Monday, 15 April 2013

Eddie Khanna: "Researching A Graphic Novel By Mistake"

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Originally serialised within the pages of the self-published Glamourpuss #1-26 (April 2008 to July 2012), The Strange Death Of Alex Raymond is an as yet uncompleted work-in-progress in which Dave Sim investigates the history of photorealism in comics and specifically focuses on the work of comic-strip artist Alex Raymond and the circumstances of his death on 6 September 1956 at the wheel of fellow artist Stan Drake's Corvette at the age of 46.

Dave Sim has often mentioned how grateful he has been for the research assistance provided by Eddie Khanna in writing The Strange Death of Alex Raymond, so I thought I'd track Eddie down and ask him just how he landed his role of unofficial "research assistant" on the project. I then forwarded Eddie's reply below to Dave, who then kindly added some thoughts of his own by way of annotating Eddie's original text. Got all that? Now read on...
Glamourpuss #26 (July 2012)
Art by Dave Sim
EDDIE KHANNA:
(from an email, 6 April 2013)
I knew (and still don't, relative to a lot of people) NOTHING about photo-realism, Alex Raymond, Stan Drake, Leonard Starr, etc. It's only because of glamourpuss and the way Dave has presented the material that I've started to get interested in it a lot more. I'm of that age group and demographic that comes from and grew up reading traditional super-hero comics in the late 70s - 80s, and was drawn to those Neal Adams /John Byrne / Jim Aparo / George Perez / Brian Bolland / Dave Gibbons / Bob Layton / Dave Lloyd / Bill Sienkiewicz / Art Adams et al styles (Kirby was a bit before my time). It's only once Dave started talking about all of this in glamourpuss and based on what I've come across that I've learned that pretty much all those guys who's stuff I grew up loving and looking at were on some level influenced by Raymond, Drake, Starr, etc. (just looking at Starr's work is really enjoyable and reminds me of Brian Bolland's work). And I was really impressed with Drake's art, but after seeing Raymond's Rip Kirby line and design work, I'm just blown away (considering he did it with a brush!).
[DAVE SIM: That's one of those lessons you have to take away from an unmitigated commercial and critical disaster like glamourpuss. It forged a connection between me and Eddie Khanna and -- win, lose or draw -- THE STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND would be a dramatically lesser work without his contributions. I may have had only ONE really ardent glamourpuss fan, but that ONE fan made the glass WAY more than half full.]
As to how I got involved with researching Strange Death of Alex Raymond, well, it began, as most things do, innocently and simple enough. I wrote a letter to Dave about an issue of glamourpuss (#18, "What if Cerebus had lived in the age of Madmen") saying that I found his oh-so clever connection between the front fashion parody part of glamourpuss with what he had been documenting about Raymond's September 6 1956 crash in the back; basically that I realized he had put Elizabeth Taylor in the book (and this was just before she died) because September 1956 was the same month she was immortalized on Hollywood's walk of fame at Grauman's Chinese Theater. Dave wrote back (I'm paraphrasing) saying, actually he HADN'T known that, that he was very pleasantly surprised, and he wouldn't mind taking a look at anything else I found, especially as he had some similar interesting connections himself coming up in the narrative.
[DAVE SIM: No, I hadn't known that. And it was the first, but certainly not the last, time that I wondered if I should include something that someone else had come up with. Which quickly turned into "should I make Eddie the co-author on this?" NOT doing so would seem like being one of those sleazy professors who takes credit for a student's research just because he said "Can you look up some things for me?" And I was also wondering if this was expanding my own context which was already having "midriff, muffin-top issues". I've still got the picture which has Taylor's handprints and she's actually written "Giant" in the cement -- the movie they were promoting. Which seemed to add a whole other layer of meaning.]
Glamourpuss #26 (July 2012)
Art by Dave Sim
It was like Wayne Gretzky sending back a personalized reply saying, "Hey thanks kid. I really liked that hockey stick you sent me and will probably use it in my next game. Any chance you can get your hands on some more?"

I think you can understand when I say that, in my world, that if you find yourself in a situation being able to help someone like that, you don't even have to stop and think about it. You just do it. From that point on it's been a matter of me trying to get whatever information I could and finding all these amazing, interesting connections (or what I THINK might be interesting or helpful) that I've been sending to him. I originally thought he would use it in the letters page of glamourpuss, and wrote them as such. Pretty quickly after some of the items I had sent him, he arranged to do a dialogue with me in the back of glamourpuss, including the Grace Kelly stuff we discussed there (like Michael Jordan asking if I wanted to shoot some hoops and play some one-on-one). Synchronistically, there "just happened" to be a Grace Kelly biography on the television in the background at the time when he first called me to set it up. When I exclaimed this to him, he just laughed as if it was the most natural thing, and didn't seem surprised at all.
[DAVE SIM: "as if it was the most natural thing" - Well, it WAS! The same day I walked past the front window of SECOND LOOK BOOKS here in town and there was an oversized Grace Kelly biography in the window. "No, I'm not THAT interested ...yet...but thanks!" And, no I didn't end up needing it. I found a bio at the library with everything I need in it. One of those "I need more than Wikipedia will give me" but "I don't need to build my own library on this person".]
And since then it's just been me sending him things from there on and hoping that what I turn up aligns or helps with what he's finding and trying to say with regards to Strange Death. It's not like he's really asked me to go this deep into it, and a lot of times I've found myself thinking the following sentences; "What if I was to look into and send him this? Well the worst that could happen is that he'll throw it away or tell me to stop." And each time I've started looking at something prefaced with that thought, it's turned up some of the most incredible, amazing, mindblowing things, which I would never have learned to look for or see without having read things like Cerebus. So far it's been one helluva ride (pun intended), with some pretty unnerving moments, even though I think it's grown well beyond what his original intention was when he first planned on serializing it in glamourpuss. I've been pretty much drowning him in research (and remember, this is in addition to the all the research that he's been doing on his own), and Arlen Schumer has been sending him stuff too. There's been a few things he's asked me specifically to try and dig up as well, which have surprised the heck out of me (like the original version of Hamlet. You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard that one).
[DAVE SIM: Yeah, that was an example of following a rabbit hole all the way down and in. Oftentimes I don't know if I'm just satisfying my own curiosity (i.e. wasting valuable writing and drawing time reading books). I mean, where DOES this end up? And in this case it ended up at HAMLET. And that turned out to be the Largest Point in a lot of ways.

Oh, THAT's what all this is about.

And then the Heritage Auction at the Fletcher-Sinclair Mansion turned out to be just down the block in NYC from where HAMLET enacted itself in the mid-1960s. And then there was an article in the NATIONAL POST last Saturday about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor coming to Toronto to try out their version of HAMLET there before opening in New York. And staying at the King Edward Hotel. Where the Beatles stayed when they played Toronto a few weeks later. I'm thinking of doing annotations in the back of the monthly STRANGE DEATH OF ALEX RAYMOND title called TMI. And maybe doing an online SERIOUSLY TMI to supplement that. I mean, I have to bear in mind that the comics audience who didn't even know I DID glamourpuss are going to buy the first issue expecting, you know, a cool car accident. And if they don't get it sales are going to be in the toilet before you know it. A problem I'm always working on mentally.]
Glamourpuss #26 (July 2012)
Art by Dave Sim
I guess the sound byte explanation is that it's like that line from the movie Withnail and I: "We've gone on holiday by mistake." Except it's more like "We've begun researching a graphic novel by mistake." And what I'm bringing to the table is a fan's innate ability to say, "Hey Dave. Umm, what about this?"
[DAVE SIM: "We've begun researching a graphic novel by mistake." That's a very good way of putting it! I started glamourpuss as an enjoyable brainless lark -- absolutely NO research, just what I have to say about photorealism off the top of my head. I wanted to draw pretty girls and that's ALL this is about. I paid my dues when it comes to heavily researched material, no one was particularly interested, so let's just have FUN for a change! Originally I was going to cover the car accident in two issues -- AT MOST. So? So fashion and fashion models turn out to be completely non-viable in the comic-book field. And here I am with 300 pages of graphic novel that's only halfway? A quarter of the way? done. Probably years of work ahead of me. Drawing two middle-aged men. Reminds me of the: "Know how to make God laugh? Tell Him your plans." D'OH!!! Well, I get to draw Katharine Hepburn, Grace Kelly, etc. etc.

I've got Eddie's cover letter for the latest ten-pound package of photocopies sitting right here. He photocopied SHADOWED COCKTAILS: THE PLAYS OF PHILIP BARRY "which contains within it a chapter on how Barry's plays relate to Katharine Hepburn." Hepburn really called attention to herself (actually two other people did) in Margaret Mitchell's COLLECTED GONE WITH THE WIND LETTERS. That one started as a rabbit hole and me thinking I was just satisfying my own curiosity. Turned out to be the Missing link between Margaret Mitchell and Grace Kelly. Barry wrote THE PHILADELPHIA STORY for Hepburn which was remade as HIGH SOCIETY (no relation, but be sure to pick up the 30th anniversary gold foil logo signed and numbered edition when it becomes available in May. Tell your store NOW!) with Grace Kelly when she was engaged to Prince Rainier (and which should have been called THE REAL PHILADELPHIA STORY). I tried to find out more about Barry on Wikipedia and the pickings were thin. So, had I been inclined, I would have said, "Eddie, can you find me something on Barry? Something with him discussing Hepburn?" No, Dave. Leave it alone. So what does Eddie send me without my having to say anything? "Hey, Dave, the producer in Barry's THE ANIMAL KINGDOM is named Hal Foster." Of COURSE he is. Why WOULDN'T he be?

And then he sends a romance story from 1955 from YOUNG BRIDES. One of those, 'Oh, Eddie, you COULDN'T make this stuff up. NO ONE could make this stuff up.' "Hey, Dave, is it just me or does this refer directly to Margaret Mitchell's anecdote in A DYNAMO GOING TO WASTE?" Well, if it doesn't, I don't know what does.

Eddie and I will be happy to do this on an on-going basis at A Moment Of Cerebus if Tim is willing. He can post a DANGER! LONG-WINDED CANADIANS warning and everyone can skip that day (or three days or week or...)

Okay, Eddie and I will shut up now.]

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