Before I reviewed Pirate Eye, I got a chance to chat with creators Carl Yonder and Joe Grahn. We talked about how to blend up pirates and detectives, Space Ghost, and the seedy underbelly of Pirate Noir. Check it out.Read More
Jess Fink, creator of Chester 5000, was an absolute delight talking to. I ran into the same problem with her that I had with Sylvan Migdal; I am a huge fan of her work, but her work happens to be smut. There’s no easy way to approach this, so I took the liberty of editing out the five minutes of uncomfortable jokes before I started asking questions. This is my gift to you, the reader. Enjoy! Spandexless: So how did Chester 5000 Start?
Jess Fink: Well I wanted to do something that was easy for me to update often, and I was really into Tijaunana bibles at the time, and I really wanted to do something that was silent so that it would feel like a silent movie. I knew it was going to be dirty, so I didn’t want there to be all of this, like, text to get in the way. I just wanted it to flow and let the visuals tell the story. I figured, I could do ink-wash really quicly and I had a story I wanted to do. I had stories laid out, but it wasn’t laid out in any conrete form. It was more like, “Okay, this is gonna happen and thats gonna happen and this is gonna happen,” and then I’d just sit down and draw it. That’s basically how the first book happened.
S: What tools did you use?
JF: When I first started working on it--7 years ago?--I didn’t give a shit about what tools I used. I would just sketch it out in my notebook and then do inkwash on paper, so all the first comics are super-tiny and they’re all crinkled up and shitty, but now I use microns and ink-wash and stuff. Whatever you’re comfortable with.
S: Was this comic spawned more under the auspices of showing off the repressed nature of Victorian female sexuality or more just about the (robot) sex?
JF: There’s a lot of both. I had a lot of influences for it, but reading about the whole “hysteria” thing--you’ve heard about the whole hysteria thing, right?
S: Oh, yeah. [ED NOTE: The root of the word hysteria lies in a psuedo-medical condition that Victorian physicians would diagnose women as having. The symptoms were basically “being horny," and the cure was to go to the doctor and undergo “treatment,” which was essentially the Victorian equivalent of a vibrator.]
JF: They thought that … the divide was so weird. For men they just thought, “Well, men can’t help it. They just have to go to prostitutes. They just have to.”
JF: With women they were like, “This must be a disease. Women don’t like this.”
S: Is that where Chester came from?
JF: I was definitely interested--it wasn’t like I read something and said “Oh I am definitely making a comic about THIS.” I had just a lot of stuff in my brain and I was just like... I was also thinking, like, I watch a lot of anime, read a lot of manga... there’s always, like, lady robots that are perfect lady robots, and I was like, “I wanna make a guy robot for a change”.
We went on a brief tangent here about my education in Victorian studies and the appendage added to Chester in the middle of the book, and some stuff about websites. It wasn’t too relevant, and when it was, it was actually somewhat spoiler-y, so I decided to leave it out.
S: So the book was always conceived of as silent? I really liked that--it’s a really international book.
JF: I wasn’t even thinking about that. After I made it, I thought, “Oh yeah, anyone can read this!”
S: Is the story complete, now? Is Chester 5000 the final word?
JF: That story is done, but I am working on another story that is sort of a prequel, though I am not sure I want to call it that. I also have an autobiographical work I am working on.
S: I noticed you also do children's work?
JF: I used to, yeah.
S: Truly scandalous.
JF: I have a couple of children's books I did, but I never really did anything with them. There’s no great place to put them, I guess? I have the autobiographical thing that I update.
S: To be clear, the autobiographical comic is not the same as the prequel, right?
S: That would speak to a lot, and I only have so many pieces of paper...
JF: There’s another book coming out from Top Shelf next year that’s a lot more autobiographical. It's got sexy things in it, but it's much more of a memoir.
JF: No robots. Time Travel.
S: Ah, that explains the pants. [ED NOTE: Jess was wearing these awesomely ridiculous space pants.] One last question: What has excited or delighted you at SPX?
JF: I have yet to walk around and buy shit, so I haven’t seen much. There is always so much amazing stuff at SPX, and it’s in the middle of nowhere, so people bring so much and it’s a giant party every night. I’ll have to get back to you.
Sitting down with Derf Backderf was one of the highlights of my 2012 SPX experience. He’s a tall guy, depicted roughly as you see him in the back of My Friend Dahmer, with a few years on him. His aforementioned work was one of the highlights of my graphic novel collection in the past year, and when I found out he would be at SPX I knew I had to sit down with him. Spandexless: What made you make it [My Friend Dahmer] now?
Derf Backderf: As opposed to when it broke?
S: Or any time between then and now.
DB: Y’know, it took that long because that’s how long it took. At first, I didn’t want to be a part of that whole...story when it first broke. It was unreal, and I was at the center of it. He didn’t have many friends. I was really amazed at how fast the media zeroed in on the peope that knew this guy. I would look out my front window and there would be two camera trucks out there. So, I didn’t want anything to do with that. And also, before, I was doing single-panel cartoons, scripts, I had never attempted long-form storytelling, certainly never something as in-depth as this. To be honest, time kinda got away from me, I never expected it to take twenty years! *laughs* I’m pretty happy with it. This is how long it took.
S: Did you know, when it happened, that it would be a book?
DB: Well, it took a few weeks for the lightbulb to go on. What I noticed was is that people weren’t really telling the story I had in my head, which was of his youth. The ones that were telling it weren’t telling it right, or getting it wrong, all very superficially. I thought, “Man, there’s a story.” And I knew right then I was going to tell it, the question was how.
S: So, when I was in fifth grade, Columbine happened. [Your story] strikes me as somewhat similar, in that it was a lot of...demonizing of the kids. Like yourself, there were a lot of people that afterwards said “these were victims”--not to forgive their actions, but to give another point of the story. You certainly don’t defend Dahmer or his actions, but I got the sense that your story wanted to highlight the problems he had--
DB: Keep in mind; The Jeff I knew had committed no crime.
DB: I think that when we write people off as monsters, that lets everybody off the hook. “They were monsters. It was inevitable. This was going to happen anyway, no matter what happened.” That’s just not true. Particularly in Jeff’s case--I don’t know about Columbine--mistakes were made. I don’t think there are lessons to be learned, but I think it is a cautionary tale. I see some of the same things--like this Jared Loughner thing in Tuscon--I saw a lot of the same things that happened with Jeff. Some people attempted to get him help, it was kinda half-assed, they didn’t follow up on it--the kid in Virginia Tech, too. One after another. If there is a lesson, it is certainly one we’re not willing to learn.
S: In the book--was re-reading it today--there was a really powerful sense of... there’s this panel that is all black save for the words “Where were the adults?”, and you say people would say things like “How didn’t you know, how didn’t you tell...”
DB: It’s important to remember these things happened so many years ago. It’s an entirely different world. What I tried to get across in the book is that the adults were not really around. They weren’t paying attention. It was a completely different world. There was no way to keep track of kids. No GPS. No texting. Schools were wide open. There was no locks--
S: There’s that great story [in the book] where a teacher proudly says “I bet I can roll a joint faster than you.”
DB: It was totally different. Kids were free to roam. The apparatus for watching kids had not yet been invented. Y’know, the traditional family came to an end in the early seventies--mom went to work, all that--it was very much, “hey, kids, you’re on your own!”
S: And that means so much in the story. It’s told from at two different perspectives; you today, and you in the story.
DB: It’s hard to get both those voices right, as, y’know, hopefully I’ve learned a little. I’m not quite the dumbass I was when I was 17. I was very aware of keeping the voices separate.
S: I keep coming back to that voice from today, going back and saying “Where were the adults.” This was a friend of mine...
DB: I’m not saying, and I put this very clearly in the book; I’m not saying he wouldn’t have wound up in the same place. He may have. I’m not saying he ever would have been normal. At best he’d have been doped up an institutionalized. We might have avoided the pile of bodies. I don’t think there’d ever be a happy ending to the Dahmer story, it just might not’ve been as tragic as it was.
S: I just want to say, and I am not sure if this is a question, but I really appreciate that you cited your sources. Could you maybe go into your reasoning for doing that?
DB: It actually started with those. I actually have a degree in journalism. I don’t have a degree in art. When I put the story together, I had this timeline, which was essentially the footnotes, and that’s what I worked in. You know, a mistake that a lot of people who don’t have [journalism] training do is they think , “Oh, I am writing a story with a conclusion, let me go find the facts that support it.” Of course that’s the opposite, you start with the facts and try to figure out what happened from there. It ended up being the structural spine of this book. And once I had that, once I was comfortable with that, I put together some of the things where I wasn’t too clear where something had happened (and I took special care to footnote when I was doing that). Once I had that, then I could block the story.
S: I thought your use of timeline, exactly as you’re saying, was masterful. You now from the beginning, “Listen, we know how this ends. It is not a happy ending, but here are some insights you won’t get elsewhere.”
DB: Well, the timeline for my purposes was pure luck. It couldn’t be better if written. It starts with him weirding out, and there’s a moment where he falls off the edge of the abyss. It’s this six-year period, and anything outside of that I’m not really interested in. Once he starts to kill, it gets... boring. It doesn’t interest me at all.
S: I’ll talk about the art, as I imagine, you’ve talked quite enough about the story itself. On the site, my little comic fetish is paneling. I personally think you have some great, solid paneling and layout work. They are all stoic, just... “his eyes, him looking, the mirror...”
DB: The blank wall of a face.
S: Exactly. How did this differ from other work you’ve done, and what was going through your head when you drew or laid out these scenes?
DB: Well, it really gave me a reason to draw my ass off. The layout is fairly simple, very conservative. Especially in mainstream comics, people have gone nuts with layout. It’s just nuts. It’s all over hte place--where is the story goring? Why have this paneled layout that looks like fractured glass? Where are you going with it? I figured that this story is so powerful, I am not going to get in the way of it. I am jut going to let the story do the work for me. It’s a very simple, traditional layout.
My earlier work is a little more frenetic, a little more dense. My last book, Punk Rock and Trailer Parks, basic panels were three stacs of three. In this one, it was two stacks of two. It’s a little smaller, but that was by design--I wanted to get a lot of detail in the back and capture the experience.
S: It’s really--and I mean this in a good way--claustrophobic. Very intense.
DB: You’ll notice, as the book goes on, I begin to pile up ‘blacks’ into the book, more and more claustrophobic, and that is by design. I was worried it was a bit trite, but it felt like it was a good way to end it, so I was happy with it... It’s a very slow-paced, methodical book. What I like about it is that the tension doesn’t really tae them where they think it is going to go. You never really get there. But there’s this tension, tension, tension--maybe manipulative of me, but. There’s no violence in the book. It’s all just creepy tension.
S: You got me, at least. You got them to feel encroached upon.
DB: It’s slow, and extra dark, which is weird compared to my other things which are these weird, frenetic things, this is a very different take.
S: So, what comes next?
DB: I Don’t have another Dahmer in me, I know that. It’s kind of a drag in one way, y’know, this is invariably going to be known as my best known work, and it is basically nothing like my other work! I figure it’s good to have a best known work than to not, though. I’ll deal with that. I hope to do a lot of different stuff, I’d like to get multiple books going at once, I’d like to get collaborators. I’d even like to get into some more mainstream stuff if a publisher approached me--writing, that is. I’ve got a few ideas in there. I’ll do something. Work 'til you die!
Jason Pittman was one of the creators to give us a free book at last year's SPX--certainly the first free book we received by my recollection. He released some great looking stuff at SPX and we were thrilled to see him there again this year. So thrilled, in fact, that I decided to sit down with him and have a chat about his new issue of Leftovers, which was equal parts terrifying and well-crafted. Spandexless: Having read Leftovers last night, had I not known that you were a good and balanced individual, I’d probably be terrified of you. I really enjoyed it, and it was super creepy, specifically the first one.
Jason Pittman: Yeah, the other two were more suspense stories and the first was my horror story.
S: Man, I love a good revenge story.
JP: Yeah, yeah.
S: Tell me how it started--know we covered your stuff last year, and it’s very... it’s an amalgam.
JP: So, Leftovers 1 was my thesis assignment at SVA when I was over there for my sophmore year. We were assigned to do an 8 page comic, and I did a 20 page comic. I was kind of thinking where I was at the time, and I was actually getting to do what I wanted to do. Not a lot of people get to do what they wanted to do, and thats sort of where Jim [a character from Leftovers] came from. He was a musician, but he didn’t really want to do the ‘band’ thing anymore, and it kind of went from there. Jessica Abel, who was my teacher, she did Mirror Window and stuff like that, she was a very, very excellent teacher and she helped shape Leftovers into what it was. It was going to be a very happy ending at first and she kinda said, “What if it... doesn’t end well?” and I said, “Yeah! What if it doesn’t!” And in my opinion it came out to a much better ending.
S: Spoilers. Generally, I tend to think you find a groove with creative work, a pattern that you feel comfortable working in. With you, all of your stuff we’ve seen has been shorter, quicker work. Leftovers #3 was comprised of three short stories. Do you think you are more suited to doing shorter, more compact stories over longer stuff?
JP: I am all over the place. Leftovers 1 was a longer, 20-page story. Leftovers #2 was a short story, my cousin wrote and I drew. I am trying to think of … I had the “Bubblegum Psychos “, and I was thinking about how I wanted to do this - I had all these series, and threw them into 20 page issues of Leftovers. I am going to be doing Leftovers #4 and #5, which is going to be a 2-part 40-page story about a guy wiht anxiety issues--it’s a “meets a girl” type thing--and this time... he’s on medication, so there is a lot of “is the relationship real, or is the medication making it real?” There’s also this superhero character who represents him, representing him in a stable condition. There’s a lot of metaphor and it’s all going on in his head. There’s a whole deconstruction happening in his head, not in the real world.
S: When are those out?
JP: It’ll come out this year--I am working on an issue called “Simon Says”--and then those will be coming out, hopefully before for the next SPX.
S: We look forward to it. One last question--what is one thing you saw at SPX that excited or delighted you?
JP: Went to the David Clowes panel, that’s basically the only thing I’ve done this far. It’s been a busy con. You wonder what these famous people are going to be like, “Man, I hope he’s not an asshole or anything.” And then he turns out to be this amazing dude, which is usually what it is in comic books. He was funny as shit, and said really great and exciting things.
Stan is a veteran journalist and amateur historian who just finished work on Taxes, the Tea Party and Those Revolting Rebels, a graphic history of the Boston Tea Party and the circumstances that led to it. It was an attempt, in his words, at a “bottom-up” narrative, focusing less on the famous movers and shakers like Sam Adams and Ben Franklin and more on the regular Joes that nobody reads about. I got the opportunity to chat with him about it, along with a few other subjects like the subjectivity of historical narrative, the art style and other subjects. He was a great person to talk to and very knowledgeable on subjects I happen to be interested in. Spandexless: This is Dave Anderson with Spandexless, and I'm with:
Stan Mack: Stan Mack.
S: Stan Mack, who has made a couple of books, including:
SM: Taxes, the Tea Party and Those Revolting Rebels.
S: A narrative about the events behind the Boston Tea Party, going back to the end of the French-Indian War, correct?
SM: Exactly. It starts at the end of the French-Indian War, the philosophy behind what drove the colonists to protest the taxes that England was imposing on the colonies, and it goes forward from there all the way to the Bill of Rights.
S: So the context of this book might be considered very loaded, what with a new Tea Party in Congress claiming its heritage came from the one that occurred in 1776. What do you want to say about that?
SM: It's tricky to try to relate today to those days. There's some basics: the meaning of the Constitution then versus what it means today, how closely we've followed its original meaning, that sort of thing. But when it comes to questions of medical insurance and various stuff like that, you can't draw direct parallels. In essential ways, the economy, the direction of the country, the size of the government, there are parallels.
S: And obviously, some things are lost in translation, and possibly skewed- we tend to alter our understanding of events to fit a narrative.
SM: Well yes. One thing to keep in mind with all books like this is that history is written looking backwards. So trying to imagine what we would be like sitting here, with knickers, those funny hats, and thinking the way they did then, having an English background, being colonists, it's hard to put yourself exactly into those shoes. So what we try to do is look back with some kind of sensibility of the reader, and interpreting the old days in a way that's understandable today that doesn't veer too far from the way it originally was.
S: What I liked about reading through it--I haven't gotten very far through it yet, but what I like so far about it is how basic and broken down it is--you've managed to condense a lot of information to simple ideas and I think they still encapsulate the original ideas well--like you can take bits and pieces, put them together and have the context.
SM: One of the main skills I developed was that for twenty years I worked on a weekly comic strip for the Village Voice, and another one for Adweek magazine. You had to learn how to tell a story fast and clear. And somehow, even when it came to doing a big book, the idea that I had to boil down what people were saying--or what I was reading that they were saying--and make it succinct and zero in on it--helped in keeping this book, as you say, understandable and succinct I have boxes of research material that led to it though. A couple of reviews online have said that I really did my research. I did do my research, but when it came to the book, I knew there was no point in doing another ten volumes. So how to zero in--and get some depth--one of the other things the review said was that he didn't stick to the general history, the glossy version you get in high school, and that's true. I really did try to do that without being one-sided. I'm not trying to sell a point of view.
S: Try to be as accurate as possible.
SM: Accuracy. But accuracy is tricky! What does accuracy mean when you have Republicans and Democrats?
S: What can you do when it's been 300 years since an event? One of the things I learned from my World War II history class was that stuff that comes out right after an event- even if it's a reputable source like SLA Marshall- will often be less accurate than a piece of research written decades later thanks to conflicting perspectives of more recent witnesses.
SM: There’s a difference between being a reporter and a historian. I’m mainly a cartoonist-reporter…if also an amateur historian. I tried to hold on to that sense of immediacy you get in a reported story, and still tell good history. My approach was similar to my comic strips—a street look. A bottom-up history. I call it the chickens in the road approach. I put us, not George Washington, in the center of the story. We’re looking up at the Founding Fathers…who are in my pages, but without their pedestals.
S: ...But we're talking about the colonists.
SM: That's right. The colonists, and how were they responding to this? What made them angry? How did they get together, what did they do about it? Who were the ones painting the protest signs, that sort of thing?
S: Basically figuring out how the motives of those people factor in.
SM: They were the heroes. They are the heroes in that book. Well, it's not super obvious, they don't have a tag coming off them like a political cartoon, saying "I'm the hero." But the idea was to do what Howard Zinn called a "bottom-up" history, because we can all relate to it.
S: I mean, we like the idea of history being pushed forward by individuals. You hear people talk about the Revolution, they'll talk about Ben Franklin, Sam Adams. We talk about George Washington winning Saratoga rather than what his army was doing.
SM: I do try to address that. How much of leadership comes from above. How much comes from the better educated? John Adams was a lawyer. Sam Adams went to Harvard. Patrick Henry was a lawyer. And how much came from the working class guys who were in the middle of the original mob action, and how much came from the subtle leadership of people with a broader view?
S: I learned in a class on government that when you want a revolution, the most successful ones are cross-class. You have elites and middle class and lower classes figuring out an equitable solution. The French Revolution turned into anarchy because of a breakdown in the dialogue between them versus what happened in the American Revolution.
SM: In my book, it wasn't until the alliance between labor and the merchant class that they had that forward motion to really bring the protests out.
S: To actually beat out the loyalists?
SM: Well, there's always the Tories. Those are the guys who are very happy the way things were, because they were making money from the English system. But there were a lot of people that began to suffer--because of the taxation, because they couldn't smuggle, stuff like that, so the voices kind of came together. So what you said is exactly what I found out.
S: Thanks. So, what else can we talk about?
SM: Well there's the cartoon aspect too, of course.
S: Yeah, I mean the art style kind of reminds me of Schoolhouse Rock, but it still feels like the tone is more serious.
SM: Well, I didn't play for jokes. I do think there's a lot of humor in the book, but the humor--I would like to believe--comes out of the events. I didn't make cracks.
S: Satirizing the events?
SM: No, I tried not to take a position. As comic as it is, and humorous and--I hope--entertaining, to read, it doesn't say "these guys were bad, these guys were good", it doesn't take an ideological position.
S: More of a sociological position?
SM: I laughed at everybody.
S: Heh. Looking at events both internal and external, not really saying--putting blame on anyone.
SM: That's right. It's true that Parliament was blind in a lot of ways. It's true the colonists fought as much among themselves as they did against the English--well, they were both English. So they both carried a lot of the blame and during the fighting they both screwed up equally. And Washington hated the guerrilla army, which is what gave him the advantage in the first place, he wanted an orderly army like the English had.
S: Yeah, that's why he had Prussians come in and train them.
SM: Heh, yeah.
S: So, anything else you want to say?
SM: One thing I'm interested in is, where is this book going to be placed in the library? Some say the graphic novel section is a type of ghetto. They throw in everything together, and yet for graphic novel fans, that's where they go. But a book like this--which isn't fantasy, isn't superhero, is solid history--also ought to be in the category of other history books. It should be with American history. And in fact it is, at [Barnes and Noble], this season. They're putting it there. But that's kind of innovative, and so, what's better? How do you make the choice? I mean if you're looking for a graphic American history would you go to the history section or the graphic novel section? I hope, actually, that you go to the history section.
S: It kind of goes back to the view where there's a dichotomy between print words and image books. These guys go here, these guys go over here. Once you're in a graphic novel section it doesn't really matter what the subject is. You might have kids' books next to adult fiction or whatever.
SM: Maus is in Judaica, because that's where its audience is. And I hope that my book and others like it will be found in history, but you're right. Is it an image book or a book?
S: Even if it's got words they still say "no, it's a comic book."
SM: Well your site is looking at image books.
S: Something like that. We're still figuring out our own definition...We had a podcast earlier in the week asking what our site really was about. What is a non-superhero comic? It's actually kind of difficult to figure out.
SM: And getting more complicated all the time. Because more and more nonfiction books are coming out that are serious looks at various sides of one viewpoint or philosophy. It's a personal, entertaining narrative but it takes on a serious topic. Where did that go?
S: All right, twelve minutes now, sounds good. We're looking forward to reviewing your book.
S: This is Dave, signing off.
Curvy is the story of an intrepid young girl who finds her way to a magic candy kingdom, facing down pirates, exploring the multiverse, and making new friends along the way. Curvy is not a story for kids.
Indeed, Curvy is a sensationally NSFW story that centers around regular old human Anais and her black licorice girlfriend/lover as they explore the multiverse. The comic has a strange cast, full of pirates, candy people and the oddly phallic props they tend to carry. It’s available, in its entirety, on the web at the cleverly named C.urvy.org. (No that's not a typo it's the actual address.) I’m a huge fan, and you should be too.
Spandexless: How did this particular story [Curvy] get started?
Sylvan Midgal: I was kind of trying to decide what to do. I had been in a fine arts school, where people were sort of, you know -- everything had to be super fancy. It had kind of pushed me a little bit in the direction of stuff that was more, y’know --“Quasi-Profound?” I kind of wasn’t feeling it anymore, and I wanted to do something that indulged all of my whims, and try to make something as fun as I can make it. So, like, what is it I like doing? Sex, science fiction, candy, y’know, and throw it all together.
S: That is a powerful combination.
S: I tried to think of a way to word this next question in a way that wasn’t so... but I guess there is no way to avoid it. I know a lot of women that like your comic, really enjoy it. When I ask them why, they say “Oh, the author has a really keen sense of female sexuality. Oh, whoever writes this, she’s great, she’s fantastic.” Which is why I thought, “Of Course the creator is a woman!” (ED: I had actually approached the young woman working at the Curvy booth for the interview, only to be immediately and embarrassingly corrected.) There’s no other way to ask this: How are you so in touch with the needs of a Woman?
SM: (Laughs). Um... I don’t know if there is some secret to that. To some extent it has to do with my own sexuality, which is, I’m interested in the way I approach eroticisim, thinking about the woman’s point of view... y’know...
S: It’s a weird question, I admit. It’s just that so many people I spoke to just assumed that you were a woman because of how spot-on it was.
SM: And that’s part of the reason I was driven to make the comic. The Existing stock of porn in our world is heavily slanted towards stuff that takes the male point of view and takes it to the extreme. It’s stuff that appeals to a Man’s supposed desire to, y’know, have this zone of total control where he gets to have any kind of sex he wants with, basically, the sex-doll of his fantasy. Which is, you know. Whatever. That doesn’t appeal to me, which means the porn that is out there doesn’t appeal to me, and I thought it would be cool to make something that is sort of, you know, more what I am interested in - which is something I think more women are interested in. Characters that you’re interested in, having sex that you’re interested in, that obviously involves people you’re interested in.
S: Absolutely. As I said, I’m a huge fan.
Both: (Nervous Laughter)
S: So, how did the science fiction come in? And for an immediate follow-up: how did the candy come in?
SM: (Laughs) The candy thing actually came from the art. I was doodling characters and I started doodling a girl that was all black, and I decided that she was made of licorice, and that was how that happened.
S: Regarding the main character, Anais: what is next? We’ve met pirates, we’ve sailed the multiverse with her...
SM: Things are actually about to cool down for her, we’re going to bring it closer to home.
S: So, as a wrap-up question: What have you seen at SPX that has excited or delighted you?
SM: Oh, man. There is so much good stuff. Jessica has a huge totebag of all the stuff --I haven’t really been doing the buying. I have read through a huge pile of minis that I bought from Liz Suburbia, which is really awesome. That’s been my only con reading. So far.
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?
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--
S: --the thing was--what got me was that there was a lot of symbolism in there, and--it's about America, 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.
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.
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 Gonicks “Cartoon 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.
Ed Piskor's recent body of work has interested me immensely since I first became familiar with it earlier last year. Wizzywig was a deft look at how a kid getting into trouble with a new hobby can quickly spiral out of control, especially during the dawn of cyber crime and how the law had no idea how to handle its perpetrators properly. Though that was impressive, his most recent project, The Hip Hop Family Tree, has been the thing to really hit me, as my knowledge of hip hop (as you will see) is pretty limited. Piskor makes a comic that is not only educational but also dynamic in how it uses the medium. I had a chance to talk to him at SPX, where he proved to be a really thoughtful individual to converse with, and we discussed all of that, along with Harvey Pekar, Boing Boing, matching research with personal interest, and the wild wonderful world of PUBLISHING CONTRACTS!!! Spandexless: I’ve only really become familiar with your work in the last year or so when I read Wizzywig online, but I was wondering exactly what your background is. Is it in mini comics? Web comics? More traditional newspaper strips? Because from your style I can't really get a good bead on it one way or another.
Ed Piskor: Are you asking like influences, or -
S: Yeah, let's start with influences and then how you got your start.
EP: Influences, I guess a lot of people would describe my work as having an old underground style, like maybe from the sixties, or I guess when their was that paradigm shift from underground comics to alternative stuff in the eighties, I mean, if you want to put weird labels on the work. So a lot of my influences were guys like Crumb, EC Comics, certainly guys like the guests of honor here at SPX 2012, the Hernandez brothers, Clowes, Chris Ware, and Charles Burns. I started by doing minis but I actually started by doing a bunch of comics for Harvey Pekar -
EP: Yeah, American Splendor comics and then two “graphic novels” quote unquote. I drew this one called Macedonia for him and then the main story for a book called The Beats, which was about the beat generation.
S: Oh yeah, I’ve read that! I guess I do know your work before Wizzywig.
EP: The thing is, like with you sort of forgetting some awareness of me recently I really do feel like Wizzywig is my first book. I have hundreds of pages published before this but there was a lot of concessions made, and all that work was almost like art school to me. The books and the stuff I did with Harvey Pekar was like art school, I was learning storytelling and even the craft of drawing – like somebody came by my table earlier and they had a bunch of that older stuff and I just hadn’t gone through those books in years and I was like “Oh my god, oh what did I do to Harvey Pekars legacy! Why did he trust me with some of the last work that he did in his life!” [Patrick laughs] So yeah, and then all the while I was working with Harvey every spare second I was putting Wizzywig together.
S: You said working with Pekar was your version of art school, but even beyond that I’m curious did you ever consider formal training or were just one of those guys who decided to pick up a pencil and just do it?
EP: Have you ever heard of the Joe Kubert School -
S: Yes, yes I have.
EP: Right, it was advertised in Marvel comics and DC comics and so forth. I went there for one year in 2000 and you know that was a weird time because there was that shift between the analogue way of doing things and the digital way. They were still teaching us outdated philosophies and techniques, so you wouldn’t have been able to even get a job with what you were learning in the first year because everything was antiquated, you wouldn’t be able to turn in a piece of art work that looked like that because they wouldn’t know what to do with it. So I was sort of disenchanted with the school and I just went there the one year and that was it as far as formal training went, and I don’t know if I learned so much stuff but there was a great energy of just being surrounded by a lot of guys just drawing all day every day so it did give me the discipline to just sit down and draw. To see other guys out there who would put out that kind of effort I knew I had to match that effort and put one extra hour in per day.
S: That discipline sort of shows in your bigger projects like Wizzywig and now The Hip-Hop Family Tree, where it seems like there’s a lot of research involved. I think I’ve read interviews with you where you say the main character in Wizzywig is an amalgam of a bunch of different hackers so I want to know how much research you do before you start to construct a story and the overall book together?
EP: My scheme for the comics Ill be doing on my own, probably for the foreseeable future, is to just exploit the things I’m already really interested in. So I like computers, and computer hacking and the culture of the Internet and things like that so I have this base knowledge just from my own enjoyment of that stuff. And a lot of people will use the word “research” but it really is just reading and ingesting this material for pleasure and I do have this weird twist in my brain where I really don’t want to feel like a hack or a slacker or something like that so I’m doing this activity that I enjoy and I’m reading about things that I enjoy so I ask myself how I can make this a productive experience, and so I’ll make a comic about it. Its like this two fold thing where the information will come into my head and then goes out in this steady almost perpetual motion kind of thing…yeah its kind of hard to explain but I kind of feel like a detective even by doing this kind of research and digging extra deep into this thing that I’m into.
S: Lets talk about your web comics under the Brain Rot banner over at Boing Boing, your one of the few comics guys there and that’s a HUGE site in terms of popularity so I wanted to know how that partnership came about?
EP: I was self publishing Wizzywig in these very flimsy, you know LuLu print on demand type – you see a million of them here. So I would buy a blocks of a hundred of these books and you receive five boxes of this stuff and realize you don’t have that much space in your house, so I had to figure out how to get the work out there so I sent comics to Boing Boing to just maybe get a review or something and they would write about the work and tons of people would buy the stuff afterwards. So that’s sort of how I forged a little bit of the relationship with them by just sending them “Here’s the next issue” or whatever and then when I was done with Wizzywig completely I had sometime on my hands and I thought I would throw this little post partum thing because Wizzywig as my baby was gestating for five years. So I had room to breathe and I was five years older with half of my twenties spent on it, so I just asked them “can I do a comic for your site?” and there are five freelancers who are the editors over there at Boing Boing and they got together and agreed that it would be cool to have another comic on the site.
S: And Boing Boing is hosting The Hip Hop Family Tree, which is an incredibly ambitious project because Hip Hop is one of those things where people can forget how far back it really goes, lord knows I did until a few years ago where I thought “Hip Hop started with the Wu Tang Clan was formed and that’s it!”
EP: [laughs] right.
S: But that is not true at all, and you have gone really far back and again this is clearly something you know a lot about, no body will be able to see this but you are wearing a Public Enemy t-shirt as you were yester day so clearly -
EP: But not the same shirt!
S: No! Not the same shirt! Lets make that clear, Journalistic integrity damn it! [laughs] so your clearly a guy who knew a lot of this but these are also real people your talking about and not an amalgam like in Wizzywig. So how much did you leave out? What did you put in and are you worried about being sued for liable?
EP: All good questions, so where should I start….because of my own interest in Hip Hop, there were gaps in my knowledge that I needed filled and in terms of the records I have a sort of encyclopedic knowledge of the stuff, but there are certain gaps in my knowledge for how things came about. So the pleasure is to read about that and see what had to manifest for that album to come out. The book was just announced this weekend -
S: Right, Fantagraphics is publishing it. I’m assuming when it eventually concludes -
EP: No, its actually going to collect the first year of strips so it will, hopefully, premiere next year at SPX.
S: Oh, cool!
ED: Well that’s at least what we’re very loosely shooting for, and it will cover from like 1975 to maybe just the tip of 1981. The reason I chose Fantagraphics was because every, well not every publisher but most publishers wanted to give me a deal that would have required certain concessions. Some would want me to go from DJ Kool Herc, whose largely considered the godfather of Hip Hop to the death of Tupac Shakur in like two hundred pages. I feel like the success of this project would come from the fine details, in the little intricacies that are woven into the overall story of how Hip Hop got to be this giant monolithic culture in just a few years, without any internet or anything like that so that’s what’s fascinating about it to me. So Fantagraphics are giving me the room to breathe and just get into the nitty gritty as deep as I want to. So the only stuff that’s getting left out is just because its completely under my radar, if I had my say I would include it all. Now if you were to talk to me in a couple of years where maybe there are thousands of acts and certainly dozens of vary popular ones I’ll probably have to cut some of that out but its early enough where you can really talk about everybody. So we’ll see what happens in a few years as the story continues to develop.
S: Do you have any time table when it’ll rap up or are you just going to do it for as long as it takes?
EP: I don’t have a time table for when I’m going to end it, but I do have an idea for where the story will end and it will probably end with where my interest in hip hop ended which is probably around 1992 – 93 when Wu Tang came out. So like where Wu Tang was the start for you, its over for me. Its like it became just divorced from what initially interested me in that genre of music and I sort of think, and I’ve talked to people about this, maybe I’ll discover what it is that sort of turned me off so that might show up in the work.
S: You might not have an answer for this but the Fantagraphics thing will be Volume One when it premieres next year so is there a deal in place to keep it going? I don’t know how publishing works so I’m curious?
EP: Right, well I said yes to Fantagraphics because they said yes to many things to the format, to a lot of the ideas I had, its going to be oversized its going to be full color, all sorts of production things I wanted are in there. Plus, they’re not asking any questions about content. The one “yes” I couldn’t get out of them was to accept the work as a series but I got them to put into the contract “If you hit X amount of copies that you sell, of course we’re going to do book two” and that number is very low. So they didn’t formally say “We’re in it to win it!” or “we’re in it for the long haul” or shit like that but if I don’t hit the number that they put into the contract to produce more books I really might quit comics because its that low of a number.
S: I don’t see that as being much of a problem for you, alright well I think I’ll ask my last question which I’ve been asking everyone: At this SPX what’s something you’ve seen, read or met that got you really excited for the event or comics in general?
EP: I feel, and it’s a weird thing, but I think there’s just this tangible difference to like where I’m at as a cartoonist so in a weird way I feel like I’ve been brought into the fold a little bit more. Where I once felt like a little bit of an outsider I now seem to have way more friends in comics, and the energy and the buzz is quite – I’m not going to name specifics because the answers I would give you are the answers everybody else would say too, but just the energy, this year in particular is just great. It seems to be, uh I got to go to this arts festival in Copenhagen, Denmark and Dan Clowes and Chris Ware and Charlse Burns were out there and that festival it was all about exchanging information and it had nothing to do with the economics of comics and selling crap and all of that mucky stuff. It was just about the love of the form and talking about it and the list of programming at this years show it completely mimics or parrots what I experienced out there and its been really cool.
I’ve been following Jamie Noguchi’s work for some time now, and I reviewed Yellow Peril Comic this past year. He’s been working as an artist for a while now, and he recently began Super Art Fight, which has been popular all up and down the East Coast. Saturday night, right after a match, I got the opportunity to do a quick interview with him about a few of the things he’s up to. It was a great opportunity and I hope I didn’t sound dumb, since this was literally the first interview I’ve done with anybody since Journalism class in high school. So! Here we go. Everything from Super Art Fight, socially conscious entertainment, to Puppy Cow and (a little bit) more. Spandexless: So, this is David Anderson of Spandexless, and I'm here with--
Jamie Noguchi: Jamie Noguchi.
S: Of YPComics fame and also Art Fight.
JN: Super Art Fight!
S: Yeah, we just got done with Super Art Fight and it was pretty terrifying, it was pretty funny for the first round and then the next two got grotesque, there were penises and feces everywhere, it was crazy, you want to talk a little about that?
JN: Well we've been doing SAF for a while now, it kind of started off as a different sort of competition, there was this thing at a local convention, Katsucon, called Iron Artists, which was structured more like Iron Chef. You have two artists with a secret ingredient, which was a topic and then they would draw by themselves for an hour, and you know, show their pieces at the end of it--a friend of mine who started this with me, Nick DiFabio, we were asked to participate in it and things got kind of screwy, so in the middle of it we just decided it would be more fun if we just drew on each others' canvas and then like added pieces, because we were on the stage and we were like "Well, let's turn this into a show." And when we were done with that we were like "this is a lot of fun, let's see if we can take this on the road and take it to different venues." So it kind of grew out of that and we've been taking it around the DC/Baltimore area.
S: Yeah, the first time I saw them was Connecticon. You've been going up and down the East Coast?
JN: Yeah, we do CT con a lot, they show us a lot of love. The first year we did Connecticon we had a small room, and apparently the fire marshal was called in because we were breaking the code and it was pretty cool and so they moved us into a bigger space. It was a lot of fun.
S: Cool. You got any plans for, I don't know, going out to the West Coast?
JN: Yeah, we've done a handful of West Coast shows, we might have stuff coming up, we'll keep everyone updated on our site.
S: So, thought I'd talk to you a little bit about YP Comics, Yellow Peril.
JN: Oh yeah.
Well, it's an Asian-American office romance comedy, like The Office meets, uh, something with Asian people in it! It's basically how they deal with everyday life and their bosses, the internal politics of working in an office, and that kind of thing. Dealing with crappy clients, so that's cool. But I wanted to formulate it as a romance comedy because I wanted it to star minorities but I didn't want it to be the sole focus of the strip. I feel like there's a lot of comics that do that kind of thing and I just kind of wanted to do like a romance comedy strip starring people that looked like me but that wasn't the main reason why they were there.
S: Well yeah. This is kind of a personal thing I think of, but to me, I think you can tell when a society's accepted a minority group when they act like it's no big deal. You know, like Will and Grace or something: "Oh man, he's gay?!?" But when people are like "Yeah, he's gay, so what?" That's what I think is cool about YPcomics is how they have a gay character in there, and he's actually a pretty cool guy. I mean--it's about finding the balance between the social message and making a fun comic, right?
JN: Yeah, the main goal really is to tell a good story. Sometimes race will be involved, sometimes sexual politics will be involved, but the main goal for me is to tell a good story and write characters that seem to be believable and that people enjoy reading about so... with a lot of my influence in there, but I don't want to like, hit people over the head with it, you know?
S: Well like, it's like Lady Gaga, where they get too focused on the social message, then they take a hit for that.* I mean, speaking as a white male, you know...sometimes white privilege, male privilege, even when you're conscious of that stuff you can still trip over that, you know?
S: So what else did I want to talk to you about? Puppy Cow.
JN: Yeah! So Puppy Cow started off as a sketch that, actually, I did at ConnectiCon. I was trying out a brush pen, I came up with the sketch, and my friends were like "Oh, you should try to turn that into a thing!" And I thought everyone was crazy but I went home and I figured well if enough people who don't know me are interested, maybe this could be a thing. So I put it up on Kickstarter and enough people who don't know me wanted it to be a thing, and now it exists. I'm working on trying to build a world around it and I think I have an angle that can work, I just have to flesh out the details, create some more creatures and stuff.
S: You going to try to work it into Yellow Peril or it's going to be its own thing?
JN: It's going to be it's own thing for a while, it doesn't really seem to fit, and I don't want it to be sort of like the mascot just to sell things--it doesn't feel natural quite yet. I've got plans, I just need to iron them out.
S: What about like in YPComics, those--not sprites, but--
JN: Oh, you mean the Daruma! The wishing dolls.
S: Did you make merchandise for those?
JN: Yeah, my wife has actually sewn a couple of small plushie love Daruma, and as we develop more we plan on adding more versions of it like the skull one, there's a couple other ones I've developed throughout the comic, and they show up as sort of like, little icons to--I don't know, they're cute. [laughing]
S: Heh. I don't know, I've been losing track of the comic just because of all the other stuff we've been doing but I've been taking a look at some of the stuff you've been doing recently and you've been branching out with the art style, and I think that's pretty cool.
JN: Oh, thanks.
S: Like what you did with--what's the gay character's name again? Lance?
JN: Yeah, Lance.
S: You changed up the whole art style with that story, I thought that was pretty cool.
JN: Haha, cool.
S: Your latest story arc, what's it about?
JN: The latest arc is about them trying to deal with Steve, who's been accused of being racist, which is kind of a different turn. So they're trying to figure out whether or not they want to help rebrand him or not.
S: Just a quick question--his last name is Liefeld--
JN: Yeah! I figure, I'm gonna poke fun at him anyway, so I tried to come up with something silly that some people would get and other people wouldn't.
S: Haha, great. So... well, good luck with Super Art Fight and all.
*in case I pulled a Mitt Romney, what I mean to say is that Gaga was criticized by the media for trying to be more socially aware in her entertainment, not so much that her fans punished her for it or that people generally don't like socially aware entertainers. I don't think what I said made that clear.
I think it would be fair to say Jim Rugg helped in some small way to set me down this weird path of writing about comic books. He was one of my first guests on my college radio show where I interviewed comics creators, which might as well have been a precursor for what I do here, and also reading Street Angel and Afrodisiac were both HUGE books in terms of my development as a comics reader. Because of that, I think it would be fair to say that in many ways Rugg is my favorite working cartoonist right now, which is apparent when you read this interview where I barely restrain myself from becoming a drooling fanboy. I suppose I wasn't the only one, because during the two days I spent at SPX the Ruggs section of the AdHouse table always seemed to be teeming with fans of his work and I barely managed to snag this interview with him until the absolute last minute where we were able to talk about SPX, his podcast Tell Me Something I Don't Know, and embracing opportunities as they present themselves. Spandexless: So Jim, how’s SPX been for you so far?
Jim Rugg: It's been fantastic, I’ve been doing this show for ten years and I think this is the best show I’ve done here in terms of number of people stopping by and great books that I’ve picked up and various word of mouth I’ve heard from friends of mine here, it’s been a really nice year this year.
S: This is my first time here and I’ve really been enjoying this show, almost to the point where I’m legitimately surprised at how much I’m enjoying myself. I think that’s because the only other big show I’ve been to is the New York con, which is a nice show but compared to this it's all so clean and nice and I don’t have to worry about wandering through a lingering cloud of creepiness or anything.
JR: I think you could find some creepiness here if you look hard enough, but it's definitely a different atmosphere than like a New York Comic Con or a San Diego.
S: Right, so one thing I wanted to talk to you about is that you recently started up a podcast called Tell Me Something I Don’t Know and I think when I first found out about it I got really angry on Twitter and said something along the lines of “HEY! None of you told me Jim Rugg started a podcast?!? I’m disappointed in ALL OF YOU.” [laughs] And it’s a really interesting podcasts because your talking to artists like Tom Scioli and Rob Liefeld, and that alone was just inspired. Because no matter how you look at it Liefeld is an important guy and your talk revealed a lot more than some of the more traditional interview outlets would have ever been able to do, so I want to know, what was the impetus for starting that project?
JR: Wow, we could talk for a long time about this. I work as a freelancer, and I work mostly alone and I listen to a lot of talk media whenever I’m working and I started listening to podcasts heavily a few years ago, and after awhile I started to think about how they’re made and wanting to make my own. I went through some career development programming in the last couple of years and one of them grouped a number of artists together from different disciplines and I was the only cartoonist in the group and it was just this fantastic experience, it was a lot of fun sharing our experiences in practical terms like business stuff and how to make ends meet as an artist, how to balance creativity with everyday commitments. After the program I wanted every artist and cartoonist I know, I wanted to share that information with them. And so those two things came together to inspire the podcast. My friend Jason Lex, who co-hosts the show and co-created it with me, is also a freelancer, or had been at the time and had been listening to a lot of podcasts and we just wanted to talk to artists, about how they do what they do. It seems like everybody’s real life experience in a creative field is a little bit different and it’s a chance to talk shop and have actual examples at how different things work for different people and hopefully a lot of listeners are also aspiring or practicing artists and can pick up little bits of pieces here and there that can make their practice more effective.
S: That’s very interesting, because speaking for myself as a guy who writes about comics A LOT I’ve really found it to be an invaluable resource because I’ve been trying to learn more about art in general because I feel like too many of us only talk about the writing aspect of comics with the art being almost an afterthought, which is frankly kind of bullshit, and with your podcast I frequently go “Oh, I’ve never thought about it like that in terms of art” so its been a big help for me as well as introducing other people to a lot of artists that they might not have known about before.
JR: I’m very glad to hear that, thank you, and yeah we talk to other artists from other disciplines because whenever I was working with them I realized how much we have in common, you know the creative process there’s like ninety five percent overlap between what we do and what a filmmaker does or a musician does or a painter and sometimes it just comes down to looking at our own practice from a different angle. Also, we live in a time – like when I grew up, comics readership were even broken down into “I read Marvel” or “I read DC” and that slowly changed and expanded into where Manga was a separate readership, and now I feel like I live in a world where everything is combined and not just in the comics world but in art in general. I meet a lot of people who like comics AND architecture AND movies or whatever, so I think we’re just more open as people you know. We all have these Venn diagrams of what overlaps and you and I might have a favorite TV show in addition to reading some comics.
S: That’s absolutely true I think. Getting back to your comics, its been…three years since Afrodisiac came out?
JR: That sounds right.
S: Ok, so unless I missed something that was your last project with your co-creator Brian Marruca but the last time we spoke we talked briefly about a webcomic you guys were going to do called U.S. Ape. I don’t know if that ever came out or if it's in some part of the internet that I don’t visit or something like that so I was wondering if we could talk about whatever happened to that?
JR: So U.S.Ape appeared in an anthology, a big newsprint anthology called Pood, and there were four installments and the webcomic did not come to pass for, you know, a million different reasons, but we are working on a project now where U.S. Ape will be a character. So long story short is I have to pay the bills as a freelancer, I do a lot of illustration work to do that and I’ve been fortunate to have some interesting opportunities. I had an art show in LA earlier this summer which was fantastic and it was a chance to just do drawings so I’m trying to embrace these opportunities because its something that’s exciting and the best thing in the world is to wake up in the morning and be so excited about what I’m drawing that day.
S: You’ve also been popping up in some anthologies here and there, you were in the Rub the Blood anthology I think, and one other I forget the name of, right?
JR: Yeah, I do a lot of anthology work. Rub the Blood is a pretty great one, that was one I was excited to be in.
S: Yeah, I don’t own that one myself but a friend lent it to me before he eventually said to me “Pat you HAVE to give it back.” at which point I said “But I don’t want to!” [laughs]. But you know I guess I should have given some money to the Kickstarter, ah well. So you were talking about the art show, and you have a new art book out called Notebook Drawings, which is being published by AdHouse and this book looks like its in a spiral bound notebook which I think as far as art books go is a new one. So I wanted to know how that came about and how AdHouse came to publish it?
JR: Well, I’ve known AdHouse for years. I did anthology work for them and then they published the Afrodisiac collection, which did fairly well for us and I love Chris’s attention to detail and design and so working with him any opportunity I get is kind of a no-brainer. So with the ball point drawings, early on I did them all in a notebook and pretty early on we were talking about some sort of print version of these and how we could do it and he found a printer that could do spiral binding as part of their process which became a no-brainer. Once we saw a reproduction that looked like an actual notebook it was obvious this was the way to print it. It's probably a cross between an art book and a – I describe it as a catalogue for the show, so there are notes about the pieces in the front.
S: Ok, so that’s illustration and you also have a mini-comic here at the show so I wanted to talk to you about that and any comics work you have coming up, if any?
JR: Well the book that your referring to is an adzine that Jason Lex, my co-host from the podcast and I put together. We started interviewing a number of zinemakers and book makers, and I love design and I love printed matter and so I started wanting to see what I could produce on my own like using cheap ink jet printers and cheap papers and things. So the first project that I’ve done that way is this zine, basically it's an edition of forty and each page is hand cut and I printed myself from four different paper stocks which I’ll actually be posting a big process post this week about it on my website.
S: Oh cool!
JR: It's fairly extensive but I met a guy, Jason Carnes who is a cartoonist out of Illinois, and he does comics and sells them mail order online and they’re color comics on newsprint. And it was amazing, when I first saw one it was the most beautiful comic so I emailed him and asked him “How did you do this?” and he told me he used an ink jet printer and you can sort of adjust the ink on each page so it looks little bit faded like an old comic. You realize there are ways to produce almost anything you want to make now and I like making things.
S: So why shouldn’t you!
JR: Yeah! And the particular content in this thing is ads and I love advertising and I love back issues of old comics and a lot of stores where I live have just ben dumping their back issues, and a lot of stores don’t even carry back issues anymore and I think a lot of comic book readers read their comics through collections or digital versions and if you do that you’ll never see these ads and some of them are by Jack Kirby and Charles Burns CC Beck and Jack Davis and Todd McFarlane and all of these celebrated comic artists and yet this work is not being archived so this is just a small collection of some of the outstanding advertising that’s occurred back to the 1940’s and up until the 2000’s.
S: I remember some older ads from back issues I just happened to have when I was a kid, in particular there were some from the seventies for like “Tasty Pops” or something and they usually went “Oh no we don’t have any tasty pops, and then Captain America swings in and goes BAM Tasty Pops for everybody” which even back then I couldn’t help thinking was crazytown.
JR: It's amazing to look at the ads over the years, especially with the political climate changes and these print ads you get to see a record of how things were.
S: It's interesting to see most ads, at least the ones I’ve really looked at, the ones that are ultimately entertaining are so by accident which I think is interesting.
JR: Well certainly most of anything is bad.
S: Very true. All right, last question is one I’ve been trying to ask everyone I’ve talked to today, and that is, what is one thing you’ve seen at SPX that’s made you excited for comics?
JR: Oof, yeah, we often ask guests in advance if there are questions like this, something they can think about, because this show offers so much, you know? My favorite part of the show is getting to catch up with people that I see once or twice a year an have built relationships with over the years because the love of our lives is comics so it's really a chance to catch up with friends and close friends that I don’t get to see personally very often.
*Header image copyright Jim Rugg and stolen from his Facebook cover photo because Beth didn't get a picture of him either and thinks it's a supercool drawing.
Natalie Nourigant is one of those artists I've made a point to keep an eye out for ever since reading her book Between Gears, which collected her daily autobio strip about her last year in college. Despite not really being an Auto-bio guy I really dug the whole thing, not only because it showed how she improved as an artist over the years but it also eventually revealed a pretty interesting narrative arc over the course of the book which is sort of rare for a lot of daily auto-bio strips. I was luckily able to talk about all of that with her at this years SPX, which was her first time attending, and we also dug into her hometown of Portland, some of her various freelance work and her upcoming graphic novel with Jamie S Rich. Spandexless: So like a lot of people I think I first became familiar with your work with the Between Gears from Image so I want to know, from your point of view, how the reaction was?
Natalie Nourigat: I think it's been really good for a first book, a lot of people have taken the time to email me personally and tell me what they thought of it and I really liked that. I haven’t seen sales figures or anything so I don’t know how it's done and I wouldn’t know how it compared if I did but on a personal level its been very good.
S: Something that really interested me about that book, and I guess I should just admit this at the top, is that I’m not the biggest autobio/journal comics guy but while reading Between Gears a really interesting narrative arc appeared which you don’t see that often with most daily auto bio strips so I was wondering if that was intentional or something that just happened to fall into place?
NN: You're talking about the job search?
S: Yeah, around the halfway mark I think.
NN: Well, when I was deciding on whether or not to do this project I was thinking about how it would look as a whole and whether or not it would be fun to read. I thought that any time in my life was going to have these natural plot arcs my last year before I entered the adult real world was probably it. Because I did have to decide what my job was going to be and wrap up school and everything and that in of itself was a nice natural framework so I hoped something interesting would come out of it, but I really didn’t know when I started.
S: I want to talk a little bit about Portland, and as cliché as it might be at this point for a lot of people on the outside looking in, Portland seems like a fantasyland of comics.
NN: I think a lot of people watch Portlandia -
S: I’ve heard of that show, but to be honest I’ve never seen it.
NN: Its really funny but at first, and I was born in Portland, I was raised in Portland, but when I saw that show for the first time I was offended. I was mad. [laughs] But the more that I watched it the more I’m like “Yeah, we’re pretty crazy, whatever”. In terms of comics it is absolutely as big a comics town as people make it out to be. It’s a low cost of living art friendly community, three big publishers, lots of great comic shops, and a couple of good conventions so it’s a perfect mix for cartoonists and a really fun place to live if you are one.
S: It just seems like any time I read an interview with any notable comics person it always comes to that they live in Portland and my reaction is “Really? Another one? Alright.” Its pretty odd but at the same time fascinating the amount of talent living within one cities borders.
S: So recently you’ve been taking some various freelance work recently, I think the last thing I saw with your name on it was part of the “My Boyfriend is a Monster” from Graphic Universe series so I was wondering if you could talk about that a little bit.
NN: Yeah sure, that job made it possible for me to make the jump into full time cartooning so it was a great job for me and Graphic Universe was great to work with. Both the editors that I worked with are actually webcomic artists so that was really wonderful. They understood how a schedule should work for an artist and all of the process stuff so I didn’t have to walk anybody through it so overall it was just a really good experience. I think the book came out earlier this month, September 15th I think?
S: I think your right, I remember seeing some promotional material and while looking it over I said “Oh hey, Natalie Nourigat drew that. I wish I had money to buy that…and I was a teenage girl so I could read this.” [laughs] That might have been a bit mean, but it is a young adult series so -
NN: That is the intended audience I think, nothing mean about that.
S: I think the last thing I read from the Graphic Universe imprint was that adaptation of The Girl who Owned a City -
NN: Ooh, with Joelle Jones!
S: That’s the main reason I read it. I think when I reviewed it I went on a weird tangent on why Ayn Rands philosophy doesn’t work but at the last minute I reeled it in to say “but Joelle Jones' art is really cool”.
NN: [laughs] You know what I just moved houses this summer and I am now living with Joelle Jones -
NN: Yeah! And I’m such a Joelle Jones fangirl it's like I, oh gosh , I just get to nerd out everyday, it's really fun.
S: [laughs] Oh man that’s great, so do you have any upcoming work that you would like to talk about? I think I read somewhere, and please correct me if I’m wrong, you're doing a book with Jamie S. Rich?
NN: Right, that would be the next one I’m working on.
S: Can you talk about that at all? Or is still, you know…
NN: I’ve been told there will be a big announcement from Oni Press at New York Comic Con and after that point I’ll be able to say more. For now though, it’s a futuristic romance and it was extremely fun to work on. I think fans of Jamie Rich will have a lot of fun, the dialogue and a lot of the fun sassiness between characters that they’re used to but it is a pretty different story for him and it was really fun for me to work with him. He allowed me to collaborate with him and he’s a friend so its been a really fun project and I think that comes through.
S: You said this is a sort of futuristic thing; so as an artist from a design stand point did you need to learn to do anything new?
NN: Oh yeah, I am horrible at machines and anything that’s made up of straight lines. I like organic stuff, I like people, I like animals and I had to design futuristic cars and futuristic buildings so it was a challenge for sure.
S: That sort of leads me to my next question because you’re a younger cartoonist, you’ve really only been around for a few years now, so I was wondering about what your current career goals are in terms of working in different formats and challenges you want to face? Would you ever want to work on a more traditional mini series, or maybe an ongoing series in the future or are you comfortable in the graphic novel format right now?
NN: I’m interested in trying things outside of graphic novels too, although I love that. I would like to improve my writing and create some of my own comics for publishers, I’d like to do some self published things once in awhile, I’d like to work on mini-series and popular characters, I’ve been storyboarding freelance in addition to comics and that’s been very fun. It's still so early I’m not going to try and pigeon hole myself really because I’m interested in trying everything at this point.
S: Going back to your freelance stuff you occasionally do movie review strips, as far as I know it's only you and Faith Erin Hicks that do that sort of thing, so I was wondering what the process to creating one of those was like? You did a big one about Miyazaki movies right?
NN: Yeah, that was for a Portland paper so I had to do one-panel reviews of the various Miyazaki movies, which was really challenging because I could write essays on each and every one of them. The movie review comics have been really fun because that’s much more accessible than my work is normally, like anyone who has seen that movie can probably read the comic and get it and enjoy it. Its really fun to, uh I don’t know, everybody wants to say what their opinion is about a movie and write a blog post about it and I can put that into a comic that’s a bit more easy to share and more fun to read.
S: I really wish I could do that, I just got done writing a three thousand word essay on the “Speed Racer” movie -
NN: Oh bless you.
S: Oh thanks, I guess somebody has to do it but I wish a lot that I could simplify it and make what I put down more accessible.
NN: Oh no, I make comics because I can't write and I envy people who can put their feelings into words like that.
S: To be fair, I think Between Gears is very well written. So take that as you will I guess, and I guess all that’s left is to end on the question of what is one thing you saw at SPX this year that made you excited for comics?
NN: Oh let me think about that for a minute so I can make it a good one….
S: This is your first SPX, right?
NN: Yeah! So all of it is new to me, let's see…I’m always excited to see families coming to shows. I’m excited to see parents getting their kids into comics and who understand comics well enough to know enough that there are appropriate titles for all ages but I think as a fan I’m just really excited to meet a couple of people I look up to. I got prints from Scott C. and Callie C. and I went over to Topatoco and kind of nerded out. I don’t know, when there’s an artist that I like that’s doing very well that's encouraging to me, it's like, comics are going to be okay.
*Header image taken from the bio page of her website because Beth didn't get a photo of her at the show :(
Some of you may remember that a few months ago I reviewed Hoax Hunters #0, an odd little genre title that I found highly enjoyable. The basic premise revolves around a Destination Truth/Fact or Faked type reality show cast that go around the world debunking high profile weirdness, the twist is that the weirdness is very real and the shows cast uses the cover of a reality show to cover it up. Starting life as a two-page back up in the pages of Hack/Slash it will soon be making the jump to becoming an ongoing series from Image Comics I was able to talk to the series co-creator/writer Michael Moreci, a relatively new writer but one that over the course of our conversation proves to be a guy that puts a lot of thought and effort into his craft. Spandexless: Alright well the first thing I want to ask is how you got started in comics, you did some shorts for some UK publications correct?
Michael Moreci: I did, though it seems like a lifetime ago. I cut my teeth by writing some shorts for UK magazines that published shorts in the vein of 2000 AD. Horror and sci-fi tales with twist endings. I knew nothing about the industry, how to make it as a writer, how to publish, not a thing. But I wanted to put out comics, and I wanted to hone my craft. And it just so happened that I got lucky with a magainze called FutureQuake. I sent them a script, and they liked it enough to pair me with an artist. In fact, I was incredibly lucky, because that artist was Keith Burns, who I still collaborate with to this day--most recently on ReincarNATE, which is coming out this summer with Viper Comics, digitally, then I'm self-publishing a print collection of the trade.
S: That's really interesting to me because I never really took into account that American’s might work for those books too.
MM: Yeah, I think I did it backwards.
S: Haha, well the american comic market being as competitive as it is it might have been the right choice. America doesn't have any of those big genre anthologies and certainly none that team writers and artists outright. So after that what was your first work in the american market?
MM: Well, my first GN, Quarantined, was with a UK press (Markosia) but was released through your typical comics channels--Diamond, Comixology, iBooks, etc. But, in terms of my very first work released by an American publisher, that was the first installment of Hoax Hunters.
S: Wow, what was the gap of time between these projects? I know in comics work can come out incredibly quickly or torturously slowly given how long you can sit with the material.
MM: Not much, actually. Just a few months. Hoax Hunters came along very, very quickly. Tim needed the backup and there was only a short window to get to him. You're right, most comics projects take forever. Hoax Hunters was one of the few projects that came together quickly and was released right away. Steve and I have been lucky with this project since the start.
S: How did you and Steve initially come to work together? I know very little about Steve except that he's Tim's brother and that on his website he has a painting of Batman riding a Bear, which I'm pretty sure means he wins the internet.
MM: Haha! Steve does often win the Internet, although he doesn't use it often. I actually first met Steve while on a hike in Wisconsin; I found him in the woods, shivering and nude behind a rock. He had no social skills, and a vocabulary of six words. It took a few months, but I integrated him into modern society, and shortly after we created Hoax Hunters. That, obviously, isn't true. We're just friends who share similar weird ideas and obsessions. So working together made sense. We were tossing around ideas to put together and pitch when Tim offered us the Hack/Slash spot, so things naturally came together--a rare occurrence. And Steve does also do gallery paintings, just like I do my own solo writing. We both do our own things, but our collaborations is central to our endeavors.
S: Which I guess brings us to the main reason we're talking tonight: Hoax Hunters. I reviewed issue zero and enjoyed it a lot. I think my only question was in terms of the books pacing which was originally released in two page installments. How do you go about writing a story like that in terms of plot and action beats?
MM: It all came down to a simple question: "What would Kirby do?" It sounds funny, but really, what would the master do? To the best of our knowledge, Kirby would utilize each installment to its utmost fullest, and that's what we did. That was our top objective, to make the most of our space. And that doesn't mean to cram in word balloons and a half dozen panels per page, but to write in a way where there's text and subtext; where the narrative is rich and dense. And we wanted each installment to be its own set piece. Except for two, they all start in a different place. And JM added a nice touch with his coloring, in giving each two-page component its own feel. We knew the story we were telling in the backup, but we didn't want to write it as a standard issue and have the breaks fall where they may. We wanted each piece to be its own thing. Also, thinking of Kirby, we wanted to build suspense and stop on a (mini) cliffhanger with each installment--really ramp up the action and mystery and intrigue.
S: That makes a lot of sense for that kind of story, now with the series becoming an ongoing are you approaching the storytelling in the same way or are you taking a new approach?
MM: Much different approach. We still have a focus on layered text and storytelling that's compact without being cramped. But now, we have the room and ability to telling a story on a grander scale, that's exactly what we're going to do. I think we're utilizing the strengths from issue zero as a foundation for the more involved, long form story we want to tell. See, we had a year to dwell on Hoax Hunters, while we were doing the backup. And in that year, we came up with a lot of story, a lot of Hoax Hunters history and lore, and it's only gotten grander since. But, like I said, our principles remain the same; our focus is, and always will be, on intelligently crafting a compelling story.
S: I did like that about issue zero, in how we were only got a quick glimpse about what the Hoax Hunters actually do, If you can, could you go into how your approaching the books cast? With the end of issue zero the cast included a tough as nails secret agent type, an undead scientist, a girl with powers of demonic origin, and a spacesuit filled with spectral crows. That’s a pretty eclectic group.
MM: Yeah, that pretty much covers it. Jack, the agent, is our spiritual core of the group, the rock. Ken Cadaver is a reanimated NASA scientist; Regan is a former child star who suffered a demonic possession that left her with unusual abilities; and Murder is...well, he's an astronaut crow hybrid, living in a spacesuit. All of these characters have fully realized histories, which Steve and I will reveal over the course of the series, as it's relevant to do so. Again, we want there to be intrigue. We're not going the origin to story route; the origins will come in time. I can say that every character has a unique role in the Hoax Hunters organization, and their role in the overall mythology reflects that.
S: I think that’s the way character should be handled, starting at a characters beginning works to a point but I think allowing the reader to see the characterizations get pulled back is ultimately more rewarding.
MM: I agree. I think comics is an origins obsessed medium, and that ultimately kills pacing for a good story.
S: Yeah, Its gotten to the point where retelling Superman's origin has almost become a yearly occurrence.
MM: Like Before Watchmen. Watchmen is my favorite piece of fiction, possibly ever. But I won't read a single Before Watchmen issue. Not just because the Moore thing, but I also just don't care. What happened before the events of Watchmen? Who cares?
S: Yeah, It just seems completely unnecessary no matter how much you pretty it up with sweet sweet Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner art. Speaking of art (I am the master of all the segues) the only main difference with the Hoax Hunters ongoing is that art will now be handled by Axel Medellin, taking over for JM Ringuet. What does Axel bring to the table artistically for the book?
MM: You know, I think he brings a more traditional style. JM is great, but there's no question that he was more stylized in his own way. Axel is more traditional, more character-centric--he can bring emotional nuances and depths to life in amazingly subtle ways. That's exactly what we wanted for the book. Yes, it's a horror/sci-fi romp (and believe me, Axel illustrates some spectacular monsters, such that would impress Bernie Wrightson), but at the heart of the series is the characters, the human story. Axel really brings this to life.
S: I get that, I definitely dug JM's style (He will always have my respect simply for the fact he did concept work on Clive Barkers Jericho, a game I'm pretty sure only I remember) but I understand the need to bring a more human quality to this kind of story and from what I've seen of Medellin's art he definitely brings that. Moving away from Hoax Hunters for a moment, you have another cool project lined up in that you'll be co-writing and Issue of Hack/Slash which will be the first time you'll be playing in somebody else's sandbox correct? What will your approach be for something like that?
MM: It is the first time, and it's great to happen with Hack/Slash, which has long been a favorite of mine. The approach was, as the gurus of Pixar would say, to simplify. It's a method I've stuck to most of my writing career, and I realize the better I get at simplifying things, the better my writing is (at least I think). With Hack/Slash, it was a matter of focusing on the core essentials of what Steve and I think makes the book work so well. We wanted to strip it down and tell a single story that expressed the basics of Cassie and Vlad's story. The story we crafted is, to us, a reflection of that. We didn't want to take it in a new direction or reinvent anything--we wanted to look at what's there and dig out the building blocks.
S: Hoax Hunters is coming from Image at a pretty exciting time as its currently celebrating its twentieth year as a publisher. Does that fact add any extra pressure to yourself and the Hoax Hunters team?
MM: No, not really. It's an honor, more than anything. I still remember the exact moment I bought my first Image book twenty years ago. It was Youngblood #1, which I purchased from the local comics and sports cards shop in my neighborhood. Image has instructed so much of my career and passion, and I’m proud to be part of this momentous occasion.
If anything, Image’s anniversary, and their recent surge, has been a great boost to Hoax Hunters and has relieved pressure. As they say, a rising tide lifts all boats, and I would be remiss not to attribute the healthy Hoax Hunters orders to the current state of Image. I think more people are excited about Image than they have been in a while, and retailers are confident ordering their books. That’s probably the hardest part of the successful book equation, getting retailers and readers to take a chance on your work. Right now, we’re lucky that people are willing to do so.
Thinking strictly of our work, I love that we’re being published alongside Brian K. Vaughn, Ed Brubaker, Grant Morrison, Tim Seeley, etc. These are the stars I’ve steered by for so very long. It creates a healthy competition, in that I want Hoax Hunters to be considered in the same ranks as Saga, Manhattan Projects, and the like. We’re not junior partners—I want Hoax Hunters to be the best book on the shelves, month in and month out. I’m not saying we are, not at all, but that’s our ambition. I’m a pretty competitive person; if you’re in this game and not trying to be the best, then why even bother?
S: Lastly I wanted to talk to you about the aforementioned ReincarNATE, particularly how you recently concluded a successful Kickstarter campaign for it. I'm a guy who thinks that crowd sourcing sites like Kickstarter and Indie a Go Go are going to become even more important in financing comics in the coming years and when I recently talked with Mark Andrew Smith about this he said that a big advantage of crowd sourcing is it gives you a direct access to your readers. With the completion of ReincarNATE do you have similar feelings or any other thoughts on crowd sourcing and how it effects the relationship between creators and readers?
MM: That's a good question. Because, yes, I had a successful Kickstarter drive but I still don't know how I feel about the whole thing, weirdly enough. In its purest sense, I think this kind of crowdsourcing is great, for many reasons. Like Mark says, you can reach fans directly; you can increase your revenue by leaps and bounds; you can have complete control over your project. But, at the same time, I think the system has been abused. Being honest, I can't quite come to terms with artists (in any medium) asking for enough money to provide their complete sustenance for the duration of their project. In fact, I think it's absurd. And, yes, I'm coming from the point of view of an artist with a day job, but that's not why I hold this perspective. I just don't think it's the responsibility of your readers, fans, patrons, whatever, to directly support your life. Artists need to have business acumen to survive these days, and by acumen I don't mean, "give me forty grand, ten of which will go towards the work you're supporting." I think it's absolutely fair to ask for money that directly goes to funding a project, and everything you make beyond that is gravy. Like Mark--he and James now have an awful lot of money now, and that's terrific. But the idea of allocating, say, 60% of a Kickstarter goal to one's rent seems to be missing the point.
That being said, who knows the future holds for my relationship with Kickstarter. It's very tempting for all the reasons I point out, and illustrated by Mark's success. Because the truth is, with Kickstarter you have a much, much higher ceiling for generating revenue and reaching fans. Sullivan's Sluggers, I'm sure, will be a great book. But no matter how spectacular it may be, the odds of it generating over 90K in the direct market system is damn near unfathomable. To reach those kind of heights is very attractive. It's great that the possibility exists.
Hoax Hunters #1 is written by Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley with art by Axel Medellin. It's an Image Comics title and will be in comic shops everywhere
THIS Wednesday, July 4! Celebrate America's independence with ghosts! EDIT: NEXT Wednesday, July 11! (Though you should still celebrate July 4 with ghosts.)
Spandexless: To start with why don't you tell me a little bit about the history of this project. James Stokoe and yourself have been working on this for four years now correct?
Mark Andrew Smith: I think it's been four years. The idea came to me around 2005, and I worked on it a little bit and then tucked it away in 'a drawer' so to speak, technically a computer file, but it wasn't until about 2009 that I really started working on it. I asked James Stokoe who I've been a huge fan of from the Popgun series I created and edited with Joe Keatinge, and I think it was Joe that suggested James for the project. So the short story is I e-mailed James and he said yes, but it was around his other comic work, and paying jobs. So it took a really long time to wrap up. Part of it is my fault because the book was originally just going to be about a hundred pages, but I got carried away when I was writing it and kept coming up with great stuff, like a kid in a candy store. The final script I think is around 190 pages. Which is why it took a lot longer.
S: I can definitely understand the being like a kid and a candy store, especially with an artist like Stokoe being involved. When you were fleshing out the script was there anything in particular that you added to play with his strengths?
MAS: I was fleshing out the script before his Orc Stain series had come out but I had read his other book 'Wonton Soup' and knew what he could do from there. Although Orc Stain was originally in Popgun so I had a good idea. As a writer it's always nice to know who you're writing for and that way you can play up to their strengths. I think with a book like Sullivan's it really is an energy that James is able to capture and convey on the page with this baseball team and all of the different personalities on it, so I think that's where he nailed it and he was also fantastic about coming up with the monsters. Some of the pages I'd write them, and get them back and my jaw would drop and I think getting pages from James really motivated me to write the next section and make more noise as I did the writing so he actually motivated me a lot. I also know he can do giant monsters, and I think with Sullivan's it's more grounded in 'reality' than his normal work too, so it was a change for him and for him to do horror.
S: I can only imagine what it must have been like to get these pages back, you were nice enough to send me a good chunk of the finished book and I can honestly say that the book is stunning
MAS: Thank you.
S: But I also completely see what your saying about it being grounded in reality.
MAS: Yeah, and it's not to diminish the value, James is great at drawing fantasy worlds, but for this book it needed to be grounded more in reality for the horror aspect of it but he still goes all out with the designs and really animating the characters on the page and bringing them to life.
S: Actually I think if your a reader that’s familiar with Stokoe’s work, such as myself, being familiar with some of the more fantastical aspects of his style really helps the juxtaposition of the grounding here.
MAS: I agree. I think for Sullivan's the influence for me was really kind of big and epic classic manga from the 60s, and then splatter horror films like Evil Dead by Sam Raimi and Dead Alive by Peter Jackson.
S: I'll admit my background in manga is limited, but I totally see the DNA of Dead Alive here. Particularly in how the book has a balance of legitimate horror and humor. Was that something you particularly went after while writing it?
MAS: It was. I wanted something that was scary, gory, bloody, but also a lot of fun. Where there are horrible moments happening but they're enjoyable to read. I guess in a few ways there's a similar vibe in Shaun of the Dead or Zombie Land so if people liked those films they'll enjoy Sullivan's.
S: I can definitely vouch for that from what I've seen, now as for how people can get their hands on the book you guys are going to be going the route that is becoming more and more the norm when it comes to comics projects in that your going to be seeking funding to complete the project through Kickstarter. Is there a particular reason for that?
MAS: I'm doing Sullivan's Sluggers on Kickstarter because I want to try something new and I want to sell directly to my readers, and have the direct contact with them I think it makes a lot more sense from a business perspective to do that, and I'll put books out in comic shops too but so often they just break even and after four years of working on a project I'd have nothing to show for it through comic shops. So it makes sense to do Kickstarter from a business standpoint, and we keep in contact with our fanbase for the next book we do and build up from there. However I think it's terrifying because it is a big risk to be enterprising and an entrepreneur, but also with risk comes reward.
S: Kickstarter is definitely unique in that it gives you a somewhat unprecedented access to your readers and almost acts as a publisher on demand type model. Personally as of late I've been "preordering" more books through Kickstarter than I ever did through Diamond.
MAS: I'm going to do that too, I think my goal for this year will be to set an amount to spend on comics, but only buy them through Kickstarter. Also it's nice because you know your numbers, and how many copies to print, and also with the Internet people can share, and promote you. I like that a lot. It's more interesting that way, and there are so many great projects coming through there and it actually helps the creators more than buying books in stores.
S: But also I think that stores and Kickstarters can coexist, they just allow customers different sorts of access to different kinds of creators.
MAS: I think so too. It's not a case of one taking out the other. They can coexist, and I think that by building a better bridge directly to readers that creators make their projects more popular and actually seed and increase the demand for shops.
S: Speaking of that demand, once Sullivan’s Sluggers’ Kickstarter completes will there be any way for people to get the book afterward? Wasn't Image attached as the publisher?
MAS: I think we may go through Image and release the book in shops. We're doing a hardcover on Kickstarter that's limited.
I think my ideal would be to do the hardcover, then wait a year, do singles, and then wait a year or two and do the TPB.
S: That’s definitely an interesting idea, sort of rewarding people for getting on early but not necessarily penalizing people who missed out.
MAS: It's a weird line where I have to make money on the book or make money back but I also want people to read it or be able to buy it, the later two are secondary because I really want to push people towards the hardcover because that's what pays the bills and makes it easier to do more projects for me.
S: I get that, as a creator there’s always seems to be that tightrope you have to walk between getting your art out but not go broke in the process. So I guess the big question is when will the Kickstarter officially launch and how much money are you guys looking to raise?
MAS: The Kickstarter is up now. It's starting at a minimum of $6,000 to print the book, and if we go over that will help with other projects to get them out faster. I have four things that I'm really excited about in the works but Sullivan's has to do well on Kickstarter to give those the push that they need.
S: Are you willing to give us any details on those potential projects?
MAS: I think right now there's so much progress to be made on them, but I can only talk about one. One is an original all new project that I can't talk about, but it will be on Kickstarter also. The second is an original prequel, color, hardcover Amazing Joy Buzzards story which is the first book I ever did. That's drawn by Cristian Gonzales who is stepping in for Dan Hipp and takes place before any of the original Amazing Joy Buzzards stories. It also is great for new readers and can be read on its own.
S: As a guy who literally has a copy of The Amazing Joy Buzzards volume 1 a foot away from him right this second that is the best news I've heard all night.
MAS: Thanks. And Dan is nearly done with the next one in the series. I know it's been four years but Monster Love is nearly complete after all this time Haha.
S: That was quite literally my next question.
MAS: There were three volumes planned and hopefully something happens that's good to let us get the last one out faster. But I don't know, I'm never certain and it depends on Dan.
S: of course, well as for the present I am sure Sullivans Sluggers will do great over at Kickstarter but other than that do you have any other projects you would want people to check out?
MAS: I have New Brighton Archeological Society and Gladstone's School for World Conquerors in stores, which are all ages titles but don't let that fool you, they're full of adventure.
To find out more about Mark follow him on Twitter and make sure to check out his Tumblr for Gladstone's School for World Conquerors progress and The New Brighton Archeological Society which is available online. You can also donate to the Kickstarter for Sullivan's Sluggers through June 16.
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