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Comics Camp: The Musicians

Comics Camp had people that don’t make comics; there was a lawyer¹, filmmakers, and four of us that decided as Camp was breaking up that we were the non-comics-creating enabling types². Then there were the ones that I think even the comics creators looked upon as opening themselves up to artistic critique in a way that was almost incomprehensible; say what you will, you don’t normally create comics in real time in front of people³.

But the musicians, they’re putting all they have out on display and the feedback is immediate … you either grab the audience and they’re with you or you don’t and they aren’t. It’s a special kind of public vulnerability.

Fortunately, the musicians we had at Camp are all mad-skilled seasoned pros; I’ve come to think of them as a gang of master performers — a Five Man Band that’s been through Rule 63 and doesn’t care about the traditional labels — able to pull off any musical caper you choose to throw at them. I’m giving them their own writeup primarily because of the Monday night sing-along that broke out late, but this will involve performances (planned and otherwise) from throughout the weekend. If you like, you should go look up the work of Seth Boyer, Marian Call, The Doubleclicks, and Molly Lewis. I’ll wait.

I knew Seth Boyer primarily for his collaborations with Call; he’s played guitar in every one of her performances that I’ve seen, but a lot of people know him because a year and a half ago, he did the near-impossible by making All Star by Smashmouth into a legitimately touching song with the help of a grand piano. Like all of his performances that I like best, it’s tinged with sadness and sincerity; even as you convince yourself that it’s going to be played for laughs you find yourself getting swept up in emotional depth you didn’t think was present.

Sure, it’s funny to think of a big beardy guy in a Gone Squatchin’ trucker hat to be singing the most famous I want song of all time, and yeah it starts off with a giggle or two, but Boyer means it all — every bit of longing, every bit of vulnerability. It was a guitar in his hands and the first lines of All Star were almost too soft to notice, then people began to gather and musicians stood next to him, and a few dozen voices rose together on the chorus, following where this bear of a man led. He’s The Emotional Center and he doesn’t care if you believe he looks the part or not.

In a world where the economics and public perceptions of various styles of music were about 87° out of phase with this one, Marian Call would be singing in music halls and opera houses, her crystal-clear voice cutting through arias and Richard Thompsonesque story songs alike, acoustically perfect spaces resonating every note and typewriter clack. In a world that’s 0° out of phase with this one, the people that book music halls and opera houses for some reason look askance at songs about the influx of cruise ship tourists into coastal Alaskan towns, covers of Homestar Runner tunes, and tributes to Shark Week.

That last one’s stuck particularly in my brain, because it demonstrated the other thing I’ve noticed about Call besides her eclectic musicality — her clear vision of where she wants a song to go and how it should be received and engaged by her audience. During Shark Week at the Mini-Con concert (around about 50:30 or so), Call found the precise degree of encouragement necessary to get a somewhat laid back crowd to indulge in (her words) a little bit of bloodlust, please. The song doesn’t work without that enthusiasm, so she made it happen by force of will.

The attention to detail touches everything from her music (notes and wordplay equally) and its message4 to the data resulting from a world-wide hashtag she created; the logistics of a performance and minor Camp hiccups all get jumped on and resolved before anybody realizes she was there. In our musical gang, she’s The Fixer.

Molly Lewis is a paradox; happiness and sadness flow from her songs and performances very nearly simultaneously. Ten years ago she put a video up on YouTube of the most improbable ukulele cover the world had seen: Britney Spears’s Toxic, which has since become a mainstay of her concerts; the performance matches her bouncy, joyous approach to music. But in her hands any song under the sun — an examination of Lincoln’s assassination, say — can turn from goofball to melancholy in the space of a heartbeat.

Or, for that matter, she can turn from one song to another and back almost before you’ve realized it5, and turn language on its head in service of a gag, pun, or just for the sheer joy of it. Oh, and she has minions now, with at least three or four members of the Republic of the Uke-raine plucking away on strings at any given time. Without question they would follow her anywhere, their marching songs (somewhat jangly, somewhat frantic) the last thing you hear come the revolution. With the quick shifts and reversals — in tone, topic, word choice, everything — it’s clear that Lewis fills the role of The Acrobat.

The Webber sisters — Angela and Aubrey, collectively The Doubleclicks — are quiet until it’s time to not be quiet, reserved until it’s time to color outside the lines, using their natural camouflage until it’s time to show just a bit of teeth and menace. As far as potentially merciless predators go, they’re also extremely considerate cabin-mates, AAAA++ would bunk with again. There’s hidden depths there, in the songs and in the performances, that I think don’t always get their due recognition.

A typical Doubleclicks song will feature themes of awkwardness, introversion, empathy, trying to fit in; if we were all just a little bit better, just a little bit nicer, they tell us, we’d all be collectively a hell of a lot happier. But there’s a spine of steel beneath the calls for kindness — rejection of their desire for basic civility will not result in begging for acceptance, but a quiet, unwavering, very polite screw you. That’s when Angela, who looks like the lady you drop your kid off with at daycare, fixes you with her glare and lets you know exactly what she thinks of as the appropriate response to the challenges of everyday life:

be yourself
count on your inner strength
find your people
hunt the weak

She means it, too.

And the whole time, Aubrey’s been unobtrusively forcing you to reevaluate everything you thought you knew about live music performances; her cello fills in behind every voice and instrument, lending depth and character and elevating the whole, and she does it all on the fly. It’s not a flashy role, the cellist is pretty much never the one at the front of the stage soaking up the love from the groupies; her solid-body cello6 kept her from moving around much, tethered as it was to a power outlet so that it could be amplified.


Remember that video up above of Molly Lewis playing Toxic? Sounds great, but what if it sounded even better? Once Lewis started playing on Monday night I watched Aubrey wait a moment, find the chords she wanted, and start to play every other part of that song; it was everything that some insane Swedish pop song producer knows will never be noticed in the video or the single or the remix or the concert performance, but without which it just won’t sound right.

I watched her do that with a dozen other songs, too, extemporaneous fills flowing in ways that you see late at night in jazz clubs but which you don’t usually see in the bowed instruments. And with a prompting of two words from Marian Call — Power Ballad! — she did it during the performance of the brainstormed musical on Sunday night.

Call had come up with the tune she wanted to sing a few minutes earlier; a few scribbled chords were shown to Boyer so he could strum along. Because of the power cord’s length, Aubrey wasn’t able to see those quick notes and so she paused, she listened, and she created a counterpoint7 that somewhere caused an insane Swedish pop song producer to quietly mutter helvete. The Webbers round out our Musical Caper Gang as The Muscle and The Improviser8.

We’re coming to the end, but for now (someplace, forever) there’s still a dozen and a half nerdy voices singing along to Smashmouth and Britney, Bowie and The Beatles, Savage Garden and Jimmy Eat World, the Crystal Gems and Simon & Garfunkel, led by a musical Voltron that combines to something magical.


  • If memory serves, I’ve now seen Seth Boyer play guitar for Marian Call in Juneau, San Diego, and two or three times on streaming concerts. It’s a delight every time.
  • Unfortunately, I didn’t get any shots of either The Doubleclicks’s or Molly Lewis’s sets at the Mini-Con concert. Marian & Seth brought ’em back up to join in on the songs.
  • She got the bloodlust going; before her entreaty, maybe five people were doing the chomp, chomp bit. After, it was everybody but the camera operators.
  • The shirt reads I’M FAT LET’S PARTY, and there was a sign taped to his back but you kind of had to be there.
  • That cello was one of the most beautiful mixes of form and function I’ve ever seen. It goes in my personal museum of design alongside the Zippo lighter, the Fender Strat, and the the Swiss Army Officer’s Knife (the basic two blades, two tools model).
  • Superheroes. From Mockingbird #8, written by Chelsea Cain, pencils by Kate Niemczyk, colors by Rachelle Rosenberg, letters by Joe Caramagna, cameos by nearly everybody.

¹ Light-ning LAW-yer!

² There was a put-your-hands-in and raise ’em up going Whoa cheer and everything.

³ Even Kazu Kibuishi & Lucas Elliott’s livedrawing was solely illustration; there wasn’t a full story being told.

4 Take a listen to her latest album, if you haven’t. Pay particular attention to the song order.

5 Her performance of Toxic at music night suddenly shifted on the chorus to Love Shack just long enough to register with the crowd, then back again.

6 A beautiful instrument that can be played standing, and also she very kindly did not murder me when I mentioned I’d love to take it apart to see how it worked.

7 My knowledge of music theory is thin at best; I think I’m using the word I want to.

8 Which, as it turns out, isn’t too far off the roles they played in their appearance in an Eisner-nominated comic. Serendipity!

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