From March 9 through April 8, 2010, I toured the Southeast US, doing booksignings, slideshows, school talks, and visiting comics shops and bookstores. It was great trip, maybe the best roadtrip I've ever taken! For what it's worth, here are some photos and recollections of my time on the road.
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PART FIVE: NASHVILLE TO GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA
So I met up with Dan at the Super 8 near the Nashville airport. Monday morning we dropped off Crystal at the airport, and headed back out. As I mentioned Dan has this crazy idea that he's making a King-Cat documentary, so he had all his camera equipment and would be filming the bulk of the next two weeks while we were on the road.
We cut down through the mountains into Chattanooga, and that's where I discovered the wonders of Dan's miraculous iPhone: in a matter of seconds he was able to locate all the comics shops in Chattanooga, with directions and phone numbers. I was pretty excited, but... after much driving around the deserted malls of Southeastern Tennessee, we came up sadly empty (in terms of Monster Comics).
Then down the road a piece to Atlanta, where I'd never been before. First we hit up the great Oxford Comics, where I got to meet the manager Hart in person at last. Dan picked up some of the Gladstone EC reprints, as well as two copies of The Complete Crumb Vol. 2 (one for him, one for Noah). Sold some stuff to Hart, and then over to Little Five Points to check out Criminal Records.
I've been kind of obsessed with Criminal ever since I saw that Kochalka did a signing there years ago, so I was happy to finally visit. Unfortunately the Comics Guy was not in until the next day, so I left, dejected, to get some Middle Eastern food down the street.
I have food allergies, so it's sometimes hard for me to order straight off a restaurant's menu. I asked the guy if I could just get some hummus and falafel, and he looked at me a little strange and then said, "Sure I can do that." Moments later he pushed the modest tray towards me, a slather of hummus and one cold (semi-large) falafel ball. "That'll be 8 dollars." Eight Dollars! I still can't believe it. But I was hungry and it was good, and it gave me something to complain about for the next couple of days.
Dan convinced me to get a motel room for the night. That way we could rest up and hit Criminal in the morning before heading out. I reluctantly agreed. I'm used to sleeping in the car, and hate the idea of spending $60 to sleep somewhere for a few hours. But Dan agreed to cover it so I said what the heck.
View from the Downtown Atlanta Super 8.
We woke the next morning and took a stroll around the neighborhood. I was delighted to see there was a large collection of outsider art on all four corners of the nearby intersection. We looked but didn't see any names or information, which just made the whole thing a little more mysterious, I suppose...
Beautiful Downtown Atlanta.
On the way out of town we stopped in Marietta, GA to find Dr No's Comics. We heard from everyone that that was the place in town to go for back issues. And it was pretty great! Picked up a Monsters on the Prowl, and a copy of the Kitchen Sink Alley Oop book SIGNED by V.T. Hamlin! I was beside myself!
And then we thought: "Marietta...? Marietta... ???" OH YEAH! That's where Chris Staros of Top Shelf Comix fame lives, so... we tracked him down and cold-called him. He was more than gracious. Walking up the stairs to his office he mumbled sheepishly: "I have to warn you before you go in-- I'm kind of an Elvis nut..." I laughed to myself. HOLY SMOKES. The whole place was wall-to-wall Elvis! I was loving it. We sat and talked about the King for a bit, and then Chris pulled out some of his prized Elvis Collectibles. I have to admit I was blown away.
A scarf that Elvis actually wore!
Um, we ended up staying awake till 2 AM chatting about comics, Elvis, publishing, Alan Moore, trains, dogs, and booze. Nice.
The whole original purpose for the trip was to get down to Florida, where I'd be giving a keynote address at the University of Florida's annual Comics Conference. I'd also be doing a workshop at the Gainesville Public Library, and some classroom presentations. As we drove south through Georgia, things started to get a little swampy, and then... The Sunshine State™!
We pulled in at the Sweetwater Branch Inn, a bed and breakfast where our Florida hosts had procured us our lodging. And-- it was gorgeous!
View from our room...
We hustled over to the library and did the Drawing Workshop. What I usually do in these instances is talk a bit about zines, and my experiences in self-publishing, and then everybody gets a letter-sized piece of paper, and a pencil, and proceeds to make their own four-page minicomic about their day. The place was full of workshoppers, and we all had a great time drawing.
Gainesville Public Library workshop.
Beautiful Caroline Paquita painting on the bathroom door at Wayward Council, the local punk shop. Caroline! I owe you a LONG overdue letter...
More Wayward art.
This squirrel would NOT stand still for a picture!
I'm from Chicago. I will never get used to Palm Trees.
Friday night, after the presentations, Dan and I went hunting for gators. I couldn't leave Florida without seeing one, and everyone we talked to acted like "Oh yeah, I see 'em all the time, just look in a ditch!" We were repeatedly told to go to "Lake Alice," where we'd be guaranteed to see an alligator... So we drove out to the lake. Seriously, what I was expecting was a deep, safe, muddy pit filled with dozens of writhing alligators. Turns out Lake Alice is a huge-ass lake! We drove around it for awhile until we came across some woods at the eastern shore, and somehow I convinced Dan to follow me into them.
We stumbled through the growing darkness, over old rotted tree limbs, beneath overhanging vines, and across shallow, muddy waterways. And Dan filmed the whole thing! Ha! At some point, once we were pretty deep into the jungle, it occurred to us that maybe a dark, out of the way, overgrown swamp "full of alligators" was not the best place for two Yankees in gym shoes to be trekking alone at night. So we hurried outta there. We'd have to leave the alligator hunting to another day...
The Sweetwater Branch Inn was without a doubt THE NICEST PLACE I'VE EVER LIVED.
On Saturday, after all the Florida events, we drove down to Ocala to visit Misun's parents, the wonderful Mom and Dad Oh. I love those guys. We had a traditional Korean lunch, cooked at the table by Mr. Oh, followed by a quick game of Yut (above)...
...and Hwa Tu, a card game.
Afterwards we went down the street to the beautiful Rainbow River park.
I love these guys.
Dan's iPhone found us a Local Comic Shop in Dunnellon, where I dug up a Devil Dinosaur and a Kamandi for a few bucks. The place was packed with kids playing RPGs.
So, we decided to head back to our Gainesville host Travis' place to spend the night, the idea being that in the morning we'd head out to the local Nature Preserve, where just that day we'd gotten firsthand reports of numerous alligators. I went to sleep with gators on my mind, and awoke fresh and ready for the day.
Strangely, the Nature Preserve looked a lot like Illinois.
Um, except for the...
Yes, there were alligators aplenty, and I was geeking out. Mostly they were in the water, or out on the far shore of a slough that edged along the footpath. Until, at one point, Dan was like, "Hey John..."
This big guy was on our side of the shore, along the water's edge, about 30 feet away. (Dan and I argued for a couple days afterward about the exact measurement-- he thought it was only 15 feet away, but then again he's not a football fan.)
We said our goodbyes to Travis and Meredith, and got back into the King-Cat-Mobile. The plan was to drive out northwest to Tallahassee, so I could meet (for the first time in person) one of my oldest penpals, and one of my biggest artistic inspirations, the zine legend Jeff Zenick. After that we'd cut back to Savannah, GA, where I'd be speaking at SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design) the next day. But that's all for next time!
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NEXT: GAINESVILLE TO SAVANNAH