SPX Talks: C. Spike Trotman (with a review of Poorcraft) / by Patrick Smith

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Alright I'm going to try to keep this short because I doubt any of you want to read a long review just so you can read an equally long (but far more interesting) interview so let me start by saying this: I would not be surprised at all if C. Spike Trotman and Diana Nock's Poorcraft became a full blown phenomenon. For one this book definitely has the sort of "right place, right time" thing going with it given the recession and a ton of people getting out of school to find that they're going to have to learn some tricks to keep their bank accounts afloat. Poorcraft does have a story in place where Penny, our guide to living via Poorcraft, helps out her friend Mil who over the course of the book seems to be in more dire financial straights then she's letting one and all the while the book outlines the various ways you could live cheaper and better with a lot of handy tips and tricks for living on a budget but also living well. Unlike so many "self help" books though it isn't so much a lecture as it is some carefully thought out suggestions. The big flaw with a lot of self help books is that theres the implication of that you need to follow their instructions implicitly or you'll fail along with this idea that your getting the inside track on some sort of unique knowledge, with Poorcraft you never get that. In fact most of the information that is presented in Poorcraft could be seen as common knowledge (albeit with a vary particular point of view) but even then this would work best if you mix and match the certain techniques listed with your particular lifestyle instead of an all or nothing approach. Example: I'm probably never going to go foraging or raise my own chickens, but I could stand to learn to cook a few things other than pasta and this book gives me some tips on how to do that. I'm probably never going to go back to school but I could use some help finding cheap housing. I'm probably wont be selling my car but it would be nice to have some options for some potentially cheaper methods for long distance travel for trips and ect. The final selling point is the fantastic art by Diana Nock which sort of harkens back to old black and white cartoons which I can't help but feel is meant to evoke thoughts of the great depression, the only other time in our nations history except for now where people needed to know how to stretch a dollar but at the same time I might be reading to much into it and its just a compelling art choice (after the interview I talked with Spike and Nock a little bit about the art and they said it was directly inspired by the work of another cartoonist whose name I am blanking on due to the fact my recorder was off, perhaps someone can jump into the comments and help me out?). Any way, the point is that overall Poorcraft is a light but substantial read that not only uses the comics medium well but makes a strong case that comics can be a used as educational tools that could prove to be far more accessible for some than a dusty old textbook.

Now on to the Interview: C. Spike Trotman is one hard working cartoonist as you'll see from this interview. Having established herself with the webcomic Templar, Arizona she has currently been branching out with some very interesting projects such as Poorcraft and Smut Peddler, an anthology of lady friendly erotica. Talking with Spike proved to be pretty interesting as she has a lot of thoughts on the nature of working in the arts, crowd sourcing, the nature of pornography as art and just generally staying busy with diverse and interesting projects. 

Spandexless: Did you get your start in comics with Templar, Arizona?

C. Spike Trotman: I did not get my start with Templar, Arizona, I was doing mini comics back in high school and that’s the first time I think you could really say I was doing comics and making money off of them and they were shameless, shameless rip offs of Fun with Milk and Cheese by Evan Dorkin. Who is responsible for getting me back into comics after I fell out of comics years ago when, if anybody here remembers the mainstream Age of Apocalypse, when I was reading eXcalibur at the time and there was a point where you had to buy four different titles to follow the storyline. Which made me very confused and I began realizing exactly what it is Marvel expected me to do and then I was like, and pardon my French but “Fuck This!” and I just stopped reading comics for years. Then in High School I had a friend who was very, very into Gaimans Endless, especially Death she liked all the Death comics and all the Sandman comics and we were driving somewhere, she had the car, and she said “I need to go to the comic shop and get my pull box and I swear it wont take long, just a second” so we went there and while I was waiting for her I saw Fun with Milk and Cheese on a shelf, and I loved it and bought it and I got back into comics that very day.

So my first experimental comics were rip offs of Fun with Milk and Cheese, after doing those minis I did a sci fi mini called Wreckers which I’m actually rebooting as a web comic hopefully in a years time if everything goes right and after that I started doing web comics. I did a very experimental called Spark Beetle, which was largely inspired by Jim Woodring style storytelling along with a comic I did for a website called Girlamatic that was called Lucas and Odessa, which I would also like to revisit one day, but I started Templar when I was twenty five and it has become my bread and butter for years on end. I’ve only just begun expanding this year into things like Poorcraft which I only wrote and did not illustrate, my good friend Diana Nock illustrated that, and finally Smut Peddler which I have a story in but it’s a 342 page anthology of lady friendly erotica, mostly done by ladies, which I’ve got sixteen pages in that. So….yeah, that’s what I’ve been up to.

S: Wow, well nobody can accuse you of slacking off. I definitely want to get into Smut Peddler a little bit later but you edited that right?

CST: I edited it, I organized it, I footed the bill for it as one of the most important things to me is that artists get paid. I would never ask an artist to work for free, I think that’s the bane of the creative anything just being asked to work for free constantly when you are a skilled professional and have special talents and people expect you to not eat [laughs] and contribute to their project. Of all the projects I do like this I’m the only person that doesn’t get a paycheck, everyone in Smut Peddler got a page rate, a bonus, and comp copies. I have plans for other anthologies in the future and I honestly want that to be the model in the future for all anthologies: a page rate, a bonus, comps. If you want to support the arts and you want to support artists you pay them, that’s what you do.

S: When can we expect to see that?

CST: Smut Peddler will be on sale for people who were not part of the original Kickstarter in October.

S: Cool, truth be told I wanted to contribute money to Smut Peddler when it originally came out but given that I was dead broke at the time I couldn’t, which as depressing as that may be it segues nicely into Poorcraft! So like you said this is just something you wrote, I’m really interested in what was the genesis for this project?

CST: Like “Smut Peddler” Poorcraft was a book I had been thinking about doing for years, its basically the book I wish somebody had handed me when I turned eighteen. A lot of the stuff in there, but not all of it as I’ve never declared bankruptcy for example or have collection agencies call as I’m not a huge fan of credit cards but a lot of it is stuff that would have really helped out if someone had just handed me that book. I did get a number of books growing up that were all like, you know, “Lifes Little Instruction Manuel’s” is a good example but I never read any of them. What I did read however, and what kind of inspired “Poorcraft” in a lot of ways was Larry GonicksCartoon History of the Universe” and that basically made me evangelical about comics ability to educate. I think people have a lot more fun learning from a comic than a dry textbook or just prose, and I wanted to make a book that was sort of a life manual for people new to independent living or just people who want to save a buck by downshifting into a less expensive life which is something I know would get read. Because what’s the use of buying it for them if their not going to read it. I’ve been told Poorcraft is a very quick read, its an enjoyable read, its educational so it hits all the points that I wanted.

S: It is a quick read, I read it last night and was pretty surprised by that fact given the level of information within it. Poorcraft has a very interesting structure in place because it does have an actual story between Penny and her friend Mil but it also treads that line of being a combination story, how-to guide, and lecture. So when you were writing it did you ever say to yourself “ok, I might be coming on a little to strong here” or anything like that?

CST: Well, the reason Penny has a dog in the book is so the dog can do funny things in the background [laughs] while it gets a little dry in points. I wanted the dog to be sort of comedic relief and every once in awhile there’ll be some weird sort of joke in there about how the dog has a paper route and it spends all the paper route money on fast food hamburgers but you cant talk to him about it because he’s a dog and comments like that I think lighten the mood and make it a little bit more enjoyable. I knew that it kind of fell in the danger zone of being a little too dry a little to lecture-y so I made sure that it was light on judgment and that it had moments that were funny because I had to keep people reading and I think the way people tell me “Wow, I cant believe I finished it” like you just did means that there weren’t any slogs and that means I was successful.

S: Your tabling with the books artist Diana Nock, so how did you guys get together for this project? Were you friends before hand or….?

CST: Ah, internet. [laughs] We were friends on the internet for a long time, we met at a con years ago and we would talk on forums so we were just pals for awhile. Then I was just saying “You know, I want someone to help me draw this book that I have an idea for” and it was 2009 and I had just heard of Kickstarter, like a friend of mine was just asking me if I had heard of this website and it was kind of interesting and they were telling me on a panel we were doing, we were on stage and they were explaining it to me and it was quit for a moment I went “….That’s cool!” so I ran home and went “Oh, there’s this idea I had for awhile. I need an artist for it. Diana can be the artist. What’s the page rate? Fifty dollars. Ok”. Its amazing how easy it is to find an artist when your willing to pay them, which goes back to my whole “pay the artist” thing.

S: Which sort of leads us back to the beginning, you just mentioned Kickstarter which is how Smut Peddler or at least the collection got its funding and I’m a guy who….well its “Smut” [laughs] so its basically porn comics but you can correct me on that -

CST: Yes, its porn. Its straight up pornography [laughs].

S: Ok, so now I’m curious to you what is the criteria for porn to become art or vice versa?

CST: Porn can be art, art can be porn. I think what is often forgotten in this modern day and age is when you go into museums and you see things like Aphrodite emerging form the surf pictures or Io being seduced by Jupiter in the form of a cloud, we stand in front of them now and we rub our chins and go “Oh, isn’t this fine art! Look at the anatomy, look at this, look at that” and back in the day that was porn. Gentlemen had that in there salons where they curtains across them in case a lady saw. That was meant to be titillating, all those perfectly rendered nudes that was part of their purpose. They were art but they also meant to “inspire” [laughs] you know if I can use a euphemism. So I don’t think its as easy as drawing a line between “This is art and this is porn and never the twain shall meet”. I think a lot of art is about context and I think anything in Smut Peddler you could take and put on a wall and say its art. So to me everything in Smut Peddler is both art and porn and not just in the strictest of “someone made it with ink and paper so its art” so I think its all art and its all porn.

S: Well I suppose all that’s left is for me to ask the question I’m asking everyone which is what is one thing you saw at this years SPX that made you excited for comics?

CST: Hmm, I saw a lot of things but the nice thing about SPX is that this is really the show that all other indie shows aspire to be and this is the show you come to and see issues of “No Brow” and stuff like that but I have to say I already have a genuine appreciation for an artist named McBess, and I’m sitting here in conflict right now deciding whether or not to go back over to I believe the AdHouse Books booth and buy a BIG McBess portfolio because the way he draws just makes my day. He’s a fairly established artist, there’s nothing new about him but I first came to know him for the design work he did for a music video I saw online and he draws these lolling tongues sticking out of fanged mouths and these horrible hipster monster creatures covered in tattoos with these black hole eyes and I just really dig it.

Poorcraft is written by C. Spike Trotman and illustrated by Diana Nock. You can purchase a copy here as well as pre-order a copy of Smut Peddler