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“Your Theory Is More Than a Theory”: Zak Sally’s Interview with Peter Bagge (Part One)

I’ve been wanting to talk to Pete Bagge for a long time, at length and in-depth. And on tape. For myself and many others, I was introduced to Pete’s work in Neat Stuff in the mid-’80s, and it changed everything: smart, anarchic, insightful, and funny as fuck on a level I’d never seen before (or since) in comics (or anywhere else). His editorship of Weirdo followed by Neat Stuff followed by Hate was a run pretty much unparalleled in comics– maybe a handful were as good, but you could count them on one hand (or a couple fingers). And besides, it’s apples and oranges: there was no one like Peter Bagge, and there still isn’t. What you get from him is unlike anything or anyone else, in all the ways that matter. I’ve felt for a while that the rise of so-called “art comics” left Pete somewhat unappreciated in the current landscape of “serious” “literary” “graphic novels,” which I think is a damn shame: his work is still great, above and beyond what the flavor of the decade might be. It could be that I had some bones to pick on that front, but Pete was honest and classy and generally refused the bait (actually, the very first session was as close as I got to actually working him into a froth, but, in a case of “the interviewer’s worst nightmare,” that conversation was lost because my recording device shut down 22 seconds in, without my knowledge). Mostly, I just enjoyed talking with him: he’s one of my all-time favorite cartoonists, and I’d listen to his perspective on anything. We conducted the interview in two long sessions (after the first crippling loss), a couple months apart, then both edited it for clarity. Enjoy.


Zak Sally: I kind of want to try and get an overall perspective of where you started, what you moved to, and where you are now, at the same time kind of tracking what’s going on with comics right now, and sort of your movement through that.


Peter Bagge:
Okay.


Okay, so you started off reading newspaper comics and you had the influence of your brother, who wrote and drew, and then you went to SVA and the comics program there– but you ended not taking any comics classes, right?

Right, I only went for three semesters. I went to the School of Visual Arts back to 1977. The first year you had to take a little bit of everything. The second year you could choose electives, and I wanted to take all the cartooning classes but I got talked out of it. I was a total wuss. The counselor convinced me to not take any cartooning classes. She knew what was going to happen: that I’d take all the cartooning classes and then quit. And that’s what I was going to do. I don’t know why I let her pressure me from changing that course of action. She had some line of palaver that convinced me that wasn’t the thing to do. So I took another semester of garbage, with terrible incompetent teachers that never showed up.

OTHER-STUFF-coverThey actually never showed up?

Or they’d show up late with a hangover. I can’t even remember any of the classes I had in that third semester, just because they were so all about nothing. I really have zero memory of what the classes were. So I quit, though I also ran out of money. I had to work a full time job, I was living on my own by then, and a part time job wasn’t even going to cut it. So I kind of had no choice but to quit.

Okay.

I did take one evening cartooning course. It was taught by a guy that used to write and draw for MAD Magazine, named Peter Paul Porges. But for some reason he missed out on half the class, so the first half of the course was taught by a guy named Sam Gross, who lived up to his name. He did really gross gag panels for National Lampoon. And he was great.

Did you have any classes with Eisner? Or did you sit in on any of his?

I sat in on one of Eisner’s classes, just once. People told me he was a very good teacher, but the whole time that I was sitting there, he was surrounded by this handful of guys who you could tell wanted to be superhero artists, monopolized all of his time. I barely saw him address the whole class, so I wasn’t going to go back to that.

I sat in a little bit on Kurtzman’s class. Mainly I just wanted to talk to him, and this was quite a few years later. I talked to him about something, I can’t remember what, but I think I was starting to self-publish, and I showed him some of the stuff I was self-publishing stuff at that time with a guy named John Holmstrom. And Holmstrom and Kurtzman knew each other, Holmstrom was a student of Kurtzman’s.


Was this before — are you talking about Punk Magazine, or are you talking about—

It was right after Punk, we’re talking about Comical Funnies, so this would have been a couple of years after I quit art school. In the interim I met Holmstrom. I was a big fan of Kurtzman’s, but by that point it seemed like he really wasn’t a very good teacher; he was mainly just baby-sitting. And for some reason he was teaching all the students to do single gag panel, New Yorker-type cartoons. Which he thought was the way of the future. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

Yeah.

Comic books pretty much exploded after that, and he would have been the perfect teacher for that. He never was a gag panel guy anyway. What was he thinking? (laughs)

That’s so weird. I mean, I know that whole generation was all about the, you know, ‘You’ve gotta make a living at this, sonny’ and doing whatever you needed to do to try and make a living.

I also sat in a couple of times on Spiegelman’s class. But then I got to know Spiegelman a bit outside of school, and would talk to him every now and then. He was very cantankerous in those days, he was very “my way or the highway,” and since I didn’t see eye-to-eye with him on a lot of things, it could a bit uncomfortable to talk to him.

Did he like your stuff?

No [laughs]. Well, certainly not much. My work was very crude then anyway, so there wasn’t much to like. But he was very informative. He was a very good teacher, and an incredible fount of information.

I’m wondering now, I want to loop back a little bit, because one of the things I want to get to is a question that I ask a lot of cartoonists: what possessed you to think that you could actually make a go at this? And that comes up a lot with me teaching at MCAD. A lot of people have been talking about the fact that these students are paying this pretty exorbitant amount of money with absolutely no guarantee of assuredness that you could make back that money in this field. You know, like, “You just got a degree in comics art.”

Right. But you could say the same exact thing with English majors, and psychology majors, and women’s studies majors. And what about all these people majoring in sculpture and ceramics? And how many painters does the world need? So that’s true with everything, not just comics.

Yeah, I think it is, but I think those things might be a little more respected. Like if you hit it big, or if you go through these certain channels you might be able to do this, whereas the comics people are a little bit more like, you know—there’s no money. I think comics might have a little bit more of–

Well I think probably anybody who went to art school, and their main focus was comic art, I think they’d have just as good a shot if not a better shot than a lot of the fine-art majors in making some kind of a living off of what they went to school for.

I mean, I tend to feel that way too. I’m just wondering if, you know with that counselor telling you, “Don’t take the comics classes,” this has been an ongoing attitude throughout the ages.

But they also only had three cartooning classes back then, and lots of people would take those classes and then they’d quit. So she just figured I’d fall into that pattern.

Okay.

But yes, comics just was a lot less respected as an art form than it is now. It’s come a really long way; people don’t look at you cross-eyed when you say you want to do comics anymore. Back then it just meant that you were a moron.

[Laughs] I kind of wish, in certain ways, it still did.

Neat Stuff #2

Neat Stuff #2

Oh, man, don’t get me started, I totally wish that. Or at least partially wish it!

Oh, we’ll get there man. [Laughs] Don’t you worry about it.

The reason I say that is if you wanted to do comics back then it meant you really wanted to do comics. And I also like that you were able to fly under the radar back then. Nobody was doing it for accolades, and hoping to get a good review in the Times or win an award. There were no awards back then. So you just did it for the love of it, you did it for the fun of it. Or you just HAD to do it.

This is something else I wanted to talk about, your whole generation of cartoonists—you know, the brothers Hernandez, Clowes, all those guys— the amazing thing to me is that the climate for comics was so different back then. In the lost interview we talked about what possible models you could have had for thinking I’m going to try my damnedest to make a living off of this, because there were virtually zero models for this outside superhero or genre stuff. And then for you it actually worked. I mean we talked about the fact that you found some old undergrounds, and you found a Crumb comic– and those were…

Well, to back up a bit, I fancied the idea of being a cartoonist since I was a kid. I mainly liked daily newspaper strips, all the funny stuff, and later MAD. But after a while, those two seemed less and less a realistic option for me. I saw the daily strips getting worse all the time. By the time I got out of high school I didn’t see anything in the daily papers that inspired me, or made me think, “This is a good direction for me.” The opposite was happening. And MAD was very much a closed shop, and locked into a tight formula, and I didn’t like MAD‘s competition much. So while I still fancied the idea of being a cartoonist, I didn’t know what to do with it.

Then, while I was in art school, I went into a record store that had a rack full of underground comics, and it was the solo comics by Robert Crumb, in particular, that floored me. What I loved about Robert Crumb’s solo comics was how he treated the traditional comic book format as a blank canvas, and just did whatever he wanted from cover to cover. It was all him: one guy inked it, one guy lettered it, and there were no ads for Twinkles or BB guns. It was just all him. And then there was what he did with it. I loved the way he drew, and I loved his sense of humor just as much as that I loved what he did format-wise. So as soon as I saw that, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. And while Crumb was my favorite, I liked many of the other underground cartoonists, too: Gilbert Shelton and Bill Griffith, and a lot of others. Kim Deitch, Robert Armstrong, and Aline Crumb. Sadly, I also assumed that since their comics were so fantastic, they must all be millionaires.


[Laughs]

I was like: this stuff is just too awesome for everybody else in the world not to go crazy over. I should have realized at the time, if this stuff is so popular, how is it that I didn’t come across it till now?

Yeah.


Wait, what year is this, Pete?

1977. And that’s the other thing: I didn’t notice at first the copyright notices in these comics I was buying, and it took me a while to realize that out of the fifty or so underground comics I wound up buying, only like two or three were copyrighted the year that I bought them. The rest were like from roughly 1968 to ’72 and were just being reprinted. So that’s when I started to wonder what was going on with this particular style of comics, these undergrounds. Why were there so few coming out? Later on I learned that pretty much the only underground cartoonists that were making a living off of their art were Crumb and Gilbert Shelton and Bill Griffith, and even then they were far from loaded.

Yeah. That’s even kind of interesting, because when those were coming out initially, the whole country was probably lousy with them. I mean they were doing amazing numbers on those books in terms of print runs, right?

And that all ended in 1972 for a whole bunch of reasons. The whole underground market collapsed by then.

And the next time there might have been an underground movement was– and feel free to correct me here— when sort of underground, fringe comics were selling those kind of numbers was probably … I mean, what were you doing in the heyday of Hate? It was big numbers, right?

Well, some of the early underground comics, like the Zap Comix from the late ’60s and early ’70s, sold in the six figures, including reprints. Hate and all the other more popular alternative comics from the 1990s never came close to that. I think the first issue of Hate, if you include all of its reprinting, the first issue of Hate probably sold at the most forty thousand.

Okay.

For most of the run of the title it was more around twenty, twenty-five thousand.


Yeah, that’s still- You know, those just might have been two spikes in the underground, because comics now, I don’t know if anybody is hitting those numbers, are they?

Well, few people are doing comic books these days. Everybody’s doing graphic novels. So that’s a big change. You could sell five thousand, but since it’s selling for twenty bucks, that’s good, or at least profitable.

Reset #3

Reset #3

I want to kind of dig into that a little bit more, because, you know, I bought Apocalypse Nerd when it was coming out, and I purchased Reset in “pamphlet” format, because that seems like my favorite way to experience your stuff, rather than as a “graphic novel.” Do you miss the periodicals?

Yeah, very much so. I like they way they feel. To me it’s an ideal format, the traditional comic book format. It’s the perfect amount of material to read in one sitting. You don’t have to cut out a big block of time to thoroughly absorb it. It’s just very cozy, and then curl it up and stick it in your back pocket, you know?

Yeah.

Whereas with graphic novels, it’s just more of a commitment. It’s not as portable, and also there’s just something about that format. Publishers want to be able to charge a decent amount of money for a graphic novel. It’s all about the profit margins. So they go with varied formats, hard covers, endpapers, a dust jacket. They want it to be fancy, because then they can justify charging more money for it. But when you have all of that hooha it’s like trumpets are blaring, you’re rolling out a red carpet. Before you even crack the thing open it’s reeking of self importance, and a part of you is thinking, “This better be really good.” It must be profound! And with a longer story the reader is expecting some kind of profundity. The format is declaring ahead of time that the work is “important,” rather than having the work speak for itself. It’s also a format that doesn’t work for anything that’s intentionally lowbrow or irreverent. It’s like dressing a pig in a tuxedo, and I don’t mean that as an insult to pigs.

I think for me now it’s almost like the tail is wagging the dog. It feels like people are creating comics in this way that it has to fit into that mold, and for a lot of folks, that’s not really what they have to say, or want to say. They just feel like they have to be profound…

Right. [Laughs]

You know, I’ve read a lot of … now I’m kind of chickening out of listing the actual books and cartoonists. Well no, I’ll just say it. Did you read Wimbledon Green, Seth’s book?

No, not yet.

You know, to me it was a perfect example of this. He was kind of making up this whole thing about fake superheroes and fake comic book collectors that were all over-the-top — you know, it was just this completely goofy story that started in his sketchbooks. And he kept on working on it, and it was really funny, and really hilarious and crazy, and then I swear, in that book, I felt like I could watch him saying, “This is not serious.” Then stuff started to come in about his childhood and his mother, and by the end of it I felt like, Man why did you do that? You had this totally fun, goofy comic that I could see you purposely changing into something serious, when, for me, it was to the detriment of my enjoyment of the thing. At the end of it, I was like, “I want to hear more about these goofy spy comic collectors,” you know? I don’t want to-

Huh.

And I see a lot of that kind of shoehorning; you know, trying to live up to the perceived seriousness in comics. Whereas, with someone like Jaime [Hernandez], recently with the “Love Bunglers” material, it is profound, and deeply so, but it happened in a way that is just natural. It’s just what he does. He’s not doing it to get on the New York Times book of the year list.

Right. As far as we know, anyway. It does come across as very natural. And also, it all just seems like it’s part of this long line, like part of everything he’s ever done all these years. So with someone like him, it never reads like, “Okay, now he’s putting big boy pants on.”

Hey, are you a fan of King-Cat? And you can say if you’re not. John Porcellino’s comics.

Yeah, I like his comics. I like Seth’s work, too, by the way.


Yeah–there’s stuff by Seth that I think is great. That just was one of those books where I first noticed that thing going on, in a way that kept me from enjoying the book as much as I felt like I could have, or should have, so that’s why I called that one out. I ask about if you like John’s stuff just because I did this interview with him for the Journal a good long time ago, and at that point not many collections of his stuff had come out, from big publishers or anything like that, and he said, “Those books are fine, but King-Cat the comic is the thing.” You know? “That’s the thing that I’m trying to say. The collections and other stuff are sort of interesting, but what I’m doing is King-Cat. The letters pages are part of it, my top forty lists, all that.” The big fancy books are essentially weird byproducts of the zine, not the other way around. And I know he still believes that, and so do I…

Right, right.

And I think your tenure at Weirdo, and through Hate, I mean I really, really miss the-

Letters pages? [Laughs]

Well, yeah! Or just particularly with you, and the way you did it, certainly with Hate but also, I think about Weirdo a lot because it was this really inclusive thing. Weirdo, as you might know, I think is the greatest magazine that ever existed.

[Laughs] Says you.

Aw man, see, I just wish- can you just let me take that over? Can you just let me fire that back up? I’ll write a note to Crumb-

Go ahead!

Great! The world needs Weirdo more than ever. But I mean, was that purposeful? With both that and with Hate, you were reading the material, the comics, and whatnot, but it was more than that as an experience– the letters pages, the competitions; it was way different than the impersonal— It felt like you were, in some way, part of this thing, rather than simply reading it. Everything you did had that quality. Far beyond the comics themselves..

Right. Well I very much followed Crumb’s example with Weirdo, where he made the letters pages part of the art. It was very careful designed and carefully edited to be as entertaining as possible. He lettered the letters pages by hand, and so I did the same thing. But once I started doing Neat Stuff and then Hate then I had to do type-set, because doing that by hand was insane. He actually got the idea of doing the letters pages by hand from Punk magazine.


[Laughs]

Punk magazine was the only magazine I know of that was almost entirely hand-lettered, which a lot of people forget, and that was something that Crumb loved—that they would hand letter the letter sections—so he mimicked that with Weirdo. And then Dan Clowes used to do that with Eightball. I would say that along with a lot of what Robert Crumb did, I think nobody made a better package using the comic book format than Clowes. He very carefully pieced it together, he would even hand-letter the indicia, and hand-letter and hand-design back-issues ads. I would do that too, but maybe once every five issues I’d come up with a new back-issues ad, whereas he would illustrate something new for every issue. So what would normally be all be filler and house ads, he did all by hand and made a piece of artwork out of it. And like his hand-lettered his letters sections, they always looked beautiful. And they ware entertaining.

They were super-entertaining. And that was there with you, that was there with him. That whole thing has just died.

Hardly anyone else did that, though. Chester Brown did, but the Hernandez brothers—Love and Rockets would have a letters section, but it always read like they just had folks at Fantagraphics put it together.

Yeah, they didn’t seem as interested.

And their letters were always very sincere are very serious, you know. “You really speak to me about the Mexican-American experience.”


That was my letter, you dick!

[Both laugh.] I’d be insulting them if they really did sweat over it, and carefully selected the letters and all that.

Out of that whole crew it seemed like they were sort of the folks who kept that stuff at a little bit of an arm’s distance. Whereas with you or Clowes– and you know, by you guys, when I was 20 or 19 or whatever, I just assumed that that was a point of pride with a cartoonist, that you did all that stuff yourself-

Yes, but it was tough to gauge if it was worth the effort. I mean, I doubt I’d be able to sell my hand written letters pages from Weirdo! But we also made a point of running critical letters. And best of all were the letters we’d get that just barely made any sense— [Sally laughs] You know, where you could tell that the guy that wrote it is having some kind of a mental breakdown. [Both laugh] Which I’d often learn later they were. And we’d edit all of it to make them funnier.


See, and that’s another thing where comics have turned away from that, and I understand that’s part of just the whole industry turning. People aren’t buying those anymore, they want this other thing, the graphic novel and all that. But with those comics from that era, and I don’t mean to sound too deep, because it didn’t feel like that, but back then when a new issue of Hate or Eightball came out, it wasn’t just the work. You know, there was this whole other part to it. And I miss that.

Yeah it was the format, again, and I miss that too. I could still keep doing it, but it’s a lot of work, and then there’s the whole economic liability of working in that format at all. It usually takes some persuasion on my part just to get a publisher to serialize it, to make it a mini-series. And then it’s a mini-series, which isn’t the same thing at all. It’s “To be continued,” just one piece of a future graphic novel. So there’s no sense in shaping an individual issue into something that feels very much in and of itself, because it isn’t. I mean, I could do that, but it just seems a bit pointless when you know that this is just one-sixth of something bigger. But I still like having it serialized, just so there actually is this comic book — that I’m still making “comic books” in some sense. But it’s not at all the same thing as Hate was, or Neat Stuff.

(continued)

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29 Responses to “Your Theory Is More Than a Theory”: Zak Sally’s Interview with Peter Bagge (Part One)

  1. Retitle this piece “Zak Sally Tells All to Peter Bagge” and I think you’re good to go.

  2. Sam Henderson says:

    I’ve felt kind of the same way years about how comics is moving. It used to be you could get all kinds of things and if you didn’t like something it was no big deal to to lose 5 or $10, or you could see something by someone in WEIRDO or RAW and decide based on a few pages or so if you wanted to seek out more of their work. Now it’s too much of a gamble to invest with a 100-page $25 graphic novel being someone’s first work. I usually like most of what I see when I meet someone or they show me the work but I don’t want to take the chance if I go into a store and never heard of them. I guess I’m of the last generation to grow up with the one-person anthology which seems to be going the way of the landline.

  3. I hate reading about how the comic book pamphlet as we know it is dead. Maybe the pamphlets available for sale at the stores just ain’t cuttin’ the mustard intellectually.

  4. Uland says:

    Yeah, the whole treatment of “art” like its a thing that can be applied to whatever (Comics? Booorrrriiing!! Here, put some art on it!) is nonsense. It’s a quality of a thing that seems to naturally occur when certain kinds of people try to make things that are important to them in some way.Making “art” is never the point.Theres no such thing, it’s a quality of a thing.

  5. patrick ford says:

    It is a bit more like a conversation between Zak and Peter, but that’s okay. Zak is a tremendous cartoonist himself.

  6. Pingback: Comics A.M. | ‘One Piece’ returns; Dubai as comics center? | Robot 6 @ Comic Book Resources – Covering Comic Book News and Entertainment

  7. Frank Santoro says:

    Zak Sally is awesome.

  8. zak sally says:

    HAW!! how sweet of you!

  9. zak sally says:

    back at you, frank.

  10. Sam Henderson says:

    Name them.

  11. Johnothan Dorfus MacDorfus says:

    Great interview. I also think that about 20-40 pages Is the perfect amount of material to read in one sitting. thus I’m confidant thatthe “comic book” will have to endure in some form or another, particular for new cartoonists. Michael Deforge still does a one man anthology, Johnny Negron is a rising star, both of them generally stick to short length comics. I wonder if their popularity is a sign that people are getting over the “graphic novel” mentality that more pages= more. that said, if your story actually is about 140 pages long, and you don’t have grand plans for cover designs and additional extra 1 and 2 page pieces and generally “eightballin’ it up” it doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to do a 4 issue mini series like Bagge did with Reset. I was perfectly fine reading Other Lives as a graphic novel.

  12. Rob Clough says:

    Well, there’s Blammo, the various Retrofit comics, Blindspot, Injury Comics, Bad Breath Comics off the top of my head that are periodical-style comic books (and most one-man anthologies). There’s been definite pushback against the GN trend from micropublishers in the past two years.

  13. Sam Henderson says:

    Pamphlet comics are not dead, nobody ever said that. I also don’t think they’re better in quality than “graphic novels”. They are a vanishing species though. There are still landlines and VHS rental stores. I’m sure there are still doctors somewhere that make house calls too. There are many people still doing periodical solo comics, my own publisher included. Getting somewhat back on topic, though, it’s rare that someone can come across something like NEAT STUFF anymore without knowing about it first. The debut of a new talent usually seems to be in a longer form keeping readers from trying something new. I would have never seen the work of Bagge, Clowes, Los Bros, etc. if I wasn’t able to get them in bite-size pieces. The only way I find out about somebody anymore is either I meet them, they give me free things, or I see clips on the internet. A situation like Peter Bagge finding underground comics as a youngster doesn’t happen as much anymore. The disappearance of inexpensive anthologies keeps people from say, buying something for Crumb and discovering someone like Bagge. I can understand how longer and bigger books are more profitable from a business point of view, but it seems to be alienating the casual reader. Comics are more acceptable and varied now more than ever before, yet also seem to overall have a smaller circulation than ever before (even with licensed properties). I also lament the fine-art aesthetic in the past few years and there are dozens of exceptions to that as well. I guess what I am saying is there should be more comics specifically tailored only to me without regard for anyone else’s tastes.

  14. LEADER DESSLOK says:

    I think you run the same risk with buying a TRDPBK as buying a traditional novel. With a novel, you’re talking about more of a time investment, largely based on your reading speed. What I used to do when I still bought contemporary novels, was to do what I call the “Middle-Of-The-Book” test. I would open up a random book and just read a few sentences or a paragraph and just roll it around in my mind. If the writer had a style that I found exciting or interesting, I would buy it. And usually, this method served me well! I do the same with TRDPBKS–if a given book is done by a team or individual whose work I found interesting, I would buy it.

    That’s how I got into Peter Bagge’s work in the first place. A Co-Worker told me his work was “funny” but that didn’t convince me. Not even his letting me borrow a couple of issues of HATE–which I never read! What did it was perusing the graphic novel section of a local record store (yup, RECORDS). I saw something called STUDS KIRBY by this Bagge guy and I didn’t realize he was the same person who did HATE. This paperback was on sale, I did my “Test” and LAUGHED OUT LOUD in the store! I’ve been hooked on his work ever since.

    If you don’t want to use this method, see if your local library carries the TRDPBK you’re somewhat curious about and check it out. I get the feeling quite a few fans are doing that…

  15. Andrew White says:

    As Rob says, talking about even the decline of the pamphlet seems a bit incongruous given the sharp uptick in micropublishers over the last several years. In addition to those Rob mentioned, there’s also Sonatina, Domino, Spaceface, Hic & Hoc, Youth in Decline, Revival House Press, etc, not to mention that slightly larger publishers like Koyama and Secret Acres do pamphlets occasionally. Very few of these places, if any, were publishing five years ago. The marketplace is obviously different from the Hate days — most of the above are only in a handful of comic book stores, I’d imagine even DeForge isn’t selling 2ok, etc — but in terms of the number of publishers and cartoonists putting out pamphlets regularly, it seems hard to say there really is a decline.

  16. but you have to be “in the know” about the indie comics scene to even know any of those exist. When I discovered Bagge with Neat Stuff #1 in 1985 I got it at the same store where I was buying my X-Men comics and working part-time. Throughout the 90’s I could buy Bagge, Clowes, etc. at the local record store along with the comics store. When my interest in comics re-kindled over the last few years when I went to my local comics store (which is very well-run and well stocked) I had a hard time finding much stuff that interested me, except for high-priced book collection from Fantagraphics. It took me months of reading this website, and researching on Tumblr, to discover all those publishers you mentioned.
    But maybe that’s all just related to my being old. :-)

  17. Rob Clough says:

    You’re quite right about being in the know if the only place you get comics is at the shop. But there’s a proliferation of comics being sold on the web (with plenty of samples and sometimes entire free issues) as well as the ever-growing indie comic show circuit. At this point, there are probably as many indie comics shows as their are comics shops that sell non-superhero material.

    That said, I know a lot of folks are trying to figure out ways to centralize purchasing points for people perusing the web. Things like Chuck Forsman’s Muster List and more distros popping up are big helps.

    Finally, savvy comic shop owners are ordering comics from micropublishers. Andy Neal of Chapel Hill Comics has a display table filled with stuff from Koyama comics. He figured out pretty quickly what he can sell and what doesn’t, and then keeps up those orders.

  18. idlprimate says:

    it does feel that way. . .and a surprisingly dull repetitive conversation

  19. Steve Lafler says:

    There are ways to do “comic book format” again. With POD shops like Lulu, you can print super small runs, or even single orders, and build a profit into it. It’s important to leave Diamond OUT OF the equation, not that they’d give an unknown or marginal seller a chance in any case.
    If you want, you can even work with zine-type distributors like Spit and a Half on super slim margins.
    The point is, if an artist wants to do “comic books”, they can.

  20. Johnothan Dorfus MacDorfus says:

    I guess I don’t always know when the latest issue I’ve seen was the last one. Is John Pham ever doing another Sublife? is Jordan Crane working on another Uptight? I wish Sammy Harkham was doing another Crickets.

  21. Yeah, I dig, and I’ve actually gotten one of the local indie record stores that was selling my zines to order and stock Oily comics, along with other small press stuff I picked up for them at shows (they already had some stuff they had ordered from Sparkplug and Picturebox). I was just thinking of Sam’s comment above about “Comics are more acceptable and varied now more than ever before, yet also seem to overall have a smaller circulation than ever before” and my guess is that with the loss of smaller comics/record distributors it’s less likely you can randomly come across this stuff in a store if you don’t live near a big city with a hip comics store. I know EVERYTHING in the world is available for purchase online if you go looking, but something more centralized like you’re describing certainly would make it easier for newbies. Maybe since they don’t sell traditional format comics anymore anyway Fantagraphics could go into the distro biz too, but economically that would probably be stupid

  22. I spend a lot of time considering the state of alternative comics in relation to distribution etc. It does seem like an organized well-connected distributor could pick up the ball that Diamond dropped, but it’s complicated.

    I think the sad fact of alt-comics retailing is that there just aren’t that many local comics shops left that carry this kind of stuff. Bagge alludes to it in this interview where he says alt-comics got the brush off from comics shops, but were welcomed by the bookstore market.

    It seems to me that the majority of LCSs you’ll find nowadays focus strictly on superhero stuff. It didn’t used to be that way. When I was really getting into comics in the 80’s my LCS in the Chicago suburbs stocked everything that was comics — superhero stuff, the whole, emerging Fantagraphics line, stuff like Cerebus and Aardvark-Vanaheim, weird import James Bond comics, kids comics, and a whole array of back issues. Stores with that kind of breadth are sadly few and far between nowadays, and certainly hard to find outside of major cities.

    This is why the internet and the festival economy have begun to play such a large part in getting these kind of books out to people. It’s not ideal, in my opinion — I think there’s an important role for shops to play in developing a readership for comics — but it’s what we have for now.

  23. Frank Santoro says:

    Jim Rugg and I talked about this along with the ComicsComics comments gang a couple years ago – the more things change the more they stay the same – just posting the link here for reference – http://comicscomicsmag.com/2010/05/franks-soapbox.html

  24. Steve Lafler says:

    I’d love to take part in that Festival Economy, but living abroad makes it impossible for me. I have to say, it would be pretty rough for a young cartoonist of finite means to get to a lot of these shows too.

  25. There are still some good “pamphlet” comic books such as the ones you mentioned, Rob–and there are loads of good minicomics–but I think the point is that no one’s making any real money with them anymore.

  26. joe ollmann says:

    such a great interview! like Zeus and Hercules talking comics. Good to hear people talking about money or lack of, in comics. So many wide-eyed kids thinking people are making a shitload of dough at this.
    reading this reminds me I was lucky to have lived in that time when you went to the comics store and there was Hate and Eightball and Love and Rockets and Acme and random Fanta anthologies like Centrifugal Bumblepup, et al. aw man, sometimes I feel like fuck the bullshit tyranny of the stupid fucking graphic novel. I miss the anthology. Obviously, there have been advances in storytelling due to the longer form and I know there are economic realities, but there’s got to be a place for that old anthology format? So proud of the kids like Van Sciver and Box Brown Ethan Rilly and Chuck Forsman who are carrying on that beautiful format to some degree.
    ALSO, it’s taken a long time for people to get back to the idea of the importance of Peter Bagge in the history of comics. Fucking hell, when he moved on from Neat Stuff to Hate, that was like this level of maturity that killed me. He was making advances in dialogue and story that had not been done before and it was still funny as hell. I don’t think people have appreciated Peter Bagge enough but it’s great that we are finally getting there again it seems. More of this interview!

  27. Jaz says:

    Sam, I keep feeling something similar about how many fresh-faced Top Shelf cartoonists get to put out a slim little $9 paperback that not THAT many years ago coulda been a $3 xeroxed mini–or even some of the Nobrow stuff? I used to order $2-$3 minis from Spit and a Half all the time [including yours!] sight unseen if they sounded at all interesting, but as much as I still like to find new [to me] cartoonists to enjoy, taking a deep plunge on, say, that HUGE new Ulli Lust book is kinda daunting, like you say…

    I also used to “gamble a stamp,” as the skinny kid in the Charles Atlas ad liked to say, on even the stuff that seemed iffy or less rewarding; many less experienced creators really blossom later, and it’s often worthwhile to watch the progression. [Or at least worth a giggle–anybody have the Clowes/Altergott/Todd PSYCHO COMICS?] However, I’m putting stuff on eBay for the first time, and I’m finding the frustration that “nobody wants this paperback I once spent $15 on!” is somehow greater than “why can’t I unload these eight floppies I once spent $3 each on!”–even though I “lost” a greater investment in the latter scenario?

    Besides the money angle, I find that I’m more likely to feel critical of an upscale-format book’s actual content than I might have been if the same material was in a floppy or mini? Or, back to the wallet concern, I find that there’s a gazillion books I still haven’t fit into my budget or made a sufficient priority of to OWN [POWR MASTRS, say], that I can really imagine having bought more spontaneously in a different format?

    I think those of us who “grew up” [ha] with the $2.50 black and white comic book felt like it only involved sacrificing the cost of, say, a movie rental or a fast food meal, whereas not only is a $25 hardcover a bigger “sacrifice” in amount of money, it’s also a bigger chunk of the increasingly-obviously-finite number of times I can spend $25 in a given timeframe, considering there’s about a dozen books published every MONTH now that I want!

    I TRY not to complain of course–every time I hear someone bemoan the “current state of comics,” or give me the befuddled “So what DO you like?” after hearing me condemn today’s mainstream, I’m quick to point out that I believe there’s more quality comics material available right now than any point in history [greater in number, at least, if not greater in “greatness”?], but an average income CANNOT own all of it, and I find I have to be pickier than I’m used to! Fifteen years ago, I felt like I could get my hands on just about everything I was interested in… Be careful what you wish for, huh? [Thank goodness for libraries!]

  28. Jaz says:

    I think people who are mostly known for “funny” don’t get to play as large a role in the “comics are art” conversation as we’d like? I feel like the tradeoff for “serious” attention being paid to comics [and how much that’s even happening in the first place is debatable!], is that it becomes an “anti-joy equation.” You’re more likely to see an academic treatise on how deep it is that CIVIL WAR satirizes the Patriot Act than on ways in which Milt Gross drawings are funny, which isn’t surprising I guess. I kinda felt like the audience at that Chicago conference last year thought the guests were “just kidding” if they wanted to talk about MAD or PEANUTS or even THE FAMILY CIRCUS–“I thought ‘graphic novels’ were about the Holocaust or cancer or Batman fighting terrorists, not all that frivolous stuff!”

    Just this weekend, I found myself struggling to explain why Buddy telling Stinky to get his genital warts away from his plate of food was so “funny” instead of merely “disgusting”–I guess I lack Bagge’s comedic timing! [And, crucially, I didn’t say it with DRAWINGS.] But then, I always “lose” the argument that Sheldon Mayer was a better writer than Neil Gaiman…

  29. Jaz says:

    Oh yeah–and my constant reply to criticisms of my criticisms of “adult animation” of the SOUTH PARK/FAMILY GUY ilk is to say, “If this same project was done as a comic book, I wouldn’t consider it worth my time, so why should I watch it on TV? I’d rather read Bagge!”

    [Some of these Adult Swim-style things really beg for the negative comparison–watching MISSION HILL always reminded me of a watered-down version of Buddy and his roommates? And I gave up watching the majority of such TV because they mostly felt reminiscent of third-rate “alternative” comics like HEY, MISTER or TOO MUCH COFFEE MAN…]

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