Permanent Damage (PD) is the brainchild of Keenan Marshall Keller, writer of The Image comic The Humans. PD is so named because the mini-con has been held in the event space known as Permanent Records Roadhouse. A bar, a record store, and live events venue, it is an all-around cool hangout spot in Glassell Park. Cartoonist and participant Steve Lafler turned me onto the shindig.
I have to note that even before Covid, I had stopped attending conventions. This one seemed to be about the right size for me to dive back into the Independent Comics/Comix scene, though.
The venue has lots of Covid-friendly outdoor space to set up tables and allow folks to gather. It was autumn in Los Angeles when the event took place, so the weather was mildly uncooperative. Luckily the full rainstorm had run its course, but it had left the city with a damp, overcast hangover. Doors opened at noon. The first band was set to go on at 3:00 p.m. and there was a live comics reading scheduled as well.
Out front were two tables under a white event tent, pushed toward the street to allow for unobstructed foot traffic. My first stop was a Bay Area publisher new to me, Freak Comics (https://www.freakcomix.com/).
I chatted with the very personable founders, Miles MacDiarmid and Christian Castillo. They have done well-curated anthologies and books by each of the three founding members (Mara Ramirez was actually attending a different comics-related event in another area of the city. But would show up later).
Shaheen Beardsley, the writer/artist of Oboy, the first full book by someone outside of the Freak Comics collective was also there. I perused the books and bought the one that resonated when I looked at it from back to front, skipping pages (though, if I’m honest, it is probably the character Amy Romero’s checkerboard shirt that clinched the deal). Hive Part 1: The Coronation, by Miles MacDiarmid was the first book to make it into my bag. A square-bound, full-color book, Hive tells the story of a group of friends who fall prey to the unholy magic of a found crown.
The other table out front featured the hot commodity of Nate Garcia, an under-twenty, Puerto Rican artist from Pennsylvania who writes and draws Muscle Horse and Gecko. I did get a photo, but there was a gaggle of fans vying for his attention. I vowed to come back later.
After the bored-looking fellow at the door took my (nominal) cover fee, I surveyed the joint. It was a bar: low light, dark walls, black and white checkered tile floors, and red vinyl booths against one wall. A table fronted each booth so the artist(s) seated there could display their wares. A long, curved, black bar faced the booths. Past the bar, a small hallway led outside to the patio that sloped down a hillside to a used record section and more tent-covered tables. Beyond the door to the outside, a DJ was spinning. Past the DJ was the stage, also filled with sturdy bins holding vinyl records. Comics and records, does it get much better? Or more dangerous to the wallet?
The ambiance was friendly. My first thought was feeling back at home in the world where I spent most of my 30s, but I know I’m getting old. My second thought was that it was too dark to really see the comics and too loud to talk to folks. That didn’t stop me from checking out all of the available work.
Back in the day, James Spooner directed the documentary Afro-Punk (https://www.spoonersnofun.com/film). Afro-Punk spawned a company that he eventually left because it was a company and no longer retained the punk/DIY ethos that drew him to the genre. He was offering DVDs of the hard-to-find film, as well as his current tome, The High Desert: black. punk. nowhere. The nearly 400-page memoir is about his coming of age as one of two African American punks in a small, high desert town full of Nazi skinheads (https://www.spoonersnofun.com/thehighdesert).
Rumi, an adorable and very friendly dog, assisted him.
I met event organizer Keenan Marshall Keller. Along with artist Tom Neely, he does the comic The Humans for Image Comics, which looks like it takes place in an interesting variation of the Planet of the Apes universe (https://imagecomics.com/creators/keenan-marshall-keller). He was also selling a very cool looking book of skateboard art by his friend James “Barf” Callahan, his own zines, and was plugging his Kickstarter campaign for Scumbag for Hire (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/scumbagforhire/scumbag-for-hire-volume-one).
Run by Cameron Hathaway, Clusterfux Comix has put out four increasingly thick and higher-quality anthology books as well as zines (https://www.instagram.com/clusterfuxcomix/?hl=en). I picked up the current anthology, Clusterfux #4. The work is black and white and comes in a range of styles and themes (though this one does seem heavy on demons and UFOs). This volume includes a piece by another PD4 attendee, Cameron Zavala. The artwork is mostly top-notch, but too much of the story telling is an excuse for gross-out violence. Did I mention I’m getting old? Tony DiPasquale’s Thanks is a wordless tale with an interesting twist. I also really enjoyed Anna Peterson’s moody and poetic, The Watchful. Miguel Elias Aguilar’s They Came From the End of the Universe to Colonize and Plunder Planet Earth (Part 1) has me keeping an eye out for the next Clusterfux anthology to read how it turns out.
Like many people here, Frank Gidlewski’s day job is storyboarding in animation. While he has worked on popular “Adult Swim” style animated shows (Big Mouth, Human Resources, The Midnight Gospel), it is his personal comics that really allow him to stretch. Frank was much more cheerful than his Sad Dad comics, loosely based on Frank’s memories of his father’s misadventures as a single parent. He claims that his dad hates the comic. As much as his sad dad is a bit of a sad sack, he is a man doing his best with the difficult hand he is dealt. A sample can be found on his site: https://tobefrankwithyou.com/sad-dad-comics.
There were a number of other creators inside. Their work can be found online at these sites:
Nik Ruby: https://www.instagram.com/uncomfortablebodies/?hl=en
Cameron Zavala: https://www.instagram.com/cameron__zavala/, a member the band, Dolphin Force, was promoting the band and selling off comics from his personal collection.
Katie Skelly, for the uninitiated, is the creator of The Bad Girl Tarot and The Bad Girl Oracle and the amazing graphic novels My Pretty Vampire and Maids. I love her work – check it out here: http://www.katieskellycomics.com/. I was looking forward to meeting her so much I was almost dreading it. My fan girl moment was averted due to another large group of fans at her table. Apparently, I was not alone. As before, I moved on, planning to circle back.
Harry Nordinger’s comics grow on you. At first, they seem bleak, but there is something beyond the existential dread that does really touch the core of the human condition. I picked up the zine Faces, which he’d put together for this event. Each page has a drawing of a person or people, their eyes or even whole parts of their face seemingly erased by the void of black ink. The four children in the image “Industrial Sound of Grinding Metal” look like something from a Dorthea Lange photo essay of the great depression, or perhaps Children of the Corn. Haunting, pitiful, and terrifying at the same time (https://www.harrynordlinger.com/comics).
There were two more tables, but the throngs in front of them made me wander down to the remaining set of tents.
Secret Headquarters https://www.thesecretheadquarters.com/ comic shop was there, providing a wide variety of offerings.
Matt Crabe was flanked by life-sized cutouts of his characters. The art is amazing, but sometimes things just don’t resonate (https://www.artsy.net/artist/matt-crabe/works-for-sale).
Seo Kim (http://seokim.bigcartel.com/products) was another person I was looking forward to seeing. Her wry and gentle, self-effacing book, Cat Person, is a joy. She is also a storyboard artist by day, but her personal comics are unique and feel very genuine. She was bundled against the chill, but was warm and cheerful. I love the drawing she did in the front piece of my book.
Johnny Ryan (https://www.fantagraphics.com/collections/johnny-ryan) is an artist with serious street cred. He started in the 90s with the zine Angry Youth Comix, which was nominated for a “Best Mini” Ignatz. Several of his series have been published at Fantagraphics. He inspired, executive produced, and guest voiced on the Nickelodeon series Pig Goat Banana Cricket. His table was regularly mobbed, and he seemed to be doing a brisk business in the sale of prints, original art, and books.
I’ve loved Steve Lafler’s work for years, so, of course, I landed at his table. Even though I had interviewed him for TCJ last year, I hadn’t seen him in person since the early aughts. I took a seat in his extra chair and we caught up on all sorts of stuff. It was great to see the original artwork from Death Plays A Mean Harmonica, his fictionalized account of the ten years he and his family lived in Oaxaca Mexico, as well as the wonderful pages from 1956: Sweet, Sweet Little Ramona and 1956: Rock Star. He even had a few pages from DogBoy, a character he drew through the 80s and 90s. They were recently collected into a 500-page graphic novel, Doggie Style: The Complete DogBoy (https://stevelafler.com/). I wasn’t the only person who wanted to catch up with Steve. Childhood friend, musician, and exceptionally nice guy Eric Schermerhorn stopped by. It was fun to talk with him about music and touring. Eric has been on the road with David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and They Might Be Giants, to name just a few. We had a great time looking for treasures in the used record section of the venue as well.
Another unexpected bonus was a zine and very cool sticker handed out by attendee Jeaux Janovsky called Sampler of Experimental Comics. It features the adventures of Tuna Tulip (the sticker) and Leonard the Duck. Delightfully drawn, simple, single-page stories seem to wear their influences on their sleeve, but also go new places. I really liked the cosmic Kirby dots. To see more about Jeaux check out these links: https://www.instagram.com/experimentalcomics/?hl=en or http://allofmyheroes.blogspot.com/.
When the band The Ticks went on, I went back inside to get energized by some high-volume punk music. I was digging it until I wandered over to get some water and realized that James Spooner‘s dog, Rumi, was not cut out for the volume. I ended up taking Rumi out to the courtyard where he was a little worried about where his person was, but also enjoyed his own rock star moment as everyone wanted to pet him and tell him how beautiful he was. James was ultimately moved to a table outside.
One of the best things about this show was the live comics reading. With the pages projected on a screen, each writer/artist read a couple of short pieces or a section from their larger work. This is a concept that I would love to see enacted more often.
Shaheen Beardsley went first. He provided excellent sound effects while reading a scene from his morally moribund anti-superhero book, Oboy. Next up was Steve Lafler. Steve lightened the mood with a scene from Death Plays a Mean Harmonica, giving his characters different accents. James Spooner did a couple of short sections from High Desert, which made me even happier that I’d bought the book. Freak Comics’ Miles MacDiarmid was up next. He read from Hive Part 1: The Coronation. Harry Nordinger read a few of his Sunshine Stories. Cameron Zavala performed his disturbing tale, Pull the Plug, a story of a boy trapped in a comatose body, desperate for his dysfunctional family to put him out of his misery. Last up was Mara Ramirez who read sections of their wonderful book Moab – about a transformative trip to the desert. The work was less wordy and focused on ethereal art. It was a gentle departure from the often dark and sometimes angst-filled previous work and a wonderful place to end the live performance. I ended up having a lovely chat with Mara after the reading. Moab is currently between printings, but I have it on order.
By this time it was dark and most of the artists had put away their wares and were either looking for dinner or hanging out with the music. Ruefully, I realized that I had never made it back to see Nate Garcia or Katie Skelly, and didn’t see them in the bar.
Chaki the Funk Wizard was up next. Chaki is a one-man tribute to all things funk, punk, kitsch, and nostalgic. With his bass, synthesizer, Santa hat, and sparkly cape, he laid down some amazing covers. I couldn’t decide if he’d lived all over L.A. or was just well-versed in the landscape as he re-introduced himself as being from Torrance, Topanga Canyon, Encino, and Whittier at different points. He was funny and engaging and very talented. His Hanukkah song, complete with cards for the audience to sing along with the prayer, is a holiday masterpiece (https://www.instagram.com/tv/CIqsGheBmpi/?utm_source=ig_embed&utm_campaign=loading).
It was shortly before his set ended that I realized it had been a long time since breakfast. My blood sugar had dropped and it was time for me to find sustenance. Have I mentioned that I’m old now? I was feeling it. As much as I wanted to stay for Dolphin Force and The Intelligence, I did not have the fortitude. I took my haul of books and made my way home in the misty Los Angeles night.
I had a great time at Permanent Damage 4 and I will keep my eyes open for PD5. Thanks to Keenan Marshall Keller for putting it all together and to Steve Lafler for sending me an invite.
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Wondering Wanderings, Wandering Cities: Walking Tale #2
Did Anna Haifisch, Simon Hanselmann, Josh Pettinger, and Jasper Jubenvill don’t show up? Quite a powerhouse of talent at a very small show to not even mention?