Interview: Newave Editor, Michael Dowers Pt. 2 [of 2]

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In this second and final part of our interview, the Newave editor discusses his current involvement in the comics world, the importance of one seminal zine publication, and why the 80s minicomics scene was “all about the mailbox.”

[Part One]

When you look at today’s Webcomics, do you view them as part of the Newave tradition?

Mosty definitely, yes. I see that very clearly. I’ve seen a lot of Webcomic material, and there’s still a bunch of minicomics. A lot of the younger artists are doing Webcomics, but it’s definitely the same type of thing, it’s just a different medium.

You’re still doing minis yourself?

I am. I’m working on a project right now with Pat Moriarty. He did a comic book back in the 90s, called Big Mouth. He put together this audio CD of a bunch of alternative band playing the worst songs you’ve ever heard in your life. I mean, you would not believe some of these songs. Even stuff from back in the 60s—these crazy rock and roll tunes.

But he did a minicomic of that. I’m going to print and fold and staple it for him, and we’re going to take it and actually staple it into the CD. It’s the same type of thing—a do it yourself project. We’re hand making the minicomic that’s going to be inserted into this CD.

Webcomics aside, do you feel that it’s become easier to distribute these books?

I don’t know about distribute, but they’re certainly easier to make. Although I do think that—I’ve been so out of touch with the comic book industry, and I do see a lot of the younger people being very productive. I see their work on the Web, and they actually have places to sell these things. We didn’t have that back in the 80s. All we had was a magazine called Factsheet Five.

This was the stable of any zine maker out there. Factsheet Five did really well because it was the only thing like that. It was a listing of anything that had come out in the last three or four months. Anybody making a zine or a minicomic would send it in to Factsheet Five. And, of course, the guy doing Factsheet Five, he was just a zine collector. He figured out a way to get free zines. But he offered an unbelievable service to the early zine makers.

This was all we had, and this was how we connected to each other. Unfortunately it died off in the late 80s. Somebody tried to come around and resurrect it, and it lasted for a year or two more, and then it died off. There was talk of a third person, but I don’t think it ever really got anywhere again. Since then computers have sort of taken over what Factsheet Five did for the zine makers.

Despite the fact that everyone was dispersed, there was a sense of community and a network in place?

Most definitely, yes. Most definitely. Clay Geerdes, who is in the Newave book, is a very big factor in that. He got a lot of artists together. A lot of the artist that appear in the Newave book had worked with him in the past. He was a huge influence on minicomics of the 80s.

Was there a sense at all that one could make a living creating alternative comics?

Well, I actually did. It was pretty minimal, as far as money [laughs]. But after a while, I actually found a way to make money and to keep it going. I kept Starhead Comix alive for, I don’t know, 15, 16 years, or something like that. I was able to pay bills and things like that. I had a few odd jobs, here and there. One of them was running the warehouse for Fantagraphics, when they first moved to Seattle. Also, at the same time, doing mincomics,

I had an advertisement-supported paper, a little mini-tabloid called Seattle Star, that was all comics. It was all alternative comics, and that took off for a while. It was pretty amazing. So a lot of those cartoonists who were doing minicomics would appear in The Seattle Star. It was just a bi-monthly publication, so there wasn’t a whole lot of cashflow going, but it kept itself alive there. I kept it alive for, I think, about six years. It finally just got too frustrating to keep going. It was difficult. And there were a few other ones—I wouldn’t exactly call it “making a living,” but they were doing okay. They were making a few dollars, here and there and keep their heads above the water.

That was the thing about Newave—it was all about your mailbox. And that got commemorated on the cover of the book. There’s a mailbox with a flag on it. it was always about what was coming in. every day there was always a big excitement about checking the mailbox. I think there are a few Newavers that still live for that.

My favorite was getting these envelopes from Europe that had, like $150 in cash in them. Back in the 80s, that was pretty good. So you never knew what you were going to get in the mail. You could have a $.50 day, or you could have $150 day. You just never knew.

It was primarily mail order? You couldn’t go down to, say, the local comic shop and pick these up?

Eventually a few comic shops were interested in them. They would have a little minicomics shelf. I would say that there was never really a whole of money in that. a little bit. But, yes, it was mail order that really kept people going. Of course we didn’t have the Internet, we didn’t have Paypal and things like that. a lot of this stuff was done with cash or trades. You just never knew what was going to be inside the envelope when you opened it up.

How many of the contributors, roughly, are still active in the comics or minicomics scenes?

I’d say, just right off the top of my head, about 60 percent. They’re still going pretty strong. People like Mary Fleener and Dennis Worden and Wayno, out of Pittsburgh. Some of them have stopped down comics and are doing gallery paintings. I’d say a large majority of these people are fairly active—and doing well.

–Brian Heater