Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Crocodile Rock

The original illustration for "The Crocodile's 25th Year"
before re-arranging and cutting imagery and covering
much of it with text.  View the completed comic here:

This week marks the three-year anniversary of my comics publishing adventures, and I'm happy to announce that I have a comic appearing in the Seattle Weekly.  The comic tells a brief history of The Crocodile, a Seattle music club that is celebrating its 25th year anniversary this year.

The image on the left is the original illustration before I tweaked things and covered a lot of it with text boxes.  You can acquire the original up at my Etsy shop.  You can check out the final story at Seattle Weekly - and feel free to share the link - here:

The Barrett Martin Group is hosting one of several anniversary shows for The Crocodile on Friday, June 17th.  I write more about this below, and you can get full details on The Crocodile website here.

Because there is so much more to the story than I could fit into the comic, and because I was able to interview Scott McCaughey and Barrett Martin - two musicians who feature prominently in the venue's history - I'd like to share more of the story here.

Crocodile Cafe & Live Bait Lounge

It was the early 1990s, Seattle music was coming alive and a music-loving lawyer by the name of Stephanie Dorgan decided she wanted to open a rock venue.  She threw in with several other investors and procured the former home of a Greek cafe called The Athens, on 2200 2nd Avenue, which had stood empty for over a decade.  Renovations were made and the first show was played on April 30th of 1991 by The Posies and Love Battery. 

Crocodile Cafe management was devoted to supporting local music, as well as creating a welcome stop for prominent touring acts.  Seattle PI's John Marshall reported "A now-legendary Croc double bill, with a $3 ticket, took place on Oct. 4, 1992, and featured Mudhoney and Nirvana (billed that night as Pen Cap Chew). A 1996 gig by Cheap Trick included a surprise appearance by Pearl Jam."

Some of the fellows from Young Fresh Fellows.
Scott McCaughey went on to play with
REM, The Minus 5, The Venus 3
and The Baseball Project.
Stephanie started out as a hands-on owner, enlisting her sisters in the venture, including hiring Constance Dorgan as the venue Manager.  It's one of the details mentioned by Scott McCaughey.  "It was always great to have one of the Dorgan sisters around.  They practically lived there."  Scott's band, The Young Fresh Fellows, has been referred to as Crocodile Cafe's house band and he served as a talent buyer there for several years.

He said that management lived up to their claim of going out of their way to treat bands well.  "Bands received 90% of the door after a reasonable fee.  If you had any kind of draw at all, Crocodile Cafe was an oasis for touring musicians."  He also noted that if an act DIDN'T have a draw the first time you played at "The Croc," you'd likely have one the second time around.  "Guided by Voices is the perfect example.  They played their first show to less than 100 people.  The Crocodile Cafe lost money, but it was an amazing show.  Guided by Voices sold out every Seattle show they played after that."

Death and Rebirth of The Crocodile

Did I mention the Crocodile Cafe had art?  In the truly grungy back bar they sometimes rotated out art shows.  Last I was there, the ceiling was adorned by sheep that seemed to be constructed from spray foam, farting neon lightning bolts as they swayed from their wires.  I think the sheep were still there at the last show of the old Crocodile, a Saturday night set by Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), J. Tillman (Fleet Foxes, The Lashes) and David Bazan (Pedro the Lion) in December of 2007.  

A tiny 2.5 x 2.5 inch portrait of Stephanie Dorgan and
Peter Buck that didn't make the Seattle Weekly comic.
There wasn't enough room to give it the context it deserved.

The next day, staff received voicemails from Stephanie Dorgan telling them that they were terminated, immediately, as the Crocodile was closed due to financial difficulties.  No formal statement regarding the closure was issued to the press, and this cartoonist doesn't have the story.  There's a good summary of the chain of events leading up to the closure on the 10 Things Zine website here, complimented by many other articles you can find on the web.

Of note, Stephanie had two children with REM's Peter Buck in 1994.  The couple divorced in 2006.  It's easy to imagine the rigors of family life taking energy away from a founder's original labor of love.  It's possible to believe that a spouse with considerable income might take the urgency out of budget balancing and penny pinching to keep a club operating in the black. 

Whatever the reason, Stephanie Dorgan was finished running the Crocodile.  She sold the business to a group of partners led by bar owner Marcus Charles.  The investing group renovated the facilities, bringing it up to speed with both Seattle's new codes for night clubs and Belltown's fancier feel.  The bar became a little more upscale (the farting sheep replaced by giant glossy performance photos from the Grunge Era glory years), and the show room was developed to be a more accommodating performance venue.  The sound system was improved, a lush green room added, and the bands played on.

Barrett Martin Celebrates 25 Years of The Crocodile

The Crocodile opened again in March of 2008.  One of the first performances was a semi-reunion
show by Soundgarden.  It featured Soundgarden with a notable exception: Seattle musician Tad Doyle standing in for Chris Cornell.  With the appearance of "TADGarden" it was clear that The Crocodile was still a place for local artist to perform, try out new things and showcase side projects.

Barrett Martin
Photo by Dean Karr
Barrett Martin was one of the musicians who performed during the early years of Crocodile Cafe as a member of Skin Yard and Screaming Trees.  In 1994 he joined musicians from Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains for a surprise performance at Crocodile Cafe that signaled the birth of their new band, Mad Season.   In 1996, Barrett worked with Peter Buck, Skerik and other musicians on a project they called Tuatara.  Tuatara expanded and changed over the years, eventually engaging Scott McCaughey.  (Note to reader:  I was not aware of this at the time that I decided to interview Barrett and Scott independently.  The more you know...)

Barrett is producing a 25-year celebration showcase to The Crocodile on Friday, June 17th.  "I wanted the show to engage old Seattle, new Seattle and something that is new to Seattle.  That's what The Crocodile is about." he said.  "Noelle Tannen, for example.  She's a singer/songwriter from Brooklyn, but with roots in Seattle.  She's opening.  Vaudeville Etiquette are a Seattle band and one of the best bands I've worked with as a producer."

An iteration of Tuatara will appear as well as the Barrett Martin Group.  While I am unsure of who will be performing in what constellation, you can expect to see some really good collaboration between musicians like Barrett with Skerik (Critters Buggin), Chris Ballew (The Presidents), Ayrone Jones, Tyan Waters (Prince, Sade's bands) Kathy Moore (The Guessing Game), Jen Ayers (Teatro Zinzanni) and more.

This was difficult.  I could only put the tiniest fraction of information in the Seattle Weekly comic.  But at least I got to draw some awesome artists and organizers and hopefully get people interested in a bit more of Seattle's music history. 

Girl On The Road posts about comics, publication and community on Tuesdays.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Answering to History

Issue #3 of editor and cartoonist
Shing Yin Khor's "Blood Root" anthologies.

 In 2014, I created Jezinkas, a 17-page comics adaptation of a Bohemian folktale about witches who stole people's eyes.  It was in response to a call for intelligent horror stories to be included in Blood Root #3 by Sawdust Press.  Blood Root is a really great anthology and, though the print version is sold out, you can obtain a pay-what-you-want digital download of the book HERE. 

Jezinkas is my only fictional comic in print, to date.  It was fun story to build because I got to draw things like people turning into wolves, owls without eyes and other visually astonishing scenes that don't occur in my life naturally.  The best part, though, was that I didn't have to check and double-check facts, scour and question my memories or consider the impact of my work on people who might be effected by my telling of a real-life story.   

Illustrating Rock History 

Enter comics journalism.  I love the Pacific Northwest's rich music history. When nostalgia drove me to illustrate the building that once housed the OK Hotel, lovers of the now-defunct music venue urged me to draw more.  

Panel from the history comic
of Hollywood's Club Lingerie.

I began interviewing people connected to the OK and drew my first history comic.  It was terrifying because I didn't want to misrepresent anything.  Not all details can be verified.  People had different versions of the same night or notorious story.  I chose to frame episodes as either my own personal take or in the context of "this source said..."

It's how I came to comics.  I created two more venue histories - for Albuquerque's Dingo Bar and Hollywood's Club Lingerie - and now I'm working on an abbreviated comics history of a 4th venue for publication soon.  I haven't been able to reach everyone I wanted to vet, but I'm doing my best to be true to facts and the spirit of the club's history.

My Story Is. . .Well. . .My Story.

Autobiography may share nonfiction status with comics journalism, but I'm coming to it with a little more confidence.

I don't have to research the plot points, for one thing.

Panels from my comic
chronicling the history of the
Chicago Picasso

I will proceed very, very carefully in choosing how to frame where my life intersects with others, though.  And I will never adopt the voice of authority in reporting on historical moments.  There are tragedies in my life, for example, that effected A LOT of people, and everyone involved experienced those events in their own way.  Or, as anyone who has been through a break-up can attest, different people have different views on shared experiences. 

The best thing I know to do is present my story as my story - personally impactful, potentially flawed and ultimately vulnerable.  But I feel that the insights I have encountered are worth sharing, and the story has been pressing me to be told. 

Girl On The Road posts about comics, publication and community on Tuesdays.