Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Comic Book Origin Stories - Thanks, Andy Darna!

The other day Karen Mahoney - author of the Iron Witch trilogy of Young Adult novels, classy British lady, and all-around quality human being – posed an interesting question on the Kelly Sue DeConnick forums; what’s the first superhero comic you ever read? Among the responses in the thread, I found a link to Matt Fraction’s wonderful presentation, “Batman Dreams of Hieronymus Machines”, which I cannot recommend highly enough. All this nostalgia made me think a bit about my comic book origin story, and I thought I’d share some of my earliest comic memories with you this week.
Super heroes and comics have been part of my life for just about as long as I have been alive. I taught myself to read when I was three years old through the Electric Company TV show, in particular, the segments with Spider-Man. I was fascinated by Spidey, and my parents, wanting to encourage me to read, tried to track down Spider-Man books and comics.  I would demand my dad read to me every night before I went to bed. My mother says she knew I had taught myself to read one night when my father, tired from a long day of work, tried to skip a large section of dialogue. I called him on his mistake and told him what he had missed.
My comic book collection REALLY started, though, with Andy Darna.
My dad was a cop throughout my childhood until he retired with cardiac problems in the 90s. In the late 70s, he and two other cops became co-owners of a gymnasium in our home town of Manchester, CT, as a way of bringing in extra cash. This is “gym” in the old school. Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Pumping Iron” sense. No spin classes here, just big guys and gals lifting big pieces of metal. I remember the place always smelled like sweat, rust, and Gatorade.  
One of the regulars was a young guy named Andy. I don’t remember a LOT about him. I do remember his sister babysat me when I was young. And I remember that when I was about four or so, Andy decided he was going to join the Navy. He cleared out most of the possessions tying him down, and gave me all of his comic books.
I have no idea where that guy is today. He probably has no idea what a major impact on my life he made with such a simple, casual gesture. “Here, kid,” he said, handing me a cardboard box filled with dreams and destiny, “These are yours for keeps. But you’re not getting my Superman versus Muhammad Ali.”
I’m honestly not sure what the first comic I ever read was. It was something published around 1977 or 1978, I’m sure. But I CAN remember some of those comics I got from Andy.  So to complete this walk down memory lane, here are a couple of my oldest comic book memories.

Batman #308
Mister Freeze is up to his old tricks! He’s trying to perfect a way of making his girlfriend, Hildy, immortal. But so far his experiments have failed, leaving him with an army of frozen zombie goons. Batman is overtaken by the bad guys, and for a moment, we’re led to believe he’s been turned into a frozen Bat-zombie! (Bat-frozen-zombie? I’m not actually sure how the language works there.) But huzzah! It’s all a ruse, and Batman foils Mister Freeze’s schemes, although Hildy manages to kill herself trying to shoot Mister Freeze and Batman with a faulty freeze gun.
This one genuinely scared me. I was convinced that Batman had REALLY been turned into an ice zombie. I was oddly untraumatized by Hildy’s death, though. She got what she had coming to her.


Green Lantern #114
Green Lantern, Green Arrow, and Black Canary take on the new super-villain, THE CRUMBLER! It says a lot about the powers of imagination possessed by a 4-year-old that I thought the Crumbler was a credible threat. (Doing some research, it seems like this guy was a major pain in the ass for GL and GA through 1979, and then nobody ever heard from him again.)


Incredible Hulk #234
Hulk versus hippies! (Basically, anyway.) Hulk hides out in a commune with his friends Fred and Trish. The bad guy gasses the house and kidnaps Trish while disguised as Machine Man!   This is one of the rare instances where I had not only this issue, but the follow-up issue, where the Hulk goes after Machine Man in the classic comic book trope of mistaken identity leading to heroes battling heroes.
Machine Man is still one of my favorite characters. I love that guy. I remember a really great Spider-Man comic where MM and Spidey team up to fight Baron Brimstone. Good stuff.


Iron Man #122
One of those great issues they used to have in comics where they just retell the hero’s origin again. It’s the comic book version of a clip show.


Justice League of America #168
The conclusion of a story where the Secret Society of Super Villains had switched bodies with the JLA.  Years later, this would turn out to be the basis for the Identity Crisis miniseries. So… way to fuck up my childhood memories, Brad Meltzer.
This JLA lineup, by the way, will always be THE JLA lineup for me. It doesn’t get any better than this.


Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #253
This comic started a love affair with the Legion that I still sort of nurture. And it introduces 5 new villains who stalk through the story killing a bunch of Legionnaires before setting their sights on Superboy.
Pretty heady stuff for a 4-year-old. The bad guys plow through Colossal Boy, Ultra Boy, Timber Wolf, Light Lass and Phantom Girl. At the time, I had no way of knowing that the heroes weren’t really dead. To this day, by the way, Ultra Boy and Timber Wolf are still my two favorite Legionnaires.


Thor #281
Thor finds himself stuck in Limbo, where he encounters the Space Phantom, who tricks him into a shaft where time has split down the middle, trapping Thor half in and half-out of his Don Blake form.
This is one of those great Marvel Comics that really show what comics do best. Big action, super melodrama, and insanely bizarre visual effects and sci-fi lunacy.

And last but not least…

Marvel Two-In-One #51
The Thing organizes a late night poker game in Avengers mansion, but the game gets interrupted by reports of an attack on the SHIELD Hellicarrier.
Again, this is a comic that introduced me to some of my all-time favorite characters -  Ms Marvel, the Beast, Nick Fury, and of course, the Ever-Loving Blue-Eyed Thing. Plus, Wonder Man. I know Wonder Man is something of a joke now, and his leisure suit look didn’t age very well, but to 4-year-old me, he was fucking awesome. HOMEBOY HAD GLOWWING EYES! And he freaked out the Thing! And the captions told me he was as tough as Thor! How could you NOT love that guy?
I love that the Floating Super-Hero Poker Game is still a thing in the Marvel Universe. Dan Slott cracked it out again in a recent issue of Amazing Spider-Man, and I nearly crapped my pants in glee.

Thanks to Karen for the idea for the blog. Everybody go read her books. And tell her I sent you.

Hugs and kisses,
(The) Travis

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

FASERIP Forever!

Recently, on the Bendis Board, poster Adam Greenberger started a thread reminiscing about the old Marvel Super Heroes Role Playing Game from TSR. Holy shit, the memories that came flooding back.
I started playing pen and paper RPGs in 6th Grade. This was in the olden days, of course, so I didn't have the options available to the youth of today. No MMORPGs. It was pen and paper or nothing. At the time, I was enrolled in a parochial school, so expressing an interest in Dungeons and Dragons would have been the equivalent of yelling “HAIL SATAN!” at your homeroom teacher. I was a huge comic book nerd, though, and I kept seeing ads in the back of Marvel comics for this game that would let you take on the role of your favorite super heroes. I NEEDED this game.
Again, this was that murky time before the internet, so my options for securing game materials were limited. I had to patiently save my pennies and then con my parents into driving me an hour away to the one game store I could find; the late, lamented Flock Stock & Barrel.

For the next four years, I would spend Saturday after Saturday unleashing all manner of cosmic comic mayhem in the Merry Marvel Manner on my friends and schoolmates. Once good old Pat Coleman moved away, I was the only hardcore comic book fan in my circle, so there were some fairly hilarious communication breakdowns as I tried to wrap my friends up in the machinations of Marvel’s most nefarious. For example, an ongoing argument as to the origins of Radioactive Man’s powers (“For the thousandth time, he did NOT live on Three Mile Island!”), and a seemingly impenetrable fog of confusion as to the Wrecking Crew (“So it’s like the Village People, but they’re ALL the construction worker?”). Also, I had at least one childhood chum who could not fathom why superheroes didn’t just shoot the bad guys, ala Dirty Harry. He would spend half of his time as Spider-Man trying to buy a handgun.
In the early going I used the pre-written modules TSR produced. My favorite was FAULTLINE, where the heroes had to race against time to thwart a bombing in NYC (Not a scenario that could probably play nowadays). Also, being a huge X-Men fan, I naturally gravitated to any chance to run a mutant-centric module. (Although those game days usually collapsed in arguments as to who would get to be Wolverine. )
Eventually, I started writing my own adventures. I will admit to a certain lack of sophistication to the plots, initially. Although my friends never seemed to catch on to the whole “The Villians Spell Their Name with the Stores They Rob” scheme until it was almost too late. By the time they figured out what was going on, the Wrecking Crew was down to the second “R”.  
My favorite string of adventures came my freshman year of high school. I had purchased the Avengers sourcebook, which contained an adventure in which the players made brand new heroes and then started an “Avengers Experimental Franchise” in their hometown. (I wonder if the brains behind the Avengers: Initiative comics ever played that adventure). My players started AEF-CT, and based their headquarters in what was, at the time, an abandoned Sears department store in Manchester, Connecticut. Over the next year and change, a rotating team of homegrown heroes arrested the Taskmaster, bested Ultron, trounced the Mole Man, and handed the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants their collective asses not once, but twice.
At that point, I started devoting all of my RPG energy to the various iterations of Dungeons & Dragons. 20 years later, I still have a weekly D&D game, and I still love RPGs as much as I did. But I do miss those early innocent days of superheroism, friendship, and Spider-Man with a handgun.
For your entertainment, re-created as faithfully as I could remember, I present two of the founding members of the AEF-CT – Phoenix (originally created by Brian Wiatr), and Nightbird (originally created by Johanna Mead). (Thanks to HeroMachine 3.0 for the images.)

Fighting  - Good (10)
Agility – Remarkable (30)  
Strength – Good (10)
Endurance – Incredible (40)
Reason – Remarkable (30)
Intuition – Good (10)
Psyche – Excellent (20)
Fire Generation (Incredible) – Phoenix can generate flames and heat at will.
Fire Control (Amazing) – Phoenix can control existing flames and heat, shaping them, enlarging them, or extinguishing them.
Energy Sheath (Remarkable) – Phoenix can surround his body with an aura of flames, giving him protectiong from energy and physical attacks.
Carrier Wave (Incredible) – By projecting flames behind him, Phoenix can fly through the air.
Computer Science

Fighting  - Amazing (50)
Agility – Excellent (20)  
Strength – Incredible (40)
Endurance – Amazing (50)
Reason – Excellent (20)
Intuition – Good (10)
Psyche – Good (10)
True Invulnerability (Incredible) – Nightbird is highly resistant to physical damage.
Hyper-Leaping (Remarkable) – Nightbird can make leaps of up to 40 feet.
Espionage; Law enforcement; Martial Arts A,B,C,D,E; Acrobatics  

This blog is for Brian, and Johanna, and Matt, Jason, Benji, Pat, Beth, Heather, Steve, Delio, Kristie, Ben, and any other members of the AEF-CT I may have forgotten.

Leonardo Gonzalez is an insanely talented artist I am lucky enough to be working with on the forthcoming “Fairy Tale” issue of GrayHaven Comics’ “The Gathering” anthology. Everybody needs to go pick up a copy of Haunt #19, where you can see Leo’s art!
To celebrate the new creative team of Joe Casey and Nathan Fox, Image Comics ran a contest for fan art to grace the issue. Leo came in fourth overall, and then his piece was chosen by Joe Casey to appear in the book!
Congratulations to Leo, who is an awesome collaborator, a fantastic artist, and a genuinely good guy.
Here’s a preview of one of Leo’s page from our Gathering story, “The Heartbreak Tree”.

So go! Run and buy Haunt #19! Right now!

Hugs and kisses,

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

This Is Me, Giving Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving, y’all!
I love the holidays. I know it’s not the coolest thing to do. I’ve spent most of my life from adolescence on being friends or acquaintances with artistes, alternative lifestyle types, and hipsters, so I know the thing to do is shit all over the holidays. In fact, if I go to Facebook right now, I’m going to be able to play a fun drinking game where I take a shot every time I see someone bitching about Christmas decorations, and then my liver explodes before I can scroll down. But fuck it. I LOVE the holidays. Fourth quarter is my favorite part of the year. You get the start of fall (my favorite season), then Halloween, then Thanksgiving, then my birthday (December 23rd!) and then Christmas, which is my absolutely favoritest of favorite holidays, and my favorite day of the year.
(The exception to this is New Year’s Eve. I kind of hate New Year’s Eve. Too much pressure.)
Anyway, Thanksgiving has always been a day I really loved. Growing up as an only child, I always kind of gravitated to those occasions when the house would suddenly fill with people. I love having different conversations in every room, and wearing sweaters and flannel shirts, and watching football, and taking tryptophan naps, and all that good stuff.
Being married, I luck out, too. I get to double dip, and do Thanksgiving day with my parents, before going to Jenny’s family thanksgiving over the weekend. Turkey Times Two, for the win.
In the spirit of the season, I have assembled a list of the things I am thankful for at the moment.
I am thankful for my health (such as it is)
As I sit here typing this, I am wearing contact lenses that afford me 20/20 vision in my right eye and 20/40 vision in the left. When you consider that in April, my left eye was ay 20/400, that’s goddamned AMAZING. My retinopathy seems to be in control right now. My vision, knock on wood, has been stable for the last couple months, with no new bleeding or issues. The amazing medical team at the Yale eye Center has taken unbelievable care of me, and I owe them everything.
My eye doctor uses me as his poster child lately. Every time I go see him he brings in a bunch of surgical residents and shows me off. That’s a pretty awesome feeling, to know I’m doing well enough that I can be used as a best-case scenario.
I am thankful for my wife
Jenny’s amazing. She’s my best friend, my favorite person, the love of my life, and the best thing that ever happened to me. I never stop being thankful for her presence in my life.

Everybody should check out Grayhaven Comics’ The Gathering Volume 5 (Love Letters) to read her debut comic book story. It’s fantastic.
I am thankful for my cat
Miss Bad Ass Kitty Fantastico is the first pet that was ever MINE. I had pets growing up. Tons of them. But B.A. is the first critter I ever was solely responsible for. I picked her out. I brought her home. I’ve fed her almost every meal she’s ever eaten. I’ve been responsible for her health and well-being and happiness. And she’s paid me back a million times over. I’ve had her for ten years now, and she still runs to the door when she hears me come home. She still sleeps by my head, and sprawls out across my lap while we watch TV.
We had a bit of a health scare with her this year. It looked like she had kitty cancer for a while, and Jenny and I were convinced we would have to put her down. But fortunately, it turned out to be a much more treatable problem, and today she is just as frisky and piggy and adorable as ever. And I couldn’t be more thankful.

I am thankful for my grandfather
Charles Holyfield is one of my life’s heroes. I’ve learned more from him than I could ever repay about how to live, how to love your family, how to take care of yourself and others, and how to be wise without being arrogant or unwilling to learn. He’s amazing. And I’m indescribably lucky to be able to know him and to be able to spend time with him. I love you, Pop-Pop.

I am thankful for comic books
Since I was 3 years old, Comic books have been a huge part of my life. I never had that moment where I outgrew them. I never stopped reading them. I love comics. Always have and always will.
In the past month, I’ve picked up a couple truly awesome books everyone should check out. Try American Vampire by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, and The Sixth Gunn by Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt. Good stuff.

I am thankful for MY comic books
This has been a great year for me, in terms of my creative output. I wrote a full-length graphic novel, and have made progress on three more. I’ve had two stories published, and have 4 or 5 on track to be published next year. I’ve got proposals for three series cooked up and ready to go, and I’ve started writing first issue scripts for two of them.
I was talking to Pat Loika the other night and telling him that I wanted to find a way to break into the comics industry. Pat told me, “Dude, you ARE in the comics industry.” That made me feel pretty good.
Speaking of Loika…
I am thankful for my collaborators
I’ve had such an amazing run of luck working with insanely talented artists this year. Endless thanks and much love to Chris Hopkins, Chris Page, Leonardo Gonzalez, and Pat Loika. Without you guys, I’d be nowhere.
I am thankful for my friends
I have the best friends in the world. Swear to God.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone. Go find some stuff you’re thankful for.
Hugs and Kisses,

P.S. The new Childish Gambino is pretty fucking awesome, right?

Thursday, November 10, 2011


Congratulate me people! This is my 25th blog entry here.   
As usual, when faced with deadlines and other real world things that keep me from making truly clever blogs, I go to my friends at the Brian M. Bendis board, and ask them for silly questions that I can answer in a silly fashion. And this is what I got this time.
Q: What is the slope and concavity of the graph of x2y + y4 = 4 + 2x at the point (-1, 1)
A: Since y’’ < 0 , the graph is concave down at the point (-1, 1).
I completely admit to cheating on this and looking it up online. But I also suspect that you cheated and looked the question up online, so we’re probably even.

Q:  Axe Cop vs. Dr. McNinja. Who wins?

I’m going to give this one to Axe Cop. But that’s purely a gut answer based on no real evidence or analysis. The truth is that I won, because I had an excuse to go back and read a bunch of Axe Cop and Dr. McNinja webcomics. So for that, I thank you.

Q: Cyclops vs Rock Brannigan, who's the bigger badass?
A: I’m going to say Cyclops, but that’s because I honestly have no idea who Rock Brannigan is. Also, optic blasts. So there’s that.
Fun fact, though: Despite my love of Scott Summers, I sided with Wolverine in the recent X-Men: Schism miniseries. I’m Team Wolverine, all the way. Although I suspect some of that might have to do with Kitty Pryde being on Team Wolverine. I have had a crush on Kitty Pryde since I was 11 years old.
BLOG BONUS: Here’s a pic of my friend, the lovely and talented Jessie Pridemore, cosplaying as Kitty.

Q: Patrick Warburton's best voice role: Brock Sampson, Rip Riley or Joe Swanson?
A: Joe Swanson, Hands down, no contest. See, as brilliant as Warburton is in everything he does, Family Guy continually lets him scream. And Warburton’s screams of panic/pain/excitement are the best thing ever.

Q: If you could kill someone using one superpower, what would that power be?
A:  Probably Darkseid’s Omega Beam. There are days when I would just love to be able to glare at somebody and then have them be disintegrated where they stand. Because, you know, that’s what they get for fucking with me.


I bought Batman: Arkham City. Holy shit that game is fun. Fifteen minutes after typing this up, I finally tracked down the Riddler and punched him in his stupid smug face. If there was a command to shove one of his goddamn question marks up his ass, I would have punched those buttons like I was getting paid for it. But alas, no such luck.
Logic would dictate that having plowed through the story here, I shoould be bat-satisfied for a while. But alas, I also downloaded the Nightwing add-on pack, so stalking bad guys through Wayne Manor and then beating them senseless with escrima sticks is probably going to occupy a lot of my leisure hours for the next few weeks.

My good and trusted friend Pat Loika recently had me on as guest co-host for his LOIKAMANIA podcast. I got to hang out and talk with Matt Fraction, which made me all giggly and nervous in my pants.
Check out the podcast and enjoy my velvet tones as I ask poor Fraction endless picky nerd questions about The Defenders.


Featuring “The Hopester Versus Despairicus” written by yours truly, with Art by Pat Loika.

The second horor-themed offering from The Gathering, this one features the story “Jack, Unblinking”, written by me, and drawn by Mr. Chris Page.

You’ll be able to catch plenty of me from Grayhaven in 2012. Chris Page and I have our second story together in the Science Fiction volume (due January), and I have a piece in the Fairy Tale (February) and Silver Age (April) issues as well.
Tune in next time, when I embarrass myself by revealing the pitch for Marvel Comics’ Secret Avengers I came up with one morning at 3:30 AM.

Hugs and Kisses,

Friday, November 4, 2011

Friday Forays into Fiction

It's November, which means it's time for NaNoWriMo again. That means that for the next 30 days I will be able to watch many of my peers have prick waving dick fights about their word counts while they try to fulfill their ambitions towards writing the great American novel.

I'm not going to lie. Most years, I get caught up in the novel writing fever. In fact, my upcoming graphic novel, Wacky Zack Must Die, started off as an idea for a NaNowriMo project. I'm begging out this year, but I still love the idea. The only reason I'm not giving it a whirl this go around is that I have other projects I want to focus on first - Chiefly among them my scripts for the Silver Age and Western volumes of The Gathering, and my Tarantino-tribute miniseries.

(Sadly true anecdote on that miniseries: I sent an email to my friend Pat's girlfriend the other day, asking her how long it would take someone to die of blood loss from an amputated limb. She's a medical student, and if you're in my life, and you demonstrate any area of expertise, I'm going to corner you at one point and ask you eerily specific questions relating to your field of knowledge. (Poor Pat, who is a juggler, had to spend an hour at a bar with me one night discussing the physics of juggling hamsters for a scene in Wacky Zack.) I was wondering why I hadn't recieved a response yet when a mutual friend informed me that the young woman in question had been in a horrible bicycle accident. 

Me: So.... That's probably why she hasn't wanted to talk about amputations.
Mike: Yeah, probably. 
Me: So... I guess I'm the dick now, huh?
Mike: We all figured you just didn't know.
Me: I didn't. I swear to God I didn't. Still... I'm gonna need an answer. 
Mike: Yeah. You're a dick.)

I should also mention that whenever I think about writing a novel, I can hear Stewie from Family Guy talking in my head. 

Anyway, in lieu of a whole novel, here's a piece of short fiction I wrote about two years ago. Like most things I've written, I can barely stand to look at it now. But several people who I like and respect have told me they enjoyed it, so maybe you will, too.


Near Death Experiences,

It was , and we were in the Mighty Chicken, my 18 year old station wagon, a half hour into the hour drive home from a show at Studio 158. I had Gary in the back seat, completely knackered and snoring like a beast, and I had Ryan in the passenger seat, changing tapes every thirty-five seconds or so and drinking rum then cokes. Meaning, he had a jug of Captain Morgan he was guzzling from, and a can of Coca Cola he would sip at as a chaser.
I had the stereo up and the windows down. The noise from the stereo was trying (and failing) to drown out Gary’s noises, and the open window was easing the smell the three of us were giving off. We had been five hours inside of Studio 158, jungle steamy, hotter than hell, and unlike a lot of shows, the whole room decided not to wait until the very last band came on to start shaking their ass. We’d been moshing and pogoing and moving around all night, and we stank like a monkey cage.
Ryan had put on some Queers, and then declared it “wasn’t hard enough”. Then he had put on Snapcase, and took it out right away, saying it was “too hard”.
“What are you, Goldilocks? Pick something and stick to it,” I yelled at him above the noise of the wind. I was doing close to 60, which was about 15 miles per hour above the speed limit, but still pretty safe. It was summer, and it was late. Deer weren’t really out yet, no kids would be riding bikes this late, and there were only a couple state cops who worked route 66, and they never ran radar in that area on a Saturday night – Too dead. They were way more likely to set up shop somewhere near the Mobil station or the Dunkin Donuts. Not that I’m trying to perpetuate cop stereotypes, I’m just saying that there was way more chance of them actually busting a speeder or a drunk or something near the center of town. And hey, if it’s late, and nothing’s happening, you’d want to be where you could get a cup of coffee, right?
“I AM Goldilocks, dude. I’m getting fucking shaggy.” Ryan was wearing his trademark Big Mistake beanie, which was totally Ryan, wearing the hat of the band you’re going to see. When he took it off, his hair just spilled across his face. Most summers he shaved his head, but for some reason this year he had been wearing that hat almost nonstop since April, and I’d forget sometimes how blonde he was. When his hair started to get long, like it was then, he looked like Little Lord Fauntleroy in a hoodie and bondage pants.
He put in Black Train Jack, the first tape, the good one. “Ah. Punk Rock Goldilocks thinks this is just right.” He started piling his hair back under his hat, and looked in the back seat at Gary.
“He looks so innocent, sleeping like that.”
“I can’t see him.”
“Oh, dude, he’s adorable. He’s all curled up in the fetal position, and I think, I’m not sure, but I think, he’s sucking his thumb.”
“That’s precious.”
“It IS precious.”
“You want to fuck with him right now, don’t you?”
“Oh, man, you have no idea. I don’t suppose you have a Sharpie or anything? I want to draw cock and balls on his face.”
“No Sharpie.”
He turned back and settled into his seat. “You suck at having a Sharpie so that I can defile Gary’s face.” He took another gulp from the Captain.
“I’m sorry, I guess I really do.”
I glanced at him. “Should you be drinking that much of that shit?”
“How much of what shit? The Coke? Don’t worry, it’s just baby sips. And all the caffeine is good for me.”
“That’s not what I was talking about.”
“I know what you were talking about, and I don’t want to hear about it. I’m fine, and you’re driving, and what does it matter. You’re not my mother.”
It was always “You’re not my mother” with Ryan. Never “You’re not my father,” because that would have meant Ryan acknowledging he had a father, and Ryan almost never did that. Ever since Roy had ditched out on Ryan and his sister and his mom, and had moved to Bridgeport with this bar skank, Ryan had stopped talking about his dad. He pretty much had no father, as far as he was concerned.
“I’m not your mother. I just don’t want you throwing up in my car.”
“I will not throw up.”
“You’re promising? Swearing? Am I getting a guarantee?”
“You are getting a guarantee. I will not throw up. Not in your car, anyway.”
We both laughed and I kept driving.  I was feeling pretty good that night. It had been an awesome show, Big Mistake headlining, and Spring Heeled Jack on the bill. We had run into this girl Crystal I knew through Gary, and her two friends, and I ended up dancing with her for most of Spring Heeled Jack’s set. Ryan was still deep in his post-breakup angst over Meghan, hence the drinking binge, so he wasn’t much use, but Gary could be really funny and charming, and never seemed to really get nervous with girls at all, so he ended up keeping her friends busy. I pussied out on getting her number, but she said she was going to the Legion Hall show the next Friday, so I was pretty sure I would talk to her again then.
For some stupid reason, I tried to talk to Ryan about her. “That girl, Crystal? She was pretty hot.”
He had put the can of coke in the console cup holder, was looking out the window, cradling the jug of rum like a baby. “She was okay. Nothing special.”
What do you say to that, right? I knew that he wasn’t going to all be drunk and heartbroken for very long. And if he was saying things like a girl was nothing special, he knew it, too, and I was probably screwed. Because either I make a big deal out of it, and then he knows I like her, and at the show next Friday he totally cockblocks me, or I agree with him that she’s nothing special, and then he hears that as a green light to go after her himself. That’s how it had been with Meghan. We had met her at the Tune Inn, and I had thought she was just amazing. She had this really awesome voice, kind of husky, but not like, deep or anything. Sexy. And she had been really funny, too. I had accidentally bumped into her, both of us looking through the boxes of CDs in the little store inside the club. And she had said “Wow, you must REALLY want to look at those comps.” And for once I hadn’t gotten all stupid and tongue-tied, like I usually did with girls I didn’t know. I had said, “Yeah. But look, if you give me first dibs on whatever we find in there, I promise not to hurt you.” And she had laughed, and I felt flushed from my neck right down to my toes.
We started talking and I found out she was from our town, and she had just moved there from Ohio. I started making that old joke, about how Ohio Is round on the ends and “hi” in the middle, and then Ryan had come up from behind and had gotten me in a headlock and had said, “I’m sorry, is this guy bothering you? You say the word and I’ll drag him out of here and beat the shit out of him. “And she’d laughed at THAT, too, and I figured, she was just one of those girls who laughed at things, and if that’s the kind of girl she was, then it was all over. Ryan had moved in, and I was about to become “Ryan’s funny, fat friend”. And who needs that shit. So later, when he said, “What do you think about the Meghan chick,” I just said, “I don’t know. She’s OK, I guess.” And that was all the permission Ryan needed.
That was just the price you paid for being friends with Ryan. He really liked girls, and they really liked him. And while some dudes said “bros before hos”, and meant that they wouldn’t go after a girl their friend liked, Ryan said, “bros before hos”, and meant that, if you were his boy, you shouldn’t care who he went out with, even if it was your sister or your cousin, or some girl you met at a show and really liked, because you should be loyal to him, not to some girl who maybe didn’t even like you. That was just the way it was.
Look, I know he sounds like an asshole, but he wasn’t an asshole. He was my oldest friend, since the first grade. He got me into punk rock, and he got me into ska,  and he got me into hardcore, and he introduced me to every cool slasher movie I had ever seen, and he didn’t read comics, but he’d come with me to buy mine, and he never gave me any shit about it. He’d bust your balls all day long, and he’d fuck with you just to make sure you could take it, but the things that would really hurt? The things that would really wound you down deep, so that you kind of choked a little, and had to fake a laugh through clenched teeth? Ryan would never go there. Ever. And if anyone else did, Ryan would make sure they never did it again.
Like the one time this guy, Chad Marufo, this guy did give me shit? Eric had been right there. I had been in the school library, and I was reading the trade paperback for Ronin, and I was so totally into it that I didn’t even hear Chad come up behind me until I felt him flick the back of my ear and then grab the book away. “Comic books? These things are for fat pussies, I hear.” And Ryan was up off his chair already and shoved Chad, this big jock kid, like over 6 feet tall, this basketball jock, Ryan shoves him. And he says, “At least he can read, you fucking faggot, “and snatches the book right out of Marufo’s hands. And Marufo’s just standing there with this look on his face like he couldn’t believe some little skinny punk kid had just called him a fag. And for a second, it looked like maybe there was going to be a fight, but then Marufo maybe saw something in Ryan’s eyes. Like something that said, I don’t give a fuck that you’re bigger than me, I don’t care that you’re stronger than me. My dad used to hit me and he used to do it hard enough to knock me down and I’m not afraid of being hit anymore. You just try to hit me. I will fucking kill you. No joke. I will fucking kill you.
So Marufo just backs away, and says, “Fuck you two,” and takes off. And as soon as he’s out of earshot, Ryan grabs my hair and pulls my forehead against his and says, “"When I get aggression, I give it two times back."  And then he sat down again and went right back to doing his homework.
So if Ryan was a little loud, and if he was a little obnoxious, and he didn’t really think about whether you liked a girl or not before he made out with her, that’s the price you paid to be friends with him. And that was a fair price, you know?
And I was starting to get the hang of it now, of liking girls and being friends with Ryan. You couldn’t say you liked her, and you couldn’t say you didn’t, so you just changed the subject.
“So what happened with Meghan? Like, two weeks ago, when we went to Friendly’s and you guys were all hand-holding and whispering, and practically making out at the table. And then, this weekend, you’re all bitter drunk guy. What happened?”
“She broke up with me.”
“OK, but that’s not what anyone else heard.” The rumor in the scene was that Ryan had dropped Meghan, for reasons unknown. I had heard it from Abby Kraft, and Chris Majors, and Genevieve, and Mickey, and the twins. And whether it was true or not, everyone was acting like it was true. Meghan’s social circle had immediately expanded, and she was supposedly now friends with this circle of girls who had all dated Ryan, and now thought he was a scumbag.
“It doesn’t matter what everyone else said, Thom. I’m telling you how it is, okay? Let’s just change the subject.”
“Okay, man. I’m sorry.” And we drove without talking for a little while. Just listened to Black Train Jack do “Time” and “Mad Doll” and “Leapfrog”. And after a little while, Ryan said,
“Thom, I have kind of a situation here.”
“Dude, you promised.”
“I’m not going to puke. But I have to pee like a racehorse. I’m not joking man. I’m going to fucking bust. Pull over somewhere.”
“Like where?” Pulling over on these roads was no joke. It was one lane in either direction, and almost right where the road ended, right on the edge where a sidewalk would be if we lived in the city or the suburbs and not out in the goddamned sticks, that was where the trees started. If you had to stop, there was almost no place for you to pull over. And I wasn’t worried about cops, or regular traffic, but at , you never knew when a drunk or fucked-up redneck asshole in a jacked-up truck was going to come flying up right behind you. There had been a kid at school when me and Ryan and Gary were freshman, this senior, who had gotten killed when his car was rear-ended by some drunk farmer going 80. Drove the kid right into a tree, and that’s that.
“Dude, anywhere. I have to piss. I can’t fucking hold it.”
“You should have gone before we left!” And now I wasn’t sounding like Ryan’s mother, I was sounding like MY mother.
“I did, man! But then I drank, like, this whole fucking jug of rum! You’ve got to pull over.”
“It probably wasn’t the rum, it was probably the coke that did it. Just that little extra that pushed you over the edge.”
“Thom, PLEASE…”
“OK! Hey, look! Right there. Right over there.” And there was a clearing in the endless woods we had been driving past. It was a piece of shit auto shop and junkyard we had driven past a thousand times. There was a single overhead light mounted above the sign, so you could see the letters that were left – U-A-L-I-T-Y-M-T-O-R-C-O-A-C-H-S.
I pulled in, taking my time, not to torture Ryan (although that was kind of fun), but because I had fucked up my parents’ Buick a little, making a fast U-turn out of a parking lot just like this one. I had come into that lot going too fast, caught up in the music, listening to Screeching Weasel, or NOFX or something, and hadn’t seen the catch basin, not quite flush with the ground, and semi-jagged with age and rust. So I hit the stupid thing, and my tired popped, and I tried to get it under control, but it took a few seconds to stop the car, and I managed to bend the axle somehow. I needed to get the thing towed out of there. Somehow I managed to escape being grounded until I was in college, but I was a little overly cautious when pulling into strange places now. 
I pulled up in front of the garage’s bay doors, and Ryan was out of the car before I could even get it into park. I thought he was going to just run up to the doors, but he took off around the side of the building as fast as he could run while doing the pee-pee dance.
I turned off the stereo, and sat in the car, listening to Gary’s snoring. After a few seconds, I got out of the car myself. There was a coke machine near the main door into the garage, and I was hoping I had enough change in my pocket to get myself a coke that hadn’t been tainted by Ryan’s rum-lips. I was halfway between the car and the machine when I heard the crunch of sneakers moving fast on loose gravel. I turned around to see Ryan come hauling around the side of the building. He hadn’t zipped up after peeing, and his cock was bouncing furiously as he ran, like it was waving at me.
I started laughing and pointed at him. “Dude, your cock is out.”
In a stage whisper, he hissed at me, “Thom, Get in the car! GET IN THE CAR!”
“What’s your probl…” was all I managed to get out. Ryan did a straight dive through the open passenger window of the car, and at that moment I heard
coming from behind the garage.
I had heard gunshots before. Living in the woods, out in east bumfuck, CT, you hear gunshots all the time - hunters in the fall, white trash with guns shooting at squirrels or at cans in their yards the rest of the year. I knew gunshots when I heard them. But these were so fucking loud. They sounded like cannons, like bombs, like guns you’d hear in a war movie. I went cold.
Ryan was getting himself right-side-up in the passenger seat, and I could see him, tucking his junk back into his jeans and mouthing, “COME ON!” and I took off running to the car, and  my hand came out of my pocket, and all of the change I had been jingling came out with it and scattered all across the ground, and I realized oh holy fuck, my keys were in that pocket, and I stopped short and started looking around frantically, trying to figure out where they had gone, and Ryan opened my door and was yelling now, “Thom, COME ON! Hurry the fuck up! Please”
I couldn’t see my keys anywhere, and I started patting my jeans, and then I realized I had left them in the fucking car, they were in the fucking ignition, and I jumped in and turned the keys and heard a grinding noise, and the fucking car was already on, Thom, get it together, and Ryan was yelling in my ear, “GOOOOOOO!”
I slammed the car into drive and hit the gas with all of my weight, the tires spinning in the gravel, the ass end of the Mighty Chicken fishtailing, all the lessons about driving slow in strange parking lots forgotten, totally forgotten. There was a slight incline coming out of the lot, and the Mighty Chicken launched into the street, I swear to god we caught air, and I remember Ryan was yelling, “HOLY FUCKING SHIT!” and I managed, I just barely managed, to get the wheel turned hard to the right, so the Chicken hit the street and made a nasty, lurching turn, and I could hear the branches scraping the driver’s side door, and then I got control again, and got us back on the right side of the street, going like a bat out of hell. I had the gas pedal down to the floor, and I looked at Ryan and I think I said, “Ryan, what exactly is going on?” but later Ryan told me that what I actually did was scream, “RYAN! FUCK! WHAT? WHAT THE FUCK?”
And he says, “Holy shit, man. Holy shit. I went out back, and I’m peeing, and oh my god, it was a relief, and I’m standing there, dick in my hand, and I hear voices. And I kind of turn and look over my shoulder, and there are these guys, probably four or five of them, standing in front of two big-ass cars.”
“Big ass cars?”
“Like fucking Cadillacs or something. Long. And they’re passing briefcases back and forth.”
“Ryan, are you fucking kidding me with this shit? I just about crapped myself…”
“Thom, I swear to god. I swear to Buddha. I swear to Joey Ramone. I swear to whoever the fuck you want me to swear to, but this shit is for real. Those dudes were doing a drug deal or an arms deal or some crazy mafia or KGB shit or something!”
“Dude, there are no mobsters around here. We’re lucky to have cable.”
“I know what I saw, man. And I saw these dudes. And they saw me. And one of them was like, ‘Who’s that?’ and they all pulled out these goddamned hand cannons and I just bolted it out of there.”
“Cock flapping in the breeze.”
“Like I’m going to stop and zip up in the middle of Reservoir Dogs or whatever the fuck that was.”
I was starting to relax a little. This was all a big misunderstanding, some fucked-up joke of Ryan’s, or too much rum messing with his head. I opened my mouth to call Ryan a drunk jerk-off, and that’s when the headlights appeared in my rearview window, coming up on us fast.
“FUCK!” I screamed.
“What? What is it?” Ryan was screaming back.
“Both of you be quiet, please?” came, fuzzily, from the backseat.
“Dude, they’re behind us! They’re right fucking behind us!” I stood on the pedal, willing lightspeed from the Chicken. It lurched a bit, and the engine revved as it tried to give me what I was asking for. The headlights were getting bigger and brighter, and I knew the other car was coming up on us fast, faster than I could manage.
The woods on either side of the road were starting to break a bit. We were starting to get into a section of the drive where farmsteads and housing developments battled it out in this constant “progress versus tradition” turf war. So you’d pass a clearing in the trees and see a bunch of rolling fields, and silos. And then, three miles down the road, the next clearing broke, and you were looking at a pod of McMansions that had sprung out of the ground like multimillion dollar mushrooms occupied by yuppie Smurfs.
I had the Chicken at 80, which was 10 miles per hour faster than it could comfortably travel. These were back roads, paved when the town got to it, and we felt every rut or bump or pothole like it was the Grand Canyon. Every imperfection in the road was like a punch to the ass, as we bounced in our seats, and I tried to keep the Chicken under control.
If we could get a little farther, just a little farther, we’d be into the center of town, and there would be people, somebody, anybody. There’d be witnesses and we couldn’t get executed, mob-style in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot in front of a bunch of witnesses, right? I thought about the term “Columbian necktie”, and I could feel myself starting to completely lose my mind with panic. The headlights were right on my bumper, and it was as bright as daylight inside our car. Ryan was saying, “ohfuckohfuckohfuckohfuck”, just this mantra of complete, pants-shitting terror, and we hit another pothole and for a second I thought the car chasing us had rear-ended us, had just gunned the engine and rammed us, and Ryan must have thought that, too, because he yelled, “I’m not dying like this”, and grabbed the steering wheel, yanking it up so that the car suddenly banked to the left.
Over the yellow line, off the road, and if I had hit the brakes like my instincts said to, we probably would have flipped the whole car, but I was so shocked by what Ryan had done, all I could manage was to say, calmly and in disbelief, “Dude, don’t grab the wheel…” and then we smashed through the fence.
Through the fence, over a hill, up a gully, and then into the middle of a field, and Gary sat up from the back, still half-asleep, and yelled, “COW!” and that’s how I managed to hit the brakes in time. The car skidded in the wet grass, and turned sideways, and we bumped the cow, just barely tapped it. And the cow said, “moo” - which I guess is how cows say, “What the hell, guys?”
Gary was still sitting in the back, in the middle of the back seat, his hands on the front bench, and he said, “Why are we in a field?” And Ryan threw open the door and yelled, “Fuck, man! Assassins!” And I looked out of the driver’s side window and saw a pickup truck parked on the road with its hazard lights on, and this big slab of redneck in bib overalls and a tee shirt (and this is the part nobody ever believes but I am swearing to you, the dude was literally wearing bib overalls) running down the hill towards us, and saying, “Oh man! You kids okay?” And I realized we’d been “chased” by some guy named Cletus or “Arlo” or something, and the guy was getting close enough for me to see he’s wearing a John Deere baseball cap, and I started laughing, and in my head, all I could think was “John Deere Mafia. Hillbilly Cosa Nostra”.
The guy stopped running when I started laughing and said, “Jesus. Are you kids drunk?” To which Ryan yells, “Oh shit! Evidence!” and grabs the jug of rum from the passenger seat and flings it as far as he can, which, the state he was in, was about twenty feet, and then leans over and starts to puke between his feet.
“Sir, we’re cool. We’re not drunk. Well…“ I looked at Ryan, “I’m not drunk. We thought you were someone else.” Ryan said, “I didn’t puke in your car, Thom!” And Gary said, “Seriously, guys? Why are we in a field?”
So that was that, basically. The redneck guy (who’s name was Harrison, his first name, if you can believe it), called the state cops, and told them he’d been following us and had seen the whole thing, and we’d swerved to avoid hitting a skunk, and was actually pretty unbelievably cool about the whole thing. He didn’t mention the jug of rum, and I didn’t get grounded. My insurance actually paid for the fence we broke. Gary swore he was never driving with us anywhere, ever again, but Gary swore stuff like that all the time.
Ryan wanted to go back to the garage the next day and check for shell casings or something, but I passed. Either we’d nearly been killed, or we’d nearly killed ourselves, either way, I didn’t want to know. It had been a near death experience at three in the morning, and I just wanted to leave it at that.

I had thoughts, once upon a time, of doing an entire book of shirt stories like this. Just vaguely autobiographical anecdotes about punker kids in the early 90s getting into trouble and slowly growing up. Who knows, I may still get to it someday.

Hugs and kisses,
(The) Travis