SPX Talks: Tom Scioli / by David Anderson


Tom Scioli comes off as a bit of a quiet guy, which as far as artists goes seems pretty normal. Still, once you find out what makes him tick he’s enjoyable to talk to and his artwork for American Barbarian, Godland and The Myth of 8-Opus is fantastic. The work he’s done and the work he has yet to do are all things to check out and look forward to. I found him pretty friendly and willing to chat about a bunch of stuff. Since this was my first acquaintance with his art, I mostly went with an introductory kind of interview--to give you guys the lowdown on his style, his mindset and basic stuff like that. So here goes: Spandexless: All right so, this is Dave Anderson with Spandexless and I'm with:

Tom Scioli: Tom Scioli.

S: He's the author of American Barbarian, and he's done a bunch of other work--what is that, Godland over there?

TS: Yep.

S: And uh, fun fact: Pretty sure he got a hand transplant from Jack Kirby, because his style is almost exactly the same--it's ridiculous how good his work is. American Barbarian's especially interesting as it feels like a traditional Jack Kirby story--like it's right out of his era. So what do you want to say about it?

TS: Yeah--for me, I feel like the things I've been doing leading up to American Barbarian were where I was first consciously trying to emulate Kirby, and then American Barbarian was where I let however it was going to come out just come out--it sorta showed me that I've probably internalized so much of the lessons I learned from Kirby that it might be an influence that I'll be unable to shake, so, uh....

S: I mean, do you want to shake it?

TS: I don't necessarily want to shake it but it's not something I'm chasing anymore--there was a time when I really wanted to do that, but well, surface stylistics aren't so much of a goal of mine now; I'm trying to look at the broader range of things I can accomplish with comics whereas earlier I was more obsessed with surface.

S: The thing I noticed about--I mean, I read the whole thing last night because it was so entertaining--

TS: Thanks.

S: --the thing was--what got me was that there was a lot of symbolism in there, and--it's about America, right?

TS: Right.

DA: What was your intention in writing this? Was it satire, was it an homage to Kirby, what?

DA: I just wanted to tell like a really entertaining and immersive adventure story, and I wanted to create a world and universe, which is something I've always done... I think this is one is like all the other sort of universes I've created before, where it's entirely divorced from reality, like it's a totally separate reality that doesn't intersect with ours in any way, and it's like Godland, in that it's like a heightened sort of superhero world. But with American Barbarian it was the first time I was building a world and I was trying to make it out of the chewed up bits and pieces of our world and it sort of allowed me to--like, nothing was off limits. Like, if you're making a Lord of the Rings kind of world, there's certain things people can't say or make reference to because--like, in order to know what a car is, you need to look at a world that has those things, or if you want to know what chocolate is, you look at a world that has those things. And since I figured American Barbarian I figured since it's made up of the wreckage of the world that we live in, I have access to everything. There's nothing a person could say that could not be credible because the world they live in--even though it's a totally constructed world, it's made of the same puzzle pieces of our world.

DA: Personally I just found the story hilarious because the dialogue switched between epic and American slang--it's like the kind of story people did in Kirby's day and people don't take that kind of story seriously anymore.

TS: You definitely hit on something there--that's a deep part of Kirby's appeal that isn't necessarily apparent. Some of his best works would sort of combine incredibly ephemeral pop culture things and then combine them with incredibly profound literary references, biblical references--

DA: Right, I noticed that. (The next 20 seconds is garbled by background noise, we talked at his stand during a busy hour.)

DA: So, talk a little bit about some of your other stuff, what else you're doing, like Myth of 8 Opus.

TS: Well, Myth of 8 Opus was the first thing I did, it was like a Gods-At-War kind of story, and it's something I've sort of worked on for a big span of my career, I would put one out here and there, put out an anthology--it's something I'll eventually at some point get back to and you know, complete the cycle, but the thing I'm working on at the moment is a comic called Final Frontier, and like American Barbarian I'm serializing it online first and now that I'm getting it close to completion I'm taking it around to publishers to see if anybody wants to put out a graphic novel version of it--that's sort of my plan at the moment, serialize it online first, give it to the world first, and figure out if anyone has any ideas on how to make a really nice physical presentation.

DA: Yeah, that's definitely one of the things with the difference between print and online, the thing that appeals is the difference in experience.

TS: Yeah.

DA: Like, this is more solid state, it's one slick package.

TS: Yeah, each format has its own character, and different experience to bring, so that's definitely the way to go about it. Just treat them as different iterations of a story.

DA: Cool, all right. So, that's about it I guess, thanks for the talk.

TS: Yeah, it was fun.

DA: All right, Dave Anderson signing off.