Cleveland & Comics
Which of these legends did cub reporter BKV once interview?
Brian here, back from a brief fact-finding mission out of the country, and I just learned about the tragically premature death of yet another of our medium’s grandmasters, artist Tim Sale. My deepest condolences to his family, friends and many fans.
I’ll have more to share on Monday after I’ve had some time to process this monumental loss, but for now, I promised everyone a “joyous bast from the blast” before we exit another difficult week, so I’ll try my best to deliver…
I have this artwork hanging in my hallway and look at it every day, a page from the 1962 sketchbook of iconic “underground” cartoonist Robert Crumb, who moved that year to Cleveland, where he ultimately landed a job designing cards for American Greetings. My family assures me that Crumb was being sarcastic about his feelings for my beloved hometown, but I stubbornly choose to believe he meant it.
I was born and raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, and frequently return to visit my parents and kid sister who all still live there. It was an awesome place to grow up, a super-literate town with great art, great food, and horrible sports teams. Cleveland’s never really gotten a fair shake in most mass media, including the first time the so-called Amazing Spider-Man visited our fair city:
“Armpit of the nation”?!
Eat shit, Web-Head! Like Queens is so great…?
(Queens is pretty great.)
I’m obviously in the tank for Cleveland, in no small part because it’s where I landed my first professional writing work. Back in high school, I lucked into a paid internship at the late, great Northern Ohio Live Magazine, writing brief summaries of films and stuff for their events calendar.
I eventually worked my way up to being a contributing writer, driving around Cleveland to interview and occasionally even photograph various local artists and filmmakers about their work. I felt like a low-rent Peter Parker, and it was the goddamn greatest.
I missed the gig a ton when I left for NYU in 1994, and I was very grateful when Managing Editor (and all-around great human being) Anton Zuiker called me during my junior year to ask if I’d do a phone interview and then write a piece about one of the four Cleveland cartoonists the magazine had decided to spotlight on an upcoming cover.
Check out this somewhat surreal (why is Derf holding a rope?!), extremely 1997 image from the February issue:
I realize that featuring four white dudes next to the title “The Men with the Pen” is pretty cringey, but that was the 20th century for you, kids!
Still, I was and remain a big fan of each of these creators, starting clockwise from the top with Chip Sansom, who started assisting his cartoonist father Art Sansom with their strip The Born Loser back in 1977, eventually taking over completely after his dad died in 1991, writing and drawing the strip until just a few months ago, when surgery caused him to take what we all hope will be just a short break.
Next up is Inkpot Award-winning Tom Batiuk, probably most well-known for writing and drawing Funky Winkerbean, though I was always partial to its more mean-spirited spinoff Crankshaft, written by Batiuk and drawn by Chuck Ayers (and later by artist Dan Davis).
And everybody knows Brian Michael Bendis, writer and co-creator of—among a trillion other important contributions to comics—Jessica Jones and Miles Morales for Marvel Comics. Brian has his own must-read Substack (free to subscribe!), where you can keep up with all of his many projects, including the book I’m most excited to read, Phenomena, his upcoming creator-owned graphic novel for Abrams with magnificent artist André Lima Araújo.
And last but certainly not least is Derf Backderf, writer and artist of some of my all-time favorite graphic novels, including My Friend Dahmer, Trashed, and most recently, Kent State, which is—no exaggeration—absolutely essential reading for all Americans. Derf was unbelievably generous enough to gift me the original art to this piece he designed for “a t-shirt for some local rag,” where he sticks it to Cleveland with the painfully loving precision of a local:
So, which of these four luminaries was a young BKV tasked with interviewing? And how did the article turn out?
Plus, which towering giant of comics inexplicably wasn’t featured on this cover, even though they were a fellow contributing writer to Northern Ohio Live who I occasionally nervously brushed past?
The relatively fascinating answers to those questions (plus some more of my Cleveland-specific original art) reside just beyond this gossamer paywall, so why not join your fellow paid subscribers in The Tower? I’ll also be offering some cool prizes to one lucky commenter in our always delightful private forum, so come chat with us this weekend, won’t you?
If not, no hard feelings, and this grateful Clevelander will see you back here on Monday for more free pages of Spectators.
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