Lillie Craw: “Sticks Angelica, Folk Hero” feels very much like a Scandinavian saga or epic. These often begin with the skald (poet) identifying and introducing themselves to their audience. At the beginning of the comic Sticks self-identifies, in part, as a poet and calls to mind figures like Hallfred Troublesome Poet who were both skald and hero of their own epics.
What is your relationship to sagas and epics, Scandinavian or otherwise?
Michael DeForge: Most of my comics are pretty meandering and plotless, so I don’t tend to think of them as epics or sagas.
LC: Even as Sticks narrates her own saga you are present as both behind-the-scenes artist and hapless journalist Michael DeForge. Are you outing yourself as the skald or is Sticks’ forest simply a place you wish you could spend time in?
MD: I would like to spend time in that forest. I like writing weird little alternate universe versions of myself into comics. I’ve done it in “Sticks,” a zine I drew called New Hits, and a short story called “Cody.” I like treating these alternate universe Michaels pretty poorly.
LC: Everyone loves a good kenning. Do you have a favorite?
MD: I do not have a favorite, no.
LC: What kinds of kennings would ants use to describe each other or their implements of war?
MD: I don’t really talk with them that often.
LC: Is the queen ant’s vulva in Ant Comic a sort of visual kenning, embellished to leave a lasting and visceral memory? If so, what should readers remember upon mental recall of this vulva?
MD: Readers should remember to follow me on Twitter at @michael_deforge
LC: The Finns appropriated figures from Christian myth cycles for their own cycle, the Kalevala. For example, the Virgin Mary became the magical Marjatta. How did Lisa Hanawalt come to appear in “Sticks” as her own character She-Moose?!
MD: I had the idea for the moose character and thought her design looked very Hanawalt-ian (for obvious reasons.) She very generously gave me her permission to use her name for the character.
LC: The sampo is an indeterminate enchanted object in the Kalevala that brings great wealth to whoever possesses it. Great sorrow follows it because of the great battles that are waged to possess it.
I think of the sampo when I think of the bodies represented in “Airplane” and “Canadian Royalty.” How do your depictions of bodies reveal the wealth and poverty of being bound by a human form?
MD: All my stories are about things trapped inside of other things, and bodies are pretty good for that sort of stuff.
LC: Elias Lönnrot, who collected the song-poems of the Kalevala cycles into one volume in the 1800s, described how the men still singing them would sit across from each other on benches, hold hands, stare into each other’s eyes and sway back and forth. Each took turns recalling and elaborating on the well-known tales.
What are your comics performances like? Are they different every time? Do you read alone or with the other guys on your current tour?
MD: I’m pretty monotonous, so I try to pick stories I can read where I’m just delivering narration over panels, rather than having to do different characters’ voices. There is very little intonation in my voice. I’ve started reading some prose work I’ve been writing on the bus between cities, since I’ve been getting bored reading the same things each night, and it’s been an interesting experience to try ‘road testing’ some writing.
Michael DeForge will be performing comics and music at Gridlords 27 on Friday night at the IPRC, 1001 SE Division St, Portland, OR, at 7:30 PM with Simon Hanselmann, Patrick Kyle, Lane Milburn, Conor Stechschulte and the Gridlords crew!
This just in!
Friday at GRIDLORDS you will be in the company of SIMON HANSELMANN, MICHAEL DeFORGE, & PATRICK KYLE, 3 stars of our future comics!
AND if you were not already melting into a warm puddle…
Conor Stechschulte & Lane Milburn, hot off the heels of their Fantagraphics releases, are sneaking their way into Gridlords this Friday! They will be signing earlier in the day at Floating World Comics and doing a multimedia presentation of their new works at Gridlords as well later that night.
What Fantagraphics says of Lane Milburn, whose book Twelve Gems they recently released:
Lane Milburn was born and raised in Lexington, KY. He graduated from Maryland Institute College of Art in 2008 with a degree in Painting. While living in Baltimore, Milburn self published several minicomics with the underground art collective Closed Caption Comics. The Xeric Foundation awarded him a grant in 2009 for his book Death Trap which he self published in 2010. Milburn currently lives and works in Chicago, IL where he is an active member of the alternative comics community.
What Fantagraphics says of Conor Stechschulte, whose book The Amateurs they published this year:
Conor Stechschulte grew up in rural Pennsylvania. He was educated at the Interlochen Arts Academy and the Maryland Institute College of Art. He now lives with his girlfriend in Baltimore where, when not drawing comics, he paints small watercolors, helps to run the Open Space gallery, and cuts cheese for money.
And if you haven’t read this 100 times already:
GRIDLORDS 27 is this friday at the IPRC, 1001 SE Division St, Portland, OR.
$5 or free with purchase of a book.
One of the things I love so much about your comics is your dialogue. Your dialogue feels really natural while doing a great job of telling the reader about the world your characters live in, and the characters’ understanding of that world and of one another without clunky exposition. You seem to work fairly fast which makes me think your dialogue writing process may be somewhat spontaneous. Is it? How do you cram so much information into such simple phrasing?
Yes, the dialogue in my comics is usually written as I am drawing — it’s as spontaneous as the artwork. I don’t do a lot of revision, but I try to be careful and concise if I’m writing something that I feel like helps the reader understand the story or would clarify what is happening in the artwork. There’s a lot of situations in Distance Mover especially where I felt like I needed to reinforce the artwork with writing since a lot of the images are non-representational. I worry a lot about redundancies when I’m writing. I try to be pragmatic when I’m composing a sentence in both my writing and in real life, I hope.
In your conversational podcast with Dan Berry you mentioned that in relation to trying to write out your stories before you draw them you were reading more. What kinds of things do you read as learning material or inspiration for story writing?
I’ve just been reading more fiction lately. I’m trying to get into it and I don’t really know what books I like or what books are really good. I have a tough time picking things out unless someone recommends them to me. In the last little while I’ve read George Saunders, Lydia Davis, Steve Erickson, Thomas Pynchon, Tao Lin —a weird mix of stuff. Most recently I’ve been really interested in Blake Butler’s work. I can’t think of an author who I have enjoyed so thoroughly. For lack of proper academic language, for me his writing is like the literary equivalent of an Ocrilim song. Atmospheric, oppressive, powerful, haunting.
Your worlds seem to contain complex rules that parallel human societies, but also have an alien flavor to them. Do you intentionally consider the social rules and physical laws within the worlds you create or do these rules evolve through your sort of stream-of-consciousness writing style?
They mostly evolve through stream-of-consciousness writing but It stems from a world view as well. Most social constructs and customs we deal with in real life are things that people just made up — I don’t feel like we should be precious with them. It’s important and fun to reinterpret society, even if it’s just in a comic book.
You make a lot of completely abstract images. You seem to have a vocabulary of repeatable motifs that you work with in different formations on the page, including the spider web, the crackled planetoid form, the ladder, or broken ladder parts, various lines and blobs. what are these abstract constructions about for you? When you get into that abstract world of forms do you miss the narrative or is the narrative element still there for you because these symbols or shapes have meanings in your mind? I think sometimes the meanings of these objects are made explicit in your comics, but perhaps the meanings shift and change? Is it like a secret language, a conversation with yourself that your audience may not be able to decipher?
There’s a tradition of repeating motifs in graphic arts, in Guston or Basquiat’s work, etc. that I suppose I’m trying to uphold. I think I was initially inspired though by Marc Bell, who uses a lot of repeating motifs and phrases in his art and comics. I try to cycle the ones I use pretty frequently; maybe in the course of a few months or a year they will all change. I don’t feel like I miss narrative when I’m working in abstraction. Sometimes I feel like I really have something I want to say and I’ll say that in writing, but I really just enjoy the act of drawing and sometimes I just want to do that. My goal is generally just to create nice compositions, but people can derive whatever meaning they like from those images.
I was also interested in how you feel the abstract images connect with the cryptic text in your New Comics 4.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that the text and images from the first portion of New Comics 4 were created completely independently of each other. I wrote a prosey story and I wanted to put it somewhere so creating the drawings to accompany it was an attempt to turn it into a comic of sorts. I think it works — The drawings would be boring on their own and the writing would be boring on its own.
Your book Phasing, it’s an intriguing combination of abstract images with a narrative comic embedded in roughly the middle of the book. There are stylistic elements that tie the whole thing together. I am curious how you see your abstract work relating to your comics and how both elements within that book relate to the title you chose, “Phasing.”
That book is a collection of images I created specially for that publication and then reprints of two zines that were sort of stylistically relevant. My abstract work, my comics and my illustration work have always been kind of separate things that change independently but inform each other. I always actively try to change my work and change the way I draw. I don’t think there is much of a purpose of pursuing art if you are not doing this. The title “Phasing” obviously relates to phases I go through as an artist, but it’s also a reference to a retired Magic: The Gathering (I am a fan) mechanic from the ’90s where the cards you have come in and out of play turn by turn. I thought that was kind of poetic and a funny personal metaphor for appearing in one form, going away, changing, and coming back.
Artists or craftsmen appear often in your comics and discuss making things. This interest in the broad concept of “art” seems somehow reflected in the deconstructed nature of abstract elements that build the environment of your narratives. Is there something specific you’re trying to get at or is it just for fun or maybe just semi-autobiographical? Or some specific concept or artist you are referencing or inspired by?
It’s a world that I know, so I think it’s easy for me to depict characters who have an artistic vocation. It’s mostly for fun.
I’ve talked to a few artists who feel frustrated that they can’t push beyond literal renderings of their subject matter, and want to imbue their drawings with more abstract elements but just can’t bring themselves to do it, to loosen up, to reinterpret the forms of their subject matter. I know in interviews you’ve said you seek new ways to draw things. Is this a sort of constant cerebral thing in your mind as you draw? Like do you repeat a motif on the page and then say to yourself, “No, reinvent this!” or does a form, a subject evolve slowly over time? Do you have any advice for folks, as to how to loosen up/ abstractify their imagery?
It evolves over time. I’ll represent something in a specific way and as I mentioned previously I’ll reuse that drawing here and there until I’m really fed up and then I’ll change it. If I feel really frustrated and tired of what I’m doing I’ll change my approach by holding my tool in a different way, using a different medium or I’ll allow myself to make decisions while drawing that I might normally view as mistakes. Comfort impedes growth. If you’re interested in pursuing abstraction forget about making things “correct” and acknowledge that you’re working on a piece of paper. It doesn’t have to be a photograph and it doesn’t have to be real or representational because it’s not real — it’s just a piece of flat paper. You can do whatever you want with it.
The bildungsroman is a novel of moral, occupational and sometimes spiritual formation. Jane Eyre and To Kill a Mockingbird are representative examples. Autobiographies like The Education of Henry Adams (grand and great grandson of John Quincy Adams and John Adams, respectively) are also included in this genre.
I think of Moises Keymolen’s comics as the beginning of a bildungsroman in which he explores the artist’s relationship with paid work. His comic “Mindwich,” completed as a final project for the Independent Publishing Resource Center’s Comics Certificate Program in 2012 and featured on the Chainsaw Comics website, follows a young man who looks not dissimilar to Keymolen and is experiencing the unreality of life as a working stiff…
who finds respite only in sleep…
but not really…
which the reader sees when they accompany him into his dreams.
Moises is debuting a new piece at tonight’s Gridlords and I couldn’t be more excited to see it.
The colors are reminiscent of the Caboodles cosmetics cases I envied during my ‘90s childhood,
which was a time when having a commercial job that complemented one’s artistic work seemed plausible and attainable.
Full House’s Uncle Joey (an underemployed comedian) and Uncle Jesse (an underemployed musician) produce radio jingles to earn money.
Moises Keymolen will be reading at Gridlords 25 tonight, Sunday August 31st at the Hollywood Theatre at 9:30.
and check out the new Gridlords store at gridlords.storenvy.com
Who/What influences your comics?
Daily life— I’m generally uncomfortable around daily life. Comics/animation provide a kind of filter for what I find upsetting. My absurdity is an answer to the absurdity around me. When I am illustrating something, I try to remove it from reality as far as I can without losing the essence of the gestures that make it recognizable and relatable.
In order to read/interact with your work I felt I needed to accept that it was playing out in a bizarre world and the comic/animation was a lens allowing me to see and observe this world. Do you feel like your comics are happening in our world? Is it commentary on our world/your own experiences? Is it a place you dreamed up?
It comes from my imagination but I’m convinced that it’s just a kind of filter for everyday life. Things that I experience and have experienced mirror themselves in my work but I haven’t had the time to dig through them all. It might be an absurdist call and response.
Are there reoccurring characters in your pieces?
Sort of? I try to make up new characters with every new drawing but I feel like there’s a style of character that I keep coming back to. There are a lot of smiling people and masked people.
It’s been my fantasy to have enough patience to develop a reoccurring character. I have a lot of reoccurring ‘essence.’ For instance: there’s a reoccurring faint-smiling person putting on a mask wearing a highly patterned suit.
I enjoy coming up with names for characters. I’m working on a character right now whose name is ‘Ex-Dan.’ Sometimes will make a list of nonsensical names but they never really get assigned to anything— because I rarely use text in what I’m doing.
Why don’t you use text in your pieces?
I just haven’t gotten around to it. It’s something that I fantasize about— like I do with I’m creating a character. I write certain phrases down in my notebook that I am inspired by but I feel like I would need to practice what my text looks like before I tackle lettering. I used to occasionally write a phrase on the border of a drawing but I think most of my effort goes into the title. I’m fussy about titles.
When I look at your work, images are arranged in sequence but often seem to be associated only by aesthetic. Is there a narrative or sequence you’re trying to describe?
There’s a narrative to most of them but the narrative is sort of a mirror to the drawing itself. I’m attracted to mundane narratives that are removed from my day-to-day. I am content making a drawing of a person walking out of a house. A lot of my comics have to do with houses so a panel could represent an interior or exterior but it remains in that assigned 6-panel realm.
What can you tell me about the use of pattern in your work?
I’m attracted to textiles and manufactured patterns. I think I’ve always wanted to go into textiles but I ‘m just a bad artisan. I’m sure my lack of confidence compounds my undesirability.
It’s mostly just an aesthetic choice. When I make a more narrative-style drawing I don’t space out the panels. They tend to be more pattern-dense.
Many of your characters appear decayed, aged, hairy or wrinkled. What is happening to these characters?
I think that might tie into my interest in drawing patterns, etc. I just enjoy variance in color and texture. I’m forgetting now the type of people I draw. It’s hard for me to draw a smooth boy and I am also afraid of most adults.
I am intrigued by your beautiful cut paper technique and the shadow plays it creates with some of your work. This compounds the aforementioned uneasy feeling. The pieces look 2-dimensional but refuse to stay/act 2-dimensional. Are they meant to be stationary?
That’s something I enjoy about shooting from above. The shadows can’t help but be there and add a different dimension. What usually ends up happening is that, if I like the way a scene looks after I am done shooting it, I will glue all of the pieces down— or just use a huge amount of tape in the center of the cut-out so it stands out from the rest and creates a shadow. Some people think it looks lazy but I personally like it so that doesn’t matter.
The play of clashing patterns, light/shadows, focused/unfocused imagery creates an unsettling/nightmare-like quality in your pieces. Are these horror comics?
I never considered them to be horror or comics really. I feel like they could be horror in a whimsical, childish way. It’s funny. Right after I finish something I’ll shelve it and move on to the next thing and try to forget what I just made. I rarely have everything out at once. Recently, when I was setting up for a show, I saw them all on a wall together and I realized how some people could find them frightening. I don’t consider them to be violent —at least, that isn’t what I’m trying to do. Someone said they illustrated ‘implied violence’ but I don’t have a main focus when I am working. It’s usually automatic.
I’m not interested in creating a ‘horror’ comic, or anything. If someone asks me what I do I may say that I draw comics because it’s easier and then I won’t have to go on a boring tangent. Whenever I tell someone that I draw ‘panels’ there’s always more explaining involved. Saying comics is more like an easy way out — for both of us. I feel like it’s misleading because someone who likes comics may not consider what I do comics but I’m fine with whatever, though, really.
You made the music and sound effects for your animated short, Worst Existence. Do you want to pursue a musical/noise aspect in addition to your visual art?
I self-released music for about 5 years or so but I got burnt out on that last year. The sound from Worst Existence is from a long tape I made back in 2011. As pretentious as this sounds, I think I ran out of things to say musically but I still fantasize about making music. I still stand in front of my mirror with my guitar.
Did you self-release music under your own name? Did you have a label?
I released 5 or 6 things under the name ‘ehouie’ and one thing under the name ‘maid visions.’ I didn’t have a label.
What comics do you admire?
I’ve been really enjoying the short zines CF has been putting out recently. I also like Anya Davidson, Leif Goldberg, Michael McMillan, Heather Benjamin, Carlos Gonzalez.
Who is your favorite non-comic artist?
I don’t really have a favorite but some artists I like are: John D Graham, Stewart Mackinnon, Suzan Pitt, Barbara Loden, Keiichi Tanaami, Martha Colburn, Karl Wirsum, Earl Harvey Lyall, Toshio Matsumoto, Amy Lockhart.
Come out to Gridlords #25 Sunday AUG 31st (tomorrow!) to see Dylan’s newest animated short along with some other animated shorts for the 1st time on the big 50-ft screen!!!
Also keep your eyes out for Gridlords’ upcoming comics anthology featuring Dylan Jones!
till then check out Gridlords’ new web shop for all our publications online.
Anonymous said: what time does the next GRIDLORDS start?
Lillie Craw: Forming is so pretty — in particular, I love all the pinks. It’s a comic that’s pretty gnar at times, so why so much pink?
Jesse Moynihan: Pink is a color that doesn’t come up so much in casual experience. When you see something with heavy pink saturation, it feels like it really pops. Whenever I see bright pinks I usually stop to notice it. So to me, when choosing colors, I use pink when I want to viewer to really pause and get a feel for the power of what I’m trying to convey. To me, pink equals vitality and a power that is higher than the mundane.
LC: There’s been a lot of interest in pink lately — the Boston Museum of Fine Arts just closed an exhibit on pink attire (which included a reproduction of the Ralph Lauren suit worn by Robert Redford as Jay Gatsby), and GQ just ran an article about pink attire featuring a picture of Drake in a pink dress shirt. Where does Forming fit into the public’s love affair with pink?
JM: Lots of times these things move in waves. Maybe we’re all tapping into the same inspiration. I feel like that’s a likely answer. Pink is like a laser beam to your eyes. It’s a weapon you should use to slay your audience.
LC: Talk a little about the (anti)hero Nommo.
JM: Nommo is based on a lot of self-doubting, lazy artists I know, and have empathy for.
LC: Nommo gets pinker as Forming progresses. Is this in a “real men wear pink” way or a Victoria’s Secret “Think PINK” way?
JM: Nommo gets pinker because I started using a different brand of paint at some point. The original pink I was using re-activated if I got water on it. That was bad for archiving my pages. So I switched to this other paint and I couldn’t quite match the original. I figured nobody would care, but look, I was wrong!
I don’t know if real men wear pink, but I wear a pink fanny pack every day and sometimes I get shit for it. “Why are you wearing a pink bag?” Uh, because pink is cool. Get with it losers.
LC: It’s not just Nommo or other characters like members of the Operation Heavenly Sword away team that are pink — the landscape itself is pink at times. There’s pink lightning and a pink sea toward the end of your most recent installments of Forming. Is this like Homer’s wine-dark sea (http://www.laphamsquarterly.org/essays/a-winelike-sea.php?page=all)? Is pink in the worlds of Forming some other color in our world?
JC: When I was about to paint that lightning, I reached for blue paint, but I thought to myself, “How boring! Everyone uses blue to paint lightning. If I use blue, the lightning will have no meaning. No one will remember this moment if the lighting is stupid blue and white in the center. If I make that shit pink, people will remember this page.” I will always go for non-representational colors if I feel like it will have more impact, or enhance the meaning.
I’m trying to slowly strip away literal representations of color. When you paint grass, you immediately think, “Grass is green. Break out the green,” and I still do that a lot. But I’m trying to get away from that. I’m trying to give my colors more power to help the story.
LC: Ein Sof is kabbalistic Judaism’s infinite God. Do you think Forming’s Ain Soph would prefer pink string bracelets to red ones?
JC:I don’t think Ain Soph has any preferences. It exists outside of the characteristic of making choices. That’s my understanding anyway.
TONIGHT at Gridlords #24, Jesse Moynihan will present a special musical powerpoint performance that will take guests into the world of FORMING.
9:30 at the Hollywood Theatre!