?The Truth is I Have No Idea?

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“So just what is Cocopiazo?” I asked.

“Not the question you want to get from someone who has just read the book,” replied Daniel Warner, “but I get it all the time.”

“The truth is I have no idea.” 

To be honest, I had no idea what I was in for when I took this assignment. All I knew about Cocopiazo was that Slave Labor Graphics, a company who frequently puts out offbeat comics that I rather enjoy, published it, and that creator Daniel Warner wanted to send me copies of the first four issues. 

Free comics? Deal.

So what is Cocopiazo?

Cocopiazo started in 2000 as a mini comic with a small 50 issue print run. Warner began giving them away friends, colleagues and convention goers. During a trip to SPX in Bethesda Maryland, the comic started gaining momentum. Warner began getting mail and email from fans looking to order issues of the Cocopiazo mini-comics that they were missing.

“I reprinted issues 1-3 twice but then it was just getting ridiculous,” explained Warner. “I was spending all my drawing time folding, stapling and going to the post office. Not to mention it was getting expensive. It was OK to operate at a loss when I was just printing up 100 books or so every few months, but as the scale of the operation grew the net loss scaled bigger too. It was becoming increasingly apparent that I was going to have to expand the format of the book.”

In 2001, Warner applied for a Xeric Foundation grant, which he received and led to the publication of Super Deluxe Cocopiazo No. 1: A Bright Sunny Day. The 24-page book received a strong response from both readers and the comics press. Warner followed up Super Deluxe with two more mini comics, but by this point, it was clear that he needed to move the book forward, not back.

“I took some time off to distill the concepts in Cocopiazo down to something that would work in an ongoing series,” explained Warner. “I had just written a script for a 75 page story. That was just too much material to invest in a mini comic that would be given away for free and ignored by the comics press. If I wanted this story to have a presence in the marketplace, I had to bring a publisher into it. I put a proposal together and sent it off to Slave Labor Graphics on Halloween Night 2003. A few months later, I got an email from the publisher Dan Vado telling me he was interested.”

But what is Cocopiazo?

It turns out this comic is about a barfly named John Victory. It’s not that John is a bad guy, but he’s no saint either. He’s full of wit and good intentions, but low on inspiration and motivation. He claims to be a writer, but spends most of his time womanizing, crashing parties and generally antagonizing everyone he meets. He’s seeking immortality through his art, but seems determined to completely self-destruct through his life style. 

And John Victory hangs out with devils, Cthulhu bellhops and the Grim Reaper (who he takes great joy in provoking).

Given the unique cast, I wasn’t surprised to find that the narrative of Cocopiazo isn’t your traditional linear storytelling.

“I think of every issue of Cocopiazo as a brush stroke on a larger canvass as opposed to an event in a timeline,” waxed Warner. “When you look at an experience as a whole how important is the order of events? In some cases, it's extremely important, but in some it's a non-factor. When we tell stories…we sweep back and forth. If I asked you 'What happened to you in High School?' you would probably start with several key…incidents that happened at different points over the course of the whole experience rather than starting on day one and taking me through the progression of time.”

The first arc, Screwdriver (Issues #1-3), primarily focuses on John crashing the wedding of the Devil. Against the backdrop of a hotel in Limbo, John interacts with a host of supernatural characters. Despite John’s self-assured and arrogant manner, readers quickly see through Victory’s barriers, exposing a sad little man who would rather spend his time tearing other people down than improving on his own situation. In this fantastical world, Warner gives readers a protagonist that readers can easily relate to – who among us hasn’t met a person more enamored with creating the image of an artist rather than actually becoming one. Victory sounds educated, smart and witty, but both readers and the other cast members easily see that he is all surface and little substance. John speaks to that part of us that aspires to be something more, but is too afraid to try. In the second issue, John claims to have an epiphany, but it isn’t actually until the conclusion of the arc that he finally comes face-to-face with himself.

Interspersed among the wedding weekend, Warner bounces John and the readers back to Boston. In this contrasting reality, we get to see a John Victory that is searching for depth and meaning to the everyday world. The writing classes John attends are taught by a character that embodies every cliché and stereotype one would expect to find in a community college creative writing instructor. The instructor berates John for writing fantasy fiction (all the while preparing his own novel that is a thinly veiled rip-off of “Harry Potter”), compares himself to Thoreau, revels in big words and, of course, chants “always write what you know” as a mantra. It’s no surprise that the most fun part of Cocopiazo comes when John punches his instructor in the face and dumps hot coffee in his lap.

Screwdriver leaves readers with an open ending, before the second arc, Episotomy, drops John Victory and us into a seemingly unrelated setting. Bouncing back and forth between a prison and John’s writing classes, issue four has yet to reveal on over-riding plot, but introduces a new major character and (apparently) a theme about the validity of art and sex. Jill Swan, who is apparently resistant to John’s wit and charm, forces the protagonist to face his true motivations and promises readers the interesting possibility of seeing John cut through his carefully created image.

Moreover, there are haymakers thrown and a little bit of humping as well.

From there - what does the future hold for John Victory?

“Issue 5 is due out in November and Issue 6 comes out in March. This series is going to wrap up at issue 6 and will constitute the second big chunk of Cocopiazo,” continued Warner. “In 2006, the complete Cocopiazo Mini Comics will be published as a trade (That book will likely have a very limited print run so if any one wants to reserve a copy just drop me an email to daniel@typefetish.net). I will be working on new material over the course of 2006 but the pace will be slower because I'll be working on two other projects at the same time. It's likely that [the] third and final chunk will be released all at once as a trade paperback.”

On a cursory glance, Cocopiazo seems to be drawn in what you might call the “independent, goth comic style.” Put in context of the actually story however, Warner uses an effective and inviting clean style. He welcomes readers into his story with a comfortable, open style, that later allows him to explore more surreal and complex images as the series progresses. Like the characters and stories, the art of Cocopiazo exists on different levels – straddling the line between “art” and fun storytelling.

“Since Cocopiazo is my first work in the medium I want to use it to stake a claim,” offered Warner. “There is a lot of conventional wisdom when it comes to creating pop culture. Expectations are very rigid and there is a well-defined 'way to do things.' I want to push those rules around a little. Elbow my way through a crowded room.”

One last thing that Warner wanted to mention;

“If anyone wants to be kept posted as to when the books list in Previews, where to buy them, when they hit shelves etc. just send an email with a blank subject line to updater@typefetish.net.”

So what is Cocopiazo?

I still don’t know…but it sure as hell is fun trying to find out.

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