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


[Laughs] Chris Ware had a giant effect for a while there…

You think he inspired what I just described? I don’t know…

Well, people were drawing like him and coloring like him for, like-

They were? Well first of all, how many people can draw like that?

Yeah, well, I think the effect that he had— Man, I remember it seemed like every single thing I saw, people were trying to emulate what he was doing, in one way or another. They were trying to emulate all of these things that he-

You mean drawing style-wise?

Yeah, drawing style, thematically. You know, he just had this crazy, rippling effect through the world of comics.

I remember one artist who— and his work doesn’t quite look so Chris Ware-like any more, but what was his name … Ethan Persoff? He looked very much like he was mimicking Chris Ware. But other than that, I can’t think of anybody-

Really? I feel like there was “The Chris Ware Effect” going on for a good while. A friend of mine said something recently along the lines of, “People have finally gotten over Chris Ware.” And I said that to another cartoonist and he was like, “That’s a bunch of bullshit!” because he thought I was ragging on Ware’s stuff and that wasn’t it at all. But I agree with that statement because in retrospect, he sort of had the same effect that maybe Crumb had when he first appeared on the scene. You know, all of a sudden he’s just such a force that everyone has to reckon with it. He was just the elephant in the room for a good while, and it took a while for people to–

Maybe they were trying to but they were so off the mark that I couldn’t tell that that was what they were striving for. What I remember being a more obvious influence from that era where those three Canadian cartoonists that-

Seth, Joe Matt-

Chester Brown, Joe Matt, and Seth, who all had their own distinctive styles, but for a while there were so close that a certain shared esthetic evolved between them that then rippled outwards. So I blame them! [Laughs] Or at least they seemed to define what became the standard approach more than Ware did. Now that I think of it I think Ware’s influence became more noticeable later, based on much of what I’d see in anthologies like Mome.

That’s interesting. You know, earlier when we were talking about … I’m not getting quite at my personal bugaboo here. I just feel like the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction of what comics— I don’t want to say that, of something that I loved-

You don’t see it swinging back at all?


I think it will some day. But-

From Peter Bagge's Other Stuff.

From Peter Bagge’s Other Stuff.

I’ll always see something by a small handful of artists whenever I go to some comic convention. They’ll have their little table, with their little self-published comics that have that spark that you’re talking about, that irreverence that you’d see in something like Weirdo. But they almost always never stick it out. They never perfect it. They’re just starting out. But I never see them continue down that path. More often than that they just stop doing comics all together. They’re just sticking their toe in, and I don’t know what they were expecting to happen: people throwing money at them? Which never happens. The last person that I could think of that did was Johnny Ryan.

Yeah.

But after that I can’t think of anybody. Well, somebody whose stuff I think is really funny, and everything she does is basically like—she’s almost like a weekly comics strip cartoonist—is Kate Beaton. Do you like her work?


Yeah. I mean, I haven’t seen a ton of her work, but she’s-

She seems to be doing pretty well too, though her work is also somewhat sophisticated, since it’s full of literary and historical references. So no one would have to apologize if they get caught reading it.

Do you think that- I’m kind of also conflicted, because I agree with you and I don’t want to sound like- You’re sounding way more positive than I thought you would. [Both laugh] I’m trying really hard to pull the negativity out of you and I just can’t, man.

Read interviews with me from ten years ago when I was bitching like crazy about all this stuff. But I’m done whining about it. I felt like a voice in the wilderness back then, pointing out all of the things that you’re talking about now. I’m sure that wasn’t the case, but it felt like nobody agreed with me, or worse, didn’t even understand what I was talking about. And I really felt pretty much on the outs as an artist, and even as a person. It just seems like the whole aesthetic thread of the alternative indie comics world went in one direction, and I didn’t go in that direction, and I felt really lonely and even ostracized because of it. So I went through a rather bitter period, of resenting it and not knowing what to do about it, trying to figure out what to do about it, and then eventually concluded there’s nothing I can do about it, so whats the point of whining?

That bums me out. You know, I think- I did see that sort of happen with your work, and I was like, “Wait a minute, what the fuck? Why has this gone in this direction exclusively? It can do this one thing, but it can no longer accommodate this other thing?” You know, what I was talking about earlier, it not being allowed for comics to be smart and funny and entertaining anymore. Those qualities were somehow “less artistic,” or something. And that shit drives me nuts. And I see that taking over comics, and I want to be Mr. Positive in saying that I totally agree with you, that there are more people and better work being produced in comics than ever before. I really do. But there’s some things happening that just reek of — this sensibility that’s getting a foothold, and it is a sensibility makes me really unhappy. Like in our earlier conversation that was lost, we were talking bout how Norman Rockwell was totally reviled in the world of art-

In certain circles he was. He was beloved everywhere else. [Laughs]


But he was just completely reviled for all these years because the people who were, not controlling that, but the people who were-

The elite.

The elite were saying, “This shit is worthless, this shit is garbage.” And then twenty years later, they arbitrarily decide that it’s okay to respect what the guy did, and -

They also were very virulent about their criticism of him largely because he was so popular. It just drove them crazy that after attending art school and working as curators at galleries that they then go home to mom’s house for Thanksgiving and there’s Norman Rockwell all over the walls. They’re just thinking, “What I’m trying to do isn’t sinking in at all. As soon as I leave these tiny little enclaves you just see stuff like that everywhere.” I can understand them being upset if they see bad art that lacks depth or doesn’t appeal to them. But I don’t know why they had to pick on Norman Rockwell so much. It’s like, pick on a bad artist, why don’t ya? [Laughs]

For many years I just thought it was built into the DNA of comics, that there was something about it because of where it came from and because of all of the work that I loved, that brought me to this comics deal– that it had this inherent quality of it not being pretentious, it not being engaged in the world of that fine art fucking nonsense. I thought that there was-

Yeah, just it being ephemera. What’s interesting, too, is a year or two ago I saw Art Spiegelman here in Seattle give a lecture, and he was talking bout how it was his mission for many years to get comic art accepted as Art with a capital A. And he said he realized now he pretty much succeeded in that goal, but he said even he misses what was lost in the process. Exactly what we’re talking about. He realizes now in the wake of his own success, that what’s missing is comics as this “back alley” thing, this ephemera. You still need a strong gut instinct to openly admit that the tiny little toy that came with your Happy Meal is incredible, as opposed to being told what is good, because it’s in a frame and hanging on a white wall.

Yeah. I guess within the last couple of years I’m seeing that actual fine-art application towards comics, I’m seeing that take a foothold in a way that makes me really, really mad.

[Laughs]

You know, that kind of gatekeeper sensibility, the determining of artistic worth based on some bullshit set of criteria. Things are starting to play by fine-art rules, more and more. And I thought it was just kind of a passing phase, like, as I said-

This happens after a while to everything. Like there’s that old joke: “Even whores and ugly buildings become respectable if they stick around long enough.” And everything that used to be considered low-brow, and the epitome of what well-educated elites despised eventually becomes respectable. But that’s also when all the life gets sucked out of them. Like take poetry, poetry used to not be this thing you had to go to college to appreciate. Everybody used to take a stab at writing poetry, and poetry books used to be bestsellers.

Did they really?

But then all of a sudden it went through this academic filter. And it became very specific about what is and isn’t good poetry, and what is good poetry is pretty much inaccessible to the average person. They have no use for it, so now poetry is no longer a part of 99% of peoples lives. An even better example would be jazz music. Jazz used to be extremely disreputable, and the elites hated it, absolutely despised it, prayed for it to go away, and yet it also was incredibly popular. It used to be treated like a plague, like a cancer, it was like the worst thing that ever happened to American civilization in the in the early 20th Century. But then slowly but surely, it became more respectable, and the musicians who made it started taking themselves really seriously. Now it’s a fossil. There’s no real life left to it at all.

Yeah, but am I just living in this total illusion world of thinking, like, well that happened for Crumb, you know? That changed because of Crumb; the art world decided that he was accepted, but that was still-

Yeah, as a fine artist. And he always was a fine artist. I was talking about how my definition of fine art is when somebody creates a piece of work solely because he or she has something in themselves that has to come out, they have to express something. They’re using any kind of medium a form of self-expression. And I think Crumb was the first person that totally took that approach with a comic book. Like I said, he treated the comic book like a blank canvas, or a chunk of plaster, and had no regard for Where would I sell this? He didn’t think about the market, or offending advertisers. It just burst out of him. I’m not surprised that his original art is going for a fortune, because it always was fine art. The big difference, though, is now these people are buying it framed, and it’s hanging on their walls, and the strips are all broken up more often than not. And to have a cover or individual comic page framed and it’s all by itself and it’s totally taken out of the context that made people like me fall in love with it. Crumb is my all-time favorite artist, so if I see one piece of his, even if it’s one random page out of a twenty-page story, I’m still going to love it, I’m still going to marvel at it. But that page was originally part of two other things: a comic story and a comic book, and they all work together, and they were best appreciated together. So it’s bizarre how someone might not even want that comic book. And of course it’s the original art, it’s were he put pen to paper. But when he did put pen to paper it wasn’t intended to be hanging on one person’s wall, it was intended to be reprinted for all the world to see, to love or hate. So, in a way they’re completely missing the point.

Bagge's collaboration with R. Crumb, "Caffy"

Bagge’s collaboration with R. Crumb, “Caffy”

Aren’t they always, though? [Laughs]

It is a good investment. If I was a bazillionaire, I’d be buying his original art, but my favorite thing about him will always be his comic books. Because that’s how they were meant to be seen and read and digested.

In that way it’s not surprising that the fine-art world has accepted Crumb, but I think your definition of a fine artist, I agree with you on that– that’s a fantastic definition of how a “fine artist” should be defined— but that definition of a fine artist nobody agrees with anymore, or understands in that way. You know, everybody else’s definition of a fine artist is this person who does this certain thing that– that is almost entirely the opposite of Crumb. They think of…

Well, there are quite a few people that would agree with my definition, and it really is its original definition, but the term became co-opted, since World War II, by people who liked artwork that was was nonrepresentational and inaccessible to the average shmoe. After World War II, all of a sudden the working class had an expendable income, and they became art consumers. They started buying Norman Rockwell calendars, they started having artwork of some kind and hanging it on their wall. They were also buying comic books, they were buying records, they were consuming art. It wasn’t high art, but they were consuming art — and the well-educated, the elite, the snobs of the world, they had to figure out some other way to differentiate themselves from their garbage man. They could see that everybody can appreciate art if the artist is very good at representing what he’s drawing. Anybody could say, “Oh that’s a really good drawing of a tree,” or “That sure is a hot babe you drew.”

Did you— Oh. I thought you said a hot baby. [Laughs]

So art that is representational became a bad thing. So that’s why people who were working in more abstract styles and conceptual art became much more celebrated, while simultaneously anything that was representational was getting denigrated. And soon anything that was painted realistically, or in the form of even a low-brow comic like the kind I draw, something where the average person doesn’t need an intermediary to explain what’s going on, all of that became denigrated. What people in the fine-art establishment mean when they say, “This is good art, this is bad art” or “This is fine art,” they’re pretty much just talking about what defines and differentiates themselves from the masses. It’s snobbishness. And it’s just a genre. What they like is a specific type of art genre. But they’re so full of themselves that they refuse to acknowledge that. They feel like, oh it’s not another genre. In fact, it’s the only real art. Everything else isn’t real art at all. Because we like it, it’s real art and nothing else counts. [Laughs]

My introduction to this whole line of bullshit corresponded with me falling in love with comics, when I was a teenager and thinking, “Well, I like drawing and making art and maybe I’d like to do this. I wonder what that’s all about.” So I picked up an issue of Artforum or something, to sort of try to make sense of that world. Because they say this is what “Art” is, and they have to be right because look at this fancy magazine and all these galleries and all that, they must be right. But all of that stuff was totally impenetrable, and that left me feeling like, “Oh my god, I don’t know anything about art. I thought it was this thing but it’s not. I guess i don’t understand anything.” And at the same time being shown through comics that — knowing for certain that comics were awesome, and that there’s no question that they were art, at least in the way you just described it, and in a way that made sense to me without having to be “explained” to me by some blowhard. And all of this being the counter end to the fake world of “real” art that really taught me, “No, forget all that. That’s all a bunch of nonsense.” I didn’t go to art school because by that point, I knew they were going to try to teach me that line of hokum, and by then, because of comics, I knew it was all bullshit. And with every year that passes in my life, it’s this incredibly pernicious force — it’s just terrible. If I have to define it, you know, it’s like: my mother is a smart, intelligent woman, period. And she’s got plenty good taste. And bring her into a museum and she’s just like everyone else in the world, who’s like, “Well, I don’t know what to say about any of this, because I don’t understand any of it.” And that is just pure nonsense, but everybody buys that line.

Right.

It’s just such a shell game, and it just tries to turn this thing that is subjective, applying a bunch of rules to it that are trying to create an objective set of worth to something that is subjective. It robs people of the right to say, “I like this, or I don’t like it.”

That was very well put. Did you make that up? [Laughs]

Did I make that up? I did, thank you.

You should copyright that speech.

Thank you. But the thing that is so upsetting to me right now is I see that value system working its way into comics, and I don’t know if you pay attention to this, but I’ve seen it work its way into comics on the very site we’re doing this interview for. And I understand it, and I understand why it’s happening in certain sectors of comics right now. But I see it taking hold more and more and I’m really, really opposed to it. And I’m really opposed to it on a number of levels–

And we discussed all the levels. Again, this is a yin and yang that always has gone on, and it will continue to go on, and it’s something you can always resist or benignly accept. But what’s depressing is how suddenly there’s this recognizable definition of what is regarded as “good comic art” or “respectable comic art,” the stuff that you should be doing, and how quickly people will fall in line with it. How even people you’ve known for a long time will go along with this group-think. But they do it because they benefit from it, at least in the short run. There’s safety in numbers, and in a set of rules that everybody can follow, and so long as you’re following the rules you aren’t taking any chances. It’s the safe road.

And they do it because they don’t want to feel stupid. Because the whole viewpoint that props this shit up is just, like, “You don’t agree with me? You must be some kind of– peasant.” If you don’t agree with it, that means one thing: you don’t “know what’s going on.”

[Laughs]

But I see this happening and feel like “Hold on a minute: I know exactly what’s fucking going on: You’re all full of shit.” What you just said makes more sense than what I’m thinking, but I felt like there was a part of comics that was deeply resistant to that sort of stuff, that kind of snobbery and elitism, the kind that serves as the currency of the “Fine Art” world. But it looks like I might be wrong. It makes sense, as comics are turning into more of a niche thing, they’re not mass-market ephemera in the way they used to be. So. And Crumb being a perfect example. Like Rockwell, the fine art world wouldn’t touch him, but all of a sudden– Well, he got taken on by that world but he did not give an inch. It was on his terms. He just did exactly what he does to the point where they had to accept him rather than the other way around.

But he was always true to himself. I mean he was very confident in his own artistic abilities, and always had a great work ethic, that’s for sure. And it’s easy to have infinite confidence in what your gut is telling you when you-

Are a genius? [Laughs]

—Have Robert Crumb’s talent. [Laughs]

Damn, I missed when they were passing that stuff around.

Even that being said, I’ve always been really impressed by how much he sticks to his own guns. I never met anybody that was quite that true to themselves as he is.

The End of Part One. Stay tuned for Part Two, next week.

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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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