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

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.

Recommended by Jog
Hagiwara Rei
Ripples
(click image to go to buy it)

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.

Recommended by Jog
GG
Constantly
(click image to go to buy it)

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. 

Recommended by Jog
Ronald Wimberly
LAAB
(click image to go to buy it)

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. 

Recommended by Jog
Ronald Wimberly
LAAB
(click image to go to buy it)

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.

Recommended by Jog
Andy Douglas Day
Boston Corbett
(click image to go to buy it)

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

Long list interview – Adam Yeater

We spoke to Adam a little while ago about his influences and inspirations and found his answers intriguing, so we decided to dive in and dig a bit deeper. We just kept on going with it all until we ended up with a mammoth interview going into every corner of his mind, from practice and accessing his creativity, to grafting to make a living outside of the norms of the mainstream.

I think it’s a fascinating look into the practice, experiences and the will to succeed that powers Adam, as well as a window into the wider world of underground creators.

WARNING – GORE and some SEX

Adam Yeater being David Cameron

You can find Adam here

webstore                youtube                facebook

 

ZL – Hi Adam! Thanx for agreeing to this interview, hope you enjoy it. 

Let’s get introductions out of the way. For anyone that doesn’t know, can you tell us your name, where you grew up and where you currently live?

AY – My name is Mr. Adam Yeater. I grew up a swamp rat in Florida and traveled around a lot. I finally settled down in Arizona as a desert rat. I went from one Florida to another. 

ZL – For a little bit more background. You clearly enjoy underground and mini comix, so how did you first find out about them and what were you interested in before you started reading them?

AY – I discovered zines through the early Death/Grind Metal scene in the 90s. There was no internet so everything was done via snail mail. I used to get so much great printed matter. Demo tapes, fliers for bands, albums and review zines. I eventually started my own zine called Subliminal Message. We lived in Ohio in a shit hole little town. Trying to get high, fighting, reading comic books, listening to Metal, Punk Rock, Hardcore Rap and skateboarding.

Spewing Insects

I was a very industrious broke ass 14 year old kid. I found a way to get some of the mainstream metal record companies to send me promo stuff for their bands for review. I was getting stacks of stuff in the mail. The record companies were mailing backstage passes to me! My mom thought I was running a mail scam.

I once did a phone interview with Chris Barnes when he was in Cannibal Corpse. Chris called for an interview and my mom picked up the phone. He was like “Are you a fucking kid? Holy shit! I usually do interviews with old dudes?” We talked for an hour and half about Metallica selling out. It was amazing. I idolized these weirdos and was getting to just hang out with them. 

I did an interview with Cro-Mags right when the original singer got out of prison. I did an interview with Entombed for my high school newspaper! I even interviewed the Goo Goo Dolls when they were on Metalblade Records just for the hell of it. Those metal bands were my heroes. They treated me as an equal and I was this punk kid. They all encouraged me to keep at it. I was getting first hand knowledge of trying to make a living as a creative in American society from them. The good and bad. 

ZL – What did it feel like the first time you ever spoke to one of your heroes? It must have felt pretty excellent, right?

AY – It was awesome talking to those bands, it was a real rush. I would get so nervous. I got to hang with some of the bands before and after the shows. All these dudes just embraced me as one of them. I am super tall, so I looked a lot older than I was. I was also a big nerd for the metal scene so I was turning them onto all this other new stuff I was getting. I think they saw me as an oddity. Then we moved to Tucson where there was no metal scene. 

ZL – Is that why you stopped making your zine then, moving to Tucson?

AYYeah, moving from Ohio to Arizona. The scene was pretty lame in AZ. No bands would come through Tucson at the time. So I ditched the ‘zine and started a Grindcore band with some friends. We did pretty well for a local death metal act. We played shows with Napalm Death and smoked a ton of weed with Sadistic Intent, that was cool. 

Lots of drugs and drama, bandmates stealing from each other. . . even more drugs. It was a very fucked up time in my life that I am happy to have survived. 

ZL – At what point did you get back into zines and start to think that self-publishing comics was something you could do or that you were good at and wanted to do more with, to just keep going and going and see how far you could take it?

AY – After the band and metal zine I started printing my own mini comics and comic books. I really got into self publishing and art because I had nothing else really. My last “legit” job was as a janitor before I decided to do art and publish full time. I figured I would rather starve as an artist than starve scrubbing shit off toilets. Art is the only thing I have ever been really good at. So I just keep doing it. 

zines and mini-comics

ZL – Circling back to get a bit more from your background for a minute, what first turned you into a comic reader and from there, did you move to be a collector or fan, if that distinction makes sense!! And where in all of that did you start making your own comics?

AY- I was into comics a lot when I was young as a collector and fan before I moved into extreme music. I was keeping up with the medium but was focused on the death metal band I was in.

After the band. I was doing paintings and fine art for quite a while. I had also done comics on the side but my fine art was doing well. Then the housing market crashed and nobody was buying art for foreclosed homes. 

Luckily I had been doing an extreme comic strip in the metal ‘zines and in the mini comics I was doing. I saw that a local comic convention had started. So I printed them all up and booked a table. I sold out of my first printing and a bunch of art. That is when One Last Day started. 

ZL – How did that feel, selling out of books like that? I’m guessing it must have been quite a boost as you carried on and set up an online store! What was the convention like, if you remember at all, did you have a good time there chatting and meeting fans and creators? A lot of people talk about how much the community at a convention matters to them, was that important to you at the time?

AY – It was a real boost. From that little bit of seed money I have been able to keep the ball rolling and have kept printing comics ever since. The comics scene in Tucson in the early 90s was really small and bare bones. It was me and like 2 other indie guys actively printing their own comics. I have encouraged and fostered so many people to make their own comics since then. Many writers and artists from the Tucson scene are now in the mainstream and indie comics system. 

The couple who started the Tucson Comic Con have been the best thing for our local comix and art scene. Rather than neglecting local and indie comics they embraced and promoted them. I was so lucky to be in a place where the local comic convention focused heavily on independent comic artists. 

Adam Yeater at a con

I see kids that I taught inking classes to that are now publishing their comics on Amazon. Kids that now give me their books and thank me for all the support and inspiration I gave them. It is humbling. Before the ‘rona I was leaving 1000s of mini comics all over town instead of fliers for the last 15 years. It has exposed people in this town and state to my art and a world of comic books they never knew existed. 

ZL – Speaking of coronavirus, I’m wondering how much that has affected your income currently? Do you rely heavily on con sales or do you have a whole set of ways to get sales, which is a terrible way of asking that I’m really interested in how you generate sales for your work, what venues and sources and what sort of percentage of sales comes from them. Have you got a regular set of fans that buy everything, are you using email communications, just facebook?

AYIn today’s art and comics world every successful artist has to be a little bit Andy Worhol and a lot of P. T. Barnum. Otherwise nobody will give a shit about you. So I have a ton of different ways to move my stuff. The website is my main hub but I do small zine fests and shows whenever I can. I have been doing OK but had to switch gears during the crisis. My online sales picked up so that helped a lot. I also have new books coming out all this year. I think that helps too.

Comic conventions at one time were a really good source of income when I first started doing them. I was making great money. Every year it has become progressively less of a viable option for creators like me. The big comic shows are just pop culture festivals. The last few years a lot of the larger shows could care less about indie comics. Table prices and entry fees are way too high for a self publisher or upcoming creator to make any money. Especially out of state shows. Hotel, travel, etc. Because of this I was only doing smaller zine/comic shows and focusing on my online sales already. The virus was a great reason to really focus on my online presence. 

Shrooms

ZL – I first saw your work through a facebook group, one of the indie comics groups that sort of specializes in small press superhero and space operas, and I was wondering whether you think those groups help the creators reach more readers, or whether they are all more community pages as in it’s all people that want to make comics and they’re all working to support their own bubbles? (Obviously I’m exaggerating a little, they often have horror and then there’s oddball work that pops up, but there do seem to be a lot of big boob bad girls and massive muscles in some kind of genre thing. )

AY- I look at social media differently than most. I talk shit about comics on it but I have never used it as a political soapbox or a place to talk about my “personal journey”. I post my art and comix. That is it. I speak through my art. I like to “post and ghost”. I feel I am a healthier person for it. 

This year I have slowly been taking my art off all the platforms. They are not an unbiased purveyor of ideas. Like the original internet was intended for. Social media is making us all sick. Scientifically proven sick. 

World of Knonx

I have grown to hate the self imposed censorship imposed on social media by advertisers and cancel culture. We as artists should have the right to dictate our expression by taking risks. Without having to worry about some simp nerd in Silicon Valley shadow banning or blacklisting us. 

These leeches profit heavily on ALL of us. Especially artists. They work to infringe on our rights and hinder our freedom to express. The platforms are privatizing our existence. Fakebook and the Twits are just digital emotional vampires. 

They should be paying you a fee to use your content and sell it to their stupid advertisers. They make billions off you and you know what you get, a little dopamine for that “like”. Wow, sweet trade off. Not!!

We all need to stand up in some way as artists. Post fucked up art and weird shit all the time! I wanna see a sea of artistically drawn dicks and vaginas. Shitposts, and fucked up memes on my “news” feed. Random acts of artistic defiance. We need confrontational art more now than ever! I want to see original artwork that pushes against cultural dogmas and shitty societal norms. 

Instead I see oceans of fan art and trash pop culture mashups. Useless e-rage and cat pics. Art without confrontation is just advertising at this point. 

ZL – Now, that’s an interesting one, because there are two sides to the argument on this and I sort of flop wildly between the two without any great reason. I can see why social media is not going to allow seas of dicks – they are easy triggers to SEE, so they’re easy to switch off to maintain acceptability, it seems pointless to me, but is important to a lot of people, so… There’s also the issue of managing genuine freedom to express and people posting images of tentacles raping 6 year old girls and how you manage to monitor that, so it’s just EASIER not to try and figure it and blanket ban it all. 

What I think calls bullshit on their motives for me is that they’ll censor that, but allow neo-nazi lies or channels where people openly spout homophobic, racist or sexist bile. There’s a stinking dichotomy there that calls a lie to their talk of community and keeping us safe from damaging content. 

I certainly wouldn’t want to have to be the poor sod that sifted through all of this stuff to check it though!

Pippa Creme and the Pearl Necklace - Dexter Cockburn
Pippa Creme and the Pearl Necklace – Dexter Cockburn

Equally, with work like yours or – to call in someone else I follow who is always getting bumped from facebook – Dexter Cockburn – who does some great porn comics. I see these things as being completely ok and not deserving of banning, but seeing cape comics and how innately sexualised and soft porn like the women are made to look, that makes me feel very dubious, it seems wrong in that context, as it’s so pervasive and so unspoken and clandestine. 

AY – Exactly. It is weird how the mainstream sexulizes it’s heroes. The guys look just as bad. It is a form of repressed erotica. I think it all looks so funny. Balloon shaped breasts or the massive man bulge. There is a big market for that stuff so more power to them. 

It just seems erotica in comix is ok for some and not others. The censorship online is selective. Dexter is a comix friend of mine and a great example. The guidelines are so ambiguous and filled with jargon it becomes nonsense. 

I totally get censorship for criminal reasons. That is a no brainer. What I saw was not that. 

I saw the platforms actively destroy the online followings of some extreme horror artist’s I was following. Some of us had built large fan bases on Myspace and brought our fans over to FB with us. When FB started shutting accounts down it crushed a lot of those artist’s online communities and sales. A lot of artists had to start all new accounts with different names causing them to lose 1000s of followers. Some just gave up or stopped posting extreme art all together. They are still doing it to some of the Ero Goro artists from Japan. It is really fucked up.

Rumpelstiltskin

ZL – That’s part of the curse and benefit of social media though, they give and then they take away when you’ve made them successful. I do wonder what we can do about that though, maybe they should migrate back to Myspace, maybe the whole retreat to mailing lists is the answer? I don’t know, we need community spaces but we need them to not go dark and end up being hiding places for crime or the dark web. What do you do about it, eh? Maybe you should start curating work into new mail lists and have link sites for different peoples’ interests!!

AY – I like that idea. I have always wanted to do a monthly brochure of underground creators. Like a double sided mailer. I might do one for the Smalll Press Express to hand out at shows. Getting the word out is why I do the YouTube channel. Nobody is shedding light on the best part of comics. The odd, voiceless, strange and marginalized. I think anything that promotes the underground scene and unites indy comic artists is good. I feel every little thing helps. We are all in this sinking ship together. The mainstream comics people keep poking holes in the boat. The indy creators have to keep bailing it out.

ZL – Moving on from that unanswerable conundrum… Is community important to you and comics? Is publishing and buying and communicating with other creators a way of building a place in the wider world for the kinds of things that you enjoy and the kind of things you want to make?

AY – What community. The comics community? 

It just saddens me so much lately. The internet and social media had so much potential to dissolve physical, cultural and social boundaries to our communication around the world. 

Instead most people have developed the attention span of a gnat. I doubt anyone will actually read all this. So I am just gonna lay it all out. How I see it as an outsider looking in.

There is a massive world of art and comics that is ignored in the west. It is where I exist as a creative. I work with toy making friends in South Korea and send comix pages to Artizines in Spain. Send instant messages to slap sticker artists in Japan. All in a few seconds!! This used to take weeks, even months via phone and mail. Many here just take this shit for granted. 

I had a “stick poke” tattooist from Taiwan ask if she could use one of my mini comic images in her little shop. How sick is that!! I live for that!!

I have worked with 100s of the most creative and amazing artists from all over the world. I have had enough love and inspiration from the global art community to last me two life times!!

 

The American comics community is a weird story. My books sell well. My fans are awesome. First time readers always come back. I do really well at every comic convention I have ever done, even small ones. I have printed, sold or given away thousands of my mini-comics, floppies and magazines. All over this crazy earth. 

Somehow I have largely existed as an outsider in Western comics. Other than a few supportive cats in the southwest comics scene like Brian Pulido. I feel like they largely just ignore my comics. I have had a few pros refer to my work as ‘zines’ as a sort of insult. 

Blood Desert 2

I started Blood Desert as a big middle finger to the whole corporate comics crowd. The main character is stuck with a permanent middle finger. Good luck co-opting that sucktards. 

Lake of Korz

When I complete the World of Knonx series I wanna only make comics that are a massive fuck you to that whole unimaganitive self indulgent English centric corporate comics world. I wanna make comics for shitheads all over the world like me.

Most of the comics in the mainstream indie world are leftovers from that hokey auto-bio movement. All of them are still pining over Crumb and Pekar to this day. 

Who knew making super boring comics about your masturbation habits and history no one cares about would be considered as works of high literary art. I guess it is an easy claim to make when the critics also work for the publishers of said high grade comic “art.”

That is just the indy crowd. At this point most people’s knowledge of modern comics comes from dopey stupor hero comics and movies that are made for mouthbreathers by ex-television writers. 

These books are made by “Professional” comic book writers that get top billing over a bunch of lazy artists. These are the same “professionals” who waste their time all day on Twitter and YouTube race baiting each other and blathering nonsense about politics. Somehow they can never seem to get books out on time or any real work done. Go figure. 

The Square

Can we all just agree that the comics Youtubers are totally obnoxious. Normal people do not care about all your dumb nerd drama. The “comics news” channels love to foment drama in the industry to make money off of more views. They live to promote division among creators. Mind numbing 4 hour live streams of inane political blather. Interviewing the same old industry jobbers about some dopey superhero comic they made 20 years ago. Effete dorks gushing jizz in their whitey tighties over their wonton nostalgia.

These formerly bullied nerds bully each other constantly online. Doxing, Blacklisting, Censoring, Attacking and Canceling each other. Bunch of grade school kid popularity bullshit. I want absolutely NO part of either side’s dysfunctional cult. These sad people must love to live in a heightened state of anxiety. 

There are 100s of amazing prolific working storytellers chomping at the bit to talk about and sell their titles. Why not interview and promote these creators. Artists who choose not to engage in either side’s petty childish games. Those creators are largely ignored or admonished for not taking sides. 

The industry seems to only want to dwell in nostalgia? A Nostalgia that actually hurts creators. I really wanna talk about Alan Moore. 

Let’s all wax about the greatness of Watchmen ONE last time and finally let it go. Watchmen is the comic book Alan Moore won’t even have in his house because of the disdain he has for the American comics industry.

Comics culture could care less about Alan. They talk about his work gushing with praise. Then they call the man a nutter behind his back. 

The majority of the comics press treated him like a clown and discounted his opinions at every turn. 

Watchmen, the comic they keep in print just so Alan does not regain any of the rights back. 

By promoting and working on Watchmen in any way they are all pretty much saying fuck you to Alan. It is just accepted by everyone. “Oh well! We should just keep screwing this dude cause we all really love those characters.” It is shameful.

Smashing robots

Shall I go on about the other creators that were screwed by this “industry”. Seigel, Shuster, Kirby, Finger, Simon and so many more.

The House of Morons track record with creatives is just as terrible. It would take all day to list the Big two’s transgressions against their freelancers. 

All their Editors in Chief make millions while their freelancers get crumbs.

Or maybe there is hope in the price gouging comic book store owners. They did nothing but complain about Diamond and the Big 2’s scams non stop for years. Then they still lap up everything they do or make like pablum. Accepting and still embracing this constant abuse. Over and over and over. I wonder if the majority of store owners are into BDSM? 

Should I bother mentioning all the sex predators that the major comics companies have been covering for?

So now after a long career and all my hard work building a loyal following I am supposed to kiss ass and play nice as a potential artist for them. I am supposed to work on shit I don’t care about? I get to beg for a job doing interior pages for less than minimum wage and no healthcare? No thanks. I am busy building my own worlds not piggybacking on the stolen worlds of others.

The US comics “industry” is kind of a total joke to me at this point. 

Watercolour art - included with orders

ZL – It sounds like you are existing as part of a community though, maybe not an American comics community, but an international underground art community, does that seem fair to say? 

AY – I was actually becoming a big part of the community for a popular comics Youtube channel for a minute until I was excommunicated. The two creators that host the channel constantly espouse to be a bastion for indie creators. As Maury Povich likes to say…” that is a lie.” 

The channel blacklisted me because of a mini comic I did showing cartoon portraits of accused sex predators and general jerks working in the American comics industry. 

I am not part of Comicsgate or any other stupid comics cult. I am not a lecherous ogre who harasses women at comics shows. I am a boring family man who makes weird comics. I speak through my art not by posting constant drama online.

I made a mini comic that someone didn’t like. That was it. Instead of finding out my side of things related to the matter these hosts just booted the videos my comics were featured in off their channel. They also had admins remove my posts off other platforms related to them. I was blatantly censored by these “artists.”

So looking back I think it had nothing to do with that mini comic. They have featured sexually violent work like Vigil’s. My stuff is tame in comparison. I feel they were threatened by my output and my dopey little youtube channel. Which is laughable. 

I have worked tirelessly my whole career to support marginalized creators in my community and around the world for over 20 years. 

At this point I would rather work with the people who get what I do and dwell in quiet obscurity rather than work with these kinds of self-serving troglodyte hacks that are so prevalent in the medium of modern mainstream comics and the art world. 

Most of these “pro comic artists” are just glorified fan artists with a little bit of stylized skill. I think that’s why all their books are so derivative of all the other stuff in the mainstream lexicon. They dwell in constant nostalgia and their work is proof of it. 

I actually feel sorry for them. To have so little faith in yourself that you have to try to take down other artists is such a sad pathetic way to live. 

One thing you can count on with some artists and comics creators. Their egos are as fragile as glass.

Comics culture in the US is steeped in all this kind of nonsensical dogma. It has become an idiotic cult of reactionary clones with Youtube and Twitter accounts. 

Pig Monster

ZL – Thinking about that wider world of community and how there’s always been an underground arts community and sometimes people travelled through them, often linked to universities or small art publications. Do you feel like that community is something that is now easier to achieve and to curate for yourself with social media, but it involves a lot of effort and commitment to do that and that’s why it takes those in a scene, those dug into that creative feeling, to do that kind of curation?

AY – I guess It is easier to find new stuff now, but there is a lot of oversaturation online. Lots of skilled but boring fan art. Way too much fan art online. 

All the crowdfunded stuff is pretty boring and derivative of the mainstream comics they say they hate. Plus there is a high failure rate. Very slow/low delivery rate on those projects that nobody likes to talk about.

I kind of wish the companies cracked down on all the IP theft at shows and online the way they do obscenity. Before the pandemic the comic conventions in the states sucked for indie creators because of all the fanart.

ZL – Yeah, that seems to be a big issue all round, but it’s also tricky as a lot of indie creators make bucks doing commissions of existing mainstream IP. I also think that the move from mini comics and zines to pop-culture sources and attempts to be as professional as professional comics has done a lot of unspoken damage. Yeah, sure, you get a lot of a crowd, but how many are BUYERS?

AY – That is why I stopped making any kind of fanart about 15 years ago including commissions. I think fan art and commissions are a crutch for artists to lean on.

To me it shows a lack of ability to tell stories or have faith in their own creations. They are too afraid to go all in and only make and sell their own comics. They wanna draw cool spidey pin-ups not tell stories with art. There is a huge difference between the two kinds of artists.

The best Mangaka spend their whole careers telling these long form epic stories. We should aspire to that aesthetic not do a bunch of cool variant covers. 

It is easy to draw an existing IP. The design and imaginative work was done for you. You are just a human copy machine. It takes a lot of time and faith to go all in on your own ideas. I think a lot of artists try it and just give up and fall back on selling fan art at shows.

I do great at shows without any fan art. You don’t need it. I think selling fan art actually hurts indie creators. They are selling books for our competition. 

If you just offer people something new and different and work hard to sell that work they will buy it. I offer people something that is unique. Not just another Deadpool print or sketch.

ZL – Do you see yourself as part of a comics lineage, either style or approach wise? Do you feel it’s important to leave your own mark on the world, hence the making of items rather than posting online, or are you interested in building a space for now or are you trying to just get out what needs to be got out to keep your brain quiet?

AY: Comics lineage is less of a thing now because of oversaturation in the medium. Everyone can make and print their own comics now. So the key is to have your own style of storytelling. I don’t like the autobio comics genre but at least they know how to tell a story. 

That’s why I think physical media is still very important. An artist is not curtailed by the formats of printing anymore. You can adjust your style to any kind of printing process now. It used to be the other way around.

Aesthetically I want my work to be as beautiful and be as prolific as Osamu Tezuka was. Dark and creepy as Hideshi Hino‘s. Confrontational and cooky as Mike Diana‘s. With a mad dose of the dark action of a 2000AD Magazine. 

Boiled Angel - Mike Diana
Boiled Angel – Mike Diana

ZL – I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember the Mike Diana obscenity case and the outcome of that ridiculous situation? It was big, even in UK comic magazines at the time. I remember them telling him that he wasn’t even allowed to draw AT HOME and that they would be coming in to check that he wasn’t drawing! So, I guess there’s that as a check to what we were saying about social media silencing creators, it’s not like it’s a new phenomenon, sadly. 

AY – I started getting into making fucked up comics at the same time as him. I was making One Last Day which is nowhere near as extreme or pornographic as Mike’s stuff, but it was really violent. His case scared me into being real careful who I sent my books to. 

ZL – When did you first encounter Mike Diana’s work, then and what’s so inspiring about it?

AY- I have seen more of his work recently. I like the absolute absurdity of it. It was so hard to get out here in the west coast unless you ordered it. I am not a big fan of pornographic or cheesecake comics. I do like some of the cruder stuff that is just too weird to be arousing. The work exists more as a piece of weird art rather than porn in some odd way. I have not gotten to read a ton of his stuff. He is actually a big fan of mine on Instagram. The punk rock kid in me loves seeing a block of “likes” by Mike. I have mailed him a bunch of my comix for trade.If he is reading this “Yo man! You gotta mail me some of your books!” Heh! 

2100ad

ZL – I’m also intrigued to know how you found out about 2000AD as my understanding is that it’s not well known over in the US. What’s your favourite strip from there?

AY: I got a huge run of the re printed 2000AD and Dredd comics from a comic store when I was 13. I really love the old Rogue Trooper strips the most. They were some of the best sci fi war comics made essentially. Those artists were all emulating those old Action war comics they were reading

Rogue Trooper - War Machine by dave Gibbons and Will Simpson
Rogue Trooper – War Machine by dave Gibbons and Will Simpson

Rogue Trooper – War Machine is a work of comics art. It definitely inspired a lot in my Blood Desert series. “The Fatties” stories in the early Judge Dredd strips are some of my all time favorite comics. I have read them a hundred times. It is just so nuts. I love that line between absurd and gross.

The Fatties - Judge Dredd
The Fatties – Judge Dredd

ZL Oh yeah, those early works were really UK punk as punk can be! I’m surprised you like Rogue Trooper more than Nemesis though, Pat Mills and especially Kev O’Niell’s art is extreme as extreme art gets in comics back then. You mention in many interviews I’ve read that Japanese comics, particularly horror comics, have been an influence. How much influence do you see from Japanese horror comics in small press and self-publishing circles, it’s something I see a lot of in the creators I follow for sure, but I’m wondering what your experience is?

Shrooms watercolour

AY – I follow the underground Japanese scene pretty well. I am pen pals/friends with some of the newer japanese horror artists. It is funny. They all wanna get published here and I want to get published there. 

There are huge barriers in Japanese comics for Westerners. I would kill to get World of Knonx published in Japan. It is specifically designed and made for a world audience. It needs no translation. Manga publishers should be more open to Western comic artists the way we have.

I have grown very weary of all manga flooding the market lately. Most of it is just nicer formated versions of reprints of that older stuff I read in the 80s. It is not the weird upcoming stuff you see on the shelves. 

The American publishers bend over backwards to reproduce a lot of Manga but largely ignore American artists working at the same level of productivity. It has become a one way street. 

ZL – I see that a lot of publishers seem less inclined to have cartoony horror, they seem to have decide it must all be cheesecake or more realistic, I mean, you’re not going to see the likes of Shaun McManus on Swamp Thing art chores nowadays, which seems absurd because cartooning lets you play up emotions or gore without it getting all pornographic and seedy. I wonder if part of it is that as well, they want everything in that style. It’s also something that’s changed in horror as well. You think about something like Saw and how realistic those horror movie effects are compared to, say Friday the 13th, it’s changed what horror is. You could laugh at those things, not so much Saw, they’re far more EARNEST and wanting to show things REALISTICALLY.

AY- Yes! Exactly. I have been embracing the cartoon aspect of comics very heavily. Cartooning is dying in comic books not just in the horror scene. Comics have lost the ability to move the fans to a desired emotion.

I think it has to do with the industry’s reliance on writers. Artists are usually more creative and experimental than writers. Artists think in images and writers think in words. Writers can hammer out stories all day. The storytelling artist has to really think about every panel in a conscious way and how it will move the story. Images should drive comics not inane narrative. I should be able to understand the story in a comic by just looking at the art. If not then both the writer and artist have failed. Being able to type does not automatically make your stories interesting. Kirby’s cartooning made all those comics great not Stan and his stupid dialogue. 

 

Personally I don’t wanna spend 12 hours drawing the perfect building in a panel that no one will care about. I wanna move the story. Cartooning creates a fluidity through the pages that perfect structure loses. Manga is great at moving you through a story in that way. 

World of Knonx 2

ZLSo, in all of the ways you make things and with all of your feelings about being a part of US comics and international makers, what place do you see your new youtube videos playing into what you do? Is it more boredom relief or is it a way of pumping up awareness of the community you enjoy?

AY: I do the YouTube channel for fun and to shed light on independent creators. I also wanna try to create a new narrative in comics. Not just regurgitate the one fed to us by reactionary corporate comix culture.

ZL – Why the trash talking of something at the end? I ask because I have this pet theory that there’s a strong link between people doing underground comics currently, especially over the top gross out ones, and wrestling and I’m wondering whether that’s a bunch of nonsense I’ve made up, or whether this is like the trash talk between wrestlers, a funny sort of way to make a point about something, to build some low stakes drama? Or, is it a way to disarm a serious point by making it funny! 

AY: A little bit of both I guess. There is some carney action to all creatives who do it for a living. I think a long life as an artist hardens you. 

Comic book artists could learn a lot from Tattooists. Talk to a hardcase who has been making money everyday drawing. The one doing it in your hometown the longest. That is someone who can teach you a lot. They have had to put up with so much stupid shit from customers and society. They have a confidence and respect for their trade few artists do. They have real confidence that is inspiring. They won’t even fuck with some stupid walk-in. They are not gonna deal with some kid who wants a shitty Mickey Mouse tat. Some hokey fan art commission bullshit. People pay them good fucking money for their original style, skill and creativity. Comic artists conceded all that when they settled for being what amounts to storyboarders for ex-TV writers. 

Artists have to always remember Western society devalues you at every turn. You really have to learn to sell your art and self. Your skin better be real thick. You hear “no” and that “you will fail” constantly! You will work your ass off just to barely make it in most creative fields. 

ZL – Yeah, that really comes with the territory, especially if you’re coming at it from an underprivileged background, art seems to still be a very middle class opportunity and still seems to need strong patronage to make a living, so if you’re aren’t populist or aren’t from the right background you need to get money from somewhere else or learn to live cheap. 

AY – Starting out it is always a struggle in any field but comics has kind of embraced and even fostered failure among it’s creatives. A perfect example. No one with the talent level of Tim Vigil’s should ever be living in poverty. Which he pretty much is. If Tim started in tattoos he would probably be pretty set by now. Instead he chose to work in comics. 

ZL – You seem to be really knocking out your comics and developing an amazing backlist. I remember sharing a video where, I think that you were drawing a page from The Lottery, where you were filling in your spot blacks with this chunky dip pen nib and that just seemed like it would take a long time to get work done! So, I’m wondering whether you’ve changed up a gear and started doing lots of work, or am I just in circles where I’m seeing you pop up and you’ve been constantly busy for a long time?

AY – I mainly use a brush for large areas. Sometimes a fat nib. I have had the same process for the last 10 years. I have always had a pretty good work ethic with my art but my tools are just that. Lots of trial and error for the first 5-10 years. I had no one to help or any training. I am a lot faster at inking with some modern stuff but it is still the same process it has always been. I try to only work full time M-F 9-5. I love creating so much I get addicted to it. I will draw 18 hours straight if I am not careful. 

workstation

ZL – What inspired you to get making, not necessarily the style you make, but the actual circumstances behind you getting yourself together to put out comics instead of just sketching or posting online? What is the difference for you between posting online and publishing?

AY – Posting online is just a form of promo to me. Online is so ephemeral. I feel printed comics and animation is the best way to tell new stories and get them out. Period. It is hard to say what inspired me to start creating. I can tell you how I create though. 

I have always hated the idea of needing drugs, a muse or constant inspiration as motivation. It is not a sustainable model. It is a crutch for lazy artists to lean on. We all can learn skills and borrow from influences to make pretty art but real creativity comes from our imaginations. 

Clive Barker said it in interview after interview for years! He spoke of how fostering the imagination is being lost and even stifled in today’s world. He stressed the utmost importance for working artists and children to have an active and focused imagination. He is the greatest living horror artist of our age. The Poe of our time and everyone completely ignored him!!

Well I didn’t! I would meditate and do mental exercises daily for years to try and imagine whole working worlds. Clive was 100% right. I don’t get artists’ block or any of that shit. 

So Many Comics

This is gonna sound super new age but it is the best way to explain it. With short meditation techniques I can light the fire of creativity instantly now. It can keep me awake some nights if I let it. My mind’s eye fills with the most moving and colorful images you could ever imagine. I have learned to embrace it and snatch stuff from the ether. It’s like a true form of art magick. When I break into the astral plane of endless creativity it recharges my inner being and overwhelms my soul with love, and joy. I am flooded with new ideas constantly. The Buddhists actually have a name for this place but the name escapes me. 

ZL – I remember reading that Moebius, Jean Giraud, the French comic artist took a similar approach, that he drew all his Moebius strips in a semi-conscious state of meditation, so it seems reasonable for you to do the same! 

AY – Exactly! I have read that and felt a kinship with him. I think Jim Woodring works in a similar fashion as well. 

Drawing

ZL – Yeah, I’ve read that about Jim Woodring as well.

Looping back a second to The Lottery, I really admire the style of character design, the shapes you put down on the page, that I’ve seen in that. I’m guessing, from what you’ve just said, that much of these things arrive semi or fully formed? How much planning do you put into character design and story content and then could you give a general idea to how you approach a story and what you’re trying to achieve with your stories?

The Lottery

AY: Like I said prior, the initial ideas will come like a flood or in pieces. I will mentally “hang on” to my favorite ideas and build a story around them. Once I get most of it all sorted out in my brain I will do some general super loose thumbnails of a story or idea or the whole book. Sometimes I will start with a one shot style story and expand on it. The one shots will inspire more stories or ideas for other worlds as well. 

ZL – I know we touched on this earlier, but I’d like to dig deeper into whether you’re making money and what sort of sales you’re achieving, because, you know, I’m just damn nosey!
More seriously though, I think part of making and why people cease making is an unrealistic idea of what can be achieved within an arena. The amount of people coming into comics and underground comix all thinking they’ll end up on Adult Swim or bankrolling a comfortable life always saddens me. You know they will get worn out banging their drum to sell 10 copies and lose hundreds because they completely over print. 

Which is a very tortured way of asking whether you make money from your comics or, at least break even? Are you happy to tell us numbers of sales and if not exact amounts of income, what sort of percentage of your income comes from your comic sales and for context, the kind of lifestyle you currently live?

AY: I grew up pretty poor. I was out on my own at around 17 with zero money. So it has not been an easy road for me in art and comics. I am not complaining, I have made good money off my comix.

I print modestly with print on demand services. I can print a few copies up to a few 100 at a time. It just depends on demand. You don’t need to have a warehouse of stuff. I focus on the stuff that does well.

It took a long time but I am in a great spot on my own. Because of the virus a lot of the mainstream crowd are kind of sitting around with their dicks in their hands. While I am hammering out stories. I am 100% owner of all my titles. I am not an LLC so a corporation can’t get my “creative content” without my direct consent. 

Luckily I don’t really need them. I have done the math, I make way more per page and book then I ever would with a publisher. I can create, print, promo, mail and repeat. I have no need for censors, editors, publishers, stores, mob run distro or other middle men. They are all just standing between me and making the profit from my books. 

No one will admit it, but the Cerebus model is still the best model for creators to sell their comics. If you are serious about ownership. More people should have the same faith in their work as Dave Sim does. Only without being a total jerk. 

ZL – I’m guessing your politics don’t mesh with his, but I think Dave Sim is definitely someone who has lessons for self-publishers and creators alike. If you were going to pass on any of his advice, how would you summarise what you’ve taken from his example?

AY – His politics aside he was pretty cantankerous in most of his interviews but he was not afraid to speak his mind. Everyone is so afraid to speak up in fear of never getting or keeping that “sweet corporate comics gig”. 

Dave was right about a lot of stuff. If you can’t stand up for your own work then who will? Before I started reading all his interviews I thought he was just a jerk but now I kind of get his anger. I could only imagine what the mainstream tried to pull back then when they saw he wouldn’t play ball. What’s worse is nothing has changed really. All the shit he was raving about in comics is the same or even worse. 

I think he was really hated by the industry when he started speaking out about all the shadiness going on. It always felt the comics press started attacking his political stances after he started to state his opinions about the practices of some of these publishers. I don’t agree with him on a lot of stuff politically but he never backed down and stayed true to his ideals. I admire him for that. 

Comics has a long sordid history of trying to silence voices they don’t want to hear. It has happened to me and many others still to this day.

Blood Desert 3

ZL – How long has it taken to build up your back catalogue and what sort of tail end do you currently see on your titles, are we talking release and then forget it, sustained sales over months/years or occasional bumps when you get new titles out?

AY – It took 20 years to build the whole catalogue of large format stuff. I have printed 100s of different minis along the way. I now just mainly sell my larger format floppy and magazine stuff that does well continuously. I do have a goal to be able to fill a whole small magazine size comic book box with all my different floppy comics and mags. 

ZL – And how far away from that goal are you? 

AY – I have never actually checked. I would say I am well over halfway there. 

ZL – How do your sales and income compare to where you thought you’d be when you first started making your comics or did you not really care about that, other than not losing money?

AY: It is a weird thing that exists in indie comics. It is like they are ashamed of making money. 

You hear so much altruism in indie comics. “It is not always about the money man.” Tell that dumb shit to a career tattooist. They will laugh in your stupid face while they make $200 bucks an hour and drive off in their fully customized Dodge Challenger. While you stand there with a handful of comics and empty pockets. 

We should look at indy comics like tattooing or a little like a one man touring metal band or rap act. People wanna buy my books for my nutty unique style. So, yeah I am doing better than I ever could have dreamed of in such a dismal backwards looking field. I would rather be like a Tech 9 or Frank Zappa in comics. 

ZL – Last question, for you as a fan now, if you could get everyone in the world to read one of your books or series and a book or series by someone else, what would it be?

AY: Out of all my books I would say the World of Knonx series is my crowning achievement. I dumped every skill I have developed into one massive tale.

World of Knonx

Park Bench – by Christophe Chabouté. It is one of the most amazing comics made in the last few years. It is one of the most beautiful comics ever made. It flows like water. It is the zen of comix. I cried the first time I read It. 

The Park Bench - Christophe Chaboute
Park Bench – by Christophe Chabouté

I only make silent or wordless comics. So that is mainly what I am into. It is more common in European comics. So I try to mainly follow works coming from there. 

Comics should move us and excite us. Gross you out or move you to a new place emotionally. Not just be inane 80s TV sitcom serials. I am only interested in comics that exist and aspire to be comics. I have no interest in storyboards with dialogue. 

ZL – Thanx for your time Adam!

AY- Thanks for this in-depth interview. It is not often I get to talk deeply about things in comix that I care about. I never really get to explain how I create or how I truly feel about the medium.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak my mind. To everyone who has ever supported me and my art. I truly frikkin’ love you all!! 

Lopping off head

all art copyright and trademark its respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

the long list interview – Lucy Sullivan

Lucy Sullivan’s BARKING has been out for a while now and has been receiving a lot of positive attention and rightly so. It’s a complex work delivered in a seemingly simple manner, one of those tricks that comics manage so well.

It’s been a long road to publication, not without its difficulties either, so we thought we’d talk to Lucy about the ups and downs of placing your book with a publisher and the marketplace for comics.

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Lucy and BARKING can be found here:

twitter           facebook           website           BARKING at Unbound

 

ZL – Hi Lucy – and welcome back! Unfortunately, you’ve missed out on being our first returning interviewee, but you’re still one of our favourite creators!!

Congratulations on finishing BARKING and, even more so, on sticking to your guns to get it looking so good. I know it’s been a huge struggle, both creating it and finalising the book’s delivery. You’ve talked about the obstacles that you’ve faced in getting the book produced to a standard you consider acceptable and the difficulties you’ve hurdled in raising the funding to get published. I also know that your next project is going to be self-published. All of which would lead many to say that you probably wouldn’t recommend going down the route of mainstream publication.

But I’m intrigued and want to dig a bit into the whole process and what decisions took you to a publisher and what support and encouragement having a professional editor added to the process of creation.

First of all, though, I guess the elephant in the room would be whether it’s accurate to say you don’t like publishers? Would you swear off going through a publisher ever again, or do you think that this was something endemic to that specific publisher or situation?

LS – Hi!  Thanks, it does feel good to be nearly out the other side of bringing BARKING to print. It has been an epic trail with many hiccups along the way, but I feel I’ve had a crash course in crowdfunding, printing and publishing that’s set me up well for the future.

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I do still like the publishers though. It’s unlikely that I’d go down the route of Unbound again, especially now that Lizzie Kaye has moved on, but I would certainly work with a publisher again. I’m hoping to do so with my next long form idea and have a very selective list I would want to work with, all of which are Creator Owned contracts. I think if I couldn’t get a good deal with one of them, I would look to self-publishing. So far as zines and short form comics go that would be my preference anyway. I’m not going to pretend I’m not a bit of a control freak, I am. There’s so much time and effort that goes into making a comic that it has to live up to your expectations. In the case of BARKING there was a mistake made at the repro stage that lead to a drastic issue in the original print run with the black levels. It was a real battle to get it reprinted and if I hadn’t had funding from Arts Council England, I’m not sure it would have happened, but BARKING is a book about black so if its printed grey and inconsistently well that’s just not acceptable. I’m delighted that Unbound did the right thing and went for the reprint, they also went with Comic Printing UK as I had requested, and I think it’s a much better book for it.

Clearly and in light of recent discussions on social media there are many issues with publishing at the moment. The advances are poor to nonexistent and often come with frankly manipulative contracts. I’d come up against (and was beaten by) similar practices in the animation industry. It’s immoral that industries should prey on new talent, but many do. You have to know your worth and get whatever back up you can. I joined the Society of Authors when BARKING was picked up by Unbound. SOA went through my contract point by point and as such I retain many rights and can work with whomever I choose next. I think if you research properly and read every line there’s still a way to make it work but if you can, I’d say self-publish.

 

ZL – Yeah, it’s a shame that such matters are still being talked about in private circles and that companies feel the need to be so secretive about it all. It’s something that’s hard to quantify if you’re aspiring to get into the industry with aspirations for any kind of career. How much responsibility do you feel, having gone through a number of difficult situations to keep quiet for fear of blowing any further chances and how much do you feel you owe it to others to discuss such matters openly?

And for context – it’s not just creative companies that do this, they’re all pretty ish! In my real-world job, I was very gung-ho about the need to be open about such things so that companies didn’t get to play games with long-term employees. I willingly showed what I was being paid and it turned out to be significantly more than a more experienced, longer term employee. It meant that they ended up getting paid better as their managers were equally unhappy but unaware, but it caused them a lot of personal distress and that made me pause and re-consider what I had done, and I wonder where your thoughts on that would be and how this informs conversation about such subjects?

Barking running 1

LS – I do feel a responsibility to be open about the problems and realities of how publishers treat their creators. I think it has to be done with diplomacy as you can massively affect your chances of further employment. It’s been good to have groups emerging that are openly publicising page rates and problematic companies. It’s always complicated ground to cover but with more and more creators self-publishing then the question becomes what can they bring to your project that you can’t achieve without them? I’ve had a lot of disappointments in making BARKING that were directly down to my publisher but equally there’s much I’ve gained and done that I couldn’t have achieved as a self-published work so you’ve got to weigh the balance and talk to people. Most people are happy to discuss things privately but of course we’re all cautious.

 

ZL – Taking a step back in time, I’m sure that you’ve said in the past that Nick Abadzis introduced you to Lizzie Kaye at Unbound! and that led on to you having conversations and BARKING being accepted? What state was BARKING in before you took it to Unbound! and what input had you had and from whom at that point?

LS – Yep, Nick Abadzis is a wonderful fellow and good friend. We’ve been mates since he joined my evening life group way back when. Nick was over from NYC back in 2017 and came over to ours with his family for lunch. He knew I’d been working on my idea and at that stage I had 2 chapters completed and had home printed and bound some sample books to send to publishers. I think I’d sent to 3 or 4 but heard nothing back. I’d worked on the story mainly on my own but had a wee focus group with KidLit pals Fiona Ross & Sophie Ambrose. We’d meet up at Southbank centre and show our work-in-progress to each other for feedback. They were fun days but, as the other two were working on kids’ books, mine was a bit of a change of pace!

Anyway, it’s ridiculous how serendipitous it all was in the end, but Nick was going to SelfMadeHero’s birthday bash that night and got me in as a plus one. Had an amazing evening chatting to some ace comics creators and was trying not to fangirl at everyone when Nick pulled me over and introduced me to Lizzie Kaye and Andy Oliver of Broken Frontier. I was following them both online and got fairly flustered. Lizzie said Nick had told her about BARKING and she wanted to see it. I genuinely tried to talk her out of it. We were all a bit tipsy and I thought she was being nice, but she insisted. At that point a friend of ours, Luke Wilmot had put a PDF of the first two chapters together, so I went to email that to Lizzie and realised I didn’t have her email. So, Nick came to the rescue again! Then I had a 2-week jury service, a murder trail no less, to do before I heard back from Lizzie. It was one of the most intense fortnights of my life, but Lizzie loved the story and wanted to launch it with Unbound!. She was extremely honest about how hard the process would be, but I thought it would be a good route especially as Unbound! are a literary publisher and can get the books into high street shops.

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ZL – How did getting BARKING accepted make you feel about the book? Did it make it seem more legitimate or at least worth pursuing as it would see the light of day or did it make no difference to the project and your approach?

LS – Gaining Lizzie’s approval and being picked up did legitimise BARKING for me. Mental health and grief is a tricky subject and not the easiest to sell as a comic. I was absolute that I was telling an honest and therefore dark story and was not willing to compromise. Lizzie was all for that and she was very important in keeping me on that track. Although I was left alone to make the book we spoke often, and she always picked up when I was feeling pressured to lighten the story or give it ‘a happy ending’ by potential readers. I’m very grateful for her insight and faith that I could make exactly the book I wanted to make. I think Unbound! is a great platform for that, especially for mental health, I hope they will be commissioning graphic novels again in the future.

I know I would have made BARKING no matter what and the story would have been pretty much the same. My original plan was, if I couldn’t get a publisher onboard, to Kickstart it as a series of 5 books, 2 chapters per book. I think it works better as a graphic novel though. It is intended as a one shot, singular story so I’m very happy with the outcome now.

 

ZL – I guess I’m dancing around asking why you felt like going with a publisher at all, what process you took in looking for a publisher, did you do research, ask around about good or bad ones or was this more of an organic path of introduction, liking the editor and then going to the publisher on the back of that?

LS – I wanted to reach as many readers as possible with BARKING as it’s a universal experience and one I was very keen to open up a conversation about. I did a lot of research and mined websites like Broken Frontier for advice. I was constantly flitting between publishing and Kickstarting but I guess I did both in the end anyway. Unbound is essentially a Kickstarter to begin with as the author raises the full costs, in my case that was £13K. Then they do the rest; print, distribution, marketing. In theory. I think there’s some issues with their setup and the amount’s very hard to raise. It took over 18 months of crowdfunding plus the Arts Council grant and a generous donation from the Lakes International Comic Art Festival. It’s not one I’d say I’d readily do again, but I am going to. I’ve got 2 Kickstarters lined up but after that I’d like to work with another publisher. I think flitting between the two would work for me.

H-Title-1

ZL – Getting back from that little side trip, with hindsight, did the experience of working with Unbound! match up to the expectations you had?

LS – No, not really. You honestly couldn’t make up the things that went wrong with BARKING. Prior to the print issues there were delays with the printers as my original slot had to be changed but no-one rebooked it, so I went to the back of the queue when lots of books were being printed. Then when I was finally at the front of the queue, they’d used my uncoated paper on another book and had to reorder it. Then when that came, the machine broke down. It meant I had to launch at LICAF in 2019 without an actual book than again at Thought Bubble. BARKING had been named ‘Graphic Novel of the festival’ for TB by Broken Frontier and it was devastating to be there without the hardbacks. I then had to do my Arts Council exhibition, again without the books, but it was all going to be ok because I had a launch at GOSH! lined up in March. That got delayed due to the reprint and moved to April 17th and then… well who would’ve have seen a plague being the last hurdle! It’s been quite the experience, but I have a gorgeous looking book thanks to CPUK, it’s out in the world and getting great feedback so worth it in the end.

 

ZL – I genuinely think the follow-up should just be the whole process of getting to put the book out, it would be hilarious and painful and following generations would probably never believe it could possibly happen!

I do feel that what you got out in the end is an incredible product, having seen digital and physical, the digital pales in comparison. Probably, there’s the concern about how sales are affected by those missed opportunities on the one hand, but on the other, you must be pleased to see such an amazing book come out of it?

On a weird note – the book cover is completely medical wipe proof, there’s a fact you’d never have known without COVID-19.

LS – That is a surprising fact but possibly one Comic Printing UK thought of? Rich does know his comics!

I am very happy with the final book. The print quality is exactly what I’d hoped for and the impact it’s having on readers is more than I could’ve asked for. It was an incredibly stressful experience but as with such things I learnt an array of valuable lessons, made contacts I couldn’t have dreamed of at the start and have been forced to put my work out there. Doing so has led to becoming part of an amazing community. For all the gripes I have I still probably wouldn’t change any of the process. Perhaps that’s a lockdown perspective coming into effect? But I say the same about the events BARKING is based on. For all the trauma and difficulty in the end to change one bit would mean having a totally different life now and I wouldn’t want that.

Barking running 2

ZL – On a practical level, what did your editor bring to the project? Did you get feedback on the content – was it spelling errors, or storytelling input or even a sounding board for your ideas? Maybe even emotional support? A shoulder to cry on or a nagging/ coaxing voice to keep you on track and producing?
Was it more a matter of practical support – passing work from you to production staff and keeping Unbound up to date on your progress?

LS – Lizzie worked on an individual basis with each project she commissioned at Unbound!. I think her role was often changed and sometimes not credited there. For BARKING it was a practical and emotional support through the crowdfunding stages. She would put me in touch with people such as LICAF or Alex Fitch, who invited both Lizzie and I to talk at Cartoon County back in 2018. Lizzie also advised me on the technical aspects of the book and was the go between from me to the production staff at Unbound!. She wasn’t however involved in the print and therefore any of the problems. As I said before I was mainly left to create the book as I wanted. Lizzie did proof-read and check the spelling. I think if there had been issues or continuity problems, she would have advised me to remake parts but fortunately there were a couple of spelling mistakes but otherwise all good. Lizzie also came up with the idea of a wraparound cover and pointed out when my original design looked a bit… um, ill-placed shall we say! I think her experience and empathy for the project gave me the confidence I needed to stay true to my original idea. I’m really happy to have worked with her and would gladly do so again.

I’ve also done some work with other editors now and am getting a feel for their various ways of working. I really enjoyed working with Shelly Bond on my strip for Hey, Amateur! (Black Crown). I had to hand in a proper script prior to art working and it was quite a thrill to get notes back on it. It felt very legit! I’d happily work with Shelly again. I’ve also done a couple of commissions for Dark Horse on Black Hammer and they just sent the specs and the deadline. When a professional editor has that level of confidence in you it is a wonderful boost. I’ve been very lucky on that side of things so far. I do think an editor is a very important role. Especially in longer from work. It’s so easy to get to involved in your story and not keep a perspective on the bigger picture. I guess that’s why I’d like to keep working with publishers for my graphic novel ideas. Although I think there will be many changes in the industry in the very near future.

 

ZL – Other than your Unbound! editor, did you seek out other input and advice to help with the process from friends or peers and what type of feedback was that?

LS – As part of my crowdfunding campaign I produced a comic of the first 2 chapters and had it properly printed by CPUK. I got a lot of feedback from readers on that and some reviewers (like zine love!) and that was really helpful in going forward. Other than that, I didn’t show it to many people whilst I worked on it. I would talk some plot aspects through with my partner Stephen. He teaches Animation at Kingston School of Art and is excellent at story editing. But even he didn’t know the full story. I worked on it by writing a loose, cinematic style script for the whole story then thumb-nailing and sketching it out one chapter at a time. I basically thought about it constantly for the best part of a year. It felt like a giant, messy puzzle in my head that was slotted together and exorcised onto the page until it resembled pretty much what I set out to do. Not the most elegant description but true.

CTM-3-4

ZL – Sounds perfect – I do something similar, except nothing I do ever comes out the way I imagined, it sort of progresses organically until I bin it or like it for what it became …and – the last question I promise – as you’re working with someone else’s script and your next project will be self-published do you think you’ll want any editorial advice and feedback? Do you see value in that feedback and conversational process? I mean, I’m presuming you’ll be having that with the writer, but will you be talking to friends and peers, or even just getting a spelling assist for typos. I guess I’m essentially wondering whether you see editorial input as useful or you prefer to go it your own way?

I’m also wondering though, whether you see editorial input as something that only comes with a publisher or whether you consider it as something available and worthwhile out of that structure?

IND-XED thumbnail
IND-XED thumbnail

LS – Interesting question. Yes, the current project is called IND-XED. It’s a script written by Fraser Campbell originally with Anna Readman drawing it. I came on board when Fraser put an artist call out on Twitter, BARKING was finishing, and I thought it would be the perfect palette cleanser. I love Fraser’s comics with Iain Laurie and it’s a cracking wee lo-fi sci-fi. Fraser and I chat as we go and I’m sending him the thumbnails before I fully colour the comic. It’s a very different look to BARKING and it’s nice to shoot the breeze and bounce ideas about with someone again. We’re getting a letterer on board so hopefully they’ll start being a part of the process soon too. I like collaborating and miss doing it as an animator.

After IND-XED I’m kickstarting a short comic called SHELTER. It’s a prequel to my next graphic novel THE BAD OL’ DAYS. It’s been brewing as an idea whilst making BARKING. I’ve been making notes and picking up visual research as I go, which is how BARKING was formed, so I guess it’s a process for me now. I might pass SHELTER to some fellow creators in its early stage to check it’s working out and definitely want to work with an editor on the long form idea. It’s a much more complicated story and has a bigger cast so I think I’ll need an external opinion especially as I’m basing parts on my childhood. It’s not auto-bio though. It’s a supernatural noir but my childhood was filled with some extraordinary folk that are just crying out to be in comics. I think a good editor is going to be vital in making it work, it’s a big idea and luckily, I know a few great editors now.

 

ZL – Thanx for all of your time Lucy and here’s to many years of success for you!

LS – Many thanks. Long live zine love!

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.
content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

the long list interview – Sarah Harris

Marvel corner box trading cards

**this is another very late post up of an interview – i think this has sat around for nigh on 8 months – so, please do bear that in mind when reading?**

When we talk about scenes we often talk about those creators working within a group, style or friendship circle. Rarely are activists who buoy up those scenes referred to or approached. Yet, as often as not, it is these individuals who make a scene vital. Not just because of their financial or social support, but because they organise and raise awareness, sometimes even being the creators of the support network that bring the scene together. Sometimes, arriving on their radar is something of a badge of approval.

Some of these people are purely activists, some are also creators themselves, and that’s what we have here with Sarah Harris. A creator who is also one the heroes of a scene, in this case UK small press comics and sometimes zines. This interview was done long while ago and I’ve been very slow in organising myself to get it live – so in the meantime, Sarah has since contributed to the comics anthology The Whore Chronicles, as organised by Anthony Esmond.

In this, I was particularly interested in how a fan moves into the role of a scene activist and sometime organiser. I think this is a fascinating interview, not just because of the insight into small, fan led occasions, but because Sarah is such an engaging person to talk to.

You can find her on     twitter     facebook     instagram

handmade flip-book

ZL – Hi Sarah, let’s start with the obvious question, can you tell us a bit about yourself please?

SH – I’m Sarah Harris, and in the grand scheme of comicky things I’m nobody remotely important. I’m just someone who has loved comic books for a number of decades, buys thousands of the little buggers (for other women it’s shoes and handbags, for me it’s paper pamphlets), and even reads about half of them…

 

ZL – What’s your history with comics?

SH – Like a lot of people of my age, it’s hard to remember a time before comics were a part of my life, as, in the *ahem* 70s when I was a nipper, ALL kids read comics. We literally had no other entertainment 😊 There were like 2 TV channels or something, not that my parents let me watch either of them, or there was tree climbing – and that’s no fun on a rainy day. So, I read real books when I wanted to feel intellectual, and comics when I wanted to be entertained – they were my equivalent of cartoons or computer games for young ‘uns nowadays, I guess.

Generally, though, I wasn’t following any specific comic from week to week until 2000AD which was the first one I had a proper newsagent subscription for. Before that I’d just spend my pocket money on spec on whatever looked good that week. I was lucky enough to get 2000AD from the very first issue at the age of 9 due to 1) a cool TV advert that said that the launch issue came with a free frisbee! (comics didn’t generally have free gifts back then and dear god I wanted that piece of round throwable plastic!) and 2) my dad being a huuuuuge science fiction fan who had given up on having a son to pass his passion down to – he saw an opportunity here to get me hooked on Heinlein and Wyndham and Van Vogt and Phil K Dick and Asimov and Aldiss and Bradbury and Arthur C Clarke, and it totally worked.

2000ad issue 1 cover

2000AD and, while it lasted, the wonderful British girls’ horror comic Misty, were my weekly obsession until the mid-80’s, when I moved away from home to work my gap year before university, and for the first time discovered that there were actual comic shops! Until then I thought they only came from newsagents, because I’m a twit.

Those shops were the original Denmark Street Forbidden Planet and a shop in Nottingham that might have been called Strange Tales (my gap year job was with IBM and I moved around between their London, Warwick and Nottingham offices) – and they blew my tiny miiiiiind. I was aware of American comics before this point, obviously, but I thought they were just all superheroes, which I had absolutely zero interest in (I blame Pat Mills for that 😊 2000AD was very snooty towards capes and spandex). But at Forbidden Planet and that Nottingham shop I discovered Swamp Thing! and Elektra Assassin! And Watchmen! I mean yes, they are all kind of still superheroes 😊 But they were more, I dunno, “edgy” 😊 and the art was amazing (and in some cases painted, which really sung to me). I was hooked…

I never looked back from that point, soon after came the time of Sandman and Vertigo, spooky narratives and lots of gorgeous painted and collaged artwork, and I was totally in my element. Horror, supernatural and sci-fi stories have been my lifelong sweet spot ever since.

 

ZL – What was it that made you start COLLECTING comics rather than just reading them

SH – Hmmmm… good question. I don’t think that I realised I was collecting at first. In the 90’s we had the big speculation boom with all the foil covers and variants and craziness – but that was mainly happening at the more testosterone-fuelled end of the superhero market, especially with the launch of Image – and that wasn’t ever my thing. All a bit too macho for me, all those muscles and pouches 😀

So, I figured that I was a reader but those “other people” were collectors.

Of course, by the time we got to the new millennium I had a converted garage full floor to ceiling with long boxes, containing many thousands of comics I’d not even got around to reading yet, and I couldn’t really deny any more that I was a collector (today I’d say hoarder 😊 ) – but it definitely crept up on me…

I carelessly lost all of that original collection (long sad story, sob! I could have retired on it!!) in the early 2000’s and for years I resisted getting back into comic collecting as it had hurt too much to say goodbye to them. I didn’t set foot in a comic shop again until around 2012, but from then it was a very slippery slope, and here I am again with a room full of boxes. This time around I’ve even started going back to the silver and bronze age and buying back issues of all those classic superhero comics I turned my nose up at for so many years. Turns out they are pretty good! Who knew???!!

 

ZL – When and why did you moved from collecting into FANDOM?

SH – To be perfectly honest, I don’t really know what “fandom” means. It’s a relatively recent term, I think, I can’t remember hearing it before a few years back, and I tend to associate it with big groups of people who rabidly support a TV show and get all arsey and defensive about it on twitter.

I don’t think I’m like that. Except maybe a bit with the Battlestar Galactica reboot (best show ever!!!!! If you don’t agree, fight me!!!)

I came late to conventions. I did go to lots of signings in the 80’s/90’s (mainly at Forbidden Planet in London and Nostalgia & Comics in Birmingham) – but I never went to a UKCAC or anything like that. A lot of the guests were from the “superhero” side of things that, as we’ve already established, I stupidly thought I was too good for 😊 and I didn’t have any comic book reading pals to go with – everyone else I knew had grown out of them like you were supposed to and got into alcohol or drugs instead.

home made cosplay suit of full fantasy battle armour and sword

My first proper convention was LSCC (London Super Comic Convention) 2013, I think. I wasn’t really overly fussed about it in advance, I went as company for a non-comic-reading illustrator pal who wanted to see Artists Alley, not really knowing what to expect, and I had a blast! After that I went to quite a few, especially enjoying the more grass roots comic shows like True Believers (which is local to me and I haven’t missed one since they started).

My kids were young at that point and I had nobody to look after them while I went gallivanting, and they had no interest in comics (heathens), so if I wanted to go to a con for the day, I had to somehow get them interested enough to want to come with me. The route to that was cosplay – they really enjoyed the dressing up, and I got to buy comics while they did so. As a bonus, I discovered I was quite good at making their costumes and it was a fun hobby for a while (they have since outgrown it and I now just go to cons on my own, and no longer have to build armour for the privilege :D)

 

ZL – What differences do you see in the comic world since you first got involved, for example, how do you feel about getting closer access to creators through social media?

SH – I don’t know that I’m best placed to answer this one – as I don’t think I am really that closely involved in the “comic world” now, and I certainly wasn’t back in the day. I just read ‘em 😊

The question about how much I’m influenced by creators’ views and opinions and actions now is an interesting one though – the whole “can you separate the creator from the art”. I think I am pretty good at that. I don’t think that someone needs to be a wonderful person for me to enjoy their art or their writing. If you start going down that road, there are very few great pieces of music or classic works of literature that you couldn’t pick holes in. I think that’s a generational thing, more than anything. I think we old gits just got used to the fact that the people who created the art we liked weren’t always nice people! There are limits, obviously, but if it is just a case of someone being a bit of an arse on twitter, or not lining neatly up with my own politics, then I don’t care. If they make good comics, I’ll still read them.

 

ZL – What got you involved with the small press?

SH – All credit/blame here goes to the Awesome Comics Podcastepisode #8 (I think), 3 years or so ago. I had seen small press creators at their tables at various cons, but I had never had the courage to actually stop and look at any of the comics, figuring that I would be given the hard sell and end up buying a load of naff homemade comics that I didn’t want (sorry guys!!).

It was the week before Melksham comic con and the organisers had put a link to the podcast on their facebook page, as the ACP guys had done a kind of preview rundown of what was going to be at the con. I downloaded it for a listen in the car – mainly to see if they mentioned anything I could use to get the kids enthused – and they had Shaun Dobie on as a guest talking about his comic Descending Outlands. It was due to have a new issue launched at the con, and it sounded right up my street (I’m a sci fi girl, as previously discussed), and I decided to pick up a copy. Already knowing that the comic sounded good removed my fear of being hard sold something I didn’t want and gave me the guts to approach the table…. dressed as Rocket Raccoon 😊

From then on – having discovered that some small press comics are actually very good!! – I sought out reviews and recommendations from the Awesome chaps and other sources and have bought a TON of small press comics since. I still mainly buy mainstream comics, but small press is definitely a big part of my reading repertoire now.

Also, everyone is so damn friendly! I’ve made a load of new friends in the small press crowd, which was a real unexpected bonus side effect, after being a total loner in my comic reading hobby for the vast majority of my life.

 

ZL – What was the tipping point into organising a small press day at your local comic shop?

SH – I think I just wanted to contribute in some way. Suddenly I had this great new circle of friends who all make comics. I didn’t have any urge to make my own (which they all thought was weird 😊 ), but I wanted to join in or help somehow…

At the same time, my LCS (Incredible Comic Shop in Swindon, Wiltshire) moved to a much larger premises, and didn’t really have enough stock to fill it all. I asked if they would consider stocking some small press and they said yes, as long as I did all the work and they didn’t have to pay for anything 😊 So they gave me a couple of shelves, and I asked a few creators I knew to come along for a signing event to launch the new “department”. We had 5 tables, so it was like the world’s smallest convention, but it went down really well with the shop customers, and everyone had good sales – both the creators who were there – and those I had stocked on my small press shelves.

4 - shop event image 23 - shop event

ZL – What made you think it was worth doing a second time?

SH – The fact it went down so well the first time, I guess.

To date I’ve organised two small press signings at the shop with multiple creators (5 or 6 tables), and a couple of individual events for more mainstream artists. The first small press event was the best attended of the four. Unfortunately, as time went on, I think that the novelty of small press product and signings wore off for the shop and its customer base, and it is now very difficult to shift independent product there.

 

ZL – What support did you get when setting up the initial event and how did that change over time?

SH – There was definitely more enthusiasm at the start from the shop themselves – for the first event they printed leaflets and posters, and paid for online advertising, and most importantly, when customers came in store in the weeks before the event they were keen to tell everyone about it.

It made a difference when the shop was pushing hard on local promotion. Mainly they used flyers, (in store, but I also put them in the local library, on noticeboards etc), posters and locally targeted paid facebook ads. I also put links to the events on local community facebook groups, although I’m not sure how much good they did.

I did try to get the local newspaper to show an interest too, but they were spectacularly disinterested.😊

By the second/third event that support had all but gone, sadly, but perhaps that was down to me not cheerleading strongly enough. Also – at first, probably due to the novelty of it, the actual small press product was really moving off the shelves, so that was clearly a plus point for the shop, cash going through the tills… but the shop’s customers very quickly moved back to their Marvel/DC heartland and sadly it was difficult to keep their interest up in the indie stuff. To the extent that the last couple of events were so poorly attended that I was genuinely embarrassed. I felt so bad for the creators turning up to a field of tumbleweed, and that (combined with some health issues) has put me off doing any events this year. I am not writing them off completely forever, though.

It is even hard to sell Image / IDW / Dark Horse etc books to that crowd! These aren’t generally people who go to comic cons at all, so there was no “brand recognition” for any of the small press stuff. If it isn’t Marvel/DC IP it is a very hard sell. Therefore I can’t really blame the shop for moving their promotional muscle back behind things that are more likely to generate them actual funds.

Other people – such as the Awesome Comics Podcast, and Stuart over at True Believers – were great at both publicising and attending my little events, because they are heroes – but the podcast in particular covers the whole country, and it’s not easy persuading people to come to Swindon for the day! 😀

a comic if i ever saw oneIMG_8430

ZL – You mention the idea of ‘brand recognition’ and the difficulty in maintaining an interest from customers in small press creations. I’m wondering how much, you think, considering the fact that these comics can be 24 pages in length and take sometimes a year between issues and are often created in thanx to Kickstarter backers, how much do you think that robs them of a chance to sell well?

SH – It is difficult to maintain interest yes, I found it easier to sell one off comics or ones where there were already a few issues out, so they could buy up a set at once.

A few customers at the Swindon shop tried to put some of the small press stuff on their pull lists and were told that they didn’t really work that way as not diamond distributed plus it could be a long wait. They weren’t too impressed! They are used to monthly or fortnightly titles.

 

ZL – That’s an interesting consideration, with the environment you’re trying to sell in – these are comic shop buyers so they’re likely to be people who want regular publications to deliver regular updates and that’s likely to be an important sales point. Do you think that comic shops are a good place to sell these sorts of semi-annual comics creations?

SH – It’s definitely a different world for those used to having a pull list of regular ongoing comics. They like one offs or already complete collections best…

But in general, at least in a comic shop, you have a captive audience of people who actually already love and read comics… but who very rarely go to comic cons or have any other exposure to small press stuff. Most in our shop didn’t know the small press existed until we introduced them to it!  So, yes, I think it is a good place to sell small press IF you can keep the momentum and interest up.

Some customers weren’t interested and considered the small press stuff to be inferior in some way to their big 2 faves, but most were enthusiastic, at least at the start.

 

ZL – Just to loop back on something you said, there’s a point I want to pick apart a little more about advertising and expanding the audience for buying comics and particularly the issue of expanding that reach beyond the normal ‘monthlies’ crowd. It seems to me that, in general, comics is very much concerned with talking to comics people and we’re very locked into that closed circle of ‘collecting’. I think local advertising of an event can be an opportunity to open things up and I wondered if you felt the same, because there’s a dynamic here that I’m seeing, in terms of, with the flyers in store and with the facebook advertising, it’s still talking to the converted. Whereas, I’d say, you attempted to get the information out to a wider public. Had you considered that dichotomy before, was that why you were trying new places to drum up interest?

SH – Hmmm. Tricky question, and I don’t know all the answers. The best results we got for attendance at events were when the shop did targeted facebook advertising in the local area (so not just to the people who follow their page, they targeted anyone interested in comics within a 30-mile radius) and also when they printed flyers (which I distributed all over!) and posters. When they stopped doing this the attendance fell off significantly, but that was probably also down to natural attrition.

The creators themselves pushing the events and the fact that the shop carries their books, also helps a lot. Some are a lot better at that than others.

collage art and drawing from one of Sarah's hand made books

Whether we can get people into the shop who aren’t already interested in comics at all is the big question. It is possible that some of the small press titles might appeal to them more than the pro comics especially if superheroes aren’t their thing. The shop is very Marvel/DC heavy though, so that might put them off.

I actually found that the small press comics that were a little more arty or different sold a lot better at the shop than more trad superhero style stories. I think for the fans of more traditional types of comic stories, they would rather buy their usual pro titles and didn’t think the small press alternatives looked up to their standards. Whereas for an artsy autobiography comic, for example, Marvel and DC don’t really have an alternative offering for that.

With hindsight, I should have bought more of that alternative kind of stuff in and less of the traditional stuff. But I thought I would need lots of “normal” comics to transition my “normal” customers!

You live and learn…

 

ZL – OK, but I’d still say that most of that advertising was going to the ‘converted’ though.

SH – Ah. I didn’t explain myself properly. By facebook advertising I meant the shop originally paid extra to promote to local people but outside of their own page followers.  You can serve an advert to everyone within 30 miles of Swindon who likes comics, conventions, etc. That was what worked really well.

For the later events they stopped doing that and only posted on their own page (the captive audience, as you say).

Ditto with the flyers, I took those all over the place, local conventions, other shops, the library, the local market etc. Anywhere I could get the word out. But then for subsequent events they didn’t print any flyers.

So yeah basically, when they advertised beyond the existing shop base, it worked. But that costs money and they clearly didn’t think they saw enough return from the first one to justify that expense again. (I think they are wrong about that, they made plenty on their margin on the small press stuff alone, and I know that some of our event visitors bought standard shop stock while they were there too…)

a page reflecting Sarah's interest in street art

 

ZL – Ah – you did answer clearly, I think I was not clear enough!

I was thinking that the advertising, the flyers in the shop and even the facebook ad, they would be to people ALREADY interested in COMICS, rather than just general PEOPLE, the expanded audience I was thinking of. That’s what was interesting – only you tried something that took it to PEOPLE and not COMICS interested. You put it out on community message boards, went to the library, stretched to reach a different audience. I just wonder if that had continued where it would have gone. Maybe I’m deluding myself, I’m good at that! I seem to think that there must be better ways to get comics in front of people than we currently have.

Here I’m thinking about a little rant I had on twitter a while back, where I questioned whether graphic novels or comic magazines are actually likely to expand comics readership. I also question whether these individual, slow running comics are best served by being published individually on a slow timescale and whether something more on the model of 2000AD might not serve them better? Maybe even a group website along the lines of something like Aces Weekly or Study Group where brand and content can be regularly pushed, a wider base can build momentum? Maybe even advertising used to monetise the work?

I guess that’s a lot to ask you, so maybe a fairer question would be, how likely would you be to sign up to something like that – an anthology with regularly changing strips, either online or physical, or a combination, where the content gets packaged up at the end of a storyline, much like 2000AD monthly?

SH – I guess the Comichaus anthology is along those lines. That came out regularly every month and was pretty good. And, also the Dirty Rotten Comics anthology was similar in format. Not sure if either are still going though.  Anthologies are often a tough-ish sell in my experience as people flick through and judge it by the weakest looking story in the book. Trick is not to have any weak stories!

 

ZL – How does it feel to have stopped?

SH – Let’s say “paused” not stopped – never say never 😊 Another interesting question. To be honest, I totally feel like I failed. I should have worked harder at keeping the customer base interested in small press, written weekly reviews for the shop website, rotated the stock more often, been in store more often to hands-on sell stuff… But there was a limit to how much time I could devote to what felt like a losing battle, week in week out. And stock wise – I had already spent a hell of a lot of my own money buying comics upfront that are still sat there a couple of years down the line, stubbornly refusing to sell – and it gets to the point where you have to draw a line…

It was an experiment, to see if I could get the locals excited about small press enough to sustain a section of the shop, without it being any work or expense for the store owners – and it looked for a minute like it might work… but in the end, I failed.

That doesn’t take away from the success of the first two events though – they were a lot of fun, and lucrative for the attending creators, and I’m proud to have – at least temporarily – expanded a few Wiltshire comic readers’ horizons.

cover for Sliced Quarterly

ZL – On a final note, you mentioned earlier that your comic friends think you mad because you’re not trying to make your own comics. I find that interesting, because I know you’ve made your own books before (I’ve added images throughout the interview), and some of those are pretty comic like to me. Also, I’m sure I’ve read somewhere that you’re working on a short comic story, but I can’t find where I saw that, so maybe I’m just back to deluding myself again?

SH – Yeah. I’m slowly dipping my toes in with a short 5 pager I’m doing for an upcoming anthology that I can’t talk about yet and before that I did a cover for Sliced Quarterly, so I seem to be getting involved!

(EDIT – This was a strip that appeared in The Whore Chronicles co-ordinated by Anthony Esmond)

 

 

the long list interview – Alice Clarke and Rob Zwesloot

cover for the graphic novel star bright of a young girl wishing she had a friend

I spoke to Alice a long time ago and have been very slow in getting this interview up on the site, for which I apologise.

I’d seen Star Bright in the small press section of my local comic shop (without realising that Alice worked there at the time) and was intrigued by it, flicking through, but never quite committing as it wasn’t my normal art style. When I put out a call for interviews and reviews and Alice responded I was pleased as it gave me the reason to engage and test that prejudice. I’m glad I got that chance as I was particularly struck by Star Bright, so struck I awarded it one of the five Paper Underground awards zine love gave out for 2019. I was very moved by the story, it ended with an admittedly quiet emotional outcome, but it hit with quite a heavy weight.

I also want to thank Rob Zwetsloot for their additional responses (and help with editing!!)

That there are only 200 copies, and not all are sold, seems to me a big shame. It’s a strong and accessible work, even for younger children and it seems like a comic that could fly with the right publisher to raise awareness and get some strong distribution.

Star Bright can be found online, on twitter and bought here

Alice Clarke can be found online, on twitter , on instagram and facebook

Rob Zwetsloot can also be found on twitter

cover for the graphic novel star bright of a young girl wishing she had a friend

ZL – Hi Alice, could you give a brief introduction about yourself first of all?

AC – Hi Iestyn! I’m a Brighton born & raised artist. I’ve been drawing since a young age and graduated from the University of Brighton with honours in Illustration in 2017. I lived in Texas for two years from when I was about twelve, which is where I first came across manga in my middle school library, and ever since then I’ve been hooked on comics.

ZL – I guess the obvious question is, what have you been doing since the strip finished up at the end of October 2018, apart from, running a successful Kickstarter to get it physically published?

AC – It took quite a few months to fulfil the Kickstarter as I was doing almost everything by myself and I was working full time. In April I quit my job to sort and pack all my earthly possessions and on the 1st of May I moved to Japan – so since then it’s been an adjustment period I suppose! Comics-wise I’m working on my first solo comics project, a lot of which has been building up the courage to start drawing. I’m thumbnailing it right now!

ZL – How did it feel to see the Kickstarter do so well, and then receive positive reviews from the likes of Broken Frontier as well?

AC – It took me a long time to work up the confidence to even try to make a comic in the first place and I only feel I was able to do it with the support of my wonderful co-creator and writer, Rob Zwetsloot, as well as friends and peers who cheered me on every step of the way. So, for the Kickstarter to be such a success, I was completely overwhelmed and overjoyed. I am extremely grateful that people such as Stephen at Page 45 and Holly at Broken Frontier took the time to read and review our work and say such nice things about it.

ZL – You got a lot of backers, I was wondering how many copies you had produced over and above those to fill the initial Kickstarter orders and how well they are selling, and where people can buy them if they want a copy?

AC – We had a pretty small print run of 200 copies, around half of which were for the Kickstarter. We have around 30 left over not including copies may be left on shelves in comic book stores – my previous workplace, Dave’s Comics in Brighton, Page 45, all the Travelling Man stores…
You can buy them on my Etsy store! Rob is fulfilling orders at the moment since most of our readers are in the UK, it didn’t make sense to send them to myself in Japan.

ZL – I’ve read Star Bright myself and – terrible person I am – as soon as you said it took you two and a half years I went and looked at the first drawings and the last ones to see what improvement there was.  I was struck by two things straight away.

The character designs were strong from the outset, it is easy to tell characters apart and there’s great scope for communicating their emotions, which is very important in this story.

Your figure work and anatomy were very strong by the end, also your line work was much more assured.

Do you see the difference and how do you feel about your progress?

AC – Thank you so much. That’s not terrible at all – I always do the same, I think it’s fascinating to see someone’s growth in this way! For me personally, I feel the change is immense (I actually can’t bear looking at the old pages haha) and I learned so much as I drew each page of the comic – people aren’t kidding when they say if you want to get better drawing, draw a comic. It forced me to draw many things I would never usually draw (backgrounds!!) and think about how to lay out each page and panel in a way that was visually interesting but conveyed more than just an illustration on its own would. I think I also got a bit more confident in my work and was more willing to take risks with angles, poses, etc.

ZL – Is there a point where you thought that the drawing really hit its stride and you felt that you were achieving an outcome you could be proud of, were you proud right from the start?

friends having a sleepover, one is brushing the hair of another
chapter 3 frontispiece

AC – I don’t think I was particularly proud of my work (meaning the drawings themselves) until maybe end of chapter 3, chapter 4. A long way in, I know, but I have a lot of self-confidence issues with my drawing (thanks art school) and it wasn’t until that far in that I think I found my stride and the way I wanted to draw the comic. I am pretty proud of all the pages at and after that point.

ZL – What was the genesis of this comic, did you know the writer Rob before you started working together?

AC – I think we knew of each other through mutual friends and the UK cosplay community, but it wasn’t until I put it out on Twitter that I was looking for a writer for a comic project that we really started talking. Rob came to me with a rough outline of ideas and character concepts and I just loved it straightaway, the rest is history!

ZL – I find it interesting that you call it out as an LGBT comic, because, to me at least, it’s far more universal, dealing with social anxiety and self-image. I’m particularly interested to see a comic written by someone with different life experiences that handles the feelings and emotions of teenage girls so convincingly and wondered what inspiration and insight Rob drew on to write the story. Did you work together on the storyline and character decisions or was this a more traditional writer and artist collaboration?

AC – As LGBT creators we always want to create work that reflects ourselves and our community in one way or another, and while Star Bright may not feature a story with a hard-hitting LGBT subtext, I think it’s important that people can read and access comics and books that feature gay and trans characters without that necessarily being the focus of the story. Especially as a book aimed at a younger audience who may not have figured out or even thought about those things yet (I know I certainly hadn’t when I was Zoe’s age…) I wanted to manifest LGBT themes in a manner that was more suggestive but also conspicuous. Accepted. Like Robin and Sarah always showing up holding hands, Zoe and Star’s progression from friendship to something more just being accepted. I hope that makes sense.

Robin and Sarah in the background holding hands in the background whilst Star and Zoe walk by talking with each other
Robin and Sarah in the background holding hands

Rob is non-binary, so I think those self-image issues and feelings of anxiety and not fitting in would not be too dissimilar to a young teenage girl’s at all. Although it was chiefly Rob who wrote the story, it was quite different when originally brought to  – there are whole characters we decided together not to use in the final version.
I would say we were co-creators more than anything else when it came to the script, and as someone who was once exactly in Zoe’s shoes, a young teen girl struggling at school with loneliness and friendship troubles, I did my best to help nuance Rob’s wonderful script in a way that echoed my experiences. In that way I think we are a little bit outside the traditional writer-artist style of collaboration. Rob also gave me almost complete freedom with page layouts and pacing, only really giving me stage direction and visual pointers when they had a strong idea for how a certain page or scene needed to be drawn. I think our collaborative method was really symbiotic and we both helped each other constantly to build on our strengths and grow our skills.

ZL – This sounds like an interesting point and I’d like to bring Rob in on this and get their point of view, how did you find the experience of writing about teenage girls?

RZ – First and foremost, I wrote these characters as just people, with wants and desires, different history and life experiences. I think that’s important with storytelling, otherwise you’re concentrating on just one part of them (and it reeeaaaalllllly shows when you do). A lot of Zoe’s character was based on me growing up and some of the problems I faced. It was sort of wish fulfilment for how I’d liked to have been able to face my issues while I was still a teenager. It’s been nice to learn that a lot of other people had these sorts of experiences, so I wasn’t quite as lonely as I thought – although I guess the irony there is, we were all too lonely to reach out to each other at the time. Having said that, while writing the story I was worried that I might end up not writing the girls ‘correctly’ – despite the agnostic approach to creating the characters, I don’t have experience as a teenage girl. I think at one point I was even asking friends “did you ever just talk in Simpsons quotes as a kid?”.

However, I said to Alice at the start that she should correct me if I did something wrong. It really helped with the way the scripts were written. I’d write the chapter, do my edit passes, tweak it until I was happy with it (or as happy as I could get), and then Alice and I would read through it together and punch it up, almost like a TV show writers’ room. We’d add bits and change stuff for story reasons, consistency, for better visual layout in the comic, etc. It definitely would not have been as good as it is without her input. I think Zoe ended up an amalgam of Alice and myself in the end, and really the only mistake I made with them was initially writing them a bit too mature. We added in more of the uncertainty and confusion of being fourteen and left it up to the reader.

 

ZL – What impressed me most with the art on this was how you used it so efficiently to highlight emotional states, it’s interesting to see someone approach a Japanese style comic that develops the use of body language and silent connections more than the hyper normal, speed line mania one usually sees being aped. The approach lifts what is really a small, introverted narrative and lends it a heavy sense of emotion, rather than playing up an opportunity for melodrama. I’m wondering if there was a conscious decision to play the story that way, or whether it was something that came from the characters as they emerged, or whether it was something that the two of you brought from your own influences?

powerful loneliness illustrated by a blank face girl walking away in darkness
powerful loneliness

AC – Thank you very much, I’m really pleased you picked up on some of my visual choices. I am not really sure, I think for my part I just tried to draw and convey the story and the emotions in a manner that felt natural to me. Some of my most favourite storytelling techniques in comics are found predominantly in manga, so a lot of the ways I decided to draw certain scenes involving drama and emotion are probably very influenced by Japanese comics. I find the quietness and subtlety of melodrama in manga oftentimes much more emotive and appealing than some of what I’ve seen in western comics, and I think it’s closer to reality so it works better for stories like Star Bright where the narrative is close to home and relatable, (well, except for the whole alien thing haha).

ZL – I don’t know whether you were aiming for this, but it’s definitely something that I picked up, whilst this is clearly a comic aimed at teenagers, a YA style, it’s also something that I, as an adult could read and identify with. The style is engaging and endearing and open and it feels like I’m getting an insight into the lives of the girls and girls that age in general. What was the aim of creating this story, who were you hoping to talk to and what was it you felt you had to say to them?

AC – Thank you so much. I really like books that have a wide appeal, that have something for everyone. Many of my favourite series fans’ ages range hugely so I guess maybe it’s a natural way for me to create work (Cardcaptor Sakura, Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure, Lord of the Rings…)
For me, not having a voice when amongst my peers and the smothering feeling of loneliness and being misunderstood as a teenager was something I had rarely, perhaps never seen represented in books and comics I’d read, so I really wanted to voice it myself with this comic. With Star Bright, I was hoping to talk to that lonely girl who spends her school breaktimes at the library reading by herself, who begs her mum for sick notes, so she doesn’t have to go on school trips, the girl who’s always last to be picked in P.E., who never has a pair for group work. I’m sure there are lots and lots of Zoes out there in the world, and I wanted this book to find them somehow and let them know they’re not alone, and if they didn’t find them yet, there’s definitely a Star waiting for them.

ZL – It’s also surprising how, if you gave it as an elevator pitch, something seemingly sweet and so low stakes in terms of character arc, manages to be so engaging and supple in its storytelling. I genuinely came away feeling happy and like something good had happened in my day. Part of that was how well the art managed to communicate the characters feelings, both using body language, character interaction and then more subtle artistic effects, for example, when Star first goes and stays with Zoe’s friends. How much thought and how many tries did it takes to nail that approach? Did that solution just come naturally to you or did you think it through and try different approaches?

AC – Wow, thank you. That means a lot to me! We spent a lot of time reworking the last chapter and a half or so, trying to figure out the emotional beats and get the height of the drama just right for the bus scene with Zoe and Star. Like you say, it’s a low-stakes story and I was always worried that it wouldn’t be enough to engage some readers. It’s hard to know how many tries and rereads it took to get the script right, since I was always working with Rob right up until I had even finished drawing the page to tweak lines of dialogue, etc. I can say however that there are almost no pages I drew more than once or that changed dramatically from their original thumbnail sketch.

ZL – Final question, I promise!

What are your plans for the future, would you like to do more comics and see them published, or stick to webcomics, or are you out of the comics games for a while?

AC – I would love to have my comics published someday, it’d be a dream to be published by somebody like First Second. But small steps, for now I’d like to try and successfully complete something solo and really indulge in my interests.

ZL – …and you Rob?

RZ – At the moment I’m (very slowly) working on a new story concept that may end up as a book. As for Star Bright, it’s over for now but we may always return to it in the future.

ZL – Thanx for all your time

 

Paper Underground Award announcement

 

all art copyright and trademark it’s respective owners.

content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2020

 

the long list interview- Steve Bull

Steve Bull runs a facebook group about the art of veteran comic creator Ian Gibson, a creator whose art I’ve enjoyed for a long time.

When I found the group, it was nice to see a relaxed and friendly atmosphere and someone so personally welcoming. He also introduced me to the 1977-2000AD group, which, as he mentions, he admins. Both groups are fun and I enjoy going on them in part because of the group dynaimcs, as much as the actual content. I thought it would be fun to interview Steve to find out more about him and his interest in running these groups.

I should also mention that Steve is involved in the anthology The 77, and is therefore involved in publishing creators wohse works I enjoy! It closes March 1st 2020, so you maty still be able to pledge, depending on when you’re reading this.

PLEDGE HERE

 

ZL – Hi Steve                               

Steve Bull - image
Steve Bull

Thanx for agreeing to an interview. How about we start with a little bit about your background? You clearly enjoy 2000AD, what is your background and current relationship with the magazine?

SB – It’s enjoyable being on this side of an interview for a change, so thanks for asking Iestyn.

I was originally introduced to the Prog by my cousin Ade at the beginning of the 80s. I’d have probably been 8 or 9 years old and my first prog would’ve been in the #200s but I can’t remember the exact one. I had been into war comics at the time so Rogue Trooper was a major factor in me embracing it straight away. 2000AD really was the perfect storm of fantasy/future/fantastic art and edgy writing.  I actually read the Prog religiously through the 80s before stopping completely in the early 90s. This sudden halt was probably more down to me hitting adulthood and searching for a real-life Halo Jones but did coincide with a particularly poor period of history in the prog where it tried very hard to be a ‘lads mag’ with cartoon boobs ☹.

Rogue Trooper
Rogue Trooper

Recently (in the last year) I’ve returned to the prog and taken up a subscription due in part to my involvement in the Facebook groups I admin (1977-2000AD and Imagination of Ian Gibson). But also due to some solid story-telling and wonderful art.

 

ZL – Where did reading turn into collecting and when did that make you a fan?

SB – I’m not sure anyone can really pinpoint when they became a collector, it’s quite a natural progression and at what point does a hoarder become a collector😊.  I’ve always had a bit of OCD about me, so from the start of my time with 2000AD I was surrounded by comics in neat piles and numerically ordered, so 2000AD naturally joined the hoards, although very quickly became number 1!  Only 2000AD and Eagle comic were elevated to the status of being reserved at my local newsagent to be collected religiously on the day of release (complete with misspelt ‘Stephen’ being written on the spine by my newsagent)

 

ZL – I know of two groups that you run on Facebook, both 2000AD related. Could you tell us a bit about those groups and any others you run, just a little about the ethos behind them, the kind of content and the atmosphere that can be expected when joining the group.

1977-2000 fb group
1977-2000AD facebook group

SB – Of course, The main one is 1977-2000AD I stumbled upon this group in a search for nostalgia a few years ago and was immediately struck by the friendly nature owner Ben K Sy had instilled. I go on to Facebook to enjoy myself so I really have no time for people who thrive on trolling and being vile to others. I actually got quite involved at a point when the group was growing and this growth led to the need for some trusty admin with a similar ethos to Ben.  Enter Dave Heeley a great guy who is everywhere in the community and soon after Dave came myself. All three of us were strangers to each other apart from the group interactions at that point but it became clear pretty early on that we were in tune and wanted the same friendly vibe for the group.  I also think it helped that all three of us had been avid readers in the golden age (70s-80s) but had lapsed soon after so had a zest to learn about what we’d missed.  Whilst other groups had members who could be very informative there were also sadly members who enjoyed waving an air of superiority over those ‘stupid’ enough to ask questions.  I like to think our group invites everyone to the conversation and is quick to help guide the more volatile through our hospitality 😊.

Imagination of Ian Gibson
Imagination of Ian Gibson facebook group

Another group Imagination of Ian Gibson was a more personal thing.  I’d grown up loving Ian’s art in 2000AD and was mesmerized (like many others) by Halo Jones.  This stayed with me long after I left the prog to the point that my lovely wife let me add Halo to the name of my first born child (Scarlett-Halo).  This was 14 years ago before I joined Facebook.  At the time I tracked down an email address and commissioned Ian to produce a piece with Halo Jones, Toby and my Daughter in it.  Ian created a fantastic full colour piece that hangs in my front room to this day (fading☹).  Sadly, I had learnt that Ian has had some health issues in recent years that has affected his ability to draw to his very high standards. I felt that it would be a great thing to create a group to showcase the work from his amazing career.  A number of artist groups I had come across on FB had been created after the artists had sadly passed away and this seemed like an opportunity to not only show the art but also engage the man himself with his fan community.  Which I’m really pleased to say has been a success on both sides.

The 77 page logo
The 77 facebook page

Last but not least is The77 Page’ I know you’ve heard of it 😉.  In short, we are producing a comic in the tradition of those we read in the 70s and 80s.  We were constantly surprised by the level of art and storytelling our group members were capable of, to the point we decided we would create an anthology comic that we could all enjoy.  This has been a labour of love and Ben K Sy has been the driving force supported by the admins of the 1977 group.  The comic has grown to the point that we are producing a huge first issue that features talent that has graced some of our favourite comics including many that have contributed to 2000AD. If any of your readers want to be involved from the start our Kickstarter runs until midnight on the 1st March so give us a click and a pledge 

The77 is a love letter to the comics that made us!

http://kck.st/3aHJKgJ

 

ZL – I’m always interested in these groups because, essentially, they seem to be the modern internet version of fanzines with commentary, ephemera and coordinated discussion. Is that what you’re aiming to achieve with these groups, an interactive version of a fanzine?

SB – In 1977-2000AD I think it’s been an organic thing to be honest. We just wanted a friendly place to chat and it expanded. There’s some very knowledgeable folk in the community who are always quick to share information to the group (looking at the likes of Burdis, Anorak and Wullie😉), Then we have a great bunch of Admins and Mods (Ben, Dave H, Morgan, Dave B,, Mick and Garry) that have in fact made the place feel like an interactive fanzine.  We also have ‘Prog Talent Royalty’ such as Ian Gibson, John Higgins, Glenn Fabry, Nick Percival, Liam Sharp, Paul Williams, Steven Austin, David Pugh, Dan Cornwall, John Wagner, Pat Mills and so many more (Sorry If I missed you out I’ll beg forgiveness later). They regularly get involved in posting and conversations and that makes it a special place for the fans. I’ve had many a conversation with fans who are completely star struck but so happy that they’ve had their comments responded to by the actual creators.  This is unique as the same fans have mentioned that when they meet creators at conventions it’s a real struggle to not get nervous and forget what they wanted to ask.

The Gibson group is a little different as I see it more as an interactive gallery of a special artist.  It does, however still allow the fan to interact directly with the artist and Ian is always happy to answer questions and give an insight into a particular work’s history. Ian is always very honest and engaging. Halo Jones

 

ZL – Do you think that the groups help the creators or the contributors more in these situations? Just unpacking that vague notion there, as you run the Ian Gibson page and seem to be in personal contact with him, I’m just wondering whether you’ve noticed his appreciation of that page and the opportunity to get his work back in front of fan’s eyes?

SB – It’s certainly a two-way street, the fans get a great opportunity to interact and in the case of Ian he has mentioned on a number of occasions how nice it is to have feedback and even new eyes on some of his past work.  I think it’s always a nice thing to have appreciation vocalised from time to time.  Most of us loved the art but the artists, by nature of the job they do, have spent a lot of time in solitude producing these artworks with very little feedback lol.

 

ZL – I’m also wondering whether a page like that creates a sense of urgency for that work, as in – getting work out into the market again, or more of a sense of comfort for the artist?

SB – The Gibson page falls more into ‘comfort’ due to the nature of Ian’s health making future commercial art projects unlikely at present time.  Although the sense of urgency for anything new is definitely something that has been experienced on the group recently with the Sketches Ian produced for charity (Cats Protection) and with the exclusive first look at ‘Lifeboat’ Book 1 and the process involved that we unveiled on the group.

 

ZL – Do you even consider such matters as important or is there a different driving force behind making such a page? I guess what I’m getting at is whether, when you know the person, is there a different feeling about running a group than there is when it’s something of a wider, less personality driven group like the 2000AD group?

SB – I would say we have a relationship and a group built on the foundation that I’m a fan that wanted to give something back to someone that influenced my childhood! In terms of the group I think you just create it with an idea of what you’d like to see then let it lead you organically.  This is definitely the same with 1977-2000AD as that has taken lots of twists and turns as new things have been tried.

 

ZL – What made you interested enough in these subjects to spend the time putting something together?

SB – Nostalgia and just the notion of giving back to something/someone that influenced me through my childhood.  Also, when I get enjoyment from something I want to share that with people.

Lifeboat

ZL – Are there any other subjects you’d love to start a group for, or join in a group about?

SB – That would’ve been The77 my friend.  The Page is running now though as mentioned and I can’t wait for everyone to get a copy and fall in love with British comic anthologies once again. I may have written one of the stories as well so sitting alongside some immense 2000AD Prog Talent is a fantastic thing for me personally

And as you’ve asked the question before I can confirm that Ian Gibson’s unpublished creator owned ‘LIFEBOAT’ will feature on the rear cover!!!!!

 

ZL – Last question, for you as a fan now, if you could get everyone in the world to read one book or series, what would it be?

SB – HALO JONES………er……no…… actually………… LIFEBOAT 😊

 

ZL – Thanx for your time Steve!

 

disclaimer – all artwork is copyright and trademark its respective owners

comix economix – an interview with Nix Comics publisher Ken Eppstein

Kickstarter live here

 

Nix Rock Logo

 

website                                 facebook                                  twitter                            instagram

 

Intro

We’re back with a lovely long interview with cult comics publisher, maker and general poetry aficionado Ken Eppstein.
I’ve known about Nix Comics since its first being mentioned on The Comics Reporter and been intrigued by how grass roots and open it seems as a publisher.
Then I saw a blog post where Ken went into details on sales and breakeven and knew I had to dig into this. Ken was incredibly helpful and polite throughout this whole process and comes across as a genuine and honest person – it made it great fun to be in touch and sort this out.

 

KP Cover

Interview

Hi Ken

Hey iestyn!

ZL – I’m going to start all sensible and check my facts out first. My understanding is that Nix Comics started around 2008 as a publisher, is that right?

KE More like 2010 for Nix proper. I started doing some cartoons and submitting them to Roctober Magazine around 2008, though. They were adaptations of interviews that I had conducted a few years before that as part of a newsletter for Evil Empire Records’ regular customers. I couldn’t mentally have gotten to “Nix Comics” without Roctober. Advice/help from Jake Austen was pretty instrumental to me, though, so I wouldn’t quibble if you called 2008 the start in that sense.

ZL – I’ve read that you had decided to end your record shop and find new adventures. That went with coming back to comics and finding there weren’t many comics that suited your tastes, so you thought you’d make your own. Does that sound about right?

KE Hahaha…. “Decided” is a generous way to put it. The brick and mortar Evil Empire Records was a flop. Not enough people in Columbus who want to buy Billy Childish records, I guess. (Town full of fuckin’ heathens.)

By the time I was starting to do comics stuff, my retail efforts were limited to on-line sales, which didn’t bring me the same joy: the only part of running a retail operation that I really enjoy is meeting people and making recommendations. I was at a point where I needed more personally.  I can’t tell you why all the pieces of Nix Comics snapped into place specifically at that point in time, but long stifled creative urges were finally bubbling over in my brain.

Nix Comics Quarterly 1 Cover
And yep… My perception was that there weren’t a lot of comics to my taste when I started making my own. And there hadn’t been for many years. I felt that way and said as much at the time, but I do feel like qualifying that opinion nowadays. I hadn’t had my ear to the ground for a while and the only experience I was going from was my knowledge of what was coming to stores that only sell Diamond distributed products. If I had bothered to actually go looking instead of shooting my mouth off, I would have found stuff.  What I should have said is “there is never enough” stuff that I personally want to read.

 

 

ZL – When you started, did you expect that you’d be able to make a good living – well, as good as selling records – from doing comics, or do you have an additional set of income, so it’s more of a moot point?

KE A good friend of mine once ribbed me by saying it was “awesome” that I based the Nix Comics business model on the tiny, mostly defunct, independent records that I loved. I had to laugh, because it was definitely true… My plans had a lot in common with how outfits like Estrus Records and Get Hip Records operated. Those labels were distribution efforts created to be vehicles for the Mono-Men and the Cynics, respectively, but they grew to include other acts that fit into that 90s garage punk scene. Anyways, I figured it would be a way to make a little extra side cash with the potential of it becoming a fulltime thing if all the streams converged properly.

I also was aware of the worst-case scenario, that maybe Nix would never would catch and I would blow a lot of money on something that only a handful of people appreciated. I mean… How much mass appeal can there be for a comic whose main distinctive feature is that the lead writer likes to include oblique references to Kasenetz & Katz Super Circus songs? I was (and am) cool with that in the sense that I don’t really have any other vices these days. Don’t drink or smoke or gamble outside of the occasional lottery ticket. Making comics keeps me out of trouble.

I should add for the record, Get Hip = NOT defunct! (Record pun intended.)

 

ZL – Is that lack of commercial need aided by you living somewhere cheap or do you just have low expectations for cost and lifestyle?

KE Ah… you know… My expectations are always butting up against my pragmatism. Expectations are my Mr. Hyde: furious, sad and confused that I can’t sell a couple thousand of the comics and zines that I feel are good and different. That’s what? 50 copies per state in the US? Even accounting for the relative paucity of people in Montana, that’s not an unreasonable goal, right?

My pragmatic Jekyll knows all too well that it’s never been easy or likely for artists to make a living. My guess is that it’s harder than ever because thanks to things like crowdfunding and print on demand services, the bar for entry into the field is lower than ever.  That’s great in the sense that I believe that all artists should have access to means for creation, but it’s a drag in terms of an overcrowded field.

The funny thing is I sometimes feel like I’m by default Hyde and I need to take the potion to turn into Jekyll.

 

ZL – Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ve got to a point where I feel like I’m so likely to fail it just doesn’t even matter anymore, not sure what that counts as but I’m going to coin the phrase ‘entropic pragmatism’ I’m so despondent it seems like it doesn’t actually matter so I can justify giving it a go. That sounds quite messed up when I say it out loud! Moving quickly back to you then…

When you first started up Nix comics what did you think you’d be able to achieve, in what timescale?

NWC01_Page_04

KE Ack. You ask hard questions. Tough to answer because the immediate goal has always been the next book or next few books, whatever they may be. Everything else was (and is) pretty experimental.

I had a good day job at the time I started and spent year one throwing money at Nix, hoping it would jumpstart things.  My goals were pretty standard, I think, for wannabe publishers: I wanted to make sure all the artists got paid and to print enough copies that I could make some money if they all sold. I thought I would pick up distribution and get to the point where it was at least self-sustaining. I was also hoping to get a core group of artists locked down… Like, so they could plan on having X amount of work every year from me.

It was pretty clear to me by the end of the year that things just weren’t going to work out that way.

Second year I tried to just do titles where I paid artists a percentage of sales. Only two titles in 2012, Nix Western Comics and Nix Comics for Kids. It worked OK… Nix Western actually made both me and Bob Starker a little money. (Sad story: the little bit of money Bob made was by his account more money than he had made in his entire three-decade musical career.) Nix for Kids was a bomb and I went into the red for it and only paid Brian Kraft a pittance for a 20-page full color comic.

Kind of hated the extra work for not a lot of money involved in that whole process and, with the exception of the Belligerent Kitties minis, haven’t done anything but a flat rate for a maximum number of printings since. Like if I give somebody $150 for a Bus Stop Ned, that’s good for printing 2000 copies of that comic. Any other publications or merchandising would require a new deal. There’s potentially a lot more money on the back end for me than the artist gets up front, but I think that’s fair.

I also changed my plans for reach. After being rejected by Diamond and a brief relationship with Ubiquity Magazine distributors I adopted a “Columbus first, then the world” mentality. I’ve really tried to concentrate on being a notable publisher here in town in hopes that I can spring off of that into something more broadly notable. I have NO IDEA how to get that done, so no timeline on that goal.

For a long time, my focus was just on getting books out. I was pretty resigned to them not making money, but I really wanted them to get made! A couple of years ago I was forced to leave that “good job” and since have had sporadic employment. This has led to more of a focus on the books making money, or at least all of my side hustles making money. I miss the days when I could do whatever-the-fuck I wanted.

ZL – It seems like many creators have to flit about, scraping pennies together, more so than ever. I can’t really say why that is, I’m not sure anyone can, really. It seems like society is moving more and more to the job and side hustle and the hustle to the hustle. It’s like everything is just too much for even the basics to be affordable.

 

ZL – I skipped this in my fact check, sorry for going back but, for those who don’t know anything about you, could you give a brief history of Nix comics; where you’re based, and the kind of titles and creators you publish? Am I right in saying your based in Columbus, where CXC and the Billy Ireland started up in the last few years?

KE Yep, I’ve lived in Columbus for the past 30 years, minus a brief stay in Boston in the early 90s and a brief stay in San Francisco in the early 00s.  I think this is the 5th year for CXC coming up and the 7th for the current Billy Ireland digs. (Those numbers should be right within a year or so.)

The Billy Ireland had been around as a library and archive for many years prior to that: divided up between a warehouse and a tiny library in an Ohio State University basement… I think one of the great shames OSU should feel is that they kept such a great resource buried in a basement for fuckin’ decades. I’m glad now that it is starting to get the space and recognition it deserves.

Wait… This question was about me and Nix Comics. Like we said, I started working on Nix in 2010. My idea was to make the kind of comics that would sell well in record stores in addition to comic shops. The old saw is true: you write and publish about the stuff you know. There was also a certain amount of math to it, too: There were, I think, 3 comic shops in town at the time and 8 record shops. I knew the people at record shops but didn’t really know the comic shop folks at the time.

Digging down on that a little, I’ve always focused on music themed comics…. Whether that connection is something obvious like stories about bands and record stores, doing biographical material or just based on the artist also being a musician. That has led to a lot of different genres, artistic styles and book formats, so I don’t know how successful I’ve been in communicating that to readers. Sometimes I feel like no one else gets it and sometimes I feel like people get it and are just quietly nodding until I shut the fuck up.

Hawkins Teaser

ZL – I was doing a bit of research on you and was very impressed by your commitment from the very start to have open books, particularly for the sake of the artists working with you, so they understood what had been achieved. As well as ensuring everyone was paid as fairly as you could.

Has that worked out positively for you, or not made any real kind of impact?

KE Well, I think that the answer to that has more to do with anecdotal experiences leading up to my deciding to pay artists. I guess first up, I am a recovering Stan Lee True Believer. I bit hard on the Stan mythos as a kid and it wasn’t until I was in my 30s that I really read up on him as a subject and was forced to examine the reality of the person behind the myth. I still idolize the mythic figure in ways, but I want to be a better person as an actual collaborator, editor, and publisher. Same goes for Bill Gaines and Jim Warren…. I’d like to take the good from their careers and improve on the bad.

Along those lines, right before I started Nix Comics I had read Eric Davidson’s “We Never Learn” about 90s punk and garage. There’s a great part where Danny Kroha from the Gories relates about he had the most respect for Tim Warren from Crypt Records of all the record label folks because Warren always sent a sales report with a check every year. Kroha admitted that he sometimes doubted the accuracy of the numbers, but that Warren was the only label/distro that even bothered with regular reporting.

For more musical context, Nix Comics was also formed right on the heels of the Dead Kennedys’ royalty lawsuit. Not that I was ever a huge fan of the band, but I ended up losing a lot of respect for everyone involved in that mess.  Like, how on earth do these self-identified leftists end up fighting about royalties? It didn’t help that in addition to actual court, they tried the matter in the court of public opinion in the opening days of social media connectivity.

All that said, the experience that most fixed my point of view on all that was a personal one. Bear with me, because I’m going to tell a story without mentioning any names because it involves people I like on all ends and I don’t know the whole actual truth… But there’s a guy I know who worked at a local record store and is in a garage rock band of note. Not like Mudhoney level famous or anything, but beloved by a lot of people who are into such things. This fella and I were talking record store business when a specific distro came up, and my friend melted down. Like a full-on fist waving and red-faced vein-popping out of his forehead screaming meltdown.

He ranted on about how the distro in question was a bunch of crooks who owe his band money. I know the distro folks in question, and while I don’t doubt that they may have owed my friend money, I don’t think they are nefarious.  I do think they are capable of fucking up and not communicating well about it. I think all parties concerned are capable of blowing up and ending an argument before its resolved, creating a feud.  Anyways, I hated suddenly being in the middle of a fight like that and can only imagine how much I’d hate being actually a participant in the fight. Pretty much I want to avoid ever having somebody blast me like that, and the only way I can think of is to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible.

So… you know… Some altruism and some being chicken-shit was involved in setting those policies.

Has it had an impact? Maybe, but I think that’s not the right word for it. It’s bought me a lot of leeway with artists as they always know where I’m coming from. Maybe a little too much leeway as I still owe Rick Brooks a couple hundred bucks for his work in Nix Western #4. Similar, I feel like I owe Andy Bennett some extra money for Jenny Mae ‘N Jerry Wick because the page count went up on him between start and finish of the project. I don’t think and wouldn’t expect those guys to give me any leeway on all if I didn’t have open books and a history of making good.  I feel like I’m in a little bit of abuse of that goodwill at the moment and am working on making it right.

NCQ0819

ZL – This interview came about partly because of I follow you thanx to the mentions on Comics Reporter, but specifically because I picked up on your post about breaking even, and I wondered if you’d met with any increased interest because of that post? Has there been any kind of feedback at all really, or just some tumble weed and me going, ‘Oo, oo, that’s really interesting!’ because I’m nosy like that?

KE I do that kind of essay periodically and do get feedback and interest on them, mostly from people who are interested in the nuts and bolts of the industry. You’d have to ask him to be sure, but I think that kind of material is part of why Tom posts about me on Comics Reporter.

I guess the column I did for the Outhouse for a year or two had some fans. I look back on those writings, though, and kind of hate their tone… They read like I’m trying to “establish myself as an expert.” Maybe I was trying to do that, but nowadays I don’t like the idea of trying to turn experience into social currency.

I do keep beating head up against the notion that sharing information about my finances and how much money I pay to artists is a “big” selling point. It’s not. There are a few people for who that is true, but by in large, hardly anyone cares.

I also get a lot of fellow creator-types saying, “wow that’s really brave of you,” which is weird to me. I don’t understand what’s so scary about it. Like is it a big secret that making small press comics isn’t a moneymaking effort? Is money so personal that I’m breaking taboo by talking about it? Like revealing how the magic trick is done or wrestling match is choreographed or something? I dunno.

 

ZL – In my experience, money is always a risk area of conversation, I don’t tend to care about it, but then in my first few weeks at current job, I mentioned my pay rate around a colleague who’d been there longer, was more experienced and more senior and earning, it turns out, thousands less than me. They got quite personally upset and that shook me. I mean if they’d just been mad at work, I’d have felt vindicated, but that was personal for them, so it was really ‘urgh, why didn’t I shut up!’

I think it’s the same in most fields. Maybe, in the arts, it’s almost like having to admit you’re not a REAL artist if you can’t pay your way, you’re a hobbyist or something? I’m going off track and casting wild aspersions here.

Back to tack, I mentioned the reasons for why I follow you, because I’m always intrigued to know the causality of relationships, what led to what led to what etc. I wonder if part of what you’re trying to do is to create a space where work you can admire can start to flourish, where people can see it has a place to exist? Essentially, trying to create a place that suits you and then attract others to it. Or are you making stuff because you can’t stop yourself?

KE Yes to both.

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ZL – What are your feelings about the lack of honesty about numbers in comics in general – were you surprised by your numbers when they started coming in, or were you clued in early to sales and sales barriers within comics?

KE Is there dishonesty or just a deafening silence amongst the people involved? I guess that would be lies of omission, but I don’t feel like anyone out there is being particularly deceptive about the financial realities of making comics.

Going back to an earlier answer, an expectant Hyde was surprised and dismayed by sales numbers and the ever-pragmatic Jekyll wasn’t.

ZL – You make a fair point there, that’s a mis-characterisation, maybe it’s more accurate to say what are your feelings about the lack of a wider discussion about financial realities.

I’m guessing there will be many that haven’t read your article, so could you briefly describe where your sales are in terms of break even, just a sort of, ‘this many titles made money, this many titles are within 1-20 of making money, this many have a loooong way to go’?

KE Sorry for a bad interview answer here: They should just go read the essay! Or at least lookit the graph that answers your question!

Read here

ZL – That’s more than fair I think. It’s a good article, I enjoyed it very much.

Getting back to the start of Nix Comics, I’m interested to know how you decided on your initial numbers, was it based on a marketplace assessment, segmented by a target audience, more of a finger in the air, 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?

KE For the first couple of years a lot of it was pretty much dictated by where the price breaks were on print runs. Since I had aspirations of getting distribution in year one, I had to print quantities that would get me to the point where selling at 40% of cover price made sense. While I was working hard to get my books in stores sans-distributor I was shooting for whatever print run quantity made sense to sell at 50% of cover. I guess I’m still at that point, but I have cut back my wholesale activities a lot because it’s a lot of work with crappy margins. I’d rather make the sale myself at cover price than sell a copy for half that only to see it slaving away on a forgotten shelf in some store. That shit is debilitating.

In terms of artist pay the quarterly has maintained a store rate as opposed to a page rate. It started as $150 for a short (1-3 pages) and $300 for a feature (4-8 pages). I offer a little more for features now. This kept things in the range where I could look at wholesale distribution as a viable option. I also wanted it to incentivize shorter submissions, which was a punk rock thing; viewing each issue as a compilation record, I wanted lots of short rippers and fewer drippy ballads. I don’t remember how I arrived at those specific rates.

 

ZL – It sounds like you were considering breaking even on sales. Would you say that’s what drove you at the start, were you considering this in terms of your own ongoing business concerns or were you aimed more at driving sales or attention to the creator(s) and their published work?

KE Clearly breaking even isn’t a prerequisite for me moving on to something else! I mean, ideally one project would pay for the next, but that’s just not the reality. Almost all of my decision drivers in that sense are whether or not I want to see the thing happen. More often than not the motivation for wanting the thing to happen is that I think the creators involved deserve an audience or that their work deserves “life.”

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ZL – I also wonder after what expectations you set yourself at first and how realistic those sales or rather, your measures for sales, were in the end. I just wonder how much energy over time has been linked to your expectations not being met by reality and what emotional effect that had upon you?

KE Shit. I’m always disappointed by sales. I’m in love with what I put out and don’t understand why it’s so damn hard to sell. There might be a step on the ladder where I’m satisfied with sales, but I ain’t hit it yet.

I don’t stress about it like some artists and publishers, because it’s not life or death for me, but I definitely feel it.

 

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?

I particularly wonder after the amount of guilt involved in publishing, around having your own expectations for success and having to reconcile that with reality and having to deal with other creators’ own sense of worth and expectations of what makes that work worthwhile?

KE Well, I’m here to tell you that the anxiety of no-one-buying-my comic is NOWHERE near the anxiety level of starting and failing at a brick and mortar retail business. I would spend days alone in a shop sweating over how I was going to pay two rents, two electric bills, two phone bills, etc. There were days when I was hoping just one comic or record would sell so I could go buy some eggs for the week. I think that experience for me definitely tamps down any angst I might feel about comics. If a Nix Comic flops, I’m out some dough and I have to decide what to do with the boxes of unsold material, but I’m not sitting alone in a room sweating about how will I be able to pay for one of my two rents. Or worse, hoping for just one sale so I can buy some beans and rice on the way home.

I do struggle with my expectations versus the reality of things, but I find guilt to be one of those angsty emotions. Frustration that I can’t reach more people? Yes, definitely. Anguish that even in a group of noted weirdos, I’m still the weird kid out? Yeah, that too. I guess that on occasion I feel envy of peers who have some success. That in turn leads to guilt over having such shitty thoughts… But that’s not guilt about my lack of success.

ZL – Did you even consider emotions and their impact on you going into the process and did it rear itself as an issue more as you went on?

KE Yeah, I suppose I did. I’ve always hung out with artist types and was vicariously familiar with the ups and downs of an artistic career. Thanks to that I feel like I can avoid most of the emotional pitfalls of the process.

 

ZL – Moving away from commercial matters to more community related things, you’re now in something of a comics heartland I believe. I certainly know that I first heard of you from The Comic Reporter site and Tom Spurgeon mentioning you when he’d moved to Columbus and started working on CXC.

Have you seen anything of a change in the area relating to the new festival and the Billy Ireland library opening?

KE Well, they are big public resources and as such they are what people in the comics community make of them. Some members of the community embrace the Billy and CXC, making the most of their presence, and others don’t.

The Billy Ireland doesn’t have any specifically local bent to its programs, so I have a hard time saying that the institution has made changes to the local comics community. It’s just not part of their mission. The Billy did hire Caitlin McGurk who has been a tremendous friend and supporter of local artists since her first day on the job, so that’s pretty impactful.

I know that CXC has the desire to enhance the local community, but it’s not really their main focus. It’s a cool show: having a cool show in town is good for the community and they’ve been really good to me personally. I think there are some little things they could do here and there to help the local community, like hire a local artist to do a promo poster.

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ZL – Is there a sense of change within your comics community, or does it feel like that’s a million miles away from where you are?

KE I don’t know. I can’t speak for the Columbus comics community. It’s a pretty eclectic group with different needs and points of view. I’ll say this: It’s grown a lot. When I started it was pretty easy to go out and meet everybody who makes comics in Columbus. Now I only know a fraction of the crowd and more kids are starting up every day.

 

ZL – Thinking about the wider community, are you finding that the nature of the area itself is changing, are rents increasing for example? Does this make you concerned about how viable the lifestyle you can currently achieve is going to remain?

KE Yeah, like everywhere, rents are going up. Both residential and commercial. It’s driving out both a diversity of people and a diversity of businesses. That means fewer places to sell DIY type products combined with less money in everyone’s pockets. I am constantly ruminating over the increasing difficulty of day to day survival and what that means for art. This city right now is a lot different than the one I moved to 30 years ago and the changes are not “artistic lifestyle friendly.”

 

ZL – I seem to be hitting with some pretty heavy questions, sorry! I guess, particularly for someone based in the UK, the whole financial situation and publishing situation in America seems hard all round, especially when you’re having to think about medical bills or insurance as well!!

I’m going to lighten up a bit in a minute, I promise!

But not just yet!!!!

Tell us about your experience with running Kickstarter campaigns. You seem to have had your ups and downs with some failing to meet their target, but your most recent was pretty ambitious and ended up successfully. Have you picked that apart for yourself as to what may have made the difference?

lascaux titleKE If you’ll permit me to continue to beat the metaphor to death, the two campaigns that failed were run by Hyde and the others were Jekyll operations.

For the 2013 “Big Ask” I was asking for $25K and figured I could get around 300 people to subscribe. There were plenty of people who I considered my peers getting that kind of action at the time. Turns out that they were my artistic peers, but in terms of having an active network of fans I wasn’t even close to them. I don’t remember if I thought I could actually make it or if I was just swinging for the fences. Either way, I whiffed.

The mistake I made for the 2014 campaign was that I knew I was asking for a fairly large chunk, but I figured people would step up for the two artists I was focusing on. Darren Merinuk has done posters and record sleeves on the cheap for literally 100s of bands. Bob Ray Starker has played a million live shows with and contributed on dozens of records for local bands without ever getting paid. I mentally multiplied those “100s” and ”dozens” of bands by number of band members and figured that there were more than enough people out there who owed Darren and Bob a little something and that I would make goal easy. Turns out all of those fuckers are ingrates. Still mad. Fuckin’ fuckface fuckers.

 

ZL – Are you finding it easier to get purchases now that Kickstarter has become something more central to the comics production cycle? Or has this hurt you, with the money and attention getting spread thinner now?

KE For me personally? Kickstarter has been nothing but good. It’s a tool I understand, and my results have steadily gotten better over time. For the comic community as a whole, I do worry that it leads to overcrowding in the field since anyone who wants to make a comic book now can. That relationship between supply and demand is a real tricky thing.

 

ZL – Do you feel like this is a good way to sell and market your comics, along with convention attendance, or are you yearning, actively searching even, for a better way to get comics out there and making you money and getting you eyes on the work?

KE Ideally people would just go to my mail order site and I could skip the third parties and middle men. It really annoys me that that doesn’t seem to be a viable thing.

ZL – Yeah, I wonder if site like Kickstarter have had an effect on audience expectation, maybe now they expect to find everything in one place, at their convenience. I remember being in love with the idea of subscriptions as a (lazy) kid and as an adult, I sort of feel like a subscription model should be able to work, but, anecdotally, I’ve got the feeling that it’s dead on the vine now as an approach. Unless you’re big enough to get a Patreon running…

I’m veering off subject again! I’ll lighten up on the heavy finance stuff and try for some controversy instead!!

This is probably a horrible question, but not too bad as you write most of your stories yourself, so I’m going to ask it anyway!

What title that you published is:

Your personal favorite?

The work you’re most proud to have published?

More commercially, what was the greatest income made for a creator?

KE Funny story: I’m horrible at picking favorite anythings. I know I have them, but they don’t often bubble up when people ask me. Like recently someone asked me who my favorite actor is, and I couldn’t come up with a specific one. I went home and told my wife Kate about it and she just shook her head and told me that Vincent Price is clearly my favorite actor. She’s right of course. Unfortunately, for the purpose of this interview, I’m going to avoid embarrassing myself by asking her what my favorite Nix Comic is.

Right now, the book I’m most proud of releasing is Kent Grosswiler’s Beauty Found in Darkness. An illustrated book of urban haiku is about as far as I could push the envelope of “rock n roll comic” as I can imagine.

 

It was definitely a return to form of using artists peripheral to comics… Kent is an artistic polymath (Poet, painter, drummer) but not a comics guy. The illustrators on the book, Rob W. Jones and Alli MacGregor are fine artists, but also aren’t comic book people. It was really rewarding to work with all of them. Before that I think I was most proud of Nix Comics Quarterly #2. It’s not my “best” by far, but it was proof to myself that comics wasn’t just a one off for me. With issue #2 I knew that I could spend the rest of my life making comics if I want.

I don’t know for sure which artist I’ve paid the most money to. That’s a good question and probably worthy of some research and a personal blog post! It’s almost gotta be Andy Bennett since he has done two full lengths, a zine and a couple of features for Nix Comics Quarterly.
ZL – What is it you feel being published by Nix comics has brought to the creators that worked with you that they couldn’t have found for themselves?

KE Forgive me, but I’m not going to project on my collaborators that way. It’s got to be different for every one of them. If I can make more work for you, I’d be interested in hearing their answers if you are willing to ask them! (Hah!)

I know that there a few people who had never had their comics published by someone else before Nix. It’s a pretty cool feeling to have done that for someone.

eddie squid rise title

 

 

ZL – What is the best outcome you’ve seen for a creator or work that you published?

KE Three of the contributors to Nix Comics Quarterly #8 ended up winning Eisners last year! (John Jennings, Tillie Walden and Gideon Kendall) I can take exactly zero credit for that, but I’m so proud of them and happy that the world recognizes their talent and hard work as much as I do.

 

 

 

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.

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

KE Y’know, I always joke about selling the rights to my epitaph. “For $1000 bucks you can write whatever you want on my tombstone.” Or whatever. The joke comes from an honest, if somewhat morbid, place: I’m not going to care what’s scrawled on a rock after I’m dead. In a lot of ways, I feel the same way about my comics legacy. Such a thing is always written by other people and I don’t have a lot of control over it, so let it be what it will be.

That’s not to say I don’t celebrate my successes or ruminate over my failures as they happen. Each comic I put out is its own triumph. I’m not sure that I care that much about who or how much they are celebrated after I’ve stopped. Recognition for my efforts now would be nice. Same for being called out on my failings, I suppose, in the spirit of letting me know what I’m doing wrong so I can feel bad now and course correct.

 

ZL – Do you have plans to do anything differently in the future? I’m thinking, for example, of whether large magazines and large crowdfunding campaigns are going to remain viable, have you considered the success of companies like Oily comics and how they published comics through a subscription model, with regular publications and small page counts to keep it cheap and build momentum. Let’s face it, The End Of The Fucking World was published monthly with only eight photocopied pages and it’s done pretty well for itself. There are other publishers adopting this model, skip out on the big social media platforms. Have you considered that as an option?

KE I do have plans to do some things differently.

For one thing, I am going to make some format changes, which are a response to being sick of those break-even numbers. I’m sick of trying to get “there” five bucks at a time.  I need to make more stuff in the $10+ cover price range. One Idea I’m seriously toying with is doing my horror anthology comic as a 12×12 book with an optional LP compilation “de-luxe” version. It’s a pretty natural step, given that in my mind the comic anthology format is a clear parallel to compilation albums.

I’m thinking of doing a quarterly zine that is available for download as well as in print. Ideally It would be more ad revenue driven than sales revenue driven. I need to get on the hog with looking for sponsors for that.

Oily comics mini-comics was a really cool service, but I suspect the reason it’s no longer a thing is that it was a lot to keep in line. I love the idea of taking a classic zine club swap format and turning it into distribution, but there are so many moving parts involved in that and I don’t know if that machine bears up under the pressure of having paying third parties. (I also attribute the success of The End of the Fucking World more to Chuck’s talent and hard work than I do to the format it was released in.)

ZL – Yeah, I should have been clearer in saying that it did no harm to it putting it out in small chunks, but it seems to have made it easier in terms of ‘getting it done and getting it out there’.

 

ZL – Another question I’m wondering is whether digital would, in your opinion, have a place within your sales plans now, and what platforms would you consider if it does?

KE I am down for some digital zines, but not super keen on doing digital comics. I don’t personally consume comics that way and that prevents me from wrapping my head around how to make them. I’m not even happy with the way my books look in PDF form when I send them out for reviews… The page turns don’t work the same way!

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ZL – What are your sales venues in general?

KE Crowd funding, shows/events, my website, ebay and discogs. There are a few comic, record and bookstores that carry Nix Comics.

ZL – What are your most successful route to sales?

KE Crowfunding. Hands down. Lowest cost to entry and the biggest gains. It’s become the default marketplace for self-publishers and micro-presses.

 

ZL – Do you deal with any distributors for your work and do you have any insights on managing those relationships?

KE Not right now. Well… Bela Koe-Krompecher distributes his contributor copies of his books as part of the Anyway Records catalog with Revolver and sometimes Matador, so I suppose I do have distribution through his efforts.

I’m not sure that distribution is worth seeking out unless I can sell a few thousand copies. For that I would have to up my marketing budget significantly and the margins are so shitty even at that economy of scale to begin with. Maybe down the road if things grow, I’ll feel different.

 

ZL – What is an average sales lifetime for a work, as in, are all sales front loaded up to publication date or do you continuing making sales over an extended period of months or even years and how do you manage to generate those sales?

KE Average lifetime? I don’t know. Another good idea for a blog post! If we’re talking “lifetime” I guess that I would have declare some of them “dead” and I’m not sure that I’m willing to do that while the boxes are still sitting in my basement. They’re just comatose and may comeback, right? RIGHT!!??

The usual lifetime is that there’s a big burst of sales upon release and then a pretty dramatic drop off. Sales at that next level down tend to be steady for a year or so and then drop off again to almost nothing after that year. The only exceptions to that to date have been Nix Comics Quarterly #1, because when you meet new customers they normally want to start at the beginning and Jim Shephard: Negotiate Nothing which kept selling OK for a couple years thanks to Jim’s cult hero status. It has since settled down to the levels of other backstock.

I usually try to push backstock when something new is coming out, because it’s when I’m most likely to have fresh eyes on Nix as a whole. That’s my main strategy. I also try to bring copies of everything-but-everything with me when I’m at shows, because you never know who is going to want what. For stores that carry Nix books I try to rotate stock in and out. Chances are a book is new to someone!

I would welcome a good way to clear out backstock. I keep threatening to throw a small press/tiny record label “Box sale” where people like me vend backstock out of boxes of comics, records, CDs, et. all. at a deep discount.

 

ZL – Do you do that normally, engineer interest in older works with sales or packing them into bundles?

KE Yeah! At shows I usually offer the first four issues of Nix Comics Quarterly for $10, which is basically the wholesale rate. I usually sell at least a couple of those packs per show.

 

ZL – On a practical level, what happens to any stock still left over, is it propping up someone’s bed or hidden away in a storage facility somewhere costing extra money to store?

KE I have a decent sized house with a big basement and tiny home office, so no problem on the storage front. I do worry a little about dampness creeping in to the boxes in the basement (All issues 1-4 of the Quarterly) and would like to accelerate sales on those somehow.

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ZL – Thinking about the future, what do you think is the future for idiosyncratic comics of the kind that Nix comics publish, self-publishing, web comics, digital platforms or something else?

KE I have no idea. That’s serious crystal ball stuff, there.

The lefty in me hopes that print stays a viable option because it has the most potential for subversive use in the digital age. “They” can easily track and hack you on-line but try to hack this pamphlet I left in the men’s room of the Dubuque Greyhound station, jerk! (Not that I’ve ever been to Dubuque. You can’t prove that I have…)

Artistically speaking, I hope that short stories come back into vogue… I like my comic stories like I like my songs: Fast, loud and short! The whole sprawling epic thing that is in vogue across most genres really bores the piss outta me.

ZL – Yeah, definitely me as well, I don’t know why people like it. The whole idea of sitting down and watching some intricately plotted epic series where I have to keep everything fresh in my mind to understand what’s going on… I just want to switch off and relax, that’s harder effort than my job. How is that entertainment?

 

ZL – So, thinking again about community and particularly as you area publisher, so have to do some keeping your eye out for talent, which three creators would you recommend people search out if they are fans of Nix comics?

KE Oh man. I’m gonna tap out on this question. Too many people deserving of a nod and I don’t want to apply any sort of hierarchy to them. How about this, here are my three favorite ways to find new creators that I admire:

  • Follow zines, blogs and sites dedicated to uncovering new and old comics of all sorts. Some of my go tos are Almost Normal Comics, Poopsheet Foundation, anything Comics Reporter marks as OTBP, Your Chicken Enemy, Robyn Chapman’s Tiny Report, the review section of Razorcake Magazine… It doesn’t hurt to pick up old zines for their review sections, for that matter. Roctober had a great one.
  • Invest in anthology reading and take the time to look up the artists you find in them. It’s the cheapest way to get exposed to a lot of artists. It absolutely perplexes me that they don’t sell better for this very reason.
  • Look for publications by artists who you discover through their art in non-comics publications. (or other work like posters or record sleeves) You can kind of tell when a graphic artist has the chops to do narrative work, and chances are that if they have the skills, they’ve acted on them.

Hope that’s not too big a cop out.

ZL – Well, it’s just told anyone who wants to work with you how to get discovered by you.
ZL – How about we move onto fantasy futureland? Given unlimited time, budget and resources what 3 projects would you deliver so that you could retire proud?

KE Wow. Unlimited time budget and resources? We’re not talking about individual comics or publications at that point!

  • A Nix Comics Music festival. Put a bunch of comic/poster artists in a spotlight at the same time a bunch of the bands that inspire Nix play.
  • Open a Nix Comics brick and mortar flagship store. Something like Quimbys meets Amoeba Records.
  • Hire a full-time art and writing staff, giving them a salary, health insurance, vacation time and a chunk of the IP on anything they create.

 

ZL – Finally, what can we expect from you in the next 6 months?

KE At the moment I’m in the last days of my kickstarter crowdfunding two publications:

“Kenttucky Pussy” is a comic book by Sexton Ming and JT Dockery. The text elements are all poems by Sexton and inspire the visual narration by JT, so I’m really excited by this.  I’ve wanted to work with JT since I met him at the Small Press and Alternative Comics Expo (SPACE) a buncha years back and I have been a fan of Sexton Ming ever since his role as the bionically enhanced and thoroughly evil Queen Victoria in Pervirella. (THAT movie is everything that the cyber punk genre failed to be!) “Kentucky Pussy” has everything that I would expect from a pairing of these two great artists: Lush imagery, outsider lamentations and proper use vulgarity. It’s weird to me that within two years I’ll have put out two poetry centered books. Never considered myself a “poetry guy.”

Print

The second book is a collection of Sketchbook art by me! For the past few years I have been drawing picture sleeves for 7” records in my sketchbooks. I cut them out and pair them with the record that inspired them; selling them at comic shows and record fairs. It’s a good fun way to take a lonely 7” and turn it into a unique part of someone’s collection. People have been asking me for a book version of it for a while… Hopefully they were for real about wanting one!

Kickstarter campaign

I also just overspent at a local comic sale, so I expect that I’ll write a zine about comic collecting in the same vein as my “Tales from the Crate” record collecting zine. I gotta recoup that money somehow!

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!

KE Thanks! I did! A very in depth and unique interview.

 

The Long List interview – The Secret Protectors

Currently Kickstarting

The Secret Protectors                            facebook                             instagram

Adam on instagram                              Ben on instagram

Review on zinelove

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The Secret Protectors

 

Having run the review of The Secret Protectors yesterday, I caught up with it’s two creators, Adam Wheeler and Ben Nunn in a follow up conversation after they very kindly responded to the draft review with some very interesting points.

They’ve been very accommodating and considerate, so I wanted to take a minute to give them a big thanx and wish them both well as they grow, and their comics grow with them.

 

The Secret Protectors Interview

 

ZL – What was the initial kernel of the idea for The Secret Protectors, that initial thought that made you start to build the whole story?

AW – The initial creation of The Secret Protectors characters and universe was a fair bit different to how Ben and I have it all structured at this point. These characters began, believe it or not, as Superheroes and Supervillains on the now defunct MMO ‘City Of Heroes’. I’ve always had a keen interest in sci-fi and fantasy. Playing that game as a young teen really allowed me to get my creative juices flowing. A fair amount of that ‘work’ still exists within these characters now. As time went on I started to imagine my own comic book universe where all my characters would take part in a grand narrative. As such, they’ve all ‘existed’ in my head for around a decade or so.

 

ZL – What are your backgrounds with comics?

BN – For me it all started when I was about 3 with watching the old Max Fleischer Superman cartoons with my nan. It wasn’t long before we were watching the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, then the New Adventures show, then we branched out into the Marvel offerings. Every time my mum dragged me shopping she’d get me a Superman/Batman comic but the first comic I really remember is one I still have to this day. An issue of Spider-Man illustrated by John Romita Jr. That’s when I saw the potential for telling stories with uniquely stylised artwork.

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AW – I’m bit older than Ben, so I can’t remember being 3yrs old! Ha!

But, growing up I always loved my cartoons, TMNT, Transformers, Batman TAS, X-Men, Spider-Man… the list of great cartoons is endless. As for comics a good friend of mine when we were growing up had a bunch of copies of older comics like ‘Journey into Mystery’, ‘Action Comics’ and some old Spider-Man comics. I wasn’t poor growing up, but I know money was tight for my parents and locally there wasn’t really anywhere to buy comics, so growing up they weren’t as big a part of my life as they became later on.

 

ZL – When did you start making comics and when did you start thinking about The Secret Protectors and the world you’ve built?

BN – I started off with some obscure webcomics in a kind of manga style but it wasn’t until meeting up with Adam that I decided to take it beyond a hobby.

AW – Hmm… I remember making a stick-man book when I was wasting classroom time at school but that’s about the limit of my artistic capability. I wouldn’t know exactly how to describe how bad my drawing is. With that said, making a comic alone is not something I’ve ever given any serious consideration to!

Although I had all the story written up for The Secret Protectors, I only began giving serious thought to it when I told my now fiancé (soon to be wife) Kate about my idea. She really got onboard with it and supported me in trying to get it actually made into a comic. It was not long after that I found Ben via a website. We met up soon after and began working on the project together.

 

ZL – Can you give us a few details about:-

  • The first creator you ever remember recognising the work of?
  • The first creator you remember copying or studying for hours to work out how they made things work?
  • Creator you most wanted to be like when growing up?

BN – John Romita Jr was easily the first creator I remember recognising. His characteristic style is what made comics real to me. While most of what I’d seen before that was very silver age, ironically heavily influenced by the likes of Romita Sr. But Romita Jr showed me that it was possible to create something totally visually different. In the days of dialup I became obsessed with Dragon Ball Z and found myself recording episodes onto VHS and desperately trying to copy that distinctive Toriyama style. Needless to say the weird warping that happened when you paused a VHS certainly didn’t help. I wouldn’t say I wanted to be like Romita Jr or Toriyama. I’ve always just wanted to create the best art I could and tell some great stories.

AW – As the one here who cannot draw at all this is a tough one. I do actually love both Romita Sr and Jr! Add Jim Lee, Todd McFarlane and Alex Ross to that.

 

ZL – Are there any particular influences fuelling The Secret Protectors?

BN – When Adam approached me with the story we were in a Starbucks. Adam explained the premise then launched into an enthusiastic breakdown of the characters and their backstories, their world, and even the eventual endgame of the entire story.

Miles Morales by Sara Pichelli
Some of Ben’s inspiration – Miles Morales by Sara Pichelli

I think Adam and his enthusiasm has been a driving force. His drive to get these stories we believe in out there and in front of people has inspired me in my work on TSP and other projects. We’ve been really happy to have kids and adults coming up to us at events thrilled to see a black protagonist. I don’t know how much thought Adam gave to creating a diverse cast, I think it just came naturally when you’re writing a story that spans the globe. Not every superhero has to be a 6’2” white American dude with black hair, blue eyes and a jaw that could cut glass, right?

AW – There are so many influences… Some are perhaps more obvious than others. The genre of Superheroes is clearly our playground (The 90’s X-Men cartoon for instance) but beyond that I have so much love for actual sci-fi, fantasy and maybe just as importantly iconic series like The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Fargo. These sorts of influences may not be apparent in an obvious sense, but I’ve always drawn great enjoyment from storytelling that makes you think, doesn’t spoon feed you, allows you to draw some of your own conclusions so to speak.

 

ZN – You’ve already made your goal on Kickstarter – that must feel pretty good! Was getting the money the main goal or were you hoping for something more out of Kickstarting your comic?

BN – We’ve been overwhelmed by the support. The idea that there are kids and teenagers out there that cared enough to contribute what they could means just as much as the people who were able to pledge on the higher end of things. I think the Kickstarter was about getting the audience excited and being able to offer them more bang for their buck. I probably can’t say too much about the statistics but we’ve had support from some very unexpected places.

What’s most exciting is that some young fans have already taken to drawing the characters even having only read issue 1 so we just want to be able to get it out there more and be able to thank people for their support in some cool and interesting ways. And, of course, how could we resist the opportunity to duct tape my phone to the wall for two hours while we tried to read a 2-minute script for the Kickstarter video!

AW – Having followed Tyler James (ComixLaunch) for a while I always thought that if we could find an initial audience that we could use Kickstarter as a platform for the project so that one day it could become self-sustaining. We’ve received amazing support on the campaign itself.

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Ben Nunn – 2000AD submission from sample script

With that said, I’m not a businessman, if I was, I probably wouldn’t be doing this! Ha! The Secret Protectors is very much a passion project. I draw great meaning from it. My main hope was that we could begin to garner a larger audience of readers. Promoting the comic and getting eyes on it has always been the toughest side of the ‘business’. I’m not a natural salesman and especially with something that has so much of my heart in it. Ben and I both know rejection is part of the game though. We have both had cause to pick each other at some point in this process.

 

ZL – I’m hoping the review comes across as supportive and that I enjoyed it! Sometimes I think I sound terribly negative!

AW – Ha! I don’t think that’s the case. I’ve read it a few times and I’d like to thank you for your honest feedback. We know we aren’t perfect and we’re still at the beginning of both our creative journey and actual story. That’s our first review! Ever! That’s a huge deal to me.

Issue 1 pacing was always a concern we had but we wanted to show the ‘status quo’ of this world and set things up. We wanted the reader to be able to just spend a bit of time with Ben before he gets dragged into the main conflict. He’s a normal guy and by showing him with his family we hoped to show how tough the decision would be to make in issue 2, obviously you can be the judge of whether or not we pulled that off! Ben doesn’t know or understand his powers and that’s something we hope to explore with him as the story unfolds.

BN – Yeah, the most important thing is honesty and I’ve got to say your review was thorough and will no doubt help us continue improving in future issues.

 

ZL – Going back to your comment about this being your first review ever, I’m interested in picking apart the experience of getting copies out to reviewers, whether you’ve found positive responses, or it’s been more a wall of silence! What you did to find sites that would be useful for promoting your comic and Kickstarter in general and what your method of contact was?

Also, generally, how it felt to send things out, waiting for a response, what it felt like if people haven’t responded?

Also – what was your first gut reaction to receiving a review and whether that felt different/ was different to how you thought it would be?

Ben Nunn - drawing from 2000AD sample script
Ben Nunn – drawing from 2000AD sample script

AW – Having never run a Kickstarter before I can’t say that I truly prepared for everything it would require from me. Even though we’ve surpassed our target if I could go back and start over I would probably do so. I realise now that we could have done a fair bit more pre-launch. I sent copies to quite a few people, I won’t name names, but essentially it’s been a wall of silence. I’m not at all salty or complaining about that though. Time is precious and those who do this sort of thing, like yourself, on behalf of Indie Comics are providing a service. There are so many projects out there at any one time that, understandably, getting reviews actually done is a real tough task if you don’t perhaps already have a reputation. That’s something that as a creator you need to expect and plan for. The only advice I could really offer is cast a wide net. Contact anyone and everyone!

As for receiving your review (as our first)

I can honestly say it’s a very humbling experience. By that, I mean, actually having our work prodded, tested and pulled apart is awesome! It’s helped us evaluate our work and goes down as a real sign of the progress we’ve made so far. Reviews should, in my opinion, always be tough on whatever the product in question may be. Reviewers / critics should be the stress test, the mechanism by which they the consumer can make an informed decision whether or not to spend their hard-earned money.

 

ZL – I wondered a bit about your thoughts on Ben being more a cypher and whether that’s a part of the plan, or a product of focussing in on the plot?

AW – I would admit that Ben does suffer slightly as you point out as the ‘cypher’ but our take was also that; he is extremely unfortunate to be in the wrong place at the wrong time at the beginning of issue 1. Bad things unfold and as a twenty-one-year-old growing up in a world where the existence of super-powered beings isn’t common knowledge he was completely out of his depth; emotionally, mentally and physically. He was basically a passenger as he’s in over his head.

 

ZL – I guess there’s a fine line between being a cypher and feeling lost and out of your depth and my feeling is Ben is too much of an empty vessel, I kept wanting to know what he was, how he was thinking but at the moment he seems to be all anger and little of the implied gentle side of him is coming out. Put another way, I feel like I spend more time thinking about him and who he is than I do feeling what this is like for him – if that makes sense?!

AW – There’s a few things to unpack here… so, as much as Ben is a very important character to our series this is also an ensemble title. With that said, we made a conscious decision to not spoon feed the reader too much. I definitely did not want us beating the reader over the head with a stick but it’s a fair criticism. Ben in the first issue is still reeling over the loss of his father. We made that decision early on that Ben should not be laughing and joking (just yet) as I don’t know how natural that would be. There’s a lot to Ben too, but at this stage in his journey he’s at sea really. He doesn’t know what’s going on, who to trust, what to do. He’s a mess. Issue 1 and 2 take place within quite a small timeframe.

We have a number of characters who, over the course of the next few issues will be introduced but spending time with Ben is definitely something the reader can expect, and we’re excited for.

Invincible - Ryan Ottley
Some of Ben’s inspiration – Invincible – Ryan Ottley

ZL – What are the longer-term plans for TSP? Is this intended as an ongoing series, a number of story arcs with a beginning and end to each, that also build to an overall story in sum? What kind of things can we expect to see dealt with in the series?

AW – Our plan, which may be naive given our experience, is for TSP to be a long running series. We know where we want to get to though and hopefully the reader sees that and enjoys it. Although on bare face value it’s a superhero comic we want to explore the notions of good and evil being relative. Other themes we want to explore are parenting and the duality of the human-psyche. It’s a tough one really because we don’t want to give too much away. This initial run, the first story arc, we envisage running at around 12 issues. These first 12 issues will really help develop and provide the reader context for the world. The characters all have lengthy backstories as to why they are the way they are which we’ll get the opportunity to explore more of in our future issues.

 

ZL – So, for me, this is interesting for the very reason that we’re talking themes and plots here and I wonder if it’s because they’re part of the big plan and less of the by issue planning? Anyway, that’s not actually a question sorry!

What plans have you got for dealing with the character of these individuals? Their relationships, the nature of who they are, how they behave? What I’m wondering is, for example, the scene in issue 2 where we see Mohammed and Mika. I thought that was a nicely handled way of showing the relationship and managed to put some flesh on the characters and on their relationship, so I’m wondering what sort of planning goes into that?

Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail
Secret Protectors 2 page 13 detail

It felt very organic, was it planned in that way, or did it come to you from getting to know your characters?

AW – in my opinion the grand narrative of any story really should be shaped by the individual actions and motivations involved and that is something I believe we have achieved. Each of our characters, both good and bad, have their own way of thinking. Their own plans and schemes. Early on that may not be completely apparent but as things take shape the reader will notice things early on that we did that have affected the flow of events.

 

ZL – Are there any questions or points you had that you’d like to make?

AW – Firstly, the close-up on page 1 of issue 2 is actually of the mech, not the van, not sure if you wrote van by mistake or just thought it was the van / not the mech.

Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel
Secret Protectors 2 page 1 close up final panel

ZL – My bad! Sorry about that. Still is a beautiful panel though!!

And that brings up an interesting point? This is aimed at Ben more – what style of art do you normally create and what source and references, in terms of artists, are you pulling in to your work?

What is your input in the comic, do you share writing credits, are you working full script or sitting around and working it out together?

Does the style feel comfortable for you yet or do you find you’re still trying to figure it all out a lot?

One final one! What is your favourite moment/ drawing in the two comics and why?

AW – We were certainly trying to go for older ‘Adventure style’ comic sort of feel, as it’s set in the 80’s we wanted the art be similar to the styles employed in that era but obviously Ben has his own style on top of that. I’m a big fan of Claremont & Byrne’s long run on X-Men. We also thought that having the comic set in the past gives it the chance to have that, for lack of a better way of putting it, ‘nostalgia’ feel.

BN – Thanks! I suppose I like to draw from people like Ryan Ottley and Sara Pichelli. I’m not sure how much I specifically draw from either of them. Consciously I draw from Hirohiko Araki when it comes to faces, but with a bit more of a westernised slant. Occasionally I’ll work in a simpler style when I’m commissioned to do a light-hearted comic for a birthday or anniversary present. That’s apparently more reminiscent of Herge’s Adventures of Tintin which I apparently loved as a child, but truth be told I don’t have much of a memory of it.

Gyro Zepelli by Hirohiko Araki
Some of Ben’s inspiration – Gyro Zepelli by Hirohiko Araki

It’s hard to nail down how much of a collaboration the writing was, especially early on. There was definitely a lot of back and forth and we still discuss scripts in detail. Then there are those times when I’ll cheekily just do something differently to how it was written and just see what happens. Sorry Adam!

I enjoy the style and I think it’s evolving as I do. I spend a few hours every day studying so that’s always going to reflect in my work. Hopefully that’ll be as noticeable between issues 2 and 3 as it was between 1 and 2.

My favourite moment was one that you mentioned in your review. The panel of Wildfire propelling himself forward on page 4 of issue 2. That page was one of the last to be completed after an 11th hour decision to punch up the fight a bit. I think that shows. I’m always tempted to go through a whole issue again to bring it up to the level that I’m at by the time we finish but I’ve fallen down that hole before. I’m reminded of a quote, though I’m not sure where it comes from: “Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good”. Obviously, that could be taken as permission to half-arse things but I think of it as permission to let things go and keep moving forward, instead of getting trapped in an endless loop of building up and tearing down your own work and never showing anything to the world.

Ben Nunn - Game Of Thrones
Ben Nunn – Game Of Thrones

AW – To make this point easier I’ve just copied and pasted what you wrote:

“Just looking at things, we can also see that we’re dealing with a battle between diversity and racism/fascism/the shadow government”

So, just between us! As we get into spoiler territory that’s kind of it, but also kind of not. Now if it hits home that way then that’s our fault as the storyteller so I don’t take any fault with your description, the bad guys SCIMITAR, or Supreme Command for Incident Management and Initial Tactical Armed Response are obviously somewhat of a homage to Shield, or Hydra or any other clandestine organisation in comics, in a certain sense, however, we certainly weren’t going for them being viewed as fascist, is there a reason to you that that’s the case?

ZL – Well, partly, the Shadow Government is a form of fascism, but not of the race variety, (there are many forms of fascism as it’s essentially the belief that one group of people are superior to any others), it’s a form of free market fascism, where the possession of money and the associated power that comes with that, means you are worth more than poorer individuals. Also, though, there were the two thugs in the store with the Texas Flag, and one had a swastika, that sort of foreshadowed the presence of fascism and racism. The look of Mayhem Marauder is also quite fascistic and felt like a reference back to those thugs. I guess I’m saying, maybe my understanding of fascism is slightly different to others around the shadow government and that the character designs have sort of flagged a feeling about fascism being a part of the work’s themes.

Does that sound like a question even!!

Um – What are your thoughts on that?

AW – Gotcha! I see where you’re coming from now. Again, I’m careful to not go into spoiler territory. S.C.I.M.I.T.A.R have an agenda, but I can’t really go into that just yet, but they aren’t really drawing from a fascist playbook in my mind. The thugs in issue 1, we wanted individuals who were clearly detestable from the off. They were shaking down a shop for money. Ben, being a good guy (but naive) rushes in trying to do the ‘right’ thing and gets beaten down pretty quickly. As for Warren AKA Mayhem Marauder there’s a reason behind his appearance, something which again, will be explored later on in the series.

Ben Nunn - Hellboy fanart
Ben Nunn – Hellboy fanart

What we really wanted was to have a diverse set characters on both the good and bad side. This isn’t a tactical or political stand (we’re bombarded with more than enough of that in real life), it was more just a ‘why not?’. Why not have Ben be a black guy? Why not have Mika be Japanese? Why not have Mohammed be Asian? Instead of making our cast all white, black or any other ethnicity we wanted to have a diverse cast. But yeah, we certainly aren’t looking to go for anything racial at all. I’d love to know why you thought it?

 

ZL – The theme I picked up on was the use of a diverse cast, just generally, and sadly, nowadays that carries with it the weight of the current world political climate, with Islamophobia, institutionalised racism being highlighted by a highly racist American president and British ‘Johnny Foreigner’ scaremongering leading up to Brexit. There’s also the opposite side of the argument around why you’re writing in characters of colour when you’re not familiar with the culture or background.

So, I’m wondering from what you’ve said, whether you’ve had positive or negative or no feedback on any of those issues? Also, what have you done, in terms of research, to avoid the pitfalls of stereotyping characters by race and gender?

Essentially, it’s a very thorny area to walk in and I wonder how you’re planning on finding the safe path through?

BN – Speaking for myself I’m always wondering about that delicate balance. I think it comes down to doing your due diligence, but more than that, just treating characters like they’re human. Trump, Islamophobia, Brexit, they all come down to a basic lack of ability or willingness to empathise with people who are slightly different from you. I guess people just prefer to feel superior or succumb to fear (or both somehow) but at the core of being a good person, and at the core of good writing, is empathy and compassion.

AW – There’s certainly a minefield of different opinions out there on that subject. Personally, I don’t want The Secret Protectors to be a vehicle for my own personal politics. It’s a strange one really, I can see why politics often find their voice in comics, but I’ve always thought that if super-powered beings did exist then our way of politics would be completely different, if that makes any sense? There certainly comes a point where, logically, politics within the context of the story / world would need to be addressed but that doesn’t represent my own thoughts but rather reflects the story and the characters themselves.

I don’t want anyone to read our comic and feel like we’re preaching an agenda to them as that is not our prerogative. As for the diversity of our characters backgrounds I’ve always believed that good characters are written as individuals with their own mind, ambitions and problems. Their group identity should always be a secondary factor, that’s not to say it’s unimportant but I don’t think it should be the primary driver behind their actions.

The feedback so far, from readers, has been really great overall. I think, that with everything in life, if people can see you’re trying to put something good out into the world, even if it’s not their cup of tea, they do tend to get behind it. They can see its value and the love behind the project. I believe that the reason behind that is that, for the most part, we are more good than not.

TSP-LOGO-HEADER-E
The Secret Protectors

 

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content copyright iestyn pettigrew 2019