On Annie Lennox, David Bowie, and Waking Up

Imagine: you are a seventeen-year-old Annie Lennox, 1972. Listening to Ziggy Stardust with headphones plugged in to the hi-fi, alone with the songs, trying without luck to solve the seemingly insoluble mystery of what in the world this Spider from Mars is doing to you. Stuck in your shabby little teenage life, receiving this interstellar transmission that lays you open, hits you where you’re weak. You close your eyes and the music envelopes you. This little room in this worn down house, your bad haircut, your petty kid confusions — they all fade away and you are there in the bigger, scarier world from which this stuff is broadcast, this shadow dimension that feels realer to you than the mundane one in which you live. John, you’re only dancing.

Jump two decades, 1992. Here you are in London in your billowing dress and sequins, with your white-painted face and black-painted eyes in the visage of some dark goddess, having successfully climbed through the speakers into that other world, the one made of music and sex and voodoo, the one where this impossibly beautiful shape-shifting genius lives. He’s right here, Ziggy himself, Alladin Sane, the Thin White Duke in a pale green suit – you can see him, you can touch him, and even better you can sing with him. Not just any tune, but UNDER PRESSURE – this four-handed battering ram of a song, this song that doesn’t make sense at all unless its performers wield it as a weapon and try to burn each other down with hungry love. It’s a song that you have to try to win, and if it works its magic and the center holds you fight to a draw, close it out having laid everything on the line, Rocky and Apollo Creed clinging to each other, barely standing, spent – ain’t gonna be no rematch.

So here’s you, dizzy, drunk on impossibility, unsure sure how you got here in front of this sea of humanity, fronting Queen with David Bowie – you’re supposed to be paying tribute to Freddie Mercury, but for the moment it feels like you are Freddie Mercury, and didn’t he and Bowie fuck? Who knows what the rest of the night holds. You know one thing: you will give yourself to this performance, this moment, this song. You’ll get its blood under your fingernails. You’ll hang yourself from it like a cross, let it tear you limb from limb. You’ll sing it harder, louder that Mercury ever did, you will sing it better than the imponderable creature singing with you, this flesh & cheekbone godling with the mirrored eyes and lacquered hair – he’ll sing it like he always does, just like it sounds on the record, the consummate showman, his three decade career beyond its finest days, but damn if he doesn’t look ageless, good as ever, better even – he’ll sing it well but you’ll sing it like you’re trying to stave off execution.

And after the breakdown, with barely a moment to catch your breath, as the melody starts to build again to the shattering keen of its climax, you’ll let yourself get carried away: standing together on the lip of the stage you’ll wrap yourself around him, feeling his cool body and hot breath, his pulse barely elevated because he’s David Bowie, and what would it take in 1992 to make his heart race? You’ll push your face against his, feeling the softness of his skin, his fresh shave — he is human, after all, not an ambisexual android, not the man who fell to earth, just some person of impeccable vision, a dreamer who built a better myth, newer, sleeker, that turned on multitudes, multitudes which include you. And you’ll pull yourself closer to his body, constricting on him as tightly and ferociously as you’ve splayed yourself out across this song.

It’s erotic to be sure – your lip-quivering longing as you touch him with your mouth, push your space-face close to his – but it’s bigger and wider than lust, it’s wishful identification and hero worship and ego and sorcery and transcendence, that whole larger than life rock & roll current burning through you. It’s an erection of the heart. You want to fuck him, of course, that goes without saying — but what you really want to do is combine with him in violent harmony, your claws in each others’ hearts as reality comes crashing down around you in some kind of metaphysical orgasm, little death made huge, two perfect post-gender geniuses locked in an Ouroboros of art and fame and sex and myth and music.

You push in, closer and closer, your eyes closed, as dreamy as they were listening to Ziggy on the floor of that boring teenage house. You let the song, this perfect song, carry you, your lips moving ever nearer to his but never touching, some tantric proof of Zeno’s paradox, your heart hammering, your voice swinging every note like a haymaker, your eyes tight as he keeps his gaze set dead on the crowd, the perfect performer, deflecting every gaze, shining back the light shone on him brighter and hotter. Happily withholding everything, so utterly comfortable with his role as a totem, an object of painful longing and unmanageable desire, from you, from the crowd, from the world. Enjoying your perfect love but betraying nothing, letting your pure incendiary thirst hang hopefully in the air. Until the note ends and with a sly smile he steps away, finally looking at you, snapping his fingers, and the greatest moment of your life is over.

Or maybe your heart can’t handle that kind of thunder. So forget Annie Lennox, try this one on: you are me in 2014. A fledgling comic publisher and retailer with a career that’s half imaginary, no book that’s done any big sales, no money, no business plan to speak of, just a lot of love and partners who constantly inspire you and an unshakeable desire to make comics even though you don’t really know how and can’t draw, a fixation that you don’t entirely understand but you know stems from the fact that comics did something to you when you were a kid, worked some kind of strange magic and you never shook it off so now you’re stuck in this fucked up industry with no idea what you’re doing, with nothing on your side but this pure want.

And you and your dudes wind up concocting this tribute to Winsor McCay, who is your favorite cartoonist of all time (tied with Bill Watterson), start pitching it to people and suddenly the thing takes on a life of its own and the lineup of contributors reads like a list of the people whose work you admire most, some of them the actual ones who enchanted you in those formative, bad haircut, transmission-from-another-planet years.

All these pages start pouring in and they’re so wild, so massively ambitious, just full of sublime desperate passion, all these brilliant people from the top to the bottom of the comic industry breaking their backs, working fingers to the bone, drilling deep into the wellsprings of their vision, creating these glorious strips that look back with gratitude and forward with hope, dancing across the huge, forgotten expanse of this broadsheet page, pushing comics to their very limit.

And as the whole beautiful thing begins swimming into focus it starts to feel like you’re spending your days in conversation with the dreamer himself, this titan who died eighty years ago, and it feels like he’s listening. Talking back to you. It feels like you reached through the page somehow, these magical pages that ravaged your mind, that infiltrated your dreams, that became a central part of your understanding of the world and yourself, of your fantasies and nightmares. It feels like you read so hard, and loved so much, that a doorway opened, and even if you could only poke your head in for a second you could feel the soft Slumberland sun on your face, taste peppermint on the wind. You’re doing it not by talent, not your own at least, but by lighting a beacon, finding remarkable people who love what you love and bringing them together. And it turns out, for fleeting moments, that yes Virginia, love is as potent as money, as strength, as power.

You press your face against it and it dances away. All you get is a taste – it can’t ever be yours. But goddamn, Annie, thanks for the reminder: if you ever get a chance to sing with David Bowie or build your own Slumberland, you better not fuck it up.

-Josh O’Neill

Tuesday Tease

With the announcement of three new contributors to LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM, the least we could do was share a panel from one of these guys’ pages for the book.

So here’s how DAVE CHISHOLM‘s loving (and in this case, wonderfully destructive) marriage of comics and music kicks off:

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And it’s all downhill — for Nemo, but certainly not for us — from there…

– Andrew Carl

By the way, we’re keeping this list of Nemo names updated with most of the contributors we have publicly announced – so check it out if you’re wondering who else has signed up! And our first revealed pages from the book can be found here.

LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM update

Proudly announcing three new contributors to LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM…

STEPHEN R. BISSETTE

Legendary creator Steve Bissette is rightfully adored for kicking off Alan Moore’s groundbreaking SWAMP THING run and creating S.R. BISSETTE’S TYRANT®, the same fascinatingly realized tyrannosaurus rex who’ll be starring in his own monstrous strip for DREAM ANOTHER DREAM.

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TROY NIXEY

A top-notch cartoonist who turned our heads back in the ONI DOUBLE FEATURE, Troy continued to wow us in books like JENNY FINN and BATMAN: THE DOOM THAT CAME TO GOTHAM with Mike Mignola. Lately he’s been spending a lot of time directing films like DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, but luckily he’s decided to make room for Nemo…

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DAVE CHISHOLM

We met this guy last fall at the Society of Illustrators, where he showed us his soon-to-be-published graphic novel, INSTRUMENTAL. Dave appears equally enamored with making music as he is with making comics…and if he’s half as good at playing that trumpet as he is at laying down a page of comics…well…life just wouldn’t be terribly fair for the rest of us.

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Curious to see what Dave’s bringing to the NEMO table? We’ve got a peek for you right here.

– Andrew Carl

We’re keeping this list of Nemo names updated with most of the contributors we have publicly announced – so check it out if you’re wondering who else has signed up! And our first revealed pages from the book can be found here.

Tuesday Tease

Special treat this week: another page for you from our biggest labor of love, LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM!

Toby Cypress has wowed us consistently, from the epically badass RODD RACER to his newest, killer series from Dark Horse, THE WHITE SUITS. Toby came by the store last week to celebrate the release of THE WHITE SUITS’ first issue (of which we still have some signed copies – get one!), and we had a grand old time. He also pitched in on our little anthology mag QUARTER MOON to provide one of our favorite covers to date. We can’t get enough of this guy.

So enjoy the glorious, beautiful insanity of Nemo’s dreams unbound in Toby’s vision of Slumberland:

LittleNemo_LocustMoon_TobyCypressToby will be selling prints  – and if you’re lucky, maybe even the original art! – of his NEMO contribution soon, so look out for those at the Out of Step Arts website.

Here’s a glimpse of that original art in progress, which Toby shared with us:

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And remember, you’ll see that beast among good company this fall in LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM. News on how and where you can reserve your copy of the book will be coming before you know it.

– Andrew Carl

By the way, we’re keeping this list of Nemo names updated with most of the contributors we have publicly announced – so check it out if you’re wondering who else has signed up! And our first revealed pages from the book can be found here.

Tuesday Tease

Today we’re announcing yet another addition to our biggest, craziest, for-the-history-books-est book, LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM.

COLE CLOSSER has weaved a beautiful, poetic, colorful, and intricately rendered revisit to McCay’s slumbering world. Here’s as much as we can show you now:

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We discovered & met Cole Closser at last fall’s SPX, where he was showing off his wonderful new book from Koyama Press, LITTLE TOMMY LOST: BOOK ONE.

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As you can probably tell, Cole’s dark, early-20th-century newspaper strip pastiche made him the perfect person to ask about participating in our tribute to McCay’s work — and Cole did not let us down, not one bit.

– Andrew Carl

By the way, we’re keeping this list of Nemo names updated with most of the contributors we have publicly announced – so check it out if you’re wondering who else has signed up! And our first revealed pages from the book can be found here.

LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM update

the beat goes on…spotlighting more of the fabulous folks riding the slumberland express.

AARON CONLEY

aaron blew us away with his hyper-kinetic, lavishly detailed work on the breakout book SABERTOOTH SWORDSMAN, and we can’t wait to see him chop through wonderland with the same crazy verve and intensity.

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DAVE DORMAN

you know, they should just let dave make these new star wars movies…

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…see what i mean?

there’s also this…

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dave’s doing a spread, and that’s as it should be.

FAREL DALRYMPLE

meathaus. pop gun war. omega the unknown. delusional.

THE WRENCHIES!

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need we say/show more? fall, 2014. meanwhile, farel maps out his own territory in slumberland with a spread of his own that shall mark the way to and fro the land of wonderful dreams.

–chris stevens

We’re keeping this list of Nemo names updated with most of the contributors we have publicly announced – so check it out if you’re wondering who else has signed up! And our first revealed pages from the book can be found here.

LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM update

What if Winsor McCay threw a party, and EVERYBODY came?

JILL THOMPSON

As the artist behind such glowingly gorgeous creations as SANDMAN: BRIEF LIVES, BEASTS OF BURDEN and SCARY GODMOTHER (as well as a delightful page in our own first book, ONCE UPON A TIME MACHINE), the remarkable Ms. Thompson has one of the wildest imaginations and most sumptuously appealing styles in all of comics. She will be painting her Little Nemo in watercolor, and we can’t wait to share it with you.

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ULISES FARINAS

In the past year, the frizzy-headed, turbo-powered explosion of comics and creative energy that goes by the name Ulises Farinas has created such bizarrely wonderful entertainments as the post-apocalyptic Pokemon western GAMMA, the Twilight Zone-ish anthology AMAZING FOREST, and the eye-poppingly, mind-numbingly awesome JUDGE DREDD: MEGA CITY 2. Next, he’ll be creating a Nemo strip of his own.

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ROB WOODS

The one and only Rob Woods, Locust Moon’s main muse and maestro, the madman behind DEPRESSED PUNX, 36 LESSONS IN SELF DESTRUCTION and the upcoming Locust Moon Press title SIX SEXY SEX STORIES OF THE SEXUALLY DEPRAVED, is dreaming up a nightmarish Nemo as only he can. Help support his GOFUNDME campaign to keep him in ink, cigarettes and Pop Tarts while he makes the magic happen.

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We’re keeping this list of Nemo names updated with most of the contributors we have publicly announced – so check it out if you’re wondering who else has signed up! And our first revealed pages from the book can be found here.

LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM update

The dream draws closer, and the Slumbering Army grows ever more fearsome. We are joined by…

MORITAT

A master of well-chosen detail and descendant of the likes of Masamune Shirow, the artist of ELEPHANTMEN and ALL-STAR WESTERN will bring his gloriously precise hyper-reality and iconic image-making to the spires and turrets of Slumberland.

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ANDREW MACLEAN

The artist of HEAD LOPPER, MEATSPACE and DEPARTMENT O will animate our dreams with his clean yet writhingly alive line-work. His Nemo is a frightening, grim fairy tale, a nightmare lost in an gray-blue forest.

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FRANK GIBSON AND BECKY DREISTADT

The web-comic auteurs behind the swooningly gorgeous, whimsically charming hand-painted strip TINY KITTEN TEETH have joined us, bringing incandescent colors and idiosyncratic charm worthy of McCay himself.

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We’re keeping this list of Nemo names updated with most of the contributors we have publicly announced – so check it out if you’re wondering who else has signed up! And our first revealed pages from the book can be found here.

SWAMP THING by Vaughan and Petersen

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Brian K. Vaughan has, in the last 15 years, become something of a comic-world King Midas. Already wreathed in laurels from his work on Y THE LAST MAN, EX MACHINA, PRIDE OF BAGHDAD and Marvel’s RUNAWAYS, he’s spent the last couple of years perfecting his golden touch on the gloriously intimate epic SAGA, which has basically won every award there is including the Nobel Peace Price and the Oscar for sound design, and the webcomic THE PRIVATE EYE, with its visionary hey-just-pay-me-whatever business model and sizzling, compulsively readable story. (When you can make a lot of money by simply giving things away, you are in a rare and enviable position.) These are shaping up to be his two finest works with his two greatest collaborators, Fiona Staples and Marcos Martin respectively. Vaughan has already reached the top of the comic-maker mountain, but his ascent continues.

And thus we have a newly-collected edition of Vertigo’s little-remembered 2000 SWAMP THING series, a book that largely flopped upon release. I’m not sure why — it’s a pretty terrific comic in its own right. It’s a little ironic, though, that it’s been branded in large text on the cover, spine, and back as SWAMP THING BY BRIAN K. VAUGHAN, when it’s in fact a document of a gifted young writer who’s just starting to find his way, collaborating with a stellar but mostly unknown cartoonist at the very top of his game.

Roger Petersen has lineage on his side. He’s the grandson of the legendary EC cartoonist George Evans, and the echo of Evans’ clean, expressive precision can be found in Petersen’s effortless line-work. Anyone drawing a Swamp Thing title is going to be working in the long shadow of Wrightson, Totleben and Bissette — Petersen deals with this by running in the opposite direction, away from the obsessive, overgrown undergrowth of detail that characterized the stories of Alec Holland, towards a sleeker, more gestural style given full voice by the sharply minimal inks of Joe Rubenstein and the subtly bold colors of Alex Sinclair.

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Which is a fitting choice, because the stories in this collection are about a younger, angrier, more human Swamp Thing. Tefe Holland is Alec’s daughter, a young woman adrift & searching, commanding & self-confident yet unsure of her own nature or agenda. She has no real allegiance to man or plant, though she inevitably ends up serving (and killing) both. She’s faked her own death, through plot contrivances too convoluted to mention here. (Vaughan spends the first two issues trying and not-quite succeeding to write his way out from under 30 years of continuity, and it’s here more than anywhere else that you see the talented writer struggling to master a generic language — it may be no accident that Vaughan’s major triumphs are all books starring how own original characters.) These stories are somewhat old-fashioned — stand-alone adventures, heavily compressed, each with a traditional structure, a moral dilemma for Tefe, and a satisfying resolution. The serial aspects build slowly, without straining for effect, to answer the central question posed by the series: who is Tefe Holland? Is she an impulsively angry young woman who makes mistakes and selfishly hurts people? Or is she a violent force of nature, barely held in check by a scrim of humanity? She is animated by rage and by conscience, but which one is at her core?

There are real guts in his depiction of Tefe. Where a lesser writer may have pitched a character’s conflict along the same lines — vengeance vs. conscience — very few would have the courage to make her an amoral murderer as well as a hero. That courage, in fact, may speak to the poor reception of the series — we’re being asked to identify with this character who is clearly something other than human, who has few qualms about executing people for the crime of chopping down trees. But she also has a deep, instinctive compassion and empathy that is just as compulsive as her fury. She is a metaphor for nature: that which nourishes is also that which kills. It makes for a bafflingly complex protagonist, if not for a likable one. That courage, that resistance to reader-identification (along with the deeply confusing slog of an info-dump in act one), may be partly to blame for the book’s poor initial reception, but I found it fascinating. Like he did with EX MACHINA’s Mayor Hundred, he uses a serial structure to gradually try to tease some truth out of a character who’s always in motion, who seems to deflect our gaze.

Whereas this series is a forgotten footnote in the apotheosis of Vaughan, it was Roger Petersen’s biggest appearance on comics’ main stage. As good as Vaughan’s storytelling already is here, there is awkwardness and over-explanation and some dialogue that is too-clever by half. These missteps are easily papered over by Petersen’s highly developed cartooning voice, which is strong and funny and rhythmic, simple yet rich, with the fully realized environments that are necessary in a continent-crossing road-trip story like this. Most importantly, it reads with a rare and effortless music that provides a perfect platform for Vaughan’s text-heavy, morally knotty story.

Petersen is a colleague, a collaborator and a hometown boy. He mixes up a hell of a Manhattan at Fishtown’s Atlantis pub and does illustration work for a wide variety of clients. His art, which needed no improvement, has gotten much better in the last decade and a half. We are extraordinarily proud to feature his beautifully yearning strip in our upcoming book LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM.

I hope this SWAMP THING edition does gangbuster sales — there are still eleven uncollected issues, and I’d really like to read them.

* Wondering why I go on and on about Rog Petersen’s cartooning and there’s none of it to be seen? It’s because my scanner is broken, and there doesn’t appear to be any artwork from this book online, except the two panels shown above, and this random panel of a guy without a shirt (which I’m not even 100% sure is Roger).

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Instead, I’ll show you what I’ve got: the gorgeous first panel from his LITTLE NEMO strip.

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Flip and the Imp on the moon. As good as his grandad.

– Josh O’Neill

LITTLE NEMO: DREAM ANOTHER DREAM update

We’re starting to wonder whether it’s even physically possible to fit all of this awesome in one book. New members of this Dream Team include…

SAM KIETH

The author of THE MAXX, ZERO GIRL, MY INNER BIMBO and a slew of other brilliantly off-beat creations, Sam is one of our very favorite cartoonists. Like McCay, he marries truly remarkable cartooning techniques and a sophisticated sensibility to a sense of childlike creativity and wonder. We can’t imagine a more fitting artist for a LITTLE NEMO tribute.

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ZANDER CANNON

Known for his work with Alan Moore on TOP 10 and his terrifically original Image book THE REPLACEMENT GOD, Zander Cannon recently published the rich and compulsively readable graphic novel HECK, which was among our forty favorite books of 2013. We couldn’t be more pleased to welcome him to Slumberland.

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MATT HUYNH

In addition to producing gorgeous calligraphic illustrations for THE NEW YORK TIMES, ROLLING STONE and ESQUIRE, Matt Huynh has published a number of beautiful comics including MA and HARRI. His Nemo strip is an ink-washed nightmare, and we’re proud to present it to you.

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We’re keeping this list of Nemo names updated with most of the contributors we have publicly announced – so check it out if you’re wondering who else has signed up! And our first revealed pages from the book can be found here.