The CBLDF’s Pre-NYCC Parties

Categories:  Features, News

A few blocks south of here, 3rd Ave. surrenders to the Bowery, that once farm-spotted lane that snakes its way toward the depths of lower Manhattan, ultimately petering out around Canal St., where the sites and sounds and smells of Little Italy and Chinatown forever mingle. This was the island’s long-standing bohemia holdout, a forced cohabitation of counter-culture and depravity, where a collision of liquor drenched entertainment and under-the-counter goings on designated the surrounding blocks as the antithesis of the glamorous buzzing lights of the Great White Way.

But even as darkened joints bearing hard-earned nicknames like McGuirk’s Suicide Hall have come and gone, the lane managed to maintain some of its backroom mystique, even century later, as the near-dandyism of gangs calling themselves The Bowery Boys and The Dead Rabbits had long faded from memory, vacancies more recently filled by droves of youths in safety-pinned leather jackets.

And now, a mere 30 years later, nearly all traces of that movement have vanished. Their gravitational center, a one-time bluegrass club called CBGB had become little more than merchandising storefront for perennially trendy t-shirts—first figurative, and ultimately literally, moving uptown a handful of blocks to the neatly-packed rebellion of St. Mark’s Pl., itself closing rather recently, for failure to live up to its own lofty commercial ambitions.

The Village Pourhouse sits a few blocks north of there, where 3rd Ave. meets 11th st., and while its punny name invokes a passing reminder of the taverns and flophouse that once lined these streets, the innards betray a modern establishment in line with recent decades’ gentrification and mass cultural exodus, with a constant stream of jukebox selections to match. Recently, however, the bar has happily become a favorite venue for those flag waving defenders of the First Amendment, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, and while events over the past year have been arguably met with varying degrees of success, Tuesday night’s benefit has subsequently become nearly universally lauded by all in attendence, a rare channeling of the artistic rabblerousing that inhabited this area unconfined, for the better part of a century.

The center of the bar was cleared out, making way for a long, narrow table. Past CBLDF events in this space had relegated the featured artists to booths on the perimeters of the room. This time out, however, there was no question as to the focal point of the evening’s festivities. At the front of the room, the wall was already lined with pre-show sketches, largely black inked drawings of our age’s best known superheroes and villains. But despite—or more likely because of—the early call time, there were none of the billed artists anywhere to be seen, even with the promise of free food for early comers, appetizers that were eventually consumed rapidly by the evening’s paid attendees.

Of course no one acted altogether to surprised at the general tardiness—6:30 PM is a rather early curtain call in the land of comic bookery. An hour later, however, the place was as packed dangerously near capacity, the drinking aspect of the night swiftly under way, even if no one had taken it upon themselves to be the first one drawing. Early in the evening, however, Beanworld’s Larry Marder explained to me the concept of the Drink and Draw, rather succinctly, I think, so forgive me for a moment as I paraphrase, and I’m sure ultimately butcher his words: a Drink and Draw is about the drinking first and then the drawing—by the end of the night you’re making sketches that you hope never resurface, later in life.

eBay fodder, if ever there were any, and while the majority of the artists present were far removed from the world of capes and tights during daytime hours, the superhero sketches that lined the wall at the top of the night were a pretty fair sign of things to come. Ultimately, those bastions of the form’s establishment would be wrung endlessly through the warped minds and brush pens of those present. Fishtown’s Kevin Colden, for one, held up a picture of a Bactrian camel, bearing a bat symbol on each hump. “Someone told me to draw the Batmobile,” he explained.

The place was littered with Colden’s fellow Act-I-vaters, people like Dean Haspiel, Dan Goldman, and Nikki Cook. Also on hand were a good number of non-Act-I-vate Cross Hatch favorites, like Jeffrey Brown, Ivan Bradon, Sarah Glidden, Shannon O’Leary, and Julia Wertz. And if for a moment, anyone had any doubts as to the burgeoning cultural currency of those in attendance, a New York Times camera crew and reporter were on hand, gathering evidence for a forthcoming Metro story, and while any schmoozing ambitions I’d gone into the night with as a co-sponsor had since dissolved in favor of soaking up the massive amounts of positive creative energy pulsating around the narrow room, I did, self-servingly—and slightly buzzed from beer tickets—attempt to sneak a quote or two into the paper of record, but ultimately it was just too late in night, the reporter having spent the evening gleaning insight from the droves of creatives lining the walls.

Still though, as far as endings go, any night that concludes with myself discussing the merits of Marshall McLuhan with Dan Goldman and Molly Crabapple should be considered a major victory for a Tuesday night.

Wednesday’s event was uptown—in between the aforementioned Great White Way and the Javits Center on Manhattan’s west side, where the third annual New York Comic Con is set to emerge, well rested, this Friday. While the CBLDF was still the driving force behind the benefit, the artistic side of things were decidedly more focused, a celebration of Rasl, the recently launched new series by Bone’s Jeff Smith. An abrupt—and for the moment, welcome—change for the boisterous evening before, the event was housed in space that serves as a fashion showroom during the day, a rather fitting choice, given the art gallery-centric nature of Smith’s new project, an effect only enhanced by the painting-sized blowups of Rasl pages that lined the walls.

Smith and his, Vijaya, had flown in from Ohio, specifically for the event. I asked the cartoonist toward the end of the night what he was doing for Comic Con, later in the week, and he answered simply that he doesn’t do comic conventions anymore—and really, after the years of breakneck appearances during Bone’s dozen year run, if anyone deserves a break from this week-long clusterfuckery, it’s him. None one which is to suggest, of course, that Smith was in anything but the best of spirits, spending the evening happily signing the first issue of Rasl and numerous back issues of Bone, between long chats with nearly everyone in attendance, including,Françoise Mouly, CBLDF’s Charles Brownstein, the inimitable Jah Furry, Colleen Doran, and of course, a fedoraed Frank Miller. He even took the time to answer my fanboy questions about the recently announced Bone film, insisting firmly that there was really nothing to talk about.

If Tuesday night was a celebration of comics culture as a living, breathing organism, Wednesday was a reminder of oft-marginalized medium’s rapidly realized place amongst American’s highest forms of native arts, happily coexisting alongside the manner jazz that served as the evening’s soundtrack. Both are important reminders of the magic of the medium for which so many have converged on the Big Apple this week, and the significance of the form for which the CBLDF works so diligently to defend.

More images from the event can be found here.

–Brian Heater

2 Comments to “The CBLDF’s Pre-NYCC Parties”

  1. Molly Crabapple | April 17th, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    That was one fun night!

    By the tone of your article, I think you’ve been stealing from my bookshelf ( to be exact)

  2. RASL/CBLDF party in New York! | Cartoon-Books