Exquisite Corpse: A Conversation with Derek Van Gieson Redux (the Iggy Mix)

I.

When I cast my mind back to those days, I remember autumnal half-light, wool-wrapped children, and six words worming through my waking life, “I’m queen of the hobo animals.” I was in love.

Dancing for nickels at the Public Ivy was fast becoming a dead-end, albeit a dependable and steady revenue stream. Comics criticism, on the other hand, was entrenched in its “blog rock” phase which, cosmically speaking, made my life a shambles. I was writing about whatever black-and-white-risographed-direct-from-Etsy comics would drift across my transom. At such times, all turn to drink, to demon rum or gin. I chose scotch, single malts. It was at this low point, some spaghetti jockey pressed Eel Mansions by Derek Van Gieson into my hands. It became my “road to Damascus.” In the following years, as I sifted its eldritch knowledge for clues, colleagues would move through like busboys, attempting, like me, to divine Eel Mansions enigmas and untangle its obscura. The only name I recall of these fellow wedding guests is Moose … something. I wonder whatever happened to that guy, Moose?

Eel Mansions made me. Once the series was collected, I walked away from comics criticism with my sanity and a fistful of free drink coupons (not to exceed $6) redeemable at any Microtel Inns & Suites Express. And I did it without using a gun or Nerf© nunchucks. Van Gieson got his tribute and became a household name (in certain circles) in the upper Midwest.

Past is prologue, and now, like the bad penny or the “space clap from an Old Dinkytown sex worker” Eel Mansions has returned. Published in the very pages of this online literary comics magazine, the “nubile ingénue” aka SOLRAD, as “The Locust Lodge.” Returned? From where? What is this? Some IP refresh? Another corporate cash grab? Eel Mansions was complete. Finished. Kaput. An ex-ongoing. And yet … and yet … what if?

Like any humble petitioner—does the critic aspire to nothing more?—I became acquainted with the rock-and-roll vagrant, the Grand-Poohbah of Eel Mansions, Van Gieson. Like all artistic types, his saturnalian aspect is second only to an abiding mercurial nature, he becomes damn near chimerical when the wind blows from the north. Bless him. I had to know why Van Gieson was going back to Eels. It was time for me to dig my Milk City merch out of the crawl space and find out how much magic was left in that old hand-painted silk shirt.

My solicitor reached out through back channels to Van Gieson’s longtime batman, stunt double, and recently accredited barrister with a small practice in maritime law, Staunch Liechtenstein. Turns out Staunch goes by the handle Brannigan Hangtooth now. It was an adjustment, trust me. I adjusted.

“What’s shakin’, Hangtooth? Did you ever get a copy of that Elizabeth Cotten 78 of “Freight Train?”

“Oh, I did sequester said record, however, it cost me plenty.” Hangtooth pulled a Gitanes from behind their ear and put fire to it. After a long drag, they picked a piece of tobacco off their tongue and continued. “I had to surrender my prized acetate of Frank Sinatra demoing “Mama Will Bark” in his dressing room at the St. Paul Rutherford Auditorium in 1950. Just the Chairman himself, accompanied by piano—a sensation so exquisite, one can imbibe the rich redolence of tobacco and grain spirits when the needle meets the Victrola.”

They exhaled out of the side of their mouth and looked down at a pair of Malaysian knock-off Louboutin flats as if the rest of the story of the exchange were contained on those ersatz kicks. They sighed, “the Mitch Miller version is … so gnarled … it’s like experiencing Trois Gnossiennes set to a disco cataclysm. So much subverted potential.” They shook their head and stomped on the now spent Gitanes. They looked me right in the eyes, “I wept when I first heard it. I heeded the call. [pause] Both renditions.”

We stood in silence, a requiem for the cosmic dance of the bartering between heads and for perceived value. 

I broke the reverie, “I need to know where the DVG eats lunch nowadays. Can you get me on his dance card?”

“Interesting.” Another Gitanes. Fire. Exhale. “A consultation with Mr. Van Gieson in his native environs?” They lifted their chin in a vague direction. “His rather unlikely headquarters is not too far from his domicile. Zany Zoomy’s Empanada, Food, & Drink Warehouse. Don’t be hoodwinked by the moniker, the warehouse is mere prevarication; I’d be rather stupefied if you could aggregate three ardent masticators in such an establishment. Be that as it may, an uncanny canteen such as Zoomy’s is indeed beneficial to one’s constitution. I shall petition for a luncheon post-haste!” They placed a monocle over their left eye and split.  

I knew Zoomy’s. Brannigan was spot on. Their empanadas, on the other hand, held no mystery. In short, they gave me the McGrumbles. One bite and it’s as if my bowels become synesthetic, able to conjure up scents that have existed in specific times and places. The last time I had one it brought back memories of the port-o-potties at the Harriet Island stop during Lollapalooza ’91, high summer never smelled so, well … fecund. It would take Hangtooth time to rouse Van Gieson and, with the sun over the yardarm, I went for a drink, a penultimate stop before arriving at the fireworks factory.

II.

Buck bit into a croque monsieur as I crossed the threshold of the O’Diane bar. Aping Mitchum in The Friends of Eddie Coyle, I held up my index finger and thumb as a greeting. Buck smiled around his sandwich and nodded. I slouched toward a bistro table and chair combo off the bar. The sun caught the motes in the air and made the setting appear like a shot framed by Michael Chapman or mid-career Kovács. Buck had been brought in by the owners, a couple of Englishmen, after the first bartender left or was fired, there were rumors of schizophrenia. It started off as a package deal, Buck behind the bar and Daisy waiting tables. They’ve been hammer and tongs ever since. The waft and wane of their breakups and reconciliations a sometimes-daily occurrence. He calls out her top hat addiction. She says he’s a tyrant. Both things are true. I didn’t spy Daisy, so I kept my mouth shut as to her whereabouts.

  “Eels is back,” says Buck as he puts down my drink sans coaster.

  “Apparently. You got a little …” I point to some gruyere affixed to Buck’s goatee. He backhands his map to no avail of the offending cheese.

  “I told Derek to do that shit. That was me!” Buck makes another attempt to remove said stuck foodstuff, his apron doubling as a napkin. The gruyere endures.

  “You? No shit.”

  “What the world needs now.”

Unconsciously I say, “Hal David and Burt Bacharach.”

  “Jackie DeShannon. And don’t tell me Dionne Warwick. Sell that to the fucking tourists”

  “I don’t know, man. An Eels … what, reboot? It’s not “Star Wars.” It’s “Space: 1999.” [pause, quieter] At best.”

  “Space: 1999? Blasphemy. It’s “Dark Star.” Better. It’s …”

  “Don’t say it! Don’t say “Dead …”

Buck puts his hands up, plays defense, and backs away. “O.K. Cowboy. You headed over to Zoomy’s?”

A nod. “You think he’s there yet?” I say as I glance at my watch and quote the time. At some point during the time check, the gruyere has said sayonara.

What remains in the glass goes gullet-ward. I swallow and say, “Hold up. You told Derek to, and I quote, ‘do that shit’? Explain.”

Buck was back behind the bar and fiddling with what passed for the musical entertainment at O’Diane, a reconditioned boombox with an early-aughts USB port. A Hohner harmonica hangs on the wall above it like a crucifix, a testament, Buck tells those curious enough to ask, to his salad days in the southernmost foothills of the Adirondacks. After a few spins of the click wheel and a tap or two, Robert Quine’s angular riff to “The Kid with the Replaceable Head” floods the space. Buck bobs his  head in anticipation to Hell’s opening couplet, “Too young to drink and too smart to think // Attaches on his head with the missing link …” he says, “I told Derek if he’d make some more Eels, I’d find a way to run it on SOLRAD.”

  “Who are you, Lorenzo de’ Medici?”

  “I like to think of it as ‘Magnet and Steel’.” Buck closes his eyes and spreads his arms out wide as if he’s some backwoods preacher astride the rostrum addressing the flock, “Walter Egan, 1978.” He hums the refrain, the late 70s Southern California soft rock classic mixes with the Voidoids final flourish.

  “You do contradict yourself,” I say as I put my back to Buck. I’m out the door when his response to my call clangs with the inrush of air from the outdoors. We’ve played this song before and always will, I hope.

The weather, mild for this time of year, gave everything a therapeutic quality. I began to perseverate on what Buck had said as Hell’s voice did donuts between my ears. This admixture gave my “imp of the perverse” agency to conjure the bars, restaurants, and shops that populate Eels. All those interior, liminal spaces: Snowflake’s, The Arrow Motel, Nub Nub’s Uptown, Uncle Zucker’s House of Comics, Games, and DVDs, and, of course, Face Hugger Records. And those are just the “real” ones, I’m not including Tales of Abstraction House, Milk City, or the demonic depths Armistead manifests with a wave of his arm, “Marduk … Mashinanna … Sheil-lana …

Each presupposes a boundary and so requires … something ineffable … to get the gooey middle, the ultimate prize, the inside. I had long ago grokked Van Gieson was an Inside Man par excellence, un-comfy in Nautica (outerwear). Is the human desire for community and companionship equal to gaining an advantage? Getting a “good deal?” What’s more powerful, love or FOMO? And what does that say about me, shambling along as I’ve done all my life after the mad ones, the talkers, and the savers, so alive that they burn, burn, burn? “Well, the world needs ditch diggers too,” I said aloud to no one.

I curb the self-pity (ditto the self-reflection) like one of Brannigan’s Gitanes and cross Cassady which flanks the old pile where Zoomy’s intersects Ryder. Another interior space. Inside. Again. Reunited. Linda Greene’s grace shines on the righteous and unrighteous alike.

III.

Zany Zoomy’s Empanada, Food, & Drink Warehouse has always felt to me like stepping into a black and white photograph of The Factory. I put this off, in part, to the silver mylar balloons festooned amongst the various sundries and farm fresh produce—emphasis on fresh, the fruit and vegetable stalls smell of composted manure and rain with a tang of rubber gloves and bib overalls. When I’m shopping here, I catch myself fantasizing that after some predetermined fifteen-minute interval one of the bunches of balloons slips its earth-bound tether to reveal Nico, Edie, or Billy Name slinking toward me. For whatever reason, I never picture Lou or John, their specters must be on a break when I show up. Given the overall German Expressionist color scheme, the canteen of this fabricated Woolworth’s five and dime isn’t easy to find, which speaks to Hangtooth’s lack of “ardent masticators.” The fact the arrow was pointing to an interior space inside a larger one offered me little solace. I sense the turn of the screw once again.

Van Gieson was sitting about halfway down the counter. A stack of vinyl, a few CDs, a suspiciously familiar MPC officially licensed Dukes Of Hazzard model kit of Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane’s Dodge Monaco police car still in its shrink wrap, a 12 pack of Ernie Ball Super Slinky guitar strings, an original box of Baron Von Redberry, Crow Quill 102’s, three pots of Speedball Super Black, and that kind of paper I never remember the name of on sight, radiate around said artist in residence. He doesn’t look up as I sit down. Van Gieson’s thumbs through a copy of a Showcase reprint of Weird War, obviously looking for the best part, the 70’s work of Alex Nino.  Santa My Life & Times—An Illustrated Autobiography lies kitty-corner an arm’s length away. He is in thrall. I note the vinyl on top of the stack, Dry Cleaning’s New Long Leg.

  “You too?” I carefully tap on the 5 mil of polypropylene lovingly encasing and protecting, elements-wise, the London art-rocker’s droll debut. “What is it with this band?”

Still not looking up Van Gieson says matter of fact, “I take it by your tone that you haven’t picked this puppy up yet, perhaps blowing your hard-earned cash on another gaggle of spotty featherweights aspiring (and failing) to be Swell Maps.” I think about the copy of Glow On slotted into the #1 spot of my car’s CD changer. He closes the book on Weird War and looks at me. “I get it. Like the Ark of legend, this debut isn’t meant to be wielded by just anybody. It’s got the hypnotic grooves of early Sabbath, the vibed-out distorted, chorused melancholia of classic period 4AD, and the vocal menace of prime time David Yow, albeit delivered in an unhinged, restrained monotone, subverting rock’s usual yelly expectations. It’s the sound of an ax in mid-swing. Tension, violence, mystery. This is the good shit. It didn’t come with a download code. That’s my only bitch.”

  “An ax in mid-swing,” I repeat. “Well, damn. You have unhorsed me, sir. I shall away to my garret to sulk amongst my forgotten volumes of Goodwin and Gruenwald.” I hate it when I go full fop, especially when simultaneously playing “remember some guys” from the early 80s Marvel Bullpen. Everyone thinks they’re a quick wit until they meet a cat like Derek.

Parks walks over to take our order. I ask for coffee, black. Van Gieson asks if Parks can make his specialty, a sandwich known as “The Brian Epstein.” I motion toward the stack of vinyl and the CDs. Van Gieson reads the cue and responds with a nod and a shrug. As for the vinyl, it’s what I’d expect to find from a crate digger: obscurity and cut-outs. The discs are strictly imports and bootlegs, there’s a Mission to Burma split with Guadalcanal Diary that I’d like to hear. The one sore thumb is a vinyl copy of The Alarm’s Eye of the Hurricane. It’s gotta be a gift or a gag. I know Van Gieson not to fuck with early 80s U2-adjacent-Welsh punkers. 

In addition to adding color to the wash of grays, the music pumped through Zoomy’s is renowned as a cottage industry for local musicians. Instead of using a streaming service, the proprietors (a shadowy coastal syndicate or so goes the chatter) pay local musicians to cover songs in a style of Eno’s Ambient records. Nothing’s out-of-bounds as long as it has that “ignorable and interesting” quality of an arrhythmic piano and synths. I pick out the melody from “You Won’t Change Me” from Sabbath’s Technical Ecstasy, now transposed for synth and harp.   

I turn to Van Gieson as he stows the comics, “Rat Salad, Orchid, or E5150?”  

  “If this is supposed to be a mineshaft to my neurons, I gotta say it’s either ‘Symptom Of The Universe’ or ‘Breakout’. But, you picked those tracks for a reason, so it’s gotta be ‘Rat Salad”. So what does that say?”

  “It says you’re a ‘Bill’,” I reply.    

I changed the subject slightly, “Have you seen Love & Mercy? It’s more commercial and less creatively adventurous than I’m Not There. I had no idea Brian loved Cadillacs so much or Cadillac saleswomen for that matter.”

This elicits an eye roll from my interlocutor before he says, “The Beach Boys are tricky. There’s a lot of effort to manage their image and to remove the innovative context. Like when they released Good Vibrations and the Beatles released Yellow Submarine. They clearly caught those guys in an awkward pants-down moment. If there was indeed a competition going on, the Beatles got crushed. It’s like ‘Rise Above’ versus ‘Baby Shark.’ So yeah, ‘Love and Mercy’ was interesting, but as a fan, I’m still waiting for somebody to really lay it down, you know what I mean? More ‘False Barnyard’ and less theme for ‘Karen’. As for I’m Not There, I haven’t seen it. I’m more interested in finding the director’s cut of Don’t Look Back where Donovan throws Dylan out a 12 story window. Maybe they should have called it Look Behind You”.

I’m dancing, deferring, and I know it, Hamlet doing dad jokes with too much time and not enough ready money. There’s still time to kill, so say, “If there’s a new My Bloody Valentine album this year, what are the odds it’s released on cassette?

“Cassettes don’t sell. They only foist them on people who are paying big bucks for box sets in other preferred formats. So there you are, you have a nice, big-ass coffee table book, a bunch of CDs or LPs of whatever, and then some rare shit on… you guessed it — a stupid tape. Do they issue that same box set in cassette form? NO. WHY? BECAUSE NOBODY WOULD BUY IT! So why inflict that damage on a consumer? It doesn’t make any sense. Tapes are for Teddy Ruxpin.”

I respond with one of those half-smiles that’s less apology and more faux politeness. Parks is back with my coffee and the Epstein, a sandwich so complicated in its construction yet simple in its ingredients and flavor profile that it’s best left to the imagination. The Sabbath cover washed Hell out of my mind, but he comes roaring back for an encore which reminds me to ask about something I’ve wanted to know since Eels six hit the shelves, “are you trying to be contrarian when you rep for Adventure? I know you know Marquee Moon is vastly superior.”  

Van Gieson tables his sandwich, washes it down with a Mexican Coke, nods, and says, “That’s the party line isn’t it? Television’s First album/first baby syndrome. Look, Adventure is great, The songs are great, the production is just the better side of flacid. I think you need to hear those songs in a different context. Listen to “The Dream’s Dream” from Live At The Old Waldorf, and make sure you’re wearing a diaper. Though I will say that any band that breaks up just because sales are down on their second album is absurd. ”

The super slinkys provide me one more backdoor to slip out before ending this dumbshow, “What’s up with Marriage?”

  “Still working. The second album is slowly revealing itself. We’ve trashed a lot of songs. I think at one point I was interested in creating a through-line that runs from Murder Shoes and Witch Watch to Marriage At Nevers. I guess the first album does that. There’s a bunch of Witch Watch songs on there. I’m more interested in trying new things out and collaborating with (bandmate) Shawn Jones has been good for that. I handed a track over to him that initially sounded very R.E.M. via Reckoning – all arpeggiated jangle and ferment – and he sent it back with some very ominous Wire circa 154 overdubs and XTC bass. It’s a weird-ass combination! Every time I hear it, I get a weird smirk on my face because it’s a new path. So yeah, we’re still plugging away, and we have some great vocalists on board for this one too.”

  “The video for ‘Phases’ kicked ass. The designation on the fighter jet at the beginning? [Chef’s kiss] Even if it lays bare your obsession with Jeff Lynne. Or should I say Jeff Lynne prior to his mid-80s work. Tell me again how you separate the two Jeffs or if you do at all?”

Van Gieson puts down the sandwich, wipes his mouth, takes a beat for gustation, and says, “Y’know, I like the many phases of Lynne. I might enjoy some phases more than others but that shifts with mood. I’m in quite the peculiar mood when I bust out DiscoVery. I associate ELO with growing up, staring at my mother’s turntable, with some big ass Koss headphones on that were hell on my cranium. So I do have a sentimental streak. I could make a case for the three 80’s albums, but we’re probably pressed for time. If you only know Lynne from ELO, check out his work with The Idle Race and The Move. “California Man” and the original “Do Ya” kick a lot of ass. I know there’s a very contextual debate on how ELO were the enemy during the time of punk, but I don’t believe that. Maybe the enemy of fashion with those satin blouses, but their innovations stand the test of time. “Birmingham Blues” would sit nicely next to “Out Of Step” on shuffle. The Eagles, Genesis, post-Barrett Floyd, and The Grateful Dead — that’s the stuff you need to be inoculated against.”

This is the moment. I can’t keep substituting questions about bands or musicians with decades between studio albums. It was time to screw my courage to the sticking place. Van Gieson senses my reticence. He knows those questions about Television and MBV chased with inquiries into Brian Wilson and Jeff Lynne came with an agenda. He says, “Hangtooth said you wanna press me on Bert and Chee-Chee, the new Eels stuff?”

I take a beat, Irish up my coffee, and before I can ask about the “new stuff,” Van Gieson grants me a mitzvah, “I’ve had a lot of time to chew on the ‘why’ question. I’ve heard it said I was too busy working on music to do Eels, which is ridiculous. The first six issues were done during the time I was in Murder Shoes. I’ve tried on multiple occasions to keep working on it, I’ve blown deadlines. Pages would get finished and then go nowhere. I had all of these characters and I felt like I was forcing them to do things that didn’t seem natural. I was shoving a fish sandwich into a square hole.” Parks looks over at us, a Pavlovian response to the word “sandwich.” 

“Anyway, I listened to a lot of interviews during the pandemic and there was a bit where Jaime Hernandez was talking about how the characters tell you when they’re ready. I sort of stewed on that, wrestling with whether I was betraying something by only concentrating on one character at a time. Especially a character that nobody seemed particularly interested in. But I think that’s why he (Bert) sort of called out to me, as he was a minor character in the first six issues – so there’s a good amount of potential there.” 

The synth line from “Voices Carry” plays over Zoomy’s loudspeakers interspersed with loops of an interview with Mann when she was doing press for Magnolia. It’s eerie. Van Gieson clears his throat and says, “That’s one element of it, getting comfortable with a format change. Another hurdle was that I had a lot of hangups with style. The way I naturally draw looks quite different from the comics work. That really fucked with me. My normal linework is a hell of a lot looser and expressive, whereas the comics stuff is tight and fussy. That felt dishonest to me. Especially when you look at Bill Sienkiewicz’s work.” Van Gieson waves at Santa My Life & Times. “Bill found a way to do it without barriers and hangups. Every time I see his full-size work, it always blows my mind, every time. I pre-ordered that damn New Mutants book and it was still sold out! I can’t begin to tell you how infinitely depressing that was. I got the other, smaller book that came out around the same time that covered more ground career-wise, but for purposes of studying, it’s not the same. I wanna tell him, ‘Bill, if you have a proof copy that one of your cats accidentally threw up on, let’s talk. I’ll pay cash.’ So yeah, there were attempts to get looser, there are even pages where I’m drawing 9×12 panels, hoping to trick myself somehow with extra room to move. Nothing. I always come back to that damn non-style style thing. So that’s yet more compartmentalizing.”

  “I wanna get back to that ‘Derek’s too busy with music’ bit,” I ask. “What does one outlet provide for you as an artist and how do the two, music and comics, complement i.e. complete each other?”

  “I think being involved in 2D art and music simultaneously is beneficial. Think of it as cardio and strength training. You feel like you’re cheating when you do too much of either and when you don’t do any, shit starts to go off the rails. But that’s just me obviously, my body type, at my age. Expressing yourself with music has a whole different level of satisfaction attached to it. I get to experience Christmas three times. There’s the joy in cooking up a good demo, there’s the joy in hearing it arranged in a full band context and playing it at a show, and there’s the joy when you get to properly record it. Creating and documenting is by far my favorite part. Touring is cool too, but playing show after show in your hometown, rearranging the same set list… that’s not interesting. That’s weekend warrior biz. I’d rather work on something new or see someplace new. BUT that’s one of the rubs of being in a band. Not everybody comes into it with the same intentions.”

  “Bands can be such false democracies,” I interject. “The one exception being The Beatles. A true democracy, which is why it didn’t last. Sorry, you were saying.”

  “Right. Music also allows for artistic and graphic design situations, building visual identity with posters and sleeves, making storyboards and directing videos, as well as expression in 3D, building sets or creatures or whatever. I watched entire seasons of 90s Star Trek just building a ridiculous cat head, and I loved it. Glue gun burns. Time spent with Ensign Ro. Day drinking. I tried to make it fun. With Marriage At Nevers, I spent time learning the basics of animation. I switched to Battlestar Galactica for that one. There’s enormous amounts of time hunched over a light box, making a fuck-ton of drawings, scanning it in, making corrections, coloring in every panel, timing shots to the beat of the song…it’s as time-consuming as comics but maybe worse. Putting words to music is another weird skill. There’s the melodic hook, the subject matter, and then the math. Breaking it down to syllables, cadence, all that stuff. I switch gears depending on what’s working or not working. A bad drawing day might be a good music day, or maybe I don’t do anything and go for a walk. Good ideas come at the weirdest times and having a little notebook handy will always pay off. Some people dig cars or love the inconsequential nature of sports stats. Music and art, that’s where my heart lies.” 

I know not to interrupt when someone’s rolling. Van Gieson senses this and holds up a hand, another non-verbal cue that says, ‘hold on, partner,’ He continues, “I didn’t get to the third thing. You’re always trying to distract me, defer, defer, defer. The third hangup, O.K., was having the freedom to move. When Eels started, I envisioned it just going forever. If there was going to be a book, it would be issues whatever through whatever as all of the character sets have different arcs playing out at different times. I was told that wasn’t how it was going to work and that I needed to have it follow a more traditional graphic novel direction and to figure out how many issues it was going to take to do it. I do understand that, I’m not oblivious to marketing. The shift from single issues to the bookstore format really fucked the genre in my opinion. The book format, initially designed to service comics, ended up dictating the rules. I usually don’t know how long things are going to take. I need room to move, time to try things out, surprise myself. That mysterious and fun period from the first few issues of Eels is what I missed and wanted to get back to, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Daniel Elkin reached out and suggested the page a week online thing (for SOLRAD) and I had to think about it. I came to realize that it’s a great solution. We’re sort of all along for the ride together. I have a loose story that can now expand and contract. I have absolutely no idea how long it will take to tell it and that’s the way I like it. It can be edited or re-touched later, so why not roam? A chunk of the discarded Eels stuff I incorporated into my work in progress follow up to Enough Astronaut Blood To Last The Winter. It’s a ‘work in progress,’ which means, I’ve granted your wish, I’m gonna keep adding to Eels until I find a publisher.”

It feels like a huge wave has washed over me and now the tide is pulling back into the primordial depths, “The Locust Lodge?” I ask. Van Gieson answers, “You could ask the same of Eel Mansions. There is no literal definition – no place that exists where you can install a router. There is no actual mansion, no lodge. It’s a flavor. Something unnatural like butterscotch or sassafras.”

The hum of the fluorescent lights becomes audible above the din of proprietors on the take and customers hunting for endive amongst the rapini and squirreling it away into reusable shopping bags emblazoned with the names of local non-profits.  

What’s that German word for getting what you want, but feeling like you’re being had? Van Gieson finishes up the rest of his sandwich and gets out the “tools of ignorance” every cartoonist totes with them from studio to java joint and every place in between, even in a pseudo-supermarket with a lunch counter. 

  “Where’s Janet?” I ask, “Where’s the Queen of the hobo animals?” 

Van Gieson takes a long look at me, “I’ll keep that one under my hat. I’m not done expanding her character yet, but Bert’s clearly driving right now. I appreciate that you asked. I like that people appreciate different characters. I’m still waiting for a big-ass, all-new Izzy storyline in Love and Rockets, but I don’t think I’m gonna get it.”


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