Sunday, June 25, 2017

Jazzbo!

Jazzbo #2 by Eric Searleman, 1995.  Published by Slave Labor Graphics.

Eric had comics in several small press anthologies in the early 1990s including contributions to Destroy All Comics,  Murder Can Be Fun and Sputnik, amongst others.  Slave Labor Graphics published two issues of his series that he both wrote and illustrated.  The first issue was a collection of Searleman's short comics.  The second issue is a longer more fully realized 24 page story.   This was the last of Searleman's comics though as he moved on to other things.  I was a fan of Eric's comics when I read them around this time.  I wrote him in 1998 and he even contributed to a mini-comic I was making.  He sent me two of his original pages for a new story which unfortunately I lost and never returned to him (sorry, Eric!).  Perhaps it was bad experiences like this that dissuaded him from continuing to draw comics, which is certainly understandable.  Or maybe Eric continues to draw comics in private.  I don't know.  But what I do know is that Eric was a unique voice and talent in comics that I miss.

Jazzbo #2 is my favorite of Eric's comics.    It's similar to issue #1, but it's like Eric this time tried to take these random everyday anecdotes he wrote in the premiere issue and string them together into a longer story.  It works!  His work had a very light, freewheeling touch to it. For example, in this comic he was constantly drawing himself in different ways but he did this in a way that was not confusing.  The character is always recognizable but the reimagining of the character from panel to panel gives the flow of the story some unpredictability and good-natured spontaneity.  The same is true for the story, set in Phoenix, Arizona (Is this the only comic set in Phoenix - it's certainly the only one I know of).

Eric did live in Phoenix at the time where he worked as a news assistant for The Arizona Republic.
These autobiographical elements are in the comic although this is not your standard autobiographical material that was popular in alternative comics (such as those published by Drawn & Quarterly) around this time.  Eric lets you know this right off the back in setting up his story which is titled "The Year of the Egg".  The first page does not even feature a drawing of Eric.  Instead, he establishes the whimsical setting by having a mysterious egg rising from the center of the earth and appearing towering over skyscrapers in downtown Phoenix.  Instead of launching into further sci-fi elements though, Eric writes:

 "Like most people, I figured it was a mystery of nature, the kind that only happens once in a billion years.  No doubt about it, the appearance of the egg was a big deal, but it didn't directly affect me.  After all, I still had to drive to the laundromat each week."

After this statement, Eric moves on to tell a story that mostly features somewhat random events from his day to day life.  Although this sounds as though it would be meandering, it is far from irreverent because Eric is just a great storyteller whose writing style perfectly matches his art.  It's light, but Eric is aware that this is a  breezy story and he treats it this way which makes for a really enjoyable read.

A lot happens in just 24 pages.  The story is divided into two parts.  In the first half, Eric introduces us to a wide range of characters who he interacts with around town over a weekend while doing chores.  These include a KISS fan who works at the laundromat, his Japanese girlfriend,  a Roto Rooter plumber (portrayed as a Rooter Rooster.  HA!) and two male friends.  Eric drives about town, goes to the hardware store, shops for Japanese groceries and hangs out with his pal at the ASU Tempe campus.

Like the title JAZZBO implies, the material feels improvisational and like the best Jazz music, this improvisation is what keeps this comic fresh.  The style is great, it keeps you moving along as a reader, and Eric constantly surprises you as to what happens next - in a very unpredictable manner even though the events seem as though they might be mundane when I am describing them.
It's kind of the perfect use of the comic book medium, because I'm not sure this story could work as just prose alone.  It's rare to find a comic that is so random and yet still works so well.

Part two of the story continues in an equally odd manner.  The splash panel for Chapter Two features a nude man with large breasts and horns floating in space and some more info about The Egg.    But then Eric wakes up from sleep and thinks, while still groggy:

"Huh?...That's crazy!!! What Am I Thinking?  It's just a big fucking rock, that's all."

The story continues with another assortment of random events culled from Eric's real life.  He leaves a movie (Clerks) with his girlfriend and finds that his car has been blocked in from someone double-parked.  He manages to get out of the spot.  Then the next day, he returns to the laundromat, hangs out with his girlfriend again, goes to a concert and cooks dinner.  It's all pretty random, but it's Eric's humorous anecdotes of these everyday events that make them so memorable.  So much so, that I remember this comic 20 years after reading it - and I really can't say that for most other comics.  One particular scene that stands out for me, is the one where Eric is at the concert.  He has a flashback to when he was a teenager at a KISS concert and becomes somewhat disillusioned because the guitarist is wearing a wristwatch.  He draws the musician thinking:

 "Wow!! Will you look at the time!  My mom's gonna have dinner on the table in forty minutes."

Ha!  So funny.

The story ends as randomly as it began, with the egg exploding and Eric riding a hoverboard over Phoenix.  To add to the quirkiness, the last page of the comic features an advertisement for "the first ever comic related sex toy: The Jazzbo cock ring."  This especially feels strange, because the comic itself has zero sexual content.  Also, the characters on the front cover of the comic never make an appearance in the comic itself.  Does this sound weird to you?  Well, it is...but it's also really great and bold.  I'm not sure anyone has made a comic quite like this since.

I highly recommend Jazzbo #2 which can still be found by some online comics retailers for the cover price of $2.95 or less.   It's a comic that has really stuck with me.  Ironically, when I read this initially (at age 16) I never imagined that I'd also be living in the Phoenix area, 20 years later,  and also dating a Japanese woman.
So to Eric, wherever you are out there - thank you.  It's COSMIC!

(panel above from Jazzbo #2 - scene where Eric visits the ASU Tempe campus - where I currently work as a graphic designer).





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