Rock 'n' Roll Comics Come to the Club
If you've been inside the men's room at a local club lately, you probably noticed a handbill-sized, black-and-white comic strip pasted to the wall. Featuring slick, streetwise art and an insider's wit, Concerted pokes fun at the culture of show-going and live music. With it, guerrilla artist and illustrator Jon Fischer is attempting to strike a chord with live-music fans in Seattle and beyond.
"Concerted, Concerted, I don't care how people say it," Fischer says. "I want it to be for people who go to shows and who are into music. For me, the crowd is as interesting as the band. Things happen at shows—you interact with people, it's life."
Which is why Fischer chose to focus on the characters in the crowd rather than the characters on the stage. The common experiences that make standing around listening to music entertaining also make it funny as hell.
"We've all had beer spilled on us," he says. "Or had that one guy slam-dance into our personal space. We can all identify with these situations. That's what I'm trying to get at." In a stroke of brilliance, he realized the men's room inside the place he's spoofing is the perfect place to spoof it. "In the bathroom, it's kind of a captive audience," he says. And it's easy to laugh at the elitist scenesters, browbeaten boyfriends, text-messaging groupies, and everyone else you've ever stood next to at a show when they're waiting behind you to take a leak.
Concerted is a product of Fischer's passions—cartooning, music, and street art—and though he's been in Seattle just over a year, he's come to see the city as their incubator.
"Seattle is one of the only places this type of comic strip could work," he says. "There's such a concentration of cultures here. Seattle is a city of transplants, with so many different types of people interacting at any given show." He averages a handful of shows a month—"not that many, because my pocketbook isn't that large," he says—and tries to hit up smaller venues when he can.
Back in his native Madison, Wisconsin, Fischer found it hard to be the only Massive Attack fan in his high school, but college brought some respite as he dug into acts like Blur and Dan the Automator. A degree in rhetoric from University of Wisconsin helped him develop a habit of sharp observation.
"I spent three or four years doing political comics and there's definitely a sociopolitical layer, but I try not to have Concerted be such a heavy-handed thing," he says. "I want it to be ambiguous and subtle. I see the crowd as a microcosm, and I want people to make their own interpretations." To that end, he intentionally leaves out the name of the band his characters are watching or the venue where each strip is set. "I'm more interested in the minute occurrences that happen to us all," he says.
Maybe not all, but the knowing niche that will really get it. "With humor, you can maybe get a chuckle out of a lot of people or you can make one guy really love something that everyone else won't understand," he says. Live music is a unique subject, he believes, a small enough niche to be packed with in-jokes but broad enough to speak to a wide variety of people. "I love all kinds of music and it would not be right to talk about just one," he says. "So by talking about none of them, I feel like I can talk about all of them."
Upcoming characters you'll see in Concerted are ones you probably already know: the poor sucker who couldn't score a ticket and the numbskull who tries to crowd surf at the wrong moment. Fischer plans on going the extra mile and posting in the women's bathroom as soon as he finds a female partner in crime. And Concerted has already gone beyond the john: The strip is syndicated in seven magazines and alt-weeklies, from San Diego to New York.
There are other rock 'n' roll comic strips out there—Bassist Wanted and Questionable Content chief among them—but they lack the in-the-trenches, populist appeal of Concerted.
"It takes more than dolling up a girl in a hoodie and horn-rimmed glasses—that's purely aesthetic," he says. "Being a cartoonist means you have to be really astute and curious about your world and work through metaphor and let people fill in the blank. You have to notice things that people do all the time but don't notice, like texting your friend 'Where are you?' at a show. It's picking up on those little things. Shit, going to Bumbershoot last year was fodder for months."