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Tuesday, October 25, 2011

OCTOBER 2011 TOUR DIARY, Part Two

I awoke Monday morning at dawn, in the cold Wal-Mart parking lot.  I immediately headed back to the state park--  it was going to be a busy day.  I had to be in St. Louis for a signing that evening, but I wanted to visit the park again, AND see Chester on my way up, too.  Maybe even Cahokia, if I could fit it in...

"Saw the moon rise over the parking lot,
but it was only a Burger King® sign."

Mr. Narrator

At the entrance to the Giant City Nature Trail.


Stone steps put in place by Civilian Conservation Corps workers in the 30's.



Giant City State Park gets its name from the unusual rock formations along this trail. Gigantic sandstone blocks here have mysteriously drifted apart into gridlike patterns, forming narrow, perfect little "streets."


Balanced Rock on the path.

Underneath the balanced rock.


Looking up from within one of the crevices.






"The Giant City"

As I came across this crevice, I heard a distinct snoring coming from within.  I stood there transfixed, in front of the hole, listening for like 5 minutes to some animal sawing wood.  From the sound it was a pretty sizable mammal (the crack was about a foot wide at the base).  I asked the rangers afterwards what they thought it was and they unanimously agreed it was most likely a bobcat, as those animals are frequently spotted along the base of these cliffs.  Pretty cool.



Heading out of the park towards Highway 51, you drive through the tiny town of Makanda, Illinois.  This town is famous for two things:  Paul Simon, Illinois' beloved bow-tied liberal Senator, was from Makanda.  AND when I was a young whippersnapper, just discovering what comics could be, my friends and I would drive out a few times a year into Chicago, to the little comic convention held at the Congress Hotel on Michigan Avenue.  It was your typical mid-80's comic-con, mostly dealer tables selling back issues, but there was always this one guy there with a selection of the most obscure, radical, bewildering comics available...  Lynda Barry, Gary Panter, the original RAWs, minicomix, bizarro art publications, etc.  I'd always make a beeline right to his stuff.  That guy was from Makanda, too.

Downtown Makanda

Uptown Makanda




I often think of that dude, selling his weirdo comix at the superhero con, and it inspires me in my work with Spit and a Half.  If I could be "that guy" to some young cartoonist, that's something to aspire to.

Anyhow, I drove west out of Carbondale, headed for the River Road, and Chester, Illinois-- the birthplace of Elzie Segar, Popeye's dad.


NEXT TIME: Chester, IL and St. Louis

For more on Giant City State Park, please click here.



Friday, October 21, 2011

OCTOBER 2011 TOUR DIARY, Part One

Yeah, so the last day of September I headed out on a 10 day (or so) tour, down to Nashville, then up to Iowa City via St. Louis, across to Pittsburgh, and back home.  The tour stops consisted of shows, a signing, and a comics conference, so it was a pretty varied trip.  I was also excited about it because I was hoping to cross a bunch of items off my lifetime to-do list:  Visit Carbondale, IL and Giant City State Park; Chester, IL-- birthpace of E.C. Segar, the creator of Popeye; and Kaskaskia, IL-- the only portion of the state that lies west of the Mississippi River.

I left home in the afternoon and powered by Diet Wild Cherry Pepsi®, made it most of the way to Nashville, sleeping in a truck stop parking lot somewhere outside of town.  I awoke at dawn and made my way into the city.  When I rounded the bend on 24 and the skyscrapers came into view, I actually said to myself "Nashville Skyline."  But I bet it looked a lot different when Dylan saw it.


First stop was the Handmade and Bound Festival at Watkins College of Art, Design, and Film.  I wasn't sure what to expect, but part of the fun is bringing comics to people who may not be expecting them.  The Festival was a melange of zinesters, handmade book artists, poets, craftspeople, and me.  It was great.  Everyone was super nice, and people were very happy to see all the comics I'd brought along.  The day went by quickly, and I headed out into the Nashville twilight feeling good.




Spit and a Half table, Nashville.


I thought I'd head downtown to see if the Ernest Tubb Record Shop was open, and just to check out the city. The only other time I'd been in Nashville was on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and this was a beautiful Saturday night, so I had high hopes.

Whoa, though, Broadway was crawling with tourists. There was no way I'd find a cheap place to park, so I headed back out on the interstate to find the BBQ place that was voted best in town. (I saw the billboard on the way in.)  After some doing I managed to find it -- Jack's BBQ-- and treated myself to a hot, spicy meal.  Afterwards I decided to hit the road.  I slept in a Wal-Mart parking lot in Clarksville, and headed back out at dawn the next day.

I'd been wanting to visit Carbondale ever since High School, when my friends Fred and Mark and I tried to make it down there for spring break (with hilarious results-- look for a comic about that story soon). Well, by late morning, there I was, in the home of the Salukis. I drove around the town a bit, listening to sports radio for NFL updates (Bears Win!), found a nice health food store and stocked up, and then wound my way back out to Giant City Road.



Shortly after entering the State Park, I found this idyllic pond and prairie, with a well-mowed path through it, and thought it would be a nice place to start.

I walked the path, looking at weird plants and listening to weird birds, when, from up in the trees, I heard someone mutter "Really?!?!"  I kept walking.  "Hey!"  It was some camo dude in a tree-stand with a bow and arrow.  "You know it's the middle of deer season, right?"  I said, "Nope" (which was true) and kept walking.  Fifty feet down the road he came running up to me, all flustered.  "You've ruined everything!  You can't just go walking through here!  This is hunting grounds!  Didn't you see the sign at the parking lot!?!"  I told him that the only sign at the parking lot said the area was for day-use only, with no overnight camping.  There was nothing about hunting grounds.  He got more and more agitated.  "I have to do all kinds of stuff to cover my scent!  I use special shampoo!"  I told him to spare me, I knew all about it.  He told me I was breaking law, that in the State of Illinois it was illegal, that I was "interrupting the hunt."  I shrugged and decided to get out of there.


"Hunting Grounds"™

A few miles down the road I came across another lot in the woods, this one clearly marked as a trailhead. A short hike down the path I got what I came for...  Ever since I was a kid, I've been looking at pictures of the crazy cliffs and rock formations of Southern Illinois.  And here I was, on the edge of a sheer, 50-foot cliff, looking down onto wild boulders and enormous trees reaching for the sky.  At last!


Balanced Rocks overlooking the cliff.


The pictures don't do justice to the dizzying heights shown.


I met some other hikers who congratulated me on the Bears win, and mentioned they had started their walk at the bottom of the cliff, but couldn't find their way down.  Some rock climbers showed us a gnarly half-path down the slope, and we all followed it onto a paved park road.  The hikers headed to their car, and I took another path into the woods to follow the cliff's base.

Underneath a massive overhang at the foot of the cliff, blackened by centuries of soot.

"A path is made by walking on it."

Anyhow, I wandered through the woods, coming to dead end after dead end, looking for the path up to the top of the cliff that the other hikers had told me about.  No luck.  And it was getting dark.  I found myself back at the paved road, and reckoned that if I followed it around, it would eventually link up to my parking lot.  But I walked through the growing darkness for what seemed like forever, with only raccoons as companions.  Not only was it getting dark, but cold.  After finding the official "Giant City Nature Trail," which I made a note of to come visit the next morning, I relented, and decided to try to backtrack up the half-path I took down the cliff.  My main worry was finding the right trail in the dark.

Uh oh!

I did manage to find the path, and confirmed it was the correct one with remembered landmarks.  Scrambling up the slope, I found the trail at the top of the rise, and headed back towards the car.


A view over one of the cliff-edges in the dark.  Yikes.

Lo and behold, I came to the parking lot at last, and headed back towards Carbondale, where I had Chinese food for dinner, and, peering through darkened windows in empty strip malls, I scouted out the two comics shops in town.  At Wal-Mart I brushed my teeth and made myself cozy in the corner of the lot.

ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.


NEXT: Giant City Part Two


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

OCCUPY YOUR LIFE

I'm writing this to stand in support of the various "Occupy" groups now acting around the world in defiance of the socio-economic status quo.

People have been complaining that this movement features no specific list of demands.  I want to point out that it's difficult and probably unnecessary to have specific demands when the system you are standing in opposition to is in every facet corrupt.  I, for example, am not opposed to just one particular aspect of this system, say the military-industrial complex, the shipping of American jobs overseas, the coddling of corporate criminals, the erosion and downright robbery of voting rights, the buying out of both parties by multi-national business interests, the systematic dismantling of our educational systems, or the war against collective bargaining.  To name just a few.  It's becoming apparent to all of us that these individual crimes against society are not coincidences, but that they are part of a worldwide effort by the wealthiest among us to maintain power at all costs.

The local grocery store near me was suddenly sold last month, to another chain.  The employees had one day notice of their fate.  Some of the workers were able to keep their jobs, with lower wages.  But I spoke to one young woman cashier there who told me she was losing her job.  She was 18 years old, and had been working at the store since she was 16.  In fact it was the only job she'd ever held.  She told me how much she enjoyed her job, and how much she loved her co-workers.  They were like family to her, she said, with tears forming in her eyes.  But the new owners had a policy that all cashiers must be 21 years of age.  So this woman, who had devoted her short, but entire, working life to the company, was to be out of work suddenly within a few hours.

This is just a tiny example of one person fucked over by corporate America.  But what is clear with the Occupy movement is that corporate culture has finally fucked over one person too many.  The Golden Goose has been killed.  And it's been reborn, with eyes open.