IN 1993 INDIE ROCK had broken through to the mainstream. It was on top. It was profitable. It had arrived. In other words, it was ripe for a good skewering. And where all the lame jokes about flannel got it wrong, a hand-drawn, zine-distributed comic got it right. A disgruntled Cornell bookstore employee named Jef Czekaj (pronounced "check-eye") photocopied and mailed a handful of copies of R2-D2 Is an Indie Rocker, and an icon was born. Well, stolen.

The comic told the story of a band called Hypertruck--indie boy on bass, riot grrrl on drums, and heavily copyrighted droid on guitar. Between movie references, it both mocked and embraced indie culture as the band embarked on unlikely adventures that fell somewhere between The Monkees and Scooby-Doo. Besides being funny as hell, R2 keyed into the twin obsessions of the overeducated, Converse-wearing, ironically nerdy set: their record collections and their Star Wars. Not since that orchestra conductor's chocolate bar fell into the opera patron's open jar of peanut butter had such a potent combination been unleashed.

Over the years, this comic has been a staple, if an infrequent one, of the zine world. Over the course of six issues, the production values have improved from photocopies to a glossy cover; the name was changed to Hypertruck after a certain copyright-infringing droid title character was written out of the story; but most importantly, the hipster satire has remained dead-on.

Meanwhile, Czekaj has started to branch out--he's currently doing an ongoing strip for Nickelodeon magazine, Grampa & Julie: Shark Hunters, and he's contributed to Star Wars Kids magazine, Mommy and I Are One, and several small-press publications. A new title, Goshzilla, may or may not be in the works. I caught up with him via e-mail to discuss indie rock, chickens, and the Force.


How did this whole thing get started--both the idea of putting R2-D2 in an indie band, and the idea of making a lo-fi comic book?

In college (at SUNY Binghamton, now called Binghamton University), I noticed this strange overlap between those who loved so-called indie rock (we can spend the whole interview trying to figure out what that is) and those who loved Star Wars. People who liked Star Trek were--no offense--geeks, whereas, somehow, liking Star Wars could still be rock 'n' roll. I came up with the title first. The rest came naturally. As far as the comic book, it seemed like the best way to get across my opinions without coming across as too ranty. I didn't let silly things like drawing ability get in the way of that.


Is it true that a lot of the bands who were name-checked in the first issue (Shig Pit, Iron Wombat) were real bands from Binghamton, New York?

Weird--how did you know this?


An old roommate from college grew up in Binghamton, and gave me R2 #1. So he clued me in to all the local references.

Yeah, even though the plots of the comics are probably the most ridiculous things you'll ever read, I actually do try to put in as much reality as I can, whether it's promoting bands, zines, people I like, or when applicable, my experiences in the world of indie rock. The College Radio Issue (#3) is very heavily based on my experience DJ-ing at WHRW, a great free-form radio station at Binghamton University.


There's a rapping squirrel in Grampa & Julie whose DJ is a chicken. In Hypertruck #5, we learn that chickens are the sinister force behind electronica. Clever crossover tie-in? Or just a fact, which both comics happen to reflect?

I would NEVER, on the record anyway, state that ALL chickens like "big-pants" music and are trying to control the world via drum and bass, but let's just say that I HAVE noticed a disproportionate number of them carrying around milk crates full of vinyl and hanging out in the import section of record stores.


So far, the Hypertruck gang has fought the Empire, the FCC, a 50-foot Jello Biafra, armies of the zine-buying undead, and the aforementioned DJ-ing chickens. What do you do for an encore?

Well, I guess you'll have to read the next issue to find out, which is about emo (I'm still trying to figure out exactly what "emo" is, but whatever it is, it sure is serious and sincere) and "tough-guy," "sexy," devil-girl poster artists like Coop. Both are ripe for a skewering.


And will Star Wars characters still show up in the background? (R2-D2 is in a crowd shot in #5.)

I'm trying to get away from the Star Wars stuff, cuz frankly, I'm pretty bored of it--but whether I like it or not, Star Wars was a pretty major influence on my life, so I imagine I'll never lose it.


Are you, like Lando Calrissian, worried that the Lucas Empire will find out about this little operation and shut you down for good?

Um, I'm pretty sure they know. At one point, I was sort of [provoking] them (see issue #5 in which Lucasfilm responds to a letter I sent them regarding the idea of marketing Star Wars condoms), though I've since backed off that tactic. I imagine they realize that a crappily photocopied comic poses little threat to their vast empire. In fact, as a result of my comic, I've contributed joke columns, comics, and various other articles for Star Wars Kids magazine, which is an official Lucasfilm-endorsed publication. It's pretty cool to be able to write comics about Yoda burping and have that somehow be okay with the Lucasfilm folks.

Plus, lawyers should note that the comic is now officially called Hypertruck, and NO droids are included in the most recent issue.


Indie rock plays such a major role in Hypertruck--who are some of your favorite bands?

Hmmm. Knew that one was coming. I've actually just come out of this period when I wasn't really listening to much indie rock at all. I was listening to the radio a lot, specifically "Jammin' 94.5," which is the local hiphop/R&B station. But now I'm back on a healthy indie rock diet. I'm really into pretty much anything Sleater-Kinney has their hands in. All their side-projecty things are great: Quasi, Cadallaca, the Spells. I've been pretty obsessed with two multi-disc sets lately, just listening to them over and over again: the Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, which is so ridiculous and over-the-top that it's transcendent, and the four-volume Asch Recordings of Woody Guthrie--just incredible. Plus, like any good indie rocker, I'm into lots of local Boston rock: Mishima, the Operators, Mary Timony, Car Models Blue, Seana Carmody. I also play drums in a punk band called the Anchormen, and perform solo, almost, gulp, singer-songwritery stuff, and am part of a musical collective called Handstand Command. For the record, Handstand Command could beat up neo-hippie music collective Elephant 6 with one collective hand tied behind our collective back. And defeat them at Boggle, too. My standard musical selections include the usual suspects: Wire, Gang of Four, Superchunk, Buzzcocks, Sonic Youth, the first two B-52 albums, etc. Pretty textbook tastes, actually.


How successful was Hypertruck's merchandising campaign?

"Success" is a relative term, right? Monetarily, the whole franchise is a big money-suck, but still, I'm pretty psyched with the number of T-shirts, comics, and lunchboxes that I've sold. I've stopped making the lunchboxes; they're a big old pain in the ass. It's always a kick to see someone I don't know wearing an R2-D2 Is an Indie Rocker or one of my spanking new Hypertruck T-shirts. I really like the idea of people wearing band T-shirts for a band that doesn't exist. That's sort of the ultimate statement of exclusivity that it seems like a lot of hipsters are going for: "Man, I'm so cool that I'm wearing a T-shirt for a band that there's no possible way you could have heard, cuz they don't even exist." Tee-hee.


You've expressed frustration that people couldn't determine from your drawings that the Hypertruck drummer was female. First, did this motivate you to finally give the human band members names? Second, it's pretty obvious that the zine she spends so much time on is riot grrrl-themed, so are people just dumb?

I actually didn't notice that I didn't give the characters names until the third or fourth issue. In my defense, I think I was trying to make the dialogue as much like conversation as possible, and when you're actually talking to someone, you very rarely say his or her name. As far as not knowing she's a woman, um, I'd hate to call people dumb, and granted, I don't draw in the most "naturalistic" style, but I think there are enough clues to tip anyone off that Kirsten is, in fact, a woman. Breasts, for two. Perhaps I've revealed the hidden sexism in the indie rock scene? The misconception that women can't be drummers? Um, probably not, but it'd be cool and transgressive if I did, huh?


How did you get picked up by Highwater?

Technically, Hypertruck is not really a Highwater publication, but the lines are very indistinct. I've known Highwater head-honcho Tom Devlin for a few years now, and I do some work for Highwater books, so it just seemed to make sense that I promote my stuff along with Highwater, since I'm usually at conventions hawking their wares along with my own. I really think it's quite a privilege to be even associated with Highwater and to hang out with and become friends with some of the best cartoonists in the country: people like Megan Kelso, Brian Ralph, James Kochalka, Ron Rege, to name a few. They are all doing very, very important, beautiful work that everyone NEEDS to check out.


Will Highwater be putting out any Goshzilla stuff, or did they just put him on the website because he's cute?

Probably just the cuteness factor. I've got a bunch of super-annoyingly cute monster characters, and I'm kicking around the idea of trying to do a weekly strip kinda like Jay Stephens' Oddville, but alas, my schedule of heavy drinking keeps getting in the way.


Now that a certain Lucas-copyrighted droid character is out of the picture, will the search for a new guitarist be a running gag every issue, à la the drummer in Spinal Tap, or will you settle on some-one soon?

This information is top-secret. I have written several "decoy" plot lines to throw any industry spies off the trail.

For a little more info on Jef Czekaj, visit www.highwaterbooks.com/jef, or for the latest issue of Hypertruck, send $3 to Jef Czekaj, Box 440422, Somerville, MA 02144-0006.

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