[Above, McConnell via Paul Hornschemeier.]
For more than half a decade, “Inkstuds” has been offering up some of the most in-depth indie comics interviews currently available in audio form. From superstars to the arcane, the show’s guest list is something of a who’s who of sequential art, with host Robin McConnell having chatted up nearly everyone in the industry who has ever wielded a pen–sometimes twice.
Born as a terrestrial radio show on the University of Bristish Columbia’s CTIR, the show has gained a fair amount of steam as a podcast, standing out in a world dominated by the testosterone-fueled idle chat of fanboys.
Late last year, the show became a book, courtesy of Conundrum Press. The eponymous volume pulled together 30 hand-selected interviews with luminaries like Kim Deitch, Carol Tyler, Mary Fleener, and more.
We took the opportunity as an excuse to find out what makes McConnell and “Inkstuds” tick.
Does your job free up a lot of time to do radio shows?
Well, I can’t really do it at work, but it does allow for a little quiet time. But I tend to stay pretty busy. I actually just finished school in August. That went kind of hand in hand with doing the radio.
You studied broadcasting?
No, I studied history. My radio thing kind of happened by accident.
There was a radio show going on in Vancouver for many years by a woman called Robin Fisher. It was called “The Onomatopoeia” at CITR, the station where Nardwuar is. That’s one of their claims to fame. Also, all of those WFMU blog posts on old comedy, the guy that writes that used to have a show on CITR. It’s a good college station—as far as stations go in Canada, it’s one of the best.
So Robin moved to Montreal and a space opened up at the station. I was kind of in a transitional point of my life, and I thought, ‘what the hell, I’ll try this out.’ So Colin Upton and I started out the show, “Inkstuds.” We had no clue what we were doing. The first thing I ever did for the show was interview Seth. Talk about jumping in, head first. I think that interview turned out well. Seth seems happy with it. It’s actually the first interview in the book. That one I really enjoyed doing.
For a while with the show, we were just doing chat and talking about topical stuff. We’d do a show talking about Schizo #4, and I wasn’t enjoying that aspect of it. We’d do interviews, and I’d really jive on that part, so the focus shifted. I just wanted to do straight interviews, and that’s what “Inkstuds” is now know for.
I imagine you spent a lot of time looking at/listening to old interviews for the book. I don’t know if you actually did the transcription yourself, but either way, a lot of listening and reading.
A lot of reading. But I’m going to give props to Charles Bottomley, who did all of the transcription work for me. He’s a very generous soul. I owe him my first three children, If I was going to have three children. He did all of the transcription work, and it was fantastic. He did an amazing job. I’ve got tons of interviews. On the show, we’ve probably done 350 interviews, at this point, and the book has 30.
Did the Seth interview make it in at least partially because it was your first interview?
No, it’s in because it’s a good interview. I’m very fussy about the book. I guess that’s a bit arrogant, “it was a good interview,” I think it’s a good interview. He was engaged, we had a good discussion.
The book is very curated. There are two primary focuses in there, one of them being the Canadian content: Canadian publisher, Canadian radio show, Canadian cartoonists, so we’ve got Seth, we’ve Got Chester Brown, we’ve got David Collier, we’ve got Rebecca Dart, we’ve got Jillian Tamaki. The other primary focus was that we wanted to have a significant part that reflected some of the women who are doing really important, good comic work.
And then a couple of legends, which I feel are having a wide impact, as far as our modern comics—Gary Panter and Kim Deitch. Gary Panter has the Brooklyn cartoonists, almost the children of Gary Panter, you could say.
The PictureBoxes of the world.
Yeah, PictureBox, the stuff that Bill K. is pushing, Fort Thunder, Closed Caption Comics, Michael DeForge—he’s a funny one. He knew about Fort Thunder, then he found out about Gary Panter after.
So, what makes a good interview? Getting something new?
It all comes down to the relationship I can get with the person. Getting something new, yeah. Having a discussion that isn’t like something you’re gonna read somewhere else. I don’t want to be asking the same question.
I think for me you’re really getting an idea of who this cartoonist is. Just recently I did a couple of interviews I really enjoyed doing, like the one with Al Columbia or the one I just posted last week with Geof Darrow. They’re great interviews because I’m able to connect with those guys and know enough stuff that people wouldn’t know right away that I can ask these questions—like “how did you know that,” type questions.
Doing your homework.
Yeah. Research is important. I think Sammy Harkam called me out in an interview, for not having my research done right, where I mispronounced the name of a story, which I won’t pronounce right now, in case I get it wrong again. But research is what makes a good interview. I know I’ve done interviews myself where I just didn’t put in the right amount of work, and I feel bad. There’s an expectation that I should be putting in the same amount of work, and unfortunately “Inkstuds” pays nothing [laughs]. So, sometimes work takes over and I don’t have the time to put in for research.
There’s a tendency to get hyper specific and nuanced with questions. Is it equally important to offer up something for those who aren’t as familiar with the work? Or do you expect a certain level of knowledge on the part of the listener?
That’s a tough one. I just did an interview the other day, and the person stopped halfway and said, “are we saying stuff that’s too obscure?” So it is a balance of having a certain amount of knowledge on the part of the listener. And maybe I do go far with certain pieces of lore, and that can definitely be a problem. But part of what I want to do with “Inkstuds” is to educate people on these wonderful cartoonists, and hopefully you’re going to want to Google something that someone said.
Geoff Darrow talks about this movie that Alex Toth did artwork for, and then my dad later sent me a link saying, “this sounds pretty crazy.” Or I did an interview with Spain Rodriquez several years ago, where he references a painting, and so someone sent me a link to the painting with a note that said, “hey, that was pretty interesting.”
I guess that’s part of the problem with the format I do, since it’s audio, I’m not able to engage in the same way that, if I was doing a written interview, where I can post up images that respond to what I’m saying. That’s something I want to do one day, if I have more time, get more interviews posted. I’ve done a couple, but it’s a lot of work.
[Continued in Part Two.]