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Preview -- Monster Parade #1
posted September 23, 2006
 

If you're looking for an out-of-left-field debut to pick up and devour this Fall, Monster Parade, the new Fantagraphics comic book series from Ben Catmull, might do the trick. Two stories and an interlude done in slightly different styles reinforces the classic one cartoonist/one solo showcase feel of the endeavor, and Catmull's illustrator-influenced approach to storytelling stands all by itself in the current alt-comix landscape.

I conducted the following exchange with Catmull with the idea that I would work his responses into an opening paragraph or three, but I liked his directness and sense of humor, so I'm reprinting it in full here despite its brevity. Two-page samples from each section of the first issue follow. -- Tom Spurgeon

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image TOM SPURGEON: It's five years since Paper Theater came out; what prompted your return to comics?

BEN CATMULL: I never left comics. It's just taken a really long time to do this. Thanks for pointing out exactly how pathetically slow I am. Actually since Paper Theater I contributed a little to the anthologies Orchid, Expo 2001, and Dirty Stories 3. Now with Monster Parade, I've chosen styles that are incredibly time-consuming, and since it doesn't pay the rent, I can only work on it here and there. So I've accomplished very little.

SPURGEON: Can you talk about the series' concept, and the personal interests you're pursuing through it? Are you a great fan of illustration about monsters, for instance?

CATMULL: Monster Parade is going to be a series of short stories all related to monsters, ghosts, or the supernatural in some way. I am going to try a wide variety of styles for all the stories. I love old horror movies, illustrations, pulp art etc... There's too many influences to name. Isn't that always the answer? I guess Edward Gorey is the obvious one everone points out. Alfred Kubin is great. the Monster Express story in issue one is partially inspired by the movie Horror Express and a French comic I have that I can't read. I'm at work right now so I can't grab it and tell you what it's called.

Jeez, what else? I pay more attention to genres and eras rather than specific artists. I'm a comic book artist so obviously I like stuff that's old. Except for horror comics. There aren't really any old horror comics I read but I like a lot of new ones like Renee French, Mat Brinkman, Richard Sala, Hideshi Hino, Sakabashira Imiri, etc. I watch a crapload of movies. Old silents by guys like Murnau and Lang. James Whale. Old Japanese horror. Hammer. Kung Fu horror. Blah, blah, etc.

SPURGEON: I think it's interesting you ended up with a classic 32-page comic.

CATMULL: I figured doing two stories per issue sounded good. plus there's going to be a kind of a "weird shit happening in the rain" intermission in between each story. So issue one just happened to end up that page length. I'm not going to stick to that page count in the future. I'm just going to go with whatever is divisible by four that you can fit a staple through.

SPURGEON: Why Fantagraphics as opposed to some of the publishers that seem more likely to be linked to younger cartoonists?

CATMULL: The best companies for putting out comics I like are Fantagraphics and Drawn and Quarterly. I've always gotten encouragement from Eric Reynolds, so I went to Fantagraphics first. Plus I figure they have all that Peanuts and porn money to throw around.

SPURGEON: Are you working with Eric? How have they been as publishing partners thus far?

CATMULL: I've worked mostly with Gary Groth so far but also some with Kim Thompson and Eric. I find them to be tiny but mean. Just kidding. They're great so far. No complaints.

SPURGEON: What are your plans as far as continuing the project?

CATMULL: I hope to do somewhere around 5-10 issues and then put it out as a book. I'm not as good as Charles Burns so I figure that'll take about 15-20 years. The older I get, the less depressing that sounds.

SPURGEON: Are you excited about the book's debut?

CATMULL: I've been slogging away at this for so long that I think I've lost the ability to get excited about it. It'll be exciting when it pays my rent.

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Monster Parade #1, Ben Catmull, Fantagraphics Books, 32 pages, 2-color, $3.95/$4.75.