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

Do you think that's actually changed your work?

Yeah, because I'm doing big, long stories now. I'm writing graphic novels. I'll still do a short piece for somebody, but for the most part and by default I'm a graphic novelist. The last thing that I did for DC was graphic novel called Other Lives, and they refused to serialize it. They only wanted it to come out as a book, and not come out originally as a miniseries. They said, "We'll just lose money on that, so let's just go straight to hardcover."

Otherlives.Case.B.qxHow did that work out; do you know?

I never asked them how much money it made. What was great for me was that I got a flat page rate, and it was a generous one, too. I signed the contract with them before the recession hit. [Laughs] So what I made off of it compared to what I can squeeze out of people now was pretty phenomenal. Who knows if I'll ever seen money like that again? I hope so, but I certainly haven't seen anything like it since.

Okay. So since we're talking about money, I wanna talk a little bit about the nuts and bolts of actually you making a living at this, starting at the beginning. So you got done with SVA, then you got involved in Punk, right?

Um, yeah. Well, I just went through a whole series of day jobs after I quit art school, and then when I'd come home from these day jobs I'd would try to squeeze in as much drawing as possible. I had a very big learning curve ahead of me, because even though I doodled all my life, I never approached comic art like a professional. I had no prior experience using technical pens, brushes, crow quills, all the professional tools. It used to just be ballpoint pen and Magic Marker on lined notebook paper. And my work was very scratchy then, too. I was so taken with Robert Crumb's artwork that I tried emulate his crosshatching, and I had no idea what I was doing, it just looked like a mess. It took me a while to stop trying to do that,; it became a bad habit. I went back to it years later, but I had a much better idea of what I was doing by then. I also slowly started meeting other cartoonists from all different places. There was this guy, I don't think he does comics anymore, but there was this black guy with dreadlocks who I think used to do comics for Creepy and Eerie, but wound up making jewelry or some such. His name was Buzzy. I wish I could remember his last name. Anyhow, he introduced me to John Holmstrom. I knew Punk magazine and I loved it, and Buzzy figured that Holmstrom and his cohorts would like my work, which they did. But unfortunately Punk went out of business right afterwards, so that was that. I wish it was the first place I'd gotten my work published in, but no such luck. The first place I was ever published was an underground newspaper that didn't pay anything called The East Village Eye. Then I started getting a bit of paying work, mainly through the guys that worked at Punk. Punk's art director, Bruce Carleton, became the art director at Screw magazine, and was later replaced by Ken Weiner (aka Avidor), whom I think you know in Minneapolis...


And I used to work pretty regularly for them. Drew Friedman's brother Josh was an editor there as well. Screw didn't pay very well, but at least it was exposure. I was seeing my work in print.

Exposure. Get it? [Laughs] Pornography.

Comical Funnies #1. Cover by John Holmstrom

Comical Funnies #1. Cover by John Holmstrom

Zing! And then also High Times magazine. Which oddly I recently started doing illustrations for again. At High Times they had an art director who liked my comics and ran as much of it as possible. But then I wanted to do longer pieces, meaning more than two pages. So that's when I, Holmstrom, and a couple of other guys started Comical Funnies. Later on a guy named J.D. King joined, whose art I really loved. We all had a fairly similar sensibility and aesthetic, so we all pooled our resources. We did three issues of Comical Funnies, after which Ken Weiner and I did our own comic book, and that was pretty much it for my self-publishing career. I didn't have the good business sense needed to self-publish, and I felt that everything involved with self-publishing was a huge distraction. You know, dealing with distributors and printers and all of that, I really hated doing all of that. So…

Ooohhh boy.

[Both laugh] I wish I did have a knack for it, because I've known a few other cartoonists who did have a knack for it, and they became millionaires self-publishing their own comics, you know?


Of course it helped that they drew a lot faster than I did too. But I just couldn't do all that juggling.

No, I just made that sound because that's something I work very hard at trying to admit to myself once a week, and it never quite sticks. That I'm a shitty publisher with a terrible business sense. Like I should just draw, but some dumb part of me rears up and says, "No, I wanna put this thing out myself."

You need to see a shrink! [Laughs]

So after that, is that when Neat Stuff started?

Well, by then I had quit my day job. It seemed like not too terrible an idea since I was getting paying work here and there. I was making like five thousand dollars a year, but my wife was doing good managing a restaurant so, with her blessing, I gave it a shot. That allowed me to devote a lot more time to my comics, and I started getting better a lot faster. And by this point Robert Crumb started publishing more of my work in Weirdo, and then he asked me to edit the thing. That was a big thing for me, working with Crumb on Weirdo magazine. It barely paid, but it was a great opportunity. It was also around that time I had met Gary Groth and Kim Thompson, who prior to that I knew simply as the guys who did The Comics Journal. I loved the Journal. I couldn't believe what wise-asses those guys were.

[Laughs] Yeah.

But then around that time they started publishing comics. I'd seen Love and Rockets; I might not have even realized that Fantagraphics also was The Comics Journal. But I also knew a cartoonist named Milton Knight, who did a funny animal comic called Hugo, which was being published by Fantagraphics. They were in Connecticut, which was just a one-hour drive from where I lived, and he said, "You should definitely go see those guys." When I met them, I showed them samples of my work, and I wasn't there looking for my own comic book -- I wanted to talk to them about doing an anthology for children, actually. Like a kiddy version of Weirdo, of all things, which they wisely passed on. Instead they said to me, "Would you like to have your own comic book published by us?" Which was my dream. I was like, "Oh yeah, that's fantastic." But between us agreeing to do that and it actually happening there was a big break, because in the meantime I moved to Seattle and they relocated to Los Angeles, and it took them a while to get set up there. So once we were both settled out west we started talking about it again, and that's how Neat Stuff got started. That would have been 1984, 1985, something like that. And I had every intention of continuing to edit Weirdo and do Neat Stuff, but Neat Stuff was my own comic book, so it meant everything to me. I wanted to make the absolute most of it, and by doing that it started cutting into how much time I could devote to Weirdo, so I felt like Weirdo was suffering because of it. So even though Crumb wasn't happy about it, I had no choice but to quit. Basically, Weirdo could continue without me, but Neat Stuff was all me, so if it a was going to be one or the other I had to give up Weirdo. Fortunately Weirdo was able to keep going because-

Aline took it.

Yes. Prior to that the Crumbs had a toddler, but by the time I asked them if I could drop it, their daughter Sophie was already in school. So that gave Aline time to concentrate on it, and she did a great job.

Yeah. Can we just pause for a sec- I mean, you agree, right? That Weirdo's maybe the best magazine of all time, right?

Well, I think it's the best comic anthology of all time, sure. Other than maybe the original MAD[Laughs] if you count that as an anthology. But sure, within the world of underground and alternative comics, I would agree with that. The reason that I'm so reluctant to say it is because not many people agree. It's so forgotten about, it's so overlooked, and we were always being unfavorably compared to Raw in particular.

Can I hit you with my theory?

Go ahead, sure.

Here's my theory, and I am behind you by a decade or something, but I feel like, when I was growing up — you know this thing that comics has developed into now, which came from the fight for comics to gain some kind of respect as an art form. Comics were not taken seriously, so there was this big push, this big fight to have it be not just juvenile nonsense, and various people were pushing that forward in a lot of different ways. And I think Raw was on one end of that, but Raw was one take on that, and that was..
They were on the forefront of that.

They were at the forefront, but if we're talking about two sides of the coin, one being Raw, one being Weirdo. And the Raw side of the coin was-- it was more SoHo. It was Art World. You know what I mean?

Your theory is more than a theory, it's the truth. [Laughs]

Weirdo #11

Weirdo #11

And Weirdo was like this magazine that- and to me it extended beyond comics, because the greatest thing about Weirdo was it felt like the people who read Weirdo weren't like- it was a lot of comics people, certainly, but beyond that it was a bunch of people who actually were just weirdos. You know, who came from-

That was particularly true when Robert Crumb was editing it. He just looked for the most mental, deranged, utterly unselfconscious work he could find. He published work that was literally created by mental patients. I tried to keep the spirit of that going, but -- well, maybe it was because of my youth or just my own sensibility, but people always pointed out that the issues I edited tended to be a bit puerile. [Laughs] Lots of puke and farts and zits.

[Laughs] Did I ever tell you the story about my car dying?

No. I don't think so.

It was when I was living in Duluth, and I was in the band. The band got some kind of advance for something, and I bought a Subaru, and it was a piece of shit. It was a lemon. And I drove this thing into the ground, and it started spewing black smoke, and I mean it was going to explode. I couldn't find anyone in the Duluth area who would come and pick it up, you know, anyone who would come and tow the thing away for free. I was going to have to pay to get this thing to the junk yard, and I was like, "I am not putting another ten dollars into this car." So I finally found one place, who said, "You get it here and we won't charge you, we'll take it for free." So I had my friend Jesse follow me in the car, because it was shuddering, making terrible noises, all that-- the place was about thirty miles out of Duluth or something. The car just barely made it in there, and kind of just died on the spot, as soon as we pulled up. And I went inside, and it was this kind of woodsy area and it was just a really weird place. So I went inside and I started dealing with the counter guy, and he was like, "Yeah, we'll take your piece of shit, whatever." I started looking around and on the walls around me were these drawings, and I was like, "I know these, why do I know these drawings?" They were all over the place, and I was like, "Why do I- they're so weird, why do I know these drawings?" So I asked the counter guy, this big bearded guy, "Who drew these?" And he was like, "Oh, it's just some weirdo who just lives out in the woods." And then figured it out and-- Oh my God, that's it! Crumb published those in Weirdo. And it's-

Yeah, Fantagraphics put out a book collection of his work. Norman Pettingill!

So I turned to these mechanics at the junkyard and I was like, "This dude's famous!"


Like, "Don't you understand? He's been in Weirdo magazine, don't you guys understand?!" And they are all looking at me like I'm nuts. "Listen kid, he's just some weirdo who lives out in the woods."

Right. [Laughs] They were right and you were wrong!

But back to my big theory, I think the way that things have played out now, is for a while there were the children of Raw and the children of Weirdo, and there was crossover there-

Yeah, especially over time. Both magazines continued all through the '80s, and by the time Aline was editing it, it was pretty much straight comic story-telling narratives. Very much worked from a unique personal perspective, not as wacky-crazy as it was earlier. And Raw also switched to this thick digest-sized format, and because of that the nature of it became much more narrative-driven as well. It was no longer an art gallery you held in your hand, it was about the stories. And by that point a lot of the same artists were appearing in both publications, like Crumb himself, and Drew Friedman and Kaz. It's funny, they started out these two polar opposites, but after ten years the two publications had a very similar aesthetic and sensibility.

You know, I actually hadn't thought about those digest issues. When I think about those big oversize issues, those things where like a gallery piece. But those digest things were a lot closer to Weirdo than Weirdo was to Raw. My big theory is that those two were the big camps, and right now it feels like Raw won. [Laughs]

[Laughs] Yes, they did. And you know, it gave comic artists a lot more options. Now we have a much easier time getting teaching jobs.

Yeah, I've heard of people like that. [Laughs]

And you have a lot more comic art shows, and in a lot of ways it's good not to have to apologize for being a cartoonist. Options are good. Actually, all things considered, it's been great.

That's not what I wanted you to say, Pete. Come on!

But the stuff that we were talking about that we miss, it's really hard to pull that off. You're just immediately ostracizing yourself. You'll be automatically alienated by merely doing a comic book, and filling it up with stuff that is making no attempt to be important or profound. Work like that used to be very common, but now you'd have a hard time finding someone who would publish it. Who would buy it, besides a hand full of kooks like Jason Miles? [Laughs] I think it's utterly non-viable. The last thing I can think of that totally fits that description was Johnny Ryan's Angry Youth comics, and even he stopped working in that format. It just didn't pay enough.


It also would feel like I'd be starting from scratch. I'm going back to square one, but when I was originally at square one, I didn't have a mortgage or a kid in college. I had nothing to lose back then. Now I do!

[Laughs] That's my bone to pick, I feel like there was this shift. And again, everything you said is absolutely true, and we are- through teaching, whatever- we're seeing the benefits of not having to apologize for comics anymore.

Social acceptance. [Laughs] We're not pariahs anymore.

Yeah, but I kind of miss that. This is were I feel that personally, how I feel about the Sammy the Mouse thing, with my own comics. It took me a long time to figure out what type of comics I felt comfortable doing, and it was really convoluted getting there, but the Sammy the Mouse stuff feels like these are the comics I'm supposed to do. And I feel like, the interesting part about me getting there, finally, is that at this particular time in comics, it just so happens that doing what I'm doing is one of the most uncool things you can be doing.

Within the world of comics or just in general?

[Both laugh] Within the world of comics. I think, you know, the work I was doing ten years ago, when that perceived seriousness was a concern of mine, where I thought, "I want this to be taken seriously. I take it very seriously and that's how I want it to be received," and that was a concern of mine—and that's not to say I take it any less seriously now. I just now feel like I'm gonna do what I do and people can make whatever they want out of that, but I'm going to be as stupid or as goofy as I feel like being, regardless. Which I think is the same for you-


It's just the kind of comics I'm making right now, they're not the type of thing people are standing up and paying attention to. And that's not even the right word that I'm looking for. Do you know-

No, I know exactly what you're talking bout. When I first got into the comics field, first as self-publishing and then later on with all the work I did with Fantagraphics, it was always this huge uphill battle to get comic shops to carry my stuff, or to carry anything that was like my work. Because the comic shops were dominated by superhero comics, and they were owned and run by guys who liked that stuff, and who didn't like the type of work that I did. It was very hard to find comic shops where the proprietor truly liked what I was doing. At a certain point with the advent of graphic novels and the switch to the book format, we seemed to have an easier time with bookstore owners than we did with comic shop owners. They seem to be more receptive to what someone like Fantagraphics was doing. But then came the advent of all these CGI-based superhero comics, and video games, which are also are getting more and more elaborate and they're also very action-adventure genre. So because of the exciting new technology, superheroes and that action genre stuff is more popular than ever. It dominates more than ever. I find it very depressing, although at this point I don't fight it, and I even try don't think about it, but it's amazing how superheroes and comic art have become more synonymous than ever.

From Sally's Sammy the Mouse

From Sally's Sammy the Mouse

The comics aren't selling anymore, it's the movies that are selling.

I occasionally teach a comics writing class, and most of the boys, that's all they really want to write about. With ninety percent of my students, this is the first time they've ever seen comic art that wasn't manga or action-adventure genre. They think they're advanced if they're familiar with Hellboy or Vertigo titles.

Wait. What age are you teaching again, Pete?

Oh, college.

See, that's so weird because on the whole, my students aren't really what you just described--

Well, you teach at an art school. I don't know if that makes any difference. I teach at a regular four-year private college, Seattle University, and these are English majors. So who knows? They might be reading very serious print novels, but when it comes to comics, the girls were weaned on manga and the boys have one foot, if not both feet, firmly planted in superherodom.

Yeah, that's strange to me. I don't find that with my students all that much. But yeah, I don't know where the middle ground is. The thing that's annoying to me- And I want to back up and say that that thing I said about Sammy, about that being a very uncool thing to be doing right now, I want to say that I truly do not give a fuck.

Oh okay, well that's because you've got your day job. [Laughs]

No, I mean, it's because I like what I'm doing. You know I'm lucky enough to-

I know, I was insanely ambitious for a long time. The whole time I was doing Hate, I was just pushing like crazy to sell as many units as possible. I was doing everything I could to maximize the earning potential of doing an alternative comic book. I guess I achieved it, but I had no choice but to stop caring once I realized that I hit a wall. Years were going by and I was like, "This seems to be as good as I'll ever do," and already I could see from the shift to graphic novels that comics like Hate were going to go the way of the dinosaur. I kept trying to brainstorm with Fantagraphics, trying to come up with ways to keep it going as a periodical and keep it economically viable, but they were quickly losing interest. It seemed so obvious to them to go the graphic novel route, and it was the path of least resistance, and what I was suggesting we do was completely outside of that. So I just dropped the idea. Hate was sort of evolving into an anthology at the end, and I wanted to expand on that. But it just seemed like a big headache to them. It's bad enough when you're fighting the market, but when you're fighting your own publisher— [Laughs] I could have done it with a different publisher, but I didn't know of anyone offhand that would seem to be totally receptive to such an idea.

I think that there is now a prejudice against comics that are entertaining.


Do you agree with me or not? [Laughs]

Well, define "entertaining." Whatever is selling somebody must find it entertaining.

I don't know if I believe that, do you?

Yeah, of course. There was a period where I was making fun of this main thread that alternative comics took. There got to be this real samey-ness. I used to call it "falling leaf comics."


Where you have to turn eight pages before you got to a title or any dialogue, and you'd just be looking at somebody's feet walking through mud puddles. The strange thing though, not just with those particular comics that I'm talking about, but with alternative comics in general, is that whenever you name a specific artist, chances are I'll like that artist. So I'd belly-ache about certain tendencies, but whenever somebody starts throwing names at me, 99% of the time I'll say, "Oh yeah, he or she is pretty good." So I have a really hard time singling out any one person. Even if I did single out a single person who epitomized that, it still doesn't mean that I think that person is no good. In fact, there's more good artists now then there's ever been.

I totally agree, but--

It probably has a lot to do with my age, I've gotten jaded and I feel like I've seen it all. I rarely see something that knocks me out, whereas it seemed like all through the eighties and early nineties, I was regularly seeing work that struck me as original. Alternative artists' art styles back then generally were much more distinctive. Everybody had a much more unique style -- not just a drawing style but their whole approach, the approach to storytelling, even formats. Back when almost everyone was self-publishing, the formats were wildly different. So you couldn't begin to compare the artwork of Chester Brown to, say, Lynda Barry, or the Hernandez brothers or Charles Burns or Gary Panter, Mary Fleener. You know what I mean?


But by the late nineties, this samey-ness took over. Both in drawing style and in story telling, just in the way people constructed stories, and formatting. More recently it seems people trying to fight their way out of that. But for a long time it was all these pouty auto-bio sob stories -- the whole thing all about how your girlfriend doesn't understand you and then breaks up with you, and you feel really lame and then some other bad thing happens, though by the end you come to some lame realization that you could be worse off. [Laughs] "Thank goodness for porn!" The end.



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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