I usually like to leave these pages nice and cryptic, but I wanted to point something out. The face drawing* in the panel containing the text, ‘Fallen Friends,’ is my take on my friend Alex Buck’s self-portrait, from his self-published comic, ‘The Noble Suffer.’ Alex passed away a couple weeks ago, and I’m still processing it. Alex’s influence on my life was big, and I could write pages and pages about it. But for now, I just want to focus on the intersection bewtween Alex, comics, and myself.
When I was in college, I rediscovered comics (a common story) and got really excited about the variety of subject matters and styles that existed beyond superhero stuff (though I was happy to get back into the capes, too). When I would come back to Portland to visit, Alex would make recommendations, and helped me navigate the decent collection at the Midland Library. Towards the end of college, my friend Lazer Face Nate Hawk was distributing a little photocopied comic book that he had drawn. This was a major epiphany for me, my introduction to the (lucrative) world of mini-comics and self-publishing.
I drew some clumsy little gag strips and short comics in college, but never really took it seriously until after I graduated. Alex had plans to start drawing an autobiographical comic about a drunken, awkward one-night stand, and I wanted to draw something, too, though I was nowhere near as specific as he was. We made a pact to each get a mini-comic drawn and printed in time for the Stumptown Comics Fest in April of 2008, where we would try to get a table. Pretty soon, we had enlisted the aforementioned Lazer Face Nate Hawk and Dan Beyer (both my housemates at the time) to join our quest/table.
Alex brought a discipline and seriousness to his comic that I was lacking. He wrote and drew constantly at his desk job (which I envied greatly, as I hated my job, and definitely couldn’t draw my comics there). He used rulers to lay out perspective lines (he learned a lot from his brother Morgan, an accomplished painter) and fine-tip rapidographs to draw in extreme, clear-line detail. I particularly remember his meticulous treatment of the plaid shirt that his self-portrait wore in every panel. After months of toiling, he had his book ready to send off to the printers.
He wanted to get it off-set printed, which was expensive. He was incensed when a printer sat on his files for weeks, then refused to print his book, citing moral objections (there was a pretty gnarly depiction of some goth ladies’ gross performance art in there, which I’m guessing was the culprit). But in the end, he had a very good finished product. It wasn’t perfect (no first comic is) and I can’t say I agree with everything he writes in it. But, he had produced the first part of his story in a clear-eyed, methodical way that I have yet to match. By comparison, mine was a completely illegible mishmash of stories, drawn with different tools in sketchbooks (on different page sizes and shapes), including a sloppy tale of mice blowing up a high-ranking general in an oppressive, occupying frog army (copies still available for some reason). We tabled next to a young kid who was selling shitty drawings for $1, and was cleaning up, while we barely sold anything.
We repeated the process the next year, continuing our stories and improving, as you inevitably do. After that, Alex moved more into the written word, editing a literary anthology called Heartbeats (which contains a two-page comic I drew) and writing a novel that he described as ‘insane’ and inspired by Bukowski. I went to cartoon school, and became the twisted creature that types this.
When we were working on those first comics, Alex gave me some of his rapidographs. He had bought a set, and didn’t want the thicker ones, as he was only interested in super-fine lines (which I found baffling). Those pens sat in my art bin for a couple years, until I found them while home on a break from cartoon school, and took them back with me. I fell in love with the #1 and #2, using the 2 for almost everything I drew in my senior year (including the piece for ‘Heartbeats.’ The #2 broke a couple years back, while I was drawing in the park in front of Lloyd Center (I remember this the way Vietnam vets have combat flashbacks in movies).
The #1 survives to this day, and I’ve used it in almost every page of my most recent sketchbook, including this one. I used it to draw Alex’s face in that panel. I don’t remember if I ever told him how much I took to those pens, and I know for sure that I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye. I hope he knew how important he was to my work, and as a friend.
*I felt compelled to clarify that the woman’s face opposite the panel with Alex is not meant to be anybody specific, I’m not brave as Alex was in his work. On that note, I decided to include the piece I submitted to Alex’s Heartbeats ** anthology, which I’ve kept hidden because it’s a ‘whine about a girl I should have gotten over forever ago’ kind of comic that I’m embarrassed by, although I do like the drawings. Drawn in 2011.
**I’m posting this link for the sake of a visual. Given Alex’s passing, I’m not sure what the state of distribution for this book is. If you are interested in it, contact me, and I’ll see if I can find out.