He was born in the mid-80s, but Noah Van Sciver’s work reads like the product of a bygone era. The 60s, perhaps, when serialized humor books weren’t so rare a site. Sure, like many of his peers the Colorado cartoonist is working on a longer piece–a full-length graphic novel retelling Lincoln’s pre-presidential life–but his jittery line work feels as though it might be more at home in some long out of print issue of Zap or Weirdo–you know, back when they used to spell comics with an “x.”
It’s perhaps fitting then, that we kicked of our interview with the Blammo artist by discussing Harvey Pekar, psychedelic comics, and why Van Sciver thinks Marvel should let him draw a 21st century update of Howard the Duck.
Can we talk about the Howard the Duck Facebook group?
Oh shit [laughs].
Was that your doing, or was that an overzealous fan?
That was my doing. I don’t take it seriously. I posted it, but I just kind of left it alone. And then I put a link to it in the newest issue of Blammo. Marvel told me that they weren’t going to let me do it. They told me that Strange Tales is a mini-series, and by the time I did that, it was already too late. It just sort of exists as an experiment, at this point.
What have the results of the experiment been thus far?
People think it’s funny, or at a convention, someone will ask, “what’s going on with Howard the Duck, man?”
It’s turned into a mini-movement?
It has, actually. These people have joined it. People like it. It’s kind of funny—what’s going to happen with this thing? I don’t know. We’ll see in a couple of years [laughs].
So there is an element of seriousness behind it.
Yeah. I would absolutely do a Howard the Duck comic, if I was allowed to. I think I could do a pretty good one.
Your brother [Marvel/DC artist Ethan Van Sciver] has a lot of experience in that world. Is that something you ever imagined yourself doing? A regular book for a big publisher?
Naw. Not really. I don’t think I have the skill set for it, so I don’t really think about it. but if it were offered to me, I would probably—it depends. I mean, me doing Howard the Duck is different than me doing The Flash or X-Men or something. I think I could handle some kind of goofy thing like that, but I’m not really looking to be the next Batman artist or something.
Does Howard the Duck occupy a special place for you?
I just think he could be a lot cooler than he is. I think it’s a character that has a lot of potential. Howard the Duck could be something. You could say, “fuck that movie,” and make something cool.
How could you make Howard the Duck relevant in 2011?
I don’t know, man. I’d have to sit down and think about it, but I know I can do it. I know I can make him actually funny, for one thing. I mean, I’m sure there are a lot Howard the Duck fans out there who are like, “what the fuck are you talking about, man?”
The comic is pretty beloved, right? People like the Steve Gerber stuff.
Yeah. That stuff is actually pretty cool, and I’d like to do something in that style. It’s weird when you have these people who are actually accomplished artists, but when they try to draw kind of cartoony, it has more of a grotesque look to it, because maybe their line doesn’t really lend itself well to something cartoony. But I think I can make it more cartoony, more funny.
You do the reoccurring strip with the chickens. “Grotesque” is definitely a word that comes to mind.
I mean a different kind of grotesque, like if I tried to draw something and made it really serious. It wouldn’t look right. I’m not trying to say that I could do Howard the Duck better than Steve Gerber. I can just give him a better spin. He’s a character that, if you did that, it might go over pretty well.
There’s a pretty large age gap between you and your brother.
You must have been pretty young when he started drawing superhero comics.
He’s ten years older than me. I think he did Cyberfrog when he 19 or 20.
But that never appealed to you?
No. I was never the superhero guy. I was always into the Ren and Stimpy kind of stuff.
Did he get you into comics?
Yeah. When he was doing Cyberfrog, he was reading all kinds of indie stuff. He just wanted a publisher. It was an indie book. He would go to comic shops and pick up everything—Milk & Cheese, Bone. All of that independent stuff. It was all over the house, and I would pick it up. But the superhero stuff didn’t appeal to me as much.
You mention Joseph Remnant in the new issue.
I think you called him something along the lines of a better looking version of yourself.
[Laughs] Yeah, he is.
You both seem to share a fascination with the 60s/70s UG comix. Is that a major influence?
Not really psychedelic stuff. I have some Zap Comics, but besides the Crumb stuff, it just does nothing for me. But I like the freedom that they had in the 60s. I’m more into the 80s and 90s.
You don’t really see a lot of single issues—it seems like everyone is working on longer pieces.
Let alone single issues that are full-size, floppy, humor anthologies. It’s almost a relic of this bygone era.
Yeah. I don’t think it should go away. That’s some of my favorite stuff. That’s why I mentioned Joseph Remnant—I think he’s the same way. Him and I—if he wasn’t working on this Harvey Pekar book [Cleveland], he’d have Blindspots coming out, left and right. Him and I are similar in that. I feel like we have our own little thing going on—and some other people who are starting up, as well.
I would probably put Ed Piskor in there, too.
They both worked with Harvey.
I would have worked with Harvey, too, man, but he died. That’s what happened with that. I was supposed to work with him. I met Jeff Newelt at SPX, and a couple of people had suggested me for the Pekar Project. I was going to do a test strip, but next thing I knew, I went online to Facebook, and it was like, “Harvey Pekar has died.” There goes that.
Is there a lesson there? Are there cartoonists you’d like to work with? People who aren’t getting the attention they deserve these days?
One person I’d love to collaborate with—I don’t even know if he’s doing comics anymore—is a guy named Dennis P. Eichhorn. He did a comic called Real Stuff. It was like American Splendor, but more dangerous. It was his real life, but he had a fucked up life. It was crazy. He worked with all of the great cartoonists of the 80s and 90s. I would love to do stuff with him.
Autobiography is dependent on how good of a storyteller you are and how interesting your life is.
Harvey really cornered the market on stories about standing in line at the supermarket.
Yeah. Or the one of him just fixing a toilet. That was one of his later ones.
[Continued in Part Two]