In the seven or so years since she leapt headfirst into the world of alternative sequential art, by way of an SPX anthology, Melanie “Minty” Lewis has become an instantly recognizable name in amongst the San Francisco indie comics community. Four issues of P.S. Comics later, the artist’s fruit and terrier pals have become a staple of ‘zine racks throughout the Bay Area.
With the recent publication of a Secret Acres anthology of the same name, Lewis seems primed for recognition on a wider scale for stories that balance the unreality of anthropomorphic animals and produce with simple tales of daily human existence.
In honor of her first collection of stories, we sat down with Lewis to discuss her career as a graphic designer, life drawing classes, and why she doesn’t keep a sketchbook.
Have you been doing many interviews, now that the book is out?
I haven’t done any yet. I don’t think they’ve sent out the review copies yet. I haven’t seen the spike in interest, so far.
Have you been prepping yourself?
Yeah, I have all of my lines prepared for everybody, but they’ve haven’t started asking me.
Is there generally a push when you come out with a new mini?
There’s always pressure. I’m always worried that someone is going to say something. There’s always pressure with being evaluated at all.
You did an appearance [in New York] and one out in San Francisco. Is that the bulk of your prepping?
I think that’s kind of the end of what I’m planning. I just had that release party and reading on Thursday, and that’s what I was thinking about for a long time. Now that that’s over, I don’t know what I’m going to do now. I guess I’ll just move on to the next thing.
There isn’t going to be a big national tour, driving around to comic stores across the country, pushing your book?
If it was available to me, I think that would be fun. But I don’t think I have the wherewithal or motivation to do it myself. It’s a lot of work. Doing that one release party and reading was a very big source of stress for me, for a while. I’m glad that’s over. I can’t imagine having to plan something in multiple cities and having to coordinate with people and all that stuff.
What specifically did you have to do to plan for that show?
There were six people doing a reading. I had to get the people and figure out what equipment the bookstore had, like a projector. I guess with some of that stuff, if you were going to do multiple sites, a lot of that would have been taken care of already. The lowest common denominator of activies would have already been done. And also, getting people to agree to do it, getting all of the files, making sure the bookstore had the books.
A lot of small and boring things.
I didn’t know if the store was going to have the books, because Last Gasp didn’t ship them in time. Yeah, a lot of boring things.
The new book is pretty much a straight collection of the first four minis? Is there any supplementary material?
It’s not all of the first four minis. And I also had two other minis that weren’t PS Comics that are in there. And also my story that was in Pet Noir, and my story that was in the SPX 2003 anthology. And there are, I think, about 25 pages of new material.
Were those two minis pre-PS Comics?
No, actually. I didn’t have a good reason for not making them PS Comics, except that they were stand-alone stories. Most of the issues of PS Comics are 24 pages, and those were when I had a convention coming up and wanted to have something to sell, but wasn’t going to be able to do 24 new pages of material in time. Just This Side of Heaven is, I think, 14 pages and Donuts for Lunch is 28 single-panel pages.
You didn’t want to trick people into thinking they were getting something else.
I guess so [laughs]. They’re smaller and in a different shape, too. PS Comics are all folded in half.
PS Comics seems like more of a clearing house than a book that’s really cohesive, theme-wise. Are there strips that you won’t put in there?
No, everything I’ve created, comics-wise, I’ve published. There some stuff that was in the minis that I didn’t put in the book, just because I decided that it didn’t really fit that much with the stuff in there. But I don’t really make comics that aren’t intended for publication very much. And I don’t really do drawings that aren’t—I don’t really draw [laughs].
You don’t draw for yourself? You don’t practice?
I don’t really do that.
Any particular reason?
I think I’m not that free of a thinker, or something [laughs]. I don’t really doodle that much, and I feel like a lot of cartoonists doodle in their sketchbooks and come up with really interesting drawings. I have trouble coming up with something to draw if I don’t have a story or actual project in mind.
You don’t want to hone your craft outside of the comics?
No, I definitely do feel like that. I went to a life drawing class with MariNaomi. She goes to this class once a week. She says that it’s made her drawings a lot better and a lot more natural, and I went once, and it’s a lot of fun, but it’s hard to find the time for that. I feel like, when I’m making comics, I’ve already made time for that, so I want a result from it. Even I know that time practicing drawing is time well spent, but I usually just feel like I should be working on something for the comic, rather than to just get better—even though I know I should get better.
How much time do you generally spend working on comics? How much time does it take to create a mini?
Different ones take a different amount of time. For each one I’ve had a different schedule. For the last story that’s in the book, PS Comics, is like 28 pages, I think I was working on that for like four months. But that’s when I had a full-time job and would just go to a café and work on it during lunch. I did that really consistently. The Just This Side of Heaven mini, I took three weeks and worked really hard on it. I didn’t have a full-time job that would make me stick to a different schedule. It depends. I don’t know how many actual hours of manpower go into each one, though.
You don’t have a full-time job now, right?
Yeah, I took a layoff package. But I haven’t had a full-time job since the beginning of May.
What was your last job?
I was a graphic designer for Shonen Jump magazine.
Is that the path you’d like to pursue?
I like graphic design, but I don’t really want a full-time job again. I was only at the job for about a year. I had been freelancing. I would like to continue to be a graphic designer, but I would like to freelance.
Does working as a graphic designer during the day make you a better comic artist?
Well sure. I think it makes a lot of things easier. I did a lot of page layout for the book, and I think that helped. In terms of how things are arranged on a page or in a panel, I think it doesn’t hurt to be doing those kinds of things all day long.
[Concluded in Part Two]