several clients from my 36 ad campaign, they have yet to pay for the ads (but they might; one new account attracted by the ad shows great promise). I am satisfied that slamming my logo and sales pitch at the local alt weekly readership for 36 of the last 48 weeks has indeed had the desired effect: Readers of Willamette Week undoubtedly know that Manx Media means quality custom T-shirt printing!

Next, I began sloggin’ away at an ambitious direct mail campaign within a couple months of getting to Portland. This is labor intensive, detail oriented work: Developing mailing lists of prospective customers and creating a series of postcards to mail to the lists, constantly updating and adding new lists while honing my marketing message. Direct mail is a big effort to properly execute, but over the years, these postcard mailings have developed into my number one tool (next to recommendations of course) for attracting new accounts. I should mention it always works best when I develop my own lists, rather than with a list purchased from a broker.

Once I had my display ad and direct mail campaigns under way, something amazing and wonderful happened—I discovered Google Ad Words. Focusing on the Portland metro area, using this online advertising service brings me quote requests from people who have searched for exactly what I am selling. And I only pay for people who actually click through to my web site. The unique tools offered by Google allow me to set my budget where I need it to be.

It is essential that my site very clearly states my selling proposition, and directs the potential client to email me for a quote, but here is the bottom line: It bloodly well works like a charm!

As the world becomes inundated with more and more advertising messages, I have noticed that direct mail returns less of a response over time. Well, I’m here to tell you that for a given budget, Google Ad Words has outperformed direct mail, and display advertising, by a ratio of at least ten to one. No lie.

It is worth noting that Yahoo and Microsoft are both nipping at Google’s heels to provide this type of focused advertising, so keep an eye on those companies offerings.

So here I am, busy as hell with tons of work. I went to Google the other day and turned my campaign off, for the time being. Whoa! Who knew? I suppose I could power up and add capacity to my business and expand and all that horseshit, but honestly, I’d rather smoke a fatty and draw some comics!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Read This Before You Give Up

What defines success as an artist? Money? Groupies? Perhaps fancy cars, vacations, houses, etc.? Nope, not even close, none of the above.

From the start, I’ve always paid myself generously in the commodity that an artist values above all others: Time. Plain and simple, success as an artist is defined as ample time to make art.

Yes, we are assuming that you have a roof over your head, and food to eat. Whatever scrambling you have to do to make that happen, do it as efficiently as possible with no waste—no wasted time that is!

What does an artist do? Make art. An artist, I believe, should be less concerned with their end product, and more concerned with process. Engage in the process, and you improve technically, you get real darn good at your craft. Engage in the process, and your muse finds a way to sneak boatloads of good ideas in the back door in the dead of the night. And what does a body need in plentiful supply to engage in the process of making art? Time!

The art life is not about ending up with pretty pictures. Or sculptures, films, songs, drawings, comics, novels, whatever. It’s about the process of creating all that stuff; the journey itself, the illumination, the epiphanies encountered along the way are the true rewards.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Clean Energy/Clean Tech and the Future

Recently I have become obsessed with the Clean Energy and Clean Tech fields for the simple reason that I have kids; being a parent tends to make a guy want the earth to thrive and the human race to survive.

A Scottish scientist (what the hell was that dudes name?!) was in the news a couple months back, predicting that within 100 years, the only remaining habitable areas of space ship earth will be the artic region. With rising temperatures, melting polar ice, desertification of much of the planet, and rising sea levels, this guy thinks we will have billions of people dying off, with just a few breeding couples left, as we’ve made the earth sick with all the fossil fuels etc.

I’m sure there are varying opinions on how bad Global Warming is now, and how fast it will get worse, but only greedy jerks like Bush/Cheney and friends can still pretend it ain’t for real.
I hope the aforementioned Scottish scientist is just a wee bit off on his scheduling of the extinction of 99% of humanity!

In any case, there have always been lots of great arguments for Clean Energy and Clean Tech, in terms of what is good for all the creatures on the planet, not to mention Mother Earth herself! Up until recently, “it’s good for business” hasn’t been one of the arguments for Clean Energy and Clean Tech, quite the opposite.

Guess what? That has changed, big time! It appears that investors, venture capitalists and other money oriented types see big opportunities in all this Green & Clean stuff!

Here is a link to an article that posits, among other things, that Clean Tech/Clean Energy investment may offer 5-10 year compound annual revenue growth rates as high as 35%:

I’ve blogged plenty about self-employment, and naturally I stand by every word. But if self-employment ain’t your thang, especially if you are young, I strongly urge you to consider Clean Energy and Clean Tech as great fields to pursue. Solar, Wind power and Fuel Cell tech are especially promising, but really are only the tip of the iceberg; these and related industries are growing fast!
As for the die hard self-employment personalities, of which I am one, there has to be ways to be an independent contractor within these new industries.

In any case, I recommend Googling these terms:

Clean Energy

Clean Tech

Bounce around the web looking at stuff you find there. You may find not only your future, but the future (hopefully!) of all of us.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Senator Russ Feingold has Nuggets

Yes, there is a Democrat in the Senate with balls: Russ Feingold.

On March 13, Senator Feingold said that President Bush should be censured. Feingold wants Bush to be held accountable for breaking the law, arguing that Bush's unauthorized domestic wiretapping is illegal.

Here is a link to the text of the speech calling for censure.

I heard a broadcast of the speech on Democracy Now, and it made my day. It's about time the Bush/Cheney creep machine gets taken to task for their deceitful, reprehensible ways.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Goddamn Economic Outlook

So am I crazy, or has Bush pretty much completely messed up the economy? Let’s face it, the tax cuts were a give away to the rich, and the Bush/Cheney (failed, illegal & immoral) war is driving the deficit over the cliff. The dollar is taking a serious pounding, real serious. The Chinese lend us money to buy more stuff from them.

This, my friends, has bankruptcy written all over it. Looks like the United States of America has been driven to the brink of bankruptcy by the moronic moves of the Bush / Cheney junta. The only thing I can see propping up the U.S. economy for awhile longer is the possibility that the Chinese will keep buying U.S. treasury bonds, and lending us money to buy more stuff from them, because they never had such a good customer!

Meanwhile, author Barbara Ehrenreich has published Bait and Switch, the (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream. Ehrenreich illuminates the current corporate thinking about it’s white collar employees, as expendable liabilities. Time was, a company was only considered as good as it’s staff, but no more. Here I quote from promo copy for the book from Ehrenreich’s web site:

“Today’s ultra-lean corporations take pride in shedding their “surplus” employees -- plunging them, for months or years at a stretch, into the twilight zone of white-collar unemployment, where job searching becomes a full-time job in itself. As Ehrenreich discovers, there are few social supports for these newly disposable workers -- and little security even for those who have jobs.”

All the preceding is a preamble to today’s screed on the Goddamn Economic Outlook. I hope for your sake you are not in the market for a white-collar job! If you are, perhaps you should avoid Ehrenreich’s book! No, go ahead and read it, at least you will know to trust your own counsel in a job search, rather than hire some phony high priced asshole “career coach” to make you feel shitty about yourself for doing things like engaging in critical thinking (they prefer you embrace herd mentality, so it’s easier to take the stick up your ass a corporate job gives you when you are hired).

As usual, my advice would be to carve out a niche working for yourself, doing work that is close to your heart. I’ve written a lot about self employment in this blog, I’ll just send you digging through the archives for my nuts & bolts advice on working for yourself, and how to get started.
But what if you prefer to work a regular job? The core of my advice is the same, take a hard, honest look inside your head and heart, and identify what you love to do. Track down work related to the best impulses of your soul (If you like to smoke crack, on the other hand, you may want to detox first, you probably won’t be getting paid for that. On the other hand, if jacking off is your thing, you may indeed be able to find work there).

It is necessary at this point for all of us to think, where are we going to be in three, five, ten, twenty years? Where will the earth be? Where will the human race be? It’s time to take Thoreau’s advice to advance in the direction of our dreams, trusting that more open and liberal laws governing events will emerge as we embrace our faith in our own best selves. Okay, so I didn’t quote verbatim, but trust me, there is indeed a fine passage echoing those very sentiments in Walden.

I advocate pursuing careers in Alternative Energy, perhaps the most promising field. Wind, Solar, Hydrogen, Efficiency, there will be a growing mega-industry there. Hell, I frankly believe the hope for the human race will be in clean energy technology that is so spectacular, so unprecedented that we don’t even know what it is yet; some genius kid out there is already brainstorming on it.

There will be lots of careers in Clean Energy much sooner than we now imagine. Remember, even that knuckle-head Bush talked about Alternative Energy in his State of the Union Address.

Whatever else happens, the price of oil will continue to rise as the demand increases. Meanwhile the supply will be shrinking. I am confident that Clean Energy will be cheaper than oil in a relative blink of the eye. Don’t buy this crap that we need to return to building nuclear power plants either—that’s just another old school, big money crock of shit that leads down a dead end alley. Frankly, people like Bush and his gang of big money/big oil goons will cease to matter at the point when, due to it’s poor cost/benefit ratio, no one wants to consume oil anymore! Clean Energy will have evolved technically and marketwise to the point where the oil greed creeps will be out of business.

We will need engineers and overtly smart techies for sure, but we’ll also need business innovators, sales people, mechanics, and the whole range of support staff. Of course, visioning the future isn’t just based on one industry; farming and food production will no longer be based on petrochemical fertilizers, you can bet your behind on that. The demand for organic food is already huge and growing fast. As with Clean Energy, there will be technology and market models we can’t know, because they have not been envisioned yet. Trust you heart, your head, and your intuition. Move confidently forward in the direction of your dreams, towards your best self. Isn’t life too damn short to do anything else?

Media is changing too. Hey, that’s what I’m doing here and now, standing up shouting like a maniac from a new kind of soap-box! Now, if I could only get free burritos for mouthing off like this…

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Zero Overhead Model

The following is an exerpt from one of my original posts to Self-Employment for Bohemians. I have edited it and reposted this piece, as it truly gets at the heart of the matter of successful Self Employment.

I want to tell you about my foolproof concept for starting your own business—it’s called the Zero Overhead Model. The idea is that your clients are going to finance your business for you! I use my own business model here for a couple of darn good reasons. First, it’s a business I know well. I’m qualified to hold forth on the business of wholesale custom screen-printing. Second, my business is built around both a service (custom screen-printing) and a commodity (t-shirts/apparel). I believe that the Zero Overhead Model can work for both a service based or a commodity based business.

Here’s how it works in a nutshell. Your potential client comes in to order 100 t-shirts imprinted with their logo. I quote a price on the job and they agree to it. I write up the order, detailing the particulars. The client signs the order form, acknowledging their agreement to the deal. Let’s say that the total on the job is $700.00. I tell the client that I require a 50% down payment to produce the job, with the balance due upon delivery. With costs of about $250.00 total to produce the job, not only have I enlisted my client to finance production of the job, but I’ve gotten a little pocket money up front in the deal.

When I started producing custom screen printing jobs as an undergraduate, it didn’t take me long to figure out that my customers were also going to be my financiers. Necessity is indeed the mother of invention.

This little schema does bring up some obvious questions. For example, why the heck is any potential client going to trust you with the aforementioned $350.00 downpayment? Based on what do they trust you? Okay, I admit it’s a con game! A confidence game, that is to say. When you meet a prospective client, you are projecting confidence in your ability to deliver the goods. Your appearance and demeanor project professionalism. If you are indeed in the t-shirt game, you show them samples. They are welcome to walk if they see red warning flags in the course of your meeting. I’m a proponent of the soft sell; as such, I am very comfortable with a perspective client who decides not to place an order at any particular meeting. My attitude is, I’m not so much gunning to close a sale no matter what, rather I’m helping the client fulfill there need for some quantity of screen printed t-shirts. If the price is too dear for them, or if we aren’t a good fit to do business, I’m quite happy with that.

Another question: What about production equipment? What about samples? What about office or production space? Phones? Computers? Etc.? Well, when you are starting out, you just need to improvise. You (hopefully) have a roof over your head, whether it’s your place, your parents house, a sublet garage (ideal!), a dorm room, or even if you are couch surfing.

Work with what you have and build from there. If you can borrow a friend or family member’s phone and/or computer for even an hour a day, that may be enough to contact initial clients and produce that first job. I’ll dust off an anecdote as an example. I began freelancing t-shirt and illustration jobs while still an undergraduate at Umass, printing jobs in my dorm lounge. I took off for the west coast half a year after taking my degree. After several months of traveling, I found myself in Eugene, Oregon. I spent the little money I had securing an apartment. I placed some ads in the local university newspaper advertising my screen-printing services, then I copied up a couple hundred flyers and papered the phone poles in the college neighborhood with them. I was down to about eight bucks when the first job came in (phew!).

It was a small job, which would take only about $30 bucks in supplies to produce… yet somehow I had neglected to hit up the client for a down payment. Oops! I needed a can of ink, four blank t-shirts, a squeegee, a yard of synthetic silk and a wooden frame. What to do… I borrowed the money from my girlfriend! From there I sold more jobs, just scraping by, until a bounty of dorm, frat and music festival gigs rained down on me in the Oregon spring.

You do not want to always ask friends or family to bail you out. And if you do borrow money from them, be sure to make it your first priority to pay them back. But you will rely on your network of friends, family and colleagues again and again. Community is a very good thing! When someone comes to you for help, gladly give it to them. (Unless they are a serial leech, in which case giving them a kick in the ass is the best favor you can do them… ).

The Zero Overhead Model may be the only way to fly for BoHo entrepreneurs, but believe me they aren’t the only ones. Look at a guy like George W. Bush. Is that guy a self-made business man? Hell no! Everything that guy ever owned was procured with sweetheart loans from his daddy’s fat-cat friends and stuff like that. Do you think the super rich ever buy anything with their own money? NO! They get it with O.P.M. (other people’s money). OKAY! That’s it for the Zero Overhead thing for now. I’m getting off track talking about these darn oligarchs and plutocrats.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Bitter Old Cynic Thinks He's Funny

Time to define today's archetypes of the hip fringe...

Hipster: Semi-employed twenty-something hapless formless dweeb in second-hand clothes with no girlfriend, no money, a My Space page, and a starter drug/alcohol habit.

Handy Man: Middle-aged former hipster, failed artist/drunk on his way to a liver transplant, who charges too much for third-rate light construction.

Self-Employed Bohemian: The balding bitter cynic writing this piece.

Feel free to add your own slap-happy definitions!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Ain’t it Great to be Broke?

When I started out as a self-employed artist/screen printer, I was often scrambling to sell enough work to make ends meet. As I worked hard to build my reputation and my clientele, I saw many cycles of feast or famine. I was flush when a fistful of orders came my way, but things could get pretty tight if the flow of work slowed.

Through some miracle, not only did I manage to pay my bills, but I also managed to avoid having a regular job (I did take a detour in the middle of the Eighties, purposefully working at regular full time jobs for about a year and a half to see how it felt—and I fucking hated every minute of it!).

Interestingly, I was rarely unhappy on the occasions when my funds dwindled to near nothing. Once I penned a cartoon about how content I was when my whole estate consisted of clean laundry and two beers. What else could I possible want? Let’s face it, the two beer buzz is the best anyhow, no sense chasing that mild euphoria further to a sure hangover.

Being self-employed and running out of work and money brings on a peculiar active state of mind in me. It’s rather akin to sitting on a hot stove—you better do something fast! It is a state of affairs that always brings on a brainstorm, a surplus of ideas about how to pump up the volume (and bring in the orders) in my self-employed life.

I’d get a burst of energy and be on the phone happily cold calling prospective clients and enjoying it—after all, wasn’t I going to help them get a really swell bunch of t-shirts for a very reasonable price? Yup, you can actually enjoy selling if you believe in the value of what your hawking.

Other times, I’d design some postcard, ad or flyer that was gonna sweep the ocean and put me on easy street. I’d print up hundreds of flyers and wall-paper the town with them, paving my way to the Zona Dorado.

Somehow or other, it usually worked. I’d earn myself a decent stake of cash to tide me over. Being myself, I’d often blow my gains publishing comics books which were harder to sell than ice to Eskimos, but that’s another story.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Getting Started in Self Employment

With the new year I feel compelled to return to my central subject: Self-Employment for Bohemians.

How does the creative, self-directed person start down the path of self-employment? I've written about my own process of falling into the life--in fact these writings are buried deep in the archives of this very blog. I'd like to address the question of getting started in the general sense, maybe put out some information that will be helpful to souls ready to take the plunge.

Simply put, there is a self-selection process involved. How the hell else are you going to end up working for yourself?! But really, let's assume we have a creative, independent individual with no desire to hold down a regular job. In fact, the very prospect of having a job should put this person in a cold sweat. If this sounds familiar, we're on the right track! Our candidate made hold a regular job even though self-employment is preferred (in case they want to eat, buy toilet paper, stuff like that...).

What happens as our prospect works a regular job for some other person or company? They spend every working minute scheming about how to escape. For me, any time I had a nine to five gig, I would spontaneously generate marketing plans in my mind for the self-employment scheme that would allow me to escape. It was the central focus of my life. Get the hell out of this shit hole dead end boring job now!

Again, I've written elsewhere about my personal experience on the road to being gainfully, happily self employed; I've covered the specifics about what got me there. What about those who wish to start with self employment now? It's twenty years later than when I took the plunge. The market place is different. Technology is wildly different! While some of my experiences and anecdotes are still valid, there has to be new wrinkles that an ingenious person of modest means can bring to bear on the project of self-employment.

Clearly, a lot of them have to do with using the web in an informed and effective manner. Me, I just worked my way through The Complete Idiot's Guide to Growing Your Business With Google by Dave Taylor. I highly recommend it. I will also say, if you want to make it on your own, you have to talk to people. Yes, actual people. In the field, face to face. Potential clients. Competitors. Anyone who has anything to do with your area of expertise. So don't just sit staring at a screen all day, wondering where all the clients are!

The preceding is my way of admiting that I might have limited insight into the nuts & bolts of starting in self-employment in today's environment. I know what has worked for me in the past, and I know what works for me in the present. I also know what fails for me! I must conclude that my best advice for a brave soul embarking on self-employment today would be specific to their case. Given that, I would like to extend an invitation to one and all to comment on this entry with specific queries about their situation as they consider self employment. I will answer one and all to the best of my ability.

Steve Lafler

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Enemies List Lost

The following proves that there is a little Dick Nixon in all of us...

I’m not a New Year’s Resolution type of guy. Mostly because I have my life in (relative) order. I work for myself and I like it. I don’t have piles of high interest credit card debt. I've been a runner since I was a kid; it keeps me both sane and fit.

But here’s this funny thing—I’ve always been one of those “turn the other cheek” types. It works for me. Recently, however, I have been going over things and people that have pissed me off—major and minor—over the course of my whole life. Is this repressed anger? Some latent volcanic eruption that I just can't hold in anymore?

Beats me, but here it is, a partial list of long forgotten enemies & their crimes:

1. The people who beat up my brother in high school because he was gay (I don’t even know their names!).

2. Reviewers for the Comics Journal who don’t like my work.

3. An old girlfriend who boffed a clown behind my back. Yes, the guy was literally a clown!

That’s enough of that. We could all make similar lists that go on and on and on. The question is: Why do I care now? This is stuff that happened decades ago, for the most part!

I’m fond of saying hindsight is 50/50. I know, it’s really “hindsight is 20/20”. Somehow, I think the 50/50 works better here. I leave it to the reader to ponder that one.

This brings me to my New Year’s Resolution for 2006. I’ve finally realized what I need to do! I will compose a detailed ENEMIES LIST.

Then I will promptly throw it away.