Interview: Joseph Remnant Pt. 3 [of 4]

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Remnant-Crumb-Movie

In this third part of our interview with the Cleveland cartoonist, we discuss drawing the perfect Harvey Pekar, being embarrassed by your early work, and how best to grow beyond your influences.

[Part One][Part Two]

Was the feeling of stepping up your game solely due to the desire to honor Harvey, or did you anticipating increased attention being paid, since it will be one of his final books?

That might have been some of it. I might have had that thought. I know it’s not the last book—there are still several books that are coming out, but I think it’s the most personal of all the books that are coming out. So there is the feeling that it’s, in some ways, kind of a swan song. And this is my first full length graphic novel, even though I’m just the illustrator. So, there’s a lot of pressure. I know a lot of people will be reviewing it, so I want it to be as good as it can possibly be.

What’s the official release date?

We don’t have an official date. It’s probably either going to be December or January.

How many issues of Blindspot have you released?

I finished the first one, and after I put that out, I almost immediately started working with Harvey. So I’m working on the second one now. I’m hoping to have that done by the time the book comes out.

I know I first saw your work as part of the Pekar Project—which I imagine is the case with most people. What had you been working on, prior to that?

I had been doing comics for Arthur Magazine. That’s actually how I was introduced to Harvey. Jay Babcock, the editor of Arthur, had asked me to do a comic strip review of Rebel Visions, the Patrick Rosencrantz book on underground comics. So I did some stuff for them, and then one day Jay Lynch, the underground cartoonist from the 70s, called me up out of the blue, after seeing that strip. We talked for a while, and then we talked about Harvey. Jay Lynch is actually the one who sent my work to him. And a couple of weeks later, I got a call from Harvey.

For years after art school, I didn’t want to put anything out that I knew I would hate. So I spent years practicing, drawing comics and just throwing them away. And even when I look at Blindspot now, I cringe after doing a whole other book. Most people don’t know my original work at this point. That’s the stuff that will be coming out the year after Cleveland.

You spoke earlier about the progress you made as an artist while working on Cleveland. Can you look at the beginning and the end of the book and notice a marked improvement?

Yeah, I can. I don’t know if other people can. When I finished the book, I went back and started looking at the earlier pages. It’s the same thing—I just cringe. I went back and redrew every image of Harvey in the first 50 pages. And also a lot of little things in the background.

That’s funny, because I’d have assumed that you’d be able to draw Harvey in your sleep. You’ve drawn him so many times.

Yeah, but it’s not that way. I don’t feel like I’ve really got him. I’ve got his face, but not the way he stands and walks around. I feel like I got it about halfway through. I used a ton of whiteout and redrew it. It was a huge pain in the ass. It was three weeks of just redrawing.

Is it the fact that there are so many drawings of him in the world already? Is the bar really high?

That’s not really what it was for me. It was more me being my own worst critic. By the end of the book, knew I had it down really well. So, naturally the beginning of the book looked terrible to me. I knew that I would be sitting at a convention looking at the book and just cringing.

Even now, I’m going to APE in October. It’s the first indie show that I’m going to be tabling at. And I’m going to be sitting there with my dumb issue of Blindspot. It’s going to be mortifying. It represents me from two or three years ago, when I was working on the thing. I’m kind of dreading that [laughs].

Getting back to the Jay Lynch thing—you draw a lot of comparisons to the work of cartoonists from the 60s and 70s. Do you think that’s a little overstated?

Crumb is definitely my main influence. I didn’t even read comics as a kid. Most cartoonists read superheroes and then slowly changed into what they’re doing now. For me, I was a painting major, and in the same year, I saw the Crumb movie, American Splendor, and Ghost World. Those movies had such a profound effect on me that I decided to start drawing comics after that—especially the Crumb movie.

I originally wanted to be like Leonardo da Vinci. I was obsessed with the drawings that he’d do in his notebooks. I’d sit there and copy those notebooks. That had a huge effect on me, and I still see that in my work now. I feel like people who only have a casual understanding of comics will only see Crumb in my work, but for me, there’s a lot of different influences, like da Vinci and Chester Brown.

When I look at my work, I don’t see Crumb’s influence as much, but other people still do.

Are you consciously trying to break from it?

Not really. I tried at one point to draw more minimalistically, but I just didn’t like the way it looked. So, I just made a decision to just draw like I draw and let it progess into its own thing. For me, it’s doing that. Whenever somebody else looks at my work, they still see Crumb in it—and I do too.

The only way I think you can do it is to let it happen naturally—to just keep working, and eventually it becomes its own thing.

Even the choice of the floppy as the format for Blindspot is a bit of a throwback. It’s not a format that a lot of people in indie comics are using these days. Is there a reason why you’re sticking with it?

It just feels like the right thing to do. I don’t know what else to do. Putting stuff on the Internet just doesn’t feel as solid to me. I don’t really read webcomics ever. I’ll seek out people’s comics—I’m probably stupid for doing that, I don’t know. At Comic Con, I just picked up a bunch of comics like Kevin Huizenga, which I thought was really great. Noah Van Sciver is one of my favorites. Lisa Hanawalt is still doing books like that.

Hers are more minis.

Is there a distinction?

In terms of format. If you’re sticking it in a spinner rack, it would fit alongside the new issue of X-Men—versus doing a small Xerox copy of a book with a silkscreen cover.

Yeah, that’s true. I don’t think about that too much. I just want to make a comics that’s the way I know how to put it out. Eventually I want to put out a collection of that stuff as a book. And a graphic novel, as well. But it just seems like the thing to do is make a comic as a comic.

[Concluded in Part Four]

–Brian Heater

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