Artists Bank on Surfing’s Draw : Publishing: Two young men hope Surf Crazed Comics, their new quarterly comic book, will ride a wave of success.
First, there’s “Riders of Steel,” where a surfer rides through a huge wall of water and comes out in an aquatic future world, where surfboard-riding metallic creatures war with another genetically augmented race of humanoids.
Then there’s “The King and I,” where the hero has the waves all to himself until a guy in a pink Cadillac pulls up with “three killer chix in teenie-weenie bikinis.” The driver looks familiar. Yes, it’s Elvis! (“I knew it was him because of his blue-black hair. He had rhinestones on his wet suit, and the legs had a bell-bottom flair.”)
Welcome to the wacky world of Surf Crazed Comics--the new quarterly comic book published by two young surfer-artists, Salvador Paskowitz and Roy Gonzalez.
The duo recently shipped 55,000 copies of the premiere issue to comic book stores and surf shops around the country. They’re banking on surfing’s worldwide popularity to make them more than a flash in the sand.
“There’s no surfing comic book just based on the culture of surfing. Just us. We’re all alone out there,” said Paskowitz, 24.
What about Marvel Comics’ the Silver Surfer, which has been around since 1968?
“He’s a dork; he’s not a surfer,” scoffed Paskowitz, pooh-poohing the cosmic super hero, who uses a silver surfboard to travel through space.
Surf Crazed Comics, Paskowitz said, “is like day and night compared to that. This is about us, our culture, about what we’ve grown up with.”
Indeed, in Paskowitz’s case, he was born to surf: He’s one of nine children in a clan that has been described as the first family of world surfing.
His father, 69-year-old Dorian Paskowitz, is a surfing pioneer who gave up his regular medical practice in the early ‘60s to lead a nomadic existence surfing and living out of a cramped camper with his wife, Juliette, and their growing brood.
To finance their unorthodox life style, which took them to 48 states and several foreign countries, Dorian Paskowitz worked in hospitals for low-income patients and clinics. And each summer for more than two decades, the band of surfing gypsies would return to San Onofre State Beach, where the elder Paskowitz conducted a surfing camp. The Paskowitz brothers still run the 10-week camp; Dorian and Juliette Paskowitz, who recently returned from Israel, are now living on the tip of Baja California.
Gonzalez, 30, is a former champion knee boarder who owned a San Clemente surf shop in the mid-'8Os but sold it when he discovered that he was more successful doing surf art on T-shirts than running a store.
Both he and Paskowitz were doing graphic artwork for manufacturers in the surf and skate industry--T-shirts, beach towels--when they decided to publish a surfing comic book.
“We were doing all this work just being hired artists, and we decided to step back and say, ‘Let’s do our own thing: Why don’t we illustrate what we know?’ ” Gonzalez said. “Comic books were also getting big again, and we thought this world we loved should be portrayed, too.”
Paskowitz and Gonzalez are the featured artists in the premiere issue, which includes work by Cliff Galbraith, a T-shirt designer from New Jersey who attended the Paskowitz surf camp, and Jim Philips of Santa Cruz, who does artwork for Santa Cruz Skates. Other surf artists will be recruited for upcoming issues.
“It’s a little showcase for showing surf art, just for the sake of art,” Paskowitz said. “Nowadays all surf artists are related to a product, to sell a pair of shorts or something.”
It was different in the ‘60s, he said, when surf artists tended to do their artwork just for the enjoyment.
“That’s what we’re trying to capture again,” he said.
Working out of a storefront office in San Clemente, Paskowitz and Gonzalez draw their original artwork in pencil and pen and then color it in on a Macintosh computer. The comic books are printed in Ohio.
Locals may recognize the hero of the continuing “Riders of Steel” story, which is drawn by Paskowitz.
The character, Sean Spencer, is named after Paskowitz’s longtime San Clemente friend, who is the drummer in an Orange County band called Johnny Monster and the Nightmares. The band’s lead singer is Paskowitz’s brother, David.
“Sean has been an authentic surfer all his life,” Paskowitz said. “I was looking for a humanistic character to be a foil for all these metallic creatures. But more than anything, to be honest, the name Sean Spencer was just so perfect” for his character.
The nearly $40,000 it cost Paskowitz and Gonzalez to purchase equipment and print their first issue (the printing tab alone runs up to $15,000 an issue) came from a few outside investors but mostly from family members. As Paskowitz says: “Who better to support you than your family, who believes in you?”
With a laugh, he added, “Do you think a bank would give us money?”
Business hours at Surf Crazed Comics are as unorthodox as might be expected: If the surf is good, Paskowitz and Gonzalez simply lock up, turn on the answering machine and head for the beach.
But the two partners are determined to make Surf Crazed Comics more than just a single-issue endeavor, like some previous attempts at portraying the surfing lifestyle between the pages of a comic book.
In fact, Paskowitz wrote and drew a surfing comic book several years ago called Wave Warriors, which was published by Astrodeck manufacturers. All 25,000 copies were sold, Paskowitz said, but Wave Warriors ceased publication after only one issue, the profit margin deemed too small.
“The book could have done great,” Paskowitz said. “It needed to keep going. You can’t just do one independent book and stop. We’re not going to let Surf Crazed Comics just die off. We’re behind it 100%.”
Indeed, work on the second issue of Surf Crazed Comics, due out in mid-April, is nearly completed. As Paskowitz says, “We both have such deep roots in the surfing community, really, if anybody is to do a surfing comic, it’s us.”
Steve Pezman, longtime publisher of San Juan Capistrano-based Surfer magazine, has witnessed a couple of one-shot attempts at publishing a surfing comic book over the years.
Surfer even published its own single-issue surfing comic book in the mid-'70s, which was bound into an issue of the magazine. It was called Tales From the Tube and featured the artwork of longtime Surfer cartoonist Rick Griffin and a gaggle of underground cartoonists then being published in Zap Comix, including the legendary R. Crumb.
Pezman said Zap Comix republished Tales From the Tube and distributed it widely, but neither Zap nor Surfer ever published a second issue.
“It was a campy thing,” Pezman said. “I think people that bought it were not so much surfers as people who followed those artists and collected their work. I don’t think the artists who are contributing to this new venture (Surf Crazed Comics) have a following yet. So it’s got to be ‘surf stoke’ that makes it go.”
Pezman said he has scanned a copy of Surf Crazed Comics and looked at some of the promotional artwork.
So what’s he think?
“I enjoy the raw energy and expressiveness of the artwork, although I don’t think anyone has matched the pure inventiveness of Griffin in his prime in the ‘60s, when he was defining a genre of art,” he said. “I think (Paskowitz and Gonzalez) have a lot of energy, and they do good work, and I’m rooting for them.”
Pezman said the widespread popularity of surfing, combined with the current comic book revival, might make Surf Crazed Comics “a right-thing-at-the-right-time kind of project.”
And while Paskowitz and Gonzalez’s lack of publishing experience may be evident in the premiere issue, Pezman said, “they’re flirting with success nonetheless.
“It’s sort of a naive, raw and enthusiastic kind of venture. But sometimes those things, even though rough around the edges, strike right at the heart.”