Interview: Noah Van Sciver Pt. 4 [of 4]

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dueling van sciver

We wrap up our interview with the Blammo artist by discussing Victorian trash, Lincoln’s run in with a prostitute, and whether the cartoonist can handle negative feedback.

[Part One][Part Two][Part Three]

How far are you into the Lincoln book?

About halfway.

The story’s all done?

Yeah. I wrote the story, thank god, in a sketchbook. I wrote it all out. That was a big accomplishment for me. But actually drawing it… You’ll have to see… I’ve been meaning to post stuff on my blog. Like “here’s what the stuff looks like.” But when I’m about to post it, I rethink it. It looks kind of crappy. I have low self-esteem.

Have you ever serialized something online? Have you done any Webcomics?

No. Well, I have my blog that I post random comics on, but I’ve never serialized anything. I have to have the whole thing finished before I serialize it, because I think serializing is going to jinx the project or something.

You’re not hesitant about the medium so much as having to complete a full story and then put it up?

Yeah. I have no qualms with Webcomics. I just don’t think that I can do it unless I’ve drawn the whole thing out. I did a comic called “The Death of Elijah Lovejoy,” that I finished and posted on my blog. I guess that makes it a Webcomic, since it was first published on my Website.

So Blammo is still going, even as you’re working on this longer piece?

Yeah, I’ve been working on it since Blammo #5. I’ll take breaks and then put out an issue of Blammo. I get tired of being stuck in the 19th century.

Was the desire settings and characters from that period one of the major reasons for starting the book?

I like to, but I can’t just get stuck in it for too long. I’m afraid that it will damage how I draw current stuff.

Really?

I don’t know, man. I’m going to start giving everybody petticoats. Everybody is going to have really large lapels.

Is drawing the old stuff affected by your modern sensibilities? Are you subconsciously bringing modern elements into the Lincoln story?

Sometimes I will, yeah. I’ll give somebody skinny jeans, or something. “Oh shit, I gotta fix that.”

Hipster Lincoln.

Yeah, exactly. Stuff like that. Or just stupid stuff like light fixtures. That’s another reason this book is taking me so long. I didn’t realize how much goddamn research I was going to have to do. it’s a lot of shit, and you’ve got to figure it all out. What does Victorian trash look like? The streets were just filled with garbage. But what kind of garbage? What does that mean? What were people throwing away back then?

That’s not something you can use a movie to reference, because entertainment tends to gloss over that.

But that’s how it was, right? Because there weren’t trash men back then. When people were done with their stuff—their newspapers, or whatever—they’d just throw them out in the streets. And horses would just walk all over them, or shit all over them. But what other kinds of trash would be in the street? Not soda bottles.

This is going to be a gross book. Horseshit and trash all over the place.

Yeah, and pigs running around everywhere. It was really messy and everything smelled really bad.

Do you enjoy drawing that grimey aspect of things? Is that part of the appeal for you?

Yeah. I haven’t gotten that much into it as I might. What I’m thinking is, as the story gets more depressing, the griminess of life is going to come more into focus in the book.

It seems like you could do a store in that time period and just skip past that stuff—plenty of movies and TV shows do. Unless there’s some appeal in it, you can easily skip it.

Yeah, exactly. But that’s how it was. All of the men would just visit prostitutes. It was really rough. They’d dress it up, though, in America we make it really glamorous. It looks good.

Are we going to see Lincoln with a hooker?

Yeah. I drew something that’s up on Top Shelf about Lincoln visiting a prostitute. I didn’t make that up, but people were immediately like, “what the fuck was that?” It’s not in your history books, but you should read Lincoln’s Melancholy or something.

There are certain things you can fudge when doing a story like this, but that’s the sort of thing it’s important to verify.

Yeah. And I’ve also read stuff that I’m going back and forth on whether I want to include, like when he thinks that he contracted an STD from a prostitute. He talks to his friend about it, and he’s really worried about getting married to Mary, because he thinks that she’s going to find out. I don’t know if I should include it. I don’t know if I want that as part of the story. But all of the prostitute stuff is just because he’s really lonely.

You’re humanizing him through his flaws.

Yeah, exactly. But that’s the thing I like about Lincoln—that’s one of the things that America likes about him, that he’s so flawed.

Is it hard to make someone sympathetic, when they do something like that? It was far more acceptable at the time, but looking at it through a 21st century lens, it’s easier to judge his character negatively.

Well, I hope that people would understand while reading it that it wasn’t really anything to be ashamed of then. Also, Lincoln shared share a bed with his friend, and nowadays, people are like, “well, he was gay. He must have been a homosexual sleeping in a bed with another guy.” But no one was on the search for homosexuals back then. That’s a modern thing, to study what people are doing and try to figure out whether they’re gay or not.

Sot that’s not something that you explore in the book?

No. I shouldn’t even have to [laughs]. I’m not trying to cause controversy. I just don’t believe it. I think it’s stupid. Even letters that he wrote, “I want to be your best friend, Speed.” People are like, “he’s gay! That means wanted to fuck his friend!” They just want controversy.

You’re not looking for controversy, but you’re not shying away from it.

I hope it’s not a big deal. I don’t want people to demonize me. If the book comes out and everybody’s upset about it, that’s going to upset me.

And you don’t want that to be the main reason that people are picking up the book.

Yeah, and I’m such a wuss that if people attack me like that, it would really, really bother me. That’s not what I’m trying to do. I’m just trying to tell a story. I’m not trying to sell books by writing a book where Lincoln visits a prostitute. You know how Comics Comics had that thing on his book where everyone attacked him? I would kill myself, man. If I saw a Website where Frank Santoro was talking about what a schmuck I was, that would really hurt me, man. I would just hang myself.

The more your stuff gets out there, the more you have to deal with negative feedback.

But maybe I can’t [laughs]. Maybe I’m not strong enough. I remember somebody fucked with my Wikipedia page and it really hurt me. I was really depressed for the next week or so.

Maybe it’s in your best interest to remain as obscure as possible.

Maybe. Maybe this Interview shouldn’t be anywhere. I’m just too sensitive. I just have to toughen up, I guess. But I just want everyone in the world to like me.

–Brian Heater

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