Interview: Noah Van Sciver

Categories:  Interviews

noahvscivAs a reviewer, I’ve taken a real interest in the career of Noah Van Sciver – not just for his promising work, but for his letters.  He sends the most heartbreaking updates with each review copy, all about how he’s giving everything to comics, how he barely has food to eat, and why he’s putting every ounce of energy into the page.  The usual fare for any cartoonist, really, but he’s the only guy around being so honest.

More importantly, he’s in this mess because of his agenda: with indie fans in mind, he’s printing semi-quarterly issues of his series Blammo, just to give them something regular to look forward to like their mainstream counterparts.  Boy’s got a dream!  Don’t you just want to send him $20 and some dry pasta?

Since I’m rooting for him, it was heartening to learn that he’s been accepted in an upcoming issue of MOME, and soon will be published with the rest of indie comics’ innovative young talent.  Proof that sometimes, kids, hard work and persistence pay off.

Sadly, a few weeks ago, his girlfriend Robin (whom he often writes about in his comics) went the hospital for serious migraines only to find something more serious behind the pain.  Can’t this guy get a break? Before that, however, he was upbeat and took the time to email a few responses about his work, his forthcoming Abe Lincoln story arc, and the general trajectory for his series Blammo.

How many issues now have you released of your series Blammo?

I’ve released 4 issues and I’m currently putting together #5, as we speak.

What is the regular, or ideal, publishing schedule for that series?

It’s hard for me to cement a schedule for it. Sometimes the new issue will come out quicker than the last issue. I draw a lot of comics! And after I get 24 pages that I like together, I put it out.

Tell me about your overall purpose for publishing Blammo on such a regular basis.

Well, I’m in pretty close contact with the other half of the comics world. A lot of indie comic artists consider super hero books lame. But I read everything that my brother does, so I’m in comic shops quite a bit.

One of the things that I think is most appealing to people about super hero comics is how frequently they come out. It’s like your favorite TV show! You get to feel like you can really get to know your favorite characters and the artists and writers even. It’s something that alternative comics sort of lack.

I want people that give me a chance with Blammo to be able to have that. To not have to wait so long. They’ll be able to keep up with characters, and watch in amazement as my drawing skills improve!

With issues coming out so often, what are some of the problems you encounter with creating the books on a set timetable?

A big problem is trying not to forget about my other comic responsibilities. I have to remember to draw up a three page interview for The Comics Journal every few weeks, a comic strip for Denver’s Westword every week, on top of any other illustration work I can scrape together.

Do you think most of your time is spent (as a cartoonist) working on short stories for use in Blammo? Or in working on extra stories for side-projects or other purposes?

I would guess Blammo takes up most of it.

How long have you been submitting stories for consideration in MOME?

I think I started bothering Eric Reynolds early last year. On my days off from work I usually just walk around Denver and go to bookstores and hang out. I always look at the graphic novel sections and it kills me. A lot of my drive comes from seeing what’s going on and feeling that feeling in my gut that I don’t even exist.

Nobody knows who I am, you know? And I always see MOME there on the shelf. It’s what’s happening in the alternative comics world! And It’s beautiful!

I remember thinking to myself “Why am I not in this? Am I not not good enough to be a part of this?” I wrote out a bunch of cursing in my notebook that day, and walked home in my melancholy. I still don’t even know if they are open to submissions, but I sent Fantagraphics my first package originally with a note that said I would kill myself if I didn’t get in, but I changed it at the last minute to something less desperate.

I got a rejection letter, and sent another package, and got another rejection letter. It went like that for a bit. And then, Jules Feiffer came to do a talk in Denver around that time, and he said in his talk, “never give up with editors. They’ll get so tired of rejecting you that eventually they’ll give you a chance.” I swear to god it’s like he was talking only to me.

So in December of 2008, Eric accepted me.

Are you happy with the work that finally got accepted?

I’m very happy with it. It’s my favorite story.

When is your MOME debut scheduled for?

I think the summer 2009.

In what other areas of your life have you been persistent, and how has that helped or harmed you?

I’ve had to be persistent in getting every girlfriend I’ve ever had. Most of those relationships were helpful in their harmfulness!

Do you hope eventually to keep up Blammo and have it published by someone else to take some stress off? Or would you rather use it as your “calling card” for now, in hopes of doing different, larger projects?

You know, I go back and forth on this. I don’t think any comic publisher sees Blammo for what it is yet. I wish somebody would pick it up for me. But, I don’t worry about it really. Actually, the next issue is the start of a bigger project. Blammo 5 is the first chapter of my book on Abe Lincoln’s life from 1830-1842. Hopefully, when all 4 chapters are done I can put it together in a book with somebody.

What is the comics scene like in Denver, CO?

It’s charming. We are having our first comic con this year! I don’t know what to expect. I think we have an interesting Indie comics scene for the size of the city. John Porcellino and I are painting a mural next month on the side of the historic Wax Trax record store.

Do you want to stay there? Or eventually move to a city like Portland, Chicago or NYC that is known to have a thicker community of cartoonists?

Right now I feel like I’ll die here in my apartment in Denver. I have a fear of flying that can be pretty arresting some times, so it’s hard to say where I’ll end up. I’d like to see other cities and meet more cartoonists, but what would they think of me? Would I fit in?

Has the current economy at all affected your work as a cartoonist?

I thought it would more, but I think I’m okay for now (knock on wood). I still have my work. I’m still on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. I’m basically a cockroach in society and cockroaches survive it all!

You began as a painter, and continue to paint the covers for each Blammo issue. Do you still find time to paint?

Oh yeah! I was in an art show last fall and somebody stole 3 of my paintings!

What is a typical daily routine for Noah Van Sciver?

I wake up at 5:00 am and put on my work clothes which I have draped on a box of Bob Dylan records the night before, then shave and brush my teeth. I walk a block to my job at a bakery and start work. I don’t take a break at my job anymore because my boss tells me I’m a girl if I do. At 1:30 pm I sneak out of there and come home. When I get home I put on a Bob Dylan record and start drawing either at my desk or on my floor. I’ll usually walk to find some food somewhere then come back home and read something while the homeless masses search through the dumpster outside my window. I have to go back to bed early so I can do it all over again.

As a huge Abe Lincoln fan, I’m really excited to see the finished Abe Lincoln story you’re working on. When do you think it will be ready? Will it be factual? Will there be a series of Abe Lincoln comics? I must know!

I’m also a huge fan. I have a good portion of it put together in my sketchbook. The first chapter will be ready in a couple of months and starts with his family moving to Illinois. It will be factual,and will focus on a human story more than a political one. The story I’ve written is worked out so the present time in his life will be 1841 and flashes back a few times for different events before proceeding into 1842. It’s a story of bravery, depression and love.

Like I said it will be released in 4 separate issues of Blammo. Each of these issues will be dedicated to this story entirely.

Do you think you’ve found your “style” yet as a cartoonist? How long did it take you to find it (if so)? Also, (if so) do you regret that it seems to have developed so quickly?

No, I’m still growing as an artist/cartoonist. I look at things I drew only a year ago and can see a difference!

I guess what I’m getting at is this: when you work on a regular publishing schedule, and seem to be so new to comics, it’s easy to fall into a quick way of doing things – and the quick style you fall into then become routine and very necessary for the schedule – but it does kind of discourage a cartoonist from growing more adventurous as an artist, because people come to depend on you for a certain type of story or drawing style or immediacy.

With that in mind, do you relate to these (perceived) issues at all in your own work? And is your style limiting in any way for all its quickness? And if so, do you ever hope to “go back to the drawing board” to work up something more adventurous than your current style? Or are you pretty happy with it?

I try to work in as much detail as I think a story should have. Now, Blammo is made up of a lot of stories. Each one different, and each one needing a different level of detail to make it feel and look right. To me, a funny cartoon should be simplified with less lines in order for it to be easily read and laughed about. A story comic could be simplified as well and work okay, but, generally I’ll work in a bit more detail on those.

I’m not sure if people depend on me for one or the other. Readers of Blammo should know that it’s a variety show. They get all kinds of odds and ends. I don’t want to ever settle down on it finally and say “this is my style.” Because, If I wanted to do a story and thought that it required a more sophisticated look than I’d get to work on it. Ultimately, I want to do something meaningful in between all of the meaningless.

- Sarah Morean

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5 Comments to “Interview: Noah Van Sciver”

  1. Donal DeLay | April 16th, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    Nice interview. I liked the bit about submitting to MOME until they cave in. I’ll have to try that. Looking forward to reading the Abe Lincoln story. I love bio-comics (more than autobio)

  2. Noah Van Sciver | April 17th, 2009 at 1:47 pm

    Thanks! I’m also looking forward to finishing this story and hopefully proving to myself that I’m capable of doing a graphic novel. It’s a mental war!

  3. will | April 17th, 2009 at 6:43 pm

    Hey, I’d like everyone to know that Noah Van Sciver shamelessly stole my character Abraham Lincoln, (though he will claim that he won the character in a backroom poker game if pressed). Lies, all lies. If I wasn’t the better man I would ruin the ending of Licoln’s story, but I won’t. Sic Semper Tyrannis!

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