Thursday, August 27, 2009

46 Million


WHAT: An online art auction and fundraiser to promote universal health care, specifically a public option to compete with the insurance industry and keep them honest. Money raised will be donated to Democracy for America Now, a national advocacy group that is running television ads to push the Public Option in democratic swing districts and offering support to congress members who take a stand for the policy.

WHO: The fundraiser is being organized by Anders Nilsen, a Chicago based artist and graphic novelist featuring nationally and internationally recognized cartoonists and artists around the country. Participating artists include: John Porcellino, Genevieve Elverum, Chris Ware, Ivan Brunetti, Dan Clowes, Phil Elverum (Mount Eerie), Jeffrey Brown, Paul Hornschemeier, Todd Baxter, Sonnenzimmer Print Studio, Adam Henry, Kevin Huizenga, Jay Ryan (The Bird Machine Print Studio), Lynda Barry, Lilli Carre, David Heatley, Kyle Obriot, Stephen Eichhorn, Buenaventura Press, Sammy Harkham and the organizer, Anders Nilsen.

WHY: In light of recent events, this is a desperate attempt to do something rather than just sit idly by while a few giant corporations with something to lose goad a gullible few into scaring their elected representatives away from real change. We’re doing this because the richest country the planet has ever known has no excuse to not take care of its citizens. We rank 37th in the world in overall health care performance, according to the World Health Organization. Right now a million Americans declare bankruptcy every year because of lack of adequate insurance. Hundreds of billions of dollars are wasted on redundant and impenetrable insurance company bureaucracies. We spend vastly more money on health care and wind up with far worse outcomes than other comparable countries. For many of the artists involved in this auction, a real health care bill is exactly the kind of reason we voted for Obama and Congressional Democratic majorities last Fall. To sit by and do nothing while Obama’s first significant initiative twists in the wind is simply not an option.
WHY #2: Like millions of other working Americans, a lot of artists and freelancers in this country are denied affordable health insurance simply because they are self employed. Making access to health care dependant on a person’s employment status is arbitrary and unsustainable.

WHERE: The auction of the artists’ works will be held on Ebay. To find them and to bid go to and search for 46 Million.

WHEN: The auction will start Thursday August 27th and end Sunday September 6th, in 10-minute increments starting at 2pm CST.

Jeffrey Brown: I'm not sure why I have health insurance now. Because I'm self employed with a pre-existing condition (even though that condition was diagnosed fifteen years ago and has been in remission since), the only health insurance I can get is the Illinois Comprehensive Health Insurance plan with a $5,200 deductible. Basically, I have it in case I'm in some horrific accident or something. I'm guessing there's some fine print buried in my documentation that would release them from reliability to pay out on anything anyway. I've been burned before by that - finding out that vaccines are not considered 'essential care' and being told that using a midwife for birth was covered, only to be denied because there wasn't a doctor in the room at the time of birth. Anyway, the past couple years I've spent something like $8,000 in health insurance, and in return, the health insurance companies have paid for me... um... nothing.

Ivan Brunetti: As someone with a lot of pre-existing conditions, I wouldn't be able to purchase my own insurance plan, at least nothing of decent quality or anywhere close to affordable. I rely, necessarily, on my employer for my health insurance. I have a lot of preexisting conditions and have been rejected when I tried to purchase my own insurance plan in the past.
Lynda Barry: The motivation behind the health care hoo-ha is difficult to understand. I can’t get my mind around it at all, can’t understand what’s driving it. I’ve spent the last six years living in a very conservative area, and many of my good friends are hard core Republicans, but not a single one of them is having the reaction I’ve seen in the press. That screaming shouting hatred. Maybe they hide it from me because I’m such a lefty liberal, but we’ve always been able to speak frankly about everything else. So I don’t get it. I don’t know who the furious and screaming people are at all.

Anders Nilsen: My girlfriend in March of 2005 was diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma and died that November. She had endured symptoms for several months before it became too much to bear and we went to the county hospital. Had she had insurance I have no doubt that her condition would have been caught earlier. That was several years ago and I have moved on and am now very happily married. My wife has insurance, supposedly very good insurance, through her present job, but the bureaucratic nonsense the insurance company puts her through every time she sees a doctor, and the amount of stuff that should be covered but isn’t, is astounding.

Genevieve Elverum: I know too many people who went through the warp of needing serious medical attention and dangerously delayed it or got themselves in deep financial turmoil because they couldn't afford insurance. I myself gave up my right to receive free healthcare when I moved across the border from Canada. It's kind of terrifying sometimes.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009


Here's some of my paintings from art school, along with how I drew them in Funny Misshapen Body. I was drawing from memory, so they're varying degrees of accurate.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Robert Venditti

My friend Rob Venditti has toiled in the Top Shelf trenches for years, and this September his scifi detective parable The Surrogates will come out as a film starring Bruce Willis. I contributed a comic to start off Rob's convention sketchbook, which you can see over at Rob's blog .

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Guitar Part Two

So yesterday I started pencilling out and planning the design on the guitar - basically it'll be of me listening to music, and then wrapping around the guitar in the background will be references to albums and bands I like, or have liked at some point, or are significant for some reason. I've got a list of just over a hundred, so we'll see how many I can fit on there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Music Saves My Life Every Day

Last year at the Small Press Expo, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund auctioned off a custom guitar decorated by Andy Runton. This year, I've been invited to do the same. After some internal debating and asking around, I decided to try and do something autobiographical... I'd had the idea of writing a story called 'Music Saves My Life EVeryday' a while ago, and I think I'm going to adapt that for my design. So here's step one, pulling the guitar body out of the box and taking a look...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


I didn't recognize John Hughes the first time he walked into the music department of the Barnes & Noble store I worked at, but a co-worker did. "That's John Hughes," he whispered. I wasn't so sure, but none of the three employees around that day had the nerve to say anything in any case. When he came up to pay, I figured there was nothing to lose.
"Are you John Hughes?"
"...the director?"
He just nodded his head in acknowledgment, and I may have said something about liking his movies. Then I had the thought of giving him my book Clumsy, which I had just self-published, and had some copies of behind the counter.
"Um, do you like comics?" I asked.
He was giving me a look of something between fear and curiosity. At least, the kind of curiosity you see in horror films where the character knows better than to check out the weird life form growing on the wall, but stands there a minute too long anyway. I think John Hughes actually started backing up a little, but I hadn't finished bagging his DVD's.
"Here, you can have this if you want, it's my book." I pulled out a copy and handed it to him.
He flipped through it and a look of relief seemed to come over him.
"I thought you were going to hand me, like Batman or something."
He ended up talking to me right there for almost an hour, about books and movies. He mentioned his son's self published art magazine project, and asked if I liked what Dave Eggers was doing with McSweeney's.
I think he tried to pay me for my book, but I don't remember if I took the money or not.

Even though I didn't know at first that this unassuming figure was John Hughes, I was very familiar with his films. When a friend of mine had hosted a 1980's themed party, I put on my Red Wings jersey, and everyone instantly recognized me as Cameron from Ferris Bueller's Day Off . I knew The Breakfast Club, and I knew Home Alone. I went home that night to look up what other films he had worked on, and was astounded at the number of them that had played such a large part in my pre-teen and teenage years. National Lampoon's Vacation (& Christmas Vacation), Sixteen Candles, Weird Science, Uncle Buck, The Great Outdoors. Looking at the list of his films all at once, it's a pretty staggering resume.

John turned out to be a regular in the store, buying stacks of DVD's, books and music. He would ask us for recommendations, and give some. He recommended the British TV show The Office, long before it was an American sitcom, saying he liked how it captured moments. The best times for me were when he would talk about his own work. He said "I like people who are ambitious..." and explained how at one point before becoming a full time director, he was working essentially three jobs. His day job was at the Leo Burnett ad agency in Chicago, but he would duck out to get on a plane for meetings as the editor of the National Lampoon. While he was gone he would have his secretary put hot coffee and half smoked cigarettes on his desk to make it look like he had just stepped out a moment ago. He had also started writing screenplays, which he would sometimes hide at the bottom of his garbage can underneath the rest of the trash, only to pull it out and brush it off at the end of the day to continue working on it. He also mentioned how he took over editing the National Lampoon letters page, and realizing that the magazine paid for letters it published, began writing the letters under pseudonyms for some extra money.

At one point someone approached me about adapting my book for film, and it went as far as a big official Hollywood type contract coming to me to sign. John talked to me about it and shared his own experiences. He talked about negotiating the money aspect, selling his first screenplay for something like $30,000 to get his foot in the door, and then later with Home Alone how he paid other producers on the film $50,000 for each of their "participation points" - the percentage of money they would get from what the film made - and each point ended up being worth millions.
The things he seemed to regret a little were some of the rights. He based the character of Clark Griswold in Vactation on his father, but because the film was written as work-for-hire, he essentially lost the rights to the character of his own father. He also talked about the movie studio wanting to make a sequel to The Breakfast Club, which he opposed. I think there were also negotiations for a stage adaptation of that film, the year long process falling apart when it became apparent that the producers intended to make it a musical. Those characters were ones John mentioned a few times, I think he felt protective of them. He said he wanted to write novels someday, maybe, about where they all were in life at age 40. He talked about being disenchanted with Hollywood in general, and wanting to move in other directions creatively. He also talked about being disappointed that Chicago wasn't as active a place for filmmaking as it once was.
Aside from the advice, John put me in touch with his lawyer. After sending the contract to the law firm, the package was returned unopened, and so John again contacted the lawyer and put me in touch with another person he worked with to make sure I heard back this time.
In the end nothing came of the film adaptation, although I learned a lot from the experience. The fact that John would do a favor like that for me was nonetheless astounding.

As time went on I began to transition to becoming a full time cartoonist, which meant cutting my hours at Barnes & Noble, which meant I saw John less and less. The last time I talked to him he was near the magazines. I remember talking about three things. First, he talked about film. How what he was interested in was low budget, documentary style film. Films that didn't use a lot of special effects, and asked me if I'd seen the film Open Water. He said he'd been working with a friend, taking a camera and just shooting on the spot, giving people fifty bucks to act in it. Second, he talked about a book project, and asked me if I knew anyone for illustration. I mentioned a few friends, and offered to help myself, but never heard any more about it. Finally, I had the thought of interviewing John, and although I knew he didn't really give interviews anymore, I thought I'd ask anyway. Knowing he liked a lot of what McSweeney's was doing, I asked him if he'd be interested in an interview for their sister magazine The Believer. He didn't seem to have heard about it, but he gave me a thoughtful look as if he would at least consider it. I never got to interview him, but his response was still polite. I feel like he was always very patient with me, always willing to give me some of his time, and I'm happy to have had those talks with him.

I saw John Hughes one more time after that. He was paying with a hundred dollar bill, and the cashier didn't have the change. Of course, he was buying eighty five dollars worth of books, so the cashier should've had changed, especially since it was a slow day. The cashier called the manager, who took a while to come down from the office, and rather than just switch out for change from another cash register, he slowly headed back upstairs to the office. All the while, John was becoming more impatient. I watched from where I was shelving some books as the manager finally returned with the change, but at this point - some fifteen minutes or more later - John no longer wanted change, he wanted his money back. The manager offered the money he brought, but John wanted the hundred dollar bill he had paid with. John took his discount card and attempted to tear it in half, but it was hard plastic, so he mostly just bent it up, and then tossed it over the counter, and stormed out without buying anything. It all seemed a little surreal. He never came in again.

The manager and cashier didn't really care. To them it was just another case of an unreasonably irate customer, and who he was seemed only to reinforce that - a kind of 'just because he's John Hughes he thinks he's so special' attitude. I guess my experiences with him over the past five years had been different. I thought he was special.

I don't know what John Hughes was up to the past eight years since I first met him. I know he had a wide range of interests in reading and film and music. I know he loved his grandchildren, who he was often buying DVD's for. I also know he was still really sharp, and still had a lot to offer, even though his incredible run of successful films seemed to have ended some fifteen years ago. Last Friday he passed away, and I think the world won't ever fully realize what it's missing.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Illuminated Manuscripts

The Newberry Library in Chicago has a great collection of old and rare books - such as The Apocalypsis Sancti Johannis, a 15th century illuminated manuscript retelling St. John's vision of the apocalypse from the book of Revelations. In exchange for getting to take a look at this amazing book, I gave my thoughts on seeing it in the context of being an early form of graphic novel. You can listen to those thoughts on The Newberry Library Podcast.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Comics Have Finally Made It

Since the whole Frederic Wertham/Comics Code debacle, it seems like comics have been struggling to make it big and be accepted as a legitimate and important part of popular culture. This morning I received a spam email with the subject line "graphic novels from the masters". I think it's a definite sign that comics have indeed made it.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


A lot of the characters in Bighead are based on friends. Here's a short comic with Bigshot, based on my pen pal of sorts Kav. Bigshot's hands explode at criminals. The Grenade Jumper was something that came up at San Diego Comicon a few years ago - he's a hero based on the idea of going out with someone so your friend can go out with their friend, even though it's a bad idea. So his power is to just... jump on grenades.