You wanna hear my new tactic?
[Laughs] You don’t really, but you said sure and that was nice.
Well, I’m not expecting much but go ahead. [Laughs]
[Laughs] My new tactic, and of course this is a tactic of desperation, but I just started playing in a band again with a geezer, who’s my age-
A geezer who’s your age. [Laughs]
It’s actually exciting for me to feel like, “I’m doing these things that I am positive nobody gives a shit about.” And that’s why it’s exciting, because it has no possibility to make a dent in the incredible noise of culture right now. It’s not even a possibility, so I might as well have as much fun as humanly possible, and be willfully stupid. Like, I’m doing this, and it’s actually kind of fun to be like, I know what this is up against, but-
It’s liberating. But then you have to be aware of the fact that that opens the door to self-indulgence, and boring everybody who isn’t you who might be listening to it. You have to think about that.
What else are you going to do?
I’ve always done that. That’s a thing that you go through when you’re younger, too, ideally. I’ve got nothing to lose. That’s what you’re describing, is this “I’ve got nothing to lose” angle. But then what do you have to gain? You also have to think, “I also, potentially, have everything to gain.” And that’s the other thing you have to think about when you’re making art. And that’s what propels you forward.
Yeah. I mean, yes, but at the same time, it’s like if you’re actually going into it like, “I want to do this thing for no reason other than that I know that I am going to enjoy it.” And the byproduct of that being that I actually have enough faith that, if I enjoy this thing enough-
That somebody else will.
That somebody else will. That’s the only thing I can be sure of at this point in my life.
Well, that’s good, that’s true. And I agree, that if it means something to you it’s got to mean something to somebody else. That’s a problem too, though, as an artist as you get older—at least this is very much true with music and it’s true with comics—your potential audience gets dispersed. Because people who will always respond the most to your work are people in your own demographic.
I’ve been in a band for the last five years. We try as hard as we can with our limited time restraints to be as accessible and entertaining as possible, and I’m really proud of the records we’ve made. But finding an audience seems to be impossible. I suppose the last thing anyone wants to hear is yet another band a bunch of 40- and 50-somethings. We’re supposed to get out of the way.
Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I resent that. [Laughs]
[Laughs] What, resent being told to get out of the way?
Yeah, fuck ’em! Kids, they don’t know what… So, I remember the last time we had lunch when I was in Seattle, you were talking to me about a book project. And I can’t remember her name, but it was about one of the first ladies to bring forward birth control?
Yes, that’s what, whenever I could find the time for the last two years, I have been working on. It’s Margaret Sanger. The book will be published by Drawn and Quarterly.
They asked me not to talk about it yet, but I see it’s listed on Amazon already, so oh well.
Wow. Have they been being nice?
“Nice?” Well sure, they’re easy to work with. And they gave me a big advance that I spent immediately.
I burnt through it in a month. Since then I’ve been slaving away on it while making no income. I’ve been auctioning off a lot of original art in order to pay the bills in the meantime.
No, no, no.
I also put it aside at one point to do Reset for Dark Horse, which actually paid a bit better. One graphic novel subsidized the other.
Okay. Wow, I’m really glad that that’s going to happen.
I really enjoy doing comic biographies, and I have a long list of people I’d love to do, but it remains to be seen if anybody will buy it. In fact I also just did another very short founding fathers strip for Dark Horse Presents on Alexander Hamilton. He was such a nut, that guy!
I was just going to say I loved those founding fathers things.
There’s a vague possibility that if I ever give it enough pages that they’ll do a collection of them, but I still have to do a lot more before that happens.
As soon as I can stop working on the thing doesn’t pay any money [Sammy the Mouse], I’m going to do that real “shopping” thing, too, because I have a Philip K. Dick biography on the-
Do you have a publisher interested? Or committed?
I had a meeting with the First Second guy, and he was interested, but I’ve got to get my real proposal going on that. But I think that’s what people are interested in right now. Like Noah Van Sciver, he’s got the drive. He’s like a kid cartoonist who’s got the drive to bust his ass to do that. And he just did that Abraham Lincoln bio.
I just read it. It was good.
Yeah, and it’s getting a lot of attention. I mean I’m hearing a lot about it. You know, to the point where I’m like, “Noah, you’re twenty-five!”
Is he that young?
Oh, he’s young, yeah. [He’s 28.] But you know, he’s a machine, the kid just draws like crazy. I haven’t read the book yet, but it’s really great that he’s getting that attention. And at the same time I was like, “Why is this book attention when Noah’s been doing his comic BLAMMO for ages?” And everyone’s like, “Well, it’s Abe Lincoln.”
Prior to Drawn and Quarterly being interested in doing the Sanger book, there were much more obscure people who I wanted to write about, and they weren’t against it, but that was obviously a much tougher sell. I’m amazed at how many people never heard of Margaret Sanger, whenever I mention her name. They’re like, “Who?” I thought she still was a household name.
I mean, I don’t think she was to me, but when you started explaining it it sounds like-
She should be. She was at one time.
So you think you’re gonna keep trying to go down that nonfiction road?
Yeah. Well, this has been happening for a long time, but every couple of years I’m ready to completely quit comics and get a job as a delivery truck driver. That’s always where my head goes. It’s so ridiculous, it’s just like a little girl, when you say, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” And they’ll say just what they’ve seen, a teacher or a mommy, you know? [Laughs] And because I’m stuck home all the time, being self-employed, lots of times the only person I see is the mailman or the UPS or FedEx guy.
I always think about UPS.
That’s where my head always goes, because it’s so the opposite of what I’m doing. But of course I’d hate it. I have a friend who drives a bread truck. He’s been doing it for years and likes it, but when I asked him what exactly the job entailed it sounded like a nightmare. Far more complicated and stressful than you’d ever think it’d be, not to mention getting up at four in the morning. So I’m stuck. I have to just keep doing this till I drop dead. I’m in it for the long haul. Too late to change now.
Hey is Fanta going to freak out? Or do they know?
They know, and they don’t seem to care much. If they do care they sure don’t show it. Well, I’ve been working with other publishers now for quite a while, so they don’t care about that stuff. They’re becoming more and more of a reprint house now.
They are doing a lot of that.
Basically the only thing that seems like they’re not is the misplaced loyalty of the Hernandez brothers. [Laughs] I’d like to always do work for them to, if I can. I certainly intend to.
You know, those guys. That stuff kind of gives me faith.
They’re still totally up for publishing new cartoonists, it’s just that some other publishers give guaranteed page rates or decent advances, which is hard to walk away from. I can’t sit down and do 100 pages, which will, for me, take a year or two—it’s literally impossible to sit down and do that, and nothing but that, and have to wait another six months before I see a dime from it. It’s impossible.
Yeah, and you know when I first started realizing I should take a stab at the Philip K. Dick thing, I talked to Eric [Reynolds] and, you know, the Sammy the Mouse stuff, that stuff I’m obviously going to do whether or not I’m making a dime on it. And I hope someday I’ll make a couple dimes off it, but I’m doing that. And that’s what I do.
But it was actually kind of freeing for me to be like, “So I do want to do this Philip K. Dick bio, I’ve been thinking about it for years and I want to do it,” and, realizing what you just said, knowing, I can’t talk to anybody unless I’m gonna get twenty grand. Like this is going to take me a solid X amount of years of my life, and if nobody’s going to give a livable amount of money to take this on, then I’ll just do the thing that pays zero. You know what I mean?
Right. That’s what I was going to say before: Why do publishers give us a penny? Why does any publisher give me a penny, when what they’re paying me to do is going to be put up on file sharing. And as time goes by more and more people are going to know about that and take advantage of that, how are they going to make any money and why are they going to give me a dime?
Maybe I’m being naive, but I feel like, at some level people have to understand that if they don’t reward quality and effort, things will shitcan quickly. That everything isn’t for free.
It’s the consumers who have to figure that out. Everyone has to figure it out. It’ll all be hashed out somehow eventually, where it’s financially worthwhile to keep making new work. I just don’t see how at the moment.
And as I said before there’s comic conventions. Something I became very aware of at the last comic convention I was at, I was sitting next to this mainstream artist, a very gregarious guy, and he was doing lots of business. But I noticed that the more money people gave him to do a sketch, the more time they spent hanging around and talking to him. They’re not just giving him money for a drawing, they’re also buying his time. It was almost prostitution, in that they got to pretend they were his best friend for a half an hour. And like a prostitute the artist felt obliged to be nice to them and pretend they weren’t boring the shit out of him.
These people that would give him the most money were the most boring.
I don’t have that problem myself, of course. My fans are fascinating. [Laughs] And poor.
Well, now you have to go meet them and pretend to like them. As you draw a scantily clad Wonder Woman. That is something that I also used to refuse to do. Now I do it all the time, make lots of money.
It beats making nothing and complaining about it. I used to tell them they could go to hell when asked to draw Batman. I just wanted to draw my own characters, and didn’t get why people wanted me to draw Darth Vader or Betty Boop. But at some point their requests got weirder and weirder. That’s another weird thing about fans at comic conventions: they try to think of something unique for you to draw. Like this one guy, his book was all superheroes, but they were all throwing up. Another guy had everybody draw monsters and aliens from Star Wars movies, but it had to be only monsters and aliens that had 1-5 seconds of screen time.
He had all this reference material to draw whatever monster I wanted from the background of Star Wars movies. I saw this one monster, he was like camouflaged as a mountain, a big mountain or boulder with vaguely defined legs and arms. I said, “Does this count?” And he said, “Yeah.” So he gave me fifty bucks to draw a rock, basically. Out of guilt I wound up giving the drawing a lot of detail. I kept cross-hatching this rock monster. [Laughs] By the time he came back he almost started crying. He couldn’t believe how good it was. [Laughs]
Did he give you more money?
No. I still thought he was gonna get mad at me for choosing the rock.
You should have been, like, “Every tear you shed is another twelve dollars.”
Yes. So it’s total prostitution.
Another absurd thing at the last con I went to, is that Avengers movie had just came out, so if someone asked you to draw the Hulk they wanted it to vaguely resemble the actor who played him, Mark Ruffalo. [Laughs]
Damn. All right man, well. Now that we’ve insulted everyone who could potentially give us money ever.
Right. Well, it’s The Comics Journal. Only bitter wretches read that thing, so we have nothing to lose.
Well, I’ll get on my guy for transcribing this.
Oh poor guy, jeez.
Yeah. They need stuff to do.
He’ll love it. He’ll love it and then he’ll kill himself.