January 4, 2008
CR Holiday Interview #9: Eric Reynolds
was the first person I met when I moved to Seattle in 1994. We worked together on Fantagraphics' The Comics Journal
for about 18 months. He then moved into a marketing and publicity position at the famed alt-comics publisher and has been there ever since. If the comics industry employed Q ratings, Reynolds would score somewhere near the top. I don't know of anyone else so universally liked in the alt-comics end of the industry; in fact, I can't think of anyone off the top of my head that comes close, although surely someone does. He's good at his job, too; one cartoonist who's worked with several publishers and a few film studios told me last summer that Eric's the best and most personable publicity person with whom he's ever worked.
Reynolds, a sometimes-cartoonist, illustrator and musician, has also edited a few of his publisher's better releases over the last few years, including most prominently a co-editing gig with Gary Groth
on the quarterly MOME
. I thought it might be a good idea to talk to Eric because even if the interview turned out to be terrible he might spill the beans on stuff coming out from his publisher in 2008. He did provide some quality information on that front -- I sure didn't know the name of Bob Levin's next book or the fact that the Comics Journal
was moving to a literary journal format -- but I thought the interview went extremely well, too. Thanks, Eric! -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: If I'm right, 2008 will mark your 15th year at Fantagraphics. Is that parking space pretty much yours now?
I don't know, but I'll admit that I am so petty that if I pull up and someone is in it, I get annoyed. The funny thing about that spot is that when I started at Fanta, Scott Nybakken
always parked there. The day he left, in like 1994, I started parking there and nobody ever said anything. So I guess it's kind of mine by seniority now, but I assumed it when I was barely an ex-intern. Maybe that says a lot about how I've lasted.
SPURGEON: Have you ever come close to leaving?
I think the closest I ever came to leaving was when I was still the TCJ
news editor. I was still contemplating a career in journalism, and had done some decent work for TCJ
, and looked into internships at Mother Jones
and The Nation
. But I really didn't want to leave, I think I was just burned out on the Journal
. Since I moved over, I've truly never come close to leaving. I do think about it, but it gets even more abstract over time. I'm in a pretty good spot. I wouldn't mind having my own office. I'm like Les Nessman
SPURGEON: What do you know about your current responsibilities that you didn't know your first year doing them? Do you think of stuff that you could maybe do better?
I think there's tons of stuff I could do better. I know there is. I'm 36, I'm not quite willing to go to the extremes I would have 10 years ago. I think about what I and we can do better all the time. Sometimes it's hard to see the forest for the trees. Time and money are the biggest concerns, if we were rich we could do all sorts of awesome things, but because we're not, we all here spend a lot of time covering a lot of bases that in a bigger company would be entire departments of people. Jacob [Covey]
and Adam [Grano]
would have a team of assistants and not have to stop everything several times a day to create a simple PDF for me to send to a magazine on deadline. Jason [Miles]
would have a fleet of sales reps to pound the pavement. Gary would have an assistant -- tell me Gary doesn't need an assistant! But anyway, there's always room for growth. It does get hard to tell sometimes, but I know I'm way better at my job now than I was in my first year.
SPURGEON: How's the mood at the company going into 2008? What were some of the more positive aspects of 2007?
It's good. Fanta is in good hands. Jacob and Adam are the greatest, Zuniga, Jason Miles and Mike Baehr are, too. It's probably the most dedicated staff I can recall in a really long time. That sounds corny, but I think they would all agree. As for 2007... the lawsuit's over
. That's a good thing for everyone involved. We had a good year. Peanuts
, Los Bros
, and Fletcher Hanks
probably led the way, though Laura Warholic
will be racing to the end of year finish line. We had success with a lot of new books, from folks like Friedman
and others I'm forgetting.
SPURGEON: What can we expect major books and initiatives-wise from 2008?
A lot of new graphic novels. Ray Fenwick
's Hall of Best Knowledge
is one of the funniest, most unique approaches to comics I've ever read. I pushed this one on [Fantagraphics co-publishers] Kim [Thompson] and Gary [Groth]. Dash Shaw's Bottomless Belly Button
is going to hit like a bomb, it's over 700 pages and has a Blankets
-like density. Josh Simmons' Jessica Farm
begins a 50-year epic that sounds almost as ludicrous in this day and age as Dave Sim's original goal for Cerebus
, but that worked out pretty well. A second Billy Hazelnuts
book from Tony Millionaire
. Tim Lane
's Abandoned Cars
. Tim reminds me a bit of Charles Burns
but is working in more of a Jim Thompson
vein. An original Gilbert Hernandez
graphic novel in the same format of Chance In Hell
, called The Troublemakers
. A new Steven Weissman
book. A new Jason
book. Jason has quietly become one of our best and most popular authors. Anyway, that's through September -- we haven't set the rest yet. There's a few books I'm super duper excited about, but can't yet mention.
On the vintage side, there's more Peanuts
, Our Gang
, and a new, expanded and re-designed softcover edition of Patrick Rosenkranz
's definitive history of underground comix, Rebel Visions
. Oh, and Blake Bell
's big Ditko book, which will turn heads. Plus, Dan Nadel
's big Rory Hayes
collection, which is going to be amazing, I just read a bunch of this stuff and didn't realize just how good Hayes was at his peak. What else... more Los Bros books. Oh, Jesus: the complete Humbug!
In a two-volume, hardcover slipcase with new covers by [Arnold] Roth
and Al Jaffee
. Greg Sadowski
's second and final [Bernard] Krigstein
book, a Joe Kubert
bio by Bill Schelly
, and probably something awesome I'm forgetting.
There's also Daniel Clowes
' Ghost World Special Edition
, a la
the recent Palestine
treatment. It'll include the screenplay and a few dozen new pages of other stuff from the Clowes vaults, possibly including a fax from me that I sent him in 1996 or so with a list of quotes from comic book retailers who told us that Ghost World
would never sell. Speaking of which, we just went into a 15th soft cover printing.
We also have two other non-comics books I'm particularly excited about. The first is Bob Levin's Most Outrageous
, a prose book about "Chester the Molester" creator and Hustler
cartoon star Dwaine Tinsley
, which you may have read already since you know Bob. I am stoked we're doing this. It's an amazing story that I can't even begin to do justice by describing here, but basically Tinsley was a rags to riches success in the Flynt empire who later was ruined by accusations of sexual abuse by his teenage daughter. It was a very complicated story that Levin navigates with his usual wit and sophistication but this has more gravitas than anything he's ever written.
The other book is a collection of artwork and lyrics by Robert Pollard
, the guy behind Guided by Voices
, one of my all-time favorite bands. It's called Town of Mirrors: The Reassembled Imagery of Robert Pollard
. I've been pursuing this for a few years and it's finally happening and I'm kind of in fanboy heaven. He sent this notebook completely filled with hand-written lyrics and notes that I've been transcribing at home in my spare time for the last couple months.
One semi-big initiative is that the Journal
is moving to a 200-page 7 1/2" x 91/2", 8 times per year journal format. It will have book trade distribution a la MOME
(though with twice the frequency). They've got some great cover features lined up on Charles Schulz, Maurice Sendak
, the Deitch family, and more in the next few issues.
SPURGEON: Will you miss Greg Zura, who recently left the company? Greg was there during a crucial period in Fantagraphics history; how would you explain his contributions to the company?
Of course I'll miss Greg! He was my partner-in-crime for over ten years, since Chris Jacobs
left. We had a lot of good times and my respect for Greg is huge and I hope we stay friends.
SPURGEON: What has Jason Miles brought to position thus far?
What Jason lacks in experience he makes up for in sheer, unabashed enthusiasm for comics and a fairly thorough understanding of the nuts and bolts of our inventory, having worked in the warehouse for a few years. Jason was a good friend of mine before he took Greg's job so that's great for me. One thing I'll say is that Jason has one of the better grasps of comics of anyone I know. He's smart. I probably talk more about comics with him than anyone. He's a very good cartoonist. But yes, I will very much miss Greg and was sorry to see him go, and I wasn't the only one.
SPURGEON: How do you feel about the Hernandez Brothers' decision to go to annual form? Is there an aspect to that story that you feel was misunderstood or not played up as much as it might have been? How will this have an impact on your ability to promote the material?
I wrestled with the idea of the annual for a long time. It worries me, because change can be scary. But we've been going over it for months and I have pretty much come to the conclusion that economically, it makes absolutely no sense not to. And the fact that it ultimately plays into the longer-form nature of their work, even better. The only reason not to do it is because we have a nostalgic affection for the old format. But this makes more sense for everyone. I think some comic book retailers disagree, but the annual will improve my ability to promote the material exponentially, and will have a longer shelf life.
SPURGEON: As a reporter, you covered a couple of really important moments in comics history. One of them was the rise of Image Comics and the beginning of the distributor wars. I read a lot of material that seems to swallow the line that Image was all about creators rights; do you have a different perspective on their effect on comics having covered them?
You're baiting me.
SPURGEON: Sort of. I guess I'm just interested in your view on a couple of your big stories after ten years of gaining what might be a different perspective as someone working within the industry.
Image was less about creators rights than creators profits, I guess I'd say. But whatever. I don't begrudge Image for their treatment of intellectual property rights, per se
. I'm not close enough to that to know anymore. But I don't think Image had any profound effect on creators rights, and perhaps more to the point, I do think their business practices had an adverse affect on the industry, between their chronic late-shipping through their early years and their decision to go exclusive during the distributor wars. I still think that moment was kind of a potential comics Watergate-in-the-making that never happened, but I barely remember the details anymore. I'm getting old.
SPURGEON: How do you feel about the current state of free speech issues? You covered Mike Diana, and unlike many reporters who cover those issues, you're an artist who's worked on some really out-there stuff yourself, like
Slime. Have things gotten any better since that day and age in terms of the prosecutions you're seeing, or the comics industry's support of same?
You know, I don't know. Ask Charles Brownstein
. I'd like to think it gets a little better all the time, but then you have cases like the Gordon Lee trial
come up. The Patriot Act
makes going after something like Slime
more plausible, which would be more scary if it weren't so absurd. But boy, it's hard to imagine anything being actionably offensive in this day and age, short of outright hate literature or child porn.
SPURGEON: Tell me about
MOME's 2007; it seems you had a strong year in terms of recruiting a second wave of talent. Has it been difficult to keep people working on that material considering how many opportunities there are out there right now?
Yeah, I guess, but I feel like we're in a good groove now, just by widening the pool a bit so people can take an issue or two off, here and there. Most of these folks have jobs, and ten pages every four months is a lot to ask, I can tell you myself. But I thought this was our best year so far (out of what, two?). I'm really happy with a lot of the newer people like Eleanor Davis
, Dash Shaw, Joe Kimball, Ray Fenwick, John Hankiewicz
, Robert Goodin
and Tom Kaczynski. I wish Kramers
and Comic Art
would fold so I'd get more pages out of guys like Jonathan Bennett
and Tim Hensley. Plus, maybe then I'd get some stuff from Sammy, too! I need to work on this. Anyway, I was happy with this year. I've even managed to squeeze in friends like Al Columbia
and Jeremy Eaton
and even Jim Woodring
. This is good. Next year we've got Killoffer
, David B.
, and maybe even a newly unearthed story by this young cat named Fletcher Hanks. Plus a lot of actual living folks I am reluctant to mention because I'm not sure who is in which issues too much beyond #11, but there's a lot of stuff cookin'. I just commissioned a new story from Olivier Schrauwen
, who you turned me on to, actually. He's doing a 15-page story for #12.
SPURGEON: Has Sophie Crumb's work in
MOME been unfairly maligned?
Well, of course I think so. Sophie's still finding herself as a cartoonist, but I thought her "Lucid Nightmare" serial was a great step forward. So yes.
SPURGEON: How important to you is your own creative, both musically and artistically? You're so laid back about your stuff I can't tell how you look at it. Is it a process you enjoy. Do you have ambitions for either? For that matter, do you have plans for any new projects at Fantagraphics editorially?
No real ambitions with that stuff. The music has been more important to me for the last few years than the art, but that will probably change at some point. It is all important, though, very much so. But just for me and my friends I enjoy it with. As for new projects, sure! The Pollard book is the big one, that's in June. I have plenty of dream projects but none too far on the front burner beyond Pollard right now.
SPURGEON: How important was it for the company to really lock in its art director positions the last few years? What does having a high total level of skill in that department enable you do?
Very important. Those guys are huge. Jacob, Adam, and Paul Baresh. It enables us to make everything look better, which means everything sells better! Go figure. But really, those guys are all hugely valuable and good pals.
SPURGEON: Your on-line marketing seems very conservative for such a cutting-edge company. Will that change with a new web site? Will Fantagraphics ever offer downloadable versions of its comics and graphic novels? Has that been discussed yet?
Yes. Maybe. Yes.
SPURGEON: What's the secret to being able to work with Gary Groth and Kim Thompson so successfully for so many years?
My secret files.
SPURGEON: This year you guys published what some feel was the high point of Charles Schulz's long run on
Peanuts. How will marketing that series change as you get into traditionally less well-liked material in the '70s and '80s?
I don't think people think that much less of the '70s. The next ten years we're entering now is probably the most identifiable period of Peanuts
for anyone under 40. That's what I grew up on and loved and so did a lot of gen-xers. But, I know for myself, in a weird way I'm more curious to read the last 20 years of The Complete Peanuts
than the first 30, because it's the era I'm much less familiar with, because I stopped reading the funny pages by that point. I've actually heard several other people say something similar to me at conventions. And I will wager that revisiting these later years will be worthwhile. I sort have this sense from my own limited recollection that he had a bit of a renaissance in the 1990s. But I only read sporadically during that decade and I've certainly read more 1960s strips than 1990s strips since any of the latter were published. So I'm curious to find out for certain and I think others will be, too, because the 1980s and up is kind of virgin territory for a lot of folks.
A lot of us just want to see how the strip evolves as this massive, undulating body of work, reflecting Schulz's entire life and worldview. That was impossible to do before this series. As it stands now, we're through 1966 and Schulz is very much at the top of his game. But what does that mean? That he wasn't in the early 1950s? Because I really love that era, too. So what does it mean if it turns out he wasn't at the top of his game in the 1980s? It's all good. I still want to read it and bet it will be better than 99 percent of other strips. One thing about Schulz was that he never really got stuck in a rut. I think there is a lot of differences in Peanuts from decade to decade, and that development will be interesting to see.
SPURGEON: What 2008 book that you're publishing do you most look forward to reading?
Well, I've already read most of them. Probably Billy Hazelnuts 2
or The Troublemakers
SPURGEON: Where are you in terms of where you thought the shop would be by now?
The shop is way ahead of where I thought it would be. I had my doubts about the store for a bunch of reasons and yet it's been a pretty solid success. I think it's already made back its initial investment. Larry Reid
has been instrumental in this. It's a fun place and neighborhood to hang out in.
SPURGEON: Is Seattle a better place to live now than in the still-heady '90s when you first traveled up the coast? And have you really given up the west coast comics crown to Portland?
No, and yes. I love the Northwest in general but kind of like Portland more at this point. Maybe the grass is greener. I have a lot of good friends in Portland, we go down there quite a bit and love it. If Gary and Kim wanted to move down there, I would probably be for it. It's cheaper there. Maybe we will and put Dark Horse
and Top Shelf
out of business. Just kidding, Portland pals. Actually, that's way too many comics publishers in one town, we'll stay up here, we have a good relationship with Seattle, I think.
But really, the old Seattle was more fun. Probably just because it was a lot cheaper. And I was younger. But we still have our moments.
* Eric Reynolds curries favor with the Kingpin of Crime, Halloween 1998.
* portrait of Eric Reynolds by the great Jim Blanchard
* Ray Fenwick's Hall of Best Knowledge
, one of Fantagraphics' forthcoming releases.
* Greg Zura
* Jason T. Miles, via Mike Baehr
* an early Image comic; the early days of Image was a story Reynolds covered as a journalist
* Eric Reynolds' Eros comic, Slime
* portrait of longtime Fantagraphics cartoonist Dame Darcy by Eric Reynolds
* photo from Fanta's flickr page of the Fantagraphics storefront
* portrait of Ben Katchor by Eric Reynolds
the CR Holiday interview series continues through Monday with two interviews scheduled for each day. Tuesday, January 8 marks a return to this blog's full array of regular features. We thank you for your patience.
posted 12:00 pm PST
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