Interview: Al Columbia Pt. 2 [of 4]

Categories:  Interviews


There’s something troubling, perhaps, in Al Columbia’s assertion that his childlike cartoon characters, Pim and Francie are autobiographical. The Golden Bear Days, Fantagraphics’ recently released collection of unfinished strips starring the duo is an often horrifying little book.

Columbia is more than happy to subject the plucky little boy and girl to all manner of terror, including meat grinders, oversized insects, and giant monsters. One could no doubt fashion a fascinating little essay of pop-psychology around the fact that Pim and Francie are based on Columbia’s relationship with his now ex-girlfriend.

[Part One]

Are there too many places to go, when you sit down to write a story?

Yeah. You just end up with so many ideas you just don’t know what to pick from. Or you’ve got to find some way to put them all in. it’s a weird thing—you just never know where to start, I suppose. You can keep backing up. You’re just constantly rearranging chapters, and it can end up this bizarre mess.

Now that the book is out in the world, do you feel happy with the final product?

Yeah, I am, actually. It all came together quite unexpectedly. It was an easy, fun experience, putting it together—well, not easy. Sequencing the pages took like five or six months. And the heavy lifting, the editing, that was the hard work. But in the end, it went off in a cool way. It felt right. And then I saw the book and I was happy with it—or as happy as I could be, I suppose.

Given how incomplete much of the material is in the book, do you feel like it reads like a cohesive work?

Um, I wouldn’t say—certainly there’s no narrative to the book. I think it’s one of those things that’s more stream of consciousness. There’s no structural narrative. And if there is—if people are getting that out of it, that was entirely unintentional. If there’s some primal or subconscious narrative to it—or a historical vibe—that was produced, I would say, almost accidentally. I just really wanted to find some interesting way to glue these pieces together. So I just started with page one and then just moved on to what seemed like the next one—it’s almost like recording layers or a mixtape. That’s all I did.

It just presents glimpses into the lives of these characters. I guess if it forms a bigger picture, then great.

How much do you know about the lives of these two characters?

Well, you know, funny enough—I suppose when first started drawing Pim & Francie, I just drew it as a goof, to draw my girlfriend and I at the time. I was just trying to draw us at characters. A lot of it was the spirit at the time. It was a girl I was with for a very long time. we have a child together. Francie, I suppose, has always been based on her, and the boy character would have, in some ways, been based on me. But they became their own characters at some point, I guess. They’re just kind of automatically there. So it just started as this fun kind of goofing on my girlfriend and I and our relationship. And then it just kind of grew from there. But some of it’s kind of autobiographical, I guess.

Given the ambiguity of the characters, do you think they might not have translated into a graphic novel, had you sat down and set out to write one?

Possibly, yeah. I wouldn’t know now. You never know. A friend of mine basically convinced me that these pieces would look really neat appearing the way that they did. He’s a really good friend and he’s a really great artist and he convinced me that the pieces would look good like that. he said, “I know you want to finish that, but you should just go this way with it.” I got into it, and I really loved it.

I don’t know if that answers your question. I guess I should say that I don’t really know. I have yet to finish a Pim & Francie story, really.

So, when you working on the pieces that were included in the book, you already knew that they wouldn’t be completed?

No, no. at the time, all of those pieces were meant to be completed. I really wanted to make a comic book out of each and every one of those. I just didn’t have the patience to stick to one thing. I suppose I’d get really excited about another idea. I was just rapidly going through a lot of ideas, instead of just sticking to one. It bugged me out, too. I really wanted to put out a comic. But after a while, I just really stopped caring. I stopped caring about publishing any of it. it didn’t matter. But most of the efforts were intended to be comics.

[Continued in Part Three.]

–Brian Heater