We were in Chuck Hype’s photo studio in Ye Olde Kensington where I had just handed Dominic Fromagé his welcoming gift for joining the Get Hype team.
“Oh, for me?” he crooned.
His face was glowing with the luster of a child on Christmas as he unsheathed a bottle of wine from the paper bag I had given him.
“Ooh, a nice red, I see? You really went all out for me, didn’t you?” Fromagé said, quietly inspecting the label.
“The finest wine that ten dollars can get a man,” I replied as I sipped a teacup full of bourbon. Our photo gear was almost packed. Get Hype tradition dictated that those of us working that night must enjoy a pre-shoot glass of Old Granddad.
“So what’s this about?” Fromagé asked as he sipped from his own cup of bourbon. The previous day we were informed of the release party for Book One of “Hopalong Camanshii and the Synaptic Kush”; the first in a series of 100 comics from Philadelphia artist Anthony Tyrone Howard.
“Well, our source didn’t tell us too much about the event,” I said, swallowing another gulp. “It’s a dystopian superhero thing apparently, but it’s also semi-erotic? Either way, he was quick to point out that it definitely was not porn.”
Silence followed my final statement. I followed this silence by finishing the bourbon.
“So there’s that,” Hype chimed in while putting away the last of the lenses.
And out we went, loading everything into the SS Caprice (the “unofficial” company vehicle) before setting off through the streets of Fishtown. The book release was taking place at W Studios, the gallery and studio space of Philadelphia photographer Whitney Thomas. We parked the car a couple blocks away and were unloading the Caprice when Hype told us that we would be meeting up with Michelob. Michelob was an IT professional by day and drone photography specialist for Get Hype by night. Since an art studio is clearly no place to fly a drone, Michelob was assigned the task of shooting additional video footage on a regular camera.
We met up with him outside the studio on Delaware Avenue. Michelob isn’t a big drinker; he was the only one among us who wasn’t toting a bottle of cheap red wine to the BYO release party. When the three of us checked to make sure out bottles were secured Michelob could only roll his eyes.
We walked through the front doors and stepped into a majestic lobby. The building that houses W Studios (located at 1080 N. Delaware Avenue) is a multi-tiered office and art complex across the street from Sugarhouse Casino. Inside we were met with tastefully crafted wooden walls and a marble floor. The release party was on the 5th floor, so we followed the corridor to the elevators and rode upwards.
We took the first left after stepping off the elevator and found ourselves at the doorway to a spacious, 1,800 sq. ft. studio lined with prints along the walls. The northern side of the room consisted of huge, 17 ft. windows that provided guests with a fantastic view of the North Philadelphia skyline.
Hype, Fromagé, and I opened our wine bottles and clink them together in celebration once everything was set up. Michelob mimed the same with an empty hand. As we took our first sips of the night, a man (who I’d later learn was the artist of the night, Anthony Tyrell Howard) was fixing large sheets of poster board.
At this point Hype and Fromagé set aside their wine and went – cameras in hand – to explore the entirety of the space and figure out the lighting situation while Michelob and I stood in front of the scene unfolding before us. Once Howard had finished setting up the boards he chose several Sharpies from a supply on the floor and began to draw.
I sat down in one of the seats nearby and gave the room a proper survey. It was just after 9 PM, and aside from the Get Hype crew I estimated another 20–30 people present. In a space so large such a gathering seemed sparsely attended. No sooner than the thought entered my head, another 15 people came through the door. More and more people would flood the gallery as the night progressed.
On the opposite side of the room and in the southern corner was a DJ spinning an inspired mix of hip-hop, R&B, and jazz. As a former Jazz band-geek I was excited. After 10 or 15 minutes of sipping wine and enjoying the tunes, Hype came out of nowhere with wine stained lips and camera in hand.
“Dude… this is like, a free jazz DJ set. This is amazing!” he yelled loudly in my ear. Before I could retort, Hype disappeared into the ever-increasing crowd now filling up the studio.
Around this time, Howard stepped away from his drawings on the wall. While I was busy drinking my wine and listening to the DJ he had sketched several figures on the poster board and invited anyone and everyone to take part in adding to the budding mural on the wall. Several people joined in and despite Michelob’s encouraging me to do so, I declined (citing my lack of artistic talent as the reason for not embarrassing myself or ruining an otherwise amazing piece of art).
“Yo, check out those cupcakes!” Fromagé shouted in my other ear.
Just behind me and was a magnificent display of baked goods; regular cakes, an assortment of cupcakes decorated in a variety of designs, and so on.
“Oh shit, is that red velvet?” I exclaimed. “I’ma go check those out right quick…”
I placed my bottle of wine in between two seats and tried my best to act casual as I made my way over to the dessert table. Cupcakes hold a special place in my heart, and I was far too excited for the baked goods graciously provided by Sweet Treat Boutique. I had to mask my internal excitement.
I sheepishly snagged one of the red velvet confections and a napkin and made my way back over to my bottle of wine and the rest of the Get Hype team. Fromagé, Hype and Michelob discussed shooting for the remainder of the night as I took the first bite of my cupcake. I was not prepared for the wave of flavors and sensations that washed over my palette.
“I might have just found God,” I stated.
“Huh?” Michelob asked incredulously.
“This cupcake – it’s… beautiful.”
“Yo, I need to get some of that!” Fromagé exclaimed as he barreled his way over to the table. When he came back all he had was an empty wrapper in his hand and a smile on his face.
“True,” he concurred through a mouth full of cupcake.
I saw this as a good opportunity to step outside for a cigarette. The cool breeze from the riverfront washed over me.
When I’d finished smoking, Howard was in the process of welcoming everyone to the “Hopalong Caamanshii Release Party” and introduced the first in the evening’s performances. A girl approached the keyboard in the corner of the gallery and began to perform her first song acapella, eventually moving onto a piano driven ballad.
Following the first performance was a burlesque routine performed by Miss Gemini Rose. While she was setting up, Michelob mentioned that he had never been to a burlesque show before and wanted to know what to expect. Since my experiences into the world of burlesque could be counted on one hand I wasn’t much help.
After Miss Rose’s performance an aspiring rapper took the limelight. The DJ cued up his songs and he performed two tracks without the aid of a mic, which was unique but made it hard to hear. His stage presence indicated a certain level of skill that made us wish we could have heard him a little better.
Next, it was time for a little spoken word provided by Warren and Miguel from Get Lucid. Both guys gave energetic and witty readings of original poems and had the crowd laughing and hollering. Gemini Rose rounded out the night with a final performance, during which one lucky audience member was invited “onstage” for a personalized portion of her routine.
My wine was almost gone. The performances were finished. I stepped outside for another cigarette, enjoying my respite in the cool night’s air. I was able to finish most of my smoke before Hype came outside looking for me.
“Yo, Anthony’s down to do a little interview thing if you want,” he said, motioning with his thumb towards the studio’s interior.
“Word,” I flicked my cig butt into the street and followed Hype back upstairs.
After a few initial introductions, we found a relatively quiet portion of hallway to talk and suddenly our guerrilla interview was underway. For the last 20 years Anthony Tyrone Howard worked as an interactive designer for a variety of companies in advertising. After two decades in the corporate world he decided to go back to his graphic novel roots and finally do something for himself.
Enter “Hopalong Camanshii and the Synaptic Kush.”
The first book in the series debuted on February 22nd. It was the first of 100 total books that he has committed to. Book 2 was released on June 22nd. Books 3 and 4 have tentative release dates in November and December respectively. “Hopalong” follows the story of a musical outfit called the “Synaptic Kush,” and takes places in Philadelpha in the far future.
“In typical post-apocalyptic fashion, everything has gone to shit,” Howard noted, “and I really didn’t want to focus on that part [the destruction], but rather the rebuilding.”
As such, the “Synaptic Kush” is chosen by a group of higher dimensional beings that use music as a conduit to converse with Earth. The members of the Kush are granted the power to use their music as a means to prepare the Earth for ascension into the next dimension. After 700 years they will be judged based on the use of their powers; the fate of all humanity lies in their music. Heavy stuff, indeed.
“So what was the inspiration for this?” I asked.
“I’ve been very transparent – during a very intense trip on mushrooms in Amsterdam,” Howard explained, “I remember seeing the name ‘Hopalong Camanshii’ over and over and over again. So it just stuck. I actually sketched the first few pages of a previous issue of this in Amsterdam. The character ‘Ivan Psilocybin’ is my dedication to the substance that inspired the idea.”
As the interview progressed, it was clear that Howard’s passion for art transcends description. Whether he’s working with Creative Tech Works as an educator or opening up his comic book concept to fans, Howard lives and breathes art (anyone who puts $50 or more towards his work can find themselves existing as a 2D manifestation in “Hopalong Camanshii”).
It was after 1 AM, and we all needed a break. Howard parted ways with us, and the rest of the team decided it was a good move to take the party elsewhere. We packed up our gear, took the elevator down the ground level and felt the sobering riverfront air wash over us. The call of El Bar was undeniable despite having already drunk almost an entire bottle of wine (and a glass of Granddad), so we headed back to the car to drop everything off before heading out to drink more.
Outside the SS Caprice I realized I still had wine left.
“The fuck?” Fromagé yelled at me as he straddled the roof of the Caprice.
“What?” I asked, pounding the last bit of the bottle.
“We finished ours like an hour ago – hurry the fuck up!”
I went to toss the empty bottle back in the car when Fromagé stopped me.
“There’s a perfectly good parking lot for you to throw that in,” he said.
I thought about it for a minute. Thought about my level of drunkenness. Thought about the potential legal ramifications of tossing my wine in an empty lot.
And did it anyway.
Sadly, the reinforced glass/plastic combo of the wine bottle refused to cave to the punishment of the concrete.
“Give me that,” Fromagé said, and tossed the bottle high and far.
So far that it climbed the barrier of 95 and met the highway with a thunderous crash.
With that, the crew realized it was time to make ourselves scarce and wander the streets of Fishtown.
The Bottom Line:
The release party for “Hopalong Camanshii and the Synaptic Kush” was a ridiculous amount of fun. The performances were great, the cupcakes were fantastic, and Anthony Tyrone Howard’s artwork was a site to behold. Anyone who is a fan of graphic novels, kind substances, or all around quality artwork should check out “Hopalong Camanshii.”