This page reminds me of the time I hit a cougar.

I used to have to take a backwoods state highway called highway 38 from I-5 to get back to my little hometown of Coos Bay/North Bend, OR.  I was living in Portland at the time, but I was on an extended stay in Coos Bay working on recording my bands final album.  It was an intense process, six months of singing, screaming, harmonizing and playing bass.  The band was banking everything on this album and we all felt it in the back of our heads that the end of the band as a whole was near.  I could not keep a job down because I was so busy with the band and migrating between Coos Bay and Portland (a four hour drive) as well as shows all over Oregon, Washington and California on the weekends that I would have to ditch the whole dream if I was to take a day job.  So I started finding oddjobs online drawing caricatures and doing illustration jobs.  I think I made under 10k that year, but it was my first year as my own boss and I was hooked.

I had also stubbornly been working very hard on a new graphic novel called Chumble Spuzz: Kill the Devil.  This was a follow up to my first book, the Weevil, which took me over two years to complete and in the end was not worth the paper it was printed on.  It was a great learning experience for me, and as a comic creator I HAD to get my first book done and on the shelf, but that experience was all it was worth.  I don’t think I have sold more than 100 copies of that book.

About 6 months earlier I had been laid off from my job at a sign shop in Portland and had decided to embrace the unemployment I would be getting for a few months and use that time to get work done.  In those three months I finished the Weevil, I animated a 7 minute music video for my band, and I wrote and drew Chumble Spuzz volume one.  I literally worked day and night while collecting those small unemployment checks.

This kicked me into a life where I was not ready to go back to a day job, even if it made me a bum, and so I was thrown into the world of freelance living.  Living paycheck to paycheck and never knowing when, or where the next check would come from.  It’s an adventurous and terrifying way of survival.

So there I was only a couple years from turning 30, living at my mom’s house in Lakeside, 15 miles outside of Coos Bay, working on an album destined to collect dust… working to earn money so I could pay rent on an apartment in Portland I was not actually living in, and I had a new comic book done and no one to print it for me (there was no way I could afford to print that thing with the small amount of cash I had on hand).

We had a gig in Seattle, WA that just so happened to be at the same time as the Emerald City Comic Con.  I had never been to ECCC but I wanted to show up and bring that comic of mine and see if anyone would give it a chance.  I had little hope.  I had made my rounds many times with past works and always got the same answers:  “It’s really not what we are looking for” “we aren’t on the market for new stuff” all euphemisms for “it stinks”.

My only problem was that I had to spend my last $15 printing up two copies of my 90 page story at Kinko’s.  I put them into some old tattered folders I found in my closet and emptied out.  It was not a beautiful presentation, but it was all I could afford.  Lucky for me, a good friend of mine, Lars Brown of North World, had an extra pass that he let me borrow to get into that convention.  So we made our trip up there and my band, who was feeling irritable at the time, put up with me making them all take me to ECCC and wait in the van while I took my crusty little comic sample into the convention hall for 20 minutes or so.

I met Lars at the door and he gave me a badge.  When I walked in, there was SLG Comics right in front of me.  They were the publisher I had in mind when I made this book.  They had done some of my favorite books in high school including the work of Jhonen Vasquez and Evan Dorkin.  There at the table was a burly looking Italian dude with a mustache.  I read his name tag and realized I was looking at Dan Vado, the president of the company.  The man who had personally written me a rejection letter for my first comic submission I had sent them when I was 17 years old titled the Chronicles of Hernia.  In the letter he encouraged me to keep at it, and I did.

I walked up to him as jaded as a guy could be after being rejected so many times in the past by his company and others like it.  I held the folder open and said “this is a book I made… these guys win this pig at a carnival that is possessed by Satan…”.  As I explain it, the other shoppers at the table started laughing out loud as I told Dan the premise.  Dan snatched the folder out of my hands and started flipping through the book.  If I didn’t know any better I’d have thought he was pretty impressed with the work.  I continued my premise: “…they decide that the best thing to do to cure the pig is get their friends together and go on a mission to hell to kill the devil.”  Dan loved it.  He basically told me that SLG wanted to print it right then and there.  This was a huge moment for me.  I knew that having a book on SLG was a great springboard into this industry and it was exciting to be welcomed into a company who had been such a huge inspiration to me as a young indie-comics fan.  Dan said he would read it, and if it was good, he would publish it.  He said to give him a couple weeks.  But the next morning he emailed me and said he read the whole thing on the plane home and loved it and wanted to publish it.

The feeling was the kind of euphoria you feel when a girl you have had a crush on for what feels like a lifetime suddenly throws you a kiss.  I had a crush on SLG all through high school and she had just asked me to the prom.  I drove back to Coos Bay from that weekend floating.  It was truly the first time someone in the comic industry had said “yes, you do good work and we want to work with you”.  Up to that point I had no idea if I had any future as a comic artist.  I breathed a sigh of relief built on 27 years of tension, trying to “make it” but always falling short.  This was the first step into a new chapter in my life.

It was a late night drive down a vacant highway 38.  There are no major cities along 38, just little towns with a few stores, each separated by miles of forest and small winding highways.  Towns with names like “Drain” and “Elkton”.  As I came around a bend, I saw two cougars sitting in the road next to each other, looking as if they were having a deep conversation about life while looking up at the stars.  It all happened in about a second:  one ran the other way into the woods, and the other made the foolish decision to run directly in front of my car.  It’s head connected with the corner of my bumper and he spun off into the bushes like a rogue helicopter blade.  I slammed the breaks and was in total shock.  The first words out of my mouth, totally out loud with no one to hear me for miles were Samuel Jackson-esque: “I just hit a mutha-f***’n Cougar!!”

I backed up and looked around from inside my car.  I wanted to see if I could find a body.  I was ready to put it in my trunk and take it home, stuff it and make it my trophy for conquering my long time goal of getting a comic published, but there was no body to be found.  I hit that thing in the head pretty hard.  I can only assume somewhere in the woods along Highway 38 there is now a very dopey cross-eyed Mountain Lion with the personality of Lenny from of Mice and Men annoying all the other cougars with his constant drooling and laughing like Goofy every time he sees a squirrel.  Either that or he stumbled out there and not long after a cougar angel rose out of the trees playing harp and found it’s home in cougar heaven.

I really did take it as a sign.  I had conquered a giant goal in my life and it just so happened I had slain the king of the forest in the same weekend.  I felt pretty bad ass.  Though it came with  a logical fear… what if when I accomplished my next goal (to get an animated TV show deal) I hit a bear?  I wasn’t sure if my little car could handle that, and there was no way I could afford an SUV.

About a year or so later I was visiting Coos Bay when I got a phone call from Cartoon Network.  I had pitched them a couple TV show ideas and they had decided to put one into development.  Coincidentally, that same weekend I would once again be driving highway 38 in the middle of the night.  I drove ever so cautiously, waiting to come face to face with a mountainous Grizzly every time I went around a curve.

Of course, if I had hit a bear, this blog would be about that and not hitting a cougar.  No bears were harmed that evening, and my car made it home safe.

My book at SLG, Chumble Spuzz got amazing reviews, including a long, glowing review from Jhonen Vasquez, saying he thought it was the funniest thing they had put out in years.  Later, it was nominated for an Eisner Award for Best Humor Publication.  But in spite of all that it never did sell well, and even after hitting it big with Axe Cop, my success never bled over to my previous work.  SLG still has boxes of Chumble Spuzz sitting in wearhouses collecting dust.  I know, because Dan just sent me and email yesterday saying that he is having to downsize and will have to trash those books soon.

So, if this story inspired you at all, or entertained you, I encourage you to give Chumble Spuzz a chance before the remaining books get pulped and the book becomes a memory and is no longer available to buy.  You can buy both volumes of them at Amazon for regular price, or directly from SLG for DIRT CHEAP. (seriously, only $4.00 for full length trade paperbacks I spent months and months on!)

That’s my cougar story, and it is really damn long.  I hope you enjoyed it though.  Thanks for reading Bearmageddon, we’ll see you next week.  Also, if you live on the East Coast and are in the trail of the impending Hurricane you are in my prayers.

 

Ethan