Ace Backwords: rock critic

For a couple of years I did a monthly record review column with my friend Mary Mayhem. It was patterned after Siskel & Ebert at the Movies — Backwords & Mayhem at the Records. And we’d both review the same records, giving them thumbs up or thumbs down. Usually I’d just tape-record me and Mary talking about the records as we listened to them. Then I’d edit the tape down to the column. Mostly it was just an excuse to hang out with Mary, drink beer, and listen to music. And you know me, I love to gas off with my opinions. So it was a lot of fun.

I’d mail the column out to various zines and alternative newspapers across the country. I think at its peak we were reaching about 100,000 readers a month. Didn’t make much money. But the real perk was, free records.

I mailed out copies of the column to every record label I could think of. And pretty soon I was getting like a hundred free records in the mail every month. I didn’t have time to listen to most of the records. Usually I’d play thirty seconds of the first track, and if it didn’t grab me by then, I’d take it off and go on to the next record. Ha ha. Half of them I would sell at the local used record store. And most of the rest of them I’d give to my friends.

With the smaller, independent record labels, I’d make an effort to plug them. Because most of them were operating on a shoe-string, and it cost them money to mail them out. But the major record labels, I just looked at as a big tit to milk. And years after I stopped writing the column, they still kept sending me their latest records every month. . . Once you get on the promo list of the major record labels, you’re on the gravy train, baby.

May 5th, NATIONAL CARTOONIST DAY (be sure to worship them as gods for the next 24 hours)

I drew a comic strip off and on for about 20 years. It’s a pretty exacting medium. Every line, every word, has to be exactly in the right place in order to convey the punchline. And it doesn’t take much to throw off the timing and ruin the gag. Plus, you have to be able to conceive a worthy punchline out of your head, out of thin air, in the first place. It requires an odd combination of skills that really can’t be taught. You can either do it or you can’t.

Drawing a comic strip is like doing sketch comedy. Only you do everything. You write it, you draw it, you create the characters, you act out all the characters, you design the set, you design the costumes. You’re actor, writer, director, set designer, everything. And you have to be skilled in all these things to pull it off.

One thing it really requires is the ability to be concise. You have to pack all of this information into 3 or 4 little panels. So you can’t waste a single word. Doing a comic strip taught me how to express myself directly and forcefully. It is an in-your-face medium. You are reaching out and grabbing the reader by the collar and demanding: LOOK AT ME!!

It also teaches you how to package your thoughts and present them to others in an easily-digestible format. It’s like being an advertising executive, except instead of selling a product you’re selling your ideas.

A cop was once detaining me and grilling me about a possible offense I might have committed. In the course of the conversation he asked me about my employment history.
“I was a cartoonist for 20 years,” I said.
“Why’d you quit?” said the cop.
“I ran out of punchlines,” I said.

The cop laughed and let me go. . . I still know how to deliver a punchline if I need to.

The Quayle Quarterly

Twisted Image, by Ace Backwords

One of the lowest moments of my cartooning career:

I don’t know if you remember the QUAYLE QUARTERLY. It was this magazine back when George Bush Sr. was Prez that mocked and satirized the Vice Prez, Dan Quayle. The main joke that the QUAYLE QUARTERLY repeated (over and over and over) was that Dan Quayle was really, really dumb and isn’t that really, really funny. They happened to see this comic strip I did about Bush, which they really liked.  So they offered me a thousand bucks up front to come up with 12 cartoons just like it (hopefully) about Dan Quayle for an anti-Dan Quayle calendar that they were gonna publish (one whacky Ace Backwords anti-Dan Quayle comic strips per month).

So I labored mightily and sweated profusely for several weeks to come up with the requisite 12 anti-Dan Quayle comic strips.

But the problem was. I found Dan Quayle so boring and pointless. All 12 of the comic strips I hacked out were crap.

The publishers of the Dan Quayle calendar also concluded my comic strips were crap. And decided not to publish them in their Dan Quayle calendar.

But at least they had the decency to pay me the thousand bucks anyways. Because they had commissioned me for the assignment.

And their Dan Quayle calendar was even crappier than my Dan Quayle comic strips.

Twisted Image, by Ace Backwords
Pretty lame.

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One of the last really good comic strip ideas I came up with

When the punchlines start punching back.

 

I was a cartoonist for 20 years. And one of the last really good ideas I came up with before I burned out on the gig was: I decided to do a series of comic strips. And I’d do a different drug while I was drawing each comic strip.

I’d start out the first panel of each comic strip like: “Its 9 PM and I just dropped that acid and I’m starting to work on this comic strip. . .” or “Its 9 PM and I just smoked this crack cocaine and I’m starting to work on this comic strip. . . ” or  “Its 9 PM and I just snorted this heroin and I’m starting to work on this comic strip. . .”

And so on. And I’d draw these series of comic strips while being under the influence of all these different drugs. Crystal meth, pot, alcohol, and so forth.

It was a great idea. Because I could not only illustrate the affect of these drugs on my mental processes. But also the affect on my motor skills as I physically drew the comic strips.

The problem was: I ended up doing all the drugs. But I never got around to drawing up all the comic strips.

I guess they don’t call them “pipe dreams” for nothing.

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The Quayle Quarterly

Twisted Image, by Ace Backwords

One of the lowest moments of my cartooning career:

I don’t know if you remember the QUAYLE QUARTERLY. It was this magazine back when George Bush Sr. was Prez that mocked and satirized the Vice Prez, Dan Quayle. The main joke that the QUAYLE QUARTERLY repeated (over and over and over) was that Dan Quayle was really, really dumb and isn’t that really, really funny. They happened to see this comic strip I did about Bush, which they really liked.  So they offered me a thousand bucks up front to come up with 12 cartoons just like it (hopefully) about Dan Quayle for an anti-Dan Quayle calendar that they were gonna publish (one whacky Ace Backwords anti-Dan Quayle comic strips per month).

So I labored mightily and sweated profusely for several weeks to come up with the requisite 12 anti-Dan Quayle comic strips.

But the problem was. I found Dan Quayle so boring and pointless. All 12 of the comic strips I hacked out were crap.

The publishers of the Dan Quayle calendar also concluded my comic strips were crap. And decided not to publish them in their Dan Quayle calendar.

But at least they had the decency to pay me the thousand bucks anyways. Because they had commissioned me for the assignment.

And their Dan Quayle calendar was even crappier than my Dan Quayle comic strips.

Twisted Image, by Ace Backwords
Pretty lame.

.