In this second part of our conversation with the Cold Heat artist, we discuss the art of teaching comics to the indie crowd, form versus function, and indoctrinating Brooklyn teenagers into the world of comics.
You were involved in drawing lessons at [The Brooklyn Comics and Graphics] Festival.
Yeah, that was fun. It was Gabrielle Bell, [R.] Sikoryak, Bill Kartalopoulos, and myself. I teach classes on layout and page design and stuff like that. I’m trying to be really sincere in my approach, without being too pretentious. It can be a lot to digest. We just tried to do it in a live setting, and it worked pretty well, actually.
In a setting like that, where the aesthetics aren’t very homogenous, do you feel like you need to teach in abstractions?
Kinda, yeah. The audience was really receptive and engaged, and every time I stopped to ask questions, it seemed like everyone was getting what I was laying down. That, I guess, is what I was talking about. Even if the rules and regulations in mainstream comics are a little wonky, they still exist to tell clear stories. In alternative comics, everyone is so “free to be me” that there’s a lot of structure that they balk at absorbing.
That’s sort of how I tie that into how I chat up 80s comics or whatever. They’re able to transmit this other was of seeing than most people are accustomed to. If you’re an alternative cartoonist, you’re really just looking at alternative cartooning. You might not be looking outside of that realm at people who were doing stuff that’s more or less human beings in a room talking. The subject matter might be a little weird, but it’s an interesting way of learning framing and blocking and editing and stuff like that.
Is it hard to reconcile your love of art comics and your need to adhere to form and structure?
Yeah, definitely. But the way I try to get around that is—Manga’s a good example, because there are these schools and studios. The art comics guys love these Umemzu Floating Classroom books, or whatever—I don’t want to say they don’t want to take the time to learn it, but those things come out of rules and regulations, too.
Art comics are tough. There are a lot things that I champion and love and want to promote, but if they were held up to some of the same rules, they would maybe fall short. I’m just trying to throw something else into the discussion. It’s not my duty or my wont, it’s just fun. It’s just kind of like bullshitting at the comic store in new comic book day, but you don’t get to do that anymore.
It seems like it’s a lot of people’s modus operandi to reject mainstream comics.
Sure, but there’s a backlash now—well, I don’t want to say “backlash,” but it’s me, or Ben Marra, or Christopher Forgues [C.F.]. Sean Collins is framing that—not as a “new movement,” but as, “isn’t this interesting? Things are happening.” I’ve seen some chatter about that, here and there. It’s cool, but it’s just genre. I don’t think there’s any “reclaiming” going on. I don’t think it ever really changed. The problem is there’s not that many things to read, once you’ve read everything.
In terms of alternative stuff or in terms of the mainstream?
You can rattle off ten titles, but if you’re familiar with all of those titles, what else is there? That’s what I’m saying. In the history of comics, there’s so much stuff to sink your teeth into and wrap your head around that doesn’t involve being super arty or super mainstream. I’m think thinking, right now, of a Doug Wildey story in some Eclipse quaterly book in the 80s that was a cowboy story. And it’s amazing, because it’s Doug Wildley. It’s really beautifully done and it’s just a weird cowboy story. Or a Gene Colan romance story that I picked up recently. Those things are really fun to read. I’m not saying, “these kids need to know what this stuff is.”
I’m just saying, after I’ve read [Kevin] Huizenga, Anders Nilsen, and that stuff, I want to read some more generic story about boy-meets-girl, boy-gets-girl, boy-loses-girl in 12 pages. That’s going to be a Gene Colan romance.
One of the core ironies is the fact that so many people in the scene were weaned on mainstream comics.
Kind of. I agree, but a lot of people in their 20s, their first superhero books were Image books, and they went into some different stuff in the 90s, but they already had a lot of Chester Brown, and Love & Rockets, and Dan Clowes, and Adrian Tomine to look at. So there was more choice. The thing that’s interesting now is that there were a lot of teenage kids at that Brooklyn show that were really interested in comics, but didn’t really know what to look at. They were buying some old issues of Xenon and Lone Wolf & Cub and stuff off of me. But then they would buy Paul Gulacy, Master of Kung Fu, or something. They were buying different stuff-whatever interested them.
They seemed pretty open to these different genres. It wasn’t so specific to superhero stuff, because they have manga to taper that. I think they’re being more weaned on manga than superhero stuff now, honestly, because it’s hard to engage the superhero stuff. And honestly, it seems like the young people that are reading them are older.
And in my peer group, it seems like the only people reading them are the critics. Brian Chippendale reads them and I know Dan [Nadel] reads them. They’re into it, but more or less everyone I know in comics doesn’t read that stuff—or if they do, it’s just to engage the critical debate. They might read a Final Crisis to talk about it, but I don’t know many people on this side of the fence that are into it.
It’s hilarious—that’s the sort of stuff you’re supposed to be reading for pure enjoyment. Almost as a guilty pleasure. But people are reading it analytically. Kind of defeats the purpose.
It’s funny. I mean, I like checking out Wednesday Comics, but that’s about the extent of it.
[Continued in Part Three]