'Zine Scene

Josh Sullivan gets his ass in gear

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click to enlarge D.I.Y.: Indie cartoon marvel and Chauncey  creator - Josh Sullivan at the Globe. - Scott Harrell
Scott Harrell
D.I.Y.: Indie cartoon marvel and Chauncey creator Josh Sullivan at the Globe.

The Globe Coffee Lounge, at 532 First Avenue N. in downtown St. Pete, looks exactly like every coffeehouse should. It's a warm jumble of standard tables and chairs, funky found furniture, sundry colors, prominently displayed art, splayed magazines and assorted hangings, and propped, taped up and otherwise displayed endearing, semi-kitschy crapola. The excellent menu is heavy on healthy meals and not-so-healthy snacks, and, by decree of owner/WMNF DJ/local-culture madam JoEllen Schilke, the place hosts bands, exhibitions and political get-togethers as space and scheduling allow.

The vibe is both homey and cool without trying too hard. It's difficult to believe that back in '94, when the building was warehouse space, a young businessman named Nathan Benjamin Sousa was hacked to death there by a friend and rumored drug-dealing partner during an LSD trip gone tragically wrong. That's the story, anyway; that Sousa's body was found there and that Larry Sisler, Jr. went to jail for second-degree murder are recorded facts. At an immediately pre-Globe "redecorating" party in early '99, where walls were knocked down and copious amounts of champagne were drunk, some wit drew a murder scene-style body outline on the floor with a magic marker. Schilke says it was visible, through God knows how many layers of paint, until last year.

But I digress.

Josh Sullivan has worked here for nearly three years. Schilke gave the now 21-year-old a job when it became obvious he was going to be there anyway — Sullivan spent eight to nine hours a day at the shop, for months, drawing and avoiding the motel room he'd rented over on 34th Street S. Fresh from Saginaw, Mich., he found at the Globe both a friendly, youthful, like-minded environment and a cool place to work on his art.

In the time since, he's become one of the Bay area's most recognizable names in D.I.Y. underground comics. Sullivan got into creating, reproducing and selling his own comics before relocating to St. Pete. The first piece he distributed around downtown, however, a satirical one-page look at the punk scene's penchant for one-upsmanship, caught on immediately, was published online and reprinted all over the place, and is still a favorite talked about by locals.

"That one comic started so much for me," he says from behind the Globe's counter, covering a batch of brownies before serving a customer and grabbing a rag and racing over to clean the front door's windows. The short, wiry and extremely kinetic Sullivan lends engaging credence to the old saw about any bartender being his own best customer. I don't know if he's a coffee junkie or just naturally hyper, but the guy's wired like a trucker two days into a three-day haul. "Kids will come in and tell me they've got it hanging on their wall. It's so weird, thinking about your stuff up on somebody's wall."

Forty or so homemade chapbooks of his alternately rough-hewn and somewhat ornate black-and-white panels followed, chronicling the hilarious banal-to-bizarre exploits of stick figures, hipsters, surly animals, talking knives and such characters as Deja Lou, Chauncey the Half-Emo Pigdog, Josh Sullivan and, er, Macaulay Culkin. So did column and cartoon work for Florida music-scene paper Ink 19 and various 'zines. (For the uninitiated, "'zine" is shorthand for an independently produced and circulated publication. Pick one up. Better yet, make your own.) So did numerous conventions celebrating comics and the independent press. So did the attention of numerous people most of us have never heard of, who are influential and pivotal figures in the underground-comic scene.

"Somebody told me once that work creates work, and I totally believe that," says Sullivan. "I'll do something, and somebody will see it, and I'll get asked to do something else, or whatever I do next will get seen by more people because of it."

I'm constantly, pleasantly surprised by the number of people I run into who are familiar with and fans of his crazy ink-paper-and-copier world. When the Planet recently called for its readership to weigh in on whether or not contents-page staple Red Meat should be retired, Sullivan was far and away the most suggested, requested and all-around pimped, by name, as a replacement.

Most recently, Sullivan was nominated for an IGNATZ award, the prize given out at the annual Small Press Expo for cartoon excellence, in the Outstanding Mini Comic category. He was already planning on hitting this year's SPX (scheduled for early September in Bethesda, Md.) when a friend surfing the Internet discovered he'd been nominated.

And now, like any success story in the making, he'd like to completely turn his back on the community that nurtured him through the lean years. No, no, I'm just kidding. The reality is quite the opposite, in fact.

Sullivan, his friends and several of the area's 'zine putter-outers have long toyed with the concept of producing a large compilation of works by, well, basically anyone interested in having something of theirs published. And recently, having decided the idea was too cool to remain just that, Sullivan sent a message out to his e-mail list announcing that the "big book" was an incipient reality, and calling for submissions.

"I just thought, I'm going to do this because no one else is getting their ass in gear," he says.

He set a deadline of Nov. 1 for submissions, and very few guidelines, save that the work has to fit on one page, and must be original ("Don't go and compile a bunch of art or pictures from another magazine or newspaper," his submissions one-sheet reads. "Be creative!"). While he was initially unsure how many folks would be interested in contributing, he's had more than 100 responses in the six days since the call went out — the youngest is 10, the oldest 65. And in addition to the book itself, Sullivan is planning a Tampa Bay 'Zine Fest for the Globe in December; it's a sort of kick-off party for the book where contributors can meet each other and also check out other self-published works the Bay area has to offer.

"This is going to be exciting," he says.

He hopes the book will not only provide a quality collection of expression, but also offer some artists the sort of opportunities the Bay area's creative contingent has afforded him.

"That's the other goal," says Sullivan, while simultaneously counting pastries, taking an ashtray outside, and handing over change.

And making coffee.

"So many people helped me out over the years — this is my way of helping others out if they want it, give them a way to get their stuff out there."

For more information on "the big book," check out www.joshcomics.com, stop by the Globe Coffee Lounge, or call 'em at 727-898-5282.

Scott Harrell can be reached at 813-248-8888, ext. 109, or by e-mail at [email protected].

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