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CR Newsmaker Interview: Mike Catron
posted April 4, 2012
Michael Catron was nice enough to answer a few of my questions about his return to Fantagraphics after several years' absence. I've encountered Catron off and on for years, mostly at conventions where I've seen him taping various panels, something I ask about below. I'm greatly appreciative of his time -- he sounds busy! -- and hope that some of you out there can help with the L.B. Cole
request he makes in our final exchange. I hope to have a similar talk with Preston White for a feature in early April. -- Tom Spurgeon
TOM SPURGEON: Can you talk about what led to your decision to come on board again with Fantagraphics? When did you guys start talking about your return?
Fantagraphics has lots of projects in the pipeline and needed additional hands in different areas -- editorial, marketing, etc. Those are some of the areas I'd worked in before at Fantagraphics, at WaRP Graphics
, and at my own company, Apple Comics. But, even so, I had to go through a hiring process, just like anywhere else. Nothing very unusual or exciting there. Of course, being a founder of the company helped. I think.
SPURGEON: What had you been doing immediately previously in a professional sense? Is there anything from your non-comics work that you think will come to bear on what you're doing at the company?
Immediately prior to working for Fantagraphics, I was working as a computer software instructor. Aside from keeping me up-to-date on the latest software tools from Adobe and Microsoft, there's not a whole lot of direct benefit to Fantagraphics from that. I had previously worked in the printing industry in pre-press and as a production manager and some of the skills and procedures I developed there might come in very handy for Fantagraphics.
SPURGEON: Can you talk about what your duties are going to be? I understand that you're editing, but I don't know how many books, or if there's a specific kind of book on which you'll be focusing or anything like that.
In my first few days here, I've done a lot of copyediting of text that will appear in various books currently in production, including the next Carl Barks volume
. I'm working closely with Gary Groth on a long list of things Fantagraphics wants me to do. I will be shortly taking over the editorial responsibilities for a handful of books, but I'm also doing all kinds of bits and pieces for anything that's on the schedule. At the moment, it all seems to be reprint or historical material. I'm not currently working with any cartoonists on developing new material. That may or may not change.
One of the big assignments I've been given is actually a twofer. I'll be copy editing Malcolm McNeill
's memoir about his collaboration with William S. Burroughs
. It's titled Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook, And Me
. McNeill's memoir is accompanied by his art book, The Lost Art Of Ah Pook Is Here: Images From The Graphic Novel
. I'm editing Sara Van Ness
's introductory essay to this latter volume.
SPURGEON: You worked in a different era for Fantagraphics and for comics publishing in general. How would you describe your knowledge of what's being done right now? How closely have you paid attention to what the company you co-founded has been doing in recent years? Do you expect there to be a learning curve at all in terms of anything on which you might have to catch up -- a kind of comics, or a process for making them, maybe?
For what I'm doing right now, no. My knowledge of comics history is more useful to the company right now than knowing what the latest bells and whistles in Photoshop are. (In fact, I probably won't go near Photoshop.) But there's always a learning curve to everything. As far as the process for making comics goes, we are even now documenting that current process at Fantagraphics and looking for ways to streamline it. I always paid attention to what Fantagraphics was doing. How could I not? It's my baby that has grown up and gone off and done great things in the world without my help. I'm very proud of that, to the extent that I helped get the ball rolling in the crucial early days.
But do you know what's almost surreal about all this? By an amazing coincidence and completely unrelated to my return, Fantagraphics has also just re-hired Preston White, who was one of the company's very first hires shortly after we moved to Connecticut. So all of a sudden, the original four of us are together again, like the fabled Musketeers. (Everyone does know there were four, right?) The stars, after all these years, finally aligned once more. Call it the new Age of Aquarius for Fantagraphics.
But seriously, it's really great to be back with these guys -- and all the other very capable and talented professionals in the Fantagraphics offices, most of whom I'm just getting to know.
SPURGEON: What do you think your strengths are as an editor?
Are you trying to make me go through the job interview process again? [Spurgeon laughs] Well, for one thing, I know the industry and its history. I know a lot of artists, writers, and other comics folk, including fans and collectors who might be helpful with one project or another. I understand the whole publishing process from start to finish, having done it for most of life. Also, I can diagram a sentence. At least simple ones.
Also, Gary Groth and Kim Thompson and Eric Reynolds are the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human beings I've ever known in my life.
SPURGEON: Forgive me for not knowing this 100 percent for sure, but you're in Seattle, right? Was there any trepidation about making that move? What do you think of Seattle?
Yes, I'm now in Seattle. And yes, there was quite a bit of trepidation on that score. But I ultimately decided comics is where I need to work. It just feels right to me and I missed it terribly when I was doing other things. I like Seattle so far. It does seem to rain a lot. But, strangely, I like rain.
SPURGEON: I and others have seen you in recent years making tapes of some of the panels at conventions, I believe particularly those focused on older cartoonists. What led you to do that? Do you have plans for that material? Are there one or two panels or even moments that you've caught with which you're particularly happy?
What led me to start videotaping panels at comics conventions was that I didn't see anyone else doing it. Here were all these important figures from the history of comics answering all sorts of questions and providing a wealth of detail about our comics heritage and it was all just being written on the wind. I started taping as a way of preserving as much as I could of that for myself and future generations. As for plans for that material, I have nothing currently in the works. Ultimately, I would like to find a useful way to share it. There are lots of moments that I'm very glad I caught on tape, including some quite emotional ones. Lots of funny stuff, too. Someday.
SPURGEON: What's the first major project on your plate?