Monday, 27 September 2010

Comix, Catmasters and Conurbations - The Brandon Graham Interview

Poised somewhere between underground cult status and mainstream success, Brandon Graham is one of those rare cartoonists; producing deeply individual creator owned material in an environment that all too often turns its nose up at anything that doesn't fit into a spandex bodysuit.

He's survived corporate reshuffles, the cancellation of his series 'King City' and even a bout of cancer. In the face of overwhelming odds, he's continued to forge his own path, making unique comics on his own terms.

Graham bridges the gap between underground comix, manga and street art to produce dizzyingly detailed and refreshingly fun comics. His pages bristle with an explosive energy that threatens to run off in a million different directions all at once, yet his stories hang together with zen like cohesion.
His comics reflect the ordered chaos of modern life, both serious and funny, ugly and beautiful.

With his successfully resurrected series 'King City' now fast approaching its conclusion, I went in search of Seattle's very own catmaster, seeking ancient comix wisdom.

Exquisite Things: You often describe King City as a spy comic about friendship and getting over heartbreak. Twelve issues in, do you still see the comic in the same way, or has the scope of the book evolved as you’ve gone along?

Brandon Graham: It's still about friendship and dealing with life, but over the course of the series I also got really into it being a reaction to living in cities. Originally I wanted to call the comic ‘Catmaster’ but Tokyopop asked me to change the title. I think that it being named after the place really affected how I went about it. I remember my first reaction to the name change being “shit, now they can't leave the city”.

Exquisite Things: I think the city itself is half the charm of the comic. Do you find you draw on your own surroundings and experiences when creating the urban sprawl of King City?

Brandon Graham: Yeah, a lot of King City is a reflection of how I feel about Seattle and New York.

I remember one time after being gone from Seattle for months, taking the bus from the airport and getting off in my old West Seattle neighbourhood. The first guy I walked past asked me for a smoke, when I said I didn't smoke he yells "yeah you better keep walking!"

The nonsensical abuse of a city.

I've lived in big cities my whole life and they still amaze me, just how much is going on all at once and the history of what’s gone on in any one place. I remember walking through Seattle's china town with a friend of mine explaining how all these plain looking buildings we were passing had great histories; how one had a secret gambling den in the basement years ago, or how Bruce lee had worked as a waiter in another. I want to try to capture some of that feeling of mystery in my stuff.

Exquisite Things: Tokyopop went through a fairly dramatic restructure in 2008, which saw the cancellation of many titles including King City. You’re now working in partnership with Image comics to release it as single issues. Was it always your intention to present King City in this format and how instrumental were Image in getting the comic back on track?

Brandon Graham: The whole thing would have been impossible without Image, those guys really put in the work to talk Tokyopop into a co publishing deal. I can't say enough nice things about the guys at Image. Eric Stephenson and Joe Keatinge especially, It was 8 months of meetings for a book that I don't think they expected to make much, if any money at all.

Getting it put out as single issues was ideal. It's how I like to read comics.

Exquisite Things
: Was it difficult coming back to King City after such an extended hiatus? I know you had a lot to deal with in the interim period, including a bout of cancer, which isn't exactly something you recover from fast. That, and all the red tape around getting the series up and running again must have been a lot to have to contend with.

Brandon Graham: Yeah, it was a lot to wade through in the course of getting the series done.

I feel like whatever comic I'm doing, life is always going to get in the way. I've gotten pretty used to switching gears, it's kind of the nature of the beast. I try to focus on whatever page or scene I'm on. Coming back to the characters was easy, it was more reminding myself what the plans for the plot were, which I just ended up rewriting anyway.

I have this idea that there's a time limit on ideas, so if I let them sit for too long I need to come up with new ones so they're fresh enough to execute how I'd planned. If anything the cancer and legal shit were grist for the mill. I'd probably be worse off if nothing exciting ever got in the way of making comics, I'd have less to write about.

Exquisite Things: King City has an incredibly distinct visual identity, one which draws on everything from classic European sci-fi comics to street art. There’s an economy of line to your work that’s reminiscent of Tezuka, but with a penchant for sprawling, highly detailed backdrops in the vein of European artists like Moebius. Whilst it's clear that you've drawn inspiration from a diverse range of sources, you’ve definitely got your own unique artistic style. Could you tell us a little about your influences and how you developed your present style?

Brandon Graham: I was exposed to a ton of great comics really early on. My older brother Keith brought home a lot of European, Japanese and underground comics when we were growing up. I don't think I'll ever get over what he had on his book shelves. My brother being into all kinds of underground culture just gave me this idea that you have to dig for the best stuff.

I was mostly influenced by manga as a teenager, and I remember my brother giving me grief about my drawings being too based around big eyes. He had me draw a page of facial expressions showing emotions in non cliché ways. And later, when I was 19 I did a series called October Yen with Antarctic press about a robot without a face to force myself into showing emotions without the crutch of a face.

In my late teens I was really into the Seattle graffiti scene. That was a huge influence on my outlook on art and style.

Exquisite Things: How did you first get involved in street art, and how did those experiences make it back into your comics?

Brandon Graham
: As much as I always liked comics and always identified myself as a comic artist there wasn't any kind of comic scene that I was involved with in Seattle. Plus there was so much exciting stuff going on in Graffiti in the 90's, it was hard to ignore. When I started getting seriously into it, my pal Ludroe was adamant that if I was was going to do it, I would have to understand it. So he gave me all these books on the history of hip hop and really pushed the idea that it's a culture that you have to earn to be part of.

Also, just the snarky fun of running around drawing on things that you aren't supposed to. I remember one day, back when Magic cards were a big deal there was a Wizards of the Coast building in Seattle's U district, with a sandwich board in front of it that had a clear plastic cover, with and ad for whatever they were promoting at the time. Ludroe pulled the paper out of it, flipped it over and put it back with a giant hand with its middle finger up drawn on it. And then we just sat on the corner and cracked up seeing this big fuck you sign on the street.

Plus it seems like graffiti is really a cousin of comics. Aside from it being so influenced by comics, they're both about combining words and drawings.

Exquisite Things
: Vaughn Bode is one of the few cartoonists whose work seems to have become synonymous with graffiti art. Was his work an inspiration to you in any way?

Brandon Graham: Bode was a huge influence on graffiti, he didn't really live to see how much he affected an entire art form. But yeah, he's a big influence on my stuff, his use of color and letters and that great sense of humor in his work. There's this one strip where a lizard is staring at a phallic looking robot and says "you look like a god damn tin penis" I can't even think about that without cracking up.

I think doing one page comics as well as he did is really amazing. I think about that density a lot; how Bode and George Herriman, who did Krazy Kat, are able to convey such complete stories in just one page. With work like that out there you've got no excuse for not making a 20 page comic dense and fun.

Exquisite Things
: King City reminds me a little of Carla Speed McNeil’s series ‘Finder’, specifically in the way that you treat the city as a character unto itself. There’s a level of detail to your environments that makes the city just as interesting as its inhabitants. How important is world building to King City?

Brandon Graham: I really like what McNeil does, she's amazing. Playing around with the environments your characters live in is so much fun. It's hard to leave that kind of thing alone once you realize that you can tell a story about anything you want to. You can’t help wanting to delve into what's behind all the doors and windows that you've drawn.

Exquisite Things: You seem just as interested in the incidental and the random as you are with the overarching plot of King City. The comic is both dense AND decompressed without being at odds with itself. How on earth do you go about achieving that balance?

Brandon Graham: It's really important to me to go with my interest rather than just follow a plot. I try to have as much fun as I can, but I also try to make issues that hold up by themselves. There's a Raymond Chandler introduction that I always think about where he talks about wanting his books to be good even if you read a copy that’s missing the beginning and the end.

That’s one of the reasons I have chapters in King City. I want the chapters to hold up by themselves, even if they’re just two pages long. Plus I was so used to writing short stories, so it was less daunting to treat it as a bunch of shorter chapters, rather than some 12 issue monster.

Exquisite Things
: Taking a moment to focus on the cast of King City, I wanted to ask about Joe and his multi-talented cat Earthling J. Catingsworth III. Earthling’s quite the sidekick, enough to make anyone want a super intelligent weaponised feline companion. How did you first come up with the whole ‘Catmaster’ concept? Mastering a cat can’t be easy…

Brandon Graham: The original idea was to create a James Bond type character in a suit. He’d have a suitcase with a serious weapon in it… and when he pulls it out… it's just a cat!

Exquisite Things: Now I’m stuck with the mental image of Sean Connery wielding a cat. So… how did you get from that, to a main character like Joe?

Brandon Graham: In that early version, the owls were the main focus and the catmaster was just a side character. I abandoned it about ten pages in but I liked the idea of a catmaster, so I tried to come up a character I could relate to.

Joe was based on a photo of a surfer I saw, that and old 70's Savage Sword Conan.

Exquisite Things: Your wife Marian Churchland and Ludroe both designed their own cat masters for the comic, both of which showed up in issue eleven. How did those designs come about?

Brandon Graham: I wanted the other catmasters to feel like they were main characters in their own stories. Also I thought it would be cool to let my friends who I'd based so much of the story on to have a stab at it. I wish I'd had more pages to add in side stories and extras by other friends.

When I was working on initial characters for the book I based Pete’s character on Ludroe's personality. Physically there’s no resemblance, Ludroe's a thinner guy than Pete, and it’s hard to tell in the comic but Pete is meant to be Thai. His full name is Pete Thaifighter. So when Ludroe gave me his catmaster character design it was interesting that he also made him a chubby dude. So I ended up having two characters based on the same person, just different aspects of that person.

The other catmaster that shows up is based on Marian's best friend Claire that lives down the street from us. She's the Vancouver BC catmaster. I had big plans to show even more cat masters from all over.

Exquisite Things: Speaking of ladies, King City has its fair share of gorgeous women, and certainly doesn’t shy away from sex. What surprised me about the book’s erotic content was the way you approached it, in so much that it actually adds depth to the characters and their relationships. I get the impression you’re not overly interested in ‘cheesecake’ for the sake of it? At least not in a comic like King City...

Brandon Graham: Sure, I really like drawing and looking at that stuff but I don't want to be just some pin up dude just drawing empty women.

Exquisite Things: I can understand you wouldn’t want to be type cast in that way. I know you’ve also worked on adult comics like 'Perverts of the Unknown' and 'Pillow Fight' but there’s still a level of depth to those that makes them very entertaining comics in their own right. You seem to take immense pleasure in simply having fun with the medium, adult orientated or not.

Brandon Graham: Thanks, those were fun to do. I wanted to make dirty joke books instead of something just to masturbate to. I do feel like I never quite got everything I wanted into my porn comics. They seems to require a very different kind of comic science, with closer shots and more facial expressions.

I wish I'd made the characters more diverse in Pillow Fight, but they all kind of seem to look like the same girl. At the time they were the only paying work in comics I could get, but in retrospect I'm glad I was doing that and not some low end superhero comics. It did give me the freedom to have as much fun as I could... as long as there was sex.

Exquisite Things
: Do you foresee a time when there's a more widespread acceptance of sexually explicit content in mainstream comics? What do you make of recent attempts, such as Alan Moore’s Lost Girls to present porn as something with genuine artistic and emotional value?

Brandon Graham: I do think sex is something worthy of real and expressive art. It's defiantly a big part of being human. I'm hoping to do some work in the future that has more sex, but where it isn't the main focus of the book. As far as widespread acceptance, I imagine not... these Romans are crazy.

Exquisite Things: Do you believe that porn and serious storytelling can co-exist side by side? Given your background with adult comics is this something that interests you?

Brandon Graham: I definitely think the two can co-exist, and there are plenty of books where it’s been done really well. I'm trying a minor version of that in my next book ‘Multiple Warheads’.

The focus is on the relationship between a couple, but I'll also be including sex scenes as and when they happen. I do worry that a few pages of sex might be enough to overpower the content of the rest of the book, but I think it's something worth doing.

Recently I've been reading ‘Omaha the Cat Dancer’ where the mix of the two is done very well. There also this web comic called ‘Effort Comics’, which gets it right too.

Exquisite Things: It's good to hear that Multiple Warhead will be returning to the racks, that's exciting stuff. Can you tell us a little more about where you're going with it?

Brandon Graham: I'm about 70 pages into it right now and I'm having a great time with it.

It's set in a fictional future fantasy Russia and it's about an organ smuggler named Sexica and her boyfriend Nikoli, who has a werewolf penis sewn onto him. When he sleeps he dreams of the wolf’s old life. They also have a car in it named Lenin (because it's not Stalin) and as the story goes on the car’s parts get replaced with different animal parts, so it slowly turns into a living thing.

It's a lot more complex than anythijng I've done before, and where King city had a limited amount of issues I could see myself making 'Multiple Warheads' books for another 10 to 15 years.

Exquisite Things: Coming back to King City for a moment, now that the series is approaching its 12th, and possibly final issue, how do you feel about the series as a whole? I sincerely hope we'll be seeing more King City in the future?

Brandon Graham: It's really forced me to mature into a real adult comic artist as opposed to the porn comics "adult" artist I've been in the past.

In the last issue I have a scene that happens in front of the same row of vending machines that I drew in the first issue, and just drawing the same place was so completely different because of how I draw now.

I hope I'll be able to do more of it too. The rights are just screwy with Tokyopop but I've got some plans for short comics with Joe and the cat, even if they just show up on my Livejournal.

Exquisite Things
: Is there likely to be a new TPB collection which encompasses the entire run? I heard rumours of a lavish French boxed set… Should we all start brushing up on our French?

Brandon Graham: The French have put out the first book so far, they mentioned a box set but they've only just got the last pages recently. They’ve really put in some work translating it all, they even redid all the graffiti in the backgrounds.

I'm not sure about an English language collection yet, I'd like there to be one. Like I said, the rights to the book are a mess. Part of me likes how it’s just single issues right now, but I realize it's not the easiest comic to get hold of. A collection would help with that.

Exquisite Things
: Besides King City and Multiple Warheads, do have you got any other projects on the boil right now?

I've got a 300 page collection of some of my older stuff and a bunch of art that I'll hopefully get together soon. There's always a ton of side stuff that I hope to get to. I've got a detective thing called 'Rain like Hammers' that I want to do as a one shot after I get a big chunk of Multiple warheads out there.

Brandon Graham
: Are there any comics that are blowing your mind right now? Any creators you feel are doing real groundbreaking stuff?

Oh yeah, there's a ton. One of the things that frustrates me about the comics industry is that I can name 50 amazing artists but if I go into a comic store this week there's a good chance I'd find nothing new that I wanted.

I like my pal James Stokoe’s ‘Orc Stain’ a lot and Adam Warren’s ‘Empowered’ has been really fun. ‘The Dammed’ that Cullen Bunn and Brian Hurtt are doing is also good stuff. I also just read ‘Monsters’ by Ken Dahl, that's a really fantastic book.

Here's a few links of some artist I'm really excited about right now:

John Kantz
Simon Roy
Jordyn F. Bochon
Giannis Milonogiannis
Farel Dalrymple
Tom Herpich
and my misses, Marian Churchland

Exquisite Things: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me, any closing remarks or shout outs?

Brandon Graham: Thanks for letting me talk at you.

As much as I may have issues with the industry at times, I really think it's a great time to be reading and making comics.

And I'll howl at Meathaus--my old NYC comic book gang!

Interview by Matthew Dick, with thanks and kudos to Brandon Graham.

Related links:

Brandon Graham's Live Journal
Image Comics

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Reich #6 & #7

Elijah Brubaker’s wonderful rendering of the life of Wilhelm Reich resumes with two new issues.

Issue six has Wilhelm in the Berlin of 1933 as the Nazis begin their ascent to power, threatening not just the livelihood of the now famous psychiatrist but the lives of his entire family. The pace of issue six is heightened by the very real dangers encountered by the Reich family on nearly every page, symbolized in one memorable series of panels by the smothering black ceiling of the train carriage where Wilhelm and his estranged wife Annie are briefly interrogated by an officer of the SA. Elsewhere, a black monolithic mass of followers hurl books onto a bonfire, pointedly including Reich’s own “The Mass Psychology of Fascism” – it becomes a literal funeral pyre for the idea of any meaningful sense of opposition to such destruction.

These dark elements are sharply contrasted with the clarity of Reich’s scientific breakthroughs, such as his discovery of “bions”, which were central to almost all of his theories that were to prove so notorious in the following decades. It's a key issues in the series, detailing so many of the tumultuous events that were both formative and transformative, from his initiation to brothels to his gradual estrangement from his children, from his cancer research to the loss of both his father and his great mentor Sigmund Freud.

Issue six leaves Reich in 1937, but issue seven begins with a drastic leap forward in time to 1954, and a complete change of character emphasis. Wilhelm’s young son Peter becomes the focus of our attention, boasting to an older friend about his father’s cloudbusting machine and weather experiments. Peter’s admiration of his now legendary father and his exploits is endless, a son’s unconditional love given ample white space to roam within each panel and speech bubble.

Peter regurgitates his father’s theories verbatim, the experiments with orgone boxes and sexual energy by his sister and her boyfriend are part of daily life and go unremarked upon. Only a trace of natural curiosity and child-like questioning surfaces in Peter; it is enough to keep the reader firmly with him even as he faithfully wends his way through his father’s extraordinary practices and concepts.

When Reich Sr finally appears towards the end of the issue, he is a broad, confident figure, vast in size and ambition in the eyes of Peter. His words here seem to have calcified into dogma on the page, rather than flow in the manner of theory that distinguished his younger incarnation. Every statement is fact, every sentence sits in judgement of others, and the boundlessness of Peter’s love only underscores Wilhelm’s harshness further. Brubaker skillfully makes the reader wary and suspicious of Reich in precisely the way what people were already thinking of him at the time: was he a sex-crazed quack? Was he merely exploiting the dichotomy of sexual exploration already at play in an ultra conformist America still reeling from the revelations of Alfred Kinsey?

The climax of the issue is a decidedly uneasy depiction of a father and son meal at a desert diner, where once again the subject of sex and its function in daily life is inescapable. It is a powerful, somber episode in the series, foreshadowing the real trials and tribulations that Reich will have to face in the not too distant future. Creating it clearly took its toll on Brubaker, who in his raw concluding notes describes the issues as “hard born”; hinting too at troubles elsewhere that I hope will not put the series in jeopardy. “Reich” continues to be one of the most challenging and engrossing independent comic series that I’ve read in recent years, and richly deserves the chance to reach whatever resolution its creator has in mind for it.

Review by Kevin McCaighy.

Related link:

Sparkplug Comics (Buy Reich and more great comics here)
Elijah J Brubaker's website

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Bound & Gagged Anthology

Tom Neely, author of the utterly brilliant 'The Blot' has just curated and self published his first anthology. 'Bound & Gagged' features 72 pages of one panel gag comics, as drawn by an impeccable line up of creators that reads like a 'who's who' of underground comics.

The book features contributions by:

Andrice Arp, Marc Bell, Elijah J. Brubaker, Shawn Cheng, Chris C. Cilla, Michael DeForge, Kim Deitch, J. T. Dockery, Theo Ellsworth, Austin English, Eamon Espey, Robert Goodin, Julia Gfrörer, Levon Jihanian, Juliacks, Kaz, David King, Tom Neely, Anders Nilsen, Scot Nobles, Jason Overby, John Porcellino, Jesse Reklaw, Tim Root, Zak Sally, Gabby Schulz, Josh Simmons, Ryan Standfest, Kaz Strzepek, Matthew Thurber, Noah Van Sciver, Dylan Williams, Chris Wright and many more.


For a measly $10 it can be yours. Head on over to I Will Destroy You to grab a copy.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Fragmenting Time - The Robert Sergel Interview

After five years of publishing online, Robert Sergel has finally made the jump to print comics.
A mere two issues into his ongoing series 'Eschew', Sergel has already proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's a creator worth his salt.

His stark, meticulously constructed autobiographical comics boast a rare appreciation of form that
you'd sooner associate with cartoonists ten years his senior. With such an auspicious start to his publishing career, I thought it was high time I spoke to Robert about 'Eschew' and his evolving approach to comics.

Exquisite Things:
The first thing that really struck me about Eschew was your art. It’s very stylised and precise, sharing many common traits with the ‘Ligne Claire’ school of cartooning. I know you often work with photos, creating digital composites to form the basis for your art.

Could you elaborate a little on your visual approach and how it’s achieved?

Robert Sergel:
I definitely like things very clean and precise. The art style is something I sort of fell into because I didn’t really know any better. I have a BFA, but it’s in photography, and I got it at a film school where there weren’t really any drawing classes or anything. I got burnt out on taking pictures, so I starting making photo comics instead. Since then I’ve just been trying to find the best way to simplify forms. Around that time I started reading a lot of comics again and got it in my head that it was really important to strip down your images as much as possible. So I just tried to do that. It comes out looking precise because I’m so restrictive in my source material.

Exquisite Things:
There’s a great deal of symmetry and rhythm to your comics. Your layouts often adhere quite stringently to a six panel grid, with only the occasional divergence. To me, there seems to be a very strong sense of formal discipline running through your work, whereby your artistic approach always reflects the needs of the story.

What considerations run through your head when you’re working on page layouts?

Robert Sergel: That’s nice you noticed that. I do spend a lot of time making sure pages look good as a whole and that all the panels work in relation to one another. It feels pointless a lot of the time because comics aren’t really absorbed that way.

People go panel to panel and maybe don’t notice page layouts because they’re following a story and want to know what happens. It makes more sense in something like George Sprott, where each spread is its own comic, but in a traditionally-structured narrative I’m not sure how much it matters. It definitely matters to me, though.

Exquisite Things: The majority of your comics seem to draw on personal experiences. What inspired you to focus on the autobiographical as opposed to fiction?

Robert Sergel: I think it just came more naturally to me. I’m better at identifying which stories will work as comics than I am at inventing them. I’ve recently been trying to work on a completely fictional story, and I’m finding that it’s way more difficult. You have to make a ton of decisions to create a comic, and autobiography absolves you of some of that responsibility. You still have to choose the right stories and figure out the best way to tell them, but the question of “what happens” has already been answered for you. So it’s easier in that way. I’d love to do something entirely fictional, but it seems to require a level of imagination that I don’t really have.

Exquisite Things: Following on from that, are your comics a straight retelling of events from your life? Or do you tend to blur the boundaries between fact and fiction?

Robert Sergel: Most of them are things that have happened to me. Sometimes I have to change things slightly for the sake of clarity or dramatic effect. I’m certainly looking less and less like the character all the time. The last story in Eschew #2 is the only one that’s more a conflation of events than a straight retelling.

Exquisite Things: Have you ever read any of Phoebe Gloeckner’s comics? With her books I can never quite tell where her reality ends and the fiction begins. There’s an almost wilfull blurring of the two, and even though she’s always referred to her work as fiction, there are so many parallels between the author and her protagonists that you’ve always second guessing. Are you interested in that kind of ambiguity?

Robert Sergel: I think 'Diary of a Teenage Girl' is the only one I’ve read. I do appreciate that ambiguity, but only because I don’t think “wow, I can’t believe that happened to you” is a very desirable reaction to a story. That’s the limitation of memoirs and auto-bio comics, and what makes me nervous about them. It can very quickly become a situation where you are being judged, and whatever idea you had is overshadowed by empathy or pity or disgust. So if it’s true that she’s actively distancing herself from the reality of her comics, I can understand that. I try to keep it a little unclear in my comics too.

Exquisite Things: ‘Up Up Down Down’ in Eschew #2 was probably the highlight of the book for me. It’s what made me sit up and really take notice of your comics. There’s some wonderful visual interplay and use of foreshadowing, not to mention the plaintively somber atmosphere that permeates the whole thing. I came away deeply impressed by your use of pacing and timing… it’s just really mature work, and as a closing piece, it’s quite the emotional sledgehammer. ‘Up Up Down Down’ comes across as a very personal account of a tragic event.

Did your approach to this strip differ at all compared to your past efforts?

Robert Sergel: Usually I will thumbnail a story in my notebook. It might change a little as I work on it, but the basic structure stays the same. I went into that story with a much more vague sense of what I wanted to do or how it would turn out. I think I had originally intended to only do the bit about trying to play a broken Nintendo. But as I worked on it, it started to feel like a pretty cheap, nostalgic sentiment.

So I started pulling in some other ideas and tried to construct the narrative in such a way that the Nintendo functions less like a sentimental manifestation of lost time, and more like the ghost of Christmas past or something like that. So I had printouts of the pages taped to my wall for months and months, and I would look at it every day and move things around and add things and throw away other things and it kept expanding and expanding. It went through a lot of different permutations before I thought it made any sense.

Exquisite Things: It would be great to see you expand on the kind of extended, more drawn out storytelling found in ‘Up Up Down Down’. Do you have any plans to try your hand at longer self contained stories?

Robert Sergel: I definitely plan to do that. When I first started making comics, I just sort of jumped into the fray immediately working on something very long without really having any idea what I was doing. That failed pretty spectacularly, so I started the website as a place where I could experiment and try different things and hopefully get better.

I drew a lot of gag strips and stuff like that. Then I did a few one page stories that turned out okay, so I did a series of related one-page stories called “13 Bad Experiences Involving Water.” From there it’s been a very gradual progression into longer stories. But my plan has always been to eventually arrive at a point where I can do something that’s book length. It just takes a huge amount of time and discipline and I want to make sure I know what I’m doing.

Exquisite Things: ‘Eschew’ is your first official foray into printed comics. Personally, I’m a big supporter of pamphlet format comics, but at a time when many creators are headed in the opposite direction, what motivated you to make the jump from the web to print?

Robert Sergel: I never really considered myself a web cartoonist. I always looked at it more like a way to get my stuff out there and receive some feedback and hopefully get better that way. I was part of a web-comic collective for a while, and there were some awesome people there who really inspired me to work harder. Plus, it forced me to generate content every week, which really helped me get better faster than I would’ve otherwise.

My primary goal was always to do longer stories and to eventually have something printed. I prefer printed stuff too, and I don’t think it’s going anywhere. That being said, it’s really too bad there’s such a comic-sans, MS paint stigma attached to web-comics, because a lot of them are just really good comics. Most of them are available in book form anyway, so I don’t really see the harm.

Exquisite Things: What first got you into comics? What was it about comics in particular that inspired you to start making your own?

Robert Sergel: I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was little. I loved Calvin and Hobbes and Spiderman and drew my own little strips and books and stuff, but eventually I sort of quit because I didn’t think I could draw well enough. So I stopped drawing comics and got into photography and did that all through high school. It was mostly just an excuse to hide out in the darkroom at school and be antisocial, but I was good enough at it where it made some sense to pursue a degree in it.

So I did that, but then everything I liked about it evaporated pretty quickly once I got there. Around that time I started reading a lot of comics again, and eventually it just sort of clicked that I was better equipped to be a cartoonist. I spent the rest of my time at school learning how to use various design programs. I took a lot of cinema studies courses too, which maybe had an effect on me as well.

But in response to your question about what particularly inspired me... pretty much everything about drawing comics appeals to me. I really hate it when cartoonists complain about it. It takes such a diverse set of skills that you’re never really at a loss for something interesting to work on. There’s so much you get to do. You get to write and draw and paint and silkscreen and use computers and do layouts and book design and web design and typography. It’s like a dozen art forms rolled into one. That can maybe seem like a burden sometimes, but really it’s why I love comics.

I even like the “bad” stuff. It’s unprofitable and takes forever to do and isn’t really taken as seriously as other art forms, but those hurdles ensure that the people doing it are genuine and passionate and involved for the right reasons.

Exquisite Things: What’s the best thing you’ve read in terms of comics over the last 5 years? Are there any creators you’re particularly partial to?

Robert Sergel: It might be 'The End #1' by Anders Nilsen. Everything he does is brilliant. 'Acme Novelty 19' was awesome. I recently read a book called 'Driven By Lemons' by Josh Cotter that was great. Or maybe The Blot by Tom Neely. One of those, I guess. My comics are packed away at the moment, so I might be forgetting something.

I’m partial to a lot of creators. Obviously I love the Sparkplug people like Austin English, Hellen Jo, Aron Nels Steinke, John Hankiewicz and Chris Wright. There’s a smallish publisher out of New York called Secret Acres who are cranking out some unbelievably rad books by Eamon Espey, Sam Gaskin, Ken Dahl, Minty Lewis and Theo Ellsworth. I’ll buy anything John Porcellino or Renee French put out. There’s a Scottish guy named Malcy Duff who is doing some really interesting stuff, and a London-based artist named Mr Clement who is actually a lady and mostly draws rabbits. And I love a webcomic called 'Perfect Stars' by Jordan Piantedosi.

Exquisite Things: I noticed that you play in a local band called The Channels. I’m guessing music is a big part of your life. Does your work as an artist cross over into your music, or vice-versa?

Robert Sergel: I try to keep them pretty separate from one another, and I don’t generally work on them at the same time. I tend to shift focus every few months or so. At the moment I’m drawing a lot of comics, but over the spring I was recording every day and hardly drew anything. I just find the finished product is better if I completely immerse myself in it.

Exquisite Things: If Eschew had a soundtrack, what bands would appear on it?

Robert Sergel: You mean something to listen to while reading it?

Exquisite Things: Yeah.

Robert Sergel: That’s hard to answer, because I bought a mini one time that came with a CD of “mood music” you were supposed to listen to while reading, and it really only made the experience less enjoyable. Comics are about fragmenting time, so to introduce something fluid like music is only going to make that harder to do. But if someone were to turn one of my comics into an animated short or something, I’d like to re-animate Bernard Herrmann and have him score it.

Exquisite Things: Are there any future projects or aspirations you’d like to tell us about?

Robert Sergel: I’m working on stories for Eschew #3 at the moment. I’m hoping it’ll be done by winter.

Interview by Matthew Dick, August 2010.

Related links:

Sparkplug Comics (Buy Eschew and more great comics here)
Idiot Comics (Robert Sergel's webcomics presence)