Friday, September 19, 2003

Forever, Vermont

Not too long ago, Media Dietician Brad Searles lent me part of his collection of Burlington, Vermont, scene ephemera. This entry is the first in a series of archival reviews of comics, zines, and records produced by participants in Burlington's indie-rock and -media scene. If you participated in the Burlington scene in the early '90s and would like to share your stories, insights, and experiences -- or correct any factual errors I make in this series of reviews -- please add a comment to contribute to the context!

Deadbear and Pals
James Kochalka produced this photocopied comic book starring Deadbear, James himself, his wife Amy King, Lil' Rocket Boy, Magic Fairy, and Clunky the Mechanical Monkey in 1993. Partially autobiographical, "Yup, I'm All Grown Up" informs readers that James has been cartooning since second grade and that "The best part of drawing comics is reading them when I'm done." Using visual humor, his usual goofy characters, and occasional autobiographical interludes, James tells the tale of Clunky's trip to outer space -- and inserts a gentle environmental message at the end. The story doesn't really matter, and James' early characters aren't that interesting, but it's fun to see James' early drawing style, and it's clear that there are some clear parallels to his work today -- Magic Fairy probably evolved into Magic Boy, and the personal elements were always there. A lively long-lost comic. James used to operate out of P.O. Box 8321, Burlington, VT 05402.

English-Lesson: A True Story Told with Simple Pictures
James Kochalka's 1994 Konk My Konk Comix book is an eight-page book marker-sized mini. Apparently, it's a recollection of a conversation between James and someone whose first language isn't English. They discuss calling women "baby," politeness, and how to best meet a potential girlfriend. It's a quick bit and an impressive departure, albeit slight, from James' usual fare.

I'm Not Action Johnny! #10
Colin Clary, the person once behind Sudden Shame Records, published these periodical, pocket-sized pamphlets. Sporting the cover line, "U don't love me, u just love my doggy style," this edition includes stories about stolen guitars; working a T-shirt cart in Burlington; the Fags, Philistines Jr., and James Kochalka's old band Jazzin' Hell; local zines such as Poo Poo Mag and School Bus; reviews of records and tapes by Eggs, the Bedroom Boys, and Kimbashing; and other Burlington-related musings. This may have come out around Thanksgiving and appears to have been a weekly. Sudden Shame used to operate out of 2 Cypress Lane, Essex Junction, VT 05452, and Colin's phone number was once 878-8759.

I'm Not Action Johnny! #12
"All the girls think I'm retarded cos my hair's not even parted," quotes the cover of this pocket-sized zine once published by Colin Clary. Colin also did a show listing zine with Brad Searles called Sounds Around. This edition includes news about Colin's then-band the Madelines, local zines, and Colin's radio show on WRUV-FM. Show reviews touch on Snowplow, Hover, the Fags, and Doc Hopper. In addition to several 7-inch record reviews, the zine features little stories about Colin's mom, license plates, the Sounds Around compilation, and the Burlingtonitus indie-pop fest. We need more little zines about out local scenes.

James Kochalka Superstar #1
Published in 1994 with a cover price of $2, this 16-page digest features Deadbear and a winged James Kochalka asking, "Am I famous yet?" on the cover. Thus begins James' formal quest for stardom. The book opens with a four-panel comic by his wife Amy King entitled "Girl Talk" that blends the cartoony and more dense styles exhibited in her digest Mine's Ugly. James' contributions include five autobiographical stories and a one-page Deadbear strip, all drawn in 1993 and 1994. A young James dreams of the demise of his dad and decides teenagers are bad. An older James is accosted by a gang of toughs on his way home and is robbed of a jacket and shoe. "Nov. 20, 1993 Burlington, VT" is a pleasant piece of natural whimsy that reintroduces the magic fairy characters that would evolve into Magic Boy. And the Deadbear page is a disposable time-travel tale. You can see quite a bit of development from James' earlier Deadbear work, and several panels really shine (p. 3, panel 4; p. 6, which portrays James' later sketchbook work; and p. 10, panel 1). The self-conscious racial sensitivity of "The Walk Home" and the natural wonder of "Nov. 20" telegraph James' current self-awareness and inter-story self-analysis as a narrative device. His style is starting to mature, and this sheds solid light on the directions in which he could head.

Jazzin' Hell 7-inch
Released by Tarquin Records in Connecticut and Thicker Records in San Francisco, this three-song record issues in 1992 predates the James Kochalka Superstar recordings. Performed by Peter Katis on the Casio MT-50, James on vocals, Hilton Dier III on soprano saxophone and bass, and Eric Bradford on tenor saxophone, the mono, lo-fi songs remind me slightly of Atom and His Package. One song, "Moon Tune," was recorded live in 1989 at Border in Burlington, and the other two songs -- "Egg Hunt" and "Let's Go Steady" -- were recorded in 1991. They're all simple, silly songs and aren't as well done as James' later recordings, but it's a fun listen nonetheless. And the picture of James dressed up as the Easter rabbit is priceless -- and might even rival the beefcake bit at the end of his new Fancy Froglin book.

Mine's Ugly!
This eight-page digest compiling comics done by James Kochalka's wife, Amy King, was collected as a surprise for her 25th birthday. Drawn primarily in a spiral-bound sketchbook, the digest represents two styles. The two one-page "Sparkle: Queen of the World" strips are simpler in nature, with a cute, clean line. In one, Sparkle becomes prom queen. And in another, she gives her friend Starbeam a bad home perm (hence the title of the collection). In both, the closing panel offers a beauty tip. Funny stuff. There's also a four-page story done in a more complex, realistic style that seems to be an appreciation of who might be Amy's father. The four standalone vignettes add up to a tender recollection of a man who was generous, a heavy drinker, and in the end, surrounded by family. Amy's work is quite good, and I'm pleased she also contributed to early issues of James Kochalka Superstar. But I wonder: Does she still draw? I hope so!

Sudden Shame catalog
Colin Clary used to run this little record label near Burlington, Vermont. This edition of the label's catalog lists releases available in 1994. 7-inch records feature the Smiles; Chisel; and Brian, Colin, and Vince. Tapes include recordings by Snowi Springs, the Madelines, and a compilation comprising Vibrolux, Chisel, Severinsen, BCV, Snowi Springs, Trendinista 5000, Zero Series, Richard Scarry, Teenage Dope Slacesm tge Smiles, Slow Ham and the Ditchbockers from Bean Bean, Emily, and Sweet Mamma of Guadelupe. There's also a CD by BCV -- Sudden Shame's first release. This and Colin's zines were produced using a nifty single-sided photocopy, slit, and accordion fold method. If anyone wants to tape any of the above for me, I'd sure appreciate it.

Soundtrack: Tunnel of Love, "Rock 'n Roll'n Bitches"

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