Pleased to Meet Me
1975 photo with my parents holding (left to right) my brother Dennis, me and my brother Doug.
Early years: I was born in Lancaster, California in 1968, and spent my first year on my grandparent's small turkey farm, before my father returned from the Vietnam War and moved my mother and I to a suburban neighborhood in Phoenix, Arizona, where I grew up. After I left school, I spent a couple of years working as the sole member of the graphic department for a neighborhood newspaper, the Moon Valley Tattler, where I first learned about graphic design and the print industry.
I left home in the early 1990s and moved to Tucson, where I did the usual young-adult screwing-around-and barely-getting-by thing, taking odd jobs as a production-and-design guy for various clients and, in my spare time, working the soundboard for a local sketch-comedy troupe. Eventually, I found myself working for the Kivona Corporation, making display ads for one of those "homes for sale" magazines that you see by the door of your local supermarket.
In late 1997 I jumped ship from print to the Web, moving back to Phoenix and serving as Hosting Services Webmaster for The Daily Racing Form. I didn't actually run the horseracing newspaper's own website — though I was certainly involved with its day-to-day maintenance and operation — but instead maintained a dozen sites for companies that had contracted out to the Form, including New York City Off-Track Betting and such tracks as Hollywood Park, Bay Meadows, Canterbury Park and Turf Paradise. The Form's management at the time was terrible, though my co-workers were actually pretty cool, and when the company decided to move its editorial headquarters back to Manhattan, I elected not to follow my job and instead took a severence buyout.
A photo from my second San Diego Comic-Con for Fantagraphics, circa 2002. That's Greg Zura and me on the upper left; longtime phone operator Ema Nakao in front of me, looking surprised; Spanish academic Ana Merino and Fantagraphics designer Carrie Whitney to Ema's left; and Eric Reynolds and Kim Thompson at upper right. I've forgotten the names of the three others, who worked at the company's South Seattle warehouse (sorry, folks). I have no idea who took this photograph.
Life at Fantagraphics
By June of 2000, the severence money was starting to run down and I wasn't sure what to do with myself. After taking a couple of months off, I'd spent the rest of my time auditioning for idiots who "had venture capital," were building "business-to-business" websites and spouted catchphrases from Wired Magazine to demonstrate that they were hip to the dot-com thing. I was turning down $50,000-a-year gigs from such people, on account of their inability to answer such questions as "How do you plan to earn your money?" and "Yes, I know, but after the venture-capital investment runs out, how do you plan to earn your money?" My friends all thought I was insane.
One evening, I found myself screwing around on the message board of The Comics Journal, and noticed a banner ad for a fundraising cruise to benefit the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, which had already taken place some six months prior. I started a new thread entitled "Lookin' Forward to That Cruise" and wrote something suitably snarky and obnoxious, and forgot about it — until the next day, when Fantagraphics publisher and Journal executive editor Gary Groth replied to the thread, noting that the person who used to administer the website was now gone and that nobody else at the company knew how to take the banner ad down. He also announced that the he was looking to hire somebody with both print and Web experience.
Understand that I'd been a longtime fan of both The Comics Journal and Fantagraphics generally. The Journal was the closest thing that the comics industry had to a proper trade journal and literary review, and its writers and editors weren't afraid to make enemies in the pursuit of truth, art and beauty. Its news coverage was practically the only place where you could get honest appraisals of just how corrupt were various publishers, how screwed were various creators and how awful was the industry environment in general. Its essayists and critics were eloquent, educated, informative and sometimes quite vicious. And the interviews! They were the opposite of puff pieces: They could run for thirty, forty, even fifty pages, and really dug deep into their subjects' lives, careers and artistic philosophies. Many comics fans dismissed The Comics Journal as "the comics magazine for people who hated comics," but for those of us whose interest in the subject extended beyond publishing hype for the latest Batman funnybook — for those of us who were passionate about the medium, and thought it had the potential to do far more than its history might otherwise have suggested — the Journal was essential, an oasis in a sea of mediocrity, a rallying cry, a lifeline.
Furthermore, the magazine's publisher backed up its philosophy with a line of comic books and graphic novels that, over the course of forty years, did a lion's share of the work in elevating comics as literature, comics as art, to a respectable position in English-speaking culture. From Los Bros. Hernandez to Daniel Clowes to Chris Ware to Jessica Abel to Jim Woodring to Joe Sacco to dozens of other visionary cartoonists who found long-term publishing support in its ranks, Fantagraphics Books was one of the prime movers in inventing the art-comics movement as a significant publishing phenomenon from scratch. Its flagship title, Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez' Love & Rockets, inspired a generation of visual storytellers to follow the trail they'd blazed, reminding us all that comics could be about anything, could say anything, could do anything, if only their creators had the courage of their artistic convictions.
So yeah, of course I sent Gary my resumé. We discussed the subject of my employment over the phone for a couple of days, and by the end of the week I had loaded my possesions and furniture into a moving van and lit out for Seattle, embracing the opportunity to join the vanguard and the chance to earn half of what I'd made at the Daily Racing Form while performing twice the work. Again, my friends made a point of questioning my sanity, but I was having none of it.
I arrived at the Fantagraphics house on July 1, 2000, only to discover that Gary Groth was in Europe and hadn't bothered to tell anyone else what he'd actually hired me to do at the company. Consequently, I spent my first month in the basement library, reading weird and obscure comics that I'd only ever heard about second-hand, and otherwise doing my best to learn as much as possible about the medium while I had the chance.
The Fantagraphics basement library after Kristy Valenti organized the place and had new shelves built. Trust me, before Kristy took charge, the place was a mess.
I received my first actual assignment at Fantagraphics when I mentioned to Comics Journal managing editor Eric Evans that I had designed and maintained websites for a living at my previous job, whereupon he reached into a desk drawer, handed me a sheet of paper containing the log-in information for TCJ.com, and said, "Here you go, it's all yours."
"So what would you like me to do with it?" I asked.
"I honestly don't care," he replied. "Just don't try to drag any of us into it." The last attempt to turn the website into a regular portal for Journal readers, it turned out, had earned the site a reputation among staffmembers as an annoying and pointless waste of time, and nobody in the office now wanted anything to do with the damned thing. I took the site information and went back to the basement, where I thought about what I was going to do next.
When Gary returned from Europe, he passed me off to fellow publisher Kim Thompson, the guy who actually ran the company of a day-to-day basis, and introduced me as the new catalog editor. For the next two years, my job was to create all the mailers and catalogs for Fantagraphics and its disreputable sister EROS Comix, the porn-comics publishing imprint that had long served as the part of the company that actually brought in money. Mostly, it was EROS work: I created the new Fantagraphics catalog once a year, and designed the occasional Love & Rockets mailer and website-sales flyer, but otherwise it was porn, porn, porn all the live-long day. At the time, the online shopping carts for both comics lines were straight text listings, so I also spent a fair amount of time scanning and uploading covers to the sites, as well as writing sales copy for the various books and comics.
Here are three examples of the covers I created for catalogs and mailers. Click any image to see a larger version:
It took a while to figure out what I wanted to do with the website, but it first began to come together when, digging around in the basement library, I stumbled across eighteen boxes of cassette tapes -- most of them original recordings of interviews for The Comics Journal, as well as convention panels and various random recordings. About a third of the tapes were unlabelled, but the rest made clear that I was looking at what was perhaps the largest collected oral history of the North American comics industry in existence. Seriously, in twenty-five years of publishing The Comics Journal, they never knowingly threw away a single tape. I decided then and there that what I had in front of me was far too valuable to be left to sit, rotting away in a basement, and that I should take it all back home with me and begin digitizing it as soon as possible.
Fortunately, "back home" was a room that I had rented from Gary Groth, so convincing him to let me drag the boxes back to the house took no effort at all. As I began sorting through the tapes and recording them to compact disc, it occured to me that, properly edited, excerpts of these recordings would make for great promotions as MP3s on the website. With that, the Audio Archive series was born.
My front porch — which is to say, Gary Groth's lower porch — circa 2005.
There were issues involved with the series that took a month or two to work out — I was paranoid about editing out of the posted MP3s anything that wasn't also in the printed versions, as well as most of the "uhhhs" and "ummms" and such. I didn't want to do anything that might piss of the interviewees or poison the well for future interviews conducted for the magazine. Speaking of which, I also wanted to obtain permission from each interview subject before excerpts were published, which at first seemed like too much effort for the already-overworked Gary Groth. I tried to get around this by running excerpts from people who'd already passed away (Jack Kirby, Charles Schulz and the like) but I also ran a few excerpts from interviews with still-active creators, and Alan Moore finally complained to Gary when I posted clips from one of his interviews. Which was great! Gary smoothed things over with Moore, and from then on, badgering him into opening his rolodex and calling people for permission ceased to be a problem, and all my worries went away.
Blogging the Comics Industry
The real success I had with the website, however, was ¡Journalista!, a weekdaily news weblog that I started in 2002 in an attempt to draw traffic to TCJ.com on a more consistent basis. At the time, there were a number of comics news sites on the Internet, but — then as now — all but one or two offered little more than puff pieces and press releases for Marvel, DC Comics and their various imitators. Such sites as Newsarama, Comic Book Resources and the like existed mainly to serve the superhero-comics fans who populated 90% of the comics shops in the United States and Canada, and the content of these sites reflected this to an embarrasing degree. For this reason, I thought that a newsblog catering to a more all-encompassing definition of comics, one that actually downplayed all but the most interesting superhero-related news and articles in favor of, well, everything else, might be a good draw for readers.
Futhermore, I'd seen what a clever linkblogger could do if a blog was launched at the outset of a developing online scene. In the days following the September 11, 2001 attack on the Twin Towers, I began reading newsbloggers who discussed what the Bush administration would likely do in response, and discovered the website of a Tennessee law professor named Glenn Reynolds. Reynolds obsessively blogged not just news related to what was then called the "War on Terror," but commentary about said news from other bloggers, as well. Libertarian-minded person that he was, he tended to concentrate on voices from the right side of the spectrum, and as he linked to them, they began linking back and reading each other's blogs as well. From this, the conservative blogosphere was born.
It occured to me that if it worked for Reynolds, it could work for me as well. And sure enough, it worked like a motherfucker. ¡Journalista! launched well and got good responses right out of the gate. While there were plenty of people writing about comics on their various Blogspot and Livejournal pages, many weren't aware of one another, so when I pointed readers at them, they noticed both the traffic that I'd sent their way and the other people to whom I was linking. Pretty soon, a comics blogosphere began to grow, exactly as predicted.
At first, I was making catalogs and mailers at the office full-time during the day, and then going home and assembling the blog for another four hours. After a year or so, this schedule had flipped: I was blogging for a good seven-to-eight hours at night, then sleeping late and showing up to make the promo stuff for four hours during the afternoon. I wasn't falling behind on the catalog work, mind you, but it bothered me enough that I went into Kim Thompson's office and explained the situation to him, worried about how it surely must have looked. Kim gave it all of fifteen seconds' thought before decreeing that my ¡Journalista! work now counted for half-time and therefore, so long as I stayed on top of the mailers, it wasn't an issue.
At the height of its popularity, ¡Journalista! attracted upwards of 12,000 readers a day — small potatoes compared to sites dealing with the greater culture at large, but huge numbers for the independent-comics scene. At one point, both the blog and its parent magazine were nominated for Eisner Awards in the same category, and since I'd only just left the editorship of said magazine to return to the blog, this basically left me in competition with myself for the trophy. (Needed to say, this split our voting base and both publications lost.)
Oh, right, did I mention that I once edited the magazine...?
This was the managing-editor's desk in Journal office, back when there was something to managing-edit.
Editing The Comics Journal
By early 2004, Milo George had been editing The Comics Journal for a couple of years, and he and Gary were getting on like fire and gasoline. It wasn't pretty. I liked Milo, and to this day consider him to be one of the best editors the magazine ever had, but his people skills... sheesh. I discovered things coming to a head when, one night while I was in the art department scanning illustrations for the blog, I ran into Milo in an excited mood: He was assembling the Best of 2004 issue, and had finally come up with criteria for the best-of list that just happened to exclude everything that Fantagraphics had published in the past year. "I've finally got Gary!" he said, with something approaching a look of glee on his face.
(Keeping the Journal free of even the slightest appearance of nepotism was always of particular concern for Milo, who had a rather jaded view of its politics over the years. By the end of his run, he was art-directing as well as editing, and he'd mock up the Newswatch section with dummy headlines like "Enemy of Gary Groth in Legal Trouble Again," just to make sure that other people in the office saw it. Milo was pretty funny, actually, but he seemed to go out of his way to piss Gary off.)
Anyway: Milo wanted to back Gary into a corner over a best-of issue of the Journal with no Fantagraphics-published works in it, which would've been an argument at the best of times, but in a year that saw the release of both Jim Woodring's The Frank Book and Gilbert Hernandez' Palomar? Milo, I love you man, but it was a stupid idea from the beginning. The next morning, before I'd even had the chance to drink my first cup of coffee, Gary bounded down the stairs, informed me that he was firing Milo and would I be interested in taking his place?
If I hadn't done ¡Journalista!, I wouldn't have said yes. Writing and researching the blog for two years had given me the confidence to write for public consumption, as well as the knowledge of arts and industry issues needed not to fall on my face too many times while doing so. Like I said, I'd been reading The Comics Journal for years — it was literally why I was there in the first place. So I said yes.
Editing the Journal was everything I'd hoped it would be. I've never enjoyed my job so much in my life. Each issue was a new series of subjects to research, a new collection of interviews and essays to read and edit, a new chance to shape a magazine that I'd admired for decades. I was able to interview a number of my favorite cartoonists in comprehensive fashion, produce several issues devoted full-length to topics like shoujo manga and the career of Will Eisner, and write long essays and reviews and see them committed to cold print. One of the new features inaugurated during my run was a comics section, usually devoted to an artist or publication with comics that had fallen out of copyright — and comics history was stuffed with good comics that had turned public domain. Each issue, I had the chance to find a set of comics that I wanted to own in print, call on the Journal's rolodex of rare-comics collectors and bring said comics into print.
The icing on the cake, hands down, was the team I had working with me to get the magazine out, every 45 days like clockwork. Michael Dean, the news editor, had been with the Journal for years by the time I showed up, and he knew the industry inside and out. If I couldn't answer a question, I knew that all I had to do was ask him — if he didn't know, he knew who did and had their email address.
Assistant editor Kristy Valenti and art director Adam Grano had been interns for the magazine when Gary had fired Milo, and were of invaluable assistance in helping me get up to speed on how to assemble and produce The Comics Journal. Kristy is the most organized person that I've ever met, capable of juggling a dozen tasks without tripping up and was by leaps and bounds smarter and more capable than she at first seemed to realize: Watching her grow into her job was genuinely inspiring. Adam is a brilliant designer, as his subsequent career demonstrates, and his work on the Journal was never short of amazing. Each issue had its own look and unified design, and was basically its own, utterly gorgeous art object. After our trial-by-fire in getting the first issue out, I walked into Gary's office and informed him that while I could produce the magazine for him, I had no doubt that I'd need Adam and Kristy working full-time to help me, and that I needed him to offer them salaries before the experience of putting a magazine together without being paid to do so convinced them to seek better opportunities elsewhere. There's no way I could've done it without them.
Under my run as managing editor, the Journal was nominated twice for Harvey Awards, winning one of them, and was nominated twice for Eisner Awards — the second time, alas, was after I'd ended my two-year run and returned to blogging for the magazine's website, resulting in that whole "nominated twice in the category and splitting the vote" brouhaha. By that time, I was back in Tucson, so even if my colleagues were a bit annoyed by the blog stepping on the magazine's chances of bringing home a statue, I wasn't around to hear most of it...
My home office, which took the place of the living room in my tiny Tucson apartment.
Back in Tucson
In Spring of 2006, sales manager Matt Silvie mentioned that he'd have an easier time selling ads on our website if I were still doing ¡Journalista! — which got me to thinking. By this point, I'd done just about everything that I wanted to do with the Journal, and I was starting to get homesick for Arizona. Mustering up my courage, I wrote a proposal wherein I would step aside as managing editor, allowing Michael Dean to take my place, and would relaunch The Comics Journal with more content: Specifically, more reviews and essays, and the return of ¡Journalista! as a weekdaily newsblog. The catch was that I wanted to do it from Tucson. You could've knocked me over with a feather when Gary said "yes."
Proving that repetition is the sincerest form of history, I returned home to Tucson on July 1, 2006, having conducted six interviews, written a history of the comic-book industry's darkest period in forty years and edited two final issues of the magazine before loading up another moving van for the return trip. Setting up the new TCJ.com took about a month and a half, and after the usual headaches and birthing pains, it all went online the first day of September.
From there, I settled in and got to work. I diligently produced the newsblog every weekday, tried to make sure there was a new review up at least three times a week, and even managed the occasional special feature. (The best of these features, essays and reviews not still archived at TCJ.com are now available here at Deppey.com.) In addition to issues affecting comics as an industry, I also dealt with things like fan culture and even the occasional goofy meme. While things got contentious from time to time, by and large I had a blast serving as a voice for the smarter elements within comics, my efforts earning the occasional accolade from the comics cogniscenti.
In the course of all this, I also helped to start a literary manga line for Fantagraphics. It began with the shoujo-manga issue of the print magazine, The Comics Journal #269. I had originally contacted Kyoto Seika University professor Matt Thorn back in May of 2004, after a snarky (and not entirely unjustified) comment he'd made about the Journal on the Sequential Tart message board concerning a news article we'd published, and invited him to assist us with a special issue of the Journal devoted to girls' comics from Japan that we were planning.
It was easily the smartest thing I ever did as managing editor. I was a recent convert to manga, and while my heart was in the right place, my head was... less so. When Thorn asked me whom I'd like for him to interview, my response was something along the line of "Gee, how 'bout them CLAMP gals? I hear they're popular," or something equally idiotic. Showing me far more patience than I deserved, Matt explained that, while he could obtain an interview with CLAMP if that's what I really wanted, he also happened to know a Very Important Cartoonist named Moto Hagio, and that she would make a much better subject for the issue's centerpiece. I responded with something that probably sounded a lot like "Well gawrsh, you're the expert!" and gave him the go-ahead, then went online to learn a little something about the person to whom I'd just committed the Journal spotlight.
Half an hour later, I very nearly had a heart attack. I quickly discovered that (A) Moto Hagio is quite possibly the second most important cartoonist to come out of Japan after Osamu Tezuka himself, one of the originators (along with Keiko Takemiya and their fellow Magnificent Forty-Niners) of modern shoujo manga as we know it today, and thus a prime mover for the worldwide manga revolution; (B) this was going to be my one opportunity to introduce the English-speaking world to a master cartoonist on par with Will Eisner, Hergé and Carl Barks; and (C) if I screwed this one up, I'd regret it for the rest of my life.
(It certainly put the fear of God into me, I can tell you that — The Comics Journal #269 wound up taking over a year in planning and production, was anchored around a full-length, absolutely essential interview with one of the world's greatest living cartoonists, and remains to this day the highlight of my time as editor of the magazine.)
As those who've read the issue are aware, Matt and I made no secret of the fact that one of our goals was to provide the needed momentum to bring Hagio's work into long-term English-language print, and... well, I just happened to know a publisher, didn't I? After playing e-mail tag with me for a year or so, Matt wrote up a pitch for Fantagraphics co-founder Gary Groth, I passed it along, and just over four years later, the first hardcover in the line — A Drunken Dream, a collection of Moto Hagio's short stories — made its debut, followed shortly thereafter by the first volume of Shimura Takako's tale of transgendered youth, Wandering Son.
I served as unofficial go-between for Groth and Thorn during the negotiations, nagging them to keep talking and keeping the shoujo-oriented Thorn and art-comics impressario Groth on the same page. For a time, I was given the title of "consulting editor" for the line, and I used my experience with obscure scanlations to recommend potantial books for the line. Most were shot down for one reason or another, but I did manage to convince Matt and Gary on the merits of Inio Asano's dark psychological-horror novel Nijigahara Holograph, which Matt translated and Fantagraphics brought into English-language print in hardcover format in 2014.
While I continued with my work online, The Comics Journal itself was having less luck in print, and the magazine's 33-year run came to an end with issue #300. The website was reorganized in late 2009 to serve as a sort of digital version of itself and, for a time, did exactly that — but it was fairly obvious to me that the writing was on the wall, where I was concerned. TCJ.com never earned enough from banner ads to pay my salary when there was a print magazine to promote. With nothing but a website to consider, my salary was even less justifiable. A year later, I wrote my final ¡Journalista! entry and was let go.
2009 photo of me looking burnt-out, taken by Tom Jarvis.
From the best place I'd ever worked to the worst: A few months later, I was hired as an associate editor for a somewhat shady, somewhat evil company that produced cheesy advertising rags for distribution at trade shows, about which the less said the better. To the astonishment of the loose affiliation of ex-employees that I got to know, I managed to last for a full year at the company — apparently that's some kind of record. Afterward, I burned through my assets while attempting to launch a career as a freelance writer, and failed miserably. I am many things, but a salesman I am not, even when the product I'm selling is me. I left Tucson in 2014 and returned to Phoenix to live with family... and here I am today, searching for my next opportunity.
In the meantime, I've decided to launch and maintain this website.
All site contents ©2016-2020 Dirk Deppey, save where noted.