September 28, 2014
CR Sunday Interview: Dan Stafford
is the co-owner of Kilgore Books & Comics in Denver
, one of the anchor North American comics shops and one of those retail operations that's also made an effective move into publishing. Stafford is the filmmaker Root Hog Or Die
the documentary about the great cartoonist John Porcellino
. The movie is currently on tour in a way that will move in an out of a broader tour focused on Porcellino's new and excellent book of comics, The Hospital Suite
. I hope you'll double-check to see if one of those tour stops is close by. It's a fun film, and John Porcellino speaking is one of comics' unique joys. In fact, I'm bumping this interview up the waiting list in the hopes that this could mean a few more attendees at some of the immediately forthcoming events.
If The Hospital Suite
is an intimate exploration of certain life truths and events from a cartoonist that has been strangely reticent to communicate the facts of his personal life despite working in autobiography and personal essay, Root Hog Or Die
has more of a classic King-Cat Comix & Stories
feel to it, this idea of encountering the externalities of life in an authentic way that is as real as any personal take on the cartoonist or his milieu. Therefore we pay attention to the information being conveyed, but also simply look at folks' homes, and beat-up Midwestern streets, and how people react to John when he's in the same room. It's a lovely tension to have in a film where I can see folks taking several minutes to adjust to the quiet, rueful, deliberate nature of its subject. I enjoyed watching it. I don't know much about Stafford other than those broad strokes, and I was happy he agreed to talk to me. I edited a tiny bit for clarity and flow.
If the film isn't coming to you on a bigger screen, you can buy the DVD and see it for yourself
. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: Dan, I don't anything at all about you, so I'm hoping I can least paint a picture of you in broad strokes. First, can you talk a bit about your personal history with comics, when you were reading and what was important to you in the course of that reading? When did you first read comics like John's?
It's like every other boring story of a 40-year old into comics. I was born in the mid-'70s and had an older brother who was super into DC
stuff, mostly Batman. As a kid, I read loads of the Marvel books (mostly Spider-Man
titles), and particularly loved the paperback reprints of stuff from the '60s. [Steve] Ditko
, and then [John] Romita Sr.
knocked me out as a kid. I read the FF
, a little Daredevil
, that kind of mainstream stuff.
By the time I was 14 or 15, I had pretty much stopped reading those comics, but had become friends with kids who started doing 'zines. My friend Katrina subscribed to Factsheet 5
, bought a copier at a school sale and printed zines on that. My first special lady friend was the girl who'd go on to become Queen Itchie
, and so we were all kind of exposed to the weird stuff through her. I can't remember what she was reading then -- I think the classic undergrounds stuff, Crumb and so forth. I do remember her trying to sell me her Dark Knight
single issues to make money for a bus ticket or something.
We lived in a town of 900, and this was pre-internet, so the 'zine thing was really pretty fun. The whole community showed that other people existed who didn't quite fit in. I got a post office box and tried to put some stuff out. My friends and I all drew dumb comics to pass around in class, blah blah blah.
In high school, 1989-1993, I read a decent amount of zines and a few underground comics, then in college kind of drifted away from it. I dropped out of college in 1995, and ended up in Austin, Texas, where a guy I worked with turned me on to Hate
, and I found a copy of Optic Nerve
in a hipster shop near my apartment. Another friend knew I was into comics, so gave me a copy of Acme Novelty
#1 for my birthday, so got back into it pretty quickly, particularly falling in with the Fantagraphics books coming out.
SPURGEON: My understanding is that Kilgore is a used bookstore with a significant comics component? Is that a fair characterization. How much of your business is comics? How did you get to the point of being a physical retailer? That's not something people do all that frequently anymore.
I opened up Kilgore with my friend Luke [Janes] in June of 2008. The economy was crashing, and we knew people would turn to burning paper to keep them warm. [Spurgeon laughs]
I had been doing political organizing work for my adult career, and was roomates with Luke who worked at a great used bookshop in Denver. We had a shared love of books, authors, and collecting things, so we cooked up the idea to open up a used book shop. I had turned him on to independent comics already, so as we cooked up our plans, comics were always a part of it. We spent three years buying books at yard sales, thrift stores and so forth, and stored them in our giant victorian house. It was crazy, boxes of books falling apart everywhere.
Down the street from our house was the historic Wax Trax Records
, which had a vacant bit of storefront in between their CD and vinyl shops. We pestered the owners for a year or more to rent it to us. They're great old-school guys who have run the shop since the late 70's. They put out records by Allen Ginsberg
, and when REM
played their first Denver show in 1983, they spent the day hanging out at Wax Trax. It's been the cool punk/new wave/weirdo center in Denver forever. After bugging those guys, they finally said, "Fuck it, OK." [Spurgeon laughs]
We had a handshake deal, and agreed to open up in a month. We bought a bunch of shelves from a shop that recently closed, and got the place together in 30 days. It had been used as a bicycle repair shop/2nd hand record store, and was in total disarray. But it was fun, hanging out, drinking beer, pricing books, building shelves.
Noah Van Sciver
has told us that during this month, before we opened, he came in in nervously and poked around, but ran out before we saw him.
SPURGEON: [laughs] This information will surprise no one.
The idea was always to do used books and independent comics. In Denver, the big bookstore was Tattered Cover
. I used to go in try and get indie stuff and they never had it. One buyer simply said, "comics don't do well in Denver." So, as Luke and I talked about opening up a bookstore together, we made sure to have space for comics. We're a small shop, maybe 1000 square feet, and one wall is devoted to comics. We do zines, minicomics, graphic novels, and we do sell used mainstream stuff. We also have a massive collection of really nice underground stuff, and then a few 50 cent boxes for '90s mainstream comics people dump on us. In terms of percentage, it's hard to say. Maybe 25 percent? We track our sales in notebooks, so it's hard to give a great answer.
SPURGEON: Where does Kilgore fit into Denver arts culture overall? The last time I spent any time in Denver was like 1978 so mostly what I remember is stepping over bums sleeping in the streets --
Those are our people!
SPURGEON: [laughs] -- but I'm told it's a very nice, resurgent, model city now. Is there a distinct Denver comics culture, do you think? What marks it?
Denver is undergoing a big transformation right now and is getting pretty expensive. I think Denver has a great arts scene overall. The way I describe it to folks is that we're eight hours from anywhere else you'd want to go, so we're not on the way to or from anything. A lot of bands skip Denver; a lot of touring cartoonists skip Denver. What that reality, Denver has a ton of homegrown talent. There's a tremendous DIY spirit here. Loads of great bands, loads of great artists, and a lot of cartoonists. It reminds me a lot of Minneapolis in that regard. Noah Van Sciver is Denver's Zak Sally
, I suppose.
I do think there's a strong comics scene in Denver, though a lot of folks have left, which is a drag. Sam Spina
trucked it back to North Carolina, John P.'s living up in Packers country, TE Bak
is in Portland. I think the same thing which creates the scene -- cheap living in the middle of nowhere -- drives folks away. But there's a really vibrant drink and draw, there's the Squidworks gang which has been around forever. And we have a lot of completely undiscovered folks. I love Will Barnes, who has put out a couple comics, and is working on his magnum opus 200-page noir
book. There's Lonnie Allen
who does these great minis. Those are two folks I think are doing good work.
In terms of where we fit? Hard to say. We seek to champion the scene, but cartoonists are a solitary lot, so it can be challenging. And we're certainly screwing things up all the time.
SPURGEON: Is it fair to say that the publishing you've been doing is an extension of the store's mission? How much of what you're doing there is about giving voice to local artists that may not always have a place to publish?
Just about 100 percent. We started publishing because Noah kept bringing in 1-2 copies of Blammo
, and we'd sell them in a heartbeat. So we kept asking for more, and he'd bring in another 1-2 copies, three weeks later. At one point, I asked about how he was doing stuff. He was paying like $2.25 to print an issue he'd sell for $3. So, when he was selling them to shops at 40 percent off, he was getting $1.80 for each issue. In other words, comics was literally a money-losing proposition for him. So, for issue #5, we gave him like $500 and said, "print a bunch, and then give us a half." He came back a week or two later, and had printed 100 copies in full color. We got 50, and sold them at $5 a pop, meaning we lost $250 on that one. It was at that point we said to Noah, "Why don't you let us publish Blammo for you?" [Spurgeon laughs]
Our number one goal is to help artists always have comics in stock they can sell to shops, at cons, or online. There's this middle ground in publishing where you're selling more than you can keep up with, but not enough for someone like Fantagraphics to care about. So that's our role. To be a launching pad for folks. And to some degree, it's worked.
And we try to be very very artist friendly. We pay all royalties up front based on the print run of a comic. We generally give the artist about 10-15 percent of the print run as artist copies. We have a formula we cooked up where the profit is split 50/50 between publisher and creator, and the creator has to take very little risk to do something with us.
SPURGEON: How did your personal relationship with John develop to the point that doing a documentary about his life and work seemed like a good -- and achievable -- idea?
Well, when I met John he was living in Denver with Misun [Oh]. Luke knew him first. John sold King-Cat
at the shop Luke worked at, and Luke actually won the King-Cat annual mini golf tournament in 2006 or 2007. When we opened Kilgore, we hired John to do our sign and create a bookmark and such. We did release parties for him when [the] Thoreau [book] came out, and then Map of My Heart
. He'd help us celebrate our birthday at Kill Gore Fest and so forth. So, we were just around each other. Noah went out on a tour with him -- John had been off the road for a long time, and when Map of My Heart
came out, he did a swing through the Southwest and California with Noah. Noah came back kind of going, "John's a really interesting guy, someone should do a movie about him." Since I was a film school dropout, I thought, "Hey that'd be fun." I mentioned the idea to John a couple times, and he hemmed and hawed.
I think a lot of people approach artists with ideas and very little follow through. Then, one Christmas Eve -- probably 2008, I was at the shop (I used to always keep the shop open late on Christmas Eve for the late gift buyers, which usally ended up being me drinking tall boys alone in the store) and decided to go back through a bunch of John's comics. King-Cat
had always been around, but I was never an avid reader. I'd read some issues, liked it ok, but wasn't a subscriber or anything. Anyway, this Christmas Eve, I had a few drinks and read Perfect Example
and it was like someone grabbed me by the throat. So I wrote John this long, rambling, drunk e-mail about truth and honesty and integrity and art and such. A week or two later he was in the shop and said, "Thanks for that e-mail; I really liked it." That seemed to coincide with him being OK with the movie idea. I had a blog at the time, and I think he went back and read a bunch of my stuff, and liked that, too.
I'll add that having that experience with Perfect Example
caused me to go back and re-read, and discover, all of John's work, and it was like a total "A-ha!" moment. The guy is a just a damned genius.
We've never talked about it directly, but I think all of that helped him trust me a bit, which is what was needed to actually do the thing. Shortly after that, he said, "Hey let's do that movie thing." So I scraped up $1000 and bought a decent video camera (the Canon XL1). I remember driving him with the camera, thinking, "That cost as much as my car," and it was weird to think that one of my most valuable possessions was in the trunk of the other.
SPURGEON: I know that with writing a book, there's usually a hook in terms of the concept and a hook in terms of the specific take or focus that you can bring to the subject. How did you approach working with John, how did you want to present him, in a way that would stand out? What was important to you to convey about John?
Well, initially the thing that fascinated me was the fact that here's this guy who came up at the same time as Adrian Tomine
, Chris Ware
, Ivan Brunetti, Seth
, Chester Brown
, etc. but was still hawking $3 comics out of the back of his broke ass car. Where's John's New Yorker
cover? Where's the critical reevaluation of John's work? I quickly realized, however, that this was a moronic view of it all, and in fact, if I pushed that hook too much, I'd make a really shitty movie. When I first started filming in 2009, I really tried to "direct" things. After about 20-30 hours of filming though, I realized the best thing to do was to record as much as I could and let the story find itself. When I was really editing the movie, I made a cut that was about 80 minutes and felt really really forced, so I scrapped it and started pretty much from scratch. I got together about a four hour thing, which had "all the good stuff in it," then pared and pared and pared it down to the 1 hour 44 it is now. As it evolved, I decided the best thing to do was to let it somewhat mirror an issue of King-Cat
. There's some humor, some sorrow, some filler, some top 40, and it tells a story linearly, almost. So, yeah, at the end of the day, I was going for that "theme."
SPURGEON: Is there anyone you didn't get to interview? Is there anyone that turned you down?
Yeah, I'm really sad I didn't get to interview Doug Midoucki. Doug works at Wax Trax and went to high school with John. They played in the Felt Pilotes together, and I just always thought I'd get to interview him. I flew back to Denver this summer specifically to do it, and then my flight got screwed up and I missed it. One of my favorite ever King-Cat issues starts with "an open letter to Doug Midoucki" which has nothing whatsoever to do with the full-length story inside, but both are works of beauty. I also wanted to interview Tom Devlin
, as Tom's known John for so long, but I couldn't get up to Montreal. Patrick Porter
, whose music is over the credits, is this amazing artist who's been friends with John for years and years. I think John thinks of him as a brother in the real sense of the word.
There were two folks who declined to be interviewed, though for purely logistical reasons. They both expressed a huge love of John and his comics, so it was more like, "if only I had more time" than turning me down. That was the amazing thing, everyone was behind this project. As soon as I said, "documentary on John P," everyone went "HELL YES."
SPURGEON: How quickly did John take to being filmed? I can imagine scenarios where this would have been easy for John to become accustomed to that intrusive camera and also scenarios where this would have been difficult, but it seems when he was talking about squirrels and the like that by that time he had grown pretty comfortable with the camera's presence.
Well, John's just such a natural and gifted story teller, so I think it happened pretty quickly. Honestly, after listening to his voice for hours every day during editing, all I could think was, "Man, when's the next King-Cat
coming out?" I was shocked I didn't get sick of him. Anyway, he took to it pretty OK. It was weird at first. I have a great shot I decided not to include from Chicago Zine Fest in 2010, where I'm not at the table, but my camera is, and someone asks, "Are you filming this?" and John's response is this very awkard, "Wellll... sort of... there's this guy..." It was hilarious.
I tried to keep the camera as out of the way as possible, and tried to use natural lighting most of the time. I taped up the red light on the camera, so that when I was with John, or interviewing someone else, they'd (hopefully) forget about it. We toured together for three weeks during filming, and the camera was always out, and usually on, so he really relaxed his guard during those times and that's when I got some of the really heartfelt stuff about what OCD is really like.
SPURGEON: Was there anything about seeing him on film that surprised you?
Yeah, he's so much healthier now. Most of the stuff with him was filmed 2009-2011, as he was "getting better." Now, three years later, he's like a new man. At every showing people have commented, "man he looks so sick and sad."
SPURGEON: Was the idea to always use that many comics in the film? Is there a story to how that developed? How did you choose your various readers? That's an interesting group of people.
The readers were just people who volunteered. John's got this philosophy that an issue of King-Cat
isn't complete until someone responds to it. He's far more articulate on this subject than I am, but it makes sense. He's putting this thing out in the world, and unless the world in some way says, "yep, got it!" then it feels like screaming at a wall.
Early on in the editing I was having a hard time thinking about the interstitial stuff. How do I switch from this to that? And obviously, using the comics works. But then it dawned on me that people identify with John's work so strongly, that if you asked 50 King-Cat
readers to talk about the same story, you'd get 50 different -- equally passionate -- descriptions. Then I just sort of saw/heard this idea of his readers doing the readings, because they'd have different takes on it than John, or other readers, and each take would be important and valid. So, it was a way to complete that same circle, and show that for King-Cat
to be successful, there have to be people reading it.
I really like how that came out. Those people, in my opinion, really strengthen the movie more than anything I did.
In terms of how many comics are in there, you can thank my wife for that. She watched several early versions, and just kept saying, "Put in more comics, more comics." She's not really a comics person per se
, so I took her advice.
SPURGEON: Was there a talking head you felt hewed closest to your view of John? Did any of the opinion, used or not, force you to reconsider your own perspective?
Yeah, I'll confess that Mr. Mike is probably the person in the film I identified with the most. He was great because he'd be waxing poetic, and then pause and make fun of himself for being all deep sounding.
A lot of folks forced me to think of John differently, sure. Zak Sally, god love him, has such a pure and true vision of art and comics. It's incredibly inspiring. He made me recognize that the "Where's John's New Yorker
cover?" is a dumb way to look at it.
A lot of folks talked about John's humor and wit. With his illness, that was masked for many years, but he's really one of the funniest guys you'd care to meet. And he's not a puppy dog. I was with him in Canada last week doing a couple screenings, and I made the tactical error of admitting I liked the 10,000 Maniacs in high school, and he mocked me from Belleville to Brockville for it.
SPURGEON: Was there any additional difficulty in portraying John's artistic journey given the overlapping worlds he inhabited? I mean, it's not like that 'zine world is even there in the same way anymore, but he also lived in at least one music scene and there's also his general importance to the world of comics. How did you negotiate trying to work with these kind of ephemeral mini-cultures so many years later? Was that even a concern?
Yes. I mean, when I was a kid, all of that stuff was mixed together. Zines, comics, playing in bands, making flyers, making movies, whatever. It's like that movie Slacker
. Everyone kind of did a little of everything. Now, things are waaaaaay more stratified than they ever seemed when I was growing up, which was the same time John was first putting out Cehsoikoe
and playing in five bands. And to me, they're all pretty equal, whatever that means.
But portraying it in the film? Yeah, that was beastly. The interview I did with Anne Elizabeth Moore
was incredible for that stuff. She's fantastic, and thinks about all this stuff the same way I do, mostly. In one cut I had like thirty minutes of her and Ivan [Brunetti]
both doing all this comic and zine and punk history stuff, then realized, "Nobody but me and six other people would want to see this."
And that was a consideration -- I feel thatKing-Cat
readers will either love or hate this, almost no matter what it is. So, I had to think of my "audience" as the folks who stumble on the movie, or have a passing interest in John, as I once did. How do I pique interest in people, enough that they'll pick up a book and check out his stuff, or take another look if they've glanced past it before.
So, to that end, I included as much music stuff as I thought would be interesting, and then hint at all the zine stuff. As a lover of F5
, I had to put those images in there.
SPURGEON: Is there a reason none of John's close family appeared in the film? Was that personal relationships or the way you wanted to orient the film?
It's a little of both. Initially I wanted to interview his mom and sister, but the more I thought about it, I realized, "If someone made a movie about me
, would my mom and sister add to it?" I mean, obviously, I love them both dearly, but they don't know too much about this part of my life, or if they do, it's like, "Dan runs a shop." I'm not sure if they know I made a movie, for example. Anyway, even if I had wanted to include them, I'm not sure they would've been down for it. I know John chatted with his mom about it, and she sort of went back and forth about it. I don't know if he ever really talked to Joann (his sister) about it. I think they could have added some to the youth/childhood section, but that beginning where John is roaming around Chicago and telling stories about bible school and ghost swings is, to me, just about perfect. It didn't need anything extra.
As John points out in the movie, his family aren't full throated champions of his life decisions as regards being an artist. I initially put a little more of that stuff in, but rather than adding to the story, it kind of detracted. I think there are hints here and there -- and their absence may be conspicuous -- but what artist has the full support of their family?
At the end of the day, the relationships within a family are extremely complex and nuanced. In a movie that spans 100 minutes, with 20+ people and loads of comics, each person -- outside John -- only gets 1-5 minutes of screen time. That's simply not enough time to actually delve into those relationships appropriately, and giving them just a couple minutes, I think, would have been doing them a bit of a disservice.
SPURGEON: You show this amazing footage of one of John's bands playing a concert at what looks like a county fair. Who shot that? Where did you get that?
Yah, that show is awesome
. It's like, a nearly empty carnival in his suburban town, and T.A.C. is playing their hearts out. Hopefully you noticed they're wearing John P. designed shirts, except Laura S., who's wearing a Matt Groening "Life in Hell" shirt. Laura's dad shot that, and it's fantastic. I think she plans on doing something with it at some point, so I only included the one or two clips. My favorite is an outtake where John Belts out, "THIS NEXT ONE IS CALLED I WANDERED LONELY AS A CLOUD." To me, that sums up John's hilariousness, and his earnestness. 'I wandered lonely as a cloud' is such a sad sweet title, but he belts it out like he's John Fogerty.
SPURGEON: Now that I think of it, though, you use almost no other archival footage. Was that another choice on your part? Was there material you thought about using but didn't?
A little here and there, but I didn't have a lot to draw on. There are some so-so youtube clips of John. Two days after I sent the DVD off for production, I got a VHS tape of the Felt Pilotes playing a show. I'm going to just transfer that, and then put it up for free (assuming TFP are ok with that). I'm sure there's more out there, but I filmed 110-120 hours of stuff, so I didn't have a huge shortage.
I thought a lot about what story I wanted to tell. Was I going for a straight history? A focused narrative? In the end what I did was more of a document of John in a particular place and time. My wife thought there was a little too much "guys sitting around reminiscing," but those stories are what make life interesting to me. When I was a kid I loved when my parents or older brothers would tell stories about before I was born. It just felt like this magical thing. So, I think maybe I was subconsciously replicating that experience.
SPURGEON: I love the ending, in that John declares his love for this horrible-looking place, which is kind of a grace note that encompasses his entire career. Did that occur to you while filming? Did anything feel different after it was filmed than while it was being filmed?
Yeah, a few folks have commented on that -- this sort of scrub brush quality, and it summing up at least a little of the King-Cat philosophy, "No matter where you are there's beauty." It wasn't intentional per se
, though it resonates through the movie. He loves Elgin, which is this sad, dying town. He loved Denver when it was a sad, dying town. He now lives in Beloit. A lot of it is financial in nature -- he can't afford to live in SF or NY or something, but I think a lot of it is what he's drawn to.
To be honest, that was a happy accident. That walk through the woods, though, was one of the highlights of not just making the movie, but probably of my life. John was honest, open, thoughtful, peaceful, and focused throughout. I grew up in a place that looks a lot like that woods -- it was a cold blustery early spring day -- and I'm drawn to that type of environment, too. It was really a special experience.
It didn't occur to me though, at the time because we were tromping through these woods, and I was mostly walking backwards, nervous about just falling into a ravine or something.
Another bit that jumped out at me long after filming was after we left Athens. It was in Athens that we filmed the "Honeys" stuff, and also the interview with his first wife Kera, who was exceedingly kind and gracious to me. The next day, driving away, I filmed a lot of the car footage of him talking about having OCD, and John was really really angry. He generally kept an even keel, I think partially because he was camera conscious, and partly because he legitimately practices zen, but you could see this frustration and anger that had been there for a decade come to the surface. It was also really powerful.
SPURGEON: Where did you find Jeff Zenick?
[laughs] That guy's awesome, right? I wish I could have included more of their conversation, but it just didn't fit really well. Hopefully you know Jeff's work.
SPURGEON: I do. I like it very much.
He used to do these great travel zines where he's just bike to some city and work there for awhile, usually camping out, if memory serves. He and John have been pen pals for years -- decades even -- and the bit in the movie was the first time they met. That meant a lot of the conversation was sort of feeling each other out in person a little. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida of all places, where he mostly does paintings and drawings from old yearbooks. Really amazing guy. I could've spent months with. Somebody should do a movie about him.
SPURGEON: You've had this out for a little while now. What have been folks' reactions so far? What are your hopes for the film? Is there a way of engaging with it you'd like to see happen?
So far, so good. I have yet to have anyone say anything negative, though maybe that's just folks being polite. The people who've given me feedback have liked it. One guy in a Q/A referenced it as "lo-fi," which is totally true, but seemed so obvious to me as to not be repeating. It felt a little like when Eli Cash says to Margot Tennenbaum, "Why would you specifically say someone's not
a genius?" in The Royal Tennenbaums
. The whole thing is super lo-fi. It was just me and the camera, I bought one extra mic for $60. When I used lights, I used these old photo lights I bought an estate sale for $5-10. I edited it myself, and just used music from folks who love John and his work. There are clearly rough spots in it, and when I watch it, I always see "what could have been" if I'd taken a little more time. But after four and half or five years, I felt I'd taken enough time.
I haven't seen too many write ups on it yet, though it's really just started touring with John. I traveled with him in Canada, then he did the rest of the northeast. I'll rejoin him in Portland for the Short Run festival, then head south and into Colorado, which should be fun. But yeah, I think it's an honest and strong portrait of an amazing artist, and so far that's what has resonated with people.
In terms of engagement, I'm doing all the sales and stuff pretty lo-fi too. I printed up 1,000 DVDs. 275 go to Kickstarters, participants, and reviewers. I gave John 100 to sell on the road. I predict by the end of his 25 city tour, he'll work through most of those. Anyway, my point is, by the end of November, I predict we'll have sold 65-75% of the DVDs. I'm also doing a pay to stream or download thing for $5.
I plan on entering some film festivals and such, mostly because I think that would be fun to do. I also plan on getting it up on iTunes, Amazon and such. Netflix is a weird beast, so as cool as that would be, I don't how likely it is. Honestly, I spent the last six months editing and getting this thing out there, and I'm exhausted from that process, so the actual distribution and marketing stuff is going to be a bit slower than I might have originally predicted.
SPURGEON: One of the things I found really interesting in the movie is how unadorned everything is, how most of the places where you shoot are really unassuming homes. You don't make any secret of how tough John's artistic road is financially, but I wondered if you were aware how much that comes through the film just generally, or if that was important to you to show that element of his life.
Lo-Fi, baby! Yeah, I mean, I'm not sure how else I could have done it. I do think that one of John's greatest qualities is his ability to inspire others. There are so so so many people I spoke with who basically said, "If it weren't for John..." And I know I always felt like I couldn't do comics because I didn't have a rapidograph pen set, or even know what bristol board was, but John does his stuff in lined notebooks with cheap pens. It's like what Mr. Mike says near the end, "We're all diabetics for the fluff," and I think that's true in the comics/zine field. This is my own aesthetic, but generally, when I see a 28-page pamphlet that's numbered, with a screenprinted cover selling for $10, I sort of assume the content isn't there. It needs the bells and whistles. But then John can create this incredible body of work with free paper and shitty pens, living in places like Elgin and Beloit. I think of it as "unassuming."
So, yeah, I think I was aware of that during filming. For example, John has this weird diet, and so makes his own food when he's on the road (mostly). At zine fests and stuff, he'll be eating quinoa mush out of a sauce pan with a plastic fork while hawking his comics. And it's not an affectation.
The other thing I'll say is that if John P. vouches for someone, they're worth their weight in gold. Many of the people I interviewed had the same conversation with me, which is that John won't ever introduce you to a bad person. So, all the people in the film are -- like John -- these very unique, unassuming, passionate, interesting people. It really was incredible. There wasn't a single person I worked with who I wouldn't be really excited to call a friend.
* Root Hog Or Die: A Film About John Porcellino, Dan Stafford, 104 mintes, 2014
* cover to the documentary
* Ditko's Spider-Man
* two Kilgore Books logos
* a Kilgore-published issue of Blammo
* from Map Of My Heart
* a Felt Pilotes sleeve/related art from Porcellino's site
* a healthy-looking John P. at the just-passed SPX 2014 (photo by Whit Spurgeon)
* early coverage of Porcellino that appears in the film
* comic used to promote the Kickstarter
* Jeff Zenick page
* a random John P. panel I like (bottom)
posted 8:00 am PST
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