Beer is the Answer
“Ah, good ol’ trustworthy beer. My love for you will never die.” ~ Homer Simpson
While covering the 2015 New York Comic Con for another website, I attended a panel that crossed over into the areas of brewing and comic books. I was curious as to how a panel with decidedly different interests might operate, or what it might cover. Tim Rozmus of Brooklyn Brewing was host of the panel, which included brewers from Grimm Artisanal Ales, Transmitter Brewing and Stillwater Artisanal, as well as artists for some of their labels. Well-known comic creator Khary Randolph, who designed the Brooklyn Defender character for the Brooklyn Defender IPA, carried the blood connection of comics and beer for the group. While it was generally a stilted panel with some difficulty finding a rhythm, it held a very interesting kernel of what could become a fun niche discussion at upcoming gatherings.
Beer does have a fairly storied history when it comes to comic art. Advertising slogans, page art or signs for establishments have seen their fair share of amusing art styles to draw the eye, spur whimsy and a flair for fun to entice a prospective drinker. Going further, at least two well-known breweries created goofy mascots to promote their beer. Budweiser’s Bud Man is easily the best known, though he’s mostly been retired to a specialty catalog status rather than repeated ads in print or over the air. Depending on where you live (or your age), you might or might not know of the Hamm’s bear, a cartoon mascot of the Hamm’s Brewery for television and print. The bear was so loved by the people of St. Paul, Minnesota that a statue was erected of it. Considering the absolute ridiculousness of pop culture fans hourly assaults on each other regarding whether or not Han shot first or if Spider-Man should be played by a Brit, the devotion shown to a cartoon bear that promoted beer is somewhat telling.
In 2004, novelist and then-future comic’s writer Duane Swierczynski finished a humorous publication called The Big Book o’ Beer, which I heartily read and gave out as gifts for as long as it remained in print. It was an open-armed love story with beer, breweries and all those dumb things people make with cans, bottles and ephemera. Great for a person that just “doesn’t get” the craft brew scene, as it showed exactly how and why the scene was becoming what it was.
Duane wouldn’t be the only comic book writer to jump into the beer vats, with the recently published Comic Book Story of Beer from 10 Speed Press. This book, a graphic novel depicting the origins of beer to the current industrialized status quo and the craft beer resurgence, honestly has little new to offer home brewers, beer historians or professionals. It’s a great reference for first timers, people that like beer and those that like pictures with their words, though. As a piece of sequential art, it’s a lovely book, with fun anecdotes and snippets of historical information that would probably shame other beer writings. There is a barely-veiled derision of mass-produced beers, one that they try to cover up and fail miserably at. If you still love your Miller High Life or Budweiser, you’re not going to be a fan of this, a somewhat self-serving interest in the craft brew industry as it now stands.
The Comic Book Story of Beer was written by Jonathan Hennessey, who has written other non-fiction graphic novels, and Mike Smith, head brewer at Back East Brewing, in my home state of Connecticut. There are now over 30 craft breweries in Connecticut, some of which have been around for quite some time and staked out a claim to the national market. There are so many now that the state even has a recognized, independently run Beer Trail, a great idea that could go a long way to making a state-to-state circuit for beer lovers far and wide. With the recent announcement of SABMiller to be acquired by Anheuser-Busch, it could be accepted thought that Hennessey and Smith are adding themselves to a very vocal battle between brewers and drinkers for and against the craft brew industry. I wish I had the art skills of the Comic Book Story of Beer‘s Aaron McConnell so I could draw up a massed army on both sides of the conflict for this page. It’d be awesome and it’d be true – big things are coming and everyone should be scared, especially the consumer.
The New York Comic Con has come and gone for 2015, but their presence lingers. In 2011, Brooklyn Brewery first released Brooklyn Defender in association with the con. While it was heavily promoted then and each year after, it seemed as if it hit an apex this past fall. Brooklyn Brewery announced that the beer is going national in 2016, so those of you in the farthest reaches of Brooklyn’s distribution network will soon learn the tale of the Defender. You could pair it up with a good book, like the Comic Book Story of Beer or a great comic, like Hellblazer, whose main character enjoyed more than a few pints in his day.
That is, unless you’re like me and take a pass with the IPAs.