Lemont Brown’s book tour, a crumbling marriage, and that time Darrin Bell was on the Conan O’Brien show
A Candorville comic strip, more strips, and videos - an entire rabbit hole
The Talk is on tour starting June 6th. There’s still time to register to attend for free, if you’re going to be in the Baltimore area. And there’s a list of other cities & dates on Macmillan’s website. You’ll notice it’s not a very long list. I’m guessing they’re waiting until they see the preorder numbers before they book more appearances. That’s one reason preorders are crucial for authors.
This is all new to me, in a way. The Talk is my first graphic novel, but it’s not my first book. Andrews McMeel published two Rudy Park books (Rudy Park: the People Must Be Wired, and Peace, Love & Lattes: a Rudy Park Collection). They also published two
Candorville collections (Thank God for Culture Clash, and Another Stereotype Bites the Dust). And in the years since, I’ve self-published six more Candorville collections and several editorial cartoon collections. All of those, though, collected comics I’d already drawn for newspapers.
Most of my story arcs are no more than a week long. But I’ve written more than a few that were so long that they tested readers’ patience. During the last year of the Bush administration, I drew a fun two-week arc where Lemont discovered Dick Cheney’s “undisclosed location.” In the closing stretch of the Obama vs. McCain campaign, I
drew a two-month-long Apocalypse Now analogy that’s still a personal favorite of mine, even though I’ll admit that it reads much better in the book than it did stretched out over sixty days. In geek-speak, it was like Star Trek: Enterprise’s third season, which was agonizing in first-run, but thrilling and engrossing when binged all at once on Paramount Plus. For its first six years, Candorville featured a recurring storyline with Lemont’s rich, obnoxious baby mama Roxanne.
Their son was the product of an ill-advised one-night-stand. I’m still surprised I was allowed to get away with that in newspapers, most of which are notoriously conservative. I was using that element of the strip to explore personal angst that I felt was shared by half of my generation. About half of Generation X had parents who’d divorced. And I always wondered what percentage of that other half had parents who stayed together only for the sake of their kids. I wanted to explore one of those relationships, to experience what it might have been like had my own parents chosen to stay together for my brother and me.
Neither Lemont nor Roxanne were blameless in their dysfunction. They had chosen each other for one night, not for a lifetime. They were trying to make something out of nothing. They were trying to make themselves care about each other, when they really didn’t.
And when you’re building a house of cards, you’re more likely to complain about it to your friends than to the person you’re building it with, because if you both acknowledge to each other how flimsy it is, it’s sure to collapse.
But collapse it did. In real life, I mean. One of the chapters in The Talk deals with the dissolution of my first marriage. I met my wife at UC Berkeley when we were both students. We’d fallen in love with the Bay Area (or so I thought) and we lived in Oakland and Berkeley for almost an decade after graduating. We spent our twenties doing twenty-something things with a fun circle of good friends, and I never wanted that to end. But we returned to Los Angeles, where we’d both been raised, in 2007 so she could attend LACC’s actors academy. I don’t want to cover the same ground here that I cover in The Talk, or that I’m going to cover in my next graphic novel Come Around Back to You, so suffice it to say we didn’t last.
“Roxanne had a rather fantastical backstory that lived only in my mind. I’d never planned to tell readers about it, because Candorville was a strip grounded in reality.” -Darrin Bell
Roxanne had a rather fantastical backstory that lived only in my mind. I’d never planned to tell readers about it, because Candorville was a strip grounded in reality. There were sci fi elements and occasional surreal moments, but all of the main characters were normal people. But when my first marriage imploded, a therapist helped me figured out that it wasn’t all her fault. It was partly because I had never taken a risk and told my wife exactly what I wanted and needed in our relationship. I was risk averse, and that needed to change. But that was as far as therapy got me. So I said what the hell, and sat down to write what I’d never intended to write. That arc took several months. I swiped one of the recurring characters from my other strip Rudy Park, and made him a new a main character in Candorville, and I basically used the strip as therapy to pull me out of a deep, dark depression. I purposely got Lemont so lost that he and his therapist couldn’t see a way out.
And I hoped that if I could figure out a way to rescue Lemont from that, then I could figure out a way to rescue myself. Over the course of several months, readers saw Lemont sink deep into depression and then find his way back out again. It’s the reason why “Run! Vampires, werewolves, the one that got away, and other demons” is the largest Candorville collection, and the reason why most of the email I received from readers at the end of that storyline included the words “thank you.”
It’s also why my 2009 appearance at the Walnut Creek Library in the East San Francisco Bay, alongside the vastly more popular Stephan Pastis (creator of Pearls Before Swine) went better than I’d expected. We gave a panel discussion. I’m an introvert, so I don’t usually speak when I don’t have to. My last panel discussion, with the iconic Lalo Alcaraz and one of my childhood idols, Marv Wolfman, hadn’t gone very well.
But this one turned out differently. I was more engaging and talkative than usual that day.
It was because I didn’t want to discussion to end, and the humiliation to begin, where I would sit beside Stephan and sign far fewer books than him for the audience. It seemed that every “Pearls” collection had become an instant New York Times best seller. Meanwhile, my Candorville collections were selling a tiny fraction of those numbers, because I hadn’t bothered to submit them to a publisher, or even to publicize them beyond a link on my website. I did go on the Conan O’Brien show to plug the book, though (by that I mean I wrote and animated a fake Conan segment, but that’s’s basically the same thing, right?).
In those days, I was spending most of the day at the beach, or hiking in the Hollywood hills, or biking along the LA River, to reconnect with myself after Laura left. I was working on myself and learning to smile again Monday through Friday, and working on my comics only on the weekends, and I was content. I only decided to put together some Candorville books when Grandpa Roscoe asked me if I had any he could send to relatives. So I sat down, taught myself to use Adobe Indesign, and created Katrina’s Ghost and The Starbucks at the End of the World. Those were the only books I brought with me to Walnut Creek.
Sure enough, a large line formed leading to Stephan’s table, and a line of maybe half a dozen people formed leading to mine. So I drew really elaborate sketches on the title page for those six people, just to kill time. By the time I was done decorating the sixth person’s book, I was surprised by a seventh, who made sure I knew he was doing me a favor.
But then there was an eighth. And a ninth, and so on. Once Stephan had signed their books, a good amount of his line had migrated over to my table. By the end of the signing, I hadn’t sold every single copy I’d brought with me, but the box of books I took home with me was much lighter than I’d expected it to be.
There’s still time to preorder The Talk, and to register to attend the first stop on the book tour. If you do, you’ll help this book rank high on best seller lists, you’ll help this story I’ve created reach more people who really should read it, and you’ll help me make Guy #7 eat his words.
I pre-ordered the book a coupla months ago--if I had the money, I’d order eleventy-seven more. Thank you for this story. Opened my heart so wide! If I could go to Baltimore, I’d be the little old lady in line who’d give your cheek a gentle pinch and tell you what a good kid you are.
Wow, Darrin! You have had quite the journey. I wish I had been at the Walnut Creek library when you were there as I only live 15 minutes away in Martinez. Learning about your background and sharing your videos (Conan was a crack-up!) was a revelation for me. Totally enjoyed everything and want to thank you for sharing your humor and your politics with us here. Ordering the book!