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!