Monday, July 16, 2012

Alice Cooper: Meeting the Monster

I saw Alice Cooper at Stage AE in Pittsburgh last night. Anyone who knows me knows that Alice has been one of my favorite performers since I was very young. I blogged about my lifelong fandom last summer, the last time I saw Alice. You can read that post HERE.

I've seen Alice more than any other big name musician, and he never disappoints. His live show is an amazing piece of theater, and at forty-plus years into his career Alice is still a vibrant performer with an amazing stage presence. This time was different, though. This time I got to meet him.

I was actually considering skipping the show this year. As much as I know I will have a good time, I had just seen Alice a year ago at the same venue. Things have been pretty busy in my life, so I was putting off buying tickets (knowing full well that I would probably cave on the day of the show and go anyway). But providence stepped in in the form of my friend Abby Krizner. I've known Abby for going on ten years now. She was guitarist and one of three vocalists for local band The Motorpsychos for several years and now fronts Fist Fight inthe Parking Lot. Since I've known her she has also become DJ at The X (WXDX), Pittsburgh's hard rock station. Abby came out to hang out with me on my recent birthday weekend and tucked into a beautiful card with a touching note were two tickets for Alice (the tickets were awesome, obviously, but the note from Abby was beautiful and in the big picture of my life, more important).

So I planned on going. Yesterday around noon I received a phone call from Abby telling me she had managed to get my name on the guest list for the post-concert Meet & Greet! Okay, maybe this is more important than the heartfelt note of friendship. Whatever, I owe Abby big time.

So I went to the show. Alice was awesome, as always. Any specific review of the show I could give would just be repeating myself.

I do want to make a brief detour to mention the opening band. Blue Coupe is comprised of Dennis Dunaway, the original bass player for the Alice Cooper Group back in the 60's, along with Joe and Albert Bouchard, founding members of Blue Oyster Cult. They rocked the place down. They played a lot of new material as well as some BOC classics like Godzilla and Don't Fear the Reaper. They have a new album out. Go to their website and give it a listen.(

When the show was over we made our way over to the line for the Meet & Greet. It was, of course, mass confusion to begin with. There were several levels of guests to sort out. Some were on the guest list as friends and family of the band. There were winners of radio contests. There were the holders of special, really expensive VIP tickets who got a lot of swag as well as getting to meet Alice. I confirmed I was on the list, got my pass and eventually got in the line I was supposed to be in.

Then we waited. There were a lot of people there, and Alice is gracious enough to do something like this for his fans late at night after putting on a high energy show, so I was fine with the wait. Apparently not everyone feels the same way. A few people showed up really intoxicated. It's an adult show. They sell alcohol there, so of course people are going to drink. But really? You get the chance to meet Alice and you show up too drunk to stand straight? It's no big secret that Alice is a recovering alcoholic, so just out of a little bit of respect for him, this seems like a bad idea. Luckily, the Stage AE staff were all over this. I watched as the Events Coordinator simply peeled their VIP stickers right off their shirts and had them escorted out. No muss, no fuss, taken care of before anything got out of hand. I heard some slurred mutters of “This is total bullshit!” but there was not a scene. Bravo to Stage AE.

Our line finally started moving (and when I say “finally” it had only been a half an hour or less). We moved up a staircase next to the stage and were ushered into a hallway, where we waited again for a short period. Right around then the couple in front of us, who up until this point had been fine, really started bitching.

I tell you what,” she said, “I'm giving them about two more minutes to get this line moving or there's going to be trouble!”

Really? I'm thinking the only trouble is you being escorted out and blowing the whole reason you're here. This event isn't about you. You're not the only person here. And really, even if you won a contest or something, Alice doesn't really owe you anything. He's doing this because he does appreciate his fans. There were a lot of people looking forward to meeting him, and from my perspective, Stage AE did a remarkable job of herding cats and keeping things moving and organized. Sorry this opportunity is taking time out of your precious life. You have an opportunity to meet a music legend, someone you are apparently a fan of, and this half hour inconvenience is enough to make you pissy and snarky?

Well, luckily for everyone I suppose, the line started moving in a couple of minutes and we were spared your scene.

We entered what looked like a small kitchen area that led into another room. From there I caught my first glimpse of Alice. He was shaking hands with everyone and had a photographer there taking pictures, free of charge, to send to our email addresses. They also allowed everyone to take their own pictures.

I wasn't really nervous. I thought I would be. Alice has been on the top of my list of favorite artists for a long, long time. But, I'm not twelve any more, and I've met and/or interviewed a lot of other musicians and big name comics creators over the years. So I didn't feel the nervous butterflies I expected to. I was happy and excited, but not enough to be stupid.

My turn came. Alice shook my hand and immediately commented on my shirt. The image comes from the comic book adaptation of his Last Temptation album, written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by Michael Zulli. It's a one of a kind t-shirt, made for me by my friend Marc Greisinger. We had a very brief conversation about this, because even with Alice Cooper my conversations revolve around comics. He seemed pleased when I told him my 89-year-old mother had told me earlier in the day to “Make sure to tell Alice I said Hi.” He put an arm around my shoulder, we took a couple of pictures, and then it was over.

I didn't expect more, and I am thrilled to have had this opportunity. Alice was genuinely nice, and for all of the production line nature of the event it didn't seem like he was just going through the motions. I think Alice appreciates his fans and feels a real connection to them. This is his way of giving back to the people who have supported his career. I think he loves his life and loves his fans.

For all of his dark imagery over the years it wasn't Alice who was the monster last night.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Do Anything Exhibit in San Diego

I was recently asked to write a post on the Pittsburgh Small Press scene for a gallery show currently running in San Diego, California. The show, DO ANYTHING, is curated by my friend Chris Kardambikis and features a number of Pittsburgh artists. My article was posted on the show's Tumblr page, but I wanted to archive it here as well. Some of the topics I cover here I have already written about in some detail in previous posts.

For more info on DO ANYTHING check out their Tumblr at

Here's the article:

When Chris asked me to write a post on the Pittsburgh small press scene for this exhibit I was both flattered and a little overwhelmed. I don't know what's happening in other cities, but Pittsburgh is exploding with DIY publishing in a wide variety of formats and fields. Try as I might, I will not be able to mention everyone currently involved. So, rather than try to make this a comprehensive listing I decided to instead offer a little historical perspective.

I've been involved in the comics and small press scene here for a little over thirty years. The phrase “Elder Statesman” has been uttered about me by a number of people. I don't know about that, but I have been witness to a tremendous amount of change in self-publishing and the 'zine community.

I first started publishing mini-comics way back in the late 80's. These were the days when once you wrote and drew your own comic you then had to figure out the layout and then spend hours at the local copy center doing paste up, making copies, collating and stapling your own books. A lot of people still do this, I realize, but back then it was really the only option.

There was a huge, by the standards of the time at least, underground community of self-publishers selling their mini-comics and fanzines through the mail. A magazine called Factsheet Five provided a place to get your work reviewed and advertised. There were others, but F5 was the big one. A very small handful of friends and I jumped into this headfirst, following in the footsteps of Underground Comix pioneers like R. Crumb, contributing to music and comics 'zines as well as publishing our own.

This brings me to what I see as probably the biggest change since then. There were, to my knowledge at the time, four people in Pittsburgh participating in this scene. I know better now, but then we simply had no way of discovering or communicating with them other than random encounters at comics shops or finding a local address in one of the 'zines. The Small Press Artist's Alley was not yet a part of conventions around here either. Other than minor feedback from the few people who ordered our books we were operating in a vacuum. Those days are gone. Last year I attended a 'Zine Fair at a small gallery on the city's Northside and was thrilled to see over fifty vendors with an amazing variety of product: Comics, music 'zines, poetry chapbooks, art 'zines, political commentary, feminist essays, autobiography and fiction. I would have killed to have found that kind of community in 1989.

A mini-comic called Grey Legacy that I produced with my friend and collaborator Fred Wheaton ended up winning one of the very first Xeric Grants from Peter Laird in 1993. This gave us the opportunity to experience self-publishing on a national scale in the pre-internet, pre-Print-On-Demand era. We were guests at the very first SPX in Bethesda. I don't have a list of guests from that show, but there were maybe twenty of us, including established creators like Dave Sim and Steve Bissette. Nowhere near the hundreds who participate now. Nowhere near as many as at the Pittsburgh 'Zine Fair for that matter.

I'm not the only Xeric winner in Pittsburgh. Tom Scioli, one of the contributors to this exhibit, won in 1999 for The Myth of 8-Opus. I wrote a cover feature on him for a local newsweekly at the time. Pittsburgh is also home to Rachael Masilamani, 2001 Xeric recipient for RPM Comics.

At the same time that I was publishing Grey Legacy I taught a class on Comics For Kids through a local community college. One of my students was a very young man (like 8 or 9 years old), named Eddie Piskor. You can see his work in this exhibit as well.

In 1997 I started working at Phantom of the Attic Comics (nominated for the Eisner Spirit of Retail Award in 2009). Phantom has always been supportive of the small press and while working there I have seen the scene explode. Our store has become one of the centers for this activity and, I like to think, has helped foster the community by carrying their product and facilitating connections. It was there I first met Chris Kardambikis and saw the amazing books being produced by Encyclopedia Destructica. It was there I saw Unicorn Mountain go from an idea in Curt Gettman's head to an amazing series of art books. Jim Rugg brought us early mini-comics years before he became a well-known professional. Pulitzer-nominated editorial cartoonist MattBors sold us mini-comics versions of his now nationally syndicated strip Idiot Box while he was a student here.

In addition to Phantom Pittsburgh is home to Copacetic Comics. Proprietor Bill Boichel is a long-time fixture of Pittsburgh comics and runs one of the most idiosyncratic and Indy friendly stores you'll find anywhere. We also have the Toonseum, one of only three museums in the country dedicated to comics art. Both of these serve to connect and expand the comics community here. 2009 saw the launch of PIX, the Pittsburgh Indy Expo to huge success. We're not SPX yet, but the first two years of the show have been very strong.

I continue to see new work by local artists, self-published and digital and fully believe we have not seen the end of successful comics in Pittsburgh. It is very gratifying on a personal level to see this world I have been involved with for so long continue to grow and expand and begin to be taken seriously. An exhibit Like Do Anything would have been unthinkable not that long ago.