Mike San Giacomo's Drive-In Diary

Tales of the Starlight Drive-In

To promote my new Image graphic novel Tales Of The Starlight Drive-In , I’m taking to the road like Peter Fonda out to discover America.

Except I’ll be driving a Ford Escape with the “I STILL BLAME YOKO” bumper sticker instead of a motorcycle. And over the summer I’ll visit drive-in theaters around the Midwest and East Coast. Though I could be convinced to go further.

I‘ll be visiting drive-ins in no particular order, signing copies of the book along with any stray artists I can pick up. As of this writing, I’m only a couple theaters into it and already I’m surprised at what a great time I’m having. Hey, this is cool and I’m making a little cash on the side.

In the coming months, I’ll write about recent signings and announce upcoming signings. If you’re in the area, load up the Chrysler and come on out to the drive-in. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll like it. C’mon, you know you wanna.

JUNE 6, 2008

FIRST SIGNING: The Aut-O-Rama Drive-In, North Ridgeville, Ohio.


The Aut-O-Rama had to be my first signing and it had to take place two days after the release of the Image graphic novel. It was exactly, to the day, on the 75th anniversary of the opening of the first drive-in theater in the freaking world. And that drive-in was in? Class? Anyone? Camden, N.J., though one drive-in owner insists it was actually a few feet outside Camden in Pennsauken.

Yes, the release date was just as I planned it.

Not buying that? Me neither. Actually, it was an amazing coincidence but that won’t stop me from taking credit for it.

Owner Deb Sherman had the place all goosed up for the celebration. She allowed me to hang my monstrous 6 X 8 foot canvas Starlight poster in the front window for a week ahead of time. She also posted the cover and a nice story about the signing on her website and alerted her e-mail list of customers.

That’s one thing I learned very quickly: drive-ins have a very sophisticated e-mail web that is amazingly well read. I was getting calls all week from people asking me about the show. Very nice.

But, really, these are not comic book people, these are drive-in people. Are they going to want to buy a $20 book and have me sign it?

Believing there is strength in numbers, I enlisted two of my local Starlight artists, Sean McArdle and DERF (that’s it, just DERF) to join me at the table.

We set up just a few minutes before they opened the box office and watched as the cars, vans and trucks filtered in to see Iron Man and Indiana Jones on one screen and Zohan and Made of Honor on the other screen. I’m happy to say that Iron Man beat Zohan two-to-one.

The first few curious people, a couple in their 40s, walked up and started thumbing through the book, not quite sure what to make of it.

I went into my patented spiel: “This is a series of 32 stories set in a drive-in theater over a 53-year-period. Each story can be read separately and it makes perfect sense, but when read together forms a single novel, each story being connected. And each story has something to do, if only tangentially, to the movie being played at the time…”

Okay, I might have given that pitch about 900 times.

To my surprise, they bought a book and asked all three of us to sign it. Wow, first sale at a drive-in. Cool.

Then I realized that other people were standing around looking at the book. Another couple came over and said words that make every newspaper reporter cringe, “Remember us?”

I smiled, as I went through my mental filing cabinet of people I’d interviewed recently. Got it.

“Sure, I talked to you guys here a couple years ago when I was writing a feature on drive-ins, (actually part of my Starlight research project, disguised as an article for the Plain Dealer),” I said, hoping I was right.

I was.

They come to the drive-in every weekend and watch whatever is playing. In fact, they had moved away for a while and one of the reasons they returned was so that they could go to the drive-in. And that’s when it occurred to me, people who go to drive-ins are a lot different from people who go to regular theaters. They don’t seem to feel as entitled, they’re very easy going.

For people who’ve never been to a drive-in it’s like this: for a few hours at night the drive-in becomes a community. People park their cars/vans/trucks, often backwards, and spread out blankets and those fold-up chairs they use at football games.

Kids are romping all over the place. People are walking dogs, carrying cats, one woman had a descented skunk she takes everywhere with her. Over there, some teenagers were throwing a football around. Little kids were dressed in their pj's so they could fall asleep before the second show started. Older teenagers, mostly girls also wore pj's, though I suppose it was more for creature comfort than anything else.

Most were wearing those glow-in-the-dark things around their heads and necks.

Everyone was eating tubs of buttered popcorn (the real stuff), burgers made from fresh ground beef and lots and lots of candy.

And everyone was talking.

Not just to the person they came with, but to their neighbors. When was the last time you talked to the stranger sitting next to you at an indoor theater? No way. There’s a Sue Richards invisible force field in the five inches between the seats.

But at the drive-in, people talk to one another before and in between the films. It’s kind of…nice.

Back at the signing table, Sean signed his story in the book, the first story. He was hawking some really nice 11 by 17 signed prints of his alternate covers (one of which is on the back cover of the book.) They were going over pretty well, people guessing what movies the covers were from. Most correctly guessed From Here To Eternity and Psycho, can’t fool movie people.

DERF was amazed at the turnout as he signed his own story as well as copies of his own books, “Trashed,” his true adventures as a garbage collector, and “Dahmer,” the even truer memories of a guy he went to high school with who became a cannibalistic mass murderer. If you've never seen them, you're missing an experience. Go to http://www.derfcity.com/ for a look.

He regaled people with this great story about the day his wife, Sheryl Harris, then an Akron Beacon Journal reporter, called to tell him that a guy he went to high school with had been arrested for killing and eating people.

When people asked if he was shocked, DERF gave them his best deadpan look and said, “Actually, I was. Jeffrey Dahmer was my second guess.”

Okay. The people backed away very slowly.

I was disappointed that he did not bring samples from his upcoming book Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. When asked what the book is about, he dolefully responds, “Well, it’s about punk rock and trailer parks.”

On the cool side, the book (available in September from Top Shelf) features Elmo, the guy in the lawn tractor featured in DERF’s Starlight story, in a solo adventure.

Wow, the first Starlight spin-off!

A young kid, all hair and baggy clothes, (I still don't know if he was a boy or a girl,) swiped a book an “I Did It At The Starlight Drive-In” t-shirt. Some attentive salesmen we were. My wife noticed it but declined to tackle the perp.

The signing went pretty quickly and we sold a ton of books, three times as many as I sold at a certain comic convention (COUGH Wizard World Philly COUGH.)

We were reaching out to a whole new audience brought together not because they loved comics or graphic novels, but because they loved what the OGN was about.

We were fellow travelers of a genre.

Hey, this drive-in thing might just work out.

UPCOMING INSTALLMENTS: The historic Lynn Drive-in in Strasburg, Ohio; Bengies in Baltimore; the Delsea in Vineland, N.J.; The Sundance Kid in Toledo and the Ford-Wyoming in Detroit.

FUTURE SIGNINGS: July 26: The South Bay Drive-in in San Diego!; Aug. 2: The Mayfield Road Drive-in in Chardon, OH; Aug. 9: The Sunset Drive-in in Mansfield, OH.

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