Pal Ovi is back in LA on his quarterly work trip, and among the various things on his checklist is a strange request — “three boxes of the coffee you got me last time”. Which got me all in knots, because while I remember where I bought the aforementioned box of coffee (The Coffee Commissary, just a few blocks from our apartment), and how much it cost ($20 with tax, for 12 oz), and also what variety it was (African, for sure, either Kenya, Burundi, or Congo), and even the fact that the coffee roaster claimed to have the best of New York, Los Angeles, and Scandinavian disciplines when it came to coffee roasting. But the exact brand name escaped me.
Adding to the complication was the fact that this was a seasonal coffee not in stock at the Commissary any more. I mentally went through the list of roasters I usually pick up — Onyx and 49th Parallel being the two in stock at the moment, but could not remember, for the life of me, the brand I had gotten last time.
After my mandatory “I am getting old and senile” lament was done, I decided to reverse engineer my memories. Google Photos came to the rescue. I searched for “coffee” in my photo collection and got a bunch of old pictures of coffee cups and interior shots of assorted cafes. Neat, but not what I wanted. Then I searched for “blue box” because I remembered that was the color of the box. Nope. Finally, I said fuck it to finesse, and just searched for “box”, and voila, this came up.
You will notice that the photo above does not have the name of the roastery, so I had to search for “DR Congo” followed by the words “honey, plum, spiced wine”, which led me to — ta-daaaaaa — Tectonic Coffee. The precise coffee that I had gotten for my friend’s mom, and one that she liked so much, was Muungano from the Republic of Congo.
I have been enjoying buying coffee beans, and occasionally grabbing a cup of brew, from Commissary. Not only because it’s so close to home, but also because it’s like an oasis of calm on Motor Avenue. It opens at 7 AM every day. So if I run out of beans, an event most likely to occur on an early weekend morning, it’s easy to just saunter over to buy a fresh bag. It also helps that their choice of music veers close to mine — the other day, a barista had the bright idea of playing the complete Sylvan Esso debut album from beginning to end, as I was sitting inside sipping on my Gibralter.
For the record:
I have cut back on coffee-drinking
I have one cup a day, black, no milk, no sugar.
Bellemain French press, fuck-all grinder at home (planning to upgrade to a refurbished Baratza Encore)
Impeccable technique thanks to the fine folks over on r/Coffee
Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut Booksmart has a soundtrack to be proud of. Music hand-picked by Olivia and Dan The Automator, featuring the likes of Alanis Morrissette, Sofi Tukker, LCD Soundsystem, and Perfume Genius. But the one track that blew my mind was a song by Fata Boom, called ‘Double Rum Cola’. You see, it features a sample from a very, very familiar song from this 90s Indian boy’s childhood.
The song plays in an insane slow-mo last-day-of-high-school sequence, which is perfect.
You gotta go watch Booksmart. It’s phenomenal, and not just because of the music.
I heard a song while having dinner in an Indian restaurant in Toronto. It’s surprising I paid attention to it because I was in wonderful company and the conversation was sublime. But the melody felt…familiar. It’s an infuriating feeling to not recognize a song immediately, and I knew that later, it would come back to haunt me. So I switched on Soundhound, and the track that showed up was something I had never heard before. It was called ‘I Wanna Know’, by NOTD, featuring Bea Miller on vocals. Decent 6-out-of-10 summer dance track, but I could not understand why it felt so familiar.
It was only later, after I had hummed the main verse a few times, that I realized I had heard it after all. Well, not the original, but the version that appears on Ark Patrol’s ‘Entropy’.
I came across the music of Ark Patrol by pure happenstance earlier this year, when he released his first full-length album. It’s one of the best downtempo/chill LPs I have heard in 2019, and has been on repeat for the better part of the last quarter. The way he samples Bea Miller’s vocals for ‘Entropy’ is magical; the voice lowers an octave, the refrain becomes a plaintive wail, the beats and drone slither hypnotically. Electronic music at its finest.
The sheer joy of Michel Gondry’s video for the Chemical Brothers song ‘Gotta Keep On’ keeps on making me high. (hyuk!) But Gondry being Gondry, I love the turn the visuals take towards the middle. Just the subtle tweaking of reality that modern-day CGI brings to the director’s toolbox. MG, most known for directing Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, was the director of choice for some of Bjork’s greatest songs.
Bonus: Michel Gondry’s video for Metronomy’s ‘Love Letters’ (2014)
Nine years ago, (freeze-frame, record scratch, “wait, nine years ago?!” “Oh yes, it has indeed been that long”) nine long fucking years ago, one fine day in June (May?), I torrented a bunch of comics off of Demonoid. For those who came in late, Demonoid was a sort-of elite bit-torrent hub that guaranteed quality content. Umm, quality pirated content, back in those Dark Ages when the internet was a mud-pit you needed to dive in to and swirl around in for a bit before you grabbed onto something that might be good but you wouldn’t really know until you got the dang thing on your hard drive and clicked on it, but then oh no, all your file extensions would change and you could not click on anything anymore and the only way to do anything was to set the computer on fire and move to another city and start over with your life…. Ok, maybe not that dramatic, but close. Things were not synchronous — you could not press a button and have movies, music, or books streamed to you with zero delay. There was work involved in consumption.
But Demonoid was a safe space, in the sense that the torrents were vetted properly, and uploaders were particular about what sort of files they put up. My deal with Demonoid was that every night, I would scroll past the comics section, checking for new uploads that looked interesting. From the descriptions and an accompanying Google search, of course. Most of it was filled with random superhero trash, most of which I already read and owned, or random underground trash that I did not like, or porno comics that barely fit the constraints of “porno” or “comic”.
Except that night, I came across this series called Dungeon, and a creator named Lewis Trondheim. Searching for him led me to French blogs and websites. The cover artwork looked great, cartoon figures done in a minimalist way, and with just the kind of signals that tell you the content within is not for kids. And turned out the American publishers were an outfit called NBM, who were bringing in, among other things, works by Hugo Pratt, reprints of classic Terry and the Pirates. Cool. I downloaded the set, and read the first two arcs. The reading order was included in the description, because apparently the series had been published as collections of stories that jump through time and various characters. Even the choice of artists was different, except of course, for the common elements — creators Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar.
I loved it. I loved everything about it. I loved it so much that I sat down and wrote a long review of the first arc, Dungeon Zenith, for my ongoing Rolling Stone column. It is still online, bad formatting and all. (Not my fault, I believe their website mangled some encoding characters) I stand by nearly everything I wrote, and that’s a kinda-sorta miracle considering how much my tastes have changed in the last decade. Except I cringe about the fact that I say Joann Sfar is the artist. I am wrong, Trondheim did the art. Sfar is an artist as well, and you can read his incredible work in The Rabbi’s Cat, but the distinctive look of Herbert the Duck and Malvin the Dragon is all Trondheim. And as I found out later, Trondheim has a thing for anthropomorphic animals.
The problem with reading Dungeon back then, and with writing the review, was that I ended up getting inundated with questions about where one could buy the books. To close friends, I told the truth, and even passed on a DVD burnt with the set of downloaded Demonoid files. (On an aside, isn’t it strange that the phrase “burn a DVD” will cease to exist in a few years? If it hasn’t already). To others, I pointed them to the NBM site, because at that time, their books weren’t even stocked on Amazon. It was obscure beyond belief.
A year and a half later, I traveled to Spain for the first time in my life, and ended up meeting a whole new universe of comic art friends with whom I had corresponded online for the better part of a decade. They in turn took me to meet various creators, in their studios, and to the homes of their friends. And funnily enough, every shelf I glanced at (and drooled over, because the Spanish publishing houses did not skimp on their deluxe editions. This was the time when Preacher did not even have a hardcover release in America, while Spain had them published in oversized editions with faux-leather covers, designed to look like family Bibles) had a couple of series in common. There was the ever-popular Tintin and Asterix, and Franquin’s Spirou and Pratt’s Corto Maltese. And there was, surprise surprise, Lewis Trondheim and Joann Sfar’s Dungeon series.
To my surprise, these were large, album-sized volumes. It was jarring to realize that Twilight was actually six volumes when I had read three, but flipping through them, I realized that the American editions were 2-in-1 editions. My friends told me about how the rotating crop of artists were fan favorites, names like Christoph Blain, Manu Larcenet, and Boulet, whose works I would go on to explore later. It transpired that this series that I had thought of as an adorable, little-known whimsy was actually quite the cultural cornerstone. In France and Spain, Donjon or Mazmora was a phenomenon among fans and creators alike.
In 2017, Trondheim visited San Diego Comic Con, along with his wife Bridget Findakly, as part of the release of Bridget’s graphic memoir Poppies of Iraq. That was a year when my SDCC plans had fallen through, but I got a pass for a single day just so I could go meet them (and a few other creators, like Marjorie Liu, Adam Warren, and Nate Powell). It was a pleasure meeting them, and Lewis did a beautiful sketch in my copy of Ralph Azam and another in Poppies, which Bridget colored beautifully.
But it was San Diego, so there was not much in terms of interaction other than a thank-you and the hurried drawing. There were other fans waiting behind me, and there were signing schedules to queue up for. I felt lucky to have met them — and Findakly’s book was an excellent read during my train ride back. The little sketch they drew almost looked like it was printed on the paper, and brought a smile to my face every time I saw it.
* * *
At SDCC 2018, I saw an ad for a comics festival due to be held in May 2019 at Huntington Beach. The guest list for the festival was awe-inspiring. Sergio Aragones, Dan Clowes, Los Bros Hernandez, usual SDCC stalwarts. Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips would be there, Sean’s first Stateside appearance in more than a decade. And a treasure trove of French creators, including Lewis Trondheim and Boulet, another Dungeon artist. I marked the dates on the calendar, eager for a chance to meet Trondheim again.
Last September, I visited Rose City Comic Con, as part of an attempt to visit more conventions outside California. It was held in the heart of Portland, and the experience made me eager to continue my non-California con trips. Talking about this convention experience will take a whole post of its own, but what was important about Rose City was that at one particular booth, Cosmic Monkey Comics, I found a near-complete set of Dungeon, and Trondheim’s autobiographical Little Nothings for a price that made me want to go around shrieking with joy. I had tried, without much success, to look for Dungeon in bargain bins, but NBM did not run discounts. Their books were on Amazon, but at full price.
So last weekend, when NCSFest was due to happen, I decided to go overboard with my signing plans, and took every single one of those books with me. The worst that could happen was that I would get one or two signed, and I didn’t even want to think of the best-case scenario. Which was that I would get all the books signed by Lewis Trondheim.
(That is a conscious thought I have at the moment, dear reader. To have every book on my shelf be signed. It just makes the pleasure of owning a thing also be tied in to the experience of meeting a creator, and it somehow adds a meta-story to the physical object. Anybody can buy a book, but it’s an honor to create a story around something you have bought. Is that hubris?)
The thing about NCSFest was that they were trying to emulate the European model of having the town be involved in the convention. Everything was free. Parking was free at City Hall, and shuttle buses carried you over to the pier, where all of Huntington Beach Main Street was cordoned off to traffic in favor of streetside booths. Events were held at the Huntington Beach library and the Arts Center. There were live drawing sessions organized right on the pier. The best part was everything looked so laid-back. The crowd was a mix of comic-book fans and casual tourists who were curious about what was going on. A lot of children and parents together. My favorite retailers Stuart Ng was set up, in association with Comics BD, who were hosting a bunch of signings.
Lewis Trondheim was due to arrive at the ComicsBD booth from 11:00 AM, and I was there, with my Dungeon: Zenith books. Boulet, the artist on Vol 3 (vols 5 and 6 in the European versions) was sitting next to him, and he grabbed my copy. Apparently he had never seen the English version before, and for a few nervous minutes, I thought he was making good on his claim that he wanted to keep the book. He didn’t. Instead, I got a breath-taking sketch inside.
Since this was a very informal event, the amount of people making their way to the creators could only be described as a trickle, especially that early in the morning. The majority of visitors who came up were French expats. I chatted a bit with Boulet as he was sketching, asking him what he thought of the show. “The lines in France are crazy”, he said. “I am kind of a big deal there with the blog.” He sketched a copy of his English release for me as well. Trondheim sketched on my two books, and then refilled his pen. He had some free time, and I put the Little Nothings books in front of him, saying that he did not have to sketch in them, just a signature would be enough. “I have all the time in the world”, he said. “I am here for you.”
Long story short: I bought a few more of his books from the ComicsBD store. He sketched in all of them. He drew sketches in every single one of my Dungeon books. “I am a huge fan”, I said, and with a glint in his eye, he deadpanned: “I see it”. Which made Boulet crack up.
Later, I went and found a bottle of wine at a store, and came back to the booth to hand it over to Trondheim, who was by himself. He graciously accepted, and we talked a bit about art collecting and what kind of books he read. Joann Sfar was his favorite collaborator, and he hadn’t read any American comics in ages. I told him that Dungeon Monstres vol 1 was the only volume I did not own, because it was out of print. “I can ask my publisher if they have it”, he offered. I said that I had already spoken to them in Toronto, and they apparently were sold out and did not have plans to bring it back into print. He shook his head. Apparently, there were a couple of new volumes of Dungeon he was working on, but he wasn’t sure if NBM would publish them in English.
Finally, just before I was due to leave, I asked him if he sold any art. “Yes, but it’s very expensive”, he said, laughing. “You may look on my website”. He was right, the two pages up were indeed in the five-figures, but he had a surprise for me. He took out a small portfolio filled with watercolor sketches of La Lapinot, his character that hasn’t yet been translated into English. They were all superb, and I picked one immediately, because the price was perfect too!
Actually, it has ended, for now. But not without a denouement of sorts, involving suspense, trepidation, and finally, joy.
So remember I talked about this publishing house called Dragon Unbound, which did these funky cast iron and asbestos covered rebindings of first edition Stephen King books? The owner is a gentleman named Paul Suntup, a collector and entrepreneur, who apparently had bigger ideas. One of these ideas was a different publishing house, one dedicated to producing the highest quality handcrafted items possible. I know, it’s sort of a vague commitment –– how exactly does one even measure that kind of quality anyway? The mission statement of the company is simple and profound.
(Our) books (are) created with care and grace by craftspeople such as letterpress printers, hand bookbinders, paper makers, typographers and artists, using some of the finest bookmaking materials…they are handbound, one at time, and we go to great expense to utilize only the finest materials available. Most of our editions are printed letterpress, which is the printing method perfected by Gutenberg, who used it to produce the first book printed from moveable type in the West, the now-famous Gutenberg Bible.
Suntup Editions began in 2017 by publishing an art portfolio of David Paladini’s illustrations to Eyes of the Dragon, a book written (obviously) by Stephen King and one that would have fallen squarely into the young adult category, had that term existed in 1984. It was written by King for children, his and his pal Peter Straub’s kids, to be precise. Paladini’s illustrations graced the mass-market paperback, and this was the first time they got their due. Suntup would go on to publish The Covers Collection, a set of high-quality prints of Stephen King book covers, done with the original artists’ blessing. That project is still ongoing.
But in the beginning of 2018, a video on the Suntup Editions website announced that they were going to release their first specialty book. The promise was bold –– 200 signed copies, out of which 185 would be for sale at $525 each, plus 26 lettered copies at a staggering $3950, and a small number of unsigned “gift” edition copies for a mere $110. Renowned artists Rick Berry and Dave Christensen were picked to contribute artwork –– Berry produced 8 paintings, and Christensen, known for the original 70s covers to Salem’s Lot and The Shining, did a set of black-and-white illustrations. The descriptions of the books bordered on pornographic.
The Limited Edition is a smyth-sewn quarter leather binding, with Japanese cloth front and back boards and a gold stamped spine. The edition is printed letterpress on Cranes Lettra Pearl White cotton paper, and housed in a custom clamshell box with a leather spine label.
The Lettered edition is limited to 26 copies for sale lettered A-Z, and is signed by Stephen King, Rick Berry and Dave Christensen. It is printed letterpress on moldmade Arches wove paper with a deckled fore edge, and handbound in full crimson goatskin leather. Endpapers are marbled, and made exclusively for this edition. The binding is sewn and rounded with a hollow back designed to prevent sagging fo the page block. The title is made using six original Royal glass typewriter keys which are inset into the cover, and the letter designation is a Royal key inset into the lower back cover. The book is housed in a custom walnut wood box designed to resemble an original royal Model 10 packing crate, and features a black velvet-lined book bed. The box is laser engraved and handcrafted by Dick Olson at his workshop in Farmington, new Mexico.
The book that Suntup chose to inaugurate this ambitious project was, in a word, perfect. After all, what Number One Fan can resist the siren song of Misery?
Collector forums went haywire. I was following the Dark Tower boards, and there was no doubt that people were about to throw the contents of their wallets at the altar of Suntup. I was one of them, obviously. Except I had a sinking feeling that I would be severely disappointed by the proceedings. Years of experience dealing with Mondo poster drops had deadened me to the devastating pain of adding an item to a shopping cart and clicking on check-out, only to see the message “the item is no longer available”. Add to it the fact that not all the limiteds were going to be on sale, a chunk of them were made available to customers who had bought the portfolio and prints from Suntup before. The lettered editions were already snapped up. Things were looking bleak, but I was going to try, no question about it.
I woke early the day of the drop. Did everything with an eye on the clock –– I have had experiences when I missed a drop because I was distracted at the last minute. Created my account, logged in to said account, made sure I was logged into Paypal. Alarms were set to 15 minutes, 5 minutes, and 30 seconds to the release time. The sale was to go live at 8 AM on a Monday morning, and the next few minutes would decide if my week would be in tatters, or if I would be walking on air the next few days.
As soon as the buttons became active, my fingers flew on the keyboard. My stomach fluttered. There was a roar in my ears. Even as I clicked “add to cart”, I hit refresh on the backup laptop to make sure at least one of the orders would go through. Browser pages faded to white and status bars inched to completion. Teeth gritted, fingers clenched, I waited for a server crash, or a browser freeze. When “Order complete” message came up, the part of me still hopped up on adrenaline refused to believe in reality. I held my breath and waited for the actual email confirmation to come in. On the second laptop, I hit refresh on the main product screen. It was three minutes past eight, and the limited edition was sold out.
The email came in. I sighed. I remember laughing, and feeling light-headed and jelly-kneed. That whole week, I made for delightful company at work and beyond. It felt like a good start to 2018, a happy foundation for the whole year ahead. Reading the comments on the DT forum after the sale was over also made me realize just how lucky I had been.
Exactly six months later, on August 13, the package landed. Between February and then, I saw one copy of the limited edition (not the lettered) sell for $4000 via public auction, sight unseen. Since I was in Los Angeles, and the company is located in Irvine, I was one of the first recipients of the packages. It’s probably the only item for which I have created an unboxing video. Some day, when I am ready, the video will be put up online. Call me stupid, but holding that book in my hands felt like a quasi-religious experience. It was the first Stephen King book I bought via the primary market. That had to mean something, right?
The Fourth Book
Misery, Suntup Editions
Where do we go from here, how do we carry on
Will I continue to buy more of the King collectibles? Honestly, I do not know. Sometimes I feel like there is a part of me that wants to say “enough”. Comic art takes a lot out of me, and a huge part of my interaction with my primary hobby is to draw imaginary lines in the sand that dictate what I will go after next. It’s easy to give in to the frisson of excitement that follows a ninja purchase, but that is not what I crave any more. I have a handle on the art collecting bug, for sure. But there are enough Stephen King limited editions that make my palms itch, still. The limited edition of The Stand, for example, is bound in goatskin and comes in a wooden “coffin” box, wrapped in glassine paper. The Cycle of the Werewolf comes with a pencil sketch by Bernie Wrightson. And of course, finding a matching set of the Dark Tower Signed Limited books requires a matchless combination of single-minded determination, deep pockets, luck, and the right connections.
My absolute favorite King collectible is for a book that I never even finished reading, and one that does not figure on a top 20-list of his titles. It’s the lettered edition of The Regulators. Here’s the description (emphasis mine):
Hand sewn, hand bound in brown Morocco leather and Winchester 30 caliber bullets. The spine has the title and author’s name blind stamped wet to look like it was branded. The end leaves are of hand made and colored paste paper. The book is housed in a hand made faux-ammunition box covered in wood veneer with gold stamping on the side.
Yeah, the book has real fucking bullets embedded into the cover. But even more interesting are the signatures. Regulators is written by Richard Bachman, King’s pseudonym, and is a “dead man”. So to keep the story straight, the book came with dummy checks signed by the writer, which meant Stephen King signed as Bachman. Each check was made out to familiar names –– #A was to Carrie White ($125, prom dress), #I was to Roland ($50, a six-shooter), and #Q was to Pennywise Party Entertainment($100, balloons). A delightfully kooky presentation, and I have only seen it come for sale once in the last three years.
I know, I know, a third post on the same topic seems like a momentous occasion. My previous attempts to serialize any thematic content have crashed and flamed –– search for ‘Lone Wolf and Cub’, as an example. But this will be the last post on Stephen King collectibles, I swear. At least for now.
The Third Book
The Shining, Subterranean Press
I believe I have talked about The Shining and all that it led to at least seven times on the blog, so no more of that. Once I began my journey into SK collectible territory, there was no doubt this book had to be part of the collection. But this is where reality and the intricacies of the market come into play.
The limited signed edition was published by Subterranean Press, a Michigan-based specialty press that I have talked about in the past. This edition came with a bit of controversy before and during its publication. The original illustrator (Gabriel Rodriguez, of Locke and Key fame) was replaced by Vincent Chong. Early copies shipped out to buyers had significant issues such as rubbing, spotting, and color transfer problems. The publisher had to issue a dust jacket and send it out to buyers, along with a gift card for a future purchase and replacement tray-cases for copies that had the color transfer issue. (Details here)
The Subterranean limited release has 750 copies, signed by King and Chong. The book and the tray-case are beautiful, high-quality deckle-edged paper and print quality. The cover is minimalist, with beautiful patterns on a background of blue. Chong’s illustrations pop out on the color pages, and there was even an accompanying sketchbook that contained preliminary pencil pieces.
But the lack of any extra material is a disappointment. No preface, no afterword, no essay, or deleted material. What really got my goat is that as part of the Doubleday Years reprints that a different publishing house, Cemetery Dance was bringing out, this book got a different, unsigned deluxe release, one that was more desirable than the SubPress version. Why? An email from CD explains:
We have some AMAZING news to share. As you know, Stephen King has graciously allowed us to restore his long lost, 40 page prologue called “Before the Play” to the beginning of the book. It has never appeared in any edition of THE SHINING anywhere in the world and may never be reprinted again. In the weeks since the book sold out, something even more incredible has happened. A collector named Jon Page contacted us because he had something very special in his collection: an earlier draft of the manuscript, when it was still called THE SHINE, which had been sent around to Hollywood production studios to sell the movie rights before the book was published. This manuscript includes HUNDREDS of sentences, paragraphs, and even scenes not included in the final book we all know and love. Of particular interest is a four page section toward the end known as “After the Play,” which even Stephen King believed had been lost forever because he didn’t have a copy in his archives. Thanks to Jon’s amazing discovery, and Steve’s generous permission, all of this Deleted Material will now be included as Bonus Section in our special edition of THE SHINING, which you already have on order. You do not need to do anything to confirm you are receiving this material, it will be in every copy of our edition. Adding this material will take about two weeks of additional production time, but it means this version of the book will be as definitive as possible, which should make it an even bigger hit with collectors for years to come. A HUGE “thank you” goes out to Jon and Steve for making this addition to the book possible.
This was in addition to a foreword by King, and an afterword by Mick Garris, the director of the TV adaptation of the book. The TV miniseries, by the way, was King’s attempt to outdo Kubrick’s version, which he hated. The Cemetery Dance edition was also illustrated by Don Maitz and Glenn Chadbourne, and all in all, looked just as fancy as the SubPress edition. Except, like I said, it was unsigned. Well, there was an ‘Artist Edition’ signed by the illustrators, but no King signature.
So this is where one needs to make hard choices –– what truly is a ‘definitive’ version? Is it the author’s endorsement? Or is it something that contains all paraphernalia associated with a work? The heart says the former, the head the latter. I did end up buying the Subterranean Press version on eBay. Even got a limited UK edition of Doctor Sleep to go with it, signed by Stephen King with only 200 copies published. But oft in the gentle night, ere slumber’s chains have bound me, I find myself looking at Cemetery Dance listings on eBay. To sum it all up in a thousand words: