Interview: Larry Marder Pt. 2 [of 3]

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After nearly a decade of sporadic releases, Tales from the Beanworld ceased publication in 1993.  Since then, the series’ creator Larry Marder has kept himself fairly busy, first as the executive director of Image Comics and then as the president of McFarlane Toys, a role he held for almost eight years.

In 2007, Marder quit his job at Todd McFarlane’s toy company, vowing to return to the Beanworld, after a decade-and-a-half’s hiatus. Next year Dark Horse will reissue the long out-of-print story and Marder will release a volume of all new material.

We spoke to Marder at this year’s Small Press Expo in Bethesda. In this second part, we discuss Beanworld’s all ages appeal, the genesis of his ideas, and how the artist’s time with the Image crew has affected his work.

[Part One]
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Interview: Keith Knight

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[Full strip here.]

For those with even a passing knowledge of sequential art’s long and colorful past, the concept of using comics to tackle complicated issues is hardly a recent occurrence.

From the early political cartoons of the 19th century, to contemporary graphic novels like Maus, Fun Home, and Persepolis, comics have long proven an incredibly effective platform for channeling and confronting the fears and pain that we’ve oft struggled so hard which with to come to grips.

The events of recent years, however, we have also borne witness to the seemingly infinite amounts of vitriol they’re capable of producing, from the lampooning of the prophet Mohammed in a Danish newspaper to a New Yorker cover boiling down nearly every kooky fear of Barack Obama. For both better and worse, there’s something inherent in the relative simplicity of the medium that’s capable of encapsulating our deepest emotions with a few quick pen strokes.

Like images, words too are capable of taking on far more weight than their simple letters seem capable of holding. The idea that a single word can encapsulate hundreds of years of pain and oppression in two syllables is, on it’s surface, a seemingly absurd notion, but words, when saddled with enough baggage, can evoke a more visceral reaction than any simple combination of letters seemingly has any right.

Given the fact that Keith Knight managed to incorporate one of the most loaded words in the English language into a recent political strip not once, but twice, it perhaps shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that it manage to elicit a major outcry amongst students at Montclair State University, whose paper syndicates the artist’s weekly strip, The K Chronicles.

The strip in question, titled “Stories From the Campaign Trail,” is based on the real experience of one Obama canvasser. It’s funny and sad and even slightly—but just slightly—hopeful, all at once. It’s an important acknowledgement of something so deeply engrained in our collective American psyche, something that, try as we might to ignore or forget, will never go away if we continually refuse to address it.

Knight’s strip correctly points out the strange ways in which Obama historical campaign has brought these issues to the surface.

Surely most of us who read the strip don’t imagine Knight to be a defender of the word (Knight actually, cleverly never spells it out in his entirety, nor did he describe it as anything but “the ‘n’ word,” when speaking with me). The intense reaction on the part of some readers, at least to some degree, seems to be the product of a desire to keep these issues buried, where some believe they belong.

Or, perhaps some don’t feel that cartoons are the proper medium in which to address them. When Knight told me, “so many people expect their comic strip to be Garfield,” he meant it less as a shot at the oft-maligned strip than as an assertion that, even in a post-Maus age, where an artist like Kyle Baker can have a hit with a comic based on the life of Nat Turner, the concept of taking comics seriously is still an alien  to many people.

In the wake of the aforementioned strip, and the subsequent fallout, we sat down with Knight for a quick chat about race and the power of words and pictures.

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XO #1-3 by Brian John Mitchell and Melissa Spence Gardner

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XO #1-3
by Brian John Mitchell and Melissa Spence Gardner
Silber Media

Format can do a lot to influence the attractiveness of a book, but even unique and unexpected styles of bookmaking can blend in at big conventions like MoCCA or APE. However, at a small Midwestern show like the Madison Zine Fest, unconventional books have a chance to really stand out.

It was there that I noticed three ultra-mini minis (1.75×2.25″) sleeved in small plastic bags and sitting unattended on a banister. I thought about taking them. They would fit in my pocket. No one would know. The sensation passed, however, and good karma struck back. The books were given as a gift to my table mate who gave them to me. Now I share them with you.

Baby corn, puppies, doll-sized furniture – typically these and other small things define cute. One might expect that XO, a series of mini minis would be cute as well. Even the series’ title XO implies kisses and hugs and touchy-feely stuff. However, these books are anything but cute, because each contains a story of murder.

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Interview: Jesse Reklaw

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Wake up in the morning with a dream you vaguely remember. Sit down at the breakfast table and open up the comics page to see your dream illustrated by Jesse Reklaw. Ha! You’re still dreaming. Maybe. Pinch yourself, and then get to the computer and type that illustrious vision into www.slowwave.com and push Submit Dream. Your chances of reading that dream in the paper have just improved, if only slightly. Jesse Reklaw is on the other end of the channel, receiving some 30 odd submissions a week. He might be too tired still to draw yours.

“I wish I could every morning, but often I am just too sleepy,” Jesse admits. “But the days when I can wake up and go straight to the drawing board are best. Drawing comics cheers me up, and I often forget that.”

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Interview: Dash Shaw Pt. 3 [of 3]

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As a graduate of Mahattan’s School for the Visual Art who has been actively creating his own comics since middle school, it seems like a stretch, at best, to consider Dash Shaw an outsider artist, in spite of his penchant for non-traditional forms of graphic storytelling. Still, the Shaw argues that, in many cases, some of the most exciting things happening in the world of sequential art are being created by artists who are largely unfamiliar with the form.

It’s fitting, then, that Shaw himself has tried his hand at a number of other artistic mediums, which have, in turn, influenced his comics. In this third and final part of out interview conducted at the Small Press Expo in Bethesda, Maryland, we discuss Shaw foray animation, the influence of outsider artists, and why his music career—or lack thereof—never really  took off.

[Part One] [Part Two]
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Interview: Art Spiegelman Pt. 4 [of 5]

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The real impetus for the my discussion with Art Spiegelman was the upcoming release of Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!. First issued in 1977, the first incarnation of the book was an anthology of the artist’s pre-Maus (though, confusingly enough, the original edition carried the subtitle “From Maus to Now,” thanks to the inclusion of an earlier prototype of his Pulitzer-winning book). The new edition of the book is about 2/3 larger than its predecessor, thanks to a new graphic introduction and a backwards-looking afterword essay.

With that in mind, in seemed only right to delve as far back into the artist’s professional career as we could possibly go. In this fourth part of our interview with the artist, we open with a discussion of Spiegelman as a 12-year-old cartoonist, why he was never cut out for the dailies, and the birth of the autobiographical comic book.

[Part One][Part Two][Part Three][Heeb Magazine Feature]

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Interview: Larry Marder Pt. 1 [of 3]

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Fifteen years ago, Larry Marder was appointed the executive director of the upstart comic publisher, Image. After a half-dozen years in that role, he joined up with Image co-founder Todd MacFarlane, as the president of the Spawn creator’s action figure company, MacFarlane Toys, a position he maintained until last year.

An artist in his own right, Marder’s most beloved creation, Tales From the Beanworld, largely languished as he busied himself with the task of helping run two international entertainment companies.

At this year’s Stumptown in Portland, however, Marder announced that he would be resurrecting his most popular creation, beginning with reissues of the long out-of-print books, arriving via Dark Horse, next year. Following a reissue of the book’s complete run, Dark Horse will release all new Beanworld material, written and drawn by Marder.

We had the opportunity to sit down with Marder at SPX in Maryland, a few weeks back, to discuss his return to alternative comics and the rebirth of Beanworld.
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Interview: Theo Ellsworth

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Theo Ellsworth pulls his book out of a manila envelope and sets it on the table. “Officially it went on sale October 6th–the day I came back.” Theo has just returned to Portland from the Small Press Expo in Maryland. His publisher, Secret Acres, brought him out there for the book release. “I also did a reading in Baltimore with Jesse Reklaw and five or six other cartoonists.”

A performance of sorts, one-panel projected on the wall, Theo read all the voices and used a hand-held recorder to playback sound effects. “Before I left New York, I helped my publishers ship pre-orders.”

He unwraps an autumnal colored scarf and unbuttons his jacket. His green T-shirt draws my attention, a print of Sesame Street’s Bert with a third eye. Theo wears a groomed beard, short cropped hair. His features are delicate and birdlike.

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Interview: Dash Shaw Pt. 2 [of 3]

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“It’s a weird book,” says Dash Shaw, frankly, describing Bottomless Belly Button. The artist is delighted—if slightly baffled—about the book’s success. Soon after being release in June on Fantagraphics, the book was declared the graphic novel of the year but a number of fans and critics, with another six months still left until 2009.

Shaw’s own assessment is fairly apt, of course. Beyond its girth, Bottomless Belly Button seems a peculiar contender for the year’s best comic—it’s graphically simple—drawn with what the artist refers to as a “dumb line,” slow moving, and catalogs its own imagery with an almost obsessive compulsive drive. It is, perhaps, exactly these elements that make the book such a surprise hit.

Whatever the case may be, Shaw is very humble about the praise that has been heaped upon him in the last few months, working with his head down on the followup, BodyWorld, which is currently being serialized on the Web, and will soon be collected as a book by Pantheon.

In this second of our three-part interview, we discuss bookmarks, the compulsion to draw large breasted women, and what was in 13-year-old Dash’s middle school notebooks.

[Part One]
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Interview: Art Spiegelman Pt. 3

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No one’s ever accused Art Spiegelman of oversaturating the marketplace. In fact, one of the major criticisms levied against the artist has been his relatively meager output. Of course it’s never wise to rush an artist, but, in spite of years spent working for the New Yorker, the cartooning world had good reason to wonder why it took the artist nearly a decade and a half to craft the followup of Maus’s second volume, the relatively skinny mediation on 9-11, In the Shadow of No Towers.

In 2008, however, it seems as though Spiegelman is making up for lost time. The year has already seen the release of his first Toon Book, Jack and the Box; his remastered anthology, Breakdowns; and the upcoming McSweeney’s sketchbook collection, Be a Nose.

In this third part of our interview, we discuss the process of writing his first children’s book, and how exactly Spiegelman spends all of his time.

[Part One][Part Two][Heeb Magazine feature]
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