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January 24, 2017


Video Parade Special: Jay Lynch -- Keeping Up With The Kids


our thanks as comics fans to Mr. Lynch for donating his papers and materials to the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum
 
posted 8:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
CR Holiday Interview #10 -- Joe Casey

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*****

imageI'd like to thank the endlessly patient Joe Casey for the amount of time he's waited to see this interview come out. I hope that a mid-week placement, the last in this year's abortive Holiday series, and the piece's afterlife will make up for my delay.

Casey is the comics professional I've interviewed most for publication, and is right up there with people like Seth in terms of cartoonists I've talked to for people to read and for people to see at shows. Like most of my favorite comics-makers, Casey creates I think in great part out of an abiding love for seeing his work make its way into the world. He may play it off better than most, but I still feel that thrill is there. Casey works quickly enough and at a high enough volume there's an unspoken weight provided recurring subjects, a hangover of comics' commercial roots that's one of my favorite things about the medium. Casey is cognizant of comics history and holds himself to high standards he's fashioned from the works he admires most.

Casey had an interesting 2016, climaxing near year's end with the premiere of a movie based on his hyper-violent satirical work with Chris Burnham, Officer Downe. There's a new book version of the comic series just out; I enjoyed reading that comic and like a lot of the comics I enjoy most I find Casey's work just enough removed from what he's engaging to preserve its role as commentary without becoming arch or clinical.

Casey's comic with Piotr Kowalski, SEX, drips with menacing languor and is idiosyncratic to the creators' concerns in a way I wish every collaborative comic could be.

I always enjoy batting things around with Joe and admire his searching, seeking manner. I tweaked for flow. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: So place me into what exactly you have going on right now with this movie. This is not just your property, but you were fully involved, like Daniel Clowes on his various sets. Can you give us an explicit idea of what your involvement encompassed and how it developed?

JOE CASEY: As weird as it is to say -- because I'm such a fan of his work -- I might've gone a step further than Clowes has on his films. While he's obviously worked on the screenplays of his adaptations, I'm not sure if he's ever been a full-blown producer, where he was on set each and every day and was balls deep in every step of the process.

When the other producers approached me about the feature rights for the book, they had nothing. They had no money, nothing more than a vague plan of how to make it happen. And, of course, they had a certain enthusiasm that I obviously responded to. But we really started from square one. So I was there for all of it... from writing the screenplay to pitching to financiers to casting to pre-production to principal photography to editing to approving VFX to sound mixing to talking to distributors. And now we've been marketing the release. We'll do it again with the Blu-Ray release in February.

I've said this before, but it's very much been the "Image Comics" approach to filmmaking, where I've been responsible during every stage of the process. And, to be clear, it wasn't by happenstance... I wanted the experience to be all-immersive. There was really no point in doing it if it wasn't going to be something of a life changer for me and my creative life.

imageSPURGEON: Do you feel like you're a natural movie guy, that you have stuff to say as a creative person through that medium? You've certainly worked in a way that's directed towards animation. But is there a comics-element to the way you're involved? That's not always a clean transition.

CASEY: You never really know how comfortable something's going to be until you dive in and do it. For me, I'm an inveterate process junkie... but that doesn't just apply to comic books. It applies to music. It applies to cinema, too. So I had a pretty good idea going in what the gig entailed and how I might exist creatively in that space. Turns out my relentless, compulsive need for control works fairly well in the realm of filmmaking. At the same time, there was definitely a learning curve, but I was ready for that, too. Besides... clean transitions have never been something I've been particularly concerned with. I figure messy is always better. It's certainly more interesting.

SPURGEON: Can you give a specific example of something that was maybe a bit steeper than normal on the learning curve? What was messy? What was hardest for you?

CASEY: Well, I'd produced and directed another movie before, but this was on a much larger scale. So it's not like there was any one specific thing that was difficult... it was simply the amount of stuff to keep track of. Being so near the top of the creative food chain on this thing, it was part of my responsibility to make sure everything got covered, that no details were lost in the chaos. And I think I did a decent job of it, but there were inevitably things that were happening on set that I simply couldn't be a part of.

Part of the filmmaking process -- a big part, in fact -- is trying to prevent circumstances that'll bite you in the ass later. Making sure you don't make mistakes in the heat of the moment that'll end up costing you down the line. For instance, getting enough coverage in a scene to be able to edit it into something later. If you don't have enough footage, enough choices, to build a good scene in the editing room, you're fucked and there's nothing you can do about it except get rid of the scene altogether. So it was the amount of concentration required that really impressed me.

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SPURGEON: Are you comfortable describing this work as satire? Is that a mantle you find interesting or useful in your work more generally?

CASEY: As you well know, my formative years were the 1980's, when comic books -- even superhero comic books -- were at their most satirical. A lot of my favorite creators at that time -- Moore, Miller, Chaykin and others -- were often satirists as well as storytellers. Or, at the very least, satire was always an element in their work. So I feel like it's part of my DNA. That, and a punk rock sensibility mixed with a measurable disdain for authority that I'm sure has undercut the level of intelligent satire I'm capable of.

SPURGEON: [laughs] How do you mean?

CASEY: I feel like my heroes used satire with a surgeon's precision. I use it more like a bludgeon, much more ham-fisted about it. In other words, the kind of satire that shows up in my work is more of an absurdist laugh rather than biting political commentary. I think Officer Downe -- the comic book -- proves that. It's definitely not subtle. Having said that, I'm not sure if I would describe the film version as much of a satire. I think the roller coaster ride aspects of it overshadow just about everything else. That was the idea, anyway.

SPURGEON: What is the value, then, do you think, of that approach, that howl, that kind of massive shove back that isn't precise? It seems to me there was a time when satire like that had a role in calling attention to things right in front of our faces, but we're all a bit more weary and cynical now. Is it a call to forego complacency? Is it that you get a range of effect by working at the volume of 11 that you don't get with a laser-focused approach?

CASEY: Y'know... it's about getting off your lazy ass and putting a shit-ton of distortion on your guitar and cranking it through a Marshall stack while screaming through a million-watt PA system... as opposed to simply strumming an acoustic and humming a folkie protest song. It's "Like A Rolling Stone" as opposed to "Blowin' In the Wind." It's a garage band aesthetic, all the way. Arena cock rock over quiet coffeehouse gigs. Speak sharply and carry a sledgehammer, right?

For me, it's an approach that feels the most comfortable. It's how I deal with the weariness and cynicism -- both in the world and within myself. That "howl," as you refer to it... it's what the world feels like to me. Or maybe what I want it to feel like. The thing is, as strange as this'll probably come across in a printed interview, I'm not trying to educate anyone or illuminate anything for anyone other than myself. I suppose I save any of my "laser-focused" approaches for things much more personal, not necessarily meant for public consumption.

SPURGEON: Do you worry about people not getting it, that whole "No, we see Rorschach as wholly admirable" trap where there's a disconnect between intent and the audience's appraisal of what's going on? Is there a fine line between getting a high-five from people who won't take that step with you but also making the object of your parody a legitimate expression of what you want to explore so that you can make the comment you'd like to make? Does it have to feel real for you to introduce a level of commentary?

CASEY: It feels like it's been a long time since I gave a shit about anyone "getting it." [Spurgeon laughs] So long, in fact, that it's tough to remember when I actually did. And, by having that attitude, I know I run the risk of missing out on certain connections that I'm sure other creators make with their readers. Anything that operates on a purely subtextual level in my work wouldn't be something that I would ever expect a reader to get. Again, those things are in there mainly for my own amusement. Even when the commentary runs deep, it's still personal to me and I have no expectations that anyone else is onboard. So, in terms of "fine lines..." there are none. Not for me, anyway.

But I'm okay with that. As you know me, I'm a guy that's not on any social networks, either. I prefer that distance, I guess. I think, in comic books especially, it's about the Art and not the Artist. And, listen, a high-five from someone over a piece of work you've done is nothing to sneeze at. A high-five is a perfectly acceptable critique. Even laudable.

SPURGEON: In general, then, do you think people always understand where you're coming from? You work in some unique spaces in terms of hard expectations and a sometimes-rigid genre structure or even specific storytelling demands. Do you recall an instance in your career when you felt you were understood and appreciated for exactly what it is you sent out to do? Is there a story that stands out, or a work that stands out where you felt it kind of slipped that appreciation?

CASEY: A lot of the work I've done that I've been most proud of hasn't been popular by any measurable -- or, to be more specific, commercial -- standards. Now, I'm painfully aware that this is a First World Problem of the most annoying-sounding kind. But you asked.

SPURGEON: I did.

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CASEY: In the creator-owned area, there's things like GØDLAND or Butcher Baker the Righteous Maker or The Bounce, where I felt like, for me, I'd moved the needle a little bit, in terms of using genre to make a personal artistic statement. And even in the WFH space, things like the Captain Victory book I did -- with a host of all-star artists -- or the Catalyst Comix series at Dark Horse. Same with the Vengeance series I did at Marvel with Nick Dragotta and the Zodiac book I did there with Nathan Fox. Those things were aesthetic creative victories for me that I would never take for granted.

But that's how it goes sometimes. Hell, these days you could probably find a handful of random readers who'll admit to having fond memories of my run on Uncanny X-Men, which was pretty much universally reviled when it was coming out 15 years ago. Same with my last year -- the "pacifist" year -- on Adventures of Superman. Same with my Wildcats run and especially Automatic Kafka... books that some people now hold up specifically as high points in my career. But, y'know, I suppose I prefer that cult-level, artistic resonance over being a flash in the pan that hits big and is then completely forgotten. There's a lot of that in comic books, especially in the last 30 years.

SPURGEON: Did the election change the context for Officer Downe?

CASEY: My knee jerk response to that question is, "God, I hope not," because I think that Entertainment -- and that's a separate thing from Art, by the way -- should remain as Entertainment no matter what the political climate. Is that shallow? Maybe so. But popcorn should taste the same no matter who's running the world. And Officer Downe -- the book or the film -- certainly isn't out to make any kind of heavy social statement. It's pure pulp pop and it's not meant to be anything more. I'm pretty sure the concept can't carry anything more than that.

These days I feel like being able to genuinely tap into any kind of wider cultural zeitgeist is not a big part of my skill set. It might happen by accident on the rare occasion, but I'm not convinced that I have the talent to ever purposefully make it happen.

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SPURGEON: I wanted to ask a question about SEX, which is a comic I enjoy a lot. The conventional wisdom amongst my friends that read it is that it's about 1980s world-building, which is something that's been discussed in terms of that work. But I wonder if what's really going on is if by recognizing the sexual nature of motivation you're forced into world-building, the same way that Steve Englehart had to do it that during his Avengers run where he allowed the personal narratives happen in overlapping ways. Do you have to create a world that encompasses the themes you're addressing?

CASEY: Okay... let me see if I can talk about this without bursting anyone's bubble. The "world-building" aspect of a lot of things I do involves a lot of improvisation. I'm a character-first kind of writer. And the rest of it all flows from character. Saturn City without Simon Cooke -- or Keenan Wade or anyone else who lives there -- is a pretty empty place. Character motives are everything. When you separate it from the obvious meta-commentary, the actual narrative is not so much about themes, I don't think. It's about behaviors. That's what I'm interested in depicting in the series. How do these characters react when thrust into certain situations, primarily situations they're not particularly built for? Taking characters out of their comfort zones is always fun to write. And, as I go along, I guess I do create the world -- or I'm "forced" to, as you suggest -- in order to contain those ideas, hopefully in an interesting manner. But it's to support a conceit more than it encompasses a theme.

Maybe I'm splitting hairs there. I just don't want to take too much credit for something that I know I'm not putting a great deal of effort towards. If SEX has a theme, it's a pretty simple one: It's Time To Grow Up. The rest is window dressing.

SPURGEON: One thing I think is funny about SEX is that once you add in these personal elements it makes the lives of your characters seem crowded, like if you're doing real-person stuff where the hell do people find time to do this kind of costumed crimefighting which informs what they're up to now. Do you feel as harried as the characters in that book? Do you feel time slipping away, professionally and personally?

CASEY: Jeezus... I do feel that. I feel it more and more, lately. That's probably why it's such a part of the series. I've been going at this full-on for twenty years now. My relationship to my work is the longest committed relationship I've ever had and probably will ever have. The only relationship that's gone on longer than that is my relationship with comic books themselves. That one's been going on at least twice as long...! So, yeah, I'm feeling the time passage.

I've always had a thing about mortality... how we're here now and at some point we'll be gone. But when I was younger it was nothing more than the neurosis of a high strung kid. Now it's more of a grim reality, staring me in the goddamn face, which is scary as fuck. And, of course, we've seen a lot of death in 2016. That never helps.

SPURGEON: That's a book with backmatter. You and maybe Ed [Brubaker] are the only people I know that do that effectively. John Porcellino, too. Does engaging in conversation about the culture of comics, the sweep of the art form, do you do that because you don't see it a lot of place? What do you think about the current state of our rhetoric about comics, how we discuss what we're reading and how we feel about it.

CASEY: It's ironic you bring that up, since I'm about to close down the SEX letters page for the very reason you're implying. It's something I've possibly gotten adept enough at that I feel like there are times when it can overshadow the work, the comic book itself. And that's not how it's supposed to be. Granted, as a lifelong process junkie, I'm certainly more interested in reading that type of analysis or discussion more than I am the actual comics being discussed. And there are plenty of folks who do it a lot better than I ever will. You're one of them, Tom. But as far as being a provider of that kind of entertainment as a profession, I think I have more of a responsibility to try and make good comics than I do to be able to talk about them intelligently.

SPURGEON: Can you tell me how as a working professional you've processed some of the deaths we've seen this year, or how you might do that generally. Is it solely personal or does part of you grieve the lost of the art, that specific avenue of expression that someone embodies. Has a comics industry passing ever hit you hard?

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CASEY: I'm pretty sure I'm the kind of person who doesn't process death in general especially well. I tend to try and ignore it, really... mainly out of a fear that the sheer enormity of the concept will send me crawling back under my bedsheets, never to emerge. When creative people in particular leave us, you're suddenly adjusting to a new world, a world in which these people no longer exist. It can change you, often in subtle ways. But I've had close relatives die, so I know the difference very well.

Darwyn Cooke's passing came out of nowhere for me. I didn't know him personally at all, but he carried a particular torch that I think we needed in this industry, so there's a definite vacuum there. Steve Dillon, who I'm proud to say I worked with on two issues of Wildcats, represented a certain artistic aesthetic to me, an approach to storytelling that was so singular and so... comfortable in its own skin. His art was like an old friend, and now that old friend is gone.

In my time as a professional, there have certainly been deaths that occurred over the years -- of people that I had a little more of a connection to -- that hit me in different ways. Ringo's death stunned me, because I'd worked with the guy and thought he was so good. But he had a certain personality that just seemed to me like he'd hang around to be a gloriously grouchy old man. There was Bill Oakley, a legendary letterer who worked on the first few years of my Adventures of Superman run (with Ringo, coincidentally). Clément Sauvé, who was a fantastic artist I'd worked with a bit on some random superhero launch in the mid-2000's, was one who died way too young.

It's not that they hit me particularly hard... it's just a very confusing thing, all around. ComiC book creators are generally not the type of people that you predict will leave us so suddenly or so young. You think more of Kirby, who lived to a fairly ripe old age. Or Stan Lee, who may be ancient as fuck... but he's still out there kicking up dust.

SPURGEON: Do you ever regret working in a medium with such a utilitarian perspective on shared creative effort? Like you strike me as the kind of writer where younger creators will pick up on a specific element or two or eleven and then work those elements into their work. I know I've seen, for example, The Intimates waving at me from other people's comics, intentional or not. Does that annoy? Does that even register?

CASEY: It registers, because people occasionally point it out to me. I've seen it here and there, but y'know... I've worn my various influences on my sleeve from time to time. The Intimates came from somewhere, too. Its creative antecedents are so obvious to me. But it's the Circle of Life, y'know? Maybe the difference is that I'm perfectly comfortable admitting it. I've never been embarrassed to say that a writer like David Michelinie was a big influence on me as a kid. Or Bob Fleming. Or Mike Baron. Or any number of comic book creators who weren't necessarily transcendent "superstars" at that Frank Miller/Alan Moore-level of rarified air, but who nonetheless hit me at the right time in my own development. They shaped my sensibilities in a very tangible way. They really meant something to me. The fact that they weren't at the top of the charts just makes their influence that much more poignant for me.

So clearly I don't have that particular insecurity that keeps me from taking a certain pride in being a link in a longer creative chain. But I dunno... it could be that not everyone feels that way.

SPURGEON: Given the shifting realities of the industry, would it have been possible for you to have the same career were it to start right now? For instance, could you have been a creator that parlayed a big social media presence into opportunities? Could you have crowdfunded books?

CASEY: Not in a million years. That's just not me. For better or worse, I'm a product of my times. I grew up with the firm belief that the world didn't owe me a goddamn thing, that if you bet on yourself and were willing to work harder, push yourself further than the guy standing next to you... you could make it to that place you wanted to be. If anything, I would've published things online for free. Making comic books is practically a compulsion for me. I was doing it before I went pro so there's no scenario I could imagine where I'm not doing it. I've spent the better part of my life learning this language, so to not speak it as often as possible seems ridiculous. Not to mention, I love doing it.

The "big social media presence" part of it all... that's a different subject altogether. I don't understand how someone could have a big enough social media footprint without actually having done anything to merit the attention. So to try and engineer one with the goal of getting paying work doesn't make a ton of sense to me. It wouldn't feel right. But I know people do it, I know it works for some people, both professionally and personally. I just know myself... I'd feel weird if I tried to do that. The equation for me has always seemed to be: Work First, Recognition Second. Never the other way around.

But who the hell knows? Maybe it would be easier for me to break in now than it was when I actually did. I honestly haven't thought about it too much. I can tell you that in 1997 it was a million-to-one shot that I'd ever make a genuine run at being a professional comic book writer. And for Marvel and DC, to boot. To this day, I still look back and find it hard to believe it actually worked out for me...! I was a Nobody from Nowhere with no formal training, no significant educational background to speak of, I'd never been to New York City... all of those things that, at the time, seemed to mean something to people. So, in many ways, the deck was stacked against me. And not only did it work out, it exceeded practically every dream I'd ever had when I was a kid about doing this for a living.

As you can tell... I've processed that just about as well as I have the concept of death...

SPURGEON: What do you feel about the state of the industry in general? A lot of people are happy with the opportunities they have, but I talk to a lot of comics professional that wonder what's in place to deliver their work to people who want to read, almost in foundational terms. Are you happy with the opportunities you have to place work in people's hands, to get work in front of folks' faces.

CASEY: I know there's a lot of nervousness right now about comic book retail stores closing. But haven't we always been nervous about that sort of thing? There's always been the concern that this entire thing is built on quicksand. And maybe that's true. Maybe it is. But I know that comic books -- as a medium, as an art form -- are pretty goddamn resilient. They seem to survive, no matter what the upheaval. So, based on history alone, I'm not particularly worried myself.

For me, and my own work, it's very simple: I want the work to exist. That's my primary goal, that it's physically out there in the world. At this point in my career, it's the only thing I can completely control, y'know? Whether or not people read it or react to it, that's beyond me. My own satisfaction begins and often ends with knowing that something I've done is out and available for anyone who ends up finding it, picking it up, buying it, etc. So creating it is the first priority. It's where I feel I should expend the most energy.

Having said that, I do recognize that it's an ever-shifting landscape. You have to be adaptable to the way it ebbs and flows. In my creator-owned work (my Image comics, basically), I'll be trying different formats for different projects, more diverse methods of delivering the material that might better match the current state of the Direct Market. I'm not talking about reinventing the wheel or anything groundbreaking like that... I'm just going to be more responsive instead of bullheaded when it comes to putting out product. It's really another avenue for creativity. That's how I choose to look at it, anyway...

SPURGEON: Now that we know comics can be for everybody, something for which people fought on a significant number of fronts by several players of different kinds in comics, what's the next battle for comics? What's the thing you'd like most to see go away or being put into place? For that matter, do you even think in terms like that anymore, and do you feel like comics pros have a responsibility to other creators?

CASEY: I'm not sure who's responsible for what anymore. The big publishers have become nothing less than Hollywood studios, both in theory and in practice. And that's kind of a shame. Then again, those kind of large corporate structures -- not just in the comic book industry -- are still a very closed system. They're still rife with all the problems, the social ills and prejudices they've always seemed to contain. So, I guess we can say that the comic book industry has, in many ways, caught up with the rest of the entertainment business. Hooray for us.

But, let's not forget, we wanted this. All of this nonsense was our dream for the industry. We wanted to be on the same level as the rest of pop culture. To be "taken seriously." I know, for myself, I relished the challenge of whether or not we could maintain our integrity -- as an artistic medium -- in the harsh light of "Hollywood" culture, Entertainment Weekly and the endless levels of exploitation that comes along with it. Turns out, those forces were much more powerful than we could ever hope to be. We stepped right up to be exploited. Or we bent over, if that's the way you want to look at it.

The industry itself -- long before this shift -- has always suffered from the three "I's": Insensitivity, Ignorance and Ineptitude. It's suffered from an incredible abundance of all three, actually. There's generally no real evil or malice involved. But those three things can still do a lot of damage... and have. So we've still got a lot of things to overcome, a lot of history to account for. A lot of bodies left bleeding in the street.

I think I just want even better comics. I want works of Art that are motherfucking transcendent. And I target that desire squarely at myself, too. So it's a personal battle, as well as a hope for the industry. I still want to believe that if the quality of the work is high enough, we can survive any of the extraneous bullshit that comes with where we've all collectively found ourselves.

So after all that, lemme try to answer your question as definitively as I can: Maybe the next battle for comics is simply the eternal struggle not to destroy ourselves...

SPURGEON: Did you receive any blowback for your recent criticism of diversity hires at mainstream comics companies having a marketing element and being tied into specific characters rather than these being opportunities to secure high-profile gigs across the board? Are you ever frustrated with the way comics processes issues more generally? Is there anything that worries you that you'd love to see addressed that isn't being discussed?

CASEY: No blowback whatsoever. At least, none that I'm aware of. And if there was -- so what? I do think I've earned the right to comment on just about any aspect of this business that I care to. That doesn't mean anyone has to pay any attention. But I've been in it twenty years now... which, by the way, is about nineteen more than I ever expected to be. It's been my life for so long, I've got my opinions and if I'm asked, I'll share 'em. And, let's be honest, everything is about marketing when it comes to corporate publishing. Because marketing translates into money. Of course, it's certainly distasteful when corporations exploit identity as a way to make money, but I'm never surprised when they do it. So it's not like I'm blowing the lid off some hidden scandal. Anyone who hasn't already realized this is happening is, in my humble opinion, slightly naive as to how the world works.

But I'm a creator, I'm fully on the Art side of things, so I don't have to be sympathetic to corporate needs. I think I see a bigger picture. First of all, let's pretend we actually care about big, corporate superhero publishers and the product they provide...

A talented black writer writing a black franchise superhero character is certainly going to be affecting, but quite honestly, I'm much more interested in that same black writer's take on a character like Superman or Thor or Captain America. If there's going to be a push for "diverse" creators in the field, the real push should be to get them working on non-stereotypical material. Now, granted, if those are the only jobs being offered to non-white, non-male, non-straight creators then if you want to work, you take the gig and you cash your check and more power to you. Nothing wrong with getting paid. This is not on the creators... this is on the publishers and their hiring practices.

So a good female creator writing Ms. Marvel or Wonder Woman and doing it well? Not so much of a stretch. I get it. But I want to see a good female writer on Batman -- a well-known white male power fantasy. Or a good female artist, for that matter. Or both. And not just as a one-off. A good long run, the same kind that creators like Grant Morrison or Scott Snyder or Greg Capullo are afforded. That would be interesting to see, on any number of levels. Hell, it might get me to actually read a new Batman comic book for the first time in over a decade...! It would excite me a lot more than the next Straight White Male working on the book. I've seen that a whole bunch of times.

Things like that are starting to happen, but mostly in awkward fits and spurts. But corporations are often reactive as opposed to proactive. So I wouldn't say I'm "worried," per se, but I do see that there are some editors who often "cast" the creatives on the books they edit in a very stereotypical way. They need to get over that shit and realize that talent is talent. Gender, race, sexual orientation, etc... all these things should be secondary to whether or not a creator has the talent, the skill and the experience to do the job. And, to be painfully honest, there's a vocal segment of the readership who are often guilty of having those same blind spots. But I'll give them a pass. An audience wants what it wants and they don't have to justify why.

SPURGEON: From your perspective as a creator, do you find that a lot of publishers right now understand what you need to function best a creative professional. Is that underlying contempt you once described to me, is that still there?

CASEY: Talk about First World problems...! Look... some get it, some don't. Some try to rig the game. Corporate publishers, as a rule, are not entities you should ascribe actual human feelings to... any more than you would to a bank or a supermarket. They're all corporations. But I get your question.

Yes, I think that underlying contempt is still there, but it's there for different reasons now. The general empowerment of the creator these days annoys the piss out of the bigger corporate publishers. This is something I know from personal experience. Generally, in the mainstream of the last ten or fifteen years, the paradigm was to use Marvel and/or DC to make a name for yourself, then go off and reap the benefits of that name recognition on work that you actually own. It's like going to a sleazy prostitute to lose your virginity and learn how to fuck and then take that carnal knowledge and find true love elsewhere. And if there's one thing corporate comic book publishers know about... it's prostitution. But I've seen folks within those corporations get very upset when creators display any sense of self-respect or "defect" to greener pastures (and, by "greener," I mean situations where they own their work and can potentially make more money doing it).

I'm not sure if that paradigm works anymore, since Marvel and DC seem to be unable to turn newer creators into "names" like they used to (even though they certainly operate as though that were the case). So that might limit where those creators can go later. But that just means those newer creators have to forge a new paradigm. I mean, they really have no choice. It's sink or swim.

imageSPURGEON: What's the best comic you read this year?

CASEY: Oh shit... you finally stumped me, Tom. I've honestly had to rack my brain to come up with something current that really affected me. There are things that came out in '16 that I know are really good... but I'm having a hard time coming up with one that I can definitively say was the "best" that I read. Keep in mind, you're asking a guy who's hoping to re-read Steve Gerber's Man-Thing run over the holidays. I can tell you I'm psyched for your book on the history of Fantagraphics. At the moment, I'm reading Coppola's Godfather Notebook. I'm also reading Thank You For Being Late by Thomas Friedman. So clearly, I have much different reading priorities than chasing down the latest Hot! New! Release!

I'm not a diehard Wednesday warrior anymore. I would love for there to be a quick, obvious answer to your question that springs to mind. Unfortunately, there wasn't anything like that in 2016 that got me really excited, there wasn't anything where it seemed like new ground was being broken. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places. That's entirely possible. But I'm still pretty good at keeping my ear to the ground... and simply put, lightning didn't strike. The things that people seem to be getting somewhat excited about all seem like retreads to me, like things I've seen before. Now, like I said, that doesn't mean they're not well-executed retreads done by talented creators. A lot of them are. But no retread is going to earn that "best" spot on any year-end list that I make. Maybe 2017 will be better. Let's hope so, anyway..

*****

* Officer Downe, Shawn Crahan and Joe Casey, November 2016, 88 minutes.
* Officer Downe, Joe Casey and Chris Burnham, Image Comics, January 2017, $19.99.
* SEX, Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski, Image Comic, series, comic book, $3.99.

*****

* image from the Officer Downe movie
* photo of Joe Casey provided by the writer
* image from the Officer Downe movie
* gorgeous cover to newest edition of the comics, with a lot of movie tie-in material
* the Dark Reign: Zodiac project with Nathan Fox
* panel from SEX
* cover to one of Casey's two comic-book collaborations with the late Steve Dillon
* the great Steve Gerber-era on Man-Thing, a Casey re-read
* Chris Burnham's art on Officer Downe [below]

*****

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*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: Drawing The Women's March On Washington

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Go, Read: Chuck Plunkett Agonizes Over Cartoon Choice

imageI thought this was an interesting post of the kind of in-house discussion that goes on at a lot of papers: several graphs on working through the why on an article or cartoon to which many people object. It's an even more compelling topic right this very moment what with a lot of very powerful and extremely broad issues on the table. I mean, it's not that many years ago that people would have rejected the cartoon in question not for being unfair as a blanket indictment but for being totally unrealistic as even an isolated example. We know that's not the case, sadly. That illusion is gone.

I'm not sure I would have run the cartoon only because I think the caption, the direction of the cartoon's aim at Alabama voters, suggests that they're somehow specifically indictable in a case like this one. It seems to me they're being targeted for being Sessions' constituents, and punished for what one might infer from that their support for racist policy and outlook. I think that's a fair place to end up for the sake of a cartoon, but I also that's a two-step mental process, and I'm not sure readers are willing to take more than one step at a time anymore. To put it another way, the cleverness is in the structure of the joke, not what it reveals.

It's going to be several years of decisions like this at newspapers, and I don't envy editors like Mr. Plunkett this task. It's doable, though, and I think they'll have to make decisive steps in seeing this done. Many of those steps won't be as sure as they look before your foot comes down.
 
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Go, Look: The Redemption Of Super-Champion Barron Drumpf

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Bundled, Tossed, Untied & Stacked: Publishing News

imageBy Tom Spurgeon

* looks like Keezy's Taproot will be released in print graphic novel form by Lion Forge.

* Shelly Bond has announced a new project with an impressive creators-involved list of the kind that one might expect from someone with her professional reach and history. This would be Bond's first public project since her departure from Vertigo. I expect there will be a crowd-funding element. Details to come.

* Marvel is bringing The Crew back. They haven't made a lot of widely-popular choices recently in terms of publishing strategy, but one imagines with the talent involved if they want to do a certain comic, you let them do that comic and then market the results.

* I, for one, never stopped loving her.

* do people still get excited about crossovers like this? I guess enough to move the needle in the modest world of comics.

* finally, Alexis Ziritt has brought Tarantula to AdHouse for release this summer.
 
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If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This

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Forthcoming Comics-Related Events, Through February 2017

image

*****

January 25
* If I Were In Hamilton, I'd Go To This

January 26
* If I Were Anywhere In Europe, I'd Make My Way To This (FIBD)
* If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This

January 27
* If I Were Anywhere In Europe, I'd Make My Way To This (FIBD)
* If I Were In Montreal, I'd Go To This

January 28
* If I Were Anywhere In Europe, I'd Make My Way To This (FIBD)
* If I Were In North Texas, I'd Go To This (North Texas Comic Book Show)
* If I Were In Chicago, I'd Go To This
* If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This
* If I Were In Columbus, I'd Go To This

January 29
* If I Were Anywhere In Europe, I'd Make My Way To This (FIBD)
* If I Were In North Texas, I'd Go To This (North Texas Comic Book Show)

*****

February 1
* If I Were In San Francisco, I'd Go To This

February 17
* If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This (WW)
* If I Were In San Diego, I'd Go To This (San Diego Comic Fest)

February 18
* If I Were In Long Beach, I'd Go To This (LBCE)
* If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This (WW)
* If I Were In San Diego, I'd Go To This (San Diego Comic Fest)

February 19
* If I Were In Long Beach, I'd Go To This (LBCE)
* If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This (WW)
* If I Were In San Diego, I'd Go To This (San Diego Comic Fest)

February 20
* If I Were In San Diego, I'd Go To This (San Diego Comic Fest)

February 21
* If I Were In LA, I'd Go To This

February 25
* If I Were In Columbus, I'd Go To This

*****

Events For March 2017 Onward Listed Here

*****

Editor's Note: Some of you have questioned whether or not these listings count as personal endorsements; they don't. In the spirit of more information trumping less, I will continue to list a wide variety of events here for those that don't share my specific tastes and distastes.

*****



*****
*****
 
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Go, Look: One World... Or Ruin?

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Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* John Seven on Les Cities Obscures. Tim Hensley on We Told You So.

* love this list of links from Kevin Huizenga to a group of students with whom he had recent contact: it's a nice snapshot of his digital profile, if nothing else. I also didn't know that Copacetic came so highly rated as a place to buy via mail, although of course it's a virtuous place to support.

* missed it/not comics: book illustrator Babette Cole, RIP.

* speaking of Copacetic, this is one of the more unique things I've seen for sale in a while: a Tubbs/Easy book with Frank Santoro drawing the pair on the endpages. This is the sentence where I'm supposed to say "I bet we see a lot more of that in future years" but actually I think we don't.

* finally, I appreciate the elegance of Tom Gauld's shop.
 
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Happy 87th Birthday, John Romita Sr.!

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Happy 67th Birthday, Steve Geppi!

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Happy 35th Birthday, Ben Morse!

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Happy 63rd Birthday, Lorenzo Mattotti!

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January 23, 2017


CR Holiday Interview #6 -- Mark Siegel

imageMark Siegel and his team at First Second celebrated their tenth year publishing in 2016. He was thus was an easy choice for this holiday series, now slightly spiraled into 2017. Sorry, Mark! Sorry, Gina!

First Second has changed significantly from its first two or three seasons. Part of this is natural growth, but I think there was course-correction, too. Conventional wisdom is that First Second has become more of a kids-book publisher. I think it's true they lean more towards that direction now than at the beginning -- something Mark confirms below. In 2017, they'll not only ramp up the number of books they're doing but the number intended to be part of a multi-volume series, kind of the gold standard for publishing in general, I think.

The biggest change at First Second since 2006 I think has come from embracing a kind of clarity in storytelling over all other things. This has cost the publishing line some of the quirkiness of its first few years. By the time The Moon Moth came out (2012), it felt like it was working the publisher's outer edge, and certainly notable launch series Grady Klein's The Lost Colony would seem radical in the current line-up.

What First Second has received back, it seems, is a broader connection to comics fans as so many more people start reading them, and a firmer place in an aspirational chain of reader to student to comics artist. They're more than set for the decade to come. Siegel's one of the nicest men in comics, and I always enjoy talking to him. I tweaked what follows for flow. -- Tom Spurgeon

*****

TOM SPURGEON: Let me take you all the way back. We've talked a few times over the years, and I think we even talked pre-launch, before a single First Second book had hit the marketplace.

MARK SIEGEL: I wouldn't be surprised.

SPURGEON: What intrigued me comparing those interviews to the rhetoric I hear from you and the imprint now is that you've remained committed to creating an identity for the line So there's not just a conception of Project A or Project B coming through, but a vision for First Second as its own entity. And that's not where conventional wisdom was in the mid-2000s, where company identity was seen as a relic of the great push-away from Marvel and DC in the 1980s. In fact, in a creative field with so many individual parts, a collective identity can even be seen as a liability, along the line that a company spends too much time on the staff and not on the creators being published by that staff.

Given all that, what has been important to you about making an overall impression, a collective impression?

SIEGEL: That's a great question. I love that. Yeah, that's always been there. It still is. It evolves, and it's not a fixed identity -- it's an evolving identity -- but it's definitely a part of the dream behind the project. A part of creating First Second was establishing a home. That becomes the identity: people lend their strengths to it, and relate to each other through it. Every time we think Gene Yang has peaked, every time he's had a big breakthrough, he pulls up his peers. Part of it is his advocacy for First Second and the people behind it.

So we're a house. We're a business on one hand. That piece is going to be always imperfect. There's always this problem, this uncomfortable dance between business and creativity, between commerce and art. They're never good bedfellows, not completely. But when someone like Gene talks about working with First Second he's talking about the intention, the aim, the things that are beyond the business of it. He's always pulling up other artists. That's part of that group identity, that authors can benefit each other. I think it's needed for cracking America on this different kind of comic.

We're not alone, obviously. First Second isn't the only company trying to make this happen. We're in a field that is actually... it's starting to succeed at wooing a big American readership. So I think that's what it serves.

That was always my hope for First Second, that it would always be a home. It's not like all the relationships we've had have been perfect and rosy. There were people that didn't have a good experience publishing with us, but I think that's not been many. I think most people feel like they're were championed, and that they had peers and a strength in numbers. Not everybody's book is going to make money, necessarily, not their first book -- not their first six books.

It's cool. I like it. I hope that's something that keeps growing for ten years.

SPURGEON: In one of our past interviews, we talked about breaking from an original conception of First Second publishing into three different markets, understood in perhaps the broadest terms as three different reading levels. The idea expressed in that interview was that you were still interested in reaching multiple markets, but after being rigid about it interestingly you were moving towards a strategy where one season you might see way more kids' books, for instance. And I think that's true of what you have planned for 2017 when I look at what you're doing.

image

SIEGEL: It's not thirds so much anymore. We're doing fewer adult books in terms of quantity, at least on the immediate horizon. They tend to get a lot of focus and attention as a result. The Hunting Accident is probably going to be our biggest adult book in 2017. Head Games, maybe. The Penelope Bagieu. It looks like there's maybe four or five -- definitely less than a third for the coming year.

SPURGEON: When I went back and looked, in that same talk we identified a change in the way you approach your line that maybe hasn't been discussed as much since. It seems, if you compare those first few years of books to the seasons you offered in 2016 and will offer this year, it seems you really emphasize accessibility and narrative clarity across the board. You no longer have the idiosyncrasy you saw more frequently in those first couple of years with, for instance, illustrators trying comics for the first time. I would say you have a greater percentage of your line being made by people who are at heart sequential narrative type cartoonists.

SIEGEL: Yeah. Yep.

SPURGEON: So is that part of your editorial mission now? Do you seek out books that people can read without being indoctrinated into the form?

SIEGEL: They don't need to know the secret handshake, this accumulated experience of reading comics for years? I will say that's true. Even with people that are comics veterans, I try to encourage that from an editorial end.

I think I've found my legs somewhat as an editor. I've always known there are certain stages of a book. When you have a conversation over thumbnails, I feel I'm looking at the acting, and looking at the staging and even in a cinematic way I'm paying attention to clarity in terms of the action and the staging the angles... it's not to try to make an homogenous style of art by any mean. I really do believe that it should read not just for the cognoscenti. It should be widely accessible. That's part of the broadening of audiences. That's one piece of it.

I kind of love it. I love that about comics. I think that's a skill of great comics-makers. They can do that. They have a way of guiding you. Sometimes that's weird. If you look at a Chris Ware page for the first time, you go, "What?" It feels obscure and difficult to access. When you actually get into it, he really does take you by the hand and guide you. There's a great deal of clarity. There's a handwriting there that's readable. I think that's why it reaches people.

I want us to have that. I think it's the kind of thing that as an editor I want to look out for. It's the stuff I didn't have time to tend to in the first few seasons, being so busy setting up things.

SPURGEON: Are you getting people that seem more ready-made to publish through your line? Do people know what a First Second book is before they bring it to you?

SIEGEL: Some people do. It's interesting, we're getting people now that have been reading us for a few years. That's kind of an interesting thing. I think part of the gamble of First Second was it being a long-term campaign to push the medium. Push our medium in certain ways -- not the only ways but the ways we're going after.

SPURGEON: [laughs] Give me an example of one of those things. I think there might be a perception, for example, that you're super-traditional in a lot of senses. That you work within established genres with this very specific, clarity-emphasizing approach.

SIEGEL: More traditional as opposed to more experimental?

SPURGEON: Yeah.

SIEGEL: Here's the thing. I feel like we've moved away from a certain kind of... I love the core indie comics. I read a lot of them myself. I feel like the indie thing can become an identity and become this straitjacket where people have made these rules. It's gotta be a solo writer-inker-letterer-everything.

Some of those defining traits of the indie comics served a purpose in that they were pushing against a certain kind of comics. But now it's not that. The readers of today and tomorrow, that's not a very universal appeal. I think the human qualities of a story, the depth of how characters are written and acted, is more important to more people.

image

When you see Decelerate Blue, I think that's a very daring book graphically. That's Adam Rapp's script with Mike Cavallaro's art. I think it's some of Mike's most beautiful work ever. I think for the comics-comics people, they'll feel at home with the style. I think for book readers it will be surprising but they should be able to get into it. Or if you take Box Brown and some of his stuff with Tetris now and the Andy Kaufman book, which I don't think is '17, I think that's later.

SPURGEON: I've seen him working on it.

SIEGEL: He's doing stuff that would have been seen at one point as very indie, very experimental. But because of what he's exploring... in a way, what's interesting is that while everything is diversifying in terms of visuals, in terms of personal signature artwork, the conversation is moving beyond the form of comics. Which I really welcome. When we started First Second, the stuff in the media was covering "hey, comics aren't just for kids" or "hey, comics don't have to be superheroes." You could only have that conversation so many times. Now they're talking about literacy or about immigration or about autism. The conversation is about the subject matter.

SPURGEON: Is that just part of the normalization process?

SIEGEL: Maybe.

SPURGEON: Or is that you've found an aesthetic key...?

SIEGEL: No, I don't think there's an aesthetic that has won over America. You're not making apologies any longer. That used to be very common. Libraries, bookstores, it's one of the things on the menu now. That's one of the milestones we wanted to reach.

image

SPURGEON: Is it a false impression of mine that in '16 and in '17 you have more series than ever?

SIEGEL: No, it's true. It's true. It's one of the few things we're pushing. We have experiments, books to launch, I really want to get going. We want to get good at series as one of the kinds of comics we publish. We have the stuff Faith Erin Hicks is doing. I just got in The Stone Heart, which is the second book of The Nameless City. And it's really beautiful. We have Secret Coders.

We did this experiment with Last Man, which was something we could roll out really quickly. We thought that could also find a presence in the comic shops as a series. I think it's still one of the grails for us, getting that big ambitious, adult -- not necessarily adult, even teens or young adult -- addictive series. I'd love to get us there.

SPURGEON: You think that's a function of work coming out quickly, or the nature of the work...?

SIEGEL: Both. There's a piece of it where I do think about the impediments we face when we try to do what we do, and one of them is just how labor intensive the medium is by its nature. Part of it is we have a few people like Mike Holmes who can tear through a Secret Coders almost as fast as Gene Yang can script one. That's really impressive, but not many people can do that, and do it well, and pull it off. For most people it's a year, two years, three years or a lot more years of their lives. If you're doing a series and it comes out every two years, every three years, it's very difficult to publish successfully that way. So for DC and Marvel, they have the assembly line approach to maximize the Ford Motors model. [laughs] For us that doesn't quite work, it doesn't work for this kind of storyline. So for myself, I have my own experiment with 5 Worlds, which is its own thing. We have a few team projects like that here.

SPURGEON: Is this why Demon is being published across four books rather than as one giant omnibus? You want that multiple-volume effect?

SIEGEL: Yeah. Probably. I think it'd be great to do an omnibus, a big fat thing of that. But with that one we were committed to rolling it out quickly, so it feels like one experience for people. We didn't want to keep people waiting. It keeps warm in people's minds.

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SPURGEON: With Last Man, maybe I'm imagining things, but you're not done with that one, are you?

SIEGEL: I'm not sure which one came out last.

SPURGEON: I want to say I've read volume six.

SIEGEL: I'm looking at 2017, so I think we did six ending in 2016. With that one, there are more volumes in Frances, so we have to decide if we're going to do more.

SPURGEON: How was that book received? Aside from it being a candidate for you to try this rolling release of trades, that book seems culturally weird to me.

SIEGEL: We get a lot of enthusiasm for it at comic cons. I feel it was embraced by comics creators more than anyone else. I think there's an aesthetic to it, a kind of artist's artist approach to a fantasy thing. It's someone with real chops, and a real visual style. That's where I hear about it. A lot of our authors ask me for a copy. That's kind of encouraging at one level. But in terms of hittting a mainstream reader, it hasn't quite popped to that.

SPURGEON: Why do you think that is? I thought of that one... I had a different conception of it as a project than I did after I got to read your version in the States. Was it a little too enamored of its pulp roots at a time we're a bit more arch and critical of that kind of material?

SIEGEL: I feel that as I get older, as the years pass I'm less confident in my own pronouncements about why things go the way they go. [laughter] When something really tanks I can see some of the reasons why, and it's usually one explanation having to do with content.

I know that on-line it sparked what I feel is healthy discussion. There was a bit of blowback about some aspects, and the authors jumped in. Typically that's not a good idea, but in this case it turned out to be. The authors jumped into the debate. It was not unexamined on their end. Even if it was not sensible... they had a position in the matter. They were happy to engage with readers about it. I thought that was cool. I thought that was an interesting moment.

There are still some differences between Europe and the states. Some things just read differently in different context. The same book can have very different impacts in different markets. I'm always interested when we bring stuff in and translate it, the risk of disconnect with an American reader is always higher. In this case -- I don't know actually. I hear a lot of good stuff from people who come to our booth. So there are people who really do connect with it. But in terms of a big number, a big audience? Maybe it skirts too close to that line. I think in America there's a very important conversation about a lot of things -- about appropriation, about sexism -- that could seem unexamined in their work.

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SPURGEON: What did you see in Demon that made you feel it was a First Second book?

SIEGEL: [laughs] I know! You wouldn't predict that one on our list.

SPURGEON: No.

SIEGEL: Calista [Brill] first landed on that and brought me into it. We both felt the same way. Holy shit, we have to do this. This will be the most insane thing we'll ever do. [laughter] But it's also genius. Shiga is an incredible... he's incredible. It's not what you're expect from the last ten years of our publishing program, you're right.

imageOne of the things I would like to be defining for us is that we do keep surprising. Not for the sake of surprising. That we do keep pushing into areas that are outside our comfort zone. Things that have now become staples -- like This One Summer doesn't look like a typical First Second book. But now it fits into the line in terms of an important new voice. I don't want us to get sclerotic or locked in. I wouldn't want that.

SPURGEON: Can you think of anything about your relationships with your authors that's different year one to year ten? Are there difference in the standard contract? Are the authors more cognizant of media rights than they used to be? Are they demanding a certain level of guaranteed publicity? What's the difference between someone sitting in a room with you and their rep year one and year ten? What do they ask for? What are they worried about?

SIEGEL: We rarely go for any media rights. We barely have, Tom. There was a space where we experimented with that, where for a limited time we tried to make something happen with film or gaming or something, and then give them back to the author if we don't make it happen. But we've always been on the side of just taking book publishing rights and leaving the rest to the authors. So we were more unique in the field in that way in the beginning than we are now. I don't know... are people more informed? Yeah, I suppose so. People generally have agents or they get one soon after their first book or two. I think the good agents know if they're helping their clients build a long-lasting relationship with a house or a few different houses, they'll be doing that over time, and not with a first book. If they have a hit, they do come back and push. Which is what they should do. That's their job.

SPURGEON: One big issue in terms of this era of comics, this ten-year period, is the crumbling of infrastructure for the various cartoon expressions. Newspapers have crumbled.

SIEGEL: Newspapers for sure.

SPURGEON: Some will argue that book publishing isn't as sturdy as it was ten years ago in terms of the number and strength of its institutions. Ditto specialty shops. Some of the people reading -- maybe not as much as we though -- are going online, and we have festivals now that kind of stand as a fundamental restructuring of the way people buy and relate to what they're buying.

How different is it to get a book where it catches on? How much do you have to work this array of angles? What makes a book catch to the point it builds momentum on its own?

SIEGEL: I'm not sure. It's a bit of a different game. There's book publishing, and then within book publishing graphic novel publishing follows a very different patter. It's not really... if you were to start graphing out the health and activity of book publishing generally across different formats, graphic novels don't seem to follow the other trends. There's steady growth. People hoped it would be a magical formula of some kind [laughs] and they've moved away from that, but this slow, steady growth and stability. For First Second, 2013 was the year where as a publishing house we seemed to reach a certain kind of maturity and stability. We've always played a long game, but I think creators can build a steady career more easily now than they could ten years ago. It is still a steep entry curve, with all of the work involved. Even now, with a decent advance, you're still likely only getting minimum wage in terms of hours of work.

SPURGEON: Don't oversell it, Mark. [laughter]

SIEGEL: It's the readership. What makes it a viable career is that there's a readership to sustain the amount of money that cartoonists need. I've had times of great optimism. I've never been totally in the pessimistic school. I feel now more level-headed hopeful. It feels for me, for First Second, from where I stand, that we have a viable business model. It's becoming more and more of a viable model for the creators and not just a passion-career with little hope of making real money.

SPURGEON: You've never struck me as a negative guy... so what worries you? Is there an asteroid you see that maybe we don't? Does declining literacy worry you, or the ability of speciality shops and brick-and-mortar stores more generally to stay open? What worries you most about finding viable careers for a variety of cartoonists that can do this for a living?

SIEGEL: One thing that's been on my mind a long time is if there's a way of finding a good proving ground. In France, it used to be the magazines. Pilote. That was the place where there was a big heavy-hitter star artist, and there was a place for newcomers to show their stuff. In America, I think it was the indie comics scene for a while. It still is. They're still around. I think what joined alongside of it is the web comic, the web serial. I think it's kind of equivalent in a way. It's a proving ground where people can hone their skills and people will start building an audience.

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For us, we have the Science Comics line which we'll have a lot of. We have a lot of that coming. And I'm happy because we'll be giving a lot of artists, in a lot of cases very young artists, a shot. It's not a massive, mega-project that's going to crush their spirit with two years of slaving away, but they'll get to show what they can do. They can contribute to something that has a reach. It's getting out there. I'm interested in more of those kinds of things. Things where people don't have to share their magnum opus first thing out of the gate.

SPURGEON: Do you get to read comics? What's the last comic that didn't have something to do with work that struck you in an interesting way?

SIEGEL: I tend to read a lot more prose these days, so lately for me it's been re-reading Ursula K. Le Guin, floating with pleasure in that stuff. Ted Chiang I've been really into as well. In comics Nimona was the last one that wasn't First Second that really lit up for me, where there was real comics reading pleasure.

SPURGEON: I asked a few comics pros about a question to ask you and a surprising number came up with the same joke to ask you about your beard.

SIEGEL: [laughs] Wait a minute, these are people that know me?

SPURGEON: You looked very rugged this year at the shows, Mark. That's all I'm saying.

SIEGEL: It was a vacation thing where I grew one on vacation and my son wanted me to keep it. Then it stuck. I think when you have a dramatic change of look it sticks because it goes with a shift. Something has been shifting internally. That was my way of marking it. I don't know if it's going to stay.

SPURGEON: Do you still use your kids to get a read on material, as a bellwether?

SIEGEL: I do. I do. Now they're 11 and 9, so I bring stuff home. There's two interesting measurements I get. One is what they say about what they read. And then I watch to see what they re-read. Because there's stuff that they're okay with but they never pick up again. The stuff they re-read is the stuff they like -- they'll re-read and re-read and re-read. There's a lot of it. They're constantly reading these things.

SPURGEON: I think that's all I have. Personal aside, while I have you: I heard you almost made it to CXC [Cartoon Crossroads Columbus] this year. I hope you can make it soon.

SIEGEL: I came really close. My 5 Worlds project is coming out with Random House in May. I'll put that show on their radar. I'm going to be doing some stuff in support. That's really fun, actually. I visited my son's school, and presented that project to 200 sixth graders. It was so awesome. It was so much. It was really a blast.

imageSPURGEON: I'm not sure I'm totally caught up with this next creative project of yours, which you've mentioned a couple of times now. Let me go back to interview voice. Can you give me the rough parameters on 5 Worlds? I knew you have been working on something as a creator distinct from your editorial duties at First Second and I heard you were working with collaborators. But other than that, I have nothing.

SIEGEL: There have been a couple of hits announcing it. It's in May. It's called 5 Worlds. We're a team of five, including my brother Alexis. He's now in London for a couple of years with the UN. We have these three awesome young graduates of MICA. Matt Rockefeller. Boya Sun. Xanthe Bouma. These kids. I'm almost scared to talk about it because I don't want to jinx it but the teamwork has been the most magical thing.

It's a very ambitious five-volume, 250-pages a volume, full-color space opera. With a lot of background world-building, a lot of big transformations. We're kind of packing in... I'm aware of what's being made in middle-grade -- especially fantasy and sci-fi. We're pushing the density of it. I'm really, really excited. This is a big, special project for me. But I'm also in a team of five. It could have gone wrong in so many ways but it's actually one of the most beautiful things in my life, honestly. [laughs]

SPURGEON: With the last one that you did, when we talked about it a lot of your language was about the solitariness of getting that done. The discipline to get the project in. You almost sounded like this lone, Olympian runner. [Siegel laughs] So I imagine having company was fortifying. A group component had to appeal as beat-up as you were after Sailor Twain.

SIEGEL: It did. The Frenchies do this a lot. They kind of switch between solo projects and collaborations. This is a very unusual, the whole process that we're using and the way it's coming out. We feel like we're finding a way to have one voice, together. Which is really, to me, a very rare experience. It's sort of like the thrill you might get if you're in a choir and the magic really happens. That's how it's feeling.

What happened was that my brother and I were writing and we were going to bring in these three young kids to take direction from us. Really soon into the project they began to join in. They were generating into the worlds, the cultures and the histories of these worlds but also the story itself and the characters. It's become tight, a really tight little affair.

When we went out with the project it came down to a couple of houses and Random House took it away. That's been a really interesting experience, getting a taste of that house.

SPURGEON: Is there something that sticks out with Random House as a sharp contrast to an experience you've enjoyed in the past?

SIEGEL: It's definitely a big, big house. We see what's possible. The number of people involved in the support system for launching a book, is huge. It has up and down sides. I felt really good working with a couple of super-competent editors. That's always useful, to see how things are done. It's interesting because with First Second we're heading into our biggest year ever. With 2017, we're getting near 40 titles.

SPURGEON: I saw your list.

SIEGEL: This list is so cool. It's so good. I feel we've had some good lists and not so good lists. This is really, really strong; it's strong across the board. I really feel this is our best offering ever, this coming year. At the same time this is going on I have this really intensive project going on on the side with Random House [laughs]. But it's interesting. It's interesting.

*****

* First Second Books
* Five Worlds, Book 1

*****

* First Second Books anniversary logo
* from The Hunting Accident
* from Decelerate Blue
* Faith Erin Hicks' latest
* from Last Man Vol. 3
* from This One Summer
* it's Science!
* first cover image for a 5 Worlds book
* art from Sailor Twain [below]

*****

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posted 4:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: Liana Finck's Cartoon Diary Of The Weekend's Women's March In Washington

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posted 1:40 am PST | Permalink
 

 
New Information Surfaces In Prageeth Eknaligoda Case

New details have surfaced in the Prageeth Eknaligoda case.

The commentator and cartoonist disappeared in the ramp-up to a 2010 election; pressure from his wife Sandya applied persistently over years and supported by friends have settled on his being disappeared rather than wandering off on his own or being the victim of random violence. That's a reasonably detailed article as to where the rough parameters stand right this moment. The routine banality of what was done, the way that the horrifying circumstance can appear in shrugged-shoulder fashion as a description of the past, seems terrifying to me. I also wasn't aware a group of accused soldiers had all been released. I hope for whatever justice and peace still may be secured.
 
posted 1:35 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: John Klossner

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posted 1:30 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Comics By Request: People, Places In Need Of Funding

By Tom Spurgeon

* count Joe Chiappetta among the veteran cartoonists seeking a financial boost straight from core fans via a Patreon account. Chiappetta's strip might be ideally suited for that platform. Silly Daddy was part of a 'zine-culture comics mini-movement in the mid-1990s; he was a strong presence at the early SPX shows and once fell into a fire ass-first in San Diego in what may have been one of the ten great moments in SDCC history. As an evangelical Christian whose work I believe focuses on his family in a very different way than his older work did, Chiappetta makes comics that might have their best chance of finding support this way.

* didn't see a lot of names that I recognized in the Kickstarter comics category, which means I need to get off of my ass and introduce my eyeballs to more artists that fund through there. The names I saw that were familiar: Tyler Page, Matt Houk and Patrick Kain. I will do better next time.

* Zanadu Comics still has their gofundme going, and there are still recent donors. Their goal seems a long way off but I imagine every bit helps and maybe among you is a white knight that can make -- and wants to make -- a more significant outreach than most of us can.

* a designer of a popular image from this weekend's marching writes about not wanting or being able to profit from the image directly, but floats the notion that designers and providers of imagery like that do provide a service that might be rewarded. There are some delicate issues in there, so forgive me if I got that wrong.

* Gabrielle Bell has a Patreon focused on support of her diary comics.

* finally, the Clallam Bay Comicon has launched a small art-for-cash fundraiser to get guest Diana Kennedy to the show.
 
posted 1:25 am PST | Permalink
 

 
If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This

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posted 1:20 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Forthcoming Comics-Related Events, Through February 2017

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*****

January 25
* If I Were In Hamilton, I'd Go To This

January 26
* If I Were Anywhere In Europe, I'd Make My Way To This (FIBD)
* If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This

January 27
* If I Were Anywhere In Europe, I'd Make My Way To This (FIBD)
* If I Were In Montreal, I'd Go To This

January 28
* If I Were Anywhere In Europe, I'd Make My Way To This (FIBD)
* If I Were In North Texas, I'd Go To This (North Texas Comic Book Show)
* If I Were In Chicago, I'd Go To This
* If I Were In Toronto, I'd Go To This
* If I Were In Columbus, I'd Go To This

January 29
* If I Were Anywhere In Europe, I'd Make My Way To This (FIBD)
* If I Were In North Texas, I'd Go To This (North Texas Comic Book Show)

*****

February 1
* If I Were In San Francisco, I'd Go To This

February 17
* If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This (WW)
* If I Were In San Diego, I'd Go To This (San Diego Comic Fest)

February 18
* If I Were In Long Beach, I'd Go To This (LBCE)
* If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This (WW)
* If I Were In San Diego, I'd Go To This (San Diego Comic Fest)

February 19
* If I Were In Long Beach, I'd Go To This (LBCE)
* If I Were In Portland, I'd Go To This (WW)
* If I Were In San Diego, I'd Go To This (San Diego Comic Fest)

February 20
* If I Were In San Diego, I'd Go To This (San Diego Comic Fest)

February 21
* If I Were In LA, I'd Go To This

February 25
* If I Were In Columbus, I'd Go To This

*****

Events For March 2017 Onward Listed Here

*****

Editor's Note: Some of you have questioned whether or not these listings count as personal endorsements; they don't. In the spirit of more information trumping less, I will continue to list a wide variety of events here for those that don't share my specific tastes and distastes.

*****



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posted 1:15 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Go, Look: P. Craig Russell Killraven Splash Pages

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posted 1:10 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Random Comics News Story Round-Up

image* Philippe Leblanc on It's Me. Sean Gaffney on Ranma 1/2 Vols. 35-36. Paul O'Brien on All New X-Men #14-16.

* more random notes about working on his new computer from the great Todd Klein.

* the comics-focused staff at Paste suggests a dozen things they'd like to see in the North American comics industry in 2017. It's a mainstream-focused perspective that some who engage with comics from the alt- and art comics worlds might not totally get, but the sentiment behind each thing is genuine and if they all happen comics would be a better place than it was before. It's interesting that many of the hoped-for outcomes involve industry entities acting in more enlightened fashion; there's not a lot of reinventing the wheel here.

* Sean Edgar talks to Matt Kindt.

* finally: Gilbert Hernandez, sign-maker. Melissa Benoist, superhero. James Kochalka, sloganeer. Ann and Signe, nasty women. Lisa Hanawalt, marcher. That was a really good day, I think.
 
posted 1:05 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Happy 83rd Birthday, Don Wright!

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posted 1:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
Happy 65th Birthday, Klaus Janson!

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posted 1:00 am PST | Permalink
 

 
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