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“I Would Never Draw Except To Tell A Story.”: An Interview with Nick Maandag

For what it's worth, I think reading a comic that makes me laugh--an actual laugh, not a smirk of recognition or a smug acknowledgement of cleverness--is one of the greatest experiences this medium has to offer. It's something that I think doesn't go championed enough, those moments when you finish digesting a line while you're processing a drawing and those fractions of moment hit whatever part of the brain it is and you just start laughing, out loud. Do you keep on reading? Do you go back and start it all up again and see if it'll happen one more time? Do you force somebody to listen to you read it out loud? 

It doesn't happen enough. Comedy is hard, making comics is hard, doing both at the same time is next to impossible--that's why people like Kupperman, Hanawalt, Beaton, Dorkin, Onstad, Van Sciver are such a gift. All of those people have made something that made me lose it, and I've been as obsessed with their work as you can be with anything comics related. Years ago, when I first read a book called Streakers by a guy named Nick Maandag--a nicely shaped, brutal monotone of a comic missive about some guys who liked to run around with their junk hanging out--I found a new statue for my pantheon. Since that comic, I've inhaled everything he's made the second I could find it, and when the opportunity to speak to him regarding his 2019 book with D&Q came up, I jumped at the chance. We spoke via phone following the debut of that book,The Follies of Richard Wadsworth, where he was kind enough to tolerate my fannish ravings.

This interview was transcribed by Jasmin Davis and Sora Hong.

 

TUCKER STONE: There don’t seem to be a lot of Nick Maandag interviews out there.

NICK MAANDAG: No. Not too many.

Are you turning them down?

No. I’ve never turned down an interview. I’ve done a couple since this book came out. I did a short email interview with a local magazine called Broken Pencil.

I know Broken Pencil.

At the book launch, Chester Brown interviewed me. I haven’t done a lot. This is my first big book, you could say. There haven’t been a lot of requests. I mean, I haven’t sought it out either.

When did you make the move to Drawn & Quarterly? Had this been in the works for a while, or was this after your publisher, Alvin Buenaventura, passed away?

It was after Alvin. He probably would have published this book, but after he died, I didn’t have a publisher, and D+Q approached me. I showed them what I was working on, and they were interested.

The first thing I found from you was Streakers. It was the first thing that made its way to my little “Universe of Old Comics” in Brooklyn. From there, it felt like you had a regimented schedule. I felt like there was a new Nick Maandag consistently. There was Streakers, then The Libertarian, then Facility Integrity, then The Oaf. Was The Oaf the last thing you did with Pigeon Press?

Technically, that wasn’t a Pigeon book. That was actually self-published. Facility Integrity would have been — well, actually no.

You did that version of The Libertarian

Facility Integrity, and then Alvin republished The Libertarian. The second version of The Libertarian would have been the last book I did with Pigeon.

The Oaf was the last book I got from you directly. I think you had that at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. Is that right?

Yeah. I would have had that at TCAF two or three years ago.

I can’t remember the name of it. I couldn’t track it down, but there’s a minicomic where you’re — I don’t know if it has your name on it, but I had always heard that it’s you and maybe three other people — doing comics that are really disgusting, about pooping.

Those are strips that I put out with three cartoonist friends. Two of those friends want to remain nameless. [Laughs] They don’t want their names sullied by that.

What were you doing before Streakers? When did you start making comics and putting them together and releasing them?

I started drawing comics fairly early. Like 11 or 12. They started getting out [into the world] in my late teens. I think I put out my first mini when I was 19 or so. Up until Streakers, there are about six or so minicomics, ranging from 24 to 40 pages. Like a lot of cartoonists, I’m not too pleased with my early work. I’ve disowned it. It’s embarrassing for me to reread that stuff. There were about six zines until I did Streakers, which was also the first book that I was happy with. It’s the first book that people started paying attention to.

Are you a Toronto guy?

Yeah. I’m in Toronto.

Born and raised in the Toronto area?

Yeah. Born in Mississauga, which is a suburb of Toronto. It’s like a western, west-end suburb of Toronto. I grew up there and went to school there, and I moved to Toronto in my early 20s. I continued making minicomics while I worked here. I became involved in the scene once I moved here, basically.

For me, Nick Maandag begins with Streakers, and I think that’s the case for a lot of people. I know people like Jeet Heer and Chester Brown have a real familiarity with the pre-Streakers work, but when it comes to U.S. readers … Listings of it, I think, come down to basically Jeet Heer mentions it, and Chester Brown mentions it in conversation, but it’s not stuff people are familiar with. It’s not stuff that’s going to pop up when you Google.

How would you describe that work? Is it the warm up? Is it you trying to do auto-bio?

They’re immature in that there’s a “poor me” vibe to them, but that wasn’t my intention. Rereading them it comes across as this guy just sort of whining and complaining about his life, you know? And it’s mostly a lot of auto-bio. Just the type of thing that you cringe about. I mean, imagine reading some poem you did in high school, you know? It’s just a different version of yourself, a more naïve version, a less mature version. I was obsessed with my own life, my own problems, and it’s a typical mistake that you make when you’re young and doing auto-bio comics. Just the lack of detachment to them.

If you read something like I Never Liked You, you know, there’s a real detachment there. Chester sort of removed himself. There’s a distance between the person writing the book and the person he’s depicting in the book.

In my early auto-bio comics, you don’t have that distance, and it has a diary feel to it. It’s just not very mature, detached work. A lot of the early zines are also very explicit, like sexually explicit. Because I wanted to be a shocking underground cartoonist. There’s a bit of wanting to be shocking just for the sake of being shocking. And that’s not a good reason to be shocking. There should be a purpose to it, you know? It’s embarrassingly explicit and shocking, too. Some of it’s okay, but it’s just pretty embarrassing to read that stuff.

What’s the through line from making that kind of work, looking at it and saying, “I’m not happy with this,” and then turning around and coming up with something like Streakers?

I think that comedy is always what I’ve been into. I was always meant to be a comedy writer. My very early comics, when I was not even a teenager yet, had just pure jokes. I was just having fun. I’m very influenced by cartoon shows like Ren & Stimpy and The Simpsons, and in my teens and early 20s, as I was exposed to more alternative comics and more serious comics, I started doing that [kind of] stuff myself. But at a certain point, leading up to Streakers, I just realized I really wanted to do comedy. Just comedy.

There was always the odd joke here-and-there in my early zines, but they were somewhat serious, and I think at a certain point I realized that I had moved too far away from comedy. It was a decision to just start doing pure comedy again and to start having fun again and to just be less inhibited. Also, to just start thinking less. Before Streakers, I could feel myself thinking about it too much. Being too worried about the ideas and about what ideas I was communicating, and I was getting sort of tripped up and sort of just becoming too conscious. And with Streakers I just decided to have fun again. To not worry about it, not think as much. Just do something that was fun, and that seemed to work.

Streakers, to me, reads like such a confident work. There are certain jokes in there that — what’s the sound effect that you use for his dick flapping between his legs? [Laughs]

I’m not sure if I can remember.

[A pause.]

The sound effect is “jiggle jiggle.”

Yeah! There’s that, and there’s a joke in Facility Integrity when he basically explains his initial plan, and he says something to the board, and the woman says, “Do you hear us laughing? It’s a great idea.”

Those are perfect jokes. It’s the perfect sound effect. It has a seamless quality to it. So, when I first read Streakers, I was like, “How did I not hear about this guy before?” because it feels like there was no warm up for you whatsoever. I read a book that’s so confident and so aggressively knows exactly what it wants to do. There’s no fat on those comics, no extraneous stuff in the way of you and this machine of humor and style.

There’s a unity of tone between the way you draw, which has this incredibly flat, direct quality to it, and the way these characters speak. It feels like the comedy sneaks up on me every time. For you to describe it as, “Well, I just decided I wanted to do comedy” after doing auto-bio … that’s fascinating.

You said “return” to comedy earlier … Were you trying to write comedy shows? Were you trying to write Ren & Stimpy scripts? What were you trying to do?

Yeah. As a kid and early teen, I was trying to emulate things like Ren & Stimpy, and my early comics are very influenced by that stuff. At first, I started drawing comics only because I didn’t have the tools to do animation. I wanted to make my own animated movies. I didn’t know how to go about doing that, so I was making comics at first as a substitute.

But then, when I got to high school, I started making my own animated movies with my dad’s video camera. Very crude, animated shorts, like half-second frames. Those were also very much in the vein of Ren & Stimpy, a lot of low-brow, toilet humor type stuff. Typical teen stuff. At first, I was really committed to comedy, and then as I got older, I wanted to be a more serious artist. I started doing more serious stuff. And then at a certain point I just realized it wasn’t really for me.

Why do you think you defined being a serious artist as auto-bio?

Well, it didn’t have to be auto-bio. Not everything I did was auto-bio. In fact, a lot of it was somewhat humorous, but I was very influenced by auto-bio cartoonists like Chester Brown. The whole alternative crowd, the whole ’90s crowd, they were experimenting with more serious comics, and I was very influenced by that. I felt like, “Oh, that’s what I should be doing, too. This is the direction the medium is going in. I should do more literary, serious comics.” The fact there was a lot of auto-bio is just — not because I thought that was what serious comics were — it’s just that I was really influenced by the auto-bio cartoonists. Crumb, too. All those auto-bio comics.

Ivan Brunetti?

Yeah. I’m a big Ivan Brunetti fan. I was reading all that stuff, too.

What about Daniel Clowes?

I’m very influenced by Clowes, as well. I love his stuff.

Some of that Eightball humor comes across in the way you deliver a punch line. The way you draw an eye getting a little bit bigger as one of your characters does something weird.

I’m sure Eightball had some sort of influence on me, but I think I learned comedy from TV, and mostly from TV. I learned comedy from The Simpsons pretty much more than anything else because I’m a child of The Simpsons. I watched that show, like two episodes a day, every day after school, for years and years. Those episodes are really ingrained in my consciousness.

In college, I had three six-hour VHS tapes where I had recorded six straight hours of The Simpsons with the commercials edited out, and I had those playing constantly.

Something like comic timing is probably inborn, but if I learned it from anywhere it would be The Simpsons.

The version of Streakers that was sold in the U.S. — the spine version and everything ­— was that the way it always was?

No. It came out initially as a zine. After I had made the zine, I applied for the Xeric Grant, which I don’t believe exists anymore [Ed. Note: It does not], but that was a self-publishing grant. I got a Xeric Grant to publish it as a professionally printed book. And so, no, there’s an earlier version, but the story is unchanged, so it’s just that the covers are different. It’s just a black and red, black and white minicomic instead of the spine version you’ve seen. The black and white mini is probably the better publication because, unfortunately, I screwed up the image in the Xeric book, so the image is a little pixelated. Which was unfortunate, but it was fine. It was good to put that book out and get more attention, and have it reach a wider audience.

After the Xeric version, that’s when you began your partnership with Alvin?

First, I put out The Libertarian as a zine. The next story I did was Facility Integrity, which was published by Alvin’s Pigeon Press. Then, Alvin republished The Libertarian. So, that’s the sequence.

And then The Oaf. At some point in there, you and I meet. A big, emotional experience for both of us.

Yes. [Laughter]

It was difficult to focus on the rest of our day. I was like, “God, I finally got to meet Nick Maandag,” and you were like, “Oh, I finally got to meet that guy from the comic book store.”

Yes, yes. It was a momentous day. And yeah, after The Oaf, I started working on this book. That’s the sequence of events.

Was it always intended to be three stories? Or was it that these three stories were going to be the next three minis that you did? Or did you always say, “I want to do one thing?”

No. I was planning to publish the title story of the book, “Richard Wadsworth”, on its own, but D+Q was interested in the book, and they suggested we add a couple more stories, which I was fine with. Originally, “Richard Wadsworth” was just going to be on its own, but I preferred doing it this way. It was just more efficient because you don’t have to deal with the production stage as often. If you do three tiny books, you have to deal with all the production stuff three times. If you do one book with three stories, you have to deal with it once, and I hate that stage of the book. I don’t like working in Photoshop. So, I think I prefer it this way, just to cut down on that stuff. And yeah, I think I’m just going to do that going forward. Just wait until I collect three or four stories and put them out as a bigger book.

The “Jason Method.” Remember, he used to do the shorter ones, and now he does the fat hardbacks?

Yeah, yeah. Exactly. I also like how Adrian Tomine did his last book, how it’s a short story collection. I like the idea of just sort of waiting for a bunch of stories to pile up and then putting them together. It’s just more efficient. More cost efficient, too.

I don’t know how easy this question is to answer. How do you feel about Richard Wadsworth?

I think he’s a good character. He feels like he has a life of his own to me, which I think is maybe not true of all my characters. Some of my characters are sort of just stand-ins for myself, or I take one aspect of myself and exaggerate it. But although there’s some of me in the Richard Wadsworth character, I do feel like he has a life of his own, and that he’s his own character. I like that about him. He’s definitely a pretty unsavory fellow, and I don’t like him. I don’t think he’s a very likeable guy. I mean, if you’re doing comedy, you have to have characters who are weird or extreme in some way. They’ve got to be either very dumb, or very angry, or very inappropriate, or they need to have some major character flaw in order to be funny. And he’s got a lot of flaws going for him. A lot of opportunities for jokes when there’s that many character flaws. I know he’s dislikable.

It’s interesting you describe him that way. I agree with you, but at the same time I feel there’s a sense of … I don’t want to say realism, but there’s a sense of concern to him. Like, here’s this guy who’s not just a wrecking ball even though he is causing damage to these people around him. There does seem to be a concern on your part of how he’s moving and behaving in this space.

How long is Wadsworth compared to Facility Integrity, for instance?

It’s a little longer. I think Facility Integrity is 58 pages, and the Wadsworth story is 68. So, slight increase.

It’s a smaller cast, too. And it’s a little more focused on what’s going on in his spectrum, as opposed to Facility Integrity, which really gives time to other characters and what they are doing.

It’s focused on him for the most part. Definitely.

What’s your process? Are you writing a comedy script like it’s a TV show before going into Adobe Illustrator?

While I’m working on whatever my current project is, I’m thinking about the next story. I’m starting to write it in my head while I’m working on whatever I’m drawing. By the time I’ve finished drawing whatever I’ve been drawing, whatever story I was working on, normally the next story has been fleshed out in my mind. Normally, I have the plot laid down. I have a lot of the jokes. I know all the major scenes. I know all the major characters. I know a lot of the dialogue, and I’m making notes as I go along, so I don’t forget. I’m doing this preliminary writing as I’m drawing the current project.

After it’s been fleshed out in my mind, and I have all my notes, it’s time to start writing the script. I’ll usually write three drafts. I’ll write it. I’ll let it sit for a week. I’ll reread it. I’ll see all the flaws. I’ll correct them. I’ll rewrite it. Let it sit again for another week, revisit it. I’ll see the flaws. I’ll make my corrections. I’ll rewrite parts of it. After about three drafts, I’ve made it as good as I can possibly make it. And I might let it sit for another two or three weeks, whatever the final version is, and take a bit of a break. Let it sit for a bit then read the script one final time. Make sure I’m happy with it and then start drawing that script. Then, I start thinking about the next story. I start doing the mental writing for the next story. So, it’s continuous. There’s not much of a break between books.

That makes it sounds like the drawing is a mechanical afterthought.

It’s totally mechanical. I do have to adapt the script. The script is not in thumbnails. The script is just written like a TV script. As I begin drawing it, I’m doing thumbnails of the scenes and figuring out how to translate the script into comics. I am doing that while I’m working on a story and that involves creativity. It involves some thought. But the drawing itself is totally mechanical and uninspired. I’m just putting down the shapes where they belong, putting down the dialogue where it belongs. It’s not an inspired process.

I’m thinking of the wax mustache character from Facility Integrity. He’s a character with an element of visual comedy. That visual component — which, to me, appears to drive his dialogue and drive his personality — is actually an afterthought? Or, when you’re writing, are you designing visual pieces of the story as well?

I can pretty much see the characters in my head even before I start writing the script. The mustache guy, the butler in Facility Integrity, I could definitely see him in my head long before I started drawing him. By the time I got to drawing him, I knew what he would look like. It was just a matter of drawing this image in my head. It’s not like I’m brainstorming and sketching out what characters might look like. I already know what they’re going to look like. So, even in terms of character design, the drawing process isn’t all that inspired because I can already see them in my head. It’s just a matter of putting it onto paper.

Do you enjoy the drawing process or is it just labor?

It’s definitely labor. I do enjoy it, but it depends on what I’m drawing, so … I love drawing talking heads. That’s so easy, and that’s pretty fun. As soon as I have to draw a body and a weird pose, or anytime I have to draw a panel with a lot of people in it, or with a lot of background in it — not that I do a lot of that — but when I do something like that, it’s definitely tedious. I don’t enjoy it at all.

But talking heads are fun to draw, and the inking process is fun. Because the hard work is done. All of the lines are down on paper. The penciling is done. The inking stage … you’re just tracing all the hard work that’s already gone onto the page. It’s satisfying. It can be very tedious at times, but it’s worth it.

Have you ever realized that you wrote yourself into a couple shitty days of drawing? Like, it surprised you how much trouble you’d placed yourself in?

Some days I’ll be at work and think about what I have to draw when I get home. If I’ve got some unpleasant panels to draw when I get home, I start to feel this little bit of dread in my stomach because I know it’s weighing on me. I can go through stretches where I’m like, “Oh, God, I’ve got to draw that tonight? That’s terrible.” But if I have to go home and ink, then that’s great. Then I feel good all day. I don’t encounter very difficult panels too often, though, because it is largely just people talking to each in pretty mundane situations, not a lot of action sequences. Not really. Not a lot of panels where there’s a lot of detail or a lot of background detail to draw. It’s easy for the most part, what I’ve written for myself to draw.

What kind of schedule are you doing? Are you going every single day? Seven days a week?

Oh, yeah. Unless I’m busy. Unless there’s literally no time to draw. But it’s a rare day where I don’t do any drawing. I feel that’s the secret to my ability to be somewhat prolific, in spite of the fact that I have a full-time job. It’s just the fact that I work on it a little bit every day. Because it does add up. I have cartoonist friends who have a different strategy. When they’re working on a book, they just go all out. They’ll just work nonstop until the book is done, and then they’ll take a long break before they start doing the next book. I’m the opposite. I just do a little bit every day. And I end up being as productive as the people who really work hard at it for a spurt and take a break, so … that’s the strategy that works for me. Just a little bit every day.

Have you heard about those guys who ran a race to see which team would reach either the North or South Pole first? So, one team’s thing was, “We go as hard as we can on the good days, and on the bad days … that’s when we take a break and rest.” And then the other team said, “We just go 10 miles every day.” Or 20 miles. I think it was 20 miles every day. “We go 20 miles every day. Rain or shine, it doesn’t matter. It’s a good day, we do 20 miles. We take a break. It’s a bad day, we do 20 miles.” And the guys who did 20 miles every single day didn’t care. They’re the ones who won. And they won easy, too.

That’s my strategy.

No. I’m 100 percent on that, too. I don’t care what my feelings are. I just do the job.

I like to have a little leisure time every day, too. I like to have the time to do some reading or watch a bit of Netflix or something. Listen to some music.

What is your day job? Does your day job have anything to do with this stuff?

Not at all, no. It’s a mundane office job. I work in payroll, so I pay people for a living.

There has to be a little of that bleeding into something like Facility Integrity. Just the knowledge of how corporate language works.

I work in an office every day, so every once in a while the office environment will work its way into my comics. Facility Integrity is an example. I just finished a short, 20-page auto-bio comic that takes place in an office, too. I’ve done a couple. A lot of short auto-bio strips, office auto-bio strips.

Will you publish those with D+Q?

Well, the 20-page story I just finished will be part of the next book. At least, that’s the plan. I did a three-page strip for an old issue of Taddle Creek a few years back. There’s been the occasional auto-bio office strip, here and there.

Did you do something for The Believer, as well?

I did strips for The Believer. I didn’t do any office or auto-bio strips. They were mostly daily strips, purely fictional. Just comedy daily strips. There were maybe 12, plus one single-page and a couple half-pages. I haven’t done a lot of magazine work. Very little, actually.

Was that something you pursued, or was it something — because of Alvin — that just happened?

The Believer was the first time I was ever published. Alvin, who was the comics page editor of The Believer, started publishing my strips there before he published Facility Integrity.

How did he track you down?

He read Streakers, and he just emailed me. I think I had my email address in the book. He just got in touch. But I don’t really seek out magazine work. Most of the time, if I’m approached, I’ve done it, but I tend not to pursue things that take me too far away from whatever story I’m currently working on. I don’t like to get really distracted with side projects. There’s very little magazine work that I’ve done, not even close for a collection. It would be years before I probably had enough comics to put out a short strip collection.

To go back to what you were talking about with your illustration as labor … One thing you’ve done consistently is you’ll have those panels where someone will say something completely absurd, and that part is funny, but the real punch line of the joke is a secondary character just looking at them. You do that when Wadsworth makes his drink at the bar, and then the guy he’s with … His eyes just go, “What are you doing?” I don’t want to call it visual shorthand, but maybe that’s what it is. When did you decide to take such an approach?

There was never any such decision. There was never any point where I decided this would be my approach.

Have you always drawn that way?

There’s been a very gradual change in the way that I draw characters. The old way I drew characters was much more lifelike and realistic. There’d be more details in the face. It’s transitioned into a more cartoony style, more pared down. It’s unfolded organically. The only conscious decision I’ve made is that I want to make comedies again. I want to go back to real comedy. Other than that, no real decisions have been made. No conscious decisions, really, that I can pinpoint. I mean, the way you’re describing … It’s just a natural extension of my sense of humor, which is very deadpan. I speak in a monotone voice. I sort of say things ironically a lot. I say things with no expression. I think my drawings are just a reflection of that.

How far back does that go? Were you doing this when you were nine years old? How long has deadpan been the Nick Maandag way?

I think it’s always been my sense of humor. It’s hard to say, but it’s ingrained. I feel like deadpan has always been the best way probably to describe my sense of humor. I think the drawing, how I draw characters, and my comedic style is a reflection of my natural sense of humor.

Are you somebody who’s drawing all the time, keeping a sketchbook and drawing trees on your commute?

No way. I would never draw except to tell a story. The only thing I would do … If I’m bored at work, I might doodle a little bit on a pad of paper. I might draw some faces or something, just doodling. I enjoy drawing faces, but other than that I take no pleasure in visual art, really. Unless, it’s to tell a story.

Do you read comics? Do you keep up with what’s going on?

More so recently than in the past.

What changed?

I’m not sure exactly. I just wanted to branch out a bit, start reading some different stuff. It’s hard to say what led to it, but I would say in the last six or so months I’ve been reading a lot more comics. I realized very recently how many comics are available at the Toronto library. They’ve got this amazing selection of comics. The library buys most of the major books that come out, so if I want to check something out, I don’t have to spend $40 on it. I have the option of borrowing it from the library, so I’ve been doing that a lot. I’ve always kept up with it to some degree, though. I’ve never not been reading comics.

Are you reading comedy? What are you reading?

Maybe that’s why for a long time I wasn’t reading many comics because there was very little comedy being made? You don’t find that much comedy in comics, even these days.

Lisa Hanawalt, Evan Dorkin, Michael Kupperman …

Yep, yep. I’m not familiar with Evan Dorkin.

You didn’t read Dork?

I haven’t read his stuff, no.

I’d be interested to hear what you think of that. Those things are just joke machines, those old issues of Dork. He has stuff that is more traditional, like these stories about characters, but then he has page after page of just tiny little gag, meme-gag strips. Do you read Noah Van Sciver’s stuff?

Yeah, yeah. I like his stuff. I’ll have to check out this Dorkin guy.

He’s done all kinds of different stuff because he’s a workhorse guy. He’s always tried to be somebody who pays their bills doing art, which is obviously very difficult. But his single issues of Dork, which are collected in bigger books or whatever … They’re like single issues of Eightball. They’re just so packed. There’s just such a density of comedy in them.

I’ll have to check this guy out for sure. That’s good to know.

Do you like Kate Beaton, that kind of stuff?

I love Kupperman, and I love Gina Wynbrandt. I love her book, Somebody Please Have Sex with Me. That’s a hilarious book. And I love this web cartoonist named Mike Winters. He’s this very underappreciated, very hilarious web cartoonist. And a lot of the classics, so E. C. Segar is my favorite cartoonist. The original creator of Popeye. He’s the funniest cartoonist, I would say. I went through all six of those Popeye collections quickly. I just ate it all up. And Schulz. Peanuts, of course. That’s hilarious stuff. Peter Bagge, too of course. Doug Allen. I’m a big Steven fan. There’s a lot of funny cartoonists, but those are probably my favorites.

When did you first start reading Segar’s Popeye?

I’d say not too long after the first Fantagraphics volume came out.

Oh, so that was the first time you’d seen his work? You hadn’t seen it before that.

Yeah. I hadn’t been exposed to him until the Fantagraphics series came out. So, that was my introduction.

That’ll be the case even more so for people younger than you, too. I imagine people will experience these classic cartoonists but in this archival form.  There’s going be a generation of people that experience Peanuts in those collected editions. Obviously, there’s digital movies and stuff like that, but those comics are going to be experienced in these archival presentations. These oversized, heavily designed books. It didn’t screw you up, so it’s not a bad thing. I’m just interested in what that’s going to be like.

It’s great that all this stuff is coming out. I mean, they’re even putting out some of the pre-Popeye Segar comics now, which is great because I was thinking about that, like, “Well, what about the pre-Popeye Thimble Theatre stuff? Is someone going to put that out?” And now someone has. It looks great.

Have you been tempted to go to IDW and try to pitch, like, a fill-in spot for one of their Popeye issues? I think they have the Popeye license now.

Oh. Maybe I should. It would be an honor to write those characters.

I would just like to see you draw Popeye.

New issues of Popeye are coming out?

I believe IDW publishes Popeye comic books, whether those are new stories I don’t know. But they make Popeye comic books.

I think they’re re-issues of older comics. [Ed. Note: They are reprints of older material. The IDW series was titled Popeye Classics. The last issue, #65, was published in January 2018.]

 Still, you can do bonus features in the back of a Popeye comic.

Ah. I should look into that.

If you came to Segar at this point in life, then what comics were you reading early on? What were you reading when you were a kid?

Well, only Mad magazine and Cracked magazine. [Laughs] Those are the only comics I read up until I discovered the underground comix in my late teens. I just skipped over the whole comic book thing as a kid. Except for Mad and Cracked. And part of that is just being so drawn to humor. I wasn’t interested in super heroes, and so it just wasn’t something I was interested in. I didn’t think anyone made comedy comic books. Of course, I’m sure someone did, and I would’ve been able to find some, but I thought of comic books as just being about super heroes and action, and I wasn’t interested in that. I just wanted stuff like Mad. I was satisfied with those two magazines. I subscribed to both, and I got them both in the mail every month, and that was enough to satisfy me.

What was the first underground you read?

The first thing I bought was a big R. Crumb coffee table book. I had no idea that underground comix existed. I was flipping channels all night, and I came across the Crumb documentary, and I was just blown away. I couldn’t believe that this thing called underground comix existed, just the pairing together of those two words, “underground” and “comix,” was really exciting to me. The next day I went to the local bookshop and luckily enough I found one of his books and bought it.

I wasn’t quite ready for this material at age 17, but nevertheless I immediately started making my own underground comix, and from there I started buying lots of Zap Comix and Crumb comics. I then moved on to the ’90s crew.

When you say you weren’t ready for his comics, what do you mean?

I didn’t really get it at first. I just didn’t really know what to make of it. I sort of put it on the shelf for a year. When I read it again, a year later, something started to click, and I started to enjoy and appreciate it. It’s hard to say what changed in that year, but something happened, or maybe it was just that it needed a second reading. When I reread it, it just sort of clicked, and I appreciated it and understood it a lot more. And then once that happened, that’s when I started seeking out more.

When did you meet Chester?

I met Chester shortly after I moved to Toronto. He was our writer-in-residence at the Toronto Public Library, and they were doing this thing where you could submit your work to him, and he would critique it, so I submitted a comic of mine. I met with him, and we chatted for a while. He didn’t have much to say about my comic, even though he was supposed to be critiquing it, so I met him through that.

Was that an auto-bio comic? Was it a comedy comic?

No. That was a fictional comic, more of a dark comedy that comic. I think that was one of the comics where I was trying to be shocking and graphic, trying to be a shocking underground cartoonist.

And you stayed in touch with him after that? Because he was very supportive of Streakers.

Yeah. I stayed in touch with him. He provided a quote for the back of Streakers, which was great. I still hang out with him from time to time.

You’re working on office comics right now, for the next collection?

No. It’s just one so far. I already finished that one. The one I’m working on now is fictional.

Are you doing a tour for Wadsworth?

No. I don’t think so. We did the launch here in Toronto, which was a good event. It was my first book launch. I’m not sure exactly what’s going to happen yet. I might go to some more festivals. But it doesn’t look like there’s going to be an official tour. Which is fine. Maybe with the next book?

Have you enjoyed this transition? I hesitate to dive into the subject of Alvin too much, but it seemed like the way you were working with Alvin, with Facility Integrity, with The Libertarian … That was the beginning of something that could’ve continued almost indefinitely.

I’m sure we would’ve continued putting out those types of books. In a very similar format, similar page count, same dimensions. We would’ve kept doing those types of books. For a while.

Was there ever any consideration after he passed where you were like, “Well, I’m going to stop doing this.” Or was it just like, “I have to do this. I’m going to keep doing this.” D+Q came to you, but …

Well, I would have self-published if no one had been interested. But yeah, no. I definitely didn’t consider stopping. Self-publishing is not ideal, but it’s fine, too. If anything, it was just to get distribution. Self-publishing is fine, so long as your stuff gets out there, so long as it gets into stores. That’s the most important thing for me. If I have to self-publish any future books, it won’t be that big a deal. I just hope I could get some sort of distribution. It didn’t really put a damper on my comics production at all.

What drives you to maintain this consistency, to maintain this output? Do you have a sense of it?

The reason I ask that — and I know it’s an unusual and personal question — is that you have such a consistency with what you’re doing and a sense of such design and control over how you want to do it.

I like to read comedy in comics. I think it’s one of the things that comics does extraordinarily well, but I also think — like you’ve already mentioned — there’s not a lot of people that are doing it. There’s a lot more people that are pursuing comics as a form of either a narrative self-expression or a personal self-expression. Which I think comics can be great at, as well. But I think what it can do with comedy is incredibly striking and incredibly unique.

You deliver with such consistency that I just wonder what is motivating that. Because you’re not operating like a dilettante. You just said you work a full-time job, and then you come home, and you produce every single day. You’re working on the next thing while you’re working on the current thing. I’m just curious what lit that fire, if you know? If that’s something you’ve considered.

I think it’s probably just as simple as I love comedy, and I love making people laugh. There’s a lot of funny cartoonists, but there aren’t a lot of humor cartoonists doing long form narratives. And that’s what I love the most. I love the art of combining jokes and stories. You see a lot of that in film and television, but you don’t see much of it at all in comics. I’m trying to make the types of comics I’d like to read more of. It’s just exciting for me to try and make exactly the type of stuff that I love. Which is the art of long-form narrative and joke writing. That’s just what I love. It’s always been what I’ve loved. That’s what I’ve been drawn to.

But the question of what ultimately drives you to make comedy or to make art, that’s a deep question. I don’t pretend to know really all of the motivating factors for something like that. I don’t really pretend to know. But if I’m thinking of it more on a surface level, I just love comedy, and I love making people laugh.

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One Response to “I Would Never Draw Except To Tell A Story.”: An Interview with Nick Maandag

  1. Erik Nebel says:

    excellent interview. casual, open, in-depth. nice examples of nick’s work, makes me want to read more.

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