Interview: Dustin Harbin Pt. 4 [of 4]

Categories:  Interviews

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We wrap up our four-parter with Dustin Harbin by discussing lettering for Matt Fraction, mini-comics presentation, and what to do with an influx of free-time.

[Part One][Part Two][Part Three]

Are you going to be able to completely severe your ties with the business side of Heroes?

Oh yeah. I’m looking forward to it. It’s pretty exhausting. Like you said, you were surprised that we spend all year working on the show. It’s like all year. My cartooning has suffered. This is the first year I tried to do it part-time. I was okay until May or so, and then it was 80 to 100 hour work weeks in my house, in my underwear, eating cereal, having not slept yet, trying to set up print work and all that kind of stuff.

You just can’t do anything else, it’s like the whole year is built around those three days in June. My whole adult life I’ve worked there, since I was 21. So, I’m excited to try relaxing in the summer…

I know you’re doing some lettering for Matt [Fraction] now. Did that play a role in the decision, the fact that you can finally support yourself outside of Heroes?

I don’t think I have enough work yet—I don’t think a smarter person would have chosen to stop. Honestly, I will need to do a lot of hunting to find enough work. Lettering is not lucrative. And hand-writing is so time intensive. It doesn’t leave a lot of time do other things. No, I don’t think that’s it. That maybe gives more confidence to do that kind of thing.

Matt’s very kind to have hired a non-professional letterer to do professional lettering, for Marvel, of all places.

How did that come about? Are you friends?

You know, Matt worked at the comic store, years ago—he worked at Heroes. I worked with him in ’96, ’97. We got to be friends back when we were both in our early 20s, and then he moved away and went to school, and then he started a company that got super-duper successful, and then, I guess only in the last five to seven years—he’s had a pretty meteoric rise in comic books.

And he’s very much the kind of guy—as anyone will tell you—who is very conscious of the people he’s coming up around. I’m sure I’m not the only person he’s hired, out of loyalty, maybe more than professional acumen. I can letter okay, but there are other people who are famously very good at it and are available. But I’m flattered that he asked me to do it.

When something happens in my life that frees up a lot of time, I tend to make a laundry list of things I plan to do—I’m sure that working on your own stuff is high on yours. Have you been able to jump right into that?

I’m really late on Cassanova, right now. I’m still on the second issue. And I’m the last leg in the chain. It’s not going to make it late or anything—but then I need to jump on number three. Once I get caught up on that schedule, then it will be easier to start on other stuff.

I did have a laundry list of stuff that I want to start. It’s pretty exciting. It’s a bunch of next level—it’s the kind of thing that you can’t do as a cartoonist, if you’re spending 30 hours a week on something else.

What does “next level” entail? Longer form work?

I’m going to try to pitch stories to publishers. I’m just pitching. Actually, Anne Koyama, who is a publisher in Toronto, has a really interesting approach to publishing. I think she’s going to help me publish my diary comic. And then I’m going to pitch some stuff to some other places, to do some long-form stories and a bunch of short-form stories. I’m just going to do a bunch of stuff.

It sounds like you don’t have a particularly positive view of the diary strips you’ve done—

I have a terribly negative view.

Would you have any second thoughts about putting that into print?

No, no, and that’s what’s cool about Anne. She’s more interested in making art than she is in selling books—well, I think she’s interested in selling books, in terms of promoting art, which I think is a healthy approach.

Do you think that would be a bad thing, if that was the first work that most people saw from you, if you’re working on something more substantial?

I think that informs the publication design. I’ve been thinking about printing it on kind of shitty newsprint. If you’ve ever seen the originals, they’re barely four-inches across. They’re very tiny. It’s the kind of thing, if you make it look nice, someone will expect nice, and they’ll be like, “this is terrible.” If it’s on crap and they expect crap, and then they find something on there that they respond to, it’s a better presentation for those strips.

Like the newspaper that I did for TCAF has a lot of—it has some good stuff, but it has a lot of crap, too. It’s kind of uniformly acceptable, because of the newsprint, I the way that the newsprint is kind of crappy. It evens everything out. If it were on some real glossy paper, next to some Laura Park/Dash Shaw comics, you would say, “these are disappointing. These are terrible.” But on newsprint and you’re reading it on the toilet…

You’re setting the bar low.

It’s less setting the bar low. I don’t really believe in that. It’s more like I’m putting it in the right container. I think that’s a big part of the publishing choice. That’s a big part of why I think that mini-comics are interesting. You can have a really amazing mini-comic that’s real fancy and real hand-made, and then just have a terrible story or terrible art.

But I was reading this one I got from Eleanor Davis at Heroes Con. It’s a little sketchbook, and usually those are just super-boring. But her drawing is some amazing, and it’s presented so un-self-consciously. I was reading that and re-reading it and staring at it. It was presented so perfectly.

If and when any of these other projects take off, do you expect to keep doing the diary strip?

Yeah, I think that I probably will, at least until the end of the year. Maybe longer, depending on how I feel about it. It’s really good practice. I’m more than a month behind, as far doing it daily—I just finished doing TCAF. But I’m going to speed up. It’s almost like a gross meditation. You’re kind of staring at your warts all the time, and slowly willing them into beauty marks.

–Brian Heater