In this third part of our interview with the Yawning Void author, we discussion the importance making one’s work so honest that it’s painful.
It sounds almost as if your mother tried to instill a sense of fear about cities in you.
Was that fear present, when you first moved to Minneapolis?
No, It wasn’t. My mom grew up not quite a mile from where the Watts riots were. She can remember watching the smoke from the riots. Her dad always had guns in the house. It’s L.A. He was always big on protecting yourself. Whereas, I don’t know how this happened—my other grandfather always taught me to respect everybody, and I took from that more when I lived in Minneapolis.
So, instead moving away from everyone, or crossing the street because they’re moving toward you, I’d just look them in the eye, and they’d give you a nod and you’d give them a nod, and everything would be fine. So, I never really had that fear, I guess.
Why did you end up moving to the city?
Eventually my mom moved back to Minnesota, so she’d be closer to me. I was living with my dad in southern Minnesota, and I went to part of high school in St. Paul. And then I went from living in St. Paul to living in Minneapolis.
St. Paul is the rougher of the two cities, right?
I guess it depends on what part you’re at. When I was growing up, East St. Paul was rougher than it is closer to the river, because that’s where the industrial area is. But there are parts in Minneapolis that are nasty—those are the places that I ended up living, because the rent was cheapest. I guess that was part of my education, too—living in a neighbor where there are a lot of poor people, and realizing that poor person does not equal danger.
Would you ever move back to the city?
No. The only reason we moved to town where we’re living now is that I have epilepsy, and it started getting really, really bad. So the full load of all the driving was on my wife. To drive to school to drop off the kids, adding it all up, it was more than a hour worth of driving a day. And then, when it got really bad, I couldn’t be alone with any of the kids, because it was just so severe for a while.
So, we moved to the town to make all of that easier. But I can walk out of town. It’s a tiny, tiny town. I think I’d much rather live in the country, if I ever have the opportunity again.
Will the epilepsy make it into your comics at some point?
I don’t know. I’ve thought about it. It seems like it’s been done, at least a little bit.
Right, exactly. The only difference is that it’s from a first-person point of view. But I guess I feel like I’ve got enough stuff right now that I don’t need to haul that out. I may, some day.
Is the work you have planned largely autobiographical?
Yeah. The thing I’m working on right now, I’d say is three-quarters autobiographic. In Yawning Void, the last story, there’s a continuation of that. I see that going on for a very long time. That’s the quarter of the new stuff that isn’t autobiographical.
You said you were struck by the honesty of your students’ autobiography. Has that pushed you more in that direction and made you want to be more honest in your own work?
I think that’s always my goal. I think the only way it’s going to be interesting to anyone is that if it’s so honest that it’s almost painful. It’s kind of embarrassing or you’re really putting yourself out there to the point that it’s almost uncomfortable. In the comics I read, those are my favorite—the people who I’m like, “I can’t believe they’d put this out for the general public.” That takes some serious bravery.
Is it easier to be more honest as you progress?
I’m not quite sure.
Are there things that you can point to in the first issue that were really painful to put down on paper?
No, not really [laughs]. No. I think the very first thing I made—Yawning Void is the first comic that I really put our—and honestly, I was just so terrified to do it that it’s not—they’re all true stories and they’re all honest, but they’re not stories that would require me to be brave to put out. Telling somebody about trips to the dump is not hard to do.
But know you know that people are reading your stuff.
And when you were working on that first issue, you were just throwing it out into the void.
Yeah. Now I know that at least some people are paying attention, and it might be a little more difficult. There’s some stuff in the next one that I think were much harder to imagine putting out and being really truly honest about the way I feel about things.
Do you need to run then by your wife or other people in your life, to make sure that they’re okay to put out there?
I haven’t had that experience yet. Though I was a little worried about the lady at the dump finding out about that one, because, as soon as I put it out—everybody around here knows that lady. Everybody could relate to it, and everybody has a story about it. I figured sooner or later that it would get back to her. But it’s also kind of handy that I don’t live there anymore. I don’t have to see her every week.
So, as far as you know, it hasn’t gotten back to her?
I don’t know. It may have…
Does living in such a small community make it more difficult to be really honest? Have you had to change any names?
I haven’t had to change names. I think, especially with the next thing I’m doing, it’s more personal observations. So, if anything, it’s going to be more embarrassing to me than anyone else who might be in the story. And I don’t even think it’s going to be embarrassing to me. It’s just going to take a little something to be able to put it out and not worry about it. But I think I’ve got it under control. I’m not too concerned.
But it’s that basic idea of being honest until it becomes uncomfortable.
[Concluded in Part Four]