Karl Christian Krumpholz is a historian of the most seamy, lurid thoroughfare in Denver: Colfax Avenue. His medium is his webcomic, 30 Miles of Crazy! where he trawls the street for stories of drunkenness, depravity, and insanity. Now he's rolled the archives of the comic into one handy paperback: the 30 Miles of Crazy! Collection: True-ish Tales of Derelicts, Bars, & Denizens of Other Low Places.
The release of the book will be celebrated with a release party at Mutiny Information Cafe on September 20 at 6 p.m., where fellow cartoonists and authors will read his stories and share their love of "The Longest, Wickedest Street in America."
We tracked Krumpholz down at one of his favorite watering holes, Tooey's Off Colfax, to tell us his own story: he dishes on the Denver comics scene, the death of Colfax's dive bars, and how he stacks up against his caricature of himself.
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Westword: What is it abut Colfax that brings all these stories up?
Karl Christian Krumpholz: My theory is that every city has a main drag, where people glom onto. Boston has Bass Avenue, Philadelphia has Broad Street, New York has Broadway. Colfax has a life of its own... I keep going back to Playboy: it's "The wickedest street in America." That's an actual quote from Playboy in the '70s. All the insanity happens to it. It's all centered around there. That's where most of the people approach me now, because they know the comic, and tell me stories. Their stories.
South Broadway is crazy. But it's not "wicked."
It's nowhere near as insane as Colfax. The history of it, too. The old red-light district was downtown, and once they tried to clean up Market Street 100 years ago, all the crazies came up here, to Colfax. I don't know how true it is, but I heard there were mental hospitals all along here. It's down to urban legend now.
It seems like you have a big interest in history, where did that come from?
I've always had it. Maybe it was growing up on the East Coast, where Revolutionary War stuff is. I've even got a World War I book right here, because the next project I'm doing is a World War I comic. I like that idea of looking at history and saying, 'This is where we came from.'
How long have you been taking down these stories?
Probably about a year, a year and a half.
But you were hearing them before the comic even started.
Yeah, I was. And before I started the comic, I thought about doing a comic centered on Colfax, and I couldn't get my head around it. But then I started hearing the bar stories, and that seemed like a natural fit, and all the weirdness that people encounter in Denver. That's a thing that people from other cities can relate to, because everyone has bar stories. Everyone can relate to bar stories. But there's the weird insanity of it all, because a lot of the bar stories are fueled by alcohol. And there's that element of danger -- because of the alcohol, no one knows which way it's gonna go. I like that.
How would you describe the comics community that you're a part of in Denver?
There's a really good artistic cartooning community here in Denver. There's me, there's Noah [Van Sciver], there's Ted Intorcio, Lonnie Allen, there's the Dead Academy guys, there are the Squid Works guys. There's really good cartooning here in Denver. I've lived in three different cities, and this is probably the best I've seen. Everyone on the East Coast is like, 'I'm doing my own thing.' Everyone's up their own ass.
You're a part of Denver Drink & Draw, too. So when a bunch of cartoonists get together with a bunch of alcohol, what happens?
It's not as crazy as you might think. [Laughs.] A lot of times we just sit around drawing and drinking and telling stories. Going to Drink & Draw is just like meeting all your friends, having some drinks, discussing what you're working on for 2-3 hours. And then we all just go over to like, Thin Man, the drawing stops and the drinking continues. We just shit-talk the industry, like 'Can you believe what Marvel is doing? Can you believe what DC is doing?' But most of the people at the Drink and Draw are not superhero related. We all do our own alternative, indie work.
It does seem like alcohol is the catalyst for a lot of these stories.
Yeah, as I said, it loosens people up, they're more able to tell the stories, and there's that element of no one knows what's going to happen. And I do illustrate for Modern Drunkard as well, so I'm in with those guys.
So what role has booze played in your life? Have you worked behind the bar?
I've just been on this side of the bar -- I guess since I turned 21. Starting on the East Coast, I was more of a beer drinker back there. As I get older, [adopts pinched, snobby voice] my palate has gotten sophisticated, and I drink whiskey now. It's always been in my life. Living in Philadelphia, drinking Yuengling, and Boston, where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a beer bar -- it's always been there. And Denver's got some fantastic bars. I've lived here for about seven or eight years, and the way Colfax is now compared to how it was then, it's completely different. I like that idea of keeping a little bit of how it was like, through the comic.
What was it like?
Well, a lot of the guys telling me stories are like, 'This is how it was in the 80s, kid.' So many of these bars are changing. We still have Nob Hill over here, but we've lost the Roslyn [Inn]. We lost T. Boyd's across the street, that was one of the first bars I came to when I moved to Denver. The Squire just got renovated. They're really cleaning up Colfax. A lot of the old, slightly dangerous bars are going away. The only one I can think of is Nob Hill -- where you crack open the door and people are like [pantomimes shielding his face] 'Argh! Light!'
But beyond these alcohol-fueled misadventures, you have other arcs in the book, like going to your father's funeral. What it's like having you put yourself out there in your work?
The funeral story was the hardest one I had to write. And It's all true. That was the one that I think is the heart of the book. There's hardly any drinking in that storyline, except for the end, and that was drinking in Philadelphia. I think after telling all these crazy stories, I think it needed a little bit of craziness from my life. That is my favorite story in there, because of that. And the hardest panel I ever had to draw happened right out here [points to the Tooey's patio]. A week before he died, I was drinking here and he called me... That's when he finally told me he loved me. Weirdness.
Is there much of difference between Karl on paper and Karl in real life?
I'm sure there is. [I] kind of dial It up a couple notches. I don't think I'm as alcoholic as I am in the book. [To the bartender] I'm not an alcoholic, am I?
Bartender: Nah. You're an amateur.
See? Even my partner... She's a lot more bubbly in the comic than she is in real life. In most of the comics, I'm the straight guy, just looking at everything like 'What is going on?' One of the reasons I started doing the book was to deal with Denver. I've lived here for eight years, and I'm still finding these new little corners, and people and characters -- oh my God, the amount of characters I encounter here in Denver is amazing. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that Denver seems to be one of those crossroads places. I don't want to say people just wind up here -- but they do just wind up here. Coming from Boston and Philadelphia... Sure, there are characters out there, but not as colorful as I've met out here. And they're a lot more open to telling their stories. Especially after a drink.