Evan Dorkin On The (Final) Return Of ‘The Eltingville Club’ [NYCC 2013]
Back in those happy days before you could turn on the TV and hear a canned laughtrack echoing around some angular goofball in a Flash t-shirt, Evan Dorkin’s The Eltingville Club was delivering the funniest and most brutally sharp portrayal of the dregs of fandom that you could find. Now, after 20 years of comics stories and an animated pilot in 2002, it looks like a new two-issue miniseries from Dark Horse finally is the end of the Eltingville Club!
At New York Comic-Con, we talked about the origins of the series in hate mail from Justice League fans, what the reaction is, and Dorkin’s feelings on the animated pilot.
ComicsAlliance: Let’s talk about Welcome to Eltingville.
Evan Dorkin: Welcome to Eltingville is the name of the failed pilot. We thought if we called it The Eltingville Club, people would think that it was going to be a show about comics, that it would literally be a fan club type of show, like a G4 show about the medium rather than a show with stories and characters, so we called it Welcome to Eltingville. We’re doing two issues, calling it The Eltingville Club, because there’s never been an Eltingville comic. There’s just been a bunch of short stories over the last 20 years.
Basically, it’s a tragic story of four older teenagers who are fans, and they’re possibly some of the worst fans who have ever lived.
CA: They’re the people that everyone who has ever worked at a comic book store hates.
ED: Well, they’re also the people at the comic book store that everyone hates. They’re the angry fans, they’re the battling fans. They’re not the nice, poor little geeky, bullied old stereotype of fans. I worked in a store and I’ve been doing this for a whlie. The characters came around because my then-publisher Dan Vado was writing for DC Comics and he was getting death threats and hate mail.
CA: Was this when he was writing Extreme Justice?
ED: He was doing the Justice League or something like that, and a character was bumped off, and lunatics and people who hold fake, fictional characters who can never die because they’ll never allow the copyright to go out so there’s no reason to get upset, your fake ghost character will show up again, were sending him death threats. I was so angry and pissed off about the stuff he was reading to me. It just didn’t make any sense. People don’t get this passionate about the government, but they’re going to be upset about a comic book.
So I was doing an anthology called Instant Piano for Dark Horse, I guess this was ’93, and I decided to write a story about four horrible fans. It was supposed to be a one-shot, but I got into it and people liked it, and I kept going with it.
CA: It’s interesting that you had that good response. I love those stories, but it seems like it’s a tough sell for comics fans on a book that’s about hating comics fans.
ED: Well, here’s the thing. Yeah, I understand that. It is very negative, it is, of course, exaggerated. I have gotten hate mail. I did have a retailer freak out on me once at San Diego about my remarks at the Eisners once that came out of this stuff. The book is for fans that get it, and retailers that get it, and professionals that get it and live it. I’m a fan. People don’t like the book because they think that I shouldn’t be so negative or that I portray stereotypes or pile on fandom, because even with the acceptance now, people still make fun of fandom. There’s different levels of fans fighting each other now, it’s just not going to change.
But this could’ve been about sports. This could’ve been about guys who paint themselves blue, get drunk and scream at everybody, who love a team but call for the death of the manager and hate all the players. They hate the team but they love the team, they think they could do a better job, f**k each other over for collectibles. It could be about card nuts, but I know this. I know comics, I know science fiction, I know this pop culture and junk culture.
CA: I think that’s obvious to anyone who reads your work. I mean, World’s Funnest is not written by a guy who doesn’t love those comics.
ED: That’s what people didn’t get. If you can make jokes about the Melter, or about K-9 before Doctor Who blew up — who the hell ever thought that would happen? — if you know this crap… that’s like thinking there are fake girl fans. You’re demented if you think that people are going to go to conventions dressed as characters for… whatever reason, I don’t know what people were saying. Social cachet? Money? Sex? I don’t think so. I think maybe they wanted to do it, and if they buy a ticket to a show, they’re allowed to do whatever the f**k they want that’s legal. You buy the ticket, you go to the show.
But it’s about people who complain about that. It’s about the worst aspects of fandom. Four people who hate themselves, hate each other and live through their hobby. And it’s a comedy.
CA: I got into Eltingville when the pilot came out. I read the stories after I saw the cartoon.
ED: Oh, really? That’s cool.
CA: I was excited to see it because I knew you from Milk & Cheese and Dork and World’s Funnest, and I was working at a comic book store at the time, so I really identified with it.
ED: I worked in a comic store for six years, off and on. I got fired a few times. But the store was in Eltingville, that’s where Eltingville comes from. I just needed a name. If I’d remembered Drew Friedman did The Lord oF Eltingville in his old comics, I wouldn’t have done it. You ever see that movie Albert Brooks did, Modern Romance? There’s a part where the director gets crazy because Alien had a scene where someone says “he’s in the bowels of the ship” and we have a “bowels of the ship” so maybe we should change it to “the basement of the ship?” You can’t get too crazy like that. I have.
So yeah, Eltingivlle was a comic shop, Jim Hanley’s Universe in Eltingville. I’d been fired from the fantastic store, and he rehired me, and all this came out of my experiences as a retailer, a manager, a fan, a cartoonist, a kid going to conventions when I was 13 by myself. I mean, I love this stuff, but that doesn’t mean you can’t criticize the worst aspects of it.
I love superheroes, but people don’t seem to know that. You make a joke about Batman on a panel, and some guy doesn’t understand that I’m on the panel because I did a comic book about Batman and Superman. I don’t do that thing where I say I hate superheroes and keep getting superhero work like some people seem to. I love superheroes, I just don’t like all the comics, and that’s the way it should be. People should just make choices! Eltingville is about people who make insane choices.
In one of the stories, the mother hires two interventionists to break her son of the habit, and he ends up destroying them and getting them back into fandom after 15 hours of being tied up and screamed at. All of the stories are about mania, they’re about abnormal psyches. It’s not about any one fan. People actually take it personally, like I know Frank X in Boise and I’m making fun of him. If you see yourself in here, and I get letters from people who see themselves in here — “I see my friends in here, but not me! When we’re at the D&D game beating each other over the head, they’re crazy, and I’m just trying to settle a fight about beholders!” But this is me and my friends, this is my life, you know? I didn’t go to my prom, I was rolling dice that night.
The industry responded really well to it, maybe because they, I don’t know, don’t want to say some of these things, or don’t feel there’s a need? But there’s been like six stories, seven stories, I’ve won three Eisners, but we’ve never finished it up.
CA: So this is the last Eltingville Club story?
ED: This’ll be the end. I used to always say “Is this the end of the Eltingville Club?” because it was supposed to be a one-shot. A lot of my stuff is just a one-shot that gets out of control. Milk & Cheese was a cocktail napkin drawing. Beasts of Burden was one eight-page story. Murder Family was done for a book called Epic Life that nobody ever read, probably the lowest selling Marvel book other than Street Poet Ray. I just come up with more ideas, and if people respond, I’ll try another one. So we did a second strip, “Bring Me the Head of Boba Fett,” which was about an epic trivia contest to win the right to spend too much money on a Boba Fett doll.
That’s the one we adapted into a pilot, which was probably a mistake on my part. I think it made people think that it was just going to be four guys yelling trivia questions. I still to this day don’t know why the pilot failed. I have ideas, but I don’t know what they didn’t like about it.
CA: I feel like if it would’ve come out two years later, it would’ve been huge.
ED: It’s really funny to see people talk about Eltingville, they’ll throw a page online or mention it on Twitter, and invariably someone will say “He’s ripping off KC Green! He’s ripping off Big Bang Theory!” I don’t think anybody’s ripping off anybody, although actually, I think KC Green has acknowledged that he’s an Eltingville reader. He’s doing a totally different thing, though. He’s walking a different walk. I’ve read it, I’m going “his characters don’t act like my characters.” I don’t have a problem with it, it’s fandom.
I think it’s great that more people are doing things about fandom. People ask “why do you write about comics so much,” but it’s okay if you’re writing about novels or music or movies. On the one hand, we love comics, but on the other, it’s not worth satirizing? People said it was childish. I don’t mind if they find the work childish, that’s their opinion, but the idea of writing about comics, a medium we love and that people spend their lives in and buy stuff from and now is being adapted to every movie in the cineplex? Why shouldn’t we write about comics? Movies about movies are cool, comics about comics are foolish.
But we’ll see. We’re going to collect it. We’re doing two one-shots, black and white, one is about the death of the group, the final nail in the coffin. There was a zombie story in Dark Horse Presents about a year ago, the first full-color story, with a zombie crawl that they destroyed.
They’re purists, they hate fast-moving zombies, so they end up sabotaging the fast-moving zombies, and they’ve been fighting so long. The first book is about the dissolution of the group, and in the second, they all run into each other ten years later at San Diego, and basically try to come to terms together and hash things out. Because it’s one of my comics, things do not go well.