[19 October 2009]
Punk Rock and Trailer Parks is about the music scene in Akron, Ohio in 1979, where punk rock is booming. Early on, one of the characters lays the groundwork for understanding the setting by saying this: “It started a few years ago… with Devo… So they make it big. Then some other Akron bands get signed. Rubber City Rebels… Tin Huey… Chrissie Hynde pops up with the Pretenders. Suddenly… Akron is this breeding ground for Punk and New Wave.” “My point… is that this is one of the places to be! New York… London… and fuckin’ Akron, Ohio!”
I was lucky enough to live in the same area, Northeast Ohio, as the creator of this book. The weekend the graphic novel was released, the best little record shop in town, Square Records, in the Highland Square area in Akron, Ohio, (I have no problems giving shameless plugs for establishments I support.) was hosting a book signing with the writer/artist, Derf. He also writes and illustrates a weekly comic strip, titled “The City”, which is published in various magazines across the country. (The Cleveland Scene a local magazine discussing music, media, and politics, is how I found out about the graphic novel in the first place) Then I thought to myself, “A graphic novel, created by a local man, whose work I am slightly familiar with, about the Akron punk rock scene in 1979. Why not get it signed?” So I did. There was a small line, so I waited my turn. Eventually I walked up to the table, shook his hand, bought my book and asked him to sign it. The autograph reads:
The first thing worth mentioning is the recommended playlist on the inside cover. Instantly, we see that this is not merely a graphic novel that takes place in a music-enriched environment. Instead, it is intertwined with the music, relying on it to help tell the story. The soundtrack is filled with great punk and new wave artists, such as; Elvis Costello, Talking Heads, Clash, Rubber City Rebels, Buzzcocks, Ramones, Dead Boys, Richard Hell, New York Dolls, Saints, the Jam, and many other great bands from an era long passed. Lyrics from these songs are injected throughout the book. Some of the artists mentioned in the soundtrack even make guest appearances in the story.
The bottom of the title page reads, “This book is fiction, but it COULD have happened.” It is hard to say exactly how much of this book is true, and how much is fiction. Regardless of how much really happened, it is an absolute fantasy for any fan of punk rock. We see the main character getting cheeseburgers with the Ramones; sharing a drink with Stiv Bator, lead singer of the Dead Boys; and even bowling with Joe Strummer of the Clash. He even gets up on stage to sing, as the front man for his own band. Fact or fiction, this is a dream come true for any punk rocker.
Punk Rock and Trailer Parks is about growing up. It is about Otto, or the Baron as he refers to himself, trying to figure out what to do with his life as he prepares to graduate high school. During his senior year, he makes some new friends, and becomes immersed in the world of underground punk rock; ultimately becoming a punk. Many people think punk rock is about being selfish, and only living your life for yourself. That is a lie. Otto devotes himself to a set of morals and ideas about what he believes are right and wrong. He does not let the world around him sway that opinion of good and evil. By holding on to these ideas, it manifests in him as being a punk. He did not go out and say “I want to be a punk, so I need to go out and do what punks do,” like we see so many people do. He was himself, growing as a person does and during this transitional stage we call “growing up,” he became a punk. Otto expresses his displeasure with what is currently on the radio multiple times through the novel. One time, he states, “It’s the damn hippies! They are the first generation in human history that refuses to give way to the next generation! So it’s their music that fills the airwaves… The bitter truth is we’ll be downwind of the great cultural fart of the baby boom our whole lives.” Meatloaf, Boston, Styx, Aerosmith, the Eagles, and worst of all, Journey are mentioned and, justifiably, bashed. Throughout the book these bands are used as the examples of “The Man”, keeping its boot on the head of punk rock, as it tries to struggle up to the surface of mainstream popularity.
As mentioned, I love punk rock, so perhaps I am biased, but this graphic novel is amazing. This is punk in every sense of the word. It is dirty, sweaty, sexy, vulgar, righteous, and mostly law-abiding. The last line quotes a Clash song, and sums it up best. “Death or Glory becomes just another story!” No matter how big and important this is; no matter how mind-blowing this experience was; we must move on, and when all is said and done this will just be another chapter in our lives. This graphic novel is about realizing that, and moving on to the next chapter.