Kind Of A Long Story…

Cartoonist and newlywed Simon Hanselmann with the brass quintet. Photo by Jacq Cohen.
Cartoonist and newlywed Simon Hanselmann with the brass quintet. Photo by Jacq Cohen.

Saturday night, my colleagues and I played a wedding between a Tasmanian man dressed as a woman and a stack of comic books.

So here’s how that happened:

I’m a musician and writer. Due to some collaborations I’m committed to keeping in motion, most of my writing lately is in the form of comic books and graphic novels. I’m serious about it, and I go to as many conventions as I can, which are a big part of the industry. This includes Comic-Con International, more often called San Diego Comic-Con. San Diego is generally considered the mother ship of Cons, at least with regard to size and attendance and sheer spectacle.

At San Diego 2013, I attended a panel about Marketing Independent Comics, featuring Chip Mosher of Comixology and Jen Vaughn and Jacq Cohen of Fantagraphics. Of the three years I’ve gone to SDCC, it’s still one of the most useful panels I’ve seen there. I got a chance to hang out with them all at a benefit party afterwards, and now I try to look them up whenever I see Comixology or Fantagraphics on a convention floor map.

At this year’s SDCC, Jen and Jacq mentioned that Fantagraphics would be at Small Press Expo in Bethesda, one of my hometown cons. (SPX is the anti-San Diego: small, little-to-no cosplay, EXTREMELY comic-centric, with many of the comics on display written, drawn, colored, lettered, printed and distributed by a single creator.) They would be throwing a fake wedding for one of their new creators: Simon Hanselmann.

I’ll get into the “fake wedding” part in a second, but first: Simon Hanselmann. Simon is a beloved underground cartoonist, originally from Tasmania and now living in Melbourne, Australia. His series “Megg, Mogg and Owl” has been newly collected into the hardcover volume “Megahex” published by Fantagraphics. I’ve known vaguely about Megg, Mogg and Owl for a while, but had never read any of Simon’s work until Jen and Jacq talked him up. His treatment of depression, drug use, poverty, and even the mundane issues that come with having roommates was compelling, and while not for everyone, it was easy to see why the alternative comics scene had embraced Simon and his work.

So… fake wedding. I got more details: It would be immediately following the Ignatz Awards, recognizing 2014’s best work in independent, creator-owned and small press comics. Simon would be the bride, not the groom, and would likely be dressed in a wedding gown. (Simon identifies and presents himself as a woman, and most of the photos I’ve seen of him have been as such.) The groom would be a stack of comic books, possibly with Fantagraphics President Gary Groth acting as the proxy. (It ended up being artist Michael DeForge, although Gary Groth did make out with Simon hardcore after the pronouncement.)  Saying that they were “taking it seriously” may not be accurate, but they definitely wanted to make a big thing of it… audience, vows, balloon arch, etc.

Jen knows that my day job is the trumpet, and she asked if I’d be willing to play at the wedding. I said I’d be glad to.

Then, as I do, I went a little overboard.

I wrote new brass quintet arrangements of four different pieces for the ceremony: music by John Williams, Wagner, Queen, the Beatles. I brought in four other brass players to join me, some of the best musicians in the DC/Baltimore area. We brought stands, wore matching suits, the whole nine. I can’t rationally explain why I put so much into it, but it was a ton of fun and well worth it.

The quintet plays the Simon Hanselmann/Comics wedding following the 2014 Ignatz Awards. Photo by Brigid Alverson.

Aside from hearing great players sound awesome on music I had just arranged, the best part of the gig was the bewildered faces. Many of the Ignatz Awards attendees seemed unaware that the wedding was even happening. They were crowding out while we were crowding in, and guys in black suits with trumpets and trombones at the Ignatz just didn’t make any sense AT ALL. Even while we were playing, people stared at us with confused expressions, loudly debated with each other why we were there, applauded and shouted appreciatively when we finished a tune, and then went right back to the “I don’t get it” looks. In one hour, I was asked the same question probably eight times: “Um… who the f— are you guys, again?”

This blog post is my answer, SPX attendees. We are musicians. In the Army. And one of us also writes and appreciates comics, and now he owes the rest of us a big-ass favor.

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1 Response

  1. September 16, 2014

    […] Events | Phillip Kennedy Johnson, who played the trumpet at the mock wedding at the Ignatz Awards, gives a behind-the-scenes account of how the whole thing came together. [Phillip Kennedy Johnson Blog] […]

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