Convention Review Preview - 3/16/2014

Well, I told y'all I'd be blogging or tweeting from my booth at the weekend's con, and that turned out to be a big old lie. I didn't have quite the Internet connectivity I thought I might have, and I ended up not transmitting any dispatches to the outside world. Sorry if you wasted your weekend waiting with bated breath for word from me. I still plan to jot down a few notes about the experience, but for tonight, I just need to rest. However, I want to make one note right away.

The Sad Tale of Ton Ton McCoot Redux - 3/14/2014

For those of you just joining the website already in progress, please take a peek at this little ditty I wrote last year to sort of introduce this site--it's "raisin deeter," as the French might say. So if a crazy bald guy handed you a magnet with a cartoon parrot on it at the Lexington Toy and Comic Convention this weekend... well, this is why.

Once again... the Sad Tale of Ton Ton McCoot.


I'm an educated man, and for that I am grateful. Mine was not an elite education, mind you. No Ivy League for me. I went to school at universities with cool mascots that people like to wear on their t-shirts. Still, I have an education. I get along.

Nevertheless, I wish that someone had warned me what would become of my education by the time I reached middle age. A twenty-five year old's education is a slick thing indeed. He recalls facts and remembers exactly where he got them. With a fresh education, the information in one's head is still more or less in order. But by the time one hits forty, things have gotten dicey in the knowledge department. Your recall gets softer, the details hazier, and the “facts” that your brain dredges up come without a clear pedigree. You know stuff, sure, but do you know where you got those facts? After all, you haven't spent those forty years just reading books, have you? No, you've put your time in with television, the Internet, and the general chatter of pop culture, and all that stuff requires shelf space as well, don't you know? By middle age, your memory is positively stuffed with junk that's true, but completely useless in every way and absurd enough that it might as well have come out of a comic book.

For instance, did you know that back in the 80s, a drilling crew working in a lake in Louisiana managed to punch a hole into a salt mine running underneath it, thereby draining the whole shebang into what even a skeptical viewer would surely have assumed was a quickly expanding hole to Hell? It ate up barges, then spit them up days later. Real people once stood and watched whole trees disappear into a chasm in the Earth that at one point spewed a 400 foot geyser. That's true stuff! That's a fact in my head. Now it's in yours as well, and if you are over thirty five or so, you can bet that your brain had to throw out some bit of knowledge you hadn't used in a while. What's the atomic weight of beryllium? Don't know? Well, maybe you did at the beginning of this paragraph.

Lake Peigneur AKA "The Devil's Enema"

Recently, my memory decided to play a prank on my brain. I was running errands one afternoon, and while listening to the radio, heard a news story that mentioned something about Haiti. I was only half-listening and half-thinking as I drove, but as the idea of Haiti percolated in my mind, I started flipping mental channels through what little I know about the country. The capital's Port au Prince: check. I'm no hillbilly—I know Port au Prince. There was the 2010 earthquake. I remember that? Who doesn't? Oh, yeah, and they had a slave revolution there that I will definitely read about one day when I have time to read things about things. After that, my knowledge on the topic of Haiti runs out quickly.

But as my brain sifted through its last few bits of trivia, it turned up a name. The name emerged seemingly out of nowhere, attached to no historical references that I could recall. Nevertheless, it emerged out of my memory fully formed, with an air of authority that led me to believe that this was genuine knowledge learned through proper channels at some point in my education. I say it was “a name,” but the words involved had no sensible reason to exist together as one unit. It was just a block of silly syllables, sounds bereft of any meaning, and yet there they were, claiming to be something real.

And that name was “Ton Ton McCoot.”

Ton Ton McCoot! How unlikely is that? Not only was this a sound that was actually lingering in my memory somehow, but my brain, that scamp, was claiming it was a real thing. This was a sound that wanted to be true!

Now normally in cases where my memory coughs up something that my brain can't identify, I just hit Google and find out what's what. But I was at the wheel of a car with more errands to run, so all I had to draw from was my own memory. How does one put something like that aside? The words played in my head, dredging pure weirdness out of my brain as it tried to make some kind of associations with what it knew to be real. Wasn't a “Ton Ton” something from Star Wars? Could it be that this was a bit of movie trivia that had gotten misfiled over the years? Maybe it had nothing to do with Haiti but was, in fact, the name of some sidekick for Jar Jar Binks that had ended up being cut from “Phantom Menace” when Lucas said, “OK, now 'Jar Jar Binks' sounds pretty cool, but 'Ton Ton McCoot?' Come on!”

But my brain refused to give up on Ton Ton McCoot, and as I ran my errands, it got to work looking for associations that might give the thing some meaning. What could such an array of syllables mean? Well, “McCoot” was just crazy, but somehow it brought the word “macaw” to mind. Are there wild parrots in Haiti? Sure, it's tropical, so probably there are parrots there, and obviously “Ton Ton” could be a fine name for a parrot. So there was something to go on.

Then again, doesn't “McCoot” bring to mind some crazy old toothless prospector? You can almost imagine him in black and white, popping through the swinging doors of some saloon and crowing, “GOOOOLD! I done found gold!”

Prospector. Parrot.

How about a prospecting parrot?

Yes, at this point, it is safe to assume that my brain was done searching my memory, and it just wanted to play. As I went about my errands, the picture came slowly came together. Ton Ton McCoot, the cantankerous pickaxe-toting parrot. I stopped at the local Kroger's, and a quick stroll through the cereal aisle managed to line Ton Ton McCoot up with Toucan Sam and Tony the Tiger. Why not? A prospecting parrot has as much to do with cereal as a blueberry ghost or a trickster leprechaun. “RARK! GOLDEN SUGAR NUGGETS! Part of a nutritious breakfast!” squawked a wild-eyed imaginary parrot to no one but me. Did the pretty young cashier notice me smiling like a goon in at nothing in particular? Could be. Did she assume I was another creepy middle-aged perv sleazing up the joint? Could be. But by then, my brain had found a toy, and it just wanted to play. Whatever “Ton Ton McCoot” had actually been, it was quickly becoming something else.

More errands. Waiting in line at the Post Office, I doodled a quick sketch on the back of a receipt—just something to pass the time, mind you, a little amusement for myself. Crazy eyes. Pickaxe in one hand, bowl of cereal in the other. Should a middle-aged man be getting such a charge out of nonsense like this? Probably not, but who was watching? Who would know?

Finally, on the ride home, as a few imaginary commercials played in my head, Ton Ton blurted out his catchphrase, and that was it. I scratched it down while I waited in line at the drive-through ATM. By the time I had made it home, Ton Ton McCoot had become a full blown character in my mind—a beloved cartoon parrot who brought joy to children everywhere.

For the record, he looked something like this:

It was only after I'd unpacked the groceries and got a few other household chores done that I sat down at my computer and did a search for Ton Ton McCoot. And what did I find?

Well, what did you find?

Ton Ton Macoute, it would seem, was a paramilitary force employed by the Haitian dictator Francois ”Papa Doc” Duvalier. They were a murder squad. They killed thousands. Wikipedia tells us: “Haitians named this force after the Haitian Creole mythological Tonton Macoute (Uncle Gunnysack) bogeyman who kidnaps and punishes unruly children by snaring them in a gunnysack (macoute) and carrying them off to be consumed at breakfast.”

“Part of a complete breakfast!” Ton Ton squawked in my head. For the record, he now looked like this:

Now, I'm not sure if one would call the meeting of my cartoon parrot with the newly refurbished memory “cognitive dissonance,” but something profound happened in my head, to be sure. As I read the article, it felt as if my brain managed to somehow pry itself loose from whatever holds it in my skull (some kind of caulk, I'm guessing), slide itself out through my ear hole, climb down my torso and kick me as hard as it could with its hiking boot-clad foot right in the nuts.

So Tonton Macoute was a real and terrible thing. No, they weren't a damned bit funny, and the idea of making a joke out of them is pretty appalling. And yet that's just what my brain did. At some point in the past, I learned this history. One hopes that one's brain is serious enough that even it if can't retain enough knowledge to do fancy algebraic equations, it will at least keep all the data regarding dictators and their death squads orderly enough that it can't be turned into cartoons.

I now know that this is not the case. Thanks, brain! Good to know I can count on you to keep a serious tone about a serious subject.

Not depressed yet? Click here, Jack... you will be!

With that, I hereby welcome you to my website. We'll be having cartoons, yes, and a blog, yes, with updates thrice weekly whether I feel like it or not. When I was a younger man, I might have come up with some fancy reasons for putting this thing up, but at this stage in the game, I fear I'm too tired to make up fancy reasons for things. I have a head full of cartoon parrots and flooded salt mines, murder squads and breakfast cereals. I'm not sure if there's anything of value among all this junk, but when did that ever stop anyone from putting all their crap out in their driveway and selling it to their neighbors for a couple bucks?

Welcome to my psychic garage sale. It's called “Seven Billion Little Reasons,” and everything is priced to move.

Preview: "Winter's Tale" - 3/13/2014

We here at 7BLR are pleased to present a preview of our upcoming comic book, "Winter's Tale." The preview contains the front cover, the first four pages of the story, and then the back cover of the book. Remember, folks: this is still a draft, so you can rest assured that any portion of it that doesn't strike your fancy at the moment will surely be cleaned up and made delightful by the time the book is finished. We hope to have this bad boy ready for your enjoyment within the next month or so.

Keep It Simple, Sexy! - 3/12/2014

As I reflect on the what I want to write about here, I keep thinking about that dictum. My brain doesn't like it when I try to keep things simple. It finds needless complications in which to delight--rhetorical blind alleys and cul-de-sacs galore. Meanwhile, what I need to do here is actually quite simple. I need to tell you all about the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention, which will be held this weekend, March 14 -16, at Heritage Hall in the Lexington Convention Center. In point of fact, here’s a website that will tell you everything you need to know about it.

I need to tell you about this convention because I’m going to be there, chilling out in Booth 1007, telling the good people of Lexington about this junk barge of jokes and musings I call Seven Billion Little Reasons and perhaps selling a little bit of very reasonably priced merch.

What sort of mech will I have? Good question! The entry-level bit of 7BLR swag is a set of three super cool fridge magnets I had printed up. Here’s what they look like:

These are four-by-five inches and turned out looking quite nice. I’m going to be trying to sell these guys for a dollar a piece. That’s just one bone for as fine an adornment as your refrigerator’s ever sported.

(Does one “sport” adornments? No, dammit… keep it simple… keep it simple…)

The premier and most terrific item I will have on-hand is a hand-painted letterpress print of my Vowel Gang cartoon from last year. Here’s what that looks like.

As you can see, this print is super swanky. I worked with Naomi Clewett (she's my wife), Rebecca Montaño-Smith (she's my friend and consigliere) and Clay McClure (she's also my friend and the patron saint of printing presses) on these guys. I owe these three even more thanks for giving me constant support over the last year, but they will be with me this weekend at the con where I’ll be tweeting and blogging, so instead of heaping all my thanks and praise on them now, I’ll save some for later.

Finally, I have one last thing on tap for the con, and here’s where things get less than simple. I've been saying since the beginning that the webcomics were just the tip of the 7BLR iceberg, and that I've had designs on working some prose and some comic-book style storytelling into the mix. What’s more, the prose projects I've been planning have been in more than one genre. One of those genres is horror. So I've had it in my mind, for good reasons or not, to write some of my fiction under my own name and another portion of it under a pen name.

So a while back, I had an idea, and once it got big enough in my head that I couldn't let it sit anymore, I started working on it. Here’s what it is:

I give you “Winter’s Tale.” This is a comic book written in the vein of, say, “Tales from the Crypt,” or maybe “House of Mystery.” It’s a one-off story written by one Evan Winters. If you are a person who intends to hang around this website a while, you’ll be seeing Evan’s name pop up in the author credits from time to time. Evan is for horror. The art, on the other hand, is all Brian. So… “Winter’s Tale.” It’s horror. It’s a comic book. It’s by Evan Winters, who writes horror, and Brian Hocevar, he now draws not only webcomics, but comic books.

We’ve been a busy boy.

Anyway, the hope was that I would have this comic book finished and printed to distribute at the con, but producing a full comic book is a first for me, and it’s taken a little more time than I anticipated. So for the con, I will have a little display showing the cover and back cover and maybe the first few pages. I will also have sample pages posted here on the website by this weekend, so even if you can't make the con, you're going to be able to check out the comic book.

And that, quite simply, is all I needed to say. Shew.

Anyway, I hope to see some of you at the Lexington Comic and Toy Convention this weekend. While the con is underway, look for me to do some tweeting, blogging, and maybe a few other things that didn't exist fifteen years ago. Be sure to check back to see those sample comic book pages once I post them. Then, in a few more weeks, look for my comic book to drop official-like.

Busy, busy boy, I tell you...


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