Cartoonist visits Boxcar Books promoting comic collection


Cartoonist Steve Lafler talks about his comic book trilogy Tuesday at Boxcar Books. He signed a 408-page volume of his new comic book which is a compilation of previous trilogies about insects playing jazz. Sara Singh Buy Photos

According to a Q&A on the New York Press website, Lafler realized he wanted to be a comic book artist when he was 3 or 4 years old.

Now, Lafler is touring the U.S. to promote his 400-plus-page comic book, “Ménage à Bughouse,” published by co2 Comics.

On Tuesday evening, Lafler visited Boxcar Books and Community Center in downtown Bloomington, where he narrated scene excerpts from “Bughouse.”

The book is a compilation of Lafler’s previously published “Bughouse” trilogy about saxophonist Jimmy Watts and his band of bugs clawing their way to the top of the jazz world.

The characters’ journeys are sidetracked by the temptation to consume the addictive substance “bug juice.”

Throughout the “Bughouse” trilogy, which was published by Top Shelf Productions, Lafler explores the nature of substance addiction.

“In my early 30s ... I had gotten to a point where I was a very heavy drinker, and it never stopped me from doing anything or making art, but by the time I started ‘Bughouse,’ it was getting in the way,” said Lafler, who has been living in Oaxaca, Mexico for five years with his wife and two children. “So, part of the impulse to do this art was to A, explain to myself why addiction works and B, kind of write/draw myself out of a tight spot that I had gotten myself into.”

By the time the third volume of the “Bughouse” series was published, Lafler said Top Shelf “lost a little bit of zeal for promoting and publishing it through the market, so I guess I had a little bit of a sense of a job unfinished.”

Two years ago, co2 Comics asked Lafler to publish with them online. Although Lafler said he was skeptical about online publishing, co2’s visual presentation of comics online led him to accept the offer, and he ended up writing both “El Vocho: Love at the Twilight of Oil,” and his series “DOG BOY” for online publication.

Publishing all three volumes of “Bughouse” in one hardcopy book, the first volume of which critic Rob Clough named No. 22 on his list of Top 100 Comics of the ’00s, was something Lafler said he always wanted to do.

The “Bughouse” series is told in a 1950s noir style, but the characters are bug people.

Thus, Lafler created the term “insect-noir.”

“I was trying to invoke or create some idea of a mood,” Lafler said.  “I mean it’s just, it’s goofy, too. It’s a bit of an oxymoron. I mean, what does it mean? Nothing,

David Cronenberg’s 1991 film “Naked Lunch,” adapted from William S. Burroughs’ 1959 novel, was one of Lafler’s inspirations for “Bughouse.”

Six months before starting the series, Lafler said he read an autobiography about jazz musician Miles Davis, which also inspired him to set the novel in the Bebop era.

Bloomington resident David Boyer has known Lafler for about 25 years and works with
Lafler to create tourist T-shirts in San Francisco. Boyer, perhaps better known as employee “Bagel Dave” at Bloomington Bagel Company, said Lafler’s storytelling techniques have developed.

“He’s just good at what he does, and he’s done it for a long, long time, and so what I love about it is I’ve seen it develop and grow,” he said. “But he was already good when I met him.”

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