This is just how it goes sometimes in the interview game—you often don’t get a chance to fully discuss a topic until it’s gone. And sure, I had plenty of opportunities to set up an interview with Eric Reynolds—I’ve known him for a number of years, first as the long time publicist for Fantagraphics, and then as its publisher, and for the past six years, the editor of Mome. It’s on the occasion of that anthology’s 22nd and final issue that Reynolds and I finally sat down to discuss its history.
In this four-part interview, we chat about the publishing climate at Fantagraphics that drove Mome’s creation and the internal and external forces that led to its death, a half-dozen years later–and, of course, all of the highs and lows in between.
It’s kind of a bummer that we’ve known each other for a few years and haven’t done an official interview, and now we’re doing it under—is this sad circumstances?
No, I don’t think so. Bittersweet, I guess. But, you know, I guess it would be more sad if I wasn’t the one who made the decision, if it was imposed by external forces.
You’ve got a fair amount of control over these things, right? I’m sure that everything has to go through Gary and Kim, but you’ve got a good title.
Yeah, yeah. I do. They kind of let me do what I want to do. With Mome, even though Gary and I started it, by the end, it was just me and they were completely hands off. They never really said, “Eric, you really might want to wrap this thing up.”
But on the other hand, because of my larger role, I was pretty aware of where Mome fit in the overall scheme of things.
I’ve always thought of Mome as being your baby. I suppose I was under the impression that it was something you’d started, rather than being a joint effort with Gary.
No, it was a joint effort. We both had sort of coincidentally at the time been thinking about starting anthologies. One day we just started talking, and one thing led to another, and we were both co-editing. We both brought very different things to the table, as far as the heavy of lifting of putting the book together. Gary, by virtue of putting other things together, his role just sort of receded a bit, and I took the bull by the horns, and eventually it was just me. It was pretty early on. I couldn’t say what issue, but it had probably taken place by the fifth one. By the sixth issue, I was doing pretty much everything in the book, except for the interviews that Gary was doing for a while.
When you both arrived at this idea of putting together an anthology, was it for the same reasons? Mome’s mission seems to be exposing newer, younger artists.
Yeah, exactly. And at the time when we were both thinking about it, we had a similar idea in mind, as far as why we wanted to start an anthology. This would have been around 2004. At the time—and this certainly wasn’t a conscious thing—it seemed like we were sort of at a low ebb, as far as publishing brand new artists. We were sort of settled into a fairly stable roster of people that we’d been publishing for a long time. We were sort of ramping up our classic stuff.
I just felt like there was just a little bit of a void there, and Gary recognized it, as well. That was really the primary reason. We wanted to publish more people that we weren’t really able to do, in terms of giving them book deals. Oddly enough, it seems like our production on that front really took off along with Mome, as far as publishing new people like Josh Simmons or Paul Hornschemeier, you name it. But that was essentially the reason. I was seeing more and more newer cartoonists coming out that I was interested in, but maybe didn’t have a book in them, yet. And it was really means to an end, as far as working with people that I had been admiring from afar.
Did you ever consider it like a farm league?
No. It’s funny, Rob Clough, who has been totally awesome about reviewing, I think, every issue of Mome, couches it in this farm league metaphor. I suppose it’s kind of apt, but I don’t think I ever saw it as that. It’s really just a matter of wanting to publish some people who haven’t crafted a graphic novel yet, and I have a real love for short stories in comics form, and Mome was just a way to do that.
Part of my motivation was the fact that everybody was so focused and increasingly focused on long-form work, that I sometimes worry that it’s almost to the detriment to the art form, because almost ever cartoonist that you can name who started doing comic books and personal anthologies of short pieces, whether it’s Chris Ware or Dan Clowes or Jim Woodring—you name it. All of the really A-list guys really paid their dues doing short pieces for years and years, and now it seems like everybody graduates from SCAD or CCS, and is embarking on a 300 page opus. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, but I just can’t help but wonder what kind of effect it’s having, not only on the medium, but cartoonists in general. That’s a tall order, to do a 300-page graphic novel when you’re still relatively young and still finding your voice and still finding your visual style. To sustain something like that over the course of a few years while you’re creating it, I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing, but for some cartoonists, it could be a little stultifying.
And I’ve had a lot of cartoonists tell me that they’ve enjoyed having Mome, because otherwise they haven’t had an opportunity to experiment with shorter pieces like that. I know Dash Shaw in particular, I’d like to think it’s been a really useful venue for him to create stuff that he otherwise wouldn’t have.
Is the Web filling that void?
That’s a good question, and I suppose it definitely is. And you’d have to ask the cartoonists themselves about this, but as much as that’s true, I think there’s something to be said about being asked to create something for print.
And for Fantagraphics.
Yeah, maybe and for Fantagraphics, too. That would be cool. I’d like to think that that would be true.
There’s a prestige there.
Well, I don’t really feel like that’s for me to say, but I guess I think there’s some truth to that. But I do think that the Web does fill that void to an extent, but to use Dash as an example again, he wouldn’t have just done those stories for the Web. He did them for Mome, to be in print. He could have taken it on himself to create them anyway and put them on his Website, like he did Bodyworld, but I don’t think he was going to. And I think that’s true about a lot of the stuff that was in there.
[Continued in Part Two.]