Today on the site, Tim Hodler brings us part one of a two-part life and career spanning interview with Sammy Harkham, whose latest comic, Crickets 6, is out now.
Were there any issues of Kramer’s that in hindsight you aren’t as happy about?
Just this last summer I was in Minneapolis for this French/American drawing club thing. and in the work room there was a table of everyone’s books so we could get familiar with each other and a copy of Kramers 7, the big one, was there. I don’t think I’d looked at that book since I sent in the files. Looking at that again was interesting because of how fucking dumb some of my decisions were. Some of it worked very well. When I picked that up, I thought, ah, if I’d cut twenty pages, and I was a much more hands-on editor, I think it would have made it a better book.
Are there any bad decisions you feel okay sharing?
What comes to mind are simple things, like artists not using the dimensions of the book properly, and I should have just asked them to re-letter their titles to fill the empty space better. Little things like that would have helped a lot, since each page really mattered.
Was that because that was an issue where you were working with a lot of very established artists?
Not at all. I think it’s feeling timid. Asking people to make changes or being anything more than a cheerleader is difficult, or was for me at the time. After Kramers 7, I realized that I wanted to spend most of my time doing my own work. I enjoy doing Kramers but if I’m going to do it, I should make the stories as good as possible. And then I realized that there’s a certain amount of mutual respect between me and the contributors. I’m not asking them to contribute if I don’t already think they’re great, so surely I can tell them, thanks for the story but I think you should tweak this. I think most artists are open to that and so the new issue has a lot of editorial input.
Is that just revision or are you requesting the actual themes of the stories?
Mostly revisions. Some artists if they ask about a theme or a direction and I would talk generally about what I am looking for. I have certain things I’m interested in reading. I always tell everybody [I’m looking for] a strong narrative. Of course, that means different things to different people. Also, treat the visuals seriously. Because the page is fairly large. It’s almost 9 by 12, so it’s a good size for reading as well as looking. You want the pages to be very visually dynamic. It doesn’t have to be showy, but you want it to be strong, so that when you flip through the pages, it’s really something. And then narratively that conversation is a little different. I will tell some people, you know, why don’t you do a wordless story? Especially when I’ve been working on the book for a while, and I can see what the book needs and there are artist friends of mine who I can push around [Hodler laughs] and say, I need this kind of story right here. And often, they come through. But when I look through previous issues, that’s something that pops out at me, that I could have brought a more critical eye to the work and the artists would have been receptive to more editorial input. There was no need to keep my concerns to myself.
How old were you when you did Kramer’s Ergot 1?
I was 18.
The very first comic book artist published by Fantagraphics, Jay Disbrow (Flames of Gyro), has passed way at age 91. Joe McCulloch reflected on that first comic a few years back. Disbrow was an excellent horror, adventure and SF comic book artist the 1950s and after a hiatus, was published by Fantagraphics (the circumstances of which are recounted in We Told You So..., did a computer instruction comic, and eventually serialized his own series online.