This interview was conducted in the Fall of 1999 by Marc Bryant and appeared on PopImage.com.
Tell us about Jack’s Luck Runs Out.
Well, it was an exercise that sort of took on a life of its own. The idea was to eliminate my stronger skills from the drawing equation, i.e., pretty faces, flashy perspectival drawing, and pretty color. Then I could work on other skills, like pacing, body language, that sort of thing. So, I figured it would an exercise of just a few pages, but it turned into a whole comic book. And, I really regretted its length when I photocopied all those playing card faces. I spent nine straight hours hunched over a copy machine, gripping my scissors and my sizing wheel. Other customers came up politely asking if they could interrupt just to make one copy…but I threatened them with my scissors and they went away.
So you started with the faces, or…
I drew and inked the whole thing and pasted in the faces last.
And then you colored it. Did you use Photoshop?
Right, Photoshop. I did most of it on a crappy PC 486 with about a thimbleful of RAM. I had to cut each page into four strips and save each one as an indexed color file just to minimize disk space. Later, as I was finishing up the book, I got hired to work at MTV Animation, and they had really great souped-up computers that I could exploit. I ended up coloring the last six pages of the book in one epic thirty-six hour session. I was there, alone in the dark in this windowless room playing the same two Doors and Led Zepplin CDs that the MTV grunge kids had left there -- over and over just to keep myself awake. At about twenty-eight hours into the session, in the middle of the Doors’ "The End", I lost awareness of my body, and I just sort of floated into the computer screen (laughter). After dropping off the disk at the express mail place I felt jubilant, and treated myself to crepes and a glass of red wine. After two bites I fell asleep.
What influenced your decision to publish this book in color? It’s an almost unheard of extravagance in the world of alternative comics.
You know, I think working in color is really not that big a deal. Underground cartoonists complain about the ever-shrinking audience, and how we’ve got to find new readers and new outlets for our work. I feel like color is a great way to reach out to these potential readers. Color can create -- when used carefully -- can create an incredible sense of presence, of atmosphere. So I feel like color is completely worth the extra time it takes. So, getting back to your question, Jack’s Luck just screamed out to be given a neat, challenging limited palette. So I made that part of the assignment, to use only the four flat colors you see on playing cards.
You published the book with help from the Xeric Foundation…but it came out in cooperation with Top Shelf. How did that come about?
They’re really a great couple of fellows…Brett Warnock and Chris Staros, the Top Shelf partners. I met them at SPX ’97 and they were really friendly and supportive. They said they would love to publish Jack but they couldn’t afford the color printing bill. So they suggested I apply for the Xeric grant, and then offered to let me solicit Diamond through them, under their umbrella. Now, actually, they’ve got some color projects in the works – a book by Gregory Benton, and the Top Shelf anthology is going to have a color signature in it.
So, you were working for MTV Animation…
Right. When I was there, my boss – the storyboard supervisor -- was Ted Stearn, the Fuzz and Pluck guy, one of the original Rubber Blanket people. A fine fellow, really easy to work for. I learned a lot from him.
Are you still at MTV?
No, I quit there a few months ago. I do my own cartoon strips and illustration in my studio at home now.
Can you see Jack’s Luck Runs Out as an animated short?
I thought about that, actually. I can’t really spare the time to do it myself, but I would certainly be interested in working with an animator on something like that. But most of my animation fantasies center around my new character, Bee.
Tell us about Bee and Shutterbug Follies.
Bee is my new weekly comic strip, also in color. I’m in the process of shopping it around to alternative weekly newspapers. It’s about this cute red-haired girl named Bee whose curiosity perpetually gets her embroiled in mystery-thriller type situations. What I’m working on now -- the first book’s worth of strips [Shutterbug Follies] – starts with Bee’s first job after high school. She works at a photo-processing place, and amuses herself by collecting copies of all the titillating pictures that come through. You know, like some guy will burst into the bathroom and take a picture his girlfriend on the toilet…pictures of strippers at bachelor parties, that sort of grotesque sexuality. But then she discovers photos of a naked corpse. So she figures out who the photographer is, and starts spying on this guy, and becomes obsessed with him and his sinister activities. Then more corpses start popping up, and Bee really gets in over her head.
Sounds exciting! So does the strip continue after that story arc, or is it a finite series?
No, it continues, but a fresh story starts with Bee and the core characters. Each story will run from fifty to a hundred pages or so, and then will get collected into a color book. And readers will be able to pick up any book in the series and not have to worry about having to be familiar with any sort of lengthy back-story. I want to steadfastly avoid the sort of endless superhero soap opera continuity that has become the norm among monthly comic books.
Do you read any monthly comic books?
I’m really enjoying Paul Pope’s Heavy Liquid. That’s a miniseries, though, so it doesn’t really fit the description I just gave. Anyway, it’s really great. I’m a devoted Papist. That guy really knows how to draw high-tension action.
What else are you reading these days?
I’m a complete fanatic about Marc-Antoine Matthieu’s series Julius Corentin Acquefacques, Prisoner of Dreams. It’s in French, which I don’t read a word of, but that doesn’t impede my enjoyment of the work by one whit. Incredible high-contrast lighting, and a surreal dream space not unlike [Terry] Gilliam’s Brazil. Someone has to translate this stuff immediately. Let’s see, what else…I really liked Lewis Trondheim’s color Lapinot stuff, Harum Scarum and The Hoodoodad.
How about film, or books –
Oh, right, sure. Let’s see, I really got a kick out of Hitchcock’s Frenzy. It’s from the early seventies, and its got nudity, profanity, rape…all the filthy stuff he was dying to put on display years before. There was a massive Hitchcock retrospective at Film Forum here in New York recently, and I just soaked in the stuff. Let’s see, I really was excited by Henry Fool…directed by Hal Hartley ...filled with fantastic characters that reinvent themselves right before your eyes. A really moving story. He’s done some of my favorite films.
What are you reading now?
I’m about halfway through [Vladimir] Nabokov’s autobiography, Speak Memory. He’s probably my favorite author right now. His Pale Fire is certainly my favorite novel.
We’ve gotten completely away from comics here, so let me steer you back a bit. Are there any characters that you would like to take a shot at drawing, if given the artistic freedom to do it your way?
You know, I always fantasized about getting a gig doing Spiderman…but now the magic in it seems to have dissipated for me. All that involuted continuity since the costume change in issue # 252 has left me completely cold. On the other hand, if somebody put it on my plate I would probably do it. But I wouldn’t want it to be an act of vandalism. And I don’t think I could do Spiderman any better than Ron Regé did in Coober Skeber #2.
Let’s talk about the Web for a moment. Do you feel that the Internet is a good vehicle for comics?
Sure! Comics people always talk about comics on the web, and there are plenty of comic book web sites, but not too many of them actually have comics on them that you can read. I guess cartoonists are afraid that no one will stick around for the long image loading times. I think web users are willing to wait a whole one-minute-per-page of download time for a quality comics read. After all, when we go to the comics shop, we don’t read the whole book standing there in the store, we have to wait to take it home to read it. Also, it’s the web is potentially a great way to make available all sorts of out-of-print cartoon material. I can see someone like Randall Scott at MSU [the Michigan State University comic books and strips special collection] scanning all manner of old out-of-print public domain stuff for access via the web. Wouldn’t that be great?
Speaking of the web, what’s the best way for readers to find your stuff right now?
Thanks for the segue there. I’ve just put up a new site at www.beecomix.com. Interested readers can visit every Sunday morning for a new installment of Bee.