Inspector Serrano Ham means business. Full image at the end of the post.

Inspector Serrano Ham means business. Full image at the end of the post.

With the release of, and all the yelling about, the new Star Wars movie, I have been thinking a lot about nostalgia and how it works versus what it accomplishes. With something as beloved as Star Wars, it seems that any passing comment looks like tinder. Why do people become so fervent about pieces of make-believe?

In the end, after all the scrimmages of lashing out and gushing that I see from fans, it’s clear that nostalgia is a gestalt, an entity patch-worked together to make something new. We want to believe our passions for art or an activity or a sports team is of pure stock, something cut from whole cloth and exonerated in its stance because it is not only pure of being, but the most pure. However, I don’t think people are capable of that.

Psychologically, we are amalgam; everything we are attached to has a seam showing its construction, just like us. The glue that holds everything together is fragile––arguments honed over time––and really only congeals when confirmed and tested by those we trust, respect, and value.

It’s that last part that I think is the crux of these passionate internet firefights over things like Star WarsTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or whatever other old franchise is the hot debate. Nostalgia is forged less over the anvil of solid argument––as we would all like to believe––and more in the fires of the like-minded. In short, nostalgia is so valued and revered because each case is usually from a time when we belonged to a greater whole and those who agreed with us stoked our fires into what they are today, even if we are no longer among our own, so to speak.

I am not excusing myself from the melee, though Star Wars is not my fight. I find that battling for the honor of childhood infatuations grows less interesting over time––what matters is that they are important and have value to me; that seems like enough, but I have things of which I am protective and have to be careful of letting my knee-jerk reactions fly in the direction of strangers.

During my Eben07 days, we were asked in 2009 to become a part of a small independent publishing company called BrainFood Comics. It was started by Lauren Gramprey (then Monardo), an animator/storyboard artist out of Long Island, New York that we had befriended through the webcomics scene. Eben and I were very protective of our property and had rejected every previous offer to become a part of an online collective or publishing platform, but Lauren’s talent and professional legitimacy––as well as her enthusiasm and friendship––made her offer an easy choice for us (and she asked us lowly webcomic first-timers to join her new publishing venture; it was incredibly validating).

The Slightly Askew Adventures of Inspector Ham & Eggs #1 by Lauren Gramprey

The Slightly Askew Adventures of Inspector Ham & Eggs #1 by Lauren Gramprey

The best way to describe BrainFood was as a loose collective of like-minded comic creators. In terms of business, it worked ostensibly like Image Comics does––the publisher doesn’t own anything except for its name and logo; all of the titles belonged to their creators––and, for me, it was a great time.

Unfortunately, we never got to do a show together––the rest of the BrainFood crew lives back east and Eben and I live out west––and traveling expenses on top of the expenses to get a table at a major convention was an unfeasible prospect at the time.

The flagship book of BrainFood was Lauren’s book, The Slightly Askew Adventures of Inspector Ham & Eggs, a violently funny comic following Inspector Serrano Ham and his virulent and misanthropic sidekick, Eggs. At the time, Lauren was looking to expand the franchise. The main book had run its first story arc to conclusion and she had some spinoff ideas. One of them was a title called On the Trail with a Curly Tail (I think), an anthology-style collection of early stories from Serrano Ham’s career. I was tapped to draw one of them, but it never fully materialized for one reason or another.

My contribution to the Ham & Eggs trade collection.

My contribution to the Ham & Eggs trade collection.

For me, it was a really important lesson as a comic artist, which solidified the nagging notion that being a professional comic artist was not something I could be happy doing. Eben07 was a collaborative effort where I had, to some extent or another, my footprint in every step of the creative process. For On the Trail…, I was working from somebody else’s script entirely, and it was agony, for the lack of a better word.

The script wasn’t bad––it was only five pages and very clear––but I couldn’t help thinking about a few things. First, I had no idea what the writer was envisioning for the pages in terms of layout and that lack of direction kind of freaked me out. It’s not that I didn’t trust my ability, but the responsible process would be for me to draw sketchy layouts, send them to the writer for approval, make any changes and then start drawing. Such a process was foreign to me and I was a bit too haughty to conform. Second, I’m a writer first. While reading the script, all I could think about was how I would change it to make it “mine,” or, at least, to have my voice in it somewhere. Instead, it felt like playing a cover song in a band when I have songs of my own I wanted to play or had ways to play the songs differently to make them more unique, which is dangerous.

So, I choked. I drew about three and a half pages before giving up and just let it die over time. I wasn’t getting any pressure from Lauren, so it faded away rather easily. However, I felt as if I had let down not only an insanely talented artist whom I respect and admire, but also a friend by not getting those pages to Lauren (not to mention our fledgling imprint; oh man, I’m making myself anxious again). It didn’t hurt our friendship as the project never got very far in the first place, but these pages were incredibly important to my growth as a comicker.

BrainFood no longer exists, but the friendships remain at the very least. In the time since its dissolution, I have held onto the pages. As Long John production ramps up for the next month or so, I had the bright idea to use those pages as warm-up practice, especially for inking and, with all the time that has passed and anxieties that have fallen away, it has been such a fun exercise.

I have completed the first page and may, in time, get to the others that remain. Perhaps I’ll even try to get them all finished and colored and lettered for the fun of it. But, right now, Long John is the focus and BrainFood remains that point in time when I felt like I was a part of something great, exposed seams and all.

Sketch Fridays #12 - Ham & Eggs. Click to enlarge.

Sketch Fridays #12 – Ham & Eggs. Click to enlarge.