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September 26, 2019

CR Friday Interview: Brian Canini

1. Brian, now that some time has passed, do you have any kind of perspective on your Eisner experience? You were nominated with your collaborators on the first issue of The Columbus Scribbler. How does it feel looking back on what happened?

Having the opportunity to represent my hometown and passion for comics at a major venue like the Eisners was an amazing honor that I am still trying to wrap my head around. I can’t even begin to express in words the experience of being able to go to the San Diego Comic-Con and be apart of the Eisner Awards. Talk about a humbling and awe-inspiring trip. I met artists that I have admired for what feels like my entire life during that weekend and I was able to meet with like-minded creatives with similar goals of developing ways to spread our love of comics.

2. Is there a specific memory or two you might take with you from the SDCC, or the experience more broadly? What’s it like to get that email?

I was only in San Diego for the day, but I feel like I made every moment count. Without question meeting Walt Simonson is a memory I’ll hold onto for the rest of my life. It happened while I was wandering the con floor, I turned around and there he was. I said “Holy crap, you’re Walt Simonson.” and he jokingly looked around like he didn’t know who I was talking to then came up and shook my hand. I asked if I could take a picture with him and he graciously agreed. Then I gave him a copy of one of my new comics, Glimpses of Life #6, in which I had drawn portraits of a bunch of cartoonists that have influenced me, he was one of them. Once he realized I had created the comic I was handing him, he insisted that I sign it for him and he proceeded to walk me over to Marc Silvestri’s table and asked Marc if he could borrow a pen. So there I was signing a comic I had made for one of my heroes using the pen of another one of my heroes. My hand trembled a little when I returned the pen.

As for the email, to be honest, I can’t really answer that one because I never got emailed about the news. In a frantic dash to mail my submissions to the Eisners, I had neglected to add my contact info. In fact, I didn’t know we had been nominated until CXC made a post on Facebook congratulating us. By the way, thanks for that one!

Once I found out the news it was one of those moments where you’re not really sure how to process the information. We had just come out with the second issue of the Columbus Scribbler and we were all getting ready that weekend for SPACE. Which for those of you that don’t know is an independent comic convention hosted by Columbus local Bob Corby. I can probably say without a doubt that we won at life that weekend. We received more attaboys and congrats from our peers and local community members than we were expecting. It was extraordinary.

3. Your work is not typical of that category; it’s not a traditional industry news publication. What do you think is the unique appeal of what you’re put together?

Our goal with the Columbus Scribbler is simple. It’s a platform for local artists and creatives to share their work but at its core we designed this paper as a means of sharing our love of this artform. We want the world to know that comics are for everyone. From an outsider’s perspective, the comics community can seem very overwhelming and difficult to navigate through. We wanted to develop a medium that anyone could take home and explore. We share local artist perspectives, historical background of comics, tutorials of development and artistic processes, and highlight local comic events and stores to name a few of the features. The idea of the Scribbler began as a means to connect with everyone from the kid discovering comics for the first time to the professional local artist. We’re doing our best to develop a free local family-friendly newspaper that everyone can enjoy and gain something from.

4. Is it more difficult now having been paid attention to from your very first issue?

Absolutely not. If anything we feel more inspired. I think Jack, Steve, Derek, and myself all feel like every new issue is our best issue yet. We’re still very much in the growing phase, just trying to figure everything out.

To be completely honest with you we don’t know entirely what we’re doing but it all seems to be coming together. There is nothing quite like the Columbus Scribbler here in central Ohio. We’ve received nothing but positive praise and we’re all just doing what we love. Nothing about this process has felt overbearing or difficult for any of us. We’re just rolling with it and looking forward to the evolution and development of our venture.

Having been nominated for an Eisner has been really encouraging, it’s made us feel like we’re on the right track and really doing something worthwhile for comics and our local community.

5. Are there publications or sites that inspire you? Do you have a Rushmore?

A comics newspaper isn’t anything new when we started this project we looked at a lot of other papers like Hoot, Magic Bullet, and The Sequentialist just to see what others had done with the format. I think the thing that sets us apart is that there is nothing quite like the Columbus Scribbler. We showcase local artists and have plenty of comics in our paper, but we also discuss the artform. We want to share what comics are to us, what comics can be for others and what comics could be for them.

6. Brian, you just kind of showed on my radar as a helpful person at local and regional activities here in Columbus. Do you have a comics history? Were you a comics readers as a kid? Do you remember what made you create comics for other folks to read, and get them out there?

Comics have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first comic was an issue of Archie’s Ninja Turtle Adventures when I was six years old. Once I read that I was pretty much hooked on comics.

As a kid, I found old Marvel Masterwork books of the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man at a used bookstore. So I grew up with Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. I also went through a Dick Tracy phase. All the hype around the Warren Beatty movie got me curious, well that and the Looney Tunes episode, The Great Piggy Bank Robbery. I was a big Chester Gould fan. I love how deformed and interesting he designed his villains, especially Flattop.

I came of age in the 90s collector’s boom so, just like everyone else, I was big into the X-Men comics and all the Image guys, especially Rob Liefeld and Erik Larsen. I collected comics obsessively for a while. These days I tend to prefer trades and graphic novels because it’s easier to find room for a bookshelf than a long box, but, given the right mood, I can still go nuts on a dollar bin.

As for creating comics, I couldn’t honestly tell you what made me want to create them for other folks to read. I’ve been making comics since I was about six years old. I’d spend hours in my room drawing them and give them to my parents to read. When I’d go over to a friend’s house, one of the games we’d play was comic book company. We’d set up a little assembly line in my friend’s garage, I’d draw a comic, another friend would ink it, another would color it with crayons or colored pencils. We’d just have fun with it.

Self-publishing for me began back in 2000 when I found an exhibitor form at my local comic shop, The Laughing Ogre, for an indie comic convention called SPACE. To my surprise, I got an acceptance email back. I was in, now all I had to do was create some comics to sell, I had six months. By SPACE I had created three comics with help from my writing partner, Derek Baxter. Since then, I haven’t stopped self-publishing comics. Comics are just something I’ve always done.

It was never about making comics for others to read initially. It was about taking a story or an idea that I found interesting or funny and putting it to paper. Comics were always my form of expression with storytelling.

7. Your autobio is charming, but I’m not sure if I can figure out where you’re coming from by publishing that material. Is that just a kind of work that interests you? Is there an element of diary here, putting things down to sort or remember them? It’s hard to find time to do this kind of work. What motivates you?

Thanks! The autobio stuff definitely leans more towards the diary side of the genre. I decided to challenge myself after reading a graphic novel called Drink More Water by my friend Chris Monday. I was in an artistic rut at that point, just not producing much, a page would take weeks to finish. So from that moment on I was attempting to produce a journal comic every day for a year in addition to my other projects.

It was a very freeing experience and it opened my eyes to the infinite possibilities with comics. You really can do just about anything with the medium.

Something strange happens when you draw a comic about your life every day, reading through it at the end a story unfolds that you never really expected. Life has a story arch. When the year was up, I had my first graphic novel, Fear of Flying, which ended up chronicling my long-distance relationship with my now wife, Amy.

Since then, I’ve done two other major projects with journal comics and I do them off and on now when something significant happens that I want to remember. I think, in general, comics have always been about remembering things for me. Autobio is just another way to sort through things.

For me, autobio definitely about capturing a memory or a moment. I just like taking those single moments that stood out to me down on paper and holding on to them to look back on later. And I think it’s a wonderful gift for my children to have, to be able to look back at their childhoods and get to know their parents. Aside from that, I always hope that my work connects with people and gives them some comfort in troubled times to know that they’re not alone or at the very least gives them a good chuckle.

I’m not going to minimize the massive undertaking that comes with taking on a daily journal comic. At times it was a struggle to keep up with production. There were moments that I didn’t want to work on journaling and wanted to work on other projects or just relax and not do anything. But I fought through my frustrations and found inspiration from the everyday moments that are so easy to forget with time. These are thoughts and ideas and feelings as they occurred that I’ve expressed through a medium that connects with me.

8. Are there as-yet unrealized ambitions for your work. Is there something you want to achieve comics-wise in five, ten years?

The first thing that comes to mind is I would like to find a publisher for my future projects which would enable me to reach a wider audience. I have ambitions to make a one-man anthology in the vein of Blammo. I would also love to dip my toes in the historical non-fiction genre. I am in no short supply of imagination and creativity when it comes to figuring out something to tinker away at my drawing table.

Simply put, I want what every cartoonist wants. I want to be able to support myself doing what I love.

9. How hard do you work on the craft of your comics? Because it does seem like your art is in flux, that there’s an arc to its development. What do you feel you do well? As specifically as possible, what do you feel you’d like to do better?

I work on comics every day. About two years ago, I started a routine where I wake up every morning during the week at 5 AM and work on comics for about 2 hours before I have to get the kids ready for school. I’ve always been a night owl and would have never thought this would be something I’d enjoy doing, but it’s surprisingly really great.

Instead of sitting at the drawing board tired and drained from the workday, I’m sitting there with the whole day ahead of me. I start every day doing something I love. Plus, at 5 AM, it’s far too early to overthink things so I can really just buckle down and figure out how to tell the best stories possible. Another bonus, since I started this routine my productivity has increased tremendously.

As for the flux you mention, yeah I’d agree that there’s an arc to the development of my art. I think part of it is that I just like to experiment with tools and styles. If I stick with the same process, whether that’s tools, paper, or drawing scale, I get bored. I always feel the need to shake things up and challenge myself. I’m also a strong believer that in order to make a good comic, the art has to feel right for the story.

Overall I enjoy developing stories and going through the process of creating new characters. The feedback I receive from others leads me to believe that I’m pretty good at it.

What would I like to do better? I’d like to improve on my coloring technique. I’ve spent the last decade working in black and white format. I do some color work on covers, but I have never felt overly comfortable with it. Feeling confident in my color choices and being able to choose faster would be great things to improve upon.

10. What is the last good comics you’ve read? What is the last great one.

I’ve been kind of all over the map lately. It’s an incredible time to be a comics reader, there’s so much great work out there right now.

Recently, I’ve read Blammo #10 by Noah Van Sciver which was wonderful and contains, in my opinion, one of his best short stories, “Burning Brigsby”. I’ve also read G. I. JOE: Sierra Muerte by Michel Fiffe which is just a whole lot of fun.

As for the last great, that’s a little tricky. I’ve been rereading old favorites and right now I’m about to finish rereading Watchmen and I’m pleased to say that it still holds up and is still great. I also recently reread Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli which still blows me away, there are so many ideas for how comics and storytelling can work in that book.

Those all feel like copouts, so aside from those, I recently read Sacred Heart by Liz Suburbia and when I finished it I remember thinking to myself, “Wow!” There’s an amazing energy and tension in that book that just keeps you turning the pages. I also finally got around to reading Smile by Raina Telgemeier and discovered what my daughter, Kayla, has been telling me for years now, it’s great! Beautifully illustrated and a charming story that makes you feel like Raina’s one of your close friends.

11. What would you be happiest to have people explore from your CXC table? What would make for a good weekend on the floor?

I’ll be premiering three new books at CXC this year, so feel free to explore any of them.

Ruffians is a complete collection of my crime comic about a three-foot-tall blue bear hitman named Scar out to avenge the death of his friend. It’s a wild ride that sees Scar fight a giant gorilla, go to prison, converse with a ghost and leave a trail of corpses in his wake. It took about eleven years to complete and is one of those projects that just feels really good to finally put to bed and be able to have on my bookshelf.

Last Call is a collection of short humor strips that Derek Baxter and I created for our website, The book is set up like the secret sketchbook of The Drunken Cat and contains pieces with subject matters that vary from pop culture references to the life story of a hamburger.

Devil’s Milk is my latest autobio book. Its a collection of all the random journal comics when my daughter, Izzy, was born and through its development over time it became this arc of the journey of raising a baby with my wife. The book also includes a comic titled “To My Children” that I think may be one of the best comics I’ve ever made.

Honestly, a good weekend for me would just be to have fun, make some new friends and talk to people about comics. And if I sell a couple of books, that would be awesome.

posted 5:25 pm PST | Permalink

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