Wizard #66: Joe Chiappetta

Happy anniversary! With the publication of this “Palmer’s Picks” in Wizard #66, my column turned five years old. The event went by unnoticed at the time—no fancy commemorative plaque, no gold watch, no congratulatory phone call, and certainly no cake. It was just business as usual, an interview with a cartoonist and a few small plugs for some random comics. I would later find out that my selection of Silly Daddy creator Joe Chiappetta for this issue was something that didn’t sit too well with the editors at Wizard.

This Gen 13 cover for Wizard #66 by J. Scott Campbell easily checks off all of the boxes for a ’90s Wizard cover: Image Comics characters, art by a “hot” artist, and gratuitous T ‘n’ A.

I was still a freelance writer at this point, several months after graduating from college in the summer of ’96. To keep myself occupied, I was going from temp job to temp job while searching for a steady gig in publishing. It was still a few more months before I would eventually wind up on staff at Wizard as an assistant editor for their new magazine ToyFare. I was able to continue writing “Palmer’s Picks” while working there full-time, but it was suggested by one of the Wizard editors that I should avoid recommending stuff like Silly Daddy in the future. Whatever.

I still stand by what I wrote about Chiappetta and his comic art over twenty years ago. (Go ahead and scroll down to take a peak…I’ll wait here until you’re done.) Sure, his work can be an acquired taste, but there was a whole lot of creativity and ingenuity in his comics that deserved greater examination. I’m pretty sure that a mere two pages of a monthly magazine devoted to a comic that didn’t strike the fancy of the powers-that-be wasn’t going to be the end of the world. But what do I know…maybe they would have rather used that space in the magazine for more dick jokes.

A little over a year after this issue hit the stands, Wizard published a four-page feature spotlight of Holy Crullers, an obscure, crudely-drawn mini-comic that was hailed for its witty writing about a group of superheroes hanging out at a donut shop. (The series would later make the leap to “real” comics as Common Grounds, published by Top Cow/Image Comics.) In light of this article, their criticism of my column about Chiappetta seemed a little hollow.

If you’re at all curious about Chiappetta and his work, he can be found via his website. A good portion of his Silly Daddy work is still in print and available, and Chiappetta is currently exploring that possibilities of digital art on the blockchain.


Palmer’s Picks

Make Room For Daddy

By Tom Palmer Jr.

Joe Chiappetta is bored. To be specific, he says he’s bored with comics. But yet he furiously self-publishes and promotes his autobiographical comic Silly Daddy. Sound strange or contradictory to you? “I think my boredom is what makes Silly Daddy worth it,” the 28-year-old Illinois-based artist explains. “It’s difficult getting my comic out in a way that’s interesting to me. Not only do I have to write it in a way that’s interesting, but I have to draw it in a way that I’m not bored to death doing it. I strive to come up with new ways to do things. If I can’t find new ways to do comics, I’m going to stop doing them.”

It’s this sense of artistic restlessness that makes Silly Daddy such a unique and rewarding comic. Chiappetta is one of the few cartoonists who has been able to develop an identifiable shorthand; he has his own set of stylistic devices that make his comics instantly recognizable. In fact, he blends words and pictures together in such a unique way that he is one of the few cartoonists who understand comics’ potential to communicate stories and thoughts between author and reader.

Establishing a rapport with readers is essential for a comic with such personal subject matter as Silly Daddy. Chiappetta’s comic is more introspective and soul-searching than the usual autobiographical fare. The early issues of Silly Daddy, published as a photocopied mini-comic, detailed his relationship with his daughter Maria and his troubled marriage (and subsequent divorce) with stark and sometimes brutal honesty. Even in these early issues, Chiappetta’s experimentation with the medium is evident: He fully integrates word balloons into the panels, so much so that thought balloons sometimes come directly out a character’s nostrils; the balloons don’t merely “float,” but are attached to the characters themselves. When Chiappetta’s wife tells him she wants a divorce, he draws himself with a hole in his chest and his heart dropping off the page. All of these innovations utilize comics for their special power: to show instead of simply telling.

The first seven mini-comics were collected in the 1994 comic book-sized graphic novel Silly Daddy: The Long Goodbye, when it finally dawned on Chiappetta that mini-comics get no respect—not only with fans, but at the retail level. “If the Christian Bible were available only as a mini-comic,” Chiappetta states, “I’m convinced that all of America would be Buddhists or something else. So no more mini-comics for me. It’s just bad business.”

After the book collection, Chiappetta continued Silly Daddy as a full-sized flip book, with John Porcellino‘s King Cat filling out the reverse side. He published two self-contained stories before starting the current tale, “A Death in the Family,” in Silly Daddy #10, the first full-sized entirely Chiappetta work. This new storyline puts yet another twist on autobiographical comics. Instead of writing about past events, Chiappetta chose to put his daydreaming to good use to speculate about things that haven’t even happened yet. Chiappetta’s vision of the future is part high-fantasy and part reality-based. There are the expected fantastic future elements like flying cars and cities on stilts, as well as realistic predictions of items like portable electronic comic books. The story also has many political “Big Brother-ish” elements like human bar code tattoos and mandatory ID cards, which Chiappetta fears will one day come true.

“That’s when [the government] goes too far,” Chiappetta declares. Its obvious that what seems like just a background element in his comic is actually very meaningful to him. “Eventually, they’ll muscle stuff like that in, because people are not empowered within their own government and its too hard and expensive to fight legalized injustice. I feel that inch by inch they’re taking away all of our personal freedoms. One day we’re going to wake up and realize you can’t even go to the bathroom without having an access code!”

Chiappetta might not have an optimistic view of the future, but he seems to be enjoying life right now. Silly Daddy is gaining recognition. He’s engaged to be married again. And he’s still able to see one of the most important people in his life (although not as often as he’d like). “‘The Coach’ [his nickname for daughter Maria] is great. I miss her so much now. I used to watch her every day [after the divorce], but now that doesn’t happen. I see her every other weekend and one day during the week. If I want to see her more, I can, but she’s in school now; she’s in kindergarten. It’s sort of weird feeling like I have to borrow my own kid. That doesn’t feel right.”

When Tom Palmer Jr. becomes a daddy, he’s going to name his daughter Rosy.

FYI: Issue #12 of Silly Daddy, the conclusion to “A Death in the Family,” will be out in January at your local comic shop. Joe is also one of the few self-publishers whose work is being distributed through magazine stands, so you might be able to find his comic at larger bookstores. If you still have trouble finding Silly Daddy, write to Joe directly at 2209 Northgate Ave., N. Riverside, II. 60546-1339 and send $3 for the latest issue. Joe also has selected back issues and copies of The Long Goodbye, a 100-page graphic novel that reprints the first seven issues.

Joe Chiappetta’s Recommended Reading

“Aside from The Revival by James Sturm, most other offset-printed comics aren’t worth the glossy paper that they are printed on. My three favorite comics—and the only ones that I actually drop everything to read—are King Cat by John Porcellino, Strange Growths by Jenny Zervakis, and The Magic Whistle by Sam Henderson. All these comics profoundly grab me by the loins and have been doing so for years. Ironically, these three titles are all photocopied and digest-sized.”

Recommended Reading

Skeleton Key: This wonderful comic by Andi Watson has a lot of things going for it. The lead characters are two intelligently written women drawn with believable measurements, who stumble upon a key that can open doors to anywhere. Watson writes some snappy dialogue and has a crisp, clean black-and-white style. To top it all off, Skeleton Key is published monthly and only costs S1.75 (a reasonable price for an independent series). Look for issue #19 in January, which begins a series of self-contained stories—an ideal jumping-on point. Drop a line to Slave Labor Graphics at 979 S. Bascom Ave, San Jose, CA 95128 or call them at 1-800-866-8929 for availability of back issues and Beyond the Threshold, a collection of the first six-issue storyline.

Keyhole: Tired of anthologies that won’t hold your attention for more than a two-page story? A nice alternative would be Dean Haspiel and Josh Neufeld‘s Keyhole. While not technically an anthology (it only features work by two people, and they don’t accept submissions), Keyhole has such a wide range of short stories, from travel strips based on Neufeld’s journey through Asia to Haspiel’s wonky superhero “Billy Dogma,” that every issue feels like an anthology. Haspiel’s stylized black-find-while art contrasts nicely with Neufeld’s earthy cartooning to make for a consistently good-looking comic. The third issue of Keyhole will be out in January, but if you have problems finding a copy you can write to Millennium Publications, 105 Edgewater Rd., Narragansett, RI 02882.

Smith Brown Jones: You might have caught a segment on “MTV News: Unfiltered” about Jon “Bean” Hastings and his comic Smith Brown Jones (which stars an alien who comes to Earth posing as a tabloid reporter). Hastings has a nice cartooning style and a knack for creative (and free!) advertising, and he’s got a pretty neat little book on his hands. You’re guaranteed to fall for this fun little comic. For a sample issue, just send $4 to Kiwi Studios, PO Box 468, San Ramon, CA 94583.

Tom Palmer Jr
Tom Palmer Jr. is a writer/editor/web developer. He also once had a job filling perfume bottles on an assembly line.

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