Interview: Tim Lane

Conducted by Derek Royal

Tim Lane is one of those comics creators who may fly under many readers’ radar. He is prolific, no question, but his output isn’t defined by frequent book publications and high-profile projects. He is the kind of artist who finds berth among a variety of collections and smaller publication outlets. His comics have been appeared in anthologies such as Hotwire ComicsMomeSmoke SignalTyphonLegal Action Comics, and in illustrated columns for alternative newsweeklies such as the New York Press and St. Louis’s Riverfront Times (in the latter of which you’ll find his feature, “You Are Here”). There is also his occasional comic book series Happy Hour in America, five issues of which have been published since 2003. Tim frequents these kind of venues much like tim-23the drifters and hobos he writes about in his stories: hopping aboard, laying low, and seeing where the journey takes him. So far, his work has been collected in only two volumes, 2008’s Abandoned Cars and 2014’s The Lonesome Go, both published by Fantagraphics. But what punch — what sheer details and breadth of subject matter — is bound into each of those two books! In fact, in last year’s “Best of” episode of the podcast, I listed The Lonesome Go as one of my top titles of 2014. It was around the end of that year, not long after the book was released, that I first contacted Tim (with the help of Fantagraphics’ Jacq Cohen) to ask him for a Comics Alternative interview. We decided that an email-based exchange might allow us to cover vast conversational territory, exploring little-frequented tributaries, and getting into the nooks and crannies of what the artist has called the “Great American Mythological Drama.”

The following interview was conducted via email between December 2014 and December 2015, with one question or response being submitted at a time. This format may have necessitated a slower incubation period, but it allowed for a more thoughtful, organic approach to the dialogue that also accommodated both of our hectic schedules. As with any conversation worth having, the topics of discussion evolved over time to become something more substantive, and more satisfying, than we had originally anticipated.

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Derek Royal: Do you consider your latest book, The Lonesome Go, a companion work to 2008’s Abandoned Cars? Perhaps even in an inextricable way?

Tim Lane: The Lonesome Go is meant to be a freestanding book of short graphic fiction, but thematically it’s linked to Abandoned Cars. Both collections focus on similar territory: the mythological fabric of American culture, characters who are living on the underbelly of the American Dream, and the disillusionment inherent in the conflict between the ideals of American life and it’s reality.  In at least one instance, a character from Abandoned Cars reappears in The Lonesome Go. In Abandoned Cars, he appears as both “The Manic Depressive from Another Planet” and the anonymous character who is depicted episodically throughout the book in short vignettes between the longer stories. In The Lonesome Go, he’s the anonymous character in “Notes of A Second Class Citizen.” Despite the similarities between The Lonesome Go and Abandoned Cars, I intended them both to stand on there own, but also compliment each other. Originally I saw Abandoned Cars as the first book in a trilogy. But I now see that there’s much more territory to mine in the material than a trilogy could facilitate. I think I’ll be continuing to work with short graphic stories of this kind for a long time. There are two stories in Abandoned Cars that involve the life of a man named John (“To Be Happy” and “The Drive Home”). I have several stories scripted about John that I intended to include in The Lonesome Go, but they will definitely appear in other upcoming collections. But even though certain characters reappear and themes are reexamined, I don’t think that the connection between the books is inextricable. I think reading both books, however, adds to the experience of becoming immersed in the landscape I’m trying to depict.

DR: It’s interesting that you mention a trilogy in your initial plans. I got the feeling at the end of The Lonesome Go that there may be more in store, for example, that we’ll get to see more of the “Belligerent Piano” story unfold. Will that be a central component of your next work?

TL: The narratives for “Belligerent Piano,” “In Another Life,” and “Notes of A Second Class Citizen” are all far from finished. All three have a predetermined storyline.

“Belligerent Piano” began a long time ago — back when I was in my early 20s — and has been fitted into different comic mediums over the years. It started as a traditional comic-book format and ended up in the form of a weekly strip, the same format as daily continuities like Dick Tracy or Terry and the Pirates. I was producing “Belligerent Piano,” and eventually “In Another Life,” as weekly strips for the St. Louis Riverfront Times for about three years. The weekly strip approach was ideal because it followed the original storyline, but also allowed for digressions into narrative territories not originally considered. In that way, it felt like jazz improvisation — following a standard melody but allowing for semi-spontaneous improvisation. It also generated a little income with which to support myself while I was working on finishing the book. Working in traditional comic venues, such as the standard comic-book format and the newspaper strip, has been important to me. Sadly, the weekly strip format seems to be drying up, especially if you’re writing a continuity. I wish I could convince a few alternative weekly newspapers to run “Belligerent Piano” or “In Another Life” on a regular basis.  I found that the storylines for each are naturally tailored well to the weekly strip, and the weekly strip as a format proved to be ripe with artistic possibilities.

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I have every intention of continuing all three narratives, but when I’ll be able to get back to them depends. I’m working intensively on a biographical graphic novel about the actor, Steve McQueen. If I could figure out a way to generate an income off of running “Belligerent Piano,” “In Another Life,” or “Notes of A Second Class Citizen,” I would certainly get back to them sooner. If you have any ideas for that, please let me know.

Whether any of the three stories will be central components to the next book of stories like, I don’t really know. I’m sure they will be in there, but whether they’ll be central, I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of freestanding short stories that I want to do, as well. The books of shorter pieces tend to fall together on their own, and in there own way. But the book I’m currently working on, and which I’m under contract with Fantagraphics to produce next, about Steve McQueen, will be, of course, about Steve McQueen.

DR: Yeah, it seems from both your books — made up of short pieces or narrative installments of longer stories — that you love the serial or strip formats. And the weekly strip certainly resonates with the “Great American Mythological Drama” that you begin exploring in Abandoned Cars. It’s perfectly suited for, and a component of, that larger drama. Do you prefer working with short stories or segments, or is your new McQueen graphic biography an indication that you’re wanting to do more longer-form comics? And of course, how might your choices here be contingent upon earning a living as a comics artist?

TL: I’m attempting to produce the McQueen biography in a creative way that focuses on story more than historical fact. It’s difficult to explain. That isn’t to say that names, dates, locations, etc, aren’t an important part of the book. My experience has been that the most impressive characters in stories — whether factual or fictional — are the ones who the writer tricks the reader into empathizing with. And I believe that a writer worth his salt can reveal what there is much to empathize with in any character. There are some basics to the human condition that we can all relate to. As much as I’m a reader of biographies and historical nonfiction, I think of myself as a creative writer far more than as a historian. The difference between what I want to do and, say, a traditional biography, is to concentrate on McQueen’s life as a story. In some ways, I wish I could call him something other than Steve McQueen, so the reader won’t be aware of McQueen as the protagonist. I’m trying many different directions in that book, some based on general narrative techniques, others relating directly to the medium of comics. An example of a general narrative technique: I’m writing various chapters — not all, but some — as told from the point of view of people who knew, claimed they knew, or claimed to have known someone who knew Steve McQueen, his mother, his father, etc. Some characters are possibly lying. I’m interested in the way legend or fame or notoriety depends on the various ways in which people tell the same story. There’s a shifty nature to history. And it seems like history is filtered through opinion, no matter how objective the resource might be. An example of the dubiousness of history as it relates directly to McQueen: for years, it was believed that his biological father, a man McQueen never knew, was a barnstormer during the 1920s. Steve McQueen believed that, and every biography I’ve read states the same — all except for one, the most recent biography, the author of which did some research through Ancestry.com and discovered that the probability of McQueen’s father being a McQueen_rebel_comics_1_cover.150barnstormer is highly unlikely. When a previously believed “historical fact” like that is washed away, it leads one to wonder just how much else should be washed away with it. So I’m including the barnstorming aspect of McQueen’s father’s life, as told by a former lover and another barnstormer who claims to have known McQueen’s father — whose name was “Red” — because it relates well to McQueen’s own daredevil antics throughout his adult life, and it emphasizes the questionability of history in general.

But I guess I got away from the question. Regarding short stories and longer narratives: I’d say I’m equally interested in both, although I find myself more often compelled to write short stories. To me, they’re like an exquisite Rubik’s Cubes, in the same way haiku is. The importance of every word being so critical, choosing just the right turn-of-phrase — that’s the prose short story writer’s job. For a cartoonist, I believe you have to do the same thing with the visuals you choose, as well. I love the exercise of that kind of discipline and magicianship. On the other hand, I really enjoy the more improvisational opportunities allowed by a longer narrative. I know most other cartoonists, or graphic novelists, wouldn’t approach a longer narrative in the same way I do. I prefer writing longer narratives through the weekly strip format. I can’t really explain that other than it just seems to fit my personality. I remember when I first read Dick Tracy, it reminded me a little bit of Dostoyevsky the way Chester Gould would go off on tangents — to the point where I was expecting the wheels to come off the story — then return his narrative to where it seemed to make sense again. It struck me as really surreal and exciting. It was, and is, exciting because you get the impression that it’s so easy for him; he could just go on and on. Of course, it strikes me now that my point of view about Dick Tracy is very modern. I read him in large anthologized tomes, not on a daily basis. I’m a product of a generation where the weekly strip is scarce, but the anthologized strip is available. I see the form of the weekly strip in an anthologized state as being a great venue for experimentation in long narrative comics.

Regarding money: I won’t change an idea strictly for money, but I’ll try to figure out ways to make an income off of what I’m working on while I’m working on it. I have to.

DR: Tell me more about your strips as experimentations. Are they ways of structuring your own work?

TL: I think it would be a great approach to producing a graphic novel running it as a weekly (or daily, if the cartoonist could manage working that fast) continuity, with ultimately the completed work being a multi-volumed, epic graphic novel. I think even the standard four-panel newspaper format, as restricting as it seems, has all kinds of possibilities.

DR: Have you considered producing regularly occurring comics, four-panel or otherwise, on the Web, and perhaps funded through crowdsourcing venues such as Patreon? Have you had any interests at all in webcomics?

TL: I ran “Belligerent Piano” and “In Another Life” as webcomics through my weblog while they were running in print in the Riverfront Times. The same episodes were also running on the newspaper’s website during the same period. I’ve seen webcomics and have been impressed by what can be done, especially in terms of format, with sequential art through digital venues. Having said that, my heart is still very much with print. I suppose that puts me at a disadvantage, or at least behind the times. Despite the fact that my inclinations always seem to lean toward print, I’m enthusiastic about the potential of what the world of digital comics offer.

As far as resources such as Patreon go: I’m not opposed to it, but the idea of asking for money for the sake of being allowed to do my work is difficult for me, unless there’s something concrete to be gained by the benefactor. I guess I prefer working as a freelance illustrator or finding some way of making a living while I’m working on my comics through my comics — selling original work, or doing graphic feature stories or infographics for a client. Patreon sounds like a great option, and I hold nothing against anyone who does it. Superficially, I would say that my attitude toward the subject is based on a belief that working in the way I do makes me feel useful to society in some way. When you produce something, then get paid, there’s no sense of guilt that the one giving you the money has been stiffed in any way. It can also be motivating and inspire a resourcefulness that might not otherwise happen. For example: right now I’m trying to come up with ideas for graphic feature stories for the St. Louis alternative weekly. The need to come up with something inspires me to look deeply into potential story-worthy corners of the community. Sure, the main motivation is money, but it’s money I’ll be making by doing what I do better than I do other things. It also keeps me looking outward instead of inward. For myself — although I’ve attempted autobiographical work — I think the best comics I’ve produced are the result of looking outward, paying attention to other people, and telling a variation of their story intertwined with my own. I say “my own” because the strength of the tether of a good story depends, for me anyway, on how well I can project my empathy or compassion for the human condition through the life of someone else. So in that sense, it’s a combination of looking outward and inward. But to look entirely inward…boy, that’d be so boring. I’m just not interested enough in myself for that.

Something a friend of mine (whose a cartoonist) told me really struck me. He said that European and Canadian cartoonists admire American cartoonists because they know that there are very few resources in this country for artists — much less cartoonists — to rely on in order to make a living while they work on their art. Other countries support artists in a much more general way. A friend of mine, a musician who lives in France, is given money by the government every month because he has proven himself a legitimate musician. Or a working musician. Something like that. Anyway, maybe it’s the masochist in me, but that thought makes me very proud to be an American cartoonist or illustrator or artist or whatever you want to call it. The consequences to a person’s decision to become any type of artist in this country, a cartoonist or otherwise, are pretty severe. If you don’t go into it knowing that traditional ideas of “success” or “security” go out the window for you as a rule, then you’re standing precariously close to the precipice of lunacy. If you don’t know those things when you go into it, you’ll learn soon enough.

I guess what I’m trying to illustrate is that there’s something to be proud of because being a cartoonist in a capitalistic country like America is very tough, and just to endure and keep your head above water is a great success in itself. Patreon is one way to keep one’s head above water, I guess. Whatever works. I just can’t seem to go there.

DR: The way you describe your work philosophy, trying to endure and keeping your head above water, sounds a lot like the kind of characters in your comics. Those guys always seem to have a hard time going about doing the kind of things they want to do…and that is assuming they know what they want to do. And in the case of Jackie No-Name or the protagonist of “The Manic Depressive from Another Planet,” you have guys who are trying to make their ways, trying to be understood, but find it difficult expressing themselves on their own terms. They struggle. Are you pouring some of these ideas you just expressed into the vessels of your characters, where they become artist figures or perhaps crypto-artists?

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TL: That’s an interesting way of looking at it. Never thought of that. The only characters I can think of that you’ll find in any of my stories that would go so far as to call themselves “artists” might be the Manic Depressive/Second Class Citizen, but I imagine he’d fancy himself a “thinker” or “philosopher” more than an artist. I say that light-heartedly, because he is intentionally absurd and melodramatic.

But I think the rest of your insight has real traction. Yeah, most of these guys are just struggling to keep their heads above water. Not always financially — but in some cases, yes, financially — but also in terms of their values, morals, principles, beliefs…yeah, they’re all treading water. I’m not sure if I could pinpoint exactly the type of characters that I feel comfortable writing about, but I know where they’re located in my solar plexus. I understand that they have commonalities, but I would never describe them the way I’ve heard other people describe them. “Losers” is one I hear quite a bit, but I don’t think of any of my characters as losers. It really takes me off guard when I hear or read that. Although I understand what people mean when they describe my characters that way, I think of them more, generally speaking, as characters who are existentially trapped. But, of course, as soon as I hear myself think that, I want to make a farting noise to disrupt my potentially ridiculous trajectory. More certainly, they are Americans on the fringes of American society — the ones who aren’t considered much, except maybe for beer manufacturers, by the Advertising Machine. Probably not the key demographic of any politician, either. I guess if I could navigate backwards to the original impetus of my storytelling interests: the characters I tend to write about spring from my recollections of my older brother’s friends hanging around together telling stories, all in their early twenties then, mixed together with 1950s EC comics and Will EIsner’s The Spirit. That would be a safe place to start, I think.

DR: Is your work influenced by the old EC and Spirit comics? Those are certainly “outsider” narratives, with Gaines’s line of comics intentionally hovering on the fringes of acceptability, and Denny Colt setting up home base in a cemetery. It seems just a short jump from those stories to the loner, rebel, outsider figures who populate your comics: train hoppers, mysterious drifters, Harley enthusiasts, barflies, hobos, nighthawks, and, of course, second hand citizens.

TL: Absolutely! Those EC titles were being reissued by Kitchen Sink Press during the 1980s when I was growing up. So were Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Both had a huge influence on me. Eisner was probably the biggest influence on me early on, in terms of comics. While my friends were reading current superhero comics, I was reading these old reissued comics. I remember my friends making fun of me in a good-natured way about that. I would love to have a day to go back to 1985 or ’86 and get the chance to read a few of those Spirit stories again for the first time! It’s harder for me now to be engaged in them in the way I was then. Although I’m always paging through Eisner’s work for technical ideas, the stories don’t have the same lasting appeal as do the EC comics. I’ve been reading through the EC anthologies that Fantagraphics has recently published, each in black and white, by artist. Reading the books on Kamen and Feldstein, for instance, I found myself again deeply impressed with the storytelling, as well as the art work. But the stories still seem really good to me, whereas the Spirit stories are a little less impressive. But I owe a huge debt to Eisner. In fact, the protagonist of “Belligerent Piano,” Jackie No-Name, is a tip-of-the-hat to The Spirit. You might notice the dark shadows under his eyes; that was purely Spirit-inspired. You’ll also notice that the story takes place during the same era when The Spirit was at its best, the post-war 1940s.

The comparison you made between the outsider work of Gaines and company, and Denny Colt, is really insightful. I should hire you as my therapist! I’d never noticed that before, but I’m sure there’s a definite link. What I am sure of is that the reason why I chose comics as my medium of expression is because of comics like the EC line: being interested in particularly American stories — or maybe it’d be better to say that my stories are very much about life in America — it seemed very fitting to tell those stories through comics. I’ve always loved that comics were a distinct part of twentieth-century American pop culture. I also really love their B-grade artistic status. They are not intimidating, they aren’t “high art,” they’re entertainment for anyone who has a few bucks to spend. I think the culture of comics has changed dramatically since I first made that decision, but I believe my reasoning, as well as my belief in comics, still stands.

DR: What you say about the B-grade status of comics seems part and parcel of your penchant for outsider, marginal characters. Do you feel that there may be something lost, or at least something keenly (and perhaps ambiguously) different, about comics now that they’re a much more acceptable medium? I mean, we have major comics artists — and not just gag cartoonists — published regularly in the New Yorker and the New York Times, serious movies based on both superhero and alternative comics material, college and high school courses devoted specifically to comics, and whole sections of bookstores and libraries reserved for that serious-sounding brand, “graphic novels”…or even the more inflated, “graphic narrative.” Do you feel that the migration from the margins affects the way you see comics?

TL: Comics, the blues, rock and roll, jazz, punk, folk….I guess they all become legitimate in the end, don’t they? But they didn’t start out that way.

Yes, I think the status of comics has changed. The examples of the evolution of comics in the mainstream you mentioned is as sound an argument as any I could give.  But, no, it doesn’t change the way I view comics. For me, no matter how acceptable or “legitimate” comics become — particularly American comics — they will never shake free of the dignity of their humble origins. For me, when I write, the message isn’t just in the stories. It’s in the medium, too. That’s why I believe it’s important to keep my comic book series, Happy Hour in America, alive. Happy Hour‘s traditional format comic book size, look, and feel is a tip of the hat to the tradition of that medium, wherein a reader could find cheaply produced, graphic, and often lurid entertainment that wasn’t attempting to be highbrow. Somewhere in the spirit of the traditional comic book, you get the opportunism of make-a-quick-buck capitalism blended with the for-anybody-who-has-a-dime social equality; two very powerful, often conflicting, forces of American culture coming together beautifully in such an unassuming medium. That, in my opinion, is a wonderful thing about traditional comics.

As it turns out, my work didn’t get on anybody’s radar until Abandoned Cars, which is a traditional graphic novel. I was producing Happy Hour several years before Abandoned Cars came out, and I was doing so in a vacuum, completely inept in terms of promoting the work or the product. I guess you could say that that is the only place where the current trends in comics impact me: in the marketplace. But the fact that the traditional medium of comic books doesn’t attract readers the way they used to, limiting any audience I might reach as a result, is only a commercial consideration. It doesn’t impact the underlying concept I’m interested in, or my enthusiasm for it. It just makes it harder to gain any traction in terms of readership. I stick to the belief that there’s a critical difference between producing popular work and important work. I don’t mean to imply that I think my work is particularly important. Instead, I mean that I’d rather produce work that I feel is important rather than popular. This is the kind of thinking that helps me navigate the darker, foggier areas of commercial decision-making and its various temptations.

HappyHourAmerica3DR: It’s been a while since your last issue of Happy Hour in America. Do you still have plans to continue that comic book, still using it for some of the ongoing storylines we see in The Lonesome Go?

TL: Yes. I’m putting together issues #5 and #6 now. I intended to put out #5 before The Lonesome Go came out, but never had the time. I’m putting it out now for posterity’s sake. #6 will be all new material. Issues of Happy Hour from #6 on will include chapters from the new Steve McQueen book, the continuing storylines from “Belligerent Piano” and “In Another Life,” “The Second Class Citizen,” as well as other comic stories. Whatever I’m working on will most likely end up in issues of Happy Hour. I’m not sure how many issues will come out each year, but it’s a great way to release material in between books. Happy Hour is distributed in hard copy by Spit and a Half, and Fantagraphics publishes digital copies through Comixology.

DR: Do you consider Happy Hour somewhat of a testing ground for your stories before they’re collected in longer form? For instance, do you typically change or rework your storylines (or just occasional panels) from their original single-issue appearance when you go back to collect works such as The Lonesome Go?

TL: That’s an interesting subject. Sometimes I’ll rework things, but very rarely. I’ve redrawn panels and rewritten some text, but I haven’t done any serious overhauling. It takes me a long time to produce a story, so, by the time I’m finished with it, I want to move on to the next one. I do, however, take a long time with a story before I sit down to draw it. Looking back on my work, there’s always material I wish I’d drawn or written a little differently, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that we evolve as we move along through time, and hopefully, we get better. I was talking to Glenn Head about this: the fact that it’s hard to reconcile with older work, or at least be satisfied with it. The Lonesome Go covers bits of work that span all the way back to my mid-20s. Looking back at that older work, I recognize that it isn’t as well written or well drawn as my current work. But it is very honest work, and, in it, you can hear the same voice as the more current work, only that voice is speaking at a different point of maturity and experience. With The Lonesome Go, I intentionally wanted the artwork to look different. I wanted it to have the feel of an anthology, or something like that. Different voices talking about a similar topic. Only the voices are different from each other because of the age at which the cartoonist drew and wrote them, not because they were written and drawn by different cartoonists. One very specific case is the parallels between “Broken Bottle” and the third part of “In Another Life.” I wrote “In Another Life” almost twenty years after the incident occurred; I wrote and drew “Broken Bottle” in a San Francisco taqueria the week after it happened, while I was living at the King’s Hotel. I think it’s interesting that, in both cases, I chose to create a protagonist than to make the story strictly autobiographical.

But something Glenn mentioned about earlier work struck me. He said something like the early work of a cartoonist or writer is raw. It isn’t slick yet. It’s just a naked voice trying to communicate before the artist has learned all the tricks. I really agree with that. And, in the case of The Lonesome Go, that idea really worked out for the book, conceptually. At least I think it did. This idea makes me think of albums Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan produced, both musicians being hugely influential on my own work and worldview. With Springsteen’s more folk, acoustic work, an album he produced in the early 1980s called Nebraska, to me, is nearly untouchable in it’s beauty and rawness. It reads like a book of short stories held together by a theme. He’s produced several extraordinary folk albums since, but nothing tops that first acoustic album. And Dylan is notorious, I think, for his unwillingness to overproduce his work. The fact that most of his work isn’t super slick gives this great impression of a man searching for something. And I think that that’s one of the best things anyone can say about an artist’s work. That’s what we’re all doing, artists or not, consciously or not. Come to think of it, that’s something that so many of my creative heroes have in common. I think that my own work can be detailed, but I wouldn’t call it slick.

So, no, I don’t rework material very much. For better or for worse, I try to let it stand. Happy Hour in America is something I produce just out of a love for comics and what they represent. It also gives me the chance to show what I’m working on in between books.

DR: Regarding what you just said about “Broken Bottle” and “In Another Life” and how they spring from the same experiences, do you prefer one over the other or feel that one is more “authentic” than the other (whatever that might mean)? I ask because of your comments on Dylan and Springsteen and their more raw attempts at capturing something.

TL: Well, I think that’s a big question that touches on the process of trying to depict life experience in general.

I don’t feel like either story quite hits the mark in telling the experience the way it felt. “Authentic” is a tough word in this instance because it seems like there could be any number of ways to depict something authentically. I feel like both approaches to the story take a shot at trying to describe the emotional impact, and succeed at describing nuances of it. But — and I think that maybe this is important to how life experience is ultimately filtered through a story — something happened during that incident, something important to my life experience, that I haven’t quite been able to describe to my satisfaction. At least that’s how it feels anyway. It’s interesting why one moment in life looms so much larger than others. All of the material in the “In Another Life” series was, on the one hand, very tough to write, but on the other hand, very liberating. For one thing, I wrote it in a manner that more closely represents the way I view the experience of life. The style is surreal and subjective. It more fluidly depicts the relationship between fantasy and reality than other things I’ve done. And it more closely captures the inherent poetry of life. One thing I find really hard to capture, although it is, for me, really important to depict, is the romanticism and poetry in life. If someone were to really press me to describe in one word what life is like, I think the word I’d choose is “poetic.” But attempting to do that can so easily throw you over into the category of “goofball,” and I imagine it’s hard to regain a reader’s trust after that. One of my favorite writers, Thomas Wolfe, is constantly riding on the edge of that precipice. Hotwire2CoverHis work is practically prose-poetry, and, man, when he’s really going, you can almost feel the lightning he must’ve been struck by when he was writing. But, if looked at in a different light, and in the hands of a less skillful writer, all of that poetry could just be so much mush. I’m sure many people do. But, for me, it speaks the truth about the way life sometimes feels.

I remember I’d seen the Todd Haynes movie I’m Not There, and it was a real epiphany for me, it opened a door into a world of depicting fantasy and reality in a respectful way that inspired me. I loved the way he dealt with the multiple characters of Bob Dylan. It also really captured, for me, the poetry of life, the way our interior lives mix with the material world and blend together all our myths and fantasies and various personages, passions, and belief systems. Not an orderly thing, but vital. That’s why, for example, in the second part of “In Another Life,” it was important for me to illustrate as well as I could the importance of the influence of Van Morrison’s album, Astral Weeks. Instead of just saying, “I was listening to Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks,” I wanted to somehow show what that album did for me.

There is only one straight autobiographical story I’ve written, and that is the “Spirit” series in Abandoned Cars. I feel like I could write that story again employing the use of the style in which I wrote the “In Another Life” series. But it’s interesting how I depicted myself in “Spirit.” Although I really labored to make sure that the likeness of myself was accurate, that “character” from “Spirit” is true of only one side of me. That character is adventurous, cartoonish, rough-and-tumble, naive, very young, and idealistic. Very different from the more pensive, conflicted, sadder character in “In Another Life.” Both are equally me, but equally distortions, as well. The main difference is that I went all the way in hiding my physical identity with the character in “In Another Life,” choosing, instead, to depict myself in a physical form that more expressed the way I felt. But that subjectivity is evident in the way I depicted myself in “Spirit,” too. Much more heroic looking than I actually am. But, at the time of the experience, that’s how it felt.

Maybe these stories grow as we grow. Or change as we change. It makes me think of old folk songs like “Stagger Lee,” where the stories might change depending on the musician singing. Names and locations change, outcomes change. The texture of the song changes. It feels different. For someone like me, I labor to understand the lessons of my life experience, but things change depending on how you look at them, and from what perspective. Also, the facts become blurrier, and sometimes less important. So it’s possible to revisit certain terrain and it becomes new again.

DR: You used the word “romanticism.” I’m reminded of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s understanding of “romance” as a region between reality and the fantastic, what he describes in “The Custom House” section of The Scarlet Letter as “a neutral territory, somewhere between the real world and fairy-land, where the Actual and the Imaginary may meet, and each imbue itself with the nature of the other.” Do you find comics an effective medium, even unique, in representing that kind of “neutral territory”? What does it provide for you that other forms of narrative expression, such as prose or film, may lack?

TL: I’m not sure that other mediums lack opportunities to express any region between reality and fantasy. I don’t think either mediums lack anything. I can think of films that do an incredible job of crossing the bridge between reality and fantasy, and I can especially think of literature that certainly does. I’m very interested and influenced by both prose and film. I never really set out to be a cartoonist, but, over many years of trying to figure out what medium best facilitated my creative expression, comics seemed to work the best for me. That process took a lot of trial and error, and I’m still interested in all kinds of artistic mediums. But it’s comics to which I’ve devoted my discipline. To my mind, all artistic mediums require and deserve such intense discipline; any venturing outside of comics, for me, is experimental. I really respect the discipline each medium requires, which might be a hindrance. Knowing how much dedication it requires just to draw a story, much less write it, gives me a huge appreciation for the technical requirements other mediums demand. And the years it takes to master, or even understand the full implications of, any given medium. It takes a lifetime of dedication. To me, these creative practices are otherworldly. By that, I mean they don’t fit into the daily grind of things. They aren’t a means to an end. They are the end. They are the point.

But whether a person is a prose writer, comic artist, or filmmaker — I can only tell you why those other mediums aren’t my focal point or chosen medium. And it doesn’t have anything to do with whether or not they express the union between reality and fantasy well. I think both are capable of conveying my idea of romanticism very well. I learn from them all the time.

DR: You mention your ventures into other media, so let’s talk about The Lonesome Go Box Set that you’re currently working on. Won’t this will be a full multi-media offering, including not only comics, but single illustrations, cut-out collectibles, photos, CDs, and spoken-word pieces that have the feel of radio drams? Is this an opportunity for you to express yourself in other expressive forms, and ones that complement your comic art?

TL: Yeah, everything in the box set is exactly as you described. The primary impetus behind presenting work in different mediums was to add texture and nuance to the graphic stories they related to. I think I mentioned earlier something about the fact that there are different ways to tell the same story, or that “authenticity” can take different forms. There are a variety of “radio drama” versions of stories from The Lonesome Go I recorded with people who knew how to do that kind of thing, and, in one case, made a short film. The box set project — if you’d call it that, although it happened more organically than the word “project” suggests — came about because, over the years, I’d been tinkering with different ways to tell a story. An example of that is, with the radio drama version of the story, “The Passenger.” Although it only runs fifteen minutes, it presents a narrative that isn’t in the sequential art version. The same is true of all the recorded material in the box set, whether they’re radio dramas or spoken word recordings. There are also versions of two songs only the lyrics of which are printed in The Lonesome Go. One of those songs is a doo-wop song, the other is a song written about the protagonist in “Belligerent Piano,” Jackie No-Name, in the spirit of traditional folk songs “Stagger Lee” or “Frankie and Johnny.” The song “Stagger Lee” has been recorded over a hundred times, and each version changes the feel of the song a little bit. In some cases, names, dates, and locations all change. With “Jackie’s Blues,” I asked a variety of musicians to interpret the song in any way the wanted to, hoping that the song would have a similar kind of evolution. So far, I have twelve versions of the song, and each musician who tackled it just completely blew me away with their efforts. All of them are different. In some cases, musicians have changed the lyrics slightly, but all of them really understood what I was trying to do. It was one of the most profound and humbling experiences to hear these new versions as they came in. And, on the subject of appreciating the discipline behind a specific medium, the song I sent these musicians to “riff” on was one that I’d recorded, using a harmonica and a guitar, with only a two-chord change. All of the people who contributed their own versions are professional musicians, and it really shows. Even though the song is simple, these musicians did things with it that I never would’ve thought of. Really, I would’ve been satisfied with any type of version. I was thinking of Harry Smith’s field recordings, or the Lomax’s field recordings. But the musicians who’ve provided material were extremely creative and sharp in their executions of the song. And what was interesting is that, of maybe three or four musicians I actually asked to record the song, they told their musician friends about it and versions started rolling in. I have an open invitation to anyone who wants to take a shot at a version. I’m trying to get as many versions as I can collect. It’s an incredible way to interact with musicians, who I’ve always admired. It has been through music that stories, whether topical or mythical, have been passed along. It makes me think of, say, flatboat pilots along the Mississippi, circa the 1850s, singing traditional songs but changing the lyrics to reflect the topics of the day. Music has been important vehicle for storytellers.

But everything in the box set, including the things you mentioned that I haven’t talked about here, is meant to be more of a pass-along to a friend to show them all the other “stuff” I’ve been doing while working on The Lonesome Go. Each box is unique, all either found boxes — anything that can contain the material — that I’ve bought at an antique shop or second-hand store. Some of them are hand-painted by me. Of course, a certain amount of production (and I mean in a commercial sense) has to go into making the material. But I’m really trying to downplay the production. They don’t feel like a product to me so much as, well, like I said, a bunch of stuff I’ve been working on to compliment The Lonesome Go that I want to pass on to others. It just so happens that they all fit together in a box.

DR: Much like “Jackie’s Blues” — and, as you point out, much like the legendary of “Stagger Lee” — the content or theme in many of your comics suggests something wandering, nomadic, and even permeable. Is this the way that you look at art in general, or perhaps comics in particular? That, much like your song “Jackie’s Blues,” it’s best when it’s being reinterpreted and transformed, never fixed?

TL: It’s the way I’ve always viewed life. And if my work is a reflection of my life, then I guess that’s the kind of work I do. Almost all the work I’ve done seems to follow the direction of those themes: characters who are wandering or drifting. I notice that I’m becoming more interested in community now, though. The idea of belonging to something bigger than we are as individuals, and that each of us plays a roll in maintaining the health and order of that bigger thing — whether that “thing” is a family, culture, country, or whatever. I’m also becoming more interested in things that are more permanent than we are ourselves. Things such as nature. I’ve always been interested in the geography of America, and how much it influences the cultures that populate various regions of it. Right now, living in St. Louis, the Mississippi River is still, as it always has been, a vital resource to the community. The longer I’m here, the more my interest grows to know more about it.

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But whether one method for producing stories or art or comics is better than another, I don’t really have an opinion about that that would be either entertaining or illuminating. One of the things that I appreciate about comics is how the medium welcomes so much aesthetic diversity. It’s kind of an Island of Misfit Toys, and I feel comfortable there in the work. Or, that’s where I feel most comfortable working: somewhere where differences, quirks, idiosyncrasies, oddball-ness…all of it is embraced.

DR: This growing awareness about the importance of community, diversity, and things that are bigger than our individual selves: Where do you think this is coming from? And how specifically do you think it is manifesting itself in your work?

TL: I’m not sure exactly where it’s coming from. Probably just a natural part of growing older, I guess. I think you get to an age where it’s very clear that things aren’t just about you.  We live in a social environment that is so “me” oriented. My introduction to various forms of social media has really shown me that. I find that trend terrifying. It’s interesting because, since I’ve been paying more attention to things like Instagram and Tumblr — which my fiancé tells me I need to be more a part of — watching how so many people are out there screaming for attention, so much of which seems like self-advertisement and superficial, I find myself liking artists, cartoonists, etc, who use these forms of social media less than I used to, possibly because of the over-exposure they provide. It’s a tricky thing because that technology has all kinds of real advantages, and it’s clearly the direction in which things are heading. I find blogging, for example, a great platform to talk about what I’m up to in an intentional and thoughtful way, and create a kind of dialogue with people who are like-minded.

I mention this because, through the experience of listening to all of this screaming, my impressions only emphasize a belief I have about just how really insignificant we all are as individuals, and that it might be a healthy thing to be, and see oneself, as a part of something larger than what we are by ourselves. As a writer, drawer, illustrator, cartoonist, and “maker,” I’ve always appreciated the fact that I am only one small part of much bigger traditions to which I contribute my attentions. I play my part. I am a contributor, not the contributor, if you understand my meaning. It isn’t about me at all; it’s about the work, the tradition of the work. I guess the tradition of creative communication. But, beyond that, there are real-world problems that we, as a community, need to address. I think a lot of my early adult life as a creative person was spent trying to discover where I fit into the grand scheme of things, and how I could best contribute. Now, I feel a little more confident of my place, and I feel a responsibility to do what I can to contribute to a larger dialogue about where we are, culturally, and how we got here, and what we’re going to do about it. It isn’t just about me working in a vacuum, unconcerned about the bigger world around me. It’s more about contributing something that might do what other writers and artists have done for me: communicate in a deep way, inspire or something. I don’t ever want to be disassociated from the community in which I belong, whether that’s family, the town I live in, the country I live in, etc. But my job isn’t to spread as much of my creative manure around wherever and whenever I can; my job is to express something when I feel it contributes to a project or projects whose ultimate intention is to do the best I can to really say something. That’s the idea anyway. But, not being wealthy and constantly in need to make a living, I have to embrace the world of self-promotion, which really runs against the grain of my character. So it’s a constant dilemma that I’m trying to come to terms with. And then there’s always a battle with knowing when my heart is speaking and when my ego is speaking. If only there was a way to surgically remove all the bad influences of the ego.

Regarding nature: it’s coming out in my work right now. I’m currently working on a wordless story for Smoke Signal (the anthology produced by Gabe Fowler) about the Mississippi River. I live in St. Louis and grew up near Minneapolis. The Mississippi has played a big part in my life. The longer I’m in St. Louis, the more fascinated I become with it, not just as an extraordinary piece of the natural environment, but the critical role it’s played in the cultural development of American society. The story is less of a story than it is a kind of meditation or tribute. But, whatever it is, it’s about the Mighty Mississippi.

DR: I see a resonance between all that you’ve just said and your current work surrounding the Mississippi River. That is a something that has definitely connected people and created community in terms of commerce and culture. And it’s arguably the most symbol-laden phenomenon in all of American literature. Mark Twain, to mention just one obvious example, realized this when he used it as a platform to explore race relations and national identity. It’s all about connectedness. Do you see the river as analogous to your fascination for railroads and freight hopping?

TL: My interest in railroads and freight hopping were originally pinned to, on one hand, a very young man’s interest in travel, adventure, and seeing the country — I was only 23 or 4 when I started getting interested in hopping freight trains — and, on the other hand, an interest in an American archetype. The hobo, the wanderer, the rootless traveller…on a deep level, I have always related to that part of American mythology, sometimes more existentially than literally, but there’s been crossover. The older I get, the more I see that archetype as being a part of a much larger cultural landscape. And certainly freight-train hopping isn’t exclusive in terms of suitable forms of travel and ways of seeing the country — and appreciating the country — in unique ways. Of course, rivers, in general, have served as metaphors in storytelling probably since people started telling stories. All of these forms of travel – freight-train hopping, river drifting, driving, walking — they all serve as metaphors. But freight-train hopping and river drifting are possibly unique in that you are  more a less a passenger, not the driver. Rivers are also a part of the landscape, they’re characters by themselves. In both Abandoned Cars and The Lonesome Go, the location in which the stories take place was important. I’ve always thought of the landscape as being an important part of an American story, although I think that the Smoke Signal piece is the first time I’ve worked on a story where the landscape — the river — is the main character.

DR: Given all of this, would it be safe to say that you would define yourself as a distinctly American comics artist? Or would you bristle at being pigeonholed in that way?

TL: Well, American life, as a subject matter, is what I know, and I can’t even say that in general terms with complete confidence. I know the American life that I’ve experienced and studied. When I was in my early twenties, I lived in Amsterdam for about nine months, and really tried to figure out a way to remain there. I very much wanted to expatriate. But for several reasons that I won’t bother to get into here, that never worked out. I wound up back in the United States. Keep in mind, the kind of writers that have influenced me the most — those whom I was inspired by during my formative years — were writers who focused on what they knew, what they had experienced. The older I get, the more I believe in that philosophy. When you think of the nuances of culture, it becomes clear the difficulty in putting voice to characters who are too far outside your life experience to capture in a believable, convincing way. The RockabilliesCollectibleslonger I live in America, the more fascinate I become with it geographically, historically, culturally, and mythologically. That fascination spreads to include my role in it — not just my place as an individual, but who I am on deeper levels, my instincts, my behaviors. These are evidence of my Americanism. But that’s an entangled discussion to get into because there are so many stereotypes of what Americans are like that I find it easier to steer clear of the subject.

Also, one thing that has been a big part of my work is the evolution, or you might say, devolution or degeneration, of what masculinity means in America. You know, I write from the very unpopular perspective of a white American male — hardly the stuff that is in vogue. But I think it’s very interesting how much American masculinity has changed even since my grandfather’s generation. It strikes me that much of my work is about characters trying to understand their role as white men in a changing society. These aren’t the white men who supposedly run the country and industry, the big capitalists or politicians. These are the ordinary white men who grew up into environments that were (and are) dramatically different than the ones they were “promised.” As a teacher, I see this idea of American masculinity vanishing even more. It’s an important topic, in regards to my work, because it brings the material from Abandoned Cars, The Lonesome Go, and the new Steve McQueen book together.

Having said all that, I think it would be safe to say that I’m an American writer/cartoonist.

DR: You refer to the authors who have influenced you. Who are they, writers as well as artists?

TL: Jack Kerouac, Jack London, Thomas Wolfe, Henry Miller, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck, Mark Twain. Hemingway and Kerouac were probably the biggest influences when I was in college. Writers who have influenced me tremendously over the past decade have been Raymond Carver, Denis Johnson, Tobias Wolfe, Flannery O’Conner, TC Boyle, Andre Dubus, Ron Rash, and Sam Shepherd. Shepard has been the biggest influence recently. I really didn’t think of him as more than an actor and a playwright until I read a book called Two Prospectors, which documents letters written between Shepard and his friend, Johnny Dark, over several decades. I really felt a kindredness with Shepard through those letters. So I started looking into his writing career and found some amazing books of short stories, my favorite of which is “Cruising Paradise.”

Michael Ondaatje has been a big influence on the book I’m writing about Steve McQueen. He published two books in the 1970s, The Collected Works of Billy the Kid and Coming Through Slaughter. Both have been very influential in terms of helping me to write in a biological manner that is highly creative. Those, and a great poem by David Clewell called “Jack Ruby’s America.”

I didn’t really think of comics as a medium for me until later, after I was out of college, after reading Daniel Clowes’s Like A Velvet Glove Cast in Iron and the graphic adaptation of Paul Auster’s City of Glass.

DR: I see you have an affinity for traveling writers. This makes sense, given your emphasis on train hopping and motorcycles as part of the American fabric.

TL: Yes, regarding the travel influence in my work, I think it’s been Sam Shepard who has best continued that line of interest.

DR: But what was it about Clowes’s early storytelling, as well as Karasik and Mazzucchelli’s adaption, that turned you on to comics as viable medium for you?

TL: I’m not really sure. In both cases, something just clicked for me. And both had been passed along to me at around the same time. With Clowes’s Like A Velvet Glove, it just made visceral sense to me. There was a “That’s it!” moment. And I feel like some of his influences overlapped some of my own, as well as his influences. There was also a definite sense of the surreal in his work to which I strongly responded. There’s lots of art out there — whether it be visual, literary, musical, cinematic — that’s all amazing, and then there’s the stuff that feels like it’s speaking directly to you, it’s speaking to your life experience. I remember seeing an exhibit of Bruce Nauman’s work and having a similar “That’s it!” moment. None of what I knew about art history or contemporary art even mattered. He had just nailed it. Nailed what? I don’t really know. Nailed something about the life I experienced and knew, and everything else. All the art criticism was just bullshit in the face of the work I saw at that exhibit. I agreed with him without even knowing what we were agreeing about. In another arena, there’s a song by Waylon Jennings called “Dreaming My Dreams,” which, for anyone who’s been through a divorce or real gut-wrenching break-up, speaks so perfectly to the experience of loss and the struggle to recover. It’s another “That’s it!” moment. As if something so vital has been touched on that the feeling of recognition that you’re not alone in the world, that someone out there understands better how you feel than you do yourself, can literally be transforming. Velvet Glove was like that.

With City of Glass, it was the first graphic novel I read that didn’t read like any narrative with pictures and words that I’d read before, and I remember feeling really moved and inspired by it. I had also loved Mazzuchelli from his work on Batman when I was a kid. I remember being impressed by the stripped-down style he had chosen for the graphics of City of Glass. Both gave me a sense that you could tell serious stories through comics. But, like I say, most of these things are visceral, more instinctual. Trying to analytically express what it is that attracts me to something — or why I do anything I do creatively — is a difficult job because, for me, my intellect is always trying to catch up with my instinct. I think it was Robert Frost who said that there was nothing that he could say about his work that his work didn’t already express better. I really agree with that.

DR: You mention the surreal quality of these works, as well as their visceral or instinctual impact on you. Given the fact that your own comics may have a similar effect on readers, how much stock (if any) do you place on the unconscious, or even the dream realm, as a wellspring of creativity?

TL: Well, I’ve always thought that my instinct was way ahead of my intellect. I guess that might have to do with having faith in the unconscious. I’m not a person who always knows how I feel about things right away. Like lots of people do, I tend to push feelings down. It takes me awhile to process events around me and how they impact me. I think much of the process of writing stories for me is a way to sort out the things I don’t know how I feel about.

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Regarding dreams: I don’t keep a dream journal by my bed, but my sketchbooks throughout the years have plenty of drawings and entries about dreams that seemed particularly unsettling. And, in one case that I can think of — the woman in “In Another Life” who’s wearing the full-headed transparent, or glass, mask throughout the story — the imagery came directly from a dream.

DR: In addition to your upcoming issues of Happy Hour in America and the Steve McQueen project, which you mentioned earlier, what other projects are you working on currently?

TL: I’m working on a variety of graphic feature stories for the Riverfront Times. The most current one, on my drawing desk right now, is a feature about the eccentric St. Louis Millionaire Hobo, James Eads How, who was responsible for creating the International Brotherhood Welfare Association (IBWA), a variety of Hobo Colleges, and the Hobo News. After inheriting his family fortune, he became a hobo and gave all his money to the hobo cause at the turn of the last century. I’m also getting back to the art and discipline of graphic short stories, like the ones in Abandoned Cars and The Lonesome Go. Being very fascinated with the short story, there’s a style of writing — such as you read in TC Boyle, Tobias Wolf, Raymond Carver, and Denis Johnson — that I deeply admire and wish to continue to pursue.

As a freelance illustrator, I’m currently working on a book jacket for Penguin Books. Freelance work is what tends to pay the bills, and I very much enjoy it. I’m still working on the box set, that never-ending bastard of a project. Those are the things that come to mind. My plate is pretty full.

DR: Do you see yourself working in long-form graphic fiction? Not any kind of historical or biographical narrative, like your McQueen book, but an expansion on the kind of stories you write in “In Another Life,” “Notes of a Second Class Citizen,” and “Belligerent Piano”? Or will those eventually become de facto “graphic novels”?

TL: I don’t really know what the final “Belligerent Piano,” “In Another Life,” or “Second Class Citizen” will look like. One of the things I like about them is that they could never end if I didn’t want them to. I could keep living through those characters and let them do whatever they want to until he lights go out for me. Currently, I seem to be most enthusiastic about the continuation of the character from “In Another Life”…and by that, I mean he keeps coming up in new work. All three of the above-mentioned narratives, except for possibly “Second Class Citizen,” could really just keep going and going.

I’ve had a couple of ideas for traditional graphic novels, but I don’t know when they’ll finally pick up momentum. One is a sci-fi post-apocalyptic story that’s meant to be a metaphor for coping with divorce. I really think it might serve as a tonic for anyone who’s lost someone close and can’t seem to move on. I’ve been working on that roughly (usually if an idea doesn’t go away, I feel a need to start paying attention to it). But, right now, I’m really involved with the Steve McQueen book, the character from “In Another Life,” and refining graphic short stories. I guess what makes a comic book like Happy Hour in America valuable is that it serves as a place to work on all of these ideas in chapters, episodes, segments, vignettes, or whatever. It’s a place to try all kinds of ideas.

DR: You’ve also contributed some of your smaller stories or vignettes to anthologies, such as Hotwire Comics, Mome, and Smoke Signal. But we don’t see as many of these collections as we once did. Do you think that comics anthologies of this sort are becoming a dying breed?

TL: I’ve been told that they are. That seems to be the consensus among every person I’ve talked to about it, although I have a lot of confidence that Gabe Fowler at Desert Island Comics, in Brooklyn, will keep producing Smoke Signal. I can’t stress enough how impressed I am with the overall philosophy of Gabe’s Smoke Signal. It’s very democratic. You get to read work by people like smoke_signal_22_cover_webCharles Burns and Chris Ware next to artists who are much newer to the scene. Everyone stands next to everybody else equally. And Gabe himself is a real blessing to the comics community. He’s done a lot for the comics world, in my opinion.

But, from what I understand, there’s not really a market for anthologies anymore. For a while, Fantagraphics had Hotwire and Mome, and that was great for cartoonists like me, because it gave us the chance to show portions of our work in between books. They also offered exposure to an audience who might not already know who we were. In fact, I owe just about everything to Danny Hellman for publishing me in Legal Action Comics. I believe Glenn Head, who edited Hotwire, read my work in Legal Action, and that’s really the first time I received any attention at all.

The only thing, for me, that is problematic about anthologies is that, with work like mine, there’s an accumulative mood that is meant to develop over the course of several stories. There are also themes that are referred to. I think that’s true of other cartoonists’ work, too. In an anthology, when your story falls between two others that have a different sensibility, that juxtaposition can clash. In other words, an anthology can sometimes be like a choir of individuals all singing a different song. The songs might be similar, but they’re still different. It can create a disharmony. With a comic book (or a pamphlet) like Happy Hour in America, there’s the opportunity to have various narratives published together, and, being that the voice is your own throughout, the harmony of the publication remains in tact, as does the mood and worldview.

But the comic book is even more dated than the anthology, I guess. I’m for bringing back both.

DR: That’s an interesting observation about the “disharmony.” I haven’t usually considered the stylistic downside of anthologies. So do you feel that regarding the kind of comics you create, the short done-in-one pieces as well as the longer narratives that unfold over multiple installments, the comic-book format resonates more with your style of writing than the anthology.

TL: Yes, absolutely. But I don’t mean to sound like I’m knocking anthologies.

DR: To any young comics artist just starting out and looking for opportunities, would you suggest anthologies as a smart move? From your vantage point, having taken that route and having seen the industry change over the past decade or two, do you still see anthologies as a viable way of making your mark?

TL: I’d say anywhere you can get your work shown would be a good thing, whether through anthologies or any other platform. As I mentioned, I really owe whatever recognition I’ve gotten to anthologies. I just think there are fewer of them out there to choose from. I could be wrong about that, but that’s the way it seems. But, for anyone interested in going the way of the anthology, I recommend trying to get into Smoke Signal. I’ve loved the way Gabe has put every issue together: very democratic, very populist. That’s my opinion, anyway.

Having said that, there’s so much going on digitally, all of it I respect and even see its potential to reinvent comics and perhaps narrative, in general. Is it my thing? I dunno. I’ve published comics online. Do I like it? It’s not my first inclination. But I respect it. I think there are so many more ways to get your work out there today than there was a few decades ago. 

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The Comics Alternative is a podcast and blog focused on the world of alternative, independent, and primarily non-superhero comics.

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