In this third part of our interview with Fantagraphics’s associate publisher, we discuss the importance of new cartoonists, losing artists to competing publishers, and the importance of the number 22.
It’s easy to get caught up in following a small group of cartoonists that you love. The challenge is going out there and attempting to find new work. Did working on Mome affect your reading habits?
I don’t know if Mome affected my reading habits or my reading habits affected Mome.
Maybe a little bit of both?
Maybe a little bit of both. I’m sure that must be true to an extent. But also, just by virtue of my larger role at Fantagraphics, I’m already always doing that. I’m already looking for new stuff. So, whether it’s for an anthology or its for a larger publishing entity, I think your brain just kind of works that way when you’re going to shows or going to bookstores or whatever. You’re kind of always reading with an eye towards whether something could be publisher, or what have you.
Fantagraphics seems to be at the point where it can comfortably rest on its laurels and publish everything the Hernandez Brothers do—I was going to mention some other names there, but I suppose that Pantheon has…I don’t know if “poached” is the right word.
People have gone over there, They’ve obviously got a larger infrastructure at Random House. It’s probably difficult to blame people too much, when they hop from publisher to publisher.
Yeah. You can’t feel too proprietary about it, or it’ll get you down. I mean, the same thing happens in every creative industry. Nirvana didn’t stay on Subpop. So, if anything, it just gives you incentive to reinvent yourself and find new artists. And it’s weird—my own tastes very much lie toward the past. I’m a huge fan of all of the classic comics we publish.
My two passions in comics are old strips like Popeye and the great cartoonists that I came of age reading, like Clowes and Charles Burns and the Hernandez Brothers. But, as much as that’s the stuff I dearly love, it’s the new stuff we’re publishing, the new artists, the sort of unexpected things that, on a day to day basis, keep me motivated and keep my interest in publishing, from day to day.
Love and Rockets is just about my favorite comic in the world, and I couldn’t be more proud to be involved in publishing that every year, but I wouldn’t want to get to the point where we’re only publishing two Peanuts books a year and a Love and Rockets. It would become too routine and too familiar. You want to keep yourself on your toes a little more, and that’s where Mome was really great. But I do also get that in other aspects of working at Fantagraphics.
I imagine there’s a little more personal pride when a Wally Gropius comes out, versus a Krazy Kat book.
Yeah, absolutely. Wally Gropius is a perfect example. That’s easily one of the books I’m more proud of being involved in than anything in my 20 years of being involved in Fantagraphics. I just love that book, and I don’t think Wally Gropius would exist, if not for Mome. Tim [Hensley] really didn’t harbor any grand desires to do a graphic novel, until we asked him, and I don’t think he would have done it. So I’m more than happy to take some pride in that one [laughs]. Other stuff you might be a little more humble about. But that book I adore and I just adore him, and I think he’s just a brilliant cartoonist. That was definitely probably the highlight of my 2010 publishing life.
Was there ever any though with regards to handing the anthology off to somebody, or did you assume from the beginning that it would die when you were done with it?
That’s a good question. I never did. Maybe I should have been like Crumb and handed it over to Peter Bagge. That never even occurred to me. What did occur to me, which is sort of along the same lines, is I did contemplate asking a couple of friends to either special edit or continually co-edit with me. But I never really pursued it that far.
A few issues back, I was contemplating asking someone to guest edit, basically.
Curate an issue.
Yeah. I’m not sure why I didn’t, except that I came to the decision to end it. When I came to that decision, it happened pretty quick. It was really because I like the number 22, and I thought the number 22 would be a great issue to end it on. It was really that simple.
Almost. My birthday is June 22nd, my wife’s is November 22nd, my sister’s is September 22nd, my sister’s daughter is May 22nd, and my wife and I were married on April 22nd.
You’ve got a six month stretch blocked out.
Yeah, virtually ever 22nd on the calendar is sort of a memorable date for me. A couple of issues ago, I was considering ending it with issue 25, because 25 is such a nice, round number, but when it finally occurred to me that I could do it with 22, it just felt special and right to me. So, it happened pretty fast, so I wasn’t able to do any of the things I was just talking to, like having a guest editor.
Also, Jason Miles, who works at Fantagraphics, is a really good friend of mine, and I talk comics with him constantly. He’s a guy that I’m very simpatico with, in terms of taste. He must have been working at Fantagraphics, when I started Mome, but I think he might have been working at our warehouse at the time. He’s someone that I could easily see myself co-editing with, and he’s someone I considered involving more, but ultimately, I think my train of thought was that I’d rather end it and start something else, rather than keep Mome going.
Now that you mention it, it’s kind of an interesting idea, but it hadn’t even occurred to me. It just seemed like if I wasn’t going to do, no one was going to do it.
Are you speaking of anything specific, when you say “something else?”
No, no, I’m really not. But I’m sure there will be something else. It might even be Mome again. Who knows? But I just wanted to take a break. We’ve been doing it quarterly for almost six years. I wasn’t burned out at all, but I also just didn’t want to get to any point where it was a little too routine. And I don’t think it was, but six years is a long time. And it was 2,500 pages of comics, or something like that. It just seemed right. There’s no bad feeling about it.
If anything, I’m now having certain pangs of regret about it, because I really do enjoy communicating with all of the cartoonists. And it’s only now hitting me that I won’t necessarily have an excuse to talk to this or that person, which puts the onus on me keep in better touch with people.
[Concluded in Part Four]