Thursday, January 13, 2011

The City

The Cleveland-based comic strip artist Derf announced yesterday that, "Cleveland Scene dumped my strip." This says little about his talent or popularity (which are great) or his penchant for controversy (which are legend.) It does speak volumes about the state of print journalism.

I remember those grand, heady days of the late 1990s, when both the Free Times (assimilated by Scene a few years ago) and Cleveland Scene were as thick as phone books with ads and content. Of course, they were both kicking the crap out of each other, hemorrhaging cash in the battle to dominate the free weekly market. But it was fun for the readers (especially when they chose to dump on each other) and made Cleveland feel like a place where things were actually happening.

If you haven't picked up a Scene in sometime, and of course most people haven't (no swipe at Scene in particular, I mean really, it's made out of paper) you will sigh at how thin it is, and you don't even need to open it to know most of its weight is dedicated to the advertisement of sex work.

Not, as they say, as if there is anything wrong with that.

So cutting the last cartoon from the paper (as Derf reports, there used to be six) should surprise no one.

Except, of course, that we are talking about The City.


Click on to enlarge.

I have been reading Derf's work (real name: John Backderf ... if that is his real name) pretty much since the strip began in the pages of the Cleveland Edition back in the year 1990. One of my favorite strips arrived shortly after I moved to Cleveland Heights, and describes the long-nightmare of a West Sider losing his way during a drive to visit someone on the East Side.

The protagonist is horrified by the sight of minorities, confounded by the arcane traffic patterns, and his desiccated corpse is discovered months later, still inside his parked car (which is now festooned with Cleveland Heights parking tickets) with a note reading, "I wish I could have one more slice of Player's pizza."

The original hangs in a frame at Players on Madison.

The City continues to be published in many national magazines, and one of the things I have always enjoyed is the fact that "The City" isn't some generic city, it has always been Cleveland, and he never changed that to accommodate different markets. He would create special, full-page illustrations for the covers of the Edition, Free Times and Scene dealing with local issues, but the familiarity of the strip itself gave me a warm feeling, knowing my town was being shared with the world.

How "my town" will cope when the strip about itself is no longer available on its streets is a question. First, the loss of American Splendor, and now this.

In one of the solo works I will be presenting in April (and any subject is really about me, isn't it?) the character of Pengo is a flailing cartoonist. His professional journey follows its own path, one which is a shadow of mine. Pengo has some success as an underground cartoonist, even becoming art director for the Free Times in the mid-1990s, which features his syndicated strip called Angst.


art by Cat (not me)
Click on to enlarge.

You know what say about imitation. Sucks that they cut you, Derf. But I think I know who will be publishing longer.

UPDATE 8/29/2011: " Attention Clevelandites! My comic strip THE CITY will debut in the Cleveland Plain Dealer on Monday, Sept. 12." - Derf

3 comments:

  1. "I remember those grand, heady days of the late 1990s, when both the Free Times (assimilated by Scene a few years ago) and Cleveland Scene were as thick as phone books with ads and content. Of course, they were both kicking the crap out of each other, hemorrhaging cash in the battle to dominate the free weekly market. But it was fun for the readers (especially when they chose to dump on each other) and made Cleveland feel like a place where things were actually happening."

    I'm working as an archivist at a Cleveland cultural institution, and I come across these old issues of the Scene and Free Times once in a while. I love finding them because you're exactly right - they made this place feel happening. But finding them always makes me tired and frustrated because I don't feel like the spirit of those two publications is being recreated anywhere online - not in Cleveland at least. I worry that our opinions about Cleveland are just getting more and more polarized - i.e., "Cleveland sucks" vs. "Cleveland rocks!" and there's an absence of thoughtful (and funny) discourse about the state of this place.

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  2. And even then, we thought history had passed us by, and that better times were behind us.

    "It was the worst of times, it was the worst of times ..."

    Let me know if you want me to contribute to your new publication. I'm good.

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  3. By all means - we'd love to receive your submission! Alas, we can't pay right now, but we hope to in the future.

    ReplyDelete