Thanks for doing the interview Brian. I think I first saw your stuff through my contribution through the Co-Op. I was surprised when I took it over how many books you had contributed contributed to the Co-Op. Some of them I wanted to keep just for myself. What started your interest in comics?
The Mini Comix Co-Op was and remains a great idea and one that I continue to support whole heartedly, albeit to be honest I believe that initially I merely misinterpreted “5-10 copies” to mean 5 copies of 10 comics or some such which would perhaps explain why they still have so much of my stuff in stock. Like most kids I watched Saturday morning animated cartoons on television and read the Sunday funny papers but other than a few “Mad” magazines I never really read many comic books. It wasn’t until I began studying sign painting after high school and I was asked to letter one of the things that I really became “interested in comics.” The book’s artist gave me a few comics to read so I could see just how comic book lettering was done and I immediately recognized the art forms limitless potential. Yet, it was not until a few years later that I actually began to draw my own comics. In the early 90s I lived in the same Chicago neighborhood as both Dan Clowes and Chris Ware and they would occasionally come into the copy shop in which I worked. Seeing their original pages made me finally want to sit down and try my hand at it myself.
How long have you been self publishing?
It’s been 25 years since I began drawing comics and started self-publishing them. In 1991 I put out a series of xeroxed micro/mini-comics and eventually self-published two full-sized comic books a couple of years later. I’ve continued to self-publish in fits and starts ever since usually using the 16 page digest-sized format. I’m hoping to publish a few new comic books sometime in 2016 by way of celebrating Zinc Comics 25th anniversary as well.
What made you decide to start self publishing yourself?
In a word, necessity! My very first “Zinc” strips got published in a free paper in Chicago therefore I thought rather foolishly that I could just as easily sell my next strip to a professional newspaper syndicate. However, I soon had an ever growing pile of rejection letters that proved otherwise. Unlike a lot of cartoonists I didn’t start drawing comics at an early age but soon realized the only way to get good at it was to draw a lot of bad comics first. Yet, since I worked in several copy shops, I was afforded the opportunity to continue to print nearly each and every one of my childlike efforts. Like many cartoonists of a certain age “Cerebus” and Dave Sim was also a huge influence on my decision to self-publish. Although I must admit that I’ve always been poor enough that I would sell out in a New York minute given half the chance and would be more than willing to work for a company that publishes creator owned books and wouldn’t expect me to sign a work for hire contract.
Who has influenced your style? It’s very clean.
I’ve been influenced by nearly every cartoonist out there from Henning “Mik” Mikkelsen to Bill Griffith and from Fletcher Hanks to Josh Bayer. However, I willingly admit that Gary Spencer Millidge’s “Strangehaven” and Glen Brewer’s “Askari Hodari” had a profound effect on both me and my work. That being said, P. Craig Russell is still “my ideal,” as Li’l Abner would say. Even though I do in fact admire some cartoonists specifically for their passionate and blobby brush stroke I definitely aspire to more of a “lingo claire” style and attempt to keep my own work as “clean” as Paul’s grandfather ever was.*
*Brian is apparently making an archaic reference to the Beatle’s film “A Hard Day’s Night” here.
What tools do you use to make your comics?
I’d always ask this question of every cartoonist I’d meet myself as I secretly wished that if I used the same tools as they did my comics would look as good. I soon realized however that they could draw their comic with a crayon and it would still look pretty amazing and probably better than mine too. I started out penciling all my comics with a lead pencil but became increasingly frustrated by the fact that when I’d try to erase those pencil lines that the ink would sometimes erase too thus I soon began drawing with non-photo blue pencils. I’m currently issuing a Prismacolor Verithin Blue Inactinique 761 1/2. Originally I inked my comics with a #102 Hunt crow quill pen and Higgins Black Magic waterproof India ink and would still prefer to but neither ink nor paper quality is what it once was. I’ve found it necessary to start using Micron and/or brush pens like so many other comic artists have of late. I use a combination of both Sakura Pigma Micron and brush pens augmented by my trusty Pentel Arts pocket brush now. Yet, I occasionally still pull out the crow quill on rare occasions and sometimes even draw with just a Prismacolor/Premier Black Noir PC935 pencil sans ink entirely when I want to live dangerously.
I know you live in Alaska, has it influenced you artistically?
I once imagined that I was most creative at night but where I live in Alaska during the winter months there is 18 hours of darkness and since I don’t use that entire time creatively I’ve had to abandon this notion. In the summer there are 18 hours of daylight as well so I had to learn to tap into my creativity energy by the light of day to get my art work done. Additionally, I’ve found every place I live informs my comics in varying degrees. “Warlock Hotel” was very much a Denver story whereas ‘Jake Wilde” was influenced by the time I lived near the Mexican border. Upon moving to Homer I immediately began work on “Cosmic Hamlet” and this new story is most definitely of this particular place. These strips have been serialized appropriately enough in the Alaskan comic anthology “Sowsear.” Homer has a thriving arts community and I have found myself creating a few new comics with the gallery wall in mind rather than the printed page too.
What do you get out of making comics?
Although every artist should expect to be paid for any work that they do and certainly can’t afford to work for free as the old joke goes “there is hundreds of dollars in this business” so I’m definitely not expecting any huge monetary reward nonetheless. I don’t exactly create art for art’s sakes either though but rather instead because I am strangely compelled to. Once I get an idea in my head I find that it tends to consume my every waking thought. I’m hardly prolific and these ideas can gestate for a quite some time but eventually I must at least try to get it down on paper if I ever expect to purge myself of it. I do not consider myself an especially skilled craftsman or even a “cartoonist” per se and yet I do believe that the language of comics i.e., words and pictures, is the best way for me to try to express myself or at least attempt to communicate with people. This interview has proven difficult at times in fact due to the fact that I couldn’t simply add a few images to it when words failed me.
For more of Brian Bayne’s art & comics check him out at: