In this third part of our conversation with the Blammo artist we discuss superhero conventions, depression, and travelling across north America with John Porcellino.
You’re still doing autobiographical work when the subject matter is right.
Yeah. Exactly. If I feel like it. The autobiographical work is always funnier, because I just throw everything I hate out there. I did that one about being at conventions. Oh god. I love it, man, because when I go to superhero conventions, I get these people who are dressed up like weird elves or furries, and they’re walking past my table, sneering at me. They look down on me. That’s not good for your self-esteem.
But it’s good for stories. The best part about getting yourself into a situation like that is the hope that one day it’ll be a comic.
That’s true, yeah. But when people who are supposed to be the lowest of the low look down on you, it’s like, “fuck my life.”
Did you go to a lot of superhero conventions with your brother [artist Ethan Van Sciver]?
Yeah. I still do [laughs]. They’re never worth it. I don’t know when I’m ever going to learn. Ethan will be doing one, and I’ll get invited to go, too, and it sucks, man. It sucks so bad. Sitting next to my brother does not help at all. If anything, it’s just humiliating.
You haven’t had any good experiences going to mainstream shows? Do you ever sell any books?
Yeah, I sell books, but it’s never worth it. I like doing the indie stuff. MIX last year in Minneapolis was really great. SPX was an awesome show. That kind of stuff is better. But if you’re at a superhero convention, you almost forget why you’re doing what you’re doing with comics. It’s like, “wait a second—why am I doing what I’m doing? What is this comic I’ve created? Why am I doing this?”
Like “what am I doing with my life?”
Yeah. “Wait a second. What am I doing here? These people are not interested in this at all. What am I doing here?” It’s just a different audience. Not fun.
John Porcellino was in that comic. You guys have done superhero conventions together?
Yeah. There’s the Denver Comic Fest here, and when he was living here, we’d do these things together. They’re just awful, man. They’d stick us in Artist’s Alley, which was in a hallway, so people would be walking past our table, which was in a hallway, so they could meet Matthew Sturges or somebody. Even if they wanted to stop and look at our table, they wouldn’t because they had a whole bunch of people behind them, who were trying to push through.
You were basically a fire hazard.
Yeah, exactly [laughs]. It’s funny, because some of the times Denver wouldn’t even invite John in as a guest, so I would have to sneak him in as a helper. “All right dude, take half of my table.” When we were on the road together, we’d stop at superhero comic shops to sell our books. That’s always humiliating, too.
In their defense, it seems like John is even worse of a fit for a superhero convention than you are.
Oh yeah [laughs]. That’s why he looks like he does in that strip. He’s just so burned out and worn out from doing this for so long. He’s just in shock, or something.
He seems like a good guy to travel with. I’m sure he knows all of the tricks of the road, at this point.
Yeah, he’s been doing it for so long. And there have been many incarnations of me in his life. Before it was me, it was Joe Chiappetta. He’d has his tour buddy. He’s just been doing it for so long, and now it’s me. We’re just driving around in this overly-packed car, going through the Canadian border. It’s pretty fun, man.
You have to declare your intentions, and then you tell them that you make comics, and then they sneer at you?
Yeah, exactly. They’re like, “what do you guys have in the back of this car, here?” And John’s like, “we’re authors.” “Yeah?” “Yeah. Those are our books back there.” And then they kind of look at us suspiciously. And then they let us in. And he’s like, “don’t say anything.” He’s not ready to talk about it, yet. He’s so scared that they’re going to chase him down and make him unload the car. Because if you unloaded our car when we’re on tour, it would take us like three hours to put it back together, which is a disaster.
Is it easier to get into Canadian than out of Canada? I get the feeling that U.S. customs is a lot stricter.
Yeah. I just got back from Australia, and the Australian customs people searched my bag. That was pretty funny. They were looking at Blammo and were like, “why is this printed in black and white?” Asking me all of these ridiculous questions. “Where are you going, here?” “I’m going to Armageddon Convention.” “Armageddon, what’s that about? The end of the world?” And my face is bright red.
You sold your book at an Australian convention?
Yeah, I did a couple of conventions in Australia, a couple of weeks ago.
How did that come about?
My brother was going, and he said, “I’ll only go if you guys bring my brother, Noah.”
Was that a better experience than Denver?
Naw, naw. It was awful. Adelaide was fine. I did Sydney and Adelaide. Sydney was humiliating. I was sitting with my sketchbook out, writing, “what the fuck am I doing with my life?” I was really depressed. “I should quit doing this. This is bullshit. People hate my comics.” And little kids would walk by and look at my comics because they have colorful covers, and I’d have to be like, “no, no, no! This isn’t for you.”
And then I’d be thinking, “well, who the fuck is it for? Who am I trying to get here? Who is going to read this thing at this convention where everyone is dressed up like superheroes?” I think that trip was more about seeing Australia than being a comic star.
But in Adelaide it was pretty good. I sold a lot of comics there.
Do you foresee life as an independent cartoonist as being a constant struggle like that? Always trying to figure out what you’re doing with your life?
No, no, it’s gonna get easier, man.
How do you figure?
In the near future, I anticipate getting my name out there so much that things will just be easier. What do you think? Do you think I’m wasting my time?
I don’t think you’re wasting your time. I just think that there’s a personality type always unhappy with its station in life. I think that applies to me and probably a lot of independent cartoonists. Even the most successful cartoonists seem to ooze a sense of depression.
I don’t know, sometimes I wake up in the morning and think, “I’m a famous cartoonist. This is so cool. I’m badass.” That lasts for like a couple of hours, and then I get depressed again. I guess I’m working really hard for those few hours that I’m walking down the street, saying, “I did it. I’m a famous cartoonist.”
The upside, too, is that the more you work, the less time you have to be depressed.
That’s true—well, I don’t know, because sometimes when you’re working, you’re thinking, ‘why can’t I draw a hand right?’ And that becomes depressing [laughs].
Content-wise, do you feel bound by your limitations as a draughtsman?
No, because I’m getting better. The kind of stories that I’m drawing now, in terms of tone, I couldn’t have done them two or three years ago. I look through sketchbooks that I had three years ago, and it really depresses me. It’s really awful. And even the early issues of Blammo are really awful.
It’s depressing, but it would be even more depressing if you had peaked back then.
Totally. And I’m excited for the next couple of years, to look at the Blammo stuff that I did recently and think is good, to say, “what the fuck? Those eyes are titled wrong.” The newest issue, number seven, I concentrated on drawing better. In number six, I don’t like the drawing in it. I wanted to draw better, so I worked harder on that.
Beyond the length, do you think the Lincoln book is something you couldn’t have done a few years ago?
Yeah. It wouldn’t have looked as good. I started it two years ago, and I look at the pages I did then, and it’s really awful. I put out a mini-comic of the early stuff I did, to bring to SPX. I looked at it a couple of years ago and said, “Jesus Christ, I actually showed this to people at SPX? I showed Chris Duffy this thing?” I’m getting better and I’m working harder at getting better.
Did you go back and re-draw the early stuff?
Yeah, I did. I know you shouldn’t do that.
Two years is a long time.
It is! And I’m still redrawing stuff that I did, even like a year ago. I don’t know when it’s going to be done. I told myself in January that I was going to finish the book by February. This is going to be done. As it goes, I can imagine myself 30 years old, working on this one book.
[Concluded in Part Four.]