A Short Interview With Bob Fingerman posted May 31, 2009
I've known Bob Fingerman for about as long as I've been working in or near comics, although never as well as I'd like to. My first memory of him is as the cartoonist behind Minimum Wage, an autobiographically-informed work of fiction that came along just as the entire industry became determined to set itself on fire and jump off a building. It was a bad time to make the first of what would be several career-defining works. That was a long time ago, particularly in funnybook terms, and Fingerman has stayed busy making himself a "known quantity," as he terms it. He also moved into writing prose, which surprised me for the reasons we discuss in what follows.
Fingerman has two major projects out right now. The first is a comic book series from IDW called From The Ashes, a post-apocalyptic satire starring Fingerman and his wife Michele, and a bunch of comics one may assume will eventually be collected by the surging, San Diego-based publisher. The second is an illustrated book called Connective Tissue, from Fantagraphics, and he's not kidding about the "illustrated" part of that phrase -- it's stuffed with visuals. Next year will see the release of Fingerman's Pariah from Tor Books. It was fun to talk to Bob not at a convention at 4 PM on a Sunday, or at a party while heading in separate directions. He sounded happy. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: You currently have the comic book series with IDW that I assume will eventually become a book. You have an illustrated prose work with Fantagraphics. You have a book due next year from Tor that's straight-up prose. Is this kind of mix the ideal for you?
BOB FINGERMAN: I think that actually is the ideal, yeah. A mix. I get restless -- I don't know if "restless" is the right word, but maybe it is the right word. I like to mix it up. I think if I did nothing but comics, I would end up hating comics. For a while there I was actually beginning to hate comics. Although I think that mainly had to do with a lot of the feelings I had about the business of comics more than the creation of comics.
SPURGEON: The old joke is, "Comics has a business?"
FINGERMAN: [laughs] Exactly. That was my point exactly. I kept saying, "Is this a business or is this a hobby?" Not from my point of view, but... well, whatever. I don't want to sling too much mud.
Ideally what I'd love is to alternate. If I could put out a prose novel one year and a graphic novel the following and keep doing that, then maybe for good measure do a couple more of those illustrated novellas? I think that would be great. At least until I got tired of doing that and then I'd want to move onto something else.
SPURGEON: What is the appeal, having all of those options open to you? Is it a sense of telling different kinds of stories with different sets of tools?
FINGERMAN: Oh, definitely. I've always been kind of a believer in knowing your strengths and knowing your limitations as a creator. There's certain things that I would not do justice to if I drew them. There are some comic scripts that I have in mind that I would prefer someone else to draw than me, because I just know I wouldn't be the right guy for them. I think there are certain stories that lend themselves to prose. In particular, maybe ones that are a bit more serious. I don't look at my art and say, "I have a style that lends itself to serious storytelling." I have a tendency to draw in a more humorous vein.
I didn't think of my first novel, Bottomfeeder, as anything other than a novel. But the forthcoming novel, Pariah, the one that Tor's putting out next year? That actually, way back when, began as a graphic novel pitch. That would have been one I wasn't going to draw. And actually the best thing that could have happened -- I didn't feel that way at the time -- was that it never became a graphic novel. I think ultimately it would have been much more superficial and much more compromised. Especially since I was gearing up to do that for a more mainstream comics publisher, they wouldn't have let me go nearly as far as I went with it. It was going to be in its initial incarnation probably only a 64- or 72-page story. It would have been really compromised. Prose lends itself better to some things.
Also, frankly, I just enjoy writing. I enjoy playing with words as much as I enjoy drawing pictures. I don't think I'm an overly fussy writer. I don't think I sit there trying to impress myself with, "I'm going to top Noel Coward today." I do try to turn a nice phrase if I can. To me, sometimes at the end of the day, and there's some really good writing, I feel the same way as if I had made a really good drawing. It's a way to satisfy my creative urge in different ways. For me, writing has always been as important as the art.
SPURGEON: I remember when Ed Brubaker started writing full time, that made a certain amount of sense to me just from what I knew about how he approached writing and the writing in his comics. I'm not sure that I ever saw you as one of the cartoonists that would eventually write. Did you always see yourself as a writer as a well as a cartoonist?
FINGERMAN: It was always there. I think if you had access to me on the same basis as perhaps you did to Ed, you would have seen it. I wasn't in Seattle, in your orbit.
I've always wanted to do it. I've always written, I've just written for myself in prose. It was more a matter of what prompted me to finally take the plunge than actually taking the plunge, because I had always intended to write novels as well as do comics. At the time I began writing -- and I have a couple of unpublished novels, too. You have to have a couple of those. It's where I got my feet wet. Maybe someday they'll see print... if I still want them to. It was a growing dissatisfaction with doing comics that finally made me say, "Fuck it. I'm going to write a book."
SPURGEON: Was that solely the industry stuff you mentioned or were there artistic issues as well?
FINGERMAN: I think it was more industry. I've always had I think an odd place in the world of comics. On the one hand, I think I'm a pretty well-known quantity. On the other hand, I think I occupy strange real estate in the world of comics. I think some of that is because I do jump around. Every project I do is different than the last. I've never created a consistent body of work. I've certainly never had an ongoing character long enough. I do things and I burn them through and then I move on. I don't know. Maybe restlessness will be the theme of this interview, but I definitely want to try different things.
SPURGEON: Does it seem odd in 2009 to be doing a serial comic with IDW? I know that's their business model.
FINGERMAN: That is their business model. So I really didn't have any choice there. But in some ways, it's funny. Again, From The Ashes is something I conceived of as a book, not a comic book series. But being forced to do it as a comic book series made me write it differently. And actually I think in some ways it was good. When approaching something big and amorphous like a book, where you're not thinking page count, you're just thinking story. In writing for a comic book where you know you have 24 pages, it's a very regimented way of writing. You know you have to hit your beats at certain points.
And so in a way it made me consistently end each chapter with a cliffhanger, which is kind of nice in a way. I do that in my other writing, but it's not... like I say, it's not as regimented. I wouldn't want to do that all the time, but I think it made From The Ashes -- I don't know if it's stronger, because I can't compare it to the other thing that only exists in theory [laughs]. But I think it's the best comics I've ever done, and I think maybe in some ways that's because I did it issue to issue. That's one of the things I liked about Minimum Wage, that there was sort of an episodic nature to it.
SPURGEON: Am I right in that the genesis of From the Ashes was the relationship rather than the setting?
FINGERMAN: It was both, and thinking about the end of the world. I conceived of it during the final year of the Bush/Cheney horror show. So thinking of the end of the world was not far from my thoughts a lot of the time. Bush and Cheney had that glint in their eye that "We're the ones that can make this happen. Fuck it. Time to meet Jesus." [Spurgeon laughs] I'm not going to say terrorism didn't scare me, because here I am in New York, the city that got hit the hardest. But I was never as scared of the terrorists as I was of Bush and Cheney. You just never know. Especially with someone like Bush. I thought, "As the clock is ticking down on his presidency, what is he going to do?"
I'm not an overly fuzzy-headed doom and gloomer. My feeling is that certain things like the End of the World are so outside of the realm of day to day thinking, that for me they just become a toy to play with. I wasn't losing sleep over the thought that the End Times were upon us. In some ways, it's two passions: I love post-apocalypse stuff and I love my wife. [laughs] How can I mash these together?
Also, and I'm sorry this answer is so long, it really did spring from a conversation I was having with my friend John Hanlon about memoir comics and how I was just getting sick and tired of memoir comics. I know that's not going to make me any friends with people who do memoir comics. I thought if you're going to do a memoir, have a really extraordinary event. And I thought, "The end of the world would be an extraordinary event." And then the phrase "speculative memoir" popped into my head. I think it was those three things. Thinking of the end of the world, thinking of wanting to do something with my wife, and then this "speculative memoir" phrase.
SPURGEON: Is there a point at which you're putting something together where you can begin to see how it will work, or are you just writing and figuring that when it's done it will either work or it doesn't.
FINGERMAN: Well... for me, the process of putting things together is probably a little more amorphous than with some people. I don't say, "I'm going to go home, sit down and write an outline for this thing." I kind of mull on it for a while. Not months and months but for a few good weeks I'll wander around and as things pop into my head I'll jot them down on post-it notes, little scratch pads or whatever. Then I begin to collate those little inspirations and ideas or what have you. The something will either coalesce as a book or won't, in which case I'll just toss the whole thing. I was thinking, "What do I want to hit with this?" All right... it's the end of the world. That's one thing.
The last eight years I became a rabid news junkie. The worse things got the more detail I wanted to know. I was basically trying to figure out a way to erode any lining left in my stomach. [Spurgeon laughs] The Bush years were quite corrosive in that regard.
It's funny that I keep mentioning Bush-Cheney, because I didn't want anything about Bush and Cheney -- or hardly anything -- in this book. I didn't want it to be overly topical, either. There were certain topical figures I wanted to get in there, certain figures in our culture I wanted to get in there. You haven't seen anything other than the first issue, but as we get further into the apocalypse and we start encountering more survivors and so forth, I wanted to touch on things like religion to some degree. I wanted to touch on the news media. The sort of lemming-like, herding response of people. All kinds of things. It definitely gets bigger and broader. The first issue is every intimate. I think I kept the intimacy between Michele and I as it goes on, but the scope begins to broaden and broaden in terms of satirical targets and things like that.
SPURGEON: I talked with Peter Bagge recently about his Reason essays, and he said that a problem he had is that he doesn't know if he's funny -- if the character of Peter Bagge is funny. Are you able to tell with these characters, that are you and your wife, how well they work?
FINGERMAN: It's so subjective. On the one hand, if I say, "Yeah, I hit it out of the park," people are going to think, "Boy, what an egotistical asshole." On the other hand, if I'm falsely modest and say, "Oh, shucks. I don't know. Gawrsh. That's for other people to decide..."
I think I did a good job. I hope I did. I am a very harsh critic when addressing my own work. The other thing is, in a way I think portraying myself -- and this is the first time I've done it without any varnish. It's just Bob Fingerman and his wife Michele. There aren't any stand-ins.
I don't like to make myself look like a fool, because I don't consider myself a fool. At the same time, I think because I'm not so vain I can't constantly use myself as -- what's the word I'm looking for? -- just use myself as a vehicle to make fun of myself. As long as there's a balance. I don't believe in portraying myself as an idiot. I'm not an idiot. At the same time, I don't make myself, "Look! He's King Capable, he can do anything!" [Spurgeon laughs] If anything, I portrayed myself as a lot more sanguine about what's going on than I would be in real life. If I did a strip about the apocalypse that was realistic, provided I allowed the latitude of me actually surviving such a thing, I'm sure I'd crawl under a rock and die [laughs] just from sheer horror and fright. So there's obviously some creative suspension of disbelief.
SPURGEON: Are there any specific instance of apocalyptic literature you're pushing against? In comics, The Walking Dead is very popular. You mentioned The Road in an e-mail to me. That's certainly a culturally significant prose work.
FINGERMAN: I don't know if I push against them. I sort of embrace them. I really love the genre of post apocalypse stuff. Movies, comics, whatever... I make little nods to things here and there.
SPURGEON: What's appealing to you about the genre?
FINGERMAN: It's funny, because I'm not overly introspective about why I like certain things I like. Why do I like zombies so much? The answer "because I do" isn't very satisfying. [laughs] Or very deep. I think in some ways with post-apocalypse stuff, there's the possibility -- it's not necessarily the actuality, but there's the possibility of freedom that doesn't exist when the structures of society are still in place. You know what I mean? Certainly in a lot of the popular entertainment that's I think the appeal. Things like Mad Max or Road Warrior or whatever. You basically have these nomads roving around. It' not a great life. They're struggling for gasoline and every little scrap of food. But on the other hand, if you look at the bands of marauders, they're all kind of joyful in their psychosis. [laughter]
You're getting to play with some modern things -- there's the trappings of the world that was, but they're all relegated to the background. Simply in terms of drawing, there's something very satisfying about drawing ruins. [Spurgeon laughs] A building that's still standing is a rectangle. A building that's been knocked down is jut a chaos of shapes. And a chaos of shapes is fun to look at.
SPURGEON:Connective Tissue is one of those books that makes sense when you describe it -- "he's doing an illustrated book" -- but it's an odd thing to see. [Fingerman laughs] You illustrated the crap out of this, Bob. This isn't six plates in an Edgar Rice Burroughs book.
FINGERMAN: It is an odd book. There's no other way to put it. It's an odd book. I don't think it fits neatly in with anything. Which will either be its charm that will make it become a huge hit. Or it's the thing that will keep people looking at it and scratching their heads. This is one of those cases where I don't know how they'll rack it in the bookstore. I haven't gone to a Barnes & Noble lately to look for it. It's not a graphic novel. It's not a full novel. It's an illustrated novella. And like you say, it's profusely illustrated. There are 50 illustrations, maybe more. Plus there's an epilogue in comics form. To use a crossword puzzle word, it's a real olio of approaches.
FINGERMAN: I guess in some ways, that's kind of the theme of what we're talking about: the fact I like to try different things. That's a very different thing. Even for me, that's a very different thing. It was doing all different kinds of new things. Even my approach to doing that one was completely different than anything I've ever done before. I wrote it after I drew it.
FINGERMAN: It was all an experiment. I wanted to try to reverse engineer a book. Most illustrated books -- most might be an understatement, all illustrated books I think -- tend to have story first and the art comes second, hence the term illustration. In this case I started doing a series of drawings with this girl. She just sort of popped into my head. The way the drawings run in the book isn't quite the order that I drew them. There was a sequence to the art I was doing. I took her from this place to this place to this place. But it was very stream of consciousness. I wanted to start her in her workplace. And then just take her on this journey.
I've always liked Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. Those are two of my favorite kids' things. And actually Wizard of Oz in particular becomes more and more present in From The Ashes when you get further and further into it. I think Alice in Wonderland is more and more of a presence in Connective Tissue. I wanted to drop my character Darla into sort of a drug infused, hallucinogen-infused rabbit hole. I just wanted to draw stuff I wanted to draw. It was a case where I wanted to scratch a lot of itches. I wanted to draw weird creatures, a city where no one was wearing clothes but her, just keep her this fish out of water and keep throwing different things at her. I didn't know where I was going to go with it or what I was going to do with it. Because it was such an odd project, I was thinking maybe Fantagraphics would eventually be its home. But I wasn't sure. I certainly didn't want to assume, because it wasn't like anything that they've done.
I had started this art blog and put up some of the drawings. They were among the first drawings I put up on it just to show I was still busy. Gary [Groth, co-publisher at Fantagraphics] contacted me -- I hadn't even hipped him to the blog so I was surprised that he came across it. In a way I was kind of flattered. "Gee, he must have actually been browsing." [laughs] I don't know, I never asked. "Why did you stumble across my blog?" Sometimes its best not to know.
SPURGEON: That's too weird for me to even ponder.
FINGERMAN: He sent me a really nice and particularly for Gary quite effusive e-mail telling me how much he liked these drawings and how he thought they were great and how he thought they were the best I'd done. So I thought, "Okay, the door is open." I said to him, "Do you want to do it as a book?" He said "Sure" without me even elaborating on what I had in mind. When I hit him with the idea of it being half-prose, half-illustration, then he got really excited. You know Gary. He's a real reader. He loves words. He and I have talked about how he'd love to jut publish more and more prose. I think this combination of drawings he already liked and working with prose really appealed to him.
So I very happily found an enthusiastic and receptive publisher for it. It is a strange project, but it's one I'm happy with and really proud of. I'm thrilled at the good fortune that it not only came out but it's such a handsome little book. I think they really did a great job. I have to give a little shout out to Jacob Covey, their designer. He's really good. You just look at the books they've been doing the last two or three years, it's just such a quantum leap in quality. They always did good stuff, but they're really beautifully designed book now.
SPURGEON: I think it's the biggest difference at that company over the last half-decade.
FINGERMAN: Even the books that they did that I really liked, they were at best workmanlike in their design. But when Jacob and I forget the other guy --
SPURGEON:Adam Grano. Greg Sadowski was there full-time for a while as well.
FINGERMAN: When they came on board, all of the sudden it's like, "These look great." The book that in a way made me hope that Jacob would be the one who'd work on Connective Tissue is Petey & Pussy. That's just a gorgeous little book. So Jacob's the man, and he did me right. I'm very proud of the book. I think it looks beautiful.
SPURGEON: Looking at your visuals in Connective Tissue, you have these figures in the foreground that are solid, but then the background figures and even the background itself are fading. Is that an approach you've used before on a project?
FINGERMAN: I haven't. It interests me when I look at how consistent al lot of other artists' art is. It will evolve and there will be subtle changes, but it's more a matter of refinement than change. Some artists, you look at what they did 25 years ago and now and it looks the same. The style is completely locked in. For me, you look at the body of my work, each project looks different than the last one. I think there is -- for better or for worse -- a Bob Fingerman style. But you look at something like White Like She, you look at Minimum Wage, you keep looking. They all look different. I'm always trying different stuff.
Starting with the book Recess Pieces, I gave up inking altogether. They stopped making the kind of pen I liked drawing with, and I said, "Fuck it. I'm done." I was always someone who when I did the pencil stage, I thought that's where the vitality was. In a way inking leached away a lot of the vitality. I also always wanted to work looser. Over the years my appreciation of Jack Davis has gotten greater and greater. On the one hand, his work was very polished. But it never looked fussed over. There's such raw, spontaneous cartooning going on in his work, and it doesn't matter if it's his water-colored stuff or his pen and ink stuff. It's just fresh. I think that's the ideal I've always been -- not always, but since... the word maturity is such a loose word when you draw comics. [laughter] That to me seemed like the direction I wanted to go in.
There were two directions I could have gone. One would have been to really become super-refined, and very precise. And the other was to get loose. And loose just... looks more fun to me. I love and respect the guys who do almost surgically precise work, but that's not the direction I wanted to go in. So, for Connective Tissue, which was sort of the next stage after Recess Pieces. That's why I started doing drawings without writing, that was part of loosening up. Not thinking, "I have this plot I know I have to adhere to." If I just do drawings, all I'm going to think about is the drawing. That changed the entire approach. In some ways Connective Tissue is a very apt title because it is the tissue that goes between the older, more... the old Inky Bob, and sort of loosy-goosy Pencil Bob. That sounds idiotic. You can cut that out. [laughter]
I try not to over-analyze this stuff. In a way it's like deconstructing a joke; it becomes very unfunny if you do that. The short answer is that once I dropped the ink, since pencil is more tonal, ink is black and white and if you add tone in ink you're crosshatching, which is still black. You're creating an artificial tone. With pencil you can go soft. Once there was that freedom of drawing soft here and a little hard here, and you get that real light and dark. It is that real light and dark. You can add your shading, and it all depends on how hard you're pressing. It made the art have a different quality.
We also printed that work differently. There's a printing process called stochastic printing, which is different than your standard four-color. It's the kind of thing most people wouldn't even notice, but if you take an magnifying glass, and look at the printing in that and then look at a standard comic book, you don't see the print dots the same way. Stochastic is more of a chaotic way of printing. The dots are not in a standard grid printing like they are in a standard four-color process. It looks more like old lithography or old rotogravure. The best way to print, and I don't know why it hasn't caught on more, the best way to print photographs is with stochastic, because you really get every gradation of tone and the contrast is better. Gary and Jacob were saying that when they were looking at the art some of it looked almost 3-D. That's very flattering. I don't know if that's true or not. They saw a far more dimensional quality to the art than anything I'd done before, and that's great. Some of that's the printing, but I like to think some of that is me moving forward with my art.
SPURGEON: A specific question: is the bulk of From The Ashes going to be landscape panels?
FINGERMAN: A lot of it is. There were obviously conscious decisions... there are some full-page splash pages, but over the course of it there are maybe only six or eight more vertical panels. I wanted to think cinematically. I was thinking letterbox, how I would frame it if i shot it as a movie.
SPURGEON: Maybe this is something that didn't occur to me until From The Ashes, but how much do you consider yourself a creator that creates about New York?
FINGERMAN: I think it's deeply entrenched. I can't help it. Everything I do is set in New York. I don't know if you read Bottomfeeder, it's deeply steeped in its location. I was just talking with my dad about the writer Ed McBain. My dad is the most voracious reader I know. He reads everything. I read a fair amount, but he makes me look like a toothless illiterate.
He was talking about how Ed McBain is just a really good writer and good crafter of the kind of tales he tells. One thing he did say he didn't like is the fact that McBain will for two or three pages here and there just wax anthropomorphic about the city. My dad is more, "Tell the story! Propel the story, don't give me 'The city is like a lady' or whatever." [laughter] That's not his kind of thing.
I don't think I do that. I don't anthropomorphize the city. But I definitely use the city in everything I do. It's just what I know. I did it in Bottomfeeder. To a lesser degree I do it in the forthcoming novel Pariah. That one's set on the Upper East Side. I at least like to change locations. You know? It's not that I'm the guy that does this one neighborhood. [laughter] I bounce from area to area, and in the case of Bottomfeeder, time period to time period. But New York is omnipresent. Even though From the Ashes is set in the ruins of New York, it couldn't be ruins anywhere else. Especially because the headquarters of Fox News ended up being pivotal in later chapter. Literally there's just a few girders left and the News Corporation flag flying. I had to satirize the names for legal purposes. It's POX News in the comic.
But it's New York. It just has to be New York. Even though it's never specified what city Darla works in in Connective Tissue, I know it's New York.
SPURGEON: It feels like New York, anyway. Looking at your own work do you get anything back from it on your relationship with where you live?
FINGERMAN: I don't know if I get anything back. Sometimes it can be slightly purgative. I don't know, I think it's just innate. I couldn't see ever doing purely a fantasy novel or something. New York would figure in there somewhere. Maybe that makes me incredibly limited, I don't know. I'm a creature of my habitat.
SPURGEON: A lot of your work is satirical, too, so you're constantly negotiating your surroundings in that way.
FINGERMAN: Oh, yeah. You couldn't say any of these would be good for tourism in New York. [laughter] I'm not going to be a favorite son. I'm a son, but maybe I'm a black sheep son when it comes to the creative thing.
SPURGEON: I saw a promotional video of you, Bob, and you didn't have any clothes on.
FINGERMAN: The sheer horror... At least my naked video was tastefully shot, from the chest up.
SPURGEON: It was. I know that you've been critical of the way the industry works and marketing plays a big role in how the industry works. Do you enjoy this kind of thing on any level?
SPURGEON: That was a quick no. [laughs] Would you rather not talk to me, Bob, or do these kinds of things?
FINGERMAN: Doing interviews is... it's vaguely unnatural. But on the one hand I think I'm a naturally chatty person, so I enjoy doing interviews. I always feel slightly dickish talking about myself, because my Mom raised me to be a humble person and what can be less humble than talking about yourself? But I'm also a pragmatist. I know that if you have new wares to sell, they're not going to sell themselves. The one lesson I learned years ago was that I very foolishly and naively thought at the beginning, "Well, the books will sell themselves." They don't. Even the publishers barely do.
SPURGEON: It used to be in comics people had more certainty about what worked, it's just that most folks couldn't afford to do these things. Now it seems we're moving into a time period where people don't even know what works. Every opportunity brings questions. "If I get this appearance on a TV show, will it drive people to buy my book?"
FINGERMAN: TV and radio definitely help. There's a TV pundit that shows up in From The Ashes that's very pivotal who goes by the satirical name Rile O'Biley. [Spurgeon laughs] I wouldn't be unhappy if this got on his radar and pissed him off. Stephen Colbert, whom I didn't satirize because I like Stephen Colbert, it would thrill me beyond belief if Colbert, who I understand is a comic book reader, waved it around on his show. I'm lampooning his "hero," Papa Bear.
I know that if it got featured on his show, even in passing, my sales would spike. It might just be for whatever issue was out at the moment, but my sales would spike.
The promotional machine is such an odd part of the business. I guess it didn't used to be. So much of it falls on the creator now. I don't take quite as dim a view as a fellow comic book artist friend of mine who will remain nameless, but at this point he refers to publishers as the people who pay the printing bill. I think that's too reductive.
SPURGEON: I think it's possible to see what he's getting at, even if you disagree with it. It's not a bizarre claim.
FINGERMAN: It isn't. I don't even 100 percent disagree with it. It's just overly simplistic. A publisher -- I don't want to make excuses for them, either -- they have a lot of product to push and unfortunately there's a lot of prioritizing that goes in. One of my biggest beefs with a publisher I worked with in the past was that they sold the stuff that was pre-sold. They had a couple of titles that were hits, and that's where all the promotion went. So when you were the guy doing something that nobody knew about that absolutely would only survive and succeed if it was promoted, and it got no promotion, obviously that would leave me feeling quite angry and hollow. I thought, "I just worked for almost a year on this thing and there's no ads for it. There's nothing." And yet the hit X and the hit Y, there's ads all over the place, but they're already on people's lips.
It's a strange business: comics in particular, but I think publishing, also. Comics in particular is trying to negotiate its way through the new media. The web has in a way become the great equalizer. I can put up what is for all intents and purposes a commercial. I did a trailer for From The Ashes. The only commodity I need is time and some resourcefulness in putting it together, but it's free. I put it up on Facebook, I put it up on YouTube, I put it on my blog. I sent it to my publisher and said, "Hey, can you put this on your web site?" They haven't. [laughter]
You have to know a few things. I've kind of taught myself video editing, so there's another skill set to add to my resume. It's good stuff to know. On the one hand I can say -- if I want to feel sorry for myself -- "Why aren't there big ads for this thing or the other thing?" But you can take charge now yourself. If you're completely passive as a creator in terms of promotion, if you don't do well, it's at least partly your fault. With From the Ashes I've also been lucky in that a friend of mine who's a publicist very graciously offered to do PR for me. Which was lovely of her. My friend Emma Griffiths. She has her own PR firm and she treated me like a client. And that's great.
SPURGEON: I consider you one of the cartoonists hit hardest by comics' self-inflicted recession of the 1990s. I thought your work suffered for coming out at a time when comics was acting in a deeply dysfunctional, self-defeating way. You have a number of projects coming out now... is there anything you're noticed about being an artist during this wider recession?
FINGERMAN: Wow. Heavy, man.
SPURGEON: Is it different now?
FINGERMAN: In a way it's so strange because I feel like I'm having a really good streak now. As our economy collapses and so forth, I'm having a really good streak. I've got Connective Tissue out, I've got a series out, I've just sold a novel, I'm setting up what I think is going to be a very nice ongoing relationship with Tor. For me things are looking kind of sunny. So it's hard for me to say, in a way.
Although I'm nostalgic for certain reasons for the Clinton years, they weren't necessarily kind to me economically. [Spurgeon laughs] The world was a better place, but my standing in it wasn't. That's a complex question for which I don't have a particularly cogent answer. Right now, [laughs] as I've gotten this apocalypse out of my system, I'm feeling pretty content.
* cover art to first issue of From The Ashes
* Bob Fingerman photo by Whit Spurgeon
* Bottomfeeder cover
* two of Bob and Michele from From The Ashes
* three of those illustrations from Connective Tissues
* a loose-looking breakdown page from the Recess Pieces era, snagged from Fingerman's blog
* another couple of panels of Bob from From The Ashes
* the promotional video discussed
* cover art to Connective Tissue (below)
* From The Ashes, Bob Fingerman, IDW Publishing, comic book series, 2009, $3.99 per issue.
* Connective Tissue, Bob Fingerman, Fantagraphics, hardcover, 9781606991435 (ISBN13), 134 pages, 2009, $22.99.