We wrap up our interview with the Big Questions author by discussing printmaking, the importance of wandering, and figuring out the riddles of the universe.
Is it possible to over think art?
Maybe for some people [laughs]. I feel like I can think about it all day and it’s just fine. Some people think about it too much and it shuts them down—they stop having fun doing what they’re doing, or it stops being fun to read. If you’re doing conceptual comics and the result is boring, then you just totally failed. But hopefully the more you’re aware of what you’re doing, the more you can do it well. I like thinking about stuff too much [laughs].
You took printing courses in school.
I did take some printing. When I was at the Art Institute, I took an offset printing class. I never really got into printmaking in a traditional way. People would often encourage me to do etchings because I was always doing careful line work or a lot of cross hatching. And I love good etchings. I love looking at Goya and Rembrandt etchings.
But I hate the process of that stuff. There’s so much happening between you wanting to do something and you making final artwork. I just want to get my pen and a piece of paper and draw. I don’t want to have to think about acid bath and how I’m rolling the ink onto the plate.
You were printing your own minicomics. Did that knowledge of print making inform the layout of your work?
I would tend to say not. My experience with comics and zines probably had more to do with that than traditional printmaking. But some of that stuff might have filtered into my brain without me knowing about it. But going to Kinkos and Xeroxing stuff out of your sketchbook feels so different than making an etching, it’s so immediate and user-friendly and idiot-proof.
I mean, it’s not really, because if you look at some of those old Big Questions, they’re kind of a mess. But that’s what it is. That’s what photocopying at Kinkos at midnight is all about. It’s not about beautiful editions, it’s about getting shit out there.
Ten years of work went into this book.
Yeah, ten or 12.
You clearly appreciate the raw qualities of your early work, but is it ever difficult to look at it?
Not really. I remember why it existed the way it did. I think I made my peace pretty early on with the fact that it had started this way and that it had evolved and transformed, and that’s the nature of the project and the nature of the book and story. It’s necessary. And I like that that will be part of the experience of the book, seeing my changes as an author.
Chester Brown’s Ed the Happy Clown is clearly an example of that. He clearly doesn’t know what he’s doing when he starts, and you see him discover the story in these little experiments that he does. And that’s one of the wonderful things about that book. It’s this amazing story, but you’re also getting this weird little window into the life of the artist.
Have you attempted to maintain that spontaneity into your career?
Yeah, that’s super important to me. I really like not knowing where I’m going [laughs]. I often feel that if I know exactly what I’m doing, then I might as well just stop. It’s more fun to discover stuff. If you know what you’re doing, it’s not as fun. I’ve discovered little stories over the years where I have this very particular idea about what it’s about and what’s going to happen, and I often feel like I don’t even need to do it, because I already know what it is.
But it never ends up exactly like it is in your head.
That’s true. And there were definitely parts in Big Questions where I did know where I was going, but I left it open where i could let a scene go off in a different direction. And the philosophical themes in that book—it’s about how weird and mysterious the world is, so it was important to me to investigate something I didn’t really feel like I understood.
Do you understand the world a bit better now, having written almost 700 pages about it?
I can maybe talk about not knowing what it is more coherently [laughs].
So it wasn’t a total loss.
I didn’t really expect to have the mysteries of the world revealed. It’s just fun to poke around in there.