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CR Holiday Interview #5—Dustin Harbin
posted January 10, 2011



imageLike so many cartoonists before him, Dustin Harbin moved from his day job into creative work full-time in 2010. Unlike many of the cartoonists he calls his peers, Harbin has been working in comics for more than a decade as an employee of the Heroes Aren't Hard To Find comic book and convention-throwing empire, headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. This gives him I think an insider's perspective on two of the broader news stories of the year: the growing appeal and intensity of comic book conventions and the unique vocational prospects of alternative-leaning cartoonists younger than the age of 40. Koyama Press published his Diary Comics #1, a compilation of the work he's been putting on-line, and the nature of that milestone intrigued me as well. I found Dustin to be forthright about all of the issues raised in what follows, embracing rather than avoiding some of the economic realities that come with the choices he's made. I'm grateful for his participation in this series. -- Tom Spurgeon


TOM SPURGEON: Dustin, this was a big year for you in a lot of ways, but I can't imagine there was any bigger moment than deciding to end your retail/convention gig to pursue comics in more full-time fashion. Can you talk about what led up to that decision and what the transition has been like? Is it working so far?

DUSTIN HARBIN: Well, the short answer is that it's hard to draw comics when you're busy selling them. I mean, you can do it -- I'm just not very good at it. I'm not the best multi-tasker in the world -- I might actually be the worst. I left in 2006 as well, for about nine months, after the Great Wizard Kerfuffle of 2006 -- that dust-up with Wizard, where they scheduled a show over our 2006 dates in July of 2005, meant we were pretty much in full-on convention mode for 11 months. Plus running a pretty big comics shop with a deep and broad stock -- I was crushed after that year. I came back in 2007, but I'm not sure I ever got my mojo back. This year wasn't anything like that, but the more I've been cartooning, the plainer it is that in order to improve and get, I guess, serious, I have to do it pretty much full-on.

Of course, I'm not actually. Doing comics doesn't really pay, so I do illustration work wherever I can find it (bows deeply to potential clients) and letter Casanova and so forth. And I'm still barely scraping by. I'm actually doing kinda crappy in terms of money, but I just have to knuckle down and get used to being broke and make more comics and faster. I'm pretty disappointed in my comics output, actually. Jeez, thanks, Tom.

imageSPURGEON: A lot of what I think of as your peer group is in their mid- to late-20s, while you're in your late 30s. What connection do you have with those younger artists that you might not have with that older one -- is it simply a connection based on where you stand with your art and career? Certainly comics is full of people at all ages and all stages of development, is there an advantage to having those extra years under your belt, finding your voice through your art after having perhaps found it in life? I know that I wrote differently for starting at age 28-29 rather than right out of college.

HARBIN: Ooh, great question. Hmm. You're right, I am much older than a lot of the cartoonists I'm close to, including a lot of those who I look up to. I think I do have a connection with older cartoonists, or even ones closer to my age, but the big difference is that they're there, whereas I'm still working toward being the kind of cartoonist I want to be. That's kind of cloudy, but I mean in developmental terms. Like, Jordan Crane is one of my favorite cartoonists, and a guy I really enjoy talking to at shows, but he's light years ahead of me in terms of development. Ditto Sammy Harkham, who's bizarrely young for the amount of craft and skill and talent inside his body. He's like, maybe six years younger than me? But I wouldn't for a second consider myself part of his generation of cartoonists. I'm younger than him by a good bit in those terms.

Plus, while I think of myself as a print cartoonist, at least insofar that I draw and design for print, I feel closer to the web cartoonists I know -- they're all hustlers, nearly all of them have more business acumen and pure drive than a roomful of print cartoonists. Generalization alert, but maybe you see what I mean. It's intoxicating, and as someone whose first experiences in comics were from a business/retail direction, it's a mindset that appeals very naturally to me.

Uh, but listen, 36 is late-mid 30s, not "late 30s." Point of order.

SPURGEON: I apologize; I thought I read you were 37. Hey, the last time I saw you was at HeroesCon last summer. I thought it was an interesting year for HeroesCon in that just comparing it to 2008's show the growth was obvious; it was finally a show big enough you couldn't take it all in. From your perspective, why has a show like Heroes enjoyed such significant growth the last few years? Why have cons generally grown in importance and stature? Do people just like conventions now?

HARBIN: I think maybe they do! I've watched with interest your convention reporting -- I'm always surprised to see how well all the conventions have been doing -- well, all the good ones, anyway -- despite recessions and malaise and what-have-you. It's hard for me to comment on HeroesCon, just because I worked there for almost 15 years, starting in the mid-90's bust years to the present. So the show has changed a ton in that time, but at its core it's still Shelton Drum throwing a party every summer for a bunch of creators he loves. I know it sounds altruistic, but that's pretty much his business model -- we differ a lot on how to do certain things, but there isn't anyone in comics who believes more in what he's doing than Shelton. He's a pretty amazing guy. I think people respond to that, a lot of the creators and fans that come to HeroesCon have been coming since they were kids in the '80s, and now they're bringing their kids.

But that's probably me rooting for my home team. All the shows I've been to this year have been pretty great -- even APE, which has a terrible reputation for low sales, turned out to be a profitable show. And the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival I just got back from was the closest thing to an American TCAF there is -- impeccably well-run, well-attended, and with really stellar sales. SPX was my best show ever. This is anecdotal of course -- lots of people didn't do as well as I did, and I come to shows loaded for bear and work my ass the whole time.


SPURGEON: Your special area of focus at Heroes the last few years, as I understand it, has been trying to build a dependable indie presence at the show. What do you count as your successes and failure on that count? What is the biggest difficulty in building a year-in, year-out alt-comics scene at a show like Heroes? Taking into account what you thought you did well and what you thought you have done better, what would you advise someone who wanted to do something similar at their show?

HARBIN: I don't know if it was my special area of focus "officially" -- if anything, promoting Indie Island was a labor of love, and took me away from more profitable avenues I should have been exploring. That's my failing, though. I've worked in comics long enough to be pretty burned out on a lot of them, so Indie Island was my way to stay charged up, and Shelton was generous to let me do it, and right at the center of the artists area to boot. But it was probably my biggest failing -- putting effort into Indie Island was time I could have been spending on improved marketing for the show in general, not to mention teaching myself how to do basic stuff like sell tickets online, etc.

The biggest difficulty in building Indie Island, and the challenge going forward for the current crew at HeroesCon, is time. Habitual convention attendees recognize exhibitors who return year to year, and generally spend more money over time. But lord, it can be a slog for someone who travels halfway across the country to exhibit for the first time -- HeroesCon's core base is in the mainstream/superhero world, so there's not always a readership ready to jump right into a new group of works. Plus I hope they'll maintain a high level of curation on Indie Island, so it doesn't become a catch-all mish-mash section. I was pretty proud of the quality level in that little 10,000 square-foot space.

I'll tell you what, if I were to start my own convention tomorrow, an indie-based convention, I'd have it in a smallish hall, pay for three "name" guests to come, so I could build advertising around them, then curate the rest of the room from a pool of applicants. Period. Maybe 40-50 tables or so, $100 apiece, and free admission. Boom! Recipe for a great show right there.


SPURGEON: Go with that a bit. How have your experiences as a creator at certain shows changed your attitude towards what conventions/festivals can and should be? Perhaps more trickily, how does having been on the other side of thing change how you approach shows as a creator?

HARBIN: Oh man, this is the kind of question that will get me in trouble. I have acres of ideas about this stuff.

First of all, my experiences as a creator exhibiting at shows have been almost entirely positive. I think pretty much every bad thing has been my fault; waiting til the last minute to ship stuff, overspending, bad hotels, etc.

As to what shows can and should be, and this is talking about the kind of shows I do as an "indie" guy, not mainstream "big" shows like HeroesCon, I think the gold standard is the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. I sing that show's praises wherever I go, and I'm pretty sure their success rests footstool-like on these three legs:
1) Smart curation by the organizers, led by Christopher Butcher. While it can lead to bruised egos when someone doesn't get in, it means the overall quality of the room is of the highest possible level. It creates better value for the attendees, and a better overall vibe in the room. I'm a snob, I won't lie -- I don't want to have my table next to somebody drawing scat comics on toilet paper with a half-dry Sharpie. If I pay to fly to Toronto for TCAF, I know I'm part of an A-list group, which pushes me to bring my A-game as well.

image2) Free! Explaining to a group of giggling grandmas that I'm from Charlotte and that yes I did make all these myself is something that just doesn't happen at most shows. While the demographic at shows has sloooowwwwly been getting a little more "IRL"-like over the last ten years, it's still mostly male dominated. Having a broad demographic in the room, which a free show promotes, means you're guaranteed to see new readers, which are life's blood for a creator working at my level. Not to diss existing readers! But you have to grow to make money in a small market, and comics are nothing if not a small market. I'd say this applied more or less to the recent -- awesome -- Brooklyn Comics And Graphics Festival, although it was a decidedly more bohemian crowd than at TCAF, which takes place in the middle of town in the public library.

3) Toronto! Best city on Earth, jewel of all Canada! A free show in the middle of a really world-class city, which means that you could come to TCAF, have a terrible time, not sell anything, but then walk out the door and puzzle over which amazing restaurant to eat in, or what site to see, or whether to visit the lake or The Beguiling or wherever. As opposed to -- no offense, SPX -- Rockville, Maryland, where everyone stays in the one hotel or maybe the weird vegetarian restaurant next door.
Man, I'm taking too much time with this question, sorry Tom.

SPURGEON: This is the holiday interview series, Dustin. There's no such thing as too much time with any single question.

HARBIN: Last thing: the big lesson from running a convention that I bring to exhibiting at them is to be super-proactive in all cases. I don't know about Chris Butcher or Gabe Fowler or whoever, but when I was trying to figure out how to fit 300 guests into a sensible seating chart, knowing that this person wanted to sit next to that person was helpful. I always am making requests, making sure I'm listed correctly, trying to get seated near friends or in high-profile spots. Why not? I go to shows to make money, first and foremost, and if I were setting up a store I would try to put it in the best sales spot I could afford.

imageSPURGEON: You made a wisecrack in your recent flickr set on the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival that you'd love to live in New York but you'd have to be able to do it on a Charlotte budget, which you're barely making. Do you feel it's an impediment on any level, living in Charlotte? Would you move if you could? Do you think there's something to the experience of being an artist in Charlotte that you feel you might miss?

HARBIN: In a digital age, I can do what I do from wherever -- even stuff like networking and whatnot. But I would not miss being an artist in Charlotte, no not at all. The only thing that keeps me here is money and my close friends and mostly my girlfriend, and she would move in a trice for a good job. When I was in Brooklyn, the highlight of a very pleasant trip was spending an afternoon working in the Pizza Island studio with Kate Beaton and Julia Wertz and Lisa Hanawalt and Domitille Adebimpe-Collardey. I mean, all I did was ink a diary strip and make some doodles and write my girlfriend a postcard. But. The effect of me as an artist was kind of profound. The idea of being pushed by a real, visceral, present community of artists -- of badasses -- it was amazing. Domitille had gorgeous pages up on the wall, Kate was in the corner curled over her comics, Julia was doing paste-up on her laptop, Lisa was light-boxing an illustration job. It was pure heaven for me. Pure. Heaven.

I never went to college, I dropped out of high school and a few years later started clerking at a comics shop. I've never experienced that feeling of working with other artists in a room, the conversations that pop up, then quiet back down to the noise of pencil skritches. It was really amazing, and I have not stopped thinking of it. If I one day move to Brooklyn, it will be because of that. And possibly to evade taxes or something.

imageSPURGEON: I don't know how long you've been tweeting, but you're in the 20,000-tweet range and most of what I've read from you comes in the form of communication with other comics folk. Is it important for you to keep that network of fellow artists around, if only virtually? How important is it to you to have that community vibe, that feedback loop, those connections? Is there any downside to it, beyond the mathematical fact of the time involved?

HARBIN: Yeah, I tweet too much, but I'm getting better about that. Most of it is, as you say, replies to other artists about this and that. Often not art, honestly. Twitter has been enormously useful to me as a tool to discover other artists, learn from them, and in a few cases befriend them. I don't follow a lot of people, although I follow a lot through "lists," so I can manage the level of distraction I have on any given day. But yeah, it's been huge for me. But I see the biggest benefit less as a networking-with-other-artists, and more just building a readership. I have gotten a lot of new readers not only from discussing my own comics, but through the very kind mentions of friends on Twitter. So there's that. The downside is for sure the distraction -- talking about comics < making comics -- and, like the convention scene, the echo-chamber perpetual press release of a space where people talk about themselves incessantly.

imageSPURGEON: Let me ask you about building a readership, and I mean this in the most honest, open way, not as an attempt to trap you or make you feel bad -- what's the plan, Dustin? What's the best-case scenario for how this moves forward? You know the business side of comics better than most cartoonists starting out, so I have to think you've given this some thought or at least had the opportunity to do so. Is it a successful web comics presence that you're able to monetize? As many job and outlets as you're able to put together? A combination of your own work and mainstream-comics craft-type jobs? Teaching? For that matter, who is a cartoonist -- or a few cartoonists -- that have the kind of career you'd like to have moving forward. What's the model?

HARBIN: I wonder about this pretty much constantly. I think the answer is everything you listed and more. I'm fairly well-known as a personality in the comics industry, but my readership is comparatively small despite that. I honestly feel like part of that is due to spending pretty much the whole year doing these diary comics, which are pretty off-putting to some people. And outright boring to others, including myself a lot of the time.

At this point I think my broad plan is mainly to do things, to make comics until I feel like my craft and storytelling chops have gotten to a place where I can create a piece of real art, whether it be a book or a series of books or a webcomic or whatever it is. I don't think I'm there yet, but in the meantime I feel strongly that making comics as much as possible is the best way to get there. Gathering a readership during this "practice" phase will hopefully provide me with a ready-made audience when I finally have something worth saying with my whole voice. I'm very much a proponent of [James] Kochalka's "craft is the enemy" idea, or at least the parts of that idea that promote doing over fretting.

imageThis sounds petty, but when I think of a track I'd like to take, it's very much in the Jeff Smith/Bryan Lee O'Malley vector -- I want to create something of real value and quality that's personally satisfying to me as an artist and a human being, and which is successful enough to allow me the breathing room to relax a little about how I'll pay rent, or whether I can afford to work out of my house in a studio, etc. Frankly, I want to be financially successful. Unfortunately, unless Hollywood decides they want to adapt the silent, slightly comical adventures of some elephants in the Serengeti, "instant" money is still a ways off for me.

Really, the big block to my readership right now though is just quality. As I make better comics, more people will read them. It's not like I can't get eyeballs, I've been very lucky to have people like yourself, Kate Beaton, the Drawn! guys and more post links to my site which has resulted in a lot of readers I wouldn't otherwise have. But I need to have more substance for them when they show up, which is my challenge going forward.

SPURGEON: You released a comic this year through Koyama Press. How did you show up in their orbit? How would you describe Koyama to people who had no idea what it is and what it does?

HARBIN: Man, talk about a lucky break. I met Anne Koyama at TCAF this year; she essentially walked up and bought one of everything from my table. As in, "oh this looks great, give me one of everything." That by itself was a great compliment, but she emailed me a month or two later to ask if I'd be interested in publishing something with her, and of course I was.

It's hard to describe Anne -- I'm working on a comic about her now, which hopefully will be done in the next couple of weeks. She's essentially -- no bullshit here -- a woman who had a small amount of money, got sick enough to start thinking in that "bucket list" way people do, then when she got better she started using her money to support artists she likes. Period. She's only a businesswoman insofar as she tracks expenses and fills out tax forms and so forth. But she's not interested in profits. We printed 500 Diary Comics #1's: she paid for everything, had them sent to my door, and then paid for me to ship 50 to her for review copies, to give away to other artists she publishes, etc. She sold some to The Beguiling and then sent me money for them, if you can believe it. I keep every cent of the money I make from that book.

It's hard to describe what that feels like. It's valuable not just personally -- and it's very, very valuable to me there, I definitely have made rent the last couple of months thanks to Anne and her generosity -- but in a much larger sense, in terms of the larger comics industry. Anne's business model isn't sustainable, but the kind of goodwill she generates, just by acting altruistically, plus the encouragement her actions give to the artists she publishes... well, it feels really good. It's nice to know there are Anne Koyamas out there, along with the Chris Pitzers and others who do what they do for reasons other than -- and often contrary to -- profit margins.


SPURGEON: To maybe take a half-step back, when did you start doing a diary comic and what was the immediate impulse? From the craft side, I think I have the same question as Evan Dorkin: why are you working so small? And maybe another: why the 2x2 grid?

HARBIN: Initially, Kate Beaton had mentioned on Twitter that January was hourly comics month or something -- I can't remember exactly now. Related to this thing by the brilliant John Campbell, I think Kate was mentioning that and encouraging people to take part. I love this sort of weird exercise, so I started doing them, but without really worrying about publishing them. That's why the first third of my book is so crappy looking. I started posting them on my Flickr and people started commenting or complaining or whatever people do online. As soon as I perceived some kind of audience, I started trying to sharpen them up and put more consideration into how they were made and what I wanted to say. Gradually they got (a little) better.

I make them as small as I can because I'm a compulsive person, and I will fill any available space with hatching and details and surface noise that almost never adds any tangible quality to what I'm doing. Once I started thinking about the strips more, I decided if I was going to do them for a little bit, I might as well try to learn something, so I try hard to think about composition and blacks and space. Any one of them that you think is overcrowded, or too wordy, or hard to decipher, I can guarantee you it's one that I hate and want to burn with real, hot fire.

As for the grid, that's just easiest. I started doing them in a little teeny notebook, so the grid lent itself to those rectangular pages. Four beats is about as much as you need for most slight stories or jokes, and a good limiter so you don't try to shoehorn in every single nuance of the situation. "Oh I'd better point out that it was drizzling outside, that's important."

imageSPURGEON: You started a relationship while doing the diary comic. I asked this of Karl Stevens, because this happened to him, too. Does having this happen change the comic, or your orientation towards it? Do you suddenly worry that it's going to dominate the comic and push back against it? Are you worried about extending the mode you've established into work about your relationship -- for instance, are you worried that the relationship material might be more guarded than the rest of it, for understandable reasons, but in a way that has an effect on the strip?

HARBIN: I'm not any more guarded about the relationship stuff than I am about anything else in the strip -- which, while it seems very honest, is not really. You would be surprised at how private I am, despite all the talking I do. So a lot of stuff gets left out, and then with respect to my girlfriend's privacy, I leave a lot out there too. For instance, I'm not even sure I've ever drawn us kissing, you know? Our relationship could almost take place inside a Sunday School classroom, as far as what I'm showing goes.

Putting Kate (not Beaton; I get asked that a lot), and the early stages of our relationship, and how I feel about her in general, into the diary strip made it way more interesting for me to work on. Not to mention gave it some sort of narrative arc. Not to mention, that relationship is easily the most important part of every day for me. Plus, I'm super, super, super bored with doing that strip, so putting Kate into it makes me interested more in what I'm doing. I do them in the morning first thing while I'm drinking my coffee, so there's something very pleasant to me about spending the first hour or two of my day thinking about her. Does that sound too sweet? It's true. I don't really have any worries though. I'm ending the strip soon, so all these problems will go away, and I can probably think about Kate without drawing her (poorly), I'm pretty sure.

SPURGEON: Did having the Koyama book come out bring with it any reflection on your part? I know that cartoonists and authors and even actors the first time they have a book published by someone else, or appear in a show where they were cast professionally, that this sometimes causes you to look hard at what you're doing and why in way that you haven't before. Did this experience make you look at things differently?

HARBIN: Definitely. First of all, having Anne want to publish it was a huge vote of confidence. Anne isn't just some lady with some disposable income, she's deeply involved in the arts and has a real aesthetic sense and knows what she likes. Someone like that saying, "I want to put X dollars behind you and what you're doing," is a real boost to your confidence creatively. "Okay I will keep doing this." And more importantly, "Now I have to be worthy of this gift, this attention."

There's a weird thing too where, because Anne paid straight up for everything and isn't getting any money back, I'm very careful about giving the book away to anyone. Like it's too valuable to give away, except to a few reviewers and in a couple of limited instances at shows. I feel like it would be somehow disrespectful to her and what she does, I know that's kinda juvenile, but it's how I'm wired. Plus, giving away copies of my comics to my friends is the #1 greatest block to me making money at shows. So having a reason not to is great. Instead I give away my newspaper, or the diary strip originals, which rarely sell even though I charge like ten bucks for most of them.

There's not going to be a Diary Comics #2, at least not through Koyama -- Anne has got 40 million other projects on her plate, and I'm not sure there's a real "need" for a second volume. So in terms of momentum I'm working off of Anne's initial bump, and thinking about what to do next with the jump in altitude she's given me. Although I might do some Diary Comics minis, just as revenue generators.


SPURGEON: I was kind of frustrated by Diary Comics #1, in that while many of the individual comics were clever I never got a clear picture of anything from reading a bunch of it at once, the way I do with other autobiographical works. Ideally, what would you have people take away from reading the comic? Do you mean to just entertain on a strip to strip basis? Do you intend to communicate something about your life?

HARBIN: I'm glad to hear you say that -- I'm also frustrated by that book. I'm a very vain person, and even I can't read it for very long without getting bored. And I'm one of the many many people who don't care for autobio comics in general -- but passionate about the few I do love. Chester Brown, for instance, could do an autobio comic about how he spreads mayonnaise on rye bread and I would buy it and pore over it like the Dead Sea Scrolls. But when I hear that someone is doing autobiographical work, the first thing I think is "is that the only story they could come up with?" I think there can be real, tangible value in autobiographical art, real communication between an artist and an audience. But I think it's rare, and I don't think I've achieved it. My diary comics are slight, occasionally clever, but on the whole they lack... something, some animating factor that would make the sum larger than its parts. Soul? Spirit? They lack the gristle and tendons that a Chester Brown has.

But there is one thing I do like very much about that book, and that's the book as a whole. I worked hard to make the book, its shape, and its design operate as a sort of delineation of the kind of vanity and hubris that would make someone think that a diary comic -- which, let's face it, isn't about anything truly dramatic past the occasional depression -- is important. I crammed the strips in four to a page, printed on the crappiest paper available, included every single strip, from the ugliest to the most banal to the most amateurish, and then wrapped everything up in fancy die-cut covers with obsessively-illustrated endpapers and everything I could stick in there to say the opposite thing.

If there's anything I wanted to say with the book as a whole, it was, "here is six months of a person's life, a person vain enough to think there's something to say about every single day of that life, and also vain enough to know how stupid that is." I know that doesn't make a lot of sense, but I think that, when I hit the place I want to get to, a lot of my voice will be a refined version of that, the push and pull of being alive and human and fallible and gorgeous and petty, turning into the same push and pull in a piece of art.


SPURGEON: I wanted to ask you a question about lettering along the way, but I'm not sure that I know what to ask. There aren't a ton of alt-cartoonists known for their skill at lettering; Jeremy Eaton is one. Do you enjoy the craft elements like lettering, does working a pay job like the Casanova gig provided you with skills you're able to employ with the work you do that's maybe closer to your heart? Is that a kind of work you'd like to do more of?

HARBIN: The best question to ask about lettering is "why?" Hand-lettering is an increasingly frustrating anachronism in a digital world. I'm very ambivalent about the necessity of hand-lettering, which I see very much as a throwback to old ideas in comics. For instance, why are comics lettered in all upper-case? Why do they still follow those typical Artie Simek-type letterforms? I love all that stuff, and strive for that level of excellence, but why??? Kids reading a comic for the first time today -- and I bet 70 percent of those kids are reading them on a screen instead of on paper -- don't have 100 years of nostalgia for the aesthetics of newspaper strips and golden age comics and all that.

Oh man, I could go on. I'm suspicious of anything throwback-ish in comics. I worry a lot that comics' weird tail-eating tradition is creating a tighter, smaller, less sophisticated readership for comics, especially superhero comics. Lettering is just a surface version of that. I keep typing stuff here and then deleting it, because it sounds so negative and pissy. But I do love lettering comics, believe me. Lettering my own comics is my favorite part, it's very pleasant for me. Lettering Casanova is less pleasant, but only because they're not my comics. I'm lettering over existing art -- amazing art -- so I'm constrained in where I can put balloons, how tricky I can get, stuff like that. When I letter my comics I do the balloon placements and lettering first, it's part of my compositional process.

imageI worry I'm making it sound like I don't like lettering Casanova, which is untrue. I kind of love it, although it's harder than I ever imagined it would be and enormously, incredibly time-consuming. I could never spend all that time hand-lettering, drawing the letterforms, inking them, scanning, retouching, doing all the paste-up and trapping and stuff, on a crappy book. Lettering Casanova is like meditating on Matt Fraction's scripts -- I'm essentially copying and recopying every word he writes over and over again, which I know is making me a better writer just by osmosis. Can you imagine spending all that time poring over an issue of Warriors of Plasm or something? Or one of those Sarah Palin biography things? Of course, the idea that they'd want hand-lettering is kind of crazy, but still. I'm pretty sure I'd be unable to letter a comic I wasn't incredibly enthusiastic about being a part of, which is the case with Casanova.

But if I -- speaking as a fan of Casanova and not a part it -- had my druthers, I'd have Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon hand-letter it themselves. I always think an artist's own letters look best, they're more organic and of a piece with the art. I'm happy to have the work and honored to have been asked and especially thankful for the increased attention it gives me for my own comics, but aesthetically I think any artist who is capable should just letter on the boards themselves, it's easy! Ames Guide! Paul Pope is one of my favorite cartoonists but also one of my favorite letterers, his chunky letters are perfect with his big sexy brushstrokes. Ditto the R. Crumbs, Jaime Hernandez', Chris Wares. There's no brain disconnect where your mind says "hey that doesn't fit" -- you absorb all the page elements, including the letters, as a whole. Wait now I'm arguing for hand-lettering, aren't I? Well I'm only human.

Man I went way off the topic, all the way into talking Matt into firing me. Clever Dharbin! I really enjoy lettering and feel like I'm way better at that than actual cartooning. I just have ideas about how useful it is anymore. John Martz is making me a digital font from my letters, so in the future I'll be able to take more "regular" work lettering, which will be much much faster. But Casanova will remain hand-lettered for the duration, I'm pretty sure. Good thing too; that check each month is the lion's share of my income lately, and that is a hungry lion, oh yes.

SPURGEON: If we talk on your 40th birthday, what would you like to have done, what would you like to have achieved, what would you like to have happened between now and then?

HARBIN: First of all, I hope that we're talking at my 40th birthday party, which you are throwing me. Thank you in advance.

SPURGEON: Oh, you're definitely welcome.

HARBIN: By the time I'm 40, not quite four years from now as of this writing, I want to have one important book-length project completed and done and out there. I want to have hit my stride in terms of cartooning chops and storytelling ability. And I want to have a large body of work behind me, not just alone but collaborating with other artists as a writer. Basically I want to have enough work done and out and percolating that I have enough money coming from enough directions that I can relax and concentrate and telling better stories and making better art and building a creative life that I'm proud of, that sustains me financially and emotionally.


* Dustin Harbin's Web Site
* Dustin Harbin's Blog
* Diary Comics #1


* photo of Dustin Harbin at 2010 HeroesCon
* cover to Diary Comics #1
* panel from early Diary Comic
* Indie Island promotional design by Harbin
* five panels from various Diary Comics, hopefully contextually appropriate
* from Harbin's introduction to the Diary Comics work
* another hopefully contextually appropriate panel
* a later, crisper diary comic about having the book out
* lettering
* Casanova lettering sample
* another Diary Comic, one selected by Harbin