PopOok! An interview with Hamo Bahnam

PopOok! is a Los Angeles-based zine self-published by Hamo Bahnam since 2012 and now arrived at its fourth and recent issue. When Hamo introduced me to his project, I wasn’t aware of it and I think a lot of other people really into self-publishing, zines etc. still don’t know about Pop Ook!. In fact, in a world where you can find almost everything on the social networks and in a scene where every cartoonist knows his peers, PopOok! is an exception, the kind of publication that can’t live anywhere else but on paper and whose creators don’t aggressively promote it, because they simply want to do it, without caring too much about the audience’s acceptance. Inside the issues of PopOok! there are very different contents: comics looking directly to the underground revolution like the ones created by Bahnam, the strange cartoons of Rusty Jordan already known for Alamo Value Plus published by Revival House Press (I talked about it on the old website), the nightmares of Marcel Dejure and the “wet dreams” of Yara Zair. And then collages, illustrations, inserts on colored paper, plus a cd of ambient-noise-experimental rock music coming with every issue. All this comes wrapped up in hand printed covers. Not every page is completely accomplished but there is a feeling here of something going on, a love for the subject matter that isn’t related to self-realization but only to real love for comics, music and illustration. I’ve talked about PopOok! with its master Hamo Bahnam in an interview conducted via e-mail in the latest months.

The first issue of PopOok! was published in Spring 2012 but you made comics long before. Can you tell me when you started to create comics, where you published them and how the idea of starting PopOok! was born?

Comics have always been a big part of who I am as an artist. Not really as a fan knowing the hippest books and artists but as an aesthetic, a way of working. I’m more interested in music as a fan than I am in any kind of art. But my wanting to be an artist comes from buying my first copy of Mad magazine when I was 10 years old. I put out my first comic in 1994. I called it Grow Up! (comix and funnies). That first comic was a precursor to what I’m doing with PopOok!. The idea that I could publish my own comics and zines came out of the punk/hardcore culture I grew up around. Comics and degenerate music have a long history together. From 50’s horror comics and juvenile delinquents listening to rock’n’roll to the 60’s underground comix and psychedelic music to punk (Punk magazine’s John Holmstrom and Gary Panter) to 90’s garage and even noise music has artists and cartoonists involved. Low forms of culture breads other low forms. In the early 90’s met two artists, Amos and Marcel Dejure, who were publishing books under the No (Know) information Network. They published me first in their HO! Comix. They hooked me up with other artists and that’s where the idea of Grow Up! came from. I stopped making comics for a while and concentrated on painting and printmaking, however, comics were usually a theme in the format I was working in. Around 2005 I started making comics again for a leftist newspaper in Knoxville TN. The comic came out twice a month. It was called Juicy Pork Head. About a corrupt industrialist named Harry Bowels, who hypnotized children into killing their parents, then turned the dead parents into ice cream. That scenario would fit into todays’ political climate quite well actually.

I started PopOok! in 2010 when I moved back to Los Angeles after being gone for 12 years. I needed an artistic direction and a focus after separating from my ex-wife. I met Meredith Wallace who was a co-worker with me at a local library. We began talking and it turned out she had a small zine distribution company. She eventually became instrumental in starting the L.A. Zine fest and I just figured this would be a great moment to start making comix again. I invited some old friends to contribute and met some new folks and Bingo! PopOok! was born. I took what I learned from years of printmaking, comix reading and my love for music and now I’m working on a fourth and fifth issue.

“PopOok!” #1 and #2

The zine is “a lack of Product production”, while the music cds coming with every issue are credited to Plastic Factory Records. Are only you behind these labels or there is someone else?

Yes, it’s just me behind those labels. Artist and musicians send me their work and I put it all together. I create comics and music too then I assemble the whole thing, I hand print the covers then cut, staple or glue. I’m the owner/publisher/editor/labor and janitorial staff. But I couldn’t do it without all the talented people who contribute to it. I make enough money from sales to cover my costs and the contributors get no salary. They do it for free and I guess they trust me to make a product they can stand behind. I love them all for believing in this project.

And so, how you select these artists? Are they people you know in the “real life” or you contact them on the internet? Because, seeing it from the outside, PopOok! seems the expression of a scene and it could seem a zine of another time, when social networks still didn’t exist. I don’t see in it “famous internet people”…

Most of the people involved are friends and acquaintances that I’ve known for some time. Some of these friendships go back 20-30 years. Others I’ve just recently met because of my doing PopOok! Or friends at work who are creative types. Some people I meet at zinefests and music spaces where I see/hear their work or they see mine. And also others are people I’ve never met that I have admired their work from seeing/hearing it on the internet. As far as a “scene” goes most of the artists/musician have never met each other! Some do know and are aware of each others work but it’s mostly a scene comprised of many cities and countries and PopOok! provides the glue that binds them together.

What are your inspirations both as an editor and as a cartoonist? Ok, you were influenced by Mad magazine but I guess you also love the underground comics from the 60’s or the 70’s, because most of the works in PopOok! can rememeber Zap Comix and sometimes they have a psychedelic style or a punk feeling. On the whole your zines seem a sort of “old school” work, as if the people who created them love the classics while they aren’t really interested in the latest tendencies of cartooning. And this is pretty strange in a world where everything looks like something else…

Yes, Punk and Underground Comix culture are two big influences on me. As a cartoonist my influences are many and they are one’s that I’ve held on to for a long time. Robert Crumb is godhead to me. He’s just an incredible talent and genius that changed me forever. Of course with Crumb comes the Zap artists: Clay Wilson is fantastic as well as Gilbert Shelton. The Harvey Kurtzman years at Mad, especially the cartoonists Will Elder and Jack Davis. Later Mad artist Don Martin was a childhood favorite only replaced when Crumb walked into my life. George Herriman and the absurdity of Krazy Kat. I love absurdity in everything! And also the raw energy of Savage Pencil and Gary Panter are always present for me.

Hamo Bahnam

As an editor my two influences would be Robert Crumb and Art Spiegelman. Crumb’s embrace of punk cartoonists and punk culture when he published Weirdo plays a huge part on me with PopOok! And Art Spiegelman’s RAW magazine is great too. The multifaceted aspects of Spiegelman’s work is top notch. As an editor my influences do come through in the contents of the comic and music cd. I think the old school aesthetic comes from my age and what I grew up on. I’m old enough to have been alive for those things to be new. Those artists are my teachers.

Another feature of the zine is that every issue is very “physical”, the packaging is really accurate and there are a lot of inserts, you use different paper colors, the covers are mostly printed using linoleum blocks and hand stenciling, and one is silkscreened (#3). These are books you absolutely can’t read as a PDF…

Right. And that goes back to Spieglman’s Raw. I have a copy of #7 where he tore a piece of the cover off and taped it to the inside. And the original chapters of Maus where printed and stapled inside the bigger comic as a mini book. So that playing with the medium, how he deconstructed/tore-apart comics is fascinating to me. I’m also a printmaker and make assemblage paintings so the physical object is very important to me. The human artifact speaks to me and the need to touch things to have an actual experience with art is what I’m going after. I’m strictly a 20th Century boy. PDF comics are bullshit.

Would you like to present to the readers of Just Indie Comics some of the cartoonists you’re working with for PopOok!?

Sure. All the artists are worth mentioning and there are so many but we can talk about some of them.

Alex Chiu and Rusty Jordan are two artists I met while they lived here in Los Angeles. They both moved up to the state of Oregon a while back. Alex is a prolific artist who creates complex, fanatical drawings in a crazed, almost a free associative, doodle style. He not only paints, teaches, does comics, runs a small publication press called Eyeball Burp but also is creating illustrations for children’s books all while having a YouTube cooking show with his daughter!

Alex Chiu

Rusty is a cartoonist whose work features characters who remind me of the people that occupy the world of writer Bohumil Hrabal. With absurdist, lonely yet loveable “everyman” losers in a very American setting. Rusty is a sign painter by trade but also publishes comics. I first saw his work in a collaborative comic named Moulger Bag Digest. He also puts out Alamo Value Plus and created the anthology series Shitbeams on the Loose.

Rusty Jordan

Marcel Dejure and Amos. Marcel’s comics are claustrophobic punk rock acid trips. Roller skaters, burnouts, porno queens, meth-heads, drugged out animals and other Los Angeles dissidents make up his transgressive world. Marcel rarely makes comics anymore but when he does they’re for Popook! He spends countless hours working on a fashion line of clothing that combines the erotic with cartooning. He’s also the creator of the live puppet performance group Cinnamon Roll Gang.

Amos’ work mixes dystopian landscapes with bebop jazz and drugs. He loves his cats who once in a while make it into his comics. I’ve been a great admirer of his work for many, many years. He’s a printmaker as well and has worked for the legendary print collective Self-Help Graphics in East Los Angeles.

David James-Dimitrov is a Canadian cartoonist and painter. I met him online and he sent me copies of his incredible no text comic A Sunburned Heart in the Skin Celled Desert. His work is incredibly detailed and lovingly rendered. Science fiction dream stories… Mixing a weird combo of Twilight Zone and Alejandro Jodorowsky.

David James-Dimitrov

And what about the musicians?

Bryan Davis makes music as Bleeding Gorgon. I first met Mr. Davis in Knoxville, Tennessee when he was video taping my band for his public access show Kill Your Television. An artist and filmmaker, I never knew he made music until he submitted some prerecorded, phone called, industrial noises to the first PopOok! His more rockin’ tunes are a combination of the bands Chrome and the Humpers. He writes songs of loss, rejection, abandonment and loves horror movies and punk.

In the years 2005-2011 Grant Capes co-ran the alternative art/music space Echo Curio in Los Angeles.  The Echo is where the seeds of PopOok! germinated as I met artists and musicians that would fill the pages and sounds of the comic/cd. His current project is Borne on a Train, a podcast series where he showcases live performances from some of Los Angeles’ premier experimental musicians. He has contributed to the first four issues of PopOok!, mostly under the Sleepwalkers Local moniker. Sleepwalkers Local is an improv situation involving Grant and whatever instruments are about. The set of songs included in the new issue of PopOok! comes from an old piano and a newly acquired harmonium and chord organ all processed for your enjoyment.

I’ve been waiting a long time now for Charlie Finch (Professor Husband) to release the vinyl debut of his The Diamond Trip multimedia project. A bit ambient, a bit spacerock, some motoric and krautrock via the American South whatever it is it’ll be monumental! Charlie is a musician and graphic designer living in Knoxville, Tennessee. The Diamond Trip consists of the Electric Jeanni and Professor Husband, who play music and visuals. They say some influences include birds, grains, grass, ghosts and mirrors…

The Diamond Trip

Another Knoxvillian, Jason Bowman, is the first person I ever knew who made music with a sliver mac. A musician, filmmaker and artist, he is amassing a warehouse of “library” music: incidental soundtracks for all your living pleasure. I’m always looking forward to hearing what he creates.

Mark Cannariato is an artist and sound maker from Brooklyn, NY. I first encountered him in the swamp hell that is Tampa Florida. All black rubber and wood assemblage. Imagine yourself in the last trek of Disneyland’s train ride through the primordial landscape. Giant mosquitoes buzz passed your head in the sweltering heat and the natives are restless… all set to a crazed beat created by the roar of the train.

I’ve yet to meet Maria or Dylan, a duo known as The Vaginals. I’ve yet to see them play live. They live about 3 hours away from me in the city of San Diego. I’m afraid that if they met me they would want to beat me up. They might be street tuffs with switchblades. Their music is categorized as danceable confrontation. I love it!

The Vaginals

I haven’t seen it yet but I know you recently published a fourth issue… What can we expect from it?

More of the same quality artwork. Lots of new people are joining the troupe. I’m reaching out to woman. I think they are under appriacted in comics. Also woman musicians are playing a bigger part in the next few issues. The ugliness and hate of the current world political climate is also effecting my work. I’m hoping to voice some truth against these hateful bastards. Hopefully some of the other artists will voice their opinions as well.

To buy PopOok or for any info, you can visit the Facebook page or contact Hamo Bahnam through his Instagram account.

“PopOok!” #4

“PopOok!” #4 interior pages

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