Thought Bubble recommendations – it’s still live so you can still use it!!

Thought Bubble 2020 Con is still live

Check out 20 of our favourite creators from the show

Been trawling through and picked out 20 rec from the STILL LIVE @ThoughtBubbleUK
with @douglasnoble @wineandzine @WeAreHappyClam @AveryHillPubl @chip_collective @GustaffoVargas @neilslorance @AndreIllustrate @johannaost @peonygent @seanazz @hotelfred @steveningramart @Ze_Burnay Sajan Rai @WIP_Comics @katchapman Idiot Corpse @julesscheele @russell_m_olson

Douglas Noble (and collaborators!) – @douglasnoble

Wine and Zine@wineandzine

Happy Clam@WeAreHappyClam

Avery Hill@AveryHillPubl

Chip Collective@chip_collective

Gustaffo Vargas@GustaffoVargas

Neil Slorance (and collaborators) – @neilslorance

Andre Caetano@AndreIllustrate

Johanna Ost@johannaost

Peony Gent@peonygent

Phatcomics (Sean Azzopardi)@seanazz

Roger Langridge@hotelfred

Steven Ingram@steveningramart

Ze Burnay@Ze_Burnay

Sajan Raioh_hai_ku

WIP Comics@WIP_Comics

Katriona Chapman@katchapman

Breakwater Katriona Chapman

Idiot Corpse@idiotcorpse

Jules Scheele@julesscheele

Russell Mark Olson@russell_m_olson

Things I’m liking

Things to buy and see

Finishing – Friday 27th, November 23:32 GMT from @_HeatherAPalmer

Finishing Saturday, November 28 2020 at 19:00 GMT from @uk_comic

Finishing Monday, November 30 2020 13:00 GMT – from @AdmiralMalty

Finishing – Thursday, December 31 2020 12:58 GMT from @JudeMontague

Finishing – Saturday, December 5 2020 7:52 GMT written by @DominikaCess and artist Maciej Pałka

Small (press) oaks – John Freeman

John Freeman has an incredible history within the UK’s comic industry and continues to be a great custodian and supporter of its past, present and future. You only need to look at the end of this interview where he tells us a bit about himself to get an understanding of his involvement. I highly recommend Down The Tubes and it’s articles and reviewers, particularly if you love UK comics history or UK small press titles.

My own experiences with John have always been positive and friendly. He was very supportive when I launched a small Kickstarter for my comics anthology ‘The Seas’ and has always been very approachable any time I’ve contacted him. He is in all ways a professional and a gentleman. 

You can find John here: twitter downthetubes newsletter

Over to you John.

Can you tell us a bit about the first creator whose work you recognised?

The first comic creators I probably recognised were those in the weekly 1960s comic TV Century 21, although few of them had a credit on the page. The main ones would be Frank Bellamy and Ron Embleton.

The Perishers
Jeff Hawke

However, I did know who drew my favourite newspaper strips such as The Perishers and Jeff Hawke. British comic creators rarely got credits in comics in the 1960s, although they had them in titles such as Eagle in the 1950s; rivals IPC and DC Thomson didn’t want them pinched. In the early 1970s, Countdown included credits and for me, Don Harley, Gerry Haylock, Harry Lindfield and Brian Lewis stood out alongside reprints from TV21.

Which creators do you remember first copying?

Bear in mind I’m perhaps better known as an editor and writer here rather than artist, but I drew very much with a nod toward Leo Baxendale and DC Thomson artists on Sparky when I did draw… badly, by the way!

Who was the creator that you first thought ‘I’m going to be as good as you!’?

I’ve never thought like that, a bit of imposter syndrome perhaps, although there have been times when I’ve despaired of a story or second guessed its plot and thought, “well I could definitely write that better!” I’ve gotten more intolerant of bad writing as I’ve gotten older. 

I find writing hard; as it should be, if it’s going to be good. At the same time, I’m constantly aware that you can spend too much time on a script, if you want to make a living you also need to know when to send it off and face the judgement of your editor!

Which creator or creators do you currently find most inspiring?

I don’t think there’s any doubt that the writers on comics such as TV21 and Sparky inspired me to write and draw my own comics from an early age. The editorial team at TV21 created a unified universe from the very different Gerry Anderson shows.

Writing advice from disparate creators such as Tom de Falco, Alan Grant, Paul Gravett, David Lloyd, Alan Moore, Richard Starkings and John Tomlinson guided my early writing, rather than influencing my actual writing; although I’m a believer in keeping panel descriptions succinct and trusting the artist rather than the old IPC format of “stage directing” every character in a panel. I’m happy if artists honour the invisible Z of comic storytelling, action running left to right through panels, first person speaking is drawn on the left and for goodness sake remember there will be word balloons and consider the top third of panels potential balloon space, and corners or dead space too, otherwise it’s your own fault if that beautiful background you decided to include gets covered up!

Which creators do you most often think about?

The ones working in a project I’m working on and making sure they’re happy with how things are going and also that they’re delivering on time.

Finally, can you tell us a bit about your recent work and yourself?

I’m the founder of the comic news site downthetubes.net promoting British comics and the creation of comics, contributions welcome and donations via the site for the work welcomed.

I have worked in British comics publishing for over 30 years as , what I like to describe as a “freelance comics operative”, working as an editor, Creative Consultant and as a comics promoter. 

Initially working at Marvel UK, my editorial credits include titles such as Doctor Who Magazine, Babylon 5 Magazine, Star Trek Magazine, and comics such as Overkill, Death’s Head II, Simpsons Comics UK and STRIP Magazine. I also edited several digital and audio comics for ROK Comics, including “Team M.O.B.I.L.E.” (recently re-published in print by Antarctic Press) and “The Beatles Story”, and several comic collections, including volumes of “Charley’s War” and “Dan Dare”. 

Most recently, I edited “Lost Fleet” and two Doctor Who mini-series for Titan Comics, both receiving critical acclaim.

My recent writing credits include re-introducing some classic humour characters to a modern audience in the “Cor and Buster Humour Special”, working with artist Lew Stringer;  and “Death Duty” and “Skow Dogs” with Dave Hailwood for the digital comic 100% Biodegradable. 

Buster Cor 2019 Humour Special

I have also been writing a teaser strip tie-in for a new TV series, and working with Brazilian artists Wamberto Nicomedes and Rodval Matias on a creator-owned SF adventure, “Return to Planet Earth”.

I’m writing a mini series under Non Disclosure for B7 Media, who I worked with on the “The Dan Dare Audio Adventures”, to tie in with a new project. We also just launched an open call for art samples – here.

I’m still trying to continue Crucible with Smuzz – there’s an episode sitting there that needs lettering and it’s my bad that it hasn’t been done; and I’m having a great time working with Dan Dare and Thunderbirds artist Keith Page in bringing his marvellous “Charlotte Corday” stories to his fans, through Tapas, the most recent that’s complete being “Wonderbirds”. We’ve got some other stuff on the boil, too.

Crucible

I also help promote the Lakes International Comic Art Festival which is virtual this year over 9th – 11th October 2020, and I’m working on a new gaming platform, a project that has been in the works for ages that I can’t say more about either!

In terms of myself? I enjoy reading, more walking since the Pandemic hit, our cats, time with my wife, decent telly, though I don’t watch much of it, and reading comics… when I’m not writing about them and their creators, which takes up more time!

Thank you very much for taking the time to fill this out and let us into your mind.

all art copyright and trademark its respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

comix economix – an interview with Avery Hill’s Ricky Miller

I think the true nature of what makes Avery Hill a truly worthy publisher comes not from the work that they publish, but from the approach that they take.

It seems to me that the two most important things to be taken from this whole interview would be these comments, “..we had a responsibility to sell as many books as possible and make some money for the creators…” and “…we put a massive amount of our time into the company and don’t take any money for that…”

It’s that approach to creator first commerce that I admire. It seems to pervade their whole ethos and, I think, informs much of their editorial aesthetic as well – people first. At the heart of what they do is the belief that people matter and so should be shown respect.

Untitled Ape’s Epic Adventure Steven Tillotson

ZL – Hi and thanx for agreeing to this interview!

Having looked around, you seem to have entered your 15th year as a publishing company and it seems like a terrible year to be in business, especially the business of comics. It made me think though, did you believe you’d last 15 years when you started, do you feel like you’ve accomplished more than you ever thought you could?

RM – It’s actually 8 years that we’ve been an LTD and a couple of years of making zines before that.

I think when we started, we probably saw it going a few years and our major aim was to have a nice row of a few books on our shelf which wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for us.

I Love This Part Tillie Walden

To some extent that’s still the philosophy of what we do, although as we’ve taken on more overheads, we’ve had to make a few more decisions based on business reasons rather than other reasons. We didn’t have any idea that one day we’d be doing print runs in the thousands rather than in the tens and that we’d actually have books winning awards! The day that Tillie (Walden) got nominated for an Eisner for I Love This Part is still one of the most mind-blowing things to have happened.

ZL – I don’t know if you want to, but that sentence ‘…although as we’ve taken on more overheads, we’ve had to make a few more decisions based on business reasons rather than other reasons. ‘, really cries out for unpacking a bit! 

It’s very open to interpretation and I’d love to dig out some detail. 

A Projection Seekan Hui

With comic companies so often being so negative, I’d normally be inclined to read that as, ‘we’ve started screwing creators and shipping production out to the cheapest printer we can find’. However, in my experience, creators seem incredibly positive about working with you, both in terms of the value you add to their work and your treatment of their works as published. 

So, my assumption about what you’re saying here is that the kind of projects you take on has changed rather than the treatment of creators or is it something else entirely?

A Quiet Disaster Alex Potts

RM – It’s more that we now think a lot more about how commercial a project is before we take it on. This hasn’t led us yet to do a project JUST for commercial reasons, every book we’ve put out we believe in from a creative point of view and it’s a book we’d love to read ourselves, but we’ve probably had to not pursue a few projects where we just didn’t see it making any money at all. In the past we might have gone ahead with that type of project just for artistic reasons, but we’re trying not to do that anymore. It means saying no to some books we might love to do, but in the long run it’s best for us and also for the creators.

ZL – For me, the whole idea of taking on ‘overheads’ seems damn scary! It’s sort of the difference between being in zine publishing and book publishing. Which is a loaded statement for sure.

Artifical Flowers Rachael Smith

What I mean is, for me zine publishing doesn’t require much money up front and doesn’t really expect to do more than break even or even just net back a bunch of reading through swaps. Book publishing carries the expectation of income to fund new publications, carrying back stock, selling in bulk and at discount, handling returns and all sorts of other time consuming and expensive upfront costs and gambles.

Does that seem like a fair view or am I over simplifying matters horribly!?

RM – The main thing is just not totally overstretching ourselves. We’ve so far not had to do anything financially that we couldn’t see a way of surviving if everything went wrong. We always pay invoices immediately, especially for staff and smaller businesses that we deal with and being responsible is really important in that we don’t want anyone else to hurt from mistakes we make.

On A Sunbeam Tillie Walden

Our biggest costs are always by far print costs. Reprinting something like On A Sunbeam is a massive cost. Our latest reprint of that cost £20K+, but that’s a book that will always sell and it’s just a short-term cash flow problem rather than a risk.

Breakwater Katriona Chapman

ZL – Do you miss the simplicity and immediacy of zine publishing. I don’t mean that as a ‘would you prefer to go back to zines’, more of a question of whether you appreciated having the opportunity to approach publishing in that manner and whether that had its own appeal and does that appeal still exist for you?

RM – I don’t really miss the zine aesthetic, I was never particularly into it. Dave might feel differently on that score as he was very much the one who produced all of those early zines that got us started and I was just a contributor for most of that. I like buying and reading zines more than I did making them. I’d encourage every creator to self-publish something at least once as it gives you a great education in the whole process of making, selling and marketing a book. 

Butter Tubbs Donya Todd

ZL – In the face of all that complexity, what is it about the process that keeps you going and motivated, what emotional aspects of it reward you, as I presume you’re not rolling in money from this, it’s publishing and comics after all!

RM – I’m more interested in getting as big an audience for what we do as possible and I get most of my enjoyment now from figuring out the business side of things and seeing how far people like us can get without any insider knowledge, connections or experience other than what we’ve managed to gather as we go along. I see our logo as something of a metaphor for this, that we’re bunking over a fence into the publishing industry. 

Days Simon Moreton

ZL – We’ve dived quickly into depth here without really getting any history for context, which is terrible in an interview! So, to step backwards for a minute, how about you tell us what background you have with comics?

RM – Dave, the AHP co-publisher/co-owner, and I have been friends since school and definitely bonded through comics (as well as music). We both started reading lots of Marvel UK stuff when we were very young. I was particularly into Transformers and used to do my own Transformers fancomic when I was about 14. Then when we met at senior school we were reading some superhero stuff (it was the early 90s so mainly the Image guys pre and post them leaving Marvel) and then the DC mature readers titles that became Vertigo, like Sandman, Animal Man and Shade. Also a few self-published titles, such as Strangers In Paradise, Bone, Hepcats and A Distant Soil. Cerebus was probably the biggest one for us though (until it went off the rails) and I’d say that a lot of the stuff that Dave Sim used to discuss, with regards to creator ownership and self-publishing, still massively resonates in how we think about Avery Hill.

We both drifted from comics when we went to uni and then Dave got back into them when we were in our late 20s and leant me Y: The Last Man and Fables, which got me back into them as well.

Deep Space Canine Comic Book Slumber Party

ZL – I’m always interested to see Dave Sim mentioned because of how his place in comics seems to have shifted from Cerebus as a comic and more to what he did when publishing it and what he wrote about publishing itself. I could do a whole discussion about the value of the comic, but that’s a whole other interview!

What I am intrigued by is, how a publisher took what Dave Sim said and got inspired by it when you consider how anti publishers and pro creators doing it all themselves his writing was. So, at what point in Avery Hill’s history did he influence you and what impact does he still have on your approach to creators and publishing?

Victory Point Owen D. Pomery

RM – I think the main thing is the stress on creator freedom and ownership. We don’t take any rights from creators in terms of licensing, image, etc. And they’re totally free to tell their story however they want. The way he worked directly with comic retailers as well is really important and how he built his audience from the ground up pre-social media.

Desolation Wilderness Claire Scully

ZL – As a random question, have you ever considered reaching out to Gerhard and seeing if he’d want to be published, can you imagine a comic just filled with his illustrations of different environments!

RM – I’m not sure if he’s ever written a comic, but I’d definitely love to see a nice book of his drawings!

Escape From Bitch Mountain Comic Book Slumber Party

ZL –  Just to tack a further wide open question on there, what do you think the legacy of that generation of self-publishers has had on comics now? I personally feel it did a lot to re-introduce diversity of subjects and approach back into comics and spurred what I’d class as the book market side of comics.

RM – I’d love to read an Easy Riders, Raging Bulls type book on those creators and that time. I’m sure it would be fascinating, although equally male-centric. I’m not sure that many of today’s younger creators have read much of that stuff and I don’t think any of them are making enough from self-publishing to turn up at shows in limos like Sim used to. I think we have to look at it more in the context of an Image style business model nowadays, where books like Saga, The Walking Dead, etc kept some of that ethos, albeit with some work-for-hire aspects that Sim would frown on. The most influential on today’s market from that time is definitely Jeff Smith’s Bone, which blew the doors off of the middle-grade market. The lasting influence there is massive.

Follow Me In Katriona Chapman

ZL – Going back a bit to something else you mentioned, specifically publishing your own Transformers fan comic, and I can’t leave that stone unturned! What was it called and was it something you did for yourself and your friends or did you put it out to the wider world and are there still copies available to buy or maybe a link to read it somewhere?

RM – Thankfully it was pre-internet and I don’t think it will surface. It was done through a Transformers fan club and was an incredibly ambitious prequel to the whole Transformers saga called Pathformers that (shockingly) I abandoned after about 6 issues. Sadly, a lost masterpiece of the form.

Goatherded Charlo Frade

ZL – Do you think that early experience had an influence on setting up and beginning Avery Hill?

RM – I don’t think I would have thought of doing Metroland if it hadn’t have been for the Transformers comic, but I always enjoyed writing and drawing so I’m not sure.

A City Inside Tillie Walden

ZL – I’m a nosy person that’s very interested in how people get to a point, not just what they do, so I’d really like to know what was the trigger that finally persuaded you to publish your first book?

Also, when setting up the company, what was the initial impetus to make Avery Hill exist? I just think it would be interesting to know whether the original dream has been met, but also, digging into that a bit deeper, what moment persuaded you that it was possible to go out and publish comic books?

Finally, to heap in the questions like an avalanche, what did you think you’d be able to achieve, in what timescale?

Metroland 1, 2, 3 & 4

RM – Dave wanted to start a zine called Tiny Dancing and I decided to contribute a comic to it called Metroland, which I used to write and draw. As we got more into that world we found loads of other comics creators who were much better than us, like Tim Bird, Owen Pomery and Simon Moreton and decided we should just publish their stuff instead. So the first book we put out that wasn’t by one of us was Grey Area by Tim and the The Megatherium Club by Owen. Simon’s collection, Days, was the first big graphic novel we ever did.

Grey Area Our Town Tim Bird

We had absolutely no background in publishing, no contacts, no financial backing and not much of an idea about the small-press scene. We didn’t really expect it to go anywhere and thought it would just fizzle out at some point. There was definitely no grand plan. We often compare ourselves to those small record companies that start because they like a band, like Electric Honey, Jeepster, or Factory Records. I like the idea of doing something where no one can tell you “No” and taking control of what you want to do. Neither of us would be remotely interested in working for another publisher (I’d maybe consider running Marvel for them…).

Internet Crusader George Wylesol

ZL – I’m going to jump around because that’s how my head works sometimes and because I realise it would be good to get some context.

I know many people don’t really want to talk about numbers, particularly sales and income, but I’m not one of them! Forewarned is forearmed I fully believe. So, what were your initial expectations for sales and break even for published comics and on what did you base those? Was there a network of people you could reach out and did you reach out to them?

Zebedee and the Valentines Abs Bailey

RM – From the point of view of the books making money, we didn’t start out with that intention and the print runs and costs were never going to generate a meaningful profit. We were fan amateurs doing our best to publicise work by people we liked (and we had to like both their work and the person themselves) and that was very clear to all of the creators as well. However, at a certain point it got big enough that we realised those terms had changed and that we had to take it even more seriously and that we had a responsibility to sell as many books as possible and make some money for the creators. A lot of companies can start as hobbies and then grow beyond that and it’s really, really important to notice when you have crossed that line so that you don’t start failing to deliver to the expectations of your creators. We feel a deep responsibility to the creators for the amount of work they put in. We want the final book to look as good as possible and sell as many copies as we can.

Ismyre B Mure

ZL – I don’t want to derail this set of questions yet, so I’ll come back to some of those points in a bit, if that’s alright? I’m wondering if you ever achieved those initial numbers, or blew them out of the water, or did you find yourself still sitting on a fair amount of dead stock?

RM – We made some mistakes in the early days in terms of print runs. Everyone does. It’s rare you have “just enough” books, which is what everyone is trying to aim for. You either get stuck with a load or you go to a 2nd print after a short period of time because you printed too few.

It’s Cold in the River at Night Alex Potts

ZL – What did you do to decide on those initial numbers, was it based on a marketplace assessment, segmented by a target audience, more of a finger in the air informed guess, or the more hopeful, ‘well if I sell this amount it’ll cover all the costs and it doesn’t seem that unreasonable to expect these sales figures’?

And the punchier question, how much better have you got at making those estimates now that you’ve been at this for so many years?

I would guess there’s no great problem thinking you’ll only sell 500 and suddenly finding 5,000 ordered. Of course, I’m just assuming that, so feel free to re-educate me!

Tower in the Sea B. Mure

RM – It’s all finger in the air as in those days we had no clue what print runs other publishers were doing. A few people took us under their wing and gave us some idea. I’ve always been interested in developing out the business side, so I always ask people questions. All of the published data is close to useless for comics as so many aren’t sold through tills. We’re a lot better than we were, but we’re still pretty conservative and get taken by surprise a lot. Storage is expensive, printing is expensive, shipping is expensive…it’s an expensive business.

We have UK and US distributors who sell our books directly to bookshops and to comic shops, either directly or through Diamond. All books are returnable, so each month we’ll get a hit on books that come back. A while ago we got notified of 650 books that were returned and unsellable again due to slight dings or scratches on them, so they have to go to be recycled and we lose all of the money on those. They pay us on a 4-6 month lag, so it takes that long to get any money back on most books. Which means cash-flow is king. You need a pipeline of good sellers to be able to stay afloat if you don’t have big financial reserves as you’re always paying for the next book out of the money from the previous book.

Maleficium Edie OP

ZL – Heading back to your earlier point about starting as amateur publishers, could you expand a bit on what expectations you set yourself at first and how realistic those sales or rather, your measures for sales, were in the end? How much of the continuation of publishing over the time was linked to your expectations shifting to meet reality and what emotional effect that had upon you?

There’s also the flip, in terms of how creators’ expectations have been managed by you in this process. Have you ever had to sit a creator down and go ‘Slow down, you’re thinking mountains and we’re thinking hills’?

The Rabbit Rachael Smith

RM – It’s all emotional with us. If the creator is happy, we’re happy. If the creator is delighted, we’re delighted. If the creator is not happy, we feel awful. A lot of that is managing expectations at the outset. 

The main focus for me for the past few years has been putting everything possible in place from a structural perspective to make sure that we can do as good a job as possible. That’s distribution, printers, marketing, PR. and sales. It’s all about sales when it comes down to it. Every job we do in this company is about sales. A friend of ours, Gareth Brookes, who makes graphic novels and some years ago we published a couple of zines by, said something the other day which really resonated with me. He said that we’re “too professional” and I knew what he meant, in that we can give the impression that we’re bigger and more successful than we are in reality. That’s because we put a massive amount of our time into the company and don’t take any money for that (we have day jobs). We also hire three contractors to work on sales, marketing and publicity who are all great at their jobs and we punch way above our weight.

Marble Cake Scott Jason Smith

ZL – This is a tricky one to slip in, but I wonder after how much emotion and anxiety you expected to be involved in the process and whether you were prepared for how much there actually was?

There seems to be a lot of opportunity to build up a large amount of guilt around having your expectations for success and having to reconcile that with reality and having to deal with the creator’s own sense of worth and expectations of what makes that work worthwhile?

RM – I didn’t expect any anxiety. I expected to care, but not anxiety. The way we work, we get emotionally invested in every creator and we don’t want to let them down in any way. A lot of them we’d consider good friends. I feel massive amounts of guilt when we take tough decisions, but everything we do is done with good intent and never about our financial gain. There have been some lows, especially in the early days where we probably made some mistakes due to lack of experience or lack of resources. If a book doesn’t sell enough it’s always our fault and we just have to try harder. We do the best we can.

Mimi and the Wolves Alabaster Pizzo

ZL – I think emotional investment is probably the least thought out part of anyone’s initial business plan, it’s almost always ‘Where do I get the money to make this?’ What advice would you give about remaining emotionally healthy when getting into publishing?

RM – I don’t think it’s taken a massive toll on us; we can sleep at night and I can look every creator in the eye because I know we’ve cared about each book and done our best. I’d say you just have to be very honest and aware of your capabilities. You also need a business model where you and the creator share success, so you’re all working towards the same goal.

Parsley Girl Matthew Swan

ZL – I’m thinking not just about being a publisher, but also considering your creators’ emotional wellbeing now. At the start of becoming a publisher did you begin by managing the creator’s expectations, or did you start to realise they needed managing?

Or, have you been lucky to work with creators that are already realistic? I hope you’ve never found yourself dealing with a creator whose work you thought had gone successfully into the market where they were devastated that it had been a failure, and I wouldn’t want to open old wounds for anyone.

I am intrigued though about what you do when something goes very badly or very well, what challenges does that offer you as a publisher, particularly a publisher that has managed long term relationships with a number of creators.

Permanent Press Luke Healy

What happens, say, if they’re disappointed in responses or sales, but you’re proud and can see that they could go on and achieve more – what do you feel is your role in that situation?

RM – A lot of the time we’re the creator’s first experience of working with a publisher, which is a responsibility that we take seriously. I like to think that we’re a really good publisher to start a career with as we’ll look after them as much as possible and also not rip them off or keep any rights that we shouldn’t. We’ve worked with a number of creators who have gone on to bigger publishers and we always feel great about that. It’s a feather in our cap and means we’ve done our job right. It also helps the sales of their books with us if the creator is then being marketed by a bigger company.

Seasons Mike Medaglia

ZL – You don’t take submissions of work so how do you find new creators to work with? Do you actively search out creators on social media or through word of mouth from other creators or did you start this with a hit list of creators you wanted to publish? Basically, how does a work or creator get on Avery Hill’s radar and how do you think about prioritising that work for publication? Is that approach to do with being curators as much as publishers, about carving a space in comics that looks like the shape of your tastes?

Walking Distance Lizzy Stewart

RM – We’ve always had a very loose list of creators that we’d like to do a book by at some point. A few of those we’ve managed to tick off in recent times, such as B. Mure, Lizzy Stewart and Kristyna Baczynski. We like the process of curating what we do; seeking out the creators in various places. We follow lots of people we like on social media and Patreon and always seek out new creators at shows. If they’ve self-published it’s a big bonus as then you know they can get a project completed and also understand a lot of the production side of things as well. Getting submissions ends up taking lots of time and 99% of the time we’ve had to pass on the projects, so it’s not particularly fun for us. We’ve also now got such a large roster of existing creators that we really want to leave space for them to come to us with new projects as well.

Retrograde Orbit Kristyna Bacynski

ZL – I noticed that you hired outsiders to fill non-editorial roles and seeing how considered your other decisions have been, I’m presuming that’s because you valued the editorial role most? Would that be fair to say?  

RM – I think having someone freelance as an editor would be a loss of control over the relationship with the creator that I wouldn’t particularly enjoy. I think so much of what we do with Avery Hill and what makes us different is that it’s locked into mine and Dave’s taste and aesthetic and it’s that influence that we bring to bear on the creative process. It would be hard to relinquish that input and those decisions to someone else and then having to just market and sell something we didn’t feel like a tiny bit of ourselves had been involved in. That’s pretty much why we don’t publish works in translation that other publishers have put out or why we don’t really like taking finished projects.

Something City Ellice Weaver

ZL – How much editorial input do you have in any work that you produce or does that vary depending on the creator?

RM – It varies greatly. There are some creators that basically just want us to proof-read it and then there are some that want input at every stage of the process. I’m happy with either scenario really, we try to work however they’d like to work. Ideally they would rough out the whole book in a way that’s legible and I’d then go through and make suggestions on structure and pacing and anything I don’t think is right in the story. Then they go off and start drawing it and I’ll give input as and when required. Then feedback on dialogue and any bits that might need redrawing if they haven’t come out right. Mostly I just make suggestions and leave them to determine if they agree with what I’m saying. I like to make it clear it’s their book and their vision and I’m just asking them questions to make sure they’ve thought about all of their decisions. Just because I don’t like something or don’t think it’s the right decision, it doesn’t mean they should change it. It’s their work and they have to be happy with what ends up on the finished page.

Swear Jar Abe Christie

ZL – Philosophically, what do you aim to achieve through your input? 

RM – Really I think we consider ourselves more project managers than editors. We’re there to help them get it done and make sure they’re happy with the results. We’re enablers, and that can take many different forms; mainly it’s about keeping them confident in their ability to complete it and helping them where necessary. It’s more people skills than anything.

Terrible Means B. Mure

ZL – Considering what’s going on in the comics market are you worried about your future sales or are your sales firm outside of the direct market of comic shops thanks to your use of book distributors? To add to that thought, what are your opinions about the future of print comics both here in the UK and in the US as well? 

RM – I think the direct market is definitely on its last legs, but there’s still a place for specialist comic shops in whatever comes out of it. I feel like in the UK, where shops are a lot less reliant on Diamond and already use multiple distributors and wholesalers, we’re in a good place to weather what comes next. Although obviously the full repercussions of Covid on top of all of this are still working their way through the system. We sell a lot of books through bookstores and directly through our online store so we’re prepared for whatever happens. But the relationships we have with a lot of comics stores are vital and without them I’m not sure what the wider industry would look like in this country. I don’t think the answer is just to become a small part of the wider book industry, we still need our specialist places to champion this medium.

The Beginner’s Guide to Being Outside Gill Hatcher

ZL – What do you think your company’s legacy has been in the market place and in creators lives so far?

That’s a slightly loaded question I know! But I think this is one of those issues of appreciation.

Tom Spurgeon used to say that he thought comics has this built in attitude towards believing everything that has not got a run for 100’s of issues behind it is a complete failure. I’m with him in believing this is completely wrong headed.

To put it in personal terms. You’ve also introduced artists who are now published with other companies and have therefore then gone on to create more work.

If you sit back and reflect upon that, how does it make you feel about your efforts?

What We Don’t Talk About Charlot Kristensen

RM – I’m proud to see our creators go on to greater successes. Publishing the first books of people like Tille Walden, Zoe Thorogood and Charlot Kristensen will be a great legacy. I hope we’ve given them a good experience and platform to jump off from and that they’ll come back one day when they have a personal project they want to do that doesn’t fit anywhere else. I think the way we do things has also influenced publishers like Good Comics, who put out great books. I’m not sure beyond that at the moment, we’re still going and I think will only get stronger, so the full extent of what we’ve done isn’t clear to us yet.

The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott Zoe Thorogood

ZL – Do you see yourselves continuing to grow in terms of output and staff numbers or do you feel you’ve reached a good balance of what you can achieve within the limits of your energy levels?

RM – We’ve just hired someone to do the bookkeeping which means that I don’t have to do it anymore and to me that’s the most exciting thing to happen this year!

The Flood That Did Come Patrick Wray

ZL – Right – to lighten things up and spread some love. Which three creators would you recommend people search out if they were fans of Avery Hill books?

RM

Casey Nowak 

Patrick Kyle

Sophia Foster-Dimino

ZL – What’s the last (non-Avery Hill) comic or zine that you read that made you really think about what it was talking about or how it was using comics?

RM – I only very recently started getting into manga and it’s totally reinvigorated me. My main favourite is 20th Century Boys which might be the best comic I’ve ever read. It’s an incredible lesson in storytelling structure and the art is some of the best I’ve ever seen. Working with creators like Tillie Walden, Charlot Kristensen and Zoe Thorogood who are heavily influenced by manga has really made me appreciate what that language can bring to comics and I think some of the most interesting things happening in the US and UK area mesh traditional UK/US comics and manga.

The Great North Wood Tim Bird

ZL – I’d like to thank you for taking the time to talk to us and for giving such honest answers. I hope you enjoyed the process!

RM – Thanks for the opportunity to talk about some of this stuff, it definitely made me think!

ZL – And finally – please plug away anything you want to plug!!

RM – You can check out all of our titles in our store!

https://averyhillpublishing.bigcartel.com

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

Thought Bubble recommendations – 5 favourites for Friday

Check out 5 of our favourite creators from the show

groups and individuals

Mindless Ones, Silence & Pals

including site favourites Paul Jon Milne, Dan White, Fraser Geesin, Gareth Hopkins & Hitsville UK

New to me – Mathilde Heu who has a very lithe art adaptable art style

Claire O’Brien – whose zine Music Venues of Leeds is one I’ve seen around and liked the look of, but didn’t know who had made it!

Another new one (to me) – Alex Assan – with a long running web comic with a great premise – Shade Runners

Site favourite Lucy Sullivan who is amazing – check out our review of Barking

the long list interview – Jog the Blog

As with many things modern in my comics world, I first learned about Jog from a link on Tom Spurgeon’s Comics Reporter site. This was when Jog was on the Comics Comics site. 

For me, you can’t argue with the worth of Jog and his writing. I absolutely believe he represents the best of his generation in comics; diversely read, positive and generous in his attitude, unapologetic about his tastes, whilst honest about the merits of each work. Most admirable, I find, is the way he is so invested in communicating an experience rather than objectifying the quality for a work in competition with other works. That’s a rather contorted way of saying that he has no interest in building a canon or arguing ‘Best Of’ value, he wants to talk about what he sees within a work and puts it all in context to ensure you understand where his experience comes from, not to set works against each other.

A Jog review is an open discussion of the value he obtained and the issues he encountered when reading a work. It’s the tale of a quest, with the hero being the experience and the context given is the landscape within which that hero battled and grew. 

If you’ve ever read a review by either Tom or Jog you will possibly feel as I do, that it seems fitting that the former led to the latter. Both made reviews feel like free verse and sometimes stream of consciousness. They were never simply précis and quick judgement, they dug within the work and divined from its innards. What Jog’s works did was go deeper still and tell you what he felt and why, how that work functioned to elicit those responses. Critique not criticism and honest reflection not judgement. You learned as much about his thinking as you did the work dissected.

His prose was golden, where reading Tom’s reviews sometimes felt like drunken chats with friends, Jog felt like a guide describing the land he led you through, it’s history and geology, then telling tales around the campfire. 

What was best was that works both literate and crass were treated equally but their qualities were never equated, there was no argument that a crass work was art because he enjoyed it, there was no shame in liking trash and no anti-intellectual hatred of literature, everything that produced a reaction was worth it for that reaction, not because of how it personified Jog’s coolness. That’s why he is cool. 

It’s an aspiration of mine to achieve his spirit and generosity to all and everything, so getting to interview him is a satisfaction close to reading his work regularly and a huge honour. 

Find Jog on

twitter

listen to Comic Books Are Burning in Hell on Spotify or Apple Podcasts

How are you Jog?

J – Pretty good, just hoping I don’t have to do an interview today– oh fuck.

ZL – Ha!

I always like to start an interview by finding out where and when the person was born, where they were raised and where they are now. How about we begin like that?

Katzenjammer Kids

J – I was born in Pennsylvania to a middle-class family. I’m the oldest child. My youngest sister has kids now, very little kids, and I’ve been thinking about the role of adults in my early youth. I have been reading comics for as long as I can remember, and a very big factor in that was my mother’s aunt, who was basically my grandmother– my mother’s mother died when she was very small. Angie was somebody who read comics very keenly, going back to stuff like the Katzenjammer Kids, as it ran in the Depression. She was not an artist, or an academic, but she had the eye that develops when you pay close attention to a particular type of art. The first comics she would get for me were reprints of old Floyd Gottfredson Mickey Mouse strips, which the publisher, Gladstone, had reoriented into comic books; I think she may have sensed the style of them as akin to those comics of her youth, in that she would always get me those before the Donald Ducks, or the other little kid comics. The propulsion of those strips was incredible – my eyes just flew along them, and I absorbed everything. I’d recite the stories later to kids on the school bus. I was six years old. 

Floyd Gottfredson
Mickey Mouse

I think I carry part of her with me; she’s been gone for a while now, but I’ve found that what I value in myself is a sort of intuitive sense in understanding the strength of images that I think she had as well. I’m not a trained critic. I never studied criticism in school – never took an English class or an Art class that wasn’t pressed onto me by a school curriculum. I went to Catholic schools until I was an adult – early on I was in some of those advanced placement programs that obnoxious people won’t shut up about online, but I burned out pretty fast; I almost flunked my senior year of high school. Then, I sort of just did what I wanted at a local Catholic college, studying politics and law, and I did so well that I got a scholarship to do postgraduate studies at a state school, which was nice, in that I didn’t wind up with six figures’ worth of student loans. I still had loans, but not nearly so much. I was completely mediocre at advanced academics, and I started working the first of several office jobs the moment I got out of school, because, well: you’ve got loans to pay off. But I’ve had it pretty good – I’ve worked full-time with no serious gaps since I stopped being a student, up through today. Knock on wood.

Recommended by Jog
Lale Westvind
Grip
(click image to go to buy it)

Anyway, my point is: I do not consider myself a professional writer, which is a specific and precarious trade, the situation of which can only be bettered through the solidarity and care of practitioners who navigate the writing trade to make their living. Only the most successful writers can earn enough to live on from one form of writing, so being a writer demands a versatility that comes from frequent, intensive work, and a great deal of legwork in hustling up gigs. In contrast, I am an occasional writer; I try my best to do no harm, and I offer whatever support I have to writers — I love writers, and I know a few — but I feel it is very crucial to understand the material differences between one who writes sometimes, to ‘express themself’ or whatever, and one who has made writing their job: you cannot traipse around stepping on the livelihood of others because you are a free spirit, nor should you wear the pretense of understanding the compromises and the struggles of writing as done by those who must write to eat, to sleep, to live. So, I do not fancy myself professional, though I do travel, sometimes, in the professional sphere, where I try to watch my elbows. 

ZL – I know you started off with your own blog on blogger, Jog the Blog, and I wondered why you started, what was it in your life that jelled at that moment in that way to start you off? I’m wondering back to an interview you did with Tom Spurgeon. In it you mentioned you just wanted a place to have the conversations you couldn’t with your friends as they weren’t interested in comics at all. I’m wondering, was that false modesty or honesty at that time,as in, do you feel like you were really hoping to roll it out into something more like the experience you ended up having?

Jeff Smith
Bone

JHa haa, it’s not modesty at all; after middle school, I just never had any friends who were interested in comics. We were all into movies, basically. But I was reading comics too. The only time in my life I ever really stopped was for a few years in high school; I was sick of superhero comics (the Clone Saga was going nowhere!) and I’d started spending my pizza delivery money on anime– I very clearly recall thinking as a teenager that anime was the natural evolution of comics, which was best left behind like a vestigial tail on the human embryo. But even then, I still read a few – my freshman year of college, Dark Horse started putting out the first phone books of Akira, and those caught my eye at the Waldenbooks at the mall. I’d sort of remembered Jeff Smith’s Bone from Wizard magazine and the back covers of Shadowhawk, and I’d never gotten to read that — the local comic book stores were very superhero-driven —

Chris Ware
Acme Novelty Library 4

so I mail-ordered a few of the trades, and I got ACME Novelty Library #4 as a free gift, and that really hit me hard. The only comic that hit me harder was this old Kitchen Sink anthology from the ‘90s that I found in a remainder store while on a family vacation to the shore: Twisted Sisters 2, all women. Very post-underground, and it blew the top off my head because I did not know comics could do things like that. Showing ‘pornographic’ things without wanting to arouse you; showing illegal, ‘bad’ things, depicting characters making bad choices – but not in the framework of a horror film, of a set narrative type with one of a few set denouements. Just being the thing, showing the stuff. Saying “this is it.” 

Twisted Sisters 2

Twisted Sisters broke the Taboo of Content for me. ACME broke the Taboo of Form, because those early Chris Ware comics, the stuff in the Quimby the Mouse collection, those tragic flowcharts of doomed love and death– it hammered into me that comics were a type of language, as opposed to an imperfect vehicle for delivering certain types of stories. There was a third taboo that was broken later on, but I’ll save that for later. Little cliffhanger, oooh! I’m Brian K. Vaughan!

I eventually got back into comics in a serious way because of Free Comic Book Day. Put me on the fucking website, I’m a testament. I’d read about the first FCBD, 2002, in the local newspaper, so I went to the Scranton comic book shop – Comics on the Green, still there.

Jim Woodring

The first year of FCBD was a little wooly – they weren’t just giving away the official books at the store, but a lot of their single-issue backstock, so I got a bunch of Jim Woodring comics, some weird items. I bought stuff too: a Phoebe Gloeckner book, because I remembered her vividly from Twisted Sisters; some of the Milligan/Allred X-Force issues, since I recalled Mike Allred from Wizard, and he was another one I’d never gotten to see up close. I came back the next week, and the next, and I just got back into comics in the biggest way, and I had absolutely nobody to talk to about it, so I did the natural thing for hopeless people and went online.

Phoebe Gloeckner
Rick Veitch’s
The Maximortal

I liked message boards. I posted on Comicon, the one founded by Rick Veitch– one of the random comics that caught my aunt’s eye back in the day was a Veitch solo issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so Roarin’ Rick had entered my life at age 9 or 10; glad he’s still kicking, very much enjoying his new Maximortal issues. I’d actually already been reading The Comics Journal – I saw an issue at Borders Books in late 2001, and I’d thought “oh, I used to like comics” and I understood maybe 20% of what was being written in that magazine, but I not only stuck with it, I started lurking on the shores of the lake of fire that was their message board. 

And, right around that time, in 2002, this guy Dirk Deppey started writing the Journal’s weekday blog, ¡Journalista!, and a very big part of his coverage was linking to various discussions happening among comics blogs. And, after a few years– I’d never actually connected with anybody on message boards, because those places tend to become dominated very quickly by superstar posters, and from there a hierarchy is established; lesser voices get ignored. It didn’t help that I tended to go long when I wrote, which made my posts particularly easy to scroll past. Starting a blog seemed ideal, because it could be my own little dictatorship, where I would control all the dialogue, where people would have to voluntarily come to me through the comments section, where all inter-blog communication could be done through tedious exchanges of small essays – it was like Camelot. 

I started Jog – The Blog in the summer of 2004. I was working a summer job in the office of a local politician at that time, and I launched my first post from one of his computers. He’s no longer with us, but I know it will thrill him in Heaven to learn that a great cultural boon was struck from misuse of official resources.

ZL – I started reading your reviews when you were on the Comics Comics blog where, it seems to me, your authorial voice was very much mature and fully formed. How long did it take for you to feel like you’d found your voice and what was it that marked that moment for you?

J – Well, again – like most writers-on-comics going back to the fanzine era, I don’t have any formal education in criticism. I think the first critical writing I ever saw was some of Harlan Ellison’s essays on media when I was maybe 14, 15 years old, and I was trying to read SF– the first writing I ever got paid for were really awful SF stories I wrote and sold online as a teen. I mean, prayers up to the editors who deemed me worthy of paying, but those were pretty bad stories. The best of them was about the effect motion picture editing had on the dreams of people in the very early 20th century, inspiring one man to subconsciously invent a jetpack of sorts, which he then uses to visit a famous filmmaker, whom he discovers has had his mind permanently expanded through prolonged sex with a tentacle creature from beyond the stars; have I mentioned I was watching anime? Steampunk hentai aside, movies were really the engine of whatever critical faculties I developed. As soon as my family got a computer with internet access, I was going around on horror movie sites and message boards, which eventually led me to the whole small scene of quasi-academic writing that surrounded UK publishers like FAB Press. My immediate ancestor in critical writing is a guy named Stephen Thrower, who used to be in the band Coil, but also ran a cult movie zine called Eyeball. I was a little late (and on the wrong continent) to get into any of that, but I did ask my mother to get me his Lucio Fulci book, Beyond Terror, as a Christmas gift one year, which– my parents are very supportive of me, but when my mother looked at the FAB Press catalog, she found it so pornographic and offensive that it actually sort of freaked her out. I mean, Harlan Ellison freaked her out too – there’s a lot of sexual violence in “A Boy and His Dog”, actually, so this wasn’t the first incident; she still got me the book, because she wanted to encourage me, but she pleaded that I not ask her to deal with FAB Press any more, because she personally could not bear it. So, from that day forward, I made sure to save my own pizza delivery money to send to Britain so the devil Harvey Fenton would not cast his shadow upon her again.

Justin Green
Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary

Beyond Terror rewired my brain. I’d read criticism, but that was the first book that made me think critical writing was something I’d like to do. Thrower’s way of creating a simultaneity of the artist existing both within history and within the confines of their own autobiography, while the work exists both within and apart from them, expressed in a very maximalist and obsessive, completist style, was attractive to a boy like me who always longed to understand the outside boundaries of whatever I was thinking about; to ascertain the system which contains the terrifying chaos of existing. As a child, I spent some years in extraordinary fear of God – I would compulsively beg Him to kill everyone with a wave of his hand, and then beg Him not to, over and over; it’s like what Alison Bechdel describes in Fun Home, but explicitly religious. Or, Justin Green in Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, but without the sexual element. I lived those comics, man. 

Seeing an author like Thrower, who dared desire to consider everything – it was profound. Nightmare USA, which he did later, is the best book I’ve ever read about film. More recently, he watched every Jess Franco movie, which is more than 200 feature films, and wrote two huge books about that. I’m not saying my work is really like his, but he’s the lodestone for me.

I didn’t really explore any past comics critics until after I’d started writing myself. Carter Scholz, who embodied the extremely specific and unsparing ideas of quality inseparable from The Comics Journal– Gary Groth invented that voice, but Scholz perfected it. His prose novel, Radiance, is the greatest work of fiction ever written by a comics critic. Or Bob Levin, who folds his writing about comics into these digressive personal essays that loop around and fold into the essence of the comics he covers; his was the blogging voice before blogging existed. I love his work very much, but I didn’t know him at first.

When I started blogging, I did it every day. Every single day, I posted some piece of writing, no matter how small. I think I went a little over 1,000 days without ever missing a post, and that’s really how I learned to write. It’s a cliche, but I only learn how to do anything by doing it; and, I was reading widely from basically every other writer-on-comics out there enough that I was able to refine my approach and begin to figure myself out. It helped a lot that I was a student when I started, so I had some free time to work with; I was able to apply the habits that I developed there to a world where I’d have to start working. And, obviously, I had all the advantages of being unmarried and childless — which frees up a great deal of time and money — and simply being a white guy, with the presumption of authority and insulation from abuse that still comes with that.

God, I was just looking at that interview I did with Tom Spurgeon– back then, I was waking up at five in the fucking morning every day to post my precious gems online. Rise and grind! Who the hell was that guy?

ZL – To jump around in time a bit here, what’s the timeline of Jog the Blog to Comics Comics and how did that all come about?

JThe thing with blogging is that it’s never just you for very long. There was a critic at that time named Alan David Doane – he was a controversial figure back in the day; Bill Jemas knew who he was back when Bill Jemas was running Marvel. Within a year or so of my first post, ADD asked if he could repost a review I’d done of a Kevin Huizenga comic, Or Else #2, on his site, Comic Book Galaxy. He was the first person who’d ever deemed my writing interesting enough to be seen outside of my own site. I started writing little reviews for his site too, and eventually I covered some stuff by the nascent PictureBox, which was Dan Nadel’s publishing project.

I reviewed Matthew Thurber’s Carrot for Girls on Comic Book Galaxy — I believe PictureBox had sent them review copies, and the site’s editor, Christopher Allen, had asked if I’d wanted to cover them — and one of their first large books, Paper Rad, B.J. & da Dogs, by the art collective Paper Rad, on my own site. This was all in 2005. 

For some reason, the way I wrote about those things caught Dan’s eye. Maybe because, in those days, people would still raise questions about whether certain books were ‘really’ comics or not; I recall when Kramers Ergot 4 had first come out in ‘03, there was a bunch of chatter on the TCJ board about whether these were truly cartoonists in the book, instead of gallery art and/or illustration people stretching the definition of comics past where form was truly interesting and vital. I think people similarly did not know what to do with Paper Rad, who had fingers dipped in video art, installations, etc. As it happened, I had a glancing familiarity with their video work from lurking on the Something Awful message boards — which were kind of a cultural hub at that time, because there was a lot of piracy in there — and I was able to put together some talk of their thematics as it applied to their comics, instead of fussing over how ‘comics’ the comics were. At least, I think that’s what happened. Maybe I’m just the only one on the internet who reviewed it.

Paper Rad B.J. & da Dogs

Comics Comics was initially a newsprint magazine with an online presence; Dan and Tim Hodler were the editors, with Frank Santoro involved as, I believe, an editor-at-large. They started off around 2006, but there were only ever four issues of the print magazine. Tim eventually asked me if I’d wanted to do something for them, so I was in issues #3 and #4 of the print magazine. These would come out years apart, it wasn’t a monthly thing. The Comics Comics website was initially a personal blog for the editors, but they gradually started adding more contributors; Tim eventually asked me if I wanted to be part of the site, so I started with that in 2010. I don’t recall if he specifically asked me this, but what I mostly did was transplant a weekly blog feature I’d had going since the beginning of Jog – The Blog, THIS WEEK IN COMICS! By that time, my blogging had slowed down, so I just moved the main recurring part of the blog over to Comics Comics; in that way, Jog – The Blog was absorbed into Comics Comics, in the way Comics Comics would very soon fuse with the TCJ website in 2011.

ZL – To keep going backwards further, how well did Jog the Blog take off? What was happening, if you can remember that far back, in terms of views, but also in terms of attention and other review opportunities that came about?

J – I made friends, which was the original goal. Many of the most precious people in my life I met through comics blogging. But the issue then, after you have made friends, is: what are you still doing? I would say that I greatly liked the very presentational style of communication blogging offered; I am very bad at person-to-person talking. I mostly just stay quiet. I really love to write, though, as hard as it is sometimes. When I’m writing, I very occasionally feel like I’m catching something foreign to the innumerable minutes I spend inside my head, like there is life and thought beyond what I can readily articulate by considering it. Plus, I’m very arrogant, and when I see nothing out there that’s interesting about a good book, I become like St. Paul, issuing epistles with eyes raised and spit spilling from my lips. 

As for attention, I was surprised that anyone thought I was a good writer. Like, my first big Jog – The Blog post was actually a post I’d first put on the TCJ message board about a Dan Clowes comic, and absolutely nobody had liked it there. Nobody had particularly liked anything I’d written on a message board. I think comics blogs just had a different readership – when I started out, it was still a small enough scene that you could read all the comics blogs; everyone sort of knew each other, even if they never wrote directly to one another. There also wasn’t a huge separation between readers and bloggers– even less than there usually is in comics. 

None of this actually lasted for very long. Arguably, comics blogging was already dying as a DIY thing at the time I started, but two factors really hit it hard. First, it’s an unpaid, hobbyist thing; people get older, start families, or look for opportunities to make money from their hobby, which typically doesn’t involve running a blog. Second, the whole idea of online as a mass of small scenes was starting to collapse; you can pretend you’re just writing because you want to write, but everybody does want people to read their stuff, and as options expanded, readers began to gravitate more toward group blogs– as, to be fair, they always mostly did with the larger generalist sites, a la Boing Boing or the AV Club. The blogosphere was thus invoked into the collective side-hustles of its denizens, and now there is no blogosphere – there are just blogs. This is a blog we’re on now. But a blog is now something that a social media platform must lead you towards, rather than acting as the platform itself.I collaborated with a lot of people. Brian Hibbs was very generous in letting me and many others write for the blog of his retail store, Comix Experience. I actually did an extraordinarily bad, juvenalia-laden column very early for about a year for an publisher-cum-online platform called Komikwerks – a guy named Patrick Coyle recruited me for that, I think only a few months after Jog – The Blog started. I have the weird distinction of having written movie reviews for comiXology, back when they were trying to have a CBR type of presence; before they were bought by Amazon and became like gods. And, quite early on, I think in 2008, I started to collaborate with Tucker Stone, who was a blogger whose site was rapidly turning into a compendium of writing and media. I am still part of The Factual Opinion today, via the podcast Comic Books Are Burning In Hell, which I do with Tucker, as well as Chris Mautner, a TCJ mainstay who has been a very dear in-person friend of mine for eons — I have literally watched his children grow up — and Matt Seneca, whom I met pretty much the moment he began blogging, at the age of 11 or something. I still envy his youth.

ZL – My perception of Comics Comics is that it was more than a site that talked comics and more a community shaped around an ideology or maybe more aptly, a perception and reevaluation of what commercial comics meant and what comics could be. Having said that, it was an online site, so it’s hard to know how much the contributors felt it was a community as opposed to a space they wrote in. Which is an odd way to shape a question, but a great way to make a statement!!

So, did you feel like Comics Comics was something of a community that supported a way of seeing comics that wasn’t necessarily well represented at the time and did it feel like you were actively a part of shaping it whilst also being supported by?

I’m asking because it seemed to bring that argument about comics more attention and those ways of looking at work, to me, seem more common now. I feel like Comics Comics and Dan Nadel helped cement a set of arguments about how skilled and mainstream work, non-literary and non-underground work that is, can still succeed in being fascinating and inspiring for those making work despite lacking greater depth to its content.

J – Comics Comics was very much a community – probably the first one where I felt entirely at home. But I did not feel I had much of a role in shaping its perspective, because I came in pretty late – quite a few years after Dan and Tim had started up. They’d been together at least since the first issue of their arts revue, The Ganzfeld, in 2000. I’m sure they underwent their own evolution, but by the time Comics Comics started up in ‘06, they’d already pretty much cultivated their perspective, which I now would broadly define as viewing comics through the lens of drawing, of construction, apart from what I will call “the tyranny of content”: the notion that what a comic is about, controls what it is. I might be guilty of historical determinism here, because I also see this a step in a process which goes back to Kramers Ergot 4 articulating the idea of the visual and textural as preeminent in comics above ‘literary’ qualities; and, before that, the Fort Thunder idea of comics as a divination of motion and place, which was itself paired with a radical rejection of ideas of property and permanence: those artists were settled as a community in an repurposed factory (from which they were ultimately evicted), and created comics that were sometimes strictly for personal or local distribution, until outside publishers like Highwater Books came around. Comics Comics I see as a broader manifestation of those ideas; inevitably broad, I think, because they were promulgated as much by curators and critics as by artists. Mind you, PictureBox’s actual publishing slate was considered very ‘experimental’ by the wider comics industry, and obviously there was writing there that considered qualities beyond the purely visual. And, I suppose there was also an embrace of the sensational qualities of ‘trashy’ or generic work that stemmed from the power of their making, which you still hear espoused on the popular YouTube channels of today.

So, I don’t think I helped shape any of that, because it was already manifest. I think I was considered sympatico to such ideas – if anything, I probably pushed it further into commercial, depoliticised territory by running a fucking shopping list column as the major part of my corpus. I think everyone who wasn’t there from the beginning was in the same boat; Jeet Heer evidently feels very strongly about a traditional sort of literary, alternative comic, or the good qualities of newspaper strips as hailed in the manner going back decades. I mean, if you actually look at interviews with Chris Ware, to give a ‘literary’ comics example, he talks as much about comics as musical composition than about writerly qualities, so none of this is very cut and dry. Dan loves a ton of old strips. 

But I did feel like I ‘belonged’ at Comics Comics in a way I’d never felt at other group sites, no matter how much I enjoyed being in those places. The unsparing ‘big tent’ quality was very exciting. Most group sites back then said they were being inclusive of the form — and most of them, I think, sincerely meant that — but much of the work that was posted boiled back down to superhero comics before long, because those are the comics that come out every week, with interlocking story parts to track, and a ready volume of allusions to study aloud. Superhero comics thus facilitate the most writing; theirs is the hegemony of volume. I mean, I liked a bunch of superhero comics; I wrote about them a lot in the ‘00s, but I wasn’t following them that closely– and, if you don’t follow them closely, you have to learn to tithe a bit of your mind to keeping track of the discourse, lest you begin to feel very aloof from comics itself. Comics Comics, for me, was a genuine break from that predicament.

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ZL – Considering how many venues you’ve written for and the increasing sense of history or wider community associated with those places like Comics Comics or The Comics Journal did you feel anything different about working those venues than you did work your own blog?

J – If it’s a new venue, at first I try to adapt myself to the general tone of wherever I’m writing; this usually lasts for two pieces, after which I either absorb everything into my own voice, or lazily revert to my starting position – take your pick. The few times I wrote for Comics Alliance, for example, I would think to myself: this is a much bigger platform than usual, so I need to think about how to adapt the topics I’m passionate about to what their very distinct readership will be interested in seeing. I wrote a Steve Ditko piece for Comics Comics and a Steve Ditko piece for Comics Alliance, and they are completely different things, because the Comics Comics piece was for a venue I’d been writing at regularly and had become essentially my online home, while the Comics Alliance piece was a deliberate attempt to articulate the appeal of Ditko’s later works in “Comics Alliance” terms. That turned out to be really a big tangle, and the editor, Andy Khouri, did a lot of work whipping it into shape, so it probably wound up even more a native Comics Alliance piece than I’d anticipated. Definitely, when I’m working in print– I feel the weight of permanence, and it takes a while to sort through that. Some editors have been kind enough to have me back several times in their publication: Zack Soto & Milo George in Studygroup Magazine; Zainab Akhtar in Critical Chips; Kristy Valenti in the Complete Crepax. I always like the pieces I’ve done in later volumes more; I need to find my groove.

Comets Comets was an artist group. It wasn’t just Blaise Larmee; I would associate Jason Overby with them just as readily. Their ideological dispute with Comics Comics was more fundamental; it was tied to their practice as artists, working in abstracted or prismatic expressions of life-as-experienced. They embraced pranks, trolling, and shock tactics as inseparable from human exchange as it exists online. Or, that’s my broad and reductive interpretation; they were obviously not a perfectly unified group.

Overby, I associate with print work and short comics isolating and distending aspects of the comics form — pages with just grids and words, or drawings that are just partial representative forms, ‘unfinished’ — much more so than Larmee’s all-encompassing media refractions. If you can find a copy of Overby’s book collection, The Being Being, it’s a very interesting snapshot of the experimental work happening in minicomics at that time – contra, I suppose, the analytic connoisseurship that made up much of the Comics Comics body of writing, or Dan’s particular interests in publishing visionary or very local expressions of comics via books-as-objects – your CF, or Leon Sadler, Yuichi Yokoyama. Or Frank. I don’t think anyone at Comets Comets even knew who I was – it was a difference of artistic values, and I’m not an artist. They were opposed to the Comics Comics idea, to which I operated as a corollary– as happens when you align yourself with a group. 

ZL – How did it feel when Dan and Tim shuttered Comics Comics and moved to TCJ? Did it come with a sense of success or progress or even just a sense of wider opportunities, or did it not really register as different for you? It must have paid at least, or not really?!

J – It was definitely exciting, insofar as Dan and Tim got to keep their promise that they were going to start paying me once some money had come in. 

Even more selfishly– this was not my first time around with TCJ. In 2004, the same year I started Jog – The Blog, Dirk Deppey (whom I first mentioned 90,000 words ago) became managing editor of the TCJ print magazine. And, one of the projects he really wanted to do was a special issue on the topic of shōjo manga – commercial manga for girls, which had already become a formidable presence in comics as read by young people. The problem was, not many among the Journal’s regular contributors knew anything about shōjo manga; it wasn’t exactly a typical TCJ fascination. So, Dirk put out an open call online, and the shōjo manga issue of TCJ (#269, July ‘05) also wound up being the It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World of comics blogging in the mid-’00s. I was Arnold Stang. It was the first time I’d ever had any writing in print.

I really fucked up with the Journal. I did a few small reviews after that, in addition to the daily blogging and whatever other guest spots were on the agenda, and then Tom Spurgeon, rest his soul, decided that I should take over his regular column about superhero comics. I mean, I was doing a lot, why couldn’t I do that too? Turns out: I couldn’t! I just shit the fucking bed. The first column I turned in was so bad that Gary Groth overrode Dirk and refused to even print it. I got a second one out that was ok; that one saw print. And then I just never finished another one. I became totally paralyzed. I should have been ready, but I wasn’t. 

So, to the extent that anybody at TCJ even remembered who I was by the time 2011 rolled around — Dirk had left the print magazine in ‘06, and the Journal entirely in ‘10 — my name was in the ‘wash out’ column. The idea that I would then do 300 or so installments of a weekly column was absolute fantasy. I mean, writing a column for that long is hardly impossible; I’d worked as a local newspaper correspondent for about a year, around ‘02, ‘03, and there were guys at that paper who’d been doing weekly columns for 15, 20 years without flagging at all. CBR used to have columnists who dashed ‘em off for ages. I just figured I was a fuckup. But then I did it, because I figured out the secret.

ZL – I know I definitely liked seeing your capsule reviews and recommended buys, I felt like those capsule reviews were just perfect for your style and absolutely fascinating. It felt like you did a lot of leg work and research for those. Is that the case and what made you think of approaching posts in that way?

J – Here is the secret. THIS WEEK IN COMICS!, when I started it in 2004 on Jog – The Blog, was a completely utilitarian thing – it was just a list of comics that were coming out that Wednesday, which looked good. I used it as a reference for myself. When Comics Comics asked for me to bring it over to them in 2010, I personally felt it was too meager a thing to post on a site that wasn’t my own, so I started adding pictures or a little introduction on top of the shopping list. By the time the TCJ iteration rolled around in 2011, I’d formulated this whole idea, where the column would go in two directions: the top half would be a small essay on something I had read that past week (THIS [PAST] WEEK IN COMICS), while the bottom half would be the shopping list of interesting things that were coming to Diamond-serviced comic book stores that Wednesday (THIS [COMING] WEEK IN COMICS). 

But really, it was all a trick. The secret to getting the column done, I’d found, was (1) having both a regular deadline, and (2) having an assured subject matter. I’d realized I had both – the column (1) had to be out in time to be useful to readers, and (2) I could always guarantee that I’d have a list of forthcoming comics I could riff on. And, because of that, my mind was freed of all its complexes, and I was able to write and write and write in the top half, which was really the major body of my critical work for those six years.

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It took a while to do. Those columns took three or four hours to write – sometimes more if I really went off on the top half. I already knew a lot about what was coming out — I mean, comics isn’t actually that big a place, and by 2011, I’d read a really enormous number of comics, because I wasn’t watching any tv, or going to the movies much, or playing any video games, or really interacting seriously with any media besides comics — so I didn’t need to do a ton of research, although there’d always be a few things I needed to look up, in addition to the normal work of going through the release list and picking what seemed like it might be good. I cast a very wide net, and I tried to focus on new or unknown artists, or small publishers. But the top half was always absolute self-indulgence, beholden to nobody’s idea of import but my own. Tim was the editor, but he never told me what to write about; not even once. He just trusted me.

ZL – What did it feel like doing that work? Was it always satisfying or was there a mental or emotional toll? I guess that’s an oblique way to ask why you decided to step back, what was it that led to that decision, or was there just a path you walked that ended at a point as there was nowhere else to go?

J – Having said all that I just said, I eventually got to the place where I began to feel that the column had become counterproductive, if not actively harmful.

I mean, what was that column? A codification of comics that mattered, according to me. But: it wasn’t simply that, it was mediated by whatever Diamond was sending to comic book stores that week. By 2017, when I quit, this represented a very limited selection. In fact, I would say that years before that, the most interesting artists — the ones who would most benefit from the visibility a site like TCJ could offer — were completely divorced, materially, from comic book stores, and certainly from Diamond Comic Distributors. They were excluded from that on a systems level, because they typically didn’t have the money or access needed to hit the order minimums Diamond had instituted years earlier, partially in response to the ridicule Diamond would attract when they would arbitrarily refuse to carry art comics like some of PictureBox’s, because they didn’t feel those books met the format or the appearance of professionalism necessary to dignify American retailers. 

A column like mine could offer them access, but it didn’t, because I wanted to keep things predictable by drawing from a list of items that would probably show up in certain places, rather than throwing myself into the vagaries of availability or paying close enough attention to who had put new works up for purchase at their online store. So, in continuing the column as it was, I’d created a fake idea of “comics” that acted explicitly to preclude the more interesting and deserving works. And when you realize you’re doing that, you have to ask yourself: why am I continuing? Is it vanity? Do I enjoy the power of slamming the gate shut in working people’s faces? Do I just want money? I was making $50.00 per column, which comes out to about $2,500.00 per year, which is more than a great number of art comics practitioners make from their own work. 

What I had to learn is that when you are a critic, you are building a reality. The moment you release anything to the public, you are no longer writing all the rules: what others see you doing, is the construction of an ideal world, in which the things that are valuable in art are presented. Do you want this world, this ideal, the very stuff of this reality, to be mediated by those forces which act to exclude the liveliest of the art; to concede, implicitly, that this is the terrain of reality: capitalist peculiarities cast as laws of physics which comics must obey? When goofball journalists read ‘comics’ through the lens of superhero movies, that is exactly what is happening: the invocation of critical reality, defined by the desires of the market, so that the market becomes the same as the art. They are not the same thing. If I was a professional writer, subject to the compromises working people make to put food on the table, I would have a different perspective, but part of the deal of not being a ‘writer’ in that sense, is that I can just choose to do something else. And for a long time, I didn’t – and I realized that was abhorrent.

On top of that, I’d started to become very tired. It was taking me longer and longer to do the column – at least some of each one I would have to do between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, because that was when Diamond would finalize their list for the week. It’d gotten so that I’d go to sleep as soon as I got home from work on Monday evening, and then I’d wake up at 2:00 AM on Tuesday to do the column, and then I’d go to work after that. By the time I pulled the plug I was basically Julianne Moore at the end of Safe, and that definitely contributed to my decision to just shut the column down instead of trying to reconfigure or ‘reform’ it. I felt I could do better work by writing in-depth about works that I like in a focused essay format, which is where I’m at now. 

You can’t just think about yourself in this. You have to think about the effect you have on others, including those who’ve given their whole fucking lives to this thing, you know? You can’t pretend you’re alone, that’s like driving a car without ever turning your head. 

This is entirely my perspective, and it was my idea alone to quit. 

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ZL – What did it feel like doing that work? Was it always satisfying or was there a mental or emotional toll? I guess that’s an oblique way to ask why you decided to step back, what was it that led to that decision, or was there just a path you walked that ended at a point as there was nowhere else to go?

J – Having said all that I just said, I eventually got to the place where I began to feel that the column had become counterproductive, if not actively harmful.

I mean, what was that column? A codification of comics that mattered, according to me. But: it wasn’t simply that, it was mediated by whatever Diamond was sending to comic book stores that week. By 2017, when I quit, this represented a very limited selection. In fact, I would say that years before that, the most interesting artists — the ones who would most benefit from the visibility a site like TCJ could offer — were completely divorced, materially, from comic book stores, and certainly from Diamond Comic Distributors. They were excluded from that on a systems level, because they typically didn’t have the money or access needed to hit the order minimums Diamond had instituted years earlier, partially in response to the ridicule Diamond would attract when they would arbitrarily refuse to carry art comics like some of PictureBox’s, because they didn’t feel those books met the format or the appearance of professionalism necessary to dignify American retailers. 

A column like mine could offer them access, but it didn’t, because I wanted to keep things predictable by drawing from a list of items that would probably show up in certain places, rather than throwing myself into the vagaries of availability or paying close enough attention to who had put new works up for purchase at their online store. So, in continuing the column as it was, I’d created a fake idea of “comics” that acted explicitly to preclude the more interesting and deserving works. And when you realize you’re doing that, you have to ask yourself: why am I continuing? Is it vanity? Do I enjoy the power of slamming the gate shut in working people’s faces? Do I just want money? I was making $50.00 per column, which comes out to about $2,500.00 per year, which is more than a great number of art comics practitioners make from their own work. 

What I had to learn is that when you are a critic, you are building a reality. The moment you release anything to the public, you are no longer writing all the rules: what others see you doing, is the construction of an ideal world, in which the things that are valuable in art are presented. Do you want this world, this ideal, the very stuff of this reality, to be mediated by those forces which act to exclude the liveliest of the art; to concede, implicitly, that this is the terrain of reality: capitalist peculiarities cast as laws of physics which comics must obey? When goofball journalists read ‘comics’ through the lens of superhero movies, that is exactly what is happening: the invocation of critical reality, defined by the desires of the market, so that the market becomes the same as the art. They are not the same thing. If I was a professional writer, subject to the compromises working people make to put food on the table, I would have a different perspective, but part of the deal of not being a ‘writer’ in that sense, is that I can just choose to do something else. And for a long time, I didn’t – and I realized that was abhorrent.      

On top of that, I’d started to become very tired. It was taking me longer and longer to do the column – at least some of each one I would have to do between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, because that was when Diamond would finalize their list for the week. It’d gotten so that I’d go to sleep as soon as I got home from work on Monday evening, and then I’d wake up at 2:00 AM on Tuesday to do the column, and then I’d go to work after that. By the time I pulled the plug I was basically Julianne Moore at the end of Safe, and that definitely contributed to my decision to just shut the column down instead of trying to reconfigure or ‘reform’ it. I felt I could do better work by writing in-depth about works that I like in a focused essay format, which is where I’m at now. 

You can’t just think about yourself in this. You have to think about the effect you have on others, including those who’ve given their whole fucking lives to this thing, you know? You can’t pretend you’re alone, that’s like driving a car without ever turning your head. 

This is entirely my perspective, and it was my idea alone to quit. 

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ZL – What does it feel like having stepped back from that regular schedule and what do you do with all of that time you have now?

J – I was haunted for a while. My body chemistry had altered itself around my Monday activities, so there was literally a lingering physical effect for a few months. And I felt some regret – I’d post a tiny mini version of my column sometimes on Twitter for a year or so after I quit, because I’d feel, compulsively, like I was letting good books sink into the abyss without anyone mentioning them. This messianic impulse is neither healthy nor productive, and I’ve tried since then to focus on doing what is more useful: running my social media accounts with a lot of links and (hopefully) useful words about interesting artists; writing in a purposeful and focused way.

I had a dream around the time I quit.

I dreamed that I was in a casino by my parents’ house. Grant Morrison was there, giving a talk in one of the lecture rooms. I started playing with my phone, and I did not notice that the lecture had ended until Morrison came up to me. “I haven’t seen you writing much lately,” he said. I wrote a lot about Morrison on Jog – The Blog, but I have no reason to believe that Grant Morrison has ever heard of me. “I’ve been very depressed,” I said, “and I haven’t been writing at all.” I had never told anybody about being depressed; I’m not even sure if I was, but I told this to Grant Morrison in my dream without any hesitation. “I understand,” he replied, touching my shoulder as he left.    

ZL – Do you ever see yourself coming back to those schedules and venues or taking something up more involved again? 

J – Oh, I’ve gotten the itch a few times to start a Patreon, but I suspect I’d burn out quickly and disappoint everyone. Who knows what’ll happen in the future, though? Maybe I’ll start streaming video games while reading aloud from back issues of the International Journal of Comic Art. I think that would really dazzle everyone, and restore comics to the circulation numbers of 1952.

ZL – Podcasts about comics really seem to be the new blogs and I wondered what the appeal of a podcast is over a written piece and whether you think a podcast can be as valuable for deeper consideration than those written articles?

J – The appeal of a podcast is that it is 1,000,000,000,000% easier to talk about something than write about it. Even in the first few episodes where I was scared out of my mind about speaking, I still knew that what I was doing was way fucking easier than even the shortest column I’d write. I mean, you can make podcasting harder – you can really produce the thing, and do scripted segments and have pro radio shit like ‘planning ahead’ and all that, but my ideal of podcasting is to create a document of a conversation between people, which you then push out into the ocean in your little bottle.  

But, I really need to make something clear about Comic Books Are Burning In Hell; I’m like Krusty the Clown, you know? I roll in, do the part, shake some hands, and it’s back to the limo (i.e. my gaming chair). Tucker does the production work on the show, like the posting of it, and the audio effects, whatever editing is necessary – keeping track of what’s what. Chris and Matt do the recording sometimes, they contribute stuff. Besides making declarations about what we should talk about, I contribute nothing; I think the only time I had anything to do with the actual recording of the show is one time I did an episode that was just me giving a monologue, and even then Tucker had to add in the songs at the beginning and end, and actually put it online. So, it’s very easy for me to sit here like a jackass and say podcasting is easy… but it’s definitely easier than writing, gimme a break. 

Plus, I get to hang out with my friends, which takes us back to my original blogging impulse. As far as the external value of this, I think hearing a number of different perspectives bouncing off one another is compelling in a live-recording setting in a way that dueling or complimentary essays probably aren’t, because you have the immediate reactions, the little tests of perspective – or the building of ideas quickly among people. And, there’s the parasocial aspect too; we didn’t do the show much in 2018, 2019, but the pandemic got us started again because we really wanted to be with each other — to be with other people — and I’ve heard that listeners really enjoy having us around as the social program has become more constricted by necessity.    ZL – What would be your ideal role in comics, if you could have any you wanted? I’m really intrigued by this because, unlike many critics and reviewers you genuinely don’t seem to be interested in rolling it into a creator gig in the industry.

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There’s something about comics that sort of implies that if you think about these things it’s only because you want to be a part of those things. I think that probably has to do with the history of many commentators and much of the modern Western industry, well at least US and UK industries, coming from a fan, and fanzine more specifically, background.
There’s no criticism implied in this, I’m very much a creator that also reviews and some of my favourite creators are also my favourite reviewers, like Sarah Horrocks or Frank Santoro.

J – This goes back to what I said earlier about not being a professional writer. Not to impugn the power of fiction in our lives, but a job writing comics is really not very different from a job writing nonfiction, in the wide view. I think there is the lingering sense among genre comics readers that a gig writing comics is the awesome apex of a creative life, and while it’s possibly the great ambition of some of those practitioners, it is fundamentally a Writing Job. You hustle up what assignments you can, until you are maybe, hopefully, someday in the place where people come to you with gigs. You do your best; maybe sometimes you get outside your own head. It is magic, but you still exist in the world of economics – painfully so in the United States, where there is less aid for those deemed unproductive.

I have never been part of that world. I don’t really long for the golden idea of writing comics, because I’ve never been part of that broader trade. I do demand payment when I work for someone who’s not a close friend, of course – if you’re throwing your work out there for free you’re fucking over the people who need the money to live. I believe that solidarity is crucial, as paying gigs continue to shrink.   

ZL – What, if anything, do you think unifies the works that you enjoy, is there any one thought or feeling that you could pinpoint to say, that’s the kind of thing that’s going to mean I enjoy something, or is it more a matter of a work hitting at the right time and place and maybe another occasion it wouldn’t have felt the same. I guess, what I’m asking is whether there’s something, say, spiritual, attitudinal or aesthetic or just a vibe that a work gives off that you can sniff out and know you’ll enjoy it before you’ve even cracked it open.

J – On a recent podcast, Tucker told me that I tend to value works that communicate a total worldview. Which is to say, comics that evoke an entirely personal means of processing the stuff of reality. It’s funny, because I usually find myself addressing both the inside and the outside of a work: that which I feel is crucial about how the book operates. Sometimes, this branches out into a larger point about the surrounding context – “the critique of wisdom,” which addresses the manner in which a work is positioned in ‘comics’ and how its operation departs from the manner in which it has been plunked into the stream of commerce. Often, works have qualities that defy the manner in which they are contextualized, which I find to be a useful means of focusing attention on the work itself – demonstrating how it defies the categorizations forced upon it. Absolutely, you must never, ever just talk about the context; the context must be a means of drawing attention to the true qualities of the work, or else you’re just farting in the direction of marketing, and contributing to a managerial system that rewards connoisseurship and clever framing without necessarily benefiting the understanding of art, or the situation of artists.

Or, I could just become absorbed in detailing the cadence of the thing; the way it enunciates, it sings.  

ZL – Do you ever want to come back to maybe go deep and do something really rich, a book or a retrospective of a creator – I just imagine you getting to do a monogram series for maybe 10 creators where you really put them in context historically and do some heavy dives into their work. 

J – I’ve had a few informal deals to write small books for small publishers in the past, and I’ve always dropped out at some point in the process, because I don’t have the discipline to write very far into five digits. I become very negative about what I’ve written if I let it go for too long without posting it or turning it in for publication – and then I get caught in endless revisions. If I was a professional I’d have had to get over those neuroses, but as it is I’m limited in how long a piece can get before I decide it’s actually shit and I want it dead. It is such a blessed relief to reach the end of something! I think to write a book I’d have to just agree with myself to lock what I’ve written in a chest and force myself to move on; to force myself outside of my own head. Or just construct something of many small parts. Like comics are constructed, I suppose. I’d like to write a book. Somebody might find it in the future, and realize that I was once alive.

ZL – On  zinelove we’re all about sharing and context, so I wondered if there are any peers still active you feel you like to recommend to our readers?

J – If we’re talking about my contemporaries, the spirit of comics blogging is most alive today in Tegan O’Neil. She started out a bit before me, and still works in a very strong, unique voice that marries a comprehensive grasp of history to personal fascinations – with a rigorous skepticism of what informs those fascinations. Her piece on Tom King from last year is the best writing I’ve seen about the tricky character of ‘quality’ writing in corporate superhero comics, with all the baggage that comes with merely being a corporate superhero comic. Her blog is here, and her Patreon is here.  

In terms of critical peers of today, I’ve been really fascinated with Bubbles – it’s a very lo-fi print zine with an extremely specific point of view: art comics and weird manga. There’s long interviews and tons of short capsule recommendations, but it’s the totality of it that I really enjoy. Their whole crew is different from the usual people you see writing about art comics and manga online; it feels like a genuinely unique gathering of firm perspectives, which is really necessary if the critical discourse is going to go anywhere valuable. There are really good writers on TCJ too, though. Very recently, Helen Chazan wrote this terrific piece on an awful-looking Stan Lee biography from a major academic press, picking apart how even prestigious considerations of Stan the Man repeat the same old promotional cliches he wrote for himself decades ago – a critic who can offer sobriety on this topic is rare and valuable. I also love seeing Austin Price write about manga; his review of Taiyō Matsumoto’s recent work was some of the best stuff I’ve seen about an oft-mentioned artist who is not always treated with depth. I really hope he continues.    

And, I want to shout out my friend Sean McTiernan, who is my favorite podcaster in the world (discounting the pantheon of gods who record with me, of course). He’s a very refined comics reader, but his podcasts are fixed series about types of media that he finds interesting – right now he’s doing one short (20-40 minutes) episode every day in October, working through found footage horror movies. He has a fantastic episode on the old BBC1 hoax newscast Ghostwatch; how it both evokes the texture of British newscasting to unsettling effect, and also folds into its story the very sensational, fear-mongering reportage on sex crimes in British media as an unspoken, maybe unconscious firmament for its narrative. Hundreds of Pixelated Dead Bodies – great shit.      

ZL – Last question! Could you name one creator or creation you think has gone unrecognised that deserves some love?

J – The third taboo that was broken, back when I got back into reading comics — after the Taboo of Content and the Taboo of Form — was the Taboo of Quality. 

Right after I’d gotten back into comics, in 2002, the Comics Journal released the second in a line of LP-sized themed specials: Cartoonists on Music. There were articles in the front half, and then lots of new comics in the back, presented in that large, square format. I’d heard of a few of those artists, but the one that really caught my eye was this guy named Gerald Jablonski, who filled the entire fucking page with what had to be 30 or 40 tiny panels, absolutely stuffed with dialogue emitting through wild curly word balloon tails from tiny characters. What the fuck was that? I mean, what the fuck, I couldn’t read it!

Gerald Jablonski
Cryptic Wit

Not long after, I noticed an advertisement in a normal issue of the Journal for a solo comic by Jablonski: Cryptic Wit #1, which he had published that year with a grant from the Xeric Foundation (one of the few comics-centric artist grants, now sadly gone). I sent in a postal money order to his address, and he sent me back his comic, which was absolutely nothing but the same types of comics I’d seen in that Journal special. Every page had 27 or so panels, and panels had upwards of 50 words of dialogue each, unless they had absolutely none for dozens at a time. Every story was exactly one page long, and each of those pages concerned one of three scenarios: (1) a boy and his uncle who argue about something through prolonged, pun-laden exchanges, absolutely each and every one of which ultimately reveal that the boy’s teacher at school is an ant; (2) barnyard fables involving talking animals which are typically overwhelmed by the narration of Farmer Ned, who has a very low opinion of the state of the world and a very high opinion of the quality of his own storytelling; and (3) wordless, psychedelic battles between angelic and/or mutant boys.

This was, almost exactly, the wrong way to make a comic. If you’re doing a funny comic, you need a precise trajectory for the gags. If you’re doing a narrative comic, you’re supposed to strike a prudent balance between words and pictures. Everything about Cryptic Wit was utterly counterintuitive to any idea I’d ever had about how a comic was supposed to work – and I fucking loved it! I was completely enthralled! And I realized, eventually, that it was both extraordinarily weird and hyper-normal: a series of jokes, of exchanges, piled into a staggering accumulation of information.

And I realized, then, that one can absolutely succeed in failing to obey the rules of presumptive interest.

Gerald Jablonski has released exactly four comics: Empty Skull Comics (Fantagraphics, 1996); Cryptic Wit #1 (self-published, 2002); Cryptic Wit #2 (self-published, 2008); and Cryptic Wit #3 (self-published, 2012). A collection of some of the Cryptic Wit stories was subsequently presented in a very large format, in a book titled Farmer Ned’s Comics Barn (Fantagraphics, 2017) – my pull quote on the back of that is the proudest I’ve ever been of having my words plastered helplessly upon the work of others. 

I have no idea what the artist is doing now, because he isn’t online. When you’re online a lot, you begin to feel like in order to exist, you have be there all the time. I was a blogger; I was online every day. I still am. You’re encouraged to be available at all times, if you’re a writer; you’re told you need a social media presence, because that’s how you promote yourself. To let everyone know you’re relevant and working. If you skip a day, everyone will forget you. You’ll die. In fact, you’ll have never even existed, your bones washed away by the tide of content. 

But I know Gerald Jablonski is working. I know plenty of artists are out there working. And I want them to know, in an interview they’ll never read, that I fucking know they’re alive and I believe what they’re doing is good. I am very content with shouting into the abyss. 

I was a blogger.     

ZL – thanx for all your time answering these questions!

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

I was a blogger.     

ZL – thanx for all your time answering these questions!

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020