Saturday, April 21, 2007

K. Thor Jensen's Columbus Adventure

K. Thor Jensen's recent 300-page graphic novel Red Eye, Black Eye is the NYC-based cartoonist's choronicle of his adventures going Greyhound in late 2001. You can read the first 16 pages here, and my review of it here, but the long and the short of it is that Jensen reaches a point in his life where he feels like he has nothing left, so he buys Greyhound's "Ameripass," which allows him to take as many buses as he wants for a certain period of time, and he becomes a hobo and drifter, criss-crossing the country and crashing at friends' houses.

Most of that time is spent drunk or getting dunk, which, coupled with the freedom of the hobo and drifter, allows him to do things you probably wouldn't consider doing in your own home town. The story is a lot more interesting and a lot less gimmicky than it might sound. Jensen gets stories from each person he meets—many of which are quite crazy—and the graphic novel has a strange but oddly gripping conflict in that his landlady owes him $1,000 and is dithering about depositing it. It's all the money he has, so if he doesn't get it, he has to do things like dance on street corners for money (which he does). Okay, it's not Galactus threatening to devour the planet, but it's something you can relate to, you know?

Oh, and he's a hell of a cartoonist, too. That also helps make it a great read.

He visits 17 cities in 60 days, a total of 10,000 miles. These include San Francisco, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, Austin, Minneapolis and Gainesville, but the two most fun chapters are undoubtedly Birmingham and our own great city of Columbus.

The capital city is actually Jensen's second stop in Ohio, following a stay with his friend Chet in Cleveland. There he is interviewed by (and interviews) a person named Mike whom I suspect is Plain Dealer staffer and occassional columnist Michael Sangiacomo. I say this only because his name is Mike, he looks like Sangiacomo and Jensen's avatar refers to the guy's paper buying them lunch, which in Cleveland most likely means the Plain Dealer (it's the city's only real daily paper as far as I remember... I haven't paid much attention to the north east Ohio newspaper scene since I moved down here a few years back).

I mention this only because the chapter-within-a-chapter entitled "Mike's Story" is about Mike driving off to find himself and ending up at an outdoor Canadian rock and roll festival, where two girls high on drugs fight over him, which climaxes with one pulling a knife. And well, if you've read as much of Sangiacomo's writing as I have (we grew up with a Plain Dealer subscription), it's not the kind of situation you usually imagine Sangiacomo getting into, you know?

Anyway, on to Columbus.

As the image above attests, Jensen had some harsh words to say to some in our fair city. But keep in mind, Jensen was probably drunk when he said it, and had just been thrown out of a karaoke bar.

Also, Jensen is out to "find himself' as Mike was. When Mike warns him not to look for trouble, he responds, "Are you kidding? Trouble is all I'm looking for. I'm not gonna be satisfied if I go home without a black eye." (Hence, the title).

Chet drives Jensen down to Columbus, and they stay with his friend Chris, in this houses, which Jensen refers to as "a chalet." I have no idea where that is. Nor do I know who Chris or Jensen's other apparent Columbus-based friends Walker or Mark are. This is remarkable only because Columbus, despite being the country's fifteenth largest city in the millennial census (deal with it!) is an incredibly small place, where the normal six degrees of seperation is more like one-and-a-half degrees. If both you and Kevin Bacon lived in Columbus, you probably would have either dated him, shared an apartment with him, worked with him or gotten into a barfight with him within a year of living here.

It's late October when Jensen visits, and he plans to stay through Halloween, to make Chris a chestvagina. Which is just what it sounds like. Using papier mache, coathangers and scans of vaginas from the Internet, he makes a gaint vagina which Chris can wear on his chest (Since I use a library scanner, I'm not even gonna attempt scanning it. Although, it would be intersting to see if including "chestvagina" in the label for the post brings any interesting visitors to my site. Or not.)

On the way to the art supply store, they stop at this place, which they refer to as a "goth store" and look around, eventually taking umbrage with the fact that all the ghosts on the walls were white and make a scene until they're tasked to leave ("You like to wear black, but you don't like blacks?"). I have no idea where it is, or if there eve is or ever was a "Dark Masque" goth store in Columbus.

I suppose Jensen could have changed the name and that it could have been the magic store in the Short North on the corner of Fifth and High (which has since closed), which is on the way to an art supply store if you're coming down high from the north. I can't remember the name of that place, but I don't think it was "Dark Masque." There was also that place Clintonville off High (which has also since closed), but I think it had the word "Shadow" in the name. How bad is my memory? I once interviewed the second place's ownder and wrote a profile of his store for a local paper, and now I can't even remember the name of the place.

The next day he goes here to do a little laundry. I don't know exactly which laundromat this is either, but then, I'm not terribly familiar with the laundromat scene in Columbus.

He and his friends visit a club to enter a costume contest which is giving away cash prizes. I assume it's Red Zone (note the title), but having never actually been to Red Zone, I can't say for sure. If it is Red Zone, I should point out that it has also since closed. So anyone outside Columbus reading Red Eye, Black Eye thinking, "Man, that place is awesome! Let's totally drive there and check out the goth store and club K. Thor Jensesn went to!" I should caution you that we probably can't offer you a complete Red Eye, Black Eye guided bus tour at this point.

Chris' Macho Man Randy Savage costume is totally defeated by a girl's Lara Croft costume (which, yes, is just a tank top and short, with a braid in her hair).

Aftwards, they go out for pizza at this place. I'm not 100% positive where this is, but I'd hazard a guess that it's Hound Dog's, based on the fact that they go there at night after leaving a club and it's packed (Also, the drawaings of the interiors feature some booths that look Hound Dogs-ish.

There Jensen and his friends are unable to find a table large enough to accomodate them, so he asks two girls occupying a huge booth if they'd mind vacating for a smaller table. When they say no, he then politely asks if they'd mind if he and his friends "pull a train" on them. When they ask what that is, he says "Oh, I'm sorry. Pull a train. That'd be were me and my friends take you to an abandoned watertower and take turns hate-fucking you unconscious."

Jeez, the things you learn when reading comics.

Apparently, K. Thor is not a psychopath, but this was part of his attempt to get a black eye ("I was hoping they'd have big dumb Ohio agriculture college boyfriends I could try to fight").

The next day, he walks to German Village and seems excited to learn where he is. German Village, it turns out, is a popular destination for visiting comic book characters. While there, he kicks a brick in the sidewalk out of place, and then continues on his way for a bit before thinking "I gotta go put that brick back," and running back to put it back in place.

Finally, they go here for a big costumed karaoke contest. Again, I have no idea where this is supposed to be. I know there's a Champps at the Lennox Town Center, but I always just assumed it was an Applebee's-like restaurant. Googling Champps and Columbus, I guess it's actually a sports bar, and there are three of 'em within ten miles of me.

At any rate, Chris is now dressed like Macho Man Randy Savage, but with a chestvagina. He's asked to take it off because Champps is a family establishment, so Chris must cover it up beneath his jacket. On stage, he sings that annoying song that I think is called "Rumpshaker" (You know, that "I'll I wann do is a rooma zoom zoom" song) while in character. When someone in the crowd tells Jensen that his friend is "totally gay," Jensen freaks out on him, in a six-panel sequence that scared me as a reader, during which he pantomimes getting dicks in his mouth and ass while shouting, "Wait, what do you mean, he' s gay? You mean he's gay like he takes dicks in the mouth? And dicks in the ass?" He repeats this until he's screaming, but no luck, no fight comes out of it.

On stage, the karaoke routine climaxes with Chris opening his jacket Clark Kent-style to reveal the chestvagina, and soon a phalanx of bouncers is hauling him off stage, while Jensen screams "We won!" and "Give us our money!"

That's when he busts out the epithet with which this post begins, but despite the crushing loss, Jensen leaves Columbus by bus with a smile on his face, which is much better shape than he leaves a lot of the cities he visits. Based on this book, Columbus would seem to be one of the most fun cities in the country, topped only by Birmingham, which is where the cover image comes from. No, that's not symbolism. Jensen does rid a burning couch hauled by a pick-up truck in Birmingham.


Tony said...

That place was Salem West, wasn't it?

I don't recognize the locations, either. He may be taking liberties with the look. Do you think Champps could be a BW3 in the Brewery District?

K. Thor Jensen said...

Chammps is indeed a shitty chain sports bar that was out in the burbs somewhere.

Gus said...

Given that the man himself has already replied, it's probably not the Champps at Lennox, but they do have karakoe night at the Lennox one. Probably all of them do?

I can vouch for the all-consuming shittiness that was Red Zone.

Also, this is hilarious, and I must now read this book.

Walker Evans said...

Wow. Pretty awesome reading through this an reliving some memories. I'll have to buy the book now that it's out (FINALLY).

I am the Walker who Thor stayed with (sup Thor). Chris, my old roommate was a shut-in who moved away not too long after this without saying hi to anyone, so I doubt you know him. But yeah. I'm sure you and I know a lot of the same people (John Ross? Tina Gusti? Probably a thousand others?) so there's your Columbus-brand of two-degrees of separation. Actually, I think I've talked with you before in email a few years ago. Does that count for one-degree of separation?

Anyhoo, just to clear up some of the questions on locations...

The "chalet" where Thor stayed was a shitty campus apartment I lived in for a year on Northwood. It was one of those "seventies-ski-loft" style places that are pretty common buildings around campus. First floor living room and kitchen with second and third floors each having two bedrooms an a bathroom. I'm sure you know the type of place I'm talking about.

You were dead on with the old goth store being the place on the corner of 5th and High. I think they sold swords too?

I'm not sure about the Laundromat, since I was at work that day, but probably whichever one is closest to High & Northwood.

I'm pretty sure the Halloween contest was at Pulse, the club that was on Main Street downtown near Third that went through several owners/names within a few years before closing down. On a different visit to Columbus, I think Thor went with us to Red Zone during a different Halloween gathering, but I'm fairly sure this one was at Pulse.

Yes, the pizza was at Hounddog's. Notorious for being the overcrowded afterhours spot for pizza. Actually just tried to go there last weekend and left without even trying to fight for a table.

The costume contest was at the Champps by the Lennox, which isn't in the middle of the burbs, but it is in a suburban-style commercial center, so yeah. Still has that vibe. I actually think this was the last time I was at Champps. That place sucks.

Anyway, I still have loads of digital camera photos from the whole adventure. I could post them up here, but that would probably ruin the magic, right?

Oh, who am I kidding. Everyone should see a real picture of the CHEST VAGINA.

Tony said...

I, for one, can't wait to see the chest vagina.

K. Thor Jensen said...

I don't have a picture of the chestvagina handy but I do have this shot from Hounddog's that wasn't used in the book:

A goth guy with pigtails sitting on Chris's lap.

Unknown said...

Wow, this book had seemed interesting to me before, but now that I've read your review, I think I'll have to pick it up.

Caleb said...


Oh yeah, Salem West! When it was on it's last legs, I think they changed the sign to just read "SWORDS!!!" and sort of transitioned into just selling, you know, swords.

K. Thor,

Thanks for stopping by! If you ever do find any chestvagina photos, do feel free to share 'em here or email me and I can do a dedicated chestvagina post.


Okay, when you add the last name, know you do sound familiar, and yeah, I know at least two people you know. Thanks for all the input on the where's of the chapter. That particular chapter was especially fun just trying to figure out the where's. If there's ever a "Red Eye, Black Eye" bus tour of Columbus, you're definitely the man for the tour guide slot ("And if you look over here to your left, you'll see the shitty chain sports bar where Mr. Jensen and his friends were thrown out for having a chestvagina").

Gus and Matt (and Walker),

I'd definitely reccomend it. It's all the fun of riding around the country on a bus, without any of the smells or backpains.

Walker Evans said...

Thought I would mention... for fans of Thor, this is worth watching. ;)

Kthor on Blind Date.

Anonymous said...

Uh, Mike SanGiacomo here. Yep big mouth Thor was retelling (with some embellishment)an adventure from my misspent youth. Geez, a guy can't even give some uncle-y advice without getting it spread all over an indy book. Anyway, thumbs up to K Thor's book. It's a fun read, Catch me at mid-ohio-con and get the REAL story of my canadian adventure.