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IN ASBURY AND IN PRINT: RATS AND BARFLIES

Cliff Galbraith with his two recent comic books, above, and talking with fan John Hanley on Broad Street, below. (Click to enlarge)

This Saturday, a pair of Red Bank comic book aficionados – dealer and Comic Book Men star Robert Bruce, and author/illustrator Cliff Galbraith – are putting on Asbury Park Comic Con 2, reprising an event they debuted in May. redbankgreen spoke with Galbraith recently about his own relationship with the printed form of his work.

By JOHN T. WARD

It took a kind of SMACK! to the head, but Red Bank’s Cliff Galbraith learned his lesson:

When it comes to comic books, the web isn’t nirvana.

The path to this wisdom was cut by one Roscoe J. Rodent. A rodent by birth and a detective by trade in a dystopian metropolis set 150 years in the future, the character and his story were once licensed for development as a television cartoon.

But several years after a deal with a television network went south, Galbraith revived Roscoe’s tale as a conventional panel-framed comic book when he found himself dealing with Lyme disease.

Thinking he’d be “Mister 21st century, everything would be virtual,” Galbraith launched “Rat Bastard” online and as an iPad app. “I wouldn’t have to do books, and have these stacks of books in my house, and have to lug them to comic book conventions,” he said. “I’d be free of all that.”

But when he attended a comics convention in New York without any printed copies, fans were disappointed.

“What I realized was that people want an artifact,” he said. “They want an actual physical book, they want the artist to sign it, they want to bring it home and show it to somebody and say, ‘ look he or she signed it,’ They wanted something to cherish, and you can’t do that with digital. That’s not possible. I had really missed the whole point of ownership.”

After it had been online for free for a year, ‘Rat Bastard’ was finally published as a book. “It’s about giving people the delivery system they want, and not making that decision for them,” he said.

Seconds after Galbraith uttered those words, John Hanley of Shrewsbury Township emerged from Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash on Broad Street and interrupted the interview to ask him to sign the copy of “Unbearable” he’d just bought. The printed comic book, Hanley said, will never lose its place in his heart.

“I’m old-school. I totally want to have it in my hand,” Hanley said. “If it’s not tactile, it’s not working for me, so I think there’s always going to be a place for this. I just don’t get any satisfaction from online reading.”

During the interim when “Rat Bastard” was digital-only, Galbraith and his wife, J.C. Luz, continued developing the story of five hapless “losers” reminiscent of the denizens of New Brunswick’s Court Tavern, where she’d worked as a bartender. Galbraith and Luz mulled the possibility of writing a screenplay titled, ‘The 40-Year Old Losers Club,” but that idea lost its mojo when the film “The 40-Year Old Virgin” came out in 2005.

Instead, the couple turned to the sequential-frame comfort of comic books. The result was “Unbearable,” “a dark, beer-and-pot-soaked Archie comics,” drawn with simplicity, said Galbraith.

Galbraith credits his ability to shift between mediums and styles in part to the artist  John Von Hammersveld, who he befriended while living in Los Angeles a decade ago. Von Hammersveld, whose work is the subject of a show going up Friday night at Red Bank’s FrameWorks gallery, created the album art for the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour, the Rolling Stone’s Exile on Main Street and the iconic surfing poster for the film The Endless Summer, among many other classics.

“If you look at all those album covers and posters, they have nothing in common” stylistically, Galbraith said. “What I learned from John was that it’s ok to be a different artist on a different day. As long as what it is is yours and you’re comfortable with it, why not explore different aspects of your creativity?”

Asbury Park Comic Con 2 takes place Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at Asbury Lanes,  209 Fourth Avenue, Asbury Park. Advance tickets are $6 online. Kids under 12 are admitted free when accompanied by an adult.

 

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