By Derf - SLG Publishing
152 pages. $15.95
Who knew? Akron, Ohio was at the epicenter of the punk rock movement at the dawn of the 80s, churning out some of the greatest bands of the era.
Thats one of the revelations in Punk Rock and Trailer Parks, a new graphic novel by Derf, the artist whose comic, The City has run in the Northern Express since the early 90s.
If anyone would know, its Derf Backderf, a resident of Cleveland whose work appears in alternative newspapers across the nation. Derfs noir viewpoint is almost gothic in his approach to trolling the gritty, banal bottomlands of life in the Midwest -- an Ohio frozen in a New Dark Age and locked in medieval attitudes.
Nowhere is that exploration more evident than in his high school haunts of Akron, a town known as Rubber City for its tire factories, which also happens to be stalled by a Rustbelt recession as the book opens.
Yet theres one bright spot for the trailer park kids doomed to life in Akron: by some odd confluence of fate, rage and despair, the town gave rise to a dynamic punk rock scene, starting in 1979, with acts such as Devo, Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders and other raw & ragged groups swept up by punks power. A lively club scene took root in a ruined bank, bringing in such iconic acts as The Ramones and The Clash. The punk rock eruption prompted Melody Maker magazine to dub Rubber City as the new Liverpool.
Derf tells Akrons story through the eyes of Otto, a high school marching band nerd who discovers his calling as a punk rock singer. Otto lives in his crazy uncles trailer park on the edge of town. His nerdiness extends to recording a symphony of his own farts on a cassette deck and quoting from the wisdom of the elves and wizards of J.R.R. Tolkien. He lusts after a high school hottie, Teri Workman, whose only attribute seems to be her outsize mammaries.
Otto makes for a dreary protagonist as the reader endures a series of his high school hijinx and his transformation from outcast to a local rock hero. But the payoff for the reader is the trip down punk history lane as Otto attends a succession of concerts at Akrons rock club, The Bank. He has encounters with The Ramones, Joe Strummer of The Clash, and the pneumatic Wendy O. Williams of The Plasmatics -- among the most dazzling characters of punks hey-day.
Derf also explores the subtext of rock politics. While epic bands such as The Clash perform their masterpiece album, London Calling for a few hundred kids at The Bank, slick, corporate rock stars such as Journey pack a local stadium with 17,000 fans. Rock music critic Lester Bangs makes a pilgrimage to Akron to witness the scene, commiserating on the triumph of style over substance. These are mutant times, Bangs says. We need people making passionate music out of noise and sonic scraps! Instead, we get Steve Perry crooning banal flapdoodle to throngs of mesmerized sheep!
And when Otto finally gets to strut his stuff for Teri as the frontman for his band at The Bank, she doesnt even know he appeared on stage. Well... I dont really like this punk stuff much... she says. I like real rock-n-roll. Frampton.. Journey...
And so it goes. The other star of the show is Derfs artistry. As a stylist, few graphic artists match his ability to capture the no future slouch and despair of the underclass. This is his second and longest graphic novel (the first was a saga of his high school classmate, Jeffrey Dahmer, the notorious gay cannibal of the 90s). Derf was also the recipient of a prestigious Robert F. Kennedy Award in 2006 and his work is featured in Best American Cartoons: 2008 (Houghton-Miiflin).
Punk Rock and Trailer Parks is a historical document of the recent past, unearthing a time and place that may have already fled the memories of the boomers and Gen-X kids who made that scene. Readers will be thrilled to find a soundtrack of more than 40 artists that can be downloaded from iTunes to be read along with the book. Theres also a fatal aftermath of 10 players who made the punk scene in Akron and didnt live to tell the tale -- Oh, the wages of rock stardom...
Will Otto get the girl? Will Akron rise to the heights of a music mecca? Will the geniuses of punk find their reward with commercial love and acceptance? Find out in Punk Rock and Trailer Parks, available at bookstores and www.derfcity.com