The panels at left are taken from Jeremy Tinder’s upcoming Top Shelf release, Black Ghost Apple Factory. The book collects Tinder’s assorted mini-comics, and, if this selection is any reflection, show an up-and-coming artist already displaying a unique and accomplished style. The collection will also shed some light on the three protagonists—Jim, Andy, and Robot (a rabbit, human, and robot, respectively)—of his first graphic novel, Cry Yourself to Sleep.
When not teaching comics or taking courses himself, Tinder is working on a new project, something of an abrupt shift from that 2005 release, which should take his fans—and publishers—a bit by surprise.
Does the idea of autobiography appeal to you at all?
Yeah, it does. I just like to filter it through other characters, like any writer does, I guess. But occasionally I do write autobiographical comics. I know I told someone a year or so ago, “I swear I’m not going to make another sad little autobiographical comic, ever again,” and the next three comics were sad little autobiographical comics. It’s appealing, and it’s kind of the easiest, automatic thing for me to do, but I don’t know if it’s entertaining for anybody else.
I’m not sure whether it’s because no one really wants to read a happy story, in which nothing happens, but it seems like most autobiographical books focus on particularly depressing moments in people’s lives.
I think it’s to prove you’re living. If you’re at work, and your boss comes by and says, “how’s it going?” and you say, “everything’s great!” it kind of looks like you’re not working very hard. People at work complain, just to look like they’re working. I think that’s what autobiographical comics are: proof that you’re living your life hard.
Are you living your life hard?
It feels like it, but I don’t know. I guess I’m just busy.
Are you working on another longer piece?
Yeah, I’ve actually been working on one for a really long time, and just recently abandoned it. It’s written, about 200 pages—I had one chapter fully drawn, and I just hate it. I started writing it too long ago, and I just can’t relate to it anymore. I’m just not going to finish it. I was reading the reviews in my mind, while I was writing it, and they were bad, so I stopped.
So you’re not publishing that in any form? Not as a short comic?
I don’t think so. If the parts that I’ve done could stand on their own, I would, but I don’t think they can. Maybe I’ll go back to it…But I actually recently wrote—I hate doing this, because what if I stop on it—I wrote a book that I just started making illustrations for. It’s a fully painted book. I might have bit off more than I can chew. I’m applying for some residencies—if I could get a month alone, I could get it done. I just started working on it, but I’m really, really happy with the story. I don’t know if I’ll write something better for a long time.
Is the format more like a children’s book than a graphic novel?
It is, text on the left page, painting on the right page. It’s not a painted graphic novel, like Marvels. I’m really happy with it. And similar to the book that’s coming our in July, I make a Christmas comic every year, so there might be a little collection of those, this or next Christmas.
Why the painted book? Was it something that just wouldn’t work as a comic?
I don’t think I want to do it as a comic, because it really needs to be atmospheric and the main figure in the book would only work in this form, and I don’t want to do computer color. It’s just the right format for this story—but I’m also working on another comic.
Is this something you’ve run past Chris [Staros of Top Shelf]? Is it something they’re interested in publishing?
I’m going to be showing them pages in a couple of weeks—they haven’t seen anything. They don’t even know about it, actually. They don’t know that I’ve stopped working on the other thing.
So when they read this interview and the cat will be out of the bag.
That’s right. It’s funny, because I e-mailed them pieces and sent a CD with pages, and both times they couldn’t open them, because they were corrupt, so it’s probably for the better [laughs].
You said that you had abandoned it because you couldn’t relate to the story, anymore—were you really working on it for that long?
I thought it would be really easy to work on comics while I was in school, but it became really hard to work on anything long form. I started writing that one the summer before I was in grad school. I think I was really angry—I was just coming out of an eight year relationship, and I was really down on relationships, so the book is just this big, long, ‘nobody fall in love with anybody’ story. There are all of these missed connections, and the book was called Hard Feelings [laughs]. I mean, there were some parts that were enjoyable, but I just think it would leave people feeling bad.
You really need to distance yourself from your own life, before you launch into something like that.
Yeah, and I think that was the problem, and finally, in the last few months, I’ve had the time to sit down and start drawing this book that I’ve been writing, for the last couple of years. The drawing was going really well, and I’m really liking the pages, but the story I just hate, and I just don’t feel that way about life anymore.
Was it still a fuzzy animal comic?
It’s weird, because in the book everyone is human, except the two main characters. One is a rabbit, and one is an elephant. And it was like, ‘oh, it’s another rabbit. That’s okay, I don’t have to explain that [laughs]!’ And it wasn’t ever explained. No one ever says, “you’re a rabbit”—it actually looks pretty good, now that I’m thinking about it…
When you sit down and put together a story like Cry Yourself to Sleep, in which the main characters are a human, a rabbit, and a robot, do you sit down and justify to yourself a world in which these characters can co-exist?
You know, I tried to a little bit. I feel like the robot: that’s easy. But the rabbit, I realized the rabbit really made very little sense. I think my favorite part of that book is that Jim’s mom is a rabbit, and his dad’s last name is Rabbit. I knew that it was problematic, so I figured, why not just draw attention to it?
There’s certainly a temporary suspension of disbelief that you have to undergo. Take someone like Kochalka: if you spent the entire story justifying his creatures, you wouldn’t have much time to deal with the actual story.
Right, right. I think a lot of it was that I had to be interested in drawing these characters over and over again. That’s why it’s rabbit and robots. I want to draw those things a bunch of times. If it was all just people, I don’t think anyone would want to read it. If it was about three guys, no one would care. It wouldn’t be good [laughs].
It probably cemented your chances with Top Shelf. It seems to fit right into their catalogue.
Yeah, maybe too tidily. I don’t know.
Are you still drawing the robots and rabbits for this current project?
For this big painted thing, there are no robots or rabbits, but I guess everyone isn’t just people, either. Unless I figure out how to draw some really interesting people, I don’t think it ever will be. I find it too limiting and I have a really limited attention span.
Your first book really reminded me of Craig Thompson’s first book [Goodbye, Chunky Rice]. He really took an abrupt turn from that, for his follow up. Was part of the reason you started this painted project in order to do something really different from your last book?
No, not really. It’s just what I’m most interested in, right now. But I definitely don’t want to be pegged as a certain kind of guy.
But you expect to be doing comics for a while.
Yeah. I get something out of even the backbreaking drawing process. I get something that I don’t get out of anything else. I paint a lot, but there’s just a level of invention in comics that I just can’t touch in painting yet. There’s something about creating a whole reality. Really, it’s kind of tough to talk about the artform.
It’s got to be tough to teach it, then…
Well, teaching it has really made me understand how to do it better. Since I started teaching comics, I felt like I’ve gotten so much better at making them. Being able to explain to students what is and isn’t working in their comics makes me realize what is and isn’t working in mine. I feel like its made me ten times the cartoonist I was.
When I was taking creative writing courses, a lot of professors told me that I was going to be miserable—it was one of those, “don’t go into this field, unless you can’t see yourself doing anything else,” pep talks. Do you feel the need to warn students against the cartooning field?
Once they start thinking it’s going to be a lot of money, I’ll be really honest and say, “it’s not.” If they don’t draw very well, I’ll go to Quimby’s in Chicago and buy a mini-comic, or a graphic novel, by someone who draw worse than them. I’ll say, “it doesn’t really matter how you’re drawing, it’s how you’re telling a story with those drawings and how you can make your particular skill set engaging. Figure out what you can do well.” I haven’t told anyone not to do it. I’m really jealous that I never had a comics class in junior high. These kids are getting so good. I have one in seventh grade, who’s taken four of my classes, and in two weeks is going to be in the fifth, and this winter, he started making his own mini-comic, and started selling it at Quimby’s. He’s going off on his own already. It’s really encouraging.