Thursday, October 1, 2015

Interview with Mark Nasso

Houston based Mark Nasso is a comic maker and illustrator. He has been self-publishing and distributing his fantasy series The Land of Rats for 6 issues so far, and founded the Texas based horror anthology Doom Ranch 5000. Mark's amazing set up of comics and prints has been in artist alley across Texas. You can see more of Mark's wor, and

Land of the Rats is a part of a rich tradition of Swords and Sorcery tales. It resonates with luminaries like Robert R Howard and Wally Wood. Who were your main sources of inspiration?

In the late 80s I was heavily into the original Ninja Turtles comics along with every black and white mutant animal parody that followed. Of course, as a 12 year old all of my stories and drawings had mutant animals of some kind.
While not making comics, Dungeons & Dragons also had taken over my life which sparked the interest in the fantasy genre. Then during another phase I was reading a lot of world history and The Bible. I think all of this finally coalesced into Land of the Rats which is about a race of hybrid rat-humans in an otherworldly fantasy setting.

A few years later I was introduced to Dave Sim’s Cerebus and Joseph Michael Linsner’s Dawn which I think anyone will tell you are only Swords & Sorcery on the surface. Those guys are using that genre to explore many topics that you wouldn’t find in typical Swords & Sorcery comics.

Who in the comics industry do you see as contemporaries in the Swords and Sorcery genre?

I may not be the one to ask about what’s currently on the shelves. But once again, I was very inspired by Cerebus and Dawn. Anything Heavy Metal. I think ConanSlaine, and Elfquest are no-brainers. I recently met Devin Kraft and am looking forward to seeing him at Staple. I need to either download or pick up a copy of his fantasy book, Dragon Slayer

What are your thoughts on world building? How much time do you spend developing back-story and how much of grows out of the story in process?

It’s a little of both. Land of the Rats has five issues published with the sixth in the works. I have a history written that goes into detail about the cultures, wars, and other events that occurred before the main story arc. It’s by no means on a Tolkien level but I use it as reference to make sure what I’m writing works and doesn’t contradict a previous chapter. And, along the way, new stories emerge. The collected edition of Land of the Rats has four stories with the first chapter being the one that was created most recently. So as the story progresses you’re watching my art go backward in time. I’m always jumping around in the timeline fleshing out the world in prequels, sequels, etc.

Also, the point-of-view in the stories is sort of first person and told from the rats’ point of view (specifically the rat, Jack Natari). The truth about much of the backstory is intentionally left ambiguous with Jack often wondering if he is being lied to or told the truth by other characters. Which is meant to reflect real life.

What is the process you use when laying out a page?

I don’t work from a Marvel Comics script format but I still arrange my panels and dialogue in the computer. On a sketchpad I do thumbnails and pin them up on the wall and then move them around to see what works. Obviously, you can’t lay out a page without thinking about how it fits into the greater composition.

What are the tools you use for illustrating?

I try to give all of the covers for Land of the Rats  a consistent look and the current five are painted traditionally with acrylic on canvas. The interior is done like most comics with ink on bristol board. I use a brush for most of my heavy lines and various markers and pens for the details.

Do you have any tips for tabling at conventions?

If you know any, please send them my way! I like to think about what convention I’m at and get into the mindset of what the promoters’ goals are and what the attendees are coming to see. If it’s a typical comic con I split my table down the middle with self published works on one side and fan art on the other. For cons like Staple I push the self-publishing front and center and try to debut a new book. For shows that are more artsy or for makers I try to make my space more of a shop or environment and less a dude behind a table staring at you. Everywhere I always try to make new friends or grab a new book or poster.

Your anthology, Doom Ranch 5,000, brought together a lot of talented Texas artist in a really interesting way. How did it come about, and have you ever considered a sequel? 

The idea for Doom Ranch began back in 2011 when I was hanging out with a few friends at the Alamo. I suggested the idea for a book about Texas history and supernatural legends and kept talking about it so much that my friends held me to it until it was printed and a real thing. 

The idea had two parts: the first was that I really wanted to do a Texas-themed project since I love our state and am really into our history. I wanted to do something that would turn the heads of people that aren’t from here and present to them legends that they may not be familiar with. The second goal was to promote local illustrators and show off our talent. And since I’m an introverted artist and a one-man show this was an effort to collaborate with other creators for once. So the plan really worked. The book sells well at conventions and increases awareness about Texas culture and other artists in the community. It also sends traffic to my friends tables so you could say it’s a convention within a convention!

As for a second volume? It’s been talked about and I actually have a few interested artists. I’m still working on promoting the first volume and working on a direction for the second volume that will be fresh and interesting!

Are there other exhibitors your looking forward to hanging out with a Staple?

There are always the usual suspects and friends that you see at every Staple. I don’t want to leave anyone out but some names that we’ve seen previously that have a unique quality to their art and table design are J. Michael Stovall, Chris Ruggia, and Chris Sweet. I’m interested in people that approach things differently from how I would do them. Guys like Robert Stikmanz and Bram Meehan are always positive and supportive of other artists. I hear Mark Nasso is pretty cool.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Flight of the Valkyries

The Flight of the Valkyries
Peter Nicolai Arbo - Valkyrie, 1865

or: How We Got Janelle Asselin to STAPLE!

by Uncle Staple

Synergies - they're awesome. We have some great synergies working this year on the STAPLE! guest list. Most of these talented ladies already know each and are friends, some have collaborated together as well. For example, Kate Leth did all the scout badge designs for Lumberjanes, the comic by our other guests Grace Ellis, Brooke Allen and Shannon Watters.

Kate also started The Valkyries, an affiliation of women who work in comic shops, and some of those Valkyries helped us get Janelle Asselin to STAPLE! I shall explain.

Around the time of Denver Comic Con I saw that Janelle was doing a panel there called Hire This Woman, based on her Comics Alliance column of the same name, which included, among others, my friend Jamie Kinosian (who has also been featured in the column). I thought, especially since we are focusing on women in comics this year, that it would be awesome to get Janelle here to do the same panel with some Texas-based female creators. I asked Jamie to put me in touch with Janelle, which she kindly did.

Happily, Janelle was available that weekend and interested in the idea, we just had to find a way to cover her travel. STAPLE!'s usual sponsors (local comics shops Austin Books, Rogue's Gallery and Dragon's Lair) were already committed to bringing in our other guests, so I couldn't ask them for more help. I talked to a couple shops in Houston, and they weren't able to do it either, at least not in full.

So, I was chatting with my friend Meredith Nudo about this conundrum and she came up with the brilliant idea of reaching out to the Valkyries to ask for assistance. Meredith, among her many other credits, is a Valk herself, and knew that they would be excited about having Janelle at the show, and likely willing to chip in to help make it happen. As it turned out, she was right.

I asked her to take the lead and she diligently went about securing enough donations to completely pay for the cost of Janelle's flight, thereby making Janelle's appearance, and our own Hire This Woman panel possible.

These are the Valkyries (and a couple non-Valks) who contributed to the fund:

Meredith Nudo - Pop & Schlock Podcast
Annie Bulloch - 8thDimension Comics & Games
Alva Coto & Jessi Jordan - Third PlanetSci-Fi Superstore
Sarah Simes - @allaloam
Leia Calderon - SubCultured
Jesus Garza - SpaceCity Nerd
Danni Danger - WeirdGirls!
Bedrock City ComicCompany

I am deeply indebted to them and humbled by their willingness to help, and very touched by the sense of community and coming together to make this happen, which is part and parcel of what STAPLE! is all about. Connections, synergies, cooperation, community.

We reached out to that community and asked some of our guests, panelists, and friends to tell us what they felt was good about STAPLE!'s focus on women and diversity this year, and this is what they had to say:

Janelle Asselin, Comics Alliance: “I think the easy answer is that it matters because no one ever thinks twice about all the guests at a convention being guys, but diversity - even just having things like panel parity - is seen as something that requires an extensive amount of effort. Staple has put together a guest list that seems to excite attendees that just happens to be entirely female without what seems like a whole lot of effort. It’s a great model for other conventions who might be afraid of too much effort - not only is it not that much effort, but it also does nice things for your reputation.”  (
See bio for Janelle at:
Maria-Elisa Heg:  “It's really exciting to see so many amazing women getting the recognition they so richly deserve, and an honor to included alongside such talented individuals.”,

Jeanne Thornton: “No one can represent a group like a member of that group: if you want believable, recognizably human women in comics, then women must make those comics. The more humanity we have in the comics--the more comics exist where women can see ourselves legitimately represented, the more comics exist in which men can see women as subjects who have distinct experiences, ideas, and goals that maybe have nothing to do with said men--the better off everyone is going to be. A century overdue.”

C. M. Bratton: "It's somewhat mind-boggling how women have been portrayed throughout comic history - both in storylines and as creators. I read an article recently that spoke about how nearly all women employees of comic companies were fired when men came back from WWII. We're talking editors, writers, artists, colorists - you name it. And since then, the industry has never quite recovered in terms of equality between genders. But women liking and buying comics is nothing new at all. And women producing comics is just as normal, which is why we deserve equal respect."

C.M. was also recently interviewed by Janelle:
- See bios for these panelists at:

Meredith Nudo: "STAPLE!'s guest list this year reflects how women are by no definition a niche within the comics industry. We're readers, writers, artists, editors, journalists, organizers, publicists, retailers...we ARE comics. We've contributed since the beginning, but historically received less recognition."
- Meredith Nudo is the Comics Editor of Dork Shelf, event organizer at Third Planet Sci-Fi Superstore (comics shop in Houston), a podcaster, a blogger, a zinester, an editor, and general all around badass. She was instrumental in helping to crowd-fund Janelle Asselin’s appearance through the Valkyries. She'll be moderating Janelle's "Pitching Comics" panel at STAPLE!

Danni Danger, Weird Girls: “Indie comics are tricky game: pouring your creative energy to a project, working with limited resources, self-motivating? Just listing those things makes me tired. On the other hand, indie comics are some of the best indicators of what new, fresh outlooks readers want. This year's STAPLE! guest list reflects one of the industry’s biggest demands today: female creators. Bring on the ladies.
Part of what makes this year’s STAPLE! lineup so powerful for me is a small sampling of the collective voices of independent female creators are reaching out to the world, telling other women "I can do this and so can you." It's so much easier and less frightening when you watch other women like you doing it and changing the industry.
I like to think that we'll look back on this time as the beginning of the great emergence of talented women in this industry, and the idea of STAPLE! being a part of that, right here in my backyard gives me hope, and a good deal of pride.”

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

An Interview with LUMBERJANES Writer Grace Ellis and Artist Brooke A. Allen

Grace Ellis is a writer most well-known for co-creating Lumberjanes and her work on the site Autostraddle. She is a proud native of wondrous Ohio and when she’s not coming up with amazing mix-tapes, she’s most likely enjoying nature and the great outdoors.

Brooke Allen is a cartoonist/illustrator spending most days in DC with her best pup Dog Linus drawing Lumberjanes and doing covers and shorts for glorious things like Regular ShowAdventure Time, and Bravest Warriors.

Lumberjanes #1 Cover A
When it launched in 2014, Lumberjanes became an immediate hit for BOOM! Studios, and remains one of the publisher's bestselling original series. Lumberjanes was created by writers Grace Ellis and Shannon Watters, who then brought in artist Brooke A. Allen and co-writer Noelle Stevenson to round out the creative team. Allen, Ellis and Watters are guests at STAPLE! 2015.

Lumberjanes is a true all-ages title, with readers ranging from elementary school kids to adults. Is it a challenge to find the right toneboth in the writing and the artto keep it accessible and engaging for such a broad audience?

Grace Ellis: I don't think so. I mean, from where I'm sitting, the only difference between all-ages media and media "for adults" is that you have to cut out the sex and violence and swearing, in most cases. (And honestly, that's a good writing technique anyway, since I can't tell you how many writing classes I took where people relied on so much on sex and violence to make their stories interesting that it actually became uninteresting; those things work best when they're used with a lot of intention. Anyway.) The most important thing for me is to tell a compelling story. Kids are smart. They'll keep up with you without you stooping to what you think their level is, and I think because Lumberjanes doesn't stoop at all, we were able to find an adult audience as well as a younger audience.

Lumberjanes also contains many references to
famous feminists, who can be Googled if necessary!
Another thing we're trying to do with Lumberjanes—since the world of the story is intentionally rooted in a world that not only shares our frame of pop culture but also references it like we do—is to make sure there's no penalty for not getting all the pop culture references. Like even if you've never seen Terminator, you know it's funny when someone says, "come with us if you want to not get eaten by a raptor." So I think for me, that's really the biggest challenge in writing this particular book, since it's all-ages: finding the line where something is funny to everyone but there's also almost a bonus joke if you're well-versed in pop culture.

Brooke A. Allen: For me, it's been a breeze because I work from the scripts so really the only censorship that happens on my end is to hold off on making things look too scary or too adult but rarely (if ever) have I been in a situation where I think, “Oh, maybe I drew that too gory.” I do remember one time in one of the first few issues ,when I was still grappling with how to draw the characters and render the surroundings, there's Mal and Molly's CPR smooch that I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to draw, and it was a combination of trying not to make it look sexy (because it's an innocent situation) and then just trying to figure out how their weird lil’ faces fit together. Style-wise, I think it was a bit of a struggle for me also to break away from naturally wanting to over-render things and in turn keep the characters more streamlined, which is a different kind of censorship, but visually I think it can be the difference between what's appealing to young readers and what's appealing to adults. So finding the right visual blend of easy readability, complexity, and humor that makes it approachable for any age group is the balancing act.

Were you surprised by the immediate and passionate fan response to Lumberjanes?

GE: Absolutely. I wasn't expecting many people to read it at all, but I'm delighted that people seem to dig it! Sometimes I have to work to convince myself that this isn't just Shannon playing an extremely elaborate prank on me. BUT IF IT TURNS OUT THAT IT IS: I knew it and I'm onto you, Watters.

BAA: Absolutely! I knew Noelle and Grace had fan bases and I hoped their fans would pick it up, but I certainly wasn't expecting the response it got. It was a little overwhelming, but in a good way!

What are the biggest influences on your work?

GE: When I need to get psyched up to write Lumberjanes, I read a bunch of riot grrl zines or old school Girl Scout handbooks and listen to the Gravity Falls extended theme song on repeat while I text Shannon. But I think the biggest influence on the series hasn't been any one thing in particular, but the lack of things and the void this series is kind of constructed to fill. This series is a lot of wish fulfillment; we're lucky enough to be making exactly the series we would've wanted when we were kids, but there was never anything like it when we were growing up, definitely nothing with real live lesbian characters. So really, the biggest influence on Lumberjanes has been all the stories that we wish existed. And also ‘90s tomboy characters, that trope was influential too. And Taylor Swift! Just in general. As a human.

BAA: Cartoons and animation, especially the ones I grew up with like all of the old Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon toons, Disney movies, Don Bluth films like All Dogs Go to Heaven and The Secret of NIMH, Looney Tunes, Hanna-Barbera, if it was animated I loved it (except Spawn...anything but Spawn). Comics-wise, I draw a lot of inspiration from people like Chynna Clugston, Bastien Vives, Walt Kelly, Claire Wendling, and Christophe Blaine just to name a few (it's a long list). And nature. Nature is the best.

Lumberjanes originally was conceived as an eight-issue miniseries, but once it was clear the book was a hit, it was changed to being an ongoing series. What effect did that have on the structure of Lumberjanes' first story arc? Would the miniseries version have ended with the same revelations?

BAA: This is probably better answered by Grace, Noelle, and Shannon but I think the miniseries probably would have ended very much the same, maybe answering a few more questions, but overall pretty similar because I think the first arc was pretty much realized. And then we found out soon after the first issue that it would be ongoing and that gave the first arc a little more room to breathe, but I think key elements of it stayed the same.

GE: Someone put a bug in our ear really early in the process that it was possible that Lumberjanes would get picked up as an ongoing, so we started leaving tiny threads we could pull if we did get picked up and were able to expand the world a little more. So the first arc would've been approximately the same: it was designed to be really episodic and full of fun camp times and friendship before revealing there was a bigger mystery. But now that we have more time, we can worry about the even bigger mystery of what's actually going on at the camp in a broader sense. It's one thing to know that there's something cosmically strange about this place, but it's another to delve into why and how it's affected the camp in the past, present and future, you know? I'm really excited about it. There's a lot of really cool stuff in store.

Lumberjanes badges designed by Kate Leth
If you could receive a Hardcore Comic Creator Type merit badge for a new skill you've mastered in the year since Lumberjanes launched, what would it be?

GE: I want the Patience Makes Perfect badge! It's tough being a writer because your work happens SO LONG before the finished product hits the shelves, so I've learned to contain my excitement until I can share it with everyone else.

BAA: I think earned a platinum Up All Night badge pretty early on... Hopefully this year I’ll get my Time Management badge too.

Aside from Lumberjanes, what other projects are you working on?

GE: I've got a bunch of other irons in the fire, but none of those projects have been announced yet. Not all of them are comics, but I think all of them complement Lumberjanes pretty well, actually. So, vague stuff to look forward to, eh?

BAA: Some short stories for BOOM!, some smaller projects for other companies, mostly  *~*~ secret things~*~*. I'm also working on some new toy designs.

One last question: if it's really cold outside, does Camp Director Rosie change into long pants, or is she so hardcore that it's cargo shorts no matter what?

BAA: I'd have to check with Grace and Noelle for the official answer, but I'm pretty sure she'd wear shorts even in the vacuum of space. Although designing a hardcore lady type parka suit would be fun.

GE: This one is so tough! Hmm. Ok, I feel like she's a cargo shorts kind of gal, but when it gets unbearably cold, I bet she goes for some really nice, insulated snow overalls with some long underwear. But otherwise: cargo shorts for life.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Interview With Dean Trippe

Dean Trippe is the creator of the superhero parody webcomic, Butterfly, co-founder and editor of the superhero redesign art site, Project: Rooftop, illustrator of Oni Press’s Power Lunch children’s books, and was a contributor to the Eisner and Harvey award-winning anthology, Comic Book Tattoo. His most recent work, a short, autobiographical comic dealing with childhood trauma and the power of fictional heroes to save very real lives, is called Something Terrible.
MATT HIRST: Thank you for doing this. These interviews are one of the great perks I get for volunteering for Staple.

DEAN TRIPPE: Thanks so much, man. Means a lot. And no problem! Happy to do it.

MH: You have had a lot of really good interviews, and of course, many great discussions in your own podcasts with Scott Fogg and Jason Horn. Are there any questions that you are surprised you have not been asked?

DT: No one’s really wanted to go too deep on my sick rap skills, but I suppose my album’s been out of print since 2004, so maybe folks today don’t even remember.

MH: Something Terrible can be counted among a number of moving survivor accounts. What I feel differentiates this work is the expression of living with a sense of fear and stigma at being a potential abuser. That seems like an experience that has seldom been shared. Have you found other narrative accounts since you published it that impress you, for this kind of expression or for other reasons?

DT: I hear from folks who’ve had similar experiences multiple times per week, but yeah, it’s rare for folks to come out about being sexually abused and get heavy into the fear and stigmas that come with surviving such crimes. The one that stands out to me came before Something Terrible, David Holthouse’s account of plotting to murder his rapist, presented in TAH episode 425, Slow to React. ( )

MH: Your mini-comic Something Terrible reached millions of readers. Movies made from comics (not just super hero genre) have made millions and won international recognition. I don’t see that level of awareness towards the direct market comic book. What do you think comic book publishers could do better or differently to get more awareness?

DT: The biggest issue that should be at the forefront of everyone’s mind is ACCESS. Every gatekeeper at all levels of the industry should be welcoming to new talent, diverse ideas, and folks just getting into fandom. If you want an industry that can thrive in the 21st century, you have to look beyond the 35-year-old, videogame-playing demographic, and comic shops themselves, have to get way better. There are plenty of excellent shops in the country, but I hear from people all the time who have negative experiences at the only LCS near them. We’ve got to welcome everyone, treat everyone well, and hope each person who enters into our world finds a place where they’ll be safe.

MH: You studied comics in college; what would you say are the top five fiction comics every aspiring comic book creator should read to learn the ins and outs of the art form?

DT: I’ll just list some of my favorites for brilliant visual storytelling: Brubaker and Cooke’s Catwoman arc, Mignola’s Hellboy: The Chained Coffin and Other Stories, Morrison and Quitely’s We3,

MH: Are there any of the other guest that you are looking forward to meeting at Staple 2015?

DT: Oh, dude, everybody! It’s a great list. Too many friends I haven’t seen in too long. I’m so happy to be coming back to Austin. I’m psyched to see Babs Tarr, Jess Fink, Kate Leth, Timothy Doyle, Robert Wilson IV, and so many more of the cool kids of comics world.

MH: Do you have any new projects you are willing to hint about?

DT: I’ve got a teen fantasy revenge story and a bright and shiny superhero book in the works. Hoping to have both of those up this year.

MH: This last question may be crazy, but I have been thinking about this for many years now and I think you may have some great insights -- maybe even some answers? Why do we form such a personal attachment to characters who are:  1) Owned by corporate entities (DC, Marvel, etc.)  2) Largely brought to us by hundreds of creators who give up any ownership stake and control over any innovation  3) Radically removed from the creators and contexts of their generation?
DT: Epic tales have inspired and connected with individuals in our mundane lives for as long as there have been storytellers. When civil rights preachers in the South used stories of the Israelites to express the feeling of a coming promised land, they were using old tales to explain a modern condition. And to instill hope, because we know stories have resolutions, of one kind or another. The fact that our modern corporate landscape has found a way to turn creativity into a capital engine is certainly weird, and at time destructive, but it doesn’t affect the power of poor artists and writers pouring their hearts and minds into fantastic tales, and honestly, has the side effect of allowing creators to collaborate across generations, improving upon earlier drafts, refining or refocusing ideas over decades. The good ideas stick. The bad ones fall away. Our heroes are bigger than their corporate caretakers, so even when there’s a bizarre misstep, of marketing or malice, our characters endure.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Interview with Zach Taylor

A ten year veteran of the self-published comic book scene, Zach Taylor, took some time from his simultaneous projects Bear Quest 3 and Work Force! staring The Miner to answer some questions.  You can follow him on Twitter @z_bill and like him on hist Facebook page.  He also has cast posted to Youtube at Largocasts.  His comics can be found at and Bear Quest 1 and Bear Quest 2 are for sale along with some cool posters at his store

Who would you list as comic book influences?

Jack Kirby deserves mention over all others. Dave Sim, Jeff Smith, and Mark Oakley (who did a book called Thieves & Kings that few people know about and that's a shame) got me into indie comics and the idea of self-publishing. Grant Morrison and Kirby were my gateway back into mainstream superheroes. I could also label a lot of filmmakers as influences, but I'll just give a shout to Terry Gilliam, the greatest imaginative mind ever.

I'm still waiting for someone famous to say Bear Quest is "Jack Kirby meets Jim Woodring by way of Super Mario" so I can make it a blurb.

Having ten years of insider’s perspective into the world of self published comics what would you see as the high and low watermarks

Kind of hard to say, because Texas, apart from Staple!, is off the radar in terms of the indie comics scene. Tough to be on the pulse of it. The promise of real self-publishing with wide distribution and success, the landscape of Cerebus and Bone, died before I even started making comics. And I see little of that spirit in most webcomics today. Comics, with ongoing storylines, real domain remains to be print. The bright side is that I feel a greater kinship with the medium as a whole, mainstream and all. Maybe I'm delusional. But when I see guys like Matt Kindt, Jeff Lemire, and Brandon Graham, people I consider straight cartoonists, able to draw, write, whatever, win the good graces of the big comics publishers...I smile and think of our Great Comics Family. Band together or we die alone.
You went a long period only working in black and white.  How did inform your current color work and would suggest it to other artist?

The black and white period came from frustration in printing my color work. I did digital painting in college, and always seemed to have to give the excuse "it looked better on the computer" in portfolio class. So, when I started making comics seriously, I made it my mission to create a style that was impossible to print incorrectly. That brought about a raw, strict black and white (no shades of gray!) style. Plus, it might have been my "dark" angsty years, haha.

Would I suggest it to another artist? Not if he or she isn't inclined to do it already. Artists will eventually arrive where they need to be artistically if they keep at it. It may take waaaay longer than planned, but they will get there. For instance, while I was in my black and white period, people would see my occasional color work and ask, "What the hell? This is much better than what you are doing. Why aren't you doing stuff like this?" And they were right, it was better. But I couldn't just jump right to color. I had to go through this extended black and white phase to bring myself to that point artistically.
I found an old copy of you books The Moonman on Wheels and I was wondering how would you contrast it with The Miner.  Like the Bear they both have these ballistic trajectory through life but have very different attitudes.
Difficult to talk about Moon Man because it's out of print and not available on my website, but what the hell? Moon Man is good high concept that was in the hands of a guy who didn't have much respect for his audience. A much more bitter guy made it. The Miner was that guy lightening up and making something fun and approachable. In a way though, they are both about characters feeling entitled to something they never earned. Unrealized potential. He walks into town and expects to be loved by everyone despite being a stranger who hasn't proven himself. I WAS that guy when I made Moon Man, but The Miner overcame that and decided to fit in and have a good time regardless of the apathy of the universe. I would like to revisit the defeatist tone of my early work though. I had some good ideas that I was too stubborn to write properly.

You work is influenced by video games, you have a strong Twitter and Facebook presence, you started a vlog, you do free hand and pixel art on the computer.  What is the connection between art and computers in general and what is your relationship in particular.

All media is going to collapse into one someday. Just a big mass of comic/game/movie/novel/rollercoaster/whatever. I want to contribute to the spirit of that with Bear Quest, which is at its core the history of a video game property told through a comic. But, I don't know, I'm torn between digital and print, painting and pixels, comics and video games. They all try to grab me away equally. I just hope that whatever our Entertainment Future might be, that a) I don't end up hating it, and b) it's got some spot where I fit in.

As far as social media, I try to keep up with twitter (@z_bill Hit me up!) mainly. I'm a fan of YouTube Let's Plays and podcasts, so I decided to create what I call Largocasts, where I talk about whatever I feel like (comics, games, process, storytelling, etc) as sped-up artwork plays. Trying to figure out what I can do with the platform, maybe create a little community, do something fun and audio/visual.

Do you see the collapse of media distinctions as a threat to print comics, comics as a static medium and/or some thing as aggressively low tech as zones and mini comics?
I wouldn't say "threat," but yeah, there's no way comics will exist in this same form in a hundred years. Things will be different, but no one can predict how. I mean, I'm definitely that old-fogey-in-the-making who is unable to give up on his "books printed on paper." I love books. But I'm going to look at comics' evolution the same way I'm looking at the current superhero blockbuster movie explosion: All my senses could easily judge these films as terrible. But I've consciously decided to find things I like about them, that way I don't become that hateful old fogey. And I've got some standing in the future of The All-Media. Whatever that looks like.

So, the Bear has made a few appearances at Staple! and other conventions, are their any stories you’d like to share?

Yes, The Bear has started showing up at cons and creating mayhem. I guess he heard I wrote a book about him? Weird thing is I've never seen him! I always remember walking out of the con, then...I guess I black out? I wake up in an alleyway, go back in, and everyone tells me The Bear showed up and caused all this trouble, leaving me to apologize. He's prone to shuffle merchandise around, dance, knock things over, and randomly maul people. He's going to get me in trouble!

Though for some reason, most kids don't seem scared of him. There are pictures of him playing with legos in a circle with children. And I once heard about a toddler, initially terrified, taking what looked like her first steps from her carriage to embrace his calf. Good thing she couldn't read yet or she'd know what a monster he is!

There was also an epic battle with Sonic the Hedgehog. Most the time he's in a confused frenzy at these cons.

Just to get basic terminology Bear Quest is a side scroller, Bear Quest 2 is an overhead rpg, and Bear Quest 3 is a first person shooter?  What games in each of these categories do you credit as influences.

That sounds right! (Though sticklers would call BQ2 "isometric" perspective, not "overhead") First BQ has resemblances to Pitfall and Hudson's Adventure Island. But the screenshots I mimicked when I made it were from a game no one played called Dynowarz for NES. BQ2 I just say Zelda to make it easy. However, the real influence is my favorite game from the 16 bit era, Landstalker for Genesis. Yep, I was a Sega kid. BQ3 is straight up Doom. The game panels there are actual screenshots from a fully modded Doom 2 level!

Bear Quest seems to resist over analysis at the same time it seems to invite it.  Every page has parallel storytelling but by my count there are at least four levels of storytelling.  There is what happens on the screen of the video game, what happens in the game world, what is happening subjectively for the player and in Bear Quest 3 we see the screen and the game world jump out of the player’s subject space and into the objective space of the Largo Game Console.  Where do you see it taking place?

I love this question. I can tell you are paying attention, haha! The idea that Bear Quest is just a simple rendition of "what would be happening if this game were real" breaks down slowly. At first, readers assume he's just an oblivious beast being playful. They forget about the person that may be playing the game. Is the bear being controlled? Are YOU controlling him? If he escapes into the player's world, then what does that mean about the former "reality" of the game? There are lots of different ways to look at it, and I wouldn't want to force my version.

If you are lost though, it might help to think of each panel as a viewport. Does The Bear see pixels in a world that is actually detailed… or does he see a detailed world interpreted down to pixels for someone else (The player? The reader?) to see? These questions get weirder and more meta the deeper we go in the story. Especially in BQ3, when The Bear enters the "Largo World" and now the game panels look, in many ways, more realistic than the reality! Then the insane reality-bending thing that happens when he is eaten by an armadillo, haha! It's an experimental work, no doubt. And if readers aren't asking, "What is the game? What is real?" then they are just looking at the purdy pictures.
Is there an overarching meaning to why we see Largo game systems running through out you Miner and Bear stories?
Oh absolutely! The Largo Infinite Handheld System is the glue that ties all my work together. The Miner, or another character in his story (such as The Sailor in my currently running comic, Workforce!), is prone to play Largo video games. Technically, he could pull out Bear Quest and start playing. It's a very popular game franchise, which has spawned many sequels, merchandise, and even costumes! So, by extension, the "Largo World" of BQ3 and The Miner's world are the same place. Which, to confuse things further, is named Gnourg. Call it my "Hyboria" or "Westeros" in that big geeky fantasy tradition of naming your world some nonsense word, haha. Though, is the website where you read all these stories. And has been around for 15 years! It's almost like I planned all this, right?

Apart from the connections, might there be a reason there are so many games being played in these stories? Games are my stand-in for most all media. It's relevant that the city is crumbling, or an adventure is happening elsewhere, and all these characters want to do is beat a video game. I'm not making some judgmental statement about humanity and how we bury ourselves in trivial entertainment and ignore our actual problems. But we absolutely do that. I see that and it goes in my books. I am so, so guilty of it myself. It should be obvious that I spend a good deal of my time with my head in fantasy worlds, both my own and others. I believe it's healthy, at least for me, to do this. It's how I cope with the real world. That's why beating the game always gives the hero insight into how to beat adversity.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

An Interview with Jess Fink, illustrator and creator of CHESTER 5000, WE CAN FIX IT, and just all kinds of online stuff (like KID WITH EXPERIENCE)

By Dave Farabee

Jess Fink wears many hats: illustrator, cartoonist, designer of many a Threadless t-shirt, and more. She's been drawing since she was a kid and earned her degree in Illustration and Cartooning from the School of Visual Arts. Jess has produced female-friendly erotic comics like Chester 5000, a sci-fi autobiography in We Can Fix It, and has many an online offering to be enjoyed from her Tumblr (which we should perhaps mention is NSFW). Alan Moore described her work as "liquid and elegantly stylized." In advance of her STAPLE! appearance, she kindly took time to tell us a little more about herself and her work.

Both erotica and biography are among the less-traveled paths in comicdom, or perhaps just less-discussed in between the Batmans and Walking Deads. What led you to those paths?

I suppose it's because I didn't come from a super hero/marvel/DC comics background. As a kid I was heavily influenced by animation, especially Looney Tunes, I wanted to watch every cartoon. I'd wanted to be an animator since I was 7. The first comic I bought was The Maxx, after seeing it on MTV, and I adored it. I didn't know comics could be like that! After that I dove in and read any indie comic that appealed to me. I also got heavily into manga and anime. In college I read tons of auto bio comics by artists like Julie Duchet, Craig Thompson, Chester Brown, Lynda Barry. It blew my mind to think I could talk about my own life in my comics. As for making erotica, I think it was a thing I always drew and as I got older I just became less ashamed of it. Live action porn had always left me with a bad taste in my mouth and I preferred to make my own. I had a great teacher, Tom Hart, who introduced me to some fantastic erotic comics by Molly Kiely that told stories and were compassionate, funny and sexy. I also found out about Fantagraphics' Eros imprint, and I jumped on submitting things to them right away.

How important is the internet to your livelihood?

Very! It used to be that Erotic comics were kept in the secret, back room of the comic store that no one talked about, not so with web comics. The internet has made it possible for a lot of artists who would otherwise be censored or marginalized to produce their work and find an audience. I love print comics too, but the internet is definitely where I've made my home.

Science fiction tropes from robots to time travel weave through your work. Simply springboards or does science fiction hold any special meaning for you?

I love Science Fiction, I always have. The kind of sci fi I love is usually more focused on talking about what it means to be human, rather than on the awe of new technology though. I guess it's the same with erotica, I want more of this type of sci fi so I try to make it.

How do you strike a balance between humor and drama in your work?

It's super important to me that things be funny. It's always easier for me to believe stories that have humor in them because I think it's just a natural impulse.

The square page format pervades your sequential work, from the formatting of Chester 5000 and We Can Fix It to your autobiographical one-pagers. What led you to that format?

Actually, not all of my work is square! For Chester it felt better to use a square format so I could really fit all the swirling art nouveau panels in and not overwork myself on each page. Recently I've been doing quick auto bio comics in a square just because it's faster and looser. We Can Fix It doesn't have a square format though, and neither do a lot of my older auto bio comics. My comics for the Smut Peddler anthologies have all been standard sizes as well.