Goodbye, Jeff

It was in January four years ago that I woke up to a telephone call that a friend had died; this time, it was through e-mail but no less shocking.

Jeff AlexanderI’ve known Jeff Alexander since 1998, when we both started volunteering for the Small Press Expo (SPX), a local convention for alternative and independent comic books. We quickly bonded over our love of not only comics, but all sorts of things; Doctor Who, Japanese culture, gaming, mysteries, movies, card games, and everything else in-between.

Jeff was part of a group of friends that for about three years, every Friday night would meet for drinks at Ireland’s Four Courts in Arlington, then walk across the street to the AMC theatre and catch a movie. And even when I inadvertently ended that ritual (due to marathon training at the crack of dawn on Saturday mornings), for years we also would meet up for half-price hamburgers at Whitlow’s on Wilson on Monday nights, catching up on everyone else’s lives and talking about anything and everything.

He was an amazingly talented artist, able to shift styles and techniques at the drop of a hat. Every year he drew a comic strip for the SPX program in the style of George Herriman, and the number of times where I was asked how we’d found pieces of original Krazy Kat art to use for the program was too high to count. For SPX 2010 he drew one in his own style, and I am so happy that everyone got to see just how good his own method of drawing looked, too.

He loved paint ball and gaming, and had just asked if my partner and I were interested in playing mahjong with him and his fiancee Erika. I never knew when I was going to get a random question (from ideas on what to do for a friend’s 50th birthday, still half a decade away, to questions on where to get rid of old manga volumes) but I always welcomed it. Jeff loved giving presents but hated receiving them. I still have a Christmas present for him, wrapped and labeled, sitting in my hall closet that he’ll never receive now.

Jeff was sarcastic but good-natured, dry but humorous, smart and quick to help out. I shared a hotel room with him and another friend when we went to San Diego Comic-Con in 2002, 2003, and 2005, and he was a great traveling companion. It was on that 2005 trip that he talked me into taking over the Ignatz Awards in 2007 from him (so he could become first Assistant Executive Director, then Executive Director of SPX) and I remember a year later thinking, “Wait, how did he get me to agree to this?”

Like so many friends, I look back now and think to myself, “I never did enough with him.” But Jeff was always the kind of person who wouldn’t complain if you hadn’t seen him in months, but rather would pick back up right where you’d left off. I miss the years where we’d run into each other at Big Planet Comics in Vienna on Wednesday evenings after work, and end up chatting for hours until the store closed.

A few months ago I gave him back a handful of DVDs that he’d loaned me years ago, but I’d never gotten around to watching. “You can keep them longer if you want,” he said, but I told him I felt guilty for having hung onto them for so long. Now I look at the spot on my coffee table where they’d sat for years, and selfishly wish I’d hung onto them, a little reminder and souvenir of all those good times together.

Jeff was worried about his hair and bought a fedora, and when I told him he was trying to look more like Peter Davison from Doctor Who he took that as a victory. He just finished up a degree in business and was looking to expand his career possibilities. Jeff loved his fiancee Erika and her two daughters Connie and Wilma more than anyone could possibly imagine.

Jeff Alexander was a wonderful friend, and someone who will never be replaced, only missed.

My Favorite Movie Trailer

First, I love movie trailers. Good, bad, doesn’t matter. I love seeing the glimpses of films (or in the case of the infamous Days of Thunder trailer, the entire film) and the pieces that the filmmaker and/or the studio have decided to share with us. Often the trailer is the best thing about the film.

But my favorite trailer in recent days? It’s got to be the one for the Coen Brothers film A Serious Man. You not only get a vague idea about the film’s plot, but more importantly, they’ve turned the way they edited those shots into a film in its own right. When this trailer came out I must have watched it 30, 40, maybe 50 times. Seriously, it’s fantastic how it all builds.

Now if you don’t mind, I need to watch it again.

Wine-Book Wednesdays: Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson is an artist who to most people just exploded out of nowhere. While a fortunate few already knew about him thanks to his mini-comics, most readers (myself included) were introduced to him when his debut graphic novel, Goodbye, Chunky Rice, was published by Top Shelf in 1999. It’s about a turtle moving away from those he loves, and both the physical and emotional journey.

From that point on, everyone was all, “What’s he going to do next?” and when I got this sketch, his follow-up (clocking in at 600 pages) Blankets had just debuted that weekend, a book about first love. I remember him apologizing as he drew this for me, saying that his hand had been cramping from signing and sketching in everyone’s books, and that it wasn’t as elaborate as he wanted it to be. But I love it, and it’s small and sweet and to the point.

I’m happy that his new book, Habibi, is set for this fall—it’s been too long since Thompson’s last book. (He did publish a travel journal since then, Carnet de Voyage, about the trip he took to do research for Habibi.) If nothing else it means he might start hitting conventions again, and the soft-spoken Thompson being out there has been a face I’ve missed.

Wine-Book Wednesdays: Brian Azzarello

Most people know Brian Azzarello for his work as the writer for 100 Bullets, his crime-meets-conspiracy-meets-revenge-meets-thriller series. But one thing I didn’t know until 2003 was that he actually went to art school (or at least, so he claimed), and he offered to draw in the wine book.

Did I mention before that 100 Bullets is a rather twisted book? No? Well, after this it might not be such a surprise. Could not stop laughing once he was done.

Grim Truths

I don’t even want to admit how true this is, at times, in regard to myself.

(P.S. Will someone please reissue Dave Louapre and Dan Sweetman’s The Wasteland? I would buy several dozen copies of it as gifts. Instead I treasure my lone copy, and while I’m at it also wish for collections of their other big collaboration, Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children. Seriously people, it’s a license to print money.)

Wine-Book Wednesdays: Joel Priddy

The (unknown to me at the time) 50th drawing in my wine book was also the first one I got at San Diego Comic-Con in 2003, courtesy Joel Priddy. His first graphic novel had recently out at the time, Pulpatoon Pilgrimage, which is just like your average road trip if the three characters are a minotaur, a robot piloted by a goldfish, and a walking plant.

It’s the last character that Priddy used to tweak just a bit for the wine theme, and it’s his soft, delicate lines that still stand out some 7 1/2 years later. These days I see Priddy show up on occasion at Project: Rooftop where people submit their redesigns of classic characters. Every time I find myself hoping that Priddy’s working on a new book that we can see soon. He’s too good a talent to be gone for too long.

Wine-Book Wednesdays: Farel Dalrymple

Farel Dalrymple‘s comic book series Pop Gun War was one of those series that is hard to describe but instantly grabs your attention. Think magic realism in an urban jungle, and a sweet main character who happens to have wings, and… yeah, I’m not doing it justice, but it’s great.

Since those initial five issues (which are collected into a book courtesy Dark Horse) he’s worked on other projects like drawing the first story arc on Caper (about the Jewish mafia in San Francisco), and most notably illustrating Jonathan Lethem’s revamp of Omega the Unknown. I hear he’s working on a new Pop Gun War series now. I hope so. His unique brand of strangeness is much missed.

When to Consolidate (or Not)

One thing I’ve mentioned time and time again is my need for additional space for my books, and the need to (very sadly) get rid of some due to said limitations.

Just over a year ago, I was lucky enough to get a Kindle for an amazingly low price (only the new WiFi-only editions are lower priced) and I’ve loved it. And in the past year or so, it’s meant that I’ve been able to swap out some print edition books with electronic copies.

The easiest ones to replace were books that’ve fallen out of copyright, of course. So my copies of books like Alice in Wonderland, Dubliners, Howards End, and Jane Eyre (to name just a few examples) were donated to the library, and free ebooks from Project Gutenburg took their place. But it’s everything else, of course, that’s a bit harder to simply replace. Although some times I’ve been lucky, like the time that (and to this day I’m not sure if it was a pricing error or an unannounced great deal) that a whole slew of Iain M. Banks books were knocked down to 99 cents. That sort of thing. So that’s helped thin the herd a great deal. (I do wish there was a program where if you sent back mint editions of books, or pledged to give them to your library, that you could exchange them for some ebooks, though.) But still, there are a lot of books that I’m just not willing to buy an additional copy of in the name of saving space. So that’s a little frustrating.

And of course, there are some books that even if I could swap out, I wouldn’t. Some first editions and signed limited editions, for instance, that sort of thing. And some sets of books that (even though I should) I just can’t bear to start breaking up. There’s something asthetically pleasing about them that makes me want them to keep sticking around.

On the other hand, I did make one important leap recently. One of my favorite publishers, Small Beer Press, is a company that I buy just about all of their books. It’s fun to walk by the shelf that has just about all of their titles on display. But in December and January, I picked up two books from them in ebook edition. It was a tough call at first, but at the end of the day I’m still getting the great publishing choices from them that I like, but my overly full bookshelves don’t have to strain that much more. And my copies of Under the Poppy and Redemption in Indigo were slightly cheaper than the print editions, so that’s an added bonus.

(I’m also careful to back up my ebooks in case of catastrophic computer failure, not only onto an external hard drive but also automatically onto an online backup service, lest the house itself burn down. So I’m in some ways more protected than with my actual books.)

Will I ever get rid of all my physical books? Of course not. The majority of them? Also probably not. But a sizable chunk? Eventually. And more and more, the new ones coming in won’t be physical ones. (Well, prose books anyway. Those pesky graphic novels are another story entirely, of course.) I’m sure whenever I move next, there will some very happy movers that there aren’t even more books to get carried into and out of the truck…

Wine-Book Wednesdays: Roger Langridge

Roger Langridge is one of those comic creators that I always wonder, “Why isn’t he a superstar?” He writes, he draws, he letters. He tackles comedy, satire, superheroes, science-fiction, or any other genre needed. And he’s always a class act (talking with him at conventions is a joy) and turning out beautiful work no matter what.

When I got this sketch from Roger, he was best known for Fred the Clown, a comedy/satire that looks deceptively simple but is anything but. He’s worked on a lot of comics since then, most recently a Muppet Show comic that managed to actually be as funny and inventive as the original show (a real feat!), and is wrapping up an unfortunately short run on Thor: The Mighty Avenger with Chris Samnee.

Whatever he does next, I’ll buy it. That’s a given.