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Some Squeeze Box Man Commentary (part 1)

Squeeze Box Man is a graphic novel told over 7 issues. I wrote it and Jacob Yerex illustrated it. The individual issues were published one at a time as we created them. We had actually planned for completing the story over 6 issues but we simply had too much material so we decided to extend it to a seventh issue. Although it was based on a group of stories I had previously published as The Lazy Allen Stories, the original stories were all re-written for the graphic novel format, and as well I wrote several new stories. Jacob and I had many discussions about the direction we were going as well as about details and character development and in some cases his illustrations took the characters in directions I hadn’t imagined. That’s part of the joy of collaboration.

I’ve introduced Squeeze Box Man on this blog but I haven’t previously provided commentary. It’s about time I do that so I’m going to create a few posts here in which I talk about the novel and the characters and some of the themes going on throughout. Squeeze Box Man looks like a comic, but it was created for an adult audience. In fact I’d say it’s not appropriate for kids – the characters swear up a storm. They drink and smoke constantly and drugs and addiction come up regularly throughout.

LAZY IS SHORT FOR LAZARUS

Lazy’s name is really Lazarus and Lazy is a short form. That is no accident, but is in fact a biblical reference to Lazarus of Bethany, whom Jesus brought back to life in the Bible story. One of the underlying themes in the novel is around Lazy’s second chance at life. He used to be a polka star, leading a band called Lazy and the Rockets. It all fell apart for him along the way. His wife was killed in a macabre art accident. The popularity of polka and accordion music in general fell off in a big way. Gigs became harder and harder to get, but by that time Lazy was drinking so much nobody wanted to hire him anyway. His buddy Staashu got him a job at the Bottle & Can, a good union job that saved his bacon, since he was no longer earning money playing music.

Early on we see Lazy as a sad sack, sitting around, moping, smoking, listening to the old polka music. For a decade he kept his history as a musician to himself but late at night, drunk, he’d stagger to his music room in the basement of the bungalow he inherited from his parents. He’d pull on the big accordion and play.

Staashu got Lazy involved in his dream of bringing polka back to life by starting what might be described as a polka-punk band. In the story, present day is 1982, when I was 22 years old. I was thinking about about bands like the Pogues, who took traditional music and punked it up, creating something altogether new. By the late 70s, I was bored of pop music. I couldn’t even listen to some of the material filling the airwaves – until I heard some of the music coming from Stiff Records in England. I was listening to a lot of blues, learning about jazz, and exploring folk music from around the world. My own music interests informed the music in Squeeze Box Man for sure.

Playing music in a band again was a crisis situation for Lazy. He felt old and tired. Staashu was younger and so were the other players. Lazy didn’t know if he could go through with it. Maybe he was scared to fail. He did go through with it though, and the more he played music the younger and stronger he got. In issue 4, there is a key moment in his transformation, when Lazy goes to get his hair cut and emerges a new man. The only direction I provided Jacob for the transformation was to suggest he look at pictures of Vincent Price, both as an old and a younger man.

My own barber, Steph at the Nite Owl, was the model for Lazy’s barber, also named Steph. We arranged for Jacob to get his hair cut and I took dozens of photos he could use to help create the illustrations.

When I considered the old school polka music Lazy loved, I was thinking of a band from Buffalo NY who were at their peak in the 80s, known as The Dynatones. In my imagination, Staashu looked a lot like Scrubby, their concertina player, but somehow Jacob made him look kind of like me! Here’s Scrubby and the boys performing Zosia. It will give you an idea of the spirit of the music I was thinking about.

Look how the accordion player is handling his instrument in this video. He’s shaking the bellows to drive the rhythm of the music, so in Squeeze Box Man, when Lazy describes himself as a bellows-shaker, that’s what he’s talking about.

FAMOUS FACES

There are loads of famous faces that appear in Squeeze Box Man.

For instance, the accordion player above resembles Canada’s polka king, Walter Ostanek.

Another polka king who puts in an appearance is the one and only Li’l Wally.

Here’s Li’l Wally performing the song he performed with Lazy in the novel, called Johnny’s Knockin’.

I also introduced a third polka king to the story, when Lazy had a chance to play poker with the Clown Prince of Polka, Walt Solek.

Here’s Walt Solek’s most famous song, Who Stole the Kishka.

Polka players are not the only famous faces in Squeeze Box Man. For instance, James Brown put in a appearance.

The character of Senor Steve, who you can read about in vol 5, was inspired by Esteban “Steve” Jordan, the late great conjunto button accordion player from San Antonio. Here’s Steve Jordan in action.

We’re grateful to Toronto artist Andy Fabo for allowing us to fictionalize his 1982 persona and to show in comic format parts of the actual Chromaliving exhibition, a milestone in Canadian art.

People who have been around the Toronto art scene for a long time might recognize another of the characters in this pair of pages. The fellow in the top right, shaking hands, looks suspiciously like Av Isaacs, one of the most important art dealers in Toronto at that time. Was Mr. Isaacs actually at Chromaliving? I don’t know for sure. Maybe it was just some guy who looked like him.

*****

If you’re interested in copies of any or all of the issues of Squeeze Box Man, email me. Cost is $12 + $3 shipping to anywhere for any individual issues. Payment within Canada is by e-transfer. For customers outside Canada, payment is by Paypal .

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