When I moved to San Francisco in 1997, the locals told me that I had just missed “the good years” and that all these new people were destroying the culture and driving up the rents.
But as I explored the city from one end to the other, always with a notebook in hand, what I overheard changed my life. In every corner of San Francisco, in every coffee shop, book shop, telephone pole, and crosswalk I was being pitched bands, DIY zines, clothing lines, films, and books. Nobody needed permission to make art, everyone was expected to fight the good fight and make it themselves.
Sure, the city was expensive to live in and it was understood what you did to pay the rent wasn’t who you were. The day job followed your passion like a hyphenated last name like “Ginger Poet-Bike Messenger” or “Dusty Costume Design-Tech Support.” I had enough people ask me “why aren’t you writing comics” that my daydream no longer seemed so unrealistic. I started introducing myself as “Jason Comic Writer-Coffee Jerk.”
The plan I put into motion back in those blurry days was to become the Johnny Thunders of comics; Talented, drunk, and tragic (hey, two out of three isn’t bad). San Francisco had turned me into a writer.
At my day job, I worked alongside cartoonists, sculptors, dancers, musicians, and writers. Every night there was a reading, a show, an exhibit, a performance, and far too many substances to manage. Most mornings I would wake up in a strange place, crawl to my day job, and repeat the adventure all over again. It was an incredible time to make art.
We considered ourselves lucky to survive the initial dot com explosion and laughed off the tech industry that nearly obliterated us. I was probably too busy making comics with my friends, or busy being drunk, to notice the tech industry regaining a toehold in the city. Suddenly it wasn’t enough to just to hustle anymore. It was like trying to mop up the ocean with a sponge. Nearly every artist I knew was priced out of the city and replaced by a 20 something in a polo shirt.
One of the last conversations I overheard was during lunchtime at Market and 6th, a dicey intersection on its best day. It came from a tech employee looking at his phone and loudly bemoaning his 401K investment strategy as a local urinated on the building and nodded his head in agreement; times were tough.
The loose definition of a Ghost Band is a band that has continued on without its original members. San Francisco had become my Ghost Band. The problem wasn’t that the city moved on, became something else, it was that I had not.
I moved to Portland, Oregon, in 2015. The locals were quick to tell me that I had just missed “the good years” and that all these new people were destroying the culture and driving up the rents.
Another time, another place, but the song remained the same.
I have come to believe a city is as much a time and place in your life as it is a location. We all have our ghosts, the memories that we thought were home but all we have is what’s next.
GHOST BAND, my graphic novel with illustrator Anke Gladnick, is an adventure about the end of the world. It’s about making art and moving on.
None of us to get to stay.