In this second part of our interview with the Ink Studs host, we discuss the power of radio, the history of comics as literature, and whether cartoonists really do make the best comics critics.
Is there something about the radio medium that’s particularly well suited to cartoonist interviews?
I’d been collecting comics for longer than I can remember. One of my earliest comic memories is an issue of Swamp Thing—the one that the Justice League appears in, in the Alan Moore run. Comics have always been a big part of my life. I worked in a comic store when I was a teenager for three years. So this opportunity came up when I was getting back into comics, as most guys do at some point—they stop collecting comics because girls are out there. And then you settle back into life and start collecting comics again. I was going through that.
I am also interested in interviewing folks who aren’t cartoonists. And I’ve done a couple of interviews—one with Genesis P-orridge, which I really enjoyed doing, and another with Diamanda Galás. That’s something I’d like to do more, with musicians that I have a particular interest in.
Part of why I do what I do is, when I started doing Inkstuds, there really wasn’t anything audio with alternative cartoonists. I didn’t know about Indie Spinner Rack probably for a year, at least, while I was doing the show. I think I heard about them the year I went to SPX. But other than them, all of the comics podcasts were very mainstream-centric. And I will interview some mainstream folks who are of particular interest to me, or who aren’t being covered as much, but those guys are being covered, so I don’t need to cover that.
I need to cover someone like Tom K. Those guys aren’t talking to these talents. And these cartoonists have a lot to say. As Jeet Heer said, cartoonists are deep thinkers, so let’s tap that resource. [McConnell Post-Script: since starting the show, both Ink Panthers and Comix Claptrap have also joined in the small podcast arena, I heard something about a Cross Hatch podcast…]
Do you have an art background? Did you study it in school?
Not at all. I can’t draw to save my life. My major at school was history. So that really goes with the way I do the show—creating a primary source with these interviews. These are documents. This is something that’s really important to me, which I wish more people would do, because we’re at a point in time where we have these amazing cartoonists, the underground generation, and they’re getting old.
When we started doing the show, one of the guys we wanted to interview was Jack Jackson. He has since killed himself. He had really horrible cancer, and he jumped off a bridge. Before we got the chance to contact him, he’s gone. I was also talking to S. Clay Wilson about doing an interview, and he’s had some pretty horrific stuff happen in his life, and now he’s got some major trauma/damage to his system, where you’ll never get an interview with him again.
So, these underground cartoonists have a legacy and knowledge, and they’re so important to what cartoonists are doing now. More people need to be documenting this. That’s something that interests me—talking to an underground cartoonist and having a three hour conversation. Let’s get all of this stuff out there, so it’s on paper, or on audio, for people to understand the future.
As an historian, I was to see this stuff out there, because there’s no better way of knowing about a history of a medium than having that oral history.
Will that audio document hold up in the same manner as, say, going and writing a book about a cartoonist?
They’re different sources. The audio is a primary source and the book is a secondary source. A secondary source is an analysis on that source. Rebel Visions, the book that Patrick Rosenkranz did about underground comics is partly based on his own interviews.
Sure, but you put out a book of straight interviews. Those do exist.
Yeah. If I have the energy or the mindset to do a secondary source, I’ll do that one day. But like I said, they’re different resources. They have a different utility. A primary source is there to create analysis so someone like Jog can take information he gets from that and use in one of his amazing analytical pieces.
That’s something interests you as some point down the road.
I think, if it was the right project, I’d be all over it. It’s a matter of time. Something that Frank Santoro and I like to talk about is creating an understanding of narrative traditions in comics and how that interconnects. That’s where I’m kind of going back to the underground cartoonists, but also looking at how guys like Bill Everett and Steve Ditko have a legacy of influencing contemporary cartoonists that we have now.
How does it all meet up? How do you get from Bill Everett to Sammy Harkham? I can show you the chain, but why does this chain exist? How does it connect? Why do all of these guys have this connection? How do we get to where comics are today? They didn’t come from nowhere.
It seems that the large majority of people who do comics interviews and reviews tend to approach them from a literary standpoint. Often times these people are English or writing majors. People often lack the ability to really discuss the art. Is that an area that could use improvement, with regards to your own interviews?
Keep in mind, when I say “narrative tradition,” by creating a connection from Bill Everett to Sammy Harkham, it’s a multi-faceted thing. You’re not reading Bill Everett for the writing. Let’s be honest. It’s the craftsmanship, it’s the beauty of his work. You look at a black and white page of his, and it’s amazing. You can see where someone like Charles Burns comes from—how he is engaging with the page. How those black inks seep through and create these really bold, sharp lines.
Going back to the question of an artistic background—I mean that not only with regards to being able to draw, but having the vocabulary to discuss art. It’s a vocabulary I think people who do this often lack.
Yeah. And that’s why Frank Santoro is so great. He’s not a trained academic. His background is as an artist, as a cartoonist. He has this background that isn’t comics, as well, where he was an understudy for a painter in New York. He did that as well, and then got back into the world of comics. So he is engaging in a different level. We’re seeing more folks like that.
Chris Ware is the best example—him and Seth, incredible writers about comics. They know the craftsmanship to a finite point that not many folks can touch upon, because they inhale it in so many different levels
So, are the people who make comics doing some of the best writing about comics at this point?
I don’t know if I want to answer that question [laughs]. I also think it’s important to have people writing about comics that aren’t cartoonists. Me and Brandon Graham, he’s my neighbor, and we talk a lot about the identity of someone’s role in comics. I see my role as an interviewer. I don’t see myself making comics. I shouldn’t be making comics. There are amazingly talented comics creators. Let’s read their comics. I’m in here to write about comics, to read comics. Jog is here to write about comics. He’s not here to make comics. Dan Nadel, Jeet Heer, Tom Spurgeon—well, Tom had a comic strip, but that’s not his primary focus. Gary Groth, he doesn’t make comics at all, and tell me a better guy for writing about comics than Gary Groth.
[Continued in Part Three.]