Tom Spurgeon's Web site of comics news, reviews, interviews and commentary
















May 4, 2008


CR Sunday Interview: Will Dinski

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imageI don't know Will Dinski from Adam, but I liked what I'd seen of his comics, so I asked the cartoonist to take part in the 2007 CR Holiday series, a bunch of interviews many of which -- like Dinski's -- never quite came off due to this site's spectacular late-in-the-year server disaster. Dinski's work to date reveals a strong sense of story and an interesting take on various uses for a structural grid. As we discuss below, Dinski both studied comics and lives in one of the medium's great regional strongholds, Minneapolis. If you're one of the people that reads this blog in order to put younger or more obscure cartoonists on the radar, add Will Dinski.

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TOM SPURGEON: Will, I don't know anything about you other than the fact that you started turning out comics pages and a lot of self-printed work a few years back. Where did you come from? Did I hear correctly in that you went to art school? When did you start on the latest series of works and what led you to comics that way?

WILL DINSKI: Well, I'm originally from Illinois, but moved to Minneapolis to go to art school. The Minneapolis College of Art and Design. I studied Comics, so I've a BFA in this stuff. I've a day job working as a print production artist for a small education focused marketing firm. All the comics work I do is done in the evenings when I get off work.

I'm not sure what older comics you're referring to but I'm assuming you mean Habitual Entertainment #1 and 2.

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SPURGEON: That's them.

DINSKI: I guess the big difference between those comics and the comics I'm making now is the grid I work with. That came about because I was so dissatisfied with my pacing on the first two comics. The story just seemed to go by too quickly. I figured making the panels smaller, putting more of them on a page, and breaking it up with panels of just text, I'd have more control how fast the reader would move through the story. Plus, I like being in control of whether or not the reader is taking in the text or images first. Laying out the pages in this grid lets me do that.

imageSPURGEON: Before we get any further: For those who haven't had any experience learning about comics in a more structured environment, can you describe a bit about what you learned at MCAD, perhaps those things that you wouldn't have learned yourself had you been on your own? Is there a particular strength of that program, do you think?

DINSKI: The real strength of studying at a college like MCAD is that it's first a really a great Design school. The comics classes accelerated what I may have picked up on my own, but I don't think I could have ever wrapped my head around design or drawing concepts if I hadn't been exposed to so much of it over the course of my education.

As far as the comics program itself, it was nice to have instructors who could verbalize "what you are doing isn't working, this is why and this is one way to fix it." I learned that I wanted to have an eye for looking at my work objectively.

SPURGEON: You did a guest strip at Daily Cross Hatch called "Comics Utopia" that seemed to tweak the messianic zeal that some people bring to the idea of comics on the Internet. Do you have reservations about moving comics on-line?

DINSKI: Not really, I guess. I have my comics online. I even serialized Beautiful, Cool and Irreplaceable online before I made it into a book. But you're right in that I was probably just reacting to that "messianic zeal" that it appears a lot of online cartoonists have. Like if they had it their way, no one would want to read my mini-comic unless it's digital. I hope that it's all just rhetoric and excitement over a new medium.

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SPURGEON: In "The Midwestern Artist," you make the observation that Minneapolis tends to celebrate authors who leave to fulfill their dreams. Why do you think that is?

DINSKI: At the time I wrote that, it seemed that the "great" Minnesotan artists couldn't wait to get out of here. [F. Scott] Fitzgerald seemed to be working like a maniac so he could get the money to go to New York. I thought the same was true with Charles Schulz. Since then, I've read that Peanuts biography and it seems that Schulz would have been much happier living in Minnesota.

We celebrate Prince, too, and he doesn't live here. I guess Minnesota is like your mom. "You can visit anytime you want, but no pressure. You'll always have a home here."

SPURGEON: Minneapolis has a well-populated cartooning scene, but no one knows anything about you people. Do you feel a sense of community with your fellow Minneapolis cartoonists? Is there a sensibility that pervades your work as a group that you think may make you different than other cartoonists?

DINSKI: I think there's a pretty good community here. I just spent a good part of today preparing my artwork for the Lutefisk Sushi show here in Minnesota. That's a show of nothing but Minnesota cartoonists that takes place almost annually.

As a community, I like to think the cartoonists here tend to keep tabs on what other cartoonists are working on. We'll talk about what we're working on. We're all trying to do different type of work, but tend to relate because we can sympathize with someone who spends so much of their time behind a drawing board.

I really can't say if there's an overarching sensibility, though. I may be too close to see it. Have you noticed one?

SPURGEON: How are cartoonists treated as part of the overall Minneapolis arts scene?

DINSKI: I guess pretty well. The arts scene in Minneapolis is really big, and comics kind of live on it's own with in it. Like I said, MCAD has a Comics Program here, so comics are on the radar and tend to be taken pretty seriously.

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SPURGEON: Is there any other cartoonist in the Minneapolis scene that you feel doesn't receive enough attention?

DINSKI: Aaron Poliwoda. He does a comic call Low-Blow and you can't buy it online. He doesn't have it in any stores either. I guess if you wrote him a letter and sent a couple bucks he might mail one to you. [Aaron Poliwoda/Low Blow Comics; 314 Hennepin Ave. #1108; Minneapolis, MN 55401. $3 will get you a book]

Aaron is a cartoonist I met while at MCAD. Since he graduated, he learned that he's got Aspergers syndrome. This tends to make his comics pretty raw and unfiltered. The guy is really prolific, too. I think he's got about six or seven books completely finished that he can't afford to print up. He broke his leg a couple months ago and just sat around and made about four books.

After reading one of Aaron's comics you sometimes get this terrible feeling in your gut. He can be a scary dude sometimes.

I'm also reading Far Arden right now, by Kevin Cannon. What a great adventure story. It reminds me a lot of Issac the Pirate. Everything Kevin does is great.

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SPURGEON: "Routine," "Endorsement of Smoking" and "Are You Often Impulsive In Your Behavior?" are all in non-traditional comics formats. What draws you to such formats, particularly the more print-like comics formats that you use?

DINSKI: I try to make these comics so that they resemble little art objects. The book needs to set up and present the story in the best way it can. They're all pretty limited quantity and I tend to just sell them at comic shows.

I'd like to think someone might hang my artwork on the walls of their home. That it's something they would want to look at over and over again.

SPURGEON: Was "Are You Often Impulsive In Your Behavior?" drawn from personal experience? How did that become a comic, and because it's critical were you worried at all in terms fairly depicting the process you describe?

DINSKI: Yeah, I actually did go into the Church of Scientology and took their personality test. I think I was pretty fair in depicting what happened -- at least I tried to be. I was mostly befuddled by the whole thing. I didn't understand what my thoughts on the "prisons without bars" system had to do with my personality. I guess I was sizing up the Scientologists the whole time and they were sizing me up too.

It's fun having that book at shows. Everyone has a Scientology story or an opinion about the cult.

SPURGEON: You've run several sketchbook pages on your site. I'm assuming you keep a sketchbook. How often do you draw in it? Is it something you look forward to doing or something you feel compelled to do because of the experience it gives you? What criteria do you use in putting one of the sketchbook pages on-line?

DINSKI: I keep a pretty regular sketchbook, but I didn't always like it. You're right that for a while I did it just because I knew I had to if I wanted to get better at drawing. But now I really look forward to it. It's almost becoming more fun than working on comics in a way. Ever since I started putting the drawings on the blog I feel like I've been getting much more out of drawing in my sketchbook. I'm pretty much putting everything I draw on the website, so I put that much more effort into them so they look good.

SPURGEON: Similarly, there are a lot of greeting card images. Those are personal images I take it? What goes into doing one of those?

DINSKI: Heh. I just find an image that I think represents an interest of the person I'm doing the card for. Then I draw it. I hate buying greeting cards, but people like to get them. So this is just a way to make the whole thing palatable. I haven't been making them for very long, so I can't tell if my loved ones really like them or if they're just being polite in taking them.

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SPURGEON: I wanted to ask you a few questions about the latest comic of yours I've seen, "Errand Service." First, can you talk about the way you structured the book? I'd love to hear you talk a bit about both the page structure, and why you use such an elaborate grid, and the decision to put in the two narrative twists near the story's end.

DINSKI: Well, the grid is pretty much the grid I use on all my stories now. It helps with the writing too. In fact, the ending changed a lot before anyone had read it. I took a large chunk that was towards the middle of the story and put it at the end, I guess giving it that "double twist" at the end. I thought the way the story ended before was a little weak and it needed a bigger impact. I try hard to make the beginning and ending of my stories as memorable as possible.

SPURGEON: So the grid assists you in terms of providing the underpinnings of structure, making sections more easily portable -- what exactly helps you?

DINSKI: It allows me to make major edits all the way through the process. I'm just filling in the little boxes. I can move parts around or take sections out and I don't have to completely redesign the page. So the pages become more like paragraphs and the panels like words. Interchangeable and arrangeable.

Also, when it comes to making the books, if the pages are in a grid that can be broken up then I have way more flexibility when choosing the format of the book. The way I drew the pages won't always dictate what the book will look like.

SPURGEON: I found your use of more abstract imagery interesting. What made you decide to do the panels with just the phone, what effect did you want that to have? I'm similarly interested in why you used panels that showed just a silhouette or an outline. Were those purely there to serve the narrative, or was there any element of how those panels affected reading or flow?

DINSKI: Yeah, those panels had more to do with the reading than a specific narrative intent. I jump around in that story a lot, and I wanted to have a repeating element that served as a period or paragraph break. The phone seemed like a good thing to use since it's such a powerful force in these busy people's lives. They're always being told what to do next via phone. I tried to put a lot of clocks in for the same reason.

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SPURGEON: Without ruining what people might take to "Errand Service" on their own, is there anything you can suggest in terms of how a reader might look at the story's overall meaning or theme in terms of your opinion of vocational issues? There seems to be a really pessimistic feel to what that story says about the futility of work.

DINSKI: Well, I like work, but errands and busy work can make a person bat-shit crazy.

If anyone wants to read that story, it should be on the Top Shelf Comix web site in a couple weeks.

SPURGEON: Do you have specific ambitions for your work? With traditional American comics kind of breaking up into a thousand tiny nation-states, I'd be interested in knowing how a prolific cartoonist early in the career looks at the field in terms of what you can accomplish. How long do you want to do comics?

DINSKI: I'm not ever going to stop making these stories. I suppose it would be wonderful to get something published. However, I'd be making them if no one was reading them, so most of what I hope to accomplish is in terms of my craft. I'd like it if I could make my drawings beautiful. The feeling of having my most current project being even the slightest bit better than my last is what keeps me going.

*****

* from Beautiful, Cool and Irreplaceable
* portrait of the artist
* from Beautiful, Cool and Irreplaceable
* hardcover for Beautiful, Cool and Irreplaceable
* screen print
* cover art from Low Blow #8 by Aaron Poliwoda
* excerpt from The Pressman
* excerpt from Routine
* Routine story reformatted into a poster
* a couple pages from my sketchbook

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