It's just so... nebulous!

Our Underwear #17: Jeers and Loafing in McCormick Place Part I: The Pleasure and Pain of Richard Starkings

by John Velousis
(Supposedly the first in a series about C2E2 2012)

Doctor Johnny Fever
The Crab Nebula. It’s the best nebula.

1: Quirky – or jerky?
Press credentials approved. “What the fuck,” I thought, “am I going to do to ‘cover’ a comic book convention?” See, [amazon_link id="B0000TB014" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]I’m not like other boys[/amazon_link]. My priorities and interests are just completely eccentric to the norm… I mean that in the mathematical sense.

Example: At the convention, talking with Matt Sardo. He’s the brave guy who saw a spark of promise in my delirious ramblings and asked me to [amazon_link id="B000RBA6CO" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]blerg[/amazon_link] about comyx. Although I refused utterly, he sneaks into my head while I’m sleeping, like, when I roll over and the [amazon_link id="1592910718" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]foil cap[/amazon_link] loosens, and then transcribes all of my wettest dreams. So, he and I were talking about things we were asking the creatives who were jam-packed [amazon_link id="B003L20IEM" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]ass-to-mouth[/amazon_link] in the Artists’ Alley at the horrible fucking concrete armpit of a building staging C2E2, McCormick Place. He – Sardo – said he’d been getting great responses with the question, “What should an up-and-comer do to start out / break into the comics business?”

I [amazon_link id="B000PWW3Y4" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]grimaced[/amazon_link] involuntarily. “Really? I would think they’d all been asked that question thousands of times. Like, as if it was a stereotype jokey question to ask.”

Now Matt was frowning. “No, they all seemed to like it and gave thoughtful, interesting answers.” He seemed defensive. His face had a sour expression, as if he’d just bitten into a crab-apple.

I started to backpedal. “I mean, I’m not, you know, trying to say that, like, as if to say, ‘Dude, that question sucked! You suck!’ or something like that, it just, uh, surprises me that it’s not… You know, I should shut up.” I do this somewhat often, where I react to something that’s fairly normal or conventional as if only an interview with the quality and sensibilities of the movie [amazon_link id="B003U74NQW" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Blue Velvet[/amazon_link] will suffice. Then, I notice for the umpteenth or maybe the ununocteenth time that I’m kind of being a dick. Which I hate being by accident.

Meanwhile, back in the camel-hump hollow that the dames call reality, Mr. Sardo asked, “What have YOU been asking people?”

“I’ve been trying to ask everybody the stupidest questions I could think of.”

2: Our hero discovers that time seems to only move in one direction, but not which one it is.
I tried to pre-plan. I had some half formed ideas of shit to do at the con to justify my attendance. Maybe I would read the French guy’s “Tab Jones! WHO IS THIS TAB JONES?” rant from Bukowski’s [amazon_link id="0876857632" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Hollywood[/amazon_link]. “He really sings badly, I mean, he is terrible. All about what he can do to women, but he’s a fake, he really wants his tongue up some man’s anus. I am to puke, listening to him.” Hilarious bile, and I really do it up a treat with the French accent. It’s too hard for me to do without cracking myself up, though, and I pride myself upon my inscrutable deadpan.

It’s just so… nebulous!

I also considered trying to really nail Aaron’s “I heart evil” speech from [amazon_link id="B000E6ESKS" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Titus Andronicus[/amazon_link]. “Even now I curse the day[…] wherein I did not some notorious ill, as kill a man, or else devise his death[…] Set fire on barns and hay-stacks in the night, and bid the owners quench them with their tears.” Like that. Awesome speech, but it embarrasses me to even admit that I’m such a pretentious twat that I would consider this a good idea, however briefly. What the eff would I do, just recite the speech over and over, in a loop? Might as well learn it in fucking Klingon, so as to guarantee my removal from humankind.

I had even shittier ideas, too, but I’ll pretend for a moment that I have better things to do than make myself look like a jagoff.

Going to the con, walking in, my plan was to just plant myself at the Comic Vault table with some sort of sign that said, “I will argue with you about anything, from either side.”  That seemed to fit my skill-set perfectly, plus I really like to sit down.

All that shit got chucked out the window when I found myself standing in front of [amazon_link id="1401205739" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Gene Ha[/amazon_link], my “Press” badge not even CLOSE to believing its own press clippings. He seemed like a [amazon_link id="B000SVZIG2" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]SUPER[/amazon_link] nice guy. He was so nice, I was compelled (by Satan, obv) to ask him the least appropriate question that came to mind: “Have you ever drawn porn?” 3: I’m such a whiny little bitch that I wish I could run into myself on the street so I could kick my whiny little bitch ass.My point with all of this, honestly, is to just show you the degree of my disaffection, my ennui, about “covering” this convention. It isn’t that I don’t care about comic books or comics creators – I do, very much so. I hope THAT much is clear. Rather, I believe strongly in the edict, “Entertainment news is neither entertainment nor news.” In-depth conversations with creative persons about the soul of their works would excite me tremendously, but THIS wasn’t where such a thing could possibly happen.  Plus it may be that at the bottom of my heart, I suspected that I’d procrastinate doing actual articles online about the con for, say, four months or so.

It's the Crab Nebula.
Hubble telescope pictures often depress me. I don’t believe in God and am afraid of death, but most of the time I manage to avoid thinking about it. But when faced with the reality of a universe billions of years old, it’s hard not to feel like I’m nothing, nor to fear the certainty that I will one day become nothing.

Beyond that, I also tend to laze in a tub of anomie. (1. Social instability caused by erosion of standards and values.  2. Alienation and purposelessness experienced by a person or a class as a result of a lack of standards, values, or ideals.  Close enough,  though I’d say my problem stems from a paralyzing excess of standards, values, and ideals… which all carry zero currency in a meaningless world.) “Why should I go to this? How will I serve any kind of purpose doing so? Why anything? Have I really eaten seven different desserts today? I wonder if crabs are worse than [amazon_link id="B003Y12AV4" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]hemorrhoids[/amazon_link]?” Oh, the pain. The pain!

Once I committed to the idea of asking creators the stupidest questions I could think of… well, it didn’t go so great. Not that the artists and writers and misc-artisans weren’t cooperative – actually, they were all much nicer than I probably deserved, and made a game effort at politely answering every stupid thing I could think of. All of them, that is, except for [amazon_link id="140123254X" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Nick Spencer[/amazon_link]… but that’s another column. Nah, it wasn’t them really, it was me.

I [amazon_link id="B001O2UTQS" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]choked[/amazon_link].

Really. I [amazon_link id="B004GJYRI2" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]screwed the pooch[/amazon_link]. I could not think of genuinely terrible questions to save my life. I had, I think, hoped to elicit some funny stories from these guys, but I didn’t. Some of that is maybe due to unrealistic expectations, based on my past as a performing artist. Financial failure though I was, I’ve still done a lot of interesting things, but only if you think being onstage with a dancing George Bush robot and wearing nothing but a diaper and a crown of thorns is interesting. Comic book artists… haven’t done that. The blame still rests on me for [amazon_link id="B007V4LBLU" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]shitting the bed[/amazon_link] here. My stupid questions were mostly just bland and repeated, and they drew a lot of not-very awesome answers. I fancy myself a pretty creative guy, but my idea-making biorhythm was AWOL that weekend. Pathetic, yeah? 4: Two guys walk into a bar. One of the guys is from the nation of Djibouti. The other guy doesn’t exist, and he’s in a wheelchair.
Richard Starkings is the creator of [amazon_link id="1607065762" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Elephantmen[/amazon_link]. He writes most of the stories in the series, and has had them illustrated by an impressive line-up of artists – [amazon_link id="1401216676" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Brian Bolland[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id="1607063689" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Shaky Kane[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id="B003JO6IBY" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Moritat[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id="1607063999" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Ian Churchill[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id="0974056723" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]David Hine[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id="1607064774" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Chris Burnham[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id="B007S1PDTW" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Aaron Kuder[/amazon_link] (you probably haven’t heard of him yet, but you will,) [amazon_link id="1607060485" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Rob Steen[/amazon_link], [amazon_link id="1935233173" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Tom Scioli[/amazon_link], and like three other guys who get left out because I ran out of the will to keep copying names. Also, because I don’t know how to make an umlaut on a computer.  Although the [amazon_link id="1607062682" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Elephantmen[/amazon_link] comic has been kicking ass in one form or another since 2002, Starkings has actually been pulling in a comics paycheck since 1984, as a [amazon_link id="0974056731" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]letterer[/amazon_link]. In fact, his credits as a letterer run about 30 times as long as his credits as a writer. I actually counted the number of times I had to click to scroll down one page – that is how fascinating I found this factoid, before I started typing it.

A recent cover by sometime-artist of Elephantmen Tom Scioli. There’s no image on this cover that is any more significant to this article than any other. No existential Dada conspiracy exists, and said non-cabal has no secret signs, signifiers, deeper meanings, heaps of gleanings, weepier teams, creepier dreams, or seepier seams.

One of the elements setting the series [amazon_link id="1607064685" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Elephantmen[/amazon_link] apart from the herd (YES!) is its elliptical storytelling style. The tale perpetually circles back upon itself in time and in perspective, revisiting the same events in the present repeatedly, often after flashing back some 20 or 30 years to the violent past of the human-animal hybrids called “elephantmen,” then reaching the present in the narrative orbit, the current event now illuminated by the history we’ve just seen.  The most recent issue, which just hit the racks two weeks ago, is Elephantmen #41. Written AND drawn by [amazon_link id="1607065835" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]David Hine[/amazon_link], it is essentially a flashback to events before the series began, a biography of the human rights criminal assistant-creator of the “munts,” Javier Kubec. I won’t review it here, because I’m already in the middle of a digression inside of another digression. Just check it out, it’s good. Elephantmen #42 hits the stands this coming Wednesday, August 15.  Only three weeks apart? Mr. Starkings may be taking a cue from frequent employer Marvel Comics: The faster you put the issues out, the more often you collect the proceeds.

The series also stampedes through the central [amazon_link id="0345404475" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]idea[/amazon_link] of one of my favorite films, [amazon_link id="B000UBMSB8" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Blade Runner[/amazon_link]: What is it to be a human being? Starkings and his collaborators acknowledge this debt openly. [amazon_link id="160706393X" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Volume four[/amazon_link] of the series’ trade collections, and the arc within it, take their title, Questionable Things, directly from [amazon_link id="B008M4MB8K" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Blade Runner[/amazon_link]. In that film, the beautiful and insane android Roy Baty (Rutger Hauer) literally meets his maker, Dr. Eldon Tyrell (Joe Turkel,) and says to him in a masterpiece of understatement, “Father, I’ve done… questionable things.” Then, Roy shoves his thumbs through Tyrell’s eyes into his brain, because impending death has made him crabby. 5: Brock Chalcedony brooded at the Mojave as Countess Monique Loveglove all but begged for more thrusting huge manhood from the best spy in the world. But Chalcedony was done giving his really big dong of good sex at her. Now, his only thought was of revenge against the terrorist guy who had killed his daughter and son and other daughter. And revenge would be sweet and served cold – the best revenge!
Mr. Starkings is a big fan of dyed hair. I’ve seen pictures of the thinning tousle atop his head dyed every color of the [amazon_link id="B000YXMMAE" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]rainbow[/amazon_link] – and also, dyed like a rainbow, perhaps [amazon_link id="B000NOKJF4" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]like the girl from the infamous Rolling Stones song[/amazon_link], perhaps like [amazon_link id="B0041G680U" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]the rainbow from The Wizard of Oz[/amazon_link]. At C2E2, his pate was its natural white-gray, but his long chin-muff was dyed a lovely [amazon_link id="B000000WH8" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]blue[/amazon_link]. I couldn’t think of any “[amazon_link id="B004D7SKQM" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Bluebeard[/amazon_link]” jokes good enough for publication, though. Add that to the litany of failure limned hereto.

Twinkle twinkle little nebula.
Why do you tinkle on my nephew, huh?

By the time I approached Richard Starkings, my list of insipid questions had become fairly standardized, as had my intro. First, I said, “Hi, I’m a fan of your work.” This was invariably true at the con. I didn’t question or approach a single creator whose work I didn’t genuinely enjoy… because I act according to a very strict code of standards, which my fool brain downloaded from the [amazon_link id="B00069L0Z4" target="_blank" container="" container_class="" ]Bizarros[/amazon_link]. Then, I’d say something like, “I’m some sort of online reporter or blogger,” gesturing at my press badge for effect. “Do you mind if I ask you the stupidest questions I can think of?” All of them consented to answering stupid questions, without exception.

JV: Would you say you’ve been naked in public a lot, not often, or never at all?
Richard Starkings: Hmm. A few times. (British accent, maybe a little like Ian Holm.)

JV: Care to describe the times?
RS: Once, I stripped naked in Death Valley and ran across the sand dunes. Another time, on a private beach in Hawaii.

JV: Ehhh, that’s not really public.
RS: Yes it is. (He said this rather heatedly. I considered arguing with him about semantic context, but in a rare moment of common sense, I realized that the point wasn’t worth starting an altercation over, so I sidled along.)

JV: Do you sing karaoke in public often, never, sometimes…?
RS: Mm. No – ah, just once, I think.

JV: What was the song?
RS: “Love Shack.”

JV: The B-52s song? That is just a weird coincidence. I had this job where the owner of the company – a genuinely awful person – would ALWAYS sing “Love Shack” at company parties. Like, the single criterion any karaoke DJ had to meet to get hired, they had to have “Love Shack” on their playlist so that Martin K——– could sing Fred’s part. (At this point, I realized I was boring RS, his coterie, and myself.) Anyway. What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?
RS: Cleaning up what we called ‘beat waste’ at a supermarket.

JV: Beef?
RS: Beat.

JV: B-E-E-T? Red as a beet?
RS: No, B-E-A-T.

JV: Got it. (I think I forgot to ask what ‘beat waste’ was, exactly, just assuming it was the leavings from the butcher, which surely would have been a not-insignificant influence on the animal rights themes in “Elephantmen.” Online searches for the term are mixed. One personal anecdote has a “beat waste bin” full of old, rotten, un-bought market vegetables. Another extremely intriguing link has this exerpt: [Glue factories or tanners or something] also obtained beat waste materials, such as the rasjiioga and triuiniingr [may be spelled wrong] of ivory, [and / or] the boues [bones?], cartilage, and tendons of animals.” That piece is so haphazardly spelled and punctuated in general, though, that I can’t rule out the possibility that either “beat” or “waste” was intended to be a different word entirely.)

JV: Have you ever thrown up on another person?
RS: No. Well, one time in a hospital ambulance, I did vomit into one of those… (pause.)

JV: Bedpans?
RS: No, one of those kidney-shaped bins. (His zeal, which had perked up when he remembered that he kind of DID puke on someone, fades rapidly as he says this. Reading his eyes, it seems to me he is now recalling a dreadfully painful memory. I wrap up the ”interview” somehow and thank him for his time. Later, I will ask him to suggest stupid questions that he thinks I should ask, and he provides one – “If you were a taco filling, which would you be?” – that becomes a staple of my questioning for the rest of the con.)

(Richard Starkings would be pinto beans.)

What do you think?