Sons of Bitches by Mike Baron

Biker current

WHAT THE HELL

I submitted this novel to my regular publisher who laughed and said, “No way!” for obvious reasons. I have signed a contract with Liberty Island Press to publish all the Josh Pratt novels beginning with Biker, originally published by Airship 27. My friends, do you find this risible?

SONS OF BITCHES

By Mike Baron

CHAPTER ONE  “Polly”

The title Muhammad burst from the cover in three-dimensional letters like a Cecil B. DeMille production. A lean, mean fighting machine in a white suit, wrap-around shades, beard and turban with a scantily-clad houri clinging to one leg, cigarette dangling from his lip, side-kicking a Hassidic Jew with skullcap and phylacteries two feet off the ground.

“It’s meant to be satiric,” Polly Furst said. “I’m Jewish myself.”

“Do you go to temple?” Josh Pratt asked. They sat outside at a round metal table adjacent to the sidewalk at the Laurel Tavern, a family-friendly pub on Monroe Street in Madison, WI. It was late June and the temperature was in the mid-seventies. Josh’s dog Fig sat at his feet. He flipped through the comic book.

“No. I come from a long line of secular Jews.”

“Man, I love comics. Used to read them in prison. This is good art.”

“Thank you.”

“Where do people pick this up?”

“From my website or at conventions. Capital City and Westfield have it. I asked Diamond and never heard back. I think it was too hot for them.”

“Have you received any death threats?”

“Too many to count. I told the police and they said there was nothing they could do. FBI, same thing. It’s like they have no interest in protecting me. I had to shut down my Twitter account and block about a hundred people on Facebook.”

“Did you report them to the administrator?”

“No. I guess I should have, huh.”

“Cops don’t protect people,” Josh said. “They come along after you’ve been stabbed and try to figure out who did it.”

“I have a bunch of shows coming up. I’m not going to be intimidated into hiding! I contacted Executive Security and they suggested you.”

“Huh,” Josh said. He’d graduated from their seminar last December and hadn’t taken any security jobs, although he’d been involved in the Cretaceous murders. “Anything local?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, has anyone phoned you or approached you in person?”

“No. I keep my phone number private but now I’m beginning to worry.”

“Where do you live?”

“I rent an apartment at Alhambra on the South Beltline.”

“I get two-fifty a day plus expenses.”

Polly goggled. She was a skinny thing with pale skin, a poof of curly red hair and a Roman nose. She wore a Tank Girl T-shirt over her flat chest and wire-rimmed glasses. She looked like a goonie bird. She snuffled, pulled a used tissue from her backpack and ran it under her nose.

“Allergies. My cash flow isn’t so great as you can imagine, but I have a terrific collection of original art I’ve collected over the years. My grandfather bunked with Charles Addams and Bill Mauldin in World War II. I suppose I could put some of my pieces up for auction.”

“I’m sympathetic to your case, Polly, but I don’t work for free.”

“I know that. People think that because I’m a starving comic book artist that I should do jobs for the publicity.”

“You make a living at this?” Josh said.

“Sort of. I got lucky last year when Vertigo tapped me to do a three issue run of Fables. Then I did a fill-in issue of Wonder Woman so I have a little money in the bank. I may have to sell my Mauldins and Addams drawings.”

She looked him up and down. “You are festooned with dog hair.”

The waitress came with three hamburgers. Josh set one on the ground for Fig. By the time Josh straightened up it was gone. Polly wolfed hers down looking around furtively as if some green was about to make a citizen’s arrest. She brought out two amber plastic bottles from her backpack, opened them and downed two pills.

“Do you have a concealed carry permit?” Josh said.

Polly stared at him like he was a bug. “Don’t be absurd! No one should have a gun except the police.”

“I’d like to take a look at your place and if you don’t mind, I’d like to see your original art.”

“Do you know anything about comics?” Polly said.

“I like The Badger. I think I have a few floating around.”

“Everybody loves The Badger,” Polly said. “I never wanted to do superheroes.”

Josh hefted Muhammad. “What’s this?”

“It’s a satire.”

“I don’t think Muslims do satire. Tell me something. With everything that’s happening in the world, with terrorists flowing over the southern border like a land rush, what made you think this was a good idea?”

“I’m an artist. I can’t think about what’s politically correct and I can’t let prejudice affect what I consider art or it’s the death of art. Every day we hear another ukase from some idiot that this or that should be off-limits.” Polly spoke in a faux low voice. “’There are many proper subjects for humor. Islam is not among them.’ Fuck that! Even Schindler’s List has a few laughs.”

Josh liked her. He’d always hated bullies.

“Now they say you can’t write Luke Cage unless you’re a black man. And you can’t play a movie Indian unless you’re Indian. There’s a reason they’re called actors. Edgar Rice Burroughs would have been forbidden to write Tarzan because he never went to Africa. Alexander Dumas could not have written The Three Musketeers because he was a black man. They’re calling for the death of the imagination.”   

“I hear you.”

“Did you ever see The Year of Living Dangerously? Linda Hunt, this little midget woman won an Oscar for portraying an Indonesian man. What do we do now? Take away her Oscar ‘cause she’s not Indonesian?”

“Never saw it.” Josh hadn’t seen many movies and most of those that he had seen he saw in prison. Inmates voted on what they wanted to see so Josh had intimate knowledge of Hell Up In Harlem, Superfly, Buck Town, Easy Rider, Hell’s Angels On Wheels, and Wild Angels. The tiny gay contingent never could summon the votes for The Bird Cage.

“Sorry for the rant. Seems like I gotta justify everything I do these days.”

“Not to me.”

“So what do you think?” she said, fixing her green eyes on him.

“About what?”

“About protecting me!”

“Let’s take a look at that original art. I might do it for the art.”

“Great!” Polly said. When the check came she snatched it. “I’ve got this.”

Minutes later the waitress returned perplexed. “Ma’am, your credit card didn’t go

through.”

“What?”

“We got notice from your bank that it’s been canceled.”

“That’s impossible,” Polly said.

It’s started Josh thought as he reached for his wallet.

Elvis and Me by Mike Baron

ELVIS AND ME

 

My second wife and I were married at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Vegas. Elvis

sang at the ceremony. My third wife and I were married in Sonia Immasch’s house. Elvis sang at the ceremony. This second Elvis was George Gray, one of the most accomplished Elvis impersonators in the country. George usually appears with a ten piece band including five back­up singers. He sounds a lot like Elvis.

 

Last week I visited my old pal Russ in Boynton Beach. “Guess what, Mikey! We’re going to see an Elvis impersonator!” He and his lovely wife Andy took me to the Lemon Cafe where one David Morin, born in France, was holding forth. Boynton Beach is retirement country and the café was packed to gridlock with senior citizens. I myself am a senior citizen. There was barely enough room to maneuver between tables. This Elvis appears with a pre­recorded soundtrack and his wife adding harmony. Amid the clamor and clatter of hard­of­hearing seniors, we were hard­pressed to understand David clearly, but the songs were utterly recognizable from “The Peppermint Twist” to “My Way.” After a brief intermission, David returned in spangled white jumpsuit splendor to sing “All Shook Up,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’” (written by Elvis’ cousin Jerry Lee,) and “Blue Suede Shoes.” He was okay but he was no George Gray.

 

When Elvis played Madison, he broke up a street fight.

 

June 23­24, 1977 – Madison, WI

 

Elvis arrived at the old Four Lakes Aviation around midnight. He was in town to do what would be his last show in Madison (He died less then two months later), at the Dane County Coliseum. He got into the waiting limousine and the headed south on highway 51. When they reached the traffic lights at East Washington Avenue Elvis saw Keith Lowry Jr. on the ground being beaten up by two teens at the Skyland Service Station. Wearing his trademark aviator sunglasses and “DEA Agent” navy blue jumpsuit over his sparkling stage outfit Elvis went flying out the door of the limo. When he reached the scene of the fight he said “I’ll take you on”. The two boys looked up at him and just stopped, Lowry ran into the gas station. Elvis got back into the limo and headed for his hotel room at the Sheraton.

 

(http://www.surroundedbyreality.com/misc/Famous/Elvis.asp)Rudelvis

 

The New Dog by Mike Baron

THE NEW DOG

So we got a new dog. His name is Bob, in honor of the previous Bob, who passed away a year ago. I hate to put a dog down. But if you love dogs and have them, it’s inevitable. The old Bob was a wonderful, obedient pet. After my late wife died of an overdose, Bob was my only companion for several months, until I decided to get him a playmate. I turned to karate pal Veterinarian Robin Van Metre who has a line on every stray dog in northern Colorado. She took me to a no-kill shelter in Loveland where I arbitrarily chose the little furball who looked somewhat like a collie/German shepherd mix. Freddie is a delightful dog.

Then I married Ann. Several years ago Robin asked if anyone would be willing to take her dog “Cali,” whom some brainless college student had dropped off an a shelter after deciding she didn’t really want the responsibility, and I volunteered. “Cali” is a Boston terrier/pug mix with a ferocious personality. We renamed her Mack due to her resemblance to the hood ornament on a Mack truck. When it time to return Mack, Ann clutched her and said, “We’re keeping this dog!”

Robin was delighted. “You saved our marriage!”

Mack bit a chunk out of Freddie’s face a week after we got her. No reason. She just wanted to establish who was top dog. She left old Bob alone. We have had Mack for about four years now and we love her deeply. She is a great dog.

Old Bob wasn’t doing so well. His rear legs began to give out and in the dead of winter he could hardly make it up the stairs to the deck. I laid carpet down on every step, and covered the kitchen floor with carpets so his rear legs wouldn’t go out from under him. But the handwriting was on the wall. Last February I took him to the park and we played catch for awhile. Bob loved playing catch. Then I took him to the vet and had him put down, in my arms. I tear up at the thought of Bob. Not so much for my late wife.

So Ann said, “When are we going to get another dog?” It’s always best to get them in the summer when they’re easier to house train. We went to All Aboard Animal Rescue at a pet store and Ann came back holding this goofy looking noodle dog with the big ears. Meet the new Bob.

Bob is part German shepherd, collie, and perhaps a touch of doberman due to the ears and coloring. Like all my dogs, he chews whatever’s at hand including valuable books and furniture. I have already lost two valuable books to him. But whatcha gonna do? That’s how puppies are. They have to chew and we have to provide them with quality chewables. Which brings me to the Tibetan dog chews at Poudre Valley Feed. Made from petrified yak milk, they are forty dollars a pound. The cheapest all natural animal part are buffalo ears at a buck an ear. At Poudre Valley, pet food is more expensive than human food.

Bob got house trained real quick by the other dogs. Now we are working on preserving what’s left of our infrastructure and trying to get him to stop barking. The house is awash in dog hair. Most of it from Freddie. Forget conventional vacuums. I use a shop vac and plan to get a new one shortly. It’s the only way.

Bob & Mack puppyBob puppyFreddie Mike

Paul Martin Smith by Mike Baron

Mike & Smitty

SMITTY AND ME

I first saw Paul Smith’s artwork on X-Men and was gob-smacked. Back in the day I wanted to work with every artist whom I admired. And there were a lot! Paul Smith is one of nature’s gentlemen. I was surprised to learn he was a fellow biker, and visited him several times at his garret in Santa Barbara, and later at his brother’s house. Paul had gone through several bikes before settling on BMW’s “Flying Brick,” and loaned me his Honda V45 for a memorable ride.

Of all the replacement artists who worked on Nexus, Smitty was the best ,(37, 38, 43, 44, 49, 51-55,) and “Kreed’s Arm” is his masterpiece. He also drew The Spirit, Starman, Sun Runners, and Leave It To Chance. His last comic book work was Kitty Pryde: Shadow and Flame, in 2006. Then he pulled a disappearing act.

I tried locating him for years. Several months ago, while visiting my partner Steve Rude, the Dude mentioned that Smitty had phoned him from his new home in Colorado. A little sleuthing tracked him to Colorado Springs, 120 miles south of my home in Fort Collins.

It has become a tradition to spend New Year’s Eve at my publisher’s house in Monument, five miles north of Colorado Springs. I asked my publisher if I could invite Smitty. Cool. My publisher’s house is impossible to find. Nevertheless, Smitty found it and there he was–older, grayer, but the same. Paul used to have bright ginger hair. It is now all white. We talked for hours and I reminded him of the time he loaned me a motorcycle and promised to return the favor. Paul is without a motorcycle for the first time in decades. I hope to see him on one of my projects soon.

His website is www.paulmartinsmith.com. 

Biker, by Mike Baron

Biker current

BIKER

I wrote Biker five years ago. I had been wrestling with novels all my life and stacked up an impressive pile of shit. Every would-be writer has a million words of shit clogging up his system, so it behooves him to get it out as soon as possible. To get to the good stuff. There are exceptions. I hate them.

I wrote Biker and Airship 27 published it. There were numerous typos, glitches and blank pages, but nothing could kill that story. I’m particularly fond of this Amazon review posted last month. I do not know Jerry Smith, but I am grateful for the review.

Writer Mike Baron is one of finest comic book writers the field has ever produced, creating Nexus, the Badger, the Butcher and many other memorable characters (and if you look hard enough, you can catch up with the Badger in his Biker cameo). Here he turns in an action packed novel about a conflicted man trying to do the right thing, but having to break a lot of clavicles to do it. Josh Pratt may be a Godly man, but he’s still tough as nails and will do what the situation requires. If I had one criticism of Biker, it is that Pratt needs to break a few more heads. He does diffuse a few situations by bravado alone before they get out of hand. Baron is such a great hand-to-hand combat writer I would have loved to have read a few more brawling fistfights. Still, a superb read with a fun plot, great pacing and some white-knuckle action. How many other books will you read this month where the protagonist faces off against a mountain lion with a pocketknife? I loved it!

If I had the opportunity, I would go back and make it better. Well I have the opportunity. Comicmix, who brought you Grimjack among other things, will publish a Biker graphic novel in about sixteen months. Why so long? The script is 100 pages and most good artists take at least a day to pencil one page. Before that appears, Comicmix will publish a thirteen page stand-alone story by the great ChrisX, to whet readers’ appetites.

I have written three more Josh Pratt novels. I will publish them soon, most likely through Liberty Island Press. Liberty Island is a libertarian outfit, and while I’m no libertarian, I admire their guts. Because my regular publisher took one look at the first page of the last Josh Pratt novel and said:

This chapter is edgy and entertaining, and you’re just asking for trouble. I love the in-jokes and I like the writing, the snappy dialog. You always have good, edgy stuff. Depending on where you go with it, this might be too hot for a publisher to handle, though, unless they want to use it for publicity and intentionally rile up controversy. We just had to bounce around one from Tracy Hickman and Dan Willis, the Dragons of the Confederacy, where they wanted to put a giant Confederate flag on the cover, right after the church shooting. I said no. They said “but think about all the publicity we’ll get if it causes a big stink!” I still said no thanks (and that was in the middle of the Hugo Awards crap, so I was already being called a neo-Nazi homophobic racist just because I was on the ballot). Doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write it, but it’ll probably cause you a lot of grief.

I’m thinking of posting the chapter here.

The Silence of the Scams

THE SILENCE OF THE SCAMS

For twelve years I drove a ’99 Maxima. On the way back from the high country it started making awful noises and the power cut out. It had over 120,000 miles on it. I took it to my mechanic. “Looks bad,” he said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with it. I’d have to tear the engine down.”

It was time. Using money I made defrauding widows and orphans I purchased a ’14 Maxima with 32,000 miles on it. The dealership tried to sell me a supplemental service contract. “Let me think about that,” I said.

Two weeks passed. Then the notices began. I threw some of them out but I have eight rightchere at my elbow and I’m sure there will be more today. The notices said, “REQUEST FOR ACTION—IMPORTANT VEHICLE INFORMATION ENCLOSED.” And, “FINAL ATTEMPT TO NOTIFY, RE: 2014 NISSAN MAXIMA.” And, “REQUEST FOR IMMEDIATE ACTION—TIME SENSITIVE MATERIAL ENCLOSED.” And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE REQUESTED.” And, “VEHICLE ALERT NOTICE—PLEASE RESPOND WITHIN 3 BUSINESS DAYS.” I got three of those. And, “IMMEDIATE RESPONSE TO THIS NOTICE IS REQUIRED.” And, “THIS IS ABSOLUTELY YOUR LAST CHANCE—RESPOND OR DIE.” And, “THE END IS NIGH, REPENT NOW.”

Okay. I made the last two up. But you get the idea. Oddly enough, none of these desperate appeals came from a legitimate business. Only one, EWS, has a return address. The rest just seemed to be anonymous threats to get my money. I have received at least twelve. I expect more. This time they will be my FINAL, FINAL NOTICES.

Weekend at Dude’s, by Mike Baron

Nexus 35 years

WEEKEND AT DUDE’S

I went to Phoenix recently to plan the next phase of Nexus with artist Steve Rude. I flew Frontier. Once again I was singled out for extra scrutiny by TSA. Happens every time. “Why me?” I said. “You have an anomaly in your groin area,” replied the agent. “Must be my enormous johnson,” I said. Actually, it’s the titanium brace in my hip which I acquired when I fell through a trap door in my own house in 2000.

Frontier’s seats are made of a single unit of plastic that doesn’t hinge. The little fold-out shelf was the size of a postcard. Water was free. A bag of chips cost seven dollars. However, the plane arrived more or less on time. Dude picked me up at the airport and we drove to his house which lies on the far western fringes of Phoenix in a weird neighborhood consisting of giant houses, many with thirty foot tall garages, surrounded by desert. As we entered a big dog, possibly a fox hound, rushed up to greet us. Dude chuckled and said, “Ha, the giant blowhard.”

Jaynelle found Daisy wandering the neighborhood and took her in. Now they have two dogs. Designer and graphic artist Mike Jones was there as well working on the Nexus Compendium which will provide behind-the-scenes looks at Nexus’ history plus a lot of never before seen art. I signed 500 posters, also signed by the Dude and the Big G (Paul Gulacy,) which are going out as premiums to kickstarter participants.

Just the other day I received a desperate plea from the Big G, along with everybody on his FB list, that he’d been mugged in Ankara, Turkey and needed money to get home. Of course he’d been hacked and it was a scam but Chuck Dixon and I had some fun stringing the hacker along with promises of money.

We also discussed the next phase of Nexus, following the current storyline which debuts in January. The current storyline is loosely based on Nexus vs. Galactus. It is epic! Dude took us on a tour of the environs and introduced us to his barber and the saleswoman who sold him his car. We ate at a nice Mexican/Italian restaurant that night which had outstanding shepherd’s pie. Then it was back to Spaceship Dude for more brainstorming. Dude hauled out page after page of original Kirby as well as paintings by Harry Anderson and Drew Struzan.

We plotted all day Sunday and went for a walk around the neighborhood. Very little grass and what there was has those damnable underground watering systems. I used to have one. Then we got Mack. The first thing she did was chew up all the underground tubes. There were little parks here and there, half acres of greensward surrounded by palm trees. I asked a guy why so many houses had those thirty foot garages and he told me, “for people to store their stuff.” The only reason I could think for those garages was to house sailboats, and there is a big lake about thirty miles away.

Sunday night Jaynelle made a delicious clam and pumpkin chowder, and on Monday morning Mike Jones dropped me off at the airport on his way back to Texas. And that was my weekend at the Dude’s.

Fight Scenes by Mike Baron

Fight!FIGHT SCENES

We all love fight scenes. But we don’t all love certain fight scenes. Jack Kirby used to draw the Hulk waving his fist and five dudes flying off panel in five different directions. That is not a fight scene. It’s a graphic depiction of mayhem, but it’s not a fight scene. When Paul Gulacy took over Master of Kung Fu, I was gobsmacked by his  graphic style, somewhat derivative of Steranko. But even then, before I dipped a toe in a karate studio, I could tell there was something wrong with the fight scenes. They were a series of isolated action poses.

The reader (at least this reader) wants the action to unfold in a clear, logical and kinetic manner, much like a good kung fu movie. And that means no wire-fu. One of the reasons for the success of early kung fu classics like Five Fingers of Death and Enter the Dragon was their ability to show martial arts in action. Here was something new in the action genre to an audience raised on John Wayne punch ’em outs. (Good martial arts movies were always out there, from the early Japanese samurai films to Jimmy Cagney’s Blood on the Moon. Treasure of the Sierra Madre has one of the most believable fight scenes in history, a messy brawl in a bar. If you’re not a martial artist, that’s how you really fight.)

I have tried to do that in my comics, most notably The Badger, Bruce Lee, and Kato. In each case, I drew, or provided photo reference, of specific techniques unfolding. I always hated extreme close-ups of a fist smacking someone in the face. It was  disjointed and often the  next panel depicted the opponents in illogical or impossible positions, given the preceding panel.

We read from left to right. Most of the time, action should flow from left to right, and here’s the prime directive: hold your camera steady and let the figures move. There are an infinite number of fascinating, highly visual martial arts techniques. Comics have barely scratched the surface. There’s a guy on the current season of Ultimate Fighter who somersaults into position to grab is opponent’s leg, and then straightens out with a heel hook submission. I’ve seen him do it twice. His opponents know exactly what he’s going to do but seem powerless to stop him.

I have been fortunate to work with great artists such as Bill Reinhold, Neil Hansen, Brent Anderson and Val Mayerik for many of my fight scenes. Val is a highly experienced martial artist and the fights he’s drawn for Bruce Lee (Malibu) and the upcoming Badger will stupefy and amaze you. Jeff Johnson, who drew Way of the Rat for Crossgen, is another artist who understands not only combat, but how to depict it in an exciting and kinetic manner. I’ve always wanted to work with Jeff and now we have a story coming up in Dark Horse’s Legends Reborn which recasts the legend of Pegasus as a martial arts movie.

Existential Thrillers by Mike Baron

EXISTENTIAL THRILLERS

In an existential thriller the protagonist is doomed. Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Wages of Fear is the archtype. “In a squalid South American village, men are hired to transport an urgent nitroglycerine shipment without the equipment that would make it safe.” You come to know these men and care about them, especially Yves Montand’s character. Yet you know their heroic efforts are futile. They know it too. You can see it in their faces.

William Friedkin followed The Exorcist with Sorceror, a remake of Wages of Fear. This is white-knuckle film-making at its best as the mismatched Roy Scheider, Bruno Cremer, and Francisco Rabal struggle with ancient trucks and harrowing rope bridges across bottomless chasms while transporting  nitroglycerin to an out-of-control oil fire. Sorceror is red meat for socialists who can condemn not only capitalism, but racism and colonialism as they wait for the inevitable denouement.

The Naked Prey directed by and starring Cornel Wilde, is another great ET. The twist here is that he actually survives the movie, which you would never guess from the harrowing introduction. It’s difficult to believe he was allowed to get away with these scenes of African torture in 1965. These are not your father’s noble savages.

Sam Peckinpah directed two of the greatest existential thrillers, The Wild Bunch and Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia. The Wild Bunch, like Ride the High Country and The Ballad of Cable Hogue, is a eulogy to the dying west, in this case a group of aging, over-the-hill train robbers looking for their last big score. Peckinpah eschewed pretty boys. The faces of William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Robert Ryan, Ben Johnson and Warren Oates are portraits of stubborn desperation, covered in sweat and bristles. Near the climax, when the scumbag general slits Angel’s throat and Holden automatically shoots him dead, all action freezes. Hundreds of the general’s cutthroat followers can’t believe what just happened and there’s a chance they’ll let the Wild Bunch walk out of town. Borgnine looks around, chuckles goofily, and they open up in one of the bloodiest shoot-outs in cinema history. They’re doomed, but they’re going down guns blazing.

Warren Oates makes a similar decision at the climax of Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia, Peckinpah’s cracked existential masterpiece. Alfredo knocked up the daughter of a rich man, who promises $50,000 to anyone who brings him Alfredo’s head, setting off a treasure hunt among such spectacular low-lifes as Gig Young and Kris Kristofferson. Oates’ seedy piano player plums the death of Mexico’s sewers on his way to collect but when the pay-off comes, Oates chooses to kill the fat cockroach who has caused so much heartache with his cynical offer.

The most recent truly great existential thriller is The Grey, in which Liam Neeson’s gang of oil field roughnecks crash lands in the middle of the Alaskan wilderness. A pack of wolves gathers and starts picking them off one by one. The Grey has a unique beauty as well as a story that will pin you to your seat.

Salt Lake City Comic Con written by Mike Baron

SALT LAKE CITY

Thanks to the good offices of my partner Steve Rude the Salt Lake City Con had me as a guest, but were unable to give me a hotel room. I stayed with my new publisher Lawrence White, for whom I am adapting my novel HELMET HEAD. Lawrence lives with his large, extended family in West Jordan, a suburb of Salt Lake. When Lawrence learned his neighbor was on dialysis and  circling the drain due to lack of a replacement organ, Lawrence gave him one of his kidneys. That’s the kind of guy Lawrence is. He works full time. His charming wife Lay works full time. And his son works full time. His anthology POINT BLANK has been up on the internet for awhile, but Lawrence has asked me to step in as editor for his new line of comics.

The Salt Palace was chock-a-block but the only publisher with a booth was Top Cow, even though attendance hit 150,000. I sense the big publishers pulling back in an effort to tighten their belts. There were also tons of new artists selling posters and prints and most of them were very good. I sat next to Tomy Knight from Toronto, who with his brother paints superheroes similar to Greg Horn. Tomy has no website. He’s not on Facebook. He goes to the cons, puts out his wares and rakes in cash from surprised but delighted attendees who have never heard of him. You will search in vain for his images on the internet. There were many other artists of similar quality.

I counted three double-wide baby trams. You’d think these people had never been to a con before. Friday night I supped with James Artemus Owen, a man who goes out of his way to help others. James drove from his home in Arizona so that he could bring the CHAIR. If you go to his Facebook page, you will see the CHAIR. James always wears slacks, a white shirt, and a nice vest. This is known as branding. Jim Steranko also brands, and never appears without a snappy three-piece suit. Saturday was crazy. Cosplayers set a Guinness World Record for the most cosplayers in one place. Dude and I met to discuss future Nexus stories. I ordered a martini. It arrived in a thimble. I asked the waiter if some had spilled and he said, “I’m sorry, sir. Utah state law requires that cocktails may not exceed 20 cc.”

And then suddenly it was all over! The Salt Lake City Con has come out of nowhere to become one of the largest comic conventions in the country. It seems there are more comic conventions than ever, often two or three on the same weekends. Yet the readership has not expanded. Why? I don’t know. But I do know that placing spinner racks in movie theater lobbies is a good idea. The only reason this doesn’t occur is because of the impossible knot of uncooperative theater owners, publishers and distributors who can’t agree.