My DIY Heroes 5: Hidden Agenda Press

Welcome to my ongoing series celebrating the people I know that embody the Do It Yourself spirit, “My DIY Heroes”: Part 5: Hidden Agenda Press, a collective of comic artists and publishers.

If you missed them, check out my previously covered DIY Heroes: Hush, Matt Goff, Tavius Aiton, and Carina Lomeli.

The cover for Garish Zow #3 by John Orloff.

Mike Allen,

Tim Goodyear,

John Orloff,

Samuel Kienbaum

– Comic Book Publishers, Artists

Hidden Agenda Press, Teenage Dinosaur

After returning from Lake Tahoe in 2001, Street Saint Publications was puttering slowly along and I had difficulty finding work in my field, so I applied for a job at SpaceCat Comics. There I met Michael Allen and we showed each other the comic art we both had been working on. Through Mike, I met Tim Goodyear, John Orloff and Sam Kienbaum, the editors and backbone of Hidden Agenda Press, as well as David Choe, Amy Allen, Mark Thompson, and other contributors and appreciators of Hidden Agenda’s comic anthologies “Garish Zow Comics” and mini-comics. Funnily enough, that’s exactly how Hidden Agenda had come about. “i was werk’n at a comic shop with michael allen,” Tim Goodyear writes in his own sort of text shorthand, which I will from here-on translate. “We would chill and get twisted and stuff on weekends at his place which he had with John Orloff and Mark Thompson. There was always a grip of dudes there on weekends and there was a lot of music goin’ on. Our buddy Sam Kienbaum was there a lot and apparently the idea was bouncing through a few of our heads independently to do a comic book freak-out.” “I think we’d all been wanting to self-publish comics,” Sam adds. “I think just being together and sharing those brainwaves gave us the spark to get started.”

The first issue of Garish Zow Comics featured a one color silkscreen cover and black and white interior and was, as Tim puts it, “printed in color by a dude we knew who had a crazy late night job at some massive corporation and jammed ’em out on the down low.” As the anthologies progressed, they added more color to the covers and mini-comic inserts. And as they went along, they garnered more recognizable names in the comic world. In addition to Choe, Garish Zow featured work by such notables as Adam Stone, Souther Salazar, Thien Pham and Dash Shaw. Three Garish Zow pieces – “This Is” by Thien Pham, “Perfect Pitch” by Tim Goodyear and Adam Stone, and “Confessions” by Sam Kienbaum and Jeffrey Faerber – were included in Stephen Cary’s “Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom.”

Kienbaum, needing to save money for a cross-country move, “pulled out of the official Garish Zow team at around issue three or four,” just as they were adding full-color printed covers and higher quality paper stock. It was a shame, Sam laments, “I think that’s when it started to get strong.” “The fifth and final issue {to date} was printed in Canada by Westcan,” Tim recounts, “and kinda took over our momentum as DIY dudes and put us in the small press (category), which was intentional.” “The fifth was the first one we didn’t have hook-ups,” Mike adds. “We did everything on a street level, as a community.”

While not officially defunct, Hidden Agenda has been in hibernation for a while. “It became less of a community thing … and too structured,” Mike reflects on why they stopped after the fifth Zow issue. “And that was the death knell to Hidden Agenda’s demise… For the time being.” John explains his theory on why they have taken a break, “I think it got hard to be friends and business partners and art collaborators all at the same time.” He adds with a laugh, “Oh yeah, and housemates.”

They each have various post-Agenda projects, or “irons in the fire,” as Sam puts it. Sam is working on a prose novel and a children’s book. “Comics have kind of slowed down for me in the last three or four years, but my girlfriend – who’s an awesome graphic designer / illustrator – and I have been bouncing around ideas for a comic and are about to get started on that. I think we’d try to shop it around since we know some people in publishing out here, but if that didn’t work we’d gladly jump back into self-publishing.” Tim still releases comics through Teenage Dinosaur and Sparkplug Comic Books. He “digs” doing paste-up, making copies, collating, folding, stapling and other necessary tasks in self-publishing. “I have a purpose now, which is nice. I hate the distribution end of publishing,” he bemoans, “So I do it on a face to face basis and outside of that distros (sic) some of my jams.” John is still painting his unique and colorful pieces feverishly. Mike is still managing SpaceCat Comics and expects to produce more comics in the near future, including discussions with John of various ideas. As we looked through old computer files for images to include in this article, Mike laughed at forgotten gems and mused “God, I gotta make more comics!”

They each share certain takes on DIY, as well as having their own unique perspectives and advice for the burgeoning comic book publisher and / or artist. For Tim, DIY is about “removing as many middle men as possible and not relying on organizations so large you don’t know (them) personally.” John adds that it’s about “having the control to do whatever you want regardless of the commercial viability.” Sam acknowledges the obstacles and limitations in terms of budget, distribution, and marketing, but adds “This is probably B.S. to some extent, but I wonder if with DIY there’s a distinct sense that, if you get your thing done and it finds success, then you’ve ‘earned it’ a little more.”

They all remember hustling for printing deals, distribution connections, and the late nights assembling the issues (and I remember a couple, too!). “Honorary Hidden Agenda members,” as Mike puts it, “joined the commune. We’d think ‘How are we going to fucking get this done in time?’ And we’d get it done… Even if we had to stay up all night.”

And they agree that the experience has been for them about “good times, good friends, and I learned a lot – about what I can do and, honestly, what I can’t do,” as Sam puts it. John tacks on “and taking advantage of the goodwill of friends.”

Weighing the pros and cons between DIY and more established routes of comic publication, as well as when your DIY project becomes to big to do it yourself. John points out, “That is the hard part. That is when your art / fun becomes work / business.” “In both worlds,” Sam realizes, “who you know can help you a lot. But with DIY I think it’s a lot easier to get started, meet people, break down doors, etc. A LOT easier. You just have to be willing to make the effort.”

As for advice, Mike offers straight forward encouragement, “Just do it!” I pressed him for more, “That’s it? Just do it?” to which he replied “It’s super easy.” John insists, “Do it because you love it. The work is its own reward. Don’t expect any money or recognition for your efforts. However, do recognize that your art / technique are improving. It doesn’t matter if anybody but you likes your stuff. Make it for yourself first, and fuck everyone else.” “Don’t stress out,” Tim assures us, “Make sure you really dig what your doin’ otherwise you’ll regret it. Do small print runs and reprint when your out {100 is a safe#}. Do it as much as you can and you’ll work out the kinks. After a while it’ll be second nature and you can pump up other areas of your art.” And Sam remembers when he was just starting out and took the “approach of ‘throw everything at the wall and see what sticks’ – and I still do it today when I’m in a pinch.”

tombopoedia 4.5

Hidden Agenda Press – What was I just talking about? Small Press comic book publishers from San Jose, CA.

Hush – Since I first launched this series with Hush’s space-saucer flying chicken, he has fallen off the face of the Earth, or some similar quirk of physics, as his outgoing message is some guy named Gerlüz hocking his Chicken House Records ragtime album of Scott Joplin covers. If you missed the article, read it now!

Matt Goff – Since writing about Matt, he has begun filming on his documentary about his friend “Wacky”. If you missed the article, read it now!

Tavius Aiton – Since Tavius’ article, he has launched to promote his music and writing, and Artist Collective, an arts networking and resource site with the motto “artists helping artists be artists.” If you missed the article, read it now!

Carina Lomeli – Since writing the article about Carina, she has been very busy with POOR Magazine  and her artwork, including a live painting show that I got in the way of with my camera. If you missed the article, read it now!

Lake Tahoe – Beautiful vacation spot for most, including skiing and snowboard destination. I spent a summer trying to convince the hardcore winter sports fans that couldn’t wait for it to snow that Tahoe has more to offer than powder and pack. I swear, they seemed barely aware of the lake as they’d glare forlornly at the “bare” mountains and curse the clouds.

Street Saint Publications – St. St., so named because the abbreviations for the two words are the same (St. St.), was my publishing company from 1999 – 2005, which featured my book “Rapunzel Meets Santa Claus in Hell” and more popular titles like “The Ultimate Guide to Sea-Monkeys” by Susan Barclay and “How to Write Haiku: A Beginner’s Guide” by Neca Stoller.

SpaceCat Comics – Known as Super-SpaceCat online, it’s more fun to peruse their Bascom store, especially Wednesday’s – unless things have changed since I worked there – because that’s new comics day!

The poster at the Hidden Agenda house
features these two bunnies.

Michael Allen – The interviews with Tim, John and Sam were done via email and well in advance. I interviewed Mike while he played four online Texas Hold ‘Em games simultaneously. I had to hound Mike for a while, and finally conducted the interview with him in person at the Hidden Agenda house. Little had changed, the garage still full of comics and graphic novels, the Kozik (one of my all-time favorite artists) print that I won in a raffle at a comic release party and donated to the house still on the wall in the kitchen, Velvet the cat still purring, but there was one new addition to the household, little puppy Peanut. As I stood on a chair to photograph the assembled collection of Hidden Agenda comics, Velvet checked them out. “You gotta use the one with cat in it,” Mike insisted, “That’s the one we would use!”

Tim Goodyear – For a long time I had heard about my doppelganger, some guy with a goatee who did comics, but was named Tim. Tim had heard the same thing about some guy named Tom. Neither of us really get why people thought we were that similar, which is ironic, if I’m not mistaken.

John Orloff – One of my most prized possession is a painting by John Orloff, featuring an unhappy little blue alien wearing mittens on a bright orange background, titled “I am unhappy but my hands are warm.”

Sam Kienbaum – Artist Chris Kohler has a couple of pieces,  “The Butterfingered Offering” and “The Big Ones” that Sam wrote for Garish Zow #5.

David Choe – He has been featured in magazines such as Giant Robot, Guerilla One, and Art Prostitute, filmed for PBS / NPR affiliate KQED‘s arts program Spark and iFilm, his art has been used in (ack!) commercials for EA Games, Converse and Toyota, and there’s even a documentary about him called “Dirty Hands: The Art and Crimes of David Choe” by his friend Harry Kim.

Amy Allen – Amy created Zecord – Space Alien Explorer, the comic that Velvet tapped on after crossing books arranged on the floor of the Hidden Agenda house kitchen. Also, she is married to Mike. Amy, not Velvet.

Mark Thompson – Mark gave me one of my favorite quotes about me: “I wish I could envy you!”

Garish Zow Comics – The comic anthology produced by Hidden Agenda Press.

Mini-comics – Just what they sound like, miniature comics. Like Cuddles the Urban Pirate, by Tom Boyle.

Funnily Enough – A reference to my friend and ex-step-daughter Roxie Arnold’s first book.

Adam Stone

Adam Stone – From his bio page: “A self taught painter- He was born into a family of artists where art was not only a means of self expression but one of survival in and of itself. His parents were early pioneers in the L.A. street fine art festival scene back in the early 70’s. At the age of 17, he began to experiment with collage assemblages and reverse glass painting. He started selling these early works on the Venice Beach Boardwalk and after a couple successful years, he began to exhibit in many of the local Southern California Fine Art Festivals that his family helped refine.”

Souther Salazar – His site is pretty bare-bones, “Hi, welcome to my website, enjoy these 3 pictures.” But you can order things from Etsy.

Thien Pham

Thien Pham – His comic “Sumo” was picked up for large-scale release fall 2

010. He still had 50 of the limited run (100) hand-made / hand bound copies – check out his blog for more information.

Dash Shaw

Dash Shaw – Published by Fantagraphics as well, Tim Goodyear’s Teenage Dinosaur produced his comic “Goddess Head.”

Going Graphic: Comics at Work in the Multilingual Classroom – You can download this free online resource book by Stephen Cary.

Westcan – A Division of Printcrafters Inc. In Western Canada.

Teenage Dinosaur – Tim Goodyear’s MySpace presence and comic book publishing title. Dude’s even got a Wikipedia page! There are about 13 pages worth of images of The Creature From The Black Lagoon, very entertaining pie charts and graphs, and a comic ode to RepoMan, which has the best soundtrack ever and Emilio Esteves!

Sparkplug Comic Books – Online comic shop and publishers from Portland, OR.

Forgotten Gems – Below are some unique and rare pieces drawn on sticker paper for distribution at A.P.E. on year. Click the image to see the full pages.

Tune in next time when “My DIY Heroes” spotlights Cartoonist / Rapper Keith Knight.

Come back for the continuing series for features on Zine Publishers Kill Zinesters, and more!

copyright © Tom Boyle