I am not sure how I came to this. It may be that I should blame the friend of mine who first told me about litho prints of poetry off Etsy. Or maybe I should blame the person who insisted I go into librarianship and thus installed in me a fondness for searching into strange nooks and corners, looking for bookshaped objects. Or maybe I should just blame Noah. Yes, let’s do that. It’s Noah’s fault that I am here today, writing to you about rubber chicken comic book art. Yes.
Ha. Let us blame Noah.
See, several years ago, I wandered off to ALA’s national conference. If you’ve never been to ALA before, it’s a bit strange. You get a wonking great conference hall and fill it with booths and stock the booths full of free books. Not just any books, but beautiful, well-made interesting books that have been newly published or just won awards. And then you tell a bunch of
book-junkies librarians that they can enter.
It is not unlike those Christmas store shopping rampages on Black Friday where people want Cabbage Patch Dolls.
Except that all the shoppers have about three advanced degrees and pretty much everyone is wearing glasses and sensible shoes.
In any case. So there I was, a young librarian on her first ALA National Conference, and I went into the exhibit hall with shining eyes and a hopeful heart. I was certain that I’d be able to find something for work, perhaps learn about some new non-fic, but I was also hoping to find a few new comics. The brochure that I clutched tightly to my chest mentioned that several comics publishers would be there.
I worked my way slowly through the exhibit hall (I had to detour around a whole block of booths where I suspect an award winner of being), being accidentally elbowed by cheerful women who had stacks of books so high they had to peer around them.
And then I got to the comics section. Hurray, I thought, I have arrived!
Now let me be clear. The purpose of all this free loot is not to make a lot of random booklovers happy, the purpose is to get samples into the hands of the people who have the power to acquire the goods. Free books at ALA are the grease in the wheels of publishing capitalism. Because librarians don’t just buy books, we talk about them, a lot, to everyone. The biggest marketing tool for books is word of mouth, and that can’t happen unless some first person, somewhere, acquires a copy.
While I was at ALA, I saw not just marketing people in the publishing booths, but also big name editors. See, the other thing that greases the wheels of capitalism is knowledge about consumer desires. So an editor can talk to a circulations manager, who might tell her that the line for the latest Siamese Kitten book is two months long. Or that right now, SciFi books are being culled for lack of readers. Or whatever.
In between the passing around of ARCs, there’s a lot of questions. Some booths had surveys, some did things more informally, but everywhere it was like a mutual explosion of book pimping and lit glee.
I quite enjoyed it.
Until I got to the comics section, where suddenly I was expected to actually pay for anything. Want a brochure? Pay. Want a sample? Pay. Want a keychain? Pay. Mug? Pay. Pay pay pay.
And I know that this stuff ain’t cheap, but that really wasn’t the point. I didn’t mind paying. In fact, several times I did try to pay, but the booth folks wouldn’t look up from their internal conversations. (The ones at Viz were very nice, though. I had a very nice talk with them–they recommended a bunch of new manga to me, that I ended up either trying or buying, as well as giving me a few free ones to try. And I note, by the way, that Viz? Is still in business. Ahem.)
I did eventually get a brochure for a comics collective thing, but the stuff inside didn’t give me enough information about whether I’d want to buy it or not. And I’m sorry, but I’m not splashing out twenty or thirty bucks on a brand new work that’s never been reviewed and which may or may not be any good. I want to, well, at least check it out from the library first. See it online. View it off youtube. See a sample chapter.
I finally staggered out of the exhibit hall with three free cloth bags full of free books. Or maybe it was four bags. I forget.
What I do remember, besides Chicago’s inexplicable habit of naming every restaurant with single-syllable words (Toast, Fresh, something else) was Noah’s complete lack of surprise at the horrible way that comics was marketed. He even looked gloomily at the few small flyers I’d managed to get and said that they’d probably have only gotten Jeff Brown to do the covers (one of them had).
But before I left, he gave me a bunch of small-press comics, mostly published the old way with a xerox machine.
That’s not nearly as nice as some of the beautifully produced advanced readers copies I’d gotten off the big guys, but it was plenty to give me a taste and let me know whether I’d want the whole entree.
And that’s all I needed. Of course I enjoyed having free books (who wouldn’t?), but what I really wanted was new-to-me joys that I wouldn’t have discovered any other way. Or to read, and love, and tell others about them so that they could have a joyful new book-crush and go out and buy the second volume and the third and so on and so forth, spreading out the happiness like some kind of literary artistic oil spill. Or virus. Yeast bowl? Whatever. You know what I mean.
But the publishers of comics mostly did not want to give me such joy, either because it had never worked for them or because they liked having a teeny tiny market of books practically nobody buys, I’m not sure.
The thing is though that I still wanted new comics like that. Wanted to find new comics the way I’d come across a strange but pretty funny kids book that I’d never have bought. I’d done my own work in small press comics, helping tone a manga some friends did, but beyond getting lots of recs for big press stuff everyone was discussing, I didn’t meet a lot of small press comic makers who were doing things I really wanted to read.
I’ve been keeping a sharp eye out, though. During some discussion of how people can find small-press comics, I poked around Etsy (because of the aforementioned friend who buys her litho’d small press poems there).
It’s only sixteen pages long, so I’m only showing the cover, but it is awesome. Yes, yes, it is about rubber chickens.
But they are awesome rubber chickens.
I don’t remember the last time I read a comic book and actually laughed. Usually, it’s either a tired joke told in a dull way that leaves behind a feeling of sadness and ennui or it’s actually a volume of Peanuts and I’ve read it before.
This comic is both irreverent (as you can see, the chicken is peeing on the fire hydrant) and charming. There are some strange artistic statements, like the gladiator with the rubber chicken shield or the pilgrim-hatted (and turkey looking) rubber chickens in a boat at what might be Plymouth Rock (but if so is labeled with the wrong year).
The illustrations are well-done. Linework varies beautifully, as a good coloring book should, with a nice balance between blocked in shapes and spaces where there’s more detail.
And because it’s a coloring book, it’s interactive. I don’t just get to read the rubber chickens, I get to muck about with them. (I have decided, by the way, that my rubber chickens will be purple and you cannot stop me. Their waddlez may be orange or blue or magenta, I have not yet decided.) It’s so utterly different from the longboxophobia of comicdom that I’m used to that it’s a relief.
Some of the images, such as the snail of life rubber chicken, don’t have words. Other images, such as the sad looking guy and the mummified rubber chicken do, “If “Ramontep fucks up the mummification of another one of the pharoh’s chickens ….it was commanded he be entombed with it. Being constantly watched and never trained didn’t help.” [sic]
My favorite, of course, is the fronticepiece where two rubber chickens, ridden by paladins, joust.
The thing is, I have no idea who Dingo Dizmal is. No clue about Ms. Olive Rootbeer. I do not now nor have I ever owned a rubber chicken. I’d never seen this artwork before I stumbled upon it. I’ve got no ties to the artist or the publisher (which was probably Kinkos). I’m not sure what terms I even entered into the Etsy search box, besides maybe ‘comic’ and even that might be in the sense of comedic.
And yet I found it and I bought it and I read it.
This is exactly what I’d hoped for from that ALA booth. It took me several years to find, granted, but in the end, I managed it. New, funny, smart, well-inked.
The Rubber Chickens of Dingo Dizmal and Ms. Olive Rootbeer, a Coloring Book, is only four dollars, with two additional for shipping and handling. I commend it to your attention.
And now I really must find where I put my crayons….