We wrap up our interview with Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds by discussing book distribution, how not to be precious, and the publisher’s online future.
You alluded to Weirdo before. If part of the burden of putting this out was the man hours that went into production, do you think Mome had to exist as a trade paperback-sized book? Versus the more traditional floppy?
Yeah, I do. That was very much inherent to the purpose of the anthology, which was we could get it into more venues by making it a book. If it had been a comic book, it would have been inherently relegated to comic book shops—which is fine, but by putting a spine on it, it could get distributed Norton, and that was important to me. There was an influence from places like McSweeney’s, and I saw some of the success that they were having with that. By virtue of it being a book, they could have it both ways, as far as selling it as a periodical or a work of literature.
I was trying to have that with Mome. And selling it with our book distributor, especially in 2004—it’s easy to take it for granted now, but back then, it was still kind of a wild west of book distribution for comics publishers. Jimmy Corrigan and David Boring came out from Pantheon in 2001, and I think that was a real turning point for graphic novels being treated as works of literature. And also in terms of being stocked in a wide variety of book stores. And we’d been working with Norton since 2001.
It was still fairly early on, in terms of getting your book out there, beyond comic book stores. And it was exciting. So it had to have a spine on it for that reason.
Beyond distribution there’s a sort of…classiness that comes with the book being a little larger, in terms of actually selling it to people who wouldn’t be caught dead in a comic shop.
I guess that’s maybe true. I don’t personally feel that way. I didn’t want it to be a book because I felt that it was classier. I have no problem with the down and dirty, low brow roots of comic books.
That’s clear from a lot of what Fantagraphics puts out.
Yeah, and I don’t want comics to become this precious art form. It’s more than that. So, you might be right in as far as what I thought the readers would accept—what the “marketplace” would want to see. And I think you might be right that it’s a little more palatable, dressed in this classier book form, Granta-esque looking thing. But I wasn’t doing that because it was precisely what I wanted it to be.
I think Mome actually got better as I actively stopped worrying about who the readership might be, and actively indulged my own interests.
Was it more precious at the beginning?
I think it was, yeah. We sort of had this idea of making it a collective like Zap—this kind of exclusive club.
And you mentioned McSweeney’s, which is great, but is one of the most precious things you can buy.
Absolutely, absolutely, and I think we did have a little bit of that in us when we started, but I just kind of loosened up over time and just indulged my whims, and I think it was better for it. I think that began to happen as early as the fifth or sixth issue. And I think, by the end of it—you can point to a lot of things that we probably would have leaned against publishing at the beginning.
It sounds like this all happened around the time that you took the reigns.
I guess so. When Gary first started, we spent a lot of time going back and forth, and it kind of roughly broke down as, “Gary likes these guys, I like these guys. Let’s team up and put them altogether.” I don’t remember either one of us vetoing someone else’s choice, but it was a little more of a committee process to it. Whereas, by the end, it was just me alone in my room, thinking, “this is cool, I’ve gotta include this.”
That’s the way comics should be enjoyed.
Yeah, and I’ve got enough confidence in my own taste to pull that off.
We briefly touched on the Internet as a distribution method earlier, and I know Top Shelf really took the idea of doing basically a Web anthology and running it. Is that something that interests you?
I don’t know. That’s a complicated question. Putting comics online is definitely of interest to myself and all of us at Fantagraphics, for sure. We know that that’s only going to continue to grow. It has certain advantages and disadvantages. But I don’t know if I necessarily want to edit an online anthology, per se. I don’t know why… I know if it’s just that I enjoy the tactile pleasures of print, or what, but—and this is my own personal preference—it doesn’t seem to quite exist when it’s on the Internet, which is quite paradoxical. The Internet has the potential to reach a lot more people that print, in this day and age, and yet, you don’t have that physical object to hold as proof that you did what you did.
I’m interested in comics on the Internet as an extension of print, but when it just becomes exlusively online—that makes my sound like a complete luddite, and I don’t think I am… You here so many people in the book business saying things like, “I just like to read things on paper.” Okay, I share that to an extent… When it’s exclusively online, it becomes this unreal, transitory sort of thing.
Dash did Bodyworld, and I think that was a perfect Webcomic and ultimately meant to be read, and it’s probably even a better read on the Web than in print, but the book just gives it something, somewhow.
To get back to that analogy from earlier, I know some people do consider the Web to still be a sort of a farm leaguer for publishing—a chance for people to get their stuff out there and get a book deal.
Yeah, I suppose so. Unless you’re one of those anomalies that can singlehandedly build your own cottage industry.
A Kate Beaton.
Yeah. For some people self-publishing is a perfectly valid way to go, but I don’t think a lot of artists and writers want to be bothered with that side of things, and that’s where I think a publisher, whether it’s print or otherwise, brings something to the table. You don’t have to worry about the business. Let other people do that. You can just do what you do.